After last year’s character interview with Eva, the protagonist of my YA epic fantasy WIP The Keeper’s Curse, a number of readers asked whether I’d do another character interview in the future. Immediately I knew who our next subject would be. 😉 So, today, it’s time to get to know Aurek Kolsteg a little more!
Thank you to everyone who submitted questions, by the way. A number of them focused on Aurek’s past and its impact on him. This led to a deep, thoughtful “conversation” with a few fun and cultural bits sprinkled throughout. (I say “conversation” because, well, it’s technically me answering in Aurek’s “voice.”) Enjoy!
Interview with Aurek Kolsteg of The Keeper’s Curse
Hello Aurek! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today.
You’re most welcome. Commontongue isn’t my first language, so I hope you and your friends will understand me well enough.
I don’t think we’ll run into that problem. 😉 OK. Your first question is from Victoria Grace Howell. What type of wine and tea do you like?
I like mead and a good Suderese red wine. The best Suderese reds are bold, full, and hearty. If it helps, the locals say it’s not for the faint of heart. (*chuckles*)
And tea… well, I drink most teas, but I would kill for a cup of Norderlandic pine-smoked black tea again. It’s quite strong in aroma and flavor. But it’s rare here in Suderland, and very expensive. I don’t know if there’s a similar tea in your world?
There is, actually. It’s called lapsang souchong.
Ah. Good. I hope your friends will try it.
I’ll pass on the recommendation. 😉 Here’s another question from Tori. Do you enjoy being a gem healer?
I don’t know if “enjoy” is the correct word. Perhaps… “compelled”? Yes, I feel compelled to help others with my gem healing. Many Mountain Folk have this skill, so it’s not as though we’re wanting of more healers. But I’ve always wanted to be of service to my people, and to show the good that the Mountain Folk can offer to the Great Isle. Gem healing is one of the ways I can do this.
One more from Tori. Do you have a story about saving someone with gem healing?
Well… I did help cure a fellow Queensguard soldier’s addiction to taigila blood. I used obsidian, bloodstone, and a few other stones to do this. That took a great deal of time, though. The poor man lapsed between healings sometimes, but he’s much better off now. Otherwise, I keep to less severe injuries, like cuts, bruises, or muscle strains. Of course I want to help as a gem-healer, but plenty of Mountain Folk are more skilled at it than I am. If another Queensguard soldiers is gravely wounded, it’s better for a more experienced healer to take care of it.
I’ve been healed with gem magic before, too. When I was a slave, I was once given 10 lashes for arriving late at the mines. Mader [Aurek’s mother] and another healer used several stones to heal my wounds. It took several days, and I don’t remember all of the stones, but I do recall amber, lapis, and sapphire. It’s very hard to describe how gem-healing feels… but it’s quite incredible, and you must be patient with it.
Elizabeth Rawls also has a question on the subject of gem healing. Who did you learn this art from?
Mostly from Mader and Paver, my mother and father. That’s how most Mountain Folk traditions have survived over the centuries. Gem healing, legends and history, religious beliefs – they’re passed down from one generation to the next. So, yes, my parents taught me and Drasten as much as they could while they were alive. I also learned some tricks from the older slaves at the mining colony.
Do you think your gem healing might come in handy during the upcoming mission?
It’s likely. It will be a long mission, about three months. And it will be summer, so the season will present its own challenges. But I take my pouch of gemstones wherever I go. My Mountain Folk companions will have their own collections, too. And if the Fei’s Council of Selanaan agrees to come with us, their chief healer can use his nature remedies. So, we should have plenty of options.
We’ve got a couple more questions from Elizabeth. First, what would your ideal dinner consist of?
Hmmmm. (*grins, then rubs his hands together*) Anything with roasted meat. Especially pig. Yes. Roast pig with potatoes and carrots, and some sharp cheese and warm bread on the side.
You’re making me hungry! (*lol*) Here’s Elizabeth’s last question. You and Drasten are about to go on a quest to retrieve Ragnar’s relics, long-lost artifacts of the Mountain Folk’s last king. Are these relics you’re searching for so important that the both of you are willing to risk your lives for them?
Yes. It’s beyond time that these relics were back in our people’s possession. Others have tried to retrieve them before, and each have paid for it with their lives, thanks to the Fei curse inside the Cavern of the Keeper. The only way our company will succeed is if the Council of Selanaan agrees to help us and break the curse. Of course, that’s a mountain of an “if.”
Understood. But… why do you and Drasten want to go on this mission? What right do the two of you have to retrieve such important artifacts?
(*feels for the smoking pipe in his pocket, then shrugs*) We want to do what we think is right for our people. Retrieving those relics would be one such thing. I don’t think we don’t need a greater reason than that.
Of course… Well, now we’ve got some questions from Sarah J. Higbee. First, how much has your traumatic past shaped your present?
(*purses his lips*) I think when you have a childhood like mine and Drasten’s, one of two things can happen. You can either let it tear you down and make you weak or vengeful, or you can learn to rise above it. I chose the latter. Why treat others with the same hatred and brutality you were forced to endure when you know there’s another way?
