Episode 4 Chapter 1

A tingle ran up Oboe’s spine. She felt it before she saw it. Something electric, magnetic, something that stirred up feelings long buried. She twisted to look, sensing the source like needles in the air.

A human fought, flailing and pushing his way through the brush of Whirlwood. His cloak caught in a thicket and he tore it to get free. There was something strange about the human. He was filled with Fates. They called to her, shining like a beacon through the forest. There were more Fates than Oboe had seen in her whole life.

She shook herself. It was none of her business. She watched the human race by and noticed something else. Some sort of magic was chasing him. A beam of light snaked through the forest like a ghost and curled to follow the human as he disappeared from sight.

On the other end of the light was more humans. A whole herd of them. Their armor rattled as they marched, cracking tree branches and trampling the thicket as they went. They followed the light. Or they were, anyway, before it flickered and winked out all of a sudden.

“Devil damn it!” The human in front wore a fancy wide-brimmed hat. “The equipment is malfunctioning again! There’s too much ambient interference!”

“We’ll lose him at this rate,” one of the other knights said.

“We won’t let that happen,” the hat human said. “Keep moving!”

Oboe popped out of hiding. “Hi!” She said. “Are you looking for someone? Do you need help?”

The humans turned to glare at her.

“Stay out of this, fairy!” The hat human said. “This is none of your concern!”

Oboe frowned as they marched past. There was no need to be so rude. She watched them go and wondered what was going on. It was weird for so many humans to come this far into the Whirlwood. Not that it mattered. The human was right. There was absolutely no reason for her to get involved.

She turned into a bird to follow them. It wasn’t hard to find the human the knights were searching for. Everything tingled in that direction. Oboe swooped down through the trees and found the hooded figure again. He leaned against an oak trying to catch his breath.

“You must hurry,” said a raven perched in the branches. “They are coming.”

“I know!” He was a teenaged boy, muddied with curly black hair. “How much farther?”

A knight erupted out from the brush, aiming a crossbow.

“There he is!” Someone shouted. “Grab him!”

“Run!” The raven said, taking flight. “Remember the plan! I’ll meet you there!”

Crossbow bolts sliced through the air, cutting straight through the raven. She burst in a spray of black feathers. Oboe and the boy both gasped.

The big hat human strode out in front. “It’s over Perceval. It’s time to come home.”

The youth stumbled to get away. “Help!” The knights closed in around him. “Anyone! Please!”

Oboe changed back to a faun and dropped to the ground in front of him. She reached out a hand to help him up.

“Don’t touch him!” A knight shouted, rushing to reload his crossbow.

“Why?” Oboe said. “What’s going on?”

The leader drew his sword. “This is royal business. Step away from the boy or I will be forced to slay you.”

“Don’t listen to him!” The boy pleaded. “They’re trying to take me away!”

Oboe looked at the boy and the knight, and felt the choice was obvious. She grabbed the boy by the scruff, a shiver running through her whole body, and ran. A bolt whizzed by her head and planted itself in the trunk of a tree.

“It’s got him!” A knight shouted. “After them!”

Oboe swung the boy into her arms and sprinted as fast as her legs could carry her. Her heart raced like she had robbed a bank. She scanned the trees for a way to escape and spotted a path the humans couldn’t see. It was a fold in the Whirlwood. She darted between two trees, circled around and back through a second time.

There were shouts of “They’re gone?!” and “fan out!” that echoed behind them. That wouldn’t stop them, just buy some time.

“Thank you!” The boy said. “You saved me!”

“Not yet,” Oboe said. “Hold on. I need to get you someplace safe.”

The magic light trailed through the air, weaving through the trees to track them.

“I’ve got a signal!” The leader said. “After them!”


Episode 4 Chapter 2

Theodore led the bard off the beaten trail, down a slope of stones to find the hut. It was made from trees, twined together to form an oval domed crowned with branches and leaves. The grass in the yard grew wild and bone chimes dangled overhead. Theodore reached to knock on the door.

Albert blew a frantic tune on his flute. The notes were quick, erratic and anxious.

“What?” Theodore said. “What’s wrong?”

Albert gave him a frustrated look. His mouth opened but no words came out. He looked absurd standing out here in the woods wearing the bright motley of a musician. Putting his mouth back on the flute, he played a low and ominous melody.

“I know you’re scared,” Theodore said. “It’ll be okay. We’ll explain your situation to the crone and I’m sure she’ll undo the enchantment.”

He knocked on the door. “Fern?” Theodore called. “Fern Hardroot? Are you home?”

The door creaked inward. A plump, short old nymph with antlers leered at him from the other side. She had green skin, a shrub of ivy hair, and wore a threadbare robe with a faded crest.

“Who are you?!” She said. “What do you want?!”

“Theodore Grayweather, Ranger Deputy.” He showed her his badge. “I need to sort out a problem between you and Albert here.”

She looked at Albert. There was a brief flash of horrified recognition. “Never heard of him!” She tried to slam door but Theodore braced it open with his boot.

“Just a moment, please!” He said, fighting with her to keep the door open. “Albert tells me you put an enchantment on him.” It took an exasperated game of charades at the Ranger Deputy station for Albert to explain all this. “An enchantment he doesn’t want.”

Fern tried her best to crush Theodore’s foot in the door but wasn’t strong enough. She gave up and let the door hang open.

“I don’t see why that’s MY problem,” she said. “We made a deal!”

Albert puffed out barrage of shrill angry notes. Theodore held up a hand to calm him.

“You took away his voice. Do you expect me to believe this is a good deal?”

She rolled her eyes. “He wanted to be a great musician. I granted his wish. Now he can play any kind of music he wants.”

“Yes.” Theodore felt his patience straining. “But now he can’t talk. The ONLY thing he can do is play music.”

