Marie was a mature cow elephant and had come to terms with the fact that this may be her last pregnancy. She had been in labour for days but felt that this evening would see the arrival of her fifth calf.
The full term had been different this time, which she found difficult to explain to her friends and midwives, Cody, Priya, and Darsha, who were in close attendance.
‘Doesn't feel the same as last time,’ she said.
Darsha was quick to respond. ‘Don't be silly, Marie, you look the picture of health and it’s going to be fine.’
Priya and Cody were also quick to dismiss her concerns and soon got her focusing on the exciting event.
The friends slowly manoeuvred her to an appropriate location in undisturbed long grasses and among a plethora of shrubs. Perfect for the happy occasion.
It was still very warm in the evening after the searing heat of the day, which added to the Marie’s discomfort. However, the reassuring sounds of the cicadas and M Tamonten Tusks 2 chirping crickets made her feel at ease, although she was disturbed by the annoying laughter of hyenas in the vicinity calling to their cubs.
Marie paced up and down as the labour pains intensified.
The birth was close, and the others watched her with the same maternal instinct Marie had afforded them when they had given birth to their calves in the past.
Finally, with one last momentous outburst and crowning push, she delivered her amniotic sac, which dropped some three feet to its dusty destination. Amid the euphoria and relief, Marie’s exhausted frame dropped to its knees then slumped onto the ground, motionless.
‘What's wrong with her?’ said Pryia.
‘Oh my god, she’s been shot,’ said Cody.
As Marie slumped to the ground, narrowly missing her sac, Pryia noticed a dart in Marie’s back leg. ‘It’s poachers,’ she cried, and instinctively charged in a random direction, as did Darsha in the opposite direction, covering all angles.
Cody stayed and attended to Marie.
When the two brave friends returned, having frightened off the poachers, they found Cody sobbing uncontrollably and realised it was too late. Marie had succumbed to the deadly toxins in the dart and all signs of life had left her.
The three friends rocked their heads from side to side in overwhelming grief. They towered over Marie’s lifeless frame as if to protect her from any further horrors.
‘I can't believe she's gone,’ said Pryia, unable to hold back tears.
‘There's nothing more we can do for her, but what about the calf? Is it still alive?’ asked Darsha. She moved towards the birth sac, blew on it, and gently nudged it with her trunk. Immediately, the amniotic sac burst, and Darsha started to remove the membrane revealing an empty, barren sac, which should have contained the baby elephant.
‘Where is the calf?’ asked Priya. ‘Maybe it got scared and ran off?’
‘Don't be such an idiot,’ said Darsha. ‘We have only just opened the sac up and calves cannot stand for a least an hour, let alone run into the bush.’
‘Wait a minute,’ said Cody, ‘something is wriggling about within the fluid. Oh, to the gods of the savanna, it’s alive.’
‘What's alive? I can't see anything,’ said Priya.
‘It's unbelievable, incredible. Look closely – it's tiny, it can't be much bigger than a dung beetle in length. But it looks perfectly formed,’ said Darsha.
‘It's a freak, that's what it is,’ said Pryia. ‘What shall we do with it? There's no way it can survive.’
‘Let me put my foot on it and put it out of its misery,’ said Cody. ‘It's for the best.’
‘How could you, Cody? It’s Marie’s child,’ said Darsha.
‘Poor Marie is not with us anymore. Who is going to look after it, if it does survive?’
‘I think Cody's right,’ said Pryia, and it was clear that two out of the three friends had voted to put an end to the hapless newborn.
‘Back off, ladies,’ shouted Darsha.
Just as she was escorting the two ladies away, a martial eagle swooped down and gathered the infant in his talons and climbed into the night sky. The three elephants were completely bewildered at the sight of the eagle but quickly concluded that it would probably return to its nest and feed it to one of its eaglets.
The eagle spoke as it climbed. ‘Do not worry, ladies, no harm will come to him. This is a very special elephant and, in time, you will hear about his adventures and they will become legendary.’
He climbed higher and higher and out of sight.
Narok, the all-seeing eagle, cherished the powers and great responsibility given to him by the Heavenly Kings. ‘Don't worry, little one, you will be safe now. My name is Narok and the gods have great plans for you and, when your time comes, you will be revered by many and play a crucial role in the survival of our kingdom.’
After only a short flight, they landed on a nest in a thorny acacia tree, perched a safe height above the ground. The nest was made of twigs and stretched about the width of the tree’s foliage in diameter.
Green leaves lined the infant’s new home, which made it perfectly comfortable, and there was a plentiful supply of food – not that the new arrival needed much.
