To Save a Race

When Duke Callon divorces his wife and decides on an uncanny way of choosing his next duchess, Arianna’s left with little choice. Faced with the intricacies of politics, Arianna struggles to find her place. Just as she thinks she has her footing, a decree, issued with the blessing of her husband, calls for the extermination of her entire race.
A young innocent girl, a capricious duke, and a decree that will change everything. What will it take to save a race?
Follow along in this one of a kind Steampunk Biblical retelling of an Old Testament classic by Kandi J Wyatt.
Character Interview with Arianna
What is your name? Do you have a nickname?

Hi, my name is Arianna. I’ve never had a nickname until recently. My husband calls me Thair after the brightest star in the sky.
Since my readers can’t see you, what is your hair color? Eye color?

Unlike my uncle and other Anduvians, I have blonde hair and blue eyes.

Who are your friends and family? Who do you surround yourself with? Who are the people you’re closest to? Who do you wish you were closest to?

The All-Seeing One has truly blessed me with friends and family. I barely remember my mother and have no memories of my father, but my uncle has taken good care of me. When he didn’t think he could teach me what I needed to learn, he allowed my best friend’s family to become my foster family. I loved living with Pasha and her family. Her brother, Kenden, has been like a big brother to me.

Recently, I’ve left my foster family’s home to live in the duke’s castle. While here, I’ve made friends with my personal servant, Cara. I’ve also found favor in the eyes of Ayudal. He’s the man who was in charge of the beauty pageant. That’s a whole other story. I guess, the pageant is why I’d like to become closer to the duke.
What is your favorite occupation?

Up until a few weeks ago, I would have said climbing trees and playing with Pasha’s kitten were my favorite pastimes, but now, I guess, reading and needlework have taken their place.

What is your most treasured possession?

I have a necklace that was my mother’s, a bracelet from Uncle Marcos, and a pendant that Kenden gave me for my last birthday. Those are probably my most reassured possessions.

What is it that you most dislike?

Oh, now, you’re meddling. Ayudal is trying to teach me to curb my emotions, but really, it irks me to think of the duke making decrees that totally change people’s lives with no thought of the consequences! How dare he! Oh, sorry, but you asked.
What is your motto?

I’m not sure if I really have a motto, but I do believe that the All-Seeing One is in complete control. He’ll work everything out according to His plans. I might not like it, but in the end, it really is the best for me.
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     Even as a young girl, Kandi J Wyatt, had a knack for words. She loved to read them, even if it was on a shampoo bottle! By high school Kandi had learned to put words together on paper to create stories for those she loved. Nowadays, she writes for her kids, whether that’s her own five or the hundreds of students she’s been lucky to teach. When Kandi’s not spinning words to create stories, she’s using them to teach students about Spanish, life, and leadership.
Where to find me:
Where to find the book:

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Check out the trailer here:

Today we are going to focus on the next book in the compilation. 
Check it out!

Shark Boss:

When Tara takes up a job at the local aquarium, her colleagues warn her about their harsh boss, Mr. Carter Jones. She soon discovers how impatient he can be, but she also can’t deny her fascination and attraction to him. Carter can’t stop watching Tara as she works but holds back from her because of his secrets. If she knew what he was, she would never want him. Could the reason for Carter’s moods be related to something more troubling than what’s on the surface? Tara soon discovers Carter’s secret, and it only bonds them closer. But the curse starts to take over Carter’s life, and he won’t give his heart to a beautiful woman when he can only cause her pain.

Now about the amazing lady behind this book!

Kathy Bosman

Kathy loves reading and writing even more. She homeschools her three kids, so in between unsuccessfully explaining the difference between subject and predicate or how to divide fractions, she enters an imaginary world of troubled and passionate characters whose stories take over the page. Kathy lives in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa, where the summers are hot, the winters cool, and bugs thrive. Her first published novel, Wedding Gown Girl, came out in 2012 with Astraea Press. She belongs to the Romance Writers of South Africa Group (ROSA) which has been her greatest support and inspiration the last few years.

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Interview with Tara, the main character in Shark Boss
1.     What is your favorite food?
A good breakfast with eggs, bacons, mushrooms, toast, the works. I don’t get it often as I spend most mornings body-boarding and then grab and go to get to work on time. If I have a good breakfast, it’s a real treat.
2.     What is your favorite pastime or hobby?
Body-boarding, although it’s more my life than just a hobby.
3.     What is your favorite book?
I love the Chalet Girls series by Lorraine Wilson. I’m a beach babe, but it’s such fun learning about women who live in the snow and ski. Skiing is similar to body-boarding in a strange way, if you know what I mean. Plus, the books are so romantic and fun to read.
4.     Who would you consider is your least favorite person, and why?
It should be my new boss, Carter Jones, as he keeps on shouting at me for nothing, but it isn’t. He’s too handsome and mysterious to hate.
5.     What is your biggest pet-peeve?
Perfectionism – harping on the smaller issues. And cruelty to animals.
6.     What is your dream vacation?
Mauritius or anywhere where the waves are good.
7.     Did you struggle to tell your author anything?
Yes, I struggled to mention my affair with my high school teacher. I felt really ashamed for falling for that jerk.
8.     What is your favorite part of your story?
When Carter tells me the truth.
9.     What inspired the title of your story?
My writer kept on thinking of shark bait. But Carter is a boss and he was a shark in the business world, plus, well, I can’t tell you anymore as it will give away the story.
10. Do you think that there is a specific message to your story, that you’d like your readers to learn?
That love wins in the end. That meeting and loving the right person can set you free of some of your “curses.” That simply loving a person is one of the greatest gifts you can give to the world. That love surpasses duty. 

Book Buy Links:

Don’t forget to get your name into our GIVEAWAY!!!

Book Tour Schedule:
(You can check out posts that have been made during this tour here: )
Don’t forget! Each author in this tour will be featured once during the tour, and on her special day there will be all kinds of fun facts to check out about her and her book!

June 6th:
Featuring Dreaming in California by Debbie Lee
June 7th:
Featuring A Summer of Stars by Lisa Watson
June 8th:
 Featuring Drowning Sandy by Sarah Daley
June 9th:
Featuring Summer Holiday by Carol Malone
June 10th:
Featuring Shark Boss by Kathy Bosman
June 11th:
Featuring The Best Place to Meet a Man by Robyn Echols
June 12th:
Featuring the entire compilation

About the Book
Caleb hurried to the post office. He had to get in and out before his sister finished at the general store. “Any mail for the Stuarts?” he asked the postmaster.
The postmaster took a lazy look at him over the top of his eyeglasses and gave a heaving sigh as he turned around to check. “Yep. Somethin’ from Ohio and somethin’ from Montana.”
Tapping his foot, Caleb waited until the large man put the letters lazily in his hand. As he left he wondered why Anna had written someone in Montana and who she knew in Montana. It was really none of his business, but he was still curious. He folded the Ohio letter in half and stashed it in his back pocket. It would get wrinkled, but at least Anna wouldn’t know about it.
As Caleb struggles through some inner battles, he secretly starts a correspondence with a widow and her daughter. Their unabashed faith in God convicts him and increases his inner struggles.
Unable to find a steady job, Maggie places an advertisement to become a mail-order bride. Her daughter, Rachel, is her motivation and encouragement, but if Maggie doesn’t find a job or husband soon, Rachel might not survive through the next year.
Can Caleb learn to trust God despite his past? Can Maggie and Rachel hold onto their faith despite all their trials? What will happen when they meet in person?

