The knights took Oboe away. They bound her with magic chains and marched her toward the city under heavy guard. Theodore watched, helpless, as he was left behind to stew. He had no idea how to find the prince and no idea how help Oboe.
He needed sleep. Instead he paced the cottage, sorting and resorting documents with shaking hands, and worried about his friend. The mercy Conrad promised meant little. Enchanting a member of the royal family was as bad as an assassination. At best, Oboe could hope to spend decades locked in the city dungeon. The thought made him feel lonelier than he expected. He had grown accustomed to her company.
Perceval’s cloak sat in a crumpled heap on the floor. Theodore stuffed it into a desk drawer and locked it, grateful to spot it before anyone else. He wouldn’t be able to help anyone if he was implicated.
Theodore needed to find the prince. A royal pardon was Oboe’s best chance of surviving this. Maybe Perceval would come home if he knew Oboe’s life was at stake. But how was Theodore supposed to find him? Oboe turned him into a bird and he didn’t even think to ask what kind. There were thousands of birds in the Whirlwood and this one wouldn’t want to be found.
If he could get inside the dungeon to talk to Oboe she could tell him where to start looking. That was a plan. He could do this. He just needed to stay calm and think things through.
There was a knock at the door. More needy creatures here to beg for help. Theodore growled and flung the door open. “I don’t have time for you! Take care of your own problems and leave me alone!”
The messenger shielded himself with the scroll he was carrying. He wasn’t expecting anyone to scream at him.
“Ah.” Theodore was embarrassed. “I apologize.”
There was no mistaking this man for a creature. He was dressed in puffy maroon pantaloons with matching epaulettes. The plumage off his hat dangled halfway to his waist and he carried a bugle horn. It was strange to see a royal messenger this far from the city. Normally everything came by courier bird.
“I didn’t mean to yell,” Theodore said. “I’ve been under a lot of stress.”
“Yeah, that makes two of us now.” The messenger smoothed out the scroll and handed it over. It was sealed with wax stamped with the sigil of a crown. Before Theodore could open it, the messenger cleared his throat to blow a brief fanfare on his horn.
“You are henceforth summoned to appear before the benevolent King Xavier Stonewall, ruler of all the lands of Laien, the divinely chosen by the Mother of Magic, and anointed steward of the earthly affairs of man, feral, ghast, and fey.”
“Summoned?!” Theodore tore open the document to see. “Why? What could the king want with me? Have I done something wrong?” Had the king somehow learned of his involvement with the prince’s escape?
“I don’t write the decrees, I just deliver them.” The messenger rubbed his nose. “If I were you, though, I wouldn’t sit on this too long. The big guy isn’t known for his patience. May he reign eternal, et cetera.”
The messenger sauntered off, leaving Theodore with the summons. The document was clear: He was to present himself to the palace immediately to stand before his king.