(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard, and Nan was written by Nan Sampson Bach)
“Another interview in the garden,” Kelly mused as she meandered the clearing, passing through shadow and sunlight. The gardens of Cuskelom were a popular choice for those people who she was interviewing, and Kelly briefly wondered if she should someday change the garden to those of Elddon or ask Sarah if she could borrow those of Aquila.
But for now, Kelly waited and finally took a seat on a fallen log near the stream where she watched the clear shallow, clear water run. If she was here for too long, she’ll slip into her imagination and might not realize when her visitor arrived.
However, she didn’t have to wait long when someone touched her shoulder. Kelly snapped her gaze around and found her assassin, Vixen, standing there. Kelly narrowed her eyes. “Please don’t tell me you killed my guest.” But then she looked beyond Vixen and saw Nan Sampson Bach standing there, and Kelly let out a sigh of relief as she hopped off.
Kelly locked eyes with Nan but motioned to Vixen. “This is Vixen—deadly assassin and such. I am so glad she didn’t stab you. She’s not exactly the most gracious hostess…” She slid the assassin a look, silently asking her why she, of all people, had been sent on this errand.
Vixen threw her hands in the air. “The princes were busy with royal duties, so they asked me to bring her. But I’m leaving now.” Without a farewell, she stomped away, and Kelly gave Nan an apologetic look.
“Sorry, she can be temperamental, but let I said, she didn’t stab you, so that’s a good thing.” Finally, Kelly reached her hand out to shake Nan’s, formally greeting her, and she smiled. ”It’s great to meet you! Thank you for agreeing to meet me here.” She motioned to their surroundings.
Nan smiled warmly and took Kelly’s hand in a firm grip. “No, really, the pleasure is all mine. And Vixen was delightful—at least in so much as I walked away with my life!” Nan giggled. “This place is truly magical!”
Kelly smiled. “Oh, there’s much more magic than you can see—and I mean actual magic. It’s really neat. I’m glad you like it, but I do believe you were quite curious as to what’s beyond the stream, right?” She motioned to the small creek behind her and the woods beyond that.
“Yes! I was hoping you’d remember that. I’ve loved creeks and woods since I was small. And this place just begs to be explored!” She bounced up and down on her feet, her eyes sparkling with excitement. “Can we go across?”
“I’m so tempted to say ‘no’ just to watch your face fall, but of course we may!” Kelly beamed then gestured for her to follow. “I think you’ll like where I’ll take you. I’ve already taken a few people there, and I love the reaction I get.” With that, she hopped over a narrow part of the stream and waited until Nan had done the same. Then she lead the way through the woods. “So, how long have you been writing?”
“I actually can’t remember a time that I didn’t tell stories. When I was very small—2 or 3—my mother insisted on calling them lies. I just liked to, er, um, embellish reality, I suppose. I wrote my first real story in music class when I was 6. It was sort of impromptu theater with music about a character called Mr. Poppycock. Other than him living in a magical forest, that’s really about all I remember, unfortunately.” She laughed again, splashing through the water as opposed to jumping across, enjoying the feel of the chilly creek slipping underneath the soles of her sandaled feet.
Kelly cast her a quizzical glance. “Why did you write a story in music class? Was it an assignment?”
“I don’t really remember. I think the teacher asked us to use music in a creative way. I suggested a story set to music, as I had just seen Peter and the Wolf in Boston with my great Aunt Madeleine.” She shook her head. “I had nightmares about that wolf for months!”
“I don’t blame at all!” Kelly wagged her head but then fixed her gaze ahead and started up the hill in the woods. “So what’s your favorite genre to write?”
“I waffle back and forth really.” She took a deep breath, smelling ferns and moss and sweet, rich loamy earth. “I read widely, both fiction and non-fiction. I REALLY want to write space opera, but so far, my ideas just don’t pan out for me. My first published book is a cozy mystery—with more to follow in the series—and my current WIP is fantasy with a strong romantic element.”
Kelly smiled as she heard the excitement in Nan’s voice. “And the story you’re writing currently—what inspired you to write it?”
She giggled again. This was so much fun! “It was a song, actually. I listen to a lot of David Arkenstone and on his Myths and Legends album is a song called El Dorado. Listening to it, I had this image of a tortured and remorseful conquistador.” Her gaze flicked up, overhead, where a squirrel was busy chattering at them, annoyed at being disturbed. She gave the animal a little wave, the refocused. “After that, the ideas just sort of snow-balled. I’ve always been fascinated by thresholds – the idea that if you step through an arch or a bend in a tree or a hedge or whatever at just the right moment, you can be transported magically somewhere or somewhen else. The two ideas meshed together and voila!”
