The Elephant Prince – Chapter 21 to 25
There’s something ominious happening to Kevin on his first anniversary in Pra’dee.
“Sur’kya!” The familiar call wafted into her bedroom, and Suri smiled as she tied her shoelace to her sturdy boots. Today they were going to go fishing with her father. A year after they first met, the pair was inseparable, except when he had his extra lessons with the elephants and combat training. She pouted. She wanted to learn how to fight too, but her normally-indulgent father had disallowed it. And no whining or wheedling would change his mind. Still, sometimes, K’vin would show her some hand fighting moves, and they would secretly practice them by the wooden house.
And there was the super-secret birthday present waiting downstairs for her best friend, and she couldn’t wait to see his face when he received it.
Grabbing her wide-brimmed straw hat, she dashed down the stairs just as Kevin and the captain entered the foyer. The two youngsters completed their secret handshake before she bowed to Cap’n Thadchai. “Hello, sir. Are you coming with us to the fishing pond?”
He smiled and shook his head. “Maybe later, after I have run a few errands.” He clapped his hands on the spindly shoulders of the young man. “You kids have fun though. And Princess Suri,” he winked at her, “don’t forget Noy Kevin’s birthday present.” She giggled as Kevin looked up in surprise. More presents.
Suri grabbed his arm. “Come on, let’s go see my father, and give you our present before we go fishing.” She gave an exaggerated wink to the captain before dragging Kevin towards the palace kitchen.
The kitchen staff was there, milling around with seemingly nothing to do. Sutasinee gestured for Kevin to sit on a stool near the staffing kitchen table. The crowd parted as the head chef carried in a white-iced cake with a single large candle in the middle. Kevin’s eyes grew round and then began to tear. He once talked about the birthday traditions in his old home, and someone had remembered the candle wish.
As if she read his mind, Suri whispered, “The candle was my idea.” He absentmindedly gave her a shoulder hug, still focused on the cake. He closed his eyes, made a wish, and blew out the candle. Everyone clapped; when they quieted, he thanked everyone, and the chef started to slice it so that the staff could each have a piece.
When the plates were empty and carried off to be cleaned, Kevin said, “Thank you, everyone, for this. It was my best birthday ever.” The staff cheered as one of the butler brought out a bow-tied wicker basket and placed it on the table. Mystified, Kevin reached out to touch it, when it moved.
He jumped back, causing a few snickers. He looked at it again, and concentrated on the contents. When he felt that questing touch in his head, he grinned with happiness when he determined the contents.
“It’s a dog!” he quickly untied the bow that held the lid closed, and out climb a puppy. It was a brown and white female, with a narrow head and a tail that whipped back and forth as the dog tottered over and sniffed his hands. “It’s a beagle!” He felt a warm lick on his hand before he leaned down. Overjoyed, the puppy started licking his face until he dissolved into giggles.
“Happy birthday, K’vin, from me and my parents,” Suri said, who tried to look solemn and failed. “She’s from my uncle’s dog’s litter. I wanted to name her Duchess, but Pa said it was your dog to name.”
“I like Duchess. Does she like it?” He stared at the beagle’s eyes for a moment before the dog gave out a series of puppy barks. “She likes it too! But, does Thadchai Dad know I was getting a dog? Because she’ll live with me at my house.”
Khun Nee nodded. “He actually helped pick her out of the litter. When you get home this evening, everything will be in place there. He wanted to tell you that she will be all your responsibility to take care of.”
Kevin nodded ferverently. He had always wanted a dog, but Mom was allergic to fur. And now he finally had one! He turned to Suri. “Can she come with us fishing?”
“Of course, Noy Kevin,” came a voice from the door, and immediately the staff bow and lined up. The king smiled. “Relax, everyone, I’m just here to pick up my daughter, the birthday boy, and our young Duchess here.” Kevin placed her back in the basket and hopped off the stool.
“I’m ready, sir.”
* * *
It turned out to be a fun day. The puppy wandered here and there, her nose twitching at every scent, but she kept Kevin within eyeshot. The king was a true fisherman; he explained how the rod and reel worked, taught Kevin the proper casting technique, and helped him put his worms on the hook. Suri liked to throw the line, but refused to bait her own hooks.
