Author Archives: jwebster2

The Bump – Jim Webster talks about writing and his new release.

It’s a bit difficult to know where to start. Really I suppose I’m trying to explain what I wanted to achieve in a book without spoiling it for those who haven’t yet read it.

I drifted sideways from Fantasy to Sci-Fi with my book ‘Justice 4.1 (The Tsarina Sector).  I regard SF and Fantasy as a continuum rather than two separate genres. Hard SF is very much at one edge of the continuum, Space Opera is much closer to Fantasy.

Tackling a new field, I wanted to try and achieve something I’d never really attempted with Fantasy, I wanted to show the ‘alien-ness’ that is possible within humanity. Matthew Hughes explained it best in his book, ‘The Other’.

I’ll quote him, rather than try and explain it myself;-

“At that moment, Imbry experienced an instance of the abrupt mental dislocation that often struck those who travelled widely among the Ten Thousand Worlds. He had heard it called the ‘Bump’ or the ‘dissonance’ and had encountered it himself more than once. It was the psychic shock suffered by a human being from one world who suddenly became aware that the person from some other world with whom he was innocently interacting possessed a radically, perhaps chillingly, different mindscape.

The two might be chance-met in a tavern. They would fall into innocent chat about inconsequential matters, each convinced by the other’s views on the weather or the quality of the beer that they were like-minded in all that matters. Until one of them offers an offhand comment about the tedium involved in having to sell his surplus offspring, or enthuses salaciously about next week’s public evisceration of a malefactor whose crime turns out to be something like scratching a buttock within ten paces of the portrait of a local saint.

An icy frisson passes through the stranger. He holds himself perfectly still though his eyes dart about, alarmed. Shadows seem to gather about him. All at once it seems perfectly possible, even likely, that the bland couple sitting at an adjacent table, or the idlers in the street outside might without warning show fangs and unsheathe claws, leap upon the hapless visitor, and turn an until-now pleasant excursion into an impromptu abattoir.”

How do you write ‘the Bump’? Is it possible to allow the reader to experience it or is it merely something you describe the characters experiencing?

I’ve got theories, (or less pompously) I’ve got a feeling that it can be done, but I think that to do it, the universe and the characters must seem normal. They must be people that the reader can empathise with and like. Once you’ve achieved this, you might be able to have your characters and readers go through ‘the Bump’ together. Perhaps.

But still, I wanted to bring into the story things that were of striking normality, experiences the readers could imagine and might want to share. Here’s one of them:-

“When Haldar and Bartan arrived back it was still dark, the streets were quiet, bicycle rickshaws taking the last of the revellers home. Padro was waiting to pilot them in his own flitter. As they flew north and east, Bartan peered down into the darkness spreading out below them. They passed over the lights of the city, then the suburbs, until finally below them was largely dark.

Finally Bartan, sniffing appreciatively, said. “I’m finally beginning to feel at home.”

”Why’s that?” Padro asked, curiously.

“The subtle chife of night soil carried on the breeze,” Bartan explained.

Padro waved a proprietorial arm, as if encompassing the entire plain. “I was born down there.”

Haldar leaned over the side of the flitter and asked, “What are those lights?”

Below them were hundreds of tiny pinpricks of light, concentrated in a rectangular area, perhaps a thousand yards long and a hundred yards wide.

Bartan glanced down. “I’d guess they’re little weeding droids. Are they Padro?”

“Yes, the lights are so you can find the damned things when you need to move them to the next plot.”

“They’re little things about the size of a fist,” Bartan explained to Haldar, “big enough to carry recognition software and pair of snips.”

Haldar was still watching the lights in the darkness. “Why the parallel sides to the area they’re working in?

Bartan asked Padro, “It looks like you use standard half meter soil pipes.”

“Indeed, then they feed into fifteen mil pipes running between plots and we use the usual commercial solar pumps to keep things moving.”

Bartan nodded. “There’s your answer Haldar, the pipes mark the sides of the plot. They serve a combination fertiliser and irrigation system. At least I’d assume irrigation, are there waste water reservoirs, so that you can dilute for irrigation purposes?”
There was pride in Padro’s voice. “Yes, fertiliser and irrigation, but the reservoirs are buried, we don’t waste land. The fifteen mil pipes take standard fittings so you just go in and set up the rain-guns when you want to irrigate a plot.”

Bartan said, “I’ve moved rain-guns in my time. I assume that those down there have their own solar panel to power their pumps.”
“They do.” Padro smiled as he reminisced. “I used to move and service rain-guns before I made enough money to start my first night club.”

