Friday, July 11, 2008

"The Elephant Crusade" - Act II


"The Elephant Crusade"
(c) 2008 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.


ACT II: Balori Shongoyo, the Towering Elephant

THAT LONG, LONESOME ROAD: Wherein Shabar Visits the Elephant Homelands Called Ife; King Aniabas is Overthrown; The Elephant Crusade Begins; Balori is Tasked with the Stars



In the lands called Ife lived great and many beasts known to the world as elephants. Ife was their happy homeland. They loved its rolling hills, open plains and grasslands. It was a wild sort of country where men rarely ventured except by boats down rivirs. To the south of Ife was the mass expanse of a desert and to its north, over large and long hilly country, was the Grand Bazaar of Tenhar where men and Gifted Ones drew together to buy and sell all kinds of merchandise.

It was to the bazaar that Shabar, faithful servant to Sulia Laree the Eternal Empress of the Bizo, was sent to find a mahout or some other with expertise in elephants. It was at the bazaar he met Nagkendra, a mahout of popular skill, sitting at a table and having tea in a small cafe. Nagkendra was a waif of a man, though young. He wore deep green robes of light material, sandals made of thin leather straps and a scarf to block sand from his mouth when he ventured with elephants.

"My Empress sends me to find elephants. Our people build a tower to be used as a library, perhaps the tallest of its kind in all the world in all of Stork's recorded histories. In order to complete such a grand task, we need large animals such as the elephant to haul stones. Can you help us?"

Nagkendra agreed. "I can direct you to sellers of tamed elephants, though some small commission may be necessary and paid by you for my services."

"Money is no matter here," said Shabar. "Only my desires of my Empress matter."

"You say this will be the tallest tower in all the world?" Nagkendra asked.

Shabar nodded and showed Nagkendra the specifications for the plans. Nagkendra agreed the tower would be immense. "A mere elephant will not do. You will need many and I will most likely need to send you to more than one tamer," explained Nagkendra.

"To inflate your commission?" Shabar challenged.

"Forgive me, my hearing is ill, it would seem. Thought I that you had said money is not a matter in place of your empress' desires," Nagkendra smiled triumphantly.

Shabar huffed. "You heard well, but thriftiness should never be ignored nonetheless. How many elephants might I need?"

Nagkendra thought on this and looked over the plans once more. "Perhaps," he said, "thirty would suffice."

"Thirty?" Shabar raged. "That seems quite a lot. I have heard these beasts grow larger than ten or twenty men. Have I heard wrong?"

"Not at all," Nagkendra said. "You have heard correctly. But your empress' plans are also immense. I can assume the tower would take many years to build, as well. If that be true, then after the first few years of construction you will need more elephants. Some will perish due to accident or illness, it is only natural. Others will refuse to work or grow tired or old. You will need many, many more elephants in the years to come."

"Certainly I cannot come to these lands again and again every few years for a decade or more while the tower is being constructed," reasoned Shabar. "No, I will need to take more than thirty, then. Perhaps I will need to breed them in my homeland and raise them for the work." He looked at Nagkendra and considered him and matters for some time. Nagkendra drank his tea and ordered more, this time enough for himself and his guest, Shabar. While finishing their second cup of the fresh tea, Shabar said, "Will you help me train these creatures for the work I need? Will you be a mahout for the Eternal Empress? I can assure all your needs would be tended to."

Nagkendra thought a moment before saying, "Ife and the bazaar are my home and have been since I was orphaned here in the streets of Tenhar. My love for this place is strong," Shabar thought his question was dismissed until Nagkendra added, "but if the gods have placed you before me with such a generous offer, who am I to refuse?"

Nagkendra and Shabar laughed and drank their tea and, later while eating a full meal, shared their stories together and became friends. The tea was traded first for palm wine, then as the night drew on it the palm wine was abandoned for whiskey.

Negkendra shared his small hovel on the outskirts of town that night with Shabar. The following day they set out to speak with different merchants and mahouts at the bazaar. They found no one with an available elephant or two, let alone thirty. The only elephant it seemed anyone had was the property of Tenhar and used exclusively by the sheriff to punish the most diabolical criminals. They were not allowed even to see this elephant, however, as the sheriff was frightened of vengeance against the creature by families of those that had been crushed.

"It would seem we are cursed not to find one," said Nagkendra.

Shabar sighed, wondering if these creatures, these beasts called elephants truly existed and thinking Negkendra may be playing him for a fool in hopes of swindling out of him some coins. "What would you suggest now?" asked Shabar.

"We should hire another mahout and some spearmen to accompany us tomorrow to find and capture elephants in the wild."

It was a bold suggestion, but Shabar agreed. That night, using the excuse of other business that needed tending to, Shabar set out about the bazaar to inquire about elephants and the truth to their existence. To the best of his efforts, he could only find many people claiming elephants to be very real, but not one had evidence to that end. He feared Negkendra, though amiable, may suggest the next day to hire friends of his, friends to whom Shabar would have to spread the wealth.

Negkendra did that very thing that night. When Shabar returned to Negkendra's hovel the extra men were already collected - another mahout named Ghalib and three men with spears. Besides the extra men there were two mules and a cart with four small cages on it.

"Why would they need spears?" asked Shabar.

"In case the elephants resist," said Negkendra.

The next day, Shabar upon his horse and the others on rented camels, set out for the country known as Ife. Three other another mahout and three other men agreed to follow for a small wage. By day's end they were in the wild country. "Any time now, perhaps tonight as we rest or tomorrow as we search, we will find elephants. I will help you chose several pairs of mates."

