By then we had received the reports from the scouts of the other two battlefields. It was nothing but a complete collapse of our battle plans. Not a single skirmish had occurred! Not a single casualty! Not one! After all those preparations, it was a bitter pill to swallow. We failed! We had lost! It was exasperating.
How was it possible? What had we done to deserve this debacle? The high water mark was the battering of the felines by the giggling monkeys. Victory was within our grasp. It eluded us. All because of a mistake by our supposedly elite elephant troops. A single simple mistake triggered off a cascading avalanche of unfortunate events! Everyone was jittery on D-Day but that was no excuse for bungling on the battlefields.
The pompous, pot-bellied elephant commander PoPo had bragged before the battle.
“Leave it to me. Do not worry. Everything will go like clockwork. Take it from me. Consider it done,” he said.
Did those accursed elephants need to go on a mad rampage across the land? They messed up not one but three battlefields. Whatever possessed them to do so? They bungled in a bad way. They threw everyone off, both friend and foe.
Many years later I realised that a dove with or without a big green leaf looked identical to an elephant. Elephants are colour blind. Hence the bizarre misreading of the battle signal on the battlefield.
We also paid a heavy price for not having a substitute standard to guide the gazelle-led charge. Again, one tiny oversight cascaded into a torrential sequence of damming errors.
Then there were those feckless gazelles. After all those drills, they could not tell left from right.
Sprite the gazelle commander of the light cavalry had boasted,
“We will gracefully lead the charge of the light brigade into the trenches of death.”
Some charge they led! Away from the trenches of death!
Then there was that misdirected bull run that messed up the Eastern Battleground. They panicked. Ordinarily, raging bulls charge into the enemy, but it was an innocuous natural event that frightened those worthless bulls. The fierce felines had nothing to do with it.
These fools were no longer with us. How I would have berated them if they were. I fumed all day long.
Then there were those despicable snakes. I could never get myself to approach them. General Jack somehow seduced them into our ranks. He did so by blowing music on his short bamboo stick. He referred to his Snake Division as his secret weapon. He was proud of them. Myself, I saw a depressing foreshadowing of the anarchy that would have ensued had we won the Battle of the Five Kingdoms. General Jack must have been a genius to place the Snake Division in front of us. Had they been behind us, they would have undoubtedly stabbed us in the back.
I found some kind of comfort in these recriminations.
General Jack was broken, crestfallen and deflated but he rallied quickly.
“The Feline Overlords will soon return in a few days’ time,” General Jack remarked. “There’d be hell to pay especially for the now exposed treacherous cats of the Union Jack. It’s essential that all the troops scatter and go into hiding until the Overlords’ ire cools down.”
Our massive army still reeling from the defeat broke up. Animals scurried into hiding. Here, there, everywhere. A sense of impending doom pervaded the air. We expected the worst. No one had ever challenged the feline authority and lived. That was the curse of Our Land.
On his part, the General planned to escape over the mountains into the Dark Land. He would seek out a safe place for us to settle. Then he would return to lead us into exile. I insisted on going with him. He said he was leaving at noon the next day, but he wanted me to stay.
“Look around you,” he said, “what do you see? Chickens, donkeys, sheep, goats, rabbits… They need a cool head to guide them into safety. You will be more useful here.”
I resolved to follow the General. I appointed my trusted eldest son, Captain Purr to assume overall command of the resistance movement. I told the General, “Look, I’m coming with you, whether you like it or not. I’ll be there at noon.”
He looked me in the eye for a few seconds. He tapped me on the back and said, “Remember Miaow. Whatever happens, always keep the faith,” and he walked away.
The next day at noon, I went to our meeting place at the iconic W- shaped tree. General Jack was not there. I waited an hour. Smug- faced, George the fox approached me never taking his penetrating gaze off me during his short walk.
“I saw the General depart at first light in the direction of the mountains,” he sneered.
I did not swoon. My heart sank. I gasped. For a few seconds, the news paralysed my mind. George in front of me was a blur. The revelation bowled me over. When I finally unwound, I took leave of George. Without looking at him, I said dryly, “Thanks for letting me know, George. I’ll be on my way now.”
“Are you sure you’re alright?”
I gave George a casual wave and I slouched off. George the fox did not move. He did not take his cold eyes off me as I walked away. Throughout my walk, I felt George’s dastardly eyes fixed on my back. I was discomforted by his dour pensive gaze. It never wavered for one instant. My silhouette disappeared from his line of vision. Only then did he move on.
I recollected myself. I mused over the implications. Though bitterly disappointed, it was for the better. I had responsibilities. This was the place to discharge them. I only regretted that I could not bade the General farewell. At least, I had the consolation of his promise to return. I knew that General Jack always kept his promises.
“Keep the faith”. Those were his last words. I kept them in my heart.