Fiction | Novella

Making Friends with Elephants

A Emu is saved from drowning by an elephant, then he and his girlfriend Gotva wonder the jungle fighting evil.

Chapter One: Emu Meets Mountain

Emu walked along the river on the forest path. The sound of water playing over the boulders made him feel alive and free. He moved easily, noticing new flowers, a monkey scurrying up a tree, and elephant ears on new green stems reaching for the sky. He came upon the boys playing soccer in a clearing near the river.

Hey, Emu,”

Hi ya, Lak.”

We could use another man on our side. Were down 1 to 4.”

One of the players from the other team shouted, “You guys can’t have another player until we get one. It ain’t fair.”

You’ve got Emile, he’s two years older than the rest of us.”

Emu walked onto the court, joined Lak and his teammates and ignored the comments.

The play continued; one team advancing the ball towards its goal, then the other side intercepting it and moved it in the opposite direction. Emu cut in front of Rengi, and stole the ball. He passed to Twee, who was running parallel to him. Both players angled towards the center of the field, passing the ball back-and-forth. Emu faked left, then moved right, faked right and then kick a shot towards the goal. A score! It hit the net just inside the upper bar.

Way to go, Emu. Now were only down 2 to 4.”

A booming voice came from behind them, “Who said you could play on our field.”

The boys look over, “Uh, oh, time to leave.” They started moving off the court.

The boys look at the ground as they walk away, but glanced out of the corner of their eyes at the four teenagers who were older than they were.

Guila said, “Sorry,” as he moved into the forest.

Not so fast. You’ve got to pay. It’ll cost you thirty Baht (Thai money).”

Emu says, “Get out of here. This isn’t your turf.”

The bullies move like lightning and grabbed onto Emu. They led him over to the river and surrounded him. He knew what was coming. He felt the sweat of fear run down his sides, under his arms, down his thighs. He considered possible escape routes: dashing up along the path, jumping into the river. He tried to twist free, but hands and arms held him like steel clamps. He thought, Ah well, they’re bullies; I’ve dealt with them before. I’ll survive.

Ok, I’m sorry. It’s your field. We won’t play here again.”

What about our money?”

You know I’m poor. You know I live in the abandoned drain pipe out on Kanchanaburi Road.”

We want our money now.”

I’ve got 6 baht. It’s in my pocket. You can have it. I’ll ask the other boys for the rest of it and give it to you tomorrow.”

They took his money and the leader pummeled him with punches to the stomach while the other boys held him. Then they all joined in. Emu’s face and eyes were cut and began to puff up.

That’ll teach you, you orphan— slave boy, beggar.”

I think he needs a bath.”

Yea he does. He smells.”

They hoisted him up onto their shoulders, walked out into the river and then threw him out into the rushing current. Emu was half-conscious. The water shocked him and for a few moments, he remained immobile. Then he slowly moved his arms and crawled towards the surface of the water. His head burst into the air and he sucked in the air that his lungs were screaming for.

The current was swift and carried him down the river, sometimes throwing him against boulders, twisting and turning his body. Still not fully conscious, he struggled towards the shore, scraping his shoulders against the rocks. He caught glimpses of grass and trees and obstructions in the water. He went under and then clawed back to the surface again.

As he neared the river bank, he reached for roots, reeds, anything to hold onto to pull himself to safety. He reached desperately for a branch, caught onto it with one hand, then the other. Miraculously, the branch lifted out of the water taking Emu with it while he held on for dear life. He heard a load roar like a cross between a horse’s whinny and a train locomotive. He was lifted up quickly and then thrown onto a large, grey, harry surface. He looked around and realized he had landed on the back of an elephant.

He gained his equilibrium and sat astride the animal’s neck. He pet its head and rubbed its ears. The animal let out a trumpet call as it raises its trunk.

Emu laughed, “Thank you my friend. What’s your name?”

Don’t say much? I’ll call you Mountain.”

He stayed on the elephant. It didn’t seem to mind. He talked to it and it seemed to understand. He signals with his feet against its ears for it to pull over to a banana tree and it complied. Emu shimmied up the tree trunk, picked a bunch of fruit, and fed some to Mountain and ate some himself. The elephant enjoyed the food and trumpeted with his approval.

