Theodore adjusted his glasses. The frame was bent, and the lenses were scratched but intact. He could work with this.
“Thank you!” He said, relieved to see Oboe. “Are you hurt? I was worried about you.”
Oboe propped her leg up on the cot, excited to show Theodore her bandages. “Look! A human wrapped my leg up! Now I’m not bleeding all over!!”
“Good. That’s good.” Theodore relaxed. “I’m sorry this happened to you. I’m sorry you got hurt saving me.”
“Was I supposed to let you die??” She said. “Don’t worry about me! I don’t matter. But you! You did it!” She put a soft hand on his shoulder, her eyes filled with emotion. “You saved everybody like you said you would! You’re wonderful!”
Theodore did not feel wonderful. “I didn’t save everyone. Silas is dead because of me. I told you I wouldn’t use violence, but I sent the knights. They…” He shuddered. The memory was still vivid and raw. “It was awful.”
Oboe plopped down on the edge of the cot. “Silas was bad. He was mean, and angry, and wanted everyone else to be like that too. You tried. That’s what matters. I don’t think he’d ever listen no matter how nice you were.”
Theodore did not believe that. There were reasons Silas became what he was. Theodore wondered what else could’ve been done and was left feeling helpless. He stared into the bonfire.
“Did I do the right thing?” He asked himself. “I let everyone go, but… what if nothing changes? What if this all starts over again?”
“Well…” Oboe tensed. “I think that depends. Are you going to stay?”
Theodore remembered the envelope. Groaning, he reached and pulled it out from his pants pocket. It was wrinkled and damp with his sweat. The loophole was still a ticket out of the Whirlwood. But…
“I made a commitment,” Theodore said. “I told the Red Caps I would help them with their problems. I can’t leave until that’s done.”
Oboe gave him a big smile. “Good! If we have a Ranger Deputy like you, then everything will be fine.”
Theodore gave her a skeptical look. “Like me?” he scoffed. “I’m not cut out for this. This will be a disaster.”
“No. I think you’re perfect.” Oboe said and hopped onto her hooves. “Remember when you found me? I was in a smelly cage. You didn’t trust me but were kind and let me out anyway. I don’t think I ever met a human like that. If we have a Ranger Deputy that’s nice like you, I don’t think there will be any more Red Caps.”
“I left,” he said. “I abandoned you.”
“You came back,” Oboe said. “You didn’t want to, but you did anyway. Things worked out. Maybe they’ll keep working out.”
Theodore sat up and ran his hand over the envelope. He doubted things would be as simple as Oboe said, but her words gave him courage. This wasn’t the life he wanted for himself, but maybe it was where he belonged.
He flattened the envelope out and flicked it into the bonfire. It curled to smoke in seconds.
“There,” Theodore said. “Now that that’s done, there’s something I need to discuss with you.”
Theodore straightened his posture. “I’ve had time to reconsider your application for employment with the Ranger Deputy office. It occurs to me that if I am going to take my new responsibilities seriously, then having someone with your experience and knowledge at my disposal would be an invaluable asset. If you are still interested, I’d like to formally offer you the position of Assistant to the Ranger Deputy.”
Oboe froze, her eyes wide. She began to vibrate, bubbling over with excitement. “Really??” She lunged into a hug, squeezing Theodore. “Are you serious?!”
“Aarrgh!” Theodore said, “Let go! Watch the stitches!”
“Sorry!” She released him but could not sit still. She paced, her hands pressed to her chin. “I can’t believe this! This is so cool! I get to work with the Ranger Deputy! Wow! …Oh!” She stopped as suddenly as she started. “Wait. Wait, hold on. One thing. I’m gonna do it, but I just got one condition, okay?
This caught Theodore off guard. “What is it?”
“I want us to be friends. Please?”
It seemed a strange request. Theodore did not keep many friends but, after everything, he supposed one couldn’t hurt. He let himself smile.
“Okay,” He said.
Oboe’s eyes lit up, somehow even giddier than before. She pulled him into one more hug and was careful of the stitches this time.
The warmth of her response soothed his troubled thoughts. Whatever he wanted of his life could wait. There was work to do and he never liked this left undone.