“Do not fail me now boy!”
We ate in silence. I was somewhat preoccupied with the task before me and Augustus, realising this, spent most of his time examining his food in minute detail. Eventually it was I who broke the stifling silence.
“I know what the Container is.” I said, “I know what I should do. I can’t for the life of me think how I am going to get the other faction to comply.” I tossed my half-eaten apple to the floor with a sigh.
“That,” replied my chimp companion, “was a waste of good food.” He looked at me and I shrugged. He seemed to study me and then said the last thing I was expecting. “Tell me about your family.”
“I presume you have one?”
“Yes, yes of course I do. I just don’t see how that will help.”
“Humour and old ape will you?”
I sighed and told him of my parents, of my twin little sisters and our home. He gestured for me to go on and so I did, speaking about our daily life and what we get up to. “It’s funny,” I said, “I always quite liked my life until I came here. Now I see how boring it all is.”
“Boring?” the ape chuckled, “My dear human your life is only boring if you make it so. From what you have told me, your life sounds full and active.”
“Yes,” I retorted, “but not with anything exciting.”
“Exciting does not mean the same thing for everybody. I would imagine your sisters have very different tastes?”
“That’s true.” I said, “They may be identical but they could not be more different.” I looked at him, “What is the story between you and Servus anyway?”
“I was his tutor for many years.” the ape started to smile as he spoke, “He was always destined to lead the Simians. Not just because he was born into the right family but because he had a way about him that made others listen. The trouble was he was always limited in his outlook. He had a very narrow view on the world. He was cautious of the world and eventually that made him paranoid about it. He only ever seemed to want to move one step at a time. I was brought in to broaden his horizons, teach him to look beyond what was in front of him. So to speak.” He shrugged.
I realised that the more often we spoke the less often I looked on him as an animal. To me he was just Augustus and it was the most natural thing in the world to hear him speak.
“How long did you tutor him?”
“Oh about ten years I think. He enjoyed it too. I told him tales of history and tales of fiction. I showed him how to think beyond what everyone expected, how to use the advice of those around him and when not to.”
“So what went wrong?”
“His mother got sick. He was already King by then and he had surrounded himself with a host of courtiers and advisers. The problem was that few of them were in it for him. They were more interested in their own position, their own status, their own power. When his mother got sick, he summoned his advisers, including me. He was in grief and demanded we advise him how to save his mother. Of course none of us could do that because, sadly, she was suffering from an illness nobody recovers from. The other advisers were too afraid to tell him the truth and so they told him what he wanted to hear. They told him she had an outside chance if he did this or said that.”
“And you didn’t?”
He shook his head, “No. I told him what he needed to hear - as gently as I could of course. I also advised him to spend time with his mother, to enjoy the moments they still had and make them precious memories. He got very angry with me, saying I had given up, saying I was weak. I tried to explain but he started shouting about his position and the battles. When I repeatedly told him that the battles were not the future of our world, he got furious and he threw me out. I have never been back to his court but occasionally he will ask my opinion on a prophecy-related matter. Usually my responses only serve to make him more angry.”
“He seems to get angry a lot.”
“He’s never really gotten over the loss of his mother. It’s like he thinks he will dishonour her memory if he fails to become the ultimate ruler of the world.”
“He’s that upset about it?”
“Losing one’s queen is a blow to anyone - especially in this world. This queen in particular was both wonderful and wise. She had Servus’ ability to captivate others but without the limitation Servus placed upon himself. With her you felt she could and would go anywhere for her people.”
“So Servus has been like this since she died?”
Augustus shook his head in sadness “I don’t think he has ever felt up to the task of ruling without her.”
“None of this helps me with my task of course.” I said. Then something occurred to me. “Before he was king, did Servus take part in the battles?”
“Alongside his mother?”
“He stood on her right flank.”
“So that means he was…” I paused, “Do you think he was happier in that position or as King?”
“Oh without a doubt he was happier on the flank. He preferred to take the battle to the enemy rather than wait for them to come to him.”
“Even with all his forces to command - ready to fall for him?”
“Well, as King he has always wanted to lead from the front - as his mother did but that’s not how it works. By the time he gets to take part in the battle..” I interrupted “He has limited forces left and is somewhat more vulnerable.”
“Exactly.” The ape smiled at me. “You have a plan, don’t you?”
“Yes I think we can use that vulnerability to our advantage. It’s risky though and it won’t work unless the Reptilia act how I need them to.”
Augustus puffed his cheeks, “You want to speak to their king? I can do that for you.”
“I am hoping you would but I also need something else from you my friend.”
“Oh so I am your friend, now you want something from me?”
The greying chimp stared at me and then smiled. “I think I like that.”
“You may not like it when you hear what you have to do.”
“I take it this is something only I can do then?”
“I’m afraid so. I am also presuming your reputation as Servus’ enemy goes beyond the Simians.”
“Oh I should hope so. I’d be disappointed if it didn’t.” He grinned, “So tell me this plan of yours.”
Photo By Childzy at en.wikipedia CC:By-SA/GFDL from Wikimedia Commons
I outlined my thoughts over the next hour or so, fine-tuning them as Augustus told me more about the Reptilia king. To my surprise he told me the Reptilia were ruled not by a Tyrannosaur or other fierce-looking dinosaur but by an old giant tortoise called Sapie. Apparently, being one of the older factions, the Reptilia considered experience to be greater than strength. This made me feel better because for this plan to work I needed the Reptilia king to be able to see the wisdom of my request.