Emu saw markings on the elephant that were brands and scars from wearing chains and ropes.

So you were a work elephant and you escaped. I’ll bet you have some interesting stories. You’ll have to tell them to me sometime.”

Emu fed the elephant more bananas and then gave him some candy that he had hidden away in his pockets. He continued to pet and talk to the elephant.

Don’t worry, I promise you we’ll be friends.”

You sniffed in that candy easily enough. What do you do when you get something caught in your trunk? I’ll bet that’s a funny sight.”

Emu had no obligations and no work even though he was almost eighteen years old. He’s spent most of his time in Kanchanaburi begging and doing odd jobs like running errands for shop owners, helping widows around the house for a free meal, or spying for businessmen.

Emu andMountain continued their journey. They walked along the river passing rapids and the roar of the water and then began moving up hill. It started to rain and then pour. “Mountain, I’m going to be miserable if I don’t get out of the rain.” He rubbed the elephant’s ears, pet its head, and gave it some more candy. “You come back and find me when it stops raining.”

Emu saw several trees with raised root systems. He reached for one, slid down the trunk and then entered the small cave underneath it. The ground was dry and soon he fell asleep.

Chapter 2: Emu and Mountain Travel Through the Jungle

When the rain stopped, Emu emerged from his bower and looked for Mountain. He couldn’t find him. He thought, Ah, easy come, easy go. Back to hoofing it. “Mountain . . . Mountain!” He bellowed out a loud whistle that echoed through the forest. Then he heard Mountain’s trumpet call in the distance. He found the elephant at the river drinking and bathing. He gave him more candy and rubbed his trunk. Mountain rubbed Emu’s head and sucked on his ears with his nose. The boy pulled away, laughing, because it tickled.

He climbed a tree and then reached over and sat on the elephant’s neck. They walked through the forest. Emu decided to leave his meaningless life in Kanchanaburi. He knew he and the elephant would stay together. They could make money giving children rides, working in carnivals, or finding employment as laborers. He thought, If I remain friends with Mountain and am always kind to him, we will travel and live together forever. We’ll watch out for each other.

The next day, they continued walking along the river. It was hot and Emu batted away the insects. He sang a traditional Thai song:

I travel high and low ere forest, river and town,

Making friends where e’r I go and helping everyone.

All we need, can be easily found,

What a life to live, a life to be won.

Come on Mountain, let’s go to the river. It’s too hot to walk today.” Mountain raised his trunk and Emu caught onto it and let himself fall into the river. He came up close to the elephant and threw a handful of mud at him. The elephant trumpeted and then squirted water at Emu’s face. It knocked him down. The boy ducked below the surface, moved to the rear of the elephant while it was washing the mud off with water from its trunk, and then he pulled hard on the elephant’s tail. The elephant pivoted like lightning, picked up Emu and tossed him out into the current. Emu stood up and laughed and Mountain trumpeted.

Emu gathered fruit from the trees overhanging the water and divided it with the elephant: coconuts, bananas, mangoes, and durian. Then he sat and ate on the shore while the elephant inhaled his share and then gathered leaves with its trunk from the trees.

What are we going to do, Sir Elephant? I don’t want to return to my village to beg and be faced with those bullies again. What can we do? Where can we go?” Mountain trumpeted.

Keep traveling you say?” He trumpeted again.

We could go from town to town and give rides to the children and tourists.” He trumpeted.

Not me, you, silly. You. I know you’d like it. They’ll pet you and feed you sweets and tasty food. But then you’d have to wear a bamboo chair on your back.”

Mountain gave a long discordant bellow. Emu laughed. “I wouldn’t want one of those things on my back either. Maybe all we need is a blanket.” Mountain trumpeted in agreement.

I’ve helped mahouts give elephant rides to children in my village. The elephant is the preferred means of travel because the rides are so gentle. They call them “jungle taxis”. Let’s see if you know what to do.” He tapped the elephant’s left front leg, and mountain raised it to make an angle between its calf and its upper leg. The boy climbed up it like it was a step and sat on Mountain’s neck.

Chapter 3: The Two Travelers Give the Children Rides

They came to a small town, They walk towards the center of town and the children begin to follow them.

One asked, “Where did you get the elephant.”

