At this week’s Character Column, we are joined by British fantasy author Nyki Blatchley and his intriguing ‘long-term companion’ character, the Traveller. On this occasion, the Traveller has graced us with a rare interview and has been most forthcoming. His answers, however, tend to raise more questions…and I am left wondering what ‘Vishla’ means, for a start!
Nyki, would you like to introduce the Traveller to us?
The Traveller, an immortal wanderer, is the character I’ve written about more than any other (since 1970, in all) and he seems more of a friend than a creation. He’s the first-person narrator of my novel, At An Uncertain Hour, published by StoneGarden.net, and he figures as an important secondary character in my trilogy-in-progress, The Winter Legend. He’s also featured in twenty-two short stories, usually as the main character, but sometimes in a secondary role.
He doesn’t often give interviews, but he’s agreed to answer a few questions ― though he doesn’t guarantee to explain everything.
So, Traveller, can you tell us about your background? Were you born an immortal?
Oh no, far from it. I actually came from a poor, peasant village in the mountains and spent much of my childhood herding sheep.
Ah: a mysterious orphan who was really a lost heir, with a special birthmark?
No, no, nothing like that. Just a regular peasant boy, although one with a deep yearning to wander that was fulfilled in a way I didn’t quite expect. In the course of my wandering, I stumbled into a magical spell that halted my aging.
So you can’t die?
I’m not indestructible. It’s true that I tend to heal quickly from injury or sickness, but I could be killed. It’s just that neither my body nor my mind age or decay.
Some people would regard that as a curse, just to go on and on living. Don’t you get worn out and ready to be done with life, like so many old people?
Ah, but I’m not old; I’ve just lived a long time.
So what are the differences?
Well, it’s just that I’m not subject to the physical or mental changes that can make life seem burdensome at last. I’m learning and growing and experiencing all the time, and that’s what I love doing more than anything. And travelling, as you might guess.
Yes, presumably you weren’t always called the Traveller. What’s your real name?
Well… it depends what you mean by real name. Of course I had another name as a child, but… well, I don’t tend to think about it much. I’ve been the Traveller for thousands of years ― that’s who I am. Sometimes, when I’ve settled in an area for a long time, I’ve almost come to think of the local word as my real name. At different times, I’ve been Vishla, Shorna, Tollanis… some others, too. I forget them all. Most of them just mean Traveller, though. Well, except for Vishla, and I’m not going to tell you what that meant.
So you spend your time travelling. What are you? A wandering mercenary? A bandit? A professional troublemaker?
Certainly not. Actually, what I’ve been more than anything is a merchant.
A merchant? That’s… well, not exactly glamorous, is it?
Yes and no. I never really cared about making money, other than to live, but using my ship to transport goods and people gave me an excuse to go wherever I felt like and meet whoever I wanted to ― kings or beggars.
So you ran a ship? That must be expensive.
Not really. You see, Searcher was an enchanted ship. She didn’t need a crew: she just responded to my mental commands. She and I were together for two thousand years.
So that’s it? Just buying and selling? No danger or adventures?
Weeeell, that was the theory. In practice, I can’t resist getting… involved. When I see people being oppressed… well, you can’t just stand by and do nothing, can you? So yes, plenty of danger and adventures. Wars too. Not something I ever want to do, but I seem good at leading armies. I led the Free Alliance in a war of liberation against the Demon Queen of the South for a thousand years.
A thousand years? You’re kidding.
I wish I were, sometimes. I suppose that’s what you get when the leaders on both sides are immortal, but I was determined not to let up till the Southland was free of the Queen and her tyranny.
You must have been determined. Why was that?
Well… I had my reasons. I’d rather not talk about it.
OK. So what about friendship ― or even love? It must be difficult to form attachments when you know the person’s going to die and you’ll have to live on.
Why must it? Everyone suffers loss ― one of the things that makes the people we love so special is knowing we only have them for a while. Yes, growing old together can be special, but so can being able to look back on someone I’ve loved at all ages, from a child to an old person, and knowing that they were just as wonderful at each one of those stages.
But don’t you miss them?
Of course I do. I think there are two kinds of people, though, whether they live a few decades or a few millennia: those who always look back and regret what’s gone, and those who enjoy their memories but look forward to the next land over the horizon. I’ve always been the second kind.
So you’ve no regrets about your life?
Oh, I didn’t say that. A life without regrets is a life not lived, but I’ve never regretted the way I’ve chosen to live, and I won’t let regrets stop me from living the way I choose in the future.
You’re not considering settling down, then? Can you see that ever happening?
It’s happened, at various times. For a while: a few years, or a lifetime. Once, I settled down for several centuries. It seemed the right thing to do at the time, but not forever. I always move on eventually.
Are there more stories to tell about your adventures?
Ah, as a good friend would say, that depends on whether you’re talking about the past or the future – if it matters. I can’t see the future, but there’s a lot about my past that hasn’t been written. As I say, there’ve been plenty of quiet times, but sooner or later, things tend to happen. Either I’ll get caught up in a cause, or else adventure will ambush me.
As you might imagine, over thousands of years there’s quite a lot that’s probably worth telling. The story about the Golden Valley: that would make a good tale. My voyages to the east, or the crystal princess’s gift to the underground city of Ladhoud, or Ora-Orai and the winged Eahui. Or the time I had to disguise myself as…
No, on second thoughts, that’s a story that’s never going to be told.
Well, Nyki, I hope you will coax all those stories out of him, and more. Thanks to you and the Traveller for a fascinating window into the product of a ‘high-functioning’ working partnership (and friendship). Looking at how many stories the Traveller has wandered through, I am in awe…
Nyki Blatchley is a British author and poet who graduated from Keele University in English and Greek and now lives just outside London. He has had about forty stories published, mostly fantasy or horror, in various magazines, webzines and anthologies, including Penumbra, Lore, Wily Writers and The Thirteenth Fontana Book of Great Horror Stories. His novel At An Uncertain Hour was published by StoneGarden in April 2009, and he’s had novellas out from Musa Publishing and Darwin’s Evolutions, among others. He’s currently working on a fantasy trilogy called The Winter Legend.
Nyki is an administrator for the online fantasy writers’ group fantasy-writers.org and runs the live group East Herts Fantasy Writers. He has also had many poems published, and has performed poetry and music at various venues around London, including frequent appearances at the legendary coffee-house Bunjies, which in the 60s featured artists such as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and David Bowie.