Gumbee Fantasy Writers ‘do’ Humour, wit and character conversation: Number 1 Jim Webster

I thought I’d put in an example from ‘Dead Man Riding East’ where characters are just talking. They’re not trying to forward the plot or to make a point. Yes, information is gained but really they’re talking together for the love of banter and because the ordinary things of life are so much better if we manage to get a smile out of them.
At the same time a picture is painted of the area and you see the place and people through their own eyes. We have no ‘belly laughs’ but the characters aim to amuse each other, and who knows, perhaps the reader as well.

In this short piece, the Hero, Benor, is travelling with Alissa, a lady he is romantically entangled with, and her niece Iola. Iola is not perhaps twenty. They have stopped by the side of the road and have just had a drink from their shared water flask.

As they shared another drink they heard the sound of harness, and a covered wagon pulled by a team of four small ponies caught up with them from the south. Painted on the canvas, both above the driver and along the sides, were the words, ‘Tillinhorne Cousins, Provision Merchants.’

Benor glanced at the other two. “Breakfast?”

Iola nodded, “Oh yes, his pies are worth waiting for!”

Benor stepped forward and waved for the wagon to stop. The driver, a heavy man wearing a white smock and a brown hat that looked as if he was wearing a poorly risen loaf on his head, pulled on the reins and eventually the assemblage stopped.

“Well gentlefolk, what can I do for you?”

“We’re on our way to ‘Ferryman’s Rest’ and started too early for breakfast. We were wondering whether you were selling anything suitable.”

The big chap half turned in his seat and shouted behind him. “Cousin, we have customers!”

A female voice came from inside the wagon. ”No need to shout, Tillinhorne, I’m neither deaf nor daft. But another week working with you I’ll doubtless end up one or both.”

A short thin woman climbed onto the bench seat beside him and looked at them.

“I’ve got the stove just ticking over; I can soon have something ready.”

Iola jumped into the conversation, “Three orid and ale pies, please.” She gestured at Benor, “He’s paying.”
Benor nodded and dipped into his purse, then stopped.

“Any chance of a lift northwards whilst we’re waiting for breakfast?”

The woman nodded. “If Tillinhorne will shift his fat backside you’ll get at least two more up here, and one can sit with me in the wagon.”

The big man shuffled across, Benor and Alissa sat next to him and Iola climbed over the seat into the wagon, leaving the flap open behind her. The driver flicked the ponies into motion again and they started on their way.

Benor passed a handful of copper coin back to Iola and turned back to the road.
The driver glanced at him.

“Going far?”

“Well, just ‘Ferryman’s Rest’ today.”

“You’ll struggle, it’s a fair step. You’ll probably need to find somewhere to spend tonight. I can give you a lift to the East-West road, but I’m going west to deliver to customers down in that direction.”

“Any inns along the road?”

”Not until the ‘Ferryman’s Rest’. All along the road are big houses and estates owned by the wealthy of Watersmeet.” Here he winked at Alissa, “They keep a wife in Watersmeet and a mistress in the country, and thus remain respectable.”

Alissa grinned back at him. “Respectability in Watersmeet consists of mastering the gussets in a garment you cannot publically admit to knowing the existence of.”

“You have lived long in Watersmeet?”

“I did once, but have travelled and am on my way home.”

Tillinhorne nodded knowingly, “Well nothing has changed while you were away. Oh, no doubt pleats are out and buttons are in, and from memory you don’t use red with yellow, or was that last year, but nothing has changed.”

At this point his cousin passed out a meat pie on a bread platter. Benor passed it to Alissa and took the next one for himself. Two forks were then passed out and they started eating. Tillinhorne sat in thoughtful silence for a while.

“You haven’t offered names and I haven’t asked for them, but I recognised young Iola, and doubtless you are kin of hers who were somehow involved in matters at ‘The Retreat’.”

Benor, his mouth full of pie, inclined his head in what he hoped was a non-committal manner.

“Well if you’re looking for somewhere to stay tonight, try the house of Illantwich. He is throwing it open for a preview of the new season fashions. If you arrive late enough he’ll probably put you up.”

Alissa looked thoughtful, “Illantwich? How old is he?”

Tillinhorne shrugged, “He’d doubtless claim thirty, I’d guess forty. His mother, who swears she isn’t a day over thirty five, is a loyal customer of mine and I would not doubt her word under any circumstances.”

Benor looked at Alissa, “You know him?”

“I might do, fifteen years ago there was an Illantwich of about the right age.”

Iola leaned out through opening. “His house specialises in jackets and similar. Apparently he’s renowned for his choice of fabrics and his eye for colour.” She sniffed, “Personally I think he is known for being grossly self-opinionated”

Alissa nodded, “That could describe the Illantwich I knew, but being self opinionated is hardly a distinguishing mark in this town.”

Tillinhorne nodded sagely. “I would suggest that having a high opinion of oneself is the mark of a good citizen of Watersmeet. I am a fine fellow who sells the finest provender on either bank of the Lamaguire. My cousin may disagree with part of this, but then she prides herself in being the person in Watersmeet who is most difficult to impress. I have no doubt that a Watersmeet night soil collector will boast that he is the one with the dirtiest cart or the most disagreeable personal chife. We are citizens of a town distinguished by the distinguished nature of the people who deign to inhabit it.”

Benor sighed. “I am truly humbled by this opportunity to mix with such distinguished people.”

Tillinhorne tapped the front pony, which had stopped to browse. “Indeed humility is an area in which one might find the folk of Watersmeet lacking. It is good to meet such a distinguished practitioner.”


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