Theodore stopped to gasp for breath, struggling to keep up as Oboe led him uphill. “Where are you taking me?”
“The Gnome Boroughs!” Pebbles tinkled down the hillside as the faun leapt between rocks with ease. “It’s just over this rise! C’mon!”
Stones jutted from the stony slope like hungry teeth. Theodore looked down the steep drop, thinking of how many bones he could break if he slipped. “Isn’t there a safer way?”
“Yeah!” Oboe said. “But I wanted to take you the fun way!”
Theodore grimaced. “There is nothing more fun than workplace safety. We should turn back.”
“No!!” She bent down and offered her hand. “I promise I’ll keep you safe. We’re almost there!”
Theodore looked at the long trek back and decided he might as well see it through to the top. He took Oboe’s hand and she pulled him up into the air like a ragdoll, until he caught his footing on the ledge.
“So, what’s your name?” She said.
“I told you my name. We haven’t really met if you don’t tell me yours.”
He hesitated, wondering if it were safer to withhold that information. It was common sense to beware of fairies, but there was nothing but warmth in her face.
“…Theodore.” He offered a handshake. “My name is Theodore.”
Oboe hopped to the next ledge. “Theodore? That’s a weird name. Why is it so long?”
He lowered his hand. “It’s just my name.”
“Oh!” She kicked a fallen log to make a ramp for him. “You know what would be cooler?? If you went by Theo! That’d make for a good knight name!”
Theodore almost fell. “No!” He steadied himself against the hill. “Don’t call me that. A name is only proper if it utilizes all of its syllables. You will address me as Theodore, and I am not a knight.”
“We made it!” Oboe clambered up to the summit. “Look! Look!” She beckoned for him to hurry. “You can see the whole North side from here!”
Sore from the climb, and from being ignored, Theodore made the last push to the top. There, he found a nice flat stretch of solid ground and collapsed. Oboe took the liberty of tilting his head towards the view.
“You can see the Upside Hills from here, and Fishmen lake! Oh, and the Fount too! If we were a little higher we might be able to see the Twilight Grotto, but if you squint you can see where the Farbend starts!”
Theodore felt the wind on his face and sat up. It was odd for him to realize the valley contained so much. The Whirlwood had always just been a vague blob on a map. It was a notion, more than a place. “You really know your way around,” he said.
“Yeah. I have a lot of time to wander.” Her gaze dropped, and the excitement drained from her face. “…I found this spot ‘cause I thought I might be able to see the Fairy Circle if I climbed high enough, but that was stupid. You can’t. There’s too many spells on it.”
They lapsed into a moment of quiet. Oboe shook her head. “Sorry.”
“Why are you sorry?” Theodore said.
“I’m wasting your time. You’re important.” She trotted toward the trees. “The Boroughs are this way!”
Theodore wanted to rest a bit longer, but before he could object she raced off into the trees. He rolled onto his feet to follow.
They entered a grove and Theodore stopped dead in his tracks. All around the trees were gutted, just like the ones where he found Oboe. Dozens were torn open to splinters, knocked down, or stripped bare.
“Here we are!” Oboe said. “This is where I saw Lemmy!”
Theodore stared. Something large and angry had come through, and Theodore had a sense that this would not be the last time.