“Jarado B14 Masticators in line to keep things chopped up fine and moving, stop the nozzles blocking?” Bartan asked.

“No, we use the big B145, but you only need one every twenty miles.”

Bartan nodded to Haldar. “Ever seen a Jarado Masticator working?”

Haldar sounded a little bemused. “Unless they’ve taken to fitting them to warships, it’s a branch of technology that’s passed me by.”

“They’re impressive. They break things down so completely that they’ll rupture cell membranes. They’ll even break up waste wood that gets into the system.”

“I suppose that’s impressive.”

”It is.” Bartan glanced at Padro. “On New Charity, we reckon they’ll break down a human body in a couple of minutes, and ten minutes later the murder victim is spread over a hundred acres of wheat.”

“Look,” Padro said, “Haldar has a nasty, suspicious mind and doesn’t need encouraging. How about we go down to ground level and take in the dawn?”

Bartan gave a broad smile, “now you’re spoiling me. It might even keep Haldar from mentally running through his missing persons file to see how many have been recycled as fertiliser.”

Padro brought the flitter down and landed it on a dirt road. He switched off the engines, and as they slowly stopped spinning, silence returned to the area. The three men sat quietly for some minutes, watching the first red glow appear on the underside of the clouds. The glow spread, reds, orange, even a hint of purple, and then there was the first rays of the sun. Day had broken.
Suddenly there came the sound of a score of little motors starting up. Bartan tapped Haldar on the shoulder and pointed. On the nearest rain-gun the solar panel was slowly rotating to face the east. Along both edges of the plot a score or more of other rain-guns mimicked the action. As they watched, the sound of the motors grew louder, and then as Star MM43-62 showed her full face, all the rain-guns blasted a ruby laden coruscating fan of water into the air. The rain-guns of Akin saluted the dawn.”

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Gumbee Fantasy Writers ‘do’ Pursuit: Number 3 Jim Webster

This one I found tricky, not because I don’t do chases, but because in one case the entire book might be considered a chase. Of course a chase should build up tension, you shouldn’t know how it’s going to end, will the pursuers catch their intended prey or will their prey escape?
Over a book you can go into detail, allow the pursers to go off on false trails, almost catch their victim but fail, only to set off again for another go. You have time for character development, budding love affairs and scenes of deep introspection. In a shorter chase you have to keep the pace up, but you can allow humour to creep in round the edges without losing the tension.

So here is a chase from ‘Swords for a Dead Lady’

Seen from the point of view of the book it has several purposes
It introduces Benor to Rothred
It explains why Benor is interested in leaving Toelar
It gives a feel for Toelar and introduces other people who might appear in the story later.
All these things could be done in other ways but this way was more fun.

Benor left his home and closed the door behind him. He didn’t lock it – the Widow Kazmintal would be round soon to disturb the dust and move the furniture. He stepped out briskly, his goal the Scented Salamander, where he had decided to take his midday meal. He had passed the Temple of the Eightfold Alms when he noticed that a small group of men appeared to be following him. He recognised Rontswaller, an elderly merchant, whose young wife Alina Benor had been consoling four nights ago.

He slightly quickened his step and crossed the road, intending to turn off down Musselfair Street to the harbour where at least he would have friends, when he saw, coming the other way, Thestal Carnholm, husband of the beautiful but flirtatious Chianvil. With him were several burly lads from his small glass factory, still wearing their leather aprons. All were carrying cudgels.

Without hesitation Benor turned left down Lead Glass lane, and as it was empty, he broke into a run. Figures blocked the far end of the lane. He went into the first house at random, smiled at the startled practitioner who was giving a client deep tissue massage and darted out of the back door into the yard. Cautiously, he opened the yard gate. There were three toughs lounging against a wall further up the street. He looked round and saw a woman’s hooded cloak hanging on a line to dry. He hastily threw it on and stepped out into the street, turned away from the loungers and walked briskly away, hoping that he would hit Musselfair Street behind Carnholm and his party. Then behind him he heard a shout:

“Come back here with my bloody cloak”.

He didn’t hesitate, but dropped the cloak and ran, the hue and cry starting up behind him. He hit Musselfair Street and swung down to the harbour, not risking a glance behind him. The shouting grew louder.

He heard shouting ahead of him as well, but largely ignored it, concentrating on keeping to the middle of the road and watching for anyone coming in from either side. Out in the harbour he could see his brother’s boat, the Channeler’s Dog, wallowing at anchor, about a hundred yards from the quay. He began to feel that he might just make it. Some of the pursuers were gaining on him, but he intended to run clean off the wharf into the harbour and swim for the boat.
They would have to slow down or end up in the water with him.