An Interview with One of the Characters:

Name: Caleb Iain Stuart

Age: 32

Appearance: Brown hair with reddish streaks, tan, tall, muscular, the perfect farmer build

History: Caleb’s mother died in childbirth when he was eleven. His father beat his little brother, Jed, almost daily from age six through fourteen. When Jed was fourteen, he beat up his father and ran away. Since then, Caleb has just been living one day at a time and became more reclusive than he was before.
What was going through your mind when your brother ran away?
After I learned he’d run away, the first thing that ran through my mind was, “Will he be okay? Will he survive? Did he learn enough morals from his limited church attendance to keep him from doing wrong things?” When I tried to find him and failed, all I could think about was if we would ever know what happened to him.
When Da was beating your brother did you want to stop it?
Definitely! I hated the way Da treated Jed. But he threatened Anna and me with the same beating or giving Jed a second beating if we interfered. When I was big enough to actually do something, I didn’t because Da’d threatened us so many times I didn’t question it anymore.
What do you remember and hold dear to your heart?
Any memory of Mama. She was the bright spot in my life. All the stories she told kept me going after she died. Some of the stories were from the Bible and others were made up. Sometimes I wonder if she made them up or if she just retold them.
What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
I’d like to get married and maybe have some kids someday, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to. Between my reclusiveness and Da’s drinking problem, I doubt I’ll be able to. I guess just live the life I’m given and go from there.
Was there a time when you were certain things just were not going to turn out right?
 When wasn’t there? When Mama died, I couldn’t imagine how things to turn out right. When Da started beating Jed, when Jed ran away, when we got Jed’s letter. Sometimes I wonder if life is even worth living. But then other times I wonder why it isn’t.

About the Author

An avid reader, Faith Blum started writing at an early age. Whether it was a story about the camping trip that summer or a more creative story about fictional characters, she has always enjoyed writing. When not writing, Miss Blum enjoys reading, crafting, playing piano, Captaining on the Holy Worlds Historical Fiction Forum and playing games with her family (canasta, anyone?).
As a history enthusiast who has been fascinated for years with the Old West, Faith has endeavored to create a clean, fun, and challenging Western story. Faith lives with her family on a hobby farm in the Northern Midwest, where she enjoys the many cats they have.
You can find Faith on her Website, Blog, Facebook, and Twitter

Blog Tour Schedule
April 27………Faith Blum……………….Introducing the Tour
April 30………Jess Strong……………….Book Spotlight
May 4…………Annie Douglass Lima……Character Interview
May 7…………LeAnne Douglas…………Book Review
May 11……….Shanna Hatfield………….Character Interview
May 14……….Dee Strawbridge…………Book Spotlight
May 18……….Dawnita Fogleman………Book Review/Author Interview
May 21……….Elizabeth Kaiser…………Author Interview
May 25……….Emily Kopf………………Book Review
May 28 …..….Kathryn Fogleman……….Author Interview
June 1…………Raechel…………………..Author Interview
June 4…………Faith Blum……………….Novella Cover Reveal
June 8…………Carlene Havel……………Book Spotlight
June 11……….Amanda Tero……………Book Review/Author Interview
June 15……….Jaye L. Knight……………Character Spotlight
June 18……….Claire Banschbach………Author Interview
June 22……….Tricia Mingerink…………Book Spotlight
June 25 ……….Karilyn Putt………………Book Spotlight
June 29……….Morgan Huenke…………..Book Review/Author Interview

July 2…………Faith Blum………………..The Wrap Up

An interview with Liam, soul mate of Terra of the Tweens, the protagonist in the highly anticipated new novel, Aware by Sara B. Gauldin!

Aware Digital Cover

Who are you?
My name is Liam. I am not really sure what my original last name was. My father was “unknown” and I have been in foster care, adopting others’ family names for my entire life.

Where do you live?
I live wherever I am sent. I have been living with the Conway family. It was not an easy transition.

What is your problem in the story?
I have nightmares and clips of memories. Sometimes it seems like I am being watched. Shadows move around me without any source.

Do you have a problem that wasn’t mentioned in the story?
Do you know that feeling people get when they fall in love? You know the one where you just can’t keep your mind off of someone? I have it all the time. But the problem is that the girl only exists in my dreams!

How do you see yourself?
I’m a normal teenaged guy.

How do your friends see you?
I don’t make many friends. I have moved so many times that it hardly seems worthwhile.

Do you have a goal?
Of course. I want to complete high school and find a way to get a place of my won. I may travel a bit. This time I could choose where I want to go. And maybe I can find some answers about these crazy dreams. College would be good too.

What do you want?
I want to have clear answers. I want to know why the things happen in my life the way they do.

What do you believe?
I believe in past lives. Do you think maybe that is what I am remember?

What makes you happy?
Dreaming of this gorgeous blonde whose name I can never remember!

What are you afraid of?
I am afraid of running out of time. I want to do something with my life, but with my luck I don’t know how long I have to try!

What, if anything, haunts you?
I wish I knew!

Are you lucky?
Not at all!

Who is your true love?
A dream.  I guess she is too perfect for the real world….

Click here to purchase Aware: The Corporeal Pull on Amazon.

