Once, the monkeys did not have a kingdom and they wanted one. They saw that men had kingdoms and so long as men stayed in those kingdoms they weren’t eaten by tigers and monsters, most of the time. That was enough for Udi, leader of the monkeys, to convince the others that having a kingdom was a good idea, but he had no idea how to go about getting one.
“The frogs have a kingdom,” said Suspi, the leader’s friend. “Let’s ask them how they got it.”
Every monkey in the jungle followed Udi and Suspi to the marsh, a steaming bog that lay between many other nations, and found the frogs’ kingdom. A crane stood on a log at the center of the frog land, preening his feathers, and he noticed too late that he was surrounded by several hundred monkeys.
“I must warn you, before you try eating me, that I can spear out many eyes before those eyes can blink.”
“We’re not here for food,” Suspi said. “We’re here for advice from the frog king.”
“That is me,” the crane said to the many, many confused monkeys. “The frogs made me their king and so I have ruled, and ruled well.”
“The frogs would have another as their king?” Udi asked.
“They asked the gods for a king and so I came. Listen. You’ll hear no complaints.”
The monkeys listened. Udi heard not a croak. “That’s very well for frogs, but we want a kingdom ruled by us, as men are ruled by men.”
“And it shouldn’t be a swamp,” Suspi said. “Don’t you have any good advice?”
The crane, fearing his reign was near its end if he didn’t placate the monkeys, thought the same. “Three things are needed to have a kingdom,” the tall bird said. “Land, an army, and a king. Now, you’ll want your land to be far from my kingdom—no sense hugging borders. You’ll want room to expand.”
Udi, Suspi, and all the rest nodded. This made sense.
“In fact, I know just the place. Look up.”
The monkeys looked. An enormous storm cloud had nearly rolled over the marsh and covered the quiet frog kingdom in shadow.
“That’s no ordinary storm,” the crane explained. “Up there you’ll find the realm of a sky giant, called a strom. Rolling crop fields, a great castle, and the land will grow with more clouds.”
“But how will we take it from a giant?” Udi asked.
“That’s enough,” Suspi said. “You don’t want advice on trickery from a bird, do you? We can fix that part up ourselves. All we needed was kingdom knowledge and we got it.”
Udi and the others thanked the crane and left the marsh before the giant’s cloud hid all the sky. They had much work to do. First, they had to reach the cloud. Many fallen trees and fallen branches were gathered, and their pieces were kept together by a monkey hugging every segment. Soon the monkeys erected a narrow tower and those who weren’t holding it ascended to the cloud.
The monkeys marveled at crops taller than any jungle tree and a castle too large to see all at once. Udi and Suspi quickly collected themselves and focused on the castle’s dark entrance where they would surely find the giant.
“How will we trick the monster?” Udi asked his friend.
“Simply send him off on some fool errand,” Suspi said. “Same as you’d trick any man bigger than a monkey.” He began hooting and screeching into the castle’s opening, and his noise would’ve echoed like a thousand monkey calls even without a thousand monkeys’ doing the same behind him.
The giant appeared swiftly, a great, horned beast with shaggy hair covering his legs and crawling up his chest and back. A grim scowl had been chiseled into his face long ago and looked immovable as a mountain. “What vermin dare disturb the great Kethral while he sleeps?” the strom giant asked.
“We bring happy tidings!” Suspi called. “Am I to believe a fine man—I mean, giant like yourself is not wed or is not averse to a second wife.”
“There is no wife here,” the giant said, and Suspi pounced on the tiniest speck of pain woven into those words.
“Well, that’s all about to change! A princess has fallen deeply in love with you. She could not stop gazing at your cloud as it passed her kingdom. She called for you to take her away, but you slept through her pleas. So she sent us, who owe her a favor. How fortunate you are, to be loved by one so sweet and fair.”
Kethral’s scowl remained, but a happy glint appeared in his eyes. “Tell me where she is.”
Suspi could not have given a more mangled set of directions, including so many left turns, mountain passes, and variations on what a compass would tell you that the giant rightfully should’ve found himself on another world entirely. Off he went just the same, and if his cloud didn’t rumble so loudly with thunder, he would’ve heard the cackling of a thousand monkeys behind him.
“We have the land!” Udi shouted. “We have a kingdom. And by the time that sky giant guesses the lie, we’ll have moved far away.”
“That was the idea, but we do not have a kingdom yet,” Suspi said. “We need an army, and our followers are no army yet because they are not armed. We need men’s tools.”
“Then let’s ask the crane again.” Udi and Suspi descended the bridge between land and sky, praising each monkey on the way down, and returned to the marsh where they found the crane again. “We have the giant’s cloud,” Udi said. “What’s next?”
The crane thought of a next step. “The best place to fetch weapons for your army would be a kingdom of men. Then you’ll need a king.”
Udi pounded his little, hairy chest. “The monkeys have already made me the leader. I believe they’ll elect me as king.”
“A king is not elected,” the crane said. “A king is born, or chosen by the gods, or wins his throne by blood.”
“Those last two sound difficult,” Suspi said. “How can Udi be born as a king?”
“He can’t, but he can stake his claim as king if he will cause a king to be born.”
Suspi asked how that was made so and the crane told him. Then he and Udi thanked the bird, ascended the monkey bridge once more, and addressed the monkeys on the cloud.
“Next we march to a kingdom in the east, where our army will be armed,” Suspi said. “Then we will make Udi a king once we’ve stolen his bride—a human princess!” The monkeys hooted and screeched with glee.
Half of Udi’s followers went with Suspi and half remained with him to begin appropriating the castle and rummaging through the crops. “The princess will expect a royal home,” Udi told them. “We cannot disappoint her.” The monkeys did their best to gather food, though they knew not how to cook, and to select a room for the princess, though it was large enough for a giant.
