Lieutenant Lasden and I sit down in the empty conference room in the Alasian palace where he has agreed to meet with me. As I face him across the table, I notice he looks weary – not just the weariness that comes after a long day, though that’s there too, but the weariness that comes from discouragement, perhaps depression. His eyes are dull.
1. Do you like your job? Why or why not?
He doesn’t look at me. “I’m a soldier. I follow orders. What does it matter what I like or dislike?”
I wait for him to elaborate, and finally, reluctantly, he goes on. “No, I don’t like my job. Not anymore. Not since being a Malornian soldier came to mean invading a peaceful kingdom and slaughtering civilians.”
2. Do you have any friends? Significant others?
“I’ve got friends in my company, but no one I’m all that close to, especially lately.” He shrugs. “We don’t see eye to eye about the Invasion.”
3. What is your idea of success?
Lasden chuckles humorlessly. “If you’d asked me a month ago, I would have said defeating an enemy with minimal casualties on our side. But that’s pretty much what we’ve done in Alasia, and I can’t feel proud of it.”
4. What do you hate?
He stares, unseeing, out the window, where rain beats against the pane. “What we’ve become. What I’ve become. Oh, I’m a good soldier. I’ve always put everything I’ve had into this job. But I feel like a failure as a human being.”
5. What do you do in your spare time?
Lasden shrugs again. “Haven’t had much spare time since we came to Alasia. Before, I’d usually play cards or dice with my friends. Swap stories in a tavern or around a campfire. You know. On my days off when I was stationed in Sazellia, I liked to go out riding, or just sit down with a good book. Histories, especially.
6. What did you have for breakfast?
He frowns, trying to remember. “I think they served eggs with bacon this morning. Not bad, but the coffee isn’t as good here. I miss Malornian coffee.”
7. Did you ever have a pet? Describe it?
“My family has always kept horses. I think I learned to ride before I could walk.”
I look up from my list of questions, puzzled. “Then I’m surprised you’re in the infantry, not the cavalry.”
“I didn’t exactly have much choice.” Lasden looks away. “My father’s a colonel in the infantry.” His tone of voice makes it clear that further questions along that line would not be welcome, so I go back to my list.
8. Do you believe in luck? Why?
“No. I believe in skill. In my experience, soldiers who rely on luck don’t last long.”
9. What is your favorite scent? Why?
He considers this. “Wood smoke, I suppose. Especially if we’re sitting round a campfire roasting a rabbit we’ve finally had time to trap after days of field rations, on our way back home at the end of a successful campaign.”
10. What is the strangest thing you have ever seen?
Lasden thinks this over. “I saw a family of Mountain Folk up close once. Usually they stay up in the higher slopes of the Impassables, but in the winter they come down low where it’s warmer, and every now and then you see them camped in the foothills. My company was on our way
to the Western Wilderness, and we came across a group of them them trading for supplies in a little village near the Grenn. There were maybe five adults and twice that many children, all dressed in animal skins, most carrying spears. They looked just as savage as people say they are: shaggy hair, shifty eyes, and all. And it’s true, they do smell like the goats they keep. But something about how tenderly they treated their horses made me wonder if they might be a little more civilized than everyone thinks.”
11. What is the most frightening thing that has ever happened to you?
“I don’t know. I’ve had a lot of close calls since I’ve been with the army.” Lasden hesitates. “But usually, when you’re fighting for your life, things happen too fast for you to really feel much until afterwards. Really, I suppose I haven’t been as frightened out on the battlefield as I used to be sometimes at home, when I was a boy. When I did something to make my father angry.” He looks away again, and I can tell by the way his lips tighten that he wishes he hadn’t said that. Abruptly, he pushes back his chair and rises to his feet. “I have to go. I’ve got to make my rounds before the workers turn in for the night. Excuse me.” He strides to the door and leaves the room without a backward glance.