“You know who I am?” Theodore said, surprised.
“Certainly. It is my business to know such things.” The faun bowed with an elaborate flourish. “I am Bassoon Woodwind, Fair Lady of the Whirlwood Fey Circle and vassal to his majesty King Xavier Stonewall of Laien.” She rose. Her smile was warm. “You are the Ranger Deputy, and the son of the Hero Champion Lance Grayweather. It is an honor to finally meet you.”
Theodore was disarmed by the show of etiquette. He mangled a stiff bow in return. Something moved overhead. He looked and saw furies scrambling along the rafters above, watching.
“Do not be afraid,” Bassoon said. “My spriggan will not harm anyone I name as guest. I apologize for the reception you have received. Had I known one of the First Born were coming, I would have made certain you were welcomed.” She sighed. “I regret to say relations between our people have been… tense following the violence of the Red Caps. But I believe I have you to thank for putting an end to that. You deserve better treatment than we have given you.”
“It’s fine,” Theodore said. He was happy so long as the guards stopped pointing knives in his face. “Perhaps I ought to have sent word ahead of my arrival. I came in haste because I am worried about a friend of mine. Her name is Oboe. I have reason to believe she is being held here as a criminal.”
“Ah, yes.” The Fair Lady fanned her fingers. “My wayward granddaughter.”
“Granddaughter?!” Theodore said. “You’re related?”
Bassoon ushered him down the aisle of the hall. “To be precise, I am her great, great, great grandmother, but that is too tedious to keep track of.”
It fit. Thistle mentioned the Woodwind family name. Oboe’s broken promise was to a grandmother. “Does… that mean she’s royalty?”
Bassoon restrained a laugh. “Your kings forbid us from wearing crowns long before you were born. Even so, no. My granddaughter deserves no such honor. Here in the Circle, a fairy must earn her title. We bequeath authority based on ability, not blood.”
“Where is she?” Theodore said. “Is she okay? I need to see her!”
There was a flicker of curiosity in Bassoon’s face. “Yes. I have her detained. I’m not certain what your interest is with her, but you should know that she is dangerous. Proven wicked.”
Theodore stopped in his tracks. “She was cleared of charges! She’s innocent!”
“That is not what she tells us,” Bassoon said. “She came to us screaming her guilt. She said she used forbidden magic on a human. This is not the first time, either. When she was young, we stripped her of her name and made her swear to never harm a human again. She is an oath breaker. It is our tradition to execute fairies who confess to crimes so great.”
Theodore clenched his fist. “You’d sentence a member of your own family to death?”
“Given the crime, certainly.” Bassoon mimed weighing scales with her palms. “Justice should not be obstructed by familial ties.” She let her hands fall. “Though, to be honest, it is hard to get attached when you have as many grandchildren as I do. It’s hard enough remembering their names.”
It was difficult for Theodore to imagine what that might be like. The only family he had ever known was his father. Thinking back, he felt ashamed of how little he cared when his father died.
“I understand this is your custom,” Theodore said, measuring his words. “But Oboe does not deserve to die. It didn’t happen the way you think. I want her released.”
Bassoon raised an eyebrow. “I do not think she wants to be released. She came seeking penance. Would you rob her of that?”
That gave him pause. “I want to talk to her.”
“Of course,” Bassoon said to his surprise. With a gesture, she summoned a fury from the rafters to her side. “Épée? Would you be so kind as to escort our guest to see the faun in question?”
The guard groveled at her feet. “I am a vessel for your will, my Lady.”
“Very good. Splendid.” Bassoon stepped aside for Theodore. “I would like to see you afterwards for tea, Deputy.”