Your majesty, these fine simians require a strong leader at this time.
Augustus looked deep into my eyes and sat back down. I have to say I was a little disappointed because I thought he was going to show me where the piece of wood was. Whatever it was, I needed it to get back home from this world where animals fought battles for supremacy.
“Well?” I asked.
“Hmm?” Augustus seemed deep in thought. “Oh, I suppose you’re expecting me to take you to the Container. Sorry but I can’t do that. I don’t know where it is.”
“The Container is the wooden object we’ve been talking about is it?”
“Quite. It is the most ancient object on our world and whichever king holds it is ruler of our planet. It is that piece of wood that everybody is fighting for. At present it is held by the Simian king but the last battle of this age will bring an end to that if he loses to the Reptilia.”
“I’m confused.” I said, “This age?”
“The container is fought over in a series of battles with the victor ruling the planet for five years after he has won the last battle. In the final month of those five years the battles take place to see who will rule for the next five years. We call those five years an age.”
“So when you said the winner of the battle gets to rule until the next one you meant the next winner not the next battle?”
“Hmm? Oh yes that is correct my boy.”
“So what’s in it then?”
“This container. What does it contain?”
“You mean you’ve never opened it?”
“Many have considered doing so but the legends say when the container is opened life here will end.”
“You mean like a massive explosion or something?”
“Over the years many have speculated how it will end but in truth the legend only says that life will end, not how.” the Chimp picked up an apple and started eating it. He tossed one at me as well which I am glad to say I caught. I’m not sure I’d have found it in all that mess if I had dropped it.
“If you don’t know where it is, how can you help me get to it?” I said.
“I know where it should be, where it is supposed to be but if what I have heard is correct it is not there. The king has moved it.”
“When I arrived here, the container was nowhere to be seen yet it still felt like my fingers were touching it.”
“That may have been the one in your world that you could feel. Perhaps your fingers were remembering what it felt like.” That confused me even more.
“Could we at least look where the container is supposed to be?”
“It is supposed to be under the king’s throne. To remove it would require him to be not on his throne and for the throne room to be empty. Those two things never happen at the same time.”
“So how can I get to it?”
“Again, have you considered the consequences of reaching it?” I sighed, “I know the world will end but I need to get home and this isn’t my world?”
“Would you really leave before the battle knowing it would enslave the world to one tyrant or another?”
I shrugged. “I’d like to but no, I don’t think I can.”
“Exactly.” smiled the ape, “Now I said I would help you get to it but that will not be here and now. I will help you to take part in the battle.”
“I said I’m not fighting!”
“You may not need to. If we can get you to the container during the battle all you’ll need to is open it.”
“I thought just touching it would send me back home?”
“No,” the chimpanzee frowned, “it is not the same object as the one that sent you here. That is infused with magic whereas this one is made of magic.”
“Made of magic?” I grinned.
“Yes. It looks like wood but it is not wood. Nobody knows what it is made of. I do know that if you open it you have a better chance of getting back to your home and this world not descending into slavery.
“So what do I tell the king? He’ll be expecting me to fight.”
“Yes but he is also expecting you to know what it is you must do. Now you do and you can tell him that you know.”
“Without telling what it is I am going to do.” he smiled as I finished his sentence.
“Indeed. Come I’ll take you back to the throne room.” and with that Augustus swept off up the corridor I had arrived through.
The king was just as grumpy when I arrived back. Augustus used the journey to advise me on what to say and how to say it but he would not enter the throne room. Instead he stood just outside the door.
“So you have returned?” The king said, “I note you were unable to convince Augustus to correct his blasphemy.”
“With respect oh king,” I bowed my head as I spoke, “that was not my task. I have returned because I now know what it is I must do.”
The gorilla made deep huffing sound and said “So what is it you must do child?”
“I am not at liberty to say, your majesty.”
As Augustus predicted this enraged the huge silverback and he leapt off the throne to just in front of me. “What!? You dare defy me?”
“Defy? No.” I smiled, “I am not at liberty because what I must do must not be revealed before its time. Your advisers know the prophecy says this. Did they not inform you, oh king?”
This was a dangerous move but it worked, the king’s focus immediately shifted to his advisers instead of my task. The advisers shifted and ducked, some locked their gaze on me though.
“Well?” the king asked his court, “Is what the child say true?”
No-one spoke and the shifting continued. There were some mutterings but nothing anyone else could hear.
“Speak!” the king roared. “Enough of these secrets!”
An oraguntan, not the one who escorted me to Augustus, shuffled forward and bowed low. “My king,” it said, “The prophecies are not always clear. What the child says may be taken from but one interpretation of them.”
“Do you believe that?” the silverback asked.
“It seems a popular interpretation of the writings, yes.” the orangutan bowed and returned to its place.
“If I may continue, your majesty.” I said quietly. The gorilla waved a hand at me and sat back down. “Whilst I cannot reveal what it is I must do before time, there are certain things I need that will help me prepare.” I gulped, “such as the Container.”
There was an uproar. A cacophony arose among the apes around the room and got louder. Eventually the king stood and gradually silence crept around the room.
“You want our most precious keepsake?” the king said, “and you expect me to just hand it over?”
I took a breath, Augustus said this was the most crucial part of the exercise. I had to get this right or the king could kill me in his anger. “Yes, your majesty but before you protest you should consider,” I looked around the room, “you should all consider what it is you expect of me.”
Stunned silence greeted me so I continued. “You expect me to end the battle and I shall. You expect me to end the prospect of a tyrannical rule on this world and I shall, you expect me to do this without preparation or consideration and that I shall not do. If I am unable to prepare, I may be unable to fulfil my duties. To prepare I need a quiet, secluded place and I need to examine the Container.”
“Why?” a chimpanzee to my left asked.
