(This story is a sequel to "Out of Character", and is a part of the "Honey emerges from wrapstuff, and Aftermath" storyline -- see listings for related stories.)
**Badger's blood, that reeks,** Willow sent. She gagged as she held open the small bladder into which Beetle was pouring a foul-smelling tea of stinkleaf, stink bugs, and bat dung they'd scooped from the floor of the small cave they were currently inside. Though they were a decent distance away from the Holt, Willow continued sending to avoid any accidental eavesdropping. **Don't get any of that on me!** she pleaded. She had removed her wrist wraps for good measure, but it was clear she didn't want to take any chances with the foul-smelling concoction spattering onto her clothing.
**I'm trying to be careful,** Beetle responded, with her nose also turned away from the foul-smelling vapors. When she had finished pouring the liquid into the bladder, she sat the cook-pot down and retrieved a bit of leather string to tie it off.
Both of them heaved a sigh of relief when the bladder was securely fastened. Willow motioned to the beeswax, which had been heated into a liquid, and Beetle nodded. They poured the wax over the bladder, and spread it as it cooled, making certain that the whole thing was covered. Once the wax had cooled, Willow carefully lifted the bladder from the ground and carried it to a “conveniently” right-sized hole near the crook of a tree. She made sure no one was looking and ran back to the cave. **That ought to be really potent in a couple of days. Hopefully the wax will keep the smell in.**
**It will. And we can rub it down with lavender oil before we set it. She seems to like that scent – it won’t be as noticeable.** Beetle’s mind-voice was full of excitement – she was actually working on and would be key in executing a prank, which she had never done on this scale before. It didn’t mean she wouldn’t be a suspect, though, not with her relationship with Willow.
**We have to get the scent off our hands first!** Willow reminded her, chuckling. **We stink!**
**Not as bad as Honey will! Come on, let’s go to the hot-springs. The sulfur smell will help mask some of what we’ve been doing, and the oils I have will help even more!** Peering out of the cave, Beetle added, **The sun is coming up! I bet most of the others have headed back by now!**
“And why do you need the vest again?” Notch asked, eyebrow raised, as Beetle lifted the carefully selected garment from a pile of others in his den. He was about to leave on a hunting trip, and had been about to step out of his den when his half-sister had come to ask him for his extra vest.
**Because you just wore it. Your scent's still strong on it. And send, please! I don’t want us overheard!**
**And you’re sure you aren't just trying to frame me by making them think I did it?** Notch clearly wasn't convinced, though he switched to sending. There was a hint of pride in what he sent, sharing that although he was being cautious, he wasn’t against the idea, either.
Beetle smiled widely and shook her head. **We're getting something of Chicory's and of Rainpace's, and Willow's even trying to twist Pathmark's arm into loaning us his hat. She says the scents will be so mixed up in that old den, no one will know who was there, exactly. Then again, the stink from the bladder will probably be so bad that our scents won’t really matter. But it never hurts to be safe.**
Notch shook his head. **Until Honey goes crying to Windburn about your prank and he asks you to send about who did it. He's going to find out, you know. What makes you think I should risk my hide like this just to help teach Honey a lesson she's not going to learn?**
It was a good question. And why would she think he’d risk his hide, except that he had done it numerous times over the years, and often for no better reason than to have success with a prank. This prank had purpose… just like the ones he had tricked her into almost a turn ago. But this time, the target was not human, but elf. And this time, real harm was being done every day by that target. Honey was almost completely intolerable. Notch knew that—he’d witnessed his other sister’s feud with Honey and seen what she could do. He had to be tired of it. Maybe… maybe he and Foxtail already had something planned!
