An Interview with Ethan Kaille, Thieftaker and Conjurer


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.

I suppose.

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

21 comments to An Interview with Ethan Kaille, Thieftaker and Conjurer

  • Ethan, how nice of you to visit with us today. In the mannner of modern talk show hosts, I’ve got a question: What’s your best spell (agreeing, of course, that it isn’t magick)? And what do you consider your finest moment on thieftaking? In other words, what’s the case that made you?

  • Good morning, Ethan. Thank you for agreeing, however reluctantly, to answer some questions about your life and conjuring skills. I’d like to know more about your special talent. Can anyone learn to conjure, or do you have to be born with a certain talent or predisposition for casting spells? When and how did you learn your own skills? How open are you about the nature of your thieftaking skills–do you advertise your conjuring or do you try to keep it secret to protect yourself from those who would brand you witch?

  • Hello Ethan, you’ve had a hard life but find yourself now in a good place. What are your goals for your life? Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years hence?

  • Pea Faerie, the pleasure is mine. You have a most interesting name. I wonder if you might have conjuring blood in your veins. You ask what I consider to be my “best” spell. I am not certain if you mean “The one I know best,” or “The one that is most powerful,” or “The one I enjoy the most,” or “The one I find most useful.” I would say that different spells serve me well at different times. There are moments when a simple warding spell is “best” because it keeps me from falling victim to the assault of another conjurer. But I would say that I enjoy concealment spells most. These allow me to walk unnoticed among the unsuspecting, and, at times, to listen in on conversations to which I might not otherwise be privy. As for my best moment of thieftaking, that would have to be my very first inquiry, when I helped a old cooper, my friend Henry Dall, recover tools that had been stolen from him by a scoundrel named Hawker Gray. I now lease a room from Henry above his cooperage.

    Good morning to you, SiSi. You certainly ask many questions. As you might expect there is a good deal of confusion and flawed theory surrounding spelling and conjurers. My knowledge of such things is somewhat limited. But as far as I know, one must have conjurer’s blood in his or her veins in order to cast spells. My talent comes from my mother, Sarah, and is shared by my sisters, Bett and Susannah, though of the two, Susannah is the only one who still conjures. Bett has renounced her talents, and has shunned me, preferring to pretend that she and I are not related, though she lives right here in Boston. Forgive me; I digress. My mother got her talent from her mother, who, in turn, got hers from her father. At least that is how my mother explained it to me when I was still a boy living in Bristol. My talent first started to manifest itself as I began the uncomfortable transition from childhood to manhood, and my mother helped me with my training. Much of what I learned, however, I taught myself. I fear that I have been at best a mediocre “teacher,” as I still have much to learn. And as for your last question, I have friends who know that I am a speller, and unfortunately I have a few enemies who know as well, including Sephira Pryce. But I try to keep my talents as much of a secret as possible.

    Hello, Mark. Thank you for your kind words. You ask a difficult question. My goals in life are fairly simple, and yet when spoken aloud they seem lacking in some way. I wish to make a living for myself, to enjoy the company of my friends, and of a certain young widow who runs the Dowsing Rod, the tavern in which I spend most of my evenings and take most of my meals. But as to where I see myself in five or ten years, that is hard to say. Although by your reckoning I remain a relatively young man — nine and thirty years, right now — I have already been through a good deal, and I have long since given up trying to guess what fate might hold in store for me. Boston is subject to great fires, to outbreaks of smallpox, pleurisy, and throat distemper. And, of course, thieftaking carries dangers of its own, as does any endeavor that brings a man into conflict with Sephira Pryce. Five or ten years from now, I hope merely to be alive.

  • Ken

    Good Morning Ethan. Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Can you say why you elected to become a thieftaker? Was it something that you’ve aspired to be for quite some time (if so, why and, as a follow up question, how did your experience stack up against your expectations?) or is it a profession that you happen to have the appropriate skills for and you’re “Just paying the bills”? If that is the case, what is it that keeps you from moving into different endeavors?

  • Thank you for your questions, Ken. When I returned to Boston from my imprisonment on the sugar plantation, I had few opportunities. Employers did not wish to hire an ex-convict — and who can blame them. Those who would have deigned to give me some menial task were dissuaded by the injury which left me partially lame. I spent much of my youth working the docks in Bristol and then sailing, first with the navy and then with the Ruby Blade. But no sea captain would welcome a former mutineer onto his ship, and so that avenue was closed to me as well. In short, I had limited skills, and even more limited choices. But I have always been able to handle a blade, and I knew that my conjuring abilities would be of use to me no matter what I did. I became a thieftaker to help Henry, as I mention in my reply to Pea Faerie (such an interesting name!), but over the years I have come to enjoy the work and feel that it puts my few talents to good use.

  • Cindy

    Good morning. I confess a yearning to acquire a Thieftaker T shirt. Perhaps you would know how I could order one? I hope that you receive a percentage.

