The Elephant Gate Part 2 – Ch 46 to 50
This is the start of the second arc of this series. I finally decided to finish it this year! Well, hopefully anyway. LOL
Kevin felt a strange sense of disorientation, as his body was swirling in two different directions at once. His arms felt leaden and numb. He had merely a moment to feel fear before the familiar, frightening darkness swept over him.
From the dark, he became aware that he was breathing heavily, as if he had run a marathon, and his body felt almost paralyzed. He heard a soft thunk to his right.
When he tried to open his eyes they revealed a vaulted wooden ceiling, festooned with cobwebs and dust. As his breathing slowed, he became more aware of his surroundings; a floral scent drifting in the clean air, the light touch of a breeze raising goosebumps on his arms.
He tried sitting up, and was almost comically surprised at his success. He was recovered rapidly from, well, whatever happened to him. Finally he was sitting, slightly hunched with his hands resting on his thighs. The sun had slipped past the horizon, the sky deepening through dark orange towards deep blues and inky black.
It appeared he was in some sort of gazebo, but it seemed long abandoned. There were twists of pink flowery vines clinging to the poles, a thin layer of dust everywhere. He looked at the floor, but the only footprints were a small pair, like that of a child or woman, walking to the bench where he sat, and then walking away. Even these had already been slightly filled in by powder.
He rubbed his foot experimentally, and brown wooden floorboards shown through. Just where was this place? He looked around for clues, familiar objects, anything that would tell him where he was.
He placed his hand on the bench’s armrest, and felt a faint bumpy indentation. Brushing away the dust, he saw two sets of initials surrounded by a crude heart. He reeled at the touch as what seemed like a bolt of lightning struck through his head.
Childhood memories came flooding back, of this very building, of playing in the garden, with a little girl and a brown and white dog.
“Surikiyia……” the wind whispered, and he saw a face, laughing, pouting, crying, smiling.
He bolted upright, the wood beneath his feet groaning as they accepted the sudden weight. He was back in Pra’dee! But it looked decrepit and disused from his faint childhood memories. Was anything still the same? And how many years had passed since he was transported back to his own reality.
The ground felt firm under his feet, and when he found the faint stones that marked the old pathway, he felt marginally better. As he walked towards the palace, he wondered how many years had gone by. If it was the same as back home, than Thadchai Dad would be close to his 50’s. And he was twenty-five now. Would anyone recognize him?
His footsteps slowed as he reached the last overgrown hedge before the palace would come into view. He was oddly reluctant to see what was there.
He took those final steps. When the palace grounds came into view, his jaw dropped with shock.
The building was still there, all white stucco and black roof tiles, but the grounds were vastly different from his memory. Several layers of tall fencing surrounded the immediate grounds. There were uniformed men with dogs patrolling in between the layers. Automatically he hushed the dogs with his mind as he scanned the perimeter.
There were gun emplacements at opposite sides of the palace, and the building itself glowed with a patchwork of bright lights illuminating the surrounding area. It was clear the building was under siege.
“Who is there! Stop!” A voice cried out behind and to his right. He whirled around to see a soldier stand some distance from him, rifle level at his head. He automatically stood still and put his hands up. The soldier walked closer. “Who are you? Do you have a pass to be here? Why are you dressed that way?” The language was guttural; the questions were asked one after the other, giving him no time to answer. He licked his lips nervously.
“I…I’m looking for King Phuna.” The soldier sneered.
“He is long gone and deposed, sentenced to death if he ever returns. If you are one of his followers, prepare to be interrogated. Turn around and put your hands on your head!”
Numbly, Kevin complied, unable to think of any other action through his spinning mind. The kingdom was peaceful when he was here. There must have been a coup d’etat. What happened to the royal family? What happened to Suri? His father?
He realized that the soldier hadn’t said another word since he turned around, so he cautiously peeked over his shoulder. The rifle was on the grass, the soldiers eyes wide and beseeching as another man dressed in full black stood behind him, his arm circled around his neck. The figure gave a short twist with his other hand, and with a sickening snap, the soldier’s head lolled sideways and he slid to the ground.
Kevin stared at the dead guard for a moment before looking up at the hooded figure, now aiming the rifle directly at him. It was a wordless moment, both staring until the man lowered the weapon slightly.
“Who are you? Why are you here?” This voice was familiar, and shot straight to his heart.
