Theodore sat under the garden gazebo, furious. In every direction he was surrounded by flowers kept with immaculate care. Bushes of blue moon roses lined the garden paths, mingled with hanging sprigs of deep-red amaranth. He glared as the Fair Lady poured him a cup of sweet-smelling jasmine tea.
“Your laws are very clear on this matter.” Bassoon shoveled sugar cubes into her own cup. Given her size, it was less a cup and more of a bowl. “No fairy who uses magic on the royal family will be suffered to live.”
“She was pardoned!” Theodore said, planting his palm on the table. “Cleared of all charges!”
“There is the matter of our own tradition.” She sipped with dignity. “It is disgraceful for a fairy to turn against humans. We are loathe to tolerate such brazen wickedness.”
“Oboe is not wicked!” He said. It angered him how often he had to argue something so obvious. “I don’t care what your customs say. As Ranger Deputy, I am ordering you to suspend any and all execution. I want her released into my care.”
The Fair Lady placed her cup down. “Are you certain that’s wise? Let me remind you, she has a record. Something like this might happen again.”
“It won’t,” Theodore said. “I trust her.”
Bassoon leaned forward, cradling her chin with her finger. She studied Theodore in a way that left him feeling naked. After a moment, she stood up with a sigh.
“Very well,” she said. “I will surrender custody to you.”
That was it? “You will?”
She stared out at some distant topiary. “Far be it for the Circle to refuse an order from our lordship.” She twisted to look at him. “If I may be so bold as to offer a suggestion, perhaps it would best to linger a while before taking the doeling away. She has been… volatile. I doubt she will cooperate unless she is given time to calm down.”
Theodore supposed this much was true. “That’s… sensible.” He knew Oboe would not be happy when he came to tell her she was free to go.
“In the meantime, please partake of the pleasures of our Court. The servants can see to anything you might need.” Bassoon stepped out into the garden to admire her roses. “If you will excuse me, I need to attend to other important matters.” She smiled. “I hope I can expect a social visit from you in the future, Deputy.”
“I…” He felt disarmed. “Of course. Thank you.”
The Fair Lady strolled away, leaving Theodore to watch as his untouched tea cooled. After so much anxiety, it was strange to have a moment of calm.
He got up. Wandering the gardens, he wondered how angry she would be with him. Maybe it was wrong of him to impose this on her, but he knew she didn’t deserve to die. After all she’d done for him and the Whirlwood, she was a hero in his eyes. There had to be a way to convince her of that. Maybe a commemorative plaque to recognize her service. No. That was insensitive. She didn’t have a proper home in which to hang one.
He skipped a stone across the lake. Whatever. She could be angry. It was better than losing her. He grew tired of waiting. She was up in a tower upset and he was down here mulling around. They needed to talk, hash things out. Maybe then things could get back to normal. He made his way back to the palace.
The Inner Circle was eerie in its stillness. Everything was so clean and well kept, it was hard to believe anyone lived here. Perfect, but empty looking cottages dotted the garden path. Even the wind was absent here. His eyes were drawn to a fury in the sky, the only activity he could see. She dived into a landing at the entrance of the palace, dropping a wriggling pooka onto the ground. Theodore watched from afar.
“He told me he was a dungeon inspector!” The pooka said, popping onto his feet. It was Rupert, the jailer Theodore had met earlier.
Épée swiped at him with her talons. “I don’t want to hear it, worm! You let a captive escape! You are an embarrassment to the troop! A stain on our honor!”
“Okay, that’s fair,” Rupert said. “But, in my defense, he was real convincing. Just ask Benny!”
Épée narrowed her eyes. She pulled out a small pipe whistle off her belt, bit it in her beak, and blew. Three notes like a caterwaul. The shadows against a nearby wall deepened into a dark passage. Rupert bristled at the sight of it.
“Wait, wait, wait!” He held his hands out, eyes wild. “You can’t put me in the labyrinth! It was an honest mistake! I’ll do better! Last one, I promise! Give me another chance!”
The fury punted Rupert through the portal. Theodore gasped. Épée turned as he approached.
“Why did you do that!?” Theodore said. “I’m welcomed here now! You didn’t have to punish him!”
Épée rose to her full height. “Stay out of this, human. This is Circle business.”
“This is my fault, not his.” Theodore said. “I tricked him!”
“Do not tell me how to discipline my men.” She snapped her beak at him. “I don’t care what you think. This is fairy land. We do not tolerate weakness here. Leave. Go cower behind your city walls, where you belong.
Épée took wing, disappearing into a high window of the palace, leaving Theodore beside the gate she had opened. It wasn’t fair that Rupert should be punished because Theodore failed to announce himself properly to the Circle. He needed to set this right before he took Oboe home. Theodore stepped through the dark passageway.