THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE KINGDOMS
The day arrived. As I write these words ten years after the event, my heart pounds loudly in my chest as it did then. My nerves were taut. General Jack was nervous. The gazelles were edgy. PoPo the elephant was fidgety. There was heightened excitement and anxiety throughout the ranks. We had meticulously set the stage for the battle and drafted the script. Now we had to act that script. We hoped Lady Luck would look down on us favourably.
General Jack and I commanded the Army of the South. He was dressed in white and mounted a resplendent white stallion. It was an imposing site. We had an efficient aerial scout relay system. They kept us informed of developments in the other two battlefields. In the West, the sky was cloudless and clear blue. In the East, storm clouds were gathering. In the South, the weather was fine but it was blustery and cloudy.
The allied forces took up their positions as planned.
The scouting cats of the Union Jack were leading the unsuspecting Overlord armies to their respective battlefields.
Just before they arrived, I asked General Jack a question that had been bothering me for some time.
“Why is it that at the assembly, you were reluctant to propose your plan B?”
He replied slowly, “Because you don’t mess with nature. Nature cannot destroy itself. Just as the Overlords can’t destroy you, we can’t destroy them. I think we are destined to live side by side.”
He then gazed at the chickens who were joyfully counting the increased number of eggs they expected to hatch in the absence of harsh Overlord rule.
General Jack added, “I’ll believe in this victory when I see it.”
The enemy arrived on the battlefields and took up the positions we envisaged.
The stage was set for the battle to commence.
Horror of horrors! It was an unmitigated disaster. Nothing went right on the day!
THE BATTLE OF THE WEST
The tiger army arrived on the battlefield. They studied their opponents with perplexity. The tigers were confounded. They were at a loss on how to proceed. They dallied over drawing first blood. Which army would launch the opening attack? In the end, the out-of-sorts tiger army opted on the side of caution. The initiative for attack therefore rested with the elephant army. For that, they had to await the Signal in the Sky.
The leaf-bearing dove was due to be launched in three hours’ time. Unfortunately, another curious leafless white dove flew by three hours before the expected launch time. Popo the elephant chief inexplicably mistook the intruder as the Signal in the Sky. At PoPo’s screeching command, the shrieking mass of elephants poured over the hill into the path of the tiger army. They kicked up a massive cloud of dust in their trail. The ground shook. In the face of this unexpected oncoming force majeure, the tigers panicked. They broke ranks and fled eastward. The elephants chased them. In an instant, the two opposing Western armies became the Eastern train .There followed a mad uninterrupted run overshadowed above by the mystified scouting army of crows. After a two-hour dash, they entered the Eastern battleground!
First, the waiting armies of the Eastern Battleground heard the distant rumble. Then they caught a glimpse of the dust cloud and the black cloud of crows on the horizon. Then the stampede came in focus. Seeing the stampede gaining ground on then, the Armies of the East (both allied and Overlord) split in two. They created a wide passage for the Eastern Train to pass through. One-half of both allied and enemy armies moved northward. The other half of each army was displaced southward. Even the dense cloud of scouting eagles of the Eastern Army had to split. That way they created a passage in the sky for the crows of the Eastern Train to pass through.
The approaching elephant stampede was too wide to pass through the passage created, so one third of the southern flank veered southwards.
Figure 4: The Battle of the West
This alarmed detachment of elephants did not stop running.
The opposing Armies of the East stood rooted to the ground dumbfolded as they gaped at the passing Eastern Train. They were stuck in the mud. The lumbering Eastern Train receded in a puff of dust on the eastern horizon.
THE BATTLE OF THE EAST
A flash storm broke out an hour before the planned signal for battle. It rained cats and dogs. I have already related how the Eastern Train had bisected the battleground in a thunderous rampage. This was unforeseen.
The displaced armies (both allied and Overlord) were unnerved and disoriented because of both the improbable stampede and the violent flash thunderstorm. Razor-sharp tension was in the air. It gripped the opposing armies.
An exceptionally loud thunderbolt rattled the ground. The animals felt it in their bones. A streak of lightening further startled the restless animals. It so happened that a tree just in vicinity of the allied heavy cavalry caught fire. This conflagration triggered off an untimely stampede of the frightened heavy cavalry (led by the bison and buffalo). The problem was the charge was in the wrong direction!
