@Hl_Blue, here’s the gong. Roll.
“The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive-tree, Reign thou over us.
But the olive-tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honor God and man, and go to wave to and fro over the trees?” (Biblical quote)
Spring was here. We the children seeds all felt it. Locked beneath the soil surface for the cold months of winter, we each had plotted our strategies and revenge for the next cycle of life. There was no total victory in the struggle in each round, just winners and losers, honor and disgrace. And the result of each cycle fight depended massively on time, chance, and how wily each plant species could be. I was regarded as the rightful king, but that meant nothing to my scheming cousins. In fact, being the king just meant you were the one everyone tried to topple. A most tiresome occupation but what could I do? This was my destiny. Thrust upon me by millions of years of natural selection, pushed onto me from multiple thousands of my predecessors before me. I was the acorn, the oak-apparent.
There could not be any waiting for the soil to soften. We broke ground at the first possible chance, little saplings reaching for the sun in the immortal race for survival. As the acorn I grew among the fastest, interlinking roots with my siblings for strength and playing my politics well with the other creatures of our habitat. The insects found me welcoming as usual. I was the prime choice for raising their eggs to larvae, then pupae then adult butterflies, moths, roaches, grasshoppers and all what not. Did they know I inflicted a weak poison to keep them from their intended plan for world domination in the next thousand millennia? I think not. If they did, they might take their young elsewhere. But I needed them here. To attract the birds who would pick off majority of the infant worms for food and give me the chance to spread my seed far and wide in their feathers. All this while, I reached for the forest top, not looking back, establishing myself once more as king of the English forest in record time. This was already taken for granted by everyone and thus was no new source of pride. The crucial battles of pride lay just ahead.
The rattan sneered at my straight, unwavering growth toward the heavens. He preferred a more twisted path and waited for me to establish my domain and water and food supply network. He did not take me on directly, but went first for my immediate younger sibling a safe distance away. (Though we were all royal, I was given respect among my siblings as the one to have the last say on decisions affecting our survival as a species). I watched in pain as my brother ignored Rattan’s first feeble attempts to wrap his arms around his sturdy stem. Did he realize that those half-hearted attempts were just reconnaissance missions to develop antidotes against the poisons we oaks were feared for? I think not, for I observed the youthful arrogance with which he brushed off Lord Rattan’s wily advances. But when the time came, the wry thorny tendril-hands of Rily Rattan wrapped round the young arrogant oak’s trunk and held fast, adding a climbing loop each month as my brother fought back in futility with all the toxins known to the oak family.
Rattan formed no leaves in the early stage of his conquest, drawing solely from the resources of the supple oak. However, near the crest of the forest treeline he put out his wicked leaves as triumphant sign that the days of dependence on his host were numbered. I knew this was true and mourned my brother’s young foolishness. The memories locked in my subconscious by my preceding king oaks were the reason I was king and not he. Still it was painful to watch as my brother’s stem was strangled, mangled and ruthlessly dispatched by the wiles of the grasping climber-pretender. Within decades, the oak was dead, and Rattan’s hollow, circular profile was the sole negative evidence of the greatness that was once an oak. But Rattan would not stop there. He set his sights on another fair oak to maintain his greedy appetite, which he could not sustain on his own – my sister Laila.
I chose not to stand by this time. My subjects would be manipulated to fight for me, for the oaks. I summoned the fungi from my root network to work their damage from below while the slave orchids would float their misty seeds up to the vulnerable tendrils of the Rattan usurper. I hoped when they got to the destination of their errand they would not be diverted by the superior sweetness of my sister instead of suffocating the enemy. Well, I had my backup plans if that scenario presented itself. I was king after all. But Rattan would grow stronger if he kept falling over from one strangled oak to the next, and when his confidence was great enough he would come for me. Then it would be up to me to defend the last shreds of our dignity. It was the king’s burden.
