Today I have a special treat! Jim Galford, author of Into the Desert Wilds, with a guest interview/short story from Oria! I had posed some questions to him for her to answer, and instead, I got a short story! Read on to get this special “extra” from Jim!
This tidbit was presented in the form of a list of questions for Oria, a main character in Into the Desert Wilds. As character reactions are meaningless without context, I’ve taken the questions and integrated them into a scene that does not occur in the book, but has a place in the timeline. All interviewer questions for the character are merged into this story scene. The actual original questions are listed before the story begins.
Q1) The mists really changed your lives. Can you say what’s the biggest difference now?
Q2) Estin is like a father to you. Is there an advantage to having a ‘prey’ breed as a father figure?
Q3) It seems like you feel the need to prove yourself. Are you trying to do so for your mother or yourself?
Q4) You and your brother have different strengths in combat. Do you attribute this to anything in particular?
Q5) Your younger siblings didn’t get the opportunity to know your homeland, only the desert that you are in now. How do you think this has effected/shaped them?
Q6) What is the greatest strength a leader can have? Weakness?
Q7) What drew you towards Phaesys? What ways is he like/dislike you?
Waiting for the inevitable sunrise and the dangers that would come with it, Oria lay against the side of the crumbling room where they were staying, hoping that sleep would come but knowing better. She closed her eyes in vague hopes of some rest, even if sleep was beyond her reach. Even then, she nervousness about the day to come made her want to fidget or walk around. She found herself mostly changing position as her tail cramped or her ears itched randomly, keeping her on-edge at all times.
“Can’t sleep, kid?” asked one of the elves in the room. The others appeared to be sleeping, but Oria doubted that was the case.
The armored woman, Sirella, sat against the wall nearby with a sword resting across her knees, ready to be used at a moment’s notice. Her long black hair had been braided and draped over her shoulder. Despite having her own eyes closed for nearly an hour, the woman must have been feeling much the same as Oria and was unable to sleep either.
“Just worried about tomorrow,” Oria admitted, pulling her knees up to her chin. “Can’t get my mind off what will…and could…happen.”
Sirella set her sword aside and leaned forward, watching Oria briefly.
“Then would you like to talk about something other than that?”
An evil smile passed over Sirella’s lips, making Oria wonder if it was wise to say she would talk about anything with the former leader of a thieves’ guild. Still, it was better than letting her mind race with ideas of who might be hurt or killed in just a few short hours.
“I had questions for Estin that he refused to answer,” noted Sirella. “He never wanted to talk about the past or his family except in terms of wanting to be with them. Would you mind?”
“Go ahead, Sirella. If we even live to see tomorrow, I can decide then whether it was a good idea to tell you any of this.”
Scooting a little closer, Sirella glanced over at the other elves in the room, then whispered to Oria, “Don’t worry. They won’t tell anyone unless I say it’s alright.”
“You’re not making me feel like this is a good idea. Maybe my dad had the right idea…”
“Nonsense. Do you really want to be as tight-lipped…muzzled…as Estin? Thought not. Besides, it’s just a few questions to pass the time. Where’s the harm in that?”
Folding her legs under her and pulling her bushy tail into her lap, Oria watched Sirella expectantly, reserving judgment on whether she wanted to talk until after hearing the questions.
“Estin said you were all from somewhere in the mountains…”
“Altis. Well, the woods near Altis.”
“…and that it was completely unlike Corraith. Aside from taller rocks, how different could it be?”
“You’ve never seen mountains, have you, Sirella?”
“No. Never got farther than the southern oasis.”
“They’re not like the desert at all, big rocks or not. The majority of the hills and mountains are covered with thick woods—pines for the most part. There aren’t as many rocks as you’d expect, though the cliffs are pretty bare.”
Sirella nodded, though something in her eyes indicated a degree of confusion.
“Pines…big green trees with needles instead of leaves.”
“Similar to palm trees?”
“Not at all. They provide a lot more shelter against the rain and snow.”
Blinking, Sirella seemed totally lost at that point.
“Rain I understand. But you get snow out there?” she asked Oria, wrinkling her nose a little in confusion. “I heard the southern oasis gets a few flakes a year, but mostly they make due with the three or four rainstorms each wet season. Never seen the snow myself.”
Oria laughed and shook her head.