At last they came to the top of the hill, and at the bottom were ruins of a castle slowly being reclaimed by nature. Kelly gestured to it. “And voila! The Garden of Ruins.” She smiled then looked at Nan for her reaction.
“Oh. My. That is stunning.” She turned to Kelly and gave her a brief hug. “Thank you so much for brining me here! Good heavens, I think I’m tearing up a bit—how embarrassing!”
“Hey, that’s okay. I know most people don’t get to see something like this every day, so…” Kelly shrugged. “I figured you’d like to see it. C’mon, we can go exploring.” She then pointed out the only intact tower. “Want to go up there? It’s safe.”
“Yes, please!” Nan couldn’t believe the view. Moss covered crumbling stones and there were beautiful archways everywhere. Paving stones appeared and disappeared out of the grass and leaf litter and she played a little hopscotch as they went along, trying only to step on the exposed pavers.
Somewhere overhead, birds called out, and she could hear the soughing of the tree branches in the gentle wind. And was that maybe a distant, ghostly voice too? Or just her rampant imagination?
Kelly guided the way through the ruins—walls half-broken down while some archways and pillars still stood. Finally, they came to a dark opening at the bottom of the tower, and Kelly didn’t hesitate. She walked right in.
Darkness consumed her, and Nan could only hear her voice as she spoke, “Keep your hand on the wall. Some of these stairs are slick.” However, as they kept walking, Kelly knew she needed to stay on topic with the questions, so she asked, “So, you said you write fantasy, right? Anything like this?”
Nan climbed slowed. The stairs were indeed slick. Even the walls felt slightly damp and she shivered as imagined little six-legged creatures skittering across them. She counted her steps, trying not to let the darkness freak her out, and focused on the question she’d just been asked. “Yes, this would fit perfectly into any number of my fictional worlds. The archways here in this ruin would be a natural Gate in my current project. The Gates, created eons ago, started out as natural archways found in nature. And then man found a way to create them through architecture. Each Gate, either man-made or otherwise has a Gatekeeper, and the Keeper always has a Guardian. ” Please, let there be some daylight soon, she thought. “My conquistador, for instance, becomes a GateKeeper’s Guardian.” She chuckled. “Albeit, very reluctantly. “Oops. I think that was a spoiler.”
At last they came to the top, out into the sun and shadows of the trees. The wall around the tower kept any from falling over the edge. This was one of Kelly’s favorite places to come and think when she was in her imagination. All around them spread out the forest mingled with ruins and full of ideas.
Kelly glanced Nan’s way and chuckled at what she said about spoilers. “Only a spoiler if you know what’s going on in the story, really. So, tell me about this story—the characters, their conflicts, and such.”
Nan took a moment to marvel at the view. A breeze kept the worst of the sun’s heat at bay and she wished she had her laptop with her. This would be a perfect place to come and write. “Wow, this is just amazing. Thanks again.”
She thought for a moment about her Work-In-Progress. “Where to begin? This story is just about my favorite project ever. I mentioned the Gates earlier. As my story opens, an old Gatekeeper, nearing the end of his time, is in search of a replacement. And when two Travelers come through the Gate within a few weeks of each other (which is unusual), he’s hoping that one of them will be it. The Travelers are two people from vastly different periods in time. Alejandro is a wounded, deeply-conflicted conquistador from 1542 and Charlotte is a free-spirited young woman from Boston in 1972. Almost on the eve of Charlotte’s arrival, however, an unknown person attempts to breach the Gate, and the structure nearly shatters, effectively shutting the Gate down. The two travelers are thrust into a quest to reach the only person in the realm who might know how to fix the Gate – the mysterious LoreMaster, whose location changes constantly, because without a functioning Gate, the Travelers can never return home.”
“And what makes the characters unique? Their personalities and such?” Kelly raised her brows before she went to the wall and leaned against it watching Nan.
She turned to face Kelly, leaning back against the stone parapet. “Charlotte is one of my favorite characters of all time. She’s rebellious, has always been a magnet for trouble, but she’s not afraid to follow her heart and really live life to the fullest. It has brought her both a great deal of joy and a great deal of pain, and she’s at a really low point now where she must consider whether or not to continue living the way she has.
