Long before the automobiles came into view, Nardo had carefully set down the tree he was carrying. He took out his faded kerchief to wipe sweat and grime off his face. Though he had been a recluse for years, he didn’t want to appear uncouth. By the time the cars emerged from among the trees and the morning mist, the somewhat neater Nardo had buttoned up his camiza chino. He waited by the horizontal tree which, not quite accidentally, happened to block the rest of the path.
Nardo presumed that the people in the automobiles would be looking for him. Nobody else stayed around these parts. No one else could cut this deep into the forests of Montalban. Nardo had cleared a way through the trees with his bare hands, and the path ended at his hut and little farm.
He knew that they had not simply lost their way. People in convoys usually had very specific destinations.
The lead automobile turned and parked by the side of the path to give way to the vehicle behind it. The second car continued driving up towards Nardo. While he had no idea that it was in fact a 1916 Packard limousine, he could tell it was fancier than the first car. It reminded him of Governor-General de Polavieja’s carriage, at least before the Katipuneros had set fire to it. The third vehicle, an army truck, idled on the path.
A door opened as soon as the Packard stopped a few feet from Nardo and the fallen tree. A slim, suave mestizo emerged. To his credit, the man had enough sense not to wear his dark frock on such a long trip, even by limousine.
“General Carpio. Good morning.” The mestizo extended his hand towards Nardo. “I’m Senator Manuel Quezon.”
Nardo wiped his palm on his trousers and reached out for a handshake. “Good morning, Senator.”
While he had been warned repeatedly about it, Nardo’s very firm grip still took the Senator by surprise. It was all the years of politics and poker that kept him from flinching.
“I seem to have interrupted your…logging.” Quezon noted the presence of the fallen tree. As well as the absence of an axe or saw, or, for that matter, any signs that the tree had been cut down. It still had thick roots covered with clumps of soil. “My apologies.”
“Not at all.” Nardo finally released Quezon’s bloodless hand. He nodded towards the other vehicles that were presumably bristling with armed men. “May I offer refreshments?”
“That would not be necessary, General.” Quezon imagined Nardo pounding the ground beneath him until water sprang up. “Thank you.”
“Very well. What brings you here, Senator?”
“An invitation from the Presidente. His Excellency wishes to see you at the soonest time possible.”
Nardo scratched his chin. “He sent you for that?”
“It is regarding a matter of utmost importance, General.” Quezon smiled. “Besides, I was quite the willing volunteer.”
“And the soldiers?” Nardo frowned slightly. “Will they enforce this invitation?”
“Not at all,” Quezon swiftly, and smoothly replied. “They will, should you decide to come, serve as our escorts. Nothing more. This precaution was my idea. There are reports of Magdiwang presence around these parts. Pingkian may be genuinely considering the Presidente’s offer of amnesty, but I for one would feel much better the day all of his men come down from the hills.”
“They will not touch us.”
“They will not touch you, General.”
Before noon, the convoy was on its way back to Manila. Nardo had put on his old Katipunero Rayadillo tunic. He had spent a good part of an hour making sure its brass insignias and mythical sun buttons gleamed. He sat stiffly in the Packard’s back seat with his sombrero in his hands, and faintly exuded the odor of mothballs.
“Periodico, General?” Quezon offered a copy of La Indepedencia. The date was
Viernes 1 de Junio de 1917
The headline in Spanish mentioned something about a new tranvia station inaugurated in Santa Ana.
Nardo shook his head. Then, looked out the window. “Is this Pueblo Mariquina?”
“It is.” Quezon gazed at the bustling town. Along the main road, sapateros worked in their homes and shops. People stood to watch men from La Electricista Manila erect a post by a curb. “I suppose you remember it as a cluster of huts by the river.”
Surrounded by rice and vegetable fields, Marikina had been mostly a village of thatch-roofed huts by the river. It still looked that way when Andres freed Nardo from the cave.
