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.