Tag Archives: Character in Fantasy

Romance? Er … (gulp) … OK

This week on the Gumbee blog, we have the quite brilliant (which often means genially insane in my experience) Marcus Pailing. Marcus writes much harder fantasy than I do, and isn’t averse to a bit of gore. So, let’s see what he thinks of the softer side of fantasy…..

(Oh, and incidentally, I was indulging my romantic side when I added the tags for peril, conflict, fight scenes and pursuit… Will)

“Romance, eh?” I thought as the suggestion was put forward. My esteemed Gumbee colleague, Will MacMillan Jones, had recently returned from the Festival of Romance, and was all afire with passion … or such was the impression he gave. It was his suggestion, with a fast-beating heart and hot cheeks, that we turn our attention to the theme, to see whether the rest of us could also demonstrate our forays into the realms of romance.

I don’t consider myself much practised in the writing of romance. Generally I’m more of a swords and spears fantasy writer (and I don’t mean that euphemistically). When I was growing up, fantasy novels either steered clear of ‘lurve’ (and often eschewed females entirely, or kept them as very minor characters); or else treated women as lusty, heaving-bosomed bit-players, planted in the stories to demonstrate the equally lusty masculinity of the over-muscled protagonist.

Now, I appreciate a heaving bosom as much as the next man, but I never wanted to have female characters who were mere eye-candy. At the same time, I never set out to write ‘romance’. I did introduce it to my novels, however; but in small measures only – my main characters do meet women, marry them, and have children with them, after all.

This changed somewhat when I wrote The Withered Rose, because the entire novel is basically a romantic tragedy. So when the idea for this theme came up, I turned to that novel to see what I had written.

In order to explain the following extract, here’s some context. There are two friends, both called Atela. One of them is locked in a marriage that is starting to fall apart, having had a very positive start; the other has recently married herself, and is blissfully happy. Kieldrou, the son of the count of Trall, is younger than both the women, but has dazzled them with his tales of adventure – he has recently returned from a journey in the exotic lands of Azzawa. He has made it clear already that he finds them both attractive, and while he hasn’t exactly attempted to seduce either of them, he has managed in the past to trick them into giving him kisses.


“My ladies, I said that I had gifts for you both.”

The two Atelas sat in a window seat, having moved away from their husbands after a while of conversation. Now Kieldrou stood before them again. He had left his audience, where Derian was now entertaining the folk with more tales of their time in the east. Kieldrou looked a little flushed, but it was not from drink; more likely it was the excitement of having had an audience hanging on his every word.

“I think you should consider becoming a player,” teased Short Atela. “Entertaining the masses with your tall tales.”

“I swear, on my honour, that I exaggerate nothing,” he said, sounding only a little hurt. “I told nothing but the truth. Although perhaps it is better that you did not stay to hear me tell of the thieves of Ukhara, or you really would not believe me.”

“You noticed we had gone?” Atela asked. “I thought you too engrossed in your glory.”

“I noticed,” he said softly. “But it does not matter. I do not seek to gain favour with mere stories.”

Atela raised an eyebrow. “And how would you gain favour?”

“With gifts.”

At that, Kieldrou held out two small wooden boxes, handing one to Atela, and the other to the younger woman. “I found them in Ukhara, and thought of you both.”

“After three years?” laughed Short Atela. “Or did you buy them, and then think of us when you got here?”

Kieldrou frowned, and stepped back slightly, giving them a little space as they opened the boxes.

Atela gasped. Lying inside her box was a small white rose, exquisitely carved from the purest ivory – a rare and expensive luxury in Western Gilderaen – and turned into a brooch. It was a perfect reproduction of the flower, even in miniature. Short Atela was similarly overcome: hers was a tulip, also most delicately carved.

“I recalled the silver rose I gave you at your wedding,” Kieldrou said, his voice faltering a little. There was none of his usual humour in his voice. “I remembered how much you liked it, which is why I thought of you when I saw it. For you, my lady,” he continued, turning to Short Atela, “I wanted something of similar beauty, to match yours.” For the first time in Atela’s memory, he appeared to blush a little.

“It is beautiful,” Atela murmured. “Truly a marvel, and I do thank you. What favour do you wish for in return, then? Are you hungry for another kiss?”

She said it quickly, laughing, and without thinking. She certainly did not expect the reaction she got. Kieldrou’s brows creased in a frown, and he muttered a denial, before turning on his heel and striding away.

The two Atelas looked at each other, puzzled. “Did I offend him?” Atela asked, and the other shrugged. “Oh, Hogra, I fear I have. We forget he is a young man, now, no longer a high-spirited boy.”

“We must apologise,” Short Atela said. “Where has he gone?”

They scanned the hall, but he was nowhere to be seen. They figured he must have left, and they stood up to follow him. Yet they had to be discreet: it would not be seemly for them to go chasing after him. As they walked through the hall they were accosted again by Elnir and Sturgar, and were forced to stay in conversation for some time. When they escaped, they were then trapped by the earl and countess of Mendivar. It was a good half hour before they managed to get out of the hall.