His world had contracted to the unfocused shouting and the Channeler’s Dog when suddenly some fool put a horse directly in his path. With no time to turn, he dived under its belly, rolled along the floor and came to an abrupt stop against a pair of riding boots. He gazed upwards; the wearer of the riding boots was an Urlan, a young man, looking battered from hard riding and with one leg bandaged.

“Hello, I am Rothred; I have been told that you are Benor Dorfinngil, also known as Benor the Cartographer. I have a message for you from Lord Eklin.”

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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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Gumbee Fantasy Writers ‘do’ Peril and tension: Number 5, Jim Webster

Tension and Peril can be used in many ways. I like to use it to change the pace, a bucolic scene where the rustic tranquillity is suddenly disturbed by a dying horseman on a foam flecked horse, or perhaps the meal in a quiet bar, when suddenly a shadow falls across the table. In these examples the reader is surprised by the action which follows which gives it a starker feel.

But also you can build tension slowly. Here we have Benor describing an incident to his companions. This passage is both descriptive, but also quietly tightens the screw in preparation for what is coming next. When the action does happen it is almost cathartic and the tension is released.

“As we made our way slowly west we saw no one, but there were signs that others have dwelt there in the past. For example there was the ledge cut into the rock we had just negotiated, in another place there is a short tunnel, less than a horse length, but still carved by man. Admittedly they could have been ageless, but then we found an old fetish of bones and a skull blocking the path.”

Benor shifted uneasily and Amiche could see that there were things being remembered that the older man had been trying to forget.

“We travelled another two days and things got even more fey. There was an almost mummified body impaled on a stake at the side of the road. Then we came to a door set into a cliff face, covered with strange glyphs and sigils. One of our scouts touched it with the cold iron of a sword blade and the door burst into flame and was still burning when our rearguard passed an hour later.”

Benor stared into the fire, remembering. “You have to remember that those with me might well be Urlan but they were young. I was oldest by nearly thirty years. I decided we would be cautious, and we made our camps as silent and secret as possible, with no open fire. But there were strange cries in the wind and then we came across a small pool where a stream had been dammed. When I looked into it I could see the reflection of a strange mountain town, turreted houses, lattice windows, and joined to the trail by flying bridges. Yet no such thing was visible when you looked around. It was unnerving.” Benor glanced at Kirisch,

“The Urlan slept very lightly, so lightly that it was wise to say their name when you wanted to waken them for their turn at guard duty; merely tapping their shoulder could have been fatal.”

He stared back into the fire. “There were other things, a rusting gibbet creaking when there was no breeze and tracks of some creature that left footprints that none of us had ever seen before. Then we occasionally heard small falls of stones above us, as if someone was watching and inadvertently
knocked a couple of small stones off a ledge, but we saw neither watcher nor falling stones. Then at last in the distance we saw in reality the dwellings I saw reflected in the pool.”

Benor sighed, and once more poked the fire into life with a stick. This time the flames shot up, illuminating his face and casting dancing shadows on the rock behind him. “We hid ourselves well and watched the buildings overnight.

Lights were seen at the windows and we even heard distant music, but as we approached next morning the place was run down. I left most of my people on the level ground at the foot of the trail up to the village. I took about a score of the older Urlan with me, Alissa stayed with the others. We rode in column of twos up the flying bridge to the gate, but all was still. When we got to the gates everything was in silence, the gates hung open and you could see that it was really one intricately planned building, not a village. I shouted, and one of the Urlan blew a horn, but no one came. So we split into two parties, one to guard the horses in the gateway, the other party to make our way through the buildings.

Mystery piled upon mystery as we could see signs that things had been moved or used, but the grates were stone cold and the ovens had not been fired for some time. Finally we came to what seemed to be some sort of mage’s workroom and there we saw a sight which chilled the blood of even the Urlan. Some poor wretch was hanging on a frame across a grille in the floor. The wretch was dead, but had died the previous night; his life blood had flowed through the grille to whatever lay below. He had been tortured to death. On his arm was a tattoo, ‘Mummer’s Dance’ plus a picture of a boat which might have been in full sail had enough skin remained.”

Amiche broke in, “I remember the ‘Mummer’s Dance’. Her crew were convicted of piracy, but there was a general feeling it was more fraud and theft, they’d never actually attacked anyone. So they were sentenced to follow the Central Trail, to see if it was still open to the Oasis towns.”

