The Elephant Gate Part 1 – Ch 16 to 20
The baby elephant gets her new name. Kevin starts his schooling and his chores. And the captain finds the schoolteacher pretty as the one-year mark approaches.
Once everyone was in place, several temple priests filed out and blessed the crowd while native music played in the background. After being blessed, the chief handlers walked over to the elephants. Kevin also stood up by his chair.
First, the adult elephant was brought forward. She kneeled for a moment as the priests splashed holy water on her head and placed a huge garland of flowers around her neck. She stood up and was led to the side near the royal family. Surikitiyia was held back by her mom when she tried to reach Kwamsoo.
Khun Wit led the baby elephant forward just behind the dais. The priests completed a similar ritual, this time sprinkling the animal with holy water from head to tail. The garland placed on her neck was much smaller but no less gaudy. Once they finished the blessing, the priests filed out into the recesses of the barn.
King Phuna stepped forward and motioned for silence.
“We welcome into our midst a new member, whose fragile life was saved with much effort and much love.” He touched the ears.
“May she always listen and shield those under her protection.” He touched the trunk.
“May she use her strength to support and guard those under her protection.” He touched the back.
“May she carry to safety and to battle those under her protection.” Giving her a final pat, he stepped back and gave a low bow to the animal, who raised her trunk above her head in salute. A rumble of distant thunder punctuated the ritual.
Khun Wit nodded to Kevin, who swallowed a suddenly-dry mouth. He took a deep, steadying breath, and walked to the dais. A servant stepped forward carrying a large book with “Ēlĕphańt Ŗeĝisţratioň” embossed on the cover in silver gilt, and placed it on the table. Kevin stepped up and opened it to the first empty page. He gripped a silver pen in his hand, and carefully wrote “Ķandůla, of Ķwāmső by Lin-ŵāng” on the top of the page, then wrote down the baby’s date of birth. Leaving it open to dry, he picked up a small jar and paintbrush left on the table, and climbed down to approach the animal.
He could almost hear the elephant’s thoughts. She was enjoying the attention and feeling a bit mischievous.
The elephant playfully tickled Kevin’s ribs, eliciting a giggle. “Stop it,” he hissed through his laughter, “I don’t want to drop everything.” He dipped the brush into the reddish dye. There was a circular space drawn on the elephant’s forehead, and Kevin painstakingly wrote her name again. Knowing how important it was, she obediently stayed still. Once he completed it, he stepped back, and took a deep breath.
“Her name is Kandula, named for a famous elephant in my country. May she grow to be strong and bright, to guard and shield all under her protection.” He bowed to both elephants and returned to his seat.
Captain Thadchai clapped him on the shoulders and quietly said, “Well done.”
The elephant handler stepped onto the dais and initialed the registration entry. With a final musical fanfare, the elephants were led back to their pickets, and the guests began to file past them both.
During this time, the sky began to darken as the wind picked up. Khun Wit picked up the registry and carefully placed it in a black velvet bag, then carried it into the barn, along with the pot of henna and paintbrush. Servants started to dismantle the table and dais while others brought the flower bouquets against the wall and out of the threatening weather.
The royal family walked over to where Kevin was talking with the head of the equine facility. “So, how is our young charge, Khun Tae?” The king jovially asked.
“Although he has been to the barns only once, Your Highness, I can see he has a deft touch with the animals. I’m looking forward to training him.” Kevin blushed while Suri snickered. The king cast a stern eye on his daughter, who immediately subsided. He was all smiles, though, when he shook Kevin’s hand.
“Well done, young Kevin. You performed that perfectly. Do you know that Kandula is now part of your responsibility to take care of and train?” Kevin ducked his head as he felt his face redden even further.
“I promise to do a good job, King Phuna.” He looked up at the monarch, who was again smiling. “Can Sur’kya help me sometimes too?”
“Of course.” He replied, above the happy squeals of his daughter, “as long as she pays attention during her lessons and does her own chores.”
“Thank you. Can she come with me to the elephants now?” With the king’s permission, both scampered off hand in hand, to pet and talk to the pachyderms. The royals and their captain watch the two interact.
The storm finally reached them with a curtain of rain as everyone scurried into the shelter of the barn. The two children confidently led the elephants under the safety of the overhang with the handlers in tow.
“It will be good for the three of them to grow up together, for as long as Noy Kevin remains in our country,” Queen Rachini observed. “He seems a very good boy.” She pulled out a small camera. “I’m going to take some pictures of them before everything gets put away.”
