Oboe flinched as the iron door shrieked shut behind them. Dim gray hallways lined with barred cells stretched ahead. Here underground, beneath all the fancy buildings in the city center, the humans kept their dungeon. She stood back while Theo did the talking, pointing his badge and explaining why they had come, until the grumpy knights agreed to let them through.
Theo was flustered when he came back from the Duke’s. He wasn’t mad anymore, or maybe he was. There was a thoughtful pause before everything he said, and that made her worry. His voice was pointed when he talked about what the duke had said. Maybe what he was mad at what he’d learned instead.
It was cold in the dungeon, and dank too. There was no sunlight at all, just lamps burning magic. The iron in the walls around them made her head hurt. Oboe wondered if the witch Flip was locked up somewhere nearby, and hoped she wouldn’t see him. Everything about this place was awful. The sooner they left, the better.
“Here we are,” the jail knight said. “Block D6. All the fairies we’ve caught violating the ban.”
Oboe stuck her face between the bars to look, and saw a miserable pack creatures. A pair of gnomes were curled up like porcupines on the floor with tiny fetters on their feet. A ragged looking green nymph sat bow legged next to a leshy with skin furrowed like a walnut tree. There were long-eared pooka rabbits too, but what caught Oboe’s attention more than anything was the familiar looking sylph staring back at her.
“Thistle??” Oboe said, rattling the cell door. “What are you doing here?!”
The bug man groaned, hopping onto his little feet. “Rotting. What does it look like?”
“Are you okay?” She said. It was hard to tell. Thistle always looked beat up. He was old, his exoskeleton was cracked, and he was missing half an antenna. That was all normal for him.
“Oh, never better! Just waiting for my turn at the spa they got in here.” He held up all four of his shackled arms and sneered. “I’m in a dungeon, nitwit! It’s lousy!”
“This is that sylph we met in the Hollows,” Theo said. “The one that makes nightmares for ghasts.”
“Thistle doesn’t belong in here!” Oboe said. “He’s not wicked! He’s good!”
The sylph scoffed. “Y’know, I tried telling the guard that but I don’t think he believed me.”
Oboe marched up to the knight that had let them in. “What do I have to do so Thistle goes free?”
“Everyone here is charged with unlawful entry and criminal infiltration,” he said. “The bond for those crimes is nine-hundred thalers each. None of them have been able to pay the fine.”
Oboe despaired, until she realized she had a whole bag of money around her neck. “I’ll pay for him!”
“I don’t think that’s wise.” Theo said. “He’s a suspect. What if he’s one of the fairies making people sick?”
Oboe stomped her hoof, angry now. “Thistle is my best friend! He would never hurt anybody!”
“Yeah, you moron! I’m innocent!” Thistle said.
Theo looked down at him. “Are you claiming you didn’t actually violate the fairy ban?”
He stared. “Well, okay. I’m definitely guilty of that,” he said. “But I swear on the Mother of Magic we had a good reason for it! That other stuff you were saying? Making humans sick? I got nothing to do with that. None of us in here do.”
“Okay. Then I want to pay for everyone to go free,” Oboe said.
Theo took her aside. “Are you sure about this? That’s more money than you even have right now. This will wipe you out.”
“Oh.” She opened her pouch and counted out what she had. “Can I borrow the rest from you? I promise I will work it off.”
“I thought you wanted to have a house built?” He said.
Oboe remembered the idea of having her own cottage. That still sounded wonderful, she still wanted it, but it would have to wait. “Thistle is more important. If he says these fairies are good, I believe him.”
“This is dangerous,” Theo said. “I’m not sure I should allow this.”
“Please, Theo.” Just this once, she needed him to listen. “Trust me. I’ve known Thistle since I was a kid. He’s not wicked. I know what I’m doing.”
Theo was silent, weighing her words. There was an intense, shifting look on his face that she did not know how to read. She held her breath while she waited for him to say something.
“Okay,” he said. “I’m trusting you.”
She pulled him into a big awkward hug. “Thank you!”
The guard cleared his throat. “If you’re serious about paying for their release, I’ll need you to fill out some forms.”
Theo turned back toward Thistle. “You said you had a reason for breaking the ban. I want to hear it.”
“I’ll do better than that,” Thistle said. “You get us out of here, and I’ll show you.”