They stampeded westward in the direction of their amassed light cavalry colleagues. The heavy cavalry unit was meant to charge eastward in the direction of the enemy not westward! When the stationary light cavalry division saw their heavy cavalry colleagues closing down on them, they had no choice. Led by the wolves, they ran for their lives. They too burst forth westward with the frightened heavy cavalry trailing.
On witnessing this reverse charge, the southern flank (led by the reindeer) interpreted this as a signal for a concerted retreat. They too stampeded westward!
Together these three divisions formed the vanguard of the newly created Western Train! This unplanned flight prompted the cougars, panthers and jaguars to take advantage of the enemy’s flight and attack. The pursuit by the felines completed the rear part of the train. Earlier on, the feline army was distressed and irritable because of the unexpected succession of disturbing events. Once the allied army bolted however, the felines smelt blood. They gave in to their bloodlust and exploded from the blocks in style.
Figure 5: The Battle of the East (first phase)
Figure 6: The Battle of the East (second phase)
The call of the prey was irresistible. The felines pursued the prey relentlessly. In that bizarre manner, the Western Train rolled westward followed by the overhead eagle scouts. The sound of the thunderous stampede complemented the crashing sound of thunder. Streaks of lightening in the leaden sky under the sleeting rain lit up the awesome scene of the Western train.
THE BATTLE OF THE SOUTH
The lions and their cousins arrived on the battlefield as forecasted. They were startled by the size of the allied forces. If they were amazed by what they saw, they would have been stunned by the lined-up troops concealed in the forest and in the trenches. They caught sight of the impressive vision of General Jack mounted on his steed. The white stallion cantered elegantly back and forth while the General imperviously surveyed the battlefield. The bright morning sun had just emerged from behind a cloud. It illuminated the magnificent scene. The brilliant white radiance of General Jack and his mounted stallion was arresting. It enlightened and inflamed his fainthearted troops. King Roar caught sight of this ethereal figure. He squinted his eyes against the light and grimaced. He did not know what to make of it. For once, he was befuddled. The clash between General Jack and King Roar was about to unfold. It was a daunting clash. I was proud to stand at the General’s feet. The whiteness of my cat blended in well with his whiteness. We were as one. It was a spine tingling experience. His radiance engulfed me. My son Purr said I sparkled that day.
About half an hour before the Signal in the Sky was due, General Jack gave the signal. Hell was unleashed. The long-range artillery bombardment against the enemy lines commenced. It was devastating. The monkeys hurled beehives (the bees, wasps and hornets had consented. They had a whale of a time stinging the enemy). The artillery monkeys also hurled decomposing carcasses, stones, tree trunks, bones and coconuts. Some of the coconuts launched were solid. Others had their tips cut off .The monkeys filled the hollow shells with stones or poisonous scorpions. We called them scorpion bombs. The missiles rained down incessantly on the jumpy felines. The felines lashed out at the stinging, buzzing bugs to no avail. They slashed the thin air. They slashed themselves. They mutilated themselves and their neighbours. The scorpions’ poisonous stings were hallucinogenic. The missiles transmuted into oncoming flying demons. Their feline neighbours transmogrified into ogres. They became hairy, scary, quite contrary monsters. They frantically lashed out at each other. We watched in amazement. The feline army was tearing itself apart. It was caught in a maelstrom of ghouls, fiends and spectres. King Roar looked askance first in our direction and then at his army. On one side, he heard the jeering. On the other, he heard the agonizing howls of his troops. He could not come to terms with the implausibility of his fearless felines reduced to that pitiable state. It was surreal. The King was hesitant. Was he losing his mettle?
During the bombardment, a large group of excited mice ran forward in the forest to occupy the front seats. They were determined to have a good view of the hilarious spectacle. It was not often that lions were roughened up. The rodents’ presence unnerved the concealed elephants who in turn unnerved the rhinos and hippos. Oh no! An untimely wayward stampede was in the making. When the mice realised, they swiftly retreated to the back seats. They did not want to upset the battle plans. Fortunately, the elite troops calmed down. The spectacle of the harassed, discomforted lions had a comforting and satisfying effect on their nerves.
