This is the first chapter of a historical novel. It is about Hannibal taking his elephants over the Alps to attack the Romans. I switch back and forth between past and present. The past is about the elephant girl (Liada) and the present is about a young woman (Delcina) who is unraveling the girl's story from an old manuscript. In this first chapter I devote the first half to Liada and the second part to Delcina. Beginning with the second chapter I stay with one or the other for several chapters before swiching back.
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I would appreciate any advice on the first-person POV, and also any comments or advice about the story, dialogue or any information about the 3rd century BC; food, clothing, tools, society and so on.
Hannibal's Elephant Girl
I am called Liada and he is Obolus. This is what happened to us on the way to Valdacia.
I was naked in the river. Do not ask me because I cannot explain it all. I can only say the water was so cold and I was frail and tiny, thrown there by someone, I cannot suppose who. These things happen to sickly girl children. I was no longer a baby, but perhaps seven or eight harvests old, I have no way of knowing for sure.
At that time I did not understand what death was, but now I am quite familiar. So at this distance of knowledge I can say I was very near death in the cold rushing water that carried me along, slamming me into rocks and plunging my freezing body under the torrent and then up again to crash me into floating brush and dead trees.
Suddenly this great snake-like thing coiled around my middle until I cried out and pushed against it with all my strength.
I was pulled up and up from the rushing river and lifted by that curling arm until I came face to face with a huge brown eye surrounded by long black lashes. The eye was set in the center of a vast expanse of wrinkled gray skin. I was so terrified by this fearful vision that all I could do was stare open-mouthed at the ugly one-eyed thing that looked back at me.
The beast blinked and shifted his grip on my wet belly so that he might hold me out in front of his face and get a look at me with his other eye. When he made this movement I gasped for air and screamed as loud as I could.
I do not believe he had ever before heard a child scream because it frightened him so badly that he immediately released me and let out a loud shriek of his own.
Now to tell you the truth of it, I had not the least desire to be eaten by this monster, but then neither did I want to fall back into the icy water of that raging river, so at the instant he let go his grip on my shivering body I frantically grabbed hold of his arm thing and wrapped my legs and arms around it as tightly as I possibly could.
I continued to scream while he trumpeted through the thing I clung to as he splashed and crashed his way backward onto the river bank and attempted to shake me loose from what I came to realize was his gigantic curling nose.
I suppose if some tiny creature took hold of my nose with all its arms and legs while emitting a piercing screech, I might try to shake it off. But I do not believe I would also go running backward without looking where I was going. This is exactly what the beast did. Charging to the rear while shaking his head and nose high in the air and at the same time trumpeting and howling as if he had been bitten.
Perhaps I did, in my desperation to hang onto him, bite the soft side of his nose, but it certainly could not have caused enough pain to justify such a rampage. He galloped and stumbled backward up the riverbank. He crashed into logs, rocks and bushes until finally he rammed his big bottom right into the trunk of an enormous carob. This gigantic tree shuttered from its roots all the way up to the topmost limbs and actually shook so hard that a huge dead limb broke loose from up above and came thundering down through the branches to collide directly upon the mad creature's head.
That shut him up but it also knocked him from consciousness. He stood for a few seconds, dazed and swaying. Then his towering body slowly toppled over and he fell to the forest floor crashing down in a cloud of dust, leaves and branches while his head hit an enormous boulder. His coiled nose, with me enclosed, came to rest on the side of his massive face.
Surely he must be dead, I thought.
The professor laid down the pages he had been reading. "That is all I have, Miss Ribooty." The man's thick Middle Eastern accent had a slight British tinge.
"That's it, Professor?" Delcina Ribooty said as she leaned across his desk, picked up the long yellow pages and flipped them over, looking at the blank backsides. "You've only translated two pages?" She dropped the handwritten papers and glanced at his computer which had just played a string of musical notes announcing the delivery of an e-mail message.
Professor Ali Saif-al Shaytan ignored the sounds of his computer as he sat behind his ornate mahogany desk in his brown tweeds and held his hands out in a helpless gesture.
