Ariion Kathleen Brindley

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In 218 BC, Hannibal took 37 elephants, 20,000 foot soldiers and 6,000 cavalry troops over the Alps to attack the Romans. Eleven years before, on the banks of a river near Carthage in North Africa, an elephant pulled a drowning girl from the swirling water. Thus began Liada's epic journey with the elephant known as Obolus.

Hannibal's Elephant Girl

A Novel by
Charley Brindley

Chapter 1

A deep rumble from downstream roused me from a troubled half-sleep. I sat up on the drifting log and cocked my head to the side, listening. What is that noise? The wind shifted, sending a chill down my back. If only those men hadn't thrown me over… Suddenly the log rolled in the shifting current and I struggled to keep my place. The river dropped and surged ahead. The rumble became a roar and I cried out at what I saw in the dim light of dawn. "Rapids!"

             The log carried me into the worst of it, where sharp rocks and massive boulders rose like glistening, black teeth. I lunged off the log, thrashing at the water, trying to escape.

             The rushing current tumbled me over and over, sweeping me into the undertow. I coughed and sputtered, fighting to stay afloat, but the angry river seemed determined to swallow me alive. A huge rock loomed ahead. I screamed, grabbing for anything to hold on to, but there was nothing. At the last moment I twisted, turning my shoulder toward the rock. Too late. My head smashed against stone sending flashes of pain through my skull.

             When I opened my eyes, I was pinned against the rock by another log-this one larger than the first and covered by a slimy, green growth. Two jagged limbs stuck out like broken arm bones. It lay across my stomach, held tight by the surging water. I strained hard to push the log away and felt a sharp pain shoot from the back of my head. The roaring current caught the end of the log, pulling me into a trough between the rocks.

             The log crashed into boulders and plunged through foaming whitewater. I held tight until I splashed into a pool at the bottom of the rapids and went under.

             I surfaced, gasping for breath. The log popped up beside me and I took hold of it as the current carried me around in a slow circle. Every movement caused excruciating pain. I held onto the log with one hand and laid back in the water, watching the clouds and overhanging trees revolve in the morning sunshine.

             My limp body drifted on the surface of the swirling eddy. I was so close to shore, I could hear birds chirping in the palm trees and smell the earthy scent of the riverbank. But I was too exhausted to care. The river had punished me all night and then tumbled my weakened body down over the rocks. The river had won; I no longer had the will to survive. I took a shallow breath, let go of the log and watched the clouds turn. When I sank into the cold depths, relief came over me and the spiraling world began to blur.

             Suddenly a long creature coiled around my body, yanking me out of the water.

             I grabbed the thing and tried to scream, but only coughed and choked on the water I had swallowed. The animal tightened its grip.

             It's crushing me. I pushed against the animal, trying to break free. It lifted me up and up until I stared into a large eye surrounded by wrinkled gray skin. Shocked by this dreadful image, I could do nothing but stare wide-eyed and trembling within the creature's grasp.

             The beast blinked and shifted its grip on my wet belly, holding me further out-perhaps to get a better look at me.

             There were two long horns extending from the animal's mouth and curving along both sides of my body.

             "Let me go!" My shrieking voice frightened a flock of birds in the nearby palm trees and their wings beat the air in a muffled rumble of escape.

             The animal must never have heard a child's scream before, because it released me and let out a bellow. The instant it let go, I grabbed hold of what I realized was not a snake at all, but a long, curling trunk. I wrapped my arms and legs around it, holding tight. I didn't want to be eaten by this monster, but I didn't want to fall onto one of those horns either, or back into the river.

             I continued to scream while the beast trumpeted, splashed and crashed his way back onto the riverbank, trying to shake me loose. I tightened my grip and he jerked his trunk high in the air, howling as if something had bitten him.

             Perhaps in my desperation to get away, I did bite his trunk, but it could not have caused enough pain to justify such a rampage. He stumbled up the riverbank, crashing into logs, rocks and bushes until he finally rammed his backside into an enormous carob tree. The tree shuddered all the way up to the topmost branches, shaking so hard that a huge dead section broke loose and came thundering down to smash onto the creature's head.

