Episode 1 Chapter 34

Theodore squinted to read his notes in the dark. The wind tugged at the edges of the pages. What he could make out was enough the jar the details from his still-fresh memory.

“Rowan Thornbriar!” Theodore called out. “Are you here?”

The birch-skinned nymph stepped forward, glaring up at Theodore. He wore a coat of moss, and flowers in his silver hair. “How do you know my name?”

“According to public record, you worked for the North Manor farmlands for a period of three months, but the tax reports for that year suggest that you were never paid. You filed several complaints with my predecessors, but there is no report of them investigating. However, you were registered as wicked after the farmers filed a complaint against you.”

“So?” Rowan said. “You want to laugh about it?”

“What I want is to make you an offer,” Theodore said. “I already have enough evidence to indict the farm administration for fraud. I can arrange for you to receive back pay and to have your wicked status suspended. What I ask is that you walk away from this conflict and halt all aggressions!”

Rowan looked stunned. “Are… are you serious?”

“This is a trick!” Silas said, grabbing Rowan by the shoulder. “Do you take us for fools?! Any creature who even tries to leave will be cut down!”

“They will not!” Theodore said. “I have ordered all forces on the West side to stand down! Ask your scouts if you do not believe me! I swear to you, anyone who wants to leave in peace will be allowed to do so!”

There was silence. Rowan appeared to consider the offer. Silas spun to face the nymph. “You know better than to trust a human. Their oaths are empty: Devoid of magic. Thornbriar, you deserve justice, and you will find it only by taking it!”

“I…” The doubt in Rowan’s face drained away. “Yes. You’re right, of course. I know better.” He looked up at Theodore. “Nice try, human! You offer too little, too late!”

Theodore’s hands began to shake. His plan wasn’t working. What if all he was doing was ruining Myra’s chances of stopping Silas? He glanced back at his notes. There was no turning back. He had to try.

“Very well.” He said. “Then I ask to speak to a Curdie Trogmeyer.

A goblin ambled out from the dark, a sword propped against his shoulder. He was a small shriveled man with a peat skin, a bulbous nose, and a trim green beard. He bowed with mocking flourish.

Theodore checked his notes. “I understand you are a weaponsmith.”

“I was.” His voice was a sharp rasp. “I’m not much of anything if I’m not allowed in the city to sell my wares.”

“I want to help you. I can arrange for your visa and trade permit to be reinstated.”

Curdie grimaced. “Everything I had was confiscated by the city watch. My whole living: gone. You gonna promise to give me all that back?”

Could he? Theodore broke into a sweat. He wanted to say whatever Curdie wanted to hear, but he had no way of knowing what had happened to any of the goblin’s property. Lying would not repair the damage done. “I need time to investigate what happened, but I promise you I will make this right.”

The goblin spat. “Worthless.” He said, and receded into the shadows.

Theodore fumbled with his notes. He was losing control of this disaster. He was a fool to send his protection away. He should never have come. He needed to call the archers back, get out of there. He looked back, and saw Oboe watching him from behind the barricade. Her hands were folded tight, her eyes worried. He turned back.

“D…” He took a deep breath. “Dina Stonefed!”

Silas watched with smug satisfaction as a troll lollopped forward on her legs and fists. She stared up at him, and Theodore struggled to recall the details of her case.

“Eight months ago you—“

“Can you get my home back?” Dina blurted out before Theodore could finish.

“What?” Theodore was caught off guard.

“Humans chased me and my kids off our land! Can you give us our home back?!”

It took Theodore a frazzled moment to realize that she wanted his help. “—Yes. Yes! I saw your land title! No one has a right to remove you!”

“Good! You got a deal!”

Silas pulled the troll’s head to face him. “What do you think you are doing?! Have you gone mad?!”

Dina shoved Silas back. “All I ever wanted was for the humans to treat us with respect! Now one is doing that, and you still want us to fight! I’m not going to die here just because you’ve got a death wish! I’m leaving!”

“Traitor!” Silas shouted after her as she left. “Coward!”

Rowan Thornbriar rushed forward, pushing Silas out of the way. “Wait!” he said. “I don’t want to be wicked! Please, let me change my answer! Please!”

Theodore could not believe his ears. “Yes! Of course! Let me help you!”

“What?! No!” Black tendrils of smoke exploded out from under Silas’ coat. He struck Rowan across the face and sent him staggering. “You worthless trash!! You will fight or I will kill you myself!”

Rowan wiped a streak of fresh amber blood from his face. He looked at Silas, speechless. Murmurs broke out among the crowd. Before Silas could say another word, Rowan ran. Silas moved to give chase, but others from the crowd rushed past him to speak to Theodore. Every sort of creature, from gnomes, and furies, trolls and sylphs, goblins and werewolves, ghouls and nymphs, to pooka and unicorn, all came running to the foot of the hill. All of them started shouting over one another, yelling complaints, begging for mercy, and asking for help. Even Glut the spider monster scrambled forward. Theodore watched them, overwhelmed with relief.

“Everyone!” He said. “I want to help each and every one of you! But I want you to be safe! If you want peace, leave now and come see me during business hours! I will do my best to serve all of you!”

Whatever Silas said next was drowned out by the stampede of creatures racing to escape. Even the ones who resisted like Curdie thought better once the tide turned. In one frantic minute, the Fount emptied and Silas Jack was left standing by himself: alone.

Theodore raised the horn to his lips again.

“Silas Jack. It is not too late. I extend my offer to you, as well. Surrender, promise you will discontinue aggression against the crown, and I will grant you amnesty.”

The leader of the Red Caps stood there, still and silent, his pale body clear in the moonlight. His smoke dispersed. He hesitated but then stepped forward. With one jump, he sprang to the top of the ridge to face Theodore.

“This is the right choice,” Theodore said. He dropped the horn. “If we work together, I think we can make the Whirlwood better. I want to help you, just tell me what you need.”

Silas seized Theodore by the throat and lifted him off the ground. Theodore thrashed and choked as Silas pulled him closer, squeezing tight. Inky black tears poured down the ghast’s face as he whispered one word: “Revenge.”

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