“Let us try the garden,” Short Atela suggested. Atela nodded, and they hurried along the empty corridors towards the door that led out to the cloister.

It was late, and the garden was lit by a pale moon, throwing dark shadows yet illuminating the rows of flowers in the middle of the garden. He was there, walking alone between the bushes. He turned when they called his name, stiffening when he saw who it was that disturbed him.

“Kieldrou, I am truly sorry,” Atela said. “I was teasing, forgetting you are no longer a boy. It was wrong of me, and you did not deserve it.”

“I, also,” Short Atela admitted. “They are truly beautiful gifts, and you must have thought hard about them. We do not deserve your kindness, nor your thoughts of us while so far from home.”

Kieldrou gave a wan smile. “No, my ladies, you deserved no less. I can easily forgive your teasing. It is my fault: of course I expected nothing in return, and there was no call for me to take umbrage. Besides, you are both married women. Perhaps I should not have made you those gifts at all.”

“But they are most gratefully received,” Atela said. “I, for one, will treasure mine.” Beside her, Short Atela nodded in agreement.

“I am glad,” he said. “I have no expectations, but beauty and friendship should be rewarded.”

Atela felt a tightness in her chest, and she never knew what made her do as she then did. “Indeed they should,” she replied, and she stood on her toes to plant a light kiss on his lips. She felt his arm reach round her shoulder and she stepped back quickly. She remembered the strength of those arms three years before, and dreaded what she would do if she felt them around her again. “I’m sorry,” she breathed. “That is all I can give.”

He smiled sadly. “I understand, my lady.” He bowed to them both, and turned to go.


He turned back, and looked at Short Atela, who stepped forward, biting her lip. “I’m sorry,” she said, “that I cannot offer you even a kiss. I … it would not …”

“Thank you, my lady,” he said, cutting her off to save her the embarrassment of stumbling through a needless explanation. “You are happily married, I know. As I said, I have no expectations. The gifts were gifts, and deserve no payment. Although I shall treasure your return gift,” he added to Atela, briefly touching his lips.

Then he was gone.

“Oh, Hogra!” Atela groaned. “What did I do?”

“Nothing wrong,” Short Atela said, firmly. “It was a friendly gesture, that is all. Although it was wise to step back when you did.” She laughed, but it was a brittle laugh.

“I almost lost myself. What was I thinking? I am eleven years older than he, and married.”

“Locked in a withering marriage,” Short Atela shot back. “Let us be honest about it. Yet you must not do any more. I would advise you – both of us – not to seek out that young man again. You’ve had ‘the talk’ from my mother.”

Atela started. “How did you know?”

Short Atela laughed. “I know my mother. You were clearly unhappy at the time of my betrothal, and you sought a private meeting with her. She never told me what you discussed, but I am not stupid. I know her, and I have seen enough other women seek her advice. It takes no great imagination to guess what advice my poor, dear, beautiful and unsociable mother could give.

“Come on,” she went on, taking Atela’s hand in hers. “Let us get back to the hall and put the Trallian from our minds.”


This is the point in the novel where Atela – the one who this time kissed Kieldrou – begins to harbour romantic thoughts about the young man. Later in the novel these are to cause a lot of pain to a large number of people … but to say more here would rather spoil the story.

Still, the novel only costs £1 on Amazon …




Filed under Gumbee Fantasy Writers' Guild

We’re in the mood for love…

Hello, good evening, and welcome from a passing lunatic who has managed to hack MTM’s carefully managed blog: to talk about luuuurrrve.

Sadly there comes a point in every fantasy novel where two characters have to gaze into each other’s eyes: even at the expense of allowing several more orcs to extend their corporeal existence, or letting the expensive manufactured Ultimate Weapon of Doom to get a bit cobwebby instead of knocking the Dark Lord off his Throne, or even failing to collect the magical ring from its appointed hiding place.

It’s called Romance, and mostly we prefer to poke the subject with a sharp stick from a safe distance. Here’s the amazing Jim Webster and his take on the subject.

Well obviously I’m both Male and English and therefore am automatically disqualified from not merely writing romance but of even understanding the concept.
Problem is one of the characters whose life I have chronicled is male but isn’t English and being a Toelar Roofrunner, romance is very much an integral part of his existence.
So I’ve tended to be guided in these things by him. The following passage comes from ‘The Cartographer’s Apprentice’, available from all good ebook stores. Amazon have it for 7pp at http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Cartographers-Apprentice-Jim-Webster-ebook/dp/B00ECZIM4A/