  • Ethan,

    We’ve not met, not yet, but I’ve a small gift of the foreseeing and I believe that we shall, someday. I’ve heard that there are mutterings afoot in Boston, mutterings against Empire, against taxes and against the brutality of soldiers. Have you thoughts of these? Where do you stand now?

    Yours in the future,
    Martha Everhart Landsworth

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Good day Ethan. Thank you for visiting us. I am curious, it sounds as though you have traveled a good deal. What makes Boston your home? Is it primarily people who hold you to the place, or is there something else about the city that makes it yours?

  • Cindy, I know little of these t-shirts of which you speak, but I understand from the gentleman whose device I am using to reply to your question that a visit to these symbols and letters — — and a click on the “email the author” link will allow you to inquire after these shirts in private. Thank you.

    Madame, I find myself taken aback somewhat by your familiarity, and yet also intrigued. For from the image above your name I see that you are a comely thing. Yes, Boston is being buffeted on all sides by winds of discontent and rebellion. Men complain of fees and tariffs, of Stamp Taxes and the quartering of soldiers, though as of yet there are no British regulars stationed in the city. Rabble-rousers like Samuel Adams and James Otis have the city in a frenzy, and to my mind it is all nonsense. Are we not subjects of the British Empire? Do we not recognize the authority of His Majesty George III in all matters relating to our protection and prosperity? True, some whisper of separation from England, but I have seen no evidence that Boston’s citizenry is ready for such a breach, and to be frank, I hope that I never see the day when such ambitions might prevail. We are Britons, and as such we have responsibilities to the Crown. Surely if we lived in London we would not hesitate to pay those taxes levied by Parliament. Why should we feel any different simply because we live in Boston?

    Hepseba (such interesting names I find here!), thank you for your kind welcome. You ask an interesting question, one that I am at pains to answer satisfactorily. I came to Boston from Bristol in 1744, and found it to be as fair a city as ever I had seen, a vast improvement over the tired gray cities of England. I fell in love here with a woman I hoped would be my wife. Then I was imprisoned, and though I lost her, and everything else I had sought to build here, I could not imagine living anywhere else in the New World. If I had been able, I might have returned to Bristol after my release from hard labor, but I lacked the means to secure passage on a ship back to England. Once I established myself as a thieftaker, I could have afforded to go back, but by then I had started to build a life for myself. And so here I remain. I have friends here, a woman about whom I care a great deal. The city has become a sadder place. Times are hard. New York and Philadelphia have supplanted Boston as North America’s leading city. But still these streets have certain charms. And in the end, I refuse to abandon the city to Sephira Pryce and her toughs. Boston needs an honest thieftaker.

  • A. R. Gideon

    Mr. Kaille,

    I have been studying conjurers and their practices. I have heard the preachings of the church, and seen first hand just how wrong they are. No “witch” practicing “black magick” would dedicate their life to saving children. Now my research has been agonizingly difficult, most conjurers will not talk to me about their gifts for fear of discovery and persecution. You, however, seem to be fairly open in talking about your gifts. I hope you might be able to answer a few questions that I’ve had for quite a while now. How exactly does your gift work? What is it that allows you to do what you do? How exactly do you cast spells? Your expertise would help me to get information out there about what conjurer’s really do. I hope that my research will prove to the masses just how wrong they’re prejudices are.

    My thanks and best wishes,
    Alexander R. Gideon

  • Welcome, Ethan!

    I’m curious about your conjurer’s abilities. Do they exact any cost of you for their use? And for that matter, do you know if this Sephira Pryce also has your same abilities, and uses them for ill?

  • My dear Mr. Gideon, many thanks for your inquiry and your noble efforts on behalf of conjurers everywhere. Explaining how a conjurer’s gifts work is no small matter, but I shall endeavor to do my best. We cast three kinds of spells: Elemental spells draw upon one or more of the elements — air, water, earth, or fire to fuel the conjuring. These are the simplest of spells and usually are mere illusions: false visions or noises. Living spells are more complex and must be bought with blood from a human or beast, or with some piece of another living thing: leaves, blades of grass, bark from a tree. These spells can actually change the nature of matter. With a living spell I can, among other things, heal a wound, or break a lock, or even make myself invisible to those around me. Finally, there are death spells. These are the most dangerous and powerful of spells and can only be performed with the taking of a life, human or animal. These are dark conjurings and I prefer not to speak of them further, as they only serve to perpetuate the view that all conjurings are evil. When I cast a spell, I often use a blade to cut myself and draw blood. I speak my spell in Latin, and when I do a spirit — what you might call a ghost — appears at my side. This is my guide, who allows me to access the conjuring power that dwells at the boundary between the living world and the realm of the dead. With the help of this shade, my spell consumes the blood on my arm and does whatever it is I intend. If I wish to conjure again, I must repeat these steps, including cutting myself again, since the conjuring takes all the blood from the earlier wound. I hope that answers your questions. Again, thank you for your devotion to our cause.

