This is an interview with the merchant Karro, father of the ten-year-old protagonist in my novel In the Enemy's Service. For an explanation of why I'm interviewing my characters, take a look at my interview with his daughter Anya.
Glancing at my directions to double check the address, I knock on the front door of the house I’ve been directed to. It’s a two-story brick building in a middle-class neighborhood in Sazellia, the capital of Malorn.
At the sound of my knock, the shutters on the front window open a crack as though someone is peeking out. A moment later there is the sound of a bolt being drawn back, and then the front door opens and Karro stands there, smiling nervously.
“Come in, come in. Sorry for the delay; I had to be certain who was out there.” He ushers me in and gestures toward a sofa in the comfortably furnished sitting room. A fire crackles in the fireplace nearby, and a lamp hangs from the ceiling, but with all the shutters closed, the room is still dim. “Please, make yourself at home,” Karro urges. “My son is out at the moment with my brother and his family, so we won’t be interrupted. Can I get you anything to drink?”
I decline his offer and pull out my notes as he seats himself in an armchair across from me.
1. Do you like your job? Why or why not?
“Oh, yes. I wouldn’t want to be anything but a merchant. I love to travel, and I enjoy making new contacts, striking bargains, picking out the best goods and planning the best places to sell them. I’ve been training my son Arvalon, who’s nearly ready to join me in the business, and it makes me so proud to see him learning and enjoying it too.”
2. Do you have any friends? Significant others?
A shadow seems to pass over his face. “My wife passed away ten years ago. But my son and daughter are the joy of my life, and we have a large extended family here in Sazellia. With my business, it’s been easy to make friends almost everywhere. In fact, I’d say I have friends in a dozen different towns back in Alasia, and nearly as many in Malorn.”
3. What is your idea of success?
Karro smiles. “Striking a good bargain. Buying a cartload of goods from someone who’s glad to get it off his hands for that price, then finding just the right people to sell it to somewhere else for just enough profit to make it worth it, while they consider it an amazing bargain and can’t wait to do business with me again.”
4. What do you hate?
He considers this. “Being cheated into buying damaged or low quality goods, though that doesn’t happen often. Heavy rain when I’m out on the open road. Being talked back to by one of my children or nieces or nephews.”
5. What do you do in your spare time?
“I’ve tried to spend as much time as possible with Arvalon and Anya since they lost their mother. I try to do some of the things she used to do - plan picnics, take them fishing or out to play on the beach in summer or in the snow in winter. In the evenings the three of us often cook dinner together, and sometimes I’ll read aloud to them afterwards.” He chuckles ruefully. “Arvalon thinks he’s getting too old for such things, and I suppose in a way he is, but Anya still enjoys it. Sometimes I’ll pull one or both of them out of school for a few days if I need a hand on one of my longer business trips. I really think the life experience and time with their father will do them more good in the long run than sitting in a classroom.” He sighs. “I’m glad I brought Arvalon along this time, but I would have brought Anya too if I’d known what was going to happen. Our family has never been separated for this long before, and I’m not sure how long it will be before we’re together again.” His expression is worried.
6. What did you have for breakfast?
“Molian sweetbread and a cup of coffee.”
7. Did you ever have a pet? Describe it.
“I have two horses, if you can call them pets. They’re work animals. My wife liked cats, so we had a few back when she was alive, before Anya was born. When I was a boy, I kept turtles.”
8. Do you believe in luck? Why?
He hesitates, and I see that his expression has grown uncomfortable. “I don’t know. I suppose so. I mean, I would probably have said no if you’d asked me a year ago, but….” His voice trails off. I wait expectantly, and finally, reluctantly, he goes on. “A few months ago I had what I can only describe as a run of very bad luck in my business. You know, deals turning sour, customers cancelling orders for no reason I could understand. Finances got tight, and I was worried. I couldn’t figure out why everything was going wrong all at once. I had to make some difficult decisions.” He fidgets, running his fingers idly along the arm of his chair, and as I watch him, he won’t meet my gaze. “So, do you have any more questions, or was that all?”
