General Jack and the Battle of the Five Kingdoms

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CHAPTER 4

THE DRAWING OF THE LINES

I

General Jack decided on the next mission. We now had to develop enmity between the cougars, jaguars and the panthers on one side and on the other side, with first the lions and then the tigers separately. The primary objective was to split the Feline Kingdom into three warring armies.

The grand mission was a series of twinned missions. The stakes were high. We studied every minor detail of the mission to enhance the chances of success. Our homework was crucial. It involved the input and co-operation of many different animals.

Subversion was the name of the strategy. Would it bear fruit?

II

We planned six missions initially. These were co-ordinated by the cats of the Union Jack. Their format was similar. In each mission, the cats wore leaf shoes on their four paws so as not to leave any footprints at the scene of the crime.

We focused initially on the tiger- versus- the panther/cougar/jaguar axis.

We selected the appropriate day and time of the operation in advance. There was a weeklong blood tournament involving all four feline groups. They attended these keenly fought tournaments. We anticipated the mass emptying of the respective feline headquarters barring the occasional guard. Scores of cats infiltrated the areas surrounding each feline camp. They hid in the trees and operated as sentries. At noon, the cats entered to inspect the camp. They had free access to undertake their usual mundane tasks, so their incursions seemed perfectly natural to the Overlords. No suspicions were aroused. The inspection revealed that the tiger chief’s house was unoccupied and that there were no guards. There were only four tigers in the entire camp, two of whom were sick and resting. The other two relaxed at fixed points in opposite ends of the camp. The moment was propitious. The way to the tiger chief’s hut was free.

A large group of willing skunks were smuggled inside the tiger chief’s quarters where they sprayed their pungent scents. After the smirking skunks did their work, they smugly slipped out of the camp silently and undetected. Meanwhile, a group of cats deleted the skunks’ footprints with big leaves. Another group of cats was in possession of the four paws of a dead cougar. With these, the cats made footprints leading to and from the chief’s headquarters. They also made these imprints within the tiger chief’s hut.

At the same time in another site, we repeated the same process with a different set of personnel. The location was the Cougars’ headquarters; the objective was the home of the cougar chief. The purported perpetrators were the tigers. There were a couple of unsuspecting cougars lazing about, but otherwise the camp was deserted. Our Union Jack infiltrators ascertained this. The extensive network of sentries reported the all clear. After the skunks completed their work, the imprints left inside and outside the cougar chief’s house were the paws of a dead tiger.

It was all so easy. The reports we received the next day could not be better. The tigers blamed the cougars for the outrageous insult while the cougars blamed the tigers for their own insult. The felines were proud and arrogant. They took such insults seriously. They considered an insult against their leader to be an insult against their race. This would not stop there. There were bound to be serious and dramatic repercussions knowing the ferocity of the felines.

On our part, we were elated. Including the Day of Initiation, we had now conducted three successful covert operations. We had achieved the mission’s goal of antagonizing the tigers and cougars. We credited ourselves for our efficacy, discipline and preparation. However, we had to keep our feet on the ground. We could ill afford overconfidence. Focus and concentration were crucial. We had been lucky. More operations were to follow. We knew that we may not be so lucky next time. It was significant though, that the animals were growing in confidence and self-belief. There was good cooperation between the operators. Everyone trusted each other. More importantly, they maintained their reticence. We were sure no word about our acts ever reached the felines’ ears. At the same time, the animals took pride in their missions. We were off to a good start. If our luck held out, General Jack anticipated that we would go from strength to strength. If on the other hand we slipped, the consequences would be serious. Our overall resistance campaign would flounder if the felines outed us. Essentially, they would nip our resistance movement in the bud. The potential sequelae were unthinkable. The felines would exact a terrifying revenge.

The second pair of missions coincided with the last day of the tournament. We conducted the twin operations simultaneously in both the tigers’ camp and in the panthers’ camp. Tension was running high among the Union Jacks.

