Full list of questions here; last question here.
Week 21 | An interview with your villain
This comes with a caveat: I have no villain in Umbra. The real villain is ideology and how people use it to distort reality but that’s too abstract
and maybe a bit pretentious. What I do have is a morally complex (or so I hope) antagonist, Respen del Anzor (born Bolvin). He is on a mission for the Empress Kolvious, a foreign woman who united the disparate races and lead the charge to abolish slavery in the south, someone with whom he reveres. She is also a character who is absent from the present story. Without getting too much into it, their lives have been intertwined for many years. This is an interview between the two, where she basically asks him to lead her armies.
Kolvious stood with her arms folded in front of her, looking through her large window, that overlooked silently gushing waterfalls that curved around the rear of the castle. Observing her child, the place she won. The place she called home at long last. The baby blue slash of the royal road and the city that stretched on her right seemed to shine in the late afternoon sun. If she were to open her window just a fraction, she would hear the bubble of the water, the cries of people in the streets, motors, and laughter. Her subjects happy and most importantly free.
A knock at her door drew her out of her reverie.
Her personal guard bowed. “Respen del Anzor, Your Eminence,” they said through a deep bow.
“Excellent, thank you,” she said with a smile. They bowed again as Respen del Anzor stepped in. The guard stepped back and closed the door.
“I swear, the whole ‘not having your back to the ruler’ is one holdover that will probably outlive me.”
He bowed low, hand on his heart. “Your Eminence, they do not know how to behave around royalty still.”
“That bastard the former king will haunt me forever, it seems. And none of ‘Your Eminence’s, please. I need to not feel like I’m in court.”
“O-of course, y—” Rather than come up with a viable substitute, he stopped dead and he let out air.
Kolvious couldn’t stop the laugh that bubbled out from her mouth. “Oh Respen, forgive me. I have put too much on you so quickly. Call me Kolvious.”
“It isn’t my true name, it is my title. Honorific enough, no?”
He nodded with clear reluctance.
Respen was a tall young man with slightly hunched shoulders: he hadn’t yet grown comfortable with his height. He had jet hair that tumbled to his shoulders with one side shaved a little and he had a forelock with multicoloured beads enclosed around it. His clean-shaven face revealed his young years but his brown eyes were serious and hard.
It both heartened and saddened her.
“I’m sorry about your brother,” she said, sinking into her high backed chair, she gestured for him to sit. Respen seemed so focused on being seated in the chair on the opposite side of the desk that Kolvious almost missed the pained flicker on his face. “He was a good man.”
“No doubt the one you would prefer lead. Now your armies have no leader and murmurs of succession ripple across them all.”
“I won’t lie to you now. You deserve that much, if nothing else. Your brother was amongst the most capable fighter I had the pleasure to stand with—even including the warriors I fought with from my birthplace.” She sat back, elbows on either arm rest. “So right to it, then. You are my man. You linger in your brother’s shadow and that is halting your progress.”
He raised his eyes. “You mean for me to lead?”
“That’s absurd. I cannot possibly. There are—”
“I could draft a list of the best five who are fit to lead before me.”
“I know every name on that hypothetical list.”
“Do you know why I am choosing you?”
“I … ” He seemed to really consider it, shaking his head. Goddess, I have to really push him, don’t I? Faith in all but his own strength. Poor thing. She rested her arms on the desk and leaned forward.
“There was something you said to me a while ago: the sword carries not just the weight of its metal, but of the lives it could potentially claim. It is because of this thinking that I am picking you. I do not need a solider, I need a leader. Leaders are decisive, but most crucially thoughtful. I need that. On the battlefield you and Aurelia have unrivalled precision and execution but it is your compassion that I value. I have the throne but still there are some who are closing in and would happily garrote me for this chance.”
“They mean to lay to waste all you have built. None has unified the disparate Anzori races before.”
She held up a finger. “Actually I am the first in one thousand years but yes my foes are problematic.” Her smile deepened. “But again, you are showing me why you’re an obvious pick.”
