Kristen Gleeson Interviews Barnabas from The Imp of Eye
Today, the person interviewed is Barnabas, one of the main characters featured in The Imp of Eye, a novel set in London in 1440. A young King Henry VI sits on the throne and the Wars of the Roses are just on the horizon. Not yet married, Henry’s nearest heir is his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester who is married to Eleanor, a woman who rose to nobility through this marriage. Eleanor is desperate for a male heir and seeks help with a wise woman/herbalist, Margery Jourdemayne, known as the Witch of Eye. Working for Margery is young Barnabas, a thirteen year old orphan street urchin who was placed there by Canon Thomas. Quick witted and street wise, Barnabas has a unique gift—he can see into the future.
Kristin Gleeson: When and where were you born?
Barnabas: I was born in London in 1427. They says it was Father Thomas what found me, on a dung heap, but I’m guessing I weren’t born there. Dunno who me mother was, or me father. But it was Father Thomas what raised me. With other orphans like meself.
KG: What influence did your birth family have on you, your choices, your life?
B: Well, like I said, I don’t know who me mam or me dad were so I can’t really say they had any say in who I am. It were more Father Thomas who made me what I am. He taught me to read and cipher and when he found I was quick with the learning he had me help him at mixing his potions. That’s when he found out I had this gift, or leastways that’s what he called it. I can see things. You know, what’s gonna happen. It comes over me queer like and sometimes I see Limpin’ Sam. He tells me things. Or shows me things, like what might happen to a friend. There’s this other fella what comes, but I don’t like him so much, I prefer Limpin’ Sam. When Father Thomas found out about this he told his friend, Mistress Jourdemayne and right away she wants me in her household. She said I was to help in the kitchen, but really she wants me there when she sees her customers. Those who come to shee what’s gonna happen. She pretends it’s her what’s seeing into the future, but it’s me, whispering and signalling to her behind the customer’s back. So really I guess it’s down to Father Thomas and my ‘special gift’ that I am where I am and ended up doing what I do. Nothing to do with choice.
KG: What do you want from life?
B: Gee, no one ever asked me that afore. Dunno, I spose I want to be me own man. Owe nobody nothing, no have to do anyone’s bidding but me own. If I could do that I would never use this ‘special’ gift they think is so great. I dunno why anyone wants to see what’s gonna happen. They forgets that it ain’t always good. I’ve seen many things no one wants to know and then they blame me if it ain’t good. So if I could do me own bidding I would go to sea and visit foreign lands that I hear about all the time down at Queenhithe docks. All them seamen coming in speaking all them different lingos. I’d give anything to go on a ship, the sails filled with a sharp wind, knowing I was going someplace different.
KG: What is preventing you from getting what you want?
B: If there was some way I could get on a ship and sail away I would, but me mistress keeps a sharp eye on me. And then there’s Alys. She’s a maidservant to the Duchess of Gloucester. I have me friends at the Turks Head, Black Jack and his mistress. They looks out for me a little. They lets me sell a few herbs and such like that I steals from me mistress. One day I’ll have enough money to leave.
KG: What do you consider are your strengths?
B: People say that I am good to keep me wits about me, and I’d say that is true enough. But I like most to learn about things, new places, new lingos and just about anything people like to tell me. Some have told me I’m too curious for me own good and someday it’s going to get me into deep trouble. Dunno, I tries to keep meself on the lookout. I’m pretty good at knowing when to keep me gob shut, you learn that quick enough fighting with other orphans or on the street and you also know when to slip away or run quick.
KG: What do you consider is your special talent?
B: Father Thomas and me mistress would say it’s me ‘gift of the sight’. They calls it special, but sometimes I feel it’s a curse. I didn’t never ask for it, I just have it and sometimes I wish I never had it. Dunno if it was me mother who had afore me, all I knows is that one day Limpin’ Sam appeared in the water trough when I was peering in. He was looking all sad and hoppin up and down telling me to be careful of the wheels. Next thing I know a cart breaks loose in the street and nearly knocks me over. I was maybe six or something then. When I tells Father Thomas he gets all excited and after that had me doing all sorts with his potions. Alchemy he calls it. Calling spirits that don’t have any business being called is what I would say it was.
KG: What are you most afraid of?
B: A while ago I would’ve said it was them spirits what Father Thomas makes call, but lately, me mistress has been having dealings with that noble lady, the Duchess of Gloucester. She’s been making me do things I don’t like. It feels all wrong and I’ve been hearing things abroad in places like the Turk’s Head. Rrumours are starting. Talk about witchcraft and what they do to witches. They call me mistress a witch, when really she tells me it’s me who does the witchery. Usually people don’t mind witches if they’re no bother to anyone. But things are changing. I can feel it. Folk are saying that the Duchess is a witch and she is doing witchery against the king. They know she sees me mistress. How long before people start thinking I’m the one that’s doing the witching.
Originally from Philadelphia, Kristin Gleeson lives in Ireland, in the West Cork Gaeltacht, where she works as a librarian, plays the harp, sings in an Irish choir and runs a book club for the village library.
She holds a Masters in Library Science and a Ph.D. in history, and for a time was an administrator of a national archives, library and museum in America. She has also worked as a public librarian in America and Ireland.
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