The tide of battle was in our favour.
A gust of wind arose out of the blue. It dislodged the colourful standard, carrying it away. It fluttered in the wind but then settled on a southern treetop when the wind died down. The allies were about to construct another flag to mark the direction for the simulated retreat of the light cavalry. However, there was no time for it. The lions’ endurance was reaching its limit. They were at the mercy of the stinging wasps and scorpions. They were dazed and confused. They were swamped by a fearful, black cloud of stinging demons. Was King Roar wavering! It was a battle of wills between the two leaders. The General was resolute. The fate of the animal world was in the balance. The stakes would never be so high in animal history. General Jack feared the fierce felines were about to flee. It was the auspicious moment. He took the fateful decision.
General Jack gave the signal ten minutes before it was due. So, we released the dove bearing the green leaf. The gazelles noted the signal and commenced their flight… in the wrong direction! They flew southward in the direction of the entrapped standard, not in the direction of the trenches. This sparked off a furious charge by the long-suffering lions, cheetahs and leopards. This crazed feline attack in turn, was the signal for the preordained intimidating, thunderous charge by the elephants, rhinos and hippos. In this manner, the Southern Train took shape followed by the overhead falcon scouts. The elite divisions of the Army of the South and the feline army became the Southern Train. The Southern Train hurtled along southward in the direction of the Great White Ice Lake and departed from the Southern Battleground. The remainder of our army stood by speechless and bamboozled. All heads were turned southward in unison.
Figure 7: The Battle of the South
Then, phenomena elsewhere grabbed our attention. The ground quaked. Our ears turned in the direction of a rumble from the north. We scanned the northern horizon. We made out a moving cloud in the distance. What was it? Our faces were simultaneously directed northward. We beheld the incredible sight of a large wildly stampeding elephant division! What was going on? What riddle was this? We gawked at the elephants as they stormed past. The ground under our feet convulsed. Our line of vision vibrated, the trees rattled. Their screeching was deafening. Was the end of the world nigh? A cloud of dust engulfed us. After recovering from a cacophonous coughing fit, we screwed our eyes and scanned the southern horizon. The rumble became fainter and the dust cloud eventually merged with the cloud of the Southern Train. The stomping elephants that appeared out of thin air had finally caught up with the other fleeing armies that galloped ahead of them. In that manner, another- a fourth compartment- was added to the growing Southern Train. What kind of magic was that? How did these elephants appear out of nowhere? We were puzzled. At the time, we did not know it. This was the remnant of the Western Army that had bizarrely traversed three battlegrounds!
Our eyes were compulsively fixed on the southern horizon until the cloud of dust faded. We stalled in a state of shock. There was dead silence. Everyone held his breath. Some wide-eyed animals blinked, others scratched their heads and others rubbed their eyes in disbelief. We were baffled. What had happened?
We were in for another surprise. Upheaval in the trenches unconsciously attracted our collective attention. Just at our feet we were about to witness an incredible battle within a battle.
THE BATTLE OF THE SNAKES
The snakes were furious. They had been cheated of their intended prey. The snakes turned on themselves in frustration. They hissed, they squirmed, they grappled and they bit. A diabolical battle ebbed and flowed. After about half an hour of futile conflict, the pythons had enough. They spat their scorn and fled southward en masse chasing their intended original prey- the lions. These pythons formed the final compartment of the Southern Train.
Our collective line of vision instinctively flitted back and forth between the trenches and the southern horizon until the pythons disappeared.
Something else caught our attention in the trenches. Disgusted because of the stalemate inside the trenches, the remaining snakes emerged without warning. They fled in directions as far away from each other as possible. The rattlesnakes surged westward in search of the cougars, pumas, panthers and jaguars. They formed the fifth compartment of the Western Train! The Cobras bustled eastward following the path of the tigers thereby forming the third compartment of the Eastern Train! The disgruntled vipers scrambled northward into no animals’ land! They receded from our sight, thankfully.
We lingered on in disbelief. We stood stunned, speechless and motionless for over an hour. We stared into space, contemplating these events. Each one of us tried unsuccessfully to take in all that had just unfolded before our tired eyes. It was staggering. The battlefield was haunted.