I sit down with Tonnis, a stout, graying man in his forties, in the front room of the palace clinic where he works. “Thanks for agreeing to meet with me,” I say, settling myself on one of the benches.
“You’re welcome. No medical emergencies at the moment, so it’s a good time,” he replies, leaning back against the wall from his own bench. “Go ahead.”
1. Do you like your job? Why or why not?
“Yes, I do. It’s fulfilling to know I’m helping people; saving lives, even.”
2. Do you have any friends? Significant others?
He looks away. “Most of my friends are dead now.” There’s a pause, and he clears his throat roughly. “Killed in the Invasion. But the Malornians let a few people live, and of course there’s my wife Eleya. Don’t know how I’d make it without her. And Anya; she’s become almost like a daughter to us in the few weeks she’s been here.”
3. What is your idea of success?
“Helping a patient to complete recovery.”
4. What do you hate?
“Losing a patient.”
5. What do you do in your spare time?
He shrugs. “Usually sit and talk with Eleya and Anya and Wennish, our one surviving Alasian patient. Before the Malornians came and made most of the palace off-limits, I'd often get a book from the palace library and read in my sitting room. Sometimes Eleya and I would go into town and visit our relatives on our days off.”
“What kinds of books do you like?” I wonder aloud.
“Oh, anything I can find about medicine or the sciences. Now and then Eleya will get a book of poetry and we’ll take turns reading aloud to each other.” He looks embarrassed.
6. What did you have for breakfast?
“Oatcakes with syrup in the dining hall.”
7. Did you ever have a pet? Describe it.
“When I was a boy I had a couple of dogs. Big bouncy ones with lots of energy. We lived near the edge of town, and my brother and I used to go hiking with them up in the hills.”
8. Do you believe in luck? Why?
Tonnis considers this. “I suppose so, if you consider luck to be good or bad things people don’t deserve. There’s certainly been a lot of bad luck for us Alasians lately.”
9. What is your favorite scent? Why?
He smiles almost shyly. “Yellow roses. Eleya used to wear them in her hair sometimes back when we were courting. We had them at our wedding, too. One of the palace gardeners knows we like them, and he’ll often bring us a bloom or two when he trims the rosebushes.”
10. What is the strangest thing you have ever seen?
Tonnis considers this for only a moment before starting to chuckle. “It was years ago, but I’ll never forget. Back when Talifus was a sergeant on the palace guard, he took sick one time with a high fever. It was the middle of the night, and he was in bed in the clinic, tossing and turning and talking to himself in his delirium. I had been sitting up with him for hours, trying to bring the fever down with tonics and wet cloths, and I must have dozed off in my chair. When I woke up, his bed was empty and the door was open. I jumped up and ran to find him, and I saw the
outer door standing open too.” He points to the clinic door beside the bench I’m sitting on. “I hurried outside, and there he was halfway across the courtyard, barefoot and in his nightshirt. He had picked up a riding whip that someone had left outside the stable, and he was wielding it like a sword, fighting off imaginary enemies and yelling battle cries in the moonlight.” Tonnis stops his tale to chuckle again, picturing the scene. “Half a dozen guards on duty were already hurrying over to see what was going on. A couple of them helped me disarm him and get him back to the clinic, and I made them all promise they wouldn’t tell anyone what they’d seen. I don’t know if they ever did or not, but I made the mistake of mentioning it to Talifus the next
day after his fever had gone down. I don’t think he ever forgave me.”
11. What is the most frightening thing that has ever happened to you?
Tonnis’s smile fades. “There’ve been a lot of frightening things since the Malornians arrived. The worst was a few days ago when Eleya and I almost got killed for something Talifus tried to pin on us.” He shudders. “I really thought we were going to die. If it hadn’t been for Anya and Lasden, we would have.” He swallows hard and turns to me soberly. “And as long as we're forced to labor in the enemy's service, that’ll be a daily possibility.”