The Elephant Gate Part 1 – Ch 6 to 10
Kevin meets the elephants and saves a life. And becomes part of a family.
The Jeep bounced over ruts in the unpaved surface of the road, and the two children squealed happily with every bounce. Captain Thadchai frequently checked the rear view mirror to make sure they were both safely buckled in, even though they only had a short distance to go. He was happy to head to the elephant corrals himself; they had always been the place he felt most at home.
He stopped at the first electrified fence; he pulled open the gates, drove through, and prudently closed them behind them. This occurred several times, until the huge barn and paddocks that held the pachyderms could be seen in the distance.
“We’re almost there, K’vin!” Suri said, and he immediately craned his neck out to see if he could catch a glimpse of the big gray animals.
Finally, they reached the building. When the Jeep stopped, Kevin already had his seatbelt unbuckled, and was ready to hop out.
Thadchai didn’t want young Kevin running out without being cautious about his surroundings, not only for his safety but for Princess Suri’s as well.
“Stop!” The captain said in an authoritative voice, and both children instantly went still. “There are some rules you two have to follow while we are here. First of all, you have to stay with me, or with another grown-up; you can’t wander around alone because it’s too dangerous.
“Second, don’t go near any place that has a red placard; those animals are sick and in need of care, so only a few are allowed near them. Third, stay away from any of the babies without permission. The mom elephants can be mean if they think you are hurting their babies, okay?” His voice brokered no argument.
He waited for them to both nod before he allowed them to climb out of the back seat of the Jeep and set foot on the ground. Taking one in each hand, they made their way to the barn. The Captain’s rules tempering their zealous excitement enough for them to walk .
Inside it was cool and dim. The captain led them to an office near the front. A wizened old man sat in the chair, puffing on a brown pipe. He shuffled to his feet and held out his arms. Surikitiyia let go of the captains hands and ran up to the older man, who scooped her in his arms and lifted her over his head.
“Good morning, princess. How are you today?”
She giggled. “I’m fine, Uncle Wit. The cap’n brought us. And I have a new friend, K’vin.” Kevin suddenly felt self-conscious under the sharp gaze of the man. There was something wise in that gaze.
Captain Thadchai smoothly stepped in. “This is Noy Kevin, who visits from a faraway kingdom. He wanted to visit our elephants, if that is okay with you, Khun Wit.”
The man tucked his pipe into a glass bowl he uncovered amid the clutter on his desk. “Do you like elephants, there, young Kevin?”
“Oh yes, Mister, err, Uncle Wit.” Kevin fumbled a moment. “I know lots of stuff about elephants. They are my favorite animal!” The man broke out in a huge grin at Kevin’s earnestness.
“Are you ready to see some up close then?” Kevin skipped like Sur’kya before he realized it, and the two men laughed. Uncle Wit addressed the girl on his hip. “Where you do want to go first, princess?”
“I want to see the baby elephants!” Clearly this wasn’t the first time she had demanded this, for the older man was already carrying her out back into the main part of the barn. Kevin followed the two. The little girl chattered to Uncle Wit, she seemed to understand his grunted responses. Thadchai kept pace just a bit behind Kevin.
The young boy wanted to mimic the captain, but he couldn’t hide his excitement at seeing a real life elephant up close!
They made it to a couple of doors on one side of the corridor. There were red warning signs on the door; the children paused, but Uncle Wit just nodded and pushed the doors inward.
Inside were large roomy pens with high solid wood walls. Each enclosure had a wide door that was solid on the bottom but open in the top. At the sound of the doors several curious heads popped out over the doors. Uncle Wit led them to the first pen on the right.
“This is Beauty. Her girl is named Sunny and was birthed 5 years ago.” Kevin was quivering with eagerness to touch the large creature; the mahout pushed him towards the stall door. “Keep still for a moment, Noy Kevin, and let Beauty look at you.” He screwed his eyes shut, afraid to frighten her, but jolted when he felt something touching his head, then down his back. He felt a warm, wet breath across the back of his legs; he finally opened his eyes and looked up.