“Beautifully, might I point out?”

Albert stomped around the yard, tooting an ugly racket while glaring and pointing at her.

Theodore pinched the bridge of his nose. “Miss Hardroot, you can’t just take away a basic bodily function like that! There are laws!”

“Well, there wasn’t much to work with!” She said. “It’s not like he’s got any natural talent.” There was a trill of protest from Albert. “Fairy Magic works best on folk who have potential, who are weighed down by Fates, the sort who can send ripples of change into the world. Since he hasn’t got any of that the only way I stood to profit is by taking something away.”

“Then you should have told him,” Theodore said.

“I gave him fair warning!” Fern said.

“Was it a riddle?” He said. “A cryptic riddle delivered in rhyming verse?”

She smirked. “Nothing’s as fair as a good riddle.”

Theodore shook himself. “It’s clear to me that Albert did not understand what he was agreeing to. I’m going to have to ask you to reverse the spell.”

Her smile wilted. “No! He agreed! Voluntary enchantment is allowed by law.”

“There’s no consent if you deceived him,” Theodore said.

“It’s not like I turned him into a toad! You can’t take this one from me! I need these Fates!!”

“If you won’t undo the spell then I’ll have to charge you with unlawful enchantment,” Theodore said. “I can have the city watch come and haul you off so the matter can be settled in the Court.”

Fern broke down. She slumped against the doorframe, crying and wailing so loud that Theodore felt bad. He tried to console her, but she batted his hand away.

“You don’t understand!” She said. “But of course a human like you wouldn’t. You don’t need Fates. You never have to cast a single spell to keep going! You get a set lifespan and that’s all there is to it! Tell me, is that supposed to be fair?”

Theodore knew more than she realized. After the incident with Duke Ambergrail he took it upon himself to learn about fairy magic. It was a type of magic that craved expression. Fairy creatures thrived by affecting growth and change on the world, and it was most potent when used to alter the course of lives.

“I don’t make dreams,” Fern said. “I don’t change the seasons. I don’t help plants grow. I was born to work enchantments on PEOPLE. You think that’s easy to do with all these laws getting in the way?!”

Every human had different Fates, different trajectories their life could take, and each could affect the lives of others. A fairy could grow in power by taking away Fates, by removing possibility and replacing it with a direction. That direction did not have to be good for the target of the enchantment. Even if magic wanted to do good, it could be misused.

“I’m sorry,” Theodore said. “But the laws are there to protect people.”

Fern steadied herself on the door. “Look at me. I haven’t got much life left. I admit it, I tricked the human! But only out of desperation. Don’t make me undo this! Please! I’ll be one foot in the grave!”

“I can’t make an exception on this,” Theodore said, firm. “If you can’t follow the law then you’ll be labeled as wicked. I don’t want that to happen to you”

Fern shoved herself off the door. “Fine!” She stormed over to Albert and slapped him across the back. There was a pop and a spark and albert dropped the flute.

“I can speak again! Oh, glorious day! Hooray!” He embraced Theodore. “I’ve learned that there is no replacement for hard work! I shall endeavor from here to become the world’s greatest musician the natural way!”

Fern sneered. “Yeah. Good luck with that.” She waddled back into her hut, mumbling a few colorful epithets about the human race before slamming the door.

Theodore escorted Albert back to the office, trying to hurry. Lifting the enchantment on the bard took far more time than he planned. He was behind on paperwork and that made him anxious.

When he arrived, he found the yard crowded with creatures. There were trolls and wolves, a gaggle of gnomes, a flock of geese, a few goblins, and a pulsating gelatinous cube.

“Where’ve you been??” A wolf said. “We’ve been waiting all morning!”

“Where’s Oboe?” Theodore tried to spot her through the window. “She should’ve shown up by now to help.”

“Well, she didn’t!” A troll said, grinding his hulking knuckles in the dirt. “Not anybody’s shown up at all!”

That was strange. She was late to work that morning but it was bizarre for her not to show up at all. She was always so eager to help. What happened to her?

“I’m next! Help me next!” A gnome said, only for the others to shove and wrestle to be the one in front. “No! Me first! Me!”

The troll swept the smaller creatures aside with his long arms. “Like hell! I’ve been waiting for hours!”

The geese swarmed past him, surrounding Theodore and pressing up against his knees. “Give us some visas!” “I want to go shopping!” “I want to apply for work!” “Help!!”

Albert stepped back as the whole mass of creatures crowded in around Theodore to plead and shout for his attention.

“It uh, it looks like you’ve got your hands full,” Albert said. “I’ll just show myself back to the city.” He slipped away before Theodore could say goodbye.

The day wasn’t half over and already Theodore felt overwhelmed. The longer he worked as Ranger Deputy the more work seemed to pile up. He grit his teeth. It didn’t look like he would get to catch up on paperwork.

“Alright!” Theodore said, taking command. “Let’s get organized! We’re doing this one at a time!”

Just where the devil was his assistant?


Episode 4 Chapter 3

“Tomorrow?!” The pooka’s rabbit ears twitched in annoyance. She was fuzzy and short and had to stand on a chair to yell at him. “I came all the way from the Circle for this and you expect me to come back TOMMOROW?!”

Theodore tried to keep himself from slumping onto the desk in exhaustion. His work day dragged on into evening and now he was working by candlelight. “I can’t renew a work permit without your visa and a proof of residency. You’ll have to come back.”

“I can’t wait that long! My boss wanted this done yesterday!”

Theodore chose not to ask why she hadn’t come sooner. “It will take the Bureaucracy Dome at least a week to mail the permit. Bring the forms first thing in the morning and I can give you an extension.”

