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Soul of the Elephant: The Kind Mahout, #1

Soul of the Elephant: The Kind Mahout, #1

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Soul of the Elephant: The Kind Mahout, #1

412 pages
6 hours
May 6, 2019


When fifteen-year-old Hemit breaks family tradition by learning the mysterious soother's gentler ways of training elephants, he unleashes his own mystical powers—powers his parents have tried to conceal, and which are capable of destroying his entire family.

WINNER: Pinnacle Book Achievement Award, Summer 2019 - Best Historical Fiction

"Rather like the man-eating tiger (perhaps a man-tiger) who insidiously patrols the opening chapters of Pam Laughlin's novel, Soul of the Elephant, this book excels at sneaking up on its reader, solely intent on devouring him whole. Which, piece by piece, chapter by chapter, increasingly ravenous, it does... Within an intensely engaging, dramatic, compelling narrative, choreographed meticulously well by Ms. Laughlin, many delicious morsels are provided for meditative savoring. These include the formidability of the natural world, how humans relate to their parental world (and each other, and their animal brothers), and, wondrously, how our relationship to spirit flavors each of these interactions. ...a well-told, truly captivating story." ~ Readers' Favorite Book Reviews, Joel R. Dennstedt (5 STARS)

South India, 1870s. At the family elephant camp, Hemit's father insists on quashing their elephants' spirits to gain complete domination, but Hemit believes the relationship between an elephant and mahout should be based on trust and love, not fear. When he stands up for the elephants, he and his father clash with devastating consequences.

Hemit ignores his father's warnings about the mysterious elephant trainer rumored to use black magic to soothe rogue elephants. In secret, he befriends the elusive mystical, and learns the secret language and ways of the pachyderms. When he unleashes his own mystical powers to mend the broken soul of an abused elephant, a magical bond among healer, boy, and elephant develops.

Will his father embrace his son's newly roused abilities, or try to quash his spirit, too?

EVOLVED PUBLISHING PRESENTS an adventure back in time, to exotic South India and the majestic elephant, and the long-storied trainers of the great beasts. [DRM-Free]

Books by Pam Laughlin

  • Soul of the Elephant (The Kind Mahout – Book 1)
  • Taming the Tiger (The Kind Mahout – Book 2) [Coming Spring 2020]
  • Unity (The Kind Mahout – Book 3) [Coming Spring 2021]

More Great Historical Fiction from Evolved Publishing

  • The Colonel and the Bee by Patrick Canning
  • The "Shining Light's Saga" Series by Ruby Standing Deer
  • Invisible by Day by Teri Fink
  • "The Journey of Cornelia Rose" Series by J.F. Collen

May 6, 2019

About the author

Yup, I was one of those kids. Call me an avid reader or a book nerd, but my head was buried in books as I walked down the halls. The librarian knew me by first name and favorite genre, and I thought the March sisters were way cooler than the girls in school. Things haven’t changed much. I still love the way a great book can transport me to a different place and time, and I continue to bond with imaginary characters and fantastic stories. I was born and raised in New Jersey but don’t hold that against me. Believe it or not, New Jersey has some beautiful spots and I’m lucky enough to live in one of them with a pack load of males (my husband, 3 sons and 2 Havenese furry boys). I’ve been a writer most of my life, starting in 3rd grade when my short story won the school writing competition. It was about a family that lived in a freckle, so I guess I’ve suffered from FPP (fantasy prone personality) from an early age. Thank God! I’ve written for over thirty years, mostly non-fiction technical pieces on how to use systems and equipment that most users threw away and opted to figure out on their own. I’ve worked as a staff reporter for my local paper, The Breeze, covering the Bridgewater/ Raritan, NJ area with a specialty in human interest stories. I was also the Creative Editor for the online monthly publication, DoJo Digest, and wrote “From a Mother’s Point of View” and “Hot Tips” columns. My short story, Combat Paper, was published in Folio Oak Literary Magazine and won the Writer’s Village University short story contest. Other work has appeared in Edify Publications, Blink Ink, City Kidz World Magazine, and blogs galore. The Soul of the Elephant is my first full-length historical novel. I hope to transport readers to a magical and mystical world (even if for just a little while) jampacked with mahouts, spirit animals, wonderworkers, and adventure.

