THE WORLD OF THE FIVE KINGDOMS
The times were dark. They had always been dark and they will remain so. These dark times had no beginning and they had no end. It was an unpleasant fact. It could not be otherwise. That was the way of life. Self-preservation was paramount. The code of life was to devour and not be devoured. For those of us who could not devour, life was a never-ending run to avoid being devoured. The undulations of the days proceeded with the majestic monotony of sunrise and sundown. The operant word was survival at all costs. The times were dark indeed!
Many years ago in animal time, all the animals of the world lived in one large land mass. Only the western part of the land was inhabited. This land was bright, green and chirpy. It was a beautiful land. There were plains, hills, valleys, colourful flowers and fruit, wooded areas... It had it all! The eastern part beyond
the mountains was known as the Dark Land. The southern part of the eastern border merged into an immense yellow parched, inhospitable wasteland that repelled everyone. No one had ever ventured beyond the entire eastern divide. Our Land was hemmed in at the north, west and south borders by a never ending Great White Ice Lake. No one could ever travel in this infinite white land.
Our habitat was to change in a way no one expected following the coming of a boy from another world.
There were five animal kingdoms, but one kingdom ruled them all. King Roar the lion was the omnipotent monarch of the Feline Kingdom. Everything proceeded from him and everything returned to him. The fearsome felines backed the king. They prowled throughout the land. King Roar was the centre of the circle of life. The fierce felines set the law. They conditioned the way of life of all other animals. These felines were born to kill. That was their oxygen. They killed not only for nourishment. It went beyond that. They killed for the sake of killing. It was their raison d’etre. Their blood sports were particularly cruel but they derived considerable entertainment from these life games. For us animal subjects, life was distilled into a sombre matter of life and death, of good and evil.
All five kingdoms were stratified in a similar manner. A leader, in effect a virtual sub-monarch, headed each of the other four disenfranchised kingdoms. Within each kingdom, there was a ruling class and a large, heterogeneous underclass. Some kingdoms also had a middle class. The underclass was held in thraldom not only by the relatively benevolent upper class of their respective kingdom but also by the dreaded Feline Overlords. The underclass performed menial tasks. Their stewardship of the land was under the despotic rule of their Feline Overlords to whom all proceeds of the land belonged. This Feline Kingdom ruled over the other kingdoms with an iron hand. The circle of life was held together tautly in this irrevocable manner.
All five kingdoms lorded it over the other orphan and tamer animals who in some cases were not organised enough to form guilds. These were a pathetic lot. They included the sheep, the goats, the pigs, the chickens, the rabbits and many others. These formed the large base of the animal pyramid on which all other animals preyed. Their reproduction rate was phenomenal even though their life expectancy was so short. They were incapable of one thing- a natural death. On the contrary, they always met violent, bloody ends. All other animals in the four dispossessed kingdoms had developed their survival skills. These wretched, harmless animals on the other hand, had no self-defence mechanisms. They were especially vulnerable.
One day, King Roar ordered me to clean his office. During this chore, I uncovered a vellum document entitled “The Constitution of Our Land.” It read:
“The upper-class members in the Kingdom of Cats are the lions and tigers. The king shall always be a lion. He is elected after a contest to the death with any contenders. The survivor is elected King for life or until anyone successfully challenges him. The middle class consists of the jaguars, the cheetahs, the leopards, the panthers, the cougars and their black cousins-the pumas. The servile cats constitute the underclass.
“The upper class in the Canine Kingdom includes the grey wolves and their cousins. The middle class encompasses the foxes, the coyotes, the jackals, and the hyenas. Then there are those insufferably noisy underdogs.
“The bulls, the buffalos and the bison represent the upper class in the Dairy Kingdom. The stupid cows and cattle form the underclass.
“In the Equine Kingdom, zebras and giraffes are the upper class animals. The camels, gazelles, deer, and elks are the middle class members. The filthy horses, mules and donkeys complete the underclass.