“D…Dad? Thadchai Dad?” Kevin could feel the man’s eyes boring through him even as the rifle slowly lowered. With his other hand, the man pushed back his balaclava to reveal a shock of white hair and a weathered face that Kevin knew well.
“Is that you Kevin? Have you returned to us?”
Unmindful of the rifle now dangling and pointed down, Kevin made the few steps to the man and enveloped him in a bear hug. “Dad! You’re alright.”
The man put his free hand around Kevin and pulled him close. “Welcome back, son.”
When they broke apart, Kevin wanted some answers of his own. “What happened, Dad? How long has it been since I disappeared? Where is everyone?”
The older man put a hand on his shoulder. “They’ll be time enough for that. For now, we need to get out of here and safely.” With a searching look around the area, Thadchai motioned for Kevin to follow him.
“The guard will be found, and we have to be out of here before then.” He expertly stripped the body of weapons and communication gear before they left, and Kevin tried not to look at the prone figure as he stepped past him and trailed his father into the night.
After what seemed a long time, the pair came to a small clearing. Kevin already sensed what was there as the captain pulled aside camouflage netting and revealed a small cloth lean-to and a horse.
Kevin immediately patted the animal on the nose. “Hello, Smoke, thank you for waiting.”
Thadchai chuckled, a shadow of his remembered laugh.
“He’s one of our best scouts. He knows when to be quiet, and is quick as the wind, aren’t you, boy.” He tightened the saddle back up, and led the horse out of the lean-to. Kevin took the reins, and they stood quietly as the older man expertly broke down the lean-to, placing it and the netting into two saddlebags.
He mounted up, and motioned Kevin to climb up behind him. He scrambled up with some difficult, and felt a small moment of accomplishment when he was finally seated. His father smiled.
“I guess there aren’t many horses where you are from. Have you managed to keep up with your training? You seem fit.”
Kevin felt bad. “No, I exercise and jog, but I don’t practice anything I learned here. I’m sorry, captain.”
Thadchai took it in stride. “You once tried to explain where you were from, and I understood enough that it is a very different place from here. You are back to speaking your old language – do you still remember how to read ours?”
“I don’t know,” Kevin honestly answered, “It doesn’t exist in my world, so I had no way of practicing it.”
They had been walking for about fifteen minutes when the stolen radio crackled to life.
“Corporal James, check in.” The pair didn’t say anything, but the roan quickened his pace. “Corporal James, check in, over.”
“It won’t be long until they find the body. We are almost clear, though.” The horse began a slow gallop up the hill rising before them. When it topped the ridge, the radio channel again opened. “Man down, man down! Need backup!”
Just on the other side of the ridge, a road curved into view. A fifth-wheel trailer attached to a battered old pickup were parked under some trees. When they got there, they quickly dismounted. Kevin was a little sore; the casual ride with Rose just that short time ago was not enough to get him used to riding again.
Thadchai secured Smoke in stall built inside the trailer. Up near the front of the truck was a pile of hay bales. He pulled two aside to reveal a hidden space.
“Since you don’t have any papers, I’m afraid you’ll have to hide in here until we are clear.” Kevin nodded and crawled inside. Thadchai handed him the stolen weaponry. In one of his pockets, he pulled an earpiece and attached it to the side of the radio. “Listen to the radio chatter, and if you hear anything important, click that button on the wall. It’s an intercom to the cab. But don’t key it if I’m stopped because I’ll probably be at a border station.”
He gave it to the younger man, who clipped the earpiece over his ear. In a few moments he was in total darkness as the bales safeguarding his location were replaced.
Kevin felt a jolt as the truck pulled onto the road. “Everything is going to be okay, son.” The tinny box came to life by his head. “We have been waiting for you for a long time.”
* * *
The truck stopped twice. Both times, Kevin held his breath, wondering what was happening. The horse was calm, so Kevin knew they had successfully passed the check points. The traffic chatter of the dead soldier’s radio had them searching the environs around the palace; no one had picked up that Thadchai or the horse had been there.
Why did they happened to be there at that time. Since the truck was moving, he decided to ask. He keyed the intercom.
“What is it, Noy Kevin?” He felt funny hearing that moniker from his Pra’dee father.
“If the palace has been taken over, why are you still on the grounds? Are you trying to find a way in or something?”