             That stopped the rampage. He swayed, his eyes fluttered closed and then he toppled over, crashing to the ground in a cloud of dust, leaves and branches. The animal's head hit a boulder, and his coiled trunk-with me attached-came to rest on the upper side of his massive face.

             I sat up and brushed the wet hair from my eyes. "Did I kill him?"

             Laughter came from behind me and I turned to see six soldiers.

             The men wore thick leather breastplates with battle scenes carved into them and metal guards on their wrists. Several had shiny helmets with animal hair sticking straight up from the top and running in a row down the back. Each carried a spear and had a sword in his belt. Wide leather strips with silver trim hung from their belts to form a protective skirt over short tunics. Several round shields with red markings leaned against nearby trees and boulders.

             "Did you ever see such a sight?" said a red-bearded man, pointing at me with a long gnarled finger.

             Another soldier shoved his spear into the sand and laughed so hard he could barely speak. "The brave war elephant, Obolus, laid out by a child!" He clapped a hand on his comrade's shoulder. "And a girl child at that, no more than twelve summers in age."

             "The mighty Obolus," said one of the men. "So courageous in battle he tramples a hundred men in a row, but a terrible girl grabs his trunk and he dies of fright."

             This brought on more laughter.

             I wanted to run away, but they had moved to surround me, cutting off any escape.

             "Tonight we feast!" shouted one of them. He removed his helmet, placed it on the end of his spear and waved it in the air. "On roasted leg of beast and elephant ear stew."

             "Oh, yes. Two very large ears," said the man with the red beard. He drew his dagger and made a cutting motion through the air.

             The few teeth he had left were yellow and crooked. One was broken off, leaving a jagged stump. His beady eyes were set too close to a lopsided nose, making him appear cross-eyed. He came toward me, unbuckling his belt.

             A chill scratched along my spine like an icy fingernail, making me shiver. Who were these frightening men and what are they going to do to me? I wore only a small loincloth, still wet from the river. I wondered where I could be, but when I tried to concentrate, my head ached all the way to its core. The only thing I remembered was someone throwing me into the river at night.

             I glanced about wildly for some way to escape, but the men tightened their circle around me.

             "This could be a serious matter indeed," said the red-bearded man. He turned to his friends, apparently waiting to be sure he had their attention. "We must hope and pray that our next battle doesn't take us up against a legion of half-naked girls." The men laughed. "For then, our mighty elephants would surely trample us all to death in their stampede to escape such a horrible engagement."

             Just when Red Beard dropped his belt and sword to the ground, another man arrived. I watched the newcomer who stopped to stare at the strange sight. He was much older than the soldiers and his long robe was a unusual color-a cross between red and violet. The turban he wore had a high peak in front adorned with some sort of golden badge or emblem. A jeweled dagger swung from a woven leather belt.

             The soldiers grew silent when he walked between them and the elephant. They picked up their gear and backed away, watching the tall man intently. Red Beard slipped his knife back into its sheath. The man with the turban shook his head and glanced from the beast to me. "An evil omen," he muttered. "That is certain. Many shall perish in sacrifice tonight because of this sign from our goddess Tanit."

             The soldiers whispered anxiously to each other and I could see by their attention to the man, that his words carried great weight.

             I slipped off the animal and stepped away to study his enormous body. Even lying on his side, he towered above my head.

             Something touched my shoulders from behind and I jumped. When I turned, a young man I hadn't seen before held his cloak out to me. Since he wasn't one of the soldiers, I thought he must have arrived with the turbaned man. I took the garment, wrapping it around myself. I shivered with fear of the soldiers and the cold of the river.

             The cloak brought warmth and I began to feel a hundred pains from all the cuts and bruises. My back, arms, head…everything hurt while exhaustion weakened my legs.

             When the old man lifted his face to the sky and began a chant, I turned to watch him. The soldiers prayed, leaning their spears in the crooks of their arms and clasping their hands before themselves. While the others mumbled toward the sky, the red-bearded soldier lowered his head and stared at me. A hungry animal could not have frightened me more.