He’s my friend. He pulled me out of the river when I was drowning.”

Others asked, “What’s his name?”

Where are you going?”

The city center.”

His name’s Mountain and I’m Emu.”

How much does he weigh?”

A full grown male weighs 4000 Kilos. This one still has some growing to do.”

Will you give us a ride, Emu?” “Yea, I want one, too.” “Me, too.”

Sure, I’ll give all of you rides if you want.”

How much?”

Five baht or whatever you’ve got.”

I need a large blanket to put over his back for you to sit on. I’ll give two free rides to the first person who brings me one.”

I’ve got one.” An eight year old boy tore off down a side street and returned a few minutes later with a beautiful red, white, black, and purple hand woven tapas.

A crowd of children, some young and some older, packed around Emu and the elephant, “Who’ll be the first one to ride Mountain?”

A sixteen year old girl with straggly shoulder length brown hair said, “I will. I’ve always wanted to ride an elephant. Here are my five baht.”

Emu spread his arms wide to signal to Mountain that it was time to begin. Then he walked over and tapped the pachyderm’s left front leg. Mountain lifted it up, and Emu helped the girl up onto his neck. “Hold onto the hair on his head. He likes it when you gently rub his ears.”

Emu led Mountain around the square. “Hey, you can see forever from up here.” She saw the children and people in the town and a few men on the roofs of buildings watching them. They return to where they started and Emu helped her down.

I’m Gotva.”

I’m Emu. Let’s be friends.”

I’d like that. Thanks for the ride.”

Where’s the boy who brought the blanket? He’s next.”

He gave the children rides one after another. They offered Mountain candy and food that they had hidden in their pockets. He trumpeted to show his thanks.

I’ve only got one baht.”

Are you sure that’s all you have?”

We’re poor. My family never gives me any money. I have to make it on the streets.”

That’s what I did before I found Mountain. Come on, you’re next.”

A mother brought her young son over for a ride and wanted to go with him. Emu helped them up. At first she was scared, but then she ooh’ed and aah’ed as much as her son. She got off the elephant with a big smile on her face.

It was late afternoon and Mountain seems to be slowing down. Emu said, “That’s all for today. Thank you everyone. We’ll return another day.”

They stopped at a trough on the way out of town so the elephant could drink. A middle-aged man with a long mustache was watching from the porch of a store. He moved towards Emu and in a harsh voice said, “Where’d you get the elephant, boy?”

I got him in the wild.” He described how he was swept down river and saved by Mountain.

You sure you didn’t steal him.”

No, I never steal. . . .”

That looks a lot like the elephant that disappeared from the Ataburi Plantation that’s right down the road.”

Were not from around here. I found him near Chiang Mai, over a month’s journey from here.”

The man scratched his belly with his right hand, scowled, and then walked away.

Emu and Mountain walked north out of town and continue following the river. “I didn’t like that man. He’s up to no good. We’ll just keep traveling and not return to that village.” He thought of Gotva and felt regret that he wouldn’t see her again.

Chapter 4: Mountain Meets His Family and Friends

They came to several coconut trees; Emu presses his left foot against the elephant’s right ear and it moves to the left, towards one of the trees. He leaned over, caught the trunk, and shimmied up it. He threw down several coconuts. He broke them open with his machete and shared the pulp and “milk” with Mountain.

They came to a grove of banana trees with huge clusters of fruit. The elephant didn’t need Emu to direct him—it strolled over to a tree, wrapped its trunk around it, and shook it—bananas fell like rain. They stayed in the grove for several hours eating fruit and sleeping.

While they were eating, Emu counted the money they made giving rides in Petchaburi: twenty five . . . thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-three baht. “Mountain, I’ll have money to buy us a meal now and then. Did you enjoy the children?” The elephant trumpeted and then messed up Emu’s hair with his trunk.

