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PRINCESS CARMELITA
(Adapted from the movie “El Laberinto Del Fauno” or “Pan’s Labyrinth”)

“Arise, my daughter. Come.”

Maya opened her eyes and found herself standing a great big hall made of gold and silver studded with precious jewels of all kinds. Her blood-soaked dress was replaced with a magnificent gown the colour of forest-green with diamonds and black laces everywhere. When she lifted her skirt, it revealed a pair of dark green buckled shoes that shone when it caught light. A diamond and ruby-studded tiara settled comfortably on her head and a long veil flowed down her silky brown hair, like she was in a wedding dress.

As she walked down the hall, she saw four thrones that towered all the way towards the ceiling and people of all forms of features, shapes and sizes sitting on both sides of the hall like one would in a stadium. The whole place looked like a church, with stained glass that let the light in, illuminating all the jewels in the hall, and her footsteps echoed as she walked towards the thrones. On the middle thrones sat a man and a woman in crowns and clothes as magnificent as hers who had silver white hair but had features as young as a twenty-year-old. Though she only seen them for the first time, Maya knew instinctively who they were.

“Father?”

“You have spilled your own blood rather than the blood of an innocent,” the King said proudly. “That was the final task and the most important.”

Suddenly Faun came out from behind the pillar that held the throne, followed by the fairies who danced around her, chirping happily and excitedly. Maya was both surprised and glad that the fairies she thought dead were alive and kicking, welcoming her back where she belonged. Faun walked towards her and took a bow.

“And you chose well, Your Highness. Welcome home.”

“Come here with me and sit by your father’s side,” the Queen said as she gestured her to the thrones. “He’s been waiting for you for so long. You may like who he has betrothed you to. He has waited for your return as well.”

It was then she noticed that there was a teenage boy dressed in dark blue and grey sitting beside the Queen. The boy noticed her staring and smiled, as if glad to be finally meeting his royal fiancé. The Queen was right; she did like who the King had betrothed her to, because her royal fiancée looked a lot like Pedro Sanchez, the errand boy that she loved.

As everyone in the hall gave her a standing ovation, she knew she had chosen the perfect ending for the Princess.

*

Pedro couldn’t stop the tears from falling. He had gotten to her too late. When he and his colleagues went to search for Maya, with the red string tied to his wrist so that they would not get lost, they saw the Count coming out of the centre of the labyrinth with Alexandra in his arms. Seeing himself surrounded by the law-enforcers, he knew he was defeated. He handed Alexandra to Pedro. He knew that although he was to be arrested and lose his Count title and rights, at least his son was in good hands.

“Tell my son that his father fought bravely. Tell him that…”

“No,” Pedro said as he backed away a little, holding Alexandra close to his chest. “He won’t even know your name. Take him away.”

Either it was the sedatives still in his system or the sense of defeat, he didn’t resist arrest as one of Pedro’s colleagues took him away, following the string out of the labyrinth. He then went into the labyrinth centre and found Maya lying on a pool of blood, struggling to breathe. The gunshot wound she sustained was fatal and there was no doctor in the world that could save her. All he could do now was make her passing more peaceful, and as he sung her his grandfather’s lullaby, he watched as she smiled and slipped away from his arms quietly.

He knew that his presence before she died was the happiest moment of her life, but the guilt of unable to fulfill his promise to her still remained.

And would remain till the end of time.

And it is said that the Princess returned to her father’s kingdom. That she reigned with justice and a kind heart for many centuries. That she was loved by her people. That she left behind small traces of her time on earth, visible only to those who know where to look.

PRINCESS CARMELITA
(Adapted from the movie “El Laberinto Del Fauno” or “Pan’s Labyrinth”)

Maya watched quietly as the Count sewed up his torn face in front of a mirror, his back facing towards her. She didn’t know what happened and didn’t understand what the Count went through to get that cut, but she didn’t have time to investigate. Her sole mission right now was to get her fiancée as requested.

She managed to trace a door on another side of the wall and find herself in the Count’s study. Ever since the Countess died, he carried his son everywhere he went with his portable crib. He would never leave the baby out of his sight, except when he had to go off on business, both legally and illegally. And right now, Alexandra was sleeping in his crib a few feet away from his father.

She hid under the table when she saw the Count done with his sewing, moving as silently as possible behind one of the bookshelves when she realized that the Count felt her presence. She felt like kicking herself when she saw her chalk left under the table she was hiding in plain sight of the Count’s view. He got out his gun and looked around after checking out to see if his son was alright. Maya’s heart thumped so hard she could hear it in her ears as she felt the Count moving closer and closer towards her position.

As luck would have it, the Count’s search was interrupted when one of the errand boys came in and asked him to go to the living room. The Count looked around suspiciously for a while before following behind the errand boy. Maya heaved a sigh of relief as she came out of her hiding place. She walked as quickly but quietly as possible towards the table and opened the bottle of vodka he had left on it, took out the sedatives she had kept in her pocket and emptied half of the content into the bottle. She shook the bottle to mix them all up together before moving towards crib and picked her baby fiancée up, whispering, “We’re leaving. Together. Don’t be afraid. Nothing is going to happen to you.”

Carefully, she carried Alexandra in her arms and attempted to walk out of the study when she heard the Count’s voice talking to one of Alberto’s men. Unbeknownst to her, that man was the only survivor of the ambush to make it to the manor to warn the Count about the incoming law-enforcers to arrest them and put his slave trade down the dumps. The Count ordered him to make arrangements to evacuate all the children from his cellar and call for the earliest ship possible to ship them all to one of his connections’ industry building until the incident blows over. The man nodded and went off to do his bidding while the Count poured himself a drink. They had left the door open, and the Count was busy tending to the pain of his face after gulping down the vodka, so all Maya had to do was sneak out of the study and make a run for it.

Before she could make it halfway out of the door, a sudden explosion was heard downstairs. The Count was alerted and saw Maya at the doorway with his son. He was enraged, but somehow, because of the dosage Maya put in his drink, the sedatives immediately kicked in and all he could do was say, “Leave him.”

Maya definitely did not want to do that and made a dash for it, leaving the Count trying to chase after her while fighting the effects of the sedatives. As they played cat and mouse with each other, they saw that outside, a huge battle was going as a huge group of law-enforcers ambushed the manor, taking down the people who tried to fight them and arresting everyone inside the manor. The Count didn’t care all that. Let the little people handle the situation. He had to save his son from his wretched daughter-in-law.

As the ambush, raiding and arresting continued, Pedro and a few of his colleagues stormed up to Maya’s room to look for her, but she was nowhere to be seen. Instead there were only the mysterious chalk markings of a door on a wall left behind after she escaped from the room to get Alexandra. Pedro feared the worse.

