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.”