At last, Suspi returned, having made a perilous climb up the bridge of monkeys with weapons and a wriggling, weeping princess in tow. They set her before the castle, guarded by dagger-wielding monkeys, and then Suspi surprised everyone.
“I no longer serve Udi.” The monkeys who’d remained on the cloud gasped and screeched. “I am in love with the princess. I will marry her and be king.”
Udi hooted. “You were not chosen as king. You think she’ll have you?”
“Let’s ask her.”
The monkeys asked. The princess screamed and in the screams one might have discerned that she wouldn’t marry a monkey. Both Udi and Suspi understood this.
“There’s only one recourse,” Suspi said. “I’ll become a man.”
“How will you do this?” Udi asked.
“By acting like one.” All the monkeys watched with fascination as Suspi tore the giant’s curtains into rags and robes to dress himself in, stood up straight as he could, and then took a dagger to his fur and shaved all the hair from his body. When the hairless, raggedy animal approached the princess, grinning as men do, the princess screamed even louder and covered her eyes.
Suspi’s heart and resistant will broke at that moment and Udi knew it. “Forget courting this creature,” Udi said to the would-be groom. “She doesn’t deserve you.”
“What if we found a witch and a spell that would turn her into a monkey?” Suspi asked.
“What if we forget about this princess and find another one—a hairier one.”
Suspi agreed. The stolen princess was removed from the cloud so no one would have to hear her screaming anymore and then Suspi led another party of monkeys in search of a bride to the future monkey king, promising not to fall in love this time. “I doubt anyone would have me as I look now anyway.”
The wait was longer this time and Udi began to wonder just what a king did once he won his kingdom. In the jungle, he never ran out of fun things to do—chasing insects, hopping between trees, tossing stones at larger animals that couldn’t climb. “Of course, I’m not a king yet,” he said to himself. “When I am, all will be different. There will be delegating and ruling and wars, exactly as it is for the man kings.”
He heard Suspi’s group returning then in a cacophony of shrieks and gurgling cries. Many monkeys scrambled over the edge of the cloud, some trampled by others, and a naked one caught Udi’s eye. “Run, Udi!” Suspi shouted. “Run from the princess!”
Udi scratched his head. “I should run from my bride?”
“More than you’ve ever feared anything in your entire life!” Suspi shoved his friend into the castle and the dying screams of monkeys followed them. “She’s already here!” The two hurried up to a high window where several others had gathered to hide. “We heard there was a princess in the hills far away and we searched for her, but when we tried to take her, she tried to take us instead!”
A horrid, lurching mass burst through the castle entrance at that moment and Udi’s eyes bled tears at the stench. The princess was no human, but a trollop, and en enormous one, daughter to a troll king from lands far away. Seven half-eaten monkeys dangled from her teeth, ten uneaten ones screamed and swung by their tails from her fists, and forty-four all-eaten monkeys lingered in her stomach, where there was room for more.
“I smell more man-shaped rats,” the trollop said. “Why not come see me? I’ve not yet had my fill.”
A few monkeys actually went to see her, and though she ate them, she remained unsatisfied. Neither Udi nor Suspi dared move. “What kind of princess is this?” Udi asked.
“A hairy one,” Suspi said.
“There are other requirements to being a good princess besides being hairy. Now we’re trapped here!”
“I’d bet my tail that a king could make her leave,” Suspi said. “That’s the point of kings—to get things done.” He looked earnestly at Udi.
“I’m not a king yet,” Udi said.
“Then we’ll make you one. The crane said the gods could choose you. Let’s get their attention.”
The surviving monkeys perched on the window stood up and began hooting and screeching at the sky. Puffy clouds passed slowly through the heavens, ignorant of the monkeys’ plight, but the creatures went on calling anyway, hoping some god, any god, would see their merit and pronounce Udi a king by divine right.
This went on for days. The calls grew louder as the monkeys’ desperation grew deeper, until one morning when their hooting and screeching overcame the sound of thunder on the cloud of their kingdom, and suddenly a grounded sky giant knew where to find his home. He stomped through jungle and marsh, batted away the bridge of monkeys, and hauled himself up to the cloud by his own giant arms.
“I searched and searched for the princess,” Kethral boomed. “I followed your directions forward, backward, all around, and then I couldn’t find home to ask you them again. What monster gives a lonely giant the promise of love and then steals it away?”
Just then, the troll princess emerged from the castle entrance. You may not believe in love at first sight, but long ago when giants and trolls roamed the land, such things were possible. Were you to scour all of recorded time, you would not find a couple who fell in love so quickly with eyes so large as that giant and that troll. And if you ever doubted the power of love, you would’ve only needed to see them kissing, and once your stomach ceased heaving, you would understand that compared to Kethral and his troll princess, even what you thought were the most romantic of couples could scarcely be called affectionate at all.
Udi and Suspi guessed this was their chance to escape while the lovers’ eyes remained locked. They led the last of their followers from the window and out of the castle, only to find they had no means of returning to the ground.
And then they heard terrible words. “I am hungry,” said the troll princess. “Hungry for small, hairy creatures.”
“Then I’ll fetch some for you,” the strom told her, and his big hands swept up a dozen monkeys at a time. Many scurried into the crops, where they would hide, quiet as could be. Udi and Suspi understood their place in all this and instead fell on their knees, for if the giant wed a princess, he would someday birth a king, and was thus a king himself. The monkeys didn’t know if they would live or die, but they had set about finding a king for themselves, and so one was found.
Far below, in the frog kingdom, the crane preened his feathers in the marsh. He’d heard the monkeys’ clamoring recently, but when the noise died down, he guessed they had their king. Kings had that effect on their subjects, as the crane knew well from experience. Not a hoot, not a screech—he heard not a sound.