Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Chapter Eleven

The Wildlands are awash with noise.

The animals shout over one another, roaring and growling and hissing and snarling. A few yards from Council Rock, a cackle of hyenas snicker amongst themselves, amused by the din. They realize they are adding to the problem, and laugh even harder.

Only one lion remains silent. He watches the proceedings from afar with half-lidded, contemptuous eyes. "Let them bicker," he bitterly muses to himself. Real leadership, he knows, is understated.

Finally, Hathi, the chief of the elephants, trumpets a powerful, angry blast that carries on for several seconds. It surprises them all, even Shere Khan, into silence, until only the echo lives on.

"We must retreat!" says the elephant.

Shere Khan hisses in disgust. "We must fight!"

Hathi looks down at the great tiger; he is one of the few in the Wildlands who is not threatened by the striped killer. "You saw what happens when we fight them. We add to their ranks, make them stronger!"

"We cannot leave the Wildlands," says the King of the Lions. He knows all too well what happens when one abandons one’s home. "This is our land, not theirs. And where would we go? Through the Doorway? To the Land of Men?"

This slight does not go unnoticed by the gorillas. They grunt their displeasure, and the Man, their leader, calmly stalks forward. The animals murmur as he walks past, but they do so quietly.

"As Hathi has said,” says the Man in his low voice, “we've seen what happens when we fight the invaders." He turns from the Council and looks into the eyes of the other animals: wolves, apes, bears, lions, warthogs.

"One bite, one scratch is as deadly as the cobra's venom. If we could, I would suggest that we fight them above, from the trees…"

The hyenas giggle, but the Man ignores them.

"But already the Bandar-log and their king have been taken into their fold, and even in death, they are unsurpassed in climbing."

"They must have a weakness we can exploit," says the King of the Lions.

"Bah!" hisses Shere Khan. "Their weakness is that they are weak. One swipe of my claw, they will fall." He slashes at a nearby tree, leaving white, moist, deep gashes in the bark.

"There is no need for dramatics, Khan," says Hathi in a condescending tone. "They do not die like normal, good animals. They will fight on, even though their spines be trampled and their bodies torn limb from limb."

"There must be some weakness…" repeats the King of the Lions.

Unnoticed by all, the bitter lion fades back into the darkness of the jungle.

"Weakness or not, is it worth risking all of our lives?" The elephant looks around at the cluster of animals, particularly the young. "Those who can defend the Wildlands will do so, but those who cannot, we mustn't ask them to waste their lives in suicide."

The cluster shouts back – many are too proud to give up their land, or at least do not want to be seen as weak. Others bark and howl in agreement with Hathi.

Absent from the noise is the raucous laughter of the hyenas. They, too, have abandoned Council Rock.

Off to the side, one small voice in the crowd does not concern itself with the squabbling of the Council. He tugs at the paw of the sleepy gray bear. "Baloo?"

Baloo looks at the man cub. "What is it, Mowgli?"

"What about red fire?"

"What about it?"

"Maybe the invaders would fear red fire. Everything fears red fire."

Baloo thinks about it for a moment, then slowly smiles.