There was nothing Oboe could do. The palace doors slammed shut. Theo offered the best chance there was for peace and the Titled threw him away. Just like how Oboe was thrown away all those years ago.
Theo turned away. “Come on.” He let out a pained sigh. “We have to tell the Knight Captain the bad news.”
Oboe lingered, staring at the door and hating the Titled. She followed him down the steps to the shore and felt something harden inside her. The Titled were stupid, wicked, and cruel. She climbed into the boat, clenched the oars with tight fists, and rowed. She rowed to get them away from this place. She rowed to use up the anger building inside her. But it didn’t work. There was more hate in her heart than there was water to cross.
Something else was wrong. They landed on the far shore and heard shouting. Theo, alarmed, leapt onto the docks to see what was happening. Fairies in the street rushed to find places to hide. Whispers were cut short. A team of knights set up a blockade and it was all over before Oboe and Theo arrived.
“What’s going on??” Oboe said.
“Militants.” The watchman grimaced. “Got bloody with our lads again. Sent some of us to the healer. Took a squad and a half to get them all in irons.”
He let them pass. They followed the sound of hollering up the hill and found the source of the commotion. A nymph, bound in chains, flailed in the muddy yard of an old apple mill.
“This is our home!” His skin was like mossy river stone. His eyes burned white. “You think you can just waltz in and take over?!” He struggled to free his arms, to keep fighting. “You’re weeds! You hear me?! You’ve got no right!”
“Pipe down already!” The lead knight kicked the nymph onto his backside. The other captives, a mix of fairy creatures, stirred at the sight. “Make us regret letting you live! I dare you!”
Theo frowned at the violence. “Where’s Captain Redriver?”
They were sent to wait for her at an inn the Knights of the Realm had commandeered for its operations. Myra arrived not long after, her right arm in a sling. The bone was broken.
“I was lucky,” she said without sounding grateful. “Serves me right for trying to do things your way. Tell me you’ve got good news.”
They didn’t. It upset Oboe to hear Theo recount their failure. It hurt worse when her brother Fife joined them and she had to listen to the whole story all over again. Fife was anxious for news on what was happening at the council, but hearing it didn’t make him any happier.
“I didn’t think things could get any worse.” Fife paced the confines of the inn, tugging at his thinning chin beard. “Clearly I wasn’t imaginative enough! What are we supposed to do now?”
Oboe slumped deeper into her chair. She didn’t know. She felt helpless, like that nymph they saw. Chained up, useless, and angry. She could kick and scream and shout but it wouldn’t help. All she could do was listen to her brother and everyone else panic over how bad she and Theo screwed up.
“We’ll use force,” Myra said. Her patience was spent. “If this council doesn’t want to hear Grayweather out, I’ll round up the men and MAKE them listen to him.”
It was an idea Oboe liked. It would put the Titled in their place, but she already knew what Theo was going to say.
“Absolutely not.” His hands were steepled and tense. He sat at the table with all the fresh drawn maps, thinking and thinking and thinking. “Breaking the treaties is not an option. The Titled are backed into a corner. This can only turn nasty if we push them.”
“We can’t just let them be!” Fife said. “The knights are on the king’s orders to stay until they know the Circle can be trusted. That’s not going to happen if the Titled won’t even talk to us!”
“…There’s another option.” Theo was reluctant to name it. “We could send Oboe.”
She swallowed. She wanted to shrink into a mouse to hide in the chair cushions, but it was too late. Everyone was looking at her. Thrashing to sit up, stiff, she tried to look back at them.
“But you can!” Fife said. “Even if they don’t listen to you, they have to at least let you in the door! You’re the Queenslayer!”
“I’m not going back there by myself!” Oboe said, planted firm and heavy in her seat. “I’m not like Theo. I don’t know how to talk careful, and I hate them! I hate all of them!” Sending her would be the same as letting that nymph go free. She would rage and fight and hate and she knew that wasn’t the answer. “I’d just make things worse!”
“You’d be better than nothing,” Myra said.
“You don’t need a brute like me!” Oboe said. “You need Theo!”
Myra clawed at her own face. “But we can’t send him!”
“Then send someone else!” Oboe said. “Fife should go! He’d be good at it!”
Her brother let out a bitter laugh. “Are you joking? Do you think the council would ever listen to what a male fairy has to say? We’re too flighty, too headstrong and temperamental. And let’s not forget that I’m a traitor. I didn’t slay the fairy queen. I’m just an accessory, beneath consideration! The only thing the Titled respect are titles.”
Theo made a noise. A long gravelly sigh that pained him. He looked at Oboe, weighing everything in that head and needing an answer. She met his gaze.
He was asking too much. It was more than she could bear to go back to that wicked den of lies and tricks. Not by herself. Not without him. She wasn’t strong enough. It was more than she could bear.
“Are you going to make me go?” She said, staring.
Theo softened, sympathy welling up in his kind eyes.
“No,” he said. “You’ve been through enough.”
Myra’s groan was half snarl. “Then we’re right back where we started! What are we supposed to do?!”
Theo opened his mouth, hesitating. “There’s one other option.”
Oboe felt she might burst from relief. “There is??”
Theo pushed his chair back and got up to gather his things. “Fife is right. A title is the only way I can solve this. There’s no other choice. I have to become the Ranger Deputy again.”