“Allonai took over the organisation of their evening meal. She brooked no interruptions, but instead talked long with the cook. She then announced that the meal would be served in her suite rather than in the main dining room.
She showed Benor upstairs and led him into her audience room. It had a large picture window which allowed you to look down Supplicant’s Hill and to the east. There were two doors off, one of which, slightly ajar, revealed a bath, the other led through to a bedroom. The centrepiece of the audience room was the dining table. Benor had never seen one like it. From above the shape was of an exaggerated violin, with the two diners sitting facing each other in the opposing waists. Scattered round the room on various tables were sundry discarded outer garments, a light crossbow, and a selection of shoes. He pointed at the crossbow, “An interesting accessory, does it go with any particular outfit?”
“As I said, I was on a hunting trip; it is a perfectly normal lady’s crossbow, suitable for light game, even dart if you get close enough.”
There were a couple of books on the table next to the crossbow, he scanned their titles. “A lifetime of wasted versifying.”
“Yes, the collected works of Quoloen the Indelicate. If I confess to a liking for poetry will you still talk to me?”
Before Benor could reply, a stream of waiters entered, carrying trays loaded with little dishes, which they arrayed on the table in what was obviously a specified pattern. By each dish was a small wine glass. Finally the entire table was full and Allonai chivvied the last of the staff out of the door and closed it firmly. Then she turned to Benor, curtseyed and announced, “The thirty-seven customary dishes, each with its own wine. Would sir care to take his place at the table?”
With this she ushered him to the table, saw him seated, and then sat facing him. “Have you ever eaten the thirty-seven dishes?”
Rather shamefaced, Benor admitted he hadn’t. Allonai launched into an explanation. “The dishes are placed in order, the first you find in front of you, the others lead off to the left, curl round the table edge and work their way back so both the second and the thirty-sixth dishes are next to your place. So the dishes on your left hand side are yours, the dishes on your right hand side are mine.”
Benor surveyed the scene, each dish might hold two mouthfuls, but then there were thirty seven of them. The wine glasses did not hold a mouthful. Once or twice in the past he had pondered investing in the thirty-seven dishes as a way of wooing a particularly difficult lady, but had never been able to afford the initial investment.
The first dish was a seafood tagine, salty-sour and rather good. The wine was, to his surprise, a sip of strong cider, which turned out to complement the tagine perfectly. Allonai expressed her approval and they both tried the next dish, a clam linguine. For a Toelar man, the dash of pepper was not quite enough to be exciting but still, he felt he approved. Happy that the food seemed to be excellent, Benor relaxed. As he sipped the second wine, a slightly sweet white, probably locally grown, he asked Allonai “So what are your plans when we get this matter dealt with?”
Gently he guided the conversation. He had long ago learned that the ‘good conversationalist’ said very little and merely kept their companion talking. Over the course of the succeeding dishes Benor learned about Allonai’s childhood, the stresses of growing up as a young woman in Seramis, tales of bitter infighting within the family over her father’s estate, and something of her hopes for the future. Deep fried crispy caterpillars were followed by thin slices of horrocks’ testicle, flash-fried in nut oil, each with the appropriate wine. Finally, as he finished a mouthful of honey berries sprinkled with ginger he noticed Allonai was watching him, her expression somehow forlorn. Without really thinking about the consequences, he leaned across and kissed her.”

And there it ends, I’m working on the principle that all my readers are grown up and know all the technical details and don’t need me to provide a user’s manual.


Filed under Gumbee Fantasy Writers' Guild

How Gumbee Fantasy Writers’ characters interact with their worlds: Number 7, David Staniforth

For the topic of characters interacting with the world I have selected an excerpt from “Fuel to the Fire”. For the passage to make sense I should explain that the principle character, Davran, has spent her entire life disguised as a boy in order to avoid being taken as an adult female by the despotic ruler, Saurian. At this stage in the story Davran finds herself in a parallel world that was once connected to the place she has grown up in. Therein, the world shares the same language, but as time has moved on so has the language in regard to open class words (nouns and verbs). As closed class words are so slow to change, I did not have to worry too much about general communication, and concentrated instead on identifiers that mark differences in the two worlds.

“Davran is it?” Felicia flushed. “Well don’t you go minding me; I’m just a foolish woman whose mind’s not in control of her tongue. Isn’t that so Brant?”

Davran managed a smile as Brant squeezed her shoulder.

“Our Kale got stuck on the same ledge, didn’t he? After bird’s eggs he was. Boys, honestly. That what you was after, was it?”

“No, I wer reaching fer… I… I don’t know.” Davran bit her lip. Held her tongue. He has eyes and ears everywhere, she reminded herself.

Felicia waited for an answer and Davran sensed her eyes beginning to water. She had never seen anyone so clean. That wasn’t true. Saurian had been that clean. He was the only one. Felicia’s skin was without blemish. Her dark hair glistened in the lamp light, reflecting glimmers of gold. Davran felt a strange sensation. For the first time ever, though she had no name for the feeling, she felt shame. Such a thing had never existed in her conscience before. There had never been anyone to feel inferior to. There had been only pride in her life: pride in finding food; pride in surviving.

She glanced at her arms, at the Fifteen years’ worth of grime which covered her skin.

“Would you like a bath?” Felicia offered, stepping forward, her tone rather commanding.


