“You can’t do this to me!” Theodore said, grabbing at air, needing to strangle something. “I’ve done nothing wrong!” He wanted to knock over a stack of papers for dramatic effect, but could not muster the gall to go through with it.
Gregory Farbend sat at his desk with his hands folded. He was a large and mild man, with dark red skin and a face composed mostly of jowls interrupted by a mustache. As Governor, his job was to manage city affairs on behalf of the king. It was clear by his puzzled expression that he had not expected anyone to barge into his office today and shout about being wrongfully promoted.
“I’m not sure I understand the problem,” he said. “This position comes with a doubling of your salary and a field office to live in and operate out of. You should be pleased.”
“The problem is I’m a clerk!” Theodore crumpled the transfer notice and tossed it onto the desk. “I organize paperwork for a living! And you are reassigning me to law enforcement? Are you out of your mind?!”
Mr. Farbend chuckled. “I wouldn’t assign just anyone to this. Can you imagine my surprise when I heard there was a Grayweather working here at the Dome this whole time? I couldn’t have asked for a better candidate.”
Theodore paced, rubbing his forehead, wondering who talked. He had been so careful for so long. Randall was the most likely suspect, but he swore to Theodore he wouldn’t gossip. “My family name doesn’t matter! I’m not qualified for this!”
“Nonsense,” Governor Farbend said. “I was well acquainted with your father. He trained some of the finest knights of this generation, and I know for a fact he was grooming his son to be the best of them.”
Memories flashed through Theodore’s mind, one after another: torn away from his books, dragged by the arm to fencing lessons. Endless lectures on form and technique. Falling from horseback into filth. Arms sore from archery drills from noon to dusk. Bruises, scrapes, sweat and blood. A severed head screaming through the air. His breathing grew shallow.
“I am not a knight,” he said. “I don’t care what my father told you.”
Mr. Farbend scoffed. “The Grayweathers have always been knights.”
“And that’s why they’re all dead!” Theodore said. It would take only a passing glance into the family history to see the grisly truth. Whether they were torn apart by creatures, chopped to pieces by bandits, or killed in honorable duels, every last one of them met an early end. “I’m the only one left!”
“You’re getting too worked up over this,” Mr. Farbend said. “At least look at the benefits package we’re offering!”
Theodore remembered standing at his father’s funeral: a closed casket hinting at the gruesome fate Lance met but no one would describe. The reality of what happened was buried under flowers and incense and fancy speeches. Lance was the Hero Champion of the Kingdom of Laien. He was the greatest knight in living memory, and his maimed corpse was found dumped on the side of the road.
“I gave up everything to get away from that life.” Theodore turned to leave. “Find someone else to do your thug work.”
Mr. Farbend stood up. He pulled open a drawer and slid a document across the desk.
“I trust you know what this is,” he said.
Theodore let go of the doorknob as he looked back. His eyes went wide. He did know. “That’s a royal appointment form.” He picked up the document, adjusting his glasses to be certain. “This is signed by the king.” He looked up, his knees ready to give out. ” …You’re conscripting me.”
He let out a snort. “Well, I couldn’t risk some knight order snatching you up! I’ve needed to fill this position for months!”
Theodore collapsed into a chair. A royal appointment wasn’t something he could ignore. Refusing to comply with a decree of this nature was grounds for exile. The Governor snatched the paper away from Theodore’s limp grip.
“This really has been no end of trouble for me.” Mr. Farbend put the form away and straightened his vest. “I can’t just assign some no-name, but it’s not like anyone wants the job.” He sighed. “Whether you like it or not, the matter is settled. You start next week. Maybe now the fairies and ghasts will stop breathing down my neck about this…”
Theodore sat straight at the mention of creatures. “Wait,” he said. “Fairies? Ghasts? Just where are sending me?!”
Governor Farbend froze. It appeared there was one last nasty surprise he had hoped to put off as long as possible.
“…You’ve been assigned to the Whirlwood Valley,” he said. “As the Ranger Deputy, you’re to keep the peace among the magical creatures there and oversee the harvest of wild magic.”
Theodore gripped the edges of his seat, feeling his whole world careening into the abyss. Things were far worse than he could’ve imagined.