So, I try to be compassionate, to… compensate, I suppose, for the wrong that I know exists. I try to encourage and understand other people, and not judge them for their differences. Yes, I’m a soldier, but I see no reason to hurt someone because they burned my dinner or said something that angered me. There are better ways of handling those matters; I only draw my weapons when I’m in battle.
How else did my past shape me? Well… I’m not quick to trust. Someone will earn it only when they prove that they’re loyal, honest, and accountable. I’m also very protective of the people who matter to me. Not only to Drasten and other Mountain Folk, but also to my friends of other races.
Sarah also wants to know if you ever have nightmares or flashbacks because of your childhood.
I don’t have nightmares now. But I did when I was a slave, and for the first several years that Drasten and I lived in Sumanhi. The flashbacks still come and go. Certain words or subjects will spark those memories, like when someone shares their own stories of a hard life. (*shrugs*) It’s impossible to forget your suffering entirely. But I carry on. It’s all I can do.
That’s true. Here’s another question from Sarah. You admit that you’re slow to trust, but does that prevent you from reaching out to those from a different background?
It did at first. When Drasten and I were boys, we were taught that some realms are more welcoming to our people than others. For instance, the Suderese Humans are the Mountain Folk’s closest allies, but most Norderlandic Humans want nothing to do with us. But that knowledge didn’t make me less fearful of fleeing to Suderland. We didn’t know what to expect, or how they would receive us. Thank the gods things turned out as well as they did.
Now it’s… easier, yes. I’ve more used to Humans now, but I still have my reservations with strangers. The Fei., for instance. We hope their Council can break the Fei curse inside the cavern so we can retrieve Ragnar’s relics… or else the curse will kill us. And… well, let’s just say the Fei aren’t the warmest sort, especially to Mountain Folk. So I’m… anxious about how that will unfold.
One more question from Sarah. Do you keep to the company of others who have suffered as you have instinctively, or by choice?
I wouldn’t say I purposely… befriend or spend time with only Mountain Folk. It’s more comfortable to be with my own people, yes. But I’m found friends in several Humans, too. Mostly fellow soldiers in the Queensgard, men and women I’ve learned to trust after working and fighting with them. It’s just more difficult to do so. I hope that answers your friend’s question well enough?
I think it does. Your answer makes sense to me. OK, next are some questions from Kristen A. Kieffer. She’d like to know what you want from life. What are some of your goals? What would truly make you happy?
(*thinks for a while*) Seeing the Mountain Folk united and living in Azrhyan again would make me happy. Our people deserve that. And for myself, I’d like to find a wife. Not just any wife, but… a levkomsanja. I think you would say “life partner.” But yes, a woman I can share my life with, and have a family with. She can have her own ambitions, too. I wouldn’t want her to feel trapped by marriage. She could work, own her own shop where she can practice her craft – whatever she wishes, and I would support it. But marriage cannot be a priority right now, not with the mission coming soon.
That’s very sweet, though. 🙂 Kristen would also like to know how you and Drasten were affected by your hard upbringing. Did it affect you two in different ways? How did it shape the both of you?
(*makes a “so-so” gesture with one hand*) It affected us similarly, and then again it didn’t. Drasten suffered from nightmares more than I did. He’s also more a bull, very stubborn and rash sometimes. He was that way when he was younger, too. So, he got into trouble more often when we were slaves, and was whipped and punished more often.
Now… well, he has moved on, but the past has also sharpened the worst parts of him. He’s more mistrustful than I am, and less forgiving. He’s also not afraid to use his strength to protect the ones he cares about. I don’t want to say he’s violent… but he thinks he’s my living shield, even though I’m the stronger fighter of us.
It goes back to what I said earlier, of how you grow out of a terrible childhood. I chose kindness, and Drasten chose aggression. (*hesitates, then shrugs*) What more can I say?
Yeah… That sounds like Drasten, all right. 😮 OK. Kristen would also like to know, what place do you call home?
(*is quiet for a moment*) I don’t know. The mining colony felt more like a nightmare than a home. And in Sumanhi, I have friends and others I trust, and I feel more welcome and respected there than I did in Usterland… but it too has never felt like home. I want to see mountains, not the sea. I miss cold weather and changing seasons. It’s warm here in Sumanhi all year long, and bloody roasting in the summer. (*sighs*) So, I cannot say I know how it feels to belong somewhere.
Here’s Kristen’s last question. If you had the option, would you choose to be a member of a different race or culture?
No. I cannot imagine being anything that what I am. I’m proud to be one of the Mountain Folk despite what I’ve been through… and because of it, too. Our people are survivors. We were taught to endure hardship and grow up looking ahead, never behind. And to treat others equally, no matter their station or whether they’re a man or a woman. None of that is easy, and not every race shares those beliefs. But I cannot fathom being a Human or a Feiri when I feel too… connected to the things my people value.
Now it’s Rebekah Hendrian’s turn. Here’s her first question. Since your people are descended from a semi-immortal race (the Saaresgard), do you expect to have a longer than average lifespan?
Yes. If I don’t die in battle or from illness, that is. Most Mountain Folk live to be about 150 to 175 years old. Some have lived as long as 200 years. We do age at the same… pace, I suppose, as Humans for the first 20 or 30 years, but after that it slows.
