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The Great Elephant was troubled by their homage. He turned to his trusted aide and whispered in his ear. The
aide, looking even more troubled whispered. They whispered, while the prisoners waited with their eyes on the ground.
The king bid them raise their faces while he pronounced their fate.
“We will not send you to eat your own brothers,” he said. “That is not our way.”
“Great Elephant,” their leader said, “they sent us to kill your people who are more than kin to us.”
“There,” said the king. “There is the difference between us and the Abenhala. We know there is nothing to be
gained from eating your own blood.”
“Nothing, my lord,” said the prisoners. “You have spoken.”
“However,” the king went on, “you come bearing arms, and admit your mission is to sow pain and anguish in the
hearts of kith and kin. There remains then what we should do with you.”
He turned to his trusted aide and again whispered in his ear. Again, they whispered for a bit. The aid nodded and
bowed, and stepped back.
“We shall make men out of you,” said the king. “Men and not hyenas. I have spoken!”
The prisoners were taken away. The aide, who that morning had returned from a secret mission in the land of the
Abenhala, the enemy, sought a private audience with the king.
“Come, Zwide,” said the Great Elephant. “Lend me your shoulder and let us see the cows come home.”
The king was old, and not as strong as he used to be. He leaned on his aide’s shoulder, and let him guide up the
rocky place behind the royal kraal. There they sat down, with unhindered view of his dominions and down the old cattle
trails to the west.
“Now tell me,” said the king. “What news from Dukuza?”
“Dukuza is dead, my lord,” Zwide said, with a heavy heart.
The king listened as Zwide told of the many awful things he had seen and heard there. Dukuza, the capital, was
home to sin and iniquity. Men ate their own brothers, and women walked naked, and children slept in the streets.
Dukuza was drowning in the blood of her people.
When the prisoners came bound and fettered
before the Great Elephant, they fell on their
knees saluting him in the manner of his
“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 heads bowed.
“Do what you have to do,” they said. “Kill
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 herds.”
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
“Have you no wish to live?” he asked them.
“Why do you come back to us your mortal
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