“That won’t work!” She said, huffing. “If you aren’t going to help me then I’m just going to have to tell them you refused to do your job!”

He groaned to himself. “Do whatever you have to.” He got up to open the door to let her out. Outside there was one more creature waiting for help. A small frog who showed up late.

“Hey,” the frog said. “You open?”

Theodore looked at the moon. “No.”

“Okay, but real quick: I’ve been falsely accused of a murder. Can you help me?”

He stared. “Tomorrow.” He locked the door shut and sighed. The endless work day left him miserable, and tomorrow he’d have to do it all over again. He climbed the stairs up to his room, changed clothes, and collapsed into bed.

He woke with a start. It was sometime later, and there was a noise downstairs. A hammering wooden thump, loud and fast. Someone was pounding on the door. Theodore stumbled out of bed, dizzy from sleep, and climbed down the stairs to answer it.

It was pitch dark, but he managed to find his spectacles and affix his Ranger Deputy badge to the front of his bed clothes. When he was ready to answer the door, the knock moved to the second-floor window.

Theodore groped his way back up the stairs and discovered a woodpecker pounding at the glass. He unlatched the lock. Before he could deliver a stern lecture on the importance of respecting business hours, the window burst open. The bird thrashed its way inside and, with a pop, changed into a goat woman that tumbled onto the floor.

“Oof!” She said.

“Oboe?” Theodore was alarmed to see his assistant at this hour. “Where have you been? You didn’t show up for work today. Why are you making all this noise?”

“You wouldn’t answer the door, sleepy head!” She moved past him to stampede down the stairs.

 Theodore followed to find her undoing the door locks. “What’s going on?” he said.

She flung open the door to reveal a wide-eyed youth in a muddied cloak. She ushered him in before locking the door tight again.

“A bunch of humans were chasing this younger one through the Whirlwood.” She peeked through the curtains. “He was crying out for help, so I jumped in to save him! The humans were chasing us all day! We need to hide him!”

“You don’t know what this means to me.” The young man was breathless and sweaty. He appeared around sixteen years old and was slight of build. His face was obscured by his hood and long curly black hair. He wore an expensive silk doublet under his cloak that was all but ruined by traipsing through the woods. “Thank you so much.”

Theodore thought it was premature to thank him. There was more to this story. “Why were you being chased?”

The boy hesitated. Oboe stepped in to answer. “He wants to leave the city to start fresh! If we don’t help him, they’re gonna force him to work a job he hates the rest of his life!!”

Someone pounded on a heavy fist on the front door and the young man jumped in fright. Oboe flicked her doe ears, feet apart, ready to brawl.

Theodore gestured for them to hide in the kitchen. He waited or a second round of knocking before answering the door.

Outside he found a dozen royal knights in full plate mail uniform standing in his yard. These were bodyguards of the king, men trusted to speak on his behalf. It would take a catastrophe to bring them this far out this late at night.

Theodore did not recognize the uniform of the man in front. He wore no armor, just a drake-skin leather coat. Strange tools and measuring instruments were strapped across his chest. His eyes were hidden beneath the brim of a cavalier’s hat until he looked up with a piercing stare.

“Ranger Deputy. Pardon us for waking you at this deviled hour. We’ve an emergency.”

“What’s going on?” Theodore shut the door behind him. “What are palace guardsmen doing out here?”

He pointed a badge. “Knight Detective Conrad Whitechain. There’s no time for pleasantries. The King’s son is missing.”


Episode 4 Chapter 4

Theodore’s eyes went wide. “The prince? Missing?!” He recalled the fine clothes of the youth in the cottage behind him.

“A fey creature captured him this afternoon. We’ve been tracking them in this direction, but lost sight of them. Have you seen anything?”

Questions burned in Theodore’s mind. Was that the prince? They thought Oboe was abducting him? There was no telling what would happen to Oboe if he played his hand.

“I’ve been asleep.” This was technically true.

Conrad peered back at the moonlit wilderness. “These woods are strange and we’re stumbling in the dark. I need you to help us search before something happens.”

If that was the prince, he need only throw open the door to end this crisis. It was his duty to comply with these men, yet there was more to this. He needed to stall for time.

“If you give me a moment to get dressed, I will help you search.”

Conrad tilted his head. “Be swift.”

Theodore retreated into the cottage, making a point to lock the door. He marched into the back room and yanked back the hood of his guest. The face was unmistakable.

“The royal guard is here to retrieve you, your grace,” Theodore said.

Prince Perceval Stonewall pulled the hood back over his eyes and slipped under the kitchen table to hide. “I’m not here! Tell them I died! I fell into a deep pit! No, eaten alive! They’ll never find the body! Gruesome! Terrible!”

Theodore exchanged a glance with Oboe before bending down to the floor. “I’m the Ranger Deputy of the valley. A servant of the crown. I have a responsibility to return you to them.”

“Well, I’m the prince! I command you to make them go away!”

Theodore shook his head. “You’re not the king yet. That’s not how this works.”

“Theo!! You can’t!” Oboe squeezed under the table and wrapped her arms around the prince. “He told me so many awful things about his father! We have to help him!”

Theodore buried his face in his palm. “His father is our king!”

“So??” She stopped the prince from wriggling free. “That doesn’t make him a good father! Percy just wants to live his own life and he needs our help!”

He paused. He thought of his own father, champion of the nation, and the many times he’d dreamed of running away from him. He thought about Oboe and how any time he disregarded her instincts he came to regret it. He studied her pleading face and then stood.

“Wait here.”

It took a hurried minute to put on his uniforms and boots. He stepped out into the night chill a second time. The royal knights were anxious to begin.

“I apologize for the wait.” Theodore locked the cottage with a brass key. “Let’s get started.”


