General Jack and the Battle of the Five Kingdoms

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CHAPTER 2

THE MAKING OF GENERAL JACK

I

I Will never forget that tumultuous day. It was serene and sunny. The blue sky was cloudless. I was famished. I had not eaten for three days. In a grassy enclosure, a strong scent attracted me. I stumbled across the fresh severed carcass of a big lioness. It must have been involved in a vicious fight and left abandoned. The scene was desolate. No live animal was seen, smelt or heard in the vicinity. This was a pleasant surprise. My prayers were answered. Delicious food had fallen into my path from the heavens above. It was too good to be true. No one had claimed the food.

I guzzled my meal with relish. For that reason, my senses were dulled. The strong smell of the food masked a faint scent behind me. The greedy gurgling sounds of my digestive tract drowned out the faint rustle of grass behind me. My eyes feasted on the spoilt choice of the glorious dish in front of me. In the flash of a moment, a huge black panther struck me down from behind. He pounced before I could react. His fangs dug into me and he flung me around. Escape was futile. Helplessness reigned and everything turned black. The aggressor left me for dead. I lay bleeding there for the entire day. There was one particularly deep mortal gash on the left side of my trunk and flank. I could not move on, as one of my hind legs was broken. There were many other gashes, but the main exsanguinating flank wound was the death of me. I was feverish. I was dying.

Thoughts chased each other feverishly in my fading mind. One of

these was the vision of my epitaph, which read, “This is Miaow who

dreamed big dreams but never achieved anything.” The vultures circled up in the bleary sky. The scent of the hyenas lurking in the woods permeated from the left. To the right, the heaving breath and the restless pacing of the wolves was within earshot. My last wish was to die intact with dignity. After I gave up my ghost, the predators could fight it out between themselves as much as they liked.

I made laboured movements from time to time to demonstrate my vitality to the loitering predators. With time however, strength failed me. The predators saw only a still cat in their field of operation. They made their tentative approach. They halted when they heard an unremitting whine. There was still life in the beaten cat after all. Will this cat never die? The incessant whine became softer and softer until it failed altogether.

My blurred visual fields contracted. The circling black shapes in the blue sky became progressively larger. The scent to the left of me became more acute. The menacing sounds to the right of me were louder. My last wish was not to be granted after all. Even in this, I had failed!

Then I made the single most important act of my entire life. I summoned whatever was left of my strength in desperation. I let out the last searing, ear-piercing cry of my life. A few minutes later, the miracle happened. An apparition approached me from the East. I did not know whether I was dreaming or not. I was delirious. Two strong paws gently hoisted me off the ground. The sudden change in altitude made me black out.

II

I said it was a miracle. I lie! It was not a miracle but a series of miracles in quick succession.

I regained my senses under a still indigo evening sky. My eyes opened. I squinted through the shimmering light. I focused on a silhouette. By my side was a boy, lithe in form. His hair was straight and auburn. The fringe of his forehead accentuated his deep blue eyes. His nose was tilted skyward and his face was bronzed. What a pleasing sight it was! That was the first miracle. I had never savoured such a vision in my life. Nor would I see anything remotely like it in the rest of my long life.

He caressed my bloodied peel gently with his strange hands. He inspected and nursed the wound. He patiently fed me. He sprinkled me with water and washed me inside out. The cool, clear water was refreshing. I was all but dead. These nursing measures however, reinvigorated me. He laid me down in a comfortable bed. I reclined in a secluded grassy space under the foliage of a W-shaped tree. That was the second miracle. Nothing like that had ever happened in the animal world. Everyone to himself- that is the motto of our world. No one cared for anyone else except of course, the mother for her new born.

There was the third miracle. He spoke animal language. His name was Jack. He was ten years old. He had descended from the Eastern range. Jack wanted to see more of the world. That day he was on the move, my last dying cry seized his attention. For some reason I could not then understand, he referred to it as the Call of the Siren. He said he would stay with me for a few more weeks until I was better. Then he would resume his travels.

The fourth miracle. Jack slowly but surely nursed back to full health. How that happened was beyond me. The act of making the impossible possible was mystifying. Those convalescent weeks were the happiest time of my life. Jack resuscitated me not only physically but also psychologically. Within me, he planted an unknown seed. I had no idea what it was. All I knew-I was dead, but now I was alive. I had been reborn.

