Chapter 8: An unpleasant memory

Despite Batefimba’s obvious impatience to have her suspicions about Fevan’s grandfather confirmed, she waited as the elf laid out her answer methodically. She had to keep reminding herself that this conversation was also an opportunity for her to continue the assessment of Fevan. Some of her concerns had been laid to rest, but she had been entrusted with an important task by Lazarn, and she needed to do it thoroughly for the good of the community. She refocused as Fevan continued.

“Although I had always found my grandfather difficult, I had never had any cause to suspect he was anyone other than who he said he was. Though it seems my grandmother had been having doubts for some years, but had always been too afraid to confront him with questions.

“My mother told me when I was only five or six that her father had not grown up at Towering Pine, but had arrived there after a long, lonely journey from a pine tree that was several weeks’ walk away.

“Food had been scarce in the community where he had grown up, Majestic Pine, and so he had decided to set out in search of a new place to live. He had told our grandmother, soon after they met, that he had hoped his departure would in some small way ease demand on the meagre food supply back in his home community. He also claimed that he had been helping for a few months to organise shipments of food back to Majestic Pine, until word reached him that the situation there had improved, but I know now that that was just a story.

“My grandmother had believed him without thinking too much about it when they had first met and fallen in love. But she told me recently she had suspected for a long time that it wasn’t true.

“Ah yes. Love is blind,” Batefimba cut in.

Fevan nodded. “Grandmother realised that if the story had been true, it would have meant he was at Towering Pine for several months before she even became aware of him. Not only is that unlikely in a relatively small settlement where news gets around fast, but as she said, she was at the age where and she and her close friends were aware of the young men in the settlement. It would have been difficult for him to stay hidden.

“On top of that, if everything was fine back at home, why had he not returned? He must just have arrived when she first encountered him.

“Grandfather’s sessions with Everarn sometimes went on until well into the night. The more pine pilsener they drank, the louder their voices grew. After my sister and grandmother had both gone to sleep, I would often sit up in bed and hear snatches of their conversation.

“This also meant Grandfather would not get up until very late the following day, and one morning, I got up early and sneaked into his study, even though we were expressly forbidden to go in there, and I knew that if he caught me, I would be in serious trouble. His rages were truly frightening.

“There was an old desk there. I was surprised not to find the drawers locked, and I rummaged through them, looking for anything that would tell me more about his past.

“I was just about to give up when I found, hidden away at the back of the bottom drawer, what looked like some kind of notebook, or journal.

“It seemed very old, and I couldn’t make out a name on the cover, as though it might have been obliterated, so I looked through it. There were some drawings; my grandfather was once fairly well known as an artist in the Towering Pine community, Grandmother told me, but he had gradually lost interest.

“There were also some notes in the book, about a long journey, when he was about 10 years old. There was a big group of elves who had been banished from Leaning Pine, it seemed, and they spent a long time travelling, with several young children among them, and some women expecting babies.”

“Yes, they came here,” Batefimba said. “I was a child at the time. If your grandfather was in that group, he must have lived here, at Mighty Pine, for some years.

“Our chieftain at the time, Masikazumba, welcomed them himself, and he very generously offered to let the group stay for as long as they wanted to.

“The group was led by Philavarn, Lazarn’s father, and they agreed to his generous offer to stay at least until the babies had been born and they were satisfied that their health was stable. But as it turned out, they stayed permanently. Lazarn was nearly eight when they arrived here.”

“Oh my goodness!” Fevan said. “There was a drawing in Grandfather’s book of a young girl. It showed her walking, carrying what looked like quite a heavy bag over her shoulder. I assume he must have done the drawing from memory. It could be Lazarn.”

“It might well be,” Batefimba responded. “But what else did you find, child? Was there any clue as to your grandfather’s name?”

“Well, I carried on looking for some time without finding any clue, but I did come across a couple of pages that upset me. There were pictures of capanguta, including one of the chieftain you just mentioned.

“But underneath it was written something along the lines of ‘I don’t like living with capanguta. They’re always swinging about through the branches of the Mighty Pine, showing off. And they’re so dark and hairy.

‘It would be much better if we could live in a community that was all pine elves, like we used to.

‘As soon as I am old enough, I will leave here and look for a community like that.’”

Fevan hesitated: “It shouldn’t have surprised me to find something like that in a book of my grandfather’s, after the things I’d heard him say to Everarn, but it was still upsetting to find that those feelings went back as far as they did, and to discover that everything he had told my grandmother and mother about where he came from was lies.

“I felt tears in my eyes as I closed the book, and went to replace it where I had found it. But as I placed it at the back of the drawer, I realised something was sticking out between the back page and the cover. It was a card.

“There were hearts on the front of it, drawn by hand, but not with the same level of skill present in my grandfather’s own drawings. Inside, there was a handwritten message: ‘Dear Trevarn, you’re wonderful.’ It was signed ‘your secret admirer’.”

There it was, confirmation of what Batefimba had been certain of for several minutes. Of course, she remembered Trevarn well. He had always been friendly to her when he and Lazarn were courting, but it had all been a front.