"But I want to know what happens to Liada and, and…"
"Obolus?" the professor said as he pulled the flame of a match into the bowl of his meerschaum pipe.
"Yes, Obolus. That girl in the story said this animal…" Delcina glanced at the pages, as if searching for a word.
"I believe the creature is called an elephant," he said as he shook the flame from his match and dropped it into the ashtray.
"An elephant!" said Delcina, waving the pipe smoke away from her face. "Where are they? Who are they?"
"I have no idea where they are."
"You don't? But you do know who they are?"
"I can only speculate at this point," he said as he turned his pipe around and gazed into the eyes of Henry VIII whose scowling face was intricately carved into the bowl of his pipe.
"I believe she might be a Phoenician or even a Numidian," said Professor Shaytan as he reached for his subha -- a string of prayer beads.
"Nubian?" Delcina said as she watched him unconsciously finger the beads of the subha.
"No, Miss Ribooty. Not Nubian, but Numidian. They are the ancient ancestors of the people we know today as the Berbers."
"Oh." She flipped her long brunette curls over her shoulder and sat one hip on the front edge of the professor's desk.
The Professor glanced at her slim behind on his desk and then laid down his prayer beads to pull a glass box containing an ancient model of a sailing vessel away from her.
"I believe," he said, "this elephant the girl calls Obolus is of the North African Forest variety, Loxodonta Africana pharaoensis. A subspecies now extinct that once roamed the wooded areas from the northern slopes of the Atlas mountains right up to the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. And in particular, they seemed to have thrived in a land with the current name of Tunisia." He leaned forward to watch the young woman's face, as if waiting for a telling reaction.
"Really?" She regarded his ship under glass for a moment and then turned her attention to the chipped coral paint on the nails of her right hand.
He nodded in response to her answer and still watched her face.
"How long have they been extinct?" Delcina asked.
The professor leaned back with a sigh and waved his pipe in a smoky arc. "A thousand years, perhaps fifteen hundred." He puffed on his pipe. "Estimates vary between the various elephantologists who seem to be knowledgeable of this particular subspecies." He waved a hand in the direction of his computer by way of explaining the source of his information.
She covered her mouth and turned aside to cough. "Then that means this book…" Delcina had to use both hands to pick up the heavy leather-bound volume from his desk, "is a thousand years old."
"Where did you get that book, Miss Ribooty?"
"At a garage sale." She opened the book and felt the texture of one of the thick pages.
Professor Shaytan took the pipe from his mouth. "A what?"
"Garage sale. People clean out their garage and then sell all the junk."
"I know what a garage sale is," he said with a huff. "I just cannot believe someone had this manuscript in their garage."
"It was in a banana box full of books. I bought the whole box for two bucks."
"You have a banana box full of those?" He pointed to the book with the stem of his pipe.
"No, Professor Shaytan. There's only one more like this. The rest are Romance novels."
"What are these pages made of?" she asked. "They feel like leather."
"They are leather," the professor said. "Actually the material is called vellum and I think those particular pages are made of lambskin."
"Is that so," she said. "Then it is a thousand years old, isn't it?" She put the book down and eased off the desk to stand facing the professor, folding her arms beneath her breasts.
"No, Miss Ribooty." The professor picked the book up, adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses down to the end of his nose and examined the wrinkled gray cover once more. After a moment he carefully laid it down and looked at her over the top of his glasses. "I believe it to be at least twice that age."
Delcina Ribooty dropped into the professor's visitor chair and crossed her long legs. Then she pulled the hem of her short blue skirt down toward her knees. "Two thousand years," she mused. "You know what happened two thousand years ago?"
The professor of ancient history removed the Henry VIII pipe from his mouth and looked at her, genuinely curious about what she was going to say.
"Jesus Christ," she said.
"Yes," said Miss Ribooty. "He lived about two thousand years ago. I'm surprised you didn't know that."
The professor smiled as he scribbled something on a slip of paper.