“My wife is quite observant.” The king commented.
Thadchai nodded. “The next generation will have their own obstacles and problems to overcome.”
By the time morning had arrived, the storm had blown itself out, leaving everything damp. Kevin scrambled out of bed, eager to face the day. Due to yesterday’s ritual, his school lesson was postponed to the afternoon while he tackled chores at the elephant barn. Khun Mattaya had the picnic basket filled and waiting by the time the pair finished breakfast.
When they arrived at the elephant barn, there was nothing left of the previous afternoon’s events. Except Kandula still had the henna markings on her skin. Khun Wit handed Kevin a soft towel and a plastic bottle of cleanser.
“The first thing you need to do is give her a bath. There is a large basin outside, next to the cistern. Once you fill the basin, we will lead the little one outside and scrub her down.” Kevin hurried outside to set everything up; once it was in place, Khun Wit showed him how to attach a collar and lead to the elephant.
Together, they led her out into the sparkling sunshine and patted her on her head. “ I hope you like your name, Kandi. At home, my Kandi always would be with me and listen to me.” A poke in his side caused him to giggle. “That tickles, Kandi! I promise we’ll be friends and talk to each other, just like I did back home.”
Before he washed her, he looked at the underside of her foot. There was a slight red area and a tiny scar on the rubbery skin, but otherwise it seemed completely healed. “I’m glad it doesn’t hurt anymore.”
Rainbow-hued soap bubbles floated in the soft breeze as he scoured and cleaned the gray animal. In short order, the last vestiges of the dye were gone. He dried her off as best he could before leading her back into the barn and to her momma.
When they reached her pen, Kandi pulled ahead, eager to eat. Kevin had a hard time holding her back. The struggle left him winded as she almost dragged him over.
“Stop, Kandi!” She came to a sudden halt, and turned to look inquiringly at him. Kevin realized he didn’t say anything out loud, but just thought it in his head. Maybe he really could talk to elephants! He closed his eyes and tried again.
I’m taking you to your mom, but I can walk as fast as you, and I don’t want you to get hurt. So just stay with me, and we will both get there safely.
Amazingly, she turned and began to walk slowly, pacing to Kevin’s shorter legs. It work! Thanks, he thought.
Kevin slipped off the collar and lead before reaching Kwamsoo’s stable. He tried to speak to the adult elephant.
I’m opening the door to let Kandi in. She’s hungry and ready to eat. I gave her a good bath, so she’s nice and clean!
The female chuffed agreement and backed away from the door, which allowed Kevin to open it and slip the youngster inside. When he secured the door, she lifted her head back over and tapped him on the head. He smiled. “You’re welcome!” He said out loud while they communicated further.
Kevin finished the clean up when Khun Wit walked by. “Uncle Wit! I’m done with washing Kandi. What’s next?” He quieted when he saw the older man’s grave face.
“Noy Kevin. Here we must always work in pairs when moving the elephants from one place to the other. It’s important to both the safety of the handlers and the animals.” Kevin shrank against the handler’s stern gaze. Thanks to their wordless communication, he was confident that he could handle them, but he still broke one of the cardinal rules.
“I apologize, Uncle Wit.” Kevin bowed low, contrite. “I promise not to forget again.” He straightened up; Wit looked into the young boy’s eyes, and saw the determination. He nodded.
“Always remember that safety is paramount here. Now it’s time for the mid-morning feeding. Are you ready to learn?” He clapped Kevin on the back. “Let’s go.”
Kevin found out that the feeding and care of these large creatures was an exhausting business. The females and young were let out together to socialize and play while the stalls were scraped clean and disinfected to prevent any parasites or diseases. The used straw was piled into a large wagon and sent over to a composting pile to eventually be spread over the fields.
An elephant can drink up to 150L of water a day. The stables had automatic water dispensers that needed to be cleaned and checked for proper operation. By the time his assigned chores were completed, Kevin was tired. Even though there were several stable hands, he did his best to pull his weight. It was almost noon when Khun Wit declared the barn clean.
“Okay Noy Kevin, one of the hands will take you back to your home for lunch. Don’t forget you have your schoolwork as well this afternoon.” Kevin groaned, and the other hands chuckled. Khun Wit smiled.
“Don’t worry, your muscles will soon get used to this.”
Once he showered, changed into clean clothes, and ate another filling meal, Kevin was ready for school. Captain Thadchai backed into the carport just as he was helping carry the dishes back into the kitchen. The housekeeper tutted; he looked tired and dirty.