The tigers’ camp was deserted. Surprisingly, not a single tiger was present in the camp. The tigers were the finalists and they had a good chance of being crowned champions. Hence the absolute turnout. The gods smiled on us that day. In the morning, the cats sneaked into the tiger chief’s hut a large number of pregnant hens. We covered their claws with leaf shoes. These happy hens laid a large number of eggs over both the floor and the bed of the tiger. In the meantime, the cats made imprints with the paws of a dead panther both inside and outside the tiger chief’s house. The exhausted tiger chief champion returned at night. Wherever he waded, he created a slimy, slippery mess in his room and bed.

Another group of personnel duplicated the same operation in the house of the panther chief at the same time. The Union Jack cats infiltrated and inspected the camp. The panther chief’s hut was empty. However, seven idling panthers were scattered at different points in the camp. One of them was sleeping only a short distance away from the camp. In whispers, the cats weighed their options. Should they abort the mission? It was risky. What if that panther woke up and raised the alarm? Or, should they wake him up and lead him on a wild goose chase away from the camp? We considered this option riskier as the fracas might alert the other panthers who were not too far off. In the end, we decided to proceed, but with hyper-extreme caution. We conducted the entire operation with abated breath. The hens’ stealth was commendable. They knew what the outcome would be if they were caught. On the other hand, the hens considered a successful mission to be the perfect tongue-in-cheek riposte to the felines. The hens would be avenging their systemic maltreatment in an ideal way. Initially the mission proceeded smoothly. The hens did their part. They silently stole away. However, just after the cats had imprinted the incriminating paws of a dead tiger outside the panther chief’s house, the nearby panther woke up. He sized up the three fidgety cats with his lazy gaze. The sheepish cats returned his gaze. Anything could happen now. Their hearts were in their mouths. In that instant, a bird irrupted into the scene with its colourful wide wings flapping. It deflected the panther’s attention. He could not resist the temptation. He sprung off in the bird’s direction, chasing it out of the bewildered cats’ range. The cats immediately disappeared in a state of shock. It was a close shave.

We had successfully completed even this pair of missions. However, we expected the worst. We waited with trepidation for reports on the aftermath. There was the foreseen bitter furore by the targeted felines over the twin incidents. The tigers blamed the panthers and the panthers blamed the tigers. There was now mutual aversion between these two feline groups. The panthers filed no report about the cats’ presence in the camp at the time of the crime. We were stupefied and relieved in equal measure by this omission. We had been lucky again.

Two weeks later, we focused our attention on the tigers and jaguars. We opted for a day of blood sports involving both the tigers and the jaguars. In this sport, the respective chiefs selected ten fighters from each race for ten different fights. After the scuffles, the King counted the ten survivors of each fight. King Roar declared the feline race with most survivors the winner. The losing race had to pay homage to the winners.

The Union Jack cats infiltrated and surveyed the tiger camp. Ten tigers were scattered throughout the field. Some were asleep others were awake but relaxing. The sentries outside reported that a couple of tigers were patrolling at a distance outside the camp. We had to change our pre-planned homeward escape route. A large number of hedgehogs were ushered into the house of the tiger chief. They were safely inside when one of the tiger guards rose and prowled by the hut. Its eyes met the terrified eyes of the three loitering cats who froze in fear. The tiger gazed at them indifferently. He showed no reaction and said nothing. He continued on his way out of the camp heading in a particular direction. The shocked cats pulled themselves together. The tiger’s outward direction induced us to divert our homeward escape route again. Immediately after this heart stopping moment, the cats quickly made the imprints in the ground using the paws of a dead jaguar. They fled home abandoning the hedgehogs in the tiger chief’s hut.

The tiger chief returned at night to sleep in his bed. When he crossed the threshold, a black curtain of bats descended upon him as planned. They covered his eyes and nose. There was no way he could displace them, not even with his claws. The room was swarming with a seemingly infinite legion of fast moving bats. His claws only tore into his face. As he struggled in agony, he fell on his bed of closed-up giggling hedgehogs. The tiger rolled in even more agony on this spiked floor. The hedgehogs then scurried out in the dark as the bats covered their escape.