Episode 4 Chapter 5

A fox scurried away from the clanking footfalls of the royal guard. Theodore led them through the darkened bends of the Whirlwood while the Knight Detective consulted a strange handheld device. He adjusted an array of knobs and the machine replied with whirs and clicks.

“Grayweather…” Conrad muttered. “Are you related to THAT Grayweather?”

Theodore did not need to guess who the detective meant. “Yes. He was my father.”

Conrad slowed his pace, looking at Theodore with new and unearned respect.

“I had the honor of being trained by the Hero Champion,” he said.

“You and everyone else.” Theodore felt his skin crawl at this turn of conversation. “He liked to think he was a great teacher.”

“He was more than that,” Conrad said. “I owe a great deal to him. He was my inspiration to serve.”

“I’m happy for you,” Theodore said, wanting to roll his eyes. Whenever his father’s name came up it was the same. People prattled on and on praising the Hero Champion while he stood there hating every moment of it. It was like walking on a splinter you could never get rid of. “I wish I could say the same, but the truth is I hated my father.”

Conrad looked shocked. “Oh.” He kept his stride. “I’m sorry to hear that.” He turned his head to look for signs of their target. “You must have your reasons.”

Theodore focused on the trail head of them. “It’s fine.” He regretted making this awkward. “He was better at being a hero than a father.”

“I never would’ve guessed. He was always so warm with me.”


The detective was eager to talk about it. “I always wanted to become a knight but I was born too small. I was told to give up, but not by your father. Lance knew I could find a place of duty. He was certain anyone could.”

 “He was stubborn about that.” Too stubborn. Perhaps Conrad would’ve made a better son. Theodore snuffed the flicker of anger and looked for something else to talk about. “What is that machine you are using?”

The Knight Detective twisted a dial and the device let out a crackling squelch. “It’s an aura tracker. It’s tuned to respond if the prince is nearby. If we can find his trail again, it will create a magical projection of the path he’s taken.”

Theodore decided to keep a wider berth from the cottage. “It’s not working?”

“We appear to be way off.” He growled with irritation. “The ambient magic is interfering with the signal. Try taking us North.”

They double backed. One of the guards tripped on a tree root and swore.

“This would be easier by lantern light,” Theodore said.

Conrad shook his head. “The prince will be harder to catch if he sees us coming.”

Theodore needed to feign ignorance. “You make it sound like he doesn’t want to be rescued.”

“Of course he doesn’t!” One of the gruffer knights said. “It’s not like he was kidnapped. He ran off! Not the first time, either. Willful brat.”

Theodore led them uphill. “I thought you said a fey creature abducted the prince.”

Conrad shrugged. “If a lamb wanders into a den of wolves, do you blame the lamb or the wolves? The prince was warned. He is an influential human, the future of our kingdom. Lawful or not, there’s no fairy alive who can resist a prize like him.”

No fairy alive? Theodore stifled a laugh. He trusted Oboe with his life. Still, what would happen if the knight detective found out? “What do you plan to do when we find them?”

“We make an arrest. Failing that, we must slay the threat.”

“Slay?!” Theodore balked. “The fairies here are citizens!”

The Knight Detective narrowed his eyes. “Do not forget that our first duty is to protect order in Laien. History books are filled with the meddling of the fey. They have caused kings to fall and usurpers to rise. Their magic profits in tipping the scales of society, in creating chaos.”

Had the detective actually seen Oboe? “Do we know what creature we’re looking for?”

“Yes,” Conrad said. “A doe faun. Based on the colors I’d wager it was a Fallow Summertail. She snatched him and ran before we could stop her. We’ve been playing cat and mouse since then. For all we know, she may have already enchanted the prince. It could account for why the trail has gone cold.”

Theodore took another deliberate wrong turn. “What happens if we can’t find the prince?”

The Knight Detective kept his eyes forward. “It cannot come to that. If we lose the only heir to some fairy’s mischief, the whole kingdom stands to suffer. The Stonewall dynasty has been stable and fair. It is our duty to ensure it continues.”


Episode 4 Chapter 6

When dawn came, the Knight Detective had no choice but to admit defeat. Theodore was happy to bring the knights back to the city gates without misdirection.

“I will assemble a relief party to continue the search,” Conrad said. “I am sorry to have wasted your time, Deputy. Go and get what rest you can.”

Theodore hauled himself home, feeling bleary and empty. He fumbled with his keys to open his front door and stepped into a haze of smoke.

“What?” He said. Something was burning. He followed the choking smell to find the kitchen in disarray.

“Theo!” Oboe said, her hair crusted with batter. “I’m making pancakes!!”

She emptied a mixing bowl onto the table, and pounded a stiff lump of dough with a carpentry hammer. “…How do you make pancakes?”

Theodore sighed. “Where’s the prince?”

She led him upstairs. His Majesty was sprawled out across the bed, snoring. Theodore knelt down to nudge him. He woke with a gasp, flailing his arms and tumbling onto the floor.

“Where am I?!” He said, struggling to his feet.

“The Ranger Deputy office,” Theodore said. “It’s safe. Nobody knows you’re here, but I think you owe me a full explanation.” He tried to rub the fatigue from his eyes. “Come downstairs for breakfast. There is a lot we need to discuss.”

It was not long before the prince joined them downstairs.

“Eggs?” Oboe was mystified watching him cook. “But they’re not supposed to taste like birds!”

Theodore ignored her. It was difficult to salvage the mess she created, but he made do. He transformed flour, egg, milk and sugar into a garnished plate of pancakes that he placed in front of their guest. Theodore dumped himself into the chair across from the prince and downed a scalding mouthful of black coffee. He needed to power through the day.

“You owe me an explanation” Theodore said. “Start from the beginning.”

