This is part of the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off character interview series! Every year, Mark Lawrence (he of Prince of Thorns fame!) heads up a contest where 300 self-published fantasy novels duke it out to be the favourite of 10 respected fantasy bloggers and reviewers. You can read more about the contest and follow along on Mark's website here. This year I've entered with my debut novel, The Tenets in the Tattoos, alongside 299 other wonderful authors and their worlds and stories. So, I wanted to meet a few of their characters, and introduce you to them as well!
First up is Princess Livia of The Shattered Spire, by Ted Cross.
It's a quiet Friday in the castle library. Dust motes dance in the strong sunlight as Evyn turns another page, soaking up the knowledge within. Maybe she'll get another peche--while still marvelling that librarians allow drinks in this beautiful place!--because there's one more chapter she wants to read before she'll have to run to meet her soul companion, Thorrn, after his training ends. He'll understand if she's delayed with research, because she always is, and he never seems to mind.
All of a sudden a portal opens, and in tumbles... well, someone very princessy-looking. Definitely not someone from this world, although Evyn cannot quite put her finger on how she knows that. After getting the poor girl a drink to settle her down, Evyn takes her to a quiet corner and tries to figure out which world--or time--to put her back in.
"Where do you live?" I start with the basics.
"I live in the palace in Tolgaria. Please don’t tell anyone I snuck out here. My father is obsessed with protecting us. If he knew I left the palace, he would punish me terribly."
That seems like a really open answer. This world-hopping magic must make people more open than they usually would be. "Well, um, I have good news and bad news. The good news is, I can probably get you back without your dad noticing. The bad is that, well, you're definitely not in your own world right now." There isn't a Tolgaria on the Oberrotian map, but maybe there had been, if she's slipped through time somehow. "What is it you do on this Tolgaria?"
She straightens in her seat, smoothing her skirts with practised grace. "I’m a princess, the eldest child of King Varun Kaldarion."
Oh, she is definitely not in Kansas anymore. I've read all the history I can get my hands on, and the name King Kaldarion isn't ringing any bells.
"As for what I do..." Her eyes turn a bit sad. "I’m twenty and as yet unmarried, which angers my father. He told me I could select my husband, but I haven’t been able to find anyone who suits me. He keeps threatening to marry me off to the most boorish nobleman he can find."
"That sounds awful." Argh, do I even want to put her back?
She looks out of the stained glass window. "I spend much of my time raising my youngest brother, Imric. Father refuses to acknowledge him, since mother died during his birth. Many of our people have no idea Imric even exists. I have two other brothers as well—Balmar is eighteen and still nominally the heir, but he’s feebleminded, so everyone expects father will name Darus in his stead. Darus is a year younger than Balmar."
"Hm, complex family politics going on there."
"Yes. And, a few months ago, Darus had to leave for East Gate. The magic of the spire began to affect him badly, and he couldn’t take it anymore. Father won’t talk about it, but I believe jealousy began to consume him, since father wouldn’t go ahead and make him the heir."
The poor girl really needed someone to talk to if she was baring all this to me. She looked so small, sat in the chair, that I wanted to give her a hug and help turn her mind to seeing what opportunities she had to change her fate. "What do you like about what you do?" She sighed. "I both like and dislike the same thing—having to play mother to my siblings while dealing with a headstrong father. It was especially hard when my tutor, the wizard Xax, departed. I felt he was the only person I could really talk to."
"I'm sorry he doesn't seem to be in your life anymore, but what was he like?"
A smile graced her face. "When the wizard Xax was my tutor, and once he began to trust me, he taught me things that I don’t believe anyone else knows in all the lands. He says our world is a vast round ball that circles the sun, just as the moons circle our world. There’s a star I could show you if it were night, and Xax claims he and the other wizards came from a world that circles that star. I know, it’s impossible to believe, yet I find it hard not to believe what Xax tells me. He’s by far the wisest man I’ve ever known."