Later in the day, the heat and insects were overwhelming, so they stroll towards the river for a swim and fresh water. However, on the way Mountain stopped and was quiet for a few minutes. “What is it big fella?” The elephant still didn’t move and then suddenly he began running his trunk up and down a tree. He rubbed faster and faster, generating a sort of hum. (This is the way elephants communicate with other elephants over long distances. The friction creates a low frequency sound wave that can be heard by other elephants one to four miles away.) A few minutes later, Emu heard a faint hum in the distance. Mountain suddenly trumpeted and then the boy heard a return trumpet in the distance. Mountain took off through the forest like a shot—barreling through dense foliage, knocking down trees, leaving a trail of crushed vegetation behind them. Emu compressed his body against the elephant’s neck and held on to keep from getting knocked off by the over-hanging branches.

They approached the river and walked into a small sandy cove. Bathing and cavorting in the water were a dozen elephants. Emu slid off of Mountain and watched his reunion with his family and friends. Mountain walked from elephant to elephant exchanging caresses and intertwining trunks. Emu thought, So this is his herd: brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and cousins. Now I’ve lost him for good, and he strolled into the forest. He found a tree for shelter and fell asleep under it.

Chapter 5: Gotva Warns Emu

It was late at night and something woke Emu. When he opened his eyes, he saw Gotva, the teenager from the village. She squatted down next to him and put her hand on his arm, “Emu,, remember me from the village?”

Yes, you’re Gotva, my friend.” He beamed a huge smile because he was happy to see her and happy he remembered her name.

I came to tell you: I was doing an errand for my mother and I saw that man—the one you talked who has the mustache, the fancy boots and the meanlook.”

Yes, He asked me about Mountain when we stopped at the trough. He thought I stole the elephant from a plantation.”

I overheard him and his friends when I was leaving the store, “They’re going to track you and take the elephant, so they can get the reward money.”

He put his hand on her arm, “Thank you friend.” Thank you, Gotva. “How did you find me?”

I have four brothers. We always play in the jungle. They’ve taught me how to track game and hunt and gather food. “These are bad men, Emu. They run our town. Everybody knows who they are. My father and the business men must pay them money every month to leave them alone. And they take the wives whenever they want. And now they take the girls when they are Seventeen and make them slaves and prostitutes. I know because they took my older sister last year. They only give her a little food everyday and make her do horrible things. I am sixteen, so next year they’ll take me.”

Emu eyes teared up. “I’m sorry. Thank you for telling me about these men.”

Emu tried to go back to sleep, but he couldn’t. He worried all night about what to do to protect Mountain, the whole herd and especially Gotva.. He thought that Mountain was with his family and wouldn’t want to leave. When the sun came up above the horizon, he walked towards the river to find the elephants.

They were cavorting again in the water. Mountain had his trunk intertwined with a female about his age. The boy decided to communicate with Mountain the best way he knew how. He stood on the beach and spread his arms so that his body formed a cross. He then pointed his right arm towards the village. Then, with his left arm, he twisted his fingers near his mouth as if he were rolling a mustache like the bad man in the city. Then, in a loud voice, he spoke in Pushto, the language the man used. Some of the people who speak Pushto capture and use elephants as laborers. They are known for their cruel methods. It is a proven fact that elephants are able to distinguish between languages. When they hear people talk who are friendly to them, they are relaxed. But when they hear the language of people who make elephants slaves or are their enemy, they feel fear and want to run away or fight.

The herd was unusually quiet for several minutes. Emu walked over to Mountain, It raised its leg, and he climb aboard. Emu patted its head and rubbed its ears. The elephant blew hot, moist air at the boy with its trunk. Emu talked gently to it, “The men from the village are coming to take you away . . . .”

Mountain, no stranger to danger, instinctively responded. He walked stealthily through the forest towards the village. Then he concealed himself in a grove of bamboo near the trail and waited.

After an hour, Emu and Mountain heard footsteps and talking. Six men moved along the trail carrying guns and saws to cut off the tusks of the elephants. A few minutes after the men had passed, the elephant gave a trumpet call to warn the herd and scare the men away. Again, Emu and Mountain quietly moved through the forest, found another hiding place, and then called again. A few minutes later, gun bullets hit the place with the elephant and the boy had been standing. After a third call, Mountain was answered by one of his herd. Then there were more gun shots then another and another and then an elephant cry.

Now the elephants were quiet. The men found one of the fallen animals, set down their weapons and readied their tools to butcher it and cut off its tusks. But the herd charged the men with mountain in the lead. The men hearing sounds like thunder from a fast approach tsunami, ran towards the river. The elephants didn’t stop until all the men were in the fast moving current.

