Before the first word was written, the Red Lady was there to watch over the land.

Through the ages She had kept Her vigil unbroken, guarding Her people from those that dwelt beyond the world. She taught the ways of battle to the first wardens, that they may stand guard against the dangers of this world even as She did against those of others, with the stern counsel that to use Her arts to take that which was not theirs would be to break Her covenant. The land was bountiful, and there was plenty in it to provide for all Her people.

From time to time, horrors from beyond the world tried to sneak past Her vigilance and take plunder. She never wavered in Her watch; always She was there, and the people would marvel as She did battle in the sky or among the waves or astride the rolling plains, sometimes battling hosts of unquiet dead, or restless spirits of the elements, or other things too bizarre to name or even describe, striking with bow or spear, turning blows on a buckler carved from the first tree ever felled.

It was not often that She had such a need to fight. Never was it more than once in a year; sometimes an entire generation would be born, grow, and have children of their own without seeing the Red Lady do battle. But as often as necessary, whenever things from beyond threatened, She was there; and always She triumphed and the land was unscathed.

So, when a beast with ten arms prowled the Highland farms, brandishing many cruel blades, the Red Lady was there to bar its path, turning aside its blows before even one could land on a hapless farmer.

The villagers gathered in awe as the Red Lady fought, and though the ten-armed horror was frightening to behold, they rejoiced in the knowledge that no place in the land, no person who dwelt there, was too humble for the Red Lady’s protection. Blow after blow She knocked away, and Her spear was a gleam of fury as it pierced the beast’s hide again and again.

But then, even as Her spear pierced the beast through and it began to fade from this world, its blades converged in one last, desperate blow.

Gleaming blood sprayed over the fields. The Red Lady dropped to one knee, then slumped to the earth and lay still.

The land mourned as never it had before. The Red Lady’s still form was brought by a succession of bearers to the capital, laid in state first on the altar in Her highest temple, then on the finest bier that ever a woodsmith had carved. Festivals vanished in a tide of terrible grief, and everyone in the land wore mourning garb for weeks.

None knew for certain what to do, for such a thing as this had never happened in all of history. All they could do was lay Her to rest as any other honoured hero, though none knew if a pyre would take Her, or if the attempt to treat a goddess with the rites due a mortal would be a grave insult. All that was certain was that Her body, while untouched by decay, remained still, broken, and lifeless.

Countless pilgrims flocked to the city to pay homage and bid farewell, and on the day of Her funeral, twice the city’s usual number were in attendance, thronging in the fields. Wails of grief rose to the sky as the procession bore Her to the pyre. Works of great art were laid around Her in final tribute.

The hunter and champion who had been chosen to light the pyre had tears streaming freely down his face as he took up a burning brand. Holding it aloft, he paused by the bier to whisper his own final farewell, and then he set the torch to tinder and the flames began to spread.

The fire took, and then surged into dazzling brightness, lighting the nighttime sky as though day had come again. The onlookers cried out, averting their eyes from the brilliance of it, and the Red Lady’s champion covered his face.

There was an indescribable, yet unmistakeable, feeling of power in the air.

When the light faded, the pyre was gone, yet the offerings lay intact in splendour. Gone was the Red Lady’s body; gone, too, was the mortal champion who had lit the fire. Instead there stood a new divinity, a vigorous-seeming man with long, flaming red hair, with an actual fire flickering in His palm, coiling about His left hand. In His right He bore a javelin, smaller than the Red Lady’s spear but with an ornate head just as keen.

And He surveyed His people, and they gasped at the determination on His features.

“Never again,” He declared, in words that resounded across the land.

And He decreed that braziers be placed in shrines throughout the land, braziers lit from His undying fire. So long as those fires burned, He pledged, their radiance would keep the demons at bay.

The Red Lady was no more. In Her stead, the Lord of Flame took court in the capital, there to give counsel when the wisest men and women of the land could not tell the course. He was always sparing with His advice, for, He declared, men should triumph by their own might and wit whenever they could; but what advice He gave was always clear and sound.

The land prospered. Never again, while the Lord of Flame sat in His temple and the braziers burned, did horrors from beyond threaten the people; while sometimes those things still sought an entrance, they were never more than phantasms, flickering shadows at the edge of sight, kept at bay by the flames and banished by the rising sun.

And in the sky there was a new star, gleaming red in the heavens, venturing to and fro amidst the many forms in the night sky. Some said it did battle with the beasts of the sky; others that its roving ways were to look about the land and be sure that no interlopers from beyond slipped past the warding flames.

The people named this new star for the Red Lady, and each year, they mourned Her passing – but even in so doing, they rejoiced in their new patron with a great Festival of Flame.

And so the years continued to turn.