They all slept well that night under a starless sky. All except Shabar. He remained awake, excited as a child might be to see fabled creatures, desiring not to miss a moment of contact with them. Albert had sent him here and for a time Shabar questioned whether elephants were real or imagined beasts that terrify people in the night as they dreamed. But having met these men, Negkendra and the others, these few men spoke so fondly of elephants that Shabar determined, whether the tales of the size and strength and unnatural strength of these beasts was true or exaggerated fantasy, the creatures themselves were surely real. He wondered all night, hoping, waiting, wishing Etain and the new day to dawn. Sleep slipped through him now and then, but largely Shabar remained awake and waiting.

When Etain came over the horizon, Shabar roused Negkendra and the others. They made quick meals to break the nightly fast and set out into a mass grassy plain to find the fabled elephants. After an hour's travel the mahout Ghalib found many prints and scat upon a hill. "There is a watering hole some small distance from here. I am sure they are headed there."

Shabar examined the print closely before they moved on. He placed his palm, fingers spread wide, into the impression. He said, "The length and girth of my hand does not match the size of these prints. These animals must surely be immense."

His second wind catching up with him and his faith renewed that the animal existed, Shabar urged the small party onward towards the watering hole Ghalib spoke of.

When Etain was high overhead, in the midst of day, the men looked out and saw far-off wavering gray forms standing by a small lake. "Could it be?" Shabar nearly shrieked. "Are those elephants?"

Negkendra nodded. "They are."

They drew close. Shabar sat back in his saddle, eying and admiring the bold, beautiful creatures prancing along the waters edge - some indeed in the water - and trumpeting loudly as if crying out joyfully. Shabar laughed, saying, "Albert, you crazy old alchemist, you have lead me well."

Negkendra asked, "Will these do the task you ask of them?"

"I do not doubt it," Shabar answered.

Negkendra smiled, nodded. "I do not doubt it," he repeated.

Each creature seemed as tall as two men and longer than three men lying on the ground. They were thick, especially at the shoulders, and many had bellies extended with great rotund curves. Each one, cows and bulls, all had a pair of enormous, implausible teeth so large their mouths, though also enormous, could not contain them. These teeth - tusks as Negkendra called them - curved out of their mouths as giant white horns. Between these extended long noses - again Negkendra was helping in naming them trunks. These trunks were not merely elongated features but nimble, prehensile limbs. Shabar gasped as he watched the creatures uproot tall grass with their trunks and beat them against their knees to knock off the dirt at the roots, thereby cleaning their food, before shoving them into their mouths. So much did he enjoy watching the elephants that Shabar laughed with glee.

But it was their ears, the incredible ears that struck Shabar the most with awe and wonderment. They were huge though thin, wide though frail. And the animals walked and tramped about with such ease, some as though they carried no more weight than a dove. They skin was thick and gray and had toenails larger than a man's head. Their legs were thick as the most solid oak. Shabar could only stare, a smile upon his face. "They are glorious," he spoke softly.

"There are three children," spoke Ghalib. "But there are fourteen adults. One of the adults is perhaps young enough for us to take and train, but the number of the older ones far outweighs our numbers."

Negkendra sighed. "I think we can get the three young ones if we could distract the rest."

Ghalib shook his head. "You want only the young? It would be easier to claim one or two older ones and then take the three young ones. Plus, with the older ones, we can start breeding them immediately to make more."

"Breed them? Immediately?" asked Shabar. "I know we'll have to breed them eventually, but we cannot breed them right away. It took me many months to get here from the side of my empress and I was alone without others to withhold my progress. With you five plus whatever number of elephants we take, it would take many more months. Do you suggest we breed them along the way?"

"The quicker we breed them, the quicker your empress will have more elephants," said Ghalib. "We should also train them along the way, then when we return you to your city they can begin working right away."

Negkendra added, "If my knowledge of where the Bizo people are located coupled with my knowledge of elephants and their training be true, I would say it will take nearly a year, perhaps more. By the time we get to your empress, we'll have a whole new generation of elephants ready to be born and tamed."

Shabar was quiet as he thought.

"Ah," exclaimed Ghalib. "There is a mother already pregnant amongst them. If we take an older one, I suggest we take her."



King Aniabas' men stood in formation facing north towards the Plain of Adoration. The raucous, rioting followers of the demon Yaska Selith danced about bonfires, seeming not to notice. The army waited, watching.

From the east came the good king's four best warships. he had three others, but they were small sloops best suited for privateering and improperly outfitted to engage in a battle on land. What he had sent forth were a corvette, a brig and a dhow.

General Vitor was beside his liege in full armor. The armor had been painted blue as a clear sky with hints of silver along the edging. The spangenhelm atop his head shone silver and bone yellow, giving him the appearance of an undead soldier. At his back was attached the red and blue banner with a lone white lion of his liege's command.

King Aniabas was similarly outfitted, except without the banner and wearing a galea with a feathery plume that had been dyed bright blue instead of a spangenhelm.

"Think you the ships will suffice?" asked Vitor.

Aniabas took his time to answer. "They'll have to. The corvette and the brig have the cannons that should reach the demon's encampment. The dhow's shallow draft should allow it closer access and higher maneuverability."

They sat upon their horses and waited.

As the three ships drew near the shore, their captains gave the command to open fire. Cannon shot after cannon shot rained down on the demon's people, blowing many of them apart. Men became piecemeal, women became minced meat. Vitor smiled at his king who smiled in return and said, "Soon our ships will have crippled the demon itself so that we may ride in and defeat teh unholy beast. Then we will finally be rid of the thing."

But as King Aniabas said this, the great demon was roused from his daily sleep to discover the attack. Yaska Selith turned on the ship, opened his third eye and shot forth a red beam of such destruction that all three ships were nearly cut in two. Their wooden structures burst into flames. Sailors jumped from the decks into the sea, some only to be pulled under by the roiling currents caused by their sinking ships. Others were boiled to death for, as the incredible red beam spat from Yaska Selith's forehead and hit the waters, it caused the ocean to boil and bubbled and steam with intense heat.

