Ethan Kaille is one of Colonial Boston’s leading thieftakers. He is also a conjurer, an ex-convict, and a veteran of the War of the Austrian Succession, in which he served as a sailor in the navy of His Majesty King George II. Though an intensely private man, he recently agreed, albeit reluctantly, to sit down and answer a few questions about his life, his career, and, of course, his rivalry with Sephira Pryce, Boston’s famed “Empress of the South End.”
Mister Kaille, thank you for joining us today. I wonder if you wouldn’t begin by telling us a bit about your work as a thieftaker.
There is little to tell, really. Boston is filled with reprobates and fools, and invariably men who fall into one category or the other take it upon themselves to improve their meagre lot in life by stealing from the city’s monied class. When they do, their victims engage me to find the thieves and recover the pinched goods. In return I receive a small fee, part upon beginning my inquiry, and the balance upon completing it.
And what happens to the thieves?
That depends on them. If a cove gives up what he has stolen without too much fuss, I will generally let him go, so long as he promises to leave Boston, never to return. If he is less accommodating, I might turn him over to Stephen Greenleaf, the sheriff of Suffolk County, who will place him in gaol, or, if this latest offense is but one of many, see him hanged.
So you work with Sheriff Greenleaf?
Hardly. He doesn’t care for me and I am not overly fond of him. On occasion he seeks my help with certain matters that he cannot handle on his own. Otherwise, we avoid each other.
These matters with which you help him — are they cases that involve magic?
I won’t speak of that.
Why not? It’s well known that in solving some of the crimes you’re hired to investigate, you rely on magic and–
It is not magick! Nor is it witchery! It is conjuring. It is a craft that takes years to master. Those who condemn it and its practitioners do so out of ignorance. Witchcraft and black magick are the stuff of myth, of fanciful stories told to children, and of fiery sermons used by men of the cloth to frighten their congregations and ostracize the rest of us! I am no more a witch than you are! I cast spells. I can heal, I can protect myself from the conjurings of others, and yes, I can use my talents to further my inquiries and recover items that other thieftakers might not be able to find. Where is the harm in that?
So-called witches in the Province of Massachusetts Bay have been hanged or burned at the stake throughout the past century. Dozens of innocents have died at the hands of frenzied mobs. Those of us who cast spells live in terror of being falsely branded as witches and condemned to a similar fate. And again I tell you that we are not witches, and what we do is not magick!
Very well. My mistake then. Why don’t we move on to something else? You and Sephira Pryce have known each other for a number of years now. What can you tell us about the “Empress of the South End?”
I’d rather not talk about her, either.
I know that you’re rivals, but I would assume that the two of you are well acquainted. Surely you know her better than most of us do.
Nobody really knows Sephira. And I believe she prefers it that way.
Yes, she and I are rivals, and yes, I made her acquaintance some years ago. She is . . . a formidable woman. Beautiful, brilliant, as skilled with a blade and pistol as she is with her fists. She would probably argue with the assertion that I am her rival. She brooks no rivals and admits to having no equals.
The truth is that she is utterly without mercy or kindness or any of the finer qualities usually befitting her sex. The fame she enjoys as a thieftaker is wholly undeserved. Her success results almost entirely from the fact that she and her toughs are responsible for the very crimes she purports to solve. She has made herself rich and built for herself an empire that His Majesty the King might admire. And she has founded it all on a lie.
She sounds more like an enemy than a rival.
Aye. And a mortal enemy at that. I have felt the bite of her blade, and on several occasions have endured beatings at the hands of her men. But I’ve also managed to prevail in several of our encounters.
Because of your spells?
My spells, my wits, my own skill with blade and hand. I am not without resources of my own.
Before you became a thieftaker, you were . . . There is really no delicate way to say this: You were a prisoner. Can you tell us the circumstances of your imprisonment?
I had recently resigned my commission as a seaman in His Majesty’s navy and made my way from my home in Bristol, England to Boston. Not long after my arrival, I met a woman and fell in love. We intended to marry, but first I wished to make my fortune and so provide for her as my father had provided for my mother, my sisters, and me. I signed on as second mate aboard a privateering ship called Ruby Blade.
I didn’t know when I took this new commission that the captain and his first mate had long been at odds. For a while after we set sail, all seemed to go well. Soon, though, much of crew grew restive with our meager takings. The first mate began to speak of mutiny and he convinced me to throw in with his gang. I was young and very much a fool, and I agreed.
We took the ship, put the captain in the brig, and resumed our pursuit of French merchant ships. But almost immediately our new captain proved himself far worse than the old one. He was brutal, arbitrary, and barely competent. Our fortunes did not improve; indeed they worsened. I regretted what I had done, and with the help of others in the crew, I managed to free the captain, and helped him retake the ship. The first mate was hanged at sea. The other mutineers, myself included, were tried and convicted. I was sentenced to fourteen years hard labor on a sugar plantation in the British holding of Barbados. It was backbreaking work, under the worst conditions you might imagine. Hellish heat, spoilt food, cramped quarters. It was a waking nightmare.
That’s where you were wounded, is that correct?
Aye. Another convict accidently cut my foot with a cane knife. My foot became infected. In days the lower half of my leg was bloated and hot to the touch. The plantation surgeons had to remove three of my toes to save my life. I’ve walked with a limp ever since.
You weren’t able to heal yourself?
I might have, but at the time I had foresworn conjuring. The mutineers had recruited me to their cause because they wanted me to cast spells on their behalf. I saw my talents as my greatest weakness, the cause of all the evil that had befallen me after setting sail from Boston. I wanted nothing to do with spells or conjurings.
So, you would have let yourself die?
At the time, I believe I would have welcomed death. But the overseers wanted me working in the cane fields, and so they saved my life.
And yet, despite all that you’ve been through, you seem to be fairly happy at this point in your life.
I would say that I am content. I have enjoyed some success as a thieftaker. I lost the one love I ever knew when I went to prison, but I am fortunate to have found a woman who accepts me for whom I am, and who is smart enough and strong enough to trust that I care for her, even when I am too much a fool to show my feelings. I have a handful of friends whom I trust, a roof over my head, a bit of coin for a decent meal and a tankard of ale. In all, fate has smiled upon me far more than I deserve.
Thank you, Mister Kaille, for speaking with us today. For those who wish to learn more about the life of Ethan Kaille, I would direct you to the D.B. Jackson website, and would, of course, recommend that you read Thieftaker when it is released in July. I wonder, Mister Kaille, if you would be willing to answer questions from our readers.
Excellent. If you have questions for Ethan Kaille, thieftaker and conjurer, please post them below. Mister Kaille will be checking comments throughout the day, and will answer questions as he can.David B. Coe http://www.DavidBCoe.com http://www.dbjackson-author.com http://magicalwords.net