THE CASUS BELLI
General Jack used a difficult word. He wanted to provoke our rulers into declaring war on us. He did not want the allies to declare war. The division commanders could not understand the rationale for doing so. They regarded it as a waste of valuable time. For them, it was a matter of semantics. What if the enemy did not take the cue and declare war? After all, that is indeed what had happened between the Feline Overlords after the multiple provocations during the Month of the Seven Missions.
General Jack was adamant that this was to be a defensive war at all costs. The success of the battle depended on luring the enemy armies into a trap. The felines should have no option but to attack us from a position of weakness.
The General rebutted one objection after another. The balance of power between the Overlords had discouraged them from actively warring between themselves. In our case General Jack explained, there was a huge difference in power at least in the rulers’ mind set.
There was no doubt in the General’s mind that the enemy would consider the operation he was about to propose as an act of war.
The commanders shrugged their shoulders and let it pass. After the assembly when they absconded from voting, any innate reservations they had were brushed aside without much ado.
In each of the three areas of operation, we recruited the sapping animals to construct deep wide trenches. We covered these with foliage. We filled each trench with cactus trees, thorny bushes, sharp rocks and wooden pikes. In each site, a lone reindeer lured the leader of each enemy army into the trap. Representatives of our respective armies quickly moved to the edges of the trap making it a point to reveal their faces. They jeered and taunted the anguished trapped feline leaders as the monkeys gleefully pelted them. These provocative Union Jacks challenged the trapped victims to battle, calling their rulers cowards. This latter taunt particularly stung the haughty felines. The allies then quickly withdrew and escaped before the enraged victim could free himself from the trap. There were no casualties on our side during these enjoyable missions. All in all, it was a gratifying experience for us. It was cathartic to vent our pent-up frustrations against those tyrants from whose retaliation we were immune during those three operations.
The die was cast. The felines declared war that same day in the three operation fields. There was no going back now.
General Jack declared, “We have now crossed the Rubicon.”
Poor Champ the monkey never got over his younger brother’s death. He was smitten. He blamed it on General Jack and myself. From the outset, he never wanted his young brother to enrol in the mission. These missions had become too dangerous. Chimp ignored his brother’s objections.
He retorted, “With General Jack and Miaow behind the operation, nothing can go wrong. They’ll see to it. I’ll be a hero.”
Champ unenthusiastically joined the team just to keep a watchful eye on his reckless brother.
Inside the cougar’s hut, Chimp was in his element. He lost his head frolicking. Champ tried to quieten him down. He pleaded with him to make an immediate unobtrusive exit. After all, the monkeys had completed the job. There was no point tarrying. Champ’s pleas were in vain. Chimp responded by teasing him loudly. This was to attract the attention of the cougars and the rest is history.
A week before D-Day, I was at my last briefing with King Roar in his hut. A lion guard entered announcing the arrival of a monkey at the gate.
The guard added, “The monkey says he has important information for the King.”
The King asked, “What information does he have?”
The guard replied, “He spoke about hidden trench traps, about concealed snakes and about hidden taunting monkeys throwing missiles against the lions.”
At the mention of trenches, monkeys and missiles, King Roar abruptly rose bristling with widened eyes and flaring nostrils.
He ordered, “Bring him in. Make sure no one lays a paw on him. He must remain unharmed.”
When the door opened, to my horror, my eyes locked on Champ’s eyes. He was surprised to see me. He flashed a malicious smile. The look in Champ’s face said, “A life for a life. Your life for Chimps”. Oh no! He was about to reveal our secret battle plans. He was about to unmask my double identity. I had to escape. The King’s attention was focused on Champ. Discretely, I edged my way step by step to the exit. Once over the threshold, I had to dash out of the camp. It was my only chance of evading certain execution. I was almost there. An agonizing shriek rattled me. I spun round to behold a disturbing sight. The King’s huge mouth was open. Champ’s fluttering legs protruded out of it. The floor was bloodied.
Poor Champ! My secret was safe. I was safe but poor twisted Champ! Why did it have to end like that for him?
“Thou shalt not mock thy King,” King Roar growled. He quoted a line from the constitution of Our Land. With a straight face, I bowed. Inside I was trembling. I was on my knees cleaning up the mess.
Shaken I asked in a tremulous whimper, “Didn’t you give orders that he was not to be touched?” I did not raise my eyes from the floor.
“Exactly!” he boomed, “I wanted him all for myself. That is how anyone who dares to challenge and taunt his or her King ends up. That will be the fate of my pathetic subjects next week. What was all that about- trenches, snakes, et cetera?”
I blabbed condescendingly, “He was talking about those traps they had set just before you declared war. They had set many, some of which must have been filled with snakes. You happened to fall into one that fortunately did not have snakes. You were lucky.”
He snarled and nodded. The King belched as he arrogantly slid out of the room without a word.
I discussed the incident with General Jack. He too, was sorry for Champ. The General called him the reluctant hero of the Union Jacks. Unintentionally, Champ had saved our resistance movement on two occasions. First, when he rescued my son and secondly, now when he misled King Roar on the eve of the battle. Grief had twisted Champ’s mind. He must have been distraught when our rescue mission saved my son Scratchy but not his brother. Even the subsequent loss of my son did not mollify his misguided thirst for revenge.
On the eve of the battle, I received the intelligence reports compiled by the sparrows about the members of the Four Kingdoms after our thwarted assassination attempt. The findings were disturbing. They revealed what would unfold after the Feline Kingdom was deposed. The upper and middle castes of the Four Kingdoms were already jostling for dominance within their respective kingdoms. Furthermore, each of these kingdoms was already building up a rivalry with other kingdoms as to which kingdom would rule the land. Certain figures from the various animal groups were already putting themselves forward as candidates for kingship. These rivals were striving to form alliances with a view to building up their power bases. This was a chilling reminder of how hell would break loose in the aftermath of the Battle of the Five Kingdoms. Instead of one enemy, we would now be fighting countless enemies for the control of the land. We were on the verge of a war within a war. We were rushing headlong into anarchy.
I revealed the information to General Jack. He did not seem too surprised.
I lamented to him, “We’re going through all this to rid ourselves of the dictatorship of the Feline Kingdom, only to end up with an even worse fate. We would be jumping from the frying pan of dictatorship into the fire of anarchy. Ironically, we might even become nostalgic for the days of Feline Rule.”
He replied, “Few people with leadership qualities can resist the lure of absolute power over the lives of their subjects. It will always be like that. They will always make it their mission to achieve that power. Once they attain that power, they strive to hold on to it forever. That way, they can enjoy the fruits of that power.”
“But don’t fret,” he continued, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. In the meantime, let us concentrate on next week’s battle. All should fall in place with time.”
“I don’t know,” I said
“Have faith,” he concluded, “where there’s a will there’s a way.”
General Jack always managed to sow hope when I only saw hopelessness.