The Sleeping Raja

“Passivity is no different from condemnation.”

When the borders of Aren were officially opened 10 years ago, Lark’s mother said this in response to the elders who were unwilling to engage with the curious foreigners who had suddenly encroached their land. Lark himself was made to witness this moment though he was but a child, and he had always agreed with this statement up until this moment.

For here he was, sitting silently and powerlessly, as passive as one could be. This was not by choice of condemnation, but because he was truly helpless.

This was the case for both the state of Aren and his mother. Equipped with only words to make his way, there was little he could do to achieve what he wanted. Unlike his time with the maharlika laki, he could no longer be focused on his own abilities and had to learn to cooperate with others intellectually. Such a thing, although straightforward, was difficult for Lark to perform for one reason or another.

In the period of learning, he had no choice but to be passive, no? How could he bear to admit that even this sort of passivity could result in condemnation?

A glance at his mother’s still fingers brought a burning sensation to his eyes, even when he didn’t dare to look any longer. Lark quickly cleared his thoughts and thought of some other words to say, as though they could lessen his mother’s illness.

After some time, a knock landed on the door.

“Your Highness, I’m here to observe Her Majesty.” The nagging voice of the royal albularyo announced herself.

“Apo, you knew that I was here?” Lark opened the door and greeted her. Behind the pointed and wrinkled face of the albularyo was a young boy who held some luggage with stick-like arms and stared at Lark unabashedly. “This is…?”

“My apprentice. I picked him up some time ago.” The royal albularyo, named Soriq and titled Apo, vaguely introduced the boy. She clicked her tongue and urged her assistant, “You take out the cleansing wipes and prepare the water. Let me see if Her Majesty has any differences today.”

The boy dropped his gaze and silently did as instructed. Although he found the boy’s temperament to be strange, Lark didn’t mind and made room for him.

He turned to Soriq: “Has there been any improvement?”

“You troublesome guy, there’s nothing I can say if you keep asking the same question.” Soriq lightly patted Lark’s cheek with a withered hand. “I’ll answer you if you can take it without arguing na.”

“It’s not that I want to argue with you, Apo, but you never try to explain yourself.” Lark said helplessly.

“Ay, you’re doing it right now! Anak, don’t worry so much! Even if you don’t understand, you can rest assured that I am giving Her Majesty the best of my ability. Needless tension is not good whether you are young or old; you should relax more.”

“I don’t dare to relax, Apo, this is my mother.”

“She’d tell you the same thing if she could.”

Seeing that the conversation was going nowhere, Lark switched his approach: “Then, for the sake of my young and worried self, what can you tell me about her affliction? Have you discovered the source yet?”

“Now that’s an interesting question.” Soriq frowned and held the Raja’s hand. “The spirit is drained and the joints are tender. Typically, these are the symptoms of neglect or old age, but Her Majesty has been in good condition all her life. I don’t know how many tests I’ve done to determine the truth of her fatigue only to discover that Her Majesty was healthy, just without consciousness. In other words, there is no source, only these symptoms. Her Majesty’s body is collapsing for no reason.”

Hearing this, Lark couldn’t bring himself to feel disappointed about Soriq’s diagnosis, for this indeed seemed to be the case. He knew that his mother had healthy habits, refrained from betel and wine, and had no old injuries that had healed improperly. By all accounts, her collapse was a mystery, even if Lark was reluctant to admit it.

His thoughts wandered and wondered, could it be that his mother once condemned her own body into passisity?

“Don’t mourn so soon, anak. I see that there may be an alternate explanation for Her Majesty’s state.”

“Apo, what do you mean?” Lark urged Soriq to continue.

“Well, recently I’ve been looking at some older records for clues, and Her Majesty’s conditions do match a few rare accounts. These accounts can date back to before Aren’s centralization, you know, when there were multiple Rajas in power and feuding whenever the need arose. In those times, the healing arts were in combat with kulam and mangkukulam, when dirty tricks of plague and misfortune were popular to commit against one’s enemy. Based on the matching records, I would suggest that Her Majesty is suffering from a curse.”

Soriq raised a hand at Lark’s obvious look of doubt and added, “Don’t forget, I am the expert here. You, on the other hand, do not know the ways of healing, much less that of kulam. Don’t refuse on the account that your own knowledge is limited.”

“But, Apo, in this case, the problem is not that I am ignorant, it is that your are suggesting there is witchcraft involved! Let us not forget that there is wisdom in the past, yes, but the future knows what the past does not! How many centuries have passed where mangkukulam have been persecuted into extinction of practice? What legacies of fraud and conspiracy have we as a people not witnessed? Don’t tell me, Apo, that you are also one of them?”

“Anyone who learns the healing arts must also be educated on the ways of mangkukulam; to get rid of the rot, one must be able to locate the source. Otherwise, I would have agreed that there are some practices that lack in logic and reason and should not be considered when life’s at stake, but with what I do know, I can only say that my suspicion is well founded. I’ll take no offense to your words today and inform you that this is the direction that I am taking now to examine Her Majesty’s illness. Now,” She ordered the assistant boy, “escort His Highness out.”

Dissatisfied though he was, Lark had no choice but to comply. He thought to himself that the royal family had relied on Soriq for too long and did not take into account her own fatigue; it was high time to enlist a new albularyo, one who would heal and not jump to spells at a defeat.

If not for Soriq’s past performance and loyalty, as well as his mother’s insistence on preserving privacy, he would have never given her face today!

Lark swore this and that under his breath immediately after exiting the Raja’s residence. He didn’t think himself childish until he felt a touch on his arm and realized that he was not yet alone.

He saw that Soriq’s assistant had closed the door to the residence behind the two of them and asked while flustered, “What is it? Why don’t you join Apo inside and assist her?”

The boy did not rush to respond and instead looked at Lark intently. Just as Lark began to blush and decided to walk away unanswered, he spoke: “There are rumors that Aren is considering on closing its borders. Is it true?”

“Well…it is true that the elders and I are considering this, but only as a last resort. The matter is not simple.”

“It can be simple. I suggest closing them as soon as possible.” The boy shrugged and returned to the Raja’s residence without giving Lark the opportunity to refuse.

Lark didn’t recover from his words until the door was locked with an audible clank. Realizing what just happened, he was even more dissatisfied.

He was not only belittled by his elder, but also lobbied by a junior? Ah! Where was his prestige as a member of royalty!

Lark began to seriously evaluate himself, trying to figure out what exactly it was about his public presentation that made others believe that he was easy to bully.

After thinking and thinking and thinking…he decided that it was because his indecisive nature was truly too difficult to hide.

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