Related to Soul of the Elephant

Book Preview

Soul of the Elephant - Pam Laughlin






The Kind Mahout Series– Book 1

Copyright © 2019 Pam Laughlin

Cover Art Copyright © 2019 Kabir Shah


ISBN (EPUB Version): 1622534441

ISBN-13 (EPUB Version): 978-1-62253-444-9


Editor: Brandon Sanford

Interior Designer: Lane Diamond



At the end of this novel of approximately 88,135 words, you will find two Special Sneak Previews: 1) TAMING THE TIGER by Pam Laughlin, the second novel from this The Kind Mahout series of historical fiction adventures, and; 2) THE COLONEL AND THE BEE by Patrick Canning, a globetrotting literary fiction adventure we think you’ll enjoy. We provide these as a FREE extra service, and you should in no way consider it a part of the price you paid for this book. We hope you will both appreciate and enjoy the opportunity. Thank you.


eBook License Notes:

You may not use, reproduce or transmit in any manner, any part of this book without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations used in critical articles and reviews, or in accordance with federal Fair Use laws. All rights are reserved.

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only; it may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, please return to your eBook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.



This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or the author has used them fictitiously.

For those familiar with India, especially South India, you may recognize many Malayalam words, familiar spots, deities, and customs. I tried to base most of the geographical names on towns near the Periyar River. While I made every attempt to be true to a small village called Thekkady, for the sake of creating an entertaining book, there’s been an intentional blending of customs, religions, names, and topography that may not be completely accurate, especially when it comes to castes and regional dialects of Malayalam. In other words, this book is a product of my vision of India in the late 1800s and is designed to entertain. It is not a non-fictional historical piece of work. Please enjoy!

Books by Pam Laughlin



Book 1: Soul of the Elephant

Book 2: Taming the Tiger (Coming 2020)

Book 3: Unity (Coming 2021)




We’re pleased to offer you not one, but two Special Sneak Previews at the end of this book.


In the first preview, you’ll enjoy the First 2 Chapters of Pam Laughlin’s second novel in this The Kind Mahout series, TAMING THE TIGER.



Stay tuned to the author’s page at our website for more as this series continues to grow:

PAM LAUGHLIN at Evolved Publishing

In the second preview, you’ll enjoy the First 3 Chapters of Patrick Canning’s award-winning, critically acclaimed literary/historical adventure, THE COLONEL AND THE BEE.



"Is everyone ready for a fun story to read? Is everyone ready for an adventure? Is everyone ready to travel the world without leaving their home? Is everyone ready to throw caution to the wind and just go out and live life? Is everyone a fan of stories like Around the World in 80 Days, Howl’s Moving Castle, Romeo and Juliet, and Treasure Island? Then it is time to pick up and read The Colonel and the Bee."

~ Roll Out Reviews


"Described by the author as Around the World in 80 Days meets The Wizard of Oz, The Colonel and the Bee is a story, I would deem, worth being remembered as a classic."

~ LiteratureApproved.com (5 Stars)




PATRICK CANNING’S Books at Evolved Publishing

Table of Contents


Books by Pam Laughlin


Table of Contents



Chapter 1 – Change Is in the Air

Chapter 2 – Amma Gives Hope

Chapter 3 – A Game of Goli

Chapter 4 – Where’s the Magistrate?

Chapter 5 – The Hunt Begins

Chapter 6 – Sitting Ducks

Chapter 7 – The Men Take Control

Chapter 8 – A Brutal Match

Chapter 9 – The Brute Strikes Back

Chapter 10 – The Elephant Husher

Chapter 11 – Training Begins

Chapter 12 – Spirit Animal

Chapter 13 – The Monsoon Blows In

Chapter 14 – No More Lies

Chapter 15 – The Mudslide

Chapter 16 – Finding Safety

Chapter 17 – Gratitude and Love

Chapter 18 – Rescued Dreams

Chapter 19 – The Truth

Chapter 20 – New Beginnings

Special Sneak Preview: TAMING THE TIGER by Pam Laughlin

About the Author

More from Evolved Publishing

Special Sneak Preview: THE COLONEL AND THE BEE by Patrick Canning


For those who explored the exciting, yet terrifying, Indian jungle with me. It would have been a long and lonely journey without you.


