Guardian of the Dawn

“The King of High Adventure,” Starlog.
“Immediately convincing, classically brooding,” The Cimmerian.com.

To the world at large, he is a mercenary and assassin, a brutal killer with a deadly blade. In reality Kormak is a Guardian, one of a dying order sworn to protect humanity from the servants of the gathering darkness.

In this chilling tale, Kormak seeks refuge for the night in an isolated peasant home only to find himself thrown into a terrifying confrontation with an ancient evil.

A thrilling sword and sorcery short story in the proud tradition of Robert E Howard  from the bestselling creator of Gotrek and Felix.

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Author’s Notes

Guardian of the Dawn is my personal favourite of all the sword and sorcery short stories I have written. I can still remember sitting down one evening at the table in the living room in our old shabby flat in Modrany and starting to write it.  It came out of nowhere as many stories do. I began in the middle, with Kormak in the forest about to confront the elder world demon. It was a scene that surprised me with its odd echoes of Kipling in the language used and a formal structure of challenge and response between man and monster. I thought I was going to do Beowulf and Grendel. I ended up with something like a confrontation between two samurai. It pleased me no end.

Of course, there were some questions. Who was this knight dispatched into the heart of a haunted forest to confront a terrifying ancient power? Why was he doing it? Clearly he has his own doubts. He was not a simple man, this Kormak, no matter what it looked like on the surface.

To answer these questions I wrote the opening scene with Kormak erupting into the lives of a poor peasant family, wounded and ready for violence. We learn he is wanted for murder. He is a menacing man, no doubt about that, and a very dangerous one, who lives in a world of paranoiac violence; watching a woman bring him a bowl of soup, his first thought is to be ready in case she throws the hot liquid in his face. For all that, he seems quite sane and, more than that, noble in an odd sort of way. He is prepared to threaten innocents for his own purposes and yet those purposes make him the protector of those same people. We can see the worm of doubt is eating away at the iron core of his ruthlessness.

The opening scene and the resolution of the confrontation with the Old One suggested the ending with a certain inevitability so I wrote that and was done.

Over the years since Guardian of the Dawn was set down, I finally realised where Kormak came from. He is descended from Callan, the anti-hero of a spy series starring the late, great Edward Woodward, that my parents watched compulsively when I was a kid. Callan was an assassin for the British government who had started to question why he was being sent to kill people and yet was trapped in the role he played. I was too young to really appreciate  the story-lines back in the Swinging 60s but Channel Four re-ran Callan in the 80s and it blew me away. The memory stayed with me till I bought Callan: the  Monochrome Years on DVD recently. Watching Woodward’s chillingly decent assassin go about his business I saw where Kormak, a very hard man going soft in a business where that will get him killed, came from.

You can read Guardian of the Dawn here.

Comments

  1. I loved the story, having picked it up as I trolled the free section of Amazon’s ebookstore. To me it echoed some of my favourite classic fantasies (Poul Anderson comes to mind), yet with a modern anti-hero at its core. Thank you.

  2. I must say I also like this short the most of all you have written, Bill. There’s a trilogy in there somewhere, I’m sure.

  3. Bill Smiley says:

    Hey William! Found this story last week while snooping around the archives of The Cimmerian.com blog. Dug the hell out of it. I’ve been interested in your stuff for a while and this story was a great introduction. Will definitely be checking out more of your writing in the future.

    • Thanks, Bill. I remember that review at the Cimmerian.com. One of the nicest I ever got! I have a couple of Kormak books in preparation at the moment. One is a short novel, Mask of the Necromancer. The other is a collection of novellas/fixup novel called The Stealer of Flesh. I hope to release them both in the next few months.

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