Greed in the Castle (part 1) [short story]

On a clear and cold morning over a thousand years ago in the great Cai Empire, the capital city of Cai greeted the early sun with a yawn and a stretch. City guards, dressed in hard rhinoceros hide and turtle shells, began opening the main gate to let in the long caravan of goods and royals. This caravan was ten times the normal amount, for today was Emperor Cai Rong’s birthday.

The road from the gate leading to the castle was wide enough to fit four large carriages and their envoys. Peasants and merchants lined the road and cheered for the royals who were shrouded in curtains made of silk. At the head of the caravan was General Ren Xiuying, the brother of the Emperor. Xiuying was on his large white horse that was dressed impressively from head to hoof. But not as impressive as his rider who don a full ornate copper armour with a sword at his hip.

Xiuying led the caravan to the steps of the castle which stood as tall as the smallest mountain and was covered in red, white, and gold. Since today was a special day, flags and streamers made of silk were hung everywhere. Xiuying was met with the 10 eunuch advisors at the base of the steps. “Welcome home, General Ren Xiuying,” they said in unison as they bowed to him.

“Fu Zan!” Xiuying called. “Where are you?”

One of the eunuchs stepped forward and bowed to Xiuying. “I am here, General. How may I serve you?”

Xiuying slapped Fu Zan’s shoulder and beamed his famous smile which was well-known to all women. “You eunuchs look so much like each other!” Xiuying laughed at his own jibe while the others chuckled along. “Tell my lazy brother that I have come home to see another white strand grow on his head!”

Xiuying laughed some more as he climbed the castle steps. Peasants and slaves unloaded the caravans, and the other royals started to climb the stairs as well.

The air of the grand banquet was filled with food and wine. The tables were stacked with roasted pig, cow, and at least five kinds of bird species. Each one of the guests was announced into the hall and was seated in their respective long tables.

The Empress, Ding Wuhan, and her son, Cai Shuren aged 13, sat at the main table on an elevated platform. One of the Emperor’s concubine, Gao Hong, was also seated at the main table. She was special since she too had the Emperor’s son, Gao Guo 13 as well, who was seated beside her. The Emperor’s five generals were seated beside the main table. Each one was accompanied by courtesans.

Courtesans danced around as everyone else settled in. After a while, they hushed as the Emperor was introduced in the hall. The Emperor was dressed in an ornate silk gown of pure red with a golden sun weaved into its centre.

“All hail the great Emperor!” The hall rumbled as the guests bowed and proclaimed in unison. “May he live for a thousand years!”

“Please.” The Emperor raised his hand ordering the guests to stand up. He picked up a goblet of wine, which was filled by one of the other concubines, with both his hands; his guests followed him as well.

“I have invited you here,” said the Emperor “to partake in this empire’s spoils. We have lived in harmony for 15 years not because of my rule but because of the people. I drink this for more bounty. Long live the Cai Dynasty! May we live for a thousand years!”

The guests responded in kind. “Long live the Cai Dynasty! May we live for a thousand years!”

They all drank their wines in one silent gulp and sighed contented. The Emperor raised his hands and proclaimed, “The night is young, and the barrels are full of wine! Drink and be merry!”

The entire hall laughed then suddenly went still when the sound of a goblet rattled across the floor. The Emperor clutched his chest and coughed up blood. He fell down face first as more blood spilt out of all his orifices.

The hall screamed into a frenzy. People were darting everywhere and trampling over each other. Xiuying, with all the experience of a war general, quickly ordered the guards to barricade the exits.

“No one leaves this hall!” He shouted. “The killer is still here, and until we find out who did it, no one will  leave!”

“Oh! My Emperor!” Fu Zan cried as he collapsed near the corpse. “Who could have done this?! YOU!”

Fu Zan pointed at the concubine who poured the wine into the Emperor’s goblet. Xiuying’s drew his sword and pointed it at her neck.

“What did you do to my brother?” Xiuying’s eyes burned like a fireplace in winter.

