The Fruit of Legend

"The gates of the heavens closed as dark clouds covered the sky. The gods had won the war, but they had lost the god Kilubansa and his daughter Dihas. Everything was because of the fruit."

The young maiden Sinag was walking by the room where the wise babaylan Simoy was teaching the children of the datu, the ruler of the land. She was on her way to fetch water. She knew this story like the back of her hand. It was her favorite among those her father used to tell her every night. She stopped to listen.

"Though only Kilubansa and his daughter Dihas knew of its location, all the gods still protected the fruit for it contained great healing powers. If it went into the wrong hands, the worst will happen. This was why when the dark creatures banded together and attacked the heavens, demanding that the fruit be handed over to them, the gods did not hesitate to fight. In the end, they were able to drive the dark beings away, but Kilubansa lost his life and Dihas fell from the heavens."

Sinag was so absorbed in the story that she did not notice someone come up from behind her. She was pushed and she fell, breaking the clay jar she was holding. Sinag looked up and saw a guard towering over her. He was laughing.

"You have to pay for that jar," he demanded.

"It was not my fault that it broke," Sinag said as she rose to her feet.

The guard pointed his spear at her throat. "A slave of your kind has no right to answer back." He pushed his spear closer that its tip touched the skin on her neck. "Clean this up."

Later that night, Sinag trudged to her quarters rubbing her sore arms. After she cut her palms from the broken pieces of the clay jar, she was ordered to scrub the floors of the whole house. Then, she was sent to cover the pit privies and dig new ones with the patrolling guards continuously mocking her. It had always been like this. From the day she and her father were forced to become slaves for the datu after their own land was conquered in battle, she had received nothing but abuses from those belonging to a higher rank.

"I don't do anything wrong, and yet, they punish me," Sinag muttered to herself. "I try to defend myself and they punish me more."

"Sinag!"

Sinag saw Anaghoy, another slave, running towards her.

"Sinag," she repeated, out of breath, as she clutched Sinag's arms. "Your father…he is sick…I could not find you this…morning…We think…it is the plague."

Sinag's muscles began to stiffen. It can't be, she thought as they ran along the corridor, Anaghoy pulling her. The plague has not even spread to this land.

They finally reached the slave quarters. It was small and bare except for a tiny window in the back wall and the coarsely woven mats on the floor. All the slaves were gathered around a man lying by the window. His whole body was soaked in sweat as he writhed in pain. Sinag knelt down beside him.

"Fathe―" she stopped as she saw the pus-filled boils that had begun to appear on her father's face and neck. She looked away. Even though he was not her real father, he had treated her as his own from the moment he found her wandering, lost, near his home. She did not have memories of her life before that, but the five years they had together filled the gap, though two years of it had been spent as slaves of the datu. Suddenly, Sinag felt vibrations on the wooden floor as heavy footsteps thundered outside their quarters.

"Hurry!" It was one of the guards. "We must inform the datu."

As the footsteps faded away, the door slid open. It was babaylan Simoy, a healer and messenger between the people and the gods. "I heard someone was sick," she said as she walked towards Sinag's father, a basket of herbs in her hand. She knelt down and examined him. "Bring me some water," she said to Anaghoy.

"Has the plague really come?" Sinag asked anxiously.

"More people outside this house have been struck with a similar illness," Simoy said as she crushed a bunch of dried leaves. "Yes, it has come."