By the end of the afternoon, Kevin was tired. They caught and released multiple fish; Kevin could only send dim flashes of alarm as they were pulled from the water. For fun, he tried to talk them into swimming towards shore, but nothing happened.
Suri put her pole down. “I want to play with Duchess.” She walked over to where the puppy was sniffing a plant near the water. The dog promptly abandoned it for a fun chase game. Both Kevin and King Phuna watched them, smiling.
“She never enjoys fishing as much as I do,” the king mused, “Neither does the queen, but then for me, it’s an excellent way to relax. One that I can do without being surrounded by guards and porters. What you think, young Kevin?”
He thought briefly. “When I want to relax, I like reading books. This is okay too, as long as the fish are biting.” He turned to the older man. “King Phuna, did you want to talk to me about something?”
The king looked startled, then relaxed into a smile and lowered his head near Kevin’s. “I wanted to speak to you regarding your abilities, and I wanted to be away from any gossiping servants.” He straightened up. “Just how are you doing with your training?”
Kevin thought for a moment. “I am very good with the elephants. And Kandi is my best friend! Of, you know, the elephants.” He was disconcerted by the king’s belly laugh.
“It is not a secret that little pachyderm follows you everywhere. How are you doing with the grown-up ones?”
“They listen to me and I listen to them. Khun Wit asked me to talk to each one to make sure that they aren’t hurt anywhere. I also try to get them all to do something at the same time. It sometimes works, but it gives me a headache too.”
Phuna nodded, looking thoughtful. “Keep up the good work, Noy Kevin. I look forward to join my guards when you reach your majority.” He turned to watch his daughter and the puppy gambol around a stand of palm trees. “And Suri is just a little younger than you, so she will become an adult right behind you. I hope you will stay with her and protect her.”
“I will, King Phuna. After all, she’s my best friend.”
The monarch’s eyes twinkled. “Of the human variety, right?” Kevin laughed.
Kevin was excited today. For the first time, he would be joining the young soldier recruits using weapons. He sat at the edge of his chair while the weapons instructor explained each item: knives, swords, bows. There weren’t any handguns, but he had long grown used to the strange similarities between his old home and his new one. Some ‘modern’ conveniences were available, but not all.
“Today, we are going to begin with quarterstaffs. Many of the foot positions will be similar to the hand-fighting techniques you already, and the upper body will need to be strengthened. Please separate into pairs.”
The group quickly scrambled to their feet and picked up the long sticks from a nearby table. Kevin found himself in front of a young boy a little taller than himself. They greeted each other before taking their stance. At the instructor’s orders, they slowly went through the motion; once through the full range, he swiftly took a stance in front of someone new and began again.
Each time they went through the rounds, they were faster and faster, until the sticks were a blur. Sweat poured off Kevin, but he was grinning and yelling, just like the others. Suddenly a sharp pain spiked through his head, and he was unable to defend himself when his opponent’s quarterstaff rapped him sharply on the ear.
He went down, his world black and full of pain; he barely heard the shouts of alarm, trying to breathe. Time seemed to slow as a female voice faintly called him. “Kevin! Come back, baby! Doctor, what’s wrong?” He tried moving his limbs to do anything other than lay on his back. Willing hands assisted him until he was sitting up.
Gradually the pain, and the faint female voice, receded and he became aware of his surroundings again.
He opened his eyes to a sea of scared faces. “I’m alright,” he managed to say. The instructor gently touched the side of his head, pulling away bloody fingers.
“Do you think you can stand, Noy Kevin?” At his nod, the instructor pulled him upright. He felt a moment of dizziness before every steadied. The instructor led him to a wooden bench under a shade tree to rest, before going back to the other recruits to continue their training.
What had happened? Kevin felt he ought to know that voice, but the moment was so fleeting, and already fading from his memory. His ear hurt a little, cut by the quarterstaff, but after about fifteen minutes he felt back to normal, and ready to resume his training.
“Are you okay, son?” The voice had him turning around. He smiled at the royal captain.
“I’m fine, Thadchai Dad. I was just had the breath knocked out of me during training.” His father looked worried as he looked at the laceration on his ear.