The prince frowned into his breakfast, curly bangs drooping over his eyes. He took a deep breath and nodded.

“…Ever since I turned thirteen, I’ve been miserable,” Perceval said. “I’m firstborn, and worse, an only child. Father wants to be sure I’m ready to be king. He has every moment of every day scheduled for me. One tutor after another: Diplomacy, strategy, decorum, accounting, espionage, equestrianism, martial arts, ballroom dancing, foreign policy, history, engineering, metallurgy, art, magic theory, alchemy, and on and on from sun rise to sun set all day and every day.

Theodore watched the prince and listened. Oboe stuffed her face between them.

“It got worse when father’s health started to turn.” Perceval prodded at his dish. “I’m expected to take the throne at a moment’s notice. Command the largest nation on the continent. You can’t imagine the pressure I’m under.”

Couldn’t he? Theodore remembered how hard his own father pushed him. Lance tried everything to mold him into the perfect knight. The anger and frustration Theodore felt was still there. It hung in his heart, sharp and heavy and hardened by time.

He tried to think of something to say, something to talk sense into the prince and set him straight. He found himself mouthing the words others had said to him: “Many would give everything to be in your place. You should be grateful.”

The young man pounded a fist into the table. “I never asked to be born a prince! I don’t want the whole world to be my problem! Mother’s mercy. It isn’t fair! That’s why I ran. I can’t take it anymore!”

Theodore felt at odds with himself. “This affects a lot of people other than you. You can’t just leave!”

“That’s not fair!” Oboe said. “If he doesn’t want to be king we shouldn’t make him! He wants to be free and he should be. That’s why I want to help him.”

Theodore felt himself soften. What Oboe said was simple, maybe too simple, but it felt right. How many times had he tried to run from home and never gotten anywhere? How much farther would he have gotten if someone had helped him? If someone understood what he was going through?

This was ludicrous. This was not the same. Was he seriously considering helping the royal heir run away from home? He was loyal to the crown. His duty was to turn the boy in.

“Theo,” Oboe said. “Percy is drowning in Fates. You can’t see it, but it’s like he has to carry a big stone and can’t put it down. Humans get like this when life pulls them in different directions. It’s the job of good fairies to take away that heaviness and put them on the right path. I think this is the right path for Percy.”

Prince Perceval toyed with his uneaten meal, eyes down. “I know I’m causing trouble, but I’m serious about this. I don’t want to go back.” He looked up. “I want to choose my own life.”

Theodore covered his mouth. It was his own wish spoken back to him. Doubt was slipping away, but he clung to it. He needed to stay rational.

“Do you even have a long-term plan?” He stood, leaning over Perceval. “You won’t be able to stay in this kingdom. You could be recognized by anyone. You stand to give up all luxury. You will start over with nothing.”

The prince looked him dead in the eye. “If that’s what it takes. I’ll escape to Feymire, or the Deepside Strait. I’d rather live free in squalor than go back. I would rather die.”

Theodore paused to weigh the prince’s face. It was certain and resolute despite the cost.

“I will help you.”


Episode 4 chapter 7

The first order of business was to get the prince out of his royal attire. Brocade silk was too valuable, it invited attention. Theodore’s clothes fit Perceval poorly, he was not as tall or thin, but they would have to suffice.

“Thank you,” Perceval said. “You don’t know what your help means to me.”

Theodore unrolled a map. “You’ll want to keep your hood up. Any merchant from Laien will know your face. Once we get you to the trade roads, you’ll be on your own. You should be able to pay your way to whatever country you want. I don’t recommend Korveil, unless you like compulsory military service.”

The prince pulled his leather gloves back on, which he had refused to discard. “I was told to head to the Western border of the valley.”

“What?” Theodore planted his hand on the table. “Told by whom?

“The raven who helped me escape.” The prince said this like it was obvious. “…She visited me when father had me locked in the tower. She got all the guards to go away so I could run. Told me she’d get me out of the country. The Knight Detective killed her, but her friends are supposed to help me.”

Theodore raised an eyebrow. “Who was this bird? Why was she trying to help you?”

He was flustered by the questions. “She called herself Whisper. I think she was helping for the same reason you are. No one should have their life decided for them.”

Theodore felt uneasy. The details were too sketchy. Sneaking into the palace was a feat, let alone fooling the King’s Guard. Theodore suspected this strange bird and her ‘friends’ never had the prince’s best interests at heart.

“Well, this plan of theirs does not make any sense. There’s nothing to the West but the Farbend. A hundred miles of empty, cursed prairie land.” He traced his finger along the map. “If you want civilization you have to take the trade roads, North or South, or else risk going through the capital to take a ferry.”

“I can’t go back to the city.” The prince said, wringing his fingers. “They’ll be waiting and looking.”

“Then we’re going to the trade roads.” Theodore folded the map up and stuffed it into the supply bag. He thrust the bundle into the Perceval’s hands. “Better now than later.”

Wasting no time, Theodore led the prince and Oboe out the door and through the curling trails of the Whirlwood. The hike was long and at first silent. When the tension faded, the conversation drifted toward the subject of fathers.

“Does the king list off all the relatives you’re disappointing?” Theodore said.

“Yes!” Perceval said, exasperated. “It’s like he thinks my grandfather is going to pop out of his grave because I was caught slouching!”

Theodore laughed. “Right? Oh. But you know what’s worse? Is when they start a sentence with ‘No son of mine!”

The prince puffed out his chest. “My son? Too tired to study?” He huffed with mock bluster. “N-no! That’s not possible! No son of mine could be so weak!”

The impression was perfect. “Like we are supposed be mesmerized by every word of every lecture. Like we can’t we can’t be trusted to form an opinion about what interests us!”

