Mazimba headed back towards his bedroom deep in thought. He had been planning to go out and see his friends this afternoon, as he usually did on the weekend, but his conversation with his grandmother had left him a little sombre and preoccupied. He didn’t think he would be very good company today.
He had liked Fevan immediately when he’d come upon the group surrounding her yesterday. Despite her weariness, she had been engaging and friendly with everyone who spoke to her, and nothing she had said later on their climb up to Batefimba’s house had given him any reason to think she was here under false pretences. However, he had quickly noticed the pair of packolver guards following them at a distance, despite them holding their tails as still as possible and staying as close to the edges of the tree’s winding staircases as they could, to reduce the risk of detection.
The security operation hastily arranged by Monkeybreath had triggered memories of the story he had overheard her telling his grandmother a few years ago.
He had been in his room, upstairs from the living area, reading, but had decided to go to the kitchen for a snack. However, he had caught a snatch of conversation which carried from the adjacent lounge as he stepped through the kitchen doorway, and that had frozen him in place.
“I’m still embarrassed about it all these years later, Batefimba. I feel like I’ll never fully live it down.” It was Monkeybreath. That was how he and most of the community addressed her, though his grandmother still used her given name, the privilege of being a leader’s friend and closest confidante, even if his grandmother wasn’t part of the community’s council of elders.
“My dear friend, you well know that you did more than anyone else to save us,” he had heard Batefimba answer. “It’s why you have been our leader all these years. You have more than made up for any responsibility you bore with your tireless efforts to maintain harmony and mutual respect in our community.”
Mazimba was all ears. He had often wondered how a tree elf came to carry the ancient capanguta title of Monkeybreath, and had meant to raise it with his grandmother at some stage. Now he began to understand, as he listened to them talk about the arrival of Everarn, Monkeybreath’s infatuation with him, his grandmother’s suspicions, and the eventual uncovering of Everarn’s plot.
He hoped the two women had been too caught up in their own conversation to hear him moving in the hallway as he walked to the kitchen, otherwise they might have started wondering about the lack of noise from next door now, and he would have been summoned to explain himself.
He was in luck; the conversation continued uninterrupted. Too afraid to even sit down for fear of alerting the pair to his presence, and his eavesdropping, he stood dead still in the kitchen doorway for at least half an hour, listening with growing astonishment to their reminiscences.
At one stage he almost gave the game away when he caught himself saying out loud “Well done, Umamba.” He lowered his voice as he added: “Monkeybreath might have been the hero in the end, but your alertness was the key to saving the community.”
When, finally, he had heard movement, as both women stood up and Monkeybreath said her goodbyes, he had slipped back down the hallway and up the spiral staircase to his room, as silently as possible.
As far as he knew, neither of them had ever suspected a thing.
He would tell his grandmother that story at some stage. She would be wondering how he knew so much, he thought now as he stood at the foot of that staircase. It emerged on the landing outside his bedroom, directly above the guest room where Fevan now rested.
He glanced down the short hallway. At this distance, he could hear no movement from inside the room, but he carefully edged his way down the passage until he stood outside the door. Still no sound came from within, and he turned to head back towards the stairs, but as he took his first step, the shifting of his weight caused the door to click open. He remembered his grandmother saying that the door needed looking at.
Frantically flattening himself against the wall next to the doorway, Mazimba waited for an indignant voice from within, but none came. Perhaps Fevan was still fast asleep, and he should just head back to his room, and spare himself the potential embarrassment.
But he couldn’t help himself. Despite the risk of detection, he had to take a look inside the room, especially after this morning’s discussion. The veranda where Batefimba was enjoying her tea was at the other end of the house and faced away from this room, so there was no chance she would spot him.
Hesitantly, he took a single step through the doorway, just far enough to allow him to look around the door and see if Fevan was still in bed. If she was asleep, which would be no surprise, he would try to close the door again, gently, and she would be none the wiser when she eventually awoke.
Frantically flattening himself against the wall … Mazimba waited for an indignant voice from within, but none came.
But his first glance at the interior of the room sent a chill down his spine. The bed was empty and there was no sign of Fevan! The bedclothes had been pulled back into position, though, and the pillows fluffed. Just as Fevan had found them last night. There was no obvious sign of the room having been occupied.