There had long been rumors of the incredibly strong man trapped within the mountains of Montalban. People had presumed he was as huge as a giant. Though far taller than the average Taga-ilog, Nardo wasn’t exactly a titan. But he did actually have a titan’s strength.
Andres Bonifacio came to the mountains and held secret society meetings in their caves. He hoped that some of the legendary figure’s power might rub off on the Katipunan. However, one night in 1896, two wrong turns and a nasty slide down slippery rock brought him face to face with the real deal. With the help of key Katipuneros and an ancient Ilocano woman who chanted in her own version of Latin, Andres managed to shore up the two boulders that trapped Nardo.
“Worry not, my friend,” Andres had said. “Those mighty beams shall withstand a century!”
“And should they finally fail? What then?” Nardo’s voice was hoarse. He had not spoken for ages. He stood before the mouth of a cave in garments that had long turned into tattered rags. “There will be terrible earthquakes. You set me free. In return, people shall die.”
“Liberty comes with a price. Only those who are prepared to pay shall be worthy of it.” For a moment, Andres had a fiery look in his eyes. When he noticed that Nardo was still troubled, his expression softened. “Earthquakes will happen no matter what you do. Your body has been released from its burden. Let not your heart be weighed down as well. Having you out of that cursed cave shall mean an infinitely greater good for all Katagalugan.”
For several days, Andres and the Katipuneros kept Nardo hidden in a farmhouse outside Marikina. There, while he rested, Nardo learned about what had been happening while he was imprisoned in the cave. He learned of recent abuse from the Spaniards, and what Bonifacio and his men were prepared to do about it.
“It begins, my brother,” Andres told Nardo. “I ask you to lend your strength to our true and mighty cause.”
“You shall fight Spain?”
“And there shall be peace?”
“Peace,” Andres nodded.
Nardo felt unending gratitude towards the man who had set him free. Bonifacio clothed him, gave him shelter and treated him like a brother. Not to help would simply be unthinkable. “My strength is yours.”
Andres called Emilio Jacinto, his trusted adviser. “Return to our exiled friend. Tell him the Titan of Montalban is with us now. The Mauser and cannon of Legaspi’s race have met their match. Surely these tidings will reverse his assessment of our endeavor.”
“Consider it done, brother,” Jacinto nodded.
Nardo watched the young man leave. “Who is this friend?”
“A worthy ally,” smiled Bonifacio. “The mere thought of him walking around on this island was enough to terrify Spaniards. They banished him to Dapitan.”
When Andres and the Katipuneros left Marikina, Nardo came along with them. They went from town to town, preparing for the inevitable conflict with Spain.
Nardo watched as Andres and his rebels tore up their cedulas. After the display of defiance, Andres proclaimed that the Katipunan had an ally of legendary strength. A titan who was a Taga-Ilog just like them. The Katipunan had Bernardo Carpio.
Apart from some nervous laughter, the news was generally met with a confused silence. For most of the patriots, Bonifacio had just announced that the revolution they were prepared to shed blood for would be aided by someone from a bedtime story.
And then, everyone noticed the carabao. At the outer fringe of the gathering, the surprised beast and its equally surprised rider had been raised above the crowd. People hastily made way for whatever it was that could carry 800 kilograms of water buffalo. The carabao snorted nervously when, finally, Nardo lowered it in the middle of the gathering. No sound came from its slack-jawed rider.
There was a collective gasp at first. It soon became a roar of applause. People cried in the streets, hugged each other and shouted Kalayaan! Someone handed Nardo a red flag with a white sun and three white Ks – Bonifacio’s personal battle standard – and he held it high. The people shouted Long live Bernardo Carpio! Long live the Sons of the People!
When the Katipunan’s Supreme Council elected officers, Andres emerged as Supremo, the President of the Sovereign Tagalog Nation. Though Nardo declined the honorary position of vice president, he reluctantly gave in when the Supremo made him general.
