This is an interview with the character Eleya, midwife and physician's assistant in the Alasian palace in my novel In the Enemy's Service. For an explanation of why I'm interviewing my characters, click here.
As I cross the palace courtyard toward the clinic, Eleya meets me at the front door. “Come in, come in. It’s freezing out there!” A light whirl of snowflakes follows me through the door as she hurriedly shuts it behind me. “Come on upstairs to the sitting room. We can talk there without being interrupted.”
I follow her through the front room, where I interviewed Tonnis not long ago. There are no patients waiting on the benches at the moment, but I pause to stare at the splintered remains of what used to be a desk piled against one wall.
“Talifus,” Eleya explains, noting the direction of my gaze. “He came in here in a bad mood yesterday and took it out on the furniture and then on Anya. Luckily, she’s all right now. This was Dal’s desk, though; I don’t know what he’ll say when he sees what happened. If he ever does.”
She leads the way through another doorway into a back room, where I see a fireplace, cupboards, and an examining table under two hanging lamps. Down a hallway beyond are three closed doors and one open one, through which I hear voices.
“Tonnis and Anya are in there with our patient Wennish,” Eleya explains. “But we’re going up here.” She starts up a steep stairway to one side. At the top she turns right into a small sitting room containing a small sofa and two armchairs on a rug before another fireplace.
“Sorry about the mess,” Eleya apologizes, pushing aside a rumpled pile of bedding on the sofa. “This is where Anya sleeps now. You’re the first company we’ve had up here since the Invasion.”
I settle myself on one of the armchairs and pull out my list of questions. “Don’t worry about it.”
1. Do you like your job? Why or why not?
“Most of the time I do. I enjoy helping my husband Tonnis and our friend Dal in the clinic. The job I’m really trained for, which I don’t get to do as often, is midwife; I love helping to bring children into the world. Lately, though, most of what Tonnis and I have been doing is just helping the Malornians.” She sighs. “They killed hundreds of our people, and here we are helping heal their injuries and keep them healthy so they can mistreat more of us any time they like.” She shakes her head hopelessly. “But after all the threats they’ve made, what else can we do?”
2. Do you have any friends? Significant others?
“Not as many friends as I used to have. A lot of them were our coworkers here at the palace, and most of those are buried out back now.” She pauses to fish out a handkerchief and blow her nose. “But of course Tonnis is still here. I don’t know what I’d do without him. And young Anya lives with us now; she’s become almost like family in the last couple weeks. I’ve enjoyed teaching her to do simple tasks around the clinic; to knit – it’s almost like having a daughter.” Eleya smiles fondly.
3. What is your idea of success?
“Helping sick or injured people recover. Helping a mother bring a healthy baby into the world.”
4. What do you hate?
“People who hurt others on purpose.”
5. What do you do in your spare time?
“I like to knit, especially with Anya. In the evenings or when the soldiers aren’t keeping an eye on us, sometimes we’ll all sit and knit and talk down in Wennish’s room. In the past, sometimes Tonnis and I would read together up here, but I doubt we’d be allowed to take books from the palace library now.”
6. What did you have for breakfast?
“Bread with butter and jam, a couple slices of pear, and spiced tea.”
7. Did you ever have a pet? Describe it.
Eleya smiles. “I love cats. While I was growing up, my sisters and I always had at least one. But I haven’t had a pet since I’ve been married. Unfortunately, Tonnis doesn’t care much for cats, and besides, it wouldn’t work well to keep one here, where we live above the clinic.”
8. Do you believe in luck? Why?
She considers this. “No, I don’t think so. I believe in good and evil. When people do evil things, like the Malornians have done here, some might call it bad luck, but I think that takes the blame off those who deserve it. What we call good luck usually comes through people’s hard work and perseverance.”
9. What is your favorite scent? Why?
“Warm peach pie, maybe. I used to make it a lot, before we moved here.” She chuckles. “I haven’t done much cooking in years – being able to eat three meals a day in the palace dining hall, Tonnis and I are spoiled – but now and then on my day off I’ll go to one of my sisters’ or cousins’ houses and cook with them. Peach pie is still my specialty.”
10. What is the strangest thing you have ever seen?
Eleya thinks this over. “Once I saw four children riding a donkey down one of the main streets here in Almar. That wouldn’t be so unusual, except that it was during a heavy rainstorm, and the poor things were doing all they could to keep from getting wet. They’d gotten ahold of a wooden board, and the last girl was holding the back edge of it, trying to balance it over all their heads with one hand while holding on to her brother’s waist with the other. The little boy in the front had both his hands in the air to support the board, which stuck out past him and sheltered most of the donkey’s head, too. It was the girl behind him who was reaching around him to hold the reins. But the board was nearly as wide as it was long, so other people on the street kept having to dodge or they’d be hit by one edge or the other.” She stops to chuckle. “The funniest part was, three of the children didn’t even seem to realize they were doing anything odd. They were singing some song about the joys of rain and springtime at the top of their little lungs, and in three different keys, I might add. Only the oldest boy looked embarrassed, like he wished he could disappear right off of that poor donkey’s back.” She shakes her head, still chuckling. “Children are so much fun. Just thinking of it makes me miss my nieces and nephews.”
11. What is the most frightening thing that has ever happened to you?
Eleya’s smile fades, and abruptly her mood turns serious. “There’ve been a lot of frightening things since the Malornians came. The night of the Invasion was bad enough, but yesterday... yesterday eight people –” Her voice breaks, and she pulls out her handkerchief once more to dab at her eyes and blow her nose. “They were our friends, and most of them – well, half of them – hadn’t even done anything. I’ll never forget the look on Talifus’s face as he –” She breaks off again, shuddering, and I wait awkwardly while she buries her face in her handkerchief, her shoulders heaving silently. “It’s awful,” she whispers finally. “Just awful. We don’t know when they’re going to stop, who’s going to be next. The only thing left to hope is that Prince Jaymin is still safe and that he has some sort of plan. Otherwise, I’m afraid things are only going to get worse.”
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