A Girl and Her Elephant The Animal Companions Series #1
by Zoey Gong
Genre: YA Adventure
All of the elephants wept as one of their own lay dying in childbirth. But Kanita, the daughter of the royal elephant trainer, refused to give up. With her own hands, she helped bring the baby elephant, Safi, into the world, beginning a lifelong friendship between a girl and her elephant.
But many of the villagers worried about the curse of the white elephant with the red birthmark across her face.
Raised in the mountains of northern Siam, Kanita’s idyllic life is shattered when she is ordered to marry a much older man and leave her beloved yet cursed elephant behind. But Kanita’s stubborn nature refuses to bow to her parents’ wishes.
Kanita and Safi flee their village with the goal of redeeming Safi from her cursed reputation and cementing their bond, vowing to never be separated.
But the jungle is more dangerous than Kanita or Safi could have imagined.
From new author Zoey Gong, follow Kanita and Safi through the jungles of ancient Siam in a story of friendship, hope, and redemption.
A Girl and her Elephant is the first book in the Animal Companion series, but each book is a stand-alone novel with new characters and adventures.
The cries of the elephant could be heard throughout the jungle.
Kanita could no longer ignore the elephant’s suffering. Even though her father—the king’s mahout—had warned her to stay away, she had to see what was happening for herself. She snuck out of her bedroom window and ran through the village to the royal stables where the white elephant was in heavy labor.
Even though it was late at night, the stables and yard were lit with torches, and mahouts were running here and there, trying to calm the rest of the elephant herd. But they seemed incapable of being consoled, and each one trumpeted in distress.
“Bring more hot water!” Kanita heard her father call to one of his men. “And my kris. I will have to cut the baby loose.”
Her father had asked for his dagger! The poor elephant, Kanita thought. If the elephant—one of the sacred white elephants—died, the king would be displeased. She moved a bale of hay to a stable window and climbed on top of it to get a better view.
On the floor of the stables was the large white elephant. She was straining to birth her calf into the world and tears seeped from her eyes.
She looked at Kanita, and Kanita’s heart froze in her chest. It was as though she could hear the elephant begging her for help.
The elephant’s wet eyes found Kanita’s, and she raised her trunk toward her.
Kanita jumped down from the hay bale and ran into the stables. She had to do something to help. As she entered the building, she saw her father walk behind the elephant with his kris.
“Por! No!” Kanita cried as she ran to him, pulling on his arm. “You’ll kill her.”
“Kanita!” he said sternly. “I told you to stay in the house with your mother. Get out of here.”
“No, I can help,” she said. She went to the elephant and looked at where the baby was supposed to come out. The area was red and swollen, but she thought she could see a trunk trying to wiggle out.
She had never helped birth a baby elephant before. As a girl, she was forbidden from becoming a mahout. But she had helped her mother bring a woman’s baby into the world just a few days before. It didn’t look so different to her. She just needed to reach inside and pull the baby out. And with her small hands and arms, she thought she was just the right size to do it.
She slid her hands inside the mother elephant.
“Be careful,” her father cautioned. “Can you feel the calf’s legs?”
She wasn’t sure what she was feeling. It was like nothing in the world she had touched before. She closed her eyes and let her hands do the seeing for her.
She felt it. The trunk. She could feel the length of it and the ridges up to the baby elephant’s face. She felt the trunk wrap around her arm.
“I feel its face!” Kanita cried.
“Keep going,” her father said.
She pushed further into the elephant, all the way to her shoulders. She slid her hands down the side of the baby elephant and gripped it under its front leg.
“I have it!” she said. “I have the leg!” She tried to pull it out, but she was not strong enough. “Help me!” she cried.
Her father wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled. “Don’t let go!” he ordered.
She could feel her hands start to slip, but she refused to release her grip. The baby elephant’s trunk wrapped even more tightly around her arm. She started to feel the baby elephant’s mass give way.
“It’s coming!” she yelled, and the mother elephant trumpeted again, forcing the baby out.