 “Of course not! Then all that work they put into planning our lives for us will have gone to waste!” The prince groaned into his hand with amusement. “I can’t believe Lance was just as bad!”

Oboe bolted out in front of them and stood straight. Her eyes were wide with alarm. “Shh! SHH!!” She flicked her doe ears. “Humans are coming!” She whispered, and hurried them back to take cover behind trees.

Theodore waited, and watched. “No one’s coming.”

“Keep quiet,” she said. “Can’t you hear them?”

Theodore saw them first, but only because he knew to look. Two military scouts crept through the wood in camouflage cloaks. Their gear was light, for mobility and stealth. They were members of the Knights of the Hunt. They stopped to survey the area with binoculars. Finding nothing, they moved on without a sound.

Once Theodore was sure they were alone again, he spoke. “I wasn’t expecting another search party so soon. We should hurry.”

They had a second close encounter before making it to the trade roads. Again, Oboe sensed the danger before they were spotted. Now Theodore knew how Oboe helped the prince elude Conrad for so long.

The trees cleared as they reached the edge of the Whirlwood. Theodore stopped dead in his tracks. The trade road was congested with merchant caravans coming and going, blocked by a checkpoint. The area was swarming with knights checking cargo and interrogating travelers. Even the railroad was halted for inspection.

“Damn,” Perceval said. “I’ll never get through without them finding me.”

“You’re right,” Theodore said. The Royal Order had outdone themselves. The best route of escape was cut off with surprising speed.

“What do we do now?” Oboe said.

“Maybe I should go to the Western edge after all,” Perceval said.

Theodore shook his head. “No. We’re not taking a risk like that. Let’s go back to the cottage and think this through.”


Episode 4 Chapter 8

Theodore let Oboe take the lead. She changed directions, doubled back, and led them down a careful winding path with no seeming rhyme or reason. Theodore was anxious the prince would be spotted but Oboe made sure they did not cross paths with any more knights. It was impressive.

When they reached the cottage meadow, Theodore bristled and yanked Perceval’s hood down over his eyes.


The office yard was crowded with creatures again. There was a troop of sweat covered fishmen, a mess of sylph, a pair of disgruntled looking werewolves, a napping black bear and more.

“Keep your face covered!” Theodore said. “A creature is liable to recognize you. Some of them read the newspaper!”


“We have to be careful,” Theodore said, stepping out into the meadow.

“Whoa, hey? Are you opening?” A Magpie fluttered down from the treetops and landed on Theodore’s shoulder. “Hi! I’m Pip! I need your help!”

Theodore shook the bird off and Oboe hurried the prince toward the office door. “The office is not open yet! Come back later.”

The crowd stirred. Heads turned. A sylph stretched its wings. “Oh! Is the office open?”

“You’re late!” One of the werewolves waved a pocket watch in a clawed hand. “I haven’t got all day!”

The bear rose with a yawn, shook the dew from its fur and padded toward him.

Theodore sucked in a sharp breath as the creatures moved to surround them. “No! We are not open yet! You can all go back to sleep!” He pushed his way through the lot of them, panicked.

“The door is open!” The werewolf said, pointing. “That means you’re open!”

Theodore slipped inside after Oboe and Perceval. “It’s closing now! Go away!” He locked it before they could argue. Door pounding and muffled shouts followed. Theodore leaned against the door and sighed. 

“What’re we gonna do??” Oboe said. “There are all sorts of humans stomping around looking for Percy and now we have piles of work to do.”

The prince peeled back his hood. “It’s fine. I can hide out here until the heat dies down. Go ahead and take care of your business.”

“The office won’t stay safe for long,” Theodore said. “If they’re tracking your aura it’s only a matter of time before they check here again.”

“Hey, your window’s open.” Pip the magpie peeked inside and hopped onto the kitchen window sill.

Theodore wrenched Perceval’s cowl back in place and marched into the kitchen “We still aren’t open! Please leave!”

The bird craned his head at the leftovers on the breakfast table. “Oh wow, pancakes and eggs. That’s cool. Hey, speaking of eggs, you think you can help me rescue my mine? They got stolen and I am TERRIFIED about their safety.”

Theodore groaned. “This is not a good time!”

Perceval followed him into the kitchen. “What if Oboe stays with me? She did great avoiding the soldiers. She can make sure I don’t get spotted while you do your job.”

Oboe stepped back. “N-no. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

The black bear climbed into the window frame from outside, pushing Pip onto the floor. “Is this like a service window? Hi. I need service.”

Theodore slapped his face. “Can this wait?”

 “I don’t think so? Knothole Grove is on fire. That should be urgent, right?”

Theodore’s knees buckled. “What?! For how long?!”

The bear shrugged. “Since before the sun came up. I don’t know. I’m a bear! You’re the species that measures time.”

“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?!”

“Well, the office has been closed,” the bear said. “Not sure what I was supposed to do.”

Oboe glanced between the bear and the prince. “This is bad! You can’t be everywhere at once!”

“I don’t have to be,” Theodore said. The prince had the right idea. He took hold of Oboe by the shoulders. “I need you to look after him while I take care of this backlog. We don’t know how long they’ll be searching for him, but you’ve shown you can outsmart them.”

“Me??” Oboe said. “You can’t leave the prince alone with me that long! I’m a fairy too! What if I enchant him?”

Theodore raised an eyebrow at her. He had only ever seen her use her powers to transform herself. As far as he knew, she had never used magic on anyone else. “You’ve done fine until now. Why is this a problem?”

She clawed at her fingers. “W-well, I don’t HAVE to enchant anyone. I magic myself to survive. But…” She gestured towards the prince’s leftovers. “It’s like if you’re real hungry, and you’re hanging out with the tastiest pancakes in the world all day. You don’t have to eat them, you can promise not to eat them, but just seeing them makes you hungry. It’s not safe.”

