My third novel, Prince of Malorn, is being published in less than a week! In honor of the occasion, I've decided to interview the title character.
I have arranged to meet Prince Korram in a grassy meadow on one of the lower slopes of Malorn’s Impassable Mountains. He and another young man, both dressed in deerskin and holding homemade spears, are keeping an eye on a large flock of goats. Korram comes over to talk to me while the goats graze.
How old are you?
“Seventeen and a half.”
What's your favorite food or drink?
“Now? This might sound odd, but I think my favorite food is roast goat. I never had it back in the palace – actually, the first time I tasted it was just a few days ago, after I got back from a very difficult mission. The Mountain Folk family I’ve been living with killed one of their goats for the celebration feast, which they only do when something really important happens. It was a great honor, and I think I enjoyed the meal more than any banquet I ever had back in the palace. I know I’ll never taste goat again without remembering that sense of accomplishment, as well as the pride the others all felt in me. I was exhausted, bruised, and scraped all over from what I’d been through, but it felt so good to sit with them round the campfire in the open air, licking the grease off our fingers while I told the story of my adventures.”
What makes you angry?
“Feeling helpless. And talking to Regent Rampus. The two are pretty much the same thing.”
Tell me about your family.
“Well, Father died four years ago, so there’s just my mother, my little sister, and me. Mother - Queen Aleris - is a strong woman; she could rule the kingdom on her own if it were allowed. She always knows what to do and how to deal with almost any kind of problem; I’ve learned more from her over the years than I ever did from Father. She can be overly controlling, though. I think sometimes she forgets that I’m not a little boy anymore. Even when I’m king, I’m certain she’ll still remind me to comb my hair before I go out and not slouch on my throne. To be honest, it’s been a relief to be off by myself in the mountains these last few months and not have her looking over my shoulder telling me what to do. Of course, I’ve found myself missing her and wondering how she would suggest dealing with some of the problems I’ve faced.
“My sister Kalendria is eleven; she’s prim and proper and likes her fine clothes and jewelry and for everything to be clean and perfect.” Korram chuckles. “I can’t wait to tell her about some of the things I’ve been through up here. Eating beetle larvae to keep from starving, for example; and sleeping on the ground, being chased by a bear, going weeks without bathing. She’ll be horrified – but at the same time, she loves a good story, so she’ll enjoy the tale. She always enjoys Arden’s stories, especially the ones full of danger and adventure. I can’t picture her ever having an adventure herself, though.
“And Arden. He isn’t technically a member of the family, but he might as well be. He’s been a good friend to all of us, and it’s hard to imagine life without him now. He almost always joins Mother and Kalendria and me when we sit down to discuss what Rampus has been up to or how to make sure we’re safe, and he has very good ideas. There’s something about the way he plays his malute that just makes it easier to think and make plans. His music is odd that way – I’ll never understand how it works, but it’s as though he can use it to make people feel certain ways or want to do things that they otherwise wouldn’t. I wish he had come with me up here to the mountains, to be honest; but he’s needed back in the palace more. Who knows what Rampus might be plotting in my absence, and there’s no one else I could trust to look after Mother and Kalendria.”
What would you change about yourself if you could?
He grins sheepishly. “I’d like to be a little taller. It’s embarrassing for a future king to be at least half a head shorter than everyone else my age. I’d like to have the kind of imposing stature that inspires admiration and respect in people.”
Do you prefer cities or the countryside? Warm weather or cold?
Looking conflicted, Korram stares out at the snowy peaks that surround us on every side. “I enjoy the mountains very much now that I’ve learned to survive in them – at least, as long as I can stay down on the lower slopes where it’s reasonably safe. I love looking up and seeing all the rugged peaks and the open sky, and not having people and buildings all around me. But my life has never been about what I prefer. I’ll have to spend almost all my time in the city again once I’m king. I must admit that the warmer weather down there will be nice, though. I have no desire to ever weather another blizzard. I’m content to enjoy the snow from a distance now, thank you.”
What do you hope to accomplish? What keeps you from achieving your goal?
“Well, considering who I am, it’s probably obvious that I hope to become king. Legally I should be able to in a few more months, but Regent Rampus is standing in my way. He’s been ruling Malorn since my father died, and if I know him, he’s going to do anything it takes to stay in charge. That’s why I’m here in the Impassables in the first place. If I can’t recruit my own army, I don’t stand a chance against him.”
I hear that Rampus stopped you right as you were setting out for the mountains. What was that about?