The desire to fight fled from all of King Aniabas' men.

"We could do nothing to it," spoke Vitor.

Some of the gathered soldiers broke and ran. Many of them stayed, though cowering in their suits of armor and hoping their king would call off the campaign.

King Aniabas sighed. "I fear we must retreat lest we all die this day. We will have to reconsider our plans."

The king and his men returned to their homes to the south of the Plain of Adoration.

That night, Yaska Selith determined his bone warrior army must soon grow and wrest control from the king to the south.



Shabar and his hired men left their horse and camels near a lone tree as they steered themselves around the elephants to a spot where stood a stand of trees. There, between two trees, they placed a large hemp net. One of the spearmen then set out to place himself directly across from this net, with the elephants in between. With a shout and great fuss, he scared the elephants into charging away from him, charging towards the net.

Negkendra, Ghalib and Shabar did their best to flank the elephants, to herd them with shouts and calls and a few thrown stones. They also caught the three baby elephants using gigantic, modified versions of man catchers that they then staked into the ground and tied the feet of the smaller creatures with rope. Shabar had the most difficulty, as he had never captured any kind of animal before.

"Luck is with us!" cried Negkendra as the pregnant cow ran towards the two trees with the net, heading towards their center. As she neared, two spearmen released counterweights tied to the net and hanging from the trees. The netting flew skyward, blocking the escaping cow. She trumpeted in fear at the last minute before running into the net and crashing to the ground, entangled.

A lone bull turned from his escape and headed for them in an angry headlong assault. One of the spearmen, the closest and therefore the first target of the attacking elephant, threw his javelin wildly before turning to run. The elephant caught him easily, first stepping on one of his legs and crushing it so badly the muscle within tore from the flesh and spattered across the ground. The elephant then lowered its head and, with its left tusk, skewered the spearman, trampling his other leg and trumpeting with trembling fury. The elephant lifted his head, the spearman stuck on the tusk, and whipped side to side until the dead, dismembered body flung itself away to land sickly in the mud beside the lake.

Shabar, who was next closest, ran as the elephant came hysterically after him.

One of the other spearmen cast his javelin into the air. It sailed, piercing the charging creature from ear-hole to ear-hole, the weapon jamming deep into the thick skull of the beast. The elephant ceased its pursuit of the screaming and fearful Shabar.

The elephant toppled toppled. He breathed laboriously three times before his breathing stopped all together. The men did not know, though the mahouts silently suspected, they had killed the mate of the cow and father to her child.

The sudden death of one of their own further frightened the rest of the elephants. They ran, scattering while Negkendra and Ghalib and the two spearmen rounded up the three baby elephants and the pregnant cow.

"We must hurry," called Negkendra to the rest. "We cannot allow the elephants to return lest we be crushed under their feet. We must hurry away with these four."

They caged the three small elephants easily, but the large mother refused to cooperate. The spearmen threw rope after rope around her legs until, at last, she could no longer refuse their efforts. They wound her entirely with the ropes, keeping her legs bound. They then dragged the elephant onto the cart which bowed beneath her inflated weight. As they did, she gave out a long, mournful cry.

"She calls for her mate," said Negkendra. "We must hurry."

As he checked the ropes tied to the cart, making sure they were secured, Shabar saw tears streaming from the cow's eyes. He frowned. "Is she hurt?" he asked.

"She is a dumb animal," said Ghalib. "At best she is frightened. She most likely she got dust in her eyes and, as we do, naturally formed the tears to wash the dust away."

Shabar heard the mahout's words, but as he looked at the captured cow once more, he was unsure. He laid a hand upon her forehead. He wanted to say an apology, but knew she would understand and he would most likely be mocked by Ghalib and the spearmen and, possibly, by his new friend Negkendra. He knew nothing of elephants and feared showing his ignorance. He said nothing instead.

"I do not think the two mules will have the strength," said Negkendra as he checked the cart.

Shabar gave up his horse and the other men gave up their camels. All the mounts were lashed to the cart and herded away quickly in the direction of the bazaar. As they left Ife, Negkendra looked back over his shoulder in fear of retaliation.

"Will they return?" asked Shabar.

"Perhaps," Negkendra said. "And perhaps with more numbers and all of them would be quite angry. We have stolen away with their children and one of their women. The cows rarely fight except in the case their child is in danger, but the bulls are quite aggressive, as you saw today. We are fortunate that this cow we captured did not fight more than she did. We all would have been crushed."

"How long before she gives birth?" Shabar asked.

"If I know my elephants, I would say she is due to give birth quite soon and because of that I think she feared harming her child if she fought us."

Shabar, still shaken, walked with them in silent contemplation.

Back at Negkendra's hovel it was decided another day was needed to rest and maintain the elephants and gather supplies for the long trip ahead. Each elephant was given a name. The three young ones were called Aberash, Jengo and Chipo. The pregnant cow was named Masozi. Shabar chose her name, a word he had heard since his arrival in this part of the world, a word that meant "tear".

Two days later another elephant was brought to the bazaar by a merchant and sold to Shabar and his men. As fortune would have it, this new elephant was a bull and was brother to the pregnant cow's mate, the uncle to the calf in Masozi's belly, though none but the elephants knew this. He was named Zuberi.

Three weeks later, after Shabar and the others had already set out to deliver the elephants to the Eternal Empress, Masozi gave birth to her child. She was unbound for the delivery. She gave no fight nor did she flee. Her only desire was to care for her child.