Chapter 6: Emu and Mountain Help the Injured Elephant

Emu walked over to the fallen elephant and examined its wound. He’d had some experience caring for the sick and injured people in Kanchanaburi because he ran errands and assisted the village doctor.

The elephant had been hit in the rear left leg. Although the bullet was a large caliber, elephant’s legs and bodies are huge and have a lot of fat. Luckily, this bullet hit only the fleshy side of the upper leg and lodged itself in the muscle. Emu knew he could get the bullet out with his knife—it wasn’t in very deep—but he was concerned about what the elephant would do when the hot blade brought searing pain to its body.

The boy used the fire the men had built to sterilize the blade and then cut strips of cloth from his shirt to wrap the wound. He gathered certain leaves that acted as an astringent and balm to heal and sooth the wound. Emu stroked the elephant’s ears and head while Mountain wound his trunk around that of the fallen behemoth. Emu quickly slipped the knife into the wound, enlarged the hole, and used his hand to probe for the bullet.

After the operation and the wrapping of the wound, the elephant slept. Mountain and Emu searched for other injured. They found another elephant near the river, this one was shot in the shoulder. The bullet had penetrated deep in the muscle and seemed to be lodged against the bone. Again Mountain comforted the animal while Emu operated. Of course, he wasn’t trained as a physician or medic and didn’t know elephant physiology. He could only do his best with what little knowledge of medicine he had. He prayed that he would not cut major arteries or tendons.

Again he dug into the flesh and found the bullet. He sutured the wound hoping that nature would do its work and and the elephant would recover. While they were attending to the second elephant, the first one woke up, raised itself onto its feet, and slowly strolled over to the river.

Emu stayed near the second elephant while it slept. When it woke, it attempted to raise itself onto its legs, but could not. It continued to rest and sleep on the forest floor through the day while the other elephants stood guard around it. In the afternoon, the boy checked the wound and dressed it again. It was slowly healing and he felt that the elephant would be able to stand and go about its normal activities in a few more days.

Emu and Mountain decided to leave the herd because the men were after them (although they’d take any elephant from the herd for its ivory). They didn’t want to bring anymore misfortune to Emu’s friends and family. They’d leave the responsibility of guarding the injured animal to its brothers and sisters.

They continued their journey in a northerly direction moving off the trail and away from the river to avoid the men. After traveling for four hours, they stopped at a small stream for water and slept.

They passed through an open area along a lake and came upon hundreds of birds of a variety of species feeding and singing and moving through the trees and bushes. Emu saw a hornbill with its magnificent yellow body and fan-like tail feathers. He loved birds and often spent hours in his free time watching them. When it became dark, they stopped to sleep: Emu burrowed himself under dense bushes and Mountain hid himself in a clump of bamboo.

Chapter 7: The Travelers Meet a Nobleman and the Reddleys

When they awoke, the sky was just beginning to lighten. They fed on fruit and Mountain on fruit and leaves. The sun painted the gray clouds on the horizon a pale pink then a yellow and then the clouds disappeared altogether.

Soon, they came to a wide trail through the jungle. It was a well-traveled route with foot prints and spoor from a parade of travelers. They passed an old man bent over at the waist who had a meter high load of branches and twigs on his back. They saw woman carrying traditional water buckets filled with vegetables on a wooden pole over her shoulders. She carried a baby in her arms—probably on her way to a market to sell her goods.

Emu said to her, “Hello, much luck to you.”

In the mid-morning they came upon a nobleman and three attendants sitting on the side of the road drinking tea and snacking on rice cakes. The lord waved to Emu and motioned for him to come over. When Emu hesitated, the man said, “Sit, sit . . . my men will attend to the elephant. Does he like sugar cane?”

That’s his favorite.”

And where does such a young prince as you go? And how came you with such a magnificent beast?”

Emu told him his story and the story of being attacked from the bad men of the village. “More than anything, we are friends. I am like the monk in the temple who would go to great pains to usher a fly out of the window to avoid killing it. The elephant and I decide together what we will do. I could never force him to what he didn’t want to.”

A true Buddhist. What kind of work do you do?”