“Not a few flakes. Mounds of it. My last winter there, I was up to my waist in snow, though I was only about as tall as your chest. My brother and I had to be careful not to fall into valleys filled with snow or mom wouldn’t find us until spring. The rains weren’t much different. When those came down, whole sections of the woods would flood out and make new streams.”
Despite her usual careful control of expression, Sirella’s eyes widened and Oria knew she had the woman hooked. Deep down, Oria wished she had an elaborate lie to tell her, but none came to mind easily. A simple one would have to do.
“If it rained too hard,” she told the elven woman, making sure to keep from smiling, “the entire plains below the mountains could wash away. That’s why we stayed in the mountains, so we were above the water.”
Sirella’s face revealed little, but her eyes told Oria that she might have gone too far on that one. The woman did not believe a word of it and might have even dismissed the talk of snow entirely.
“What about your siblings?” she asked Oria.
“What about them?”
“They never got to see the mountains, the snow, or the pines. They only know the desert. Do you think they’ll be different from you and your…your parents?”
“Probably.” She picked at bits of dirt in her tail as she thought a moment. “My father’s people weren’t from the mountains and he turned out fine. Maybe it’s just enough that we remember and that mom and dad raise them. I’m sure Corraith will make them a little different, which is fine, as long as they don’t turn out like the snobby nobles you had around here. I’d have to thump them if they did.”
Sirella giggled at that, then brushed a long strand of her hair back behind her pointed ear as she asked, “You keep saying ‘father,’ when talking about Estin. You’re a fox…not a fox like we have around here, but a predator is a predator, no matter whether they have snow or not. He’s not your real father I’m guessing, so…was it hard growing up with prey as a dad?”
“What was your father like, Sirella?”
“A foul old sot who lost the house in a game of chance when my sister and I were barely old enough to last a night on the streets.”
“Did he care about you, your sister, and your mother?”
“He died trying to put food in our bellies, for all the good it did.”
“My birth father,” Oria began, trying not to think too hard on the topic. It was not something she was comfortable talking about with anyone. “He was scared of my mother…of her power. He loved my brother and I dearly, but as soon as he saw that he was not the top predator in the area, he ran. He took Atall and I and fled from mom, throwing away all the promises he’d made her. He was a warrior, a decent male, and would have been a good father…if he hadn’t gotten himself killed running from his mate.
“He, unlike Estin, was a predator for all the good it did him.”
“That doesn’t really change that your ‘dad’ probably looks and smells like dinner to your mom. That can’t be healthy.”
Nodding, Oria answered, “It wasn’t. Mostly it was hard on mom, though. The camp did not exactly approve and many really wanted to see her gut him. They could get along with predators and prey living as neighbors, but her taking him as her mate was not a popular choice. Before it was official was the worst…at least after she made it public, the pack had to stand by her decision or openly oppose her, which was not a wise thing to do.”
“So your mother chose him…so what? I’d still think a predator would consider him beneath them.”
That amused Oria and she laughed a little at the thought.
“My birth father gave up his life for his children, but abandoned his mate. Without hesitation, Estin would give up his life for any of Feanne’s children, whether they are his or not. He doesn’t care who our father is. His life belongs as much to us as to our mother. I’ve never seen that kind of dedication in anyone of any breed or race. He’s my father because of who he is, not anything to do with birth, breed, or anything else. Besides…us not knowing if he might actually be our real father means looking at him as prey would say something bad about my siblings and I.”
Sirella pondered that for a while, then motioned for Oria to stay quiet as she ran off to investigate something. It did not take long and she returned, taking her seat beside Oria again.
“Old rubble falling,” she explained. “Thought they might have found us, but we’re still getting lucky.”
They sat in silence for some time, the only sounds being the shallow breathing of the other thieves that had come with them. When Sirella spoke next, it jarred Oria and she realized she had been lost in thought.
“Your family is leaving as soon as things calm down, aren’t they?” the woman asked Oria, more of a statement than a question.
“As soon as this battle is done. We don’t belong here. The soldiers are terrified of my mother and would love nothing more than to kill my father. The city itself doesn’t need us or people like us. We’re better off trying to make our way home.”
“Your mother to her role as pack leader and you to wait to inherit it? Sounds thrilling.”
“It doesn’t work that way,” Oria replied, realizing that it was the first time she had really thought about that in many months. “If and when mom dies, the strongest or most respected member takes charge. I don’t get anything without work…and a lot of fights.”
