THE ELEPHANT HUNT
The next morning, as planned, the hunting party assembled at the elephant kraal and here they awaited the first light of dawn. General Phetracha and Prince Sorasak had invited a dozen guests, all neophytes at the sport of wild elephant hunting, and included were Phaulkon, Diego and Christoph. It was an exciting moment for those waiting for the hunt to begin. The air pulsated with the sound of drums with an occasional blast of trumpets. The shouts of mahouts, more than a hundred, echoed through the camp as they called out commands and maneuvered their elephants into position. Among the elephants, edging forward and bumping against one another, a hundred or more trainers and assistants, seemingly unafraid that they might be trampled down, ran about among the beasts attempting to keep them calm. It was as dangerous as it was exciting.
Close behind the hunting party waited a company of soldiers, all on foot, ready to advance when the command was given. The excitement grew when word from scouts came that a herd of wild elephants were a short distance to the east.
With the hunt but minutes away, General Phetracha guided his elephant to the statue of Ganesha, the elephant god, while monks performed the purification ceremony given before every chase. Then, with a wave of his sword high above his head, General Phetracha gave the signal. There followed a flourish of blasts from the trumpeters and a thunderous outburst of drumbeats and the hunt began.
A hundred elephants charged with incredible speed. The earth trembled beneath their feet and clouds of dust rose up from the flat plain as the herd thundered ahead in pursuit of wild elephants With dust hanging limpid in the air, visibility was near impossible. Charging elephants came within centimeters of colliding with one another, but miraculously, by their very own nature, they passed one another unscathed. The charging beasts reached the edge of the forest and here the pace slowed. An hour after setting out, they passed the last military outpost guarding the northern periphery of the city. Phetracha ordered the near-exhausted soldiers to remain behind. They fell to the ground like leaves falling from the trees. The party continued and the deeper they penetrated into the forest, the thicker became the foliage. The dust disappeared and the elephants, although still at a run, now had to maneuver around the trees, some so large that three men could not reach around them. As they neared the wild elephant area, the tame elephants became more difficult to manage. It was then that the scouts announced that wild elephants were dose at hand. Sorasak called a halt and made preparations for the final charge. Mahouts lined up their elephants. The assistants made ready with their rope lassoes. Sorasak warned that guests could join the hunt but only by remaining in the rear. He further instructed them, unless told otherwise, they were to remain on their elephants at all times. Their howdahs would provide them with some protection.
Phaulkon attempted to stay as far distant from Sorasak as he could. He suspected some ill doing but what it might be he was uncertain. He knew Sorasak was seeking revenge. Both Diego and Christoph rode side by side next to him, adhering to the adage that there’s safety in numbers. It was only after they reached the wild elephant area that Phaulkon realized it was not Sorasak or his men that he had to fear. It was his elephant. Sorasak had assigned him to an elephant that was easily spooked. What foul play did Sorasak have in mind?
Sorasak had hunted the area before, and he knew that any one of three things can frighten elephants on a hunt-dogs, horses and wild pigs. Early that morning, he had his men place wild pigs in cages deep in the forest, and when his men got the signal, they were to turn the wild, screaming pigs loose. The mahout on Phaulkon’s elephant would not be able to control his beast and both of them, he and Phaulkon, would be flung to the jungle floor, certain to be trampled to death in the confusion.
But Sorasak and his men were not aware that other forces, even more formidable, were at play. A band of rebel Muslims had set up a camp in the jungle where Sorasak intended to lead the hunt. The Muslims had spotted Sorasak’s men that morning when they were setting the cages with the wild pigs and hastily reported their findings to their chief at their camp not far away. The rebels figured the king’s soldiers were plotting to do harm to someone in their party. But who? Most likely someone of high rank among them. It took no time for their scouts to discover that that person was General Phetracha from King Narai’s royal court, and with him was Prince Sorasak. They concluded that it must be the prince who planned to assassinate the general. The Muslims suddenly felt that luck was in their favor. This was the opportunity they had waited for, to kidnap a few of the king’s men and hold them hostage in hope to better their cause for independence in the south. The general or the prince, or both of them, would make a prized catch. They set their plan into motion. They had little difficulty overpowering Sorasak’s soldiers stationed at the dozen cages. Now all they had to do was wait for Sorasak’s next move.
Unaware that his men had been captured, Sorasak led the way at the head of the hunt, and when the elephants reached the appointed spot, he gave the signal for his men to release the pigs. Nothing happened. Sorasak halted the hunt and instead of charging he had the party wait. Still nothing happened. He was confused, uncertain what to do next. The elephants became uneasy. He gave orders for all to dismount. Phetracha was now aware that something had gone wrong, and Phaulkon sensed trouble. There was no time to delay. Phaulkon got Diego aside and instructed him that if trouble occurred not to worry about him. He had to get away as fast as he could and get help from the military outpost that they had passed.
Seeing that there was already chaos, the Muslims released the pigs. The squealing animals went on a rampage through the jungle, scattering the elephants before the mahouts could stop them. At the same time, the Muslims charged the hunting patty, whooping and shouting, brandishing steel blades above their heads. In no time they surrounded the unwary hunting party. It was over in minutes. The rebel leader then made his appearance. He stepped out of the jungle into the clearing. Phaulkon did a double take. He couldn’t believe what he saw. It was Mosafat, the rebel leader he had encountered while crossing the Kra Peninsula. Mosafat didn’t recognize Phaulkon, not at first.
Mosafat ordered Phetracha to tell his men to lay down their arms. Sorasak stepped forward, shouting at Mosafat chat he, Mosafat, would hang for chis, whereupon Mosafat replied, “Who will hang who? When your king finds out you have planned to murder his general who will hang then?”
Sorasak went into a panic. He lost control. He glanced at Phetracha, whose face had turned ashen, and then bravely approached Mosafat to prove to Phetracha chat he was not a traitor and certainly not an assassin. “You are a pig, a pig!” he shouted waving his arms. Mosafat backed away. “That’s a lie, and you ace a pig!” he continued, screaming, and then feeling more defiant, he spit at the rebel leader.
Sorasak misjudged his adversary. Mosafat reacted with fury. He swung his lance to strike Sorasak, but Phaulkon, anticipating chis might happen, stepped between the two men. Phaulkon cook the full blow of the lance on his head and shoulder. The blow knocked him to the ground. Slowly he got to his knees, and with the help of Christoph, he stood up. He was bleeding badly and was covered with dust. He looked around to make certain Diego was gone. He was nowhere in sight. Phaulkon then addressed Mosafat. “You must excuse him, most noble Tuan,” he said speaking in Malay. “He is still a youth and knows not how to control his tongue.”
Mosafat had the look in his eyes that he might strike again. Sorasak chis time backed away.
Phaulkon continued in Malay. He knew he had to buy time until the king’s soldiers from the garrison arrived. It would take Diego an hour to reach the post, and another hour for them to return. He had two hours. He also realized they were in no position to anger their captors. He stepped up to Mosafat, and now standing call on his own, without the support of Christoph, he told the rebel chief that he was King Narai’s Consul, the Luang Wijawendra, the Superintendent of Foreign Trade, hoping it would have some effect on the rebel leader. It didn’t.