In one town we gave rides to children. Mountain likes that because they feed him sweets and give him praise and love him. We make a little money and some friends.”

But what do you eat and where do you stay?”

We eat fruit and leaves and roots from the forest and sleep under the trees at night.

Well, come visit me in my home in Saraburi—it is on this road—and I will give you and your friend work and a place to stay and good food to eat. Here, have some more tea. Do you like cakes? Mogie, pass him the plate.”

Much obliged, my lord. I will ask Mountain what he wants to do.”

As Emu got up to leave he said, “Perhaps we shall see you again.”

They continued walking on the trail. After another hour, the elephant stopped dead in his tracks and stood statue still for a few minutes. He then pivoted west and silently made his way along a narrow path.

What is it boy?” Emu had never seen Mountain like this. They continued on for several minutes and then stopped behind a pocket of trees with a view of a clearing. Through a tangle of branches and leaves and vines, Emu saw an English family being held captive by dark skinned men. A man and two boys were stakes out on the ground with their arms and legs stretched wide. A man was pouring a thick, gooey substance on them—possibly honey—a death sentence for anyone left in the jungle exposed to ants and wild animals. The woman and three girls were getting their punishment as well.

Emu held his breath. Not only was he shocked and sickened by the scene, but he recognized one of the girls—it was Gotva from the village who came to warn him about the attack. Mountain could smell them—they were the same men he and the herd had fought by the river.

Mountain exploded forward through the trees towards the clearing. The men scattered before they could retrieve their weapons. Emu slide to the ground, helped the woman up, and cut the ropes on the girls and the rest of the family. He drew together the guns and handed them to the man.

Emu went over to counsel Gotva. She said, “When I returned to the village, they took me. They knew I had warned you. I became their slave. They also took my mother and father. I can only image what they’ve done to them. I’d be surprised if they’re still alive. These girls are the daughters of the English man and woman. Those are their two sons. Emu, I have nowhere to go.”

Emu put his arm alround her shoulders and pulled her towards him. She cried on his chest. “You shall come with Mountain and me. We will take care of you.”

Oh Emu, I led those men to my family and now they may be dead.”

It’s not your fault, Gotva.”

Emu and Gotva joined the reunited family, “I’m John Reddley, this is my wife Rachel, and these are my daughters Rebecca and Whitley. We are eternally grateful for what you have done for us. We would have died a horrible death if you hadn’t freed us. With each breath we take for the rest of our lives we will remember and be grateful to you.”

I’m Emu and this is Gotva. He held her hand and said, “She’s my friend. But the rescue was all Mountain, my elephant’s, doing. He described how the pachyderm had heard the men, stealthily moved through the forest, and then charged. You must thank him. He loves tasty food and children.”

Rachael said, “I can guarantee that all of you will always have a place to stay and food to eat. We are missionaries in China. We have been living in Kunming for three years and are on our way to our home now after a long journey to Bangkok.”

As she was speaking, Mountain wondered back into the clearing. The family and Gotva surrounded him and showered him with praise and love and what little food they had.

Rachael added, “I’m going to make us lunch. After we’ve eaten, we’ll all feel much better.”

Emu diplomatically added. “They are evil men and have many evil friends. They attacked us and Mountain’s herd near the river two days ago. They shot two elephants. We’d best get as far away from here as swiftly as we can before they return. I’m sorry.”

John said, “Right you are. Rachael, girls, let’s pack and get on the road.”

Mountain volunteered to carry the luggage since the Reddley’s horses had run off. Rebecca and Whitley rode on Mountain’s neck while Rachael led the procession and John ended it. Everyone kept a watchful eye out for the men.

Chapter 8: Gotva Teaches Emu to Swim

Emu and Gotva walked together. “The Reddley’s have offered us a home. Living in the jungle is a rough life for anyone, particularly a young women. You could stay with them at least until you find your family.”

Emu, I want to stay with you. You are my friend and you’ve helped me and I’ve helped you. You and I belong together. Let’s accompany the Reddley’s to their home and then decide what to do when we get there.”

The group traveled on, stopping for short rest breaks and meals, usually eating uncooked food. Emu showed the family where to find fruit and what roots and plants were edible.