Thanks to their network of spies and traitors among the rebel ranks, the Spaniards heard about Nardo. The night of the torn cedulas confirmed his existence. However, they did not know what to expect until he showed up at the San Juan del Monte powder depot with the Supremo and eight hundred men.
Nardo picked up a wooden cart by the roadside. He used it as a shield and made his way to the Spanish ranks defending El Polvorin. Once he got close enough, he began swatting infantry with the cart. The thunder of Mausers was replaced by the terrified bellows of soldiers. Emboldened by Nardo’s exploits, Katipuneros eagerly rushed in to join the fray.
Soon they learned not to get too close to Nardo. He used the cart to wallop men until its blood-soaked wooden frame disintegrated. Then, he simply hit the men with other men. Either way, broken bodies flew everywhere. They smashed into delicate capiz windows and sturdy adobe walls. Nardo left a wake of blood and torn limbs as he headed for the garrison.
“Look,” whispered a Katipunero. He touched the triangular anting-anting pinned on his uniform. “Look at Carpio’s face as he rips those men apart. I cannot appear that calm when I slaughter pigs.”
“Just be grateful he is on our side,” said another as he prodded a mangled corpse with his dusty, bare foot.
Even though his tunic was soaked red, Nardo paused to wipe off blood that got on his cheek. He never really relished killing. He was no monster. But this never kept him from being extremely good at it. He went about it efficiently and casually as though merely pulling out weeds.
A garden, he thought as he tore the leg off a chair by the headquarters’ entrance. Now that would be nice. He would like a garden. Maybe even a little farm. He would grow corn. He liked corn.
Nardo swung the chair leg a few times, and was pleased by its heft. He made his way along a stone corridor that led to a door. Behind it, the garrison commander had barricaded himself.
And then, Nardo heard Quezon’s voice.
“What was that, Senator?”
“I was saying you looked deep in thought.”
“I remembered the battle. The one in San Juan.”
Quezon nodded. “The place where it happened is now called Pinaglabanan. A mighty victory. Though I’d hate to think what would have happened if you were not around.”
Nardo continued to stare out the Packard’s open window. Seeing the world go by and feeling the wind on his face helped him forget that he was trapped inside a wheeled metal box.
He never liked feeling restricted. Not since the cave.
The convoy made its way across the Manila Provincial Road. Currently it was at the stretch between the town of San Juan del Monte and the vast Diliman estate.
“What are they building?” Nardo pointed out the beginnings of a massive structure to their left. In a landscape that was mostly cogon grass and farmland, it was impossible to miss. “A new hippodrome?”
“El Estadio Araneta. Fútbol is quite popular now, particularly after we hosted the 1913 Far Eastern Championship. The kids these days, dios mio, they all want to be jugadores.” Quezon nodded towards Nardo. “You should try it. I believe you’ll make an excellent Delantero Centro.”
Nardo wasn’t sure what a Delantero Centro was. “Maybe I will try it,” he replied politely.
With the Estadio receding in the distance, once again the only things visible on either side of the road were occasional huts among vast stretches of cogon.
“I was there when you took Intramuros,” said Quezon.
“You were in Ermita?”
“Alas, I was at the other side of the wall. At that time, I was matriculating at the Universidad de Santo Tomas. I spent Christmas at a boarding house along Calle Magallanes. My father deemed it unsafe for me to travel to Baler because of all the fighting. And,” Quezon chuckled, “there wasn’t enough money for my fare home.”
It lorded over the horizon. The Ciudad Insigne y Siempre Leal pierced the heavens with its roofs, spires, steeples, domes and cupolas. For about the same length of time the city served as Spain’s hub of power, so had its moats, walls, parapets, turrets, baluartes and reductos continued to expand and grow.
Nardo gazed at Intramuros from a house in Ermita. He decided that the last thing he wanted to do was stay in a walled city of cold stone and dark, echoing halls. It was far too much like the cave.