“Go upstairs and clean up. I have some Pah Nang set aside for you.”
He shook his head. “I’m going to clean up and take Noy Kevin to school. I have a meeting with the king, so I’ll drive us both back when the lessons are done.”
“Very good, Khun Thadchai. I hope you aren’t finding the palace food more to your liking than mine.” He smiled. “Of course not, especially if you plan to make some of your bread pudding?” His voice took on a pleading tone that surprised Kevin but made the housekeeper chuckle.
“Go on with you. I’ll make some bread pudding, but you have to return before dark to enjoy it.”
When the captain disappeared up the stairs, Mattaya sighed. “When he starts a project, he frequently forgets to eat. Sometimes my bread pudding is the only thing that sustains him. Well, Noy Kevin, do you want to wait with me in the kitchen?” He agreed.
A short time later, Thadchai came upon the two laughing in the kitchen. Kevin was perched on a stool and stirring a clay pot with a large wooden spoon while Khun Mattaya pulled something savory out of the oven. He was glad that Kevin was integrating so well into his household, and almost wished the boy was his own son. Where ever he was from, it was clear he was raised well by his parents.
Kevin looked up and saw the captain. Scrambling off his stool, he left the bowl on the countertop and ran to give the housekeeper a quick hug. “Thanks, Khun Matt’ya! That was fun.” He trotted up to Thadchai. “I’ve got my books by the front door.”
The captain smiled at his housekeeper’s consternation. “Okay, Noy Kevin, let’s go.”
* * *
“How was your first day with Khun Wit?” The captain asked.
“There was a lot of work to do. I got in trouble.” Kevin felt like he needed to confess; after all, the captain had taken responsibility for him. “I took Kandi to her momma by myself after I scrubbed her, instead of waiting for a grown up. I apologized to Uncle Wit and promised not to do it again.”
Thadchai glanced at the earnest face. “Why did you move her alone?” Kevin shrugged.
“Because I knew she was hungry. She nearly pulled me down before I told her to stop. When we got to momma Kwamsoo, I told her to move away from the gate, opened it up, and let Kandi in. She thanked me for making her baby clean.” He grinned, a look of pure joy on his face.
“She told you this?” Thadchai humored him.
“Yep. And she wanted me to tell Uncle Wit that she wants more tree bark in her food.” Kevin laughed. “I didn’t even know they ate tree bark. Uncle Wit promised me next time I can help make up the elephant food for one of the meal times. Did you know they eat all day?” Kevin prattled on, and never noticed the sharp look his mentor gave him.
Thadchai drove on automatic pilot, listening to young Kevin talk. Mostly, his mind was in a whirl. This young boy can actually communicate with the elephants, he thought. Or he thinks that he can. But how to prove this one way or the other? He accelerated towards the palace, eager to talk with the king about this newest development.
Surikitiyia was at the top of the stairs when they arrived, and Kevin quickly headed up to the schoolroom. When he disappeared, Thadchai turned and strode over to the king’s office. He met the secretary outside.
“Good afternoon, Khun Apirak. Is His Highness available?” The man checked the schedule.
“He should be done soon. He is meeting with our Anachak ambassador. Their ruler is making overtures for more friendly relations between the two countries.” Thadchai grunted. Although they shared a border, there were vast differences between the two kingdoms. Anachak’s king was mostly a figurehead, while the military actually controlled the country and its peoples. There was equilibrium at the moment, and relations were peaceful.
“I’ll grab something to eat in the kitchens and come back.”
Khun Apirak agreed. “It will be about a half-hour.”
* * *
After a small meal in the servant’s dining room, Thadchai was back. This time he was gestured into the office.
The large office was richly appointed. A large conference table and a conversation setting of brown leather couches and chairs dominated the front of the room. The king sat behind an ornate desk in the back corner. He stood up and walked towards the couches. Thadchai bowed and met him there. They sat down and he ordered tea for the two of them. Once Apirak left, they settled down to talk.
“What happened, captain? It seems you have some important information to tell me.”
Thadchai relayed the conversation he had with Kevin on the way to the palace. “It seems he really believes he is talking to them. Not just feelings or impressions but actual thoughts.”
The king thought for a moment. “There must be a way to test this and not get any rumors started. What do you suggest?”