‘What's happening to me?’ said the infant. ‘Where is my mother?’
‘I am sorry to have to tell you, little one, that your mother was killed by poachers shortly after giving birth to you,’ Narok explained. ‘But fear not, I am here to take good care of you.’
‘Why am I so small? Shouldn’t I be bigger than this?’
‘You are just perfect,’ insisted Narok, ‘and you will eventually experience a gift the gods have bestowed upon you, which will more than compensate for your diminutive size. The gift will become apparent when the time is right. I will soon place you with some friends of mine, who will care for and educate you. You are very special little one – never forget that.’
A week later, Narok explained that the time had come for the infant to meet his new foster parents. ‘They are good people. Try not to worry – I will never be far away. They don’t call me the all-seeing eagle for nothing,’ said Narok.
He placed the infant on the back of his neck and leapt into the air.
The flight lasted for a couple of hours, before they came into land at the foot of a huge baobab tree almost twice the size of Narok’s tree, and wide enough to fit two fully grown bull elephants inside, trunk to tail.
‘This is your new home, little one. It's known as the tree of life and its inhabitants will take care of you until you reach an age where you can embark on the next chapter of your life,’ said Narok.
The eagle landed softly and a family of chacma baboons emerged from the hollow tree to greet the new arrivals.
‘Welcome, Narok,’ said Swiss, the head of the troop, who was accompanied by Perrin, her partner, ‘welcome to our humble abode.’
The infant looked on in amazement at the sight of about twenty terrifying-looking animals of all ages. Numerous babies clung to their mother’s sides and juveniles bounced about excitedly. Slower, more mature baboons edged forward to take a closer look.
‘And who is this little chappie?’ said Perrin.
‘I had hoped that you would give him a name, one fitting for someone so special,’ said Narok.
‘We will call him Issun,’ pronounced Swiss, ‘He reminds of an ancient tale of a tiny one inch child and that one sun is the Japanese word for inch and Boshi meaning boy, Issun Boshi.’
‘Perfect,’ said Narok. ‘You know what to do. Teach him your values, equip him with the necessary skills, and educate him like one of your own. When the time is right, he will need to leave you and his quest will begin.’
Narok said his farewells and headed off into the afternoon sun.
‘Let us show you around and introduce you to our troop,’ said Swiss.
Perrin carefully picked up Issun Boshi and took him inside the great hollow tree, closely followed by Swiss.
‘Wow,’ said Issun, amazed at the size of the tree.
‘This tree has everything we need – fire-resistant shelter, a fruit called monkey bread, and water within its trunk,’ said Perrin.
Swiss turned to face Issun.
‘Now, let's get you settled in, Bosh – can we call you Bosh?’ She said.
‘That’s fine with me. I haven't had the chance to get used to a name yet,’ Issun replied.
Swiss and Perrin were thrilled at the prospect of being foster parents to Issun Boshi, or Bosh, because they hadn’t been blessed with children of their own.
They relished the challenge of integrating him into their community and the teaching process started almost immediately.
The first five years of Bosh's life elapsed and the tiny elephant did not grow at all. He stayed the same size as he was the day Narok had placed him in their care.
At the age of ten, Bosh was becoming more and more inquisitive about everything in the baboon world. He now understood their language and was accepted, educated, protected, and adored by everyone in the troop.
What was most fascinating and interesting to Bosh was watching his parents exercise daily, using what looked like bamboo staffs.
‘What are you doing?’ Bosh asked Swiss.
‘It's called tahtib, which originated in north-west Africa. The discipline helps to cultivate a vigorous spirit and mould the mind and body,’ she said.
‘But aren’t you trying to hurt each other?’ Bosh replied.
‘It is a form of self-defence, yes, but we are not trying to hurt each other. It teaches us discipline, courtesy, and honour,’ said Perrin.
Bosh became fascinated with watching his parents train and never missed a session. One day, to his surprise, they presented him with an ivory sewing needle, which looked like a scaled-down bamboo staff.
‘Please accept this gift, Bosh. It was presented to us by an elephant friend of ours, who had damaged one of his tusks. He gave us this tiny sliver of ivory and my grandfather carved it into a needle. We have used for many years. This needle will be your asaya,’ said Swiss.
Bosh was overjoyed and thanked his parents, then immediately got to work mimicking their moves as they trained.
‘He’s picking up the technique quickly,’ Perrin said to Swiss.
‘Yes, he has real talent, but we need to get him a sparring partner so he can train properly,’ she replied.