Shabar, so taken was he with Masozi, that he helped a great deal with the birth. He was in awe of the sight of a birthing elephant. He wondered at the beauty and ugliness of the event and helped in every effort.

"You are becoming quite the expert," Negkendra said of him.

Masozi was gifted a son. She caressed his head with her trunk and kissed him repeatedly. She looked to the south and west after the birth of her son, towards the lands called Ife, and trumpeted with pride that her son had been born and was quite healthy and strong. She hoped other elephants would hear.

The birth had been excruciating due to the calf's immense size, but both mother and son fared well. Ghalib commented, "He is large for a newborn. He will be incredibly strong and well-suited for the work you wish of him. He is a good calf in every respect."

The birth disrupted the journey for a few days as mother and son were nursed back to health. Shabar gave Masozi's son a name: Balori Shongoyo, the Towering Elephant. After a few days' rest, when Balori had learned to walk on his own, the trek was begun again. This time Masozi walked on her own as she showed no sign of further resistance.

Along the way Ghalib attempted to mate Zuberi and Masozi. With great effort he succeeded and soon Masozi was again pregnant.

"You are an amazing mahout," praised Negkendra. "It takes some elephants many years to reproduce after birth, but here you have shown great influence over these creatures. You must be blessed by the gods with the ability."

Shabar added, "It would seem my Empress' money is well worth it. You have earned my respect."

Negkendra and Ghalib began training the elephants simple commands. All the elephants found them difficult except Balori who thought the training to be as playing with friends. How he loved picking up logs with his trunk on command or sitting when told!

But soon Shabar regretted his praise for Ghalib for, on a particular night before they bedded down for the night, Ghalib could not get Jengo to pay attention to his commands. Every time Ghalib told Jengo to sit, the small but quickly growing elephant would run off to eat nearby grass. When Ghalib told Jengo to lift a log, the elephant sat down and stared at the mahout. Jengo was completely uncooperative.

Ghalib brought forth his ankus and crop and so severely did he beat the small Jengo that he split the animal's thick skin along the back. Jengo cried out with such agony that Shabar could do nothing but look away.

Shabar tried to gauge the reactions of Negkendra, but found his friend only standing nearby, watching. He then looked to Zuberi who merely eyed the raging mahout. At last, his head turned away, Shabar felt the soft, gentle touch of a trunk as it caressed his back. When Shabar turned to look, he found Masozi gently soothing him with touch. He reached out and did the same for her, petting her trunk and shoulder behind her large ears.

As tears formed in little Jengo's eyes, his trumpeting cry for help, calling forth in anguish, so too did tears form in the eyes of Masozi and Shabar.

The next night, as Ghalib trained the elephants, Shabar pulled Negkendra aside to confront him about Ghalib's actions the night before.

"His hand is quite heavy," agreed Negkendra, "But his results are inarguable." Together they watched as Jengo obediently carried out the commands of Ghalib.

"But they are so large," said Shabar. "They could crush us at any moment. Why do they not rebel against such fury?"

Negkendra explained, "That is not the way of the elephant. They are larger, indeed, and stronger, but they do not have the maliciousness of men. Only in musth do they storm about aimlessly and then only the bulls. Our cruelty alone makes us superior, but it is all we need to tame the elephant. The fury of men is far larger than the largest beast. Demons alone are larger."

On went the travelers. Shabar occasionally sent forth a hired messenger to report their progress to Sulia Laree. Each time she received word, she shared the news with her people who cheered emphatically.

But storms and illness delayed the progress of the trekking elephants and their owners. "I fear we're losing time. Perhaps I should send one of our spearmen to Tenhar to find more mahouts and start a great passage of elephants from there to my Empress so that we are not alone in our travels. Every few months, perhaps, my Empress could send money to a trusted man in the bazaar and he, in turn, will purchase and send forth other mahouts with more elephants behind us. Then my Empress would only have to wait a few months for more elephants each time."

"There is wisdom in your words," agreed Negkendra.

This suggestion was sent to the Empress. She ardently agreed. Every few months new elephants were captured and sold to a man named Akadia Dorn in Tenhar. He then hired a mahout and a few other men to herd the elephants east to the Eternal Empress. The long line of elephants that developed became legendary. Everyone all along the path the elephants were taken would come out to see the great beasts, to wonder at them and speak highly and kindly of them and of the mahouts that commanded them. The long procession came to be known as the Elephant Crusade and Sulia Laree, the Eternal Empress, was hailed powerful and wealthy and was considered as having a touch of the exotic. Indeed, she came to be admired by people all over the world.



Thunder was a spirit that lived in the sky. A winged and awful creature was Thunder. It spit fire, spoke lightning and when it flapped it wings the Heavens shook.

But She Ku Kuei, the Opium-Eating Snake, also made her home in the sky and grew jealous of having to share the Heavens with Thunder. Soon She Ku Kuei plotted Thunder's demise.

So it came to pass that She Ku Kuei invited Thunder into her home for tea. There She enticed Thunder into trying opium laced with wormwood and absinthe. Thunder was slow to accept the offer, but feared offending his host.

The opium immediately caused Thunder to hallucinate. Frightened, Thunder attacked She Ku Kuei. So terrible was their battle that not only did it rage for three days and nights that the giant weasel god Raiju Yu shook loose from Thunder's belly button and fell from the sky.

The fight ended with She Ku Kuei escaping to the uppermost parts of Heaven where she could only be seen slithering across the night sky while Thunder lived, hidden from She Ku Kuei, amidst the clouds.

Raiju Yu fell and fell until he landed at the feet of Yaska Selith in the Plain of Adoration. Fearing an attack, the Bone Warriors assaulted Raiju Yu, but Raiju Yu summoned forth a triumvirate of weasels named Kama, Gala and Jian. So fierce was the bite and claws of the weasel god and three smaller weasels that the Bone Warriors stood in awe of their attacks.

