How Gumbee Fantasy Writers’ characters interact with their worlds. Number 5: Jim Webster

In fantasy people are interacting with worlds that are different from that we know. Not only that but we have peoples as well as worlds which are different and therefore I chose to look at a people, the Urlan. Perhaps you might describe them as a ‘martial’ race, and I thought I’d look at three examples.

In the first, in ‘Swords for a Dead Lady,’ we watch Kloft, Commander of the Koggart’s Junction Watch. Kloft has dealt with Urlan many times over many years and in this episode he has to deal with Urlan who are currently ‘in his employ’ (If an Urlan can conceive of you employing him or her. In their eyes they are helping out because they think what you’re doing is worthy, interesting or just fun.)

Reltskin and Kirisch are Urlan.

Kloft sat in his office room in the Helm Way gate tower. It was probably time for him to look at the morning’s intake. Koggart’s Junction lacked a jail other than a holding pen. So given the nature of the town, the standard judicial penalty for most offences

was to load a given number of drays of dung from the various caravanserai. More serious offenders were either hanged or turned over to the Rangers, who used them as labourers. Tildil Ironstone sat as magistrate twice a week, and the next day the crowd of forkwielding recidivists parading in the courtyard below would bring the return of familiar faces, some of whom were almost old friends.

There was a knock on the door and Gorod Reltskin entered and saluted. Kloft was immediately on edge, it was never a good sign when your Urlan saluted. Gorod ‘the Calm’ Reltskin tended to be absent minded over these things. He was followed in by Kirisch who also sketched a vague salute. Kloft stood up and leaned on the desk.


Reltskin glanced at Kirisch and Kirisch stepped forward and handed Kloft a piece of paper. “I have just got this from Rothred Axlebowkin sir. It seems he needs a bit of assistance.”

Kloft read the letter and snorted! “Bluidy Urlan. Who else but an Urlan would assume that the best way to reassure the populace of Battern that the Urlan aren’t about to sack the town is to rush together a scratch force of Urlan lances to keep the peace!”

He looked at the two young men standing in front of him. “Tell me you aren’t serious.”

They remained silent. Kloft paced backwards and forwards behind his desk. “If I say you cannot go, you’ll all resign and go anyway won’t you.”

Reltskin had the decency to blush.

“And anyway young Axlebowkin will doubtless have got himself in deep trouble because he assumes you’ll be along to pull him out of it.”

Both young men muttered their agreement.

Kloft stopped pacing. “Fine. Just fine.” He read the note again, snorted again, and threw it back down on the desk. “Right, but you’re not going under the Axlebow Banner; you are going as a contingent from the Koggart’s Junction Watch under the Watch banner. And you are going to behave yourselves, I’m not having Battern sacked a second time, is that understood.”

He realised at this point he was wagging a finger at them and hastily placed his hands, palm down, on the desk. “And to make sure you do behave yourselves, I will gather a force from the Watch and the Rangers and will follow you. Is that understood?”

At this point Kloft realised he could hear horses stamping their feet outside. He walked past the two men and looked down onto the road from his doorway. Drawn up in a column of threes were thirty Urlan, some of them he didn’t recognise and quite a few were female, different mainly in the way they braided their hair to cope with a helmet and had their mail shirts tailored. “So there were a few lads and lasses up here for the hunting as well?” Kloft’s tone was ironic.
Kirisch answered: “Yes sir, and when they heard about the note they wanted to join in.”
“I bet they did. Battern hasn’t been sacked for years.”

Kloft looked at the head of the column and noticed Lain Axlebowkin, the Warden of the Madrigel’s . Lain was technically Kloft’s subordinate and equally technically should have been patrolling several days north of Koggart’s Junction. “And how in all the forty three hells did he get to hear about it?”

“Just happened to be in town sir, so thought he ought to come along.”

“Bluidy Urlan.”

The two young men slipped past him and mounted their destriers.

Kirisch gave an order and the column started to move out. At his next shouted order Lain unfurled the banner he was carrying instead of a lance. It was the Banner of the Koggart’s Junction Watch. The riders banged their shields with their lances three times as a salute, cheered, and cantered south.
Suddenly feeling his age, Kloft watched them go for a long time.