“Kale just got in, so the water’ll still be nice and hot. He’ll not mind you jumping in with him. Tell you what, leave your clothes on the landing and I’ll run ’em through for you.”

Bath? In with him? Whatever bath meant, in with him surely meant together. Hot water? Felicia surely meant, take off your clothes and sit with my son in hot water. Naked!

“No, I… I can’t.” Davran back-stepped, her eyes wide with the possibility of discovery, the door in her sights.

Brant’s hand gripped her shoulder.

Keep the secret at all costs. “No! I… I don’t wanna.”

“Want to,” Felicia corrected without pause for thought. “It’s alright dear. Nobody’s going to force you.”

At that moment Kale padded into the room, a rough looking, gleaming white cloth around his waist, wet footprints on the floor behind him. He was slightly shorter than Davran, perhaps a year or so younger. His chest jiggled with an abundance of flesh. The meat on his arms, flushed red, looking sparkly clean, made Davran feel like a dirty bone. She placed the phrase hot water with the word bath and realised it must mean removing dirt from your skin. The boy glanced at Davran, scowled, sniffed and shrugged his shoulders, as if the appearance of a scruffy stranger was perhaps not such an unusual sight. He snatched a green ball from a bowl, bit into it, and, with his mouth full, grunted a greeting of sorts before exiting.

“Looks like the tub’s vacant,” said Brant. “Will you take a bath alone?”

Davran looked into Brant’s eyes, at the smile formed creases and the ruggedness of his complexion. Smiling back, she nodded.


Filed under Gumbee Fantasy Writers' Guild

How Gumbee Fantasy Writers’ characters interact with their worlds. Number 6: Sandra Giles

It’s no secret that Jared struggles to find his way in the ‘normal’ world, and he similarly has issues with the supernatural side of things. He spends four novels battling with himself, uncertain as he is about his emotions and his lust for causing pain. It’s an exhausting time, I can tell you. To start with he is totally clueless about his true nature. The warning signs are all there, but his mind is too logical to jump to the fact he is a vampire. So for years before we even meet him he is incapable of fitting in with society, and it makes him something of a jerk.He loathes everyone and everything, blaming them for his confusion and lashing out at the one person who cares for him; his mother. It’s when he discovers his true nature that he becomes more likeable, though it’s marginally. Love him or hate him, it’s hard not to admire him on some level.

No matter what life throws at him, he’s able to remain as decent a vampire as they come, all the while clinging onto a rather strange sense of humour that crops up throughout. I don’t know if this goes very far in explaining how he interacts with his world. I guess it shows he is torn between both sides. He kills, acts and feeds like a vampire, but he also feels human emotions that are lost to others of his kind. He is the brink between worlds, which is partly why he is later chosen to be a kind of go-between for humans and vampires. But more on that another time. I think the best way of demonstrating his character and how he gets on in his world is with an excerpt, as I’m not really sure how best to explain it. This piece has been taken from Proving Negatives, as it’s the novel where Jared finally comes to terms with himself and shows how much he struggles to reach that point. This particular portion shows him in the grounds of a female prison as he attempts to get answers from his incarcerated cousin. At this point he is questioning her humanity, and wondering whether he is actually the only vampire in the family. It shows the switch between his vampire side and his human side, as well as demonstrating how he acts, which is in a fairly predatory fashion.

I was sidetracked by the appearance of Lucy, who had come searching for the source of the commotion. She was in the minority, which seemed strange for a place as dull as this. Either she has exceptionally good hearing, or the other women figured this had something to do with the beaten woman and didn’t want to get involved. Because I wasn’t entirely sure, I stopped to inhale her scent once more. Maybe not all vampires have as strong a scent as others. It was worth double-checking.

 “Where’s your partner in crime?” Lucy asked as I tried to figure out a way of getting closer to her. “Given you the slip?”

“No, she’s around here somewhere. We’re not inseparable.”

 “You’re a funny one, you know that?”

 “I have noticed, yeah.” I realised she was being entirely too serious for my liking, so hastily continued. “I was brought up to be cautious. It makes me act a bit slower. I tend to analyse every situation.” That hopefully explained why I had taken my time over shaking her hand earlier.

 “Well you need that kind of caution in a place like this.” She shuddered visibly. “I hate it here. Everyone’s so fierce and on the defence. Most people are here for actual crimes, you know. They’re not all like me, an innocent accused of murder. It gives me space though, which I’m grateful of. I stopped denying my charges the moment I realised it was the only thing standing between me and a face like mincemeat.”

 “You strike me as someone who can take care of herself,” I said slowly, stepping forward in a way that could’ve been interpreted as a test of wills. She stood her ground, and I stepped even closer. I hoped she wouldn’t read too much into it. I didn’t fancy getting too cosy with this stranger.

 “I can, but in the real world.” She didn’t sound convinced, and I remembered that her husband had beaten her. “This place is completely different. It messes with your head, you know?”

