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The Protagonist Speaks

Interviews with the characters of your favourite books

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Epic Fantasy

Grimnir (of A Gathering of Ravens, by Scott Oden)

Dear readers, tonight with me is a creature of myth, the last of a race of those who hunted us, and we hunted them in a war that could only lead to extinction.


We find him in a cave.  At first, he wishes to kill us, for we are interlopers in his world and there is very little we could do to stop him.  We are reminded of a wolf, old and battle-scarred but still hale and as deadly as its younger kin.  Perhaps moreso.  But, we have come prepared.  We appeal to his vanity — and his vanity is immense — until he deigns to let us live . . . and to answer a few questions.

A fire crackles on the crude hearth; ventilation is poor, and the smoke hangs over us like a death-shroud.  He sits on an ancient throne-like chair carved of wood and watches us with his head tilted, his right eye like an ember that burns with a light of its own; his left eye is the color of old bone. His saturnine face is sharp and lean, with a jutting chin, heavy cheekbones, and a craggy brow.  A jagged scar bisects the bridge of his nose, crossing his left eye, and continuing up until it vanishes beneath gold-and-bone beaded braids of coarse black hair at his left temple.  When he speaks, he does so in a patois drawn from Old Norse, Danish, and Anglo-Saxon.  His vernacular is crude and vulgar, and he peppers his answers with curses, snatches of song, and guttural noises.

We have edited his answers to appeal to the modern ear . . .

Tell us a little about yourself.  Who . . . wh-what are you?

You tell me, little Mjólkblóð [Translator’s note: “Milk-blood”; this was his name for us, collectively]!  What did you expect to find when you came blundering into my cave, eh?  What am I?  Faugh!  I am called many things, you wretch.  I am Corpse-maker and Life-quencher!  I am the Bringer of Night!  I am the Son of the Wolf and Brother of the Serpent!  The Danes of old named me skraelingr.  To your kind, to you bastard English, I am orcnéas

Wait . . . Orcnéas?  You mean, you’re an orc?

If it strikes your fancy, Mjólkblóð.  Call me what you will, but if you interrupt me again, by Ymir, I will tear your blasted tongue out by the roots!  I have a score of names: skraelingr, orc, fomoraig to the Gaels of Èriu . . . but what of it?  I am kaunar!  I am the last!  The last of my kind . . . the last son of Bálegyr left to plague Miðgarðr!  I am Grimnir!

I drew my first squalling breath in the last days of the Butchering Month, forty-eight years before the strife and shield-breaking that was Mag Tuiredh [Translator’s note: Mag Tuiredh, a battle in ancient Ireland, has been tentatively dated to 69 AD; thus, Grimnir’s year of birth is approximately 21 AD].  Orkahaugr, in the Kjolen Mountains, was my home.  You should have seen it, Mjólkblóð!  Your houses of steel and glass?  Faugh!  You lot might as well live under two nīðing-poles and a twine-stretched sheet!  I was raised in granite and limestone, our mines, smithies, armories, and dwelling halls hacked from the mountain’s innards by my sire’s hands – the same hands that once fashioned trinkets of gold and iron for the kings of Jötunheimr.  Columns of living stone stretched higher than a titan, holding up the mountain itself; shafts cut through the rock let in cold air, and hundreds of lamps hung from the branches of great trees forged from iron and bronze.  Trophies dripped from the walls: banners and flayed skins, the shields of fallen foes, the hauberks of heroes slain on the field, the skulls of Jötnar and the thighbones of trolls.  [Grimnir’s eye blazes in the gloom; its intensity is quite unnerving, really]  Aye, Orkahaugr was my home, the heart of the kaunar lands of Miðgarðr, but it has been as dead as your Nailed God for more than two thousand years, now.

You mention Jötunheimr, the Abode of Giants . . . is that where your folk are from?  How did you come to be here, in our world?

Nár!  My folk were wrought in the dark of Niðavellir, by the hand of the Tangled God, Father Loki, himself.  Nine clans of dvergar [Trans. Note: Norse dwarfs] were invited to a feast.  The Nine Fathers, they were called, my own among them: 

“There is Bálegyr | the mightiest made
Of all the chieftains, | and Kjallandi next;
Lútr and Hrauðnir, | Njól and Dreki,
Naglfari and Gangr, | and fierce Mánavargr.”

