Here we are for the second interview in the series, and Victor is sitting in front of me, swapping his feet over and generally combining an air of nervousness with barely contained excitement. He tells me he has never been interviewed before, and it’s a great honour for someone of his background to be talking to readers. I ask him to elaborate on his background. He talks at length about the Inn of the Seventh Happiness, his father, his grandfather that he knew, then found out he wasn’t his birth grandfather, and his grandfather that he found in Castle Hattan. To put all this into context, I bring him back to his early years.
“Yes well, I was brought up at the Inn. I had to fit in and work hard wherever I could. It’s a very busy place you know. I was good at measuring and sums from a very early age. And reading and writing of course. My mother and father taught me, and Meriel the lady person at the cloth stall, she taught me a lot of things. She helped me find the right books. She’d ask travellers if they had any. Then Prince Lupin arranged for a set of books to pass round all the Inns. I was the only kid in Seven H, that lived there. There were three nearly my age at Prancing Pony. When I finished a book I’d send it to them and send a message to Castle Buckmore for the next one. I suppose Prince Lupin did a lot for my education that way. We got lots of help from Narrators that passed through too. Some knew the books by heart and helped me a lot.”
His enthusiasm and general joy of life are infectious
It’s easy to get down a long track away from the heart of the matter when talking to Victor, but his enthusiasm and general joy of life are infectious. Listening to him talk about life in an outpost of civilisation, albeit the crossroads between two major castles, you wonder how many other bright, enthusiastic and hard-working people are hidden away in corners of the realm, their talents undiscovered.
How did he discover he could do a degree by correspondence, I ask him. He thinks about this.
“My dad showed me something in a paper,” he said, thoughtfully. “I don’t know who showed it to him though. I’ve never thought about it before. It wasn’t one of our regular papers. But I applied and got in. Well, got enrolled on the course. They sent me all the work I had to do. The work placement was the most difficult thing. But then it was also very easy.”
I ask him to explain and he describes how he had no idea how to get a work placement, but his father said something to one of the customers and the next thing he knew it was all arranged for him to go to Buckmore Castle to work on Prince Engineer George’s project. “It was very exciting,” he adds.
He was in the right place at the right time, it seems, since George’s invention of strawberry juice power looks to be revolutionising the way the realms tackle energy use. It is potentially a nest-egg for him, since Prince Lupin kindly gave him a very small percentage of the royalties for the invention. It has enabled him to be an entrepreneur himself. When he’s not at the Inn, helping his father, he is off on his travels around the country identifying how castles (and communities) can make their finances work better. “Much of the time they just need an overhaul, to bring their methods up to date with what they are doing now. The methods date from centuries ago and they do things that take a lot of time but aren’t needed. Reports are written and ledgers filled in with the same information and it just moulders in the vaults of the castle. People only need the shorter reports, with the back up detail on occasion.”
What will he do when he’s modernised all the castles? “I’m developing my experience in export. I think that’s where I should specialise.” It sounds good but I’m doubtful whether many castles export anything at all. Maybe he knows something I don’t.
Heroic fight in the Battle of Dimerie
I turn to the lighter side of Victor by looking at the prepared set of questions. His list of ‘most important contacts’ could fill three interviews. I remember that he is the son of the inn-keeper at an important staging post. He has met a great many influential people and had the sense to keep them informed of his progress. Victor is well aware of the adage “it’s not what you know but who you know that counts”.
Asking about the most exciting thing he’s done makes Victor light up from a keen, interested companion to an effervescent one. He positively gushes with enthusiasm for his pirate adventure, from the assault on and capture of the Golden Guinea near Castle Wash to his heroic fight on the West Cliff in the Battle of Dimerie. He has a charming way of describing not only his own heroic actions, but giving due credit to his companions. I’m not one to judge the veracity of his description of his own actions, but his generosity in describing those of others rings true. He has supreme confidence in his own ability, to the extent that he claims not to have had an embarrassing moment, ever. “Well, it might have been embarrassing for some, but not me,” is the closest I get to an answer.
“It’s all very complicated”
What would he most like to change?
“Apart from making it so that a Princess could marry a barkeeper if she wanted to, nothing, really.”
“Can a princess not marry a barkeeper if she wished?” I ask.
“Oh, I doubt it,” he replies, as if it’s an impossibility. I didn’t know there was any prohibition on such a match, but maybe it’s so rare as to be understood that way. I try to find out whether he has someone in mind when he says this. He swats my enquiry away airily, but I suspect there is a nascent unrequited love there, hidden away. Or is it just a fantasy? That must happen a great deal in rural communities where romantic tales of princesses are told by Narrators, but where young people would hardly be likely to meet one themselves. Except if they worked in an inn at an important staging post. Victor has both hosted princesses at the inn and travelled with them in adventures. I begin to suspect he has a crush on someone.
Who would he most like to say sorry to?
“My grandfather, Saku. I wish I could have spent more time with him when I finally met him. I tried to get him to come back with us, but he couldn’t. He said he had already lived in this time. I wish I could see him again. I’d say sorry for not being there for him. Although of course it was him that had to choose not to live with my dad. It’s all very complicated.”
“I wrote lots of people down”
It certainly sounds it. Who would he most like to be with in a life or death situation? He picks up a piece of paper and studies it, his tongue just showing out of the side of his mouth as he concentrates.
“I wrote lots of people down,” he announces. “If we can do something to get out of the life or death situation, then I’d like to be with the 25th Rifles. If we can’t, I’d like to be with my dad.”
I find that very touching, and say so. He shrugs. “I love my dad,” he says, “I’d rather be with him.”
I come to the last question; if you weren’t you, who would you like to be? Again, he refers to his paper.
“George,” he says and needs prompting to explain. “He’s a very agreeable chap, and he’s very clever. But he always thinks of what’s good for everyone. He wants to make people’s lives easier. I like that. He’s on my ‘life or death’ list too.”
Would he enjoy living in a castle, I ask?
“Well, I’ve lived at Buckmore for nearly a year. It’s quite fun if you’ve got a proper job, like working in the laboratories. I wouldn’t want to be a prince who’s going to be a king though.”
It sounds like being a king is not a ‘proper job’ in Victor’s eyes. Maybe he’s right.