Lazarn and Carnotine stood looking through her lounge window, watching Mazimba, Fevan and Batefimba, in that order, hastily climb her stairs.
“It does seem things are under control, Ma’am, no thanks to the lapses by me and my guards,” Carnotine said. “Thankfully.”
He noted with satisfaction that Panthozine and Brandotine were following the trio at a distance.
Lazarn nodded as she walked to the door. “It certainly looks that way.”
“Good morning, Monkeybreath,” Mazimba panted as Lazarn opened the door to him. “Fevan has quite a lot to tell you.”
“Good morning, come in, all of you. Hello Fevan,” she said, before giving Batefimba a hug as she entered. “Thank you, my trusted friend,” she said.
“You are welcome, my friend,” Batefimba replied. “Boy, do you have a story coming up.”
“Shall I leave you, Ma’am?” Carnotine asked.
“No Captain, I rather think it would be best if you stayed. I have a feeling we may be about to learn some important information.”
He sat down and listened as, prompted occasionally by Batefimba, Fevan told Lazarn the story she had recently recounted to Batefimba and Mazimba.
Like her friend, Lazarn had worked out the true identity of Fevan’s grandfather a while before the elf divulged it, both from the clues along the way and from closely studying her face as she spoke. There was a definite resemblance there to the man she had once known so well.
It stung a little, but at the same time, she felt it reaffirming her decision of all those years ago.
Nevertheless, she still let out a gasp when Trevarn’s name was uttered. “That explains why Everarn latched onto me so quickly when he arrived here!” she exclaimed. “It’s troubled me all these years. Trevarn must have put him up to the whole plot. But of course he would have arrived at Towering Pine under a different name, and I’m sure he was very careful who he took into his confidence.
“Everarn may have been the only one to start with, but I’ve always believed there must have been a plan to bring in reinforcements from Towering Pine to support the plot to overthrow Masikazumba, so others must have known. At his trial, he steadfastly maintained he had been acting alone when he arrived here.”
Fevan was nearly at the end of her story. “I hope you can forgive my deception in not saying I had set out to find Mighty Pine. I was genuinely concerned about news filtering back to Towering Pine and that resulting in trouble for this community.”
“That’s understandable, and I’m grateful to you for trying to protect us,” Lazarn responded. “I am comvinced you do not mean us harm and I am pleased to offer you the opportunity to stay here at Mighty Pine if you wish.”
“Thank you,” said Fevan. “I would appreciate that very much. You have all been so kind.”
“But I am concerned about the situation for your grandmother and sister, Fevan, as I’m sure you must be.”
“I am, Monkeybreath. I discussed my plan with my grandmother before leaving and she wholeheartedly supported it, but I expressed concern about how my grandfather would react towards her, especially if he suspected she might have had something to do with it.
“We decided I would leave on one of my grandfather’s drinking nights, knowing he would not wake until late the next day. And I wrote a note to both my grandparents, explaining that the difficult relationship with my grandfather had persuaded me I should leave for the benefit of family harmony.
“I hoped my grandmother would be able to tell him, frantically, when he woke, that I was gone and show him the note. We decided she would try to sound desperate and encourage him to organise a search to find me and bring me back.
“Knowing my grandfather, and the state of our relationship, I was convinced he would not be bothered about trying to find me, and I hoped the note and my grandmother’s performance would be enough to convince him I had acted independently, and protect her and my sister, for a time at least.”
“You have thought your plan through well, Fevan. I am most impressed,” Lazarn said. “But I have to say I do fear that this protection will last for only a short time. Once Trevarn and Everarn get together again and have a few drinks, who knows what theories might start to be aired? That could spell trouble for your grandmother and Rizavan.
“Given the rest of your plan, though, I’m sure you have thought this far ahead.”
“I have. I told Grandmother I would try to find some way to rescue them as soon as I could. She is reluctant to leave my grandfather, wondering how he will fend for himself, but I told her she has to stop worrying about him when he treats her the way he does, and look after herself. She deserves to be happy. It took a while, but she came to accept that this way is best.
“I have no idea how I can get them out of there, but I am really worried about them. I also won’t do anything that could place this community in jeopardy, so I will have to think hard.”
“We will all think hard. Although I appreciate your concern for this community, Fevan, this is an issue that goes back a long way, and this may be the opportunity to get on top of it once and for all,” Lazarn replied.
“First, though, when you arrived, I was just about to tell the Captain a story, which I think is relevant for all of us, myself included, at this moment.”
She glanced at Carnotine. “With your permission, Captain, I am going to tell them why you are here. I think it’s important.”
Carnotine averted his eyes for a moment, embarrassed, but soon raised them again. “Very well, Ma’am, I agree,” he replied.
Lazarn outlined the reason for Carnotine’s presence, in ceremonial uniform, making it clear that she had refused to accept his resignation.
“I was just about to tell Carnotine the story about his grandfather, Petovine, who was the Commander of the Mighty Pine Guard when Everarn arrived here. His father, Tallovine, was the first member of this community our group of refugees spoke to when we arrived here more than 50 years ago.