 “No, I don’t. Thankfully any time I’ve spent in prison has been very brief. I didn’t get too used to it, thank god.” I stepped even closer so that we were almost touching. She was fairly short, so to actually scent her I’d have to crouch down. I couldn’t think of a subtle way of doing that.

 “What were you in prison for?” she asked curiously, her pulse speeding up in a taunting fashion. I stared at it for a while, and answered without looking at her face.

“Same as you. Murder.”

“Oh? I take it you were released without charge. Either that or you’ve aged well. I mean, a life sentence would put you into your thirties, at least. Unless you were very young.”

“I was released.” Not on purpose, but escaping and being released are pretty similar, right? “I’d never killed a soul at the time.”

“What?” She stepped back, away from me, and I finally tore my eyes away from her pulse. It was jumping madly. I could hear the panicked rhythm of it. It was quite distracting. “At the time? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means what it means,” I said vaguely, stepping up to her again. I really liked that she was scared, and loved that she was trapped. There was an escape route if she ran off to her right, but I could easily stop that. In fact, in one swift movement I could have her neck severed in two and her blood completely to myself.

“Can you give me some space?” Lucy asked as I hungrily searched her face.

“Sorry,” I said, and meant it. I had every intention of backing up, but then tried to calm myself by taking a deep breath, and suddenly her scent was all I could think of. The blood was calling to me, and I was afraid to move. If I did, it wouldn’t be away from her.

The pulse in her throat was banging furiously against her skin, trying to leave and still remain intact. My eyes kept darting between that and her petrified face. It was all so wonderful, I couldn’t look away. I drank in her fear like I wanted to drink in her blood. It has never been like this before. I’d been far more interested in feeding than anything else. This desire to cause fear was quite worrying, yet I couldn’t be anything other than happy about it.

“Guard!” Lucy yelled desperately. “Someone! Anyone, please!”

That was all I needed to take the plunge. I grabbed her head and yanked it to the side, causing her to shriek in pain. To shut her up I put my mouth to her neck and bled the noise out of her. She was unconscious faster than anyone I’ve fed from before. I had a feeling she’d fainted from fear, and that pleased me. I drew the blood from her throat until her pulse faded. Only then did I pull away, but it wasn’t out of choice. As I pulled away, some of her flesh came with me.

Her life ended and I felt nothing but pleasure.

I struggled against the person who held me, but they were too strong. I was being carried out of the building at a speed much too fast to be human. I feared attack, the monster I’d become rearing its ugly head and finding threats and reasons to kill. As the prison wall was jumped over as easily as if it were the smallest of hurdles, I used the height to unbalance my captor. We both fell as I moved abruptly, and we landed painfully on the ground. At least we were out of the prison grounds.

“You lunatic, what the hell d’you think you’re playing at?” my captor demanded in a voice so familiar that I was brought abruptly to my senses. I got unsteadily to my feet and offered a hand to Emilia, who was looking at me reproachfully and had blood seeping steadily from a wound on her head. She ignored my hand and got slowly to her feet. “Well?” she demanded once back on my level.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t realise it was you,” I said, putting my hand to her head and swiping away the blood. I had a mad urge to lick my fingers clean of it, but instead wiped my hand on my jeans.

“You were really quite frightening, you know that?”

“Sorry. I just lost control, I guess. I didn’t mean to-” Oh shit, what exactly had I done? I turned back towards the prison and was about to run back when Emilia took my hand and pulled me in the opposite direction. “Did I just kill a woman?”

“Possibly,” she said, tugging at my hand hard enough to leave a mark.


“You could say that.” She smiled warmly, which I felt was more than I deserved. “It happens. You know that.”

“No, it doesn’t happen. Or it shouldn’t. Not now.”

She didn’t say anything, and I didn’t fill the silence. It wasn’t awkward. I don’t think anything could make being with Emilia uncomfortable. We started the run back home, and I tried my best to ignore the sidelong glances she kept shooting me. It became easier to do so as my mind wandered back to Lucy, and the blood seeping from her throat. And the gaping hole in her neck from where I had torn her flesh out. I realised then that I’d swallowed the meat like a cannibal, and had to swallow convulsively so as not to retch.

I felt sick, physically and mentally. I couldn’t even contemplate feeding again for fear that it would spur another change in me. Yet if I run out of blood, I could become crazed just as easily. The beast was lurking below the surface. I could feel it there, a permanent presence, because it was actually me. It was a lose-lose situation. I’ll just have to make do with the blood I have until I can feed with caution. Just the thought of whose blood ran through my veins made me feel weak.

Leave a comment

Filed under Gumbee Fantasy Writers' Guild

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

How Gumbee Fantasy Writers’ characters interact with their worlds. Number 4: M T McGuire

Hmm, characters interacting with the worlds about them. I love this, I love writing scenes where K’Barthans and people from this version of reality meet and are a bit freaked out by one another or their surroundings. In fact it’s how I show a lot of the stuff going on inside their heads. As a result, there are rather a lot of scenes like this but some show the characters of the people involved better than others.