There was a long pause, as if he was choosing his words carefully. “Actually, we have been waiting for you. I also have scout at my house and the elephant pavilion. We had hoped you would one day come back to us, so we were monitoring the places where you would likely show up. I’m glad we found you before Antanum’s troops did.”
“Yes. He is from the neighboring kingdom of Anachak. About a year ago, they invaded our borders and tried to assassinate the king. They have heavy weaponry, and we were unable to stop the takeover. We managed to get the royal family and most of the nobles to safety. Right now, Prince Antanum is living in the palace here while his father still sits on the Anachak throne. But we will talk more once we reach Safe Haven.”
The location turned out to be a small village nestled against a huge craggy mountain. It consisted of about ten buildings, including several businesses: A farmer’s market, a restaurant, and a grocery store.
Thadchai pulled the truck and trailer behind the outmost single-story building and parked. He walked into the trailer and removed the bales. Kevin scrambled out and took a deep breath. The air was cool, indicative of the higher elevation. The captain backed Smoke out of the trailer stall and outside. There was a small stable behind the house.
Another roan horse in a stall whickered a greeting.
“That’s Rowdy.” Thatchai explained. “He’s Smoke’s brother and my other trail horse. I need to rub down Smoke before I stable him. Why don’t you go inside the house?”
“I can help you with the horse, if you want.” Kevin was eager to get more answers to the events that led up to the current crisis in his adopted country. Thadchai just shook his head and waved him away.
“That’s alright. There are some people that want to greet you.” He pointed to the rear porch. “Go ahead.”
With no choice Kevin trudge to the porch. He hadn’t put one foot on the step before he felt a familiar touch in his mind. There was a sudden scratching at the rear door.
“Duchess!” He ran and flung open the door.
Out toddled an old dog, her muzzle almost completely gray. She walked gingerly, nursing her rear leg. Her tail, though, was whipping back and forth. Kevin fell to his knees as the dog limped over to him and tried to put her paws on his chest. When she wasn’t able to stand on her hind legs, she sat down and put on paw on his leg. He leaned over and hugged her, feeling the scrape of a wet tongue on his cheek compete with the tears from his eyes.
“Duchess. Good girl, good girl,” he repeated as he rubbed his hand down her back, feeling the bony processes through her skin. She sighed and snuggled in closer.
“She’s been waiting a long time, young master Kevin.” Another familiar voice spoke from the open door. “But then so have all.”
He looked up. “Khun Joy! What are you doing here!” His former school teacher had gotten a little soft, and there were streaks of gray at her temples, but her face and smile was just as he remembered them. She crouched down in front of him and rubbed Duchess between her shoulders.
“I’m part of the family. Khun Thad and I were married a little bit more than a year after you…after you disappeared. We had hoped you would somehow come back to us.” She placed her hand on his head. “I am so happy you have returned. Duchess dear, you have to share.”
The dog gave a little grumble but pulled back, looking over her shoulder at the woman. Joy smiled and rubbed her under the chin, her favorite spot. “You can have him back, but I must greet my son.”
Something twisted a bit inside when he realized that she was, indeed, his adoptive mother. He stood up from the floor, helping her, and was amaze to find she barely the middle of his chest.
“You certainly have grown, even more than when you left.” She looked up with bright and happy eyes. “And I can see you have been raised well, too. Welcome back.” She stood on tip toes and pulled him down so that she could kiss each cheek.
“How long has it been here?” Kevin asked, wondering if the time moved differently. A beloved figure appeared in the kitchen doorway, a wooden spoon in one hand. “Khun Mattaya!”
“Well now, it must be going past fifteen years now,” the housekeeper replied, “And we all wondered how you were doing over there, wherever you were. I see you’ve grown up fine and straight, Noy Kevin. And we welcome you back.”
Kevin nodded, overcome with emotion as his eyes roamed each of them: stepmom, canine, housekeeper. Thadchai watched the scene in the house unfold through the picture window and smiled through his own tears. “Now we will begin the real battle,” he said quietly. Smoke shook out his mane and nosed the man. “And we’ll all be put to the test.”
Prince Antanum was not happy as he wandered through the cavernous halls of the castle. It had been almost a year since the royals disappeared into exile. He had wasted vast resources of men and money to find their whereabouts. Without that marriage to the princess, it was nearly impossible to feel secure. Even as he strode down the hallway of the royal residence, he still felt like an interloper and not a monarch.