Eventually, he shifted his focus to the nearby Luneta promenade. Andres had told him three priests were executed there not so long ago. Nardo looked at the fountains, the trees, the bandstand by the carriage drive. He thought it was a wonderful place to sit on the grass and watch the bay. On ordinary days, Manila’s high society came here to see the sunset, and to be seen.
However, that particular day was far from ordinary. The promenade was deserted. It was no man’s land.
Revolucionarios had camped all over Malate and Ermita. Its leaders considered the next step in the room where Nardo also was. The prominent names and faces of the Katipunan were gathered around a molave dining table, poring over a large map of Manila.
“As long as the Ravellin remains active, our battle lines won’t even make it halfway across Bagumbayan.” It was the young Caviteño officer Emilio Aguinaldo who spoke. He was with the Katipunan’s powerful Magdalo faction. In his province, he defeated the Spanish in several set-piece battles before he turned 27. Aguinaldo understood the danger presented by the Ravellin de la Puerta Real de Bagumbayan. An outer fortification that stood a short distance from the walls, its cannon placements covered the approach to Real gate. “We have to bombard it from land and sea.”
“Bombarding it from the bay would put our Revolutionary Fleet perilously within range of Fuerza de Santiago’s guns,” replied Bonifacio. The Supremo referred to several recently captured Spanish vessels. “We shall need our fleet should Admiral Montojo sail in from Subic.”
Aguinaldo crossed his arms. “What do you propose then, sir?”
“The reports about the underground passages of Intramuros are sound,” the Supremo said. “When one is discovered, I shall bring General Carpio along with a few men. Once within the city walls, we shall make our way to the Ravellin.”
“So you really think you can find some tunnel and storm the Ravellin like a bunch of moro pirates?” Aguinaldo spoke with both the impetuousness of youth and the contempt of a more seasoned commander.
“I would like to remind you that El Polvorin was captured with no sophisticated tactics.”
“You were able to take it only because of General Carpio,” snapped Aguinaldo. “Without him, there was no way you could have faced the reinforcements from Echaluse’s 73rd Regiment. The cavalry. The gunboats on the river. You would have ended up leaving behind hundreds of Katipunero corpses while you retreated to the wilds of Balara.”
The Supremo’s face darkened with rage. “I had to count on Bernardo because you Caviteños were not there!”
This caused a general uproar among the Magdalo in the room. “Surely you don’t expect us to march off to San Juan while the Spanish burn our homes,” someone shouted.
“We were waiting for your signal,” yelled another.
Aguinaldo raised his hand for silence. Then, he spoke. “We lacked arms and preparation. Also, it would be foolish to advance towards Manila without neutralizing Spanish positions in Cavite. Our asses would have been exposed. You, on the other hand, could have concentrated all your forces on San Juan del Monte. Instead, there was fighting all over Pasig, San Pedro de Macati, Sampaloc and who knows where else. I fail to see what advantage was gained by invading the Pandacan church aside from acquiring three old rifles and terrifying the parish priest.”
Several officers began yelling in protest. They had been in command of the various attacks questioned by Aguinaldo. Not to be outdone, the Magdalos resumed yelling as well.
The bang was so loud that everyone stopped in mid-shout. Most drew their revolvers. Then, when they realized what made the noise, they immediately regretted pulling out their firearms. Several ayuda-de-campos and bodyguards rushed into the room to find their masters standing around the table which had collapsed into two halves. On the floor, what had been the map had a hole roughly shaped like Nardo’s angry fist.
“Enough.” Nardo’s low snarl made the room tremble.
Slowly, the Supremo holstered his revolver. Eventually, Aguinaldo did the same. Neither spoke. The rest of the men in the room also remained silent, particularly those within Nardo’s reach.
“You need this Ravellin silenced?” Nardo brushed pulverized molave from his sleeves.
“Yes,” Aguinaldo and Bonifacio both replied.
“Then,” Nardo sighed, “get your men ready.”