As Augustus prepared to leave I asked him one last question. “In the King’s chamber you first advised me not to touch the Container because I didn’t know what it might do to me. Then later you told me to open it anyway.”
“Which you did, I note.” he said.
“Yes, I didn’t really think about it I suppose but why warn me and then tell me to do it anyway?”
“The warning was not for your ears. Sharif was near and I wanted him to report to Servus that we believed in the magic of the Container. Once he had left to make his report, I knew it was safe to touch the Container.”
“So you don’t believe in the magic?”
“Oh yes I do but I know that this Container doesn’t work like the one you touched at the zoo.”
“Yes, several copies of the Container were made and dispatched to the human world with instructions that any child matching the prophecy was to be given the box. You’ll recall that nothing happened to Titan when he touched it, only to you.”
“I hadn’t thought of that.” I said.
“That’s because the magic in those boxes only works for humans not apes. The magic in the Container only works when it is complete. Once it is complete. Once the last piece falls into place the magic will work.”
“What will happen to Titan and the others if I succeed? Will they be stranded on Earth?”
He nodded. “They always knew it was a one-way ticket. There are other copies made by other factions too. Across your world are numerous copies of the Container waiting for the right child to touch them. Once that child does they would be whisked to the appropriate faction.”
“So in a way it’s pure luck that I ended up here?”
“Probably. I have no doubt that King Sapie will have placed his own Container copy at the same zoo. It may be our good fortune that you passed the ape-house before the reptile-house. Now I must go.” He stood and placed one large hand on my shoulder. He may have been old but it was only then I realised he still had immense strength. “My lad, you have been a revelation to me. My one regret is that I will not see you again when this is over.”
“I will not forget you Augustus and thank you.”
He turned and started to leave. Just as he did, he looked back at me and said “Remember, when the last piece falls into place. Timing will be everything.” I nodded and he left.
The next morning I arrived at the throne room. Servus enquired after Augustus and I simply told him that the chimp would join us at the battle itself. So we set off for the battle hall. This involved even more climbing and swinging. My arms were tired and at one point I thought I was going to lose my grip. Fortunately a gorilla grabbed me and swung me onto her back. I clung for dear life as we swooped and swung across the halls. Finally we reached the great battle hall and I gasped.
The corridor opened into a huge chamber, bigger than a sports stadium and filled with similar seating and stands on either side. The seats and terraces were filled with an array of creatures: not all of which I recognised. I was escorted by Servus to a boxed seating area on the left. As I walked I could hear the whooping and cheering stop in an instant to be replaced by muttering, pointing and then even more noise. At first I was confused by all this until I realised I was the only human in the room.
Eventually I was led to a large platform overlooking one end of the battle arena. I gazed across the patterned floor and then looked to the corresponding platform at the opposite end. There sat a single figure. It was Augustus who would be acting as general for the Reptilia. I would do the same for the Simians. Our jobs would be to direct the battle. I couldn’t quite see his eyes but, as I looked at him, Augustus nodded.
A fanfare sounded and through two side doors marched the warriors for each side. Servus looked proud and grand leading his army into the arena. Behind him came a large female gorilla, followed by two of the orangutan advisers I saw at the throne room. These in turn were followed by two squat chimpanzees and finally two smaller gorillas. Finally came eight tamarin with long arms. Beside them came the Reptilia led of course by Sapie and another - I presumed female - giant tortoise, then came two velociraptors, two komodo dragons and two triceratops. At the back of this column came eight geckos. Servus looked at me and then at my opposing general. He roared when he saw it was Augustus.
“So your treachery really does know no bounds my old tutor!” he shouted. Augustus simply nodded back.
The two sides took their positions, each warrior moving to their own designated space. A large gong sounded and a mouse, in elaborate robes, strode, purposefully into the centre of the battle arena.
“This is the last, this is the final. Here it ends!” the mouse spoke with a surprisingly loud voice. The crowd stood and cheered. The noise was deafening. The mouse held up its staff and the crowd hushed itself.
“At last we come to these two. On the white side: the Reptilia!”
Another cacophony of noise rose as he said this. “On the black: we have , the Simians!” The apes whooped, shrieked and roared. The mouse held its staff aloft again, when the crowd was quiet, it said “Is the white general ready?”
“I am so!” cried Augustus. A gasp and a whisper went around the large hall as the crowd realised who he was. This was nothing in comparison to the silence when the mouse asked if I was ready. I felt like every single eye in the room was focussed on me, mostly because it was true.
“Let the battle commence!” said the mouse and it turned and walked off the arena.
I looked at the desk in front of me, on it was a perfect replica of the battle below. Each warrior represented by a carved wooden piece and placed in a corresponding position on a replica of the chequered arena floor. I glanced at Augustus. As the general on the white side he would make the first move. This is why the word “battle” was not really accurate for this event. The two generals took turns to move warriors into positions which they believed would gain them an advantage. There were six class of warriors on each side and each class was restricted in how they could move across the floor. As I moved a corresponding piece on my replica the warrior would move below me. I looked down at my warriors and as I did Servus caught my eye.
“Do not fail me now boy!” he roared.