“In the Kingdom of Big Mammals, the clumsy elephants are the masters. The rhinos and overweight hippopotamuses are the middle class while those odious bears constitute the underclass.”
This was the hierarchal structure of animal society in those times. It had been like that since time immemorial and it could never change. That social arrangement was about to be shattered forever.
My name is Miaow. I am the chief of the cats. We are the most numerous but the most disadvantaged of the dwellers in the land. Our masters treat us badly, though they do not consider us capable of being anything but loyal to them. We are their black sheep blood relations. They tolerate us because they need us. We throw ourselves at their mercy in order to survive. On the other hand, no animals trust us because of our close relations to the Overlords. In fact, they detest us. In the other animals’ eyes, we are diminutive replicas of their Overlords. Moreover, they regard us as spies or accomplices of the detested Lords of the Land. For them, we are animale non grata. Everyone holds us in contempt. We are doubly cursed.
This attitude on the part of other fellow animals was about to change following the advent of our friend, Jack.
Until then, I had always lived in fear. I developed good survival skills. I trained my eyes, ears and nose to see, hear and smell danger long before it could materialize. Mine was a suspicious, non- trusting mind. Danger lurked everywhere. I imagined it even though it was not there. The heightened awareness served me well. This complex kept me alive. I was a fast runner; I was a good climber of trees. Besides, I had sharp reflexes. Longevity was the reason for my election as chief of the cats. I was the insignificant chief of an insignificant race in Our Land.
I had seen so many animals being sadistically devoured. I became sensitised like everyone else until it affected my immediate family. Losing the two sisters I had grown up with, had traumatised me. They were the victims of the felines’ hateful game, the “Cat Run”. King Roar organised a tournament between the different feline factions where three cats were released into a closed depressed huge arena from which there was no escape. These games were presided by King Roar who saw off the three running victims. The feline contestants relentlessly hunted them down. The two feline teams competed in amassing their grisly trophies, scoring points according to the body part, the colour of the body part and the speed with which they earned their trophies. The team that accumulated the most points won.
The loss of my beloved wife traumatised me as well. A savage group of marauding coyotes cut her down. She struggled to shield our four newly born babies from them. I did nothing. I watched with tear-filled eyes from a safe distance. Oh yes, something I did do! I averted my gaze in shame and I walked away before the bloody act was completed.
I also lost my parents to the fury of the wolves. The wolves hated the felines, but they vented all their hatred on the weakest of the felines, us. They did not dare touch the feline masters. We regularly had to venture into the territories of the four defunct kingdoms on official business for our masters. These were hazardous journeys. Our masters made no effort to protect or defend us. My parents died on one of these tax-collecting missions. My mother went along with my father to protect him in any way she could. She said father stood a better chance of survival if there were two cats rather than one!
I dreamt many dreams. I found comfort in rhapsodizing. There was one particular recurring dream. I had morphed into a lion who mounted a successful challenge to King Roar. As the new king, I set the law of the land. I abolished the blood sports. I repaired relations with the other four kingdoms. Most important of all, I drafted legislation to protect the disenfranchised orphan animals. None of the Kingdoms claimed these animals. I felt for these helpless, wretched souls. I had a visceral understanding of their plight. I had experienced it myself.
One day I had an unusual dream. Was it a dream or was it delirium? Dream or not, I was being carried in two strong hands. I lay bleeding at death’s door. The cocoon shell in which I always sought refuge had been shattered. I was about to embark on a long, painful journey of self-discovery. How scared I was! Fear ran through my veins. I was frightened of the pain. The fear of the unknown and the feeling of uncertainty distressed me. The rearward receding glimpse of the broken cocoon filled me with regret. At least, I had been safe there. Now, I was in unfamiliar territory. The future obstacles were menacing. I did not have the attributes to grapple with them. In some way, my fears were assuaged by the knowledge I was in safe hands. I will never forget that day, and the events leading up to that dream.