Another well-attended grand council was called. The crowd was excitable and the morale was sky high. General Jack took the floor. He claimed the victory was only partial. At least, we had an enclave of free space in which we could live, now that the Overlords had moved to the periphery. A loud cacophony of disapproval followed the General’s statement. The crowd demanded full liberty. They were not satisfied with anything less. The more they achieved, the more they wanted. There was no limit to their appetite for liberty now. General Jack admitted we had more work to do. We had to be patient. We were in for the long haul but we were on the right track. The Union Jacks had to persist with the provocative guerrilla tactics until the three factions reached their respective breaking points. A full-scale internecine war would ultimately break out between the felines. He predicted there would be no victors among combatants in such a war. The non-felines could then claim the land for themselves.
Despite our mishaps, fate let us off lightly on the Day of Initiation and the Month of the Seven Missions. No one denied it. The overall success of our entire campaign however, was dependent on keeping the felines in a state of blissful ignorance throughout. This exhortation was impressed on everyone. The felines’ hubristic mind-set was so haughtily complacent; the thought of brewing unrest in the land’s undergrowth never crossed their mind. They would never have imagined any of us animals were capable of doing anything so audacious. They did not know about General Jack. A puny non-feline subject could not challenge the Feline Kingdom’s authority. It was unthinkable. This secure confidence of invincibility was the main reason for them failing to draw the lines between the dots. In the Month of the Seven Missions, they repeatedly missed the wood for the trees. Nevertheless, no matter how well prepared our missions were, mistakes were bound to happen. In no time, these separate errors would become a string of errors. This thread would become a connection. The connection would become a suspicion. The suspicion would snap into a shocking revelation. That revelation in the feline-dominated world would instigate a terrible reaction that we all dreaded. Although elation and overconfidence abounded in our ranks, there was a high degree of tension. This tinderbox was to set the stage for a series of unexpected events. The campaign was about to go down the path General Jack never intended.
We adjourned the meeting for a couple of days. The General’s speech was an anti-climax that satisfied no one. Discontent was brewing. I appointed the sparrows to gauge the various animals’ reactions in secret. They had to report to me twenty-four hours later.
The reports, when they arrived, were disconcerting. The coalition was on the verge of breaking up. Different factions were taking shape among us.
The pacifists were content with what they had achieved and wanted to pack up. At least, the spatial distancing from the Overlords had now ameliorated the pressures of mundane daily life. This pacifist group was composed of a large section of the animals that did not belong to the Four Kingdoms.
At the other extreme were the warmongers led by George the fox. These were in favour of all-out immediate total war. Their support came from the upper echelons of the Four Kingdoms.
In between these two extremes were the moderates, who I am sad to say included the cats and the lower classes of the kingdoms. These disagreed with the other two groups. However, they did not subscribe to General Jack’s continuing plan of subversion. The missions had become too dangerous. The number of casualties was bound to continue rising. The felines would expose our nefarious activities at some point. It was inevitable. The exposition would nullify all our previous accomplishments. This faction was in favour of suspending hostilities for the time being. They advocated a watchful waiting policy. We could reignite the campaign at a later opportune time. Moreover, General Jack’s prediction of a civil war within the Feline Kingdom was far-fetched. The felines were too smart to risk mutual self-destruction.
The most worrying information however, was the emergence of the radicals led by the hot headed grey wolf Olaf. Their policy was the radicalization of George the fox’s plan. Essentially, the aim for them was the total defeat of the Feline Kingdom. Nothing must stand in their way when it came to achieving that end. Any internal opposition had to be swept away, forcibly if need be. The biggest threat to achieving this end was General Jack, according to Olaf. The General had become a liability for the cause. He was the reason for the lack of unity in the coalition. He and his sidekick had to be disposed of. The means justifies the end. That was Olaf’s motto
I became concerned for the General’s safety so I directed one of my sparrows to observe Olaf’s movements throughout the day.
George the leader of the foxes took the floor when the council reconvened. He ridiculed General Jack’s strategy.
“The General’s strategy only managed to force the Overlords’ retreat into their fortified positions,” said George the fox. “At best, continuation of that policy will only entice the enemies to relocate their respective fortresses further away from each other. They’d still remain masters of the land.”
He continued, “The situation would get even worse. Instead of one king, we’d end up with three kings each controlling its territory- a kind of co-federation of three despotic kingdoms loosely bonded by the fear of mutual destruction. The other animals will still be victims of the felines’ cold war.”
The wily fox suggested General Jack’s planned war of attrition had misfired. He implied General Jack outlived his usefulness. The animals were prepared to give General Jack an honourable discharge.
“The General has taken the resistance movement as far as he could. Someone more courageous had to take over the leadership,” he said, to loud cries of approval.
