Episode 7 Chapter 22

Oboe winced at the healer’s glowing touch. The pain in her shoulder was numbed to a faint reminder, and then the human stitched the hole.

“You’re sure she’s not wicked?” He said.

“Oboe is one of us!” Theo said, pointed. It was the third time he vouched for her. “Just help her.”

The healer dressed the wound with salve and bandages. “That should do. Try not to do anything strenuous for a while, and you’ll be okay.”

Oboe wasn’t sure she could make any promises. Thistle was already going to be mad at her for transforming. She’d popped her hand wrappings again by changing shape, and the burns on her hands still hadn’t healed. It didn’t matter. Beira was still out there, scheming, and that meant the whole kingdom was in danger. “Thank you,” she said.

The ice dripped. She helped Theo and the knights collect the dead and dying throughout the farming village. On the edge of the manor yard, a handful of creatures the humans had captured were chained up. They cursed and shouted about revenge and never shut up. These were the sorts of fairies the knights knew best. It made Oboe wish the humans would just kill them too, at least until she noticed the pity in Theo’s face. Oboe reminded herself that those fairies had loved ones and families. No matter how stupid they were being, this was still a tragedy.

The bodies were lined up. Ten mutilated humans, and almost as many fairies. A knight marched up the row of the dead, waving a censer smoking with sweet smelling spices. He sung, wordless, hanging on long aching notes. Oboe didn’t understand the ritual, but it made her feel grateful he did this for the creatures too. Maybe the Mother would forgive them.

“Oboe,” Theo said. There was quiet now as everyone watched the ceremony. “…We should talk. About what happened before.”

It was true. “Not now,” she said, standing next to him.

They listened to the song, until it was cut short. More than a hundred knights came marching into the village. Their shiny armor clattered, drowning out everything else. They wore capes, and fancy helmets, and looked so much larger than the battered team of watchmen that had saved the village. In front of them all was a mean little knight with a big stupid feathered hat.

“Where is the commanding officer?” Conrad Whitechain said. “Report!”

Fritz shuffled out into the open. His hand was pressed against his bandaged side. A hint of red stained through. His hair was ruffled, and there was still a smear of blood on his face.

“Danger’s over. Beat the bastards back, but it cost us.” He waved at the line of bodies. “Civilians are confirmed safe. Their homes aren’t doing so great, though. Creatures used storm magic, and it’s hurt the harvest bad.” He sucked air through clenched teeth. “Gonna be a hard winter.”

“This is unacceptable,” Conrad said, surveying the carnage. “We have most of the Watch and two knight orders assigned to the valley, and these creatures are still out of control!”

Theo stepped forward. “The Watch isn’t at fault. This was a plot.”

Conrad’s eyes fell on Theo and Oboe. He pushed a handful of fingers into his own face, bottling a tired laugh. “Grayweather,” he said. “How is that whenever something goes wrong, it is always you I find at the center?”

“Shut up!” Oboe stomped up to face him. The men at his side drew their swords, but Oboe didn’t care. “Theo came to warn everybody! He’s the reason the village is saved!”

Conrad turned his head to look at the icy crop fields. “I suppose some of it still stands.” He resumed glaring at them. “Your foresight is as convenient as it is peculiar. Rest assured that once there is time to investigate, I will tear down the veil and show everyone what you truly are.”

“Hey detective,” Fritz said. “Not to intrude on your pissing match here, but lay off. If the Ranger Deputy hadn’t told us this was coming, we’d have lost the farmers and the crops. We got bigger problems right now.”

Conrad’s face turned grim. “You are correct, Lieutenant. This calls for drastic action. If the Watch cannot keep these creatures under control, we need to call in the royal guard. It’s clear you all are being too lax on the Circle.”

“You can’t do that!” Oboe said. “The Circle is angry and scared. If you bring in more soldiers, you’ll just make things worse!”

“What matters right now is order is restored. If the Fairy Council cannot control its people, then it’s time we stepped in and trained them to be loyal and obedient.” He threw an arm out at the farm. “We cannot allow things like this to happen!”

“Listen to me, Conrad,” Theo said. “The one that led this attack is a unicorn called Countess Beira Stormbreak. She’s a Red Cap sympathizer, a radical. She did this to provoke a war, and if the crown responds this way then we are doing exactly what she wants!”

“If I wanted the advice of a traitorous liar, Grayweather, I would’ve asked for it.” Conrad straightened his gloves. “The king cannot tolerate this. I will speak with him directly and we will respond appropriately.”

“She wants us to get angry,” Oboe said. She felt hot, thinking of how Beira tricked her at the council. “That’s not the answer. We should be calm, and careful, and smart. That’s the only way we can save the Circle.”

“Fuck the Circle!” Fritz said. He pointed at a dead knight on the ground. “You see that? That’s Jeremy. He’s got three kids. Suzy, Ryan, and Anne. What do you think is going to happen to them? Who do you think has to tell his wife about this?! If fairies are going to pull shit like this, they deserve whatever is coming to them!”

Oboe held his gaze, not knowing what to say. She saw grief in his eyes under the screaming. She wondered what to do.

“I want platoons two and three to stay here and keep guard,” Conrad ordered. “Everyone else, back to the capital! The King will decide what happens now.”

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