Many thanks to Bebop3, chasten, SleeperyJim and the Avengers Assembly.
This is the completion of a much shorter story I started more than thirty years ago, but the Prologue is even older, it began as an exercise in a college writing class. Be warned, this story is quite long and may not be to everyone's liking, but who knows?
*Lawin is the Filipino word for falcon while mata means eye.
Summer had once again arrived at the small school by the foothills of High Mountain. With her came the sweet smell of jasmine, and it was the scent of these flowers that had awakened the wise teacher, Matang Lawin, for the past week. But today was different; yes, the sweet fragrance of jasmine still hung quietly in the morning mist -- but today -- today, Matang Lawin had finally come to a decision. Among the many students who were in his care, he had finally chosen the three most deserving to take the supreme test.
The sun had just begun to peek over the horizon when Matang Lawin called the first student. Shy but brilliant, Lemuel quietly followed Matang Lawin. The master was still surprised at the young man's shyness; as the Lakan's nephew, Lemuel could have demanded better quarters, or better food from the school, befitting his stature as nephew to a prince, but he never did. He was so self-effacing that some of the older boys had bullied Lemuel when he first arrived.
At last, the master stopped in front of a small room at the end of the hallway. When Matang Lawin opened the door, Lemuel was surprised -- for the tiny room was dark and empty. There were no chairs, no tables and its one small window was boarded shut.
"My son, you have spent three years with me. All that I know, all that I cherish -- these I have shared with you. Now, before I let you leave, will you fulfill one more task for me?"
"Gladly, master," the young man answered.
"From all that you have learned these past years, fill this room with what you value most," Matang Lawin said.
The sun had reached the top of High Mountain when Lemuel once again stood at the teacher's doorstep.
"Come, master, I have done what you asked. I have filled the room with what I value most."
The old master saw a small smile on Lemuel's lips as they made their way back to the tiny room. Was it a smile of triumph or satisfaction? Matang Lawin could not tell.
"Look, master!" Lemuel said, as he opened the door for his tutor.
The teacher was taken aback, for the Lakan's nephew had filled the small room with books. All kinds of books were everywhere in the room. Thick books covered the floor, thin books were on the window sill, they lay in piles and stood in rows all around the room.
"This is quite a feat, my son. But why did you choose to fill this room with books?" Matang Lawin asked.
Lemuel cleared his throat then drew his shoulders back.
"We learn everything from books, master. All the knowledge in the world has been written down on paper so that every generation can read them."
The old man looked into the student's clear brown eyes. Yes, Lemuel was a fine young man, but that was the problem -- he was young, perhaps too young.
Matang Lawin placed a hand on the young man's shoulder.
"You are right, Lemuel. The knowledge of the world, perhaps even of the universe, has been written down. But courage, honesty, faith, hope and love cannot be put on paper. These we learn only by living them. You will have to stay for another year, my son."
The sun had passed the tip of High Mountain when the old teacher called the second student. Mariquita, the mayoress' daughter, came at once. She was quite small but gifted with a gentle heart; most of the other students often came to her when they needed a sympathetic ear. She always wore a flower in her long black hair and moved with an easy grace. Matang Lawin knew that most of the boys in the school were more than half in love with her.
Mariquita curtsied before him.
"I am here, master."
"Ah, my dear, you have been in my school for three years now and you have done so well. Everything I know and everything I cherish I have passed on to you. Now before I let you leave, will you do just one more task for your old teacher?"
"Of course, master."
Matang Lawin led Mariquita to the same dark and empty room at the end of the hallway and opened the door.
"Fill this room with what you value most, my child."
The sun had started to come down behind High Mountain when Mariquita knocked on the door of the teacher's study.
"Come quickly, master. I have filled the room with what I value most."
The young girl held the old man's hand as they made their way to the tiny room. Matang Lawin smiled as he watched Mariquita's quick steps on the wooden floor. Perhaps she is excited, he thought.
"You will be surprised, master," the young girl said, as she opened the door of the small room.