    My dear, Laura, thank you for your kindness and your curiosity. As you can see from what I have written above, there is an obvious cost for the spells I cast. I must spill blood or use some source for every conjuring. And for those sacrificed in the name of death spells, the cost is dear indeed. Beyond this obvious cost there is also a more subtle price to be paid. Casting spells is difficult work, and after casting even a few spells, I often grow fatigued, as do all conjurers no matter their level of skill. As for your last question, I am relieved to say that Sephira does not have the ability to conjure, and thank goodness for it. If in addition to all her skills, her beauty, her keen intelligence, her brutality, her cruelty, she also had access to conjurings . . . well, I shudder to think what would become of all of us.

  • sagablessed

    Dear Ethan,
    What say you to the rebels who already speak treason against His Majesty, the King? Should, Providence forbid, such unseemly dialogue become more active than speech, would you take refugue amongst those so base as to work against our beloved monarch, or wouldst perhaps flee such discourse for more sanguine places?
    As to the Ars Perfidious, shall we know more of your own master and instructor, or is that person no longer amongst those who breathe? Again as to the Ars Perfidious: is Latin required, or may any speech that so rolls from the tongue suffice? Or dost thou know?

  • sagablessed

    Forgive, I meant such disruption, not discourse.

  • Cindy

    I fear I must take exception with your words on my cousin, Samuel Admas. While he might be a bit fiesty, I think Rabble-rouser is hardly a just term. Alas, if you support King George, we diffor in our opinions.

  • sagablessed

    To Martha Everhart Landsworth, ie the comely wench (which you are most truely):
    We await your further introduction with most eager anticipations. From what we have seen thus far, we expect no small favor in it. Pray you, dear goodie, keep us all in good faith and communication, and let not small minds bar you from what we are assured will be a magnificent debut; a debut as grand as our own Ethan’s.

  • Dear Mister Sagablessed, (if odd names are a blessing, then surely you and your friends are the most fortunate people on the face of God’s earth) My thanks for your inquiry. I will certainly not take refuge among those who would betray God and King and country! How dare you ask the question, sir! I fought for Britain at Toulon! Even after suffering for fourteen years at the hands of British justice, I have never uttered an ill word against His Majesty or his grandfather, George II, who reigned when my incarceration began! And you ask if I would hide among them or flee? No, sir! I shall stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those who honor the British Empire, and I shall fight! As to the rest, my master, as you name her, was my own mother, and she merely trained me in the rudiments of casting and controlling my conjurings. And yes, Latin must be spoken to cast spells. It is the language of power, the language of the shades who guard that realm of power I mentioned in response to Alexander Gideon’s inquiry.

    My dear Cindy, I hope that you will accept my apology for speaking ill of your cousin. I spoke out of passion and ignorance — a dangerous combination for a man as foolish and weak of mind as myself. The truth is Mister Adams and I have never met. I know him only by reputation, and I should know better than to judge a man based solely on hearsay. I do not have the gift of foresight as some few conjurers do, but I do believe it is possible that Mister Samuel Adams and I might cross paths before long, perhaps as soon as this summer. And it may be that after our encounter, I will think differently of him. I hope that you will do me the kindness of reserving judgement until that time, though I have not extended similar courtesy to him.

  • Razziecat

    Good evening, Mr. Kaille, I hope this lovely early summer finds you well. I’m fascinated by your description of how your conjuring works, and of how you must pay a physical price for its use. May I ask if you believe that there is also a spiritual price to pay? Is conjuring is a manifestation of natural science, or something more esoteric? Thank you for being with us today and answering our questions. I look forward to reading more about you in the near future. You are a very interesting man.

  • Well met, Mister Kaille. I find myself with a question about your occupation. Are your duties limited to the land? Or ought I to be watching the horizon for yet another man intending my capture? Not that I’m worried, but you do seem a gentleman, and it would vex me to cause you harm.

    Privateer and Captain of the Thanos

  • Good evening, Miss Razziecat. You ask a fascinating question. I have not been a churchgoing man for many years — my faith in God was badly shaken by the ill fortune that befell me in my youth. So, I may not be as well-equipped as others to answer questions pertaining to the spirit. But I believe that our actions take a spiritual toll when they are born of evil or when we are forced to do dark deeds by circumstance beyond our control. And while this can pertain to conjurings, I believe it holds true for all actions in all realms. And I have to admit that I fear Boston’s descent into conflict and violence may force me before long to do things that I regret. As to conjuring, I do think it is a manifestation of natural science, though I am at a loss to explain all that I have seen and done.

    Well met, good captain! The brief answer to your question is that my duties are not necessarily tied to the land. I work for hire, and will take to the seas if that is where my inquiries lead me. And I assure you that you need not worry about doing me harm, but rather should be concerned for your own well being. I think I shall look forward to our next encounter.