Of all mankind’s mistakes, teaching monkeys gunnery must be amongst the worst, for a Macaque with a cannon is a masterless beast and a Gibbon with a gun makes their own rules.
So it came to be, and still remains, in the butterfly-haunted Monkey Mountains, where the black-throated chuckling thrushes never rest, for they are shocked in droves from the branches of the banyan trees by the blasting of cannons the cracks of jezails and sad nocturnal grenados of the Bomb-Lorises. A saltpetre pandemonium silenced only by the roaring of the rainstorms that wet the powder and cool the tempers of the maddened monkey masters in their crumbling forts.
None know now who first induced in monkeys the capacity and desire for black-powder war, but for as long as memory recalls the primate population of the monkey mountain range has shared these things;
- That they speak, and think in at least a rudimentary way, at least to the equivalent of a private soldier.
- That they war against each other in clades and clans.
- that they respect, as a medium of Ares and a language of death only black powder and the high velocity round.
Gunpowder is a weapon, in some ways, quite poorly adapted for the Monkey Mountains. The hills themselves are steep, the valleys dark, the land bulging and cutting away like bad cursive script. The air is often humid and battered by clattering monsoons that pound the skies with yellow lightning and slash the trees with thick bright carving knives of warm and heavy rain. In these periods the masters of the monkey forts rest comatose, playing cards and smoking opium from Yoon-Suin, nodding in their hammocks and oiling their guns, picking lice from each others fur, waiting for the veil of rain to rise and for the wars to start again.
The Monkey Mountains are dominated by the Banyan tree, dense dark forests of strangling figs in which a single plant can send down hanging roots over hundreds of yards. The Banyan cannot grow alone, it surrounds another tree and slowly strangles it until it dies, leaving the winding banyan branches curled around a hollow column where the dead tree was.
Spirits, and eld-things of multiple sorts are often caught within the columns of these hollow trees for complex reasons of their own. Never listen to a voice coming from within a Banyan tree.
Once, the forests of the monkey mountains must have been dominated by another kind of plant, in the same way, it's unlikely that the monkey warlords built their own forts of red brick and terracotta demon-faced tile, but now only the parasite remains, the hollow root-trunks of the Banyan highlighting the ghosts of the annihilated species of trees and the piratical and proud monkey masters living in the ruined forts, themselves often so raddled by siege that they are only held together by the banyan roots looping through their walls like tying twine.
While the dense and knotted forest is more accessible to monkeys than to men, it still severely restricts the useful range of a black-powder weapon and makes transporting mortars, cannon and heavy siege artillery an absolute nightmare. This makes melee, guerrilla tactics, stealth and a defensive strategy the natural mode of combat for the environment, and all of this is ignored by the mad monkey masters who insist on forcing columns of gibbons and macaques through the dripping forest, desperately dragging bronze cannon up and down the valleys to batter down each others walls.
When these tactics inevitably fail and the field breaks down into a mad skirmish of pistols, bayonets and derringers concealed in hats, the winning warlord abducts the abandoned cannon and then tries to exactly the same thing that their opponent just tried; siege warfare in a jungle, with monkeys as troops.
It makes sense to the monkeys at least, for them simply having cannon is a confirmation of status.
The economy of the monkey mountains runs on the Tapa tree, or paper mulberry, an extremely useful plant whose roots make rope, whose bark makes cloth whose leaves and fruits are edible and which is often used as medicine. Most crucially, its inner bark can be used to make a fine paper.
Small communities of human beings live in almost-hidden villages in the valleys of the mountains, they subsist of hunting (with bow and arrow only), low-level agriculture, the products of the forest, like the figs of the banyan, from eating wasps attracted to the figs and from the tapa tree.
The rituals of ownership for each tree are complex and contested, each trunk is claimed by a particular family, the branches go to certain relatives and the twigs or third-stage branches are 'gifts' traded to still-poorer relatives. In this way, each tree is a tiny feudal system and the exact laws of inheritance and descent are argued over with some ferocity, (although never with guns).
The cutting and processing of the Tapa tree provides wealth for the villages and the Monkey Warlords take a chunk of this for their 'tapa tax'. It is this tax which pays for the gunpowder and guns the monkeys love and this is pretty much all it pays for since the monkeys want few other manufactured goods.