My third novel, Prince of Malorn, is being published in less than a week!  In honor of the occasion, I’ve decided to interview the title character.
I have arranged to meet Prince Korram in a grassy meadow on one of the lower slopes of Malorn’s Impassable Mountains.  He and another young man, both dressed in deerskin and holding homemade spears, are keeping an eye on a large flock of goats.  Korram comes over to talk to me while the goats graze.
How old are you?
“Seventeen and a half.”
What’s your favorite food or drink? 
“Now?  This might sound odd, but I think my favorite food is roast goat.  I never had it back in the palace – actually, the first time I tasted it was just a few days ago, after I got back from a very difficult mission.  The Mountain Folk family I’ve been living with killed one of their goats for the celebration feast, which they only do when something really important happens.  It was a great honor, and I think I enjoyed the meal more than any banquet I ever had back in the palace.  I know I’ll never taste goat again without remembering that sense of accomplishment, as well as the pride the others all felt in me.  I was exhausted, bruised, and scraped all over from what I’d been through, but it felt so good to sit with them round the campfire in the open air, licking the grease off our fingers while I told the story of my adventures.”
What makes you angry?
“Feeling helpless.  And talking to Regent Rampus.  The two are pretty much the same thing.”
Tell me about your family.
“Well, Father died four years ago, so there’s just my mother, my little sister, and me.  Mother – Queen Aleris – is a strong woman; she could rule the kingdom on her own if it were allowed.  She always knows what to do and how to deal with almost any kind of problem; I’ve learned more from her over the years than I ever did from Father.  She can be overly controlling, though.  I think sometimes she forgets that I’m not a little boy anymore.  Even when I’m king, I’m certain she’ll still remind me to comb my hair before I go out and not slouch on my throne.  To be honest, it’s been a relief to be off by myself in the mountains these last few months and not have her looking over my shoulder telling me what to do.  Of course, I’ve found myself missing her and wondering how she would suggest dealing with some of the problems I’ve faced.
“My sister Kalendria is eleven; she’s prim and proper and likes her fine clothes and jewelry and for everything to be clean and perfect.”  Korram chuckles.  “I can’t wait to tell her about some of the things I’ve been through up here.  Eating beetle larvae to keep from starving, for example; and sleeping on the ground, being chased by a bear, going weeks without bathing.  She’ll be horrified – but at the same time, she loves a good story, so she’ll enjoy the tale.  She always enjoys Arden’s stories, especially the ones full of danger and adventure.  I can’t picture her ever having an adventure herself, though.
“And Arden.  He isn’t technically a member of the family, but he might as well be.  He’s been a good friend to all of us, and it’s hard to imagine life without him now.  He almost always joins Mother and Kalendria and me when we sit down to discuss what Rampus has been up to or how to make sure we’re safe, and he has very good ideas.  There’s something about the way he plays his malute that just makes it easier to think and make plans.  His music is odd that way – I’ll never understand how it works, but it’s as though he can use it to make people feel certain ways or want to do things that they otherwise wouldn’t.  I wish he had come with me up here to the mountains, to be honest; but he’s needed back in the palace more.  Who knows what Rampus might be plotting in my absence, and there’s no one else I could trust to look after Mother and Kalendria.”  
What would you change about yourself if you could?
He grins sheepishly.  “I’d like to be a little taller.  It’s embarrassing for a future king to be at least half a head shorter than everyone else my age.  I’d like to have the kind of imposing stature that inspires admiration and respect in people.”
Do you prefer cities or the countryside? Warm weather or cold?
Looking conflicted, Korram stares out at the snowy peaks that surround us on every side.  “I enjoy the mountains very much now that I’ve learned to survive in them – at least, as long as I can stay down on the lower slopes where it’s reasonably safe.  I love looking up and seeing all the rugged peaks and the open sky, and not having people and buildings all around me.  But my life has never been about what I prefer.  I’ll have to spend almost all my time in the city again once I’m king.  I must admit that the warmer weather down there will be nice, though.  I have no desire to ever weather another blizzard.  I’m content to enjoy the snow from a distance now, thank you.”
What do you hope to accomplish?  What keeps you from achieving your goal?
“Well, considering who I am, it’s probably obvious that I hope to become king.  Legally I should be able to in a few more months, but Regent Rampus is standing in my way.  He’s been ruling Malorn since my father died, and if I know him, he’s going to do anything it takes to stay in charge.  That’s why I’m here in the Impassables in the first place.  If I can’t recruit my own army, I don’t stand a chance against him.”
I hear that Rampus stopped you right as you were setting out for the mountains.  What was that about?
“He wanted to assassinate me.  That is, he invited me in for breakfast and to wish me success on my journey, but I know him better than that.  He tried to send guards with me, supposedly to protect me on my trip, but I’m certain that the moment we left the city and there were no witnesses, they would have surrounded me and killed me.  And of course I had to pretend not to suspect anything, or he would probably have had them turn on me then and there in the inn.  But finally I managed to convince him that my mission – which he thinks is to recruit Mountain Folk soldiers for Malorn’s regular army to help protect us against Alasia – wouldn’t work if I brought guards along.  He did insist on sending a servant, Trayven, whose real job I think was to guide me to places along the way where assassins would be waiting.  But I set my own route and never went any of the ways Trayven suggested, so I’ve managed to stay alive so far.  And he’s gone now anyway, so I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”
You’ve been living with the Mountain Folk for quite some time now.  Most Malornians would say they’re dangerous; ignorant; dirty savages.  What made you decide to seek their help in the first place, and what’s your secret to getting along with them?
“Kalendria would say they’re dirty, that’s for certain; but so am I, now.”  Korram gestures at the deerskin tunic and breeches he’s wearing, stained all over with mud, grass, grease, and what might be hints of blood.  He spreads out unwashed hands to show me how grubby they are.  “Hot baths and soap don’t exist up here in the Impassables, and there are no servants to do the laundry.  Oh, the Mountain Folk do wash their clothes and themselves in the streams now and then, but that isn’t very practical when the weather is this cold – and really, what’s the point?  You just get dirty again.”  He chuckles.  “I suppose my personality is better suited to mountain life than palace life.  Not that I would let that keep me from my responsibilities,” he hastens to add.  “But back to your question.  I decided to seek their help because they’re the only segment of Malornian society Rampus doesn’t control in some way.  They’re nomadic and they live in an area very hard to access from the Lowlands, so he can’t tax them, bribe them, threaten them, or manipulate them.  They don’t live in fear of what he might do if they displease him, and they have nothing to gain by siding with him.  Who better to recruit to help me?  And as for the ‘secret’, it really isn’t a secret at all.  I just had to demonstrate that I respected them and wasn’t here to take advantage of them as so many Lowlanders try to.  I joined them in their daily tasks and asked them to teach me what they knew.  And I’ve come to understand that although their culture is different, they’re no less kind, intelligent, or even civilized – in their own way – than anyone else.”
Finish this sentence: I have never told anyone this before but….
Korram hesitates.  “I feel angry with my father a lot.  I know it’s stupid, considering that he’s dead.  But back when he was alive, he was always so busy that he never spent much time with me.  I’m not saying he should have taken time away from his responsibilities as king, but I wish he had bothered to show me more of how it worked.  I mean, my tutors taught me all about the ins and outs of Malornian government, but I didn’t get to see much of it in action.  You would think a king would want his only son to see how he rules, but I never got much of that.  It wasn’t until after his death that I started attending High Council meetings, for example.  I suppose Father probably thought I was too young and that he had the rest of his life to teach me what I needed to know about ruling a kingdom.”  Korram’s voice is bitter.  “Well, the rest of his life wasn’t very long.”
What is your idea of success?
“If I can convince enough Mountain Folk to join my army, then I’ll be able to stand against Rampus.  I’m not sure if that will involve actually fighting him and the regular army, or if simply seeing that I’m protected will be enough to keep him from trying anything.  But either way, my first goal is to raise an army, my second is to stay alive until my eighteenth birthday, and my third is to remove Rampus from the picture and become king of Malorn.  If I can do all three, I will have succeeded.”
After you become king, do you think you’ll ever return to the mountains?
“I hope so.”  But Korram looks sad.  “To be honest, though, I doubt it.  Oh, maybe a day trip into the foothills now and then, but probably not much more than that.  The Impassables are too far from Sazellia, and a king can’t just leave his responsibilities for weeks at a time to go traipsing through the wilderness.”  He gazes around at the snow-clad peaks rising above us and sighs.  “But the mountains will always be part of me now.  I’ve changed and learned so much here that leaving the Impassables behind will be like abandoning a piece of myself.”
Have there been any times since you left the city when you were certain things just were not going to turn out right?
“Quite a lot of times.”  He grins.  “The third night on this trip I just returned from, for one.  I hadn’t had much to eat for the last couple of days and I thought I was going to starve – but little did I know I would come much closer to starvation later.  There was a terrific thunderstorm that night, and I was drenched to the bone and had nowhere to take shelter.  I was cold, hungry, and miserable; I couldn’t sleep and thought I’d never live through the night.  But things got better in the morning – and then of course they got worse again.  Much worse.  I nearly died several times: from hypothermia, starvation, dehydration, and between the jaws of bears and a snowcat.  But I kept thinking how thrilled Rampus would be if I never returned, and that gave me the strength to keep going.  And the good thing is, no matter what hardships I face through the rest of my life, I know they’ll be no match for me now.  Not after the difficulties I’ve already faced and conquered.  I’ll be a better king someday because of what I’ve been through.”

Click here to find out about Prince of Malorn, the third book in the Annals of Alasia, and read more interviews with the characters in it.

