“Idiot!” Mahala struck her son over the head with her cane. “Fool!”
“Ow!” Lemmy pawed at the fresh bump on his bowed head. “Aw ma. Don’t make such a big deal about this. It was just one train heist!”
“I don’t care what it was! You could’ve died! You ought to be ashamed of yourself. This is the biggest embarrassment to have ever befallen the Molehill family name!”
“What about Uncle Lanny?”
Mahala struck her son a second time. Theodore wondered whether he had paid the gnome any favor by bringing him home to the Boroughs. She reeled back for a third go, but Oboe caught the cane before it connected and lifted the old gnome into the air by the stick.
“Don’t be mean,” Oboe said. “Everybody makes mistakes. What matters is what he does from now on.”
Mahala glared at Oboe but said nothing. She let go and dropped to the ground, where she turned her attention to Theodore. “Thank you for returning my good-for-nothing son. You’ve no idea what this means to me.”
“Just… er, doing my job,” Theodore said, for lack of a better response. “But it wasn’t just me. You ought to thank Oboe as well. I couldn’t have done this without her help.”
Oboe held a gasp. “Really? I thought you were mad at me!”
Part of him was. She had been a Red Cap and withheld that information, but there had been time to reflect and Theodore needed to be fair. “I don’t think you or Lemmy are wicked. You got caught up in something you shouldn’t have, but you also put yourself in danger to set things right. I think that deserves recognition.”
“…Very well,” Mahala said. “If the Ranger Deputy says I should, then I must. …Thank you, faun, for bringing my son home.”
Oboe beamed with pride, smiling ear to ear. She bent down to hand the elder fairy back her walking stick. Mahala snatched it back, grumbling.
Theodore turned toward the ruined grove of trees. “Will you two be okay? The Red Caps wrecked your home. What will you do now?”
“Eh, it’s fine.” Lemmy strolled toward the torn-up trunk. “Lots of us gnomes have growth magic. The hard part will be carving new furniture. Give it time and the Boroughs will be better than new.”
“How about you get to work if it’s so easy!” Mahala said.
Lemmy sighed and pressed his hands against the tree. He eyed Theodore sideways. “You see what I have to put up with? She’s way scarier than Silas.”
Mahala shook her cane. “Less talking, more fixing!”
With his eyes closed, Lemmy concentrated. The tree creaked and budded with fresh life, growing right before their eyes. It was the same sort of magic that halted the train. It reminded Theodore that Lemmy was part of the assault. He was guilty of treason, and the law dictated he should be sent to the Court to be judged.
Precedent suggested Lemmy’s reason for becoming a Red Cap did not matter. A court Justice did not offer mercy to a creature guilty of attacking humans. After all the trouble they’d gone through to save the gnome, a death sentence seemed a poor end for the fairy creature.
Theodore decided it didn’t need to be a problem. He was bruised and sore and aching for sleep, and this mess had sidetracked him from researching a loophole out of this job.
“I’m glad things turned out well,” Theodore said. “I’ve other matters to attend to, so I must be on my way.”
Lemmy pulled his hands away from the tree, worn out and panting. “Wait! Mr. Deputy!”
Theodore paused long enough for the gnome to catch his breath.
“I know I said a lot of crap about humans, but you seem okay. I didn’t think you lot cared about us fair folk, but you went to a lot of trouble for me. …Mom has the right of it. Odds are I would’ve wound up dead if I stayed with the Red Caps. I’m still real worried about how things are, but I think with you around it might be okay. Thanks for pulling me out of there.”
“You were so cool!” Oboe said. “You snuck in there and saved him and you didn’t even hurt anybody! Just like you said you would!”
Theodore felt a tingle at the praise. It was foolish, but for a moment being the Ranger Deputy didn’t feel so bad. He offered them a half-hearted salute and turned toward home.