She confronted him, **I’m not really risking your hide, brother. Your scent will be there, but so will a lot of others’. I’ll be away at the time of the prank. And you, Foxtail, and Rainpace are going hunting. Just take a little longer than you planned.**
Notch shook his head. **Slow down, sis. I'm not saying Honey doesn't deserve to be pranked because of how she's been treating others, or that it's a bad idea to try to confuse her about who is responsible. But I just want to make sure that you and Wil' have thought this out. All right, you'll be wearing others' leathers to hide your scent. But what about those who are going to be at the Holt when the prank happens? Given how Honey has been railing against Wil', don't you think she would be the one to take the blame for what you're both doing? You know someone is going to have to take it, and I don't think Honey's riled anyone else up enough who would turn to pranking for revenge.**
Beetle nodded. She and Willow were counting on Honey pointing a finger at the healer. Honey had been unfairly targeting Willow since her unwrapping – and Beetle was pretty sure no one could deny that. And when the prank was over, Honey would blame Willow as the source of the rotten stench she would manage to stumble onto—even though there would be no trace of Willow’s scent there if Honey even bothered to try and figure out who it was before she decided she knew who had done it.
Willow and Beetle hoped that this incident would force more than one person to say something to Honey about her behavior. Beetle shared those sentiments with Notch. **I think we can count on Honey to at least play her part.**
Notch harrumphed. **This is going to cause ripples, sister. And don't be so sure she won't end up pointing her finger at you before it's all finished. You're going to be guilty by association.** He shook his head. **I wouldn't place any bets on Honey's continued silence after this, even if it does put her in her place for a while, which I doubt it will. Honey’s never really “learned” from a prank in the past. But, if it makes you and Willow feel better to try, then have at her.**
Beetle frowned. **It doesn't matter. We want her to say something Actually, we know she will. She probably won’t even bother to look for a scent trail, so the clothes probably don’t even matter. And even if she does end up flushing me out for doing it, she'll still be ranting. At least that will give us the opportunity to point out how unfair she's been over the past hand of days.**
She paused then, trying to think of more she could say to try and convince her brother, but before anything came to mind, Notch smirked and continued. **Take the vest. Teach her a lesson. Teach it to her good. But if anyone asks... I had nothing to do with it, all right? Nothing. I think you're poking a stick into a hive of angry bees.**
Beetle chuckled to herself. If anyone could deal with bees, Willow could, and she and Willow had come up with this plan. It had to work.
The tribe, well -- those who were at the Dentrees at least -- had gathered close to morning to bid the elves leaving to shadow the human tribe farewell. Willow had left the Holt with Pathmark the previous night, to raid a bee-tree a half day's distance outside the thornwall. The healer had wanted to see Beetle off this morning, but knew she had to be away from the Holt and with someone who could vouch for her whereabouts.
Once the 'shadows' were out of the immediate Holt area, Beetle claimed to have forgotten a bag she had meant to take on the trail and turned back quickly, promising to catch up to the group. She and Rooter raced toward an area near the river close to the Holt. When she had triple-checked to make sure everything was all clear, Beetle stopped at the hidey-hole – large enough for an elf, but not big enough even for sleeping – and stripped herself of clothing. She looked for the bowl of lotion she'd planted there that was designed to hide scent, and smeared it all over her legs and torso, but not her face and neck.
Then, as an added precaution, she began putting on the clothes they had gathered. First, she drew on Evervale’s leggings. The plantshaper had loaned them to her moments after she’d shaped this small changing den. Then, she pulled a silken shirt belonging to her mother over her head. It was loose, but at least it smelled of Starskimmer. Her mother was aware of Honey’s behaviors toward Beetle and Willow, and she seemed only too happy to help in some way, although she’d made it clear she didn’t want to know what was going to happen.
After putting on the shirt, she added Notch’s vest, then pulled Foxtail’s winter poncho over that. Longshot's gloves, courtesy of Pathmark, were next, followed by Chicory’s winter boots, which had been retrieved at Notch’s request from Chicory’s den by a very willing Crackle. Notch had commented to Beetle that he hadn’t told Crackle why he really needed them, and that he expected when she found out, she was going to be quite upset with him. As finishing touches she added Pathmark’s cap, then Rainpace’s wrist wraps.