Click here to read my interviews with characters from my book In the Enemy’s Service. 
With my third novel, Prince of Malorn, ready to publish by the middle of May, I’m conducting a series of “interviews” with my characters.  This one is the seventh.  Enjoy!
I meet Sergeant Sanjik on a hillside just out of sight of the Mountain Folk army camp, and we sit down on a pair of boulders to talk.  Snow robes the nearby mountain peaks, and although none has fallen at this elevation, the winter breeze makes us shiver. 
“I’m sorry we have to meet here,” Sanjik apologizes, wrapping his coat more tightly around himself, “but for security reasons no visitors are allowed in the camp.”
I assure him I understand and pull out my list of questions.
How would you most like to spend a day off?
“With my family.  I have a wife and two young children, whom I haven’t seen since I came up here last month.  I miss them, but it will most likely be weeks until I see them again – months, even, perhaps.  Of course, depending on how things turn out, I might very well not return alive; and if we don’t defeat Rampus, my life won’t be worth much even if I survive the battle.  That worries me for my family’s sake more than my own.  I would hate to see my son and my little daughter grow up without their father, but unfortunately that’s the way it sometimes happens in war.”
What motivates you?
“The prince’s safety.  I had a lot of respect for his father, the late King Kerman, and I’ve always wondered if I could somehow have prevented his death.  It’s worried me to see the way Regent Rampus has been gaining power, and I’m certain Prince Korram is next on his list of people to eliminate.  As a palace guard, it would be my responsibility to protect him in any case.  But now that he’s given me the charge of training his personal troops, I have the even greater responsibility of helping him gain victory over the regent.”
Do you have any siblings?  How did you get along with them when you were growing up?
“I have a brother and two sisters.  We got along all right, though I was so much younger than any of them that we never really played together.  My brother Ebbrem is fourteen years my elder.  He was always at the top of his class at school and better than anyone else at everything he did – or at least that’s the way it appeared to me as a child.  I looked up to him, but at the same time, I resented the fact that everyone expected me to look up to him, to try to model my life after his.  And so I purposely did things my own way and chose not to follow in his footsteps.  We both liked sword fighting, for example, but rather than use his old weapon, I saved up to buy my own and had it made in a slightly different style.  I arranged to take lessons from a family friend instead of letting him teach me.  I was interested in being a soldier, but after he joined the military, I made up my mind that I never would.  So I ended up on the palace guard instead, and I’ve been quite content there for over a decade.  Look at me now, though.”  Sanjik chuckles.  “Here I am in a position I never dreamed of: in command of Prince Korram’s private army.  My title hasn’t officially changed, but in a way, I’m serving as a general.  Ebbrem doesn’t know about any of this yet, but I can imagine his surprise if he were to find out that for all practical purposes, I outrank him.”
What is your greatest fear?
Sanjik turns sober again.  “I’d never actually trained anyone until the prince gave me this mission – not from scratch, anyway.   I mean, I helped lead training exercises for the new guard recruits, but that’s not the same.  They come in knowing how to fight already, and many of them have been in the military.  Anyway, it’s the captain’s job to really get them in shape and make sure they know the ropes.  Here, I’m the ranking officer, and everything about the soldiers’ training is my responsibility.  I keep thinking how much better Ebbrem would be at this and trying to remember what I’ve heard from him about training soldiers.  I’m doing my best, but I’m constantly worried that it won’t be good enough.  If and when these men and women meet up with Rampus’s troops, then we’ll see whether my training has been sufficient.  I try not to let the soldiers see, but I’m worried that it will all have been for nothing and we’ll just be slaughtered.”  He sighs, staring up the slope toward where I know his soldiers are camped.  “And I worry that we’ll have to fight against my brother.  He’s loyal to Prince Korram and won’t knowingly turn against him, but if I know the regent, he’ll make sure none of the soldiers realize who they’re really fighting against until it’s too late.”
What do you imagine your brother would think of the job you’ve done training Prince Korram’s army?
Sanjik grins.  “I’d like to think he’d be proud of me, but probably his first reaction would be to laugh.  I haven’t exactly followed any normal training procedures, because the Mountain Folk are so different than Lowlanders.  Besides, we don’t have the same resources up here.  There are no uniforms, for example, and I don’t suppose anyone could get the Mountain Folk to wear them even if there were.  I don’t have a trumpet or a trumpeter to play it, so I use a homemade whistle and a series of codes that I made up.  And we don’t have swords, so we’re using their traditional weapons, spears.  I first had to get them to teach me to use one myself, and then I had to think up specific combat techniques and names for them.  It wasn’t easy to teach these things to a peaceful culture that uses their weapons mainly as tools to fish or herd goats.  Most of them had never fought against another person before, or only with their fists, if anything.  The whole idea of being soldiers was foreign to them – I mean, they had no concept of marching and no clue what it meant to stay in formation or stand at attention.  At first they resented being required to do things so contrary to their culture, especially by an outsider.  But they’ve accepted me now and are a lot better at following orders.  Still, I daresay this is the most unusual army Malorn has ever seen.”
What annoys you the most?
“Being compared to my brother.  I’ve chosen my own path in life, and though some would say he’s more successful than I, I wouldn’t trade our positions if I had the choice.  No, I don’t wish I were in the army.  No, I don’t regret not having been promoted as quickly or frequently as he has been.  No, I don’t wish I had as many medals as he’s earned.  No, I’m not jealous of the fact that he’s a captain and I’m only a sergeant.  Things work differently in the palace, and I’m content with the life I have.”
What’s your secret to getting along with the Mountain Folk when so many people look down on them and claim that they’re vicious, uncivilized brutes?
“Those who claim that have certainly never known any personally.  For one thing, they’re definitely not vicious.  They’d be a lot easier to train into soldiers if they were!  And they may be uncivilized, at least by our standards, but they aren’t brutes by any means.  Now that I’ve gotten to know them, I can tell you that they have just as much intelligence, creativity, compassion, and just as good a sense of humor as the average Lowlander.  And when it comes to loyalty and determination, I think most of them are ahead of us.  The thing is, not many Malornians really know much about them, because the Mountain Folk seldom leave the Impassables.  So all we hear in the city are stories from farmers in the foothills, and we’re only getting one side of those stories.  It’s true that the Mountain Folk steal crops, for example, but they don’t think of it as stealing, just picking what they find available.  And I’ve heard stories from them about farmers stealing their goats and horses, cheating them in trade, injuring and even sometimes killing them.  So of course the Mountain Folk resent our people and are less than friendly toward us!  The problem doesn’t lie with the Mountain Folk themselves as much as it does in the misunderstandings between our culture and theirs.  Prince Korram realizes that, and he is determined to change things on both sides once he takes the throne.  Assuming his army and I can help keep him alive long enough to do it, of course.”

Click here to find out about Prince of Malorn, the third book in the Annals of Alasia, and read more interviews with the characters in it.

Click here to read my interviews with characters from my book In the Enemy’s Service.

With my third novel, Prince of Malorn, ready to publish by the middle of May, I’m conducting a series of “interviews” with my characters.  This one is the sixth.  Enjoy!

