This is part of an occasional series of stories that I have been writing for a while about the adventures of a young Prince and the love of his father. It’s set many years ago in a place that is not defined but is probably Persia and it’s meant to be a magical story for adults and children to celebrate the holidays. Once again, many thanks to my friend Sandi Goodwin for her delightful illustrations.—T.W.
It was the Prince’s birthday and the King was planning a surprise for him. Father and son have developed the most loving bond and although it was not the habit in their country to show affection in court still the King could not help showering the young Prince with smiles and stories and words of encouragement. All the courtiers could see that this was a great attachment and knew that the Prince was his father’s jewel. Accordingly they all recognized and honored the Prince’s power and position. For this special day the King wanted to present his son with a gift so unusual and so mesmerizing that he had consulted with many of his wise men about possible ideas.
After many discussions he finally knew exactly what would delight but also teach the Prince about the relationship between man and nature. Having decided, he sent out his agents to find two young animals. They were to be captured and then brought in safety to his palace and kept out of the sight of the young Prince until the time of his birthday. “Both animals must be female and very young,” he ordered. The King knew from his readings over many years, and from the ambassadors and rich merchants that he often entertained, of the beauty and abundance of the animals in the northwestern part of India. So he sent his men there. He had decided to give to his son an elephant and a tiger.
Before long he received news that two suitable animals had been found by the local hunters. The tiger was a cub no bigger than a fully-grown domestic cat but already it had claws that it would sharpen by shredding a priceless carpet or tapestry. Although the elephant was a baby she was huge, weighing many hundreds of pounds. She was immensely strong too and it required at least six men to pull her into the cage. The elephant even at this tender age was known for her sweet temper and humor. The two animals arrived two weeks before the Prince’s birthday and somehow the King’s soldiers managed to find a comfortable living place for them that the Prince never discovered. The two animals became best friends at first sight. Who would have thought that a tiger and an elephant would happily sleep together in the same cage and that the elephant loved to have the tiger sit on its shoulders purring with pleasure?
The day arrived. The King was delighted that his whole enterprise had been kept a secret from the Prince and that he could now present these two wonders in celebration of his birthday. So he asked his Prime Minister to summon the Prince. The Prime Minister bowed beautifully and disappeared immediately in a swirl of silken clothes to do his bidding. The Prince approached his father and gave a deep and most respectful bow. He was tall for his age, and slender and still had the beautiful hair, which was the color of the desert sand that had so startled the King at the time of his birth. The King smiled at his son and beckoned him to his throne where he embraced him and offered his congratulations. The Prince loved his father and was touched by this gesture. He wanted to keep holding his hand but he knew even then that he must be more grown up in his behaviors, so he kissed his hand and thanked him.
“Now I have something to show you,” said the King.
He ordered his guards to lead the way and they went down into the courtyard of the Palace and then out into smaller courtyards that the Prince in his many explorations had never seen before. They rounded a corner and there before him were the infant animals, the tiger and the elephant. The boy stopped amazed and incredulous as his father announced that these two beasts were his present to him on this special day.
“These two animals will teach you about the world and God and the splendors and pain of existence.”
The Prince was very excited. He stared at the animals and thanked his father. Then without a thought he went up to both animals, who seemed to recognize him instantly. The tiger purred and the elephant smiled in its good-natured way.
“This is Babuj,” the Prince said pointing to the elephant, “and she will be my spiritual guide and show me much wisdom. And this,” he said looking at the tiger now curling itself around his legs and wanting to be petted, “is Machali who will teach me about courage and the gentle use of force.” The animals looked at him in that moment and they both knew that he had chosen the right names for them.
“How did you know this? Did you manage to find these beasts in their secret place that I had spent so much time creating?” asked the King.
“No father. This is all a wonderful surprise to me. But their names are obvious. Babuj because that is the sound she will make with her trumpet nose, and Machali is the name of the fish, which she has on the right side of her head which will grow ever bigger with the years, just as I will.”
