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.