I meet with Arden the minstrel in the cozy sitting room of his little cottage near the edge of the city of Sazellia.  He holds a stringed instrument that looks like a cross between a harp and a small guitar, idly stroking the strings and playing random little tunes while we talk.
“I’m sorry the furniture is a little dusty,” he apologizes as I take a seat.  “I’m not actually here very often.  I have a room in the palace, and lately it’s been so much more convenient to just stay there almost all the time, what with everything going on.”  I assure him that I don’t mind a little dust, and pull out my list of questions.
Tell me about your family.
“Well, I grew up with my parents and four sisters.  They were all quite a bit older than I and weren’t interested in playing with a little boy, so I spent most of my time reading and making up stories of my own.  My father served on the king’s palace guard, and I think he had hoped his only son would follow in his footsteps.  But I wasn’t the least interested in learning to fight, and I’ve always hated weapons.  I still don’t know how to wield a sword – that is, I know just enough to write vivid battle scenes in my songs and stories, but I have no interest in learning the skill myself.  Instead, I learned music from my grandfather.  He not only played the malute, he made malutes for a living, and as a boy, I loved to spend time in his workshop.  I’ve enjoyed music and stories for as long as I can remember, and the malute seemed the perfect way to bring both together.” 
Arden smiles fondly at the instrument on his lap.  “Grandfather paid me to help out in his workshop after school, and at first I just ran errands and swept the floor.  But gradually he began to teach me how to use his tools – I wasn’t interested in them for their own sake, but I wanted a malute of my own so badly I was willing to do anything to get one.  We spent months working on it, a little at a time, and he guided me through every step in the process.”  Arden smiles again, remembering.  “I learned more patience and attention to detail at that time than ever before or since.  Everything had to be perfect.  If I made the tiniest mistake that couldn’t be corrected, we threw the piece of wood into the fire and started again.  But in the end, my malute was perfect, and it’s lasted me all these years.”  He gives the strings a loving thrum.
I understand that you knew the late King Kerman back when he was still a prince.  How did you meet him?
“I mentioned that my father was a guard.  He once saved the king’s life when angry citizens were rioting in protest of a controversial new tax law.  Afterward the grateful king told my father to name his reward, and Father asked if his son could be educated in the palace along with the prince.  I was thirteen at the time, painfully shy and small for my age.  Combine that with my complete lack of skill in mathematics and the sciences, and you can see why school was unpleasant for me in the first place.  The thought of switching to a new school was agonizing, let alone a tiny one where the other pupils would all be royalty or the sons and daughters of nobles.  But my parents were determined to seize the opportunity and secure the best possible future for me, and I had no choice.” 
Arden chuckles.  “I can still remember how terrified I was that first day, walking into the palace schoolroom where Prince Kerman and five of his noble-blooded peers sat around a massive oak table.  They were all around my age, but every one of them was taller than I, and much more intelligent and good looking, at least in my teenage mind.  They had known each other all their lives, and I was the newcomer, the odd one out.” 
He pauses, lost in the memory, and his fingers wander over the strings of his malute.  The tune he plucks out feels awkward, reluctant, much like the scene he is describing.
“The prince welcomed me courteously,” he goes on, “but at first I knew they were all laughing at me behind my back.  I was hopelessly far behind the rest of them in so many areas, I’m surprised the teacher put up with my being there at all.  Sometimes he assigned us work to do in twos or threes, and no one ever wanted to be partnered with me because they would usually end up having to explain the concepts to me all over again.  It didn’t help that I daydreamed in class – there were just so many more exciting places for my mind to be than in that room.  But soon as I found out I was allowed to visit the palace library, and that made it all bearable.  I used to go there every afternoon after lessons were over and read books until my father got off of work.  I always brought my malute with me, and if no one else was in the room, I would pull it out and play as I read.  I never could hear a good story without imagining how it would sound put to music, so I would make up my own little tunes to go with what I was reading.  Sometimes I would rewrite a scene in rhyme and turn it into a song. 
“One day in class I was assigned to give a speech about the history of Malorn’s Western Wilderness.  I dreaded the thought of standing up and speaking in front of my noble-blooded classmates, but at the same time, history was one subject I excelled in.  It’s full of so many interesting stories, and the Western Wilderness has seen far more than its share of battles and noble adventure.  My classmates had all been making speeches about the different regions of Malorn over the last few days, and most of them had been dreadfully boring.  It was a tragedy, considering that most of the events they described were quite exciting, or they could have been if they had been told about properly. 
“So, as nervous as I was about taking my turn, I was determined to do the history of the Western Wilderness justice.  The class was surprised when I took up my malute, and I’m certain they had never before heard a speech like the one I gave.  I had prepared it in a style that was a mixture of a poem, a story, and a chant with musical accompaniment.  I’d worked hard for several days on the music, creating a tune that was fast-paced in the exciting parts and slow and sad for the scenes when I described death and desolation. I heard some snickers as I began, but it didn’t take long before the class quieted and I had everyone’s full attention.  I knew I was doing it right when I heard them gasp at all the right moments and chuckle once or twice where I put in some humor; and I saw tears in a few people’s eyes in the tragic scenes. 
“When I had finished, even the teacher was speechless for a long moment.  Then Prince Kerman rose to his feet and began to applaud, and everything changed after that.  Nobody laughed behind my back anymore or looked at me as though I didn’t fit in.  From that time on, the teacher let me do a good many of my assignments in the form of poetry or songs; I found out years later that the prince took him aside and asked him to.  He also requested that I provide part of the musical entertainment at his birthday celebration the next month, and when that went well, my confidence increased immensely.  I started getting invited to social events and asked to perform for many of them.  The prince loved a good story, and the two of us had a real connection from then on.  But more than that, I appreciated his kindness; he was the first person who made me feel that I had actual talent instead of just a hobby that took my attention away from my schoolwork.” 
Arden chuckles.  “I’m sure that was a much longer answer than you wanted, but it’s hard for me not to turn everything into a story.”
What is your idea of success?
A dreamy smile crosses the minstrel’s face.  “A perfect poem, every word just right, married to the perfect melody.  One where every note, every pause, infuses the words with a depth of meaning they never could have achieved on their own.  And a rapt audience, breathless, in tears, on the edge of their seats, their minds so intertwined with the song they scarcely know any other reality, the malute strings binding them to the world the instrument and I have created.”
Have you ever been in love? How did that work out?
Arden doesn’t answer right away.  His eyes are distant and his fingers dance softly over the strings of his malute.  “It was a long time ago,” he replies finally.  “Prince Kerman had begun to show special interest in one of our classmates, Aleris, and romance was developing between several of the others as well.  I suppose something was in the air that spring; I fell head over heels in love with a girl who lived in my parents’ neighborhood.  Jiana and I had known each other for years, but suddenly everything was different.  I composed dozens of romantic poems for her, mostly on the back of my parchment during mathematics lessons, much to the entertainment of my classmates when the teacher confiscated them and read them aloud.  She and I were married the day after I finished school.” 
The music he is playing grows dreamier.  “We moved into this cottage with the help of money I been earning performing at city and palace events.  We were young, and life was perfect.  Just perfect.  Neither of us had ever imagined it was possible to be so blissfully happy.  Looking back, that was by far the most wonderful period of my life, but it didn’t last.” 
His fingers move more slowly, and the tune he is playing grows so sad that I find myself blinking back tears.  “Jiana died of a fever less than a year after our wedding.  I was devastated; I felt as though my world had ended.  I spent most of my days in the graveyard, weeping and composing sad songs.  Prince Kerman, who was married by that time too, was concerned about me.  He and Aleris regularly sent servants with food and drink and implored me to come in out of the cold as winter tightened its grip on the land and on my broken heart.  But nothing could pierce the darkness my soul had fallen into. 
“Finally, after months of lonely grief, spring spread its warmth across the land.  As I huddled in my cloak beside my beloved’s grave, I found the topic of my melodies turning more and more to the new life I saw emerging around me: thirsty flower petals unfolding to sample the dew at dawn, a hard-working robin building its nest in the sunshine, crickets chirping messages to their friends in the falling dusk.  And slowly, my heart began to heal.  At last one day when Kerman came in person and begged me to move into a room in the palace, I accepted.  He convinced me to start playing for special events again, and gradually I found that I could go on with my life.  But my heart has never forgotten my first love, my only love.”
What do you do for a living now?
“Words and melodies are still my livelihood as well as the outpouring of my soul.  From time to time I perform for events around the city, but I spend most of my time in the palace now.  I’ve always written songs for banquets and special events, but shortly after Kerman’s father died and he became king, he and I discovered that my music can have a more practical purpose.  I would sometimes join him in unofficial meetings or for informal conversations with people, sitting at the hearth or in a corner of the room and trying to make myself as unobtrusive as possible.  While the others talked, I would play little tunes that I made up on the spot, much as I’m doing now.  But I would tailor my music to the conversation and try to use it to make people do or think certain things.  It’s difficult to explain how it works, and to be honest, I don’t fully understand it myself, but let me give you an example.  Once a serving girl approached the king and queen to reveal a traitorous conversation that she had overheard between two members of the palace staff.  The poor girl was trying to do the right thing, but she was so timid before their majesties that she could hardly speak a word at first.  I remembered what that was like, and I played a soothing melody that I knew would have calmed my own quaking heart had I been in her shoes.  Sure enough, her confidence grew, and in a few moments she was able to stop trembling and speak clearly about what she had learned. 
“Another time, Kerman told me that he feared a certain messenger had lied to him, but he had no way to prove it.  We sent for the man, and the king questioned him again while I played.  This time I made the tune a tense one, such as I would have used to make the audience nervous at the point in a ballad where a character was about to land himself in trouble or fall into a trap.  Sure enough, the messenger began to stammer and shoot glances around him as though afraid of some danger.  As the king’s questions grew more pointed, I poured more emotion into the music, until my own heart was pounding and the very air in the room seemed to throb with tension.”
As Arden speaks, his fingers move more quickly over the strings, and I can feel the tension he is describing growing around us.  My own breath starts to come more quickly and a sense of anxiety builds in me as he goes on.
“Well, the man started to stumble over his words and contradict himself, and then finally he broke off, dropped to his knees, and blurted out the truth.  As he confessed his lies and begged, in tears, for the king’s mercy and forgiveness, I realized for the first time that music could be a far more powerful tool than any sword.”  The tense tune fades into a slow and peaceful melody, and my pulse returns to normal as the anxiety fades.
If you could go back in time and change anything, would you?  If so, what?
Arden nods soberly, and his music turns more serious.  “In hindsight, I believe the royal family and I were naïve.  I was never privy to many government matters, except for the kinds of conversations I mentioned when I was asked to play in the background, but I knew that some in the government opposed King Kerman’s decisions.  An influential High Councilor named Rampus had begun growing in popularity and causing increasing frustration to the king.  When Kerman took ill one day, we all thought he had simply eaten something that disagreed with him.  The entire city was shocked when he passed away that same night.  Queen Aleris was certain he had been poisoned and that Rampus had something to do with it, but nothing was ever proven.  Kerman and Aleris had two children by then: Kalendria was eight and Korram was thirteen.  Since the prince was still too young to rule, the High Council voted to make Rampus regent of Malorn until Korram came of age.  I can’t see how anyone could have changed what happened, but if I could go back in time, I would do all I could to find a way.” 
How have your job and your relationship with the royal family changed since King Kerman’s death?
“The widowed queen continued to provide me with a salary, and I continued to provide the palace and the royal family with music,” Arden explains.  “I became almost like family to her and her children after Kerman’s death.  While Queen Aleris struggled with her own grief and concern for the kingdom, young Kalendria took to sobbing for hours on end while Korram would fly into furious rages.  I tried to set my own grief aside as much as I could to help them through theirs, and my music was able to bring some peace to their troubled hearts.  But as the years have passed, the family has grown more worried.  Rampus’s power has been growing, and we fear he has no intention of giving it up in a few months when Korram turns eighteen.”  
The malute sounds worried too, anxious notes spilling out around us.  “The trouble is,” Arden continues, “Rampus has his fingers in the military, as well as in every major business and industry in Malorn; and most of the nobility see him as a worthy and capable leader.  Our options have grown more limited as the regent has grown more powerful, so we hide our suspicions and pretend to think we are all on the same side, hoping he will see no need to remove anyone else from his way.  In our long, anxious meetings, my malute and I have counseled the royal family as much as we could.”
“I hear you have become a trusted advisor,” I say.