I spun and raised my voice. “Because I am the prophesied one. Because I am the one who can end the battles and because I am the only one who can interpret it and I note you dare to speak before your king without his permission.”
The chimp backed down as he saw I rose to his challenge. The king grinned at my last sentence. Augustus had coached me on this. He warned I would be challenged and this was how to defeat the challengers before they got too loud. I steeled myself and stepped towards the throne. There were gasps around the room. I continued walking and when I got to the foot of the throne I knelt and looked beneath it. As Augustus suspected there was nothing there. I stood again and faced the room.
“Your king takes his authority from the throne which is placed above your most sacred treasure, the Container. Except the Container is not beneath the throne.” Again there was a cacophony and I held up my hand to silence the room and turned to the king. “Your majesty, where is it?”
The king shifted and glared at me. “You dare challenge me?” he said.
I smiled, “I have no desire for your throne, you may keep it but you will tell me where the Container is or else I will not be responsible for the consequences.”
I was beginning to question how long I could bluff like this. Surely the king would expect me to back up my bold talk. Again the king shifted and snorted and glared at me. “Your majesty,” I smiled, “these fine simians require a strong leader at this time. Strength comes in many forms though and right now you need to show you are strong enough to trust me. Give me the Container and then you can return to being the great ape leader you should be.”
I looked him in the eye and said “Would you not agree, Servus?” The gorilla looked shocked. Nobody had called him by his name in years. This was unsurprising considering it meant “servant”. Obviously he didn’t consider it a good name for a king.
“So Augustus has been busy with you boy?” he smiled. “You think you can come here and shock me by using my former name? You are mistaken.”
“With respect, I seek not to shock you but to remind you, King Servus. The position you hold is one of honour but that honour comes not from the throne but the heart that sits upon it. You can and should be both king and servant of these your family, King Servus.” as I bowed a large number of apes all bowed too. I continued, “Show your people what a king they have. Trust me.”
The large silverback thought and eventually said “Fetch it.”
“My king?” a courtier asked.
“Fetch the Container. Take it to my quarters and take the boy there too.” then he looked at me, “You make a convincing argument my child. Either that or you repeat another’s argument,” he looked towards the door where he thought Augustus would be listening, “but regardless of that I have no choice. If I refuse I shall be the king who resided over our defeat. Therefore I have no choice but to let you examine the Container.
“Your majesty.” I bowed as I was again escorted out of the court by the same orangutan.
Servus called after me, “Know this, boy: if you fail me, the last thing I shall do is rip your head from your body.”
I bowed and continued to walk out backwards. We soon entered a large, well decorated room, in the centre of the room was a large table and on that sat a dusty wooden box. I walked over carefully and went to wipe the dust off with my sleeve. “Don’t” said a voice in the shadows.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because,” Augustus said as he crept into the light, “to do that you will touch the box. To do that without examining it would be foolish. You do not know what it can do.”
“Do you know?” I asked.
“No,” he replied curtly, “but I know how to read it.” He inspected the box and the carvings without touching it. Giving the occasional “hmm” or “ah” as he did so. Eventually he turned to face me and laughed.
“What?” I asked.
“The container.” he smirked, “It may be more familiar to you than you or I imagined. Look here.” He indicated some of the carvings and then directed my gaze to another side with different markings.
“Is that..?” I asked leaning in. “Yes it is.” my chimp friend said.
I turned to look at him. You mean all this the time the battles have been little more than ..”
“Shhh!” he cut me off, whispering “There are more than just our ears in here.”
“OK,” I whispered, “but how does this help us?”
“Open the box and you’ll see.” I slowly put my hands on the box and felt for the groove near the top. Slowly I placed my thumb beneath it and lifted the lid. I looked inside and smiled.
“What do you see?” Augustus asked.
“Nothing much.” I smiled. “But that is helpful to you, yes?”
“Oh yes,” I smiled again, “and no. I now know what can be done but not how.”
“That is where I come in, I suppose?” muttered the greying chimp.
“Yes I rather think it is.” At that point the door opened and Servus walked in. I closed the lid of the box and stood before it.
“So you are here my foe!” Servus snapped at Augustus.
“I am not your enemy Servus. Only you have ever been that.” Augustus snapped back.
“I am not in your classroom now, old fool!” The king strode around the room as he spoke.
“Who’s more foolish, me or the one who believes me?”
The king ignored this remark and turned to me. “What of you child? Do you have the information you require to grant us victory?”
“I have the information I require to end the battles.” I replied calmly.
“Good. Then go prepare yourself.” The king snatched up the Container. “The battle will commence tomorrow morning.”
“Tomorrow?” said Sharif, the orangutan who accompanied the king. “But the battle is set to be in two days.”
“I have moved it.” the King snorted, “to catch our enemy unprepared.”
“Can he do that?” I whispered to Augustus.
Augustus smiled and shook his head gently. “It appears he has.” then turning he started to leave the room.
“You dare turn your back on your king?” Sharif demanded.
Augustus half turned and snarled at Sharif. “When I have a king worth facing, Sharif, I will face him. Now I will go, with my young friend here,” he took my arm and dragged my towards him, “and prepare him for what he must do.”
As we started to walk out, Servus called after us. “Augustus, make sure the boy does not fail me.”
Augustus stopped and spoke without turning. “If I were you Servus, I would be more concerned if it was I who failed him.” We left the room and went back to Augustus’ dwelling. “Now,” Augustus said, “let’s have something to eat.”
“Eat?” I spluttered, “surely we have to figure out what to do tomorrow.”
“There is nothing to figure out. You know what must be done.”
“Yes, but not how to do it.”
“Oh I think you can figure out that little bit without me.” the grey chimp smiled at me and headed for a food cupboard.