The large head loomed above him, but the eye was bright with intelligence. Her trunk snaked to his face and nudged him under the chin. ‘It’s okay, now, you can touch her.” Kevin could hear the amusement in the handler’s voice, but he didn’t care. Reaching out a trembling hand, he stroked the trunk and broke out into a huge smile.
“It’s hairy!” Giggles escaped him as she dodged his hands, seemingly ready to play keep-away. He found himself leaning against the half-door, wrapped in a gray hug.
Just then a smaller trunk peeked out the top of the door and plopped Kevin on the head, making him laugh again. He was filled with joy at the affection the majestic creatures were showing him; it went beyond his wildest imaginings.
The handler and the captain exchanged significant looks. They both knew that Beauty was one of the gentlest elephants in the stable, but she ordinarily didn’t directly interact with strangers.
“It’s almost like she’s taken to him. Isn’t that unusual?” Thadchai spoke in a low tone. The handler nodded.
“I knew it would be safe for him to touch her, but I never thought she would be willing to interact with him to this extent. That is one special boy.”
“Khun Wit, I need to tell you something else about him.” The two youngsters never notice as the two men whispered in earnest.
After their conversation, Thadchai wanted to spend some time thinking about his young charge, and the ramifications of the prophecy in this small body.
Kevin was having the time of his life. Along with the other three people, he roamed the barn and immediate area. There were 5 females, several with young, and one bull elephant in the group. Uncle Wit had explained that the elephants were used in areas of the kingdom that were impassible for any other conveyance. He looked at them with longing, hoping maybe to get to ride one of them.
As they trooped out, preparing to leave, one of the workers ran straight to Wit, his expression grave. “It’s the little one.” He explained. “Please hurry.” Without another word, the two of them turned and quickly hurried towards a unknown section of the barn. Kevin glanced inquiringly at Thadchai.
”Captain, do you know what is happening?” The man sadly stared where the two men disappeared.
“Our newest baby came too early, and is weak. It has been touch and go since she was born. I can only surmise that she must have taken a turn for the worst.”
Kevin felt sorry for the little elephant. After all, wasn’t he sick until the doctors fixed his head? “Can we go see? I don’t want to get in the way, ‘cuse they need to fix her like the doctor fixed me. But I just want to see.” Surikitiyia also looked up with pleading eyes. The captain sighed, torn between his two charges, and the desire to keep them safe and protected. He sighed again; he already knew what his decision was going to be.
“Okay, but you have to stay close to me, and not say or do anything to distract the helpers from taking care of her. Do you two promise?” When they both promised, he took one in each hand and led them towards the barn when the handler and his assistant disappeared.
As the trio got closer, they could hear the sounds of distress from the other elephants. The loudest was nearby, and when they reached the final pen, they could see why. A large female was in a pen, her trunk reaching across the wooden bars to the smaller space in front of them.
There, a tiny elephant about the size of his neighbor’s Saint Bernard was lying on its side, making a wheezing, crying noise. The handlers were trying to get her on his feet, but her flailing legs and trunk were making it difficult. Surikitiyia quickly hid behind Captain Thadchai, but Kevin took a step forward, mezmerized by the animal’s plight.
“What is it?” Thadchai had to raise his voice to be heard by Wit.
“We think it might be pneumonia. Plus she hasn’t been nursing enough and she’s dehydrated. We have to get her on her feet so she can breathe better!” The poor baby’s eye was rolling until it made contact with Kevin. He held his breath as the young elephant locked onto Kevin, almost begging for help.
In that instant, wordless communication flashed between the helpless animal and the lost young boy, and Kevin suddenly knew what to do. He ignored Captain Thachai shout of warning and ran the few steps until he was inside the small pen.
“Her back foot hurts! She can’t stand on it!” He called to the straining handlers as he skirted them. Kneeling down in the straw and scattered feed, he gently touched the animal who immediately slowed her thrashing. The handlers exchanged glances. Kevin whispered to the baby, “It’s okay I’ll hold it for you. Let’s try again.” The elephant made a concerted effort to stand, and, assisted by the handlers, was pulled upright and trembling on three legs. Kevin instinctively placed the elephant’s leg on top of his thigh to support it.