On the day of Issun Boshi’s eighteenth birthday, Swiss and Perrin summoned Bosh from his daily chore of plucking wax from baby baboons’ ears.
‘We have a very special present, or should we say a special someone for you, Bosh,’ they said simultaneously.
‘Who is that?’ Bosh asked excitedly.
‘Meet Arthur.’ From behind her back, Swiss produced a tiny African pygmy mouse, not yet fully grown but the exact size of Issun Boshi.
Bosh could not contain his excitement and was even more astonished when the tiny rodent spoke to him.
‘Hello, Bosh. I’ve heard a lot about you and I have to say that I didn't believe it when they said you were an elephant, the same size as me!’
‘Pleased to meet you, Arthur and good things come in small packages, or so Perrin keeps telling me,’ said Bosh.
The two became inseparable friends and developed a great passion for the sport of tahtib, mimicking the baboons and sparring from dawn until dusk. It was not long before they were both highly skilled in the art, even adding their own slant on technique. Additional selfdefence moves, which both Swiss and Perrin were keen to adopt themselves.
Bosh joked that he needed to develop his skills even more because Arthur had grown to full size, which was twice Bosh’s height!
Life with Arthur and the troop could not have been better, until the day when the peace and tranquillity was replaced by a living nightmare.
It was late afternoon in the savanna. The young were playing outside and the elders were preparing food for the troop that evening. Swiss and Perrin had left the baobab in search of cork bark, which they needed to carry out repairs.
Bosh and Arthur were inside the tree practising when they heard several agitated screams outside.
‘What’s happening?’ said Bosh,
‘I don’t know, Arthur replied, ‘quick let’s get outside and see.’
The troop was under attack and the two friends could see that it was hyenas.
The shrieking and growling got closer and closer, and sent panic throughout the homestead. The adult male and female baboons gathered in a defensive formation, monitoring the pack mentality of the hyenas patrolling the circumference of the tree.
One by one, the hyenas tormented the troop, frequently lunging forward in the hope of drawing a monkey out, yet still the troop held firm until one cunning hyena saw its opportunity and pounced on an unsuspecting chacma infant, dragging it into the bush.
Bosh witnessed a horror he had never encountered before and suddenly felt emotions he had not experienced either. The gravity of what he had just seen filled him with both fright and anger. He leapt out of the tree and landed on the ground, using his ivory needle to steady his landing.
To the astonishment of everyone, including himself, Issun started to grow in size, eventually reaching the height of a fully grown African elephant, brandishing a life-size ivory asaya staff.
His anger took precedence over his sudden transformation and he turned to instinctive combat mode. Standing upright and very tall, he charged at the oncoming hyenas, wielding his needle with precision and administering fatal blow after blow upon the wild dogs, killing four or five instantly.
The remaining hyenas fled in despair at the sight of such a vengeful adversary as Issun Boshi. Their leader, however, remained at a safe distance, taking in the events and keeping out of harm’s way, as her pack retreated to join her.
Swiss and Perrin raced back on hearing the distress calls and commotion from afar. They were just in time to witness the transformation of their adopted son and his devastating impact on the troop’s assailants.
‘So now we know, Bosh,’ said Swiss, ‘this is the special power that Narok had predicted would emerge.’
‘What just happened to me?’ said Bosh.
‘You saved us, Bosh, and we cannot thank you enough for your bravery. Our casualties may have been much worse,’ said Perrin.
Moments later, Issun Boshi reverted to his previous size, and, once he was back to normal, Arthur hugged him in appreciation of his friend’s bravery.
Perrin picked up Bosh in his hand. ‘Remember this day, Bosh, and reflect on what just happened. Narok has given you a gift, but it appears to be a power either sparked by emotion or, as Arthur pointed out, the slamming of your needle against the ground. Whatever it is, the transformation seems to be short-lived, so use your new-found power wisely.’
Swiss stood at her partner’s side. ‘Bosh, it is with huge regret and a heavy heart that we are duty-bound to tell you your time with us has come to an end. We have enjoyed having you with us, but you must leave now, to follow the path the gods have set out for you.’
‘But I don’t want to leave you, I’m not ready to leave,’ Bosh replied.
‘Don’t worry, little one,’ said Perrin, ‘I’m sure we will see you again. Narok will see to that.’
Arthur made his way towards his friend and hugged him. ‘Take good care, Bosh, and remember that if you ever need me, I will be there for you.’
‘I’m going to miss all of you so much, but especially you, Arthur,’ said Bosh.
At that moment and, as Issun Boshi had experienced before, Narok swooped down and carefully collected him in his talons and whisked him away to start the next chapter of his amazing life.