“I think Khun Wit needs to be involved, and possibly Khun Tae. If we can establish that Kevin can indeed speak directly to the elephants, then we need to test him with other animals to see if it is a cross-species phenomenon.” There was a discreet tap on the door, and the secretary brought in a tray with a steaming pot. He arranged the tea-things on the coffee table and then bowed out of the room.
After a few sips of tea, they continued their conversation.
“There was another incident at the pavilion that Khun Wit is aware of,” Thadchai continued, “young Kevin led Kandula back to the main pen by himself, and somehow was able to control her without the lead. The other handlers saw this, but I don’t think anyone is aware of the extent of the communication.”
The monarch thought for a moment. “Then we definitely need to make Khun Wit aware of what Kevin told you. Forewarned is forearmed, and he will understand how he needs to handle among his employees.”
“Right now he is scheduled for one day per week at each facility. I think we should increase his interactions with the elephants, and possibly other animals, but I also want Khun Joy’s impression of his learning abilities.”
Thadchai wanted to know the full extent of his young charge’s magical awareness, but he also had a responsibility to the boy. It was important that he have conventional learning, and all the things that boys need for their happiness. Young Kevin already had a small but growing place in his heart, and he wanted to do the best job he could at raising him.
Kevin was happy with his lessons, not only the familiar subjects of math and science, but the history of his new country as well. He was now sure he wasn’t on the Earth that he was familiar with, even though some things reminded him of home. In fact, with the exception of remembering his parent’s faces, his memories of home were becoming blurry in the face of so many similar things like cars and electricity.
Once their schoolwork was done and Teacher Joy had released them, Surikitiyia jumped out of her chair. “I want you to go with me somewhere.” She grabbed his hand and, as usual, all but dragged him out of the room. He resignedly followed; sure she was getting him into some mischief.
It turned out to be a music room. Glass-fronted cabinets lined the walls. They were filled with various stringed instruments. He only got a glimpse of everything before she pulled him to the grand piano in the middle. She opened the gleaming black fallboard and sat down on the bench, motioning him to sit next to her.
She smiled, and started a lively tune. Wait, he knew this one. “Back home, we call it ‘Heart and Soul’!” he said excitedly, “I’ll play too!”
As the two of them became engrossed in their musical play, they didn’t notice an audience gathered by the open doors.
Thadchai motioned the schoolteacher away from the pair, into a corner of the hallway.
“I would like to ask you a few questions about your impression of Noy Kevin so far, Khun Joy.” She thought for a moment.
“It’s a little soon to tell. He clears has knowledge of math and basic physics, but his sentence structure is different from native children, as is his speech pattern. And he has little historical knowledge. It’s as if he has never been to Pratheptikundee or even heard of us.”
Thadchai let her comment pass. “I would like to increase the days he spends training. Do you think his schoolwork and classroom learning will be negatively affected?” She shook her head.
“He has an eagerness to learn, and it won’t be long before he is caught up in all subjects. In fact, he will more than like surpass the princess in a short amount of time.”
The captain thanked her, and they walked back to the music room together just as the other servants began clapping.
Kevin blushed furiously, afraid he was in trouble. We he looked past the servants and saw the captain and his teacher smiling, it eased him. In any case, Surk’ya was waving at everyone.
Everyone dispersed, leaving Thadchai and Joy. “Well done, Noy Kevin,” she said, “did you ever have music lessons before?”
Kevin shook his head. “I just know the song from home. I don’t really know how to play the piano.”
“I’m going to expand the time you spend at our training facilities, so I’m afraid there won’t be any time to learn a musical instrument. Unless you would rather do that…?” Thadchai already knew the answer, but it was fun to tease the boy.
“Oh no, Cap’n Thadchai! I’d rather be with the animals and stuff!” Kevin cracked the biggest smile the captain had seen so far; it was infectious and he felt his own lips lift in response. “Okay, son, no music.
For now,” he added, in case the teacher didn’t approve. When he didn’t hear anything, he turned and saw her staring at his face in wonder.
“Um, what’s wrong, Khun Joy. Is there something on my face?” He wiped at his cheek.
She seemed to snap out of her reverie, and quickly looked down to hide her face. “It’s nothing, captain. Excuse me, I have to clean up the study room.” She fled to the safety of her domain. Once she got there, she fanned her flaming face. “The captain is certainly handsome, especially when he smiles.” She mused.
Kevin’s life fell into a routine. Four times per week, his afternoons would be spent training: two at the elephant pavilion; one at the equine facility; and one with the troops in the barracks learning simple hand-to-hand fighting techniques. Before long, there was little left of the confused and lost boy. The exertions and physical labor gave him self-confidence and poise.
