Dear readers, tonight we print a magazine interview from the world of Valengrad, where the reporter managed to track down a Captain of the shadowy Blackwings – Ryhalt Galharrow.
All we’ll say, is that we’re glad we weren’t sitting in the interviewer chair this time.
I meet Galharrow on a red-sky day in Valengrad, me on a last-minute effort to grab an interview before heading back to the capital, Galharrow on a rare break from work. He’s been hard to find, harder still to pin down. Slightly glazed, he says that he didn’t have to come far from the office, but he looks like he’s been up most of the night. As I sip at coffee that has been brewing for at least the best part of a day, I can’t imagine an organization with Blackwing’s authority and reputation having an office in this part of the city, or why he’d choose to meet in The Bell. It’s not the worst alehouse that I’ve wandered into, but it’s not far off. Galharrow, to my disappointment looks like he fits in, shirt untucked and stained. He still cuts a daunting figure. He’s six-six, at least three hundred pounds and all of it the kind of weight that doubtless puts fear into the deserters he chases down. I ask if he’d like to share my pot of coffee, but the girl at the bar is already bringing him a bottle of brandy. He holds off questions until he has a drink in hand, by which time the clock is chiming ten. In the morning. The brandy goes down, his hand stops shaking quite so much, and for the first time there’s light in his eyes and a smile on his lips.
Me: Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?
RG: If you don’t know the story, then I’m not going to go into it in detail and it’s better left that way for everyone. Sounds dramatic, I know, but it was a good place, in a lot of ways. My family had money. A lot of money. I didn’t want for anything. I was always encouraged, which I guess passes for love in some families. There were a lot of expectations. I’m not sure that I ever lived up to any of them.
Me: Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?
RG: Toys were frowned upon, as a rule. I had the usual things that boys my age get given when they’re expected to serve on the Range as an officer. Practice swords, horses, strategy games. There were a lot of lessons, but I didn’t dislike them. I enjoyed learning, and I was competitive. I had an older brother, and he was always going to inherit the estate, so I tried to better him in other ways.
I don’t find it healthy to hold onto memories and call them good or bad. The days were what they were. Most of them are better left buried.
Me: Can you tell the people back in the capital a little of what you do as a Blackwing captain?
RG: If people are fortunate, they never need to see, or know what Blackwing does, but there are a lot of unfortunates out here on the Range. Not every soldier is good, and not every man is a man. Blackwing is tasked with rooting out the sympathizers that side with the enemy, military deserters, the Cult of the Deep, the Brides that corrupt men’s minds, that kind of thing. If it doesn’t belong here, it’s the captain’s job to find it and neutralize it.
Me: A Bride sounds fascinating. Can you tell me more about them? Are there any in the city presently?
RG: Trust me, you don’t want to know.
Me: I think that I really would!
RG: Next question.
Me: What can you tell us about your latest adventure?
RG: The fact that you think that any of this is about adventures says it all, really. Take a look around you, kid. Look east, into the Misery. The sky is torn and broken, and it screams through the night. The land shifts so much that it can’t be mapped. You can walk all day north and find yourself back where you started, if you don’t have a navigator, and that’s only if you nothing takes your leg off or the ghosts don’t drive you mad.
You want to ride-along with me when we chase some idiots out there? You want to see the Misery for yourself? Look around you at the men who are drinking here, with the sun barely over the horizon. Most of them were soldiers once. Look for the missing feet, look for the way that their eyes don’t focus. This isn’t some fucking adventure to glamourize for the pamphleteers back home. This place is poison.
Only three kinds of people go willingly into the Misery. They’re either greedy, desperate or stupid. Which are you?
Me: Let’s talk about something else! There are a lot of theories about how the Misery came to be. What’s your take?
RG: It’s no great secret for those that take an interest, only most people would rather not think about it. It was Crowfoot – yeah, you’ve heard of him, but you inner-states types don’t seem to really understand. He’s still around, but it was his weapon that made the Misery. The Heart of the Void. Your next question is going to be ‘what was that?’ but it was eighty years ago and nobody in five hundred miles survived when it was set off.
The Heart of the Void turned Adrogorsk and Clear into ash and fused glass. Whole cities, gone, just like that. It burned the sky, tore the earth. There are mountains at the northern edge of the Misery that are black as obsidian and brittle as glass. There are things in the Misery that don’t live in our time, that seem to think they’re people and weep as they try to eat you. Who in the hells knows what kind of power does that?
Me: What was the scariest thing that you’ve seen in the Misery?