Yaska Selith commanded his Bone Warriors to stop their fighting. "Weasel," said he. "What be your name?"

"I am Raiju Yu, son of Thunder, and these are my weasel servants. Kill one of these and I will summon more. I can always command three weasels at once."

Yaska Selith considered this. "Why are you here?" he asked.

"I was shaken free from my father's belly button while he was fighting. I simply fell here. But enough talking, send forth your warriors. I and my weasels shall kill them all!"

Yaska Selith gurgled laughter, looking down on the weasel god. "I do not wish any more fighting with you and my Bone Warriors. Instead, I suggest a companionship between us. So lustful are you for blood, it would seem, and here I am with need of a general for my army. What say you?"

Raiju Yu looked at the mortal army. "I seek blood, that much is true. I suppose whether the blood comes from killing your warriors or killing alongside them matters not. What is it you suggest?"

Yaska Selith said, "Recently the king to the south attacked my men from the sea. It can be assumed we will see more attacks from him. I wish you to take some of my Bone Warriors and usurp this baseborn king. Kill him and take the kingdom as your own, if you wish. As long as he no longer causes me or my men harm, I would be happy."

Raiju Yu considered this. "Give me your men. It will be done."

And the overthrow was soon complete. King Aniabas was not found nor killed, but was instead seen fleeing from the city. Raiju Yu sent forth hunters to track him, but they returned empty-handed.

Raiju Yu set his band of Bone Warriors to the barracks and police the town outside the castle while he took the throne. The weasel god became the Weasel King.



Shabar and the elephants came into the land of the Bizo in grand parades. Every person from every corner of the countryside came forth to take in the sights of the grand and glorious beasts that Shabar had traveled into unknown lands for, beasts that he had tamed, beasts that he had conquered in the name of his Empress. A festival was held, the first Festival of the Elephant. A chef in favor with Sulia Laree created especially for this festival a new dish, a new treat. It was large, flat fried bread dusted with sweet spices and called "The Elephant Ear" for it was the sweet treat had been made into the likeness of the creatures' ears.

Shabar was declared hero of all the Bizoans and of Sulia Laree, the Eternal Empress. The mahouts and spearmen were welcomed with glad arms.

As the festival commenced, Shabar entered the palace of the Eternal Empress. Adad and Alecto ran to him, cheering and hugging him as an older brother. Albert the Alchemist, too, embraced his old friend and said how good it was to see him again. Even Fei Li Mi gave him a respectful bow.

With the warm reception Shabar said, "My Empress, I must speak with you."

"Of course!" she said. "You must have wonderful tales to regale us with and we would be happy to hear them. We've all missed you so. The people write songs about you and speak your name as a living legend. We must hear it all, everything you have to say. Come, sit at my side and tell me everything."

Shabar sat beside his Empress. The children gathered close, as did Albert. With some trepidation, Shabar said, "I'm afraid I must resign my post as your servant."

"But why?" Empress Sulia exclaimed, shocked.

Shabar thought of telling her, of telling all of them, the horrors he had witnessed while returning with the elephants. but he feared her reaction. He feared her fury. He feared being made fun of, of being called a fool for his compassion for the "dumb animal". He feared most of all he was most like and elephant and less like a man.

He lied, "My travels were perilous. They took a great deal of energy from me. I feel older than I look. With respects, I feel I have earned time for myself, time to reflect and relax."

"Well of course!" said Empress Sulia. "You can have all the time you need! You will return whenever you wish."

Shabar hesitated. "And if I never wish to return?"

Empress Sulia considered this. "If that be your wish."

The children begged him not to leave. He tried to explain, "I must. I need my rest."

They cried. Fei Li Mi consoled them and eyed Shabar angrily.

"Please, My Empress, do not think this is a slight to you. My heart is still dedicated to you," said Shabar.

Empress Sulia shook her head. "We will always be friends. Do as you must, you've earned whatever your heart desires. But please, for the sake of the children, stay with us a few days more.

Shabar agreed.



The elephants were put to work immediately. Ghalib struck them into learning their role and their work. Negkendra was made supervisor. New elephants were brought into the city and put to task, as well. The spearmen became favored laborers. Soon the base of the tower was nearing completion.

Masozi had her second child. Negkendra sent word to Shabar, now living in the farmlands far outside the hub of the Bizoans, that the baby elephant was a healthy bull and asking if Shabar would like to name this one as he had with Masozi's other child. Shabar sent a letter to Negkendra wishing him well in the most courteous way and suggested the name of the new elephant should be called Tafari. Negkendra sent word that it was a proper name and that he missed his old friend. Shabar sent no reply.

The elephants worked diligently and without incident, though many grew tired and bored of the work and would have to be goaded back into their duty by Ghalib. Balori alone found the work enjoyable. He still considered it play. He became fast friends with Tafari, his cousin and half-brother. They grew together, worked together and when given the chance played together. But most of their days was given to working on hauling the enormous stones of the tower.

Tafari did not share Balori's enthusiasm for the work. he did, however, relish their scant time together for play. Once, while being walked one evening by Ghalib and Negkendra, Balori uprooted a small tree and whapped tafari over the head with it playfully. Crying out in odd elephant laughter, Tafari also uproot ed a small tree and the two were soon playing a makeshift game of tag, striking each other lightly and prancing about.

Ghalib took exception to this. He goaded the two elephants with his ankus and crop.

"Ghalib," said Negkendra, "they only play."

"But they have destroyed two of the Empress' trees and they may take to striking one another harder, risking harming one another," Ghalib explained. "This sort of foolish behavior cannot be tolerated."