He also began a growth spurt, leaving Khun Mattaya despairing of keeping him in clothes and shoes.
Almost in a flash, a year had gone by. Captain Thadchai decided to use the date of his arrival as his son’s birthday. In fact, it considered that day, when Noy Kevin first entered his life, as one of the luckiest.
Kevin’s affinity for animals was amazing and seemed almost limitless. He was able to empathize with many creatures. But it was with the elephants that he truly shined. His communication amounted to conversations, not just mere concepts. Although he and the two lead handlers tried to keep the boy’s skills under wraps, the other workers spread stories between each other of the outsider who could talk to the elephants. So far the boy seemed unaware, but Thadchai was sure it couldn’t be kept secret forever.
He touched the pile of cloth on the bed in front of him. A complete elephant soldier’s uniform in Kevin’s size, a gift from Khun Mattaya. The palace was planning a small party to celebrate this milestone, but he wanted his own quiet celebration at home. Khun Mat had cooked several of his favorite foods and made a small birthday pastry for lunch.
“Hallo!” The familiar call rang out in the hallway, and Thadchai broke out into a smile. His son was home from school!
He walked briskly to the front door to welcome him, only to come up short. Khun Joy was with him. At the sight of the school teacher, all thoughts fled. In the past year, he had gone from a nodding acquaintance with the pretty schoolteacher, to admiration, to something even more tender. He was careful to always remain cordial and professional. After all, men his age didn’t have crushes.
“Welcome home, Kevin. And good afternoon, Khun Joy.” Kevin ran and gave him a hug, a ritual from that other place, but now something he loved.
“I asked Khun Joy if she was willing to have birthday lunch with us. I hoped you don’t mind, Thadchai Dad.”
The captain smiled and ruffled his hair, now almost at the height of his eyes. “Of course not. I’m sure Khun Mattaya made plenty. Why don’t you go upstairs and clean up, and I’ll let her know you are home so she can get everything ready.”
The gangly boy nodded and raced up the stairs, leaving the two staring out each other. After an awkward moment, Thadchai cleared his throat.
“Would you like to sit down in the den?” She looked at him in confusion, and he corrected himself. “That’s what Noy Kevin originally called our sitting room, so the name stuck.” Feeling slightly embarrassed, he led her to the room. Once they sat down, again there was silence. He decided to land on a safe topic. “How is Kevin doing nowadays?”
She relaxed as well. “He is doing perfectly well, as you know. And since we have had a little extra time while the princess corrects her work, I’ve been teaching him a few fingerings on the piano. Nothing too complicated, just a way to get him comfortable.”
Thadchai nodded. He was already aware of this. There were no secrets between the two of them, even from the beginning. “You can teach him whatever he is willing to learn. I appreciate your efforts in the past year to educate him.”
“He is a very nice boy.” She replied. “Still, I’ve always wondered what country he came from, and how he arrived here. It seems strange that he doesn’t have parents anywhere. Do you know if he is an orphan?”
Thad was slow to answer. He did not want any lies between them, and yet Kevin’s mysterious circumstances were closely guarded. Only a few close and trusted people knew all the details. So he hedged.
“His parents placed Kevin in our care for an indeterminate amount of time. It’s possible he may stay with us forever.”
The woman nodded, a sympathetic light in her eyes. On impulse she placed her hand on his arm; he looked at it with surprise but felt her warmth soak through his skin.
“It must be hard to take care of him, knowing he may leave some day. And I know you love him.” He looked up into her earnest eyes, chagrined. She squeezed his arm, and he felt like squirming.
He was saved from saying anything by the thunderous sound of feet down the stairs. “Dad! Dad! Did you see what is on my bed? It’s awesome!”
“Happy birthday, son,” he replied gruffly. He stood up just in time as the boy barrelled into him for a hard hug.
“Thanks, Dad! It’s great!” At times like this, Kevin fell back on his previous way of speaking. “Can I try it on now? Can I?” To his amusment, his son bounced on the balls of his feet.
“Let’s wait until after lunch. Khun Mattaya wants to see you in uniform too.”
* * *
Thad tucked Kevin in that night, a rare treat as the boy was getting big, thriving under Khun Mattaya’s cooking. The work at the training facilities had contributed to a strong back, but he still had some filling out to do. Still, he was out like a light tonight, worn out from the excesses of his party.
He gave a final pat to his son’s head before leaving.
Posted on November 27, 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.