Lola Basyang's "The Forgotten Princess" by Severino Reyes

I was very young when the show "Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang" was on air.  While I wasn't naive enough to believe that the Lola Basyang character on TV was the real Lola Basyang, I did imagine that there was really an old lady writer/storyteller named Basyang. It was only in high school that I learned that Lola Basyang was, in fact, a character made by a man named Severino Reyes.  Reyes wrote the Lola Basyang stories for Liwayway magazine and produced hundreds of manuscripts.  The stories are written in Tagalog and incorporate themes from a time we already call 'history'.  Some of the plot lines and characters we may have seen in foreign fairy tales, and these will make the historical more familiar to us.  The translated (and slightly abbreviated and annotated) version that I'm posting is by Gilda Cordero-Fernando and taken from the book "The Best of Lola Basyang: Timeless Tales for the Filipino Family" which has the original author at the byline. Bienvenido Lumbera, a respected figure in Filipino Literature, was the one who selected the 12 stories featured in the book.  My heart echoes Lumbera's words in the book's introduction:
"In the age of many competing tales and technologies, may the new readers coming to Lola Basyang for the first time receive the old seeds and feel new flowers spring from them." - B. Lumbera
"The Forgotten Princess" is, for me, a typical Filipino love story. There is great anguish that spans many years and causes many tears to be shed.  But, of course, true love still triumphs over all.  It is a fairy tale with an almost soap operatic feel.  I hope you enjoy it.

A long time ago there lived a weakling king named Kretaus.  After his wife died he married another woman named Sidira.

Sidira was a strong-willed woman with a heart of ice, and it wasn't long before she had the timid king in the palm of her hand.  It was no secret throughout the kingdom that King Kretaus spent his days scurrying here and there, granting the selfish queen her every whim.

Now Kretaus had a daughter by his first marriage named Ogarta.  Ogarta was good and kind, and so lovely that ardent suitors--many of them princes from other lands--waited in line outside the palace gates just for a glimpse of her.

The queen delighted in meddling in the princess' affairs.  Everywhere Ogarta turned, Sidira loomed like a monstrous shadow.  Nothing pleased the queen more than to thwart her stepdaughter's every desire.

The young princess suffered all this in silence.  Even if Sidira was terribly abusive or cruel, Ogarta did not run to her father for help.  She knew that her father was too weak to stand up to his overbearing wife.

One morning, while Ogarta was rearranging the plants on the balcony outside her parents' royal chamber, she happened to overhear her father and stepmother talking.  As usual Sidira was complaining to Kretaus: "That daughter of yours is stubborn and ungrateful.  She has never done a thing to please me."

"Come now, dear," replied the king.  "Ogarta has been nothing but good and kind to everyone.  No one in the palace has ever spoken a bad word against her."

"There you go, defending her again," Sidira snorted.

"I'm not taking sides, my love," said the king. "But I know my daughter has a good heart."

"To you she's all sweetness and light," Sidira said.  "But she has never shown me any real respect, perhaps because I am not her real mother."

"I asked her to love and obey you from the very start," said the gentle king. "But if what you say is true, then please be patient and I will talk to her."

Sidira laughed a malicious laugh.

"What a foolish king you are.  Can't you see that your daughter and I are like oil and water?  We will  never get along.  No, my King, this kingdom isn't big enough for Ogarta and me.  The best thing is for us to live in separate kingdoms."

"What do you mean?"

"I won't ask you to punish your daughter but I think it's time that Ogarta be on her own.  I feel that among her many suitors Prince Orlok is the best candidate.  He's madly in love with her! It would be wise to marry the two as soon as possible.  This way Ogarta won't have to feel that I'm interfering with her life."

A wrinkle grew on King Kretaus's brow as he considered his wife's proposal.  This was not the first time that Sidira had expressed an interest in marrying off the young princess.

"I just don't know," the king hesitated.  "Prince Orlok is a fine young man. But does Ogarta  love him?"

"Kretaus, what an incurable romantic you are! It's not your concerns whether she loves him or not.  It's up to us to choose a suitable husband for Ogarta.  Besides, we owe Orlok's father a great deal.  Why, this gold crown that I'm wearing is from him.  And the vast lands west of here where we ride and hunt are gifts from Orlok's grandfather.  Have you forgotten your debt of gratitude to Orlok's family?  Orlok is crazy for Ogarta. It will be a terrible disgrace if he does not have her as his bride."

Again the king hesitated.

Finally the queen spoke, this time in a voice cold as steel.  "All right, I've tried to reason with you, but somehow you can't manage to get it through that pea-brain of yours.  The real reason why I'd like to get Ogarta married to the prince is because...she's fallen in love with someone else."

King Kretaus looked up in surprise.

"She has? With whom?"

"A commoner, my King."

"A commoner? Impossible! I will never allow my daughter to marry a nobody.  Who is this man?"

"I'm not sure. One of my huntsmen saw Ogarta in the company of a good-looking young man about five miles from the palace.  He didn't appear to be a person of high stature. In fact he was dressed rather shabbily."