The battle was on for my sister’s existence already. The wild orchids displayed angry patterns of bloom right at the tips of Lord Rattan’s budding shoots. He allowed them grow unhindered but diverted supplies of water from their growth spouts. They sprang up in premature glee and soon learned the bitter lessons of biting the scrawny shoots that fed them. Exposed to the harsh summer sun, they withered even faster than they had grown. For the poisonous fungi, Rattan deployed his anti-cellulose poisons. The fool didn’t care that these little subversionists were neither plant nor animal and would not be affected by such mean weapons. The final victim was my sister ironically. She fell to these poisonous toxins intended for the fungi at her root base and began to die faster than Rattan could have killed her. To all appearances, she looked healthy right up to the end of the second year after the attack, when she suddenly came to an end, suddenly succumbing to a disease for which she had no answer. So it happened that by sending my minions against Lord Rattan, I had only sped up the death of the sister I sought to protect. These marks on my conscience were silently recorded for posterity, to be added to the annals of wisdom for the next oak king. Yes, I was already thinking of the time after my demise. It was the king’s burden.
The swift death of Laila worked in my favor in an unexpected way. Rattan’s confidence was now cocky and careless as he turned his sights on me, seeking to topple me as king of the English forest. This was premature because his short stay on Laila had not allowed him gather the necessary resources to put up a good fight. I wasn’t planning to win this fight in any obvious way. The results of my strategy would come to light in the next generation, where they would be praised after my passing to the glorious annals of the oakdom.
While Rattan extended his taunting tendrils to my branches I silently began the massive acorn shedding that would ensure the dominance of the next generation of oaks. I would be bowing out without a fight but winning in the biggest possible way. The war, not the battle, was important. My friend the Mountain Ash was cooperative. Having grown side by side (tens of metres apart in human measurements) since we were young aspirants for stardom, we had retained our bond over the centuries. He was always the faster grower, caring nothing for stability and honor as I did, fighting no one along the way, and reaching greater heights faster than I did. When I eventually caught up, he had already begun tiring of sustaining his massive height with his hastily but poorly developed root base and was ready for the thrill of the next life cycle. Rather than topple and fall in disgrace, he subscribed to my plan for a new world. The plan was not new to me (the memories of my fathers had served me well) but to him it was a novelty. His loss of memory with each generation made this ancient, time-tested strategy an exciting new adventure for him. And so my plan was perfected.
The flammable oils were stored in Ash’s bark and stem for the next twenty years. He became the standing incendiary waiting for the slightest spark to trigger the massive forest fire that would wipe out the entire kingdom, save the new children seeds that would begin the new life world after the next autumn – winter – spring cycle. Of course Rattan was gloriously unaware of this plot, thinking I had surrendered when I allowed him wrap his thorny arms around my trunk and branches, without fighting back with my oak poisons. And so he grew and squeezed tighter, not bothering to invest in seeding, thinking he would reign supreme after the oaks had been put under total humiliation and subjection. Pfft! The oaks did not get through millennia of dominance by such wilted reasoning.
The bright autumn day finally presented itself. The dried undergrowth and leaves at the forest floor were ready and waiting for the spark that would cause the meltdown of life as we knew it. The shattered bottle piece to concentrate the sun rays at the point of ignition had been adequately positioned for this very moment. The Mountain Ash was ready to supply the fuel to blaze through the entire forest and leave no trace of plant life. We would not die. We would be reborn as seeds, only without Rattan’s evil spawn. When the fire spark began, he was the most troubled of all the forest inhabitants. His impending win was being cancelled by this ultimate referee that cared not for distinction or name in its mindless destruction. Of course, I was the reason behind this madness but he would know only at the last possible second. While all the plants and trees cried in anguish I remained silent and resolute. I had saved the last acorn for now. As the new oak-apparent, he had to have as many memories from this life as possible, up to the very last possible moment. It was only when I let him drop that Rattan finally realized what had been going on for the last twenty years. Nay, hundreds of years, if the thoughts in my mind were included. The fires engulfed our entwined bodies as we writhed in pain from the heat of the flames. It felt strange to burn to death. It was calming, torturing, welcoming. As for Rattan, having no previous life memories made this the worst possible torture he had ever experienced. He writhed all the way down to the bitter end. His last wry smile of acknowledgement of my wisdom and the greatness of my clan species was all I needed to be satisfied that this fight for the rulership of the English forest had been totally worth it.
IT GOES ON! ON RANDOMLY, MUSE-DIRECTED SCHEDULE. WATCH OUT!
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