As Loki looked on, servants doled out bloody cuts of meat from three great platters, and the Nine and their families gorged themselves.  Was it raw hanks of goat’s meat they shoveled down their gullets?  Was this flesh cut from the flanks of Ymir’s prized cow?  Can you guess what it was, Mjólkblóð?  No?  It was the afterbirth of Angrboða, who had that very night borne Loki’s monstrous children: the mighty Fenrir, the serpent Jörmungandr, and silent Hel.  All who partook of that feast, and their descendents, were forever changed.  They became kaunar.

[He is silent for a long moment; when he speaks, again, his voice drips scorn.]  Those wretched beardlings, our dvergar cousins, drove the Nine Fathers from Niðavellir.  We sought refuge in Jötunheimr, under the Tangled God’s banner.  It was he who set us the task of guarding the caves where he’d hidden his monstrous issue from the Allfather’s gaze.  We tried, but when the lords of Ásgarðr came to take Loki’s children with Angrboða off to face the judgment of that raven-starver, Odin, we could not hold them off.  Five of the Nine Fathers died under the blades of the Æsir.  The rest — with only their wives and brats and what goods they could carry on their backs — made good their escape, following Bálegyr across the Ash-Road to this Miðgarðr.  To your world, Mjólkblóð.

Continue reading “Grimnir (of A Gathering of Ravens, by Scott Oden)”

Manume, Goddess of the Moon (of Saga of the Outer Islands, by A. F. Stewart)

Dear readers, tonight with me is a goddess, though as her domain is the moon you might find her a tad unhinged. She is here to tell us about her world, and about her struggles with her brother who ferries drowned souls to the afterlife.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

I grew up on the Isle of Shadows, the place of in-between, home of the gods. The place that shifts and drifts. It’s a corner of the After World sitting in the sea. A paradise full of unhappy gods.

But it had nice places to play and I could always see the moon at night. It smelled like honey and sweet flowers. My brother and I were close then. We had adventures and found treasures on the beach. Seashells and shiny rocks.

Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?

I had a doll. Pretty doll. Black hair and dark eyes with a dress that sparkled like the stars. Named her Min. Loved her. (sighs) Aryna blew her away on the wind. She was a mean sister. Never liked her. Wanted to see how Min would fly, she said. I cried.

Mother tried to make it better. Gave me a bone to play with instead. I didn’t like it. It smelled. I hit Aryna with it though. Felt better. Making her cry is a good memory.

What do you do now?

Stay on my island until the bad things happen. Stare at the moon, splash in the sea.

Sometimes I talk to bones. Sometimes they talk back. I sing to my children. Hugh sings too, though he doesn’t get too close. He has bad memories of my children. Of when they tried to eat him. We took a boat trip last week, to see the Stone Giants. They like me now. Mother may have told them too, but no matter. The Stone Giants have more to say than the bones.

What can you tell us about your latest adventure?

I took a trip to see Mother, caught a… oh best not say that. Someone told me it’s a spoilery thing. There were pirates sailing about, but I didn’t see them. Gave my brother a map. He might be cross about that, but I didn’t know. Mother did things to the map. (shrugs)

Before that I listened to the bones whisper secrets and did some magic with the Grey Sisters. Oh, and fought that nasty monster who…oh, another spoiler thing. Of course, I never used to be so helpful. I used to be mad at my brother and tried to… oooh, no can’t say that either.

Continue reading “Manume, Goddess of the Moon (of Saga of the Outer Islands, by A. F. Stewart)”

Prince Ravel (of Sand Dancer, by Trudie Skies)

Dear readers, tonight with me is a prince of the Bright Solara, a graduate of the academy experienced with everything from swordsmanship to strategy. He’s here to tell us about his life — including dealing with raiders in the sandy deserts of his future kingdom.


Many thanks to our crown heir, Prince Ravel, for taking time out of his many appointments to speak with us today. How fares Bloodstone Keep, my Prince?