And surprised the teacher was, for the room was filled with flowers. Roses, carnations, daisies, violets, jasmine, wildflowers, garden flowers, hot-house blooms...the room was almost ankle deep with them!
"These are magnificent, my child. But why did you choose flowers, Mariquita?" Matang Lawin asked the mayoress' daughter.
"Oh, master, I had to fill this room with them. It was drab and empty before, but look around you now, master, it has come to life with the beauty of these blooms. We must always strive for the beautiful."
The old teacher tilted his head and smiled a little sadly at his student. Mariquita was bright and beautiful, but also quite innocent.
"You are right in that, my dear. We must strive for beauty, even for perfection, in our lives. But what is beautiful and perfect cannot always be seen. You will have to stay for one more year, Mariquita."
The sun was hidden behind High Mountain when Matang Lawin called the third and last student to his study. Calmando, the farmer's son, had been working in the fields the whole day. His coat was soiled and his sandals were still caked with mud, but he removed them before he entered the room.
"Forgive me, master, for not coming earlier," the farmer's son said.
"Do not worry nor apologize, my son, for doing your duties. You have been with me for three years now and I believe it is time for you to move on and see the world outside our little school. But before I let you go, can you fulfill one last task for me?"
"Anything, master, you have but to speak."
Every time he looked at the young man; the master could not help but wonder about him. Calmando was older than the first termers who arrived at the start of each year, and he had come with just a small rucksack that held the few belongings he possessed: a change of clothes, a razor, a longsword and a letter from his father. The letter said that Calmando's was a family of farmers, but though he was not entirely in agreement, perhaps his son was right, perhaps his future lay somewhere else.
Matang Lawin led Calmando to the dark and empty room at the end of the hallway. He opened the door and led the young man inside.
"Everything I know and everything I cherish I have shared with you, Calmando. Now before I let you leave, fill this room with what you value most."
The sun had fully set on the small school that lay in the foothills of High Mountain when Calmando gently knocked on the door of the teacher's study. The old man opened the door.
"Master, please come. I have done what you asked," Calmando said.
The old teacher held on to the arm of the farmer's son as they made their way to the tiny room at the end of the hallway. He was very tired by now, he had walked the long passageway half a dozen times that day. He looked at Calmando walking beside him and was a little surprised that the young man did not look at all tired, even after a full day's work at the fields. Perhaps it is because he is young and strong, the teacher thought and...I am old.
At last, they reached the tiny room.
"Master, if you please," Calmando said as he opened the door and led Matang Lawin inside.
The room was still empty; there were no chairs, no tables and its small window was still boarded shut. But it was no longer dark, for the tiny room was lit by the light of one candle.
"Why did you choose a candle, my son? Does it hold great value for you?" Matang Lawin asked Calmando.
The farmer's son looked around the room before he answered.
"Yes, master, light holds great value for me, as it does for countless others, but I think it holds even greater value...for this dark room."
A smile as bright as the candle's light lit the old teacher's face.
"You have chosen well, my son and I was not wrong in choosing you. You can now go out into the world, Calmando, and," he nodded towards the candle, "be that light for others."
The Adventure Begins
Calmando looked up at the darkening sky. He knew the rains would come and there was no shelter for him to run to, not in the vast expanse of the Plains of Medero. It was strange how the rains would choose this time of the year to fall on the arid land. Both Matang Lawin and his assistant, Laoakan, had assured him that the dark clouds were not due for several months but the grey sky above him and the sudden cold wind that whipped his coat both foretold a heavy storm.
Perhaps he should have taken the road west to get home to his father's farm, for then he would have headed away from this vastness and the coming storm; but the Medero, despite its starkness -- and danger -- had always intrigued him; Calmando was not going to give up the chance to explore its hidden beauty, if only for a few days. Besides, this longer route would afford him a chance to compose himself before once more bidding his family good-bye, to start the satellite school in the far-off southern lands.
His father had not approved of Calmando's decision to join Matang Lawin and he had not bothered hiding his disappointment on the day his son left to begin his apprenticeship three years before; to come home only to leave again would cause even more bitterness.