“Maya? Maya dear? Where could she be?”

Meanwhile, the Count continued to chase after Maya, his adrenaline overpowering the sedative effects, all the way into the labyrinth. Maya had to get away fast before he caught up after her—he was an adult after all to able to outrun her—but she was running out of roads to go. Everywhere she went was a dead-end and she was standing in front of one right now.

Just when she thought she was not going to make it out alive, one of the stone walls beside her opened, leading her straight into the centre of the labyrinth where the gorge was. As she went through the clearing made for her, every wall she passed through closed behind her, covering all her tracks before the Count could catch up with her. Faun was waiting for her outside the gorge and was happy to see her.

“Quickly, Your Highness!” he said as he gestured for her to come to him. Maya did just that. He then said, “Quick, give him to me. The full moon is high in the sky and we can finally open the portal.”

Maya saw the dagger she had retrieved from the creature’s lair in Faun’s hand and backed away, asking defensively, “What’s that in your hand?”

“The portal will only open if we offer the blood of an innocent,” Faun said as he tried to downplay his way of holding the dagger. “Just a drop of blood, that’s all. It’s the final task. Hurry!”

Maya shook her head and backed away even further. She was still reminded about Pedro’s words about fauns being tricksters and she was not taking any chances, not with him holding a lethal weapon. Faun was annoyed.

“You promised to obey me!”

“Obey you? I’m the Princess!” Maya exclaimed, making clear her supposed position in front of Faun.

“Give me the boy!” Faun growled but Maya held Alexandra closer to her chest.

“No! My fiancée stays with me! I promised him that I’ll make him my Prince, and if I cannot get that from you, I’m sure as hell not going to put him under your hands!”

“Your fiancee? Your Prince?” Faun asked, angry and surprised at the same time. “You would give up your sacred rights for this brat you barely know?”

“Yes, I would. He’s my future husband, and I’m not leaving without him.”

“You would give up your throne for him? He who caused you such misery, such humiliation?”

“Yes, I would.”

Faun looked up and stared briefly at something behind her, then smiled and said, “As you wish, Your Highness.”

Suddenly she felt a tug at her shoulder. She was horrified to see the Count right behind her. He had finally caught with her at last, but how long was he there? Was he there when Faun was threatening her, or was he there when Faun was gone? Without a word, he took Alexandra away from her and walked off.

“No! Father Garcia, please…”

Her words stopped abruptly as she heard a loud explosion and a sharp pain on her gut. Her eyes shifted to the smoking gun that was in the Count’s hand and realized that she was being shot. She knew this would happen sooner or later, but she didn’t think it would happen this way. The Count was leaving, taking her baby fiancée with her. He was taking away the only family she had left. The only family she could trust and belong to forever. The only family she ever loved.

“My…husband…please…”

Her body failed her. Blood was seeping through her clothes and her hand was covered with it when she touched it. She fell to her knees and onto the ground beside the edge of the gorge. Her breath grew shallower and shallower, her eyesight slowly getting more and more blur. The last thing she remembered was the soft touches of hands and Pedro’s voice humming the wordless lullaby.