She knew that hairs from tribemates had been scattered over the clothing, and she hoped that some of those hairs would fall nearby, further confusing who had been involved in the trap – if Honey even bothered to look. Knowing she was ready and had to move fast, Beetle took up the bladder, which had been wrapped in one of Crackle's old furs (Crackle had unwittingly dontated the fur to Notch for whatever prank he was going to play against Chicory), and stepped out of her hiding place. Then, stealthily, she moved to a place many an elf had observed Honey fleeing to over the past few evenings when she was upset after an argument – an old, small, abandoned den within earshot of the Holt.
Beetle laughed to herself when she recounted what Evervale said Crackle had told her about the den.
”I don’t go there any more, Evervale!”
“Because… Honey goes there – a lot! Any time she’s upset, you can be sure to find her there!”
Beetle peeked around to make sure no one was nearby or inside. Honey had been there recently – her scent still lingered – but she was not there now. Old bedfurs were strewn in a corner of the den. Beetle smiled to herself as she hurriedly arranged the bladder among the furs in a manner that had it covered and yet exposed at the same time. Hopefully, when Honey was upset, she wouldn’t be paying much attention to her furs as she threw herself onto them to cry. Everything was set. Now all she and Willow needed was for Honey to get upset enough to visit the den. The longer it took, the stinkier she would be.
Following a quick wash at the river to remove the scent-hiding lotion, she put on her clothes, rushed to the Holt and to her den via the outside to grab the 'misplaced' bag, and then went back to where she’d left Rooter and turned her wolf back after the human-scouts.
The honey-harvest had gone well. During her outing with her brother, Willow had managed to fill one of her baskets to the brim, and the other nearly a quarter of the way full. She smiled.
She and Pathmark had parted ways when they had arrived at the Holt – he wanted to go replace the spear point he had broken while on the outing, and Willow could take care of divvying out the beesweets herself.
“That's a different sight.” The words drew Willow from her contentment. Honey was climbing down from the entrance to Whispersilk’s den.
Willow was surprised to see Honey wearing an old pair of leggings and a poncho, but then figured Whispersilk or Nightstorm might be doing some adjusting to Honey's new outfit. She decided that was better. If this was the opportunity she hoped it would be, then Honey’s new clothes wouldn’t be ruined by the foul liquid in the stink bladder. That would prevent any anger over Honey's new clothing being ruined.
Honey managed a look of contemptuous surprise. “It looks like you’ve been doing actual work. It must have gotten boring sitting around waiting for everyone to fawn all over you for having powers.”
Baiting Honey into the trap might be altogether too easy, Willow mused. The stink bladder should have been placed in that old den an eve and a bit more ago, by Willow's calculations. “Harvest was good,” Willow replied, forcing her voice to sound flat. “But don't think you'll be getting any of it.”
Honey's eyes narrowed. She didn't look surprised by Willow's declaration - if anything, she looked smug about the Healer's decision. She managed to sound hurt and righteous at the same time, as she protested, "Trust you to play favorites. I have as much right to that honey as anyone else!"
“You forget that I'm the one who gets it, and I'm the one handing it out.” It was Willow's turn to look smug. “And between Starskimmer's needing some for honeywine, and others who have asked me nicely for some, I just don't think I'm going to have any left for you.” She adjusted the strap of her honey basket and then brusquely walked past Honey to head to Starskimmer's den.
Honey's eyes filled with artful tears. "Of course you won't," she cried dramatically. "You may as well have left me wrapstuffed if you weren't going to accept me as a member of the tribe again. You've made nothing but trouble."
Willow rolled her eyes, then turned back around. “Oh, please, Honey. Can't you come up with anything new to say besides that? Do you really think it makes anyone feel sorry for you? No one feels sorry for you. I know I don't. But if you're so dung-rot set on blaming us unwrapping you as the cause of your misery, why don't we just fix your problem? Let me go get a Preserver – I think I saw Berryflop just a moment ago. We'll just wrap you up again, and then the rest of us won't have to listen to your rotted bellyaching anymore!”
The tears spilled over at that, and Honey drew a near-sobbing breath in before saying brokenly, "You'd do anything to get rid of me again, wouldn't you?" When Willow shrugged carelessly in reply, the sobs became genuine, and Honey fled, crying helplessly.
