I met Wendy Russo through Six Sentence Sundays. She’s been sharing parts of the history she’s chronicling about the Kingdom of Columbia and I’ve been enjoy them very much—especially the parts that include King Hadrian.
So when I heard that she had a book coming out, I wanted to ask her if she would agree to be interviewed. I couldn’t reach her, but somehow, the Palace switchboard forwarded me to His Majesty’s private number. I’m not sure how it happened, but I was invited for morning tea on the East Lawn and a brief interview!
As the media is strictly controlled on The Hill, as the capital city is called, the interview was carefully transcribed and sent back to me in this format. None of the photos I took seem to be on my camera, either . . . so I did the best I could.
I’ve decided not to rock the boat, but you might want to see what Wendy is up to elsewhere.
I will add, though, that the gardens were gorgeous and tea was lovely—those little sandwiches they served were amazing.
And King Hadrian lives up to his reputation, in several ways:
SW: Thank you for granting me an audience today, Your Majesty.
H: Sir, if you must, but I prefer Hadrian.
SW: Really? All right, Your Ma—Hadri—Sir.
H: You are, in fact, doing me a favor. I have a standing appointment with my cousin and this interview gave me a reason to cancel.
SW: I’m glad to be of service, Sir. [shuffles notes] Excuse me, I’m a bit nervous . . . Here it is: I understand you were recently voted the sexiest man in the Kingdom by Spark! Magazine—
H: No. I apologize for interrupting. I nominated Conrad and he was voted the sexiest man [gestures to the nearest Kitsune, who rolls his eyes]. That was seven years ago. He’s still trying to get off that list.
SW: I can understand why he might be having difficulties . . . And I’m surprised you’re not on the list yourself!
H: [shrugging] It’s kind of you to say, Ms. Wesson. Unfortunately, being sexy doesn’t get me out of meetings, so it’s not worth much to me.
SW: It could if you—have you tri—I mean, is there anyone special in your life at the moment?
H: Wendy tells me that you’ve written a story about militant librarians.
SW: Um . . . yes, Sir, but I’m sure my blog readers are more interested in you. Have any of the lovely ladies you appear to have escorted over the years objected to the constant presence of the Kitsune, your personal guard?
H: [lip twisting] None.
SW: The Kitsune wear white at the Palace, as they are now, black while you’re acting as CEO of Steer Industries, and gray when you appear as president of your Assembly. What do they wear when they accompany you on a private romantic evening?
H: I supposed they would wear white, as I’m the king even when I’m not working elsewhere. Honestly, though, it’s never come up.
SW: It hasn’t?
H: I don’t date.
SW: You don’t . . . But that’s . . . Really? [crosses off several more questions and surreptitiously slides wedding ring back on]*
H: You see, Ms. Wesson, I work 14-hour days, during which I’m shadowed by armed guardians—at all times. I enjoy the few hours I have to myself in the mornings and evenings.
SW: So do I, sir—so do I. Rumor has it that your ward has been courting a young lady employed by the palace.
H: Ward? Oh, you mean Matty Ducayn. He’s not really a ward…more of an experiment. Brilliant young man. And yes, his relationship with Iris is definitely going in a courtly direction. I’m not sure if they realize that yet.
SW: Does she have ties to the aristocracy? Or to Steer Industries?
H: None. She’s a member of the kingdom’s labor guild. The Regency has a bit of a love/hate relationship with them. Most of the people on The Hill look down on them, but they do work that Regents won’t do, like gardening.
SW: Do you approve of their relationship?
H: If not for me, Matty would still be sulking in my library thinking his sweet gardener hates him. Teenagers are so sensitive, are they not? She called him a stalker and the world may well have ended.
SW: They certainly are, sir. I’m not looking forward to my own children’s teenage years! I understand that your ward is taking some, ah, unscheduled time off from his studies and is traveling abroad. Is this for business or pleasure? Is the young lady with him? Are you worried for his safety?