While most of Intramuros slept, Nardo regarded the black outline of the Ravellin. Behind him, in the darkened Ermita streets, the Katipunero infantry and artillery waited. There were men with long planks for crossing the moats. There were men with hooks, ropes and ladders for scaling the walls. They were all ready to advance as soon as Nardo disarmed the Ravellin.
The shouting match temporarily forgotten, Aguinaldo approached Bonifacio. “Supremo? Can Bernardo Carpio die?”
It took a while before Bonifacio spoke. “I do not know. However, if he actually can, I am certain history books will not be kind to whoever gets him killed.”
“A very good point, sir.” Aguinaldo turned towards his commanders.
Signals were given. In a few moments, gunfire came from the opposite end of the Walled City. By the Pasig River, a small band of Katipuneros led by Emilio Jacinto had begun shooting at the Baluarte de San Gabriel.
With this diversion in progress, Nardo walked up to Luneta. He stretched out his arm and effortlessly plucked a cast-iron park lamp from where it was bolted. Armed with the hefty lamp as an improvised battering ram and cudgel, he made his way across the dew-bathed promenade towards Intramuros.
Terrible screams from the Ravellin soon reached the waiting Revolutionary army. The Katipuneros witnessed the flash of rifle muzzles in the darkened fortress and gunfire echoed across Luneta. With a thunderous boom, a fireball rose up from the Ravellin’s powder storage.
While several fires raged within the fortress, some of the Revolucionarios claimed to have glimpsed Nardo walking on the battlements. He had the lamp post slung casually on one of his shoulders. And it had a man skewered on it.
“We heard that soon after the Ravellin fell, Governor-General de Polavieja fled the city for Arsenal en Olongapo,” said Quezon. “When I ran down Calle Real del Palacio and saw the Katipunan’s flag flying over Fuerza de Santiago, I wept for joy right there on the cobblestones.”
The Packard drove by a telegraph office just past the boundary of Santa Mesa. The flag on its façade was no longer Bonifacio’s scarlet battle standard. It was Aguinaldo’s blue and red colors with its white triangle, three yellow stars and the yellow mythical sun with a face.
As the convoy made its way further into Santa Mesa, the scenery became increasingly urban. Houses, markets, churches, factories and shops steadily replaced the cogon fields. The roadsides filled up with people. On the road itself, traffic consisted chiefly of calesas and carabaos. Common folk piled into the carretelas, while the wealthy traveled in well-kept carriages and brand new automobiles. From the Santa Mesa station, a steam locomotive clattered for Pandacan, Santa Ana and Taguig.
The Packard and its escorts made its way into Manila’s fashionable San Miguel district. They drove through tree-lined streets and passed parks, fountains, and the Art Nouveau library dedicated to Mark Twain. A block later, they went past the Gothic Revival splendor of Universidad Literia de Filipinas, the state university founded in 1899.
Finally, the convoy drove through the open gates of Malacañan.
Nardo peered up at the Palace. “This is the Governor-General’s house.”
“Not any more,” Quezon said. He slipped back into his somber black frock before they got off the Packard.
Nardo put on his sombrero. He tried to smooth out his uniform of wrinkles from the long trip.
They walked across the Entrance Hall. Then, they made their way up the Grand Staircase, past Juan Luna’s El Pacto de Sangre, and through a series of hallways and corridors. A Palace staff member bowed politely and opened a door for them.
Nardo and Senator Quezon entered a study lined with bookshelves. On the walls hung large old maps of the Philippines, oil portraits of Bonifacio, Aguinaldo and Mabini, and several photographs.
Secretary of War Antonio Luna got up from one of the comfortable armchairs. “There he is,” Luna boomed cheerfully.
“I had no misgivings that our good Senator would succeed in inviting General Carpio,” said Jose Rizal, third President of La Republica Filipina. He stood to welcome his guests and walked over to clasp Nardo’s hands. “It has been ages. I am most pleased you have accepted my invitation.”
Nardo respectfully removed his sombrero. “I cannot refuse you, Presidente.”
