The Heart of the Oak
Puck, or the infamous Robin Goodfellow, as he was known in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, had another name, once. A human name, belonging to a lanky, red-haired boy, who had been the neighbor of a shy farm girl in the Louisiana bayou. Robbie Goodfell, as he called himself back then, had been my classmate, confidant and best friend. Always looking out for me, like an older brother. Goofy, sarcastic and somewhat overprotective, Robbie was…different. When he wasn’t around, people barely remembered him, who he was, what he looked like.
It was like he simply faded from their memories, despite the fact that whenever anything went wrong in school—
mice in desks, superglue on chairs, an alligator in the bathrooms one day—Robbie was somehow involved. No one ever suspected him, but I always knew.
Still, it came as a shock when I discovered who he really was: King Oberon’s servant, charged with keeping an eye on me in the mortal world. To keep me safe from those who would harm a half-human daughter of Oberon.
But also, to keep me blind to the world of Faery, ignorant and unaware of my true nature, and all the danger that came with it.
When Ethan was kidnapped and taken into the Nevernever, Robbie’s plans to keep me blind and ignorant unraveled. Defying Oberon’s direct orders, he agreed to help me rescue my brother, but his loyalty came at a huge cost. During a battle with an Iron faery, a brand-new species of fey born from technology and progress, he was shot and very nearly killed. Ash and I brought him here, to City Park, and the dryads took him into one of their trees to sleep and heal from his wounds. Suspended in stasis, the dryads kept him alive, but they didn’t know when he would wake up. If he woke up at all. We had to leave him behind when we left to rescue Ethan, and the guilt of that decision had haunted me ever since.
I pressed my palm against the mossy trunk, wondering if I could feel his heartbeat within the tree, a vibration, a sigh. Something, anything, that told me he was still there. But I felt nothing except sap, moss and the rough edges of the bark. Puck, if he still lived, was far from my reach.
“Are you sure he’s in there?” I asked the dryad, not taking my eyes from the trunk. I didn’t know what to expect: his head to pop out of the wood and grin at me, perhaps? But I felt that if I took my eyes away for a second, I would miss something.
The dryad girl nodded. “Yes. He lives still. Nothing has changed. Robin Goodfellow sleeps his dreamless slumber, waiting for the day he will rejoin the world.”
“When will that be?” I asked, running my fingers down the trunk.
“We do not know. Perhaps days. Perhaps centuries.
Perhaps he does not want to wake up.” The dryad placed her hand on the trunk and closed her eyes. “He is resting comfortably, in no pain. There is nothing you can do for him but wait, and be patient.”
Unsatisfied with her answer, I pressed my palm against the tree and closed my eyes. Summer glamour swirled around me, the magic of my father Oberon and the Summer court, the glamour of heat and earth and living things. I prodded the tree gently, feeling the sunwarmed leaves and the life running through their emerald veins. I felt thousands of tiny insects swarming over and burrowing into the trunk, the rapid heartbeat of birds, dreaming in the branches.
I pressed deeper, past the surface, past the softer, still growing wood, deep into the heart of the tree.