“When we first heard the noise of you three approaching, the Captain had just told me his grandfather had been reluctant in his old age to say much about the events of that time, had you not, Captain?”
“Indeed, Ma’am. He seldom talked about them, and usually only if directly asked what had happened. His answers were usually brief and light on detail too.”
“I understand Petovine’s stance, but it strikes me that we can spend far too much time beating ourselves up over our mistakes, instead of learning from them and moving on,” Lazarn said. “I’m trying to learn that too, because my own role in that situation still troubles and embarrasses me from time to time. I would like to put that behind me.
“If it hadn’t been for my dear friend Batefimba’s intervention, this community could have been a vastly different and less happy place now,” she added. “If anything, you should be the one on the council of elders now, Batefimba.”
“You are kind, but you were always the much more driven leader, my friend,” she responded. “Family was always more important to me, as you know.”
Lazarn nodded. “When Everarn came to Mighty Pine, some 35 years ago, Petovine was getting near to his retirement as Captain of the Guard. It was about two years away, and he looked forward to it.
“His time in the role had been distinguished. It had been a peaceful time, which certainly owed much to his leadership and vigilance, as well as that of Masikazumba, though in truth we had never faced a situation such as the one Everarn caused. From the time of the uprising that turned my family and I into refugees from Leaning Pine, none of us here had experienced such strife again.”
“As a community, we were a lot less vigilant about visitors at that time than we have been since,” Batefimba added.
“Indeed,” Lazarn responded. “When Everarn arrived here, a clever piece of work on his part allowed him free access to Mighty Pine. Unbeknown to us until we heard the evidence at his trial, he had been close by for more than a week prior to putting his plan into action.
“He had watched the elves who left the settlement to work, noting the routes they followed, and then engaging some of them in apparently casual conversation some distance from here.
“We always believed he was subtly seeking one who was sympathetic to his cause, but knowing of his link with Trevarn now, he probably had some names and was simply trying to find one of those Trevarn had identified as likely allies.
“Eventually he persuaded one, Ralkarn, to bring him into Mighty Pine, by telling the guards Everarn was his friend and would be staying with him for a while.”
Carnotine spoke. “I do know my grandfather felt he had let down Masikazumba by allowing Everarn in based purely on Ralkarn’s story. He felt his protective instinct for the community should have told him something was amiss.”
“Petovine had the same strong sense of honour you do, Captain. I don’t know if you knew he also offered his resignation after the Everarn episode, despite his important role in bringing the conspirators to justice?”
“No, I didn’t, Ma’am. I’m not sure he told the rest of the family that. But I assume Masikazumba’s response was the same as yours?”
“It was. I think I might have been the only resident Masikazumba told of Petovine’s offer at the time.
“It was Masikazumba who taught me that mistakes can be valuable learning opportunities.
“He gave me that advice just after Everarn, Ralkarn and their co-conspirators had been arrested in the council headquarters. After Batefimba uncovered their plot, we set a trap. Knowing they hoped to gain access to the council building to plan their takeover, I dropped a hint that Masikazumba often left a key to the building hidden for me as I was doing some work for him in the evenings, and I would replace it when I left. It was a plausible enough story that Everarn fell for it. Using the key, five of them entered the building at night, only to find Masikazumba, Petovine, a dozen guards, and myself, waiting for them.
“It was after they were apprehended, and everyone else had headed home, that I was berating myself for falling under Everarn’s spell. The chieftain gently chided me about learning from my mistakes. Then he told me, in confidence, about Petovine’s offer of resignation.
“It was shortly after that that Masikazumba asked me, with the agreement of the other members, to join the council of elders.
“Then, a couple of years later, when he was getting ready to step down, he proposed me as his replacement as chieftain, saying I had put the harmony and diversity of the community ahead of my personal concerns. The other elders agreed, to my surprise. I still feel unworthy often, even after such a long time.
“Nonsense, you have been a great chieftain, my friend,” Batefimba cut in, emphatically.
“I agree, Ma’am. My father always spoke highly of you and I have confirmed that view since I took over leadership of the guards,” Carnotine backed her up.
“Thank you both. Support like yours is what has kept me going,” Lazarn answered.
“Anyway Captain, I assumed that it would be ok to tell you now about your grandfather’s offer to resign, given how much time has passed. I’d like the others in this room to keep that to themselves, please.”
“Thank you, Ma’am. It’s comforting to know,” Carnotine said.
“Now we really must move on to the situation of Fevan’s grandmother and sister,” Lazarn continued. “I have an idea I think might work.
“Captain, could you please send your guards down to the gate with instructions to get a message to Rupertonix at the first opportunity that we need to see him urgently. And ask them then to ring the bell in the town square to assemble the residents.
“Speed is of the utmost importance.”
“Certainly, Ma’am.” Carnotine was already heading for the front door.
(Copyright, Grant Shimmin, 2020)