Little Theodore dragged his heavy training sword along the mossy ground, stopping at the dark mouth of the cave. He was seven and hoped to see eight.
“I don’t want to. I’m scared.”
His father towered over him in his armored uniform, arms folded, grinning. “Scared?” He was massive and loud. His skin and hair were dark, his nose pointed, and his eyes fierce. “You’re the son of Lance Grayweather. You aren’t allowed to be scared.”
Theo hesitated, the rocky ground pressing into his shoes. His father slapped him across the back, knocking him off balance.
“Go on,” Lance urged. “If you’re to be a knight, you have to face danger head on!”
Theo was not sure he wanted to be a knight. He was born small, and at his mother’s expense. He was nearsighted and prone to startle. His hobbies included alphabetizing his toys, completing school work, composing numbered lists, memorizing facts from books, and shuffling stacks of paper so the edges lined up. Knights were large, liked to get into wars and shout a lot. Theo thought this meant he would make a very bad knight, but his father always got mad when he said this.
The shadows shifted. Something large moved just out of sight, and Theo felt his knees buckle. He wished with all his heart that he was back at home with his books, that his father would stop dragging him out into the miserable and muddy outdoors for hunting trips, wilderness survival lessons, and combat training.
Theo looked back at his father, who pointed at the cave. His smile was waning. Theo reminded himself that he was a good boy, and swallowed his fear. He pushed up his spectacles and dragged his sword across the threshold of the cave.
A moment later, Theo rushed back out of the cave screaming as a massive creature tore after him. It was covered in scales, and lumbered with a gorilla’s gait. Within a few meters it caught up, seized Theo by the ankles, and swallowed him whole.
Lance dashed up behind the creature and bashed it upside the head with the pommel of his sword. The beast toppled like a sack of potatoes. It took Lance a moment to roll the creature over and pry its jaws open. He reached in and pulled out his son, who at no point stopped screaming.
“What am I supposed to do with you?” He sat Theo down and shoved his sword back in his hands. “It was just a guard troll. You didn’t even try to fight it!”
Theo was slick with spittle and not yet over the trauma of getting stuck in a troll esophagus. His father pushed him back through the cave entrance.
“Stop it. A knight doesn’t snivel. You’re better than that.”
“I don’t want to be a knight!” Theo snapped back, wiping snot, saliva and tears from his face. “I want to go home!”
Lance hushed his son. “We aren’t done here. There are wicked fairies about. We leave when they’re captured.”
Theo threw down his sword. It clattered against the cave floor. “No! I don’t want to! I hate this!”
His father stood in the mouth of the cave, blocking him. Theo backed away. Without thinking, he ran off deeper into the cave.