I hurriedly penned the highly peculiar contract as instructed by the Prince. As experienced a scribe I was, I still have difficulties in creating hurried royal contracts especially something as odd as this one. The terms the Prince specified were downright out-of-this-world. One Kahel Mayari is tasked to maintain the stars and the weathers on the Prince’s absence as well as oversee the ascension of the new Babaylan along the orders of the Great Bakunawa, in return he shall have access on the Prince’s archives for an hour. One Delfin Magnos is to keep the search of the lost son, ensure his death and continue the neutralization efforts against the forces of darkness to which he shall be rewarded the barren island of Munting Lupa on the far east of the continent. And the last was for the famed General Sebastian Ramosa, who is to ensure proper ascension, education and upbringing or the rightful heir, whoever he may be, in the event of the Prince’s untimely demise. For this service, the general shall have his debts cleared.
It was three in the morning when the Prince called for me at his balcony. He was having breakfast with three men of noble countenance. One looked sickly wearing a black toga. He had bloodshot eyes and a long nose. The General, I knew from his portraits. He seemed to be the oldest in the group. He had salt and peppered beard and was wearing his best uniform. The third was a young man. He was tall and had long hair. His eyes had a tint of bright orange. There were no other words to describe him except for beautiful. Even the way he moved was noticeably graceful and silent.
I took a deep bow and presented the contract to the Prince. He took the contract, wore his spectacles and began reviewing the contents.
“Take a seat, cousin,” said the Prince. “Try the eggs they are still warm.”
I carefully took the seat beside the Prince. It was the first time he offered me a seat on his table. I noticed that the Prince was unusually casual today. His countenance less tense and his demeanor more relaxed. I surveyed the rest of the men; they have been studying me since I arrived.
“We are in the presence of friends,” said the Prince clearly sensing my unease, as he looked up from the contract. “I’d like to introduce to you Kahel Mayari, the last of the engkantos; Delfin Magnos, my trusted friend and ambassador to the Dark Families; and General Sebastian Ramosa, chief explorer and general of the elite battalion. They are my closest and oldest friends.”
“And who is this young fellow, Jose,” said Delfin. I noticed how casually he called the Prince with his first name. “Are you a son of Nestor, the old royal scribe?”
“My friends,” said the Prince. “He is great-grandson to Nestor, Ramil, the current royal scribe. He is distantly related to the late Princess and thus I heartily call him ‘cousin.’”
Delfin chuckled. “How many times removed, I wonder…”
The Prince gave his friends the document and they all read through the fine print. The General seemed to be the one most satisfied who gave me a heavy clap on my back. The general was a hugely built man. Delfin wanted to know if he shall also have the surrounding islets around Munting Lupa to which the Prince consented. Kahel gave a quick glance and nodded in agreement.
“Friends, cousin,” began the Prince. “For quite some time I have been planning to leave the realm. For intervals of five years I have been leaving the kingdom to live in the other world Arminas, studying it and understanding it. Most of my studies in that world I have implemented on my kingdom and the lands I care for in Avallias. As you know I have brought with me scholars and priestesses to learn the ways of Arminas. We learned how to build their machines and have learned a lot in their history and language even adopting many of them to our own. We have acquired many books from their world and the Christina Library has been larger and most sought out as ever by the whole realm of Avallias. And with all these knowledge coupled with the magics of our world, we have been a prosperous kingdom, a glorious kingdom. But at this point, I have decided to rest.”
“Are you abdicating?” asked Delfin. “There has been no mention of a successor.”
“No,” said the Prince. “I shall not abdicate. I am unable to do that. There is old magic that prevents me from doing that. As for a successors, I name no heirs as of yet.”
“How about the Lady Clarissa,” asked General Ramosa. “She has more than once claimed having your blood through a different ancient line.”
The Prince chuckled. “That may be; only time can tell. The Princely Line is infused with anito blood. My ancestors and even my forefathers lived to be two hundred years old; the first Juan lived to his three hundred and ninth year. And none of them died old men, mind you. I, myself, am already one hundred and thirty eight years old. Should Clarissa show the same resilience against the withering of time, then she is justified of her claims. But she is but fifteen years old with unknown ancestry.
“This I shall say regarding Clarissa, I shall adopt her as my daughter seeing as she has no parents and clearly a victim of politicking of the old lords. She shall be under the protection of my name and shall be given the highest of courtesies.”