Thadchai’s fear gave way to an almost childlike wonderment as he watched the almost magic interaction between the straining animal and the frail boy. He seemed larger than life, his confidence giving him a stature taller than his actual height. Just who was this boy in their midst?
The handlers quickly retrieved the large nursing bottle and assisted the young animal, who began drinking.
“Is she gonna be okay?” Kevin asked, suddenly unsure if he did the right thing. He looked across to Uncle Wit; his face was wreathed in smiles as he nodded.
“We needed to get the pain medications in her before we can find out what’s wrong and treat her. You did a good thing, young man. But how did you know there was a problem with the little one’s foot?”
Kevin gave a little shrug. “I just knew, Uncle Wit, but I don’t know why. What do I do now?”
The handler crabbed over to examine the upturned foot. “Ah! He has an abscess under her forth toe. Once we lance and drain it, she should be all right.” Wit straightened up and walked over the anxiously weaving adult pachyderm. He gently rubbed her cheek as the trunk came up and touched his face. “Don’t worry, Kwamsoo. We will heal your baby soon.”
Captain Thadchai had found a small bundle of hay; he wrapped it with a nearby blanket to make a cushion, and then gently lifted the elephant’s leg to allow Kevin to slide out. The young boy released a breath as he watched the captain, happy that had acted right away. The older man arranged the cushion underneath the leg and patted the animal on the head. “Not much longer now.” He murmured to it.
The captain pulled Kevin up to a standing position and brushed off stray bits of straw. By then the young elephant had finished the bottle and was swaying slightly, her eyes drooping. “She’s tired from his ordeal. Thanks to you, Noy Kevin, she can receive proper treatment.” Indeed, one of the men was preparing a low table with various medical items, while another gently supported the tired creature.
“What will they do?” Kevin asked, worriedly, afraid for his new friend. The captain tousled his hair, that strange feeling giving rise to affection for this earnest young boy. In that moment, he made a decision about the child’s future.
“They first take care of her foot by draining the abscess and then they will use antibiotics for any other infections in her foot and lungs.” Kevin nodded, happy the little elephant will be safe. A chuffing noise caught his attention; the mom was still leaning into the area with Uncle Wit next to her.
When the large elephant saw that she had Kevin’s attention, she stretched out her trunk in his direction. He walked with in reach and touched the tip, which wrapped around his hand. “You’re welcome, Mama Kwamsoo.”
“Is it okay if I come in too?” A tiny voice sounded from outside the pen, as Surikitiyia peeked around the edge of the wall. Uncle Wit gestured her in; she leaned over the sleepy head and patted it. Mission accomplished, she stood back up. “I’m hungry. Can we go back home now?”
After eating with the king and queen again, Kevin changed into his pajamas and climbed into bed, but he couldn’t sleep. Although Sur’kya’s parents treated him the same, the servants whispered as walked through the hallways of the palace. Even the presence of the captain only quieted them for a short time.
He still didn’t understand why his actions would make everybody jumpy. After all, didn’t he help the elephant? He grinned when he thought of the mom’s thank you. She didn’t think he was weird or anything, she was just happy he helped her baby.
A quiet knock on the door startled him. He quickly climb out from under the blanket and trotted over to the door. “Hi, Cap’n Thadchai!”
“May I come in?” The man looked solemn, and Kevin knew the visit was important.
There was a small arrangement of comfortable couches by the bedroom windows. The two of them sat down; Kevin tucked his legs under him and turned an inquiring face to the older man. “What’s up?”
“I want to talk to you about what you want to do now. We can’t get you back to your home right now. I want to know if you are willing to stay with me.”
Kevin was confused. Stay with the captain. “Why?” Thadchai smiled.
“The soldiers and guards live nearby, and that’s where my house is. There’s just my housekeeper and I there. I would drop you off at the palace in the morning for school,” At this Kevin screwed up his face. Yuck, school. “… and after school, we could go to the barns and you can help with the animals.”
“Can I just help you there instead?” The older man shook his head.
“No, you have to go to school no matter what. Knowledge is important, young Kevin, no matter what you decide to become.”