“Perhaps, but I often feel inadequate when it comes to knowing the best course of action,” Arden confesses.  “When in doubt, however, I simply imagine what I would have my characters do if this were a story.  Sometimes that ends up being impractically daring, but often it turns out to be the right move.  That’s how I came up with the idea of Korram’s recruiting his own personal army to protect him from Rampus’s schemes; hence the prince’s current mission in the Impassable Mountains.  Korram has always loved adventure stories, and he jumped at the idea.”  Arden sighs.  “Still, I worry that it will turn out to be one of those unrealistic quests that sound wonderful in a ballad but cannot succeed in real life.  I suppose only time will tell.”

Click here to find out about Prince of Malorn, the third book in the Annals of Alasia, and read more interviews with the characters in it.

Click here to read my interviews with characters from my book In the Enemy’s Service.

With my third novel, Prince of Malorn, hopefully ready to publish by the beginning of May, I’m conducting a series of “interviews” with my characters.  This one is the fifth.  Enjoy!
I meet with Queen Aleris in one of the richly furnished parlors on the second floor of the Malornian royal palace.  Servants have brought in wine and a tray of tiny, delicately frosted cakes, and we recline on velvet-cushioned sofas as we talk.  The queen, resplendent in a scarlet gown, gestures for me to ask the first question.
What object would you save if your home was on fire?
“Korram’s crown – that is, the crown that will be his in a few months.  It belonged to my late husband, King Kerman, and to Malornian kings before that for generations beyond count.  Regent Rampus is determined to get his hands on it, but I’m just as determined that he will not steal what rightfully belongs to my son.”  She smiles.  “Ironically, Korram hates gold and jewels.  He will be one of those kings who wears the crown only on formal occasions, and even then, perhaps only when I remind him.  Still, it will be enough to know that it’s his.”
Have you ever been in love? How did that work out?
She smiles again, sadly this time.  “Kerman was the first and only person I ever gave my heart to, though it happened gradually.  Ours was partly an arranged marriage; we knew each other, but we weren’t close.  My parents were courtiers, and so I was no stranger to the inside of the palace.  Prince Kerman and I had danced together at balls a few times, and I saw him regularly at royal functions.  Once he had even asked me to go out riding with him, and we both enjoyed that.  But I must admit I was quite surprised and flattered when my parents took me aside one day and told me that his royal highness had spoken to them requesting my hand in marriage.  Our first few years together were challenging; he was always busy, and there’s more to building a solid marriage than saying “I do” to a handsome prince.  Things only grew more difficult after his father died and he was crowned king.  But as the years went by we grew to love each other more and more.  Kerman’s death was just over four years ago now, and I still miss him.”
Describe the view from your bedroom window.
“From out on my balcony, I can see nearly the whole back lawn and garden.  It’s a lovely view, especially in spring when the grass is bright green and all the flowers are blooming.  There are dozens of varieties, and I enjoy them all, but my favorites are the purple irises by the pond.  We have a large, winding pond full of brightly colored fish and water lilies, with willows bending over it from the bank and a little arched bridge over the narrowest part.  There are fruit trees and winding paths all through the garden, with marble sculptures and carved stone benches scattered here and there.  Arden likes to sit out under the apricot tree and practice new songs on his malute.  When the breeze is right, I can hear it from my balcony, and sometimes I sit out there in the evenings to listen.  Beyond the garden, the stone wall is covered with climbing morning glories in six different colors; those are Kalendria’s favorites.  And beyond that, the city of Sazellia stretches for as far as I can see from the third floor.”
What makes you happy now?
“My children,” the queen replies simply.  “Korram and Kalendria are my greatest joys in life.  I only wish Kerman could have been here to watch them grow up; he would have been so proud.  To be honest, though, he had little enough time for them when he was alive.  Ruling a kingdom well takes more time and energy than any one person can really give as it is, and the job doesn’t leave much time for family.  That’s the way it was with his father as well.  I know Kerman meant to spend more time with Korram when our son grew older, to start preparing him for the responsibilities of leadership, but that time never came.”  She sighs.  “One never knows how much time one has left until it’s gone.  But Arden has been a mentor and role model to my son in recent years, and I’m thankful for that.”
What is your greatest fear?
She turns to gaze out the window in silence for a moment.  “That Korram will not live long enough to rule Malorn,” she replies finally, her voice low.  “His eighteenth birthday, the day of his coronation, is just a few months away.  If the regent means to try anything – and we are certain he does – it will doubtless be before then.  That’s why Korram has taken on this mission in the Impassables.  We feel it’s his only hope of survival against Rampus’s schemes.  Of course, Rampus hopes he will never return, and I fear that as well.  The mountains are a dangerous place.  But at the moment I believe the capital would be more dangerous for Korram.”
How did you feel when Korram left for the Impassable Mountains?
She laughs.  “Terrified, of course.  And proud – so proud.  My only son, still a boy, voluntarily stepping out into danger and the unknown to attempt a difficult mission for the good of the kingdom.  And to ensure his own survival, of course.  Kalendria and I were afraid we would never see him again.”  The laughter goes out of her eyes.  “We still are, to be honest.  But we heard from him last month.  A messenger arrived from a small town in the foothills and said Korram had been seen there recently.  Apparently he said to tell Kalendria and me that he’s all right and will see us soon.  When ‘soon’ is, though, who knows?  And there was no word as to how his mission was progressing.  I suspect he was being purposefully vague, knowing that Rampus was likely to hear of anything he said.”
What would you say Korram’s best and worst traits are?
“My son is stubborn.  That can be good and bad, but it has led to perseverance and great determination.  He never gives up when there’s something he really wants, and that helps me believe he will succeed in this mission.  No matter the obstacles, he always seems to find a way.  And he’s headstrong, which goes with the stubbornness.  He doesn’t always heed advice or the wisdom of others when he’s set his mind to something.  He’s bold – that can be a fault as well; I’ve had to caution him to be careful in what he says to Rampus.  It doesn’t do to let one’s enemy know you suspect him before you are in a position to do anything about it, after all.  But that boldness is what gives Korram the courage to do things like set out into the wilderness to confidently attempt what most people would say is impossible.  And Korram is open-minded, refusing to accept that things have to be the way they have always been.  For example, most of our people see the Mountain Folk as danger and inconvenience; he sees them as potential.  But he is impulsive and doesn’t always think before he speaks or acts.  And he doesn’t like crowds or attention or etiquette or formal events – all inescapable parts of life for royalty.  His patience in dealing with them is sometimes less than exemplary.”
What would you say Kalendria’s best and worst traits are?
“My daughter is compassionate and understanding, quick to sympathize with others and stand up for them.  She’s creative and imaginative, and she loves animals and has a way with them.  She has a good eye for color and fashion, but I fear she takes it too far sometimes.  Yes, a princess should be fashionable, but if Kalendria put half the focus into her studies that she does into her wardrobe and hair, she would be the best educated young lady in Sazellia.  Still, she applies herself well when she chooses to, and she knows far more about the workings of the government than I did when I was eleven.  And she’s determined too, persevering to reach her goals even when things are hard.”
Finish this sentence: I have never told anyone this before but….
If I’m not mistaken, I see a blush rise to the queen’s cheeks.  “Don’t tell him I said this, but I could fall in love with Arden if I let myself.  I won’t, of course.  It would never do.  The widowed queen, falling for the court minstrel?  Still, he has been my family’s most loyal friend, not to mention an invaluable adviser to both Kerman and Korram.  And he will make some woman very happy if he can ever tear himself away from his music long enough to give his heart away.”
What’s been your favorite travel destination?
“I’ve always enjoyed visiting Alasia.  I fear that sounds a little disloyal, coming from a Malornian queen, but I like to see new places.  Apart from the Impassable Mountains, Alasia is the one destination we really can’t get to easily from here, not to mention all the possible political problems that could arise from attempting to make more frequent visits.  And so I’ve only been twice: once to attend their previous king’s funeral – that was the year after Kerman and I were married – and once for the current king and queen’s wedding.  Their royal family came here for our wedding, too, and for Kerman’s funeral.  If that rickety little ferry across the Grenn River were safer and more practical, perhaps we could visit each other’s kingdoms more often and conduct trade on a larger scale.  As it is, I fear Alasia and Malorn are likely to remain distantly cordial neighbors for the foreseeable future.”
With my third novel, Prince of Malorn, ready to publish by the middle of May, I’m conducting a series of “interviews” with my characters.  This one is the fourth.  Enjoy!