As she slowly slipped away, a few drops of her blood fell into the gorge…

PRINCESS CARMELITA
(Adapted from the movie “El Laberinto Del Fauno” or “Pan’s Labyrinth”)
Pedro knew it was now or never. He had to leave tonight. Suspicions were hovering around the manor and the Count, although he did not mention it directly, had his eyes especially on Pedro. He was handling the children with Alberto one day when one of them, out of anger, lashed out at him saying that they would be caught by the law-enforcers and burn in hell for what they were doing. When the Count asked what he meant, the child blurted out about some of his friends being smuggled out by an errand boy to be given to the law-enforcers in order to testify against him. The Count tried to squeeze more information out of the child, the child said he’d rather die than betray the errand boy and help the Count in his dastardly deeds and banged his head against the wall hard, killing himself instantly.
Pedro knew he was going to be in trouble. He had been involved in the dealings with slaves alongside the Count and Alberto, so it was no surprise that he was the first in the list of suspected people. He had to leave and report to the camp immediately. But first, he had to say goodbye to someone.
Quietly, he crept into Maya’s room and whispered, “Maya, Maya, wake up.”
Maya stirred and asked, “What is it, Pedro?”
“Maya, I’m leaving tonight. It’s not safe for me to stay here any longer anymore.”
“Where to?”
“I’m sorry, Maya dear. I can’t tell you.”
“Take me with you,” Maya said suddenly, catching him by surprise.
“No, no, I can’t. I can’t do that. You know the drill. I can’t, Maya dear. But I’ll come back for you, I promise…”
“I don’t care,” Maya said, hugging him tightly. “Take me with you. I have nothing here. I don’t mean anything to the Count anymore. I cannot do what I promised to Alexandra anymore. Please, take me away.”
After much persuasion (and a brother’s aching heart for a sister), Maya finally got Pedro to take her with him. Quietly and stealthily, the duo went out through the back door of the kitchen and out into the pouring rain. Armed with only an umbrella, they braved their way into the woods in search of Pedro’s colleagues’ secret camp. Halfway through, Pedro stopped short, looking around warily.
“I heard something,” Pedro whispered, then looked around for another minute or two before saying, “No, it’s nothing. Don’t worry.”
Pedro couldn’t be further than the truth, because as they spun round to continue their way, they saw the Count and Alberto and his men standing right behind them. They were found! They were busted! They were done for!
“Pedro,” the Count muttered venomously and shifted his gaze towards his daughter-in-law, “Maya. I should’ve known.”
There was no doubt something bad awaited their fate.
While Alberto and his men dragged Pedro to the warehouse, the Count dragged Maya back to her room. He grabbed her by the shoulders, shaking her and asked, “How long have you known about this? How long have you been laughing at me? You little bitch! I knew you were trouble the very first moment I saw you!”
The Count gave her a slap before throwing her onto her bed. As he went out of the room and locked it, he turned to a few of Alberto’s henchmen, who followed after him, and said, “Watch her. If anyone tries to get in, kill her first.”
Maya broke into tears thinking about what might happen to Pedro under the Count’s custody. Everything went so wrong. Ever since her failure of her second task, everything went horribly wrong. Not only had she brought the curse of Faun’s denouncing onto her, but to the person that she loved as well.
What could possibly get worse than this?
*
“You can go, Alberto. Leave him to me.”
Pedro was in the cellar with the other sobbing children, tied to one of the pillars that held the ceiling of the cellar together. While the Count handled Maya, Alberto and his men had their chance to ravage Pedro, and needless to say, when the Count came down the cellar, he was covered with cuts and bruises everywhere.
“Are you sure, Master?” Alberto asked, a little unsure.
“For God’s sake, Alberto, he’s only an errand boy.”
Alberto nodded and went up. As the Count came closer to Pedro, he struggled to speak.
“That’s what you’ve always thought. That’s why I was able to get away with it. I was invisible to you.”
“Damn, young boy,” the Count grinned, looking slightly impressed. “You’ve discovered my weakness: arrogance. But it’s your weak points we’re interested in. I want you to tell me who sent you and what are they planning to do with me, and I’m sure some of these things may persuade you to do so…”
While the Count talked, his back facing towards him and preparing all the torture devices he had beforehand to make him talk, Pedro reached for his back pocket for the small knife he had kept hidden in it and started cutting the rope that tied his hands together on the pillar. As an errand boy, there were things he needed to cut with his knife, especially ropes that get tangled on young calves and seals whenever there is a delivery from town, and the knife was slim and small enough to be hidden and remain undetected in his back pocket without rousing any suspicion.
As soon as he broke free, the first thing he did was stab the Count on the back. He added another stab onto his shoulder for good measure before pressing it threateningly inside the Count’s mouth. The children, who were witnessing all this, cheered him on.
“I am a law-enforcer, not some child you can boss around and torture at! I am not a little boy you can tell what to do anymore! You son of a bitch! Don’t you even dare touch the girl! If I see even a hair missing from Maya, get it through to your thick skull that you will not be the first chicken I have gutted!”
With that, he cut through the Count’s cheek and quickly made his way out of the cellar, promising to the children that he would come back for them. The Count, after struggling to get on his feet and fight the pain that was throbbing badly on his cheek, gave the order to Alberto and his men to give chase. They mounted their horses and chased after the poor Pedro all the way to the middle of the woods before cornering him. This is it, he thought. I’m going to die in enemy lines and in the hands of these dogs.
“Now then, Pedro,” Alberto said as he got off his horse and prepared to capture him. “You know we’ve been friends for so long, and you know I’m very fond of you. You’re my best friend, and the last thing I want to do is hurt you like this, but you betrayed the Master and I had no choice. It’ll be better if you come with me without struggling. The Master said if you behave…”
Alberto never got to finish his words because three shots were fired at him out of nowhere, killing him instantly. More fires were shot and exchanges of fire between Alberto’s men and the mysterious shooter, or shooters, ensued. After all the men were killed, the mysterious shooters revealed themselves as his colleagues. One of them, who so happen to be his cousin, came to him and hugged him, telling him that he had done a great job and everything will soon be over while the rest of his colleagues checked through the bodies to see if there were any evidence they could salvage from them.
Meanwhile, Maya was in her room contemplating about what her fate has in store for her. She dared not think of it, but she was sure she would get even worse treatment than she had just received from the Count. He might end up force her to do unimaginable things and would be at his mercy every single moment of her living days, or worse. In a way, she thought, I think I deserve all this. I screwed up the previous task, I broke the rules, and I killed my fairy friends. I deserve to be punished. I…
In the middle of her musings, the ever familiar sounds of cricket echoed through her room. She looked up and saw her fairy friend flying towards her, chirping happily as she perched onto her extended finger.
“I’ve decided to give you one last chance.”
Oh, how happy she was to see Faun standing proud and tall in front of her. She quickly got up and hugged him, relieved to see finally another familiar face. Faun chuckled and reciprocated, patting her head with one hand and stroking her back with the other.
After a brief moment of reunion, Faun made her face him and said, “Now, do you promise to do what I say? Will you do anything I tell you without question? This is your last chance.”
Maya nodded hard. She’s willing to do anything to turn things around and make up for her mistake.
“Alright, then listen to me. Fetch your fiancée and bring him to the labyrinth as quickly as you can, Your Highness.”
“My fiancée?” Maya asked, surprised.
“We need him,” Faun replied briefly.
“But…”
“No more questions. Just do as I say.”
“But the door is locked. I can’t leave.”
“In that case, create your own door,” Faun said as he took out another chalk for her. Maya took it and nodded before Faun disappeared into the shadows again.
It’s now or never.