I swallow hard. "Oh, cool," I offer, trying to hide the waver in my voice. Space travel, maybe? This needs more investigation for sure.
She went on, "I want Xax to return. He taught me how to think. To really think. Then father banished him when he couldn’t save mother. It isn’t fair. I was only seven. I was just gaining real confidence in myself when I lost him. I know I have so much more left to learn."
"Yes, I can relate to that." I was only scratching the surface of the whole portal thing. "There is so much to learn for sure."
She nods. "The only person I was ever able to express myself freely with was Xax. I speak a lot with Imric, though it mostly feels like I’m constantly scolding him. Before he left, I used to be able to talk with Darus. I miss him, though he had a mean streak betimes, and I don’t miss that at all."
"Maybe he'll grow up a bit and change," I offer. "People make mistakes, especially when they are learning and growing. But I get the worry as well; you don't want them to grow up thinking that's okay. It's a hard balance to strike."
She leans forward, more animated. "Raising my brother Imric has taken most of my time. I almost feel like his mother. He’s thirteen now, and so willful. He knows not to allow father to see him, so his favorite thing is to sneak around in all the secret passageways that some foolish architect built into this palace. I dislike the passages, so dusty and dark and full of spiders and rats, but I must admit I’ve used them a few times, especially when father intended to discuss something interesting in the throne room but would not allow me to attend. There’s a hidden passage that allows one to spy directly out over the place where father sits."
"Oh, cool! Yeah, probably this castle has something like that." I pat the wall next to me fondly. Thorrn would know if there was.
Her thoughts turn inward again. "The poor boy needs his father. I do the best I can with him, but it isn’t enough. He should be a prince; instead, his best friend is a kitchen scullion. I try my best to educate him, but he finds reading dull. I have no idea what will happen to him once father marries me off and I must leave."
"Do you have to get married?" I hazard. I mean, there are probably politics and protocols and processes for royalty, red tape everywhere.
She nods sadly, but a bit of fire lights her eyes. "I wish I never had to get married. There are many handsome enough men, but they all seem so…ignorant. I know that few place much value in book learning, but must everyone be so—pardon my bluntness—so stupid?"
I stifle a chuckle. "I know exactly what you mean. I mean, I look at all this knowledge here and I find it so hard to understand why everyone isn't spending every waking moment soaking up all they can."
She also puts a hand over her lips to laugh, then she shakes her head. "People can be so unkind. I try not to let it get me down. I know I’m a good, kind-hearted person, and one of the most learned in the realm. My books give me comfort when nothing else will."
Oh wow. How many times had I expressed that same sentiment in different ways over the years? Maybe we were somehow connected in the ways between the worlds, or else it was a common enough story to play out no matter which world we were on. Swallowing past the lump in my throat, I can only nod.
She laces her fingers together. "I’d like to think I’m an optimist, but I feel sad so often of late. The pressure is too much. How can I hold this family together all on my own? I wish Xax would return. I wish Darus hadn’t left. I wish Imric could be a true part of our family."
"Well... maybe something will happen to get that rolling. I've got a feeling that there's going to be an opportunity to change that narrative, that perception. Now that you've talked to me about it, it'll be at the front of your mind, and you'll be able to change things."
She gives me a considering look, then nods firmly. "The magic of the spire protects us all. No one with darkness in their heart is able to remain for long within the realm."
"Right you are, so, let's try to get you back so you can get started. Er. Any ideas?"
Want to read more about Princess Livia and how she upends her life? Follow the author on his blog here,
Ted Cross is from Arizona and has spent the past three decades traveling the world as a diplomat, all the time dreaming about writing fantasy and science fiction. He has visited nearly forty countries and lived in ten, including the U.S., Russia, China, Croatia, Iceland, Hungary, Azerbaijan, The Bahamas, Italy, and Luxembourg. He has witnessed coup attempts, mafia and terrorist attacks, played chess with several world champions, and had bit parts in a couple of movies. He is married with two sons and currently lives in Luxembourg.