Wondering what it is he isn’t comfortable talking about, I turn back to my list.
9. What is your favorite scent? Why?
Karro seems relieved to be on a safer topic. “The tang of salt air, perhaps. I spent most of my childhood here in Malorn where my father is from. As you may know, Malorn only has a few miles of coastline before the mountains get in the way, and what there is is mostly rocky. The water is all swampy and silty around the Grenn Delta, so it isn’t exactly an ideal place to enjoy a day at the beach. But every now and then we’d travel to Alasia to visit my mother’s parents, and they lived close to a beautiful beach, perfect for sandcastles and swimming and all sorts of fun. Sometimes we’d see dolphins out in the surf, or seals sunning themselves. That beach was one of the reasons I chose to move to Almar almost as soon as I was grown.”
10. What is the strangest thing you have ever seen?
Karro thinks this over for a while. “I’ve seen a lot of interesting things in my travels, but strange?” Then he chuckles. “Ah, I know. A few years back I was crossing the Grenn River on the ferry, heading back home to Alasia with a cartload of Malornian coffee. It’s always a little frightening, standing by the horses on that big flat raft, hoping they don’t spook and capsize the whole thing, while the ferrymen pull you across on their pulley system. I always try not to look down at the water so close to my feet, but this one time, my attention was caught by a glimpse of something moving. You may not believe this, but it was a shark - a huge one, too; the biggest I’ve ever seen. Its dorsal fin cut through the water not three feet away, and the water was so clear I could see its whole body. It was longer than my cart; longer than the whole raft. I suppose it was lost, maybe disoriented in the fresh water, trying to find its way back down to the ocean. Don’t ask me how it managed to get thirty miles upstream from the coast.” He shakes his head in wonder. “I think about it every now and then, wonder if it ever did make it home.”
11. What is the most frightening thing that has ever happened to you?
Immediately, Karro grows uncomfortable once again. His gaze shifts to the floor, the fireplace, the tightly shuttered windows, but he doesn’t look at me. Finally he licks his lips and starts to speak, pauses, starts again, and stops. I wait, and finally he tries again.
“I’m sure you know about what happened two weeks ago. The Malornian army invaded Alasia; rumor has it they’ve killed the royal family and wiped out the Alasian army. It’s very disturbing, especially since my daughter is over there right now. She’s staying with my neighbors, who’ve always taken good care of her and Arvalon when I’ve been gone. But still, I’m worried about her.” He pauses, and I can tell he’s struggling between the need to get something off his chest and reluctance to speak about it.
“The thing is, I’m afraid I may be partly to blame for -” he begins, then breaks off abruptly. Rising to his feet, he begins pacing the room, chewing on his lower lip in distraction. “I didn’t mean any harm, but -” He breaks off again, pausing at one of the windows to pull the shutter open just far enough to peer out. “Anyway, as long as I stay in Malorn, what’s the worst that can happen? Nothing, of course. No one’s allowed across the border at the moment, so I know I’m safe. It’s just that -” He glances at the door. “I just have this awful feeling that someone’s going to - but of course that’s silly. Not with the Malornians in charge over there, and the Alasian government nonexistent now.” He sighs. “I love Alasia. It’s my home, or it was. I love Malorn too, but I don’t know what possessed Prince Korram to attack a peaceful kingdom the way he did. And I don’t know what’s going to become of Alasia now, but in the unlikely event that the kingdom ever struggles back to its feet and somehow throws off Malornian control, I don’t think I can ever go back.” His voice catches for a moment, and he turns away.
“I don’t dare,” he whispers finally, desperation in his voice. “But I’ll be safe as long as I stay on this side of the river, right? Even in peace time, the Alasian authorities would never -” He breaks off once more, shaking his head with a sigh. “I’ve got to send for Anya as soon as they start letting people across again,” he tells me finally. “There’s no future for us in Alasia anymore.”
Click here to read my other character interviews.
Click here to read my other character interviews.