The Court of True Spring is making ready to send their Queen on her journey to the Trident, and all is going well, though all the change and activity has some courtiers on-edge. As the sun begins to set, the Brotherhood notices a commotion at the far end of the camp. Following the noise, they see Lafayette returning, carrying an unresponsive Rosita in his arms. She is wearing Lafayette’s jacket. And nothing else.
Lafayette says that he and the girl were both out in the Hedge (he was hunting, she was gathering Goblin Fruit), when the Hedge suddenly began to get dark, much more quickly than any natural sunset. The little swamp-noises went totally silent, and he felt… something evil and clammy passing by. He never saw it, and it had covered its tracks and scent with Nevertread, but whatever it was, Lafayette could feel its Wyrd from pretty far off, warping the Hedge to match its dark and silent mien. As soon as Rosita is out of his arms, Lafayette begins taking deep pulls on a bottle of moonshine, in order to block out the crawling sensation of being watched.
Rosita is taken to Granny Smythe’s hut, where medical diagnosis confirms their worst fears: the girl has been raped. Her bruises show that she fought, and the cuts on her skin show that she ran. Lafayette’s description seems to implicate the Slender Man, but to their knowledge, El Pallido has never raped anyone before. Caden soothes her sorrow away, and they ask her who did it, but Rosita is unable to answer. She can speak just fine, but an examination of her Wyrd reveals that she has been bound into a Pledge of silence: she will likely never be able to tell them the identity of the one who raped her, or anything about how it happened.
Jack and Caden go to break the news of their discovery to the Queen. Jim and Alexandre set off to track the monster through the Hedge, but Swamp Thing tells them not to bother; there are dark things in the Hedge at night, and the trail will be long-cold by the time they find it. If they find it. He counsels them to remain in the Hollow on patrol, and make sure that whatever did this to Rosita doesn’t come back.
The Queen is furious, of course, and cancels her return to the Trident indefinitely. She cannot leave her subjects alone in the Hedge while this thing may still return and harm them. She orders that the watch be tripled tonight, and an additional guard be set around Granny Smythe’s hut, in addition to the protection offered by the Brotherhood of the Willow.
Just as the Brotherhood begins to feel powerless, Granny Smythe makes a suggestion. Rosita is prevented from telling them what happened, but by examining her dreams, they may be able to learn some clues about who (or what) raped her. As outsiders, the Brotherhood would be unbiased observers, and would be more likely pick out the significant clues that her subconscious would bring up, without imposing their own preconceived notions about Rosita onto her dreamscape. The motley eagerly agrees: Jim and Jack will dive into her dreams; Caden and Alexandre will stand watch; Granny Smythe will observe their progress from outside the dream.
The dream begins at a quinceñera for Rosita. A lot of girls and boys her own age are there, as are her parents. But the cake that’s brought out looks just like Rosita’s naked body, and when the first slice is cut, blood gushes from the cut, and it begins to scream. Horrified, Rosita rushes from the scene, fleeing deeper into her subconscious, tearing her lacy red formal dress on the sawgrass Thorns of the Hedge that surrounds her Hollow. She finds a raft and begins to pole away from the shore, only to be attacked by rotting waterlogged hands that reach out from the depths of the black water. Jim becomes an enormous, protective dog, and leaps onto the boat; Jack lights up his eye, and by the time the light hits the raft, he’s already there. The hands are beaten back, and the raft makes it ashore, but a low, angry growl is sounding from the woods ahead of them.
They catch a glimpse of golden fur before an enormous beast lunges out of the verdure: a mammoth golden-retriever, with a fresh-groomed coat and a playful bandanna around its neck, offset by the foam on its lips and the blood on its muzzle. This is clearly a family-dog, but it is a family-animal no more. A fierce battle ensues, and eventually they bring the beast down. Cutting open its belly reveals a human body inside: it’s Rosita, wearing a red, hooded cape.
“Looks like we’ve got a big bad wolf in the fold,” says Jack, recognizing the obvious symbolism.
Jim and Jack return to the Hedge and make a beeline for Lafayette. Jim takes him easily, without ever being noticed by the still-inebriated woodsman, until Jim’s meaty hands clasp firmly around his snout. As the coming dawn begins to lighten the camp, the Court of True Spring is roused by the commotion, just in time to see Queen Isabel question Lafayette, confirm his guilt, and personally execute him with Jim’s cold iron knife.
She turns to her subjects and announces that the plan has changed again: they have all spent too long in the Hedge, and their sense of right and wrong, their sanity, their Clarity, have all suffered in their long absence from human contact. Lafayette was a warning to leave the Hedge, to return to the world of the mortals and see just where they stand in terms of their sanity.
“The season has been long and hard,” she tells them, “And my people have grown starved and lean. But it the lean season is finally at an end; Spring is returning to Miami.”