As I flip through my question cards, a child’s laughter catches my attention. I look up and spot a small group of people walking along the riverbank. Marcus and Liam are leading the way, while Michael, Ronny, and Meredith follow behind. Meredith stoops to pick a flower to add to the fistful she has already and then skips ahead of everyone. When she spots Kyrin, she hurries to the blankets and settles in beside her.
“Look what I picked.” She hands the bouquet of trilliums and May flowers to Kyrin.
Kyrin grins. “Those are beautiful.”
I smile at the two of them and then at Kyrin’s brothers as they reach our picnic spot. “Thanks for joining us. Have a seat.”
They find spots on the blankets, which are starting to get a little crowded. I should have brought an extra.
“So, what kinds of questions do you have for use?” Michael asks curiously. After all, they weren’t here for our sessions in February.
“Nothing too uncomfortable,” I assure him.
“Lucky,” Kaden mumbles, but he grins good-naturedly.
“Look at it this way, the hard questions just prove how much my readers love you.”
Kaden shrugs. “If you say so.”
I pull out a question card. “Before we begin, I just want to warn my readers that some answers may contain spoilers for The King’s Scrolls. Read at your own risk. Now,” I focus on Marcus, “since you’re the oldest, why don’t we start with you?”
He looks calm and ready for anything I might throw at him.
“Kendra would like to know what you would say are the essential elements of leadership.”
He barely takes a moment to think before he answers. “Leading by example. You can’t expect someone to respect your orders or loyally follow you if you don’t set forth a good example. It also helps to see those you lead as people and not just pawns to order around.”
I nodded in agreement and then look to his left. “Liam.”
He looks a little nervous but smiles.
“Don’t worry,” I try to put him at ease, “You’re questions are pretty basic. First, Amanda wants to know, if you had never become a soldier, what would you have done instead?”
He’s quiet for a moment. “Well, I’m not sure. Since my life was pretty much planned for me, it wasn’t something I gave much thought. Of course, I always wished things were different, but thinking about it too much just made it more difficult.”
“I have a question from Lynn that’s very similar. She asks, if you could do any job you wanted, in your world and mine, what would it be?”
“It’s hard to say since I was never really sure what I was good at. I do find something I like doing, but you probably don’t want me to talk about that yet.”
I smile. “Yeah, it’s probably best we keep it a surprise. I’m sure readers will love to discover what you end up doing. I know I did while writing. And I just know they are going to hate me for teasing them like this.” I quickly flip to a new card. “Michael, Ronny, what do you two like to do most in your free time?”
“I always liked when Grandfather or Marcus took us up to visit the fort,” Michael answers. “I like to practice sparring too.”
I look to the youngest Altair. “What about you Ronny? Do you like visiting the fort?”
He tilts his head. “Sometimes. But I like playing in the woods more.”
“I always liked playing in the woods with my brothers too. What kinds of things do you do in the woods?”
Ronny shrugs. “We build forts and stuff.”
I grin. “Forts are always fun. So, what do you two think of each other?”
They trade glances.
“We like each other just fine,” Michael says.
Ronny nods. “Yeah, with Kyrin and Kaden gone at Tarvin Hall and Marcus and Liam at the fort all the time, Michael was the only one I had to play with every day. We fight sometimes, but not for too long.”
“I know you two were pretty excited to meet Kyrin and Kaden after so long. What would you say you admire most about Kaden?”
“He’s cool,” Michael answers, and Ronny quickly adds, “and he has a dragon!”
Both Kaden and I laugh.
“He also plays with us,” Ronny says, “even though we’re a lot younger than him.”
Michael nods in agreement. “He’s a good brother.”
“What about Jace? What do you think of him?”
“We like Jace,” Michael answers as they both nod.
I wait for a moment for them to say more, but they both appear to think the answer is sufficient. They are boys, after all. I lean toward Meredith who is weaving a crown out of her flowers. “What about you Meredith? What do you think of Jace?”
She looks up at me with her deep blue eyes, and then glances at Jace, who smiles at her. “Jace is nice,” she says happily. “I like Tyra too.”
I smile. “I think everyone likes Tyra. Speaking admiring people,” I turn my attention back to Marcus, “Ysa wants to know what you admire most about your grandfather?”
Marcus contemplates this for a moment. “Well, he is a good military leader. I might not agree with all of his tactics, but he did work hard to get to where he is. If you take away other things, I think that’s admirable.”
“So what did you think when you learned that your father, Kyrin, and Kaden were traitors?”