“The other trainee said your face went blank and you froze, and he wasn’t able to stop his swing. And, just so you know, the elephants were all trumpeting and charging around when you were hurt. What really happened?”
Kevin took a deep breath and answered honestly. “I don’t know. I got a pain in my head and everything went black. And I think I heard someone calling me. But it was a woman’s voice…” He trailed off as he thought of something. “Maybe it was my mother?” He frowned, trying to remember that voice, but a wave of pressure seemed to push him back. He shook his head. “I’m just not sure. I feel okay now, though.”
“I’d rather you sit this one out. How about we go over to the elephant pavilion? That way they can make sure their herd member is okay.” He caught the instructor’s attention and performed a complicated hand gesture. Without missing a beat, the instructor waved back. “Khun Preem says you’re released for the rest of the day.”
When they arrived at the main paddocks, the elephants were still restless. At his shout, they all thundered over to the edge of the fencing closest to the vehicle. He ran over to the fence line, and stood stoically as each elephant reached over and touched him.
From the truck, Thadchai watched the incident, amazed that these animals could sense his son’s distress even from kilometers of distance between each other. Once the herd was reassured they all walked away except Kandula, who stayed by the fence while Kevin rubbed her head. After a final pat, Kevin trotted back to the truck.
“They are all happy that I’m okay. I promised Kandi she would get a bath tomorrow.” He grinned, always happy to see his gray friends. Thadchai nodded and ruffed his hair.
“I still want you to rest for a while at home, just to make sure. And Khun Mat will want to fuss over you for that little scratch.” He laughed at Kevin’s scowl before climbing into the driver door.
It was a week after the incident at the training barracks, and Sur’kya and he were washing Kandula. Really, it was more of play than anything. They both had hoses. The elephant, now taller than either of the two children, was standing in the shallow wash area with his own barrel of water.
The spray made rainbow arcs as the pair giggled and dodged the blasts from her trunk. Once her ammunition was exhausted, she wheeled around, presenting her rump for bombardment. Kevin tried to sneak under her belly, but she backed up and squeezed him between her front legs. He ended up on his back in the wash, looking up at a gray haired chin, as she snaked her trunk down and tried to steal the hose.
Khun Wit watched them with exasperation. “It always takes them so long to scrub one elephant.” He commented ruefully. Thadchai nodded and clapped the handler on the back. “All three are growing up very well, though.” The handler approved.
“It has been a real joy to watch that boy grow. The princess, too, has benefited from the interaction, although her parents no doubt will soon impress the royal protocols on her. I just hope they will allow her what freedoms they can, such as her right to fall in love.”
“Her path in life is narrowed by her nobility,” Thadchai agreed, “But I know of no rumors of any princes or nearby kingdoms who wish to form a marriage alliance, and other one with a son of similar age would be Prince Antanum of Anachak. And we have little commerce with that kingdom.”
“She certainly has her champion in Noy Kevin. They are both still young though, and I’ve never seen anything but friendship between them.”
Thadchai frowned at Wit’s words. Certainly as his son, Kevin had status enough to court the princess. But, in truth, he was a stranger in their land, who had only been there eighteen months, with little known of his background, or the mysterious force that landed him in their midst. He hoped the pair wouldn’t form that sort of attachment, in case the unthinkable happened.
Kevin was still trapped between the toes of the young elephant when she suddenly went still. He stopped the spray; her mind was suddenly filled with fear – for him.
She grabbed his waist with her trunk and pulled him upright, scraping his back on the concrete pad of the wash.
“Kandi, what’s up?” The minds of the other elephants focused on him, and he suddenly grew afraid.
The young elephant gave a single loud bark, and Kevin winced at the sound. Then, the familiar sickening pain against flashed through his head, and he went limp in Kandula’s trunk as his world darkened again.
Speedily, the older men ran down to the wash. Kandula was rocking in distress, the unconscious boy wrapped in her trunk.
“Kandula! Still!” the handler called, touching her cheek. Immediately she focused on the men. The elephant loosened her hold as the two men supported Kevin’s weight.
Surikitiya was anxiously standing nearby, hose forgotten in her hand. They could hear the shouts of the handlers punctuating the distress calls of the herd as they all sensed something was wrong, and were quickly heading his way, as if to protect one of their own.
