O great Langitpati Batarahari, Kilateshwara, king of the sky and universal ruler of lightning, tell thy slave o, Brother Thunderbolt: why does evil exist?” asked the Makinaadmanon.
The Brother Thunderbolt looked down upon them and disappeared in a lightning bolt. His answer came in the thunder that followed: “Your ancestors have killed each other, and so shall it ever be.The 875 Sermons of JAMIYUN KULISA, The Brother Thunderbolt
When Bakong stepped off of her palanquin and stood next to Masuna’s side–resisting the powerful urge to grip at his arm for guidance–she called to mind what one of her sisters told her.
Her father, the Rajah, one of the most powerful men of the Archipelago, had eleven sons and three daughters, each one from a different mother. This made up his concubinage, his royal harem. However, the crown prince, the child born to him by his main wife, was a daughter. One who would take upon her father too much and become brash, bold, and reckless. She was given the name Himulawan, rosy gold, for that was the color of her eyes when she was born. A sign of her tiger blood.
But since she was set to inherit Rajahship, she was given the additional temple name of Sihathra Sinagashimulawan.
On the day Himulawan resolved in her heart that she was going to leave Kangdaya and travel the isles, for reasons Bakong herself could not ascertain, she arrived at Bakong’s bukot. There they exchanged sad goodbyes and painful hellos, for Bakong had never seen Himulawan much ever since her bukot was moved to that cliffside cave.
“You are ever strong, elder sister,” Bakong had replied. “And with your strength, you will manage to break the sky. I am sure of it, Himulawan.”
“Call me Himulawan no longer,” Himulawan had said, straightening. She wore, at that time, the vestments of male warriors: a baluti of thickly corded abaca rope, a bahag and sarong for her lower half. Her hair was tied up into a tight, severe tail atop her head. She had shed all of her jewelry. Over it all, she wore a high-collared baro, or silk jacket, which she had looted from an upstart Virbanwan raider. “I am now Binayaan, for the gods have abandoned me.” Her muscles rippled as she proclaimed.
“Binayaan. But sister, I abandon you not. I share your wish, to fly free like the sun-eating minokawa.”
Binayaan had grinned at that, showing off her sharp fangs. She had reached out and gripped Bakong’s shoulder. “Keep to that wish. If the winds are fateful, when the next paraasan blooms, I shall return to you and save you from your fate.” She removed a golden necklace about her–thin, made of gold beads threaded together by a gold string, a masterwork of the Archipelago’s goldsmiths–and wrapped it around Bakong’s neck. “Here, keep it. This is yours, now. So that you can remember my promise.”
Bakong admired it on her fingers. “O, thank you Binayaan. I wish the fates were kinder. I wish I was not a binukot, but rather, a merchant or warrior, free upon the sea winds.”
Binayaan had shaken her head at that, and said, “There is no justice in this world.” She kissed Bakong’s forehead before leaving.
That was the last time Bakong saw her sister Binayaan. It had been almost two harvests since. She did not return when the paraasan bloomed, but Bakong held no spite in her heart.
Now that she walked upon the world itself, feeling the soil upon her feet–a taboo for veiled maidens such as her, no doubt the prince that will wed her will be exceedingly angered–she saw the world as it was meant to be seen. In her bukot, the world was crafted and woven out of stories and songs sung to her by priestesses, caretakers, and professional singers. When she had her first menstruation, she simply went unto a river where other women danced and played. Among them she saw apsara.
She wished to be like those spirits, like those women, playing in those rivers and lakes without a care for the world. Feeling the grass beneath her feet, burning her palms upon tree trunks, drinking collected rainwater from bamboo. She wished to lose her air beneath the fresh water, or sword dance with nature gods atop waterfalls.
But upon the world itself, her feet were stained by mud. The bihag were tied up, or kept in cages, or usually kept huddled within boats, ready to be sold and traded. As they walked through the marketplace, Bakong saw a young daughter crying in fear as she was ripped from her mother’s arms. Her mother cried back, but she was promptly shut up by a quick slap of a kris.