Having said all of that, this scene doesn’t involve any inter-reality interaction but it does give us a sketch of the protagonist. Deirdre Arbuthnot, K’Barthan Resistance agent, has been sent to work undercover in the laundry of the Security Headquarters – the old Architrave’s Palace – in K’Barth.  Deirdre is an assassin used to strike operations. Espionage is not her natural forte. She has the subtlety of a brick and the patience of a very impatient, impatient thing but she has been given the alias of a meek country maiden from Tith called ‘Rosa Trampleasure’. Deirdre is not meek. She is from suburbia and wealthy, she has no experience of hard physical labour and she is not looking forward to getting any.

The aim here, as well as showing a bit about the laundry, the Palace and her mission, is to give the reader a bit of an idea of how Deirdre, herself, sees the world and how her view clashes, or chimes in, with those around her. I’ve also tried to write in her ‘voice’ so to speak, so even though there’s rather a lot of telling/scene setting here, I hope that it gives a reasonable feel of who she is.

There are probably a few explanatory notes I should add. Denarghi is the head of the Resistance and after letting some prisoners escaped he’s pinned his mistake on Deirdre and she is at the Palace on a punishment mission. This is particularly dangerous because the species running the Palace, the Grongles, are as randy as hell and Deirdre is tall, blonde and smokin’ hawt. Her orders are to go in unarmed, but as she herself decides, in light of the Grongles’ nature, what are a few throwing knives among friends?

That’s all, I hope you enjoy reading.

In the dormitory set aside for female laundry workers, Deirdre Arbuthnot had spent the night awake. She had never had doubts before. She had always followed orders, sure that she was on the side of good, but being punished for Denarghi’s mistake had shaken her faith. Around her, the ladies of the laundry snored and occasionally farted in their rows of beds.

“You aren’t helping me,” she told their unconscious forms. Not that they would hear her. Deirdre wondered how it was that she could sleep through a mortar attack in a freezing fox hole but, so far, had never been able to cut out snoring. She’d have to go to the staff shop and get some ear plugs tomorrow.

“Shut up!” she shouted. A couple of the others sat up and looked blearily about them, before flopping back into their slumbers. Just in case, Deirdre pretended that she, too, was asleep. The loudest of the snorers made a gargling noise, turned over and started breathing normally. Great! Blissful silence.

Or not. Three beds away, another of Deirdre’s colleagues started making a kind of whistling bubbling noise with every breath. Arnold’s Y-fronts, that was about the most annoying sound she had ever heard.

“Three smecking months of this is going to be a tough mission,” she muttered. Perhaps she shouldn’t have brought the throwing knives; any minute now she’d find herself using them on her colleagues. She plumped her pillows irritably and lay in the darkness reflecting on her situation.

The security implications of having a K’Barthan workforce enter and leave the Palace every day were immense, so all non-Grongolian life forms working there – NGLF’s as they were called – had to sign up for three month residential stints. They were paid more to make up for the time spent away from their families and friends but they were not allowed out of the Palace until their period of work was up. Indeed there were stories of people dying at work and still not being released until the day stated in their contract.

Some of the day’s events had reassured her but Deirdre didn’t feel settled or comfortable in the Palace. Part of this was because ‘Rosa’ was so very different from Deirdre, and it was difficult pretending to be someone else the whole time, especially when playing the part convincingly meant allowing herself be walked over by every halfwit in the vicinity. She might get used to it in time but the fact that she was trapped would not change. And she hated the fact that as well as being some useless bumpkin from Tith, she had the most stupid, stupid surname imaginable. That was unnecessary spite on Denarghi’s part. She lay in the dark, fuming, yet bored. Why couldn’t she just go to sleep? She sighed and turned over, but the day’s events kept replaying in her head.

Having passed through extensive security to get in, her first afternoon at the laundry had not gone well. Her Resistance colleagues were Blurpons to a man, and were helpful enough, but they seemed to think she needed to learn about laundering shirts. Why, Deirdre couldn’t understand. It was typical of Denarghi. She pictured him laughing as he imagined her cleaning up after the Grongles. Little git. She had believed in him, looked up to him and this was how he repaid her loyalty. Well, tough. She wasn’t interested in servitude. She would gather information and familiarise herself with the layout of the Palace.

The dress was annoying, too. Even thinking about it now made her roll her eyes. The Blurpons and the Spiffles in the laundry, being furry, never wore clothes. Both had cat like features and hands instead of paws but while the Blurpons had one leg and red fur the Spiffles had orange fur and two legs. The Spiffles were a great deal more relaxed, too. Deirdre had almost forgotten how spiky Blurpons were until she saw the two species working side by side. Both the Blurpons and the Spiffles wore belts with pouches on to carry the items they needed. Lucky them. Like all the ladies, Deirdre had to wear a uniform – an old fashioned corset, long frilly skirts and a white shirt – low cut and off the shoulder, of course, because for all their aloofness, the Grongles liked a bit of feminine allure. As long as it was vaguely humanoid they weren’t that fussy about the exact species. The uniform was flattering, but to Deirdre’s dismay, not in a way that would further her aim of remaining incognito. It was also uncomfortable and restrictive. She thought with longing of her military fatigues.