It was something both his mom and his dad have said. And really, school wasn’t so bad, especially if he got to hang out with the elephants and horses. He voiced his biggest wish in the whole wide world. “If I can help, can I get to ride an elephant?” Even better than racecars and planes, he had always wanted to ride. His mom had promised to give him horseback riding lessons when he was bigger.
“You have to start on horses, and you have to learn a lot before you can ride one, but, yes, if you do well in school, and work with me, you will able to ride an elephant.
In fact, I talked with Uncle Wit today, and he has decided to give you the privilege and right to name our newest member of our elephant family. What do you think of that?”
Kevin couldn’t believe it. He gets to name her?? He bounced on the sofa. “Really? That’s so cool!” The captain grinned, remembering those first exciting moments when he finally earned the right to ride.
“So, do you want to move to my house?”
Kevin nodded, almost bursting with happiness. Captain Thadchai was his new hero, a royal guard who rode elephants and protected the king. And now he could hang out with him a lot and learn things.
“I will clear everything with the king tomorrow, and then we can work out a schedule.” When he stood up, he extended his hand. “Welcome to my family, Noy Kevin.”
Kevin shyly shook his hand, and the man bowed and left his bedroom.
He climbed back into the large bed, but sleep was long in coming. He was already looking forward to the move, completely forgetting about the wooden house and his link to his real life.
Surikitiyia had a mulish expression on her face when it was announced at the breakfast table that Noy Kevin was moving to stay with Captain Thadchai.
“Stop misbehaving, Suri. Noy Kevin will be here every day to take lessons with you,” the queen admonished, “And there will be play time together. Plus, he will be eating breakfast and lunch with us.”
“With apologies, Your Highness,” Thadchai interejected, “he will have morning chores to do first. It would be best if we come to the palace after the first meal.” Kevin was surprised. He had to do chores too? The captain didn’t say that before! Still, he wanted to move there, and after all, Mom told him to keep his promises. He leaned back over his plate and applied himself to the scrambled eggs and rice porridge.
After breakfast, Suri and Kevin headed to the pool area, flanked by two guards. They stopped at the edge of the patio, but she dragged Kevin by one hand until they were near the far end of the pool, out of earshot. There a stone lion spit water, gurgling sounds tinkling the air. Suri marched until she reached the lion and whirled on Kevin like a flash.
“Why don’t you want to stay here!” She demanded. “Don’t you like it here?” Kevin took a step back from her ferocity.
“I like it here. It’s great! But with the cap’n, I can see the horses and the elephants every day. Even though I have to do chores, he will show me how to be a guard and maybe how to fight and protect people. Just in case I maybe hafta protect you and the king and queen!” Kevin had visions of fierce gun battles from horseback like the Lone Ranger, or swordfights with pirates, or even a policeman protecting people from bad guys.
She sniffed. “But I like you being home, ‘cuze it’s fun to play with a kid like me.” Kevin put his hand upon his heart.
“I promise that we will be best friends no matter what.”
“Pinky swear?” He somberly extended his hand, and together, they pledged. The moment was broken when she jumped and kissed his cheek before running away towards the gazebo. “Catch me!”
Kevin thought a kiss from a girl might be yucky, but hers was kinda nice. With a whoop, he chased after her, running through the twists and turns of the greenery.
* * *
Once inside, they both slowed down, aware of the servants lurking in the corners, but they still giggled as they made their way upstairs. Surikitiyia led him to door near the top of the stairs.
“This is the school room,” she announced. Just then, Khun came around the corner with a basket of clothes.
“Young miss! Do you want me to open the doors for you?” She set the basket down and pushed the heavy doors wider. “I’ll take the laundry down and be back in a few minutes to help you.”
The two were left to wander around. Kevin went straight to the books that had animals on them. He could read the names on them, but he wasn’t sure they were the alphabet he knew. They just looked a little funny. Up on one of the walls was a chart showing the different symbols. Kevin could make out the “A B C” but they had extra marks above and below the letters.