The first time he had seen Princess Surikiyia, he was a callow teen noble celebrating his 16th birthday. She was several years younger, but it was clear that she would be a great beauty someday. His father had pointed her out in the receiving line; it would be very profitable to link the two royal lines together. It was no secret that he coveted the rich resources found in the Pra’dee Kingdom, unlike their mountainous, rocky country.
When it came time for dancing, he offered her the first dance.
Although she accepted, it was clear she was uninterested, barely saying a word as they glided across the polished marble floors. When the orchestra concluded, she swiftly slipped her hands out of his grasp, bobbed a quick curtsy, and disappeared into the crowd of whispering, giggling girls on the edge.
Back in the present, Antanum scowled. Right from the beginning, the little chit refused to fall into their scheme. The families rarely met, becoming more and more infrequent as his father consolidated his power and pressured the nearby countries into powerful concessions.
At age 19, he managed to get her alone during a boring state function at her estate. He pulled her into a secluded balcony overlooking the pool and gardens in the rear of the castle.
He admired her silhouette against the tall greenery; her green dress blended so well that the brightness of her face nearly out-shown the stars. In that moment, he knew that, beyond what his father ordered, he wanted this young woman for his own. A bright jewel to adorn his arm and bring envy to his enemies.
He unconsciously licked his lips in anticipation before he spoke.
“You know, Suri, I have always admired you. You have grown up very well. Have you taken on your royal duties yet?”
She had leaned against the balustrade, silent for several minutes, before she turned back to face him. Her face had a serious demeanor as her eyes flashed with disdain.
“I may be young, but I am not naive. State your business with me.”
He smiled at her boldness. “Very well. I would like to know what I should do in order to secure your affections that would allow us to become a couple in the near future.” Frankness was easier than subterfuge sometimes.
He stepped closer, crowding her against the railing as if to intimidate her into agreement. But her reaction came as a surprise and was anything but ladylike.
She scoffed as her hands struck his chest and pushed him back a short distance. “That will never happen, not now and not ever. And don’t even think that we don’t know what you and your father are trying to do. We aren’t such a weak country that we can’t protect our borders from schemers and sneaks!”
With a twist, she was out of his arm’s reach and standing between him and the open double doors.
“Besides, I am already promised to someone else. Someone who has integrity and strength, with abilities you will never possess. And I will wait for him and none other!”
After a final sneer, she had flounced back into the ballroom, leaving him feeling…what? Anger? Regret? Maybe a little uncomfortable?
While lost in thoughts of the events from those past times, his feet took him to the very balcony where that last conversation was held.
Many of the trees were now gone, chopped down to reduce any hiding places around the environs of the building. The swimming pool was murky and unkempt.
He was now in her house, and she was probably in some wretched hut somewhere. But there was no sense of victory, only a slow boil of frustration and annoyance. Where could she be?
Antanum’s eye caught on a flurry of activity a short distance away in the garden. A moment later, hurried footsteps drummed behind him.
“Your Highness.” A guard snapped to a halt as the prince turned.
“What is it?”
“Please come inside to a secure area. A perimeter guard was just found with his neck broken near the garden gazebo. His weapons and radio are missing. So for your own protection, General Thanatorn requests that you stay inside while we investigate.”
“Oh, alright.” He nodded to the soldier and walked unhurriedly inside. Another flashback of those doors went through his mind before he cleared his thoughts and headed in.
It was a joyful reunion when everyone was together in the house. Khun Mattaya bustled about and created a simple meal of stew and bread. The dog sat under the table, her head on his leg; Khun Joy, no, Joy mom was across from him. When Kevin tried the stew, his memory flashed to that evening dinner with Rose and her parents. “This has lemongrass in it, right?” he asked the housekeeper, who grinned.
“Yes, Noy Kevin, lemongrass, wide rice noodles, carrots, onions, and a few other things.”
“I recently ate something that almost tasted like this back home. Rose’s mother is from a country called Thailand, and it’s her recipe.” He looked up from the bowl to see the older woman looking at him with consternation, a wooden spoon in one hand. “What’s wrong?”
“Are you married over there, Noy Kevin?”
Kevin shook his head, and then thought about his relationship with the screenwriter. “I’m not married, but there is someone I’m interested in. It’s still pretty new.” He snuck a piece of meat to Duchess, who bumped into his pocket when she snapped up the morsel.