The King was amazed by this wisdom and precocity and loved his son even more.
For the next few weeks the Prince was hardly ever separated from Babuj and Machali. They seemed to grow together every day and to find new wonders and questions in the world. They would walk as a little trio that truly loved one another, Babuj at the Prince’s side and Machali running around them catching butterflies or hunting imaginary prey. People in the Palace would watch them and smile. And in the streets of the city the sight of this happy trio would stop all traffic and conversation and the people would clear a path for the royal procession to make its way to wherever their destination might be. The Prince was already seen to have remarkable powers because of his sand colored hair. Now he was thought to be even more extraordinary because of his complete command over these two beasts. The people commented that when God decreed it he would make a great successor to his famous father.
The weather was very hot and the King decided it would be pleasant for everyone to make an excursion down to the beach for the day where they could converse, eat fruits and meats, and enjoy the cool air from the ocean. Moving the King from his throne room to the beach with all his courtiers and staff was a huge operation. Even the Queen had been invited on this occasion and that meant dozens of ladies in waiting who each demanded special attention thus complicating every arrangement.
There were considerations of the tent that the King would use, how he would travel, what he should sit upon, the meals that he might want to take, and the logistics that would make all this possible. The trip was but a short distance from the Palace and yet it demanded more than a hundred people to work on the arrangements and then to provide the King with his every wish once he was comfortably seated looking out over the sea.
The Prince came with Babuj and Machali. Both animals had never seen so much water before and Babuj drew up gallons into her trunk only to blow high arcs of water into the air, while Machali played the huntress in the water. Some of the Prince’s school friends were also invited to join the royal party with their parents. This was seen as a great privilege. The King’s beach-front station had been fixed by his Prime Minister and the large procession soon arrived. All the arrangements had worked well and the tent and chairs were to the King’s liking. He sat down and observed the immensity of the ocean before him.
He had seldom traveled outside his country and on those occasions when he had it was mostly by camel across the desert. His navy was known and feared throughout the world but he had seldom traveled by water. He became absorbed in his thoughts wondering if he should change his old ways and explore more of the world. These thoughts took him deep into his hopes and fears, his plans and disappointments. He became more and more introspective and stopped seeing what was around him, staring instead at the yellow sand.
It was Babuj’s trumpet sound that roused him from his thoughts. He looked up and there in the sea was the elephant playing with the Prince and his friends with Machali firmly planted upon her back. The children were all trying to grab the rope that hung around Babuj’s neck. Sometimes 6 or 7 of them would hold the rope and try and stop Babuj but they were never successful. Babuj had far more strength and would simply haul them all laughing and screaming into the water. Machali watched from her vantage point purring sounds of encouragement to Babuj.
Babuj was having the time of her life and loved to play with the children. Her smile seemed to be even bigger and her good humour was as vast as the ocean. The Prince was the center of this picture, drenched in water, his sand colored hair wet upon his head, and his shouts and laughter growing even louder as the joy of this moment developed. It seemed to last for an eternity and was unstoppable.
The King looked at the scene. It took him a moment to remember quite where he was and why. He stared and then became part of the moment. As he looked he was deeply moved by the two beasts and the children and his son. It was sheer happiness, unchallenged, immutable, and timeless. It transcended every hope he had for his son and these beasts, what they would teach one another, and how their friendship would develop. It was all here and all he had to do was … nothing… to allow it to just exist. The King was a wise, curious and intelligent man and he sat back in his chair and became like the cool air from the sea, a benign presence.
The friendship between the Prince and Babuj and Machali would continue for many years. And there are still many stories to be told about them and their adventures. The saddest, perhaps, was the death of Machali at the grand age of 20 years when both the Prince and Babuj shed many tears together. And the happiest was seeing the Prince succeed his father as King and having Babuj at his coronation. The prince loved the fact that he and Babuj would grow old together and one day find their place in heaven with Machali. But these will be the stories for another time when magic again touches our minds and souls and we can play in the sea with our dreams.