             "Go now," someone whispered.

             The words startled me. I turned and stepped back, almost tripping over my own feet, but then I saw the young man who had given me his cloak.

             "Where?" I asked.

             He put his hand on my shoulder, pulling me away from the soldiers and over near the edge of the forest. "Hurry along that path to the camp and ask for the woman called Yzebel. She will find something for you to eat. Go quickly before Hannibal comes here and sees one of his elephants laid out on the ground."

             I ran along the path leading into the woods. I was grateful for the warmth of his cape and knew I should have thanked him. The thick cloak had dapples of olive and brown colors, along with patches of leafy green. It extended all the way to my ankles and felt good after the icy river.

             I stopped and glanced back; the young man was gone. Unlike the others who were bushy-faced and boisterous, he was clean-shaven and soft-spoken. His brown eyes-the color of almonds and honey-were easy to look upon. He didn't carry a weapon or wear armor, but he did have a sash around the waist of his tunic, made of the same unusual cloth as the tall man's robe.

             The large lump on the back of my head hurt more than ever. When I touched it, pain shot across the top of my head, making me dizzy.

             If only I could lie down, just sleep for a little while. A patch of grass, like a soft green bed lay beneath a nearby oak tree. When I took a step toward the grass, I heard noises in the distance and turned back to the path, concentrating on the sound of a dog barking and the clang of metal against metal echoing through the forest.

             Not far away, a boy gathering wood beside the trail. He gave me a scornful sneer and I wondered why. One of the sticks he carried fell from his arms. He snatched it from the ground and cocked it back over his shoulder, as if to throw it at me. I kept my eyes on him and picked up a sharp stone the size of my fist, raising it in defiance. After surviving the river, the elephant with his long horns, and the frightening soldiers, I wasn't going to be intimidated by a boy barely taller than me. He swung his stick, hitting a tree at his side and then turned to carry his load of wood toward the camp. After he was out of sight I continued along the path, keeping my rock handy.

             Near the end of the trail, a slight breeze brought a delicious scent of hot food, making my empty stomach rumble. I followed the aroma to a tent just beyond the woods.

             The path left the pine and oak forest, wound beside the large gray tent and down a gentle slope into the main camp. There, more tents and huts spread out over a series of low hills.

             A woman stood beside a cooking fire in the morning sunshine, slicing vegetables into a boiling pot. Several tables with wooden benches circled the hearth. A green awning extended from the tent and over the tables, with the corners tied to four towering palm trees. The palms were positioned in a square pattern, placed so perfectly that it seemed a giant hand might have shoved them into the ground at each of the corners. A crooked pole propped the awning up in the center.

             The woman wore a patchwork dress of faded yellow, brown and green with a ragged apron tied around her narrow waist. She had her long dark hair bound up in an intricate twist of braids around the crown of her head. She wasn't old, not yet even to the middle of her life, but what I found most remarkable was her unwrinkled face-the color of creamy cinnamon-making her features soft like moonlight on silk.

             She reached for another turnip and glanced my way. Her honey-almond eyes narrowed and she demanded, "Where did you get that cape?"

             I shrugged my shoulders, not knowing what to say.

             The woman came toward me with the knife in her hand. I stepped back.

             "That's Tendao's cape," she said. "Where did you get it?"

             I pulled the cape tighter around myself and then remembered the young man. He had told me to ask for a woman who would give me something to eat. "Do you know of Yzebel?"

             "I am Yzebel. Why do you wear Tendao's cape and ask for me?" She came closer and grabbed the cloak.

             I glanced at the knife in the woman's hand and then back at her face. Knots bulged in the woman's clenched jaw and her brow furrowed, distorting the beautiful face.

             I held the cape closed but Yzebel was too strong for me. She yanked it open.

             The change in Yzebel astonished me. Her stern features transformed so completely that it seemed another person had taken her place. The irritation and anger from a moment before softened into compassion and tenderness.

             "Great Mother Elissa!" Yzebel stared at my body. "What happened to you?"

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