Next to me, General Jack rose to reveal he had a plan B about which he himself had reservations. He was drowned out by the boisterous commotion about him.
George the fox then outlined the obvious military strategy.
“Never have the Four Kingdoms and their allies been so united in a common cause. It therefore follows that together we could form the largest army ever seen in the land. This army outnumbers the Overlords’ army by 500,000 to 1. In addition, we have the element of surprise to our advantage. Our newly appointed leader could lead the great army into a blitzkrieg total war. First, we descend on the cougar/ jaguar/ panther coalition in the East. After wiping them out, we would then force march onto the unsuspecting tigers in the West. We overwhelm those as well. With each victory, the great army becomes stronger as more animals swell its ranks. All that remains is to deliver the coup de grace to the lions and their associates.”
The speaker became more excitable.
He shouted, “Us common animals, we have never been stronger before. The Overlords have never been so weak and isolated before. They are too polarized. They can’t help each other out. Divided they fall. My battle plan could not fail as long as we act decisively now. We have to strike with the iron while it is still hot. Speed is crucial here. We must strike before the felines catch wind of our plans. The lightening campaign should be over in six days at the most.”
There were cheers of approval and support from most animals in the assembly, even from the cats. General Jack sat silent shaking his head. I was the only other silent one next to him, surveying the general response across the floor. The animals made their choice. They had all but chosen their new crafty leader. After the commotion died down, I took the floor,
“Gentlemen, I suggest we reflect on the new developments for a couple of days. We will reconvene for a final vote.”
That vote could decide the fate of the animal world.
Embattled, General Jack slumbered off to his quarters unnoticed. The huge crowd circled their new leader-designate, carrying George the fox shoulder-high as they yelled war chants.
On that note, we adjourned the assembly.
George the fox sought us out a few hours after the adjourned meeting. He and his close associate requested a meeting with General Jack and myself privately at a secluded location by the river. They desired a negotiated compromise. The onus was on us to formulate a common strategy that was acceptable to all. The General was all in favour of this kind of diplomacy. We gladly accepted the invitation.
An hour before the scheduled rendezvous, the sparrow tasked with shadowing Olaf the wolf returned. The details were sparse. Olaf was up to some mischief with George the fox that concerned both the General and me. I was gripped by that sinking feeling. I dashed off to warn General Jack. On the way, Noisy the crazy parrot clattered into me. He blocked my path. He fluttered his colourful wings and made an endlessly repetitive din. As usual, I could not understand a word he said. Unexpectedly, he turned aggressive and assailed me. He bit my ear with his long curved beak. Then he attempted to cut off my tail. I swiped him off with my paws. He reacted by biting my paw. Of all animals, the conspirators had sent this silly bird to assassinate me. After a few minutes of struggle, I overpowered him and pinned him to the ground spread-eagled.
I was about to strike the mortal blow, when an authoritative voice shouted,
“Stop! What’s up?” It was General Jack.
I unintentionally released my grip on Noisy. He evaded me, flew up onto a branch. From his high perch, he addressed the same repetitive din to the General. General Jack looked up, eyes and ears open. When Noisy eventually fell silent, General Jack put his arm on my shoulder.
He said, “Come on, let’s go home. The meeting’s cancelled.”
As we walked home, I excitedly told him about the sparrow’s latest report and of how I had just survived an assassination attempt. I hissed my scorn against the inadequacy of my assailant.
“Would you believe it, that clown even tried to chop off my tail?”
General Jack replied cryptically, “Don’t judge by appearances.”
His statement baffled me.
Many years later, I had an interesting conversation with Beady Eyes the owl.
I never forgot the conversation so I will relate it in Beady Eyes’ own words.
“I had overheard a conversation between Olaf the wolf and George the fox. Olaf was determined to assassinate both you and General Jack. The scheduled meeting by the river was a trap. There were to be no discussions. There wasn’t enough time. I could only avail myself of Noisy the crazy parrot to warn you about the danger. There were no other birds around. I myself had to shadow these two conspirators. I knew that both you and the General were probably already on your way to the meeting place. The assassination was foiled. Noisy then told me what happened. He said he managed to intercept you, but you couldn’t understand what he was saying. You signalled you intention to wave him off and to continue your run to the meeting place. You left him with no choice. He had to detain you physically. He did this to save you from a tragic fate. Luckily, the General intervened at the nick of time. He rescued Noisy from your aggression and almost certain death. It was also fortunate that the General understood Noisy’s message. You could both return safely.”
“What was Noisy’s message?” I asked.
“Olaf …. George…. kill…. Miaow….Jack.”
