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Heroes

‘There was this boy. He lived in fear. Not the tiny fears of manhood, but the awesomely powerful,living, breathing fear that only children can experience. He was different,this boy, from the other boys who lived in this bomb damaged London Street some few years after World War Two. He had no father.

Some of the other children had no father, but their lack was honorable. Dad died in the war, you know. He was a hero. This boy’s lack was the subject of sly whispers from the adults, and open jeering from his peers. This boy’s mother was – the boy heard so many times – a whore.

Happily the boy was only six, and had no real understanding of what the word meant. Anyway the word was less hurtful than the blows that would follow it. Most of the blows came from other children, but sometimes adults too would weigh in.

It was all baffling to the child. What he knew was that, before venturing out into the narrow streets and alleys, he had to peer from the windows of the small apartment to see if there were other children about. Only he didn’t think of them as children. They were enemies, and he was frightened. Fear was the ever present
companion. Fear was grafted to him. The journey to school was fraught with
peril. The dark of the night brought fearful dreams.

His mother read him stories about heroes, and tried to encourage him to stand up for himself. But stories were just words, and words could not stop the punches, the pinches and the slaps.

The boy never dreamed of heroes. Not until he met one.

It was a bright, cold morning and he was sitting on a wall. One of the boys who made his life miserable ran up, shouting and gesticulating. The boy – more in panic than courage – finally struck out, punching his enemy in the face. The other child ran off screaming. His father came running from the house. ‘You little
bastard!’ he shouted.

The boy took off as fast as he could, but no six year old can outrun a grown man. Within moments he grabbed the boy by the collar, swinging him from his feet.

Just then a huge shadow fell over the pair. The man – who had looked so threatening moments before – now looked small and insignificant against the looming newcomer. This colossus reached out and took hold of the man by the shirt, pushing him up against a wall.

In a low voice, chilling for its lack of passion, he asked. ‘Do you know who I am?’

The man was trembling. Even the boy could feel the dreadful fear emanating from him.

‘C.c.course I know who you are, Bill. Course I do.’

‘Did you know I was walking out with this boy’s mother?’

‘Jesus Christ… I swear I didn’t, Bill. On my mother’s life.’

‘Now you do.’

The big man let the little man go. He slid part way down the wall, recovered and stumbled away. Then the giant leaned over the boy and held out a hand that seemed larger than a bunch of bananas. ‘Better be getting home, son,’ he said.

The world changed that day. Men like Bill do change the world. They are the havens, the safe harbours of childhood. They are the watch hounds who keep the wolves at bay. They have an instinctive understanding of the child that is denied to the wise.

Two years later, as my stepfather, he cured me of dreams of vampires coming to drink my blood. My mother had tried explaining to me they were just dreams. They weren’t real. It didn’t work. She took me to a child psychologist, who showed me pictures, told me stories, explained about the birth of myth and the way that fear created pictures in our night time thoughts. It was very interesting, but it did nothing for my nightmares.

One night I woke up screaming – to find Bill sitting by my bedside.

‘There’s a vampire, dad. Its trying to get me.’

‘I know, son,’ he said, softly. ‘I saw it.’

‘You saw it?’

‘Yeah. I broke its bloody neck. I won’t have no vampires in my house’

I never dreamt of vampires again.

Years later, when I wrote my first novel, I used Bill as the model for a character. His name was Druss the Legend. Bill re-appeared in many novels there after, in many guises.

Always flawed, but always heroic.

Three years ago, at the age of 82, Bill was mugged on the streets of London. Three muggers broke his jaw, his nose and two of his ribs. He still managed to ‘chin’ one of them and knock him to the ground. That was Bill.

Last April he died.

And I wrote Ravenheart, and gave Bill centre stage.

Jaim Grymauch, who strides the highlands like a giant, is my homage to Bill, and to all those world changing fathers who pass away without fanfare; who leave the world just a little brighter than it was.

Men who know how to deal with vampires.’

-David Gemmell

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