Huxley had, amongst his equipment, a lute, which he whipped out after a minute or two, with the aim of accompanying the travellers in their song. Sadly, the harmony soon became a painful cacophony and Huxley sat abruptly in the middle of the yellow dust path, looking very downcast.
They had gone about half a mile before Bomo noticed that someone was missing. He held up his hand.
''Wait. One of our fellowship is missing, perhaps in mortal danger.'' he said. It did not occur to him to turn his head in the direction from whence they had just come, in which case he would have quickly seen that the missing person was simply sitting on the ground, and that the only danger present was that his face might retain its somewhat sulky expression, should the wind change.
Stalker sighed. Gim tutted. Tim chuckled to himself, somewhat enigmatically.
''Well, he wasn't much use, was he.'' said Gim. ''Honest, he was making such a racket that we're better off without him, and it's not as if we've had a chance to...well, bond with him or anything, is it? She rested her hand gently on Bomo's arm, and they exchanged a long gaze, which was broken by a roar from Tim. A roar of laughter. Gim looked away, quickly, her face colouring.
''Let's face it, folks,'' said Stalker, ''He's a hermit. Doesn't that imply that he's supposed to be rather... solitary? I agree with the girl. We carry on.''
Gim pulled a face at being referred to as the girl, but looked pleased that she was being taken seriously.
''No, no, no!'' shouted Tim, saying the words three times for dramatic emphasis. ''The hermit – who, obviously ceased to be a hermit the moment he joined us, is meant to be with us. It has been... foretold...'' the last word tailed off, as he narrowed his eyes and stared moodily into the gloomy distance.
''Has it?'' Gim and Bomo said, in unison, locking eyes again for a moment, then looking swiftly back at Tim.
Tim turned his head to look at them. ''Oh – probably.'' he said, with a shrug.
''Well – that's that then.'' said Bomo. ''We have to look for the herm...I mean, former hermit.''
''No need.'' came a voice from behind them. ''The person formerly known as Huxley the Hermit has returned to your ranks.''
''Huxley! What happened to you?'' asked Bomo, smiling and clapping Huxley on the back. ''Were you set upon by thieves? Did you encounter a witch? Did you go off and have an adventure of your own, which you will recount to us late tonight when we are all gathered round the campfire, eating fish which we will have caught with our bare hands and roasted with wild herbs?''
The three other travellers all looked at Huxley, eager for his reply.
''No, none of those things.'' said Huxley, crossly. ''I was just sitting for a spell.''
''A spell?'' asked Tim, looking at Huxley in astonishment, and perhaps a touch of jealousy – he was the spell-maker round here, thank you very much. ''Are you, too... a wizard?''
Huxley gave an exasperated sigh. ''No, I don't mean that sort of spell. I mean I just needed to sit down for a little rest.'' They all carried on staring at him, Bomo and Gim looking disappointed. After all, two wizards would have been better than one. This fellow just seemed lazy.
''And, if you must know, I was annoyed.'' Huxley continued, his head bowed, abashed.
''Annoyed?'' asked Gim. ''Why? I thought we were quite a merry little band.''
''Well, the thing is... I was looking forward to playing my lute. I've never played it in public before, and I'm really rather good.'' The look that Gim and Bomo exchanged implied that they thought otherwise, and it was not missed by Huxley. He stamped one foot, in temper.
''But I am!'' he shouted. ''It's just that I can never get the fingering right for B flat, and that's the key you all insisted on singing in. It sounded terrible, and offended my musical ear.''
''Well.'' said Stalker, grinning, ''If that's all that's wrong, it's easily remedied. How does the key of A minor suit you? Huxley the would-be minstrel?''
''Huxley's face lit up. ''Why, that would be perfect! It's my favourite key. How did you know?''
''Never mind that. Now, if you agree, let us resume our journey. Huxley the Balladeer, would you care to give me a C chord?''
Huxley beamed, pleased with his new status, and strummed his lute. He looked at Stalker, who winked, and recommenced his song, in a fine baritone voice.
The travellers set off again, happy in song and companionship, not realising that the entire exchange had been observed. Two pairs of eyes followed them.