Once they were clear of the water, Thadchai lifted the boy into his arms and carried him to the barn as fast as he could go. Suri followed behind him, her hand on the boy’s leg. Wit stayed back to calm the young elephant. “Kandula, we will take care of him, but we need to take him to a physician, and you need to stay here.” He tapped her trunk to get her attention until she seemed to agree.
One of the younger handlers came up. “Sir, the elephants are stampeding towards us. What should we do?”
“For now, let the little one join her mother and the rest of the herd, and leave them alone for now. We won’t bring them in until the end of the day. Kandula, you must make sure that everyone behaves. Do you understand?” In answer, she tapped his head and walked over to the gate that opened into the main paddock. Once it was open, she ran as fast as she could towards the group elephants amassing from different directions.
The group coalesced into a circle with the young elephant hidden in middle. The handlers were still puzzled as they watched them break apart a short time later, still milling around but seemingly less spooked.
Kevin woke up this time, the groggy pain just like the incident a short time ago, but this time he didn’t remember hearing any voices. The ceiling wasn’t his bedroom at home, but the room he stayed at for those several days at the palace. He was dry and in fresh clothes.
When he tried to lift his head, the palace physician was at his side instantly. “Go slowly, Noy Kevin. You weren’t trampled by the elephant, were you?”
Kevin shook his head, and then winced. “I think Kandi grabbed me before I fell. She seemed to know it was happening before I did. There was a pain and I blocked out.” He winced again as the doctor shined a light into this eyes. As he checked his head and neck, Thadchai spoke from across the room. “This happened approximately a week ago. He collapsed at the training grounds during a quarterstaff exhibition. I didn’t witness that one, but he appeared to be out for about three minutes. I saw this one occur.” He took a deep breath, more to dispel the residual fear of seeing his beloved son limp and unmoving. He explained the events to the kindly doctor.
The doctor tested Kevin’s limbs for movement and strength. “There doesn’t seem to be any deficit to his extremities, and he appears healthy. I suggest transporting him to the hospital for x-rays. It may show an underlying problem. Right now, though, I can find nothing wrong with him.”
“I don’t really want to go to the hospital,” Kevin said, as the pain reduced to a shadow of its former power.
“You are going and that’s no subject to negotiation, young man,” Thadchai was firm; if not for Kevin’s sake then definitely for his own peace of mind. “I’m going to let you rest for a while, then we will head out.” Kevin grumped back on the bed, but subsided when Thad gave him a stare. Then he crouched down next to the bed, and pulled the young man towards him until their foreheads touched.
“You scared the life out of me, son, and I’d feel better if you were checked out further.” Kevin looked at his dad, and his eyes grew moist at the love and distress shining from them. “Okay, Dad, don’t worry. I’ll go.” Thad released his breath in a whoosh and gave Kevin a hard hug.
“We’ll head out in a few hours, then. Rest well.”
* * *
No anomalies were found in his x-ray films. It was all the more disturbing for having no cause for these lapses. The doctor stressed that Kevin should go back into his usual routine, and document any changes that might happen. Since there wasn’t a pattern to these syncopal episodes, there wasn’t any way to track them.
* * *
One warm spring day, Surikitiyia and Kevin were horseback riding in the great meadow. Duchess, still a puppy but almost full grown, ran back and forth, following whatever intriguing scent trails she could find.
They headed for a copse of trees that contained a low waterfall, a river damming project made to augment the available drinking and irrigation waters in times of drought.
They could hear the murmur of the spillway before they reached them. The horses quickened their pace as they smelled the water. When they reached the glen, it was like going through a curtain of cooling mist. They both dismounted and left the reins loose on the horses, knowing they wouldn’t go far, especially with Kevin nearby.
The dog snoozed between the two people. Contentedly munching on an apple, Kevin felt happy and peaceful. “Surk’ya, wouldn’t it be great if we could always be this way.” She nodded.
“You’re my best friend ever K’vin, and whatever is happening in your head scares me. I’m afraid you’ll disappear one day just like you showed up. And I want us to be together forever. Can we promise?”
Kevin held up three fingers. “I promise.”