This revelation humbled me. I sought out Noisy to make amends. By then he had already left in search of the New Lands. Noisy the crazy parrot was not crazy after all. My assailant was my saviour. He saved both my life and General Jack’s.
General Jack once observed, “It’s amazing. When you arrive at an impasse in your quest, decisive help arrives out of nowhere. It comes from where you least expect it. That must be a sure way of knowing you are on the right path.”
I incredulously asked Beady Eyes, “How is it possible that even George the fox was involved in the plot? I know he’s crafty and ambitious but he’s not the violent type.”
Beady Eyes replied, “It wasn’t his idea. The idea originated from Olaf and his wolf pack. George didn’t approve, though, he did try to cover it up. He knew both of you were respected. He was planning to pin the blame for your murder on the Overlords. He wanted to engender widespread anger among the Four Kingdoms and the allies. That way, all the animals including the pacifists would unite in favour of George the fox’s battle plan. He was prepared to sacrifice you as martyrs to achieve his end. He thirsted for the unity that was so essential for the success of his battle plan.”
General Jack was full of surprises. Why did he never tell me about our near death episode? Why did he never denounce both Olaf and George? The workings of General Jack’s mind baffled me at times but he was always right. Did he want to preserve the unity of our grand alliance at all cost? Fracturing that alliance would have jeopardized our struggle for freedom.
The assembly reconvened in a confident mood. The vote was about to be taken with an expected unanimous result.
I took the floor and made another of my fateful statements.
“We can’t take the vote until we hear General Jack’s plan B.”
The chatter died down. The leaves rustled in the silence. All eyes turned expectantly on General Jack as he took the floor.
“We have only one chance at victory. If we get it wrong, we are finished forever. The victors would exact a terrible revenge against whoever dared challenge their authority so brazenly. The Feline Lords will conduct a scorched earth policy from which we will never recover.
“The great army that my esteemed colleague George the fox speaks of is a large mob not an army. It is not united. It can never be. It is disunited by its very nature. It is a polyglot of disparate animals each with their own idiosyncrasies. All they have in common is their desire for freedom. That however, does not guarantee compactness and unity of purpose on the battlefield. By contrast, our masters’ armies are compact and homogenous. They consist of one large animal group acting with one brain, one body and one set of limbs
“You may outnumber them 500,000 to 1, but individually their fighting skills outdo yours by that same ratio. A cat has nine lives, but our masters have a thousand lives. They will be next to impossible to kill. Our masters are born fighters. They fight to kill. You are not like that. What is to stop you, when you experience the initial fallout during the battle heat, from breaking ranks and fleeing? Your whole dream dissipated in a puff of dust! You would have tragically undone all our hard won achievements.
“You are basing everything on emotional wishful thinking. We need firmly cast battle plans.”
The general paused. He cleared his throat.
“It’s true I have a plan B for open battle but even I have my reservations about it-”
“Let us hear it!” shouted the spell bound crowd.
“Fine, fine. Hear it then.”
“One. We have to split into three armies. That will ensure we are more cohesive as a unit. The disparate groups of animals may then be easier to control.
“Two. We have to engage each enemy army separately at the same time. Our engagement has to be defensive. We have to use feints in order to draw the enemy into the opening attack.
“Three. We have to steer and manoeuvre each enemy army into a disadvantageous position on the battlefield. By then, our own armies should have already occupied the high ground that gives us the tactical advantage during the subsequent battle.
“Four. The composition of our armies has to be matched in strength and complementary to that of the enemy. It also has to be as uniform as possible.
“Five. Our different units have to perform a function that is compatible with the animals’ characteristics. We require a heavy cavalry unit to overrun the enemy. We require a light cavalry unit to break the enemy ranks with feinting runs. We need to have both short and long range artillery units to harass the enemy armies.
“Six. Our main army will be located in the south against the most powerful enemy army consisting of the lions. The bulk of our army is infantry based and composed of weak troops. It will have to be shielded by an extensive network of lethal barrier traps.
“I have the battle plans in my mind but they are top secret. I can only present them to the division commanders at a secret Council of War.
“I told you I had my reservations. Battle plans can look grand and infallible on paper. Those factors I can control. What I do fear however, are the many variables that I have no control over. Ultimately, it is these unexpected twists of fate that determine the outcome of a battle.”
I rose to take the vote.
The docile crowd exclaimed with one voice, “What vote?”
That assembly was unique in that it ended with no vote. We had geared up for a momentous vote but we cast no vote. We had adjourned the assembly because of a putative binding vote that never materialized. The fate of the animal world lay in the balance now. General Jack quelled the rebellion with words. Was that a miracle? The field was now clear for General Jack. He had free rein to continue building upon the previous achievements.
What were these battle plans? Would they prove to be just hot air?