“Please, General!” She wept and collapsed to the floor. “I would never do this to my beloved Emperor!”

“Hold your tongue, wench!” The Empress spat from her seat. “You have no right to call him beloved!”

Xiuying kneeled beside his brother. He could smell poison in the wine. “Why would they do this to you?”

He stood up and stripped the concubine till she was bare skinned. As her robes fell, he heard a soft thump hit the cobbled floor. He searched through the robes and found a small corked white vial.

“What is this?” Xiuying towered over the naked and trembling concubine.

“I have never seen that thing my entire life!” She sobbed even more.

Xiuying uncorked the vial and sniffed its contents. It was definitely poison. He grabbed his sword and swiftly dispatched her head off without a second thought.

“General!” Fu Zan exclaimed. “What’s the meaning of this?”

“She had the vial of poison in her robe. She must have poured it in while we weren’t looking. However, I do not think that this is the end.” He inspected the vial and saw the insignia of the royal chef. “Bring out the chef!”

The chef pleaded as well, saying that he’s never seen that vial nor the concubine in his life. His pleas fell on deaf ears as Xiuying sliced his head off as well.

“I highly doubt that these two were the masterminds,” Xiuying said. “We must protect the heirs of the throne! Guards! Escort the princes and their mothers to a room nearby, and do not let anyone near them.”

The guards did as they were ordered to and led the four away.

Fu Zan looked in disbelief at the general’s decision. “General. You sound so sure that one of the Emperor’s closest friends and allies would dare kill him!”

“And you, Fu Zan, sound so suspicious! Do you not fear for the lives of the heirs, or are you wishing for their death as well?”

Fu Zan bit his tongue and steered the conversation back to the Emperor. “The next in line would be Prince Cai Shuren. He’s young and still very inexperienced to rule. The logical idea would be to control Prince Cai Shuren from the shadows, so whoever is closest to him would be suspect.”

“Wait,” Xiuying thought. “The Empress and Concubine Gao Hong are with the heirs! Guards with me!”

The generals, the eunuchs, and a handful of guards ran to the room where the four were held. They were met with two dead guards by the door. Both of them looked like they had ingested the poison as well. Xiuying kicked the paper door down and saw the Empress and Concubine Hong poisoned on the floor. Their dresses were drenched in so much blood, and it looked like they were poisoned as soon as they settled in the room. What was worse was that the princes were nowhere to be found.

“The Emperor and the Empress are dead. The heirs have disappeared. We have a killer in the castle. Heavens help us.”

***

Part 2 coming next Wednesday

Privacy and Fallacy over Social Media

This essay is inspired by The Learning Network’s prompt, Are You the Same Person on Social Media as You Are in Real Life? and from Clara Dollar’s essay My So-Called (Instagram) Life.


Unlike Dollar’s experience with social media, I’m not one to make a persona. I treat social media as a mirror of myself and not a mask. If people want to get to know me, all they have to do is look through my social media. You could say that my social media accounts, including this website, are me.

I hide nothing from people (except for deep family matters, passwords, and security details). Other than that, I’m an open book. But then people might see that as a problem. When is sharing too much of my personal life too much? When do I feel like I have no sense of privacy?

There was a point in my life where I used social media to get attention from people. I wanted people to see me and having this website is probably one way getting that attention. I’m in it for the glory, and Wil Dasovic has a similar mindset when it comes to showing parts of his life.

Dasovic is a Filipino vlogger. He’s a very positive person and super outgoing. In one of his latest videos (linked below), he talks about why he vlogs. He wanted to inspire people to be productive by showing how productive he was. As for me, I think it’s similar. I want to inspire people to do their best by showing that I’m doing my best even with my blunders.

Do you have a persona for your social media? Tell me about it in the comments below! I’d like to hear about it!

Behind new bars [Poem]

This poem was prompted by Robert Peake’s prompt generator.