Rizal nodded, and turned towards Quezon. “Well done, Senator. You have my undying gratitude for undertaking a most crucial mission.”
“It’s my pleasure, Excelencia,” said Quezon. “I see Maestro Luna’s obra has returned.”
With Rizal’s encouragement, El Pacto de Sangre had been taken on tour. It won first place in several European and American exhibitions, and had earned much posthumous acclaim for Juan Luna.
“Indeed. I believe that in terms of convincing the world of the Filipino’s skill and prowess, it has achieved more than a hundred ambassadors and a thousand state banquets.”
“It has also shown your profile around the globe, Pepe.” Secretary Luna grinned.
Rizal laughed. He had been the older Luna’s model for Rajah Sikatuna. “Mostly just my arm, Antonio. Nevertheless, your brother did an excellent job.”
“That he did. He also did a fine job designing those Rayadillos,” Luna clapped Nardo’s massive shoulders. “It’s amazing you can still fit in yours! General Carpio, you haven’t aged a day!”
Rizal called for refreshments. Servants brought in beer in fine glasses, cerveza fresh from the nearby brewery according to the Presidente. Nardo was surprised how cold the glass felt in his hand.
After a typically eloquent toast to Nardo, the Presidente excused Luna and Quezon. “Gentlemen, I do hope to see you and your lovely spouses tonight,” Rizal reminded them as they left the study.
“Maestro Julian Felipe has based a zarzuela on my book Mi Dulce Estrangera,” Rizal explained for Nardo’s benefit. “It will be performed at the Grand Opera House with the First Family as guests of honor. Please, join us.”
“As you wish, Presidente.”
Rizal sat in one of the armchairs.
Slowly and carefully, so did Nardo. The seat he took was between the Bonifacio and Aguinaldo portraits.
“Our brother has been gone for twenty years now.” Rizal briefly raised his glass to Bonifacio’s likeness painted by Juan Luna.
After Intramuros fell, the war with Spain raged on. The Supremo was called to settle the growing dispute between the Magdalo and Magdiwang factions in Cavite. He asked Nardo to stay in the Walled City, for there was the ever-present threat of Spanish attempts to retake Manila.
“My brother. The Republica needs you here,” Andres had said as he got ready for his journey. “Please. Lend our people your strength as you have done for me.”
“I shall, Supremo.” Nardo bowed. “You have my word.”
On his way to the Magdalo bullwark, Andres, his brother Ciraco and their bodyguards were ambushed. No one survived. No one claimed responsibility. Some said it was a Spanish death squad. Some said it was the bandits. Several Magdiwang officers insisted it was the handiwork of their rivals.
“Twenty years,” said Rizal mostly to himself and the amber liquid in his glass.
Then, he looked up at Nardo. Suddenly, he was not the middle-aged statesman with silver in his hair, but the Rizal when Nardo had first met him. “Fear not, old friend. You were not brought here to listen to me sigh forlornly about years past. First, I bring you good news. I had endeavored to propose, and the assembly had wholeheartedly approved, that a statue be erected in your honor.”
Rizal rose and strode to a wooden desk. He set his glass down and picked up some sheets of paper. The Presidente walked back to where Nardo sat and showed his sketches. “This monument will be no less than gargantuan. We shall commission a sculptor suitable to the task. Paul Landowski, perhaps. It shall be raised on Corregidor, which is a place you surely remember, to serve as the new light house for Manila Bay. This will be our nation’s la Liberté éclairant le monde, nay, our Colossus of Rhodes. For you, my friend, are certainly our Titan, our very own Helios bearing the illuminating torch of freedom.”
“I am much honored, Presidente.”
The Presidente regarded Nardo for a moment. Then sighed. “I am aware that the conceit of statues and tributes are not what you desire.”
Nardo nodded. “I am content to live quietly. In my farm. Beneath the sun and stars.”
“And truly that was what you received. However, the Republica needs this symbol. It will remind our people what we have accomplished. And it will tell the world what we can yet achieve.”