It was fall and in the early mornings and evenings it was cold. Soon they neared the Chinese border. They would be stopped and searched and asked for their papers. Gotva and Emu were Thai Citizens but had no identification. So to avoid the Chinese border guards, they split off from the family and traveled through the jungle. They would meet up with the Reddleys in Kunming.

The forest was pleasant and open with a variety of deciduous trees draped with epiphytes, vines, and flowering plants. Monkeys cavorted through trees screeching as they went. Ferns and bushes covered the ground. Occasionally they saw snakes or glimpsed game scurrying through the undergrowth.

When the rains came, Emu and Gotva found shelter under the root systems of trees that formed a sort of cave as if God were providing for them. They listened to the pitter patter of the rain drops and slowly their eye lids drooped shut and they fell asleep curled around each other. Food was abundant: fruit, roots, certain flowers and leaves provided what they needed. Emu supplemented their diet with rice that he purchased in villages and with small animals or fish. And, of course, one of the best sources of protein were the insects: grubs, crickets, scorpions, bees, and anything else Emu and Gotva could dig out from under logs or rocks. These tasted best when dipped in a sugary sauce.

They came to a gushing mountain stream as they climbed down a precipitous slope. A series of water falls formed small pools, some as large as twenty feet wide and six feet deep. They took lunch beside a pool while Mountain bathed and drank his fill.

Oh Emu, I’m so happy here. I’m so glad to be out of that horrible village of Ayuthaya and away from those cruel men.”

You’ll never have to return.”

Perhaps not, but what about my parents?” I can’t go on living and not know what happened to them.”

A bird with a black crown, dark grey wings and a playful song landed near them followed by its partner. Then a dove landed nearby. Coo . . . coo, coooo. Coo . . . coo, coooo

It had a small body with ruddy colored wings and a black ring around its neck.

Emu said, “I love birds. Everywhere I go I watch them. I’d like to read and study about all the birds of the world; that is, if I could read.”

I’ll teach you to read when we get to the Reddley’s. We’ll ask them for books. Then you can study about all the birds you want.”

I’d like that. I’m like a bird myself—like the doves—flying from place to place always free, always bringing peace. Coo . . . coo, coooo. Coo . . . coo, coooo.”

While Emu was watching the birds, Gotva sneaked away and took his sandals which he had set on the beach near the water. Then she hid behind a boulder. Emu turned around and said, “Hey, where are my sandals . . . where are you?”

When he walked away from the pool towards the slope, she stood up and threw a sandal at him and it hit him in the back. She ducked down again behind the rock. Walking quickly Emu said, “OK Gotva, I know where you are.”

Laughing, she stood up and threw the other sandal at him. Then she turned and ran towards the water. Emu caught her, he picked her up, and cast her into the pool and then jumped in himself. Both were laughing and splashed each other until they were too tired to continue.

We both needed a bath anyway, I could hardly stand the way you smelled.”

You didn’t smell so sweet yourself, Gotva.”

My father taught me and all of my brother and sisters to swim. He said to us, “Children, you live near the river. I will not always be there to save you if your fall in, so you must learn to swim.”

I don’t know how to swim, but I can cross the river beside Mountain.”

Come here, I’ll show you.” They took off their clothes and laid them on the shore. “There are a few basic stokes. The first is the crawl. You cup your hands like this and then swing your arms over your head and pull straight back making sure you use your cupped hands to pull against the water. At the same time you kick your feet. I’ll show you.” She swam across the pool and then returned.

Now you try it.”

Emu flailed his arms and kicked ineffectively.

She didn’t laugh. “Come here. First you have to learn to float. Watch.” She floated on her stomach. “Now you try it.”

He laid on the water with his hands in front of him and his legs behind him. Gotva supported his stomach and chest with her hands.

You’ve got it. Now all you have to do is float and then move your arms like the paddle wheel on a river boat while kicking your feet. Now you try it.”

She supported Emu while he swam in place for a few minutes. “Pull back on the water as hard as you can. You’ve got it!.”

He started to move and a few minutes later stood up on the other side of the pool.

You did it.”

He swam back to the other side and Gotva clapped her hands. “You can also float on your back,” she showed him.

I could take a nap on the water like that.”

Yes you could. You can also tread water. If you ever fall into a river or get caught in a fast current, you can stay afloat for hours by treading water.” She showed him.

