A gumamela blooms under Apolaki’s fumes
Her petals shone of a radiant pink shade
Her leaves swaying along Amihan’s breaths
T’was the birth of a peerless aide
Truth became told
All good things will come to an end
Here comes the days that mend
the living and destroy the corrupted
Chapter 1: The Town Plaza
THERE WERE SCREAMS SURROUNDING THE TOWN PLAZA’S VICINITY AGAIN, this occurred frequently as greed started to envelop Ciudad el Perdido. This time, a dozen locals have been chained with leg irons that are connected on the Commander’s horse. It is mandated for locals who are caught planning to uprise against the Commanders or any high-ranking official to be detained and tortured for a week. According to my cousin, it was the sixth day of the torture and has this feeling that they won’t make it.
I haven’t interacted with a lot of people, they’d think I’m an enchantress who’d jinx them. My eyes and hair were said to be assets. However, not one can explain how I’ve acquired such beauty and so-called dark magic. At age six, I get to heal my relatives but my emotions can turn into a series of misfortunes. I did recall interacting with the village bully who has a pet rabbit, but due to my irritation toward her, the rabbit slowly deformed into a rug- the kid hasn’t uttered a single word to anyone for the rest of her days. Sometimes my moods affect the weather in a specific area. Sometimes it does not. That’s when my mother figured to keep me captive in her own residence, fearing there’ll be chances of being brought to the capital for ‘bearing’ a witch. She swore she shouldn’t have gotten me.
I have been homeschooled up till now. My tiyo and cousin insisted on providing me with an education. Visiting nuns varied from time-to-time, they mostly taught me about what a woman should do in their household. But, I don’t want that, I want more- more knowledge about society, its features and so on. I also want to be like my cousin. She was too smug and powerful enough to get into the Institution. Currently in her third year, she is committed to a course that is in line with being part of the high-ranking officials (and jokes about considering getting into the secular area if she fails). So, I borrowed Ate Eva’s books and began self-learning. The moment I learned how to understand literary texts that are way too complicated for a young girl to understand, the nuns reckoned I’d be the next peerless aide.
I’ve always dreamt of getting into The Institution. Most villagers wanted, in our utmost secrecy, to be in there just for the promising careers and high pays that it can bring them. In contrast, I just want to get in due to the promising educational system present there. Anyways, Ate is currently in her academic break and visited our home. I can clearly see in my mother's eyes that she loves her dearly and is proud of her for getting in there. She threw a large party that night she went home, leaving me with scraps back in my room in the attic. Truth is, my mother isn’t my mother at all. She’s Ate Eva’s mother and I’ve been told that I was brought into their home, at the ripe age of two, from a couple who has committed suicide by the nearby stream in our area. She taught me, though, to call her mother as she named me under the de Dios tree of “documentation”. My supposed sister told me to refer to her as my cousin, so that people wouldn’t question how far we look from each other.
Ate Eva (who now resides in my dream school) decided to finally let me see the light at age sixteen. Actual light and seeing people who’d not treat you like an absolute stranger. Our place is three horse rides away from the Town Plaza. She decided to let me see the capital three days prior to the junior selection period of “The Institution”. She woke me up as her shadow reached above her and told me to wear one of her camisa-and-saya pairs and a panuelo to cover my head. We got out before Tiyo’s pet roosters crow. So, let’s just say that she has sneaked us out of the village without anyone noticing.
Feeling the gusts of freedom, Ate Eva drove a kalesa that she borrowed from The Institution. She was like a mythological figure racing against other prominent figures, all mighty in her chariot. It felt as if we were flying at that point, that it does not feel like a boring 3-horse trip towards the Town Plaza. It took me seven (I think it was more or less 8, I blinked midway our journey so I might have missed one) rice fields and a river to notice the change of style as we headed towards the area.
The people looked civilized, however they looked forlorn. Not as what my teachers mentioned in my younger years, this looks majestic yet busy. Flyers fell from the nearby watchtower, one falling into the hems of my skirt. Picking it up, it was an announcement about the continuation of the torture towards criminals. Criminals? Torture?
“So this is what it feels like to be in the kingdom’s capital, Ate?”, I thought out loud. She turned her head to the side, “Messy”, she says. “Was it always in this state?” I asked her while folding the paper and tucked it in my basket. “It’s a curse, they say”, she mumbles as she whips the stallion’s back- causing the ride to get a little bumpy.