Once again, Nardo nodded.
“Thank you,” said Rizal. He pursed his lips, and then spoke. “There is however more that we have to ask of you. Far more than your blessings to build a monument. It is a matter that concerns the Americans.”
“Ah.” Nardo remembered the Americanos.
It was 1898.
“At the moment, Americano ships are anchored off Corregidor,” said Emilio Aguinaldo, first Presidente of the Republica at the ripe old age of 29. He had summoned Prime Minister Apolinario Mabini, Nardo, and Rizal, who was then Minister of Foreign Affairs, to his office in the Ayuntamiento.
Nardo was still not used to seeing Aguinaldo in a frock instead of his uniform.
“Even the French squadron had been sighted off the coast of Batangas,” said Mabini. Though physically bound to his wooden wheelchair, he was extremely well-informed of what was happening in the archipelago. “It is beginning to look like a summit of the Great Powers out there.”
“Then I should save up on travel expenses, and simply row out in a banca to discuss our diplomatic recognition,” Rizal exclaimed. “They are all here anyway. Are we like the ripened langka, intoxicatingly fragrant and indisputably ready for the picking?”
“As Aristotle said…,” shrugged Mabini.
“Yes. Nature abhors a vacuum. And all these empires would suppose it is but nature’s law that one of them should fill the vacuum left by Spain.”
“The Americanos assured me that since they are now at war with Spain, they are merely here for the security of their citizens.” Aguinaldo crossed his arms. “They are concerned about the sizable number of Spaniards and those of Spanish descent who remained here after Governor-General Primo de Rivera surrendered at Biak-na-Bato.”
“Well then, that group certainly includes almost everyone in government,” said Rizal. “Nevertheless, I believe the most harm that may come to Americans here would be getting served lukewarm chocolate-ah.”
Nardo found himself craving for a cup of hot chocolate. Rich, thick chocolate. The kind his mother used to make on Christmas mornings.
Aguinaldo scowled. “Those Yankees will get more than just watery tsokolate if they invade! Isn’t that right, General Carpio?”
After the war ended, Nardo had searched for his parents’ home. All he found were traces of a small hut all but swallowed up by the woods. Even the path that led to it had long been reclaimed by nature. He had wanted to build a place of his own. However, when he heard about the Americans, he knew he would have to delay his plans.
“Presidente, we must act before there’s even a whisper of invasion.” Mabini gripped the wheelchair’s armrests and leaned towards Aguinaldo. “Permitting Americano ships to stay so close to the capital poses a serious threat. At the very least, it shall set a perilous precedent for nations of ambition.”
“A French proverb goes: vaut mieux prévenir que guérir. It is better to prevent than heal,” translated Rizal. “Presidente, allow me to have a word with their commander.”
Aguinaldo lowered his head slightly as he considered this. For a moment, Nardo saw how young the Presidente was. Then, once again, Aguinaldo was the Generalissimo. “Only if General Carpio comes with you.” He turned towards Nardo. “General. Will you help us?”
When they heard Filipinos were coming aboard the USS Olympia, most of her sailors expected to catch a glimpse of island natives in grass skirts. Or, thanks to American editorial cartoons of the day, smaller negroes. They never anticipated the tall, silent officer who was a bit like the Injun chiefs their fathers had fought. Nor the shorter, impeccably dressed gentleman who spoke like a Limey aristocrat.
Nardo and Rizal were invited into an elegant stateroom.
“Minister, consider our presence here for your benefit, as well as our citizens’,” said Commodore Dewey. The American had a waxed handlebar mustache as impressive as his starched white uniform. “You must know there are other fleets steaming towards your waters. The Imperial German Navy’s Asiatic Squadron alone brings a force greater than our own.”
“I do intend to speak with Rear Admiral von Diederich as well, Commodore.” Rizal smiled a small smile. “As much as we appreciate your concern for your citizens and our fledgling republic’s welfare, I assure you that your presence will be of greater use elsewhere.”
