The Elephant Gate Part 2 – Ch 56 to 60

CHAPTER 56

The next morning, Kevin was in the barn, mucking out the stalls. The work was hard and sweaty, but every bit of exercise was needed to hone his muscles. After piling the used straw into a cart, he wheeled it out to the compost pile. He forked out the first pile, then ducked and spun as a knife embedded itself into the side of the cart with a thunk. He had barely a chance to react when he realized he wasn’t alone.

“Well, look who decided to return,” a female voice sneered, “Have you finally come to share our misfortune? Or to just disappear again for another fifteen years?”

She was a tall, willowy young woman, wearing a long skirt and blouse in blue, with a leather vest with various pockets and straps. Her right hand was poised over another throwing knife, still in the arm sheath. Her hair was pulled back from her face but cascaded down her back in long, brown curls.

She was older and more tired, but Kevin could recognize this person anywhere.

“Sur’kya!” He surged forward, intending to give her a hug, but the knife she pulled out looked anything but inviting. He pulled up short with a puzzled frown. “What’s wrong?”

“How long have you been here? We just got word today about a strange man from another country at the training facility. Don’t you think you should have let your best friend know you were back?”

“That was my decision, Princess.” Thadchai walked down the steps from the porch. “We needed to procure proper credentials, and evaluate his fighting skills. I had intended to see the king tomorrow as we just returned from Safe Haven yesterday afternoon.”

The knife slipped back into the sheath and she bowed a greeting to the captain. “You could have sent word,” she grumbled, hands on her hips as she glared at Kevin like it was his fault.

“I also knew you would do something like this if you realized he was back. Are your parents aware of our location? And where is Khun Wiset?”

She shrugged and tossed her head. “He is easy to ditch when I want to.” Thad shook his head.

“He is there for your protection, princess. Do you not think he will be punished for allowing you to escape?” She looked guilty for a moment, before switching to a more imperial facade.

“I want to know everything that happened so far.” Kevin completed closing the distance between them and caught her in a bear hug, pinning her arms to her sides.

“Suri! I really missed you.” She softened a bit and lifted her hands to his back. He gave her a quick spin before setting her back down and releasing her.

“Let’s go inside and chat, if that is okay, Dad?”

The older man nodded. “It would be safer inside as well. Welcome to my humble home, princess, and stay for a snack and some conversation.”

She gave a regal nod before sticking out her tongue and impishly jumping up the porch steps.

* * *

Over plates of fruits, the three of them chatted. Duchess had temporarily abandoned Kevin to sit near Suri and receive the occasional treat. Suri was intrigued about his profession.

“So you wrote stories about us, and that made you money?”

Kevin nodded.

“In my world my fictions are mostly read by teenagers and young adults. Most people enjoy the idea of talking elephants in a magical land.”

Suri propped her head on her hands. “So they think it’s magic. Can you talk to the elephants there, too? And the other creatures?”

Kevin nodded. “I think that it’s actually stronger than it was when I was a boy. But I’m just getting used to it again.”

She jumped up excitedly. “Then we need to get you close to the Anachak border and see if you can pick up the thoughts of Kandi and the other elephants!”

“Absolutely not.” Thadchai said resolutely. “I’m sorry, Princess, but there is much more at stake here than our elephants, even though it pains me to say that. Kevin must be brought up to a sufficient fighting level to assist us in taking back our country. If we can accomplish that, we can look for Kandula and the others then.”

She got ready to argue, but there was a knock on the front door. A harried-looking young soldier gave a smart salute to Thadchai when he opened the door.

“Captain, we have been looking for…there you are!” He kneeled for a moment. “Princess Surikitiyia, please return to the safe house with me now.”

The captain turned and looked at her. “Go, and we will talk more tomorrow when we arrive at the safe house.” She still looked rebellious, but nodded and flounced out, followed by the relieved guard.

“She’s just as bratty as ever, Dad.” Kevin commented as Thad shut the door.

