As the five of them headed down to the town square, where the bell had long since stopped ringing, and hundreds of residents were now assembling, Lazarn turned to Carnotine: “Captain, I will need four of your most competent guards for this mission. I hope they will not be required to fight, but it may be necessary if the plan doesn’t go as smoothly as I hope. Either way, they will add an extra layer of protection for us.
“I would very much like to be one of them, Ma’am,” Carnotine replied. “I feel I owe it to you, and this community.”
“I’m grateful for the offer, Captain, but I feel it is more important that you are here to ensure the safety of the Mighty Pine community. If I’ve read this right, what we are attempting will result in a backlash from Towering Pine, and I need you here to lead the defence of this community. You will be in charge while I am away.
“However, I would be grateful if Dervarine was among those who accompany us. It would be good for me to have the chance for a constructive chat with him.”
“Very well, Ma’am, I will see to it; and I would be honoured to defend Mighty Pine.”
“Do you really need to put yourself in harm’s way, my friend?” Batefimba asked her.
“I see no other way,” replied Lazarn. “Besides, that’s what a good leader should do. But I need to ask you something, my friend, you and Mazimba.” Turning to the young capanguta, she said: “I need you to be part of this mission, to support Fevan. Your agility and strength would be a huge asset. Are you willing to do this?”
“Yes, Monkeybreath,” Mazimba replied eagerly. “Of course I am … Grandmother?”
Batefimba wore a fearful expression. The thought of anything happening to her dear grandson, after all the loss her family had suffered, was a difficult one, and she stopped walking for a second, turning to look off through the branches.
“Batefimba?” It was Lazarn.
“Very well,” Batefimba said. “I am not happy about it, but I accept it is necessary. Please keep him safe.”
“I promise I will do everything in my power to bring us all back unscathed, with Fevan’s sister and grandmother.”
“My guards will do whatever is necessary to keep you all safe, Ma’am,” Carnotine chimed in.
As they came to the town square, Haxavine, the young guard who had sought Carnotine’s help the day before, approached Lazarn.
“Excuse me, Monkeybreath, Rupertonix is here. You said you wished to speak to him.”
“Ah yes. Thank you. I will meet him before speaking to the people. Come with me, please, you two,” she said to Fevan and Mazimba.
“Thank you for coming so quickly, Rupertonix,” she said as they met him at the main gate to Mighty Pine, the furriensis looking in at them over the wall.
“It’s my pleasure,” he replied, “although it sounds like there’s trouble afoot. Hello Fevan, I’m glad to see you’re looking well. I was a little worried about you when I brought you here yesterday.
“Thank you, Rupertonix. You were so kind. I’m glad we’ll have you to help us in this mission.”
Rupertonix’s eyes widened just a little. “A mission, eh? Sounds like fun.”
“You know Mazimba, don’t you?” Lazarn asked, cutting through the chit-chat.
“Indeed. Hello young man. Good to see you.”
The capanguta smiled. “Likewise,” he said.
“Rupertonix, this might seem a strange request, but I remember you talking about another furriensis you sometimes spend time with,” Lazarn said. “Do you think he would be willing to help us? I understand it’s asking a lot from someone who doesn’t know our community.”
“Oh, Sebastionix has heard me talk about Mighty Pine a lot,” he answered. “I’m sure he will be pleased to help when I tell him what the plan is. What is the plan, by the way?”
Monkeybreath quickly outlined her strategy to all three of them, watching their eyes grow wider but also seeing their heads nod at its logic, and simplicity. It certainly contained the element of surprise.
“Any questions?” she asked as she finished her briefing. They shook their heads.
“I’ll head off and find Sebastionix now. I’ll make sure we’re here ready for you before first light,” Rupertonix said.
“Won’t the giants worry about you if you’re not there for breakfast?” Fevan asked, the previous day’s experience fresh in her mind.
“They might, but they’ll just have to deal with it,” the furriensis answered. “I’ll sleep at their feet tonight, so at least when they wake up and I’m missing, they’ll remember I was on their bed during the night. That should keep them from being too worried.”
“Right, it’s time to address the residents,” Lazarn said. They headed to the square and Fevan and Mazimba went to stand at the back of the gathering with Batefimba, while Monkeybreath took to a small raised stage that afforded her a view of all the residents seated in the square.
“Residents of Mighty Pine, thank you for coming to the square at such short notice. I have never before had to have the bell rung for an emergency assembly since I took over as chieftain, though you have all participated in drills. Some of you will remember the previous occasion this bell was rung in anger, as I do, and therefore you’ll understand this is a matter of serious concern.
“Without wishing to alarm you, our settlement could be in danger, although we are well set to defend it if we should be attacked.”
Monkeybreath explained to the townsfolk that the attempted rescue of Fevan’s grandmother and sister might bring reprisals from Towering Pine, but if so that might also offer them the chance to finally draw a line under the conflict of 35 years before.
“The attempt to overthrow the leaders of Mighty Pine then relied on the involvement of some in this community sympathetic to that cause, and those who were caught paid long ago for their part in the plot.
“However, it has always been believed there were elements at Towering Pine who supported Everarn’s mission, and would have been called into action once Everarn and his allies here had completed preparations. Fortunately they were caught before that, but that meant his comrades at Towering Pine were never exposed. This could be the opportunity to rectify that, for the good of both communities.”
There was murmuring among the residents. The number who remembered the events Monkeybreath referred to was small, though stories had naturally been passed down through generations.
“As much as I hope it is not the case, I’m aware,” she continued, “that there may still be residents here who feel similar about our diversity, and might perhaps try to alert associates at Towering Pine. Which is why, as of now, the gates to the community will be closed and guard patrols doubled until this situation has been resolved.”
She heard a few grumbles run through the crowd. “I’m sorry this impacts on weekend leisure activities for some of you, but we are doing this for all of us, our whole community. I would ask for your patience and support. Hopefully Mighty Pine will be a much safer place for you and your families when this is over.”
“Hear, hear!” yelled a voice from somewhere in the middle of the crowd, and a cheer went up from most of the residents in response. Monkeybreath clearly had wide support.
The gathering broke up and there was a hum of animated conversation as residents headed into shops, or back to their homes. It all felt a little unnerving, but most were confident things would be ok. If there were those who were sympathetic to the separatism espoused by some elements at Towering Pine, they were not surprisingly keeping that to themselves.
As Lazarn stepped off the stage, Carnotine was there to greet her, accompanied by four guards. She recognised the pair who had been watching outside her house that morning as Fevan’s story was discussed, and Dervarine, who she greeted warmly. “Lieutenant, you will ride with me tomorrow.”
Carnotine introduced Haxavine, the young guard she had briefly encountered earlier. “He is young, but he is passionate about his work,” he said.
“I have doubled the guards on duty, Ma’am,” he added. “Just in case anyone at Towering Pine has already been alerted to this situation.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Lazarn replied. “Now it’s time for us to discuss the defence strategy.”
As Batefimba, Mazimba and Fevan began their walk back home, Lazarn and Carnotine went into the council building with three of the senior guards who would be helping their Captain ready the community for a possible attack.
Batefimba slipped her right arm sadly around her grandson’s shoulders as they began climbing the stairs, glancing wistfully back at the gate to the community that was now locked, allowing nobody in or out.
Mazimba and Fevan both followed her gaze, and then the elf slipped round to her left, and put her arm around Batefimba’s waist. The trio climbed in silent togetherness.
(Copyright, Grant Shimmin, 2020)