Oboe felt much better once they left the cave. The prince’s Fate drenched aura still shimmered like a beacon, but the magic in the Whirlwood masked it. Made it bearable. It was a relief, but she couldn’t relax enough to enjoy the walk. The search parties were still out there. She needed to stay sharp.
“Wait!” She said, staring at the prince. “Why aren’t you wearing your hood??”
Percy looked embarrassed. “I forgot it back at the office.”
“But you need it! Someone might see you!” Oboe said.
“I wasn’t thinking,” he said. “It’s too hot to wear during the day.”
Theo would be mad when he found it. Now they had to be double extra careful. She looked for a bird to ask how things looked from the sky.
“Humans? Yeah. Yeah.” The starling bobbed on her branch. “There’s a bunch snoopin’ around to the South of here. You’ll steer clear if you keep to the Wander.”
Oboe exhaled. “Thanks! Did you hear that Percy?”
She turned to find him gone and let out a yelp of panic. One quick glance and she could sense him up ahead. She flailed her way through a thorn thicket, burst through the other side, and tripped into a face plant.
“Oh. Oboe, there you are.” Percy helped her to her feet. “Look! I found someone who wants to help us.”
Oboe shook away her dizziness. She discovered that the prince was speaking to the venerable crone Fern in a secluded grove.
“That’s right.” Fern strained to keep her smile straight. “You can leave the young man with me. I’ve more than enough magic to ensure no one ever finds him.”
Oboe saw the hunger in the old nymph’s eyes. Impatience in how she clenched her hands. The crone was dangerous.
“We don’t need your kind of help! Percy, we should go.”
The crone darted between them and pushed Oboe away. “Keep your grubby hands off him, you wretch!” She drew out a ripe and perfect apple from her sleeve and offered it to the prince in trembling hands. It hummed, heavy with magic humans couldn’t see. “One bite, your grace, and your life will never be the same. Quick, I hear the soldiers coming!”
“Percy, no! This is a trick! Don’t listen to her!”
“Quiet!” Fern’s face curled, furious. “You have no right! I won’t have the boy wasted on an outcast like you!”
Oboe batted the apple out of her hand. Fern pounced and knocked Oboe to the ground, growling.
“How dare you!?” Fern tore at Oboe’s mane. “Impudent little weed!! I’ll kill you!”
The prince stepped back, alarmed. “Why are you fighting?! Stop this!”
“Excuse me.” Oboe and Fern’s fight was interrupted by a gnome crawling out from the thorn bush. He was rat faced, with scars, black quills, and wore mouse furs. “I couldn’t help but overhear you all bickering in my yard. If you’re fighting over the human, don’t bother. I’m calling dibs.”
Fern sneered. “Stay out of this, gnome! I outrank you as well!”
A unicorn stuck its head through a narrow pair of trees. “Can I get in on this?”
More voices were approaching. “We’re getting close! This way!” A troop of sylph fluttered into the grove to join the growing crowd. This was bad. More and more fairies were homing in on the prince’s location. Any one of them could be wicked and it would only take a touch to put a wicked spell on him.
Oboe shoved Fern and wriggled out from under her. “Percy! We need to get out of here!”
“No!” Fern said. “He’s mine!”
“Hold on, hold on!” The gnome strolled into the center of the dispute. “Seems to me a lot of us are interested in enchanting this kid. No need for it get ugly. I say we let the free market decide.”
“What are you suggesting?” Asked a pooka who only just showed up.
“Let’s all tell the human what we have to offer, and let him decide who gets to magic him. Simple.”
There was a general murmur of agreement. Oboe’s hair bristled.
“No!!” She said. “You can’t use your magic on him!”
“I don’t think they mean any harm,” Percy said. “I should at least hear them out.”
There was too many of them. They were drawn to the Fates like moths were to flame. Someone was going to enchant the prince if she didn’t protect him. “I need you to trust me!” Before the ravenous mob could object, she picked prince Percy up, tucked him under her arm, and ran.
Percy fought, trying to squirm out of her grip. She managed to get a good distance before he pulled himself free. She stumbled, winded, and looked back.
“What’s your problem?!” Percy stomped toward her. “Those fairies were offering to help me!”
Oboe tried to catch her breath. “Percy, you have to promise you won’t let any creature touch you! They’re trying to take advantage of you!”
Percy rolled his eyes. “Do you think I don’t know that? I’m not stupid! I’ve studied the fey. Did you stop to think that maybe this is what I want? I want my life to change! Being enchanted might be exactly the answer I’m looking for!”
“The boy has a point,” someone said. Oboe looked down and realized the gnome was clinging to her ankle. She shook him off.
“The human wants to be enchanted, and any fairy with any sense stands to profit by helping him.” He got to his feet. “Everyone benefits.”
“What can you offer me?” Percy said.
“I’m Archie. I can grant wishes,” he stuck out his hands and wriggled his fingers, “but each one comes with a tragic and ironic curse!”
Percy glanced back at Oboe. “Well, at least he’s up front about it.”
Oboe grabbed Archie and crammed him into a shrub. “This is what I’m talking about!! You need to be careful! A fairy might stick you with some wicked magic! You might get hurt! There’s no telling what could happen!”
“What about you?” Percy said. “Aren’t you a fairy too?”
“The faun is no better.” Fern appeared, trudging closer, casting a shadow over them. “She pretends to be pure, but she lies. She wants to enchant you, I can see it! She thinks to take you all for herself!”
Oboe wanted to argue, but she was scared the crone was right. There was a dark part of her that ached to do it. “Shut up!” She said. “I would never enchant him!”
Percy’s eyes lit up. “But you could.” He stepped closer. “What can you do? What kind of magic could you use on me?”
Oboe shrank away, pressing clasped hands against her pounding heart. “N-no. There’s nothing. It doesn’t matter. I won’t.”
Fern growled. “My lord, do not play this hussy’s game. Come, let us talk of what I can do for you!”
“Oboe,” Percy said. “What kind?”
She closed her eyes. “I… I was born with transformation magic. I can change myself and other creatures into animals.”
Percy laughed. “Then that’s perfect! I don’t have to wait to escape my father! Just turn me into something else and they will never find me!”
“No!” Oboe felt like she was going to burst. “I can’t do that! Changing humans is illegal! I can’t ever do that again!”
“Why does it matter?” Percy said. “Helping me is already a crime. I know you’re worried someone will hurt me with magic, but…” He was a breath away from her face. “I know I can trust you. …And you want to help me, right?”
Oboe’s vision was swimming. “Yes, but…” The Fates knotted around Percy were pulsing. There was so much of it, and it seemed to fill her every sense. It had been so long since she had transformed anything other than herself. Her body was screaming for her to do it.
“Then do it! I don’t care about the law! I’m sick of being a prince! I want to be something, anything else!”
“Whoa, hold on!” Archie said, struggling to climb out of the shrub. “Maybe don’t commit to anything before you hear more about my offer!”
It was unbearable. Oboe slumped back against a tree and Percy took hold of her hand.
“Wait!” Fern shouted. “No!”
Oboe tried to resist, but felt herself give in. A surge of magic, years of it all stopped up inside her, burst out of her in a wave of unbridled pleasure.
“No!” Oboe wailed. It was too late. The magic enveloped the prince in blinding light. “No, no, no, no, no!!”