“The exile has been hard on her and her parents. They have to remain in hiding until we can again put them on the throne. Neither King Phuna or Princess Suri like inaction. And it’s even more important that she stay undetectable. Our spies in the palace report that Prince Antanum plans to force Surikitiyia into marriage to legitimize his claim to the throne. If she is captured, it is all over.”

CHAPTER 57

Two weeks passed in a blur. Kevin felt stronger and leaner, no doubt bolstered by the near-constant training. His skin had darkened in the sun, although it would never reach the native tones. More importantly, his relationship with the people he had previously known in this life had returned to previous closeness.

All except one.

Since that meeting weeks ago, Kevin had not spoken with the princess again. Perhaps it was best, since it was clear that she had developed a prickly personality solely directed at him.

Today, he was at the stables, rubbing down Rowdy after a training session. The horse playfully blew Kevin’s sweaty hair, making it stick up at odd angles. He was used to the gelding’s shenanigans, though, and took it in stride.

He smiled at the sound of familiar footsteps behind him.

“Hello, Dad.”

Thadchai walked to the wash stall and patted Rowdy’s damp flank before looking at his son. It still seemed a miracle that this young man had returned from that mysterious other place.

“Tonight there will be a secret meeting in one of the villages nearby. I want you to come along with us, and observe the people there. I want this to be a test to see how well you blend in the populace here. All the townspeople have a strong alliance to the monarchy, so the danger should be minimal. Of course, you still must be wary and stay alert.”

Kevin turned and smiled. “I feel like I’m ready for this. Has there been any word regarding the movement of Antunam troops at the border?”

“According to our information, there has been a large amount of ground forces amassing just over the border. It’s possible that a mass invasion will take place in the foreseeable future.

Thadchai looked pensive.

It appears that the prince is becoming impatient. Although marriage to Princess Suriya would be vest in the eyes of the world, he doesn’t plan to wait much longer before flooding our kingdom with troops and suppressing the civilian populations.”

“So soon.” Kevin was surprised at the swiftness of the action.

The older man chuckled. “Soon for you, but this has been going on for quite a while before you appeared within our midst again.”

Ah, he had forgotten. With his current days falling into routine, he barely felt the passage of time. Was time in the real world still moving forward? Or was it frozen, like before, waiting for his return before restarting? Kevin shook these disturbing thoughts away and focused on the now.

“Okay, what preparations do we need for the meeting tonight, Dad.”

“When you are done here, I want you to come to my office so we can go over the general layout of the village and surrounding area. I want you to familiarize yourself with certain landmarks, so if something happens you will be better able to protect yourself and return.”

Kevin quirked a brow. “Is this likely” The older man shrugged.

“Knowledge is useful no matter what. It’s better for you to be aware of the surroundings as a backup. I’ll see you inside the house, then. Mae Joy should have lunch ready by then as well.”

Kevin nodded and went back to his chores.

He was putting away the hose when a tiny sound alerted him to the presence of another person. He continued his task, waiting until the figure crept closer, before spinning around and tackling the intruder to the ground.

The softness of the figure stunned him a split second before he hear a feminine gasp.

CHAPTER 58

Kevin didn’t dare move. If this was indeed an assassin, then female or not he had to stop them no matter what…

His hesitation cost him as a knee jammed into his abdomen, robbing him of breath. At the same time she pushed at his chest. Wheezing, he rolled to the side as the figure scrambled to their feet and stepped away.

“What do you think you are doing?!” Oh, boy. He knew that voice!

“P…p…princess.” Kevin managed to make out between breaths. By now, he had gotten to his knees. She said nothing until he finally staggered to his feet.

She looked adorable, dressed in close-fitting khaki pants and a loose top in drab gray. But those colors did nothing to veil her glowing skin and eyes. Her right hand rested on her leather knife sheath. He remembered when she brandished it previously.

“What are you doing here, Princess?” Kevin was careful to keep things a little formal. After all, last time they met, she was clearly unhappy with him.

