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before the Great Elephant, they fell on their knees saluting him in the manner
of his minions.
“Hail,” they said, “hail, Mighty Elephant.”
The king, who at ninety-two had lived long enough to judge one day’s enemy
as the next day’s ally, acknowledged their salute with a wave of his royal staff,
and ordered them to rise. Noting that the captives were from the rebellious
armies of the north, the enemy that caused his subjects so much suffering, he
asked them what he should do with them. They spoke with one voice, their
“Do what you have to do,” they said. “Kill us.”
There was silence in the great court, while the Great Elephant considered the
prisoners’ words. He addressed their bowed heads.
“We shall not kill you,” he said. “We are not the hyena that, finding it foul,
eats his own anus. Go now, go back to your people. Go herd the Abenhala
Whereupon the prisoners, unbound, were set free, and they went away
singing of his wisdom. After nine days and nine nights in the wilderness, they
arrived back at the royal palace and were brought before the Great Elephant.
“Have you no wish to live?” he asked them. “Why do you come back to us
your mortal foes?”
They bowed deeper than his subjects, and stayed with their heads bowed.
“Wise Elephant,” their leader said, “we are not herders; we are warriors. We
live and die to fulfil our purpose.”
“That may be so,” the king said to them, “but the land needs tillers not killers.”
“Your majesty, permit us to reach our destiny. Send us to face your enemy.
Let us die for your majesty.”