H: Mostly rumor. Iris and Matty have ventured about a mile past the front gates, to The Bazaar, but for the most part, they stay on The Hill. Matty may be distracted from the project I have him working on, but Iris has a labor contract to honor so travel’s rather out of the question just now.
SW: May I ask about this project?
H: Your timing is excellent, Ms. Wesson, since we are on the subject of Matty rumors. You may have heard that he’s a troublemaker, which is how he ended up at my mercy. In truth, The Hill has very low tolerance for mischief and thus it is not really a place for someone who is both brilliant and bored. He reminds me of myself at his age, so when he was expelled, I exercised the liberty to give him a second chance. If he answers one question—What was January Black?—he graduates a ‘master’.
Of course, he’s finding that question a lot harder than he thought it would be.
SW: Isn’t it always? Your official Chronicler and my good friend, Wendy Russo, has been sharing short excerpts from her compilations of your reign each week through Six Sentence Sunday. These have proved very popular. I understand that the palace has permitted her to release a book-length portion?
H: The palace has approved no such publication. Wendy’s book was aided in its release by The Cowboy.
SW: I’m sorry [frantically searches notes] Wendy never mentioned a Cowboy—
H: I’m not surprised. Wendy’s fond of dropping things. Letters. Punctuation. Pronouns. Et cetera. The Cowboy is a rogue programmer. He’s been eluding the Aventine Police for years. One of his illegal activities is slipping books past Regent oversight. As a result, January Black is now available for your reading pleasure.
SW: But you’re allowing it? [nervously eyes Kitsune] You won’t, um, stop her or anything?
H: [leans forward and speaks softly] I’ve encouraged her from day one.
SW: Oh. I see. I mean, I don’t, really, but that’s . . . reassuring? Um. How long has it taken her to compile the book?
H: [sits back in his chair] I believe it took her five months to write and more than a year of editing.
SW: Why did she think this particular story should go public?
H: Reynard Times-Courier, the Pressman from your novel. I’m unclear. Is he a fully robotic being, or a type of cybernetic organism?
SW: [hastily swallows a bite of sandwich] Cybernetic. You see, once someone is accepted into an apprenticeship in the Press Corps, they agree to a basic installation of—but that’s not really relevant . . . [clears throat] Wendy Russo has been traveling on an extended tour promoting the upcoming release—where can readers find her?
H: [Turning to the kingdom’s sexiest kitsune**] Conrad. Wendy’s schedule?
Conrad: Brazil, sir.
H: [raises an eyebrow] Brazil?
Conrad: It says here “Amazon”. She is also mentioned visiting some author acquaintances …Susan, Louann, and Sherry.
H: She’s almost as busy as I am.
Conrad: [grinning in his hot, bad boy way***] That’s just today, sir.
SW: Actually, Amazon is . . . never mind. One more question, Your Ma—sir? What was January Black?
H: [sitting back in his chair with a smile] Why are your pressmen named after archaic newspapers?
SW: [giving up] Well, you see . . .
As the son of The Hill’s commandant, sixteen-year-old Matty Ducayn is expected to conform to a strict, unspoken code of conduct. Small acts of defiance over years—such as walking on the grass—have earned him a reputation for being unruly. When sarcastic test answers finally get Matty expelled from school, King Hadrian offers him a diploma if he can answer a deceptively simple question.
What was January Black?
The challenge takes Matty, and his girlfriend Iris, beyond The Hill’s walls and tightly controlled media into a gritty world kept in check by riot police. There, the young couple follows a path through old books and clandestine news pages that becomes a collision course with a deadly royal degree.
As he realizes he’s been set up to fail, Matty must make a choice: walk away from the challenge with Iris and his life. Or call the king’s bluff.
*Darn it, they noticed.
**Wendy? Who transcribed this?
***No, really. It’s not like I disagree, because, whew, but seriously?