“This is all well and good,” said Kahel, breaking his silence. “But what do you plan for your succession? You may be of anito blood but compared to me your lifespan is but a gloomy afternoon. We may have agreed to your fancy contracts but I cannot maintain the stars and the weathers forever. Surely the good General cannot keep waiting for the heir forever. And I believe our Aswang friend, Delfin, would agree that time is our common enemy regardless of how beautifully we dance around him.”
“An heir will seal the succession and the fate of Avallias,” said the General. “Grandeza, I believe it is time…”
The General cut himself short. The issue of the Princely succession has become a taboo topic in the land. After the massacre of the Princess and their four younger children by darker elements, the Prince has remained a bachelor all his life.
“I think it is time we address this issue,” said Kahel. “Instead of leaving the kingdom, you need to stay and settle. Marry. Have children. In my reckoning, you are young, Jose. Instead of adopting Clarissa, why not marry her?”
The Prince was silent.
“Clarissa shall be my daughter,” answered the Prince. “The lack of heir shall be my concern, not yours. I shall deal with this when the time comes. What’s important right now is if you shall take on the tasks I leave behind while I’m away?”
The three friends looked at each other, waiting for the other to speak. I could feel the Prince’s gaze turn cold as he surveyed each and every one of his friends.
It was the General who first spoke. “We are yours to command, Grandeza.”
“Good,” said the Prince. “Sign the contract and do as you’re bid.”
* * *
The sun was scorching as we stepped in the front steps of the Babaylan Temple. The Prince has asked me to walk with him as he visits the Old Babaylan. I was told that the temple used to be a small hut with only one Babaylan to tend to the village. Today, the temple was a huge building of enormous scale made of thick white marble walls. It’s interesting to think that the once warm image of a cozy hut became this formidable tower of cold stone.
“When was the last time you prayed to the anitos,” asked the Prince. “It’s been a while since I last spoke with my forebears.”
“I endeavor to pray at least once to them,” I answered.
“One prayer to all of them,” asked the Prince. “You realize we have fifteen of them to pray to. Do you still have time to write?”
Before I could answer, the great door to the Babaylan’s chambers swung open. A beautiful Alabay in green robes ushered us in on wooden chairs. The room had huge windows that framed the city outside. In the middle of the room was a patch of land where a huge mango tree flourished. The roof had a round hole allowing for the scorching heat to penetrate in. Around the room were grey curtains, I assumed they were poorly made beddings for the Babaylan.
“After all these years in this Temple, you still live like a diwata in the wilds,” started the Prince who directed his speech to the tree.
An old formidable looking woman stepped from behind the tree and came near us. She took an old rattan rocking chair and dragged it towards us. She was wearing an old daster, crumpled and torn; her feet were filthy as she has not been wearing any footwear. She sat on the chair and gestured us to sit on a nearby bench.
“You look good for a century-old Prince,” said the old woman.
“You look even better for a century-old Babaylan,” answered the Prince. “This is my new scribe Ramil.”
“Hmmm,” mused the Babaylan. “Nestor’s boy? Too young to be his son. His grandson?”
“His great-grandson, Manay,” I answered.
“Ah,” said the Babaylan. “I have seen you flirting with one of my Alabays a week ago. I said to myself: ‘I wonder what business Nestor has flirting with young virgins when he has loads of edicts he has to write for old Jose.’”
The Prince and the Babaylan laughed as my face turned an embarrassing shade of red. The Babaylan fixed her hair and tied it in a neat bun using small vines on her wrists. I saw that while she seemed like a woman past her prime, seventy or eighty even, there was still an air of nobility with the way she raised her head. Her gaze looked straight on the Prince’s eyes with no fear.
“It has been around forty years since we last met,” said the Babaylan. “I remember it wasn’t Nestor who frolicked with young virgins of this house. I don’t imagine you’ve come to steal a kiss from me, Jose? Are you here to sing me a song or recite another one of your dismal love poems?”
“I seem to recall that you were whipped in succession when your predecessor found you in possession of what you call my dismal love poems,” teased the Prince. “I remember threatening to burn this place down when I heard what they did to you. They scarred your cheeks, did they not?”
The old lady touched her right cheek absently. “That was a long time ago, Jose. The scars have faded as did my childhood folly. Now really, what is the Prince’s business with the Babaylan today?”