Willow felt a surge of satisfaction swell in her chest at the reaction – it had been all too easy to bait Honey into fleeing. She shook her head and shrugged in show for those who had been watching the little exchange, and then she acted like she was going on toward Starskimmer's den. She did her best to act normal, but all the while, she was listening.
A short while later, Honey's scream of dismay as she burst the stink-bladder that had been placed in her hide-away rippled through the Dentrees as though it had happened in one of the upper dens. Willow bit her tongue to keep from laughing, did her best to feign a spot-on confused – yet surprised – look, and waited for the rest of the trap to unfold.
A reeking Honey returned to the Holt before Mother Moon had risen another hand's length in the sky. She was dripping wet – obviously from a failed attempt to wash the stink off her. She glared at Willow, who was still conveniently outside talking with Pathmark, but said nothing to the healer before she stormed inside Windburn's den.
Moments later, Windburn and Whispersilk pushed the stinking Honey outside, with apologizes that, due to the stink, they couldn't talk to her in a closed space. Others were gathering.
Starskimmer, who sent a quick, **Thanks for the beesweets,** to Willow, moved away from where Honey stood, her nose wrinkled up at Honey’s foul odor. Willow knew that Starskimmer was in on at least some of what had happened, but also knew that the breweress would remain silent.
Dreamflight came rushing into the clearing, a fish still in her net. She must have thought Honey needed help, but as she approached her mother and caught a whiff of her, she stopped and backed up.
Honey looked in humiliation at the those who had gathered, but not too closely, and stopped when she was facing Willow. "I know you did this," she said softly, a bare hiss. Windburn and Whispersilk looked at her. Surprisingly, neither of them seemed angry, which seemed to raise Honey's ire further. "She put that stink bladder in that den, knowing I'd go there and that... this... would happen!” She gestured helplessly at her wet clothes, soaked with the scent.
Willow's brows lowered and she turned to face Honey. “I did no such thing!”
“She's been gone with me the past night and a half,” Pathmark interjected on his sister's behalf. “How could she do that when she wasn't even here?”
“Everyone knows I use that den. She could have set it before she went off with you. It was her! I know it was!” Honey insisted. “And I can't wash off the smell!”
Whispersilk spoke up, “Honey, you can just throw those old clothes out. I’ll be done tending your clothes before dawn.”
“Willow’s lucky I was wearing these old scraps,” Honey stated. She looked at the healer. “What would you have done if I had been in my new clothes? That was their hard work you almost ruined,” she said as she motioned to Whispersilk. Then she added, “You’re good at ruining things.”
“You saw her do it?” Whispersilk asked.
"No," Honey admitted. "But she's had it in for me since she first woke me up. And if she didn't do it alone, she might have had help."
"Who?" Windburn asked. "Notch...?"
Starskimmer shook her head. “He and Foxtail have been out hunting the past two eves. I don't think he's had the time.”
Whispersilk agreed. “You’ve been in that den since they've been gone—I ran into you yesterday when you were coming out of it.”
Honey didn’t deny it. "Whoever it was, Willow had her hand in it, you can be sure." Honey sniffed artistically and dragged a hand across her wet cheek.
Willow almost replied, but Pathmark crossed his arms over his chest and spoke before she had a chance to. “You've been picking on Willow a lot lately. And what has she ever done to you?”
With that, Willow grinned inwardly. Having sweet-tempered Pathmark plead her case was more convincing than anything she could possibly have said herself. It was even better because he had known she and Beetle were planning something, though what exactly, he hadn’t learned until now. She was certain he would talk with her about it later, but for now she was glad her brother was on her side.
Though Windburn raised an eyebrow at Pathmark and shot a very hard look at Willow, he did not argue with what Pathmark had said. “Where did this happen?”
Honey became even more upset because no one was offering any sympathy. “In an old den. It was a bladder filled with stink-juices that exploded when I lay on the dingy old furs I had stored there." She looked sideways at Windburn under her lashes. "You know Willow's always been a trouble-maker, and associates with trouble-makers. This is just her style of prank and I'm certain she did this!"