During those convalescent days, we chatted and became friends. He was keen to know more about our way of life. His age was ten. Those ten years endowed him with wisdom beyond his age. He asked a multitude of probing questions.

I explained to him that all the animals were too weak, divided or indifferent to mount a challenge to Feline Rule. Although the ruling kingdom was in a minority, their grip on power was uncontested. The masters and the various animal clans had clashed in many small-scale skirmishes throughout the ages. The felines brutally suppressed the revolts. The Feline Kingdom was invincible. Any resistance was futile.

During those conversations, I bared my soul. I gave vent to my fears, frustrations and shortcomings. My emotions and passions burst forth like cascading water through a broken dam. Fate had split me open. My character and personality was exposed. I shied away from the dark reflection of my inner self. Jack was interested and patient. He calmly listened to my repetitive lamentations.

“What do you wish for most of all?” he asked.

“Why! To overthrow King Roar and the Feline Kingdom of course”. Then I told him about my recurring dream.

“But that’s just escapism. Nothing can come out of it. You are deluding yourself. You are merely trying to escape reality. A cat you are and a cat you will remain. You cannot pretend to be what you are not. Rhapsodizing makes you feel better during the dream, but it makes matters worse in the wider scope of life. Afterwards, it augments your frustration and sense of futility. Those two feelings fester inside and consume you.”

“It not just the frustrations that are eating me up. It’s the anger as well.”

“What anger?” Jack asked, “Is it anger with the felines?”

“No. Not with the felines. They are what they are. The blood of cruel killers flows in their veins. They can’t help it. They can’t change. It’s more anger with the animals of the four dysfunctional kingdoms. Some of them have the strength and attributes to challenge the felines but they don’t care. Each one only thinks about himself at the expense of everything else. It is also anger with myself. I should do something, but I don’t do whatever it is I have to do. There is also indignant anger about the plight of the other cats and especially of the countless orphan animals.”

“Well Miaow at least that is something. Everyone else is self-centred. You are not like that. It seems there is something special in you after all.”

“We both know I’m useless”.

“If you want something, you go for it. Don’t you?”

I nodded.

“So, if you want to overthrow the felines, overthrow them!”

“That can never happen. I know it. Everyone knows it.”

“Well, never say never.”

“It’s impossible!”

“Well… Concentrate on the possible in the word impossible. It’s easy. You just have to ignore the first two letters of the word and the impossible becomes possible.”

“It can never happen. It has always been so and it will remain so forever.”

“Well… There has to be a new beginning. Everything in existence has to end. Everything that has a beginning has to end. Everything has to have a beginning and an end. You cannot have one without the other. It applies to everything, even Feline Rule for that matter. It began at some point in time and it will end.”

“But they are too strong. They are a superpower.”

“Well…Every institution, no matter how powerful has its weaknesses. Anything that rises has to fall. For every beginning, there is an end. But why are the felines so invincible?”

“They have it all- the cruelty, the malice, the strength, the majesty and the ability to dominate all life.”

“But you said that the aristocrats of the other kingdoms match them in these qualities. The bears have the cruelty but not the other traits. The wolves have the malice but not the other traits. The elephants have the strength but not the other traits. The giraffes have the majesty but not the other traits. What if because of their individual hankering for self-preservation, they were to coalesce into one unit? Together, they’d merge into one hybrid feline figure that outsmarts the actual feline. This hybrid then dominates life.”

“It sounds well in theory but in practice it can never happen.”

“Why not? You need three conditions for that to happen. You already have the first and most important one. The other two flow from the one you already have. You already have a shared objective, right? You cannot deny that every single animal hates Feline Rule and wants it to be overthrown.”

“What are the other two?”

“They are the esprit de corps and the sense of mission.”

“Oh! That can never happen! Animals were created that way. There is no sense of camaraderie between them. They may stick together but they do not stick up for each other. That applies within their own blood race let alone for the animals of the other races.”

“That’s where you come in.”

“What? You’re crazy! What difference can I make?”

Jack rose impatiently. Then he said as his gesticulations accentuated the inflexions of his voice, “I already told you. You are special. You are unique in that you care. You already have that sense of comradeship that everyone else lacks. Only you can impart it to the others.”

“But they all hate us for being felines.”