The honor is mine. The Keep is currently at rest whilst we await the arrival of new students for the Academy which always brings fresh tutors and a spate of Council meetings for our visiting Housemen. Of course, it doesn’t quite compare to the end-of-year celebrations. One can still walk the halls of the Keep without being hailed at every turn.

You’ve spent your entire life in the palace of Bloodstone Keep. How would you describe life as a prince under our great King Khaled’s reign?

Challenging, but I eagerly await the next challenge. The life of a prince isn’t all fine wine and art. From birth, my father has ensured that I am constantly learning and seeking to learn. I attended my first Council meeting at the age of five to understand the duties ahead of me. My father believes that one may only learn by doing, and that is something I push for; to get hands-on experience of aiding our kingdom. My father hasn’t always agreed with my methods! Safety comes first for a Solaran prince, but now that I have become a man, he’s willing to accept my role as a doer, not just a thinker. A king who can only philosophize and not act is no good for our people.

Quite so. You’re soon to graduate the Solaran Academy. What is life like in the Academy?

The Academy is the greatest of our educational institutions. I myself was named after its founder. I am honored to train under great men, and also beside the future Housemen and leaders of our kingdom. Our Masters don’t shy from pushing us hard and forging us into the best men we can be, and I’m not just speaking or our grueling physical routine! Yes, we learn the fighting arts and mounted combat, but a sharp mind is as valuable as a sharp blade. One day I will need to defend Sandair from her enemies, and so I take my military strategy and history lessons seriously. I’d encourage any man to pick up a book and learn how our great kingdom became so prosperous, and what we can all do to protect it.

That is most wise. What great Housemen have you been tutored under?

Our Academy is blessed with excellent tutors from the Great Houses. I have received personal tuition from the legendary Sword of Solus, and I believe he will be teaching others at the Academy this year, which will be a great boon to our new students. I’ve often wished for the Protector of the Path to teach, but he’s not ready for retirement yet. A pity.

Continue reading “Prince Ravel (of Sand Dancer, by Trudie Skies)”

Mara (of The Chronicles of Agartha, by Sherif Guirguis)

Dear readers, tonight with us is a teenaged girl, originally from 11th century Khorasan but now roaming a strange land where all the myths of our planet found a home. She and her friends must follow a prophecy that is guaranteed to change the face of the land — one way or another.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

Who’s asking? I don’t take lightly to questions about my origins, you might be a purple mage for all that I know.

But if Ethan says that you are to be trusted, I will answer all your questions.

I am from Khorasan, the city that spreads culture and art to the whole world. My father is a master trader and a world traveler, everybody who is anybody in the twelfth century have heard of him, Amar El-Khorasani, but you should know that he is very famous.

Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?

I think that Ethan really has faith in you, you can’t give this information to anybody, I will be immediately banished from Agartha.

As a child, my father brought for each of us, his children, a toy of the finest porcelain when he traveled to China, mine was a very nice doll, she had a silk dress and held a small umbrella. I used to take her with me all over the place, but then my mother took her away to concentrate on the house duties, I am a very good cook because of her.

As for memories, I think it was the day my father brought the astrologer to the house, and he started to explain to me and my ten siblings the stars in the heavens and how to use them to guide our ways in the night; I think this the most cherished memory of my childhood, this is when I decided that I wanted to travel, like my father.

What do you do now?

What kind of question is that? I thought that Ethan must have told you. We are traveling the land of Agartha in search of the chronicler, he will give us our next destination, I hope.

What can you tell us about your latest adventure?

Let’s see, I have mysteriously ended up in this strange and magical land, Agartha, although I don’t have any memory of how I came to be here.

I met this very nice young man, Ethan, you know him. I also met Darren, he is not as nice, but he is good, in his own savage way.

There is also this crazy army leader, the green lady, who is chasing us for some time, but we are two steps ahead of her.

It has been a very thrilling experience thus far.

Continue reading “Mara (of The Chronicles of Agartha, by Sherif Guirguis)”

Simarovien Zulavi (of A Change of Rules – The Missing Shield series, by LL Thomsen)

Dear readers, tonight with us is the Knights Commander of the West and 2nd Sword of King Kaimar the 3rd of Ostravah. He’s here to tell us about a forgotten war, a world of nine realms, old betrayal, broken magic, new perils and a friendship worth dying for.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

My family has retained their seat of power in Zanzier since before the Chaos War.  I am a noble. 

