Very much of my writing time is taken up with the wonderful grim and dark worlds of Warhammer 40k. This is all fine and groovy, because as I observed a while back, I love Space Marines. There’s a lot of pleasure to be had in writing stories about such heroic individuals, particularly when they can frequently be on the knife edge between being heroic and basically being completely mental.
There’s other kinds of heroes that I enjoy writing about. My Star Wars: The Old Republic Jedi Knight, for example, has a series of little stories attached to him and he’s always a pleasure to write for. He has this fun kind of innocence and idealism that means he’s just ripe for throwing Bad Things at. He’s a big lad (see evidence in following picture). He can take it all in his stride. But the joy of roleplaying a Jedi Knight is the fact that you really do periodically get the opportunity to throw your character into doing something spontaneous and heroic. Like standing guard over a fallen master, for example, facing down one of the meanest Darths in the Empire. Knowing that with one flick of the wrist you will be turned into bantha kibble.
And then… then there’s Gilrain.
Gilrain was born out of a need to write something decidedly more light-hearted. When the gorgeous Adele from Fox Spirit invited me to submit a story for her anthology, ‘Tales of the Nun and Dragon’, I already had a vague idea in mind. I wanted to do a traditional hero-meets-dragon-fights-dragon kind of story, but I wanted to make it light-hearted. And so, seemingly out of nowhere, Gilrain appeared. He kind of sauntered into the scariest, darkest recesses of my imagination where he sort of nudged me, gave a little laugh and said you know you want to write about me. Go on. Go on. Go on. (a’la Mrs. Doyle). I gave him a semi-competent companion/father figure, the long-suffering Therin… and off they went.
His first appearance, in the story ‘The Ballad of Gilrain’ was enormous fun to write. There is a sequel, which I can reveal more about later and that was somehow even sillier. There is a third story involving this most hapless of heroes prodding about at the back of my head and I am looking forward to letting him loose again. Although, like so many other characters I’ve created, he does have a worrying tendency to take on a life of his own whenever I start writing about him.
So in the meantime, here’s a little extract from ‘The Ballad of Gilrain’.
Therin’s reaction to seeing the dragon was unexpected. At the sound of the second roar, the horse had struggled to free itself from where Gilrain had tethered it, emitting a sound of terror that no animal should ever make. The young warrior, sentimental to the last, drewhis sword and cut the tether, giving the horse its opportunity to flee. It didn’t waste a second, turning and crashing through the undergrowth it had trampled on the way in.
‘Look at it, Gilrain! The colours! Greens and browns… the colours of the forest. It must be some sort of adaptability thing. I always thought dragons were red, or black, or white! Those colours… those markings… it must help the creature blend into its environment.’
‘To blend in? It’s the size of a village! What’s it going to do, Therin? Hide behind a tree? Jump out and go “boo” at us? I don’t care if it’s pink with sky-blue spots, it’s going to die!’
He leaped into the centre of the glade, directly below the rapidly descending dragon. He raised his head to stare defiantly into its gaping maw, lined on either side with razor-sharp teeth that were heading straight for him.
‘I’m not afraid of you!’ Gilrain’s defiance wafted up on the air and filled the dragon with delight. A fighter. She liked those almost as much as horses. They squirmed and kicked and…
As she almost collided with the warrior, she dragged herself into a horizontal position, swooping over him, barely a hand-span above his head. Her talons raked through his dark hair, but Gilrain stood his ground, brandishing his sword furiously.
Therin had dropped to the ground the moment the dragon had levelled out.
‘What are you doing, Gilrain?’
‘Fighting the dragon, Therin. That’s what I came out here do, wasn’t it?’ There was a determined look in the young warrior’s face. ‘So that’s what I’m going to do!’
‘Yes, but that was before we knew it was even real.’ Therin felt acutely ashamed of the fear coursing through his veins. There was a roar from the dragon as she turned again to make another pass. The first one had merely been to display her size and strength to her foe. This run would be different. This time, she meant business.
This time, her claws did more than rake through Gilrain’s hair. Her talons closed on his armoured shoulders, although the claws initially struggled to gain purchase on them, and she dragged him backwards, slamming him bodily into one of the trees. Rainwater fell in a shower around the dazed warrior as the dragon once more flew upwards.
‘Gilrain, we should retreat. This thing is too big for us…’
The young warrior staggered back to his feet, swaying slightly. The impact had left him dazed and his eyes were having trouble focusing. ‘Even big things have a weak point, don’t they?’
‘I don’t think your little pig-sticker there will be of any use in this battle.’ Therin was startled by the fact that Gilrain showed no fear of the dragon at all. She wheeled overheard, her jaw opening to display her long fangs once again. Another roar left her throat and another plume of flame streaked towards Gilrain.
The warrior ducked, rolling out of the projectile’s course and narrowly avoiding being turned into a pile of ash. He sprang nimbly to his feet and danced lightly from side to side, his sword clasped in both hands.
He has absolutely no fear, Therin realised. He’s actually going to fight that thing. The boy had no survival instinct whatsoever, which was somewhere between admirable and terrifying. He’s going to fight it, he thought again.
He’s going to fight it. And he’s going to lose.
And if he dies, he’ll blame me.
And I think I might actually miss him, the lanky bastard.