“Sur’kya, I don’t think this is my alphabet. Can you pronounce them for me?” She started with Aa, Ăă, Bb, Cc, Dd, Đđ… The sounds seemed familiar even if the letters looked funny. Kevin thought he could learn it, although he may have to start at the beginning, like a baby. He hoped Sur’kya didn’t make fun of him.
“Can you do it again?” He started pronouncing them along with her, trying to get the same inflection right. Maybe that would help him sound more like them, too. And when the housekeeper showed up, he took a couple of books, determined to catch up as fast as possible. Khun Nee took a protesting Surikitiyia away; she had gotten dirty from their playtime earlier.
When he got to his bedroom, one of the servants was packing two small dark blue suitcases. She turned around when she heard him.
“Oh, Noy Kevin! I was putting away your clothes for you. Captain Thadchai plans to take you to your new home soon.” Kevin nodded, already thinking about what his new room will look like.
He was curled up on the sofa, going through one of the schoolbooks, when Captain Thadchai knocked on his open bedroom door. “Noy Kevin? Are you ready to go?”
“Almost!” He scrambled to his feet and rushed to the door. “Do you think it’s okay if I take a couple of school books with me? Your alphabet is different from mine, and I want to practice before my first day of school.”
The captain smiled and ruffled his hair, the gesture already familiar to the boy. “Of course, as long as we remember to return them when you are done.”
He carefully stuffed them in the front pocket of one of the suitcases. When he was done, he grabbed the smallest one. The captain took the other and wheeled it out.
Kevin took one last look around before walking away.
The foyer was bright with color as the sun streamed down through the stained glass windows. The king, queen, and now-clean princess were there, as well as several servants. Queen Rachini gave him a hug.
“We will see you in two days for your first lesson.” Kevin nodded, then bowed to the king, who patted him on the head. He held out his hand to Surikitiyia, who insisted on another pinky-swear. Then a quick wave to everyone else before descending down the front steps to the black four-door pickup truck. It was big and tall, but luckily had running boards so he could climb in. The captain placed the two blue suitcases in the rear seats as Kevin gamely yanked his door shut and fumbled for the seat belt.
Captain Thadchai waited until Kevin was successful in securing it, then he, too, climbed in.
“Well, Noy Kevin, are you ready for your next adventure?”
As they headed away from the compound, Kevin had a million questions. But his mom told him that talking to her why she was driving was dangerous, so he stayed mute and just stared out the window.
Once they drove through the ornate gates, he turned left. Trees and fields gave way to signs of civilization as they passed smaller farms. Finally they reached a town.
There were taller buildings of brick. Thadchai stopped by one of the larger ones. Kevin turned an inquiring eye, disappointed.
“You live here?” Somehow he thought he would live closer to the elephants. The captain chuckled.
“No, we are here to shop for the things you will need. This is the closest store that has the items we need.” Kevin felt embarrassed; of course he would need more than the few things in those suitcases. Except…
“But what happens if I end up going home all of the sudden? Then the money will be wasted.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Thadchai easily said, “It’s more important that you have clothes for home and school. And anything else you may want.” He opened the door of the truck. “Let’s go.”
Climbing out of the big vehicle was harder than climbing in, but he managed to hop down. By then, the captain had walked to the passenger side. He locked the doors and walked into the store together.
Several hours later, they were both laden with packages but laughing and at ease with each. They loaded everything in the back seat. Once they were both inside, the captain backed up and headed out of town back the way they came.
“I’ve already contacted my housekeeper, so she will have a light supper for us when we get there.” Kevin didn’t want to admit it, but he was hungry after trying on clothes.
The familiar tan walls of the palace compound came into view, but he drove past the ornate gates of the entrance. “Our house is located at the edge of the grounds, so we have a different entrance.”
The wall eventually gave way to a tall, spiked metal fence. The captain pressed a button above the rear view mirror, and a large metal gate ground open. “This is also where our supply trucks and utility vehicles come for the palace.” The fencing continued on both sides of the gravel road for several yards until they reached a second gate with a guardhouse.
“Good afternoon, sir.” The guard formally saluted.