To the Laughlin clan, Hal, Sam, Jake, and Luke, who encouraged me to live my dream. To editor, Brandon Sanford, and writing coach, June Diehl, who guided me to write a better book. To Evolved Publishing publisher and author, Dave Lane (aka Lane Diamond), who empowered me to fulfill my dream and welcomed me into the publishing world. To cover artist, Kabir Shah, who gave faces to Hemit and Aasha. To my sister, Lynn Kramer, and beta readers, critics, and word-slingers at Savvy and Writer’s Village who offered opinions and suggestions.


And finally, to the pioneers, explorers, and missionaries who recorded their adventures in memoirs, journals, and diaries. A legacy of words... what a beautiful gift!

Chapter 1 – Change Is in the Air

Hemit understood that in the Indian jungle what you didn’t hear could signal the worst kind of trouble. As he scrambled to catch up with his father, the natural movement and chatter of wildlife tapered to muffled birdsong. Hemit’s heartbeat quickened, and he searched past trees and over bushes and ferns. A hushed stillness often signaled a nearby predator. Snap. Not again. He had caught up to his father just in time to dodge the branch his achan had shoved out of his way. Hemit, distracted by the quiet, moved too late. The branch whipped across his arm like a good lashing.

Hemit wiped away the blood but didn’t dare complain. His achan wouldn’t stand for a boy of fifteen whining, even if his scratches looked like claw marks from a tiger. Mother says the cycle of life has halted. The tips of the mango leaves have shriveled and died. Everyone moves as if in a trance, even the monkeys are still.

"Your amma is a wise woman. Indra, the God of Rain, must be very angry. If we don’t get rain soon, the rice paddies will dry up and our crops will wither. Tonight we will pray for the clouds to deliver the blessed rain."

How could Achan know praying worked? With a set jaw, Hemit vowed not again. No more starving from empty bellies. He had only been eight when the Great Famine of 1876 devastated his village, and seven years later the dream gods still tormented him with visions of emaciated bodies with sunken cheeks and bony fingers. He bit his lower lip. He didn’t even want to think about it.

They froze as leaves crackled, twigs broke, and an agitated kingfisher flew overhead with a shrill, rattling cry. Chi-keeee. Chi-keeee. Achan had trained Hemit to heed the jungle’s warnings of a roaming tiger: the thunderous trumpeting of elephants, the khar-takaao-khaar of an alarmed langur monkey, scattered pugmarks and gouged tree bark. The hair on the back of Hemit’s neck stood up. Achan held his finger to his lips.

Achan. Hemit.

At his older brother’s voice, Hemit let out a huge breath.

Over here, yelled Achan.

With as much grace as a marauding crash of rhinoceroses, Dhaval banged his way down the trail, smashing through thicket and brush until he reached them, breathless. Bent at the waist and with his hands on his knees, he gasped, Another woodcutter’s been mauled. His breathing slowed and he stood bamboo-rod rigid. Carted off by a tiger.

When? asked Achan.

While walking home at cow dust time.

Hemit’s eyes widened. Cow dust time, the point between day and night when everything turned a golden hue, had always occupied a special place in his heart. Not any longer. The same low light that lulled his senses to sleep could also hide a tiger’s stripes. He eyed the fringes of the jungle, searching for movement. Stillness. Who was he?

Dhaval shrugged. Don’t know, yet.

That makes three in three weeks, Achan said. Until this tiger is caught, I don’t want either of you traveling alone.

Hemit didn’t argue. Tigers often attacked goats and cattle, but a man-eater hadn’t hounded their village for over a decade. Although the attacks had happened several towns away, Hemit could barely breathe. When they reached a bend in the trail, a squirrel darted by, and he lurched almost three feet off the ground.

Dhaval covered his mouth, but his laughter echoed through the jungle. Don’t worry, brother. That furry beast won’t attack you. Even if it did, what harm could it do? He tousled Hemit’s unruly black hair. Mess up your already ratty hair?

Achan roared with laughter.

Hemit frowned at them. No need for either of you to own a weapon when your tongues do such a good job.

Come on, son. Achan slapped Hemit on the back. We mean no harm.

Hemit tottered behind, fuming. They always teased him. They looked like two seeds in a cardamom pod with how they held their heads high and walked with purpose. They even swung their arms in unison. He ducked his head just in time to miss a low hanging branch and tripped over a tree root, instead. Not having fun, he grew impatient to arrive at the elephant camp. Animals expressed themselves in a way Hemit understood, unlike his family. His bare foot scuffed the soil, and Hemit choked on the dust. Dhaval and Achan turned and gave him a look.

Hemit scowled. What?