As he took another step into the room, a breeze billowed the curtains and he realised the big window was standing wide open.
Fevan had escaped! A panicked thought crossed Mazimba’s mind. Clearly she was up to no good. She had used their hospitality to infiltrate Mighty Pine, and now she was on the loose and obviously set on doing something terrible to throw the community into disarray.
He wondered momentarily how she had got past the packolver guard captain, Carnotine, and his charges, though there had certainly been guards present when he had come upon the group speaking to Fevan.
Guards! He suddenly remembered the pair who had followed them last night, and rushed to the window, hoping to spot them. It occurred to him that they would probably have gone off duty by now, but he was certain they would have been replaced.
Sure enough, as he reached the open window, he saw one packolver, and then, as his eyes adjusted, another, in the shadows. They were concealing themselves as best they could on either side of the long staircase leading up to Batefimba’s front door, which afforded them a view of the whole house.
While their positioning would most likely have kept them hidden from Fevan, capanguta were renowned for their powerful vision in low light, and Mazimba had quickly spotted a prominent flash of white fur.
It seemed unlikely that Fevan would have been able to climb out of the window and make her escape without the guards seeing her, he realised, positioned as they were. If she had attempted it, they would surely have seen her and followed.
That calmed him a little, but not soon enough to stop him yelling out through the window: “Excuse me! Guards!”
The packolver to the left of the stairs quickly stood up on his hind legs, and Mazimba saw that the flash of white ran half the length of his right front leg, but the other limbs protruding from his uniform were all jet black, as was his head, with its distinctive canine features. He was familiar.
It was Panthozine, who raised a paw to his mouth to signal Mazimba to silence, then pointed, some way off to the young capanguta’s left.
As he turned to see what Panthozine was pointing at, Mazimba gasped in astonishment.
Some distance from the house, along the bough it was built on, and completely oblivious to the concern her absence had generated, Fevan was dancing, acrobatically, and with an energy Mazimba had never witnessed before. Leaping and whirling in the air at dizzying speed, somersaulting, landing with an extraordinary surefootedness, she seemed fearless, completely untroubled by the fact that she was some way above the ground and a fall could badly injure her. Even to an agile ape, it was a remarkable display.
Hoping she hadn’t noticed him watching her, he edged back towards the doorway and down the hallway, passing through the kitchen on the way to Batefimba’s veranda.
“Umamba! Umamba! Come quickly!” he blurted from the doorway.
His grandmother looked up with a start. “What is it?” she asked, concern on her face.
Mazimba put a finger to his lips, and turned, beckoning her to follow him. They crossed from the kitchen to the guest room, quickly but quietly.
As they entered, Mazimba pointed to the window. “Look out to the left, Umamba,” he said.
“My goodness!” Batefimba exclaimed as she saw Fevan, still dancing acrobatically.
“No wonder she’s known as Twinkletoes,” she said, unable to take her eyes off the pirouetting pine elf, clearly lost in her own world.
Suddenly aware that his grandmother might wonder how he had discovered this spectacle, and angrily tell him off, he decided to explain exactly how he had come upon this scene, telling Batefimba about the faulty door, and stressing his concern after their earlier conversation.
To his surprise, there was no stern response. “It’s all right, my boy. I understand you were worried. I have been worried too. I have been sitting out on the veranda trying to think of all the possible reasons for Fevan’s sudden appearance.
“But this is of great comfort to me. Her willingness to dance like this in a strange place suggests to me she must feel safe here. I’m hoping it signals that her presence here is genuine.”
“I hope so too, Umamba,” Mazimba replied. “However, now that I see how agile and athletic she is, it makes me realise we could probably have taken a quicker route back here last night than using all the stairs. I’m sure she could have stayed with me, jumping from branch to branch.”
“That’s true, my boy, but she was exhausted, and don’t forget, the guards may have struggled to keep up with you.”
“Yes, I turned briefly as we were walking up the first of those many stairs and noticed the guards. They were trying to stay concealed in the shadows, but I spotted some movement.
“That told me Monkeybreath had suspicions and I watched Fevan carefully as we walked, while trying not to let on.”
“You are truly wise beyond your years, Mazimba. I should have seen this before now. I am proud of you, my grandson.”
The young capanguta beamed, as they continued watching Fevan in silence.
(Copyright, Grant Shimmin, 2020)