Negkendra kept his silence and helped Ghalib remove the two elephants from one another's company. Tafari and Balori cried out after one another, sad their play was over.

Tafari soon grew weary with work. Each day Balori found himself gently patting Tafari on the back with his trunk to keep up his spirits. Each day Tafari became more distant with thought and sorrow.

Then one day Tafari, carrying a smaller stone, sat down, refusing to work any further. Ghalib goaded him, but to no end. Then Ghalib bit him with the crop, but Tafari merely cringed. Balori grabbed Tafari by the trunk with his own, pulling and urging Tafari back to work lest he be further beaten. All the elephants slowed to watch, but none stopped working completely.

Ghalib beat Balori, chasing him away from Tafari.

Ghalib then turned on Tafari. So badly did he beat the young elephant that Negkendra approached him and quietly suggested he stop, suggesting Tafari needed a half day's rest to recover from whatever ailed him.

Ghalib was stubborn and gave no way. He beat and beat at Tafari. The elephant's grey skin sliced open. Blood poured from his shoulders. Ghalib, frustrated, struck Tafari on the forehead with the ankus just above the trunk. Tafari cried out in pain and anger. Hatred bred in his eyes, but he could not bring himself to attack the offending mahout. Instead, Tafari stood and walked slowly, painfully towards an immense stone.

"What does he do?" asked Negkendra. "He cannot possibly carry such a large stone just yet. He is still young and much too small."

But carrying the stone was not Tafari's intention. Repeatedly, angrily, harshly Tafari rammed his head again and again into the corner of the stone. Blood sprayed and spattered across the stone and the ground. With each forward thrust Tafari gave out a trumpet of anger. Tears welled and fell from his large eyes. Each blow brought new, white hot pain. Each blow brought calming numbness. He rammed again and again until at last, his skull caved in and he collapsed at the foot of the stone.

Ghalib and Negkendra were in awe, as were the rest of the elephants. Every creature and man stopped to look at the young elephant, bloody from a mixture of his own attacks and those of Ghalib. He was covered almost entirely in blood. His skin shivered nervously. His tail whipped weakly. His trunk did not move.

Tafari gasped for air.

Ghalib approached, uncertain.

tafari peered through one bloodied and bloodshot eye at the mahout. His breathing labored, Tafari stared at him for a long time as if to say, "Use me now. I challenge you to use me now for whatever it is you make us build. Use me and kill me, that was your plan, but I brought forth the inevitable. I brought about my death without your satisfaction of my many years of work. Use me, I challenge you."

Anger infected Ghalib. He raised his crop and ankus together in one hand and brought them down on Tafari's trunk.

Balori cried out, trying to get to his dying friend. The two spearmen caught him and held him with ropes.

Negkendra yelled, "Ghalib! What do you do? The creature is dying!"

Ghalib turned on Negkendra. "He needs to be made an example of. He needs to be punished for his rebellion lest the others become tempted by desire for the same." Ghalib struck Tafari again.

Tafari did not grunt. He did not cry. He closed his eyes and took the beating. he was glad when his body went numb. he was glad when his mind slipped from that which was around him. he was glad when he saw images of the rolling plains of Ife, a land he was not born into, a land he did not know, the homeland of his people.

Tafari breathed deep and died.

Balori cried. His face stretched with a frown. It would be a long time before he smiled again. From that day forward he merely worked without hassle, without passion, without notice as his captors commanded.

Though dead, Ghalib kept beating the young Tafari. Negkendra wrested the crop from Ghalib, saying, "He is dead. No further beatings will teach him a lesson, nor will any lesson be learned by those watching."

Ghalib spat at Negkendra then punched him and took the crop. "What would you do? Cuddle them into obeisance? They would turn on you."

Negkendra backed away, rubbing his face where he had been punched. He stared at Ghalib who said, "Go. You are not needed here any longer."

"That is for the Empress to say!"

"I will be responsible for your release," replied Ghalib. "Now go."

As negkendra left Ghalib, indeed as he left the country of the Bizo, Ghalib wished death upon him.

Leaving the lands of the Bizo, Negkendra thought of the words he had spoke to Shabar of demons and men. He reconsidered them.

Tafari dead, Ghalib ordered his small tusks removed and that the animal have a proper burial. The tusks were then taken to Albert the Alchemist who ground them into a fine powder to be used in his studies and to make healing salves for those ill with various disease.

Even in death, the elephant is giving.



Albert came to the farmlands outside the main city of the Bizo. There he visited his old friend Shabar.

Shabar's farm spread wide and his crops considerable. he had met and married a woman named Alia. She was pleasant and already with child. Albert looked on Shabar's home and lands and beautiful wife and smiled. "Life has been good to you," he said. "This pleases me."

Shabar thanked him and the alchemist was warmly welcome into their home for a long stay. After their first night's meal together, as the two friends sat watching Etain descend into the horizon and Kalavata chase after her, they chatted lightly. Albert then asked, "Shabar, old friend who is dear to us all, if I may so bold as to ask: why did you leave the side of our Eternal Empress?"

"I have given my reasons," said Shabar.

Albert shook his head. "Perhaps, but none that were sufficient. I suspect other reasons."

Shabar sighed. He did not want to answer with the truth. indeed, he had not thought of the Elephant Crusade for some time until Albert came for a visit. He feared he did not do the right thing by keeping the truth of the atrocities he had witnessed from the Empress and from Albert and the Bizoans. Instead of answering, Shabar asked, "How goes the building of the tower?"

"It goes well," answered Albert.

"Have you been to see the progress?"

Albert said no, "Though I hear the reports when they come to the Empress."