“You’re being ridiculous,” Theodore said. “I know you. You’re helping Perceval out the goodness of your heart. There isn’t anyone I trust more.”

She covered her face, a blush on the tips of her ears. “Really?”

There was still the problem of that aura tracking machine the knight detective had. “Take him to Crookhole Mine. The magic ore should stop them from locating you. If a patrol swings by, move him somewhere else. Make sure he doesn’t get caught or lost and stop any other fairies from finding him.”

“I don’t mean to interrupt,” the black bear said. “But the grove isn’t getting any less on fire.”

Pip fluttered onto Theodore’s soldier. “Yeah! And maybe you can help me about my eggs afterwards.”

“I’ve got to go, Oboe.” Theodore opened the door and the creatures outside started shoving and shouting for help. “I’m counting on you.”

“I don’t—”

He shut the door before anyone else saw the prince. Every creature in the yard was shouting for his attention. He straightened his tie, and got to work.


Episode 4 Chapter 9

Oboe crouched at the mouth of the cave, keeping watch through Theo’s binoculars. It was quiet outside but she could not let her guard down. She needed to focus. She needed to not think about anything else. Theo was counting on her to protect Percy.

Something moved. Oboe stiffened and then launched forward. She transformed into a snarling wolf and chased off the suspicious looking squirrel skulking around outside. The perimeter was secure thanks to her vigilance.

Percy paced deeper inside the mine. He grew antsier with each passing hour. They brought a bunch of Theo’s books to pass the time but the prince found them all very boring. Oboe didn’t blame him. Technical manuals, rulebooks, and textbooks. What was the point if there wasn’t even a story or pictures?

“How long are we going to stay here?” Percy said.

“I dunno,” Oboe said. She scratched herself with a hind leg before popping back to faun form. “Until it’s safe.”

He scowled. “That could take weeks. Maybe months! You don’t know Conrad like I do. He doesn’t just stop.” He pulled another wedge of cheese from the supply bag and chewed. “Maybe this was a mistake. Whisper had a plan to get me out of the valley. We should be looking for her.”

“Theo has a plan too!” Oboe said. “We should stick to it! He’s smart!”

Percy sat cross legged on the cave floor and grimaced. “I ran because I felt trapped. Now I’m even more trapped than before. I wish I could just… go. I’m sick of it here. I’m always a problem everyone else has to worry about. I wish I could change. I’d rather be someone, anyone else.”

A shiver ran down Oboe’s spine. It was getting hard to ignore the Fates swirling off the prince. They filled the cave like the scent of baking bread and left her tense with craving.

She shook herself. Looking away, she shoved the binoculars back in her face. She needed to stay focused. This is why Theo should’ve watched the price instead.

It was easy enough yesterday to push the hunger from her mind. She had plenty of practice. But this was more fates than she had ever tasted before. Now the excitement of the escape had faded. Now she had time and quiet to think about how long it’d been since she last used her magic on someone other than herself. Now, after years of fasting, she was stuck guarding a banquet. No one would miss one grape he platter.          

She pinched herself, hard. This wasn’t about her, it was about Percy. He needed help and she wasn’t going to take advantage of him. He was counting on her, and now Theo was counting on her too. She made a promise to grandmother and was going to keep it. She would not be weak.


Her fur stood on end. She shot a glare at him. He needed to stop talking. “What?”

“I’m gonna go for a walk.”

She flung herself in front of the door, arms splayed. “Nuh uh! No way! No! There’s knights out there! You’ll get caught!”

He pouted. “I know that. I’m not a child! I’m just going stir crazy in here. I need some fresh air.”

Oboe felt the same. Air sounded amazing.

“Theo told us to stay here,” she said to remind him as much as herself.

“It would just be for a little bit.” His smile was pleading. “I’ll be careful.”

Oboe held her breath. Her arms drooped. Peering down the mountain trail, she saw they were alone. “Okay,” she said. “But I’m going with you.”

This is a bad idea. This is a bad idea. This is a bad idea.

“Excellent.” Percy stepped past her. “Let’s go.”


Episode 4 Chapter 10

Oboe felt much better once they left the cave. The prince’s Fate drenched aura still shimmered like a beacon, but the magic in the Whirlwood masked it. Made it bearable. It was a relief, but she couldn’t relax enough to enjoy the walk. The search parties were still out there. She needed to stay sharp.

“Wait!” She said, staring at the prince. “Why aren’t you wearing your hood??”

Percy looked embarrassed. “I forgot it back at the office.”

“But you need it! Someone might see you!” Oboe said.

“I wasn’t thinking,” he said. “It’s too hot to wear during the day.”

Theo would be mad when he found it. Now they had to be double extra careful. She looked for a bird to ask how things looked from the sky.

“Humans? Yeah. Yeah.” The starling bobbed on her branch. “There’s a bunch snoopin’ around to the South of here. You’ll steer clear if you keep to the Wander.”

Oboe exhaled. “Thanks! Did you hear that Percy?”

She turned to find him gone and let out a yelp of panic. One quick glance and she could sense him up ahead. She flailed her way through a thorn thicket, burst through the other side, and tripped into a face plant.

“Oh. Oboe, there you are.” Percy helped her to her feet. “Look! I found someone who wants to help us.”

Oboe shook away her dizziness. She discovered that the prince was speaking to the venerable crone Fern in a secluded grove.

“That’s right.” Fern strained to keep her smile straight. “You can leave the young man with me. I’ve more than enough magic to ensure no one ever finds him.”

Oboe saw the hunger in the old nymph’s eyes. Impatience in how she clenched her hands. The crone was dangerous.

 “We don’t need your kind of help! Percy, we should go.”

