As Theodore thrashed in the water, he regretted blowing off every opportunity he had in his life to take swimming lessons. All he had to do was make it to shore. Although he still needed to outrun the furies. And there was the matter of that giant briar patch wall surrounding the island. He decided this was a one-crisis at a time situation.
He swam as fast as he could, but did not get far. There was a muffled shriek and something clamped onto his shoulders and wrists. Theodore wrestled to get free but there was too many of them. The three furies worked together to haul him high into the air.
The furies carried him across the lake and to the far shore, where they dumped him on the ground like a load of wet laundry. Theodore flopped upright and fished his glasses out of his pocket to assess the situation. The good news was the furies had carried him over the wall into the Inner Circle. The bad news was that he was surrounded. Épée, the fury who apprehended Theodore on his arrival, was waiting alongside nymphs and fauns armed with cudgels.
“Words come down from the Fair Lady,” Épée said. “She wants to see the intruder.”
“You heard the commander!” The owl fury said. “On your feet, human!”
Theodore’s socks squished in his boots. It was going to be a miserable walk.
“I’m the Ranger Deputy,” Theodore said. “I have a right to be here.”
“Don’t recall asking your opinion,” Épée said.
Without much choice, Theodore was escorted by armed fairies through the Inner Circle. The beauty came as a shock. Immaculate gardens stretched all around him. Topiary sculptures dotted the landscape. Manicured, exotic trees curled their limbs in the air like crescents. Cottages of celadon were scattered throughout, but what was grander was the palace of crystal at the center of the island. Slanted towers rose a cluster of quartz stone. That had to be the fair palace. Theodore wondered if the Inner Circle dungeons were somewhere inside.
Massive bronze doors were pushed open. Épée pushed him inside. The interior was like a cathedral: stone walls arched high along a grand entrance hall. Tapestries hung throughout the hall, ancient heraldry. The same symbol repeated on each, an acorn with a keyhole emblazoned over a blooming oak tree.
“My lady.” Épée called. “This is the human that found its way into your domain. It claims to be the Ranger Deputy.”
Hooves clicked on stone steps. The Fair Lady descended a stair case. She was a faun, but enormous; more than twice the height of Oboe. Her horns curled back along her head and branched into pointed antlers. She was draped in a silk mantle embroidered with that same acorn. Three almond shaped leaves decorated her forehead. She swept across the floor and loomed high over Theodore.
“Greetings Theodore,” she said, her voice rich and husky. The guards knelt. “Welcome to my Fairy Circle.”