PRINCESS CARMELITA
(Adapted from the movie “El Laberinto Del Fauno” or “Pan’s Labyrinth”)
The rain was pouring outside the manor, signaling the rainy seasons. As Maya would volunteer to send in the Countess’ meals for the day, she accidentally overheard the conversation between the Count and Alberto and his men in the study. She was surprised that Pedro was not in the room as Pedro was also part of the trading business—pretending is more like it, to be exact. From what she understood from their hushed talking, she discovered that the Count had begun to suspect that there is a mole in the manor trying to bring their slave trading down and throw them into the slammer. They were planning to investigate and interrogate each and every one of the workers in the household as they were the most suspected ones, and errand boys were not excluded.
Maya’s heart skipped a bit. Errand boys? But that would mean Pedro would be interrogated as well! What if Pedro didn’t know what to say? What if the Count and Alberto saw through his façade and lies and execute him on the spot? That would be detrimental for the both of them! She would never return to her village and spend the rest of her life under the Count’s tyrannical regime! She couldn’t let that happen to him! She had to warn him somehow!
She was so nervous that she accidentally dropped the bread from the tray, making a considerable loud thump. Hastily, she picked up the bread and ran as quietly as she could upstairs to deliver the Countess’ meal. Before she went off to warn Pedro, she decided to check on the mandrake root first. Cautiously, she crept under the bed and checked the root out. It didn’t seem like it’s moving, just lying there quietly without making a sound. Maya was worried that it was no longer alive, ever since Faun denounced her from her Underground home.
“You’re not moving,” Maya whispered as she poked and prodded lightly at the root. “Are you ill?”
Before she could get a reaction, she suddenly felt a tug at her ankles. It was Alberto, pulling her out of the bed and in front of the Count’s shoes. The Count pulled her up roughly and growled, “I heard a noise. Didn’t think it was you. What are you doing down there?”
Maya didn’t know what to say. The Count decided to investigate by himself. He reached down and took out the bowl of milk carrying the root. By now, through time, the root had begun to grow and assimilate with the bowl, making the bowl as part of its body. The Count took a whiff and was taken aback by its gingery manure smell. He glared at Maya and asked, “What the hell is this?”
Maya was still speechless. All she could do was shake her head as she watched him with trepidation. How could she tell him the truth? How could she tell him that it was given by a Faun who left her in the human world for dead? She doubted that he would believe him. Seeing that his daughter-in-law was not talking, the Count grabbed the root and pulled it out of the bowl, breaking parts of the smaller roots that connect it with it. Maya was horrified. He can’t do that! He can’t! He would kill his wife and the baby! She tried to reach over to take the root from his hand but she was held back by Alberto.
“No! No! No, please! Leave it alone! Please, no!”
“Leave her. Leave her alone, please!”
The Count turned around to see his wife awakened by the commotion. Pedro, who just so happened to finish his chores and wanted to come up and see Maya, found everyone in that state.
“Master, is there something wrong?” Pedro asked as he pried Alberto’s hands away from his Young Mistress.
“Yes, dear. What is the matter?” the Countess asked.
“Look at this!” the Count said as he brandished the root at his wife, who in turn was shocked by the sight of it. “Look what she was hiding under your bed! What do you think of this?!”
“Maya, what is this thing doing under the bed?” the Countess turned to Maya, looking confused.
“It’s…It’s a magic root that a…a faun gave me…I…” Maya replied, tears trickling down her face. Her heart ached at the sight of the Countess’ face. Please don’t look at me this way, please…
“This is what you get when you have a daughter-in-law who reads all this junk! Look what it has done to her!”
“Please, sir,” Pedro stepped forward and coaxed the Countess to lie back in bed. “She is my responsibility. I’ll talk to her. I promise this will not happen again.”
The Count glared venomously at Maya, then threw the root for Pedro to catch and said, “Fine. See to it that it doesn’t. And Pedro, meet me later this evening in the study. I’d like to ask you a few questions.”
“Yes, Master.”
With that, Pedro waited until the Count and Alberto left the room before excusing himself from the Countess and dragging the teary Maya along with him to his room. Once inside, Pedro asked, “What is the meaning of this? You know better than to believe in all sorts of nonsense like this. This is nothing but a dead root left to stench. What were you thinking?”
“The faun told me she would get better with this. And he’s right; she did get better. Don’t you see…?”
“Maya, you have to listen to the Count for the time being. You have to be patient. You have to stop all this if you want our plans to work. We’re so close. We’re close to a breakthrough. The last thing I want is for you to screw it up.”
“No, I want to leave this place! Please, take me away from here! Please, let’s just go! I don’t care about my marriage anymore. It means nothing to me. I just heard them talking. They’re starting to suspect you, and they’re going to interrogate you this evening. Please…let’s just go, please…”
“I have suspected that much. I’ll know what to do when that time comes. But now, things are not that simple. You’re getting older, and soon you’ll see it for yourself—and for real—that life isn’t like your fairytales. The world is a cruel place, Maya, and you’ll learn that, even if it hurts.”
So saying, Pedro walked closer to the fireplace and threw the root he was holding into the burning flames. Maya was horrified. How could he do that? Out of all people, why him? He’ll kill the Countess and the baby! He has to take it out!
“No, no, Pedro! Please, you’ll kill the baby…”
“Maya!” Pedro spun round, raising his voice at her for the first time and grabbing her shoulders, shaking her. “Magic does not exist. Not for me, you or anyone else. Do you hear me? No more of these theatrics! No more!”
Maya had no choice but to watch the poor mandrake root squeal and squirm as the fire consumed it whole. Though the rain and the sound of crackling flame overpowered its voice, making Pedro deaf to its cries, Maya could still hear it, and it was a sound worse than death.
Suddenly they heard the maids screaming for help. As Maya feared, the Countess was in pain. Her time had come, and the labour pangs were starting to kick in. The Count hollered for the doctor and the maids were moving in and out of her room with the things needed to facilitate the birth. Pedro left her alone and went off to help out with whatever else they needed. Maya could hear the Countess’ moans and groans of pain coming from her room and feared the worse. She wanted to take the root out and salvage what was left of it, but she was too late. The mandrake root had shriveled up and burnt into a crisp. There was no way she could bring it back to life again.
As the doctor went in to start the delivery process, the Count, Maya and Pedro waited outside. Many things went through her mind as they waited nervously for the birth to be over. What was going to happen to the Countess and the baby? Would they be alive and well? Would they live or would they die? How could they be sure it would turn out to be a boy? Madame Adrianna made wrong predictions before, so what if she was wrong about the sex of the baby? Or its fate for that matter? For all she know, she could end up being married to a girl or the baby would end up being stillborn despite the engagement ceremony. What would her future hold then? Even Pedro’s reassuring stroke on her back didn’t make any difference in calming her down.
After what felt like forever, tiny squalls of a baby could be heard from the room. The Count quickly made his way to the door and waited for it to open. There were good news and bad news written all over the doctor’s face as he came out wiping his bloody hands. The good news was that the baby was alive and well, and was a boy. The bad news was that the Countess had lost so much blood that she died as soon as the baby was out. She never even got the chance to hold him or see him.
An elaborate funeral was held behind the manor to bury the Countess. It was a mixed feeling between the celebration of life and the mourning of the dead as everyone attended the funeral. The Count made plans with the priest for the baptizing of his son whom he named Alexandra Garcia while Maya helped to put away the Countess’ things into the attic. She found it sad that the Count did not want to leave anything of remembrance for his son to think of his mother by, and that he was willing to put her in the past as a forgotten memory, but she was in no place to question his authority. She was the Young Mistress Garcia, and before her husband comes of age and become the next Count Garcia, she had no say over anything and must fulfill her duties to the current Count.
Before she left, she saw the bottle of sedatives the doctor gave the late Countess when she was still pregnant and very ill. She picked it up and looked at it for a while, a considering look ran across her face. Finally she decided to keep the sedatives. Pocketing it, she carried the rest of the Countess’ stuff and made her way into the attic.
She would think of some way to use it sooner or later.

