Laien Military recruitment guideline 6.11.04/B stipulated that any candidate for the office of Ranger Deputy was required to have certification in Advanced Knight Training (AKT). Any personnel failing to meet this standard would have this application rejected or be dismissed if wrongfully appointed, per the decree of King Anthony Goldenroad.
There it was. Relief washed over Theodore. After hours of tearing through hundreds of pages and dozens of appendices, Theodore had found the loophole he needed. He tried to steady his shaking hand as he transcribed the finding in a formal letter of resignation. All he needed to do was present the envelope to one of the Bureaucracy Dome File Masters, and then he would be free.
The Governor would put up a fight, but it didn’t matter. The law was established after an unqualified squire volunteered for the position and failed to stop a major fairy riot. If the case was brought before the courts, legal precedent was on Theodore’s side. Nothing was going to stop him.
Hurrying to collect his things from around the cottage, Theodore shoved the sum of his life back into his two suitcases. He shed his Ranger Deputy uniform and put on a proper sweater vest and tie. The letter of resignation was tucked into his breast pocket. It was his ticket to the life he wanted.
Right when he was ready to leave, there was a knock at the door. Theodore kept quiet, wondering if the Red Caps had come back. A peek through the keyhole revealed it was only Oboe, who somehow looked even more excited than usual. Theodore opened the door with a sigh.
“Good morning, Theo!” She said, struggling to stand still.
“Hello Oboe,” Theodore said, frowning. “I told you not to call me that. I’m sorry, but I don’t have time for you today. I’ve important business and I need to leave.” He grabbed his luggage and attempted to maneuver around her.
“Wait! Please!” She held out her arms to block his escape. “I know you’ve got a lot to do, but that’s why I came! I was up all night thinking, and there’s something I want to ask!”
There was no room to squeeze past her. “What is it?” He said, pondering whether it would be prudent to make a break for the backdoor.
“I… Um.” The certainty in Oboe’s face drained away, and it took her a moment to rally herself. “…It’s just, yesterday was nice. I had a really good time.”
Theodore tried and failed to wrap his head around what she just said. “We almost died yesterday.”
“Well, yeah, that’s true,” she said. “That part was scary. But we helped those gnomes, and that felt really good! …I got to be useful, and I don’t get to do that very often.” She hesitated, looking scared. “That’s why I want to work here with you. …If that’s okay?”
Theodore squinted, growing more baffled. “You want to work here?”
“Yeah!” Oboe said. “You get to help creatures, and you get to be important, and everyone likes you and will even talk to you! It’s wonderful!”
“I appreciate your interest,” Theodore said. “But I regret to say I am not hiring at this time.” He tried to push past her, but Oboe grabbed him by the suitcase and planted her hooves firm on the porch.
“Wait!” She said. “I helped yesterday, right? I did a good thing! I can keep helping you! I can show you how to get any place in the valley, and I’m really strong, and I promise not to mess up! Please? If I mess up you can throw me away!”
Theodore tugged at his suitcase, but he lacked the strength to yank it free of the faun’s rigid grip. She stared at him with big pleading eyes.
“I can’t hire you!” Theodore said, growling.
“Why not?” Her ears drooped. “What’s wrong with me?”
“There’s nothing wrong with you!” He said, pulling with all his strength. “I don’t need an assistant! I’m quitting!”
Oboe let go of the suitcase, and Theodore fell to the ground in a heap.
“What?” Her face went slack. “You’re leaving?? Why would you leave? No! You can’t leave! Please don’t leave! We need you here! Who’s going to be the Ranger Deputy??”
“Someone else,” Theodore said. He stood up and brushed himself off. “My assignment here was a mistake, but I trust my replacement will be more than capable of serving your needs. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be on my way.”
Before Theodore could escape, Oboe picked him up by the waist and hauled him back inside the cottage with his legs kicking in the air. “You just got here!” She said, sitting him down at his desk. “It was months before the king sent a new Ranger Deputy! What are we supposed to do without you? Who’s going stop Silas?!”
Theodore sprang back to his feet. “What do you want me to do? Look at me!” He flapped his hands at his scrawny body. “I’m not a knight! I’m a clerk! I can’t fight that maniac! He’d kill me! There’s nothing I can do!!”
Oboe looked away, her lips tight. “When you came here, you said the Ranger Deputy doesn’t have to fight anybody.” Her eyes came into focus as she spotted something. She bent down, and picked the Ranger Deputy badge off the floor. “You said you could help us without having to slay creatures. That…” She looked him in the eye and began to tear up. “That sounded wonderful. I want a Ranger Deputy like you.”
Theodore felt a slap of guilt. He never meant to get anyone’s hopes up. All he wanted was a quiet life of study, one where he didn’t have to kill or run the risk of being killed. His fingers curled into a fist. Governor Farbend forced him into this situation, and Oboe was trying to force him to stay. No one was going to tell him what to do with his life. “This isn’t where I belong. Whatever kind of man you think I am, that’s not who I am.”
“What about Silas?” Oboe followed Theodore as he moved to leave. “The Red Caps are grabbing creatures all over and picking fights with humans! You’re the only one we can go to for help!”
That was a problem. Silas planned to seize the Fount, which would be considered an act of civil war. There was no way he could stop that himself. “I’ll report what I know to the city Knight Watchmen. They can raid the Red Cap hideout and put a stop to it.”
“No!!” Oboe pulled at her mane. “If you send knights, they’ll slay everybody! There’s lots of good creatures who joined the Red Caps for the wrong reasons! Like me, or Lemmy! They don’t deserve to die!”
“There’s nothing else I can do!” Theodore said. “Do you think I can reason with him or something? He tried to kill us! He’s dangerous!”
The faun stared at the floor, clutching the Ranger Deputy badge to her chest. “You could try.” She took Theodore’s hand and placed badge in his palm. “Please stay.”
Theodore scowled at the badge. He had forgotten to pack it, and would have gotten grief for failing to return it alongside his uniforms. Glaring at Oboe, he said: “No.”
A long, taut silence fell between them.
“Can we still be friends?” She said.
Pushing past her and out the door, Theodore started the long hike to put his time in the Whirlwood behind him.