“He wanted to assassinate me. That is, he invited me in for breakfast and to wish me success on my journey, but I know him better than that. He tried to send guards with me, supposedly to protect me on my trip, but I’m certain that the moment we left the city and there were no witnesses, they would have surrounded me and killed me. And of course I had to pretend not to suspect anything, or he would probably have had them turn on me then and there in the inn. But finally I managed to convince him that my mission – which he thinks is to recruit Mountain Folk soldiers for Malorn’s regular army to help protect us against Alasia – wouldn’t work if I brought guards along. He did insist on sending a servant, Trayven, whose real job I think was to guide me to places along the way where assassins would be waiting. But I set my own route and never went any of the ways Trayven suggested, so I’ve managed to stay alive so far. And he’s gone now anyway, so I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”
You’ve been living with the Mountain Folk for quite some time now. Most Malornians would say they’re dangerous; ignorant; dirty savages. What made you decide to seek their help in the first place, and what’s your secret to getting along with them?
“Kalendria would say they’re dirty, that’s for certain; but so am I, now.” Korram gestures at the deerskin tunic and breeches he’s wearing, stained all over with mud, grass, grease, and what might be hints of blood. He spreads out unwashed hands to show me how grubby they are. “Hot baths and soap don’t exist up here in the Impassables, and there are no servants to do the laundry. Oh, the Mountain Folk do wash their clothes and themselves in the streams now and then, but that isn’t very practical when the weather is this cold – and really, what’s the point? You just get dirty again.” He chuckles. “I suppose my personality is better suited to mountain life than palace life. Not that I would let that keep me from my responsibilities,” he hastens to add. “But back to your question. I decided to seek their help because they’re the only segment of Malornian society Rampus doesn’t control in some way. They’re nomadic and they live in an area very hard to access from the Lowlands, so he can’t tax them, bribe them, threaten them, or manipulate them. They don’t live in fear of what he might do if they displease him, and they have nothing to gain by siding with him. Who better to recruit to help me? And as for the ‘secret’, it really isn’t a secret at all. I just had to demonstrate that I respected them and wasn’t here to take advantage of them as so many Lowlanders try to. I joined them in their daily tasks and asked them to teach me what they knew. And I’ve come to understand that although their culture is different, they’re no less kind, intelligent, or even civilized – in their own way – than anyone else.”
Finish this sentence: I have never told anyone this before but….
Korram hesitates. “I feel angry with my father a lot. I know it’s stupid, considering that he’s dead. But back when he was alive, he was always so busy that he never spent much time with me. I’m not saying he should have taken time away from his responsibilities as king, but I wish he had bothered to show me more of how it worked. I mean, my tutors taught me all about the ins and outs of Malornian government, but I didn’t get to see much of it in action. You would think a king would want his only son to see how he rules, but I never got much of that. It wasn’t until after his death that I started attending High Council meetings, for example. I suppose Father probably thought I was too young and that he had the rest of his life to teach me what I needed to know about ruling a kingdom.” Korram’s voice is bitter. “Well, the rest of his life wasn’t very long.”
What is your idea of success?
“If I can convince enough Mountain Folk to join my army, then I’ll be able to stand against Rampus. I’m not sure if that will involve actually fighting him and the regular army, or if simply seeing that I’m protected will be enough to keep him from trying anything. But either way, my first goal is to raise an army, my second is to stay alive until my eighteenth birthday, and my third is to remove Rampus from the picture and become king of Malorn. If I can do all three, I will have succeeded.”
After you become king, do you think you’ll ever return to the mountains?
“I hope so.” But Korram looks sad. “To be honest, though, I doubt it. Oh, maybe a day trip into the foothills now and then, but probably not much more than that. The Impassables are too far from Sazellia, and a king can’t just leave his responsibilities for weeks at a time to go traipsing through the wilderness.” He gazes around at the snow-clad peaks rising above us and sighs. “But the mountains will always be part of me now. I’ve changed and learned so much here that leaving the Impassables behind will be like abandoning a piece of myself.”
Have there been any times since you left the city when you were certain things just were not going to turn out right?
“Quite a lot of times.” He grins. “The third night on this trip I just returned from, for one. I hadn’t had much to eat for the last couple of days and I thought I was going to starve – but little did I know I would come much closer to starvation later. There was a terrific thunderstorm that night, and I was drenched to the bone and had nowhere to take shelter. I was cold, hungry, and miserable; I couldn’t sleep and thought I’d never live through the night. But things got better in the morning – and then of course they got worse again. Much worse. I nearly died several times: from hypothermia, starvation, dehydration, and between the jaws of bears and a snowcat. But I kept thinking how thrilled Rampus would be if I never returned, and that gave me the strength to keep going. And the good thing is, no matter what hardships I face through the rest of my life, I know they’ll be no match for me now. Not after the difficulties I’ve already faced and conquered. I’ll be a better king someday because of what I’ve been through.”
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.