The only son of the ruling house, I was schooled as befit my standing to inherit the province mantle.  I will not bore you with the details.  My father had wealth and power – I knew this would be mine, though that day came sooner than expected. 

Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?

Memories… I recall how Old Town stank of poverty and filth even when I was a child – yet despite the destitution, rot and ignorant peasants, it still held a strange fascination.  Other memories are less favorable and yet they persist.  Like the river-stench of brackish saltwater that blankets much of the lower city even on a good day…

I suppose you could say early youth was neither good nor bad.  Yet it was better than the peasant nobles’ because of my birthright.  Toys, I don’t remember, but I do recall stealing my father’s dagger to go exploring in the dungeons beneath the two towers.  It’s was wet and dank even then, but back then the rats were still there.  It was following them that I learnt the secret of the underground warren and found the lake of fire and the cavern that I later used to hold the two Hyatt monsters that were lent to me by an ally.  Back then, I felt obliged to strive for perfection; there are things in my ancestry that scream to be set right but no one else seemingly willing to acknowledge this, I was driven.

And were your parents proud?

(Shrugs) My mother was a… disappointment.  My father was a fool: a slave to his flecking urges and his string of unsuitable women, meanwhile neglecting to guide my ‘worldly’ sister so that she all but forgot what was expected – as though we had no standards nor concerns for Zanzierian traditions.

I do not regret his demise – he had his time and squandered it.  I inherited young and made sure my sister did her duty.

Her duty?

Ah, I see. (Smirks with a touch of disapproval) Please tell me you are not one of those liberal Etruians!

Well, no matter.  I’d urge you to study more history and less of the modern manuscripts. New thoughts lead to immoral ideas, right from how to deal with criminals, to the ways we allow society to spiral out of control.  You are aware, surely, that we must now tolerate female soldiers, commanders, yes knights even? 

The fifteen provinces are united so I abide the general law, but Zanzier is not Etruia, and it’s certainly not the realm of Ostravah.  We adhere to values of a purer age.  Our Women represent the honor of our name and family, but in the home, not in leathers and armor on a battle field.  Any true-born Zanzierian woman should conduct herself in a manner that does not tarnish nor shame a house, and a lady of noble birth especially. My sister was under the impression that she might marry whomsoever she pleased.  It was not her fault, but my father’s.  I forgave her and she is happier now.  She has a great house, a new name and a husband learned in the traditions of Zanzier.  That is enough.

Continue reading “Simarovien Zulavi (of A Change of Rules – The Missing Shield series, by LL Thomsen)”

Val Arques Caelan (of The 19th Bladesman, by S.J. Hartland)

Dear readers, tonight with me is a bladesman – a master swordsman. He’s here to tell us about a life of training young men bonded to the ancient gods to fight and die in a malign, centuries-old war against the inhuman followers of a fallen ghoul god.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

They call me lord of the Mountains, lord of the grim, forbidding fortress of Vraymorg which stands as sentinel to the great gorge and the dead cities beyond. But the Lord of Vraymorg is just a name I took when a queen banished me to this dismal outpost of the kingdom of Telor.

In truth, I was born many centuries ago in the sun-drenched lands of the Isles. Once an Isles man, always an Isles man, they say. Though I can hardly remember who I was then, before my life, my position, my wife and son, were all stolen from me.

Now, I am a captive of miserable duty, a captive of my past. I cannot escape it, nor the shameful secret that festers like a wound within.

Did you have any cherished memories?

I grew up under the shadow of defeat, when Telor had been conquered by a sorcerer-king who took the name “Mazart,” or overlord. Even so, life was good. I wed a woman I had been betrothed to since birth. Odd though it sounds, I was content. Until my reputation as a bladesman reached the Mazart. He invited me to compete in the prestigious Contest of Swords. I was nineteen. My life, that life, ended at nineteen.

What do you do now?

My duty is to train young men chosen by the ancient gods to fight and die in a malign, centuries-old war against the inhuman followers of a fallen ghoul god. I can’t afford to care about these young warriors, especially Kaell, the 19th bladesman bonded to the gods. For love means loss.