The wind was blowing stronger now and the farmer's son could smell the coming rain. He looked up to see if there was a small cave in the cliffs above him where he could shelter from the storm when a huge bolt of lightning struck the rocks above him. Calmando dove to the ground, covering his head with his hands as fist-sized pieces of stone and rubble fell around him. He waited, sure that the next huge rock would fall on him. Finally, it turned quiet and Calmando was just starting to get to his feet when the rains at last came down. It was a fierce deluge, the large drops quickly drenched the dry land around him and turned the ground under his feet into a slippery sludge.
Calmando clutched at his coat and tried not to fall under the heavy rains. The lightning and thunder had started up again, and the thought that this journey of his would end prematurely with his death in the Medero flashed through his mind, when a second bolt of lightning loosened a large rock above him; it landed at his feet. Calmando instinctively drew back and looked up. He blinked, then rubbed his wet sleeve across his eyes.
There on the cliff wall above him, just where the lightning bolt had struck, was a hole! It looked wide enough for him to get through and away from the storm. The young man did not think twice; he grabbed at the rocks, slipping at times, but pulling himself up and up until finally he reached the ledge where the hole was; he squeezed himself in, away from the lightning and thunder and rain.
Inside, Calmando leaned against the rock wall and was squeezing the wetness from his clothes, when he realized that the hole was deeper and larger than he had thought. He peered into the darkness and decided to make his way inside. He had walked some fifteen paces when a grumpy voice suddenly called out.
"Well, you've come at last. You certainly took your time getting here. Come in."
The farmer's son peered into the darkness; surely he had only imagined the invitation. He took two more steps inside then stopped. There was the faint smell of smoke from inside the hole, and something else...something that made his mouth water and his belly rumble...the fragrance of meat stew!
"Hurry up, hurry up," the voice commanded, "the pot's been ready since this morning and I hate eating cold stew."
Calmando walked into the darkness. The passageway was only wide enough for one man to get through, but soon it widened -- into a chamber where a wizened creature sat, hunched, before a cooking fire.
"Well, don't stand there gawking, sit down and help me plate up," the hermit ordered Calmando. "I've been waiting for you since last night, you know," he added, handing the young man a wooden bowl and a ladle.
Calmando took them from the hermit and knelt beside the big pot. After the bowl was filled with the fragrant stew, the hermit took it and gave the young man a second bowl.
"Fill this up to the brim," the old man said. "This is yours and seeing as how wet and tired you are, I'm sure you'll not have any trouble finishing it off."
Calmando and the hermit ate in silence. Now and again, the farmer's son would glance at his host and wonder how this...creature knew he was coming. Was he a friend of Matang Lawin, and had his teacher sent this hermit word of his journey? Calmando shook his head at the thought of the grumpy hermit and his old master being acquaintances.
"We go a long way back, Matang Lawin and I," the hermit suddenly said, "we used to hunt in Green Forest, but that was many years ago when we were both young and more than a little foolish."
The old man chuckled and handed his empty bowl to Calmando.
"Here, wash up when you're done eating. There's a bucket of water over there," he gestured to the far end of the cave, "waiting for you has tired me out. Wake me when the storm is over and then, maybe, I'll answer all those questions in your head," he added, waving a thin finger at Calmando's face.
A gentle rapping at his study door awakened Matang Lawin. He blinked and glanced out the window; he had fallen asleep and it was barely midday.
"Tired and foolish old man," he thought to himself. He heard the soft tapping again, rose from his chair and made his way to the door.
As soon as he opened it, Mariquita burst into the room.
"Oh master, is it true? Has Calmando gone away? He told me yesterday that he would still be here for the harvest, but everyone has been saying that he left early this morning."
"Yes, my child, he has. I asked him to start his journey earlier than anticipated, I gave him my blessings and then he...left," Matang Lawin said, looking intently at the young girl's dainty features. "Are you upset at his leaving, Mariquita?"
The mayoress' daughter looked down at the smooth wooden floor.