Benor remained staring into the fire. “It is. But none of the crew of the Mummer’s Dance were seen in the east”

Obviously I’ve stopped this passage even as the tension is slowly building, if you want to know what was going on, then the passage comes from ‘Dead Man Riding East.’

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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.

“And?”

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.

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Gumbe Fantasy Writers ‘do’ Emotion: No 4, Jim Webster

I don’t do what a lot of people describe as love scenes, and certainly not the erotic stuff. I long ago decided I didn’t want to win any literary ‘bad sex’ awards and anyway, my readers either know how this sex business works or they don’t, and if they don’t, then they’re probably too young to understand words like ‘Cartographer’ and ‘Ostensibly’

In Swords for a Dead Lady we do have a description of what might be described as the beginning of a courtship. Here we have Kirisch, a young Urlan knight, who has ulterior motives for talking to Virinal, a servant of Madame Afflagar. Nothing to do with getting her into bed, far more to find out what has been going on in the house, but as usual in these situations, the girl in question is probably sharper than her interrogator.

Benor, now awake, opened the door to see Kirisch and the downcast young lady who had been serving the pasties at Madam Afflagar’s the previous evening.

For want of a better plan he waved them both in and led the way to the kitchen.

“I’m sorry, but I didn’t catch your name last night.”

The young woman smiled at him, “I am Virinal, and to some extent the cook for Madame Afflagar.”

Benor offered her a hand to shake: “A lady whose beauty is only matched by her other accomplishments.” She raised an eyebrow and he subsided somewhat. “To what do we owe the honour of this visit?”

Virinal looked around the room as if to assess the audience and addressed her next comment mainly to Tillie.

“If a person who is apparently a gentleman of means starts paying court to a young lady with neither breeding nor fortune, the young lady would be wise to question his motives.”

Tillie nodded and Virinal continued. “Kirisch here is perfectly presentable; he is handsome enough, courteous, and judging by his clothes, accessories and everything, he is obviously not short of an alar to two. I mean, the sword belt alone would buy my mother’s house.”

“But it was my grandmother’s.”

She smiled at him, “And a charming sweet old lady she doubtless was, but let us be clear here, I am not what you would call the perfect catch, am I?”

She turned back to Tillie.

“Well, that silence lasted a little too long for my self esteem. I admit I don’t know a lot about the Urlan, but they are supposed to tell the truth.”

Tillie answered after a brief hesitation, “Yes, but you have to know how to phrase the question.”

“I can imagine. Still, when Kirisch bumped into me by chance for the third time whilst I was shopping, and suggested we meet up somewhere for a bite to eat when I finished work, I decided that I had to know what was going on. So I asked him. Pointedly.”

“She did,” admitted Kirisch, “she can use short words in short sentences at times.”

“So he told me about the dead girl, the peddler, everything.”

“Well, she did promise to sit and have a drink with me while I told her.”

“A good tale he made of it as well. But it is true?”

Then in ‘Dead Man Riding East’ I do push the boat out and write a genuine love scene. Well the love is genuine. As with all conversations between lovers there are allusions to previous conversations and events, and it would be utterly tedious to explain exactly why these people say what they do, but should you ever buy the book, all will be clear. However these two are husband and wife and Alina is their daughter.

Benor was sitting in bed, making a few notes in a small notebook. Alissa tucked Alinia into the cot by the bed, glanced at him, muttered ‘Cartographers’ and, throwing a robe over her shoulders slipped out of the room. A few minutes later she came back carrying two glasses on a tray.

Benor blew on the ink and closed the notebook carefully, placing it on the table by the bed. “A drink?”

“Hot toddy,” she said meaningfully. “I was told you couldn’t get to sleep without a pretty girl bringing you one, so I thought I’d better take over the role.”

She handed him a glass and kissed him, then sat on the side of the bed. She sipped her own drink, and said, “You are looking tired. I don’t think Talan agreed with you.”

Benor finished his toddy in silence. He put the glass down on the table next to his note book. Alissa ran her fingers up the side of his face. “Demons, monsters and unsuitable women; you’ve not had an easy time of it have you?”

“Unsuitable women?” Benor tried not to sound guilty.

“Well, stealing people’s concubines for a start.” She climbed into bed and snuggled up against him.

“Anyway, we’re going to have to start north soon.”

“One minute I’m looking tired, the next minute you want to be back on the road.”

“Alinia is not many months from having a brother or sister. Delightful as your nephew Maurshott is, I am not going to spend another winter in a Ranger post.”

“You’re pregnant?” Benor sounded both shocked and delighted.

“Not yet, so I thought it was perhaps time to do something about it.”

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