HoneyBeard and Herby sat together on the beach. BugleHead lay morosely behind them in the seagrass. Even the Jaspers seemed subdued. But the Lapises were cleaning and tidying the house as if the reduction in the number of occupants was something of a convenience for them. Most of the morning had passed, and neither Nelda nor SmithGuild had returned.
"Idiots of a feather," HoneyBeard said.
"I thought she would be a good bad influence," Herby said. "Turns out she was a bad good influence."
"Hard to tell apart," HoneyBeard replied sympathetically.
BugleHead's contribution to the conversation was a sad, protracted bleating sound.
HoneyBeard tried to console him. "She was going to go home eventually, brother. You had to know that." Then to Herby, "And I think she had every intention of leaving the gryphon behind."
Herby grimaced. "I am quite sure Smithy acted on his own gallant impulse. What surprises me more is that I think if I had been there, I might have gone also."
"Really?" HoneyBeard asked. "Even if you ended up being a Nelda on the other side. It's not a very robust sort of form."
Herby contemplated the seaward horizon. "I have a theory about that. You two kept your forms when you went over to her world. Maybe the reason Smith did not is that he has some kind of attachment to Nelda that… aligns their forms. Makes them more compatible, pragmatically speaking."
"Loooooooooove," intoned BugleHead. "Truuuu loooooove."
"He's something of a romantic," HoneyBeard explained.
"It's the leading cause of idiocy," Herby added. "Love."
HoneyBeard nodded. "I thought I was immune to the idiocy part of that process, but then I found myself burying a unicorn horn in a midden because a patchwork person asked me to. And then I thought—mercy I've caught it too."
"As a herbalist, depending on what we do next, I think you could still recover."
And they both thought in unison: But what if we don't want to?
BugleHead sat up, his head popping into view above the grasses. "You have the treasure?"
HoneyBeard twisted to look at him. "Nelda said that if she went back, she wanted you to have it."
"Bleeeeeeeat." BugleHead flopped back onto the sand.
"Do you think it's real?" Herby asked.
"I suppose with the medicinal properties it might make more sense to give it to you." HoneyBeard conceded.
BugleHead popped up again.
Herby shrugged. "That's all just superstition," she said. "I wouldn't consider it any more than a curiosity. Nothing of real value."
BugleHead flopped down again.
"So what are we going to do now?" HoneyBeard asked.
We could just go back to our lives.," Herby replied. "The centaurs would probably escort you home in return for the alicorn, although I would suggest that you have it held in safekeeping rather than deal with them in trust.
"That option will always be available," HoneyBeard said. "In the meantime, we could go to that parlay and find out about this other what-you-say 'who-man'."
"And why would we do that?"
HoneyBeard scratched his chin and thought a moment. "One reason might be that prophecy is, by its nature insidious and not easily defeated. So Nelda may well end up back here at some point and need the information. Another is that pictures are open to interpretation, maybe Nelda comes first, then the other who-man, then the nastiness. I hate to think there is just us between the world and a cataclysm, but they do say the gods like to laugh."
"Hmmm," Herby played with the sand listlessly. "Or possibly you are making up excuses for an act of sheer idiocy in the protection of our dignity."
"' Our' dignity, sister?"
"I am certainly not letting you borrow my brother's boat without supervision. That would grossly irresponsible."
BugleHead popped up again. "Izz we goin' on a 'dventure?"
HoneyBeard winced. "I suppose I was bound to catch it sooner or later."
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