Hero - Sean McMullen
A lot of the problems of being a teenager involve getting people take
you seriously, even when you are good at something or have something
important to say. I thought a lot of readers would sympathise with
someone getting this sort of treatment, so I put Corran together.
He is fourteen, scrawny, and fences with an iron pipe because he can’t
afford a sword, but he is really dedicated, rather like a teenage
hacker trying to crack some important system. Even though people do
not realise it, he is already very good.
His sister, the student Zelder, has very different problems. She is
very bright, but is only seventeen, and did not realise how nasty
upper class boyfriends could be until her first sweetheart got her
thrown into jail just so his parents would not think he was dating
the wrong sorts of girls. Now her worst nightmare has happened, because
she is in the care of her little brother. Her parents have sent Corran
to Quentaris “look after her and keep her out of trouble”.
The challenge was now to get a happy ending for both Corran and Zelder.
There was no challenge at all getting comedy out of their situation,
that part wrote itself. Most of the book revolves around the idea
that appearances are not always what they seem, and that even infuriating
people can help to save the day. Corran’s over-enthusiastic,
unstoppable bravery keeps Zelder alive through some very bad situations,
while Zelder’s scholarship and incredible memory are what finally
The fencing and martial arts are all fairly accurate, as I tried out
most of the moves at the karate and fencing clubs before writing them
into the story. Years ago I did actually know a young fencer who could
not afford a competition sabre, so he practised with an iron pipe.
The story also helped Quentaris develop, as well, because I needed
to develop details of parts of the city that were not yet laid out
An ancient stalker prowls Quentaris. He seeks to destroy a powerful
book of spells, and has defeated the Murderer’s Guild, the City
Watch, and the City Militia. No one is safe, or so it seems, until
a student called Zelder translates a spell that could be the key to
Chapter 3: Examination
Zelder lived quite close to the rambling, scattered mess of buildings
that was the University of Quentaris. By the time she had washed,
dressed and made her way down into the lane, nearly all traces of
the fight the previous night had been removed. One of the remaining
traces was a witness, and that witness was her fourteen-year-old brother,
‘Hey Zel, big fight last night, out here in the lane,’
he said as she emerged. ‘One swordsman put five from the Murderers’
Guild on the cobbles.’
‘Good morning, Corran, lovely day,’ responded Zelder.
‘Er, oh, hullo - and this swordsman had the greatest spin-dodge
you ever saw! A guildsman charged him, and he parried, dodged, deflected,
then he did a sort of hop-step so that he changed the weight on his
feet, and tripped the guildsman as he stumbled past. It must be some
advanced combat form, he couldn’t have thought of that on the
‘Why were you getting mixed up in Murderers’ Guild business,
little brother? There are big fines for that sort of thing.’
‘Well, you know how it is. I do the laneways at night, watching
for fights and learning what I can. I am training to be a warrior,
‘Father is paying you to learn a trade and be my escort.’
‘True, but you spend your nights studying, and all the best
fights happen at night.’
‘If you think I’m going to go wandering the streets at
night so that I can attract attackers for you to fight off, then think
again. Don’t you get enough fighting in the Sabre Academy?’
‘I can only afford four lessons a week with the miserable allowance
that I get from home. Anyway, this swordsman - the stalker, people
are calling him - is abroad, so you need to be protected.’
‘Corran, you’re only fourteen. You were sent to Quentaris
to learn a trade.’
‘I was sent to Quentaris to guard
you. Besides, I have a trade: bodyguard.’
‘With one client, me.’
‘That’s enough to make me a professional.’
‘I’m your sister, and anyway you’re meant to be
an escort, not a bodyguard -’
‘Shhh! Keep your voice down. If I’m seen with you, then
my status as a bodyguard is maintained.’
‘Status? Corran, you’re a laughing stock! You have a brick
tied to each foot and you’re armed with an old iron pipe -’
‘I keep it polished and clean!’ retorted Corran.
‘My brother, the deadliest iron pipesman in Quentaris,’
Zelder and Corran were the fourteenth and fifteenth children in their
family. There had been little money left to provide for them after
the other thirteen children had been educated, married, and established
in trades, so they were sent to Quentaris. They had a small allowance
each and instructions to be self-supporting within a year. Zelder
was trying hard to establish herself as a translator, but Corran wanted
to be a warrior. Since the age of seven he had been practising swordwork
with his older brothers, and now he was determined to join the Quentaris
Watch, the army, or the militia - once he was old enough.
Suddenly a hand reached out of a laneway and snatched at Zelder’s
sling bag, but Corran had his iron pipe drawn before she had even
finished shrieking. A circular, rising strike caught the thief’s
wrist from below, then Corran looked behind him, saw another thief
behind him and spun his pipe in a circle to parry the second thief’s
sword before turning to drive the end of his pipe into the first thief’s
stomach. Corran drew his pipe into a high parry position as he spun
to face the second thief again. He caught a cut on the pipe, kicked
the thief between the legs, then took Zelder by the arm and faced
the three other members of the Thieves’ Guild who had appeared
out of the crowd of onlookers and were regarding him with their arms
‘Six,’ said one.
‘Five,’ said the oldest.
‘Seven,’ said the third.
asked the other two together.
‘Nice spin-turn, with his pipe in seconde for a parry.’
‘Should have turned in a crouch, to protect his legs,’
said the oldest.
There was a short silence. Zelder suddenly realised what had really
‘You mean this is a Thieves’ Guild examination?’
‘Just the street-sword requirements,’ said Corran hastily.
‘It was for Surprise Attack 2C. The Bodyguards’
Guild would not take me seriously because I’m one third of their
minimum weight requirement, so I approached the Thieves’ Guild
examiners. The examination fee was a steal at one royal.’
‘And you used me as a victim?’ demanded Zelder.
you were free, and -’
‘Do you realise I have my translation work for the past month
and a rare, ancient book in my bag?’
‘Is it worth much?’ asked one of the thieves innocently.
‘Corran Cartessian, go and find yourself someone else to guard!’
shouted Zelder, who then strode off down the street.
‘Hey, but thanks for helping me to pass Surprise Attack
2C!’ called Corran.