Each village comes under the feudal rule of a monkey master in a monkey fort who ‘protects’ them from any other nearby monkey master
Those beyond the Monkey Mountains think that having a monkey for a lord must be pretty terrible, in fact, the Monkeys are extremely lassiez faire, having almost no interest in human culture beyond the tapa tax and gun manufacture, they leave almost everything up to the local authorities of each village who do their best to replicate the byzantine structures of hierarchy, ritual and oppression which they would usually get from an aristocracy for free.
The lord of the local monkey fort does insist that their guns be adored, especially the almost-immovable field artillery, which the human villagers are happy to do.
The monkey mountains are made from primordial coral reefs, increasing the complexity of the often Karstic terrain providing dramatic overhangs, deep creeks, disappearing streams and occasional caves. Rumours of lost cave systems are much more common than the real thing. The caves are often inhabited by Black Bearded Tomb Bats, which is the actual, real name of that species. Sometimes ancient sea shells and the curls of old aquatic snails can be found as a natural part of the bedrock, turning up in the soil of the forest floor.
The air is full of floods of black and gold butterflies, almost half a foot wide, black-throated chuckling thrushes which sound like you just said something funny, and of the banyan wasps that eat the banyan fruit and sting everyone, but which are also delicious.
(By ancient law the pirate contracts of the Crab-Man-Clans of the Selenium Isles can only be signed on paper made from the nests of wasps and the best paper from the best wasps comes from the Banyan wasps of the Monkey Mountains, so if you see Crab-Man Pirates in the hills they are usually here for that.)
Katkins and caustic fruit come from the various trees and at night Masked Civets hunt, dodging the Bomb-Lorises and often spraying unwitting wanderers with their terrible skunk-musk.
To this of course we must add the numerous spirits, memories and ghost goblins trapped in the tubular Banyan trees. Better not to interact with those.
THE MONKEYS THEMSELVES
Most of the monkeys of the monkey mountains are either rock Macaques, who prefer derringers and pistols, and white-handed Gibbons who like Jezails, easy for them to reload due to their long arms.
Lone, nocturnal Bomb-Lorises exclusively use grenades with extremely long, silent, smokeless fuses. The Lorises are slow and cannot throw, their medium of combat is a form of 'grenade sniping' in which each Loris will try to predict the movements of the other and move them into position directly next to a pre-placed grenade. This is an extremely subtle and strategic form of warfare (more akin to submarine war than anything else) and the night is often shaken by the explosions of the duelling Bomb-Lorises.
A small number individual apes have reached the Monkey Mountains over the years, some Chimpanzees, a handful of Gorillas and a small breeding population of Orangutans, these are often taught to speak by the monkeys and given heavy deck-guns, muskets or blunderbusses or used to drag cannon and mortars through the forest, but they do not occupy a commanding position in Monkey society (it is the Monkey Mountains after all, not the Ape Mountains).
The nature of the Monkey Master ruling the local fort will tell you something about their tactics
A Master-Macaque will prize the frontal assault, pulling his mortars to within close range of the enemy fort, distracting the defenders with skirmishing attacks.
A Class 1 Gibbon (they compete endlessly at marksmanship) prefers to duel at range and tries to take a strategic position dominating the enemy before pounding them with bronze cannon.
An Autarchic Bomb-Loris plays a deadly and almost-invisible game of feint and counter-feint in which the political and strategic are inextricably linked, all simply elements of a master plan as it unfolds, designed to trick their opponent into a vulnerable position before they are decapitated.
The forts of the Monkey Mountains have seen better days. They are built of red brick and spattered with gunshot marks, banyan trees infest the revetments and writhe through the walls. Statues of red stone stand before many of the forts and all the statues have been worn down and effaced by time
they might be of anything, men, monkeys, or monsters.
The forts were once highly rational, many were star-forts, where space allowed, but most of the outer walls are now abandoned and the forest has reclaimed what it can. Inside, the buildings are a mess, but all of the rooms dedicated to gunpowder and weaponry are well-kept with neatly repaired roofs and safety lanterns
The tiles of all the forts are red terracotta and each one has a demons face which grins silently up at the phosphorescent day stars visible from the Monkey Mountains, and the felt-tip-yellow lightening and at the storms which send water spewing from each gaping terracotta mouth.