Surikiyia’s thoughts were in a whirl. This man didn’t look anything like her childhood friend, and yet, she could see traces of that boy. When she was pinned underneath him, the hard planes of his body caused an unexpected rush of heat and a tingling sensation in her stomach. It was sheer reflex that caused her to push him off my any means necessary.

Their previous short conversation drove home the vast differences that happened over the last fifteen years. Indeed, she could barely understand what his life was like in that other place. Add that to his physical presence, and she felt a little off-kilter.

Was it even possible to find any common ground anymore? Would he truly be able to help her family and her country? There was only one way to find out. She cleared her throat.
“I want to come with you to the meeting.”

The man protested. “According to Dad, you have to stay undercover and safe. You and your family are too important to risk exposure and possible capture. There’s no reason for you to be there, since it’s a routine meeting.”

“Exactly!” she said. “Since it’s routine, there won’t be much danger for me. So why can’t I accompany you? I’m not some weak female to sit around and watch my people use their skills and their lives to protect me. I want to know what is happening!”

Kevin was unmoved. “No. And I think everyone would agree with me. Besides, I know you are updated on a regular basis from the commanders.” He paused. “Why don’t you tell me the real reason you want to come with us?”

Suri was quiet for a moment. Maybe it was the need to see some remnant of the boy she used to know. Maybe deep inside, she was more than a little curious about the man he now was. As she stared at him, her face warmed, and she knew she was blushing.

How annoying!

Without another word, she turned and hurried away from the paddock.

Kevin dropped the last of the hose and watched her disappear around a shed. He was sure she was up to something.

CHAPTER 59

Joy straightened out the collar of Kevin’s brown tunic. She had to stand on tiptoe to reach up. When had he gotten so tall? She smiled into her adoptive son’s eyes.

“There, now you look like a local villager.”

Kevin fidgeted in the unfamiliar clothes. “I’m still much taller than the majority of the population. I hope I’ll be able to blend in.”

“You just need to learn to slouch, son.” The pair turned around as Thadchai walked into the kitchen, dressed in clothing similar to Kevin’s outfit.

Joy looked back and forth between the two men, both very different but both holding a large part of her heart. “I think he will do fine, Khun Chai. After all, he is learning from you.” She reached out and pulled the older man into a three-person hug.

“You two, be very careful today, please.” She released them in order to wipe the corner of her eye.

Kevin looked between the two of them, his heart full of happiness. Thinking they might want some privacy, he gave a final squeeze to the woman and slipped away.

Once they were alone, Thadchai cupped his wife’s cheek. “I promise I will protect him the best that I can. But we can’t keep him wrapped in cotton. He will better understand our situation once he has a chance to speak with our people. Remember, this is his fate and his destiny. We knew that twenty years ago.”

Joy sniffled, pressed against his chest, but felt her emotions calm as their hearts synchronized. “I know. But I didn’t believe it would be so hard to step back and watch. Don’t worry, I will be your strength. I just need a few silly tears right now.”