Shabar looked at his old friend. "Go," said he, "look around for yourself. See the construction with your own eyes. It is, perhaps, in the best interests of the Empress."

Albert considered this.

The rest of his stay with Shabar was excellent. They enjoyed each others' company and Albert even helped in the fields with the daily work. He found the work relaxing compared to his thought-filled studies, though he was quite old and starting to cripple.

When Albert left Shabar's side, it was a sublime moment filled with sorrow for needing to leave mixed with happiness of having spent time with old friends. Both men were nearly moved to tears and Alia, though she had just met Albert, did cry. She hugged him and kissed him and invited him to visit any time he desired.

Shabar rode on horseback some ways as he started back towards the city. He said, "Friedn Albert, remember you my words your first night here?"

"My mind is old," admited Albert, "but not so old I cannot remember you suggesting I have a look at the tower myself. It seems a shame I have not as yet of my own volition. I will do so as soon as I return and see the Empress. Do you have any words for her?"

Shabar shook his head. "Only that I am still loyal and that I am happy, though, if you would, please tell the children I miss them greatly."

Shabar watched as Albert rode away, looking back over his shoulder every so often to wave.

Albert returned to the Empress' side and reported all the good things he had seen at Shabar's farm. He told her of Shabar's professed loyalty. He told the children of Shabar's love for them. And on the next day he went forth to the site where the tower was being built.

There he saw elephants, many more than he could remember being ushered into the city. They worked intensely. All of them were weary with sad looks. The mahouts and other men that had been hired to help in the construction beat the elephants regularly. The elephants rarely gave a fuss over being beaten. They simply worked.

Some of the elephants were so worn and had been so beaten they worked even with open sores bleeding and leaking with puss. Dust clogged their massive eyes and trunks. They were slow, but they were strong and diligent.

As Albert looked at the wicked site before him, he knew the reasons behind Shabar's resignation. He whisper, "Old friend, I do not blame you. What have we done?"

The alchemist did not sleep for six nights and on the sixth night he stole into the compound where the elephants were caged at night. he brought with him two elixirs. he found the cage of an elephant, the largest elephant he could find. he knew none of them from the other, but the elephant he had chosen was the first elephant born into Bizoan captivity. He had unknowingly chosen Balori who had grown to immense size, larger even than any of the other elephants.

Frightened, Albert struggled to unwind the thick hemp ropes that tied the cage closed. Balori, also afraid, backed away into a corner of the cage. he did not know this man and his appearance at night was not a routine visit. He feared being beaten.

Albert opened the cage. He said softly, "Do not be afraid. I am Albert, a friend. I am not here to hurt you. I am here to help you."

Balori remained wary, but allowed the man to touch his ear. Soothing Nalori, Albert said, "Here, drink this first." He fed Balori a vial of Dancing Water. Balori enjoyed the taste of the elixir for he rarely was allowed enough water and was perpetually dehydrated. Balori was now a Gifted One, immortal and incapable of death except by the hands of another Gifted One or god.

The second elixir was some of the very elixir he had fed Fei Li Mi to give him intelligence. Balori grew, rattling his cage, to stand upon his hind legs as a man might. His Chest heaved and became muscular. His front legs became strong arms with hands like a man's, though cover with thick, gray skin. he also grew capable of speech. Afraid of the change, afraid of the new thing that was not a part of his daily routine, afraid that if the mahout called Ghalib found him he would be beaten severely, Balori cried out and ran into the night.

"No! Wait!" cried Albert after him, but he could not catch the large elephant. When he heard the mahouts rousing and awake, Albert ran for the safety of the Empress' palace and hid there the rest of the night.

Quite a commotion was given about the escaped elephant. The next day Ghalib put a price on Balori's head and many men, hunters and otherwise, set out to find the runaway elephant and claim the prize money.

Three more sleepless nights passed for Albert. he grew sick with worry. He did not teach the children in teh day and the Empress forgave him for his illness. She commanded he take a few days for himself to rest.

As the night set on the Bizoans, Albert wandered into nearby woods along the river. There he heard a sound and discovered it to be Balori, hiding and afraid. "Old man," called Balori. "What have you made of me?"

"Oh, Balori," said Albert softly as he approached. he now knew the elephants name due to the hunt. "How I've worried about you."

"Why did you do this? If the mahout finds me he will beat me."

"No," said Albert. "They seek to do worse. They now wish you dead."

"Why did you do this?" raged the elephant. Birds lifted into the air at the sound of his bellow. "It would seem I've not only acquired man's gift of speech but also his temper."

"I did this," explained Albert, "because I saw your people suffering so much. Though many speak highly of my wisdom, there are few things I can do. I mixed you two elixirs, one to make you immortal and the other to give you the gifts of man. I thought a hero was needed for your people and I cannot be that one. I hoped your new gifts would help you."

"I would rather not have them," growled Balori. "I would rather be safe in my cage."

"I'm sorry," apologized Albert.

"Now that I am like a man, what would you have me do?" asked balori.

"I do not know. I was hoping you may figure things out."

"You are an idiot," cursed the elephant.

Albert nodded. "Indeed, I am."

"I am no happier with the condition of my people than you. But what am I to do? I do not even know who does this to us but many men and one master called Ghalib."

"He is head of the mahouts, but not the master. the one who orders you your work is my empress, Sulia Laree."

Balori considered this. "Well, I now have the gift of speech. Perhaps I should simply ask her to cease this atrocity."

"No,no! You would be killed instantly! Men everywhere are looking for you!"

Balori stood, towering high over the small, old alchemist, towering even over the nearby trees of the woods. "Let them look. What can they do? I am stronger and now have their gifts, including their gift of hatred. I will crush anyone that crosses my path to your Empress."

