She drew closer, as if gliding down the steps and across the ground. Oboe’s fur stood on end. Grandmother’s aura washed over her like hot sunlight. The wolf tensed, claws scraping the ground, eyes wide. He understood enough not to run.
Grandmother moved like a river: flowing and shaping the land where she went. She was like the biggest of trees: Rooted, immovable, and ancient. Her antlers were a sharpened crown of bone. Her white-silver fur was without flaw. She looked down, her face unreadable. Her gaze fixed them in place.
“It would seem,” she said, “that there is unrest in my garden.” She tilted her head toward the wolf. “Young human. Do not be afraid. Tell me why you are here.”
The wolf stared, terrified. “This… I…” He fumbled to get the words out. “I’m… Russel! Russel Redford! From North Manor! Olan’s boy! I was out chopping wood when this fairy came!” He glared at Oboe. “She changed me into a wolf!”
Grandmother curled her slender fingers. “I see.”
“She ran, so I chased after!” Russel bared his teeth. “She doesn’t care what happens to me! It isn’t right! My father is the Alderman, you know! If you all don’t turn me back, I’ll tell him, and he’ll tell the king! Then you’ll be in trouble!”
Raising her brow, grandmother looked at Oboe. “Little blossom, let me see your mantle.” She clicked her tongue at the crest. “As I feared, you are one of mine. Clear as the day, for all the Circle to see. What’ve you to say for yourself?”
Oboe backed away. Her heart fluttered and hammered. She scanned the stadium seats, looking for her father. All she found was Fife watching her with big scared eyes.
“I… don’t know,” Oboe said. “He’s making it up! I didn’t do anything!”
Grandmother’s eyes opened, sharp as razors. “Do not presume to lie to me, child. Magic speaks. You did this. You have gone wicked. You have been caught. The law says that I am to give you to the humans, and there is no doubt that they will squeeze the life out of you.”
“No!!” Oboe covered her face. “No! You can’t!” She fell on her knees at grandmother’s feet. “I don’t want to die! I’m your granddaughter! Please! I don’t—” She choked. Her mind raced with all the awful things the humans might do to hurt her. Tears poured out of her eyes. “I just wanted you to like me! Please! I’m sorry!!”
The elder faun narrowed her eyes. “Russel Redford. Does anyone know that you are here?”
“What?” The wolf blinked at her.
“No. You said you chased right after.” She took a step closer, studying his face. “Were there any witnesses?”
“Y-yes! Yeah of course! So you’d better change me back, or else!”
She grabbed him by the head, smiling.
“Good. No one knows. Then this is between us.”
Russel struggled, his body convulsing. He wasn’t strong enough to pull himself free. His body twisted, changing, until it took the shape of a man again. Grandmother released him and he dropped naked onto the ground. He looked up. There was a fading light on his forehead.
“I have given you your body back,” Grandmother said. “And I have placed you under a geas. Be warned, human, because if you speak to any creature of what has happened to you today then you will grow sick and die. Now go in peace, live, and never return.”
With a wave of her hand, furies dove into the arena and seized Russel. “Wait!” He said, but they dragged him away before he could finish whatever he meant to say. With that done, Grandmother turned her attention to her granddaughter.
“What is your name, little one?”
“Oboe.” She wiped her face, feeling relief. “Oboe Woodwind.”
“Oboe Woodwind!” Grandmother said the name so loud the whole stadium could hear. “Today you have shamed yourself, your family, and the Circle. You have turned wicked and put our friendship with Laien at risk. I have spent a great deal of Fates to hide your crime. Do you regret what you have done?”
There were hundreds of eyes on her. Oboe felt hot and sick. She wanted to run, but her body wouldn’t listen. She stared at her grandmother, trembling. “I’m sorry!” she said. “I made a mistake!”
“Then swear to me now, on your life. Never again use your magic on another. Never again bring dishonor on the fairies of the Whirlwood. Never again bring a human into our home.”
Oboe couldn’t breathe. “I… I promise! I won’t be wicked! Not ever again! I’m sorry! On my life! I promise!”
“Then I will not kill you. But there will still be a cost.” She reached down and tore Oboe’s mantle off her shoulders. “No longer are you worthy of the Woodwind name. I strip you of it! Let all here bear witness!” She opened her arms toward the crowd. “This fairy has no name! She is no fey, but a curse! There is no place in the Circle for this one! May she only know scorn and suffering!”
Oboe covered herself. Furies appeared and wrenched her hands away.
“But… I’m your granddaughter!!”
“No longer.” She ripped the mantle and let the tatters fall. “You are banished from this Circle. Return and I will butcher you myself.”
The spriggan guards pulled Oboe away. She fought, kicking her legs. “No!! Please! I live here!!” She shrieked as they bound her in chains. “Dad! Fife! Anyone!! Help me! I don’t want to go!!””
Her eyes met Fife’s. He was watching from the stadium seats. She called for help as loud as she could. He covered his eyes and turned away.