The trial was quick. Theodore had rehearsed his confession: He abused his office as Ranger Deputy to threaten the family of Oboe, a morally upstanding and respected member of the fairy community, in order to blackmail her into capturing and transforming Prince Perceval against her will. This was all part of a conspiracy to destabilize the throne, which the Knight Detectives should definitely investigate further. Theodore knew enough about law to highlight just how heinous his supposed crimes were. He was nervous at first, voice halting and cracking, but it became easy once he got going. By the end the eagerness with which he rattled off his violations earned him strange stares. He toned it down in order to cinch the conviction.
Oboe was pardoned. Theodore had to stop himself from smirking. He sobered when the Justice pronounced his sentence.
The Central Square guillotine was not often used. Public execution was reserved for treason, which was rare after the Redsea Revolt. The device was more historic landmark than regular part of the city’s judicial system, but it was still kept sharp. A school field trip was winding down its lecture when Theodore was marched into the square to meet his end.
Whatever triumph Theodore felt drained away when he saw the blade. His throat clenched, picturing in his mind the sharp crescent dropping to cut through flesh and bone. A razor singing through the air to divide Theodore from his life. It was over. All that was left was for him to die. He inhaled, taking comfort in the fact that he’d chosen this.
The Knight Bailiffs yanked Theodore toward the guillotine, up onto the stage. He had drawn a reasonably large crowd of spectators. Conrad stood at the front of them, meeting him straight in the eye. Theodore laid his head onto the lunette before the knights could force him there. They locked him in place. The executioner gripped the release lever. Theodore closed his eyes.
There was a shout. Theodore opened to his eyes to see the executioner stumbling around the stage. A tawny red-tailed hawk thrashed and clawed at him as he flailed to get away. The knight toppled backwards off the platform trying to escape.
“Percy!?” Theodore shouted. More knights stormed up onto the stage with swords, and prince threw out his wings.
“Stop!” he said. “I am Perceval Stonewall, crowned prince of Laien! You will not harm this man!”
Conrad held his arm out to block his subordinates. “Stand down! It’s true! It’s him!”
“What are you doing here?!” Theodore said, astonished.
“Growing up,” Perceval said. “I saw you turn yourself in. The more I thought about what you said, the angrier I was with myself.” He turned back to face Conrad. “I’m done running! Release the faun and bring her here!”
Conrad searched the prince’s eyes. Theodore wondered if he was good at judging the motives of birds. “Do as he says,” he told his men. “She will still be detained at the court. Bring the fairy here!”
The knights scattered, and in short order Oboe was brought to the square without chains.
“Wh-what!?” She ran up to him only to be blocked by crossed halberds. She leaned to peek through them. “Percy?! What’s going on??”
“Let her pass,” Perceval said. The knights stepped aside, and she approached. “Oboe. I’m sorry for causing you so much trouble. If you can, I need you to change me back.”
She fought against tears. “I thought you wanted to escape? You’re supposed to be free!”
“I thought so too.” He shook his head. “But I realized that I’ve been selfish. I have a duty to fulfill.”
Oboe shot a suspicious glance at Theodore before looking back. “But it’s not what you WANT!”
He looked up toward the palace and sighed. “Oboe. Please. It’s okay. Use your magic one more time.”
Oboe was quiet, her expression in conflict. Hesitating, trembling, she reached out and touched the hawk. The magic flowed out of her, spreading across the hawk like tree roots. When the glow subsided, her hand rested on the cheek of the prince. The prince was human once more. He stood for everyone to see, naked. Theodore was dumbstruck by what he was seeing.
The crowd erupted into whoops of shock. Conrad took up the canvas meant to catch Theodore’s severed head and blood, and gave it to the prince to drape himself in.
Perceval took a moment to flex his fingers before looking at Oboe. Her face was dribbling with snot and tears.
“Thank you. I’m sorry for everything.” He turned to face the crowd.
“Good people of Laien!” He projected. “I am Perceval Stonewall, heir to the throne! Let it be known that, as their prince, I burdened this fairy and this man with helping me to run from my responsibilities. So loyal were they that they were both prepared to die for my selfish wish. They have shown me what duty looks like! Therefore, I have returned and will submit myself to serving you all. Forgive me this indiscretion!”
The crowd cheered. Theodore supposed that the prince’s public speaking lessons had been worthwhile after all.
Perceval approached the Knight Detective. “You need not worry. I will come quietly. I expect father will be furious with me. In the meantime, I want Theo and Oboe released.”
“The Ranger Deputy has confessed to treason!” Conrad said.
“On my orders. I realize I have been selfish. No one needs to die for me today. I want all charges dropped for both of them.”
“I am your prince. I mean to make up for my mistake. Go over my head if you dare, but I will see to it that anything you do to them will be done to you once I am king.”
Conrad curled his hands into fists. “Yes, your grace.”
Bending down, Conrad regarded Theodore like a cowpie he was expected to handle. He pulled Theodore out of the lunette, and with the click of a key his shackles fell to the ground. He leaned down to whisper into Theodore’s ear.
“This isn’t over.”