PRINCESS CARMELITA
(Adapted from the movie “El Laberinto Del Fauno” or “Pan’s Labyrinth”)
The next day, Maya offered to bring in the Countess’ breakfast. The least she could do for the Countess after her bloody ordeal was to look after her as much as the doctor and the Count would allow her too. After all, the baby inside her is still her husband, and since she couldn’t love the one she want, she might as well make an effort and love the one she’s with. In order to do that, she had to make the Countess feel better, and this was where the mandrake root given by Faun came in.
As she entered the room, she saw the Countess having a slightly fitful sleep, moving here and there occasionally, as if she was having a bad dream. Flashbacks of her own nightmarish encounter with the creature rang in her mind, making her wonder what would Faun’s reaction be if he were to ask of her mission, but that would be a matter settled later. She had important business to attend to. Maya put the tray of milk and bread on the table and reached over to caress the Countess’ belly. If she were to try and love her baby fiancée, she might as well get a head start now.
Taking out the mandrake root and a small bowl she smuggled from the kitchen out of her shirt, she filled the bowl with the milk from the jug and placed the root into the bowl. Almost immediately, the root began to come to life at the touch of the milk—catching Maya off guard—and made a sort of gurgling baby-like sounds, moving its arms and legs like a baby would when it sees its mother. Seeing the mandrake root moving like that made her thought of what she would do when the time came to take care of her future baby husband.
Carefully, she crept under the bed with the mandrake root in the bowl of milk with her, taking care not to spill it. She moved it slightly where the Countess’ head may be and bit hard on her finger, drawing blood from it. As she put two drop of blood onto the root, she heard the family doctor and the Count coming in. She lay as quietly as possible so that they would not know where she was while she eavesdropped on their conversation.
“Her temperature is down, sir. I cannot explain why, but it is.”
“But she still has a fever, does she not?”
“Yes, but it’s a good sign. It means her body is responding to the treatment. But, sir, if it’s alright with you, if you still want to continue with the engagement ceremony, I think it’s best if you perform it with the Countess on bed. We don’t want to take any chances.”
“Listen to me, doctor. If you have to choose when the time comes, save the baby. My son will bear my name and my father’s name and I will not tolerate anything else. He is the last thing I want to lose, do you understand? Save him.”
Maya’s heart clenched as she heard those words before both the doctor and the Count left. Save the baby? Only the baby? What about his wife? What about the Countess who had been carrying this baby for so long? What about her? Was her life so insignificant that she was expendable like the children in the cellar? How could he? Does he not love his wife?
After making sure no one else was in the room, she crept out from under the bed and leaned on the Countess’ belly, whispering to him, “My husband, my dear little husband. If you can hear me, things aren’t so good out here. But soon you’ll have to come out. You’ve made your mother very sick, and you’ve made all the others around her worried for you and your mother. Though I’m in no position to say this, but your father isn’t one of the world’s greatest people either, and soon you’ll find out more disappointing things about him.
“I want to ask you one favour for when you come out, just one: don’t hurt her. You’ll meet her; she’s very pretty even though sometimes she is sad for many days at a time. You’ll see, when she smiles, you’ll love her. I know I did, and I still do. Listen, if you do what I say, I’ll make you a promise. I’ll be the best wife you’ll ever have, and I’ll take you to my kingdom and make you a prince. I promise you, a prince.”
As Maya left the room to let the Countess rest, she made a solemn vow that she would try her best to convince Faun to allow her to bring her baby husband along and make him a prince to rule alongside with her on her throne.
*
The Countess’ recovery was miraculous. Her appetite has regained and her colour returned, getting much better as time went by. She was even well enough to actually get off bed and carry on with the engagement ceremony, although she still needed to move about with her trusty wheelchair. The doctor couldn’t understand it, but he was glad all the same that his treatment worked.
The engagement ceremony was a success altogether. With both the blessings from the priest and Madame Adrianna, Maya and the Countess’ baby were officially engaged and the Count and Countess Maya’s parents-in-law. Maya eyed at the engagement ring which was help put on by the Count and the other engagement ring worn as a necklace around the Countess’ neck, reserved for her fiancée when he was old enough to wear it. Everyone who had showed up at the previous engagement ceremony was there, including Pedro who was the ring-bearer for the ceremony. Though her heart ached slightly at being unable to be engaged to him instead, she was happy all the same for having him to witness the ceremony. The only thing missing in the picture were her parents and grandmother. It’s been too long since she was in the Garcia Manor. None of them ever came up the mountain to visit her, and she had not heard even a word or single news from them. It was as if she was totally cut out from the outside world and became a forgotten person in her village. She often wondered at times how and what they were doing without her, but to want to go down and visit them was out of the question.
She would have to live with the fact that she was no longer a member of the Andre family for good.
Pedro had also been updating her about his undercover mission. It turned out that he and his fellow law-enforcer colleagues were almost having a breakthrough with the case as they managed to smuggled a couple of children from the cellars and keep them hidden with the team in their secret camp in the woods and the children were willing to testify against the Count. They even managed to convince some of the black market dealers’ errand boys to join in the testimony and when the time is right, they will arrest him and Alberto and his men. He promised that when everything was over, he would try to find a home for the Countess and her baby in Maya’s village so that she can both fulfill her duties as the Garcia’s daughter-in-law and be close to her family again.
Maya secretly looked forward to that and promised not to breathe a word and leave everything to him, swearing not to try and be a heroine and help him.
Later that night, after the ceremony, Maya was awakened by the familiar sounds of purring. It was no other than Faun who standing over her bed. Maya’s heart thumped nervously at the sight of him, the incident still fresh in her mind.
“Your mother-in-law looks much better now, Your Highness, and that you are finally engaged with the little child in her. You must be relieved.”
“Yes, thank you,” Maya replied, her eyes not daring to meet Faun’s. She wanted to keep her mouth shut about the incident, but her conscience beat her to it. “But things haven’t turned out so well.”
“No?” Faun asked, surprised.
“I…I had an accident…”
“An accident, you say?”
“Yes…”
Maya tentatively handed the cylinder box to Faun, trying to prepare for what’s coming to her next. Faun eyed at her suspiciously before opening the box. As expected, only her fairy friend flew out instead of the usual bunch, and from the tone of the grunt Faun made, she knew he had expected much. Her fairy friend flew up to Faun’s shoulder and chirped angrily at his ear. Maya could only assume that she was telling Faun about the incident. Her heart raced even harder as Faun’s face grew dark and angry.
“You broke the rules!” Faun bellowed, pointing an accusing finger at her.
“It was only two chunks of chocolate,” Maya tried to explain. “I thought no one would notice…”
“It seems that we have made a mistake,” Faun said as he took out the dagger she had kept inside the box after retrieving it from the creature’s lair. Maya froze. Was he going to kill her with that?
“A mistake…?”
“You failed. You can never return.”
“But it was an accident!”
“You cannot return!” Faun insisted, his voice much angrier than before. “You broke the rules, and therefore you must pay! The moon will be full in three days and there is nothing you can do about it. Your spirit will remain among humans forever. You’ll age like them, you’ll die like them, and your memory will fade in time. And we will vanish along with it. You will never see us again!”
Before Maya could stop him, Faun had already disappeared into the shadows along with the dagger and her fairy friend. She knew she had chosen the wrong ending for the legend. She would never return to her Underground Realm and she would never become the Princess she had longed for. And her baby husband would never become the Prince she had promised.
As she cried herself to sleep, she knew she had screwed up big time.