“I seek your blessing,” said the Prince. “I am leaving Avallias to settle in Arminas. I do not know when I shall return.”
“You always return,” said the Babaylan. “For all the journeys you took, why now would you seek the Babaylan’s blessing? The Prince has always done what he wanted, how he wanted it.”
“I do not seek the Babaylan’s blessing,” answered the Prince. “I seek for Lucia’s.”
There was a pregnant pause. An unfamiliar silence, I realized the Prince was calling the Babaylan using her first name.
“If I was a lot younger, I would have blushed, Jose,” said the Babaylan. “I have spoken with Kahel earlier today, he is doubtful you will return. Engkantos are rarely wrong with premonitions, you know. You should name your successor.”
“Well, yes,” said the Prince. “That’s the other purpose of my visit.”
I turned. I didn’t know the Prince has another purpose aside from just meeting with an old friend. The Babaylan looked confused with this and waited for the Prince to continue.
“I have married again,” announced the Prince. “I have married a girl in Arminas. In my previous visit to that world, I have married a girl named Rosario. I left her with a son, Javier. He reaches his eighteenth year today.”
“I see,” said the Babaylan, musing.
This was news! For the first time the Prince revealed nothing short of a scandal. Since the time of the first Prince, there was never a time that a monarch has taken a bride from Arminas. As a matter of fact, no Prince has taken a bride of no anito heritage, as they see them short-lived and sickly.
“My son shall be my heir,” said the Prince. “He shall claim the throne and bind himself to this land when the time comes. Until then, my old friends shall keep the peace and maintain the magicks of the land. I want to know if this world will accept him as their new Prince should the time come.”
The Babaylan was nodding. “What do you think, Ramil great-grandson of Nestor?”
I didn’t realize the Babaylan would ask my opinion on the matter when the Prince himself wouldn’t do so. But I realized there was the issue of my great-grandaunt, the late Princess. Could I accept this Arminas-born heir?
“I don’t know,” I answered. “If he is worthy, I suppose.”
“There’s your answer, Jose,” said the Babaylan. “We are the keepers of the old faith, the listeners of the anitos’ whisperings. We no longer meddle with the affairs of men, lords and princes. As you said, you did not come for the Babaylan. Our religion is not of consequence to your rule. The heir Javier shall be Prince if he is deemed worthy by the land and by himself.
“Now make haste,” said the Babaylan. “And leave your kingdom. Go to your family and live.”
The Prince bent down to kiss the old woman on her forehead. She took his hand and placed a green mango on his palm. “For your health, Grandeza.”
* * *
“Tell me about your new world, Papa,” said Lady Clarissa. “Tell me about the aeroplanes.”
“Ask the scholars, hija,” said the Prince. “I have something for you.” He handed the Lady Clarissa the document I just wrote. The ink was still wet. “This is letters-patent naming you my adoptive daughter, Clarissa Avalliano, Lady of Montecallias.”
Lady Clarissa’s eyes sparkled with delight as she snatched the parchment from the Prince. “Does this mean I shall be Princess? Shall I become ruler of the nation when you leave, Papa?”
“No, hija,” said the Prince. “This means you are a member of my household. Another has been named my heir, young one.”
“Who?” asked the Lady with a hint of apprehension in her eyes. “Does he have a better claim than me, Papa?”
The Prince ignored the question. He studied the beautiful young lady in front of him. For the past years she has been doing well with her studies. Her maestras has said nothing but praise about her. But something was off with this new daughter of his.
“You shall meet him soon enough,” said the Prince. “Come, bid me goodnight.”
The Lady Clarissa lightly kissed the Prince.
A middle-aged man knocked on the door of Rosario Avelino’s house. He was an oddly dressed man with a bearded face and many leather suitcases. The entire barangay heard Rosario scream when she opened the door. She wrapped her arms around the strange visitor like seeing a happy apparition.
Javier, a boy of eighteen, rushed to see what the commotion was all about. He saw his mother bring in a man. The man looked like the man in the picture of the old Postal ID her mom would put along their graduation photos.
Remembering his earliest memories of his father when he was five years old, he realized this man was no stranger at all. He called his younger brothers and sisters from their rooms.
After eight years, Papa Jose was finally home from Saudi.
Jet A. Tevar graduated from the University of the Philippines Mindanao with a degree of Bachelor of Arts in English major in Creative Writing. He currently resides in Parañaque with his wife and five children.