Once upon a time, in a place far away, there was a village where lived farmers and hunters.
In that village, there was a castle.
Nobody truly knew who lived in the castle.
Some say it was abandoned.
Others thought the villagers from hundreds of years before built it for a king.
Many though believe there was a powerful old man hiding inside, watching over them.
Its presence loomed over the village like a shadow, shrouded in secrecy which drew and frightened all of the villagers.
Now in the village were two men: Manuel and Eugenio.
The two grew up together as friends, even though the men were different in many ways.
Manuel was strong, and enjoyed the labor of the field. His father was a farmer, and his father's father was, as well. The villagers relied on Manuel to help bring food to their tables, and also to lead the other men who protected the village from invaders.
Eugenio, on the other hand, came from a family of scribes and judges learned in poetry and law and foreign languages. He was the most renowned of the few in the village who had such a profession. Because of this, the villagers came to Eugenio to ask for help with trading with neighboring villages, as well as to resolve disputes regarding their properties.
The villagers respected Eugenio for his wisdom and diplomacy, just as they revered Manuel for his strength and vigor. Despite Manuel and Eugenio's differences, the villagers knew that they were equally important to the village.
And so there was harmony for some time, among everyone.
Until one day, a stranger came to the village--and he summoned Manuel and Eugenio.
The stranger said that he came from the castle, and that the powerful old man who lived in it had been watching Manuel and Eugenio, just as he had been watching all the village's families for hundreds of years.
The powerful old man was grateful that the two took care of the village, told the stranger.
"Now you two must come to my house, where my master has asked me to prepare a feast to thank the two of you," said the stranger who claimed to be the servant of the powerful old man.
And so it was that Manuel and Eugenio followed the stranger to his house, which stood near the castle.
The two had never seen this house before, as they never strayed close to the castle's grounds. Still, they came in, as they were afraid to offend the stranger--and most especially, the mysterious master.
As the stranger had promised, a feast welcomed Manuel and Eugenio--and inside waiting as well were other men who looked a lot like the stranger.
The stranger sat Eugenio on one end of the table, while Manuel at the other.
As all of them ate the food spread on the table, Eugenio entertained the men with songs he had learned from the townspeople beyond their village.
"What do you think of Eugenio, Manuel?" asked the stranger who had taken the seat next to Eugenio.
"He is a good man," said Manuel. "He helps me with matters in the village."
"That is good," said the stranger, who had then leaned closer to Manuel, his voice now barely a whisper. "But don't you find him odd?"
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, I've heard my master talk about him," said the stranger. "His ways are very different. I would even say that he is essentially unlike us."
"But he has been with us for a very long time," said Manuel, who from a distance watched Eugenio regale the other men.
"Yes, he has been. But still: his ways are very strange, don't you think?"
"Well, I don't quite understand his work sometimes," Manuel confessed. "He is a man of letters, and I am a man of hard labor. We are vastly different, I have to admit."
"Precisely," the stranger said. "Isn't your work more important to the village? After all, you feed and guard everyone. Without you, the village will starve, and maybe even die in the hands of our enemies."
"Perhaps," said Manuel.
"My master believes the village needs a leader," said the stranger. "Only one leader. A leader who is like everyone else."
"Do you want to live in the castle someday, Manuel?"
"I've never been inside, but I have always been curious."
"Fascinating," said the stranger. "My master would love to have you with him in the castle. Only, there is one thing he asks you to do."
"You have to stop Eugenio, and turn him and everyone like him into our likeness."
"We cannot have men who are different living among us. It is a threat to our village of farmers and hunters. You have to make him like us, because anyone who is not like us is worse than animals."
"And how do I do that?"
"It is simple: You have to make a farmer out of him and others who are like him."
"You have to do this, or else the master will be very angry," said the stranger.
Soon the feast was over, and the two returned to the village.
When night fell, Manuel rallied the other men in the village, and they encircled Eugenio's house.
Eugenio woke up to the noises the men had made.
"What are you doing here at the dead of night, Manuel?" Eugenio asked.
"My master tells me that you must stop your ways, and become a man of the land," Manuel said. "This is so that we will have order in the village."
"What do you mean, Manuel? We have always worked together to preserve the peace of our village."
"No, you are different. And different is wrong. The master hates those who are different. They are a threat to our village and are worse than animals. We must all be alike."
Manuel and the men tore Eugenio's house apart, and torched all of Eugenio's possessions.
"What are you doing, Manuel? Why do you do this crime against me?"
"From now on, you will forget your poetry and songs," said Manuel. "The master of the castle commands that all of us be farmers and hunters. You will not do any of the things which you have done, or else you will be punished."
Manuel dragged Eugenio out in the fields, like he had dragged the others who were like Eugenio.
"All of you will till the land and hunt in the forests, just like everybody else."
Manuel had returned to the house near the castle, where he found the servant, waiting.
"I have done as the master had wanted," said Manuel.
"Perfect," the servant said. "The master blesses you for your faithfulness."
"Will the master let me in his castle now?"
"In the proper time, he will let you in soon," said the servant. "For now, you must rule over the village. I will be your adviser, and tell you what the master wishes."
And Manuel had done what the stranger had told him.
Time passed, and life in the village continued. The people had grown wary of anything different, as Manuel had ordered that anything unlike them must be quashed.
Eugenio and his kind were forced to work harder than everyone else, to stop them from returning to their old ways. Eventually, Eugenio and many others like him perished. The ones who had survived lived with broken spirits.
Years after, people from the neighboring villages came, wondering what had happened to the village they once traded with.
But nobody knew how to speak the foreigners' languages. Many were fearful, and had attacked the merchants and traders from the foreign lands.
Soon, there was a war. The neighboring villages banded together and attacked the village.
Overpowered, Manuel rallied the people. He knew there was only thing to do.
They rushed to the house near the castle.
"The neighboring villages have come to destroy us. You have to tell the master to let us all in," said Manuel to the strange old man. "We have to take refuge, or else we will all die."
"I cannot do that, I cannot do that."
"Why?" Manuel was furious. "I have been faithful to the master! He must do this to us in our time of need."
The stranger wept, and threw himself before Manuel's feet.
"I do not know who lives in the castle," the stranger said. "I cannot get us in."
The invaders soon caught up with the village, and killed everyone who were unlike them.
All that time, the castle stood, a presence silently watching the massacre.
HELLO, MY NAME IS EVAN TAN.
I'm a writer and communications professional based in Manila, Philippines. Outside of my regular job, I like to travel, work out, volunteer, watch movies and plays, go to art galleries/ fairs and museums, read books, and eat vegetarian food.
More about me here.