"Not at his leaving, master," she said softly, "we all knew it was time for him to begin his journey. I'm just...sad that he did not say good-bye. I thought he could have at least done so to us...to his friends."
Matang Lawin smiled at her and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"You, Calmando and Lemuel were great friends, I know. You came here to my school at the same time, shared many experiences -- both happy and sad. But you know, my dear, the most difficult good-byes are to the ones we love most. Perhaps, Calmando wanted to spare you that."
Mariquita looked at the old teacher. He was right, of course. If Calmando had said good-bye to her and Lemuel, she would have cried and Lemuel, too, for that matter. The Lakan's nephew was an only child and had looked up to Calmando. The farmer's son had been like an older brother to him; all the students in the school had loved Calmando like an older brother! Except her, for in the last year, Mariquita knew that she loved the farmer's son far more than she could a brother.
"You're right, master. I was thinking only of myself. Please forgive me for intruding on you." She curtsied and left.
Matang Lawin watched her go and sighed. His three most beloved students had grown up very quickly in the past month. He stepped out of his study and made his way to the huge dining hall where the evening meals were served. Because the students under his care had tasks to do as well as lessons to learn, they could not all eat together during the day. It was only during the evening meal could they gather in the dining hall, eat and talk together like a family; a very, very large family.
"Have you seen Master Laoakan?" the teacher asked a student who was passing by.
"No, master, but I think he might be in the stables at this time. He's been grooming the new stallion a lot these days," the student answered.
"Yes, he has," Matang Lawin said, under his breath, "so much so that he's been neglecting his other duties."
He reached the stables and went inside. It was quite dark inside the old building, but he could see the large figure of his assistant, Laoakan, bucket in hand, entering the last stall. The old teacher was about to call out when he heard his assistant sneer.
"Listen, I've put up with you and your mistakes for far too long. I've done my end of the bargain, now go do yours!"
A muffled scream and the sound of water spilling followed. Matang Lawin called out.
"Laoakan, are you alright?" What's happening? Who is in there with you?"
A second passed before he heard an answer.
"Nothing to worry about, Matang Lawin, just the bucket tipping over," the assistant came out of the stall, and it was clear, even to the old teacher's eyes, that Laoakan was very angry.
"Who were you scolding in the stall, Laoakan?"
"Oh, I was trying to calm the horse, enough to brush his coat," the assistant's smile did not quite reach his eyes. Matang Lawin noticed, but Laoakan had been with him for far too long and he did not want to doubt his loyalty.
"He's a little uneasy this morning," the assistant continued, "maybe because Calmando didn't leave enough hay for him and that old donkey in the next stall last night before he left."
"I thought that horse was your sole responsibility, Laoakan. You made that clear enough when you brought him here."
"What? Oh yes, yes, of course. I do take care of him most of the time. But last night...well Calmando had so many questions and by the time we finished talking, my...ah...shoulder was acting up and it was past my bedtime, so I asked him if he wouldn't mind laying out the hay. I'm not as young as I used to be, Matang Lawin, you understand," Laoakan was now rubbing his shoulder.
"Both of us are not getting any younger. But do remember this: everyone here has his specific chores and you shouldn't impose on any of the students. Now finish up with your horse over there and come into my study after supper. I need to discuss something with you." Matang Lawin turned and walked out of the stables.
"Of course, master," Laoakan answered meekly as Matang Lawin turned to go, but the assistant's eyes were anything but gentle.
Plans and Revelations
Calmando made his way back into the cave. It was not so dark inside, now that the storm had stopped; but the rains had left the cliffs muddied and slippery and huge puddles now dotted the sandy paths where the occasional merchants' donkey carts passed on their way to the Great Market. Memories of the huge hive of activity that was the Great Market suddenly flooded Calmando's thoughts the way the recent storm had just flooded the Plains of Medero. He had been to the market just once when he was seven. He had gone with his father and uncles, and he would never forget the tents, merchants, goods, people and animals all crowded into a huge field. And the noise! It seemed everyone was shouting that day.