Sunday, March 2, 2014

Lantil: Interview with a Coffee Farmer

With my third novel in my Annals of Alasia trilogy hopefully ready to publish by the beginning of May, I decided to conduct a series of "interviews" with my characters.  This one is the second.  Enjoy!

Lantil has invited me into his home, a wooden cottage in a small village nestled in the foothills of the Impassable Mountains, for this interview.  The view through the window shows row upon row of coffee bushes spreading across the slope.  His wife serves us coffee in battered tin mugs, and we sit on rough-hewn wooden furniture around the fireplace while I pull out my list of questions.

How would you describe yourself?
He shrugs.  “I’m a hard-working man.  I know how to take care of coffee, and I like a good strong mug of it to start the day.”  He takes a sip of his.  “I love my wife and children, and I think our friends would say I’m a good neighbor.”

What are your hobbies?
“I like to hunt.  Lots of animals move down here to the foothills when it starts getting really cold up on the higher slopes.  We get plenty of deer in these parts, especially; in fact, they’re a worse problem for our garden than the Mountain Folk.  Sometimes my neighbor and I will take our bows and sit out at night watching for them.  My wife makes a real good venison stew, and we smoke the rest of the meat to eat in the winter.”

Do you prefer cities or the countryside? Warm weather or cold?
He scratches his head.  “I’ve never been to a big city like Sazellia before.  I think I’d like it, though.  I always enjoy the trips to town when we go sell our coffee.  Mountain life is good too, but it has its disadvantages.”  A troubled expression crosses his face.  “Mountain Folk being one of the main ones, of course, but we sometimes get wolves or bears around here too, then there’s the fact that the nearest town where we can buy supplies is nearly a day’s ride away.  And I like warm weather a lot better.  Winters are pretty severe up in the mountains.  Of course this is just the foothills, but we still get snow every now and then, and the wind blowing off the peaks gets colder than anything you can imagine.  Besides, when the weather gets cold, the Mountain Folk move to lower elevations.”  He shudders.  “We do all we can to keep out of their way, but we can’t stop them from coming to us.”

What is the one sentence you would never say?
“I’d never say to those Mountain Folk, ‘Come help yourself to my garden vegetables or fruit without paying for them.’  But they’re always trying to.”

What makes you angry?
“Being robbed.”  He scowls.  “My family and I put a lot of work into our gardening.  Thank goodness the Mountain Folk don’t care for coffee, since that’s our livelihood.  But we have a little kitchen plot with vegetables and fruit trees that my wife and daughters care for while I’m tending the coffee bushes.  We rely on that to get us through the winter, but those thieving Mountain Folk try to take whatever they can get their hands on.”

What do you hope to accomplish?  What keeps you from achieving your goal?
“I hope to continue to provide for my family and save up for my daughters’ futures.  I have four beautiful young girls, and the oldest will be getting married next year.  My wife and I hope to help her and her husband get a good start on a little farm of their own, and put some money away for the others as well.  Our second daughter wants to live in the city someday, which won’t be easy to arrange, but we’re going to try to set up some sort of apprenticeship for her.”

Did you ever have a pet?  Describe it.
“We have a couple of cats that keep the mice at bay in the storage sheds.  And now we have a flock of goats.”  His face grows troubled.  “They’re not really ours, and it makes me nervous every time I think of their real owners coming back for them.  But they provide so much milk that we’ve been able to share with the whole village, and all our neighbors take turns helping to care for them.  It’s been wonderful having milk for the children every day, and cream for the coffee.”  He takes another sip from his cup.

“Who are their real owners?” I question.

“Well – they’re Mountain Folk.  After what happened here last autumn, I figured the least I could do was take care of their goats until they came back for them, but they never did.  I keep thinking that someday they will, and I’m afraid they’ll be angry with me for keeping them so long.  But I’m ready to give them back any day they ask, really.” 

Have you ever killed anyone?
He stares at me.  “How did you know?  We all promised not ever to tell anyone outside the village.  I mean, I don’t know if the law really applies when it comes to Mountain Folk, but just in case, we didn’t want the authorities to get word.  After all, it was an accident.  I never meant to shoot the girl.  You don’t know what it’s like having those savages charge at you with their spears brandished; and I have my family to protect, not to mention our home and crops.”  His voice is anguished now.  “But she was somebody’s daughter, and the sight of her lying there – I mean, I don’t know what I would have done if it had been one of my girls who –”  He breaks off and turns away with a shudder, biting his lip.  “It was the worst moment of my life.  I was just trying to scare them away, but then there she was coming at me, and I panicked.”  He sighs.  “Such a horrible memory.  I wish every day that I could somehow go back in time and change what happened.  I should have just let them take my apples.  Of course, then they’d only get bolder and come and steal from us all the more.  Still, that would be better than having her death on my conscience.”

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