What can you tell us about your latest adventure?

In the latest book, The Last Seer King, I’m a prisoner in the Icelands, outmatched in a dangerous game with a clever, but cold and ruthless sorceress. The only way I can get to Kaell is to reveal to her a secret that will destroy me. But I’m running out of time. With my unique blood, the rulers of the Icelands intend to auction me to the highest bidder.

Continue reading “Val Arques Caelan (of The 19th Bladesman, by S.J. Hartland)”

Fergus of Weirdell (of A Ritual of Bone, by Lee C Conley)

Dear readers, tonight on the interview couch is a support-cast character, who seems to have taken the place of the scheduled protagonist!

He’s here to tell us about his world, where forgotten Dead Sagas talk about the rise of the dead and the coming of great evil.


You are not quite the person I was expecting.

‘Not what you were expecting, eh? Expecting Arnulf, or the famous Bjorn perhaps? I read some of what that scholar wrote. True, there are others who play the bigger part in his Saga. That scholar… Conley, what does he know anyway? If you ask me, he wrote about the wrong man for our part in it all. So I’m here. I am Fergus, lord of Weirdell. You’re best off speaking to me. I can’t say I know some of the others he wrote of, but Arnulf, his man Hafgan, the lot of them now… a bunch of grim, stoic bastards – You’d get better conversation out of that old hound of his. Ha! If you want the real story, sit, listen to Fergus. We’ll have a drink and I’ll tell ya true.’

Okay, fine. If you don’t mind I’ll start at the beginning. So, Lord Fergus, tell us a little about yourself, where you grew up. What was it like there?

‘Where did I grow up? Well, you must know who I am? No. Ha! Eymsford, lad. In my father’s halls at Eymsford. What! You’ve not heard of Eymsford? New to these shores, eh? Well, Eymsford is the seat of the high lord in the Old Lands of Arnar – my father, Lord Angus – he answers only to the king. So, Eymsford, a great place, and very old. A place of warriors. It was we who held the borders in the wars of forging, we who bore the brunt of old Cydor so our brothers could forge a new realm. It’s all in the old Sagas, you should hear it sometime.’

Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?

‘Do whores count? Ha! Aye, I remember when I was a lad. With my father being the man he is, I had a good childhood, better than most. I remember my first time on his ship, the spray and wind battering my face. I remember the feasts, the melees, basking in the valour and renown of some of Arnar’s finest warriors – it was a good way to learn honour. My most cherished possession though… I remember my first sword, the real thing, the steel, you never forget. But I always loved my first wooden sword. The old bastard had us training from the cradle with the Master-at-Arms. It’s how I met Arnulf in fact. We’ve been as close as brothers since we were young. Training hard with him and the other noble lads, good times, bashing up that sour bastard.’

What do you do now?

‘Well, now I’m the lord of Weirdell. I am lord and law-giver of the town, one of my father’s bannermen, perhaps one day I’ll take my seat in his stead.’

What can you tell us about your part in this Dead Saga I’ve been hearing about?

‘Well, let me tell you this. Times have grown dark of late. It’s grim news whenever you hear it. So you want to know about the passes – I take it you wouldn’t be asking if you hadn’t heard rumour of the deeds written in the Saga. For our part, it’s true, lad. It’s all true. I saw it with my own eyes.’

Continue reading “Fergus of Weirdell (of A Ritual of Bone, by Lee C Conley)”

Igmar (of The Ashen Levels, by CF Welburn)

Dear readers, tonight we print an interview with a member of the supporting cast of a fantasy novel. The interview was conducted on his home fantasy world by native crones, and discusses the protagonist and the Good Company, swords and sorcery, and the ashen.


Igmar blinked.  “Where am I?”

“The island has no name. Though, some call it Coal.” He squinted as two figures swam into focus before him. The one who had spoken was a withered crone, all crows’ feet and brown teeth; the other, a girl of about eight winters, sat wide-eyed, clasping a doll.

“How did I get here” he asked, frowning.

“Storm.” the crone said, as though it were as natural an occurrence as another dawn. “Drink your tea.”