Remembering the events leading up to his crossover into this reality a second time, Kevin stuck his hand in his pocket. There it was still nestled in there. He pulled out Kandi’s tusk and set it on the table.
“Somehow Kandi’s tusk followed was the only thing that came back with me when I went back. And it came with me this time, too. I wonder why.” He wondered about his gray friend. “What happened to the elephants when everything occurred?”
The two women exchanged looks. Joy spoke first. “Perhaps you need to speak with Khun Thad about that. I don’t know too much about what happened during the fighting. We all moved to this area several months after the fighting started. Khun Thad wanted us away from the palace grounds.”
Duchess lifted her head and gave a happy whine. The captain came through the rear door, removing his coat to a hanger on a wall. “That stew smells delicious, Khun Matt. Let me just clean up first.” He returned shortly, kissed the top of his wife’s head, and sat down at the end of the table between the two members of his family, content that they were all united again. Duchess briefly abandoned Kevin to greet his father before returned to the younger man’s side.
“She really missed you all these years,” the captain said matter-of-factly. “In fact, we all did. I hope you had a good life over there.” Kevin nodded, the lump in his throat having nothing to do with the bit of bread he was chewing.
“So what do you do over there?”
It was so strange, Thad thought, to see his son as an adult, without any idea of how he grew up or what he did. He was tall and healthy, respectful and intelligent, and possibly the one person to save their country.
“I write books for a living.” It sounded lame even to Kevin’s own ears, given the active life here in Pra’dee. “I used my experiences in this world to write a series of children’s novels. I’m ashamed to say, I had forgotten a lot about this place until recently. I’m sorry.”
The housekeeper walked behind his chair and backhugged his shoulders. “You were just a tiny boy back then. It’s amazing you remembered anything about us. I wondered whether your mother could keep you in pants, or how tall you would be once you finished your growing. You look like a fine young man, and I know your real parents must be proud.”
“They broke up a few years after I got my majority. My dad…err…Dad Hunter lives near me and we see each other a couple of times a year. Mom retired and moved to Florida. That’s one of the warm places in my country. I visited her a week ago.”
Thad absorbed the information. He was a bit disappointed in his son’s profession, but nevertheless he seemed in excellent shape. As the prophesied hero, he thought it should be easy to catch him up on fighting techniques.
When they had finished eating, the events of the day had taken its toll, and Kevin was exhausted and sleepy. He changed into a set of his father’s clothes, and was shown a small bedroom in the back. He all but fell into the bed and fell asleep immediately.
The other three stayed up a while longer to talk about what happened.
“We must alert everyone that he has arrived.” Matt argued, ”The sooner the better, so we can mobilize the troops.”
“I think we need to give him some time to get acclimatized. He needs to learn what is happening here, and also get stronger.” Joy rebutted, “I’m happy he is a good man, but I wish his country would have been more war-like, so he would be honed for spear and crossbow.”
Thad thought for a moment. “I believe it won’t take Kevin long to get comfortable. And I believe his arrival at this time is not a coincidence. What we need to worry about is word reaching our enemies before he is ready.”
He stood up and paced. “First, we must procure an identity for him, so he will able to move about. He is tall and looks different from us, but with some facial hair and a slouch perhaps it won’t be as noticeable. Tomorrow I’ll take him to the caves and try out his fighting and weapon skills. That way, we will have a better idea of his strengths and weaknesses. Joy dear, I think you will need to put your school teacher glasses back on.”
She smiled at her husband. “I can give a condensed version of the last fifteen years. And a lesson or two about our enemies. But what about the royal family? They should be informed as well.”
“I think we will wait at least a day before contacting them. When I brief the king, I want to make sure we have the information on Kevin.” He sighed, his mood suddenly pensive.
“It feels like I’m using him as a weapon instead of a son.”
His wife reached out and laid a comforting hand on his arm. “Whatever else, he knows that we love him above all.” Matt nodded and agreed.
Thad sighed again. “Let’s all get some sleep and see what happens in the coming day.”
Posted on January 29, 2019, in My Fan-Fictions and Novels, The Elephant Gate Part 2 (NaNoWriMo 2019) and tagged nanowrimo; fiction; elephant prince; young adult fiction; novel; asia. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.