This upset the king terribly.

"I will speak to Ogarta about this at once," he said.

Queen Sidira smiled.  Surely now her malicious plot to marry off the young princess would succeed.

II. 

The ground shuddered as Ogarta's beautiful brown horse galloped past the palace gates.  As was her habit, the princess was taking her daily afternoon ride.

Ogarta dug in her spurs and steered her horse toward the foot of the mountain where her loved lived.  For what the queen had said was true.  Ogarta and a young farmer named Limpo had been sweethearts for a long time.

Although Limpo was poor and unschoold, he had a fine character.  He was handsome and strong, and loved the princess more than everything in the world put together.

That day Limpo watched the princess from afar.  He had never seen her riding that fast before!  The princess dismounted before her hrose even came to a halt..  The farmer and princess embraced.

Limpo tied the horse to a tree. They walked to their favorite spot near a running brook surrounded by flowering trees.  They sat down on the soft, thick grass.

"Tell me why you are troubled, my love," asked Limpo.

Ogarta took his hand in hers and nodded.

"This morning I overheard my stepmother talking to my father. She wants me to marry Prince Orlok, whom she's long been trying to force on me."

"And what did your father say?"

"He said it was not for him to decide who I am to marry."

Limpo felt relieved. "Well, thank heavens for that."

"But, my darling," Ogarta said gravely. "My stepmother knows about the two of us. She told my father."

The young farmer was frightened.  He knew that if King Kretaus found out about them, he would surely lose Ogarta. Wrose, he could also lose his own life.

"Who could have told her?" asked Limpo.

"You know the queen/ She has spies everywhere."

"What will we do now?" Limpo asked helplessly.

"No matter what happens I'll never give you up," Ogarta replied. "You are the only man I'll ever love. I swear to love you forever."

"But your father will not have it..."

"I have a right to decide things for myself."

"He will punish you...."

"It doesn't mat--"

Ogarta stopped in mid-sentence.  For there, standing right behind them, was King Kretaus! He had instructed one of his guards to trail the princess as she rode out of the palace gates.  The guard had led the king to the foot of the mountain.

Now the king loomed behind the lovers, his face knotted in fury.  Without warning he raised his riding whip and struck the young farmer.  "If you ever see my daughter again, you will be shot!" he shouted.

Tears streamed down Princess Ogarta's face as she was led away.  Limpo thought his world would collapse. For him the thought of never seeing his sweetheart again was worse than a death sentence.

Ogarta returned to the palace with her father.  The king immediately ordered the princess locked up in a room in the palace, with a guard posted outside at all times.  "From now on," said the king harshly, "you will be a prisoner here.  You will not be set free unless you agree to the queen's wish that you marry Prince Orlok."

"Then you may as well have a coffin built for me," the princess declared. "For I will never marry Prince Orlok!"

"Now you can see for yourself how hard-headed she is," scoffed the queen.

From that day forth the beautiful Ogarta became a prisoner in her own castle.  She lived in solitude in a room behind a locked door.  All her needs--her food and clothing--were left at the door.

No one knew it, but the princess was pregnant.  After several months she secretly gave birth to a healthy son. She would not let her baby cry out for fear that the king and queen would take him away from her.

As soon as Ogarta was strong enough to get up, she wrapped her child in a warm blanket.  Then she went to the door and called for the guard.  Now this guard had been assigned to palace since Ogarta was a child.  She knew he would have helped her escape a long time ago if she only asked him.  But the princess was too considerate to put him at risk.  She knew that were she to escape, the guard would pay with his life.

The princess looked around to make sure no one else could hear them.

"Do you wish to help me?" she asked the guard.

"Have no doubt, beloved Princess," he answered. "If only for the dear memory of your late mother, I would gladly give up my life to serve you."

"I am deeply grateful," Ogarta answered.  "I want to confide in you.  Last night I gave birth to a baby boy. His father is the farmer Limpo, the only man I ever loved."

The guard was touched by the princess' words.  He was also stunned that a baby boy had been born in the room without his knowledge.

"You must not tell a soul," warned Ogarta. "If you want to help me, then take the child to his father.  He lives at the foot of the mountain.  I'm scared to death that if the baby stays one more day in this room my stepmother will find out."

"You can trust me," said the guard. "I will leave at nightfall. The child will be in his father's arms before daybreak."

That night the princess breastfed her baby for the last time. Then she gently wrapped him in a blanket and handed him over to the guard.  Holding the infant tightly against his bosom, the faithful guard began his perilous journey toward Limpo's mountain.

III

Years passed. The princess was growing old. Her world remained bound by the iron-grilled windows and the cold floor of her prison cell.

She refused to marry Prince Orlok, who was even more determined to marry her.  Each time she was asked, her answer was the same--she would never love him.

Meantime Ogarta's child grew up in Limpo's care. The famer named him Oskar.

Oskar was gifted with unusual strength and daring. He was an expert with the tabak (a large, slightly curved blade).  Oskar could chop a tree into firewood faster than anyone.  No one was a more skilled marksman than Oskar.  He was a perfect shot.  Together, father an son earned a decent living from hunting game in the mountains.