At the same time in another place, different personnel conducted the same type of operation in the Jaguars’ camp. The intended victim was the chief of the jaguars. We used the paws of a dead tiger as the incriminating clue. The camp itself was completely deserted. There was a posse of jaguars frolicking by a stream at the distance. Luck smiled on us. This operation went smoothly without incident.

However, that heart stopping moment in the tigers’ camp had the potential of jeopardizing the entire campaign.

We waited anxiously for the expected backlash. Oddly, the tiger sentry made no report about the presence of the cats earlier that day. Yet again, the tigers and the jaguars blamed each other for the offences committed. The aggrieved victims never made the correct inference. They did not suspect the identity of the real offender. Our campaign was safe. Nevertheless, we had to be careful. Other missions were to follow. Sooner or later, our luck would run out.

It was too good to be true. We were delighted with the outcome so far but the tension was becoming unbearably high. We knew our luck would not hold forever. It was only a matter of time.

Now we had to concentrate on firstly the lion versus tiger clash and secondly on the lion versus the cougar/jaguar/panther axis.

In the first pair of missions, the Union Jack cats found a lion cub born dead. They put tiger jaw marks all over its bloodied body. Two different Union Jack platoons executed both operations simultaneously in both camps. The chosen day coincided with the respective hunting day of both the lions and the tigers in the afternoon. We predicted the camps would be deserted. When King Roar was not at home, the cats planted the severed baby carcass in his hut. As usual, they left imprints of the paws of a dead tiger just outside and inside the hut. The same procedure was repeated in the tiger camp. This time the victim of the provocative act was the tiger chief. We deposited the dead tiger cub in a strategic place within the chief’s residence. We impressed the footprints of a dead lion inside and outside the tiger chief’s house. This was a relatively low risk mission, even though there were several bored residents who fortuitously were too static, uninterested and spaced out at the far ends of both camps. The logistics were more straightforward. The execution of this pair of missions was faultless. We were delighted with the outcome. In fact, the mutual rage of the lions and tigers exceeded our expectations. The powerful tiger clan was particularly infuriated. All the other felines were conniving against them. The lions suffered the outrage to their authority by their blood relations with festering rage. We were in the clear.

The second and third pair of missions were more momentous and ambitious. We put our heads together and painstakingly plotted the logistics of these missions. We were patient. We waited for the right opportunity. We did not wait in vain, as we stumbled on the perfect diversion. A feline election was looming. It was playing out over a week. We could not ask for more. It was an ideal cover for our stealth operations. Two lion challengers to King Roar’s throne had come forward. There were to be two fights to the death on two separate days, at the beginning and at the end of the week. We predicted that all the felines would set forth en masse from their camps on such an occasion given the high level of interest. On both days, it turned out the camps concerned were completely deserted. The saboteurs could operate furtively in relative freedom. We deployed many more Union Jack cats this time. We posted more sentries at many different points outside the circumference of the camps. They concealed themselves safely in the trees. Unlike the unpredictable monkeys, the cat sentries were discreet and trustworthy. The coast was clear as far as their eyes could see. For the second pair of missions, a mule volunteered to consume herbs. These distasteful herbs were renowned bowel irritants. Just after doing so, the leaf-shoed mule was shepherded into the King Roar’s headquarters. He discharged his pungent profuse dung all over the place. The cats imprinted the paws of a dead jaguar outside. Another group of operatives duplicated the operation at the same time in the living quarters of the jaguar chief. The footprints outside were those of a lion.