PRINCESS CARMELITA
(Adapted from the movie “El Laberinto Del Fauno” or “Pan’s Labyrinth”)
Maya was awakened by the creaking noise the floor made and the soft rumbling sounds the mixture of cat and lion purrs. As she rubbed the sleep from her eyes, Faun came into view, making a house call.
“You did not carry out the task,” Faun said in a matter-of-fact way.
“No…” Maya replied apologetically, “Well, you see, there’s the engagement ceremony, and then my mother-in-law suddenly fell ill…”
“Bah!” Faun waved her explanation away hastily. “That’s no excuse for negligence.”
“I apologize…”
A few seconds later, Faun materialized a piece of root that looked like a crossbreed between ginseng and ginger and handed it to Maya, saying, “Look, this is a mandrake root. A plant that dreamt of being human. Put it under your mother-in-law’s bed in a bowl of fresh milk and give it two drops of blood each morning. That should do the trick.”
Maya brought the mandrake root closer to her nose and smelt it. As usual it smelt of earth like Faun, but was also mixed with the overpowering smell of ginger and manure. She grimaced and hid the root under her mattress.
“Now we have no time to waste,” Faun said, getting back to business. “The full moon will be upon us soon. Here, take my pets to guide you through,” he said, handing over his cylinder-shaped box with the fairies inside to her, “You are going to a very dangerous place, so be careful. The thing that slumbers there, it is not human.”
Maya gulped nervously. Not human? What kind of creature could be worse than a toad or Faun, who was not so human himself?
Faun then handed her an hourglass made of copper, with sand the colour of the moon’s light, and warned, “You will see a sumptuous feast before you but do not eat or drink anything displayed there. You hear me? Absolutely nothing!”
Maya nodded, but Faun must have noticed the questioning eyes she was giving him because he said these before he disappeared into the darkness:
“Your life depends on it.”
*
Pedro, after lolling Maya to sleep, went to attend businesses of his own. After double-checking everything in the house and making sure everyone was sound asleep, he sneaked through the backdoor of the kitchen and made his way into the woods. In his pockets were copies of documents he made on the business transactions of slave trading. With his oil lamp in hand, he made a signal by covering and uncovering the light several times and paused between intervals before signaling again.
Sure enough, his fellow colleagues came out from their hiding place and they began switching information and news before shaking hands and departing from each other. Being the youngest member of the law-enforcing unit’s secret agents division, he had volunteered to go undercover when his team was assigned to the case of Count Miguel Garcia, suspected of being the mastermind behind countless smuggling of children from Africa and aborigines from parts of the Australia outback to be sold as slaves and cheap labour workers, and throughout his mission he had seen many of them who barely knew enough about the world being brutalized and sometimes even killed by the manhandling of the Count and Alberto’s team. During the day, he would run the usual household errands for both the Count and Countess, including babysitting Maya, and at night, he would work on preparing meals for the children in the cellar and helped call for carriages whenever there were transfers needed to be made. At the end of the day, when everything was said and done, he would go and report to his team which were camped out in the middle of the woods every chance he got to accumulate all the evidence they for the day. To bring down a Count with millions of connections like him, they need all the evidence they can get and more.
He had counted on the Count trusting him to be just an errand boy who would do his biddings without questions and judgment and would easily be ignored as he was just a worker and nothing else, but he had not counted on having his future daughter-in-law to fall for him. He knew it was just puppy love of sorts, but his experience growing up with two elder sisters told him that girls definitely mature much faster than boys emotionally, which is no wonder she had developed a crush for him.
He personally did not agree with matchmaking and arranged marriages, and certainly not the kind that Maya was going through, but he was in no position to question that. It was the way of their culture and his main focus is complete the mission.
Nothing more than that.
While Pedro quietly made his way back to the manor and into his room, Maya was getting ready to get down to business. She took out the book from the bathroom cabinet and opened it. As usual, the pages began to fill up, but with words and pictures this time. There was a drawing of a weird-looking man who was bald, tall and gangly, with two dots for his eyes and huge mouth filled with ugly sharp teeth. His hands stretched and curled into the shape of circles and in them was a little girl drawing something on the wall on the left and the little girl standing in front of a doorway on the right, while between the man’s legs that were bent in the shape of an O, the little girl was facing three small lockers with keyholes ready for her key to fit in. the instructions on the next page went as followed:
Use the chalk to trace a door anywhere in your room. Once the door’s open, start the hourglass. Let the fairies guide you. Don’t eat or drink anything during your stay and come back before the last grain of sand falls.
Maya did just as the instruction gave her. She took out the chalk she had hidden under her pillow and looked around for a place wide enough to trace a door. She picked the wall her bed was leaning on and traced the shape of a door as straight as she could. To her surprise, a seam began to appear on the wall where the chalk marks were, forming a small gap that could open like a door. She slowly pushed it open and found herself staring down a long, gloomy hallway, with blood-red walls and tall, bone-like pillars along it. The floor was tiled in pink and white, like a checkerboard and she could occasionally hear low exhales of breath from down the hallway.
Maya took a deep breath and stepped into the hallway, taking with her the fairies in the cylinder box and the key in her nightclothes’ pocket. She upturned the hourglass so that the one with sand was on top. Not wanting to waste anymore time, she made her way down the hallway towards the sound of exhaling breath. Moments later, she saw in front of her a huge dining room like the ones in kings’ castles she read in her storybooks. Here, the ceiling above was concaved like a half circle, and sure enough, as mentioned by Faun, there was a huge, long table laden with everything delicious and edible, from pot-roast to pumpkin pie to fruit salad, from fried chicken to baked fish and potatoes, from cherry-covered fruit cake to ice-cream to jugs upon jugs of all forms of drinks imaginable. Everything was there ready for the taking, but Faun’s warning rang through her mind and she dare not touch them, tempting as they were.
At the main seat, there sat with its back facing the fireplace the creature that was depicted in the Book of Crossroads. Like the drawing, it was bald and skinny, tall and gangly-looking, with both of its hands on the table. Its face was bare save two holes for its eyes and a mouth that looked like the one she saw when one of the cooks was removing the scales from a catfish. It had skin hanging from his arms and face, and its bones were jutting out, including its ribs, as if it had not eaten for a very long time. Its hands were bony as well, with black fingernails to match, and between its hands laid a plate that had two tiny balls on it. Seeing that the creature did not react at her presence, she picked up the plate and saw that the balls were actually eyes. It finally came to her that the holes on its face were not eyes, but a pair of nostrils for it to breathe. So, if those were its eyes and it couldn’t see without them, where did they go on its face? She shuddered to think of it as she replaced the plate back between the creature’s hands.
It was when she looked up to see the mosaic on the ceiling and the shoes the size of children’s feet at one corner of the dining room that she knew the seriousness of the situation. According to the mosaic, it was a creature that did not eat normal food, but children’s flesh. Illustration of it grabbing children, stripping them and carving them with its dagger before stuffing them into its guts showed the fact that Faun was right about it: it was not human. Maya got goose pimples and a chill went down her spine just thinking about what it would do to her. It was best to heed Faun’s words for now.
She opened the box to release the fairies inside it. They flew out, chirping with glee that they were getting some fresh air and led her to another corner of the room, revealing a tall cabinet where there were three small lockers made of copper, silver and gold each on the upper level. They flew back and forth from the copper to the silver to the gold locker and back again until her fairy friend stopped at the silver locker and pointed at the keyhole excitedly. Maya took out the key from her pocket and inserted it into the keyhole.
When she was about to turn the key, instinct told her that this was not the locker she should open. She didn’t know why, but somehow something inside her told her that this was not the right one. She shifted her gaze towards the gold locker and shook her head again. Definitely a far cry than this silver locker, she thought and took out the key, putting it into the copper locker. As luck would have it, the key turned, unlocking the door and slipping it open. She slowly reached in and felt something velvet inside it. She then took hold of it and took it out, revealing something that was wrapped in expensive-looking red velvet. When she unwrapped it, it revealed a shiny dagger that shone brighter than any blade she had ever seen with a handle of welded gold and silver and the same design of surreal fire from the stone slab she saw in the labyrinth on it. She would’ve marveled at it even longer if she hadn’t been reminded by the fairies’ chirps that time was ticking and that the sand in the hourglass might run out sooner or later.
That was when she stopped short for a moment. She caught sight of her favourite snack: bars upon bars of chocolates readily broken into bite size as finger food. She had not eaten much since the incident during the engagement ceremony and the sight of chocolate fed her hunger pangs. The fairies realized her intentions and waved their hands at her, telling her not to even think about it, but the chocolates were simply too irresistible for her to ignore. She stole a look at the creature that was still sitting there without moving. Since it didn’t even see or react to any of her movements before, what’s a chunk of missing chocolate going to do? Not much difference, I’m sure, she thought.
Finally her weakness for chocolate overcame the warnings of Faun and the fairies. She waved them away and shooed them like one would do to a fly and took a chunk of chocolate from the bowl. Unbeknownst to her, as soon as she popped the chocolate into her mouth, the creature immediately came to life. It inhaled long and hard before reaching out to take its eyes on the plate, putting them into the holes on its palms. Holding up the back of its palms onto its face, it could see very clearly a little girl who was eating off one of the food from its dinner table. A very delicious-looking girl.
Maya was oblivious to what was going on behind her. All she could think of right now was popping another chunk of chocolate into her mouth. Still thinking that there’s no harm done, she took another chunk (waving the fairies away and wrestling it out of her fairy friend who tried to take it out of her fingers in the process). As she popped it into her mouth and licked her fingers, she finally heard the commotion that was going on behind her. She spun round to see the creature alive and kicking and very much intent in turning her into a three-course meal. The other fairies were trying to protect her by keeping it busy and distracted, but ended up getting caught and eaten by it within seconds.
Maya’s survival mode kicked in. She quickly made a dash for it, running for her life towards where she last left the door open. Except this time, the door was slowly closing, signaling that she was running out of time. The last grain of sand was falling and the door was threatening to shut her in with the creature after her tail.
“No! No! Don’t close! I’m still here! NO!!!”
Too late. The door had slammed shut. No matter how hard she pounded, it would not open for her. Even the seams that formed the door were gone. She had no choice but to draw another door. Out of nervousness, her chalk broke into half while she tried to draw. Her fairy friend, who was the last one standing, warned her that the creature was coming close. She could see it screeching bloody murder and moving as fast as its zombie-like body could towards her. There was no time to pick up the broken chalk. Climbing one of the pillars, she drew a door on the ceiling while praying hard not to get caught and become dinner as she could hear the creature coming closer and closer towards her.
Finally a door opened for her. Her fairy friend flew up first before she struggled to climb up. More screeches echoed down the hallway as the creature realized that its meal was running away. She could hear its footsteps gaining momentum and coming closer towards her. She could almost feel its breath against her ankles. Her fairy friend helped her as best as she could by pulling at her sleeves, but a little fairy could only do so much.
It was a close call. Before the creature’s black finger nailed-hands could grab her, Maya managed to climb up into her bedroom and slam the door shut before it could climb in after her. She watched as the seams of the door disappeared as the creature pounded at it, trying to get in. Maya’s heart almost stopped at the horrific ordeal she went through. So horrifying it was that she almost forgot to breathe. As she sat back on the bed trying to catch her breath, she realized the severity of the situation she was in.
“I did something wrong now, didn’t I?”
Nothing could be further from the truth.