“Bluidy Urlan.”

He went down the stairs and into the court yard. Ahead of him slouched perhaps two score miscellaneous petty offenders. “All right you disgusting and slovenly lot. All those who can ride and use a sword or a bow and don’t want to spend the next few months forking orid shit take three steps forward.”

In the next episode, taken from ‘The Flames of the City’ we see the Urlan as they see themselves. In this episode they are making a point as well as a dramatic entrance.

On the second night a hundred or so Ranger Horsemen rode in led by Lieutenant Benfeather. He had stripped the garrisons of the fortified inns as he rode north, leaving no one behind but children, the elderly, the sick or the injured. He brought more news, that following hard on his heels was Lord Faerbalt with one hundred Urlan lances. These had ridden hard lest someone held the war early and they missed it. Later, in the gloom of a winter afternoon, the Urlan rode in.

Garl was part of the small group who stood and watched. He had seen Urlan before but never dressed for war. Two abreast they came through the gate, each on a tall destrier, none less than twenty hands, each destrier wearing mail horse armour. All the riders wore long mail shirts and had a round shield slung over their left shoulder. All carried lances and all had a long sword, but that was the limit of their uniformity. Some, probably women, had long hair flowing out from under their helmets and over their shoulders, some wore helmets with steel visors, others instead had a bronze face mask, worked with the features of a hideous or grinning imp. Most carried a bow nearly as tall as a man, with a quiver of arrows, some wore mail leggings, some high leather boots, and some wore a coat-of-plates waistcoat over their mail. All wore totems, charms and the shrunken heads of their defeated enemies. Each rider bore their own colours, painted on their shield or as a pennant dangling from the lance point; every one different, as if adding verisimilitude to Faerbalt’s claim that this was merely a small group of friends on an informal hunting expedition, not a war party fighting under the banner of a great Lord. As they rode in they sang the Song of Lengk in the old dialect, the older men carrying the tune, the women and younger men weaving descants around it. The Urlan had made their entrance.

In the final episode we have two Urlan, Rothred and Kirisch, who need passage urgently. Here we see the two young Urlan in action. They’re interacting with sensible business men, ship’s captains and suchlike gathered in the harbour master’s office. The money Kirisch spills out of his pouch would probably buy the boat, but easy come, easy go, it’s only money, it wasn’t theirs a week ago.

Tying all five horses to a ring set in the wall they entered to see a moustachioed individual wearing a drab uniform sitting behind a desk and three more men, dressed like seamen of modest prosperity, sitting on battered but still comfortable chairs, chatting.

They stopped and looked at the newcomers.

Rothred approached the desk. “We’d like passage to Toelar, please. Urgently.”

“You just missed the Ulanger. She sailed not twenty minutes ago.”

“Is there anyone else sailing soon?”

The harbour master pointed at one of the three men in the chairs. “Captain Burlack there is master, owner, and a fair proportion of the crew of the Queen of the Middle Sea.”

The captain left his chair and came to the desk. “That I am, was it Toelar you said you’re wanting?”

“Yes, as soon as possible,” Rothred said.

“Well I’m waiting on cargo, but I’ll probably be sailing the day after tomorrow and will be heading for Ester Vale, then Tarsteps and down through to Toelar. If you’re happy with that you’re welcome on board.”

Rothred shook his head. “No, we want to head for Toelar now.”

Captain Burlack sighed, “Well I’m sorry lad, but I’ve got cargo already loaded and people are expecting me.”

Kirisch felt inside his sodden tunic and opened the purse he’d acquired back in Koggart’s Junction. He started slowly pouring gold ten-alar coins onto the desk. “Are you sure you couldn’t fit in a diversion.”

There was silence as the pile slowly grew.

The harbour master prodded Burlack. “Aren’t you going to answer the man?”

“All my life I’ve had dreams of people pouring gold in front of me, I’m not going to spoil it now.”

There was a crash as Rothred dropped his sword on top of the heap. Burlack visibly pulled himself together. “Ah well, it was a beautiful dream and you’re obviously men in a hurry. I could sail in an hour if you want.”

He scooped up the money and left, the other four following him out of the harbour master’s office and down the pier to the Queen of the Middle Sea.