She felt so much more at home in them.

The laundry was insanely busy, hot and dusty – or muggy depending whereabouts she was – and the staff were constantly interrupted by the Grongle who oversaw the running of the household, an ugly great brute called Captain Snow. His shifty, bloodshot gaze always slid to wherever Deirdre was working and remained on her. It wasn’t a look Deirdre liked. Simple Tithian maiden or not, she was going to beat him to a pulp if he tried anything. She betted he would, too. The laundry, indeed the whole Palace was significantly lacking in female employees under middle or old age and Deirdre guessed that Captain Snow, and others like him, were the reason.

Considering what a mundane boring job it was, laundering things was surprisingly difficult. Deirdre’s lack of skill became annoyingly apparent early on, when she put a red sock in with a whole load of white shirts. The Head Launderer, an affable Spiffle called Sid, gave the baby pink results to the Head Bleacher for correction and reassigned her to ironing sheets. Even for a laundry task this looked as if it would be incredibly boring but Deirdre never found out for sure. She worked the ironing tables for approximately thirty seconds before setting one of the linen presses on fire. A glaring error from the point of view of blending in but a good result in the sense that it was unlikely she would be given ironing duties again. Once the flames were doused, the Head Launderer, completely at a loss, assigned her to collection of soileds, as the dirty laundry was called, until such time as he could find a job she was able to do safely. She was to be sent out with a trolley and a map because no-one could think what else to do with her. It would have been a pretty ignominious start for a genuine Tithian maiden like Rosa Trampleasure, but for Deirdre Arbuthnot, trained Resistance assassin, it was a fine result.

At last, she would get to do some reconnaissance.

Due to their tendency to extreme violence the Blurpons were discouraged from leaving the laundry, except along certain routes that were considered best served by the non-humanoid species. However, in this instance one of Deirdre’s Resistance colleagues, a Blurpon called Snoofle, was assigned to accompany her on her human-only route – riding shot gun on the trolley as she pushed it along the corridors.

Snoofle wasn’t like the other Blurpons, not at all.

“Here you are.” He handed her a photocopied map with notes all over it. She looked closely:

‘Ugly beardy chap with sword – Commander Thistwith-Mee? – by Gloombin of Tith.’ Deirdre knew very little about Gloombin of Tith, other than that he was an artist and sculptor but Commander Thistwith-Mee was one of the greatest military strategists in K’Barthan history. The Inter-Species Wars had gone on for years until, after a run of decisive victories, Commander Thistwith-Mee had given the warring parties a choice of living in harmony or being annihilated by his forces. Funnily enough, after that they had all suddenly hit on ways to overlook each other’s differences. She examined some of the other notes; all of them detailed the positions of works of art.

“What is this supposed to be?” she waved the paper at Snoofle.

“A map.”

“I meant these,” she demanded, turning it round and pointing to one of Snoofle’s notes. “Do you know who I am?”

“Yes,” said Snoofle.

“Good. Then you’ll know we’re not on a sightseeing tour. I’m here on serious military business.”

“I should have explained,” he said equably. “This place is about 2,000 years old. Labyrinthine doesn’t begin to describe it. Away from the State rooms, many of the corridors are similar, but the art works are all different. I navigate by them. Let me show you. This is our route, left out of the laundry, right at the Mong vase, up the stairs, left at the Bunn Jones window and so on, d’you see?”

“That’s… lateral.” And absolutely not what Deirdre would expect from a Blurpon. Blurpons were into combat and clean clothes. She was impressed and a little depressed, because she wasn’t sure Snoofle’s navigational system would do her much good – what she knew about art could have been written on the back of a teaspoon.

“Don’t worry, I’ll show you each artefact and when we’re done, you can try it out for yourself by navigating us back. Then, if you think it works for you, I can show you the other routes.”

Getting lost was only one of the trials Deirdre had to contend with. The Arbuthnot effect on males clearly extended to Grongles. By the time she and Snoofle had made three collections Deirdre had been pinched and groped, and one particularly foolish Grongle officer had tried to steal a kiss. Deirdre had accidentally tripped, elbowed and lightly gouged each of her tormentors in turn. Since she was prepared to pretend their injuries were inflicted accidentally, they were happy to play along. Anything rather than acknowledge that a human woman had got the better of them. She was relieved at how easily she could use their pride against them and to her delight, they were clearly cautious about any further interaction with her. That was progress. She began to feel more confident.