Dreamflight interjected, “Mother, you know no such thing. You’ve been targeting Willow since you were brought out of wrapstuff. Just because someone got tired of you wanting everyone’s pity doesn’t mean that it was automatically Willow. I’m tired of it, too, but I didn’t set the bladder. Anyone could have.”
“Whispersilk pointed out that you were in that den yesterday. The usual pranksters have been gone,” Windburn stated flatly.
Nightstorm, who had been listening off to the side, crossed her arms. “Does it really matter who did this prank? It's more than clear that it was an action provoked by behavior that was clearly out of line.”
Honey looked hurt and more tearful, clearly distraught that those who had just spoken weren't standing up for her.
Just then, Thornbow arrived, panting, with his bow and quiver still slung over his shoulder. “But that doesn't mean that those who were gone weren't involved in some way. Think about it, Beetle could have done it before she left. She’s likely as upset with my sister as Willow is.”
Willow figured Honey must have sent to Thornbow and called him back from his hunting when the stink bomb had exploded. Even he took a step back from Honey when he caught whiff of the horrid stench she was bathed in.
Thornbow continued, “No one here has gone through what my sister has gone through. Sure, she's awake and well now, but what's the same for her? I can't think of much of anything that wouldn't have changed in her eyes! It's harder on her than most of you could imagine! Whoever did this--” he glared at Willow, “--should think about that before heaping humiliation onto her.”
“And we should sit and do nothing while Honey constantly berates my sister, who did nothing to her but help her?” Pathmark asked, incredulously.
“We should show my sister some consideration!” Thornbow shot back.
“Enough!” Windburn shouted, clearly tired of the bickering. Everyone fell silent save for Honey, who wouldn't stop crying. “What's done is done. Two wrongs do not make a right. Was the prank proper?” He looked pointedly at Willow, who was still succeeding at keeping a straight face. “No. Do I think Honey's been hard on the Healer?” He paused, and looked equally as pointedly at Honey. “Yes.”
Honey looked wounded and surprised, sobs still shaking her.
“You didn’t happen to catch a scent of who might have been in that den before the bladder went off, did you?” Thornbow asked, hoping to take pressure off his sister.
Honey shook her head, and that made Willow want to laugh at herself for all the extra steps she and Beetle had planned to throw off the trail. They should have known they didn’t need to be so careful. Still, it never hurt to be safe.
“The stench has probably covered any scent trails that might have been left by the prankster.” He looked at Willow again, eyebrows lowering. It was very clear he didn't think Willow was innocent. “Now... Call it even, both of you!” the chief continued, ignoring Honey’s posture of disbelief. “Willow, Honey, whatever your differences are. Work them out.”
Honey, clearly unsatisfied with the outcome, burst away from the group to find solace and solitude somewhere. Thornbow cast Willow one final suspicious glare before he followed his sister; Willow shook her head after him as he left. Dreamflight, surprisingly, didn’t follow her mother this time.
**I can't believe what Thornbow said,** Pathmark lock-sent quietly to Willow. **Hurting or not, Honey has no right to treat you – or anyone else – the way she does. I can't believe Windburn didn't say anything else about that.**
**Thanks for sticking up for me,** she sent to her brother as they both turned and headed toward the river – in a direction well away from Honey's smell-tale whereabouts.
Pathmark gave Willow a knowing look. **I know you and Beetle had something to do with this, and I don't really agree with how you went about what you did... but Honey has been acting awful. How could I not take your side? Sticking together during hard times is what brothers are for.**
Willow sighed inwardly. Pathmark was right. Siblings did stick up for each other. She shouldn’t have expected anything less from Thornbow. The issue of Honey's behavior had been raised and partially addressed, but as long as Thornbow made excuses for his sister's actions, Honey would not stop behaving badly. Willow guessed Honey's version of 'settling differences' would involve no apologies on Honey's part. And Willow wasn't about to apologize when Honey had been wrongly railing at her. No way.
So neither side had won. This challenge had ended in a draw. It hadn't gone the way she and Beetle had expected it to at all.
Who knew such a simple lesson would turn out to be so hard to teach?