Just checking you haven’t been attacked by a ferocious rabbit, Dhaval teased with his dazzling smile that got all the village girls wobbly-legged.

Hemit rolled his eyes. Amma said Hemit and her muttacchan resembled two sides of the same rupee—two men with big hands and feet and sensitive souls. And even though he never met his great-grandfather, it didn’t matter. His valiya muttacchan’s spirit lingered, powerful and wondrous, in the tales his amma told.

Branches and boughs cracked in the distance. Hemit halted in his tracks. Probably just a monkey. The sound of gibbering eased his mind, but he picked up his pace and shadowed Achan and Dhaval the rest of the journey. Two hillocks hung low beneath the hazy clouds announcing their journey’s end. They took the snakey trail that led from the jungle into a dell. Orange-red flowers shaped like bells lined the path. Achan pointed to the spangled stalks that reached for the golden light. Pagoda is in bloom.

Amma calls them the crown of Lord Krishna, said Hemit. We used to string them together to make crowns.

Yes, I remember. Achan led the way up the hill to the elephant camp. Flanked by high ranges and near the southern banks of the Periyar River, the protected location offered everything they needed: water for drinking and bathing; banana, coconuts, bamboo, and figs for foraging; and large trees for shade during the hot summer months.

Hemit stood tall, shoulders back. Achan and Uncle Ajay had built the business with just two elephants and two men. While not on the grand scale of the famous Hampi Elephant Stable in Northern India, which had ornate domed chambers designed for royal elephants, their stable more than suited their needs. In fact, many British huntsmen visited Thekkady just to pursue tigers using their family’s elephants. Most mahouts performed their duties solo, but Achan and Uncle Ajay operated with bigger dreams. When Ravi and Hemit got their own elephants, their herd would grow to five, unheard of in these parts.

The elephants’ housing consisted of three thatched thans, one for each of the herd. Behind the thans were nine more buildings. One oversized hut housed their howdahs and blankets. Another one kept their hunting gear and tools organized. And a third contained several bedrolls, a small kerosene stove, some pots, and utensils for those times when they needed to stay overnight. To the right of the cluster of huts, another structure housed their animals when sick. Medical supplies and special plants and herbs lined the shelves in clear glass containers. Closer to the thans, three smaller outbuildings had been constructed out of bricks made from mud, dung, and grass. Hemit, Ravi, and Amita had shaped the bricks by hand and dried them in the sun. Once the bricks had finished baking, everybody had worked together to build the two new buildings, in which they stored fodder and bedding material for the elephants. Although harder and longer to build than huts, the brick buildings kept out hungry rats and snakes.

He couldn’t see them from here, but closer to the jungle they had three permanent huts where the sahibs slept when staying for long excursions. At first they had only one, but they had added two more last year after word of their camp had spread.

Hemit dragged his hand through his mess of a mane, wriggling out the tangles as he searched for Jani, eyeing the thatched-roofed thans, which were open on each side. Built to provide shelter from the overbearing heat, they formed a straight line and faced the sandy courtyard. He smiled. Although Kari and Maya both preferred sleeping standing up, Jani did not. Inside her than, she lay curled on her side in a deep, sloping impression, which he had helped hollow and line with rocks. Jani, he yelled. She lifted her head, staggered onto her feet, and stood still on the dusty earthen floor. Each than faced the barred courtyard, which allowed the elephants to roam free during the day, rather than stay shackled and chained at all times.

Inside the pen, rocks, trees, and stumps for rubbing and scratching kept the elephants entertained and engaged. Hemit wondered when the pool built to collect rain water would fill again. Now the elephants used it as a dry wallow for dust bathing instead.

Hi, girl, Hemit said, and Jani walked near the gate of the barred enclosure, where Hemit stood.

Are you asleep over there? Achan yelled. Come help me and Dhaval. Five British officials scheduled an overnight expedition next week. There’s lots to do.

Yes, Achan.

Sahibs from far and wide traveled to Thekkady to seek their services. To bag big game, hunters needed an elephant and experienced mahout. Considered two of the best mahouts, Achan and Uncle Ajay didn’t need maps to locate the elusive big cats and bears and horned beasts that the English wanted to kill. They had lived in South India their whole lives and knew the secret spots. Hemit thrust out his bony chest. Achan and his elephant, Jani, are one of the best tracking teams in all of India. One day, my elephant and I will be just as good.