The crone darted between them and pushed Oboe away. “Keep your grubby hands off him, you wretch!” She drew out a ripe and perfect apple from her sleeve and offered it to the prince in trembling hands. It hummed, heavy with magic humans couldn’t see. “One bite, your grace, and your life will never be the same. Quick, I hear the soldiers coming!”

“Percy, no! This is a trick! Don’t listen to her!”

“Quiet!” Fern’s face curled, furious. “You have no right! I won’t have the boy wasted on an outcast like you!”

Oboe batted the apple out of her hand. Fern pounced and knocked Oboe to the ground, growling.

“How dare you!?” Fern tore at Oboe’s mane. “Impudent little weed!! I’ll kill you!”

The prince stepped back, alarmed. “Why are you fighting?! Stop this!”

“Excuse me.” Oboe and Fern’s fight was interrupted by a gnome crawling out from the thorn bush. He was rat faced, with scars, black quills, and wore mouse furs. “I couldn’t help but overhear you all bickering in my yard. If you’re fighting over the human, don’t bother. I’m calling dibs.”

Fern sneered. “Stay out of this, gnome! I outrank you as well!”

A unicorn stuck its head through a narrow pair of trees. “Can I get in on this?”

More voices were approaching. “We’re getting close! This way!” A troop of sylph fluttered into the grove to join the growing crowd. This was bad. More and more fairies were homing in on the prince’s location. Any one of them could be wicked and it would only take a touch to put a wicked spell on him.

Oboe shoved Fern and wriggled out from under her. “Percy! We need to get out of here!”

“No!” Fern said. “He’s mine!”

“Hold on, hold on!” The gnome strolled into the center of the dispute. “Seems to me a lot of us are interested in enchanting this kid. No need for it get ugly. I say we let the free market decide.”

“What are you suggesting?” Asked a pooka who only just showed up.

“Let’s all tell the human what we have to offer, and let him decide who gets to magic him. Simple.”

There was a general murmur of agreement. Oboe’s hair bristled.

“No!!” She said. “You can’t use your magic on him!”

“I don’t think they mean any harm,” Percy said. “I should at least hear them out.”

There was too many of them. They were drawn to the Fates like moths were to flame. Someone was going to enchant the prince if she didn’t protect him. “I need you to trust me!” Before the ravenous mob could object, she picked prince Percy up, tucked him under her arm, and ran.

Percy fought, trying to squirm out of her grip. She managed to get a good distance before he pulled himself free. She stumbled, winded, and looked back.

“What’s your problem?!” Percy stomped toward her. “Those fairies were offering to help me!”

Oboe tried to catch her breath. “Percy, you have to promise you won’t let any creature touch you! They’re trying to take advantage of you!”

Percy rolled his eyes. “Do you think I don’t know that? I’m not stupid! I’ve studied the fey. Did you stop to think that maybe this is what I want? I want my life to change! Being enchanted might be exactly the answer I’m looking for!”

“The boy has a point,” someone said. Oboe looked down and realized the gnome was clinging to her ankle. She shook him off.

“The human wants to be enchanted, and any fairy with any sense stands to profit by helping him.” He got to his feet. “Everyone benefits.”

“What can you offer me?” Percy said.

“I’m Archie. I can grant wishes,” he stuck out his hands and wriggled his fingers, “but each one comes with a tragic and ironic curse!”

Percy glanced back at Oboe. “Well, at least he’s up front about it.”

Oboe grabbed Archie and crammed him into a shrub. “This is what I’m talking about!! You need to be careful! A fairy might stick you with some wicked magic! You might get hurt! There’s no telling what could happen!”

“What about you?” Percy said. “Aren’t you a fairy too?”

“The faun is no better.” Fern appeared, trudging closer, casting a shadow over them. “She pretends to be pure, but she lies. She wants to enchant you, I can see it! She thinks to take you all for herself!”

Oboe wanted to argue, but she was scared the crone was right. There was a dark part of her that ached to do it. “Shut up!” She said. “I would never enchant him!”

Percy’s eyes lit up. “But you could.” He stepped closer. “What can you do? What kind of magic could you use on me?”

Oboe shrank away, pressing clasped hands against her pounding heart. “N-no. There’s nothing. It doesn’t matter. I won’t.”

Fern growled. “My lord, do not play this hussy’s game. Come, let us talk of what I can do for you!”

“Oboe,” Percy said. “What kind?”

She closed her eyes. “I… I was born with transformation magic. I can change myself and other creatures into animals.”

Percy laughed. “Then that’s perfect! I don’t have to wait to escape my father! Just turn me into something else and they will never find me!”

“No!” Oboe felt like she was going to burst. “I can’t do that! Changing humans is illegal! I can’t ever do that again!”

“Why does it matter?” Percy said. “Helping me is already a crime. I know you’re worried someone will hurt me with magic, but…” He was a breath away from her face. “I know I can trust you. …And you want to help me, right?”

Oboe’s vision was swimming. “Yes, but…” The Fates knotted around Percy were pulsing. There was so much of it, and it seemed to fill her every sense. It had been so long since she had transformed anything other than herself. Her body was screaming for her to do it.

“Then do it! I don’t care about the law! I’m sick of being a prince! I want to be something, anything else!”

“Whoa, hold on!” Archie said, struggling to climb out of the shrub. “Maybe don’t commit to anything before you hear more about my offer!”

It was unbearable. Oboe slumped back against a tree and Percy took hold of her hand.


“Wait!” Fern shouted. “No!”

Oboe tried to resist, but felt herself give in. A surge of magic, years of it all stopped up inside her, burst out of her in a wave of unbridled pleasure.

“No!” Oboe wailed. It was too late. The magic enveloped the prince in blinding light. “No, no, no, no, no!!”