Igmar looked down at the steaming mug beside him. He raised it, sniffed and was about to take a sip when he paused.

“Who are you?”

“Heggerty.” said the crone. “Welcome to our abode. This here is—”

“Belitha!” shot the girl, enthusiastically, her small feet kicking, making her chair wriggle and creak. The crone smiled fondly then turned her eyes upon him once more.

“Now you know our names, and since you’re our guest, tell us of yourself?”

“Guest?” he repeated absently, rubbing his head and staring down at the tea in his hand. He took a sip. Strangely bitter and sweet at once; quenching his thirst to leave him parched once more. He took another and sank back into his chair. After a weary sigh, his words seemed to drift unbidden from his mouth.

“My name is Igmar. I recall no storm… perhaps a boat…” he searched his weathered boots for an answer, before giving up. “Anyway, I’ll need to get back soon.”

“Back where?” Heggerty asked.

“Back to the wilds, of course. The north. The sea is no place for me. I’ve duties to uphold.”

“The wilds are vast—compared to our small island, at least. Might you be more specific?”

“I roam. I’ve no home. If I were to name my origin, I suppose I’d say Warinkel. You’ll not have heard of it.”

“We know of it.” she said, surprising him. But just then his gaze was drawn to the doll Belitha was caressing. An uneasiness grew within him.

“What’s that you’ve got there?”

“A doll.” she said, turning it until Igmar looked upon his own likeness. Bald head; large, hooked nose; long, dark beard, streaked with as much grey as black; a missing ear; small, black ashen eyes.

“What’s that for?”

“Just a souvenir.” Belitha said, sweetly. “For my collection. I hope you don’t mind.”

Igmar was about to say that he did mind. That he minded more than he could reasonably explain. But just then the crone broke in, as if reading his thoughts.

“You’re not the first ashen we’ve met. One of your kind caused us great distress, in fact.”

Igmar swallowed, something in her tone threatened.

Continue reading “Igmar (of The Ashen Levels, by CF Welburn)”

Halea (of Torn Apart, by J.M. Riddles)

Dear readers, tonight with me is Halea, a priestess in the service of the dragon goddess, roaming the land hunting demons and sealing tears caused by the Chaos Dimension.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

I don’t remember much about where I was born, but I was brought to the holy city of Ruinac after my father died when I was quite young. I’m one of very few born blessed by the dragon goddess, Tiamet, which means I’m far faster and stronger than an average human, and I also have the power to purify evil.  That was a bit much for my poor mother to handle all on her own, and it just so happened my paternal grandfather is a cleric of Tiamet who lived and worked in Ruinac, so we joined him, and he mentored me on the path to becoming a priestess. Tiamet worshippers are tasked with fighting the evil of the Chaos Dimension that seeks to converge with our world. As for Ruinac, it wasn’t so great, just a crowded seaside city and it was hard to fit in because there weren’t many children like me. Sadly, when I was about twelve years old, a convergence destroyed the city, killing everyone in it, including my mother, and at the time, I thought it had killed my best friend Varg too. A convergence is a massive dimensional tear that can only be banished by sacrificing the life of a priestess, and let’s just say the ritual didn’t go as planned.

Did you have any cherished memories from your youth?

My fondest memory will always be of the day I first met my best friend, Varg. He was in the form of a wolf when I first saw him, and then he turned into a scrawny little wolf boy and threatened to eat me. Those were good times.

What do you do now?

These days I am an official oath-sworn priestess of Tiamet. Priestesses are given immortality in exchange for serving the goddess. We roam the land hunting and slaughtering demons and using our powers to seal dimensional rifts called tears. The work hours are kind of crazy and we’re not allowed to put anything or anyone above our duty, so no marriage, love, children, or anything else that can distract us from our calling. Kind of a thankless job, but it pays well, and if the demon’s don’t kill you or you don’t get chosen as a blood sacrifice, you get to live forever, so it’s not all bad.

What can you tell us about your latest adventure?

Well, it would seem my long term career plans didn’t turn out as I expected and I’ve been unwittingly thrust into a managerial position for which I’m vastly under-qualified. I’ll make the best of it – somehow.

Continue reading “Halea (of Torn Apart, by J.M. Riddles)”

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