“Oboe? That faun?” The rabbits sat up. A pair of satin cotton tails, Angus and Bridget. “Last time we saw her she was with you.”
“That’s where she always is!” Angus said, the smaller of the two. “Why are you asking us where she’s at?”
Theodore sighed. “She ran off. Turned into a blue bird and flew away. Are you sure you haven’t heard anything?”
Bridget bent her ears forward. “You ought to ask some birds then. They got eyes all over the place and are awful gossips. Won’t ever shut up. One of them is bound to know something.”
“I tried that,” Theodore said. “I’ve been running around all day asking whole flocks and no one has seen anything.”
“Well, maybe she has some friends you could ask?”
“Don’t be dull, Angus!” Bridget said, nipping at him. “She won’t have any of those! The fairies get mad if you spend too long around a nameless.”
“Nameless?” Theodore felt like he’d heard that before. “Is that what the outcasts are called?”
“Oh, are you not familiar?” Bridget said, sniffing. “Yeah. That’s something the Fairy Circle does so you know who the criminals are. That’s why no reputable creature would associate with the likes of her. Well, not until you came along and made her your pet anyway.”
“Oboe is not a pet!” Theodore said. “She’s not a criminal, either!”
Angus scratched himself. “Nothing wrong with being a pet. Seems like a good gig, if you can get it.”
Theodore remembered Fern the crone making accusations that Oboe enchanted a human a long time ago. It was something he never got the chance to talk to Oboe about. It didn’t matter, though. Whatever happened before, he knew that wasn’t who Oboe was now.
“I’m sure the Circle had their reasons,” Bridget said. “Not that it’s rabbit business. Point is, you won’t find anybody who’d cross the fairies to befriend some bum faun.”
That wasn’t true. Theodore knew one other person who was Oboe’s friend: Thistle, the cantankerous old sylph. Theodore wished he’d thought of him sooner.
“Thank you,” Theodore said. “This gives me something to go on.”
It took some research to find Thistle. The old sylph lived alone near Moss Tub lake. Theodore was forced to traipse through stagnant pools and reeds to reach the entrance of a limestone cave. Junk was piled up everywhere: Crates, barrels, piles of saucepans, bottles, books, and rusted blacksmith tools. There were no fewer than six bicycles in various states of disrepair and two tattered old baby carriages. Theodore took great care to navigate through the junk, but still managed to bump into one of the piles. Saucepans came crashing down, making a racket.
“Who’s there?!” A gruff voice called out. “Who’s touching my stuff?!”
Thistle leapt out from around the bend of the tunnel wielding a broomstick. He buzzed through the air and perched on the tallest pile of garbage to gain the high ground. He aimed the broom like a halberd. Theodore held his hands up in surrender.
“It’s me! The Ranger Deputy! I’m not here to hurt you!”
The old sylph stared a moment, and scowled. His carapace was cracked down the middle and ragged along the edges. He looked as scrappy as the home lived in. He let out a grunt and threw his broomstick into a random pile. “What d’ya want?”
Theodore lowered his arms. “I’m looking for Oboe. Have you seen her?”
Thistle’s sneer faded, just a little. “No. I haven’t seen her. What, she’s not with you? That’s how she spends all her time these days. Not that I care.” He folded two sets of arms. “Child always had too much energy. Needed someone her own age to harass. Fah.”
“She hasn’t been here?” Theodore’s heart sank. “I was hoping you’d seen her. She ran off days ago and I’m worried.”
“Oh yeah?” Thistle twitched his antenna. “Did you finally get sick of her? Only way she ever left me alone was if I lost my temper. She’ll come back.”
“No, nothing like that.” Theodore wondered how good of a friend Thistle could be. He stepped closer across the clutter. “She was upset. She’d used magic on a human.”
“Whaaaat?!” Thistle jerked in shock and the pile of rubbish collapsed under his feet and buried him. “What?? No!” He burst out, eyes wide. “Mother of Magic, tell me this is a joke!”
Theodore bent down to help him up. “What’s wrong? Why are you shrieking?” Thistle grabbed him by the shirt and yanked him close. “If she enchanted a human that means she broke her promise! She’s going to turn herself into the Fairy Circle! They’re going to execute her!!”