“Don’t make me have to order you.”
“I understand.” He hung his head, one used to the burdens of leadership without him even realising, perhaps. Head heavy as if wearing a crown.
“I appreciate that I am asking much of you. To lead is to stand alone. You don’t need to answer immediately.” He stared at her. “But let me ask you: why is it that you became a soldier? Why pick up the sword at all instead of a teacher or an activist? Maybe an artist.” At a moment of consideration, she added, “I ask, you ask. How’s that?”
“Very well, Kolvious.” He took a moment to think, face locked in a frown. “In truth I wanted to join my brother. My father didn’t give much room to be anything more than what he said to be. It was the ultimate betrayal to be a solider against the king he lost his sense of self to bow to. I hated him for it. That is why I did I what I did to him … I do not have the diplomatic skills to be an activist, maybe not even a good heart but I can clash blades. I will let those who are fit to do that use their voice as a weapon. They have true strength. I wanted to be something that meant I didn’t sit idly by. My words might not be a strength, but something in my actions did. I could not sit still while fellow magi were being oppressed, stomped underfoot for the regime of fear.” He gave her a look. “That is satisfactory to you, isn’t it? You like how I think?” Rather than joy, he seemed agitated.
She smiled and gave no answer.
Respen exhaled softly and cast his eye about the room, settled on the wall to his right, at the paintings of landscapes and oceans with moody black cloud overhead.
“Y—Kolvious, why don’t have paintings of yourself?”
“A painting? Of myself? Oh, that’s much too gaudy for my taste. Why waste time in having 20 foot painting of myself around the palace? If I want to see myself, I’ll look in a mirror. Would you have a painting of yourself commissioned?” He shook his head. “Precisely. I think my lack of commitment to decorum unsettles my enemies, keeps them sharp.
“Some would cling to the old ways, though.”
“Indeed, some would. What say you, Respen?”
“This land has long been in need of reform.”
“Good answer!” She grinned. “Your new question, young solider.”
“Why not wait? You just called me young.”
“Oh, I’ll wait. But I want to mould you first. You’ll still need to learn more about terrain, tactics, strategy, but you’ve picked up the basics already.” She raised her arm to the right, at the shelves that stretched across the walls, lined with books, ladders on opposing sides slanted on them.
“I’ll do it.”
“Hm?” His eyes were scanning the bookshelves as well.
“Ooh a proposition.” She leaned her elbows on the desk and rubbed her palms together.
“We have regular sessions like this. Where you teach Aurelia, too.”
“Where we chat? She considered. Fascinating. I can do that, Respen del Anzor. I would like that very much. Why don’t we start now?”
“I do not know much philosophy. And she does not know the Anzori tongue as well as she would like as well.”
“Of course.” She nodded thoughtfully. “Language lessons I can do. Philosophy is fine. Tell me, what do you do when not on campaign?”
“I take walks. Usually with Aurelia, but sometimes with Telwyn as well. On other days we eat food. She does not like spice but I love it—at least a little per meal. It makes finding food we both like a challenge. And you?”
She smiled, knowing young love when she saw it. “I read. But I walk too—in secret, of course. I like the wooded path by the waterfall. It’s a scenic route and ends up with one of the best views on the city for miles. Why walks?”
“Silence. You do not realise how loud battle is—how loud city life is until you are away. It makes me feel like a person again.”
He looked up to her head. “Is the crown comfortable?”
She leaned back with a laugh. “Goddess, no.” The smile dropped from her face as soon as it appeared. “But that’s how I prefer it. You weigh the weight of lives with your blade, I with my crown.”
His eyes widened a little with reverence. The faint traces of a smile touched at her lips as she watched him. They continued long into the night.
So you see, those two have a vested interest in each other. Kolvious sees a sort of child in him, one that she never had. I’d continue but it’d get far too long. Let me know if you want to see more; I quite enjoyed writing from Kolvious’ perspective.