That’s easy.”

Now you can swim. There are other strokes I’ll show you later.”

Mountain exited the water and walked towards the forest. “Where’s he going?”

He’s had his bath and drink, now it’s time to eat. Asian Elephants eat as much as 400 kilos of food a day. He’s got to be constantly foraging and moving to feed that gigantic body of his.

Aren’t we humans lucky? We can eat a plate or two of food three times a day that takes us maybe half-an hour and we’re done with eating.”

Yes we are. And I’m lucky to have you as a friend, Gotva.”

And I’m lucky to have you.”

I keep thinking about my family: my mother and father and sisters and brothers. I wonder if I’ll ever see them again. I feel like I want to search for them and help them, But I know it will just make things worse. I’ll end up being captured by those men and made a slave.”

Let’s talk with the Reddleys about it. They know the captors, since they were also held by them.”

All right, Emu, I’ll stop worrying about them until we get to Kunming. There isn’t a thing I can do in the mean time.”

That’s the spirit.”

They laid down next to each other and went to sleep.

Chapter 9: The Troupe is Captured by the King’s Soldiers

Gotva woke up and heard rumbling and marching sounds.

Emu, wake up. What’s that noise?”

I hope it’s not the men from your village again. Let’s go look.”

They picked up their ragged and torn clothes, put them on and then stealthily moved through the jungle. They kneeled down behind some elephant ears along the road. “It’s the king’s soldiers.”

They saw a long procession with platoons of marching soldiers carrying spears and shields with long knives on belts around their waists. Interpolated between the soldiers were carts—some loaded with pigs and chickens, others with bags of rice. Some were covered with dark silk cloths. Then a procession of full-

They continued their journey through the forest towards Kunming. At night they slept protected under the trees while Mountain kept guard and fed off of leaves, roots, and grass. For elephants usually sleep during the day and very little at that.

Emu became worried. He realized that as soon as they crossed the border, they would be illegal. They had no papers and weren’t Chinese citizens. They could be arrested, deported, even put into labor or detention camps. Mountain would be sold and made a laborer. It would be good to have a place to live, food to eat perhaps new clothes, but it was a big risk. And he was happy living in the forest. He decided to continue on to help Gotva. She needed a home and she needed help finding her family. And Kunming wasn’t far.

Now they traveled through forests that bordered cultivated valleys. Chinese farmers had built rice paddies, sometimes terraced up the sides of steep hills. Small walls of dirt surrounded sections of earth so that pools would form when the rains came or when the paddies were irrigated. The green of new growth rice, the magnificent blue of the sky, the deep brown walls of the paddies, reflecting off the water, was a spectacular and beautiful sight.

However, as they moved north the cultivated land increased and the forest decreased. Several nights in a row they were forced to take to a dirt road through farmland down narrow valleys. At one point they nearly walked into a police check point. It was only because a soldier had been careless and lit a cigarette and Gotva had smelled it that they had changed directions and avoided being captured.

They marched all night, determined to reach their destination. In the morning, just as light peaked above the horizon, they stumbled through the streets of Kunming, home of the Reddleys..

Rachael said, “A knock on the door at this hour, who could it be?”

John answered the door and the entire family came out to give Emu, Gotva, and Mountain a friendly welcome. They made Mountain comfortable in the barn which happened to be well stocked with alfalfa, hay, and his favorite: sugar cane.

The Reddleys prepared a huge meal and celebration to honor their guests, Emu and Gotva.

They discussed their travels, and again, the Reddleys poured out their gratitude and thanks to Emu and Gotva for rescuing them from the men. Mrs. Reddley offered to give them a home and the Reddley children were excited about the possibility of having new friends living with them.

Gotva finally found the courage to talk about how the men had raider her home and taken away her family. She said they were a ring of bad men preying on all the villages in the area. With tears streaming down her cheeks, she told how she was left alone and had no one except Emu to take care of her. She discussed how she had enjoyed school and wanted to continue her classes and how Emu loved birds and wanted to study them.

Finally after much consolation, she took Emu’s hand and said, “I have an announcement to make, we’re going to live with you in Kunming.”

Cheers and laughter filled the room and Emu and Gotva were again showered with hugs and love by their new family.