These are relevant references from the Books where Urt Girls are mentioned.
I make no pronouncements on these matters, but report them as I find them.
Arrive at your own conclusions.
I wish you well,
Urt hunters swim slave girls, ropes on their necks, beside their boats in the dark, cool water of the canals, as bait for urts, which, as they rise to attack the girl, are speared. Urt hunters help to keep the urt population in the canals manageable.
"Will not an urt hunter give me at least two tarsks for her?" called out the auctioneer good-humoredly, but with some understandable exasperation.
I wished that either Bejar or Vart had had her branded. It would be easier to keep track of her that way.
"She is not worth tying at the end of a rope and using in the water as a bait for urts," called out a man, the fellow who had first suggested that she be removed from the sales position.
There was laughter.
"Perhaps you are right," called out the auctioneer, agreeably.
"Would an urt want her?" asked another man.
There was more laughter.
"Perhaps an urt!" laughed a man.
"Go down to the canals," said another man. "See if you can get two tarsks from the urts!"
I looked over the low roof of the barge's cabin to the canal beyond. A hundred or so feet away there was the small boat of an urt hunter. His girl, the rope on her neck, crouched in the bow. This rope is about twenty feet long. One end of it is tied on her neck and the other end is fastened on the boat, to the bow ring. The hunter stood behind her with his pronged urt spear. These men serve an important function in Port Kar, which is to keep down the urt population in the canals.
At a word from the man the girl, the rope trailing behind her, dove into the canal. Behind the man, in the stern, lay the bloody, white-furred bodies of two canal urts. One would have weighed about sixty pounds, and the other, I speculate, about seventy-five or eighty pounds. I saw the girl swimming in the canal, the rope on her neck, amidst the garbage. It is less expensive and more efficient to use a girl for this type of work than, say, a side of tarsk. The girl moves in the water which tends to attract the urts and, if no mishap occurs, may be used again and again. Some hunters use a live verr but this is less effective as the animal, squealing, and terrified, is difficult to drive from the side of the boat.
The slave girl, on the other hand, can be reasoned with. She knows that if she is not cooperative she will be simply bound hand and foot and thrown alive to the urts. This modality of hunting, incidentally, is not as dangerous to the girl as it might sound, for very few urts make their strike from beneath the surface. The urt, being an air-breathing mammal, commonly makes its strike at the surface itself, approaching the quarry with its snout and eyes above the water, its ears laid back against the sides of its long, triangular head. To be sure, sometimes the urt surfaces near the girl and approaches her with great rapidity. Thus, in such a situation, she may not have time to return to the boat. In such a case, of course, the girl must depend for her life on the steady hand and keen eye, the swiftness, the strength and timing, the skill, of the urt hunter, her master. Sometimes, incidentally, a master will rent his girl to an urt hunter, this being regarded as useful in her discipline. There are very few girls who, after a day or two in the canals, and then being returned to their masters, do not strive to be completely pleasing.
I looked beyond Samos to the boat and urt hunter in the canal. The girl climbed, shivering, into the bow of the boat, the wet rope on her neck. In the bow of the boat, crouching there, nude and shivering, she coiled, in careful circles, in the shallow, wooden rope bucket beside her, the central length of the rope, that between her neck and the bow ring. Only then did she reach for the thick woolen blanket, from the wool of the hurt, and clutch it, shuddering, about her. Her hair, wet, was very dark against the white blanket. She was comely. I wondered if she were being rented out for discipline, or if she belonged to the urt hunter. It was not easy to tell.
She looked at me, her eyes wide, frightened. "What you can make us do," she gasped. I stroked her head, gently. I had once seen a similar hysteria in an urt hunter's girl, in Port Kar. She had barely missed being taken by a giant urt in the canals. But the spear thrust of the hunter had been unerring and turned the urt at the last instant and the second thrust had finished it off. Girls in Port Kar will do almost anything to keep the rope off their neck and keep out of the canals. To be sure it is normally only low girls or girls who may have displeased a master in some respect who are used for such work.
The number of urts in the canals are reduced by licensed urt hunters. The usual arrangement is a hunter, in a small boat, accompanied by a slave girl. The hunter is armed with an urt spear, which is essentially a light harpoon with its attached rope, the coils of which are layered in a wooden bucket near the bow of the craft. The slave girl has a rope tied about her waist. This rope is several yards long and is fastened to a stout ring in the boat. The urt then is essentially fished for. The girl, serving as bait, swims near the boat. The hunter, in the bow, his spear ready, watches for urts. When an urt is sighted, the girl moves closer to the boat. Should the urt turn in the water and orient itself toward the bait, the hunter rises to his feet, the spear ready. Much may then happen very quickly, as the urt, in the water, over short distances, can move with great swiftness. Ideally it approaches, low in the water, like a furred streak, little but eyes and snout visible. More dangerously it approaches more slowly, but wholly submerged, either rising in the water below the prey or from the side. In any event, as the urt rushes to make its strike, to seize its prey, the hunter launches his harpoon. The slave girls of urt hunters are often called urt girls. For such slaves that designation is not derogatory, but merely descriptive. It may, however, when applied to other women, be used as an epithet, as though it were comparing the girl, or woman, to an urt. The slavery of the urt girl is not regarded as a desirable slavery. As the girl is attached to the boat by the rope, she is seldom in great danger. She may even be dragged to the boat, the urt still clinging to her body. The urt, in such a case, is an exposed, easy target. Even an ax might strike it. Urt girls are often recognized by means of the scarring on legs and arms. In some cities, free women found guilty of criminal offenses are remanded to Port Kar, with the understanding that they will be branded and collared, and used as urt girls.