She wondered for a fleeting moment if they would have remained friends if Lazarn’s marriage to Trevarn had gone ahead, but she knew the answer even before the question had fully formed in her mind.

It struck her that he must have stayed in Mighty Pine because he had fallen in love with Lazarn, but his feelings towards the capanguta, towards her, Lazarn’s best friend, had not changed. He had hoped to make the change he longed for from within the community, even while married to someone whose views conflicted so strongly with his own. He wanted Batefimba out.

Trevarn’s departure had completely altered the course of their lives, in a positive way, and they had not often spoken of him, believing him to have moved far away and become, literally, a distant memory.

Now she knew he was not nearly as far away as they had all thought, and he was influencing their lives again.

“I knew Trevarn,” Batefimba said, in a somewhat subdued voice.

Fevan nodded, not surprised by this development, though Batefimba’s next words changed that.

“He and Lazarn were engaged for some time, but shortly before their marriage, he revealed to her that he hated capanguta and wanted us to leave the community, despite our chieftain’s generosity to him and his family at such a difficult time.

“We rarely speak of it now, but we both believe he had been trying to keep it secret until after they were married. It slipped out in a routine conversation about the wedding seating plan, when he said he didn’t want any of his family seated next to us, the dark, hairy capanguta. But as soon as Lazarn knew about his hatred, the wedding was off, thank goodness. They never spoke again after she broke it off. He left Mighty Pine within a few weeks.”

“My word,” Fevan responded. “I had no idea.

“That book did make me think there could be members of my grandfather’s family living in Mighty Pine. That was one of the reasons I set out to find this community. Do you know if that’s the case?”

Batefimba thought for a few seconds. “Indeed. Trevarn’s mother, Saverarn, was one of the elves who was expecting a baby when the party from Leaning Pine arrived here. She had a daughter, Netixan, within a couple of weeks, the first elfling born at Mighty Pine.

“Netixan is your great aunt. I’m sure she would be delighted to meet you. She is the principal of the village school. Trevarn had another sister and a brother too. They have children, your mother’s cousins, and grandchildren. There are many family members for you to meet.”

“I look forward to that very much, but before we get to that, there are some things that are worrying me terribly, including that I may have endangered this community by coming here. I am also worried that my grandmother and sister may be in danger.”

“It is understandable that you’re worried about them, child, but do you really believe this community could be in danger?”

“I hope not, but I don’t know how my grandfather will have reacted to my departure.

“He may just be pleased to be rid of me, given how strained our relationship had been. That is what I’m hoping, that there won’t be anger that he will take out on Grandmother and Rizavan.

“But his behaviour is unpredictable. He is not aware that I know of his links to Mighty Pine, so there is no reason for him to suspect I may have come here, but I just don’t know how he will react.

“That is one of the reasons I was not honest about the fact I had been looking for Mighty Pine when I arrived here. I am sorry for that, but I worried that if I said it on arrival at the gate, word would quickly get out in the community and would eventually filter back to Towering Pine, via those who travel outside the settlement to work. That could have brought trouble.

“I hoped to get into the community, and find someone I could confide in, as indeed has happened. I am thankful to be able to tell you this story, and hope you can forgive my deception.”

Before Batefimba could answer, Mazimba, who had been listening in fascinated silence, suddenly piped up.

“What I don’t understand is how you managed to get away from Towering Pine if access is strictly controlled.”

“It’s not actually too difficult for elves to leave and return during the day,” Fevan replied, “although that would certainly have aroused suspicion and my grandfather would quickly have been told if I had not returned. At night, there are guard patrols. No-one leaves between sunset and sunrise.

“I had been scouting around the community for what seemed like possible escape routes for a while, and had discovered that in a couple of places, out of sight of the main gate and the town square, the lower branches of our tree extended right to the settlement’s perimeter wall, and in one case slightly beyond it, so it rested on top of the wall.

“It was fairly thin at its end, but as you saw this morning, I’m extremely sure-footed, a result of all my dancing practice. When the time came, on a night Grandfather and Everarn were drinking together, I crept from the house, climbing down to the overhanging branch I had discovered. Waiting for several minutes after the perimeter guard patrol had passed by, I sprinted along the branch, building up momentum, before leaping out over the wall as far as I could. I have become used to cushioning the impact of falls through my dancing, and I was able to land relatively comfortably and roll away into the shadows without the guards noticing.”

“Wow!” Mazimba responded, impressed, then added, with a wink. “I bet you couldn’t get back IN using those fancy moves …”

It was a statement he was destined to find himself reflecting on further before very long.

The light-hearted moment was Batefimba’s cue. “Fevan, we need to talk about the situation with your sister and grandmother, but I think it’s best if we move this discussion to Lazarn’s home. She needs to hear all this.”

The elf washed quickly and then the trio left, Mazimba leading the way, and Batefimba locking the door and checking to make sure Panthozine and his fellow guard, Brandotine, were following, just in case any unforeseen circumstances arose on the way.

She had no idea what those could be, but nothing that happened in this crazy situation would surprise her now.

(Copyright, Grant Shimmin, 2020)

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