The body was taken. The spriggan hurried to smuggle the heavy corpse out of sight and out of mind. Theodore did not move. All round him, the stadium hollered and whooped and hissed. The last of the mist faded. As the heat of the battle left, the pain in Theodore’s side sharpened. He could hear Gardner Feather, now Fair Lady, delivering a speech, but it was just more noise.
There was no way to describe how he felt. Relief, joy, disgust, anger, and the uncertainty over what he had done left him numb to everything but the hole in in his waist.
Oboe appeared out of the blur of his vision. She had something in her hands.
“You did it.” She was holding his glasses. The frame was twisted, but she bent it back in place and set the pair of lenses back on Theodore’s face. The arena came into focus, filled to bursting with creatures cheering and weeping. It was done. Whatever the cost had been, the crisis was over.
“Thank you,” Oboe said.
Theodore tried to walk and almost collapsed from the pain. She caught him before he could fall, and carried him from the battlefield. His fingers found hers and they locked together.
The fairy healers fussed over him to speed the healing and dull the pain. Bedrest was prescribed, but the Titled nagged and pestered for the Fair Lady’s Champion to attend every ceremony and be seen. It was something Theodore tolerated but was only truly present for if Oboe was beside him. It was strange to be called a champion, like his father, but it did not bother him the way he thought it would.
Perceval arrived with his retinue when word spread. He had the smile of an anxious gambler, someone who won big and knew he needed to cash out before luck took its turn. He hugged Oboe but hovered near Theodore as if he might shatter.
“I knew I could count on you guys,” he said.
“What’s the situation outside?” Theodore said.
Captain Redriver saluted. “We’re in the process of vacating, per royal order.” Myra’s tone and posture were more proper than usual. “There’s been some disturbance among Red Cap supporters, but nothing major. We’ve offered to leave support behind to assist as needed, but I expect the spriggan will prefer to handle it on their own.”
A gnome scuttled into the foyer, adorned in fanciful robes that dragged behind him.
“The Fair Lady is ready to receive you, your grace,” he said. “Please follow me.”
The group proceeded to the throne room, with Theodore lagging from his injury. The long ordeal had emptied him and left him with little besides a desire to sleep for months on end. He soldiered on knowing this would be the last of the ceremony. Oboe helped him along and together they arrived to find proceedings starting without them.
“…It does sadden me to say goodbye to my religious service.” Fair Lady Feather stood at the foot of her massive throne, her brow adorned with three almond shaped leaves. Her white mantle was replaced with finer brocade silks. “But I must believe that this is where I will serve the greater good.”
The room was packed with Titled of all species, and a few human nobles behind the prince.
“I know how you feel,” Perceval said, growing thoughtful. “This wasn’t the future I saw for myself. But now that I understand the mess we’ve been left with, I see it’s too big to ignore. …Ignoring problems is how things got this bad in the first place.” He looked around the room and smiled when he noticed Theodore and Oboe. “I want to make things right again between our people. If we can work together to do that, I think we’ve a shot of making this a real alliance again.”
“We are of one mind,” Feather said. She looked at the ranks of the Titled on either side of her, some with faces more inscrutable than others. “But I fear that there will be opposition among both of our peoples. The road ahead is long and difficult. Let us start down it.”
Over the course of the next few days, a new treaty was written. It did not contain any controversial decrees or new bylaws. It was more symbolic than anything: a reaffirming of the old vows with living witnesses and young new leaders. There was tense applause from the officials on both sides. A promise was made that would take a great deal of work to keep.