A frown slowly overtakes his face. “I guess we got through all the easy questions, didn’t we?”
I give him an apologetic look. “Pretty much.”
“Well, it was very tough. I didn’t understand it at first, and knowing what the penalty was, it was just hard to accept. I tried to find ways to understand but, without knowing the truth, it was almost impossible.”
“Did you side with them or your grandfather in your mind?”
“My grandfather.” He looks ashamed. “Or at least I sided with what I’d been taught my whole life about the emperor and the gods. It wasn’t necessarily a wholehearted agreement, but I did hold to it for a while.”
“At least you came around. I understand how your duty and loyalty to the emperor fought with your loyalty to your family.” I hope I’ve consoled him. “What do you think of Kyrin and Kaden now?”
“I admire them for standing up for what they believe in, even if it meant death. It takes a lot of courage to do that. I love them, of course. It was never my intention to have my loyalties divided. I didn’t even realize it had happened until things started to go wrong.”
“Kendra is curious which of your siblings you’re closest to.”
All five of them look at him. He laughs dryly. “This is my uncomfortable question, isn’t it?”
“Not that I love any of my siblings any more or less than another, but Liam and I have been pretty close over the years. I mean, it’s not like we were all together very much. Kyrin and Kaden were gone and Michael and Ronny were at home. Since Liam and I were both together at the fort so much, we grew close.”
Kyrin touches his arm. “Don’t worry, we understand. It’s just like Kaden and I growing up in Tarvin Hall. We each have different relationships with each other.”
He smiles and doesn’t look so uncomfortable.
“Why don’t we get back to the fun questions?” I turn to Liam. Ants and Epic are curious what your favorite food is?”
Kaden laughs. “I knew there had to be more food questions coming.”
Liam grins. “Chicken hand pies. Ethel always made really good chicken pies.”
My mouth waters. “That sounds delicious. I’ve always loved chicken pot pies. Ants and Epic are also curious what are some of the things you actually enjoy doing?”
“I enjoy being with my family. Army life is so rigid. I enjoyed any time I could be away from it. And I always enjoyed playing with Michael and Ronny whenever I was home.”
“Since we’re still on the topic of family and siblings . . .” I pull out a new question card and look at Kaden. “Ysa wants to know what is the most annoying thing that Kyrin has ever done to you?”
“Ha! Finally I get this question.” He gives Kyrin a mischievous grin.
She raises her brows, attempting to hide a smile. “And your answer is?”
He thinks a moment. “Probably being right all the time.”
She shakes her head. “I’m not right all the time.”
He shrugs. “Feels like it sometimes . . . especially when, underneath, I know I’m not right.”
I laugh quietly at them. “So, Kyrin, Merenwen wants to know if you have ever wanted to give your Kaden a swift kick in the pants for any reason?”
Now Kyrin laughs. “Of course, especially during those times he knows he’s not right. Haven’t you wanted to do the same to your brothers?”
“Oh yes. I think everyone wants to do that to their siblings at one time or another.”
Kaden nudges Kyrin. “Come on, I’m not that bad.”
“Sometimes you are.” She smiles. “But that’s okay.”
“So now that we’ve established all that—” I look at Kaden “—who would you consider your best friend?”
“Does that exclude family?”
“Let’s say it does.”
“Well then.” He pauses. “Probably Talas.”
Talas grins and gives him a nod of appreciation.
“You two do get along really well. I don’t think I ever saw that coming when I first introduced Talas into your story.” I glance at the cards again. “Amanda wants to know what you like to do in your free time . . . you know, besides eat?”
He throws his hands up in exasperation and gives me a look. “Now you’ve made everyone think all I do is eat. I can survive without food.”
Kyrin chokes back a laugh and Talas joins in.
He narrows his eyes at them. “Okay, technically I can’t survive without it, but you know what I mean. I do have a life beyond food.”
I bite my lip to keep from laughing. “Don’t worry, Kaden, we know. It’s just become a bit of a joke, that’s all. So, what do you like to do?”
He still looks a bit disgruntled, but it clears quickly. “Well, flying, for one thing. I don’t think I’d ever get sick of that. And I like to hang out with everyone. Camp life never gets boring.”
“Nope, it doesn’t,” I agree.
Talas looks at me slyly. “Perhaps that’s because right when things start to get settled, you have some calamity befall us.”
“Hey, I can’t help it. That’s how stories go.” But I have a feeling he and the others don’t quite agree with me.