Monkey Wars

When Rhesus monkeys are massacred by Langur monkeys, Mico's life is changed for ever. As he becomes entangled in the secrets that lie at the heart of the Langur leadership, he realizes that choosing between right and wrong will not be as easy as he thought…

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1. BATTLE STATIONS (Extract from Chapter 15)

Soames snorted with laughter.

 

“I get it! Good one … very good.” And still chuckling, he popped a couple more juniper berries into his mouth.

 

His friend, Morton, looked up quizzically. He’d told Soames the joke yesterday, and he’d only just got it? Morton shook his head. Good job they weren’t in a hurry. But then the Bonnet Macaques were never in a hurry, especially in the afternoons.

 

For as long as any of them could remember it had been their custom to gather when the shadows of the trees reached the crumbling walls, and take juniper berries on the Great Lawn. It was one of those traditions that made the Troop feel calmly in control of its destiny.

 

Morton and Soames were the leaders of the Bonnets. Getting on in years, they weren’t particularly bright or agile, but they had an aristocratic bearing that commanded respect.

 

“Hot one today,” mumbled Soames as he chewed.

 

“Blistering,” replied Morton.

 

“Maybe it’ll be cooler tomorrow.”

 

“Maybe.”

 

Not the thrusting talk of dynamic leaders, but Morton and Soames didn’t need to be. They were really only guardians of tradition.

 

Many generations ago the Bonnets had stumbled into the City as refugees and battled their way up the pecking order. Being courageous fighters, it wasn’t long before they controlled a very desirable patch – the old Ambassador’s Palace, which had fallen into dilapidation.

 

“Fancy a stroll after Berries?” suggested Soames.

 

“Why not?” agreed Morton. “Be nice to have a shufti of the old spread.”

 

They said that every afternoon, but they never actually got round to doing it – too much effort in the heat. Which was a pity, because it was a lovely area – the Bonnets had free run of the gardens from the Hooghly River in the west to Market Junction in the east, encircled by a wall that added an air of exclusivity. At the centre of the gardens was the old residence, which had been the Bonnets’ main dwelling until a series of harsh Monsoons brought the roof down and the monkeys decamped to the Summer-house in the middle of the Great Lawn.

 

The name “Summer-house” implied an unassuming building but there was nothing modest about it. Two long wooden halls were laid out in a large “V”; where they met a tower rose up, affording the Bonnets grand views of Kolkata. Punched into the walls were a set of openings that allowed a steady draught through the building; each one had a shutter that could be swung down for security if necessary.

 

But it never was necessary. No one had challenged the Bonnets’ control of this part of the City for a long, long time.

 

Of course, the Troop still sent out patrols to make sure that everyone respected their borders, but deep down, none of the Bonnets ever expected to have to fight to keep what was theirs.

 

It was this invulnerability that was celebrated every afternoon in the sharing of juniper berries.

 

Morton and Soames chewed in silence while they thought of what to say next … when suddenly they heard a voice shouting across the lawns.

 

“Give us a berry, mate!”

 

The Bonnets turned and peered at the far wall, on top of which was perched a single Langur monkey, grinning at them.

 

“Bugger off!” bellowed Soames, expecting the Langur to scamper away.

 

But he didn’t.

 

“There’s always one, isn’t there?” Morton sighed. Soames, however, was feeling irritated that some urchin had defied his authority. “Where’s the patrol? The rascal needs to be taught a lesson.”

 

“Patrol’s not due back till sunset,” replied Morton, scratching his buttock thoughtfully.

 

He didn’t know that the patrol was lying dead in a ditch, having been ambushed by a Langur kill squad.

 

“Ignore the blighter,” counselled Morton. “He’ll soon get bored.”

 

But the Langur monkey didn’t get bored. Instead he crouched on his hind legs and started to defecate down the garden wall.

 

“Good grief!” exclaimed Morton in disgust.

 

Soames stood up, trying to impose his authority, aware that everyone was watching. “Now look here,” he boomed, “this is Bonnet land! I suggest you get your ragged, flea-infested hide off it before I come over there and give you a good thrashing!”

 

But the Langur just grinned back. “You and whose army?”

 

“That’s it!” growled Soames. “Let’s break him in two!”

 

“Pleasure,” said Morton, cracking his knuckles.

 

But just as the Bonnet leaders started striding across the lawn, they heard a strange massed scurrying sound.

 

The Bonnets hesitated. “What was that?”

 

Then suddenly a whole army of Langur monkeys appeared, a menacing presence perched along the entire length of the garden wall like birds of prey.