I tried asking about it, but she kept shushing me. If not, she’d ignore me. My dear cousin is as deaf and dead as the capital’s locals.
The cobblestone streets are polished nicely. Polished with blood. This is definitely not the ‘Town Plaza’ I fantasize of. Ate Eva set a panuelo above my head, telling me to not get lost in her sight. “..and never, ever let someone set his eyes on you.”, she added. Is this some retelling of the Greek tale of the Gorgon whose power was to make a man stoned with regret, wrath or love? Though literally stoned, I still don’t think I’ve got those powers of attracting people nor turning them into stone. To also note, I’m definitely not getting my head severed as someone to be cautious of nor am a target of many.
Eyes aside, we went to the Town Plaza to purchase some books and outfits as preparation for the selection period. Mother ‘doesn’t have’ the luxury to purchase stuff for me. She reckons that it is up to my brains and intuitions alone to get into The Institution. Luckily, I have Ate Eva by my side to be able to convince her to give me materials to be able to get in there. Out of luck, she forgot to tell her that she’ll be bringing me into the capital. There were lots of gentle-looking ladies in colorful sayas. Their hair were styled back into a bun, fans on their chest, and speaking in the most polite way possible. Some men walked around in slacks and the masculine version of the camisa. Judging by their styles, they’ve got to be part of the Upper-class. We entered a store that sells various clothes. Luckily, they’ve got outfits worn in The Institution.
“Ah! The de Dios’s oldest daughter, what brings you here?”, the store clerk asked. He seemed to be familiar with my cousin and mother. “Good day, do you have the same outfits that Mother bought for me back then?” “If it’s for your companion, don’t you think that it’s too early to purchase those?” I was thinking of the same thing, but hey, it feels good to have new clothes. “Don, I know she’ll make it. I’ve got a gold tamborin that I got from school in exchange for a dozen outfits.”, she bargained. “Say no more”, the clerk says as he grabs a long yard of cloth and off to the sewing machine. Thank you gold tamborin for saving the day.
As we were waiting for my clothes to be completely sewn after the tailor took my measurements, the door bells chimed. An over-styled woman entered who was accompanied by a meek girl who’s around my age. They seemed to be also inquiring about the Institution’s outfits. My cousin was busy reading a local newspaper somewhere far from my seat in the store. The girl faced me, as if she’s been enchanted from my covered look. I tried to look away, but it just led to her curiosity. “Your eyes”, she pointed out in a shy tone, “look really pretty. Are you somewhere outside the capital? A foreigner maybe?” I’ve got no choice but to respond.
“Outside the capital, but I’m a local of this kingdom.” “Do people outside the capital look like this as well? You look like an actual goddess”, she asked in a softer tone. Is she not allowed to interact as well? “No, not really, maybe there are people like myself. Maybe there are mystique creatures lurking around like those protectors of forests”, I said in an uncanny tone. But she tried shushing me at the mystique part. “We don’t talk of mythological creatures here, we’re banned from talking about these. If we did, it’ll lead to lots of..”, she waves off her thoughts. “Sorry, it’s just really uncomfortable saying these especially since we live in an unfair reign”, she says.
I told her that it was alright. My clothes are almost done, I stood up to go with my cousin. But the girl tapped me. “May I at least know your name?” “Juliana, and you are?” “Paulita, one of the Villas”
The woman who accompanied her stared at her in disdain. I wished I could meet her again because she seemed like a good friend. Whatever the concept of friendship is, all I wished that Paulita Villa would be in good hands after her statement from earlier is stuck in my mind.
The store clerk and my cousin bade goodbye and that was it. It was uncertain when I could develop a well-established friendship with her, without any class in society stopping us.
There were screams surrounding the Town Plaza’s vicinity again. This occurred frequently as greed started to envelop Ciudad el Perdido. This time, a dozen locals have been chained with leg irons that are connected on the Commander’s horse. It is mandated for locals who are caught planning to uprise against the Commanders or any high-ranking official to be detained and tortured for a week. According to my cousin, it was the sixth day of the torture and has this feeling that they won’t make it.