Kanita and her father fell backward as the baby elephant plopped out of her mother on top of them covered in birthing goo. The baby struggled, still partially trapped in her amniotic sack. Kanita’s father used his kris to cut the sack away.
The baby elephant took her first full gasp of air, and Kanita wrapped her arms around the baby, a baby that was probably ten times the weight of eight-year-old Kanita. A baby girl elephant.
“You did it,” her father said, patting her on the back.
Kanita breathed a sigh of relief, happy to have saved the baby elephant and her mother.
But then the mother elephant trumpeted again and let out a horrifying moan. Blood and other fluids poured out of the mother elephant, soaking the stable floor.
“Oh no!” Kanita cried as she stood, her chong kraben drenched with blood. Her feet slipped on the floor as she made her way to the mother elephant’s face.
The mother elephant groaned as Kanita stroked her face.
“I’m so sorry,” Kanita said. “I’ll take care of her. I promise.”
The mother elephant sighed one last time, her eyes focusing softly on Kanita as though she understood before closing them forever.
Kanita stood back and then kneeled, kowtowing to the white elephant, thanking her for her service to the king and honoring her as his representative. All of the mahouts in the stables—including Kanita’s father—did the same, as was proper. The rest of the elephants in the king’s stables—white and gray—let out a mournful trumpet, as though they all suffered from the loss of one of their own.
Kanita was the first to raise her head, as her thoughts were now with the baby elephant left behind. The baby elephant was sitting up, its eyes wide, apparently confused about what was going on. Kanita raised the baby’s trunk and coaxed her to follow. She led her to her mother so she could nurse. Even though the mother was dead, the milk she made in preparation for her baby should still be good for the baby’s first drink.
As the men discussed what to do next with the deceased royal elephant—they would have to inform the king and then hold a royal procession for her.
Kanita grabbed a bucket of water and started washing the baby. As she did so, she was greeted with an incredible sight.
“Por!” she called to her father. “Look!”
Her father and some of the other mahouts came to see what she was excited about.
“Well, I’ll be…” her father trailed off as he sunk to his knees.
The baby—like her mother—was a white elephant.
Once again, everyone in the stables—including Kanita—prostrated themselves before an auspicious elephant.
“Is this the first time a white elephant has been born in captivity?” Kanita asked after they all were standing again.
“King Sakda is truly a blessed monarch,” her father said.
“Hey, boss,” one of the mahouts said, calling her father to him. He went to him, and the two talked quietly for a moment, frowning at the baby elephant.
“What is it?” Kanita asked. She went to her father’s side and realized what they were looking at.
The baby elephant had a long red birthmark down one side of her face. On her pale pink skin—white elephants were not really white, but only a pale gray or pink in color—the mark showed dramatically.
“It’s nothing,” Kanita said, remembering that her friend Boonsri had a red birthmark on her back. “She’s still a white elephant. We will still honor her.”
“It’s a bad omen elephant, boss,” the other mahout mumbled.
“Don’t say that!” Kanita yelled.
“Enough,” her father said firmly. “I will send an urgent message to the king, telling him what happened and about the new white elephant. In all his wisdom, he will know what to do.”
“We should take good care of her,” Kanita said. “The king will want to know his auspicious elephant is well cared for.”
Kanita went over to the little elephant, who had now finished drinking her mother’s milk, and led her to a clean area of the stables. She finished washing and drying the elephant and laid her on a fresh bed of straw.
“Don’t worry,” Kanita said as she laid down with the elephant, wrapping her arms around her. “I won’t let anything happen to you, Safi, my sweet little friend.”
But in her heart, she worried about the mahout calling the baby elephant a “bad omen.”
ZOEY GONG was born and raised in rural Hunan Province, China. She has been studying English and working as a translator since she was sixteen years old. Now in her early twenties, Zoey loves traveling and eating noodles for every meal. She lives in Shenzhen with her cat, Jello, and dreams of one day disappointing her parents by being a Leftover Woman (剩女).