Sirella smiled knowingly, asking, “Is that why you’re out here, risking yourself with us lowlifes? Trying to prove yourself for when you go home?”
“There’s no pack left to impress. They may have all died around the time we left. We won’t know until we go home.”
“Then you’re trying to convince yourself that you’re strong enough.”
“No, not me…” Oria started to say, then trailed off, wishing she had kept her mouth shut.
“You’re showing off for your mother. You want her to know you’re good enough, whether there’s a pack or not. I did the same thing to impress my parents, at least until I stopped caring what they thought.”
Sirella picked up her sword and lifted it so the point was aimed at the ceiling. With a casual wave of her left hand towards the blade, the weapon burst into flames that glowed red, then shifted to blue, then green. She smiled at Oria, then winked and the flames went out.
“Took me forever to learn to do that,” the elven woman admitted, putting the sword aside. “Now, I realize it doesn’t mean anything. Whether my parents were impressed or not, I’m still a street thief in a city that hates me.
Tricks and personal accomplishments don’t make us better people…they just pass the time.”
Oria nodded quickly, but saw Sirella’s eyes following her every movement. The woman was trying to read her.
“It’s not about mommy and daddy,” whispered Sirella, her sparkling eyes widening with interest. “You were proving it to yourself, but not anymore. You’re showing off for someone else.”
“Oh yes you do, kid. It’s the fennec, isn’t it? I saw the sappy way you looked at him back at base. You’re doing this to convince yourself that you’re good enough for him.”
“Shut up, Sirella.”
“He’s a noble, stuck up, born to wealth and privilege, and probably heir to a dozen women…what do you two possibly have in common? I’d think to him, you were just another peasant girl…”
Oria snarled and leapt to her feet, grabbing the taller woman by the armor and slamming her into the wall.
Behind her, she could hear the other elves drawing weapons and could feel them just behind her, waiting for a cue to strike. She did not care, focusing only on Sirella, keeping one hand locked into the woman’s armor to prevent her from moving and the other holding her curved knife. Oria did not even remember drawing the weapon, but she held it steady near Sirella’s throat.
Though she blinked as she hit the wall, Sirella seemed entirely unsurprised and had not a bit of concern on her face.
“I was not criticizing you, kid,” she said, her voice calm despite the weapon near her neck. “That’s how nobles around here think. I’ve dealt with…and stolen from…enough of them that I know it’s true. Getting yourself killed isn’t going to prove anything to him. I don’t know what you see in him, or what he sees in you, but it’d better be something stronger than recklessness to make it work out.”
Letting her weapon drop to her side, Oria released Sirella and stepped away. By the time she turned around, the other thieves were sitting casually around the room as though nothing had happened.
“I don’t know what I see in him,” Oria admitted, shoving her dagger back into its sheath. “He’s handsome and strong, but that isn’t it. I think it’s just that he treats me well…even when I’m being stupid.
“Don’t get me wrong, he’s just as reckless as I am. He tries to prove himself to his father and his soldiers all the time. What sets us apart though is that he tries to be sensible and do the right thing, even if it gets him hurt. He’s like my father in that…he wants to help others, no matter the risk. That’s not something I’m good at and I think I envy that about him just a little. I just want him to know how much I…”
Oria let that trail off and sat down hard. This was not something she had wanted anyone else to hear. It was not even something she really wanted to discuss with herself in the privacy of her own mind.
Kneeling beside her, Sirella lifted Oria’s chin to look her in the eyes.
“If there’s one thing I understand, it’s being stupid about who you love,” the woman said, this time without a hint of deception or sign that she was trying to lead Oria into saying more than she intended. “When this is all over, I’ll help you understand what makes the men of these lands pay attention. You two are good together, that much I saw just in the little time you were both at the base. You just have to undo years of his upbringing if you want to keep him. It’s no different than training any other man, really.”
“Anything,” Oria said softly, pulling her head away. “I feel like I’m losing him and don’t know what I’ll do if that happens.”
A distant horn made everyone in the room look up. Faintly, Oria heard shouts that soon grew into a jumbled rumble of many people yelling at once.
“Worry about your man later. That’s our cue, kid,” Sirella announced, nodding at the others. To the two women in the group and Oria, she added, “It’s time for the girls to show that army of men that it only takes a couple of us to do what a hundred of them are trying to do. Gear up, it’s time to go. Let’s get famous and win back this city.”