Two decades after first being brought to the royal court, Pan’s romance with King Seronisis has not cooled. Pan, approaching his fortieth year, casts his mind back to his childhood spent on the family farm, working in the fields all day, and to the few hours a week he had to himself whereby he would disappear into the Great Forest to wander and daydream.
The king has been doing some reflecting, too. He has become increasingly aware that, with the passage of time, he is one day soon going to be too old to manage the affairs of the kingdom and all the associated pressure and stresses. More importantly, he has realized he would like to spend more time with Pan. To that end, he plans an extravagant holiday for them, but before they can depart, he needs to find a successor.
Since the king has no children of his own, there are only two other candidates -- Athor and Nenim, the king’s cousins from across the sea. Both brothers are handsome and physically fit. Athor is outgoing and obviously keen to obtain the post of monarch. Nenim is more reserved, hard to read, and seemingly not quite as enthusiastic as his brother.
King Seronisis devises a series of tasks he asks the brothers to complete so he can assess their ability to take the throne. He watches each carefully to see how well they perform the tasks. He listens to what they have to say, examining their words carefully. Every minute the brothers are at the royal palace, they are being assessed.
But when one brother oversteps the mark, it is the king himself who is tested. One foolish act has the power to destroy all that Pan and King Seronisis have built over the years. With this final tale, anything could happen.
With a small bag containing only a few clothes, Pan made his way to the royal stables and had one of the horses saddled. Without a second thought, he climbed on and rode out of the palace enclosure and along the main thoroughfare towards the palace gates. The ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ and the pointing fingers of surprised subjects registered only subconsciously. He was numb. He felt nothing but dazed.
Once he’d passed through the palace gates and surpassed the few huts and stalls immediately out the front, he brought the horse to a gallop. Gripping the reins, he focused on the way ahead, his mind empty of thought, though his vision was blurred by tears. He continued to ride without stopping until the position of the sun told him it was well after midday, and it was with great relief he finally laid eyes on the freshly-thatched roof of his childhood home.
As he rode closer he could see his nephew and niece playing in the front yard, and watching over them, from her chair by the front steps, Margette, his elderly mother.
“Uncle Pan!” the children cried when he rode into the front yard.
Their excited shouts brought a big smile to his face. “Be careful. Watch out for the horse,” he told them for in their excitement they had seemingly overlooked the mighty beast.
He climbed down from the saddle, his body stiff and sore from the long ride. After tethering the horse to a post by the well and filling a bucket for it to drink from, he scooped each of the children up under his arm and carried them over to his mother.
“Put us down, Uncle Pan. Put us down,” the children squealed gleefully.
Pan did as they’d requested and gave, Kasper, his nephew, a little smack on the bottom.
“Pan, my darling,” said his mother, climbing out of her chair. “You’ve come to see us.”
“Yes, mother. How are you?”
They threw their arms around each other and hugged. At the same moment Freya, his youngest sister, now in her late thirties, poked her head out the door.
“Is that you, brother?”
Pan laughed. “As if you didn’t know.” He hugged his sister. “Kasper and Eira were shouting so loud I don’t wonder that the fisherfolk on the coast didn’t hear.”
“Give us a piggyback, Uncle Pan,” said Eira tugging at Pan’s tunic.
“Yes, Uncle Pan. A piggy back,” said Kasper, pulling on Pan’s hand.
“Leave your uncle alone,” scolded Freya. “Let him rest.” She shooed the children away. “Come inside, brother, and I’ll get you something to eat.”
Pan followed Freya inside, along with Margette.
“Where’s Haakon? Out in the fields?”
“Where else?” Freya replied. “I only ever see him in the early morning and at night.”
Margette nodded. “That was my life once.”
Pan took his mother’s hand in his and they chatted while Freya made tea and prepared a small meal for Pan.
Later that evening, after a delicious dinner, Margette got up from the table. “I think I might go out for some air,” she said. “Pan, would you like to come with me?”
Pan knew his mother well enough to know that she expected an answer in the affirmative and of course he obliged.
“How are you?” she asked once they were out in the night, away from the house.
“I’m fine, mother. How are you?”
“No, dear. I mean, how are you really? A mother can tell when there is something wrong. I can see it in your eyes. They’re sad eyes. Something has happened.”
Pan knew it was useless to try and hide anything from his mother. He also knew she was one of only few people he could trust implicitly.