RG: There are things that will eat you. Some of them get pretty big, but they’re the easy ones. The ones you see coming, the ones you can fight. The ghosts are bad, but they’re not real – they’re just a reflection of things that you regret, and you learn to ignore them. But there’s something under the sands in the north. Some kind of jellyfish thing. It doesn’t have a name, but that? I’ll not even go near that.
Me: What is the hardest thing about life on the frontier?
RG: Since you’re new here, you’ve not yet got used to the sky’s howling. Trust me, you won’t. It comes and goes, and you’d think that you could get used to anything, but not even Marshal Venzer is used to it, and he’s pushing eighty.
Me: What is the best thing about it?
(Galharrow laughed here, and ordered another bottle of brandy. He shook his head, but declined to comment).
Me: Tell us a little about your friends.
RG: See these skulls inked on my arm? These are my friends. Were my friends. One for each one I’ve lost out here. You look shocked, but this is a war. What did you expect?
Not everyone is gone. I have a few good people on my team. Tnota is my navigator, and he’s the best you’ll find on the Range. Nenn is the woman over there in the corner trying to sleep off last night’s celebrations, the one with the wooden nose. No, don’t think about waking her. Nobody who knows Nenn wakes her up if there’s a chance she’ll have a hangover. Tnota and Nenn – they’re not the friendliest people, but they’re good people at heart. Never tell them that I told you that.
Me: Is there a, er, Lady Galharrow?
RG: No. My wife and children died, a long time back. People make connections fast out here. Life can be brittle. I wouldn’t want to put anyone in that position again.
Me: You make it sound like there’s not a lot of good going on out here. So why do you stay?
It’s hard to explain. Most people just want to live a quiet life, maybe raise a herd of sheep and marry the girl from the next village. But the Deep Kings are out there, across the Misery. Crowfoot had to burn the world to keep them at bay, once, and now all we have is Nall’s Engine to protect us. That’s the huge thing on top of the citadel, the one that looks like a jester’s hat. Everyone knows that the Engine protects us, but it needs people to man it, to keep things running. I don’t trust anybody else enough to do what needs doing. If we fail here, then we die. I die, you die, everyone else dies. But it’s a living death, your mind broken and your body changed so that you’re one of the drudge. When you’re done here you’ll go back to the capital, and you’ll make money and trade stories at parties about the days you spent on the Range, and you’ll feel important. But this is the only place that matters in the entire damn world.
Me: It can’t all be so bleak. Even in the darkest night, there’s surely laughter, isn’t there? How do you spend your down time.
RG: I drink, I read, and I gamble. I train. I sleep.
Me: What does the future hold for you?
RG: I’m a soldier. The future holds orders, and journeys into the Misery and heads to bring back for whatever bounties the courts are willing to pay. There’s liquorice to keep away the shakes that come on after you leave the Misery and the bad magic starts to fade. There’s late nights and dawn raids, and hopefully when whatever comes for me finally gets here, I’ll be drunk enough that I won’t see it coming.
Me: Can you share a secret with us, which you’ve never told anyone else?
RG: I guess so. I’m not a man who likes to talk a lot about his work, as you’ve probably worked out. But I’ve an important task to do today. I heard that there was a man coming here who wanted to ask me a bunch of questions, trying to learn some things about Blackwing. Not many want to know about Blackwing. People fear us, and with reason, so I asked myself why anyone would want an interview with me? So I looked into him.
No, don’t get up.
So I did some digging, and you know what I found?
If you go for that knife, I’ll break your other arm too. Stop whimpering. Lie still. I’m answering. Isn’t that what you wanted?
So, I found that he didn’t travel here alone. I found that he didn’t write for the gazette as he claimed. And I found that he’d positioned his friends outside the door, in the hope that I’d be drunk enough that they might get the drop on me. Cult of the Deep, I guess. Sympathisers. So I put some of my own men out there. I put Nenn over there pretending to be asleep in case I needed some fast steel, but it looks like it was just the three of you. I wouldn’t worry about the others. They can’t worry about you anymore.
Now. I’m going to ask you some questions.
Ed McDonald has spent many years not getting enough sleep through a series of professions, cities and countries, but the only thing any of them share in common is that they have allowed him enough free time to write. He currently lives in London, a city that provides him with constant inspiration, where he works part time as a university lecturer. When he’s not grading essays or wrangling with misbehaving plot lines he can usually be found fencing with longswords, rapiers and pollaxes.
Join us next week to for an interview with a a lupine – a werewolf – from Seattle. Please follow the site by (bottom-right) to be notified when the next interview is posted.