The Saaresgard live much longer than we do, though. Between 700 and 800 years, or so we’ve been told. You see, the Saaresgard are rarely seen. They keep to themselves because of what happened to their ancestors and the Mountain Folk. But I would still like to meet them one day, since their people and mine are blood brothers in a way.
Also from Rebekah: At 24 years old, you’re younger than most Clan Lords. Do you ever feel like you’re too young for this position or doubt your fitness for it?
Every day. But I wouldn’t say it’s because of my age. I simply don’t think I’m the right kind of person for the work.
Drasten is a better leader than I am. He’s a brilliant orator, and more decisive and sure of himself. I want what’s best for our clan, too, but I also want to please everyone. That’s not always possible. How can I know I’m making good choices if I’m afraid some people won’t be happy with the outcome?
I suppose I’m doing well enough, though. Our clan and Sumanhi’s royal family seem pleased with what Drasten and I have done thus far. And our fellow clansmen elected us; we didn’t choose the position. I still think they chose me mostly for my rank in the Queensguard… But perhaps they see something in me that I don’t.
I’m inclined to agree with that last point. 😉
(*chuckles*) Of course you would.
(*laughs as well*) It’s interesting that you mentioned Drasten and his leadership skills, because it already gives me an idea of how you’d answer Rebekah’s next question. Does co-ruling with your brother ever create tension between the two of you, or do you usually agree?
(*snorts*) When is there not tension between us? (*laughs*)
All right, that may be an overstatement. But our personalities are quite different, and so are our strengths as leaders. Drasten is good with creating and maintaining order. He likes to oversee details and decide who’s best for which task. I prefer to listen and collaborate. I like gathering information and perspectives, sharing what I find, and being open to new ideas. Drasten hates that last bit. He’s as stubborn as a rock about change, even small ones.
I’ll give you one instance. When we were planning this mission for Ragnar’s relics, we decided to set off in the spring, so we would arrive at the Cavern of the Keeper before the end of summer. Much later, I realized that we’d be traveling during the hottest time of the year. So, I suggested that we wait until the end of the following winter. That way, the weather would be better, since the Hartlands have mild winters and springs, and our mission would be better financed. But my brother wouldn’t budge.
That’s what’s unfortunate about Drasten. He fights for everything he wants, and he won’t stop until he wins. Sometimes the only way he’ll listen to me is if I hit him – and that’s not something I enjoy doing.
I can imagine… So, let’s change the subject with another question from Rebekah. Do you have any particular friends or confidants? Or are you more of a loner?
(*chuckles*) Oh, I have friends, yes. Perhaps I don’t seem like the kind who would, after all I’ve said thus far, but I have a few.
I’m very close with Drasten despite our differences, and also with Okin. He’s a Mountain Man, too, and… perhaps 50 or 60 years older than me? But he was the first Mountain Man to welcome me and Drasten to Sumanhi, and has stuck by our side ever since. He’s very wise, good-natured, and full of stories. I go to him if I need advice, a good laugh, or a round of Count and Capture.**
I would also count some of my fellow Queensguard soldiers, and Queen Soraya and her late father Morathi. Soraya rules the realm of Suderland, so Drasten and I answer to her and work with her. We have to ensure our clan obeys Suderese law, but Soraya also treats us as her equals. So, it’s different sort of friendship, one that’s built on diplomacy and cooperation, but I’ve come to trust Soraya and her family very much.
[**NOTE: Count and Capture is a cross between chess and backgammon, played on wooden or stone gameboards or etched fabric and with beans, coins, or polished stone disks as game pieces.]
One more from Rebekah. What would you say is your biggest flaw? How do you think other people would answer this question?
Hmmm. My greatest flaw… Perhaps my difficulty with trust. But I’m also very hard on myself. I always think of how I could do something differently if I had a second chance, even if I did it well the first time.
As for how others would answer this question… Well, if you ask someone who’s not of the Mountain Folk, I think they would also say it’s my reluctance to trust. But if you ask Drasten or other Mountain Men, they would say that I care too much about other people’s feelings and not enough for my own. So, it would depend on who you ask.
We’re down to our final question now, and it comes from Phoenix Grey. She asks, would you change your past if you were given the opportunity? Would you erase the hardships and lead a different, easier life? Also, do you appreciate how your past has shaped you?
(*thinks quietly again*) I don’t know. It’s not something we Mountain Folk think of. We’re raised to accept the twists and turns of life, and that everything happens for a reason. If I believed differently… Again, I don’t know. No one deserves a hard life, but if I didn’t have the life I’ve had, would I be who I am now? I think not. My past has had ill effects on me, yes, but it has also made me into who I am now. I’m stronger because of it, and perhaps wiser, too.
Veimysen dakke [thank you very much], Aurek. I really appreciate your time, and I think readers will enjoy reading your answers to their questions. 🙂
Jei glenuzer este mit. [The pleasure is mine.] Please tell your friends that I thank them for their interest.
That concludes our interview with Aurek. Thanks again to everyone who submitted questions!