I meet Trayven in the room of the inn where he has been staying in the Malornian town of Daveen.  He offers me a seat in the chair at the rickety wooden desk, and he sits on the bed under the window.  I pull out my list of questions.

Do you prefer cities or the countryside?
“Cities, definitely.  I hate wilderness life; always have.”
What is the one sentence you would never say?
He scowls.  “I volunteer to attend the prince on his futile trek through the wilderness and report back about his every move.”  His voice is mocking.  “Of course, it made no difference in the end whether I volunteered or not.”
What makes you angry?
“Being used.”  He sighs and picks at the woolen blanket on the neatly made bed.  “That’s the dangerous thing about working in the palace.  You’re basically giving Regent Rampus access to your life, to use it for whatever he wants.  It pays well, though, and if you’re lucky you’ll never have to do anything but your actual job.  But you never know when you might be ordered to do something else, and it doesn’t matter how you feel about it.  You’d better do it well, or you may not live to regret it.” 
Where were you born?
“In a village in the foothills of the Impassables.”  He lowers his gaze as though ashamed to admit it.  “I lived there till I was fifteen, and then finally I couldn’t take it any more and ran away to the capital.” 
What do you do for a living, and why did you choose this career?  Do you like your job?  Why or why not?
“I’m a servant in the palace in Sazellia, or at least, I was until the incident with the prince.  I don’t really know if I still have my job now or not, and I don’t think I want it if I do.”  He looks worried.  “When I ran away to the city, I first found work in an inn a lot like this one.  Cleaning the rooms, serving food in the dining hall, that sort of thing.  Did that for six years and was pretty happy with my life.  Nothing glamorous, but I was in the city, and that’s what I’d always wanted.  Lots to see and do, new people to meet all the time, it didn’t get as cold in the winter, and you never had to worry about Mountain Folk.  I should have just stuck with that, but I met a girl who worked as a maid in the palace, and she told me stories about how grand it was.  I heard they had some positions open, so I went and applied, and next thing I knew they had hired me.  I worked there as a servant for twelve years, and at first I liked it a lot.  But then King Kerman died, and things started to change.  High Councilor Rampus became Regent Rampus since the prince was too young to rule yet, and he was stricter than the king had been.  Bad things happened to people who made mistakes or didn’t do their jobs right.  Not just their pay getting docked the way it used to be.  The regent would give them strange and dangerous things to do.  I don’t know most of the details because nobody ever wanted to talk about it, but you’d see how worried they were, and sometimes they’d be gone on errands for days or even weeks.  And it wasn’t just us servants, either.  It was the same with high councilors and nobles and everyone.  It started gradually, but after a few years with the regent in charge, everyone was afraid to cross him.  A few people tried, but then their family members died, or their businesses failed, or now and then they’d just disappear.  But as long as you did what you were told, things went well for you, so I didn’t worry.  At least, not until recently.”  He sighs.
Where do you live? Is it the best place for you?
“Right now?”  He gestures around at the tiny room with its bed, desk, chair, and closet.  “I’ve been living here for the last few weeks, in between expeditions to the foothills.  It isn’t much of a home, but at least I’m alive and have a roof over my head.  I hate the camping I have to do on each trip, but it’s nice to know I’ve got some place to come back to.  I hope when this is all over I can go home to Sazellia again, but it depends on whether I find what the regent wants and he forgives me.  I’m sure I’ll have to look for another job, but at this point, I’ll be content just to keep my life.”  He shivers and pulls his cloak tighter around himself.
What is your most embarrassing memory?
Trayven’s face turns red before he can even reply.  “It was about three months ago.  There was a banquet at the palace, and I was serving wine to the guests after the meal.  Everyone was listening to the minstrel as he sang one of those historical ballads he’s always coming up with; it was really exciting, and I couldn’t help listening too as I went around with my tray of wine goblets.  I should have been paying better attention to what I was doing, but when that minstrel sings, it’s like there’s a magic spell in the room.  If you’ve ever heard him, you’ll know what it was like.  But the spell broke pretty fast, let me tell you, when I fumbled with my tray right as I was serving the regent and the whole thing slipped out of my hands .”  He shakes his head at the memory.  “Eight silver goblets hit the floor with the loudest crash you’ve ever heard, and wine splashed all over him and me and everyone else sitting close by.  I wished it was the floor itself that had shattered so I could just dive into a hole and let it swallow me up.  I’ve never felt so humiliated in my life – or so terrified.  I was sure the regent was going to have my head then and there.  You should have seen his expression.  But that isn’t his way.  He had my job switched so I was emptying chamber pots and scrubbing latrines after that.  And then when Prince Korram announced this plan of his, of course I was the one who got picked to go with him.  I suppose the regent must have asked around and found out that I grew up in the foothills and knew about wilderness living, so it made sense, but I know it was his way of getting back at me.”
What’s the meanest thing you’ve ever done to someone?
Trayven is instantly defensive.  “I didn’t do it to be mean.  If Prince Korram hadn’t sent me away, I never would have.  But how was I supposed to go back to Regent Rampus without him?  Did he think I could just return to the regent and tell the regent I’d failed in the task he assigned me?  He would have had me executed for certain!  I tried to explain that to the prince, but he wouldn’t listen.  He didn’t want me around any longer, probably because he had plans of his own up there in the mountains that were different than he’d told people, and he didn’t want anyone finding out.  So all I could think to do was to go hide somewhere, start a new life in another part of Malorn where the regent wouldn’t find me.  And for that I needed money.”  He glares at me as though I’ve accused him of something.  “I had no choice!”  He thumps his fist against the pillow.  “But how was I supposed to know that Dannel would find out and come after me for it?  And now the regent’s going to have me executed anyway, unless I succeed in my new mission.”
What was it like spending those weeks with Prince Korram in the wilderness?
“I hated it, mostly.  I mean, being with the prince was all right.  He’s the quiet sort, which is what I prefer.  He doesn’t make pointless conversation for the sake of hearing himself talk, like some people do.  And he learns fast.  I figured I was going to have to wait on him hand and foot, but he wanted me to teach him everything I knew about wilderness survival, and as soon as he’d learned, he did his share.  Hunting, fishing, lighting a campfire, finding the spots that made the best campsites, even loading the mules.  It was like he couldn’t wait to get out of the palace and try life in the wilderness, just the opposite of me.  He loved sitting by the fire at night roasting meat on a spit, and all I wanted to do was get home to where I could sleep in a real bed and buy a supper I didn’t have to catch and skin myself.  Worst of all, he wanted to find some of those Mountain Folk.  The boy had some crazy idea he could get them to help him, but anyone who’s grown up in the foothills knows those savages don’t help anyone but themselves.  And then when we actually found some, he insisted on camping close by and spending every day with them, talking to them, trying to get to know them.”  Trayven’s voice is filled with disgust.  “They’re filthy and ignorant and they smell as bad as the goats they keep.  When I was a boy we always had to watch out for them, especially in winter when they come down low to escape the snow on the higher peaks.  They would steal crops and eggs from our chickens, and then either run away like the cowards they are or threaten us with their spears if we tried to stop them.  I hate those vermin!  The whole time we were camped by them, I always felt like they were watching me.  As worried as I was when the prince sent me away, in some ways it was a relief to leave.”
What is your political leaning?
“Oh, politics don’t matter much to me.  Prince Korram’s a decent person, but he’s young and foolish and probably won’t make much of a king.  Regent Rampus is smart and always knows what he’s doing, but he’s dangerous and cruel and I don’t know what kind of king he’d be either.”  Trayven glances over at me worriedly.  “You won’t tell him I said that, will you?”  I assure him I won’t.  “So personally, I don’t care, as long as I can stay out of both of their ways.  I suppose they probably both want my head now.  Fortunately, only one of them is likely to live past the next few months, and then things will be a little simpler.”
What is your greatest fear?
“That I won’t find what I’m looking for.  I’m afraid all the time; I hardly sleep at night.  But if that Dannel fellow is right, I can redeem myself for what I did – as long as I succeed now.  I just hope he is telling the truth and the regent will forgive me.  It’s my only chance.”
Click here to find out about Prince of Malorn, the third book in the Annals of Alasia, and read more interviews with the characters in it.