We undertook the third pair of missions at the end of the election week. We infiltrated and surveyed the interior and exterior of the camps. Both camps were deserted. Our perspicacious planning had paid off. For these missions, we recruited a grumpy pair of hippopotamuses. A willing leaf-shoed hippopotamus demolished the entire house of King Roar from within and without. The cats had built it using trees, foliage, hay and mud. The entire structure caved in. The footprints around the ruins were those of a panther. Another detachment of Union Jack vandals undertook the same demolition job on the hut of the panther chief. The footprints outside were those of a lion.

We were elated with the outcome. There were the mutual recriminations between the fierce feline groups. Our confidence was on a roll. Ironically, that was our undoing.

In the fourth pair of missions, our luck finally ran out. The lions caught us. Our cover was blown. The cats conducted a group of leaf-shoed monkeys into King Roar’s home. We gave them express orders to ransack the house in a way that only they could. They made a dirty mess of it. The cats left the footprints of a cougar outside the hut. However, the King returned earlier than expected. The sentries outside caught a glimpse of the galloping King and his retinue. He was too fast for the sentries’ message to filter through to all the operators around the King’s home. The cats made a quick exit from the camp in time. The lions did not pick them up. The monkeys were caught unawares. They were trapped inside. Panic set in. The unsuspecting King Roar stopped a few metres from his home and turned to give orders to his subordinates. The entombed monkeys frantically gouged out an opening in the farther wall of the house. One by one they scurried out unnoticed. They escaped unscathed from the camp before the King could react. King Roar’s outraged roar when confronted by the inside mess echoed throughout the camp. The fleeing monkeys were still within earshot but they were safe. The King’s rage was directed against the cougars.

III

A few days later, we reprised the same process. The location was the abode of the cougar chief using the footprints of a lion both inside and outside the hut. Here tragedy struck. Two brothers Chimp and Champ led the five monkeys. The cat steering them was one of my sons, Scratchy. The job was completed but the monkeys were too rowdy. They indulged

themselves so much, they overstayed despite Scratch’s entreaties. The noise caught the attention of the cougars lurking nearby. A trio of curious cougars approached to investigate. They took the saboteurs by surprise. The miscreants were caught red- handed. One of the cougars caught Scratchy and pinned him down to the ground. The other two cougars tore up four of the monkeys but they could not apprehend Champ who slipped away unharmed.

Champ returned to our headquarters to report. He was breathless and distraught. General Jack immediately dispatched a group of magpies to spy on the cougar’s camp. While the spying birds were away, he assembled a rescue party. The magpies reported that all four monkeys were dead. Scratchy was held captive. The cougars mauled him badly. They tied him to a tree at the south pole of the camp. During the violent interrogation, Scratchy revealed he was working for the lions. He revealed that King Roar had recruited the group of saboteurs. The King himself had given him specific orders for the mission. The cougars were not convinced, so they planned to visit King Roar with their prisoner the next morning. Both the King and the cougars had to verify Scratchy’s story.

The rescue party had to move fast before this verification occurred. General Jack himself led it. He carried a torchlight from the fire he had produced out of two dry sticks earlier in the hot summer day. As the cougars were sleeping, he set fire to the dry vegetation and to a couple of huts. We did this first outside the southern entrance of the camp only a stone’s throw away from where Scratchy lay. We then set fire to the southern part of the camp not too far from Scratchy. The fire rapidly spread. As the entire cougar camp woke up, they all fled northward away from Scratchy. This mass panic exodus conceded a free path for the release of my son. A trio of chipmunks cut through the thick ropes that bound Scratchy.

The mission was a success. Scratchy’s story remained uncontested because the cougars never visited King Roar. The unexpected bonus was that the cougars now blamed the lions not only for the sabotage but also for the rescue fire. Sadly, success came at a high price. My son died from his injuries three days later. I was crushed.

How I mourned my younger son! I had always been proud of him. He was everything I was not. I admired him from a distance. He was imaginative and was not in the habit of eternally weighing up the odds. If something had to be done, he just did it. Moreover, he was a master of improvisation. In short, he was a natural. It was in his character to outwit his torturers by misleading them at a critical juncture. In so doing, he saved our entire campaign. I was grief stricken for many days. His death left an aching void for the rest of my life. It was only in my later years that I managed to fill that gaping void.