Check the elephants, Hemit. Dhaval, help me pack the gear. Their voices faded as they disappeared up the hill. We need tents and blankets, some mosquito netting, stoves, and utensils.

Grateful for the easier of the two tasks, Hemit opened the gate to the fenced-in pen that confined their small herd of three elephants. Soon, there will be four. No, five! First Cousin Ravi, and then me! Next month when Uncle Ajay returned from the Sonepur Cattle Fair where they sold animals of every size, including elephants, Ravi would have a new elephant. I wish Ravi could go. He shook his head. What did Uncle Ajay mean? Ravi would slow him down? His excuse makes no sense.

Hemit didn’t worry. Achan understood the importance of a new mahout having a say in a match that lasted a lifetime. He’d taken Dhaval to Sonepur years ago, and he’d promised to do the same for Hemit. Happiness filled Hemit. In less than a year, he would embark on his new life and transform from boy to man, from elephant handler to elephant driver. A true mahout!

Watching Ravi with the elephants, Hemit shook his head. Ravi held the longest, sharpest training knife in his hand. You don’t need that, Hemit yelled. Ravi ignored him and continued to put distance between him and the elephants. He’s no braver than a flapshell turtle. At the first sign of a threat, instead of standing his ground, Ravi retreated into his shell and closed the flap. You grumble to me about our family’s cruel training methods and look at you. You’re just as bad. All talk and no action.

It’s not like I’m really using it. He smiled his snaggletoothed smile. It’s just for effect. The elephant advanced, and Ravi hesitated between moving forward or backward, and then he retreated.

You care more about yourself and pleasing your achan than you do about the elephants.

Ravi’s eyes said it all. They screamed, Well, of course I do. Don’t you?

But Hemit didn’t care about pleasing Achan. He didn’t know how or when, but he would work tirelessly until their methods of training improved. Hemit couldn’t watch anymore. He loved Ravi like a brother, but his cousin’s cowardly ways gnawed under his skin like a hungry tick.

A blurry shape exited the jungle. Quick as a sambar deer, it leaped into the dell and stopped. It disappeared into the crown of Lord Krishna blooms. Hemit curled his fingers into a fist, leaving a small hole at the end, and looked through it. Where’d it go? It popped back up and dashed up the winding trail. As the form got closer, he shouted, Bella?

There you are, the pint-sized ball of energy squealed behind the fence. She adjusted the crown of flowers falling off her head.

Hemit looked around and narrowed his eyes. No Auntie? Six-year-old Bella had traveled from Bombay to spend the summer with Uncle Ajay and his family. She might know how to navigate a big city, but not a jungle. The only lethal animals in Bombay stood on two legs, not four.

Hemit opened the gate to leave, closed it safely behind him, and caught up with Bella. She jumped into his arms, and he twirled her around until she yelped for him to stop. Placing her on the ground, he asked, What are you doing here, Bella?

I followed you.

You little beast. Are you a black panther stalking its prey? We never heard you. Hemit rolled his head back and laughed. Or maybe I did. It was you following me and not a jungle cat.

Or a squirrel. She grinned, exposing dimples on both cheeks. He picked up one of her wayward braids and tickled her nose with the coarse end.

Prickly, like an elephant tail, she laughed.

He knelt down. Looking her in the eye, he said, Bella, it’s very dangerous to be in the jungle by yourself. You could have gotten lost or worse. His breath quickened. There’s a tiger on the prowl. Promise me you won’t do that again.

Bella put her hands on her hips and puckered her mouth. Hemit held back a chuckle. His little cousin had such difficulty obeying rules, even those meant to keep her safe. She rolled her big brown eyes. I promise, she said.

She probably has her fingers crossed behind her back. Come here. Let’s watch the elephants. He lifted her up and placed her feet on one of the rungs of the sturdy fence railing.

She wrapped her fists around the fence railing and peeked over the edge, grinning.

Can you see now? Hemit stood beside her with his hand on the small of her back.

Bella giggled. It’s pretty hard not to see an elephant.

Hemit tweaked her braid. Aren’t you a mischievous monkey today? Should I start calling you Hanuman?

Bella frowned. Are you saying I look like a monkey?

No, of course not. Monkeys are much cuter.

She gasped and Hemit held back a snort. He should feel awful teasing her, but she deserved it after her naughtiness. Didn’t she? Besides, poor Auntie probably fretted herself into a frenzy after Bella’s latest vanishing act. He’d love to ease Auntie’s mind about Bella’s safety, but with so much work left unfinished, Achan would serve his head on a stick if he left.