“That’s exactly it,” he re-joined, “that is why you will succeed. That hatred will ironically be your strength and weapon. You and your cats are united. You occupy a strategic position in society, as you are the link between the Feline Kingdom, the other four kingdoms and the orphans. What will the non-felines make of your covert defection from the felines? The non-felines do not fear the cats. You are no threat to them. You have everything to lose, you in particular as the chief. Everyone will know it. If uncovered, the cats will suffer a terrible fate. Nobody will be spared. That is how felines deal with treachery, especially treachery from within their ranks. The non-felines will wonder as to the underlying motive of your defection. They will come around to the realization of the cats’ courage and principled stand. Your efforts will win the respect, admiration and trust of the other animals in a measure equal to the hatred they now have for you. The stance on the part of the cats is unprecedented. It won’t pass unnoticed. ‘Why?’ the animals would ask themselves, ‘are the cats doing this?’ The answer would be obvious. ‘They are doing it not only for themselves but also for a common good, for a higher ideal from which every non-feline benefits. They do it for others at a great personal cost.’ They know that the cost you will incur if things go pear shaped is much higher than their own price. So you see, in your small way, the influence the cats yield will be disproportionately high in the non- feline world.”

“But what about the sense of mission?”

“Well. You must have a doable roadmap. You have to be patient, and discreet. One measure will lead to another. You need to have solid, inspiring leadership, someone who devises clinical strategies and plans. I’m sure there is someone from the non-feline ranks who fits the bill and-”

“I’m not sure about that,” I interrupted.

Jack lost his patience. “Look, do you or don’t you want to overturn the felines. So far,” he continued in an irate tone, “all you’ve done is present a hundred reasons for not doing anything. What is it that’s holding you back?”

“I-I-I don’t know if it will work,” I muttered.

“Well, you won’t ever know unless you go ahead, will you?”

“I’m scared of the risks,” I added.

“Well, life in this beautiful land is one big risk, isn’t it? Adding another won’t make a difference.”

Finally, I confessed, “I don’t think I’m up to it.”

With that, Jack sighed, pursed his lips, ran his hand through his hair and rose to his feet. He towered over me. He looked down at me for a few seconds and said, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, eh!” and then he sauntered off.

My physical condition improved. I walked or rather, hobbled. My hind leg was still sore. It would soon be time for Jack and myself to part ways. He expressed his intention of resuming his travels in a few days’ time. During my time with Jack, he sowed a seed within me. That something was growing inside. Those few days were the birth pangs of a new life. A new glistening white kitten had been born within me. As I was a tabby cat, my peel was streaked grey. I did not like the colour. It was a constant reminder of the dull greyness of my personality. I always admired white peels. The problem was that they rarely remained clean white. With time, they became irreversibly dirty and grey. Would the bright whiteness of this kitten be preserved? Could the outer ugly grey peel protect the kitten from the murky threats?

I turned over Jack’s conversations in my mind. I regurgitated his truisms. I wrestled with them. Jack had remarked that any institution, no matter how mighty, had a weak spot. The challenge was to find that weak spot and to exploit it. The superpower would then crumble. He maintained it should not be too difficult to identify the weak spot. That surprised me. Jack insisted it would be more challenging to unite the disenfranchised and the other kingdoms into one effective massive unit. It had to be a unit of incompatible elements that was to function as one. How was that possible?

This observation gripped my imagination for days. Finally, I acted upon it. What induced me to do what I did? Frankly, I did not have the gumption to do it. It must have been the work of the white kitten within.

III

The cats had a crucial place in the organisation of the land. They were the messengers between the Overlords and all other animal groups in the land. It was one of their many dangerous menial jobs. I put these connections to good use.

I scrawled a message to the leaders of the myriad animal clans. I announced that an erect two-legged visitor was among us. This visitor spoke our language. He was willing to discuss ways of improving our quality of life. The visitor was prepared to discuss how to overthrow the Kingdom of the Felines.

The initial response to the reception of the communique was unenthusiastic and sceptical. That came as no surprise. However, on the day of the meeting at the W- shaped tree, the massive turnout astounded me. There were many representatives from almost all the animal groups.