PRINCESS CARMELITA
(Adapted from the movie “El Laberinto Del Fauno” or “Pan’s Labyrinth”)

“Alright, Book of Crossroads. Show me what my next task is.”

Maya was in the bathroom as usual opening the Book of Crossroads, waiting to see what was in store for her. After her meeting with Faun and the upcoming engagement ceremony, Maya was more determined to complete her mission and get the heck out of this manor. Especially when she had discovered a few skeletons in the Garcia Manor’s closets.

For example, after her meeting with Faun and after eating the cheese Pedro gave her, she went down to the kitchen secretly to get herself a glass of water when she accidentally saw the Count, Alberto and Pedro talking in hushed tones with a few burly-looking men in black coats and hats through the gap of the door of the study. When she quietly followed behind them towards the warehouse, she realized that the Count actually kept dark-skinned children at the underground coal cellar right beneath the warehouse. Some of them were about Pedro’s age or older, but most of them were almost the same age as she was. They were all wearing dog collars which were chained together with each other, forming a long line, and there were ropes tied around their wrists that were so tight they bled. They were shouted at harshly and were gagged to stop them from crying out loud and some were whipped, kicked and beaten when they tried to resist. All of them were pushed into a huge cage connected to several carriages before it was covered with a huge canvas and the carriage driven down the mountain.

Turned out that the Count led a double-life—a tobacco merchant by day and an illegal slave trader by night. Because the mountain where he lived was facing the sea, he would receive a steady supply of dark-skinned children from the black market that traveled by sea to be sold to his fellow high-classed friends as slaves or labour workers. Another interesting discovery was that although Pedro participated in the trading, when the Count was not looking or when everyone was in bed, the so-called errand boy would go off secretly to the woods and handed information about the trading to few other men who looked and dressed like law-enforcers. It seemed as if Pedro was working undercover for them to try and bring down the Count and his illegal trades, like an informant of sorts.