 

Apprehension gripped the Bonnets.

 

“Stall them,” Morton whispered. “Play for time.”

 

But there was no time left. A couple of terse commands were shouted down the Langur line, and the entire army dropped from the wall and started to advance across the lawns in a single, unbroken line.

 

Panic tore through the Bonnets – females started smacking their lips in their distinctive alarm call; males ran in circles, trying to grab their young; Morton and Soames started thumping their chests furiously, hoping to intimidate the attacking army.

 

But still the Langur line approached, unstoppable, unswerving. It caught up with an elderly monkey and engulfed him – there was a flurry of fists and stones, then a painful, howling scream as the Bonnet fell and the Langurs swarmed over him, biting off his fingers, tearing out his eyeballs.

 

The horror jolted Soames into action. Deep down, buried under years of an easy life, he had a military training, and faced with these brutal killers, the old disciplines clawed their way to the surface.

 

“SIEGE!!!” he roared.

 

The word boomed across the lawns. “SIEGE! Siege! siege…”

 

It echoed off the walls and drilled into the Bonnets’ minds – as one they turned and bolted for the Summer-house.

 

Immediately a roar went up from the Langurs and they surged forward, determined to catch their prey before they reached cover.

 

Some of the Bonnets stumbled in the panic and were quickly set upon and consumed in a frenzy; others were just too slow and made pitifully easy targets for the Elites, who leapt onto their backs and dragged them to the ground, sinking teeth into their necks.

 

Soames reached the Summer-house and spun round, desperately looking for Morton, only to see his old comrade encircled by a group of screeching Langurs.

 

“MORTON!” He wanted to run back and help his friend, but so many Langurs were now streaming across the lawns it would have been suicidal. All Soames could do was watch in horror as they started beating Morton with their clubs, spearing his flesh with fighting sticks.

 

Morton roared his defiance, spun this way and that, flailing with his fists … but it was no use. The flurry of blows rained down on him mercilessly, until he crumpled to the ground.

 

Soames felt physically sick.

 

“Get up! Get up!” he urged, waiting for the moment when Morton would rise onto his legs, flinging his assailants aside … but the moment didn’t come.

 

His oldest friend would never get up again.

 

That was when the fear gripped Soames like a claw in the back of his throat.

 

“IN! IN! IN!” he started thundering at his Troop as they reached the porch of the Summer-house. “Shutters down! Siege positions!”

 

It was all starting to come back to him now – the Bonnets had a plan for this sort of thing; he’d show those upstart Langurs that they were still a force to be reckoned with.

 

As the last Bonnet tumbled into the Summer-house Soames ran inside, heaved the door shut and slid a large beam of wood across the hooks, sealing it. He stormed down the length of the halls helping the others release the catches on the shutters which slammed down to block the open windows. As Soames glanced out across the lawns he saw groups of Langurs gathered round the bodies of fallen Bonnets, beating the last signs of life from them.

 

What made the savagery more terrifying was the Langur discipline – after each kill, soldiers would rejoin the line which was now starting to encircle the Summer-house. They were preparing for a mass attack and Soames knew it would come soon.

 

Slamming the last shutter down, he turned to face the throng of frightened Bonnet eyes that stared at him expectantly. Concentrate. He had to push his own grief to one side; he could deal with that later – when this was all over.

 

“These barbarians will never steal our lands!” Soames boomed. “Look around! Look at the walls that protect us, the Tower that commands the landscape. This is our fortress now! If we have the will to defend this, no one can take it from us!”

 

A wave of relief swept through the Bonnets as they realized their leader knew what he was doing.

 

“They wanted a lightning strike and a quick victory. We’ll give them a long and bloody siege!”

 

A chorus of defiant roars erupted from the Bonnet Macaques. Shock was behind them now, thoughts of defeat driven from every mind. They were ready for war.

 

Soames pulled up the trapdoor in the floor, revealing secret supplies that had lain undisturbed for generations. Many seasons ago, as a young officer, he had been taught about the emergency plans for surviving a siege and now his training was paying off. No matter that the nuts and leaves had all rotted and crumbled, food was the last thing on the Bonnets’ minds. What mattered was weaponry: there were piles of sharp throwing stones, rows of long sticks with lethal points, coils of thornbush bristling with barbs, all stacked in the cellar, ready and waiting.

 

This was an arsenal for warriors. Faded warriors maybe, but Soames knew he could draw on heritage and breeding to win this battle.

 

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