However, Snoofle declared that they had done enough for one day and though Deirdre was all set to explore the Palace further, he persuaded her it would be wise to return to the laundry. That didn’t stop him pausing frequently to point out important architectural features, over and above the navigational requirements: art works, frescoes and even a mosaic floor. They strayed from the route so he could show her the Upper Quadrangle with its ancient statues, historic central garden and cloisters.

Deirdre was grateful for the chance to see more and to try to improve her knowledge of the building. It was ludicrously complicated, but then, as Snoofle had said, it was 2,000 years old and forty generations of Architraves had built on, enhanced, redecorated and generally messed about with it.

At the end of the Quadrangle, Deirdre and Snoofle stopped and she listened with uncharacteristic patience as he expounded the artistic merits of a yet another statue. He knew all of the bizarre trivia that makes history alive and interesting – right down to which museum, in Blursoptan, the Grongles had looted it from. He glanced cautiously up and down the corridor to check there was no-one about.

“OK Lieutenant, ma’am,” it was the first time he’d addressed her by anything other than her cover name. “Time to go back. D’you want to take it from here?”

“Yes.” She looked carefully at the statue and examined her map. “Snoofle, are you sure you’re all Blurpon?” she asked him as she set off in the direction, she hoped, of the Laundry.

“One hundred percent.”


Filed under Gumbee Fantasy Writers' Guild

How Gumbee Fantasy Writers’ characters interact with their worlds. Number 3: Jaq D Hawkins

Characters interact with the the world around them in many ways depending on the circumstances into which we throw them, but illustrating the nature of a personality can be tricky in the reader’s first introduction to a significant player on the stage of a story. In The Wake of the Dragon, one of my own favourite characters makes an entrance that defines him as much as any of his subsequent actions to the point that I couldn’t resist including a couple of his lines in the book trailer for this story. As a matter of fact, I liked his nature well enough to decide that he’s going to appear very significantly in my next Steampunk story as well, although it isn’t actually a sequel.

Mister Bale is First Mate on a pirate airship captained by Captain Bonny. The pirates have just comandeered a shipment of opium under the cover of storm’s edge, an act of insanity for most airships but business as usual for Captain Bonny’s crew. As we fly away into the darkness of night with heavy cloud cover, we get our first look at Mister Bale’s approach to most situations.

One man staggered leisurely amidst the diligent deck hands, casually swigging rum from a flask in one hand while smoking a pipe with the other.

The captain nodded to him as he approached.

‘Who’s piloting?’ the captain asked his first mate almost absently, gazing into the skies of dawn.

‘Morgan Sir,’ the mate replied. As the name was spoken, the captain looked directly at his first mate. Only the shadow of a doubt altered his assured tone.

‘Can he control the ship at storm edge?’ As if to punctuate the question, the airship dipped suddenly and then lifted into a current that hurled the craft free of the storm’s murky depths as effectively as a balloon would bob in a tub full of water. Riding the unstable decks was instinctive. The men kept their knees bent and a rope to hold onto close by.

As the ship steadied to no worse than edge turbulence, the mate handed the bottle to the captain and answered confidently.

‘He’s got the way of it Sir, and Browning’s with him.’

The captain nodded and took a swig of rum.

‘Is he drunk?’ The captain’s question was as matter of fact as the reply he received.

‘Not as drunk as me Sir.’

Again, the captain nodded. The first mate began to pry open one of the crates, still sitting on the deck.

‘What are you about man?’ the captain asked. ‘Storm edge is no place to open it, you’ll see the cargo ruined or lost in the wind.’

‘Just a smidgeon Captain Bonny Sir, I hear tell that chasing the dragon when the winds are blowing can send you right into another world!’

‘Mind your pipe don’t light the rum and send us all into another world,’ the captain answered gruffly as he handed back the bottle. The first mate finished scraping a few golden crystals into his pipe and nodded as he took the bottle, transferring it to his coat pocket away from the pipe.

‘Secure that crate Mister Bale, that’s an order!’ The captain reached to push the lid down forcibly. ‘Then you can take this crate down to my quarters. Can’t sell a crate with an opened package, can we?’

Mister Bale looked the captain in the eye, just noting the subtle wink. Bale smiled just as cunningly.

‘No Sir Captain Bonny Sir, I reckon we’ll just have to keep this one for private use. Pity that.’

Captain Bonny smiled more openly as he watched the back of his first mate recede down the stairs to stow the crate in his quarters as ordered. The thought of riding the winds while chasing the dragon, the euphemism the Chinese people used for the diversion of smoking opium, appealed to his adventurous spirit almost as much as the chase they were winning now as the ship increased the distance from the active storm clouds and the remnants of the city’s smog wafted away from the deck, allowing clear morning air to blow in his face.

Bale had been right, as usual. Morgan did know the way of it, the way to pilot an airship through the air currents so that the pockets of turbulence would thrust the ship away from the storm rather than suck it back into the low pressure. It required a particular instinct and an affinity with the air spirits to accomplish time after time, rather than just by luck as had been the case the first time the captain had won his life by following that instinct.


Filed under Gumbee Fantasy Writers' Guild