Click here to read my interviews with characters from my book In the Enemy’s Service.
With my third novel, Prince of Malorn, hopefully ready to publish by the beginning of May, I’m conducting a series of “interviews” with my characters.  This one is the third.  Enjoy!

I meet Jeskie, a young freckle-faced boy who looks about eleven, at a quiet table in a tavern.   The lunch rush is over but it’s too early for dinner, and we’re the only guests in there at the moment.
He grins at me from his seat.  “You said you had some questions for me.  How about buying me some coffee and a fruit pastry, and then I’ll answer them.”  He waves the tavern keeper over before I can reply.
“Why not?”  I place his order and then pull out my list of questions.
How would you describe yourself?
He considers this.  “I’m smart.  I know a lotta people.  Actually, I make sure on purpose that I get to know all different kinds o’ people all over Sazellia in all different trades.  I can make them like me, and I learn fast and know how to earn money doin’ all sorts of different things.  I’m good at listenin’ to people talk and not even hardly let ’em notice me, and I know ways to use the things I hear.  I know where it’s safe to spend the night, and where not to go alone after dark.  I can survive on the streets where most people can’t.”
What makes you angry?
“I don’t get angry all that often.  But when I do, I s’pose it’s usually because someone’s been treatin’ me as though I don’t know anythin’ or can’t do much.  I’m as capable as most grown people.  I work here at Bertam’s tavern sometimes, in the kitchen and serving food both, as well as cleanin’ up at the end of the evenin’, and he says he don’t know what he’d do without me on busy days.  And it’s the same thing all over.  I work for people all over Malorn in ’most every trade, and they can all tell you I learn quick and do a good job.”  He grins.  “It’s nice havin’ lots of choices.  If I don’t feel like serving ale, I can go polish boots or sweep floors or cut wood or muck out stalls.”
Where do you live?
“All over Sazellia.  Most o’ the people I work for will let me stay the night when I’m done, and if not, I know places here and there in the city where no one’ll bother me.  When it’s cold or rainy, there’s a couple people I can go to who’ll always let me sleep on their couch.”
Bertam, the tavern keeper, appears with his dessert and coffee.  Jeskie seizes a fork and digs in with relish as I go on to the next question.
Tell me about your family.
“I don’t have a family,” he says matter-of-factly with his mouth full.  “My mother died when I was little, and I don’t remember my father.  But I’ve got lotsa friends, and that’s just as good.”  He takes a sip of coffee to wash down his bite.  “It’s fun being free to go where I want and do what I like, and when I need somethin’ or get in trouble there are people like Bertam here who will help me.”
You helped out in a military training camp for a while.  What was that like?
“That was fun.”  Jeskie takes a sip of his coffee.  “Fun but busy.  I liked watchin’ the soldiers practice with their spears, even though they never let me join in.  Sometimes I would grab an extra spear and try the moves by myself over behind the wagon, though.  In the evenin’ I got to sit with them by their campfires and listen to them tell stories, and that was fun.  But the part I didn’t like was that I couldn’t just go what I wanted and decide what kinda work I felt like doin’ each day, like I do here.  I had to stay around camp except when I was goin’ on errands.  Sarge sent me out with the wagon a lot to get supplies.  I got some here in Sazellia at first, but then they decided it would be safer not to come here, just in case, you know?  So I went back and forth to lots of little villages and farms all around that part of the foothills.  I never spent so much time on the road before, specially by myself.  It was kinda fun seein’ all those places, but I like the city better.”
If someone were to offer you any gift you liked, what would you ask for?
“That’s another easy one.”  He sips from his mug again, grinning.  “A spear.  A few months ago I woulda said a sword, but now I know spears are better.  They’re longer, and you can jab your enemy with ’em before he’s close enough to use his sword on you.  The Mountain Folk are better with their spears than anyone I’ve ever seen, but I know I could get good too if I had one o’ my own to practice with all the time.”
You were seen with Prince Korram at this very tavern recently.  Did it surprise you when he showed up here?
“It certainly did.”  Jeskie laughs.  “You don’t expect to see royalty in a place like this, specially after he’d been outta town so long.  I was helpin’ out here for the evenin’, and when I came out to see what the guests who had just sat down wanted to order, I realized one of them was the prince.  He wasn’t dressed like it, but he was wearin’ a ring with the Malornian royal crest, you see, just like the big one painted on the side of the queen’s carriage.  But he looked like he didn’t wanna be recognized, so I thought I shouldn’t say anythin’.  It was fun talkin’ to him, though, knowin’ who he was and knowin’ that no one else at the table knew and that he didn’t know I knew.  And it was fun meetin’ his two Mountain Folk friends.  You could tell they weren’t from around here just by the way they stared at everythin’.  And the way they ate!”  He laughs again, remembering.  “I live mostly on the streets, and even I’ve got better table manners than them.  ’Course, now I know that’s ’cause their people usually eat sittin’ round a campfire, and they don’t use dishes up in the Impassables.  Still, it was pretty funny watchin’ them that evenin’.”
Finish this sentence: I have never told anyone this before but….
“That’s easy,” he exclaims, downing the last of his coffee in one long draft.  “I hope there will be a war with Alasia like people are sayin’ there might be.  Wars are so excitin’, and nothin’ much excitin’ ever happens around here.  If a war does start, I’m gonna find a way to go join in.  I know some soldiers over at the barracks.  I’m sure I can get them to let me tag along.”  He stuffs another bite of pastry into his mouth.
“Do you know how to fight?” I wonder.
“Well, not exactly.  I mean, I can use my fists, but no one’s ever let me train with a sword or anythin’.  But I’ve seen soldiers practice with swords and with spears, and like I said, I’ve tried the spear moves myself a bit.  It can’t be that hard, and in a battle I’m sure you can find lotsa dropped weapons, so I know I’ll manage.  I’ve always wanted to be a hero, and that’s definitely the best way.”

Click here to find out about Prince of Malorn, the third book in the Annals of Alasia, and read more interviews with the characters in it.