“As for Alejandro, he’s not your typical conquistador. He had wanted to be a poet or a bard, but that’s not the way life worked out. He hates what he was a part of in Peru, the senseless slaughter of the Incas and the raping and pillaging. He was once a deeply religious man, in fact he was on his way to becoming a monk, but now, he’s not sure there’s anything to believe in. And he despises himself for having been a part of what happened under Pizarro’s command, and a little fearful that he has become just as much a monster as those he served with.
“Finally, there’s Alejo’s cousin, Juan-Carlos. He reveled in his exploits in Peru and despises his cousin for what he perceives as cowardice and dishonor. He witnesses Alejandro go through the Gate and although he doesn’t know where he’s gone or what sort of devilry is involved, he is determined to follow him and settle the score.” She couldn’t help grinning. “I can’t remember who said that the villain is always the hero of his own story, but it’s true. If you look at things through Juan-Carlos’ point of view, his reasoning makes perfect sense. Even though he’s utterly and completely wrong. He’s fun because he can be caring and lovable… right up until he strangles someone because they’ve become inconvenient. I actually feel sorry for him sometimes.” She took a breath, grinning from ear to ear. “I just love them all. I don’t even know how to stop talking about them.”
This made Kelly grin because she could relate completely. “And unfortunately, we need to start heading back.” She frowned. “Our time’s almost up, but we can keep talking along the way. Ready to go…or should I not ask?” Her eyes twinkled as she bet she knew the answer.
Nan took one final look at her surroundings. “Don’t ask. Let’s go before I grab onto a pillar like a three-year-old and refuse to leave!” She grinned at Kelly.
This caused Kelly to laugh, and she motioned to the stairs. “Back down the darkened stairwell we go!”
“Okey dokey.” Had that sounded brave? Had her voice trembled? “One of my favorite things about this series is the mixing of time periods, as the villain goes back and forth through different Gates. Even more fun is that scattered throughout the world are actual historical characters. People who disappeared in real life. It’s a blast.”
She kept her hand on the wall, again counting steps. “You may not recognize them—but even one of the bad guys is a real historical character.”
“That sounds very interesting. I once had an idea about people who’ve disappeared in real life, but I haven’t managed to get that story to do anything.” Kelly shook her head, but they came to the bottom of the tower and out into the open again. “Okay, so who’s your favorite character to write?”
“Um…that’s so hard! I guess it would be a toss up between Juan-Carlos (what social covenant can I break today?) and a character from the second book in the series, Tori. She’s a blast in that she has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the world and puts it all together in situations like MacGyver.” She shook her head again. “I LOVE Alejandro, but sometimes he’s gets to be such a bummer!” She mimed taking the shoulders of an imaginary figure. “You just wanna shake him and say, “Dude. Stop being so serious!”
Kelly laughed. “Oh, that’s a character I can relate to, but be honest—those characters have very unique sense of humors!” She saw the creek up ahead and realized Lorrek was waiting for them there. She smiled and gestured to him. “You’re reading my story on Wattpad, right? You may know Lorrek…”
Nan gasped then grinned hugely. “Oh my!” She gave Lorrek a slight curtsy. “Your Highness! It is a great honor to make your acquaintance!” She turned shining eyes to Kelly. “Thank you!!” Then, very quietly, so that only Kelly could hear, “And isn’t he a long cool drink of water. Just like I imagined.”
“I know,” Kelly whispered back. “I have yet to figure out how to drag him into our reality, but first chance I do, you can bet that I will!”
Lorrek stood with his hands tucked behind his back. He heard every word the women said, and a smile tugged at the corner of his lips. However, he ignored it all and bowed to them before offering Nan his hand. “I believe I am to send you on your way, Milady.”
With butterflies in her stomach, Nan took his hand. “Kelly, it has been such an honor. One day I hope I have the pleasure of hosting YOU at the Crossroads Inn. You can meet Charlotte and Alejandro then.” She gave Kelly a curtsy as well. “Thank you so much for this opportunity! And for…” she swept her arm, gesturing at the woods around her, “this! I can’t wait to spend more time in your world.”
“Thank you! You have a wonderful day!” With that, Kelly nodded to Lorrek who took hold of Nan’s hand, and the two vanished, leaving Kelly in the woods, smiling. These conversations were always so enlightening and fun.
Note: Nan’s story is titled ‘The Gathering Storm’, the first book in her fantasy series, ‘The Gatekeeper Saga’, which she hopes to have released July 2016. For more information, check out her website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter!