It is my firm belief that I am one of the only people alive who can boast about being mugged by a troll.
It started the way most of these tales go: with a choice. It was a dangerous decision, and I shouldn’t have done it. But I did.
I went to school.
I headed to English, Excalibur tucked away in my backpack. It was a bit of a relief to see that everyone had the same I didn’t read the book but I’m going to pretend I did face.
Wonderful things, book reports.
Thank god it was the last class of the day.
The only place available in the room was the back of the class, where all the popular girls like to sit and apply enough eyeliner that they’d confuse a raccoon. And of course, all of them decided to chew their gum obnoxiously loud.
I took my seat and tried not to make eye contact.
All those girls have to do is giggle around you and it lowers your self-esteem. Forget fighting witches. That’s sorcery.
My English teacher, Mrs. Greer looks like a bowl of mashed potatoes. I honestly have no idea what’s holding her together. Her class smells distinctly of Grandma. She hobbled to the front of the room and said, “It’s time to do book reports!” Her voice was almost maddeningly cheery. If she was any happier about it she’d have a bird perched on her finger and deer scampering in through the window.
“Now, let’s see,” she checked the class list. “Peter—what was it you read?”
“The Once and Future King,” I said. Mom wanted me to read everything I could on my ancestors. I don’t see the point, since so many versions contradict others, but arguing with Mom gets me nowhere.
Mrs. Greer fixed her eyes on me, “Did you, now? Would you like to tell the class what it’s about?”
“And what about King Arthur?”
I dredged up what few facts I remembered from the Wikipedia entry on the thing and recited it in a very nonlinear order.
“—and it ends just before Arthur is about to fight his son, Mordred at the Battle of Camlann,” I said.
I assumee that was right. Wikipedia never lied to me before.
The girls giggled again. I flashed them a look when Mrs. Greer wasn’t looking. That only made them laugh more.
After what felt like forever, Mrs. Greer looked up from making her markings and said a quick, “Thank you, Peter.”
With the exception of a few show-offs, most of the class seemed to do more skimming than reading. The bell cut one of the kids short in mid speech and I was one of the first out the door.
On my way home, I heard that familiar giggling and felt an urge to whip out Excalibur. They were following me. The whole pack of them, complete with a one guy for every girl.
I glanced back. One of the guys with an unusually square head squinted at me. I gave it a few minutes before looking again.
Ever walk home and get stuck behind a group of people that just give off that vibe that they really, really want to hurt you? You don’t know why but it’s awkward and uncomfortable?
This was my situation.
So I did what any sensible guy would do—I ducked into the nearest alleyway and let them pass.
Newspapers stirred in the wind as I passed by. There was a huddled mass wrapped in a thick blanket soiled with I-don’t-want-to-think-about-what-that-is curled up against a building.
I tried not to look, but there’s always that bit of curiosity that just compels you.
Whoever the guy was, he was huge. Like if King Kong were a bodybuilder. I kept my eyes on the other end of the alleyway.
“Spare some change?” His voice was a bass usually reserved for Disney villains. “Just enough for a bus ride, maybe?”
I dug through my pockets and came up with bits of lint that whisked away in the breeze. “Sorry,” I said.
“How ’bout that sword you’ve got in your backpack?”
Uh-oh. I picked up the pace.
“Don’t think I can’t see it, boy!” He shouted after me. “I know what you are—you’re a Descendant, aren’t you?”
“Everyone’s descended from someone.” I started to feel tingly, and realized too late that the Realm was cropping up around me. World going watercolor and all that.
“Don’t play games with me, kid,” the guy said. He rose to his feet. The blanket slipped off him. “I want the sword.” He’d left his imprint in the side of the building the way anyone else would leave footprints in the mud.
Then I knew I was in trouble. I think I said something like, “Eep.”
He looked like a human buffalo. The dude had horns curled around his head and a large snout dribbling mucus. He was shirtless, showing a chest of shiny black hair—or was that fur? Either way, I marked him for a troll. I slipped Excalibur out of my bag.
Then his gaze went to the sword, and his eyes widened. “That’s Excalibur, isn’t it?”
“I prefer its Welsh name, Caliburn. Has a better ring to it, don’t you think?
Who knows? I thought, Maybe joking can get me out of the situation. I doubt anyone else has been mugged by a troll in the last couple centuries, much less tested to see if they had a sense of humor.
It turns out joking did very little, because he let out a gigantic roar that startled me more than an unexpected fire alarm.
“Too—bad!” I mimicked as I took a defensive stance. That probably didn’t intimidate the troll as much as it did make him want it more. Trolls are like toddlers—if it’s shiny, they want it—and they’ll usually wind up breaking it in the end.
The troll charged for me faster than I expected. For a near three hundred- plus pound creature, he was pretty fast. I only just managed a slash with Excalibur before his horns butted me in the stomach and sent me flying into a pile of trash cans. Dazed, I muttered, “Please tell me I don’t have a banana peel on my head. I don’t think I could handle the embarrassment.”
“Last chance,” the Troll said. “Give me the sword, and I won’t hurt you.”
So I did what any sane person would do: I stood my ground and leveled the sword to his chest. “If you want it, you’ll have to take it from me.”
And that’s exactly what he did.
I’m serious. All he did was wrap his hand around the blade and—yoink—he ripped it out of my hands. That pull nearly put me on my stomach. I always thought trolls were stupid. I thought he’d just run straight onto my sword.
Maybe it was evolution.
He looked at the blade the way a child might look at that toy they want on the top shelf at the store. “Magnificent,” he said, and he swung it my way.
I only just ducked in time, and Excalibur cut through the straps on my backpack. It tumbled off my back and a bunch of pencils spilled out.
The troll’s eyes widened at that, and he bowled me over to get to them. What? Did he have a troll wife to write a letter to? Sorry I’ve been gone so long. Looking for a fourteen year old kid somewhere in New York to steal a legendary sword from him. Be back soon. XOXO.
“Graphite,” the troll said, grabbing a handful of pencils. “Delicious.”
Then he tore into my homework. “No!” I shouted, “No wait I need that for school!”
A little voice in my head told me my math homework wasn’t worth dying over, so I took the zero and ran.
My first thought went something like, I almost died. Hm. Must be a Tuesday. The next thing was, I’m probably the first person in, like, forever to let Excalibur get stolen. And by a random troll in an alleyway, no less.
I reached the house and ran inside, not bothering to close the door behind me. My shoulders heaved with each heavy breath. I felt like I ran a marathon, got sidetracked, climbed a mountain, fought a troll and finished the race.
I tried to call for help, but what came out was more of a wheezing semblance of the word Mom. I knocked over a couple relics adorning the wall because of the lightheaded feeling that you get in your legs after you’ve ran for a long time (Is there a word for that? Lightleggedness?)
Eventually I caught my breath. “Mom!” I said. I hope there wasn’t too much fear in my voice. “Mom—I need your help!”
As I was wondering how many bajillion years I’d be grounded for this, I heard Dad’s voice, though he was muttering.It sounded like he was speaking gibberish. But not a making this up as a go along kind of gibberish. He was talking nonsense one word at a time, the way a schoolteacher takes attendance.
I eased Dad’s door open and found him reading from a book that was probably around when dinosaurs roamed the earth. He slid a gentle finger along the pages and read each word over and over.
I knocked on the door. Dad jumped in surprise. “Peter!” He exclaimed. “I didn’t know you were here. Sorry about the—uh—” he showed me the cover of the book. LEARN HOW TO SPEAK THE ANCIENT TONGUE TODAY: THE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO SPELLCASTING. “Your mother thinks I should learn a few spells in case—y’know.”
In case a monster attacks you and you don’t have one of us around to defend you? “Yeah. I know.”
“So what’s the problem, sport?”
“Are we living in the 1920s?”
Dad lowered his chin so that it looked like he was staring down his forehead at me. “What’s the problem?”
Dad did that thing where he switches faces as fast as you can go from a smiley-faced emoji to a frowny-faced one. He creased his forehead. “What’s the problem?”
“I—I should probably get Mom.”
“Peter—What. Is. The. Problem?” I’d never heard Dad talk like this before. I felt like a scolded puppy, the way he addressed me. This was new.
I bowed my head. “I—I lost Excalibur. I met a troll in an alley—” I stopped talking when I realized how stupid that sounded. “He stole Excalibur. I need to do something. I should probably go to Mom and—”
Dad pushed his way past me as he stepped out into the hallway.
You know how some people keep cleaning supplies, coat, and what-have-you in their closets? Not my family. Closets are where we keep the valuable weapons stored away
The relics without magical powers become the wall-hangers.
Dad opened the closet and bent down to dig through piles of spears, daggers and swords. “Come on, come on, I know it’s here somewhere.”
“What’s here, Dad?”
Dad tossed me a dagger. It had a green jewel inlaid on the sheath. Its hilt that was so polished I swear I could almost see my reflection. I turned it over, and on the other side there was a strip of duct tape with the words Carnwennan sloppily written on it. “Your mother said to give you these in case anything happened to Excalibur. Believe it or not this isn’t the first time this has happened.”
I unsheathed Carnwennan, and the lights flickered like I was in a horror movie. “Pull it out of that sheath,” Dad explained, “And you can will the room to go completely dark—that’s what the dagger does—it manipulates light and darkness.” He added a belated, “Or so your mother tells me.”
Next he threw a spear my way. Again, there was duct tape along the side labeling it Rhongomiant. “What does this do?” I asked.
“Rhongomiant? It’s like Excalibur,” Dad said, “It can’t be broken, and it can cut through and break other blades. But use it against the knight’s code and it’ll break.”
“You seem to know a lot about this stuff,” I said.
Dad cracked a smile. “Believe it or not, I do listen to your mother.”
Mom came home soon enough, and I laid down the news.
To my surprise, she only sighed.
“Wait,” I said, “You’re okay with all this?”
“No, I’m not okay with it,” she snapped, “But it’s a mistake that happens every couple generations. I just hoped one of them wouldn’t be you.”
“So how long am I grounded for?”
Mom rolled her eyes. “Next you’ll be asking me if you’re grounded for getting a C- on a pop quiz,” she said, “We’ll get Excalibur back.”
“Alright,” I said, “So getting it back is a piece of cake, right?”
“Not really,” Mom said. “Some heirs have died trying to reclaim it, but in the end one of King Arthur’s Descendants gets it back. Actually, I think it was your great-great grandfather….”
“Mom,” I said, “Um, I hate to be rude, but Excalibur is in the hands of a troll. I don’t think we have time for a history lesson.”
Mom flashed me a look like she had decided to ground me after all. “Get in the car, Peter, I’ll be there in a second.”
“Where are we going?”
“The bridge at the center of town, Peter? Where else?”
Mom looked at me as if I had asked her what type of Dragon she’d like to be barbecued by. (Yes, there’s more than one type of Dragon. No, I won’t get into it right now.)
So we headed off for the bridge.
As Mom was driving she asked, “Do you remember your training?”
“You’re sure? Because you’ve trained more with swords than you have spears and daggers—”
“I remember,” I said.
By the time we reached the bride my palms were slick with sweat, which made gripping Rhongomiant a bit harder than it should be.
We arrived at the bridge, and sure enough, there was a troll. The closer we came, the more cars as the world went watercolor. The troll cradled Excalibur like it was a baby.
“When should I attack?” I asked.
“Whenever you’re ready.”
Mom slammed on the brakes and I threw open the door and sailed at the troll. It turns just as I struck with Rhongomiant. The troll knocked me away and turned to face me. I gripped Carnwennan tight in my free hand.
Admittedly, I doubt it looks frightening to see a fourteen year in a lion-rampant T-shirt holding a fancy dagger.
Carnwennan’s white hilt gave off a faint glow, and my shadow behind me grew to the size of a skyscraper, wreathing the bridge.
The troll snorted like a horse that’s mad at its rider. Mucus flung from his nostrils as he did so. “You will not take what is rightfully mine!” He charged for me.
I ducked out of the way and stuck Carnwennan in his side. He yelped like a frightened puppy, turned and smacked me. I landed stomach first on the stone.
And I couldn’t breathe. He’d knocked the wind out of me.
“This is not over you.
He pulled Rhongomiant out of his back and cast it into the darkness behind him, and then he raised Excalibur high over his head and prepared to separate my head from my shoulders.
I rolled inside his reach to avoid it. Gradually, my breath came back to me, and I leapt up and slashed his thighs with Carnwennan. Then I let darkness envelope me wherever I went. The troll was left in a circle of light.
It stared into the darkness as if to say, Bah, humbug! “Come out and face me, you Descendant brat!”
Little did he know I’d snatched up Rhongomiant under cover of darkness. “I think I’ll stay here. You know that living thing? I’d really like to keep doing that.”
“Enough words!” The troll bellowed. “Face me!”
“Are you sure you’re up for the challenge?” I taunted.
“You talk bravely for a man about to meet his doom.” He swung Excalibur wide, and by sheer luck snipped at the bridge of my nose.
“Where are you, Descendant?” He cried. His back was to me. I was in the perfect position to end this—
But then I remembered the Knight’s Code. Never attack an enemy who isn’t ready. Rhongomiant was useless in this situation.
I snatched a pebble off the bridge and tossed it behind him. “There you are,” he muttered, and he plunged into the darkness.
I followed after him. It was only then that I realized the flaw in my plan. If neither of us could see, it would make it that much harder to get Excalibur back.
And then I heard something like steel on leather, and the troll screamed.
I heard blades singing on the wind, followed by grunts and screams from the troll and his opponent. Then the troll shrieked and the bridge shook. “Do you yield?” A voice asked.
“I will die before I yield to a Descendant! Give me the sword!”
I let the darkness recede in time to see Mom drive a sword through his throat. He crumbled to dust, leaving faint wisps of smoke behind. “I snatched this off the wall before I got in the car,” she said.
We jumped into the car. Mom didn’t smile—at least, not on the outside. I wondered if Mom ever smiled. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if she married Dad with a straight face.
“Thank you,” I droned, in the I-don’t-want-to-say-it-but-it’s-expected-of-me voice. My chest was sore. My back ached, and I was sweating off twenty pounds from fighting the troll.
“Don’t be rude,” Mom snapped, “Just because you fought a troll doesn’t mean I won’t ground you. After all, who killed it?”
“I thought you said you wouldn’t do that. Like, ground me, I mean.”
Mom grinned as if she had caught me in the invisible Mother’s web. I was the fly, and she was the spider. “Not for losing Excalibur. But I won’t tolerate rudeness.”
My Mom is the only person who can thank you for battling a mythical creature and threaten to ground you in the same breath.
So we drove off. Mom made meatballs to celebrate my victory, and Mom forced me to spar until nine.
I went to bed. Dad was still reading that book of spells and Mom was practicing outside. Which made it pretty hard to sleep.
Just another day in the Pendragon household.
A very heartfelt thank you to my patrons. You make this writing possible. Special thanks to Saija Rantala, Lydia Raya, Abbey Newman, and Temi Olatinwo.