Achan’s elephant, Jani, left the herd and darted to Hemit. She stuck her trunk between the rail, snaked it around his waist, and pulled him close. Hemit laughed. I’m glad to see you too.

Achan didn’t believe Jani loved Hemit. He had said, "Animals don’t love. She’s happy to see you because you bring her water and food, trim her nails, give her baths, and take her for walks. I’d be happy to see you too if you fed me appam pancakes all day."

More than a full belly and a clean hide made Jani light up whenever she saw him. She loved him. Achan didn’t know everything, even though he thought he did. With soft strokes, Bella petted Jani’s trunk, and she rumbled her happiness.

Achan and Dhaval marched down the path. Achan scrunched his face like an angry monkey. He rushed over and ordered Jani back to the herd. She ignored his command. Achan entered the courtyard and took the iron hook to her until Jani whimpered and fell to her knees.

Bella gasped.

Achan yelled, You should know better, Hemit. We’re in the middle of training.

Hemit’s stomach twisted into a knot. If only he had the nerve to steal the ankus and poke Achan with it. Let him see how it felt to get stabbed. It took everything out of him not to charge through the fence and make Achan stop using the elephant goad. But he didn’t dare. He’d never win that fight.

Jani looked over her shoulder before joining the herd. Her pain coursed through him as if it were his own. He felt her agony. Those eyes screamed, Help me, but his fear of Achan turned him powerless. Why couldn’t anyone else recognize the elephant’s sadness at each betrayal? Their pleading? Their confusion? This connection sliced through him, sharp as a dagger, and continued to hurt like a wound that never healed.

Sorry, Jani, he whispered under his breath. He turned to Bella and wiped away the tears that threatened to fall down her cheeks. I’m sorry, Bella. The words rang hollow to his ears.

How come they hurt them, Hemit?

Raking his fingers through his thick hair, he hesitated. He was practically a man, and he didn’t understand why they hurt them. How could a girl of six? It’s always been that way, Bella.

The mid-morning sun blazed, and he wiped away the sweat dripping from his neck. The sadness in Bella’s eyes tugged at him. Don’t worry. We’ll figure something out. Her smile rewarded him.

The elephants suffered from the unrelenting heat. They flapped their ears to cool down, but remained lethargic and irritable. In the wild, the herd would have moved deeper into the jungle where the air was crisper, but captives didn’t have that choice.

Achan tramped across the stable yard, stirring up powdery dust clouds in his path. Hemit, take Jani down to the river. Give her a bath. Let her cool down. When you’re done, bring her back. Then do the same for Kari.

Yes, Achan. Hemit jumped down from the bottom rung of the fence.

Don’t forget to pray to one of the elephant gods before mounting her.

Hemit had ten gods to choose from, one for each part of the elephant’s body, from its forehead to its feet. He settled on Lord Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, and Varjanya, the god of the elephant’s heart. Ganesha for safety and the Varjanya for compassion. Between the two, maybe they could convince Achan to throw away the ankush.

With several long breaths, Hemit quieted his mind. In a soft voice, he recited: Lord Ganesh, son of Lord Shiva, remover of obstacles, guardian of the doorway to the enlightened realms. May you bless us with good beginnings. He smiled at Bella. You stay here. That twinkle in her eyes alarmed him. The little one did as she pleased. If you do as I say, you can come with Jani and me to the river.

Was she deciding the world’s fate? She pressed her lips into a firm line, pulled her brows in, and smoothed the wrinkles from her sari before answering. It’s a fair bargain.

Satisfied she would do as told, at least for the moment, Hemit opened the gate to the fenced corral and grabbed the ankush leaning against the wooden rail. With catlike movements—unhurried and calm—he approached Jani from the left. She beat her trunk on the ground and rumbled a welcoming. A good, long pee signaled her happiness.

As much as he hated to, Hemit used the ankush to guide her to his right. He didn’t want Achan to transform into Lord Shiva and perform the Rudra Tandava dance, shaking in fury. He’d already seen him angry enough for one today.

Standing in front of Jani, he grabbed each ear and pulled down hard. She lowered herself, and he clambered up her trunk and sat on top of her head. An easy smile spread across his face. The bird’s eye view lasted for miles, and the lush green mountains and trees and cerulean blue sky cleared his head and settled his soul. He used the smooth side of the small hook to guide Jani out of the pen and toward Bella. Are you going to wait here or come with me down to the river?

