Dear readers, tonight with me is a fifteen-year-old shepherd, who spent his whole life dreaming of revolt against the hygiene-adverse Philistines. Recently an all-but-impossible mission is thrust upon him, and he started to rethink the whole hero business. What chance does the daring schemer have when lions, the Mad King, and a literal giant stand in his way?
He is here to tell us of his race to uncover the hidden traitor, conspiracies and armies which converge on the nation — with his hometown directly in the crossfire.
What’s the most vivid memory you have as a child?
I’ve been wrongfully identified as the chief mischief maker in our family. While I’d never deny my penchant for a bit mayhem, one of my older brothers, Abin, is the real godfather of all things chaos. Growing up, he was always seeking the next prank to pull off, and he often used me as patient zero for his ideas. Once, he convinced me to try every spice in our mother’s cabinet. It went alright until I chomped into a blackened mustard seed. My eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets, and I spent the next two hours impersonating a waterfall, spewing fluids all over the house. He lovingly referred to it as ‘Abin’s Surprise.’
Tell us a little about where you grew up?
Ancient Israel is a tale of two worlds. On the one side, our countryside is awesome. We’ve got fertile hills, clear rivers, and some of the best wine this side of the mesopotamian peninsula. It’s a dream scenario, except for the tiny fact that every one of our neighboring countries want to wipe us off the map. Every decade or so, another regional war breaks out, and we spend the next five years cleaning up the mess. Plus, my people aren’t exactly known for a surplus in courage. We’re more of the ‘flee in terror’ crowd than the ‘stand up and fight for yourselves’ demographic, which only paints a larger target on our backs.
What do you do now?
I’m in between jobs at the moment. Over the past five years I’ve been everything from a shepherd to a royal bard to a field general, but that last one ended on rather tenuous terms with King Erik. Since I valued keeping all of my limbs firmly attached to my torso, taking an extended leave of absence made the most sense.
What can you tell us about your latest adventure?
You know the old adage, ‘no good deed goes unpunished?’ That pretty much sums up my life right now. A rather disagreeable seer entrusted me with an even more disagreeable task: rooting out a traitor hiding out among Israel’s leadership. It wouldn’t have been so bad had he given me the slightest clue of where to start, but no, he just sent me out with nothing more than the merry prophecy that if I didn’t uncover the traitor in time, everyone I loved would die. So no pressure.
Rumors tell you had run ins with both a lion and a bear recently? If you had to fight one of them again, which would you chose?
Honestly, I’d rather volunteer for another dozen rounds of playing Abin’s guinea pig than relive either of those two mind-numbingly terrifying experiences again, but if you forced me to choose, I’d take the lion. I had some supernatural mojo flowing through my veins during that battle, which helped even the odds. The brawl with the bear happened in a much more confined space, and I’m sure if we fought another 99 times, each repeat attempt would have ended with me as bear kibble.
What was the scariest thing in your adventures?
Every fifteen-year-old dreams of being the hero, but what we all miss is the fine print that explains how high the stakes are if you fail. By the end of my last adventure, I had enemies making attempts on my life on a daily basis, and that wasn’t even the worst part. The real fear came from knowing if I failed, everyone I loved would pay with their lives.
What is the worst thing about being a shepherd?
Have you ever spent time around sheep? They are, without question, the dumbest livestock on the market. You spend most of your time making sure they stop eating before their stomachs literally explode. Growing up to be a babysitter was never a part of my plans, especially for animals that are little more than glorified crops that crap everywhere.
Were there any advantages to being a shepherd?
Nap time. Definitely nap time. When you’re out seeking fresh pasture with new mothers and their lambs, the flock needs to stop every couple of miles for rest. At that age, they’d never wander far from the herd, which meant it became possible to steal a couple of winks between jaunts.
Tell us a little about your friends.
I’m good at finding ways to complain, but in this category, I’m blessed beyond my station. My best friend is Prince Damon. He’s the living embodiment of good people and has saved my life enough times I probably owe him my firstborn child. Mind you, his father, King Erik, is currently trying to kill me, but even that little hiccup doesn’t dampen our friendship. Beyond him, I’ve got seven other brothers, and I wouldn’t be doing the question justice without mentioning Deborah. She’s the most capable blacksmith in Israel and fights with the fiercest smithing hammers on the continent.
Any romantic involvement?
That’s kind of sore subject. There is a girl, who I may or may not still technically be engaged to, but her father and I don’t exactly see eye to eye. Mostly because he’s currently trying to rip my eyes out from their sockets.
Whom do you really hate?
The focus of my hatred has morphed over the years. Growing up, I despised everything about the Philistines. My family had lost relatives in the battles between our two countries, and I was confident if we could just remove them from the picture, everything would finally be okay. Now, I’m not so sure. Lately, more of my people have been murdered by Israelites than any foreign entity. Today, my focus is on protecting my family, my hometown, and my men. The Philistine’s still stink something fierce though.
What does the future hold for you?
For health reasons (namely not being discovered and dragged back for execution), I’m taking a little time away from Israel. The decision came down to finding a place where King Erik’s influence couldn’t reach. I found one, the problem is it comes with it’s own hazards. We’ll leave it there.
Can you share a secret with us, which you’ve never told anyone else?
I thought giants were the worst thing I’d ever have to face. Nope, next up I have to deal with demons. Freaking demons.
Joshua McHenry Miller, a native Michigander, grew up in two distinct worlds: the cozy suburbs of Detroit and the urban jungle of Pontiac. A lover of story in all forms, he’s spent over a decade honing his writing, and his debut YA novel, Tyrants and Traitors, was released October 10th, 2016. When Josh isn’t writing, he serves as a community developer in south-central Madison, WI. He’s currently working on the sequel, Hunters and Heretics, due in early 2017.
You can find Niklas on the pages of Tyrants and Traitors.
Join us next week to meet an adult companion, who’s torn by royal birthright. Please follow the site by email (bottom-right), via Twitter, or like our Facebook page to be notified when the next interview is posted.