As promised last month, I have a series of interviews for you during July, and maybe August, while I’m away at Camp NaNoWriMo. Here’s the first. Picture above of me about twenty years ago (cough) sailing on the Horsey Cut, Norfolk Broads, UK. And at the end, Castle Marsh from across the marsh (by me).
Jemima interviews Princelings Fred and George
We are sitting in a flat-bottomed wooden boat in the shade cast by an awning held up by poles front and back, with a ridgepole down the centre. Fred has poled us out to the middle of a medium-sized lake surrounded by reeds. The wind sends ripples across the water, making the reflected clouds wave about and sometimes turn into mosaics. It’s warm enough for insects to buzz around us. Fred and George, once the Princelings of the East, don’t mind the insects, but some of them alight on my arms and try to bite me.
“Try this,” says George, handing me a small tub of cream. I rub it on my arms. It smells grassy with something more pungent, slightly minty, but that’s not right either. “Rosemary and bog myrtle,” he says. I think he means the ingredients, both wild flowers around here. It does the trick, anyway, the biting insects stay away. It doesn’t seem to affect the dragonflies who dart past, wings whirring like helicopters. George watches them intently.
Fred sees him watching, and smiles. “Have a glass of wine,” he says, pouring out some light yellow liquid into a glass. He has a wicker basket he’s leaning on. I wonder what is in it. It turns out he has a complete picnic for us. He moves himself into the sunshine at the front, and lies back, looking at the sky. “This is delightful.” He closes his eyes.
“I don’t suppose you get much chance to get a break,” I say, and he just smiles.
“You’re going to make him work, anyway, aren’t you?” asks George, grinning.
“Well, it’s a long time since you’ve been interviewed. Three years, I think. A lot’s happened since then.”
“Yes, but it’s the same old stuff, really, just more of it.”
“Well, for my readers then, why don’t you just tell me who you are and how you fit into the books?”
“Okay. I’ll go first. I’m George, Fred’s younger brother by about three minutes. I’m the plain and practical one.”
“Plain? I’ve always thought you handsome,” I object.
“Aw, thanks.” He’s already red-haired so his blush doesn’t really show up. “But I am practical. I invent things, sensible things to solve problems people have, or do things that would be better done by machine rather than huge effort of lots of people. We live in Castle Marsh, the one on the rock over there, and apart from Castles Arbor and Wash, and a few outlying villages, as we call them these days, there’s nobody for miles.”
“Well, that’s a change,” I said. “When we started the books you were just miles from anywhere.”
“Yes. We see the folks from Arbor quite often, especially as they use the velocipedes, that Victor and Callisto developed, to come out and visit, or picnic, or whatever, any time they like. It’s still a long way, and we have never got round to having a stagecoach, but we’re quite good neighbours, really. Castle Wash is a stage ride away, and that goes three times a week, so we’re really very well connected to civilisation now.”
“And you invented the machines?” I prompt.
“Well, I specialise in flying machines, now that strawberry juice power plants make everything else work better. Although the velocipede doesn’t use it, people pedal that – I think Victor invented it, or adapted it from an old machine his dad had.”
“Someone will make them run on strawberry juice to make them go faster, I bet,” Fred puts in. “All the coaches and planes and the new small cars run on strawberry juice now, and they are much faster than horses – over a longer distance, anyway.”
“And anyone can drive them,” added George. “But I’m working on new types of flying machine. Bigger ones that can carry goods – which still go by horse-drawn vehicles on land, is it’s easier and cheaper.”
“Where will you fly goods to, though?” I ask.
George winks at me. “I’ll tell you in a couple of years.”
I wink back. “Okay. Fred, tell people why you are lazing in the front of the boat.”
He stretches and comes back to sit beside me. “I’m Fred, I’m King of Castle Marsh, and I hardly ever get any time off. I used to be a natural philosopher, asking all sorts of interesting questions and then trying to find the answers, but now I just ask the questions; my team do the fun bit of working out how to answer them. I really need a steward, but the person I want doesn’t want to do it yet, and anyway, he’s doing useful things on our behalf.”
“That’s very cryptic.”
“Well, when you get the next book written, I can talk about it some more.”
Fred may be a king, but he used to be a very cheeky princeling on occasions. Sometimes he still is.
“People generally like to know how you got the jobs you have,” I ask.
“Well, I got to be king because I got bumped up the line of succession, from being a nobody to being next in line, so at that stage our uncle, King Vladimir, made sure that not only did I learn how to be King of Marsh, but got me doing things for him with the Kings’ Council, which is the governing council for the Realms, where all the kings and lords get together and agree how to run things.”
“So it all runs smoothly,” I suggest.
Fred looks out over the reeds and sighs. “Yeah… well, so we don’t have all-out war, I sometimes think. We try to have joint projects that benefit everyone, but there are a couple of people who just want to dominate everyone else.” He sighs again. “Then that means I have to answer problems such as ‘how can I find proper housing for all these people who have come to Marsh for their safety,’ which is when we invented the villages.”
“And then other people realised what a good idea that was,” adds George, “even though some had what they called ‘wider communities’ before. Fred set it up here so each village has a representative, who joins in our decision-making process.”
“I’m experimenting with an idea from the continent called ‘democracy’,” Fred explains. “The trouble is, it sounds wonderful, but doesn’t really work, not all-out democracy, anyway.”
“Don’t ask why!” George steps in. “He’ll go on for hours and bore your readers!”
“Well, that sounds like a cue for a question from one of my readers, then. Bruce asks: would you ever consider a career in piracy, given your adventures in the time of the Battle of Dimerie?”
“Piracy?” Fred echoes, looking shocked.
“Piracy as in sailing around stealing things, or copying other people’s work, like Colman has been?” George asks.
“I think he’s thinking sailing around, but … what’s Colman been doing?”
George giggles gleefully. “He’s been found out! He launched this new drink which Victor said was awfully like Wozna, called it Moonlight. But then his stocks dried up, and we found he’d been shipping it across the channel, smuggling it, in fact, and passing it off as his own drink. There was a real row about it, and he’s fallen out with Smallweed for good.”
“Actually, that really is good,” says Fred. “They were too close for comfort, working together made them stronger than the rest of us, basically. But piracy, no. I don’t think we’d ever do that. The pirates are settling down quite well, too. We found them their own castle, a little way down the coast. They sail up here every now and then, stay for a few days.”
“What if you got voted out of Castle Marsh, though, Fred? What would you do then?” George asks.
“I could go back to doing proper philosophy, couldn’t I? That would be delightful. No, I don’t think piracy’s the answer. You have to live within the laws of the land, don’t you?”
The look George gives me suggests he thinks there are times when you might have to do otherwise. They are both clever people, but George’s engineering leads him down logical paths of cause and effect that sometimes Fred misses.
I decide that I’ll skip the other questions, because they’ve answered them before, and anyway, it’s much better lying in the boat, sipping wine, watching the birds and dragonflies and listening to the wind in the reeds. Fred falls asleep in the sunshine at the front, and George fills me in on other things he’s doing. I think he’s aiming to involve the pirates in his plans for testing his new flying machine. That’ll give them something to keep them out of mischief.
But it does sound like things are changing in the Realms. Something is brewing, and it isn’t Wozna.
(c) 2016 J M Pett