Episode 7 Chapter 6

The arguments started before everyone was seated. The palace solarium, with its tall wide windows peering out over the Circle and the valley beyond, was prepared to host the Council. A massive, round, oaken table had been assembled and matched with plush chairs, benches and cushions to accommodate every type of body. Theodore entered to find they’d dawdled too long, and the first shouting match had started without him.

“Are you BLIND or STUPID?” A pooka rabbit, with silky black fur and a plum colored coat, stomped across the table. “Look outside! The humans are everywhere! Are we supposed to tolerate this? Wait until they cross the lake to depose us? Tell me!” Theodore guessed this was Countess Thornberry. She was using the table to add to her height, which was necessary because she was arguing with High Lady Willow: A leshy who, even sitting, loomed over her.

“Think about this, you little rat,” Willow said. Her long hair hung in a thicket of brambles over her diaphanous robes. “This is not a fight we can win. Even if we drive the knights from our land, more will come. Picking a fight will drag us all into an endless bloody war with the most powerful kingdom on the continent.”

“Then you say we should roll over!” General Warsong snapped her beak. “Let them have their way with us!”

“I have a better idea,” Theodore said. He picked up two chairs and made a place for himself and Oboe at the table. “We work through this. There’s no need for a war, and there’s no need for the Circle to lose its sovereignty.”

“Look, you see?” Thornberry gestured with a padded paw. “There’s even a human in the palace! They’ve even taken our right to speak freely!”

“Let the human hear.” Beira Stormbreak sounded amused. “Let him see that we are not afraid. The fairies of the Whirlwood were here before the humans came, and we will remain long after they are gone.”

The last of the highest of the Titled found a spot at the table. Each was a leader of one form or another, who told other leaders what to do. They seemed the same as the nobles in the capital: they were accustomed to having their way.

“It’s been demonstrated that Bassoon planned to overthrow the king with the help of a Feymire Army,” Theodore said. “It’s impossible for us to know who among you were complicit with this scheme, and it’s understandable that you all would be anxious about what the crown intends to do as a result. Let me assure you that our purpose here is simple. Our peoples have been friends for generations. I want to do everything possible to make sure that continues.”

“‘Friends.'” Beira smacked her lips, as if tasting the word for the first time. “Tell me, Deputy, is it friendship that compelled you humans to place a ban on fairies in your city? Is friendship the reason why our streets are overflowing with soldiers armed with iron weapons? I’m very curious.”

Gardner Feather stood up. “With respect, Countess, it should be clear that we have lost the trust of the humans. Whatever other problems we have, there is no denying that Bassoon acted wickedly.”

“Take that back!” An old gnome Baroness said. “I’m not going to sit here and listen to you insult our Fair Lady!”

Oboe slammed a fist onto the table, drawing everyone’s attention. Her face was clenched as tight as her hand. “My grandmother was wicked. She hurt creatures, she planted spies, and all she cared about was herself! She’s the reason this happened.”

“Shut up, nameless!” The gnome said. “No one gave you permission to speak!”

The Hive Mother let out a low grumble. “Baroness, any creature capable of slaying the Fair Lady is worthy of our respect.”

“A nameless is less than a creature,” said High Lady Willow. “A nameless is nothing. Yet she is here, a living insult. A murderer and a traitor. She is the real cause of this disaster.”

“Don’t blame a soldier for following orders,” Countess Beira said. “It’s obvious she slew our Fair Lady to help her human masters. That is where you should direct your outrage.”

Theodore felt a flicker of anger he had to stifle. Caution was needed. The wrong choice of words could do more damage than good. He looked at his friend. She glared past the Titled, enduring their words.

“Queenslayer is name enough,” the Hive Mother said. “She is here by rights. As long as her violence has ended, the law says she is welcome.”

“Yes, I agree.” Beira tilted her head toward Theodore. “Might I suggest a shorter leash for your mongrel? She looks ready to bite.”

Oboe muttered something.

“What was that?”

“I said you deserve this!” She said. “You’re awful! I hope the humans take over! I hope they punish all of you!!”

An icy mood descended over the room. Theodore itched with panic. He could not fault Oboe’s anger, but they were standing on the edge of a dangerous cliff. He got up.

“I want to propose a solution.”

“Do you.” Countess Thornberry looked prepared and ready to be unimpressed. “What is it that you have to say that could possibly fix all of this?”

“You want our forces to leave. I respect that. The treaties promised fairies authority over their own affairs, and we are an outside force exerting control. The King wants is to know that the conspiracy to overthrow him died with Bassoon. What’s needed is transparency. If the new Fair Lady can consent to routine inspections, proving you mean no ill will, I can persuade the knights to withdraw and leave you to govern yourselves.”

“Ridiculous!” Warsong said. “You expect us to expose ourselves so fully?”

“Do you mean to say your soldiers cannot protect you if you show them to us?” Theodore said. “Or are you saying you aren’t brave enough to trust us?”

The General’s feathers puffed, furious at both slights. “No! Do not be absurd. Fine. Inspect our forces, and know we aren’t afraid of you!”

“I believe this offer is the best we can hope for,” Feather said. “It will take time and effort to rebuild trust with the humans, but the Deputy is giving us a clear road to that goal.”

A gentle murmur rose up among the Titled. Theodore relaxed. He could feel the tension lift. He could hear argument, but the fairies were considering accepting his plan.

“I have a question,” Beira said. “On what authority do you intend to arrange all of this?”

Theodore paused. Something was wrong. “On my authority as Ranger Deputy.”

“I see.” Beira looked off to the side, and a serving nymph approached holding a piece of parchment. She offered it to Beira’s neighbors. “I ask, because it’s come to my attention that you were fired from that position. I present a copy of the form we intercepted.”

“This is an official dismissal!” Countess Thornberry said, passing it off to the next creature. “Signed and sanctioned! He isn’t the Ranger Deputy anymore!”

“Do you deny these facts?” Beira asked Theodore.

Theodore hesitated. “I–“

“What is this?!” General Warsong said. “A trick? He has no title!”

“So what?!” Oboe shouted. “Why does it matter if Theo has a title?? He’s trying to help everyone!

“If he has no title, then he has no right to be here,” said High Lady Willow. “He has no authority!  He can’t change anything! This is a waste of our time. Call the spriggan! Get rid of him!”

Fairy soldiers approached Theodore from behind and took hold of his shoulders. “Wait,” he said. “I may not be Ranger Deputy, but I can still make this work! I can help you!”

“Let go of him!” Oboe said.

Beira crept around the bend of the table, chuckling to herself. “How did you put it before? Every creature has a right to protect itself. I won’t let you deceive us, and I won’t let humans take advantage of us.” She turned to order the spriggan. “Throw him out.””

“No!” Oboe knocked her chair over, spinning around to fight. “I won’t let you!”

“Oboe, don’t!” Theodore said, holding a hand out to stop her. “She’s right. I don’t have a right to be here.” He presented himself to the spriggan to be escorted out. “I wanted to help, but I refuse to start a war. I’ll go.”

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