With you! She ran, pigtails flip-flapping behind her. Why isn’t Ravi coming?

He’ll be getting his own elephant soon. Uncle Ajay wants him to keep working with the elephants so he’ll be ready. Hemit smiled. No fun for Ravi.

More fun for us, she shouted as she ran next to him.

Hemit raised his chin. Served Ravi right. In the past, he’d have excused Ravi’s actions, but not today. He’s always saying one thing and doing another, and it’s not fair. Hemit shouted, That’s right, Bella. More fun for just you and me and Jani. Ravi’s look of betrayal almost wrenched Hemit’s heart as much as Jani’s pain. Why is Ravi trying to make me feel sorry for him? Hemit sighed. Because it works. Come on, Bella. Let’s go.

Usually the emerald-green jungle teemed with life, but the drought had sucked the life out of the living. Brown leaves crackled under Jani’s feet. The river, muddy and not nearly as deep as it was several months ago, flowed rather than raged. The drought made everything smell old and stagnant. He missed the smell of rain, fresh and earthy and pungent. He stood on Jani’s back and steered her into the deepest part of the river, where it was over her head. Jani drew the water into her trunk and squirted it into her mouth. She sucked up more and spurted it into the air, spraying herself and Hemit. Hemit laughed. So you want to play, do you? He slipped from her back into the water and came up for air, shaking the water from his hair.

Using all four legs to paddle, she kept her face above and her mouth below the water’s surface, and thrust her trunk up in the air to breathe. It always amazed Hemit how such big animals could motor across the river, quick as a boat. She dove under and reappeared down the river. Hemit laughed and yelled, You think you can hide from me? He wagged his finger. You get back here. She dove under again, and popped up closer. Hemit swam to her and jumped on her back. I’m refreshed. How about you, Jani?

As they headed to shore, Hemit said, You’re having yourself a good time, aren’t you? She trumpeted. Out of all the elephants, Jani enjoyed swimming the most. Achan said that elephants once swam from India to Sri Lanka, where they settled. Hemit had no doubt that Jani could make the journey. She never tired from swimming.

Hemit tugged Jani to a shallow pool of water and rested her on her side. Bella stood at the shore with her hands on her hips and a pout on her face. Hemit motioned her to join them. She lifted up the hem of her new sari and tiptoed into the cool water. And why wasn’t I invited?

I didn’t know you could swim?

Of course I can. I’m not a rock.

I thought you wouldn’t want to get your fancy sari wet!

Bella glowed like a ball of fire. She spun around with a lopsided grin, showing off the fiery red fabric and the thick gold trim. Amma bought it for me. She batted her eyelashes. She said gold and red make my eyes pop.

With a sly move, Hemit picked up two round stones. She’s right. He displayed them in the palm of his outstretched hand. They’ve popped right out of your head. Do you want them back?

Bella laughed. Oh, Hemit. She flicked her hand in the water, splattering him.

Feels good, doesn’t it? Hemit asked.

Bella nodded and splashed the cool water on her arms and neck. Her long, wiry hair framed her face. Aren’t elephants too fat to swim?

They’re very buoyant.

Her eyes, brown and bright as two nuts, blinked.

It means that the bigger they are, the better they float.

"Hmm. Auntie must be very boy-yant then," she said in her frank but honest way.

Hemit held back a chuckle. You better not say that to her unless you want her to send you back to Bombay. Come here and help me.

Bella shrugged and ran to him.

Stay still, Jani. He and Bella poured water over Jani’s flanks and took fistfuls of sand and scrubbed her clean. Hemit inspected the folds of her wrinkled skin and removed any trapped mud with a trimmed coconut husk. Next side, Jani girl. She tottered to her feet and laid back down, revealing her unwashed side. Hemit pounded her feet and legs until clean, too.

She resembled a huge black rock, wet and ebony-dark. Her eyes looked dreamy and pleasure-filled, and she smiled a silly grin. You love this, don’t you girl? She flapped her big ears. Once scrubbed from ear to hoof, Hemit inspected her eyes. Look, Bella. Her eyes are a little watery and crusty.

Is she sad from crying?

"No, her eyes are irritated. I’ll mash some tender buds of the ambazham plant with honey and remove it with a cloth when we get back. Then she’ll

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