Prompt:

Include as many of the following words (or variations on these words) as you can: flaws, spear, guts, earlier, styrofoam, blouse, shimmer, insurance, nous, parrots

Also: Include an unusual taste

Picture for inspiration by public domain review


Crawling on its guts with its long black blouse

Absorbed in the shimmer that no eyes can see

Dangling from the ceiling of the rotten jailhouse

Tasting flawed bliss of afternoon tea


This poem is about a prisoner who killed himself in his cell. Death was the only way he could bring peace (like afternoon tea). However, suicide brings in more death, so the reaper collects him and imprisons him for his misdeeds.

P.S. I am not shaming anyone who has committed suicide or anyone who has done self-harm. Suicide does stop a person from feeling, but the sadness doesn’t disappear. It spreads. The best way to get rid of the sickness is to get medical help from an expert.

Plans for April 2 – 6

It’s the season for college entrance exam review, and the company has given us schedules for conducting classes. I have to familiarise myself with the materials they’ve given me since the company does update them every year. But since I don’t start until next week, I’m going to focus on getting my final requirements for my job applications as an EFL Teacher overseas.

One thing I don’t have is a full body photo, so I’ll definitely drop by Kodak and have my picture taken: full suit and tie. When I get a copy of it, I can sign up for jobs through the company I where I trained for the TEFL.

Then, I have to get the Professional Civil Servant ID that I’ve been waiting for since 2015. After that, I’ll drop by Ateneo to get requirements for transferring there. Once I get the requirements, I’ll have to go to La Salle, get my alumni card (which I lost for the third time) and get other requirements for transferring universities.

I’ll also keep practising my Nihongo. By the end of the week, I should be able to read all the hiragana characters. I’m not gonna push myself too fast to learn this on my own, but I still need to be consistent.

Hopefully, I can fulfil all my goals for this week and not have to carry them over next week.

What are you looking forward to this week? Tell me in the comment section below!

The Almost Dropout

This essay is inspired by The Learning Network’s prompt Do Other People Care Too Much About Your Post-High School Plans? and the Opinion piece by Elisabeth Egan titled Stop Asking About My Kid’s College Plans.


I’m pretty sure I posted about my homeschool on my blog some years back, but just in case no one can find that post (I certainly can’t), I’ll talk about it again.

Egan talks about her and her daughter’s stress from graduating high school and going to college. One major difference between Egan’s experience and mine is that kids in America are pushed to leave home after high school. The major problem as Egan explains:

Both conversations — college and driving — are stand-ins for the real subject that’s keeping us up at night: Our kids are leaving home in a year. No more books all over the table, no more late-night cups of tea. I don’t want to spend our remaining time obsessing about where my daughter is going to college. Except for the tuition (deep breath), the destination is beyond my control.

Most Filipino families have their kids live with them probably until the kids get married or if they go work overseas (which is what I’m hoping for). There’s only one reason why Filipinos stay with their parents: salaries are too low. I don’t want to talk about low salaries since that would be another essay. I’m just explaining why kids don’t leave their parents after high school.

In my case, my high school experience was completely different. For one thing, I was in a homeschooling program. I still reported to a school. The only difference is that I was handed piles of modules and had to teach myself the lessons then take the tests in school. The other thing is that my family was in shambles (arguably it still is), so I didn’t care much about my studies. I didn’t have much support coming from my parents especially my father. No emotional support. My mother’s support is lacking as always. I mean, I’ve always wanted my family to be better, but I can’t do anything about it. I didn’t care about anything. I felt numb. Thinking about it now, I was depressed. My parents did this to me.

I was so close to dropping out and just calling it quits, permanently. There was nothing that could have inspired me to push forward. Then one day, it came. I was handed the large green envelope from De La Salle University-Manila. I got in a university. Seeing that envelope was like a spotlight washing out the darkness that shrouded over me.

I immediately made a tally of the subjects that I haven’t finished: 2 subjects from my junior year and all subjects in my senior year. I basically had to compress my entire senior year in four months. Yes, that includes P.E. and thesis. That was one of the most stressful times in my life.

I got into DLSU, and I thought it would be smooth sailing from there. O! How I was wrong! I was very wrong.