"Please," begged Albert. "Too many have suffered. Reconsider things. I've an idea. I'll return with a rope and you can place it about your neck as though I've captured you. I will then lead you safely into the palace where you can speak with the Empress."

Balori grunted. "Very well."

And so it was done the following noonday. People whispered at the power Albert must possess to have wrangled the changed beast without harm to himself or the elephant.

Albert lead Balori before the Empress, who shook with fear at teh creature.

"Dear Empress," spoke Balori. "I am Balori Shongoyo, one of your elephants working to build you your tower. I come before you to beseech you to free my people. They are treated horribly and wish no harm to you or any creature."

"How did you become as this?" asked the Empress.

Baloir looked at Albert.

The Empress also looked at him. "Did you do this, Albert? Did you make his as you made Fei Li Mi?"

Albert nodded. "I saw the great pains the elephants were living with. I knew your heart to be too big to allow it to continue, but you could not know it was happening for, like I, you have never visited the construction site."

"Haven't I?" asked the Empress. "Perhaps I have. But no matter, would you suggest the life of a mere dumb creature weighs more heavily than the memory of my late husband, a man that all of Bizo still loves and speaks of often?"

Balori huffed at the insult. "We are not dumb animals!"

"Then why would you allow your capture?" retorted the Empress. "Because your hearts are so big? I mock that fable. You are stupid creatures and deserve no better than men, let alone equality. Now shut up, we are speaking." she turned to look at Albert.

Balori grunted angrily.

Fei Li Mi, who was standing nearby, lowered his guandao in warning.

"Attack me, fish." Balori challenged. "Attack and I'll snap you in half and fry you to feed my people." Balori could feel the power of hatred flowing through him. he so desperately wanted to fight the fish, the Empress, Ghalib and even Albert. But he remained silent as Albert spoke.

"Empress," said the alchemist, "you cannot tell me you advocate Ghalib and his ways. They are ugly ways."

"And you cannot place a beast before a man, even a dead one," challenged the Empress. "However, I wish to be known as a fair ruler. Creature, whatever your name be, my children have never known a world with stars. I will release your people from bondage if, and only if, you can restore the stars to nighttime sky."

"The what?" Balori asked. he did not know what she spoke of for he had been born into a world without the stars and had never heard them spoken of before.

The Empress laughed. "That is the agreement. Go, let this creature pass safely. call off Ghalib's hunt and prize. If this creature can restore the stars to the Heavens, his people can be released."

"I do not know of what you speak," said Balori, "but I will do whatever it takes to see my people freed from your abuse." he lifted the rope from his neck and walked from the palace.

Albert, disgusted, spat at the Empress. "You are an ugly woman," he said.

The Empress nodded to Fei Li Mi who charged, swiftly flying, his guandao extended and piercing the gut of the alchemist. He then pulled the blades sideways and sliced his stomach open, releasing his bowels, allowing them to fall onto the floor.

Albert fell dead.

Fei Li Mi then turned to the Empress. "Empress," he nearly hissed. "Why do you charge this beast with the stars? I am the protector of the children, I should therefore be the one to take on such a task."

The Empress sighed. "You are quite the jealous creature," she said. "If that is what you wish, very well then. I doubt this elephant could return the stars to us, but in the chance he could, then perhaps you should also be on the task. Return the stars to the Heaven before this elephant and I will not have to release his people. Return them for my children and I will wash you with praise and glory."

Fei Li Mi smiled as he flew from the palace of the Eternal Empress.



The kingdom to the south of the Plain of Adoration filled with prostitutes and opium dens. Women were captured and sold as pleasure slaves. Men were enticed into submission through narcotics. Anyone that challenged or spoke ill of the Weasel King was ferreted out and placed in cages hung high where the offender was starved to death before the eyes of the public. Those turning in anyone speaking ill of the Weasel King was paid handsomely in coin and opium and, if they wanted, women.

Raiju Yu sent forth his men and weasels for days on end to search for the former king called Aniabas, but they could find no trace of him.

Hidden deep within tumulus filled with an intricate maze of passages was the former king. The weasels had searched for him here, but so confusing was the underground tunnels that they could barely find their way out.

With Aniabas was his general, Vitor, and several of his men and loyal subjects.

"We must return to the town and fight for our king's rightful throne," demanded Vitor amidst a heated argument.

"No," said one of the other men, "we will all be killed, including the king. And his would not be an easy execution."

"We cannot reclaim the throne from the grave," said Vitor.

"We will not," said Aniabas. "We will reclaim it from a revolt in teh streets. Surely the people fear this Weasel King. The few men we have sent into the city tell us of his terrors."

"This is true," agreed one of the soldiers that had been sent to spy in teh streets.

"We must hide, but not here," said Aniabas. "We will hide in plain view. We will enter the streets as scoundrels and create a network of those loyal to me and, when the time is ripe, attack the castle and kill the Weasel King."

Vitor shook his head. "This all sounds quite impossible."

"Would you rather live to your dying days in this grave?" asked Aniabas.

Vitor said he would not. "But how would we disguise ourselves. Perhaps the rest could pass as simple peasants, but you and I would be recognized immediately."

"This is true. But our men have said the sick walk the streets with the rest of the people. That gives us our disguise. We must scar ourselves," explained the former king.

Aniabas commanded Vitor produce his knife and, with great care, the former general sliced at his king's face until he was nearly unrecognizable. When the wounds healed over, producing incredibly ugly welts and disfigurements so not their own mothers would recognize them, they donned the blankets of the sick, practiced their coughs and hoarse voices and entered into the town as lepers.


That's the end of Act 2. It was a long one! But I hope you enjoyed it. Check back next Friday, July 18th for the third and final act of "The Elephant Crusade"!

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