Suri launched herself at him, and he caught her, startled, as she gave him a fierce hug. The dog woke up and started barking as they laughed.
“I love you, K’vin, lots and lots.”
He relaxed into the embrace and hugged her back. “Me, too.”
It was a week out from his second anniversary in Pra’dee. When he woke up, he was instantly aware that Kandi was in discomfort. Even Duchess whined from her pallet on the floor, feeling the undercurrents.
He sat upright and tried to listen harder. She was having some type of jaw pain; he sent her some comforting thoughts as he quickly ran through his morning routine.
“Dad, Dad! Something is wrong with Kandi!” His father emerged from his bedroom, rubbing his damp hair with a towel.
“What’s wrong with her, can you tell?” he asked his young charge.
Kevin shook his head. “It’s like her jaw hurts or something. She keeps rubbing her face against a tree, but it doesn’t help much.” He looked to the older man, who seemed unconcerned. “Do you know what’s wrong with her?”
“It’s a pretty good guess that she’s teething. Elephants start to lose their baby teeth at around two years old. We’ll go by and see her after breakfast.”
A little over an hour later, they arrived at the building. Kevin immediately headed for the main elephant paddock, where he knew his friend was waiting for him. After climbing over the gate, he made a formal bow to Kwamsoo, who was in guard stance by her baby. She patted him on the head with her trunk in a gesture of fondness she reserved just for him, and turned to show poor Kandula, leaning against an acacia tree and looking miserable.
Kevin touched her cheek, which felt hot to the touch. “My poor girl,” he murmured.
Khun Wit arrived with several handlers. “Khun Thadchai told us what was happening,” he explained. “We need to see which teeth and how loose they are.”
“Open your mouth wide, Kandi.” He requested, and the young animal curled her trunk over her head and dropped her jaw. Wit quickly reached in and wiggled each tooth in turn.
“It appears she is going to lose at least one of her milk tusks and one of her molars. The tusk will fall out on its own, but we will need to pull the other. Will she promise not to clamp down on any of us?”
The elephant and the boy communicated silently. “Yes, Uncle Wit, she will hold still. What needs to be done?”
“First, we need to gather some supplies.” One of the handlers hurried away and a short time later brought back several cloths and what appeared to be a small metal paint can and brush.
“We will use the cloth for leverage to remove the teeth, and then we will numb the areas. That should make her feel better.” Kevin nodded.
Kandi was brought to a small pen to restrict her movement. The floor of the pen was textured to give her more purchase for her feet. Wit sawed the cloth between two teeth, then tied a knot, leaving about 2 meters of cloth. Several handlers grabbed ahold while Wit prepared to go back into the mouth.
Kevin stood on the side with one hand on the opposite jaw. “Okay Kandi, hold on.” The elephant rolled her trunk onto his shoulder and braced her legs. The handler wrapped his hands on either side of the molar.
“1 – 2 – 3, pull!” Kandi gave a loud whine as the tooth popped free with a sickening snap. Immediately, Wit examined the area for any debris before taking the paint brush from one of the assistants and dabbing on the reddened gums. It took only a few seconds for the anesthetic to work as the animal sighed and relaxed. Kevin rubbed the bristly skin under the jawline.
The tusk was much simpler. Wit just grabbed it, moved it in a small circle, and extracted it with no additional work. He applied the ointment to that gap as well, after showing Kevin the adult tusk peeking through the gums.
When the dentistry was completed Wit gave the elephant a good trunk rub and released her from the pen. Kandula backed out, shaking her head from side to side. “It’s going to feel a little funny to her,” the older man explained, “until the new molar erupts in the same place.”
Kevin looked at the teeth, fascinated. The tusk was cone-shaped and about the size of a hand. The molar looked like a small gray wrinkly brick. He touched the surface, and felt the ridges and dips. It was one of the coolest things he had ever seen.
On impulse, he hugged the elephant. “I love you, Kandi.” She leaned into him for a moment before puffing air on his neck, making him jump and giggle.
Posted on May 28, 2018, in My Fan-Fictions and Novels, The Elephant Prince (NaNoWriMo 2014) and tagged nanowrimo; fiction; elephant prince; young adult fiction; novel; asia. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.