A well-attended memorial was organised to commemorate the five fallen heroes of this mission. In the front line opposite General Jack and me was Champ. He did not take his stony gaze off us throughout the ceremony. He blamed us for his brother’s death. This episode would return to haunt us at a later crucial time.

All the covert sabotage missions had been completed successfully. The various felines blamed each other for the vandalism. Disquiet prevailed within the Feline Kingdom. The identity of the real perpetrators remained unknown. Our cover was still intact.

IV

The results of the “Month of the Seven Missions” exceeded our expectations. Our masters are proud and arrogant beasts. When their dignity is effaced, they howl skyward with their bloodcurdling cry of vengeance. Moreover, their clan members rally around them as one.

The formidable tigers adopted a siege mentality against all.

The jaguars, cougars and panthers gravitated together, and formed the second formidable group. This group closed its ranks against both the tigers and the lions (throughout the lions were loyally supported by

their cheetah and leopard cousins).

The lions closed ranks around themselves and their two fiercely loyal relations. This was the third, largest and most powerful group.

General Jack declared we had planted the seeds of an internecine feline war.

Subsequent events took an unexpected turn. Instead of turning against each other as we predicted, the three feline power groups reacted in an unusual way. The factions feared each other. They were evenly matched in strength. Rather than risk self-destruction, they opted to migrate and settle as far away from each other as possible. The tigers migrated to the Western land. The cougars, panthers and jaguars migrated to the East. The lions and their allies settled in the

South. The three factions anticipated that the long distance separation would protect them from a repetition of the guerrilla attacks sustained during “the Month of the Seven Missions”.

Regretfully, these events were to prove our undoing.

V

By now, the young white cat within me had matured into a glorious fully-grown cat. Thankfully, it grew at the expense of the grey tabby cat. I was proud of it. I was pleased that it was in charge. Optimism and self-belief had substituted pessimism and diffidence. Industry and efficiency had supplanted indolence and ineffectiveness. Courage and initiative had trumped cowardice and inertia. Reliability and consistency displaced indecision and procrastination. There was competence where previously there was incompetence. I was pleased that the positive inner white cat dominated the negative outer grey tabby cat. However, that inner nagging feeling plagued me. Was it the real me?

To outside observers, I was the perfect leader. My idealism, restraint and industry complemented General Jack’s wisdom, pragmatism and vision. My star rose as the white cat within matured. The non-felines held me with the same high esteem they reserved for General Jack. I was the co-founder and leader of the Union Jacks. My name was on everyone’s lips. If anything, they related more to me than to the General, as I was one of them- a four-legged animal born and bred in the same land. Moreover, everyone had witnessed the transformation of my personality after my resurrection. Unbelievably, they regarded me with awe. No one knew my inner story. Even if they knew it, they would not comprehend it. For them, I was a new animal, a benevolent demigod. They delighted in the fruits of my bounty. I was the reason for all the good fortune. I was the architect of the successful missions. For how much longer could I go on with this pretence? It tired me.

Inwardly, I knew that in my dual personality the white and the grey were in dynamic equilibrium. If one fell, the other rose to occupy the vacuum. These two inner cats were diametrically opposed. One was the antithesis of the other. I loved the white but I was ashamed of the grey. The problem was that the grey was the default mode. That was my liability.

For the time being however, I was satisfied with the chemistry. White Miaow wore a grey hair shirt on the outside. It served as a useful check. It prevented confidence becoming overconfidence. It prevented pride turning into arrogance. It prevented courage transforming into recklessness. It rendered me humble and modest. I had to agree I was the ideal foil to General Jack. We were in perfect harmony. I was his loyal sidekick. But again, deep down, it was not really me. I was completely reliant on General Jack. Without him, I was but a leaf fluttering in the wind.

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