The man in ridiculous tight pants and clean face laughed as their flesh has been exposed as fresh blood and dried blood creeps, the burnt marks over their face is so horrifying that one can say it altered their features. Open wounds are exposed in their backs, they said one of the locals tried to heal himself but was caught and met with their backs getting slammed repeatedly, some locals rather than walking are getting dragged by the horse. I turned my face down to avoid the horrors of the situation. Blood splashed on the shoes. My feet moved faster from fear and held my cousin’s hand. My strong grip made the sky darker like my thoughts.
We were eating our meal at a nearby food stall in the plaza. Ate tells me to look at my food and try to ignore noises. The horse groans as the Commander heats the horseshoes, causing it to panic, trot and gallop really fast. The chains whipped up and down, the sound of metal clashing against the cobblestone. The collective screams of agony echoed along the area, a crowd of spectators watched in horror and fear. This has got to be the consequence that Paulita muttered earlier. The bell rang three to four times, simultaneously to my munches of my empanada. I tried watching the ongoing humiliation, but it made my stomach churn. I heard cracks and thumps, and some spectators gasped. Focus on your empanada, I thought to myself, but the agony of the locals getting whipped, the loud metal dragging, the cries of the spectators, the angry yelling, the whining horse-I can’t focus at all.
I took a bite. The thunder begins clapping across the skies. I took another bite. The pungent smell stings my nostrils, was it the empanada or the locals? I tried taking another bite. The wind gets stronger and stronger.
The skies are turning gray and cloudy. It starts raining harder, leading to the torture’s withdrawal. After ordering his minions to take the trash out, my heart shattered the moment I saw the said criminals praising their lord as blood and water stained the cobblestone streets once again. The commander took shelter in our stall and tried getting a few bags of empanadas. He noticed me giving a look at him, but I looked away in an instant.
“Huli, control” Ate Eva said to me with a hint of worry and authority as she caught my attention.
The rain continued pouring, the empanadas still hot, until the Commander suddenly bangs our table.
“The hell is up with this kid!”, he asserted, drawing his gloves and knife into my dish. “Don Alfonso, she is new to the capital. I assure you no harm”, she pleaded on her knees. He grabbed my cousin’s chin towards his newly shaved one. “If she still gives me those uncanny looks, I won’t hesitate to include the both of you in the continuation”, he says while staring at me in disgust. “I won’t, I swore to Your Mightiness.”, she replied, dropping to the ground.
I hurried to her and tried lifting her up. The terror still painted on her face. I loathe the Commander for treating my cousin that way and the tortured felons. Using our remaining reales, we offered another bag of empanadas for him as compensation for earlier. He snickered as he had to eat more food. He snickered that all of us fear him. He snickered for not knowing it would be his final meal.
We got out of the stall, carrying our goods, and a weak man appeared in the alley, weakly begging for water.
“Senorita, please a jug of water”, his words passed through his decaying lips.
I assumed he’s one of the convicted. My cousin refused to interact with him, believing that one should not converse with the convicted, as it gets dirty when time passes by. I passed him, yet I gently held his hand to pass him a silver coin for him to purchase a jug of water. We got into the end of the alley, only to hear exclaims from the same man saying he’s all quenched from thirst.
The rain finally stopped when my cousin and I successfully departed the plaza. We suddenly heard the bell toll slowly for three times. It was the death of a man. Flyers fell once more from the watchtower. I read the flyer dictating the sudden death of the Commander. Ate shrugged when I told her about it.
“The rain.. You did it, didn’t you? The healed leper as well?”, she asked in an annoyed tone. “I cannot control it at all, not even the stall’s empanada”, I argued. “The Commander part is understandable, but why must you help the convicts?”, she hisses as I get on the carriage. “Do you think they’re convicts after seeing how the Commander acts? What caused them to rebel against the government, Ate?” She stayed silent. “It was an act of mercy towards the convict, alongside an act of justice for common folks like us, and you’re complaining?”, I go on. “If we didn’t go to the capital, I swear we might see tons of carriages filled with their corpses at the river near our place.”, I presumed.
It was noontime as we arrived back home. The Plaza that day has been filled with rumors that there came a miracle for those in need and a consequence for those who are wicked and vile. I never want to go back to the capital’s plaza ever again. It is a living nightmare for the convicted.