Bakong still wore a shawl about her face and a wide-brimmed sarok hat on top of that, so most of her almost porcelain pale skin was still hidden. Masunda did not see her wince away from the sight.
However, on the other side, she saw a particular brave man, a Datu in this case, a ruler of settlements. He purchased a boat of debtors by granting the seller a few agung–royal heirloom wealth, worth more than bihag in these isles. Those debtors instead rejoiced when the Datu took them, groveling at his feet.
Bakong was able to watch that more, but she could not bear to think that a world where your entire life rests upon a few powerful men was the world that she lived in. That bihag and all kinds of peasants were not given to noble hero families, and where they could arise on their own. In her mind, she interpreted these epics as long fights for freedom and equality. One where a single being would not be dependent on a single being. Instead, one where an entire community was depednent on each other. Covering each other’s faults, empowering each other’s strengths. Motherly ones would care for their children, those with a passion for smithing would smith, those that loved fish would become fishermen.
But here, watching them here now, selling their wares with a kind of sad, dragging tone upon their voice… This was not the world she was promised.
Masuna eventually stopped to buy her the palm leaf scrolls and writing implements she wanted so much. Unfortunately for her, one of the kawal of the Datu watching the marketplace from afar spotted her porcelain skin.
Before long, she was taken by arms like an iron grip, and carried off into the throng of people. Her pitiful attempts at screams couldn’t penetrate the din of the market crowd. Eventually, she was brought to the Datu’s longhouse, placed right in front of the Datu, who smelled like alcohol so early in the morning.
“Where did you find this little kitten?” asked the Datu.
“In the marketplace, Datu Tabak,” replied one of the kawal, his voice rasping. His mouth gleamed with a dirty gold from the pegs upon his teeth. “Such a pretty thing, lost in the throngs.”
“A true waste,” said the Datu. “Good job, Si Kelon.” He rose to his feet and pulled off Bakong’s sarok and shawl, revealing her moon hair. The entire longhouse–which seemed to be mostly made up of men, barring the occasional woman servant–watched in rapt attention.
“Oh what a fantastic job, Si Kelon!” said the Datu. “You have brought upon me a greatly prized possession. What a beautiful lady.” He leaned down. “Tell me, demonborn. Who is your father, huh? Someone important, I hope?”
Bakong refused to answer.
“Answer me, girl. Or else I will snip off your ears.”
Bakong did not answer again. At this point, she was not sure if she would even be able to. Something clutched at her throat. She could not move.
“Fine.” The Datu turned and walked up to his dais. He walked over to where his kampilan stood, wrapped within a decorated abaka sheath. He pulled it out.
And as he did, the door swung open, revealing Masuna and Bangahom.
“Your highness,” said Masuna. “I did not come to converse. Please, give back our friend. She travels with us.”
“Tell me, kawal. Who do you work for?”
Masuna grit his teeth. What a pain.
“No answer, eh?” continued the Datu. “So both of you are adamant on shutting up about who you serve. That must mean you follow someone particularly important.” He turned to Masuna. “You can pass as a woman, boy, with your pretty eyelashes.”
“My role is as a sword, and a sword is neither man nor woman.”
“Ah.” The Datu smiled. “So you have taken a Sword Oath, eh? A thing only reserved for the msot grandiose of paramount Datu… for Lakan, Bataras, Sarripadas… “–Datu Tabak gripped his kampilan–”…and Rajahs.”
“With all due respect, Datu, but my patience grows thinner than the edge of my blade.”
At that, the Datu stopped. Slowly, he looked up at Masuna.
Masuna kept calm. His breathing was steady.
While Bangahom’s knees felt weak at the presence exuding from the Datu, he noticed that Masuna kept his ground. His knees locked, his other arm so subtly raised in anticipation.
Then, the Datu let out a fearsome laugh. A bellowing holler. One that shook the very foundations of the longhouse, and no doubt could be heard all the way outside of the longhouse, even to the marketplace. Bangahom flinched backwards, but Masuna stood resolute.