He kissed the top of her head and hugged her tighter. “You are my strength, as I am yours. Always.”

~~~

Kevin headed towards the stables to check his gear. Half-way there, he felt a tiny tickle in the back of his head. Freezing in his tracks, he tried to focus on that tiny contact.

“Kandi? Is that you?”

The feeling grew stronger as a needle of pain pierced the back of his head. He ignored the pain, closed his eyes and tried to the will the connection stronger.

“I…It…It’s you…H…Help u…s…” The tiny whisper dissipated, and Kevin found himself on the ground, slumped against a fence post. He was sure it was one of the elephants, but unsure if it was Kandi. No matter which one, that voice was filled with pain and sorrow. He had to free them!

His head cleared when he reached the dim coolness of the stable. Several horses poked curious heads out. Rowdy nickered a greeting.

Kevin staggered over to his stall, to press his burning forehead against the horse’s soft nose and wait for his emotions to calm down. The gelding pushed a little, then blew his nose, leaving a shiny trail of mucus across his chest. Kevin smiled for a moment, then shook his head as it finally cleared.

He had to get through today’s meeting before any other steps could be managed. As he finished the physical labor, he went over all the information in his head. This upcoming meeting was crucial to determine if he can successfully integrate himself into the populace.

CHAPTER 60

The group of horses clopped along between the trees, along a path that barely qualified for the name. Kevin was near the end of the train as they peacefully traveled in single file. These weeks had strengthened both his seat and his stamina, and he no longer hurt at the end of a long ride. Still, it wasn’t his travel mode of choice.

Rowdy snorted and crow-hopped; Kevin laughed and patted his neck in apology.

A short time later, Thadchai crowded up against Rowdy and leaned over.

“We should arrive in about five minutes. I want you to stay near the back of the crowd and just observe everyone.”

Kevin rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah, Dad, we’ve gone over this multiple times.” The older man mock-punched his shoulder.

“I know, son. I’m just nervous. If something happens, you must return safely.” His grave face broke out in a lopsided smile. ‘If only so your mother doesn’t kill me. ”

They both chuckled together before Thadchai nodded and faded back behind him.

“Ho!”

At the sound, the horses halted. They were here!

One by one, the riders dismounted and tied their horses to a picket line before heading towards a small wooden cabin.

Kevin almost hummed with excitement as he loosened Rowdy’s cinch to make him more comfortable. Giving the gelding a final pat, he followed the rest.

The cabin was small, and felt cramped with the several dozen people inside. Chairs were arranged in several semicircular rows, all facing a small table. Since it was still standing room only, Kevin arranged himself near a window at the back of the crowd. Giving a nod to the captain, he settled back, slouching a little to look less conspicuous.

Meanwhile Captain Thadchai took the last chair at the table.

A burly man, dressed in a dark red tunic and sand-colored pants, stood up and rapped his knuckles on the wood.

“Okay, everyone is here, so let’s begin.”

The crowd settled down as the man glared around the room before sitting at the center table.

“Who is he, Khun Preem?” Kevin asked of the man next to him.

“That is Khun Wisut Panyawong. He was the head of a village that was annihilated by Anachak troops. He fled to the mountains and collected other refuges to form this current hidden village. I know he seemed self-important, but he did managed to keep his group safe and fed in the bad times.”

Kevin gave a slight shrug. He was not impressed with the man at first glance, but he should give him the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.

“We have heard that the villages to the northwest have seen more Anachak troops coming through their borders, although they have not caused any problems other than the usual harassment. It seems they are amassing at Chao Dae valley. Soldier estimates are 3000.”

A young man in the middle of the group stood up. “Have we heard anything from any villages nearby the valley?”

Captain Thadchai stood up.

“Nobody from that area has been here in about two months, so we know little besides this information. At this time, we have no idea what they are planning to do there. I would like to propose that we send several men to ascertain what actions they may be planning.”

He looked around the room for a moment. “I will take three men with me to scout out the situation. If you are interested, talk to me after out meeting is completed.” He glanced at Kevin and nodded before sitting down.

The village lead continued.

“Khun Brom, how are our food supplies right now?”

A portly gentleman rose to his feet.

“We have enough stores to serve our village well into next year. In addition, we can probably support at least another 200 or so comfortably, in the event that it is needed. Animal feed stores should be augmented with the next haying. That should happen within the next month as the grasses are drying nicely.”

The leader nodded. “Well done, thank you. Does anyone have something they want to discuss?”

A breath of wind tickled Kevin’s ear, and he turned to see the heavy curtain on the window move slightly. Since it caught his eye, he slipped away to see who or what was eavesdropping.

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About Shukmeister

I have a great fondness for chocolate chip cookie dough, 80's science fiction movies, and thunderstorms.

Posted on February 13, 2020, in My Fan-Fictions and Novels, The Elephant Gate Part 2 (NaNoWriMo 2019) and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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