Nardo did not understand the language they spoke, but felt the sharpness of the words. He stopped curiously glancing at the stateroom’s cast-iron Victorian fireplace, and watched the Americano instead.
“In the event that someone like von Diederich is not as amiable as I am, how do you propose to defend your… people?” Dewey was careful not to use the word country, for the United States had not yet recognized the Republica. “You have fewer ships than the Spanish would have had. And, the vessels left at your disposal are far older than their sailors.”
“We also have shore batteries as part of our coastal defenses,” said Rizal. “But surely you are aware of that.”
“I know from where she’s anchored, the Olympia is beyond the range of those Spanish guns,” sniffed Dewey. “She could steam past Cah-veetay and you still won’t be able to touch her.”
“I assure you, Commodore, we can.”
“Perhaps I’d like to see that.”
“Perhaps you shall,” Rizal bowed elegantly.
Later that day, while in the cruiser’s pilot house, Dewey became aware of a commotion. It was quickly followed by a loud splash.
After more yelling, a crash shook the ship and steel groaned. The Olympia’s captain rushed into the pilot house.
“Gridley! What is going on?” Dewey’s mustache bristled. The Commodore was certain he didn’t hear any guns.
“They fired at us?”
“Not exactly, sir.”
Dewey rushed out the pilot house and onto the open navigation bridge. He gripped the railing. And glared at what he saw.
On the Olympia’s crumpled bow turret was a rusty Spanish cannon.
“See? You threw too hard the first time,” Rizal grinned. He lowered a spyglass and folded it up. “Bravo!”
“Pepe? Shall I throw another?” Nardo looked around. They were at the southern shore of Corregidor, near an old Spanish fort and a relatively newer coastal gun.
Rizal shook his head. “The Commodore appears to be a wise man. If our message is not lost on him, I trust he will pass it on to his superiors in Washington.”
Outside Rizal’s study in Malacañan, the bells of Manila’s numerous churches pealed for the Oración. Loudest were those of the twin-spired Basilica Minore de San Sebastián. The steel church designed by Gustave Eiffel stood a few streets away from the Palace.
Nardo watched the Presidente switch on a brass electric lamp. “Is the Commodore still mad? About his ship?”
“I certainly hope not. Dewey passed away last January.” Rizal picked up his glass once more. “It is about something else, Nardo. Right now, a war in Europe has drawn in nations from all over the world. The Americans endeavored to stay neutral until a German telegram to the Mexican government was intercepted. La Telegrama Zimmerman promised the return of lost Mexican territories – New Mexico, Arizona, Texas – should the Mexicanos join Germany. With this news, Presidente Woodrow Wilson finally declared war on Germany and the Central Powers.
“At the moment, the turmoil of this so called Great War has not reached our shores. However, Presidente Wilson has called in a favor. After all, the United States had been first to recognize our Republica. He invokes our participation in this war as the first Asian republic.”
Rizal sat and sipped his beer. “It seems that with the blazing lantern of liberty comes the duty of making certain others do not stumble in the darkness.”
Nardo glanced at the photographs. They showed Rizal together with important looking people, mostly white men in stern dark suits or imposing military uniforms. He wondered how many of them were now fighting each other in this war.
After a lengthy silence, Rizal spoke. “On Monday, I shall appear before the assembly to make official my request for a declaration of war. The Republica will send rubber, corn, hemp, sugar and tobacco to aid the Allied war effort. I have spoken to Minister Luna about sending troops to join the American Expeditionary Force in France. Now, I would ask for your aid that we may quickly resolve this conflict.”
“And there will be peace?” To tend his crops and lie underneath the sun. That was all Nardo really wanted.
“Wilson calls this the war to end all wars.”
Nardo realized that though he had left the cave, he was still trapped. The boulders had simply been replaced.
Vince Torres is not really a stranger to writing fantastical tales – he’s been in advertising for over a decade.
The above image is from here.