Theodore let Oboe take the lead. She changed directions, doubled back, and led them down a careful winding path with no seeming rhyme or reason. Theodore was anxious the prince would be spotted but Oboe made sure they did not cross paths with any more knights. It was impressive.
When they reached the cottage meadow, Theodore bristled and yanked Perceval’s hood down over his eyes.
The office yard was crowded with creatures again. There was a troop of sweat covered fishmen, a mess of sylph, a pair of disgruntled looking werewolves, a napping black bear and more.
“Keep your face covered!” Theodore said. “A creature is liable to recognize you. Some of them read the newspaper!”
“We have to be careful,” Theodore said, stepping out into the meadow.
“Whoa, hey? Are you opening?” A Magpie fluttered down from the treetops and landed on Theodore’s shoulder. “Hi! I’m Pip! I need your help!”
Theodore shook the bird off and Oboe hurried the prince toward the office door. “The office is not open yet! Come back later.”
The crowd stirred. Heads turned. A sylph stretched its wings. “Oh! Is the office open?”
“You’re late!” One of the werewolves waved a pocket watch in a clawed hand. “I haven’t got all day!”
The bear rose with a yawn, shook the dew from its fur and padded toward him.
Theodore sucked in a sharp breath as the creatures moved to surround them. “No! We are not open yet! You can all go back to sleep!” He pushed his way through the lot of them, panicked.
“The door is open!” The werewolf said, pointing. “That means you’re open!”
Theodore slipped inside after Oboe and Perceval. “It’s closing now! Go away!” He locked it before they could argue. Door pounding and muffled shouts followed. Theodore leaned against the door and sighed.
“What’re we gonna do??” Oboe said. “There are all sorts of humans stomping around looking for Percy and now we have piles of work to do.”
The prince peeled back his hood. “It’s fine. I can hide out here until the heat dies down. Go ahead and take care of your business.”
“The office won’t stay safe for long,” Theodore said. “If they’re tracking your aura it’s only a matter of time before they check here again.”
“Hey, your window’s open.” Pip the magpie peeked inside and hopped onto the kitchen window sill.
Theodore wrenched Perceval’s cowl back in place and marched into the kitchen “We still aren’t open! Please leave!”
The bird craned his head at the leftovers on the breakfast table. “Oh wow, pancakes and eggs. That’s cool. Hey, speaking of eggs, you think you can help me rescue my mine? They got stolen and I am TERRIFIED about their safety.”
Theodore groaned. “This is not a good time!”
Perceval followed him into the kitchen. “What if Oboe stays with me? She did great avoiding the soldiers. She can make sure I don’t get spotted while you do your job.”
Oboe stepped back. “N-no. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
The black bear climbed into the window frame from outside, pushing Pip onto the floor. “Is this like a service window? Hi. I need service.”
Theodore slapped his face. “Can this wait?”
“I don’t think so? Knothole Grove is on fire. That should be urgent, right?”
Theodore’s knees buckled. “What?! For how long?!”
The bear shrugged. “Since before the sun came up. I don’t know. I’m a bear! You’re the species that measures time.”
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?!”
“Well, the office has been closed,” the bear said. “Not sure what I was supposed to do.”
Oboe glanced between the bear and the prince. “This is bad! You can’t be everywhere at once!”
“I don’t have to be,” Theodore said. The prince had the right idea. He took hold of Oboe by the shoulders. “I need you to look after him while I take care of this backlog. We don’t know how long they’ll be searching for him, but you’ve shown you can outsmart them.”
“Me??” Oboe said. “You can’t leave the prince alone with me that long! I’m a fairy too! What if I enchant him?”
Theodore raised an eyebrow at her. He had only ever seen her use her powers to transform herself. As far as he knew, she had never used magic on anyone else. “You’ve done fine until now. Why is this a problem?”
She clawed at her fingers. “W-well, I don’t HAVE to enchant anyone. I magic myself to survive. But…” She gestured towards the prince’s leftovers. “It’s like if you’re real hungry, and you’re hanging out with the tastiest pancakes in the world all day. You don’t have to eat them, you can promise not to eat them, but just seeing them makes you hungry. It’s not safe.”
“You’re being ridiculous,” Theodore said. “I know you. You’re helping Perceval out the goodness of your heart. There isn’t anyone I trust more.”
She covered her face, a blush on the tips of her ears. “Really?”
There was still the problem of that aura tracking machine the knight detective had. “Take him to Crookhole Mine. The magic ore should stop them from locating you. If a patrol swings by, move him somewhere else. Make sure he doesn’t get caught or lost and stop any other fairies from finding him.”
“I don’t mean to interrupt,” the black bear said. “But the grove isn’t getting any less on fire.”
Pip fluttered onto Theodore’s soldier. “Yeah! And maybe you can help me about my eggs afterwards.”
“I’ve got to go, Oboe.” Theodore opened the door and the creatures outside started shoving and shouting for help. “I’m counting on you.”
He shut the door before anyone else saw the prince. Every creature in the yard was shouting for his attention. He straightened his tie, and got to work.