“You!” He pointed at Masuna. “You are a funny little thing! Come then, Sword, and let me show you how easy it is to break steel.” He stomped forward, tossing Bakong aside with an easy swing of a hand, and unsheathed his blade.
When the Datu tossed Bakong to the side, Masuna laid low. He did not have his kalasag as of the moment, which left him more vulnerable than he usually would be, but that did not stop him.
Masuna advanced and said: “Let us sunder the world with our sins, then.”
The Datu began, his first move being a skilled lunge. One Masuna barely managed to parry away. With a movement, Masuna slipped behind the Datu and swung, only to find the Datu’s steel parrying his own. “You have to be quicker than that, boy.”
They released their bladelock and then danced a skirmish of steel. Sword blocking sword, expertly crafted steel clanging against expertly crafted steel. Masuna sustained a few cuts in the chaos, but so did the Datu.
“You are nothing,” said the Datu. “Blood and guts to your ancestors, sword. May you never achieve enlightenment!” An opening in the kawal’s sword defense. The Datu stepped into a cut. Masuna’s hand was lightning, but lightning was not quick enough. The Datu’s steel bit deep, a scything indictment, a blow against Masuna’s conviction.
The kawal’s hand bled. He pushed the blade away, and the Datu raised his kampilan to attack again.
Masuna’s wrist was quicker than lightning. It gashed a heavy cross across the Datu’s chest, two slashes in the moment it took for one.
The Datu stumbled back, but not before swinging wildly his kampilan in defense. Masuna wove out of it skillfully, and then saw an opening. He reached out with his live hand, grabbed the hand wielding the kampilan, and then pulled. His own kampilan went immediately up and through the Datu’s liver.
“Bangahom!” Masuna immediately screamed out, and then chaos erupted.
Bangahom managed to find their bearings and encanted a spoken mentala. Immediately, a powerful wind burst about Bakong, pushing all the other kawal that had moved in to restrain her. As one of the kawal was flying away, Bakong snatched a spear from their hands with her own demon arm. Using that spear, she turned and skewered a kawal that had slammed into a wall behind her.
Masuna slipped through the crashed kawal to grab Bakong and pull her to safety, his bloodied live hand staining her garments. No time to pick up the sarok and shawl.
Bangahom proceeded to spit onto the ground, encant another mentala, and summon a wall of earth that crashed up and through the floor of the longhouse.
The three of them leapt out of the longhouse, where a battalion of more warriors had already formed, in response to the commotion within the Datu’s abode. “Cut a swathe, Bangahom. Rejoice in the glory of combat,” said Masuna. “Stay close behind me, bayi.” And Masuna surged forward, sword so quick that it was like a shield, a razor bubble. The kawal were knocked off their feet, or their shields were cut and nicked and rent.
Bangahom summoned winds to break incoming javelins and arrows, tossing them like a god waving away pesky flies.
Like a spear, they cut through the swarming warriors and those other merchants and would be fighters that no doubt wanted to get in the good graces of the Datu here. Before long, they arrived at the ship. Kiyam pushed himself off of the prow as they neared.
“What in the seven layers of hell did you–” Before he could respond, Masuna leapt up, Bakong in his arms, and Bangahom sent a gust of wind to blast them over and onto the barge. Then, the yawa sorcerer sent another blast of wind into the docks beneath it, throwing themself unto the barge as well.
“Are we ready to go?” asked Masuna as he landed on the ship.
Kiyam turned to him. “Probably.” Without another word, he commanded for his servants to begin moving. The servants leapt into the planks upon the outriggers and began rowing as fast as they could. Thankfully, with how barges were built in these islands, it was like the wind.
Behind them, a few barges disembarked attempting to chase after them, but Kiyam masterfully ordered for the barge to sail in a serpentine pattern that went around smaller islands. Bangahom leapt onto the stern and sent a continous stream of wind into the two sails of the merchant barge, letting it cut through the sea like a blade.
And so did the boat sail, like a blade upon the sea.