What encouraged the animals to converge in droves by the W- shaped tree? Was it because of the promise of a better quality of life? I doubt it. What made them accept an invitation by the universally ignored and derided leader of the cats? By then, the word had spread about my miraculous recovery. Such a recovery as mine never happened before. Nobody deemed it possible. The news must have grabbed the animals’ attention. Did they turned up to witness the result of my resurrection? Possibly. They might have wanted to verify with their own eyes. More likely, they were curious to see what the two- legged, erudite visitor looked like. In that at least, they proved to be more curious than cats.

It was a sunny day with a gentle refreshing breeze. As far as the eye could see, the plain was packed with animals. It must have been the largest gathering of animals in history. The animal audience was respectful and attentive. There was a reverent aura associated with the meeting. It was interactive and conducted in a similar fashion to my discourses with Jack. The speaker’s rhetoric resonated with the crowd as it had done with me.

Jack’s message must have jolted these self-pitying, defeatist personalities. At the same time however, he fascinated and inspired them to a higher ideal. Jack postulated that it might not be possible to defeat their masters in open battle. However, there were means of weakening their rule.

“Let the Feline Kingdom rule,” he said, “but we can drive a wedge into it.”

He insisted that it was possible to divide the felines against themselves. We had to maintain the divisive pressure. The different feline factions in time would turn against each other.

The unity of the oppressed subjects of the felines was paramount. The various animals had to employ their unique skills in this type of subversive warfare.

The animal representatives became increasingly enthused. They liked what they heard. I picked up murmurs in the crowds like, “Nobody has ever spoke like that before,” or, “What he says makes perfect sense,” or, “He makes it sound so easy,” or, “Why did we not think of it ourselves? What are we waiting for?” On my part, throughout this daylong conference, the inner white kitten matured into bright white young cat.

At the end of the day, the arguments were exhausted. The meeting was about to be disbanded. The animals were preparing for their long journey home. But, I had that odd intuitive moment. It was an initiative that must have originated from my inner white cat. It had come of age within me. I proposed we vote for the election of Jack as our General. After the initial collective gasp of surprise that punctured the silence, the response was immediate, unanimous and monumental. A concerted roar of approval resonated throughout the land. It rocked the heavens above. It must have drowned out King Roar’s pathetic roar. What did King Roar make of it? Little did he know our roar of defiance was the signal for the resistance movement to race out of the starting blocks.

George the fox was silently pensive throughout. He knitted his brows together. He mechanically rubbed his jaw with one paw throughout the discussions. He was conspicuous by his failure to participate in the general roar. When the leaders of each animal group came forward to cast their official vote, George was the last to cast the consenting vote. At the end of this long day, the vote to appoint Jack as their General was unanimous. Even the donkeys voted in favour.

From that day on, we referred to Jack as General Jack. His name was on everyone’s lips. He became a household name. He was our rallying point.

General Jack predicted there would be a groundswell of sympathy and support from all the other animals of the land. And so it was!

What made General Jack abandon his cherished travel plans to live among us? In later years I too, pondered the question. It all boiled down to the Call of the Siren. He once explained to me that a siren was a beautiful mythical creature who sang a plaintive song. This sound enticed travellers to her, where they then, made their home. The lure of that song was irresistible. Then it made sense. Jack heard my dying cri du coeur during his travels. He recognised the anguished sound for what it was – a desperate cry for help. It wrenched his tender heart. He could not resist the call. This incident foreshadowed another incident I had just precipitated- the spontaneous collective cri du coeur of the non-feline animals at the assembly. It was the poignantly thunderous cry for help from denizens yearning for release from bondage. Again, Jack could not resist such an appeal- that Call of the Siren.

My three interventions- my dying cri du coeur, my unlikely invitation and my equally unlikely nomination of Jack as general, were the three inciting incidents that were to change the destiny of the animal world for eternity. Part of me regretted the third initiative that was to seal the fate of the animal world forever. There were raucous scenes of jubilation right after General Jack’s election. However, there was a tiny insignificant island of unquiet sadness within that otherwise seamless sea of jubilation. It was I. Was it normal?

My innate grey cat cursed me for what I had done

“What have you done?” it said.

“Whatever got into you?” it continued. “You can’t do it. You don’t have it in you. What have you let yourself in for?”

“You were so safe and comfortable before”. That grated.

In the midst of the amazingly joyous scenes around me, fears and doubts abounded in that tiny isle. The animals danced and rejoiced. I shuddered in silence. My protective shell had been broken forever. I was now out in the open, exposed. The darkness of the uncertain path ahead was frightening.

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