The multi-day trek from Estbryn Forest directly to South Tower goes smoothly, aided by the detailed map Heppa produced when they traveled the same route in reverse a few months ago. Butterball does well on her first foray out of the woodlands and into the meadows. As they travel, Heppa again raises a topic they discussed with Thrandolil. “So I’ve been thinking about this ring…” she starts. “I don’t think we should give it directly back to Lady Sabine. Your mother might get in trouble.”
Tric does not care one way or the other whether they return the ruby to its previous owner, but he doubts that Mhaev would be blamed for anything. He suggests there might be some sort of lost and found that would allow for an indirect return.
Mhaev is the captain of the guard, responsible for the security of the Tower, among other things. Heppa does not see how she could not get in trouble about a theft there. How much does he love his mother? she wonders. Heppa may not always get along with Penna, but she would not want her mother to needlessly get in trouble. Tric, however, seems unconcerned on that front. Heppa suggests instead that maybe they could get Heledd to just put the ring back, but Tric counters that that might cause more problems. For starters, they would have to pay Heledd to do that, and he thinks she would likely steal something else while she is there.
Heppa’s next idea, that they give the ring to Mhaev, is even riskier. “Absolutely not,” Tric says. “Look, why don’t we see when we get to town if they even know it’s missing. They didn’t express any alarm when we were touring her collection, after all. I suppose one thing we could do is say that we found it on the Rats that we beat up and put away. We claim that we didn’t know what it was at the time, but that we consulted with Lord Thrandolil, and he determined it was of human manufacture and magical. That’s a possible angle.”
“But how would we know it was hers?” Heppa asks. She knows she is not a good liar, and if she can poke holes in this story, certainly others will be able to. She does not want anyone to lose a hand over this.
“If they know it’s missing and there’s a bill posted, like offering a reward for information leading to its recovery, we definitely should follow up on that… if you feel the need to give it back. But maybe you’re just borrowing it so that you can better understand it. Because she might not even know what it does, right?”
Seeking a way to feel less guilty, Heppa latches onto that rationalization. “Maybe we can give it more time to settle down…”
“That’s a good idea,” Tric agrees. “You can find out the full extent of what it is. And then if at some point she wonders where it is, that is when we come to understand that this is her ring.”
“Well… yes… After all, I don’t want to get your mother in trouble, and I don’t want to answer questions about how we got it… You seem like you’re all right with that, but I don’t know how we explain how we—”
“What do we have to explain?” Tric objects. “How we got it is, we found it on the Rats that we took down. And we only bring it back if at some point they announce they are seeking to recover it.” If they are going to give the ring back, Tric favors pinning it on the Rats, and Sleidr in particular, since he is dead and therefore cannot catch them in the lie.
When Heppa still seems uncertain, Tric reluctantly offers another option: slipping the ring back into its case the next time they have a tour of the library. That seems rather dangerous to him, though, given that it was right next to the other ring, Kachen’s emerald. Heppa wonders if just leaving it on the library table would suffice, but that introduces the mystery of why there are two rings, the real one and the decoy Heledd left in its place. It could potentially raise questions that they do not have answers to, at least not good ones. Ultimately, Tric leaves the decision up to Heppa, and she agrees that it is too risky.
“At some point, we’ll figure out a way to return it,” Heppa says, kicking the proverbial pinecone down the road. She wants to do the proper thing, but she is glad of the opportunity to experiment further with the ring. “We’ll hold onto it until we have a good reason that we know it goes back to her,” she decides.
“For all we know, she stole it from someone else,” Tric points out. “We don’t know how she got it. And we didn’t ask the question of how she got the elvish broach.”
Satisfied, Heppa tucks the ruby ring away in her bag. While they are in South Tower at least, there is no good reason to have it visible. And with no planned ambushes on the horizon, there is no reason to walk around slightly uncomfortable with it on her toe.