“Good afternoon, Corporal Suwapitch. May I see the logs?” The guard bowed and ducked into the shack, returning with a thick brown cloth-bound book. The captain perused the entries, initialed the corner and closed it with a snap. “Excellent job, Corporal. You may continue.” The young guard bowed again, and ran to manually open the inner gate. Kevin waves at him as they drove by.
“The front gate to the palace is remotely operated by a security detail via CCTV. They are located underneath the council chambers.” Kevin wasn’t given a tour of the basement area of the palace, but maybe someday he will get to go there too. He never thought about all the people who work in a castle; the books never talk about the staff that makes sure everything runs smoothly.
Kevin spotted something familiar in the distance. “I see the elephant barn!” They drove past a crossroad; the sign read “Elephantine Facility”. A similar crossroad on the other side read “Equine Facility”.
Just past a copse of coral trees and bougainvillea, there was a two-story barracks on one side of the road, and several individual houses across from it. Thadchai backed into the carport of the nearest one.
The home was two stories, with a blue barrel-shingle roof and white stucco walls. The second story boasted a balcony on the right, above the double-entry wooden doors downstairs. A profusion of colorful plants lined the edges of the tiled driveway. Kevin looked at it with awe.
As they stepped out of the vehicle, a short, plump woman stepped out of the front door.
“Khun Thadchai! You’re home!” Her voice was unexpectedly girlish, and Kevin liked her right away.
The captain pushed Kevin in front of him. “This is Noy Kevin. Kevin, this is Khun Mattaya. She will take care of you when I’m not here.” She bobbed a quick curtsey; Kevin wasn’t sure what to do, so he bowed.
“Well, you two must be hungry. Come inside, the food is ready, and I’ll fetch your things later.”
“That is alright, we can carry them in ourselves, right, Noy Kevin?”
Kevin nodded. “Ladies don’t carry things where I come from. We can do it, Khun Matt’ya.” She smiled and gestured them into the house.
The interior was painted a pale green. There was spiral staircase smoothly twisting to a partially-open second floor. Khun Mattaya directed them to a bathroom near the front entrance.
“Clean up, and I’ll get the dishes on the table.”
By the time they made it to the dining room, the aromas were making Kevin’s mouth water. There was rice, soup, small dishes of different meats and vegetables, and an icy pitcher of water. The housekeeper addressed him. “Is there anything you can’t eat, or that you don’t like?”
Instantly Kevin answered. “Lima beans, even though my mom makes me eat them. I really like peas and lots of green vegetables, but I really really hate lima beans.”
She looked puzzled for a moment. “I’m not sure what a lima bean is, so there shouldn’t be any in the dishes. We may call it something different, though. You have a strange way of talking. What country are you from?” Thadchai gave a discreet cough before Kevin could explain, and the housekeeper excused herself and left the room.
In a low voice, he explained, “We don’t know exactly where you are from, or when you will return there, so, for now, we want to keep the information secret.” Kevin felt funny about that; he was just an ordinary boy from America. Although, thinking about it, maybe he was more like Superman, from another planet or something. Except he couldn’t fly or lift cars or anything that Superman could do. Still, he could keep a secret.
They sat down, and all the food was tasty, and none of it had lima beans. When they were done, the pair carried everything to the kitchen, which upset Khun Matt’ya. Kevin was firm, though. “If we don’t cook the food, we should help clean up.” The captain humored him, and put his finger to his lips and winked when the housekeeper started sputtering.
Once the table was cleared, he clapped the boy on the back. “Time to get everything out of the truck and show you to your room.”
Kevin headed for the front door; Thadchai stayed back for a moment to talk to his servant. “I want Noy Kevin to feel comfortable living here, so we will have to adjust things a little. I’ll explain everything later.” She looked unhappy but agreed.
By the time he walked outside, Kevin had already opened the rear door, and dragged out one suitcase and a couple of store bags. Thadchai effortlessly pulled the rest to the driveway. After locking the door, he grabbed the majority of the packages and directed his young charge back into the house.
Posted on November 18, 2014, in (completed) The Elephant Gate Part 1 (NaNoWriMo 2014), My Fan-Fictions and Novels and tagged nanowrimo; fiction; elephant prince; young adult fiction; novel; asia. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.
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