Limpo had told Oskar tha his mother had died when he was very young. Yet the young man never stopped asking about her. One day Limpo decided to tell him the truth.

"Now that you're old enough," said Limpo with great sorrow, "I will tell you the whole story.  Your mother is not dead.  She is a princess. Because of her love for me, a commoner, she's been imprisoned in a room in the palace for sixteen years.  If her stepmother, the queen, had her way, your mother would never leave her prison cell alive."

"My mother-- a princess?" said Oskar in wonder. "And she livess in the palace? Imprisoned in a room?"

"Yes," his father answered.  "Princess Ogarta is the most beautiful person I have ever known. But she remains a prisoner to this day. You were born and sent to me in secret because she didn't want you to fall into the hands of the king and his cruel wife."

Oskar sighed deeply. "Are you sure, Father, that my mother is still being held prisoner?"

"Yes, the guard who watches over your mother's cell is a faithful and loyal servant. He keeps me informed of everything that happens to her."

Stricken with grief, Oskar left his father and went deep into the forest to reflect on what he had just learned.

IV

One day, as Limpo was walking home, he was surprised to see his son and a group of men waiting for him in front of his hut.  Oskar had brought with him the strongest, most able young men of the mountains.  All of them were carrying tabaks.

"Take us to the palace and show me where my mother is being held," Oskar demanded.  "I swear I wills set her free and punish her tormentors!"

Limpo marveled at his son's courage.  He had long wanted to put together a fearless army that could storm the castle and free his beloved Ogarta.  Now father and son led the way.

Word of their mission spread.  Oskar's army grew with every village they passed. More and more men joined them to avenge Princess Ogarta.

By th time they entered the capital, Oskar had thousands of followers.  All of them were fed up with the evil queen and her powerful hold over the weakling king.

Before King Kretaus had time to react, the palace was besieged by knife-wielding invaders.  Oskar's men poured like ants into the palace, easily overwhelming the palace guards.

It didn't take long before Oskar and his men broke into Kretaus royal chamber and found the king.

"Who are you and what do you want?" demanded King Kretaus.

"I have come to free my mother," said the young man.

"What are you talking about? Who is your mother?"

"The Princess Ogarta."

"And who is your father?"

"Here he is," said Oskar, motioning toward his father.

Oskar said, "Do you remember the man you lashed with a riding whip many years ago?  The man who was your daughter's sweetheart? Don't you recognize Limpo, the poor mountain farmer who loved Princess Ogarta with all his heart?"

The king felt faint.

"Bring my mother to me now!" Oskar ordered his grandfather.  "How dare you imprison her all these years for not obeying your hateful wife?"

The king considered the many knives pointed at him.  Fearfully he ordered that Princess Ogarta be brought to them.  In a short while she arrived, walking slowly behind the guards.

Limpo let out a short gasp as he took in the sight of his long-lost sweetheart.  After years in prison the once young and beautiful Ogarta now looked old and thin and had dark circles under her eyes.  But how he loved her still! "Oh my beloved," he sobbed.

"This can't be happening...." Ogarta murmured, not quite sure whether she was dreaming.  "Limpo, have you come at last?"

"Yes, I have.  Your brave son Oskar has come to set you free."

Mother and son gazed at each other for a long time. Pride and love surged through the princess' veins as she embraced the son she had last seen so many years before.

"Mother, my poor, poor mother," said Oskar, kissing her tear-stained cheeks.  Ogarta opened her arms to include Limpo, the only man she had ever loved and suffered so much for.

"My business here isn't finished. Where is the cruel Queen Sidira?" Oskar demanded.

Though the king was afraid to reveal the queen's hiding place, he was even more afraid of what might befall him if he did not.

"She's hiding under the dining table," he said.

Swiftly, Oskar strode to the heavy table and shoved it aside.  Beneath it, quivering in mortal fear, was the queen.

"Stand up or I'll spear you like the animal that you are," said Oskar.

Sidira got to her feet.

"Both of you will rot in prison forever," said Oskar to the king and queen.  "I will lock you up in the same cell where you kept my mother so that you will suffer the way she did."

The king knelt before Ogarta and begged for mercy.

Sidira's pitiful cries echoed throughout the palace.  She crawled across the floor and kissed Oskar's feet.

Oskar was moved with pity and said, "I will forgive my grandfather for he is old and weak.  But I can't forgive a queen who hates all and who all hate.  She will remain a prisoner for as many years as my mother."

"Have pity on me!" begged the heartless queen.

"No mercy for those who have none," said Oskar. "Now go!"  The soldiers, who were only too glad to oblige, grabbed the detestable queen and dragged her away.

From that day forth Oskar lived in the palace with his parents and grandfather.  Ogarta soon regained her strength and the beauty of a woman still in her prime.  It was not too late for the princess and her long-lost sweetheart to lvie happily ever after.

In time the king passed his crown to Oskar, who turned out to be a strong and just ruler, loved and admired by all.

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