Filed under Gumbee Fantasy Writers' Guild

16 responses to “How Gumbee Fantasy Writers’ characters interact with their worlds. Number 5: Jim Webster

  1. marcuspailing

    >>These had ridden hard lest someone held the war early and they missed it. << Ha ha! I like this.

    Nice one. I'd read "Swords for a Dead Lady", but haven't got round to the sequels, yet. Looking forward to them, Jim.

  2. Glad you liked it. The Urlan are like that 🙂

    • marcuspailing

      Yeah, I’d sorted of figured that out in “Swords”! 🙂

      Unfortunately, it will be a while before I get to read the others, because of the incredible size of my current TBR pile … but I’ll get there eventually …

      • I don’t have a kindle so my TBR pile is a physical thing. So I took the decision that I’d work my way through it before it toppled over and killed someone. So I’ve bought very little this year. Trouble is, I’ll be in London next week so things might change

  3. marcuspailing

    My TBR is a mixture of eBooks and physical books, so it’s even more difficult to keep on top of. Fortunately, it also means that it isn’t quite as high as it might be. The physical books are non-fiction, and the eBooks are fiction, so there is some method … 🙂

    • I have tried to get my TBR pile to alternate fiction with non-fiction. Obviously I cheat, and occasionally I have to bump a non-fiction up the heap because of something I’m working on.

  4. I really enjoyed these excerpts in the books and I, too, am looking forward to reading the next one, too. I can see that a physical TBR pile is probably a good thing in that it does keep you focused on reading them! I have 53 books to read… which may be several years’ worth.



    • I think that is one reason I’ve been so wary about going down the kindle (other e-readers are available) route. My excuse is that I’ll look at it when I get closer to the bottom of the pile. But just as people say that their kindle hides the evidence of their buying binge, it deceives you as to the size of pile you’ve got to read through.
      If there were 53 books sitting in a heap on the kitchen table, you’d probably not buy many for for a while 🙂

      • I’ll get through them fast enough, there were 57 last week. To be honest most of them are by you lot, because I buy all my fellow Gumbee’s books when they come out and then whittle them back, slowly, at my leisure, indeed, these days, I’d say I actually buy them quite sparingly. However, about 30 of them are from the era when I was not so erm… thrifty.

        It depends on my writing how much I read, too. For the last year I’ve hardly read anything but recently I’ve been working quite hard on my own stuff which means I have to force myself out of K’Barth at the weekends and holidays and visit other peoples’ imaginary worlds. That way my subconscious gets on with sorting out mine uninterrupted. I’ve done a lot of off genre reading, too, which has been lovely. Like a little holiday, in itself.



      • I know what you mean about being too busy writing to read. 😦
        Also the bit about a holiday. I sat down and read Matthew Hughes, ‘The Other’ in a couple of days, just from the joy of reading 😉

      • marcuspailing

        >>If there were 53 books sitting in a heap on the kitchen table, you’d probably not buy many for for a while<<

        If only that were true! I have a large TBR (and that *isn't* meant as a euphemism, in case Sandra's reading …) but only last night I had to physically restrain myself from order about a dozen Katherine Kurtz books …

      • I’ve been very good so far, but next week I’ve got to go down to London and will probably weaken

    • marcuspailing

      The benefit of my system is that, if I want to read non-fiction I go to the physical pile, whereas I know that, when I pick up my Kindle, it’s going to be fiction.

      The downside is that it’s too easy to dip in and out of books on the Kindle – especially on the Fire – and novels do tend to need sustained attention!

      • That is one thing that would worry me about a Kindle, I have to ‘get into a book’ with non-fiction and until that point is reached I’ve got to work at it. Being able to just flit to something else would make it harder for me

  5. marcuspailing

    That’s one of the reasons why I can’t read non-fiction on the Kindle. That, and the index, notes, bibliography, and all the other stuff that stops reading non-fiction in a truly linear way …

    • Being able to turn to the maps, check the footnotes and suchlike should in theory be easier on kindle but I’ve been told that footnotes are a nightmare (Never used on) and it’s so much easier to stick a physical bookmark in the page with the footnotes 🙂

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