Maya decided to keep the secret she knew to herself. The last thing she wanted to do was get Pedro into trouble. She realized that somehow she had developed a fondness for the teenage errand boy that was more than just brotherly love. She would blush every time he approached and asked her if there was anything he could do for her. The feelings she was supposed to reserve for her future baby husband were blooming at the sight of him and her heart would race every time he did something nice for her. She knew that Pedro was an age too old for her and that she should not have feelings like this. Besides, he was only working undercover and may leave as soon as the Count gets arrested by the law-enforcers—and she is the future Young Mistress, after all—but she couldn’t help it. The warm and fuzzy feeling hung about her whenever she was around Pedro. Times without him around were lonely and at nights she often feared for his life whenever she heard him sneaking out of the house to pass another one of his information to the law-enforcers.

The Count and Countess would have her head for this if this ever went public, so she had no choice but to keep this little secret hidden deep within her heart.

As she took a deep breath to clear her mind, the pages began to fill up again. But this time, they were not covered with words or pictures. Instead, a slow, steady pattern of red swam across from both corners of them to the middle of the book, flowing down the spine like someone poured red dye on them. The red colour continued to spread through the rest of the pages, making a shape of a pair of butterfly wings and smelt horribly of sulfur and blood, and within the pages she could hear the faint sounds of a baby wailing, getting louder and louder by the second…

Maya quickly slammed the book shut. What does this mean? Is there something going to happen? Faun did say something about the book showing her future, so what was the book trying to tell her?

“Maya? Maya dear? Are you in there?”

Before she could figure out what was wrong, the sound of knocking on the bathroom door and Pedro’s kind voice woke her from her concentration. She quickly hid the book back behind the bathroom cabinet and opened the door.

“What are you doing in there so long, Maya?” Pedro asked with a naughty gleam in his eye.

“Nothing. Just an upset stomach,” Maya smiled as innocent as possible, trying hard not faint at the sight of his drop-dead gorgeous eyes.

“Uh-huh,” Pedro looked unconvinced, then shrugged and said, “Oh well, you better hurry and prepare yourself as soon as possible. The maids are preparing the water for your bath but you must hasten. The engagement ceremony is tonight, remember? Alberto has given me strict orders to watch you tonight so that you would not repeat the previous incident again. I will have to personally bath and dress you, so no going out tonight, understand?”

Maya nodded, feeling her body steam from head to toe. Pedro bathing and dressing her? Him seeing her naked? It was something she both dreaded and looked forward to.

Needless to say, she couldn’t go anywhere, not even to have another sneak peek of the book. She was kept under Pedro’s watchful eyes all day and she couldn’t go anywhere without having Pedro stalking her, watching her every move. At least the bright side was that she got to have Pedro all to herself instead of having to entertain the Countess or do the household chores alone.

Later that night, dressed in the same (but new) beautiful dress Alberto bought to replace the other, Maya made her grand appearance before dozens and dozens of guests who came to attend the ceremony. While they waited for the Countess to get ready to come down and complete the ceremony, the Count led her around the living room, introducing her to each and every Duke, Duchess, Baron, Baroness, Lord, Lady and Sir he knew. Everyone either whispered to each other about their opinion of the new bride-to-be or reached over to shake hands and compliment on her directly. Pedro was right: meeting dozens upon dozens of strangers who are going to judge you and consider your position as the future Young Mistress Garcia sure gives you the jitters, not to mention the pressure of meeting up everyone’s expectation of being the perfect bride to the future heir of a Count. Her stomach was doing the flip-flops and butterflies were ‘flying’ all over her insides as she prepared herself to be blessed by the priest together with her fiancée who still resides inside her future mother-in-law.

Suddenly there was a slight commotion upstairs. One of the maids rushed downstairs and called for the Count to go up. He excused himself and went up, leaving Maya to take care of the guests. But she was not about to be left in the dark as well, so she asked Alberto to take over and went upstairs to see what was going on. She was shocked to see that the bed the Countess was lying on was covered with blood and the Countess was still bleeding like it would never stop. The Count quickly called for the family doctor while the maids quickly took the bloody sheets away.

After what seemed like forever, the doctor was finally able to stop the bleeding and stabilize her. As Maya and Pedro sent the guests away and watched over the Countess, she heard the hushed conversation between the Count and the doctor.

“It was hard work, but she’s stabilized now. Your wife needs uninterrupted rest for now, and I’d advise that she be kept sedated most of the time. The ceremony today proved to be stressful for her, coupled with the excitement and nervousness. She’s lucky it did not result to a miscarriage.”

“Thank you for the effort, doctor.”

“It is best too that only your workers tend to her. Your daughter-in-law should be allowed visits as little as possible. We do not want to traumatize your son any further.”

“Make her well, doctor. I don’t care how much it costs or how long it takes. Make her well.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Come, Maya,” Pedro said as he laid a hand on her shoulder, signaling her to leave. “We must let Mistress rest.”

Once inside the room, as Pedro helped her change in her nightclothes, Maya began to shiver, not because of the cold, but because of fear. She was reminded of the sign the book tried to show her. Was that what it was trying to say? Is that what women have to go through whenever they’re having a baby? Would that happen to her once she got officially married with her baby husband and get pregnant? Her future looked even more bleak and scarier than it should.

“Don’t worry, Maya dear,” Pedro said as he stroked her back to comfort her. “Mistress will get better soon, you’ll see. Having a baby is rather…complicated.”

“Then I’ll never have one,” Maya muttered.

“Nonsense. You’re a strong girl. You’ll turn out just fine. Mistress’ body is just a little bit too weak to handle a baby, that’s all. Off to bed, dear. I’ll tuck you in.”

Maya climbed up the bed and laid there while Pedro pulled the blanket over her. She looked around, making sure that no one was around before braving herself to ask, “You’re helping the children in the cellars, aren’t you, by talking to the law-enforcers?”

Pedro stopped short for a while, his face showing shock and concern, “You…You saw?”

Maya nodded.

“Then you must know that the Count is actually a very dangerous man.”

Another nod.

“Have…Have you told anyone?”

“No, I haven’t. I don’t want anything bad happen to you. You’re my friend, no, you’re like a brother to me…err…maybe more than that…”

Judging by Maya’s face that glowed almost as red as the freshest tomato you can find, Pedro had pretty much figured out what she was trying to say. It was something he could not reciprocate, not with his current situation and his age, and not with her status and life in the line. He reached over to hug her.

“Nor I to you. But you must understand…we are not meant to be. I’ve always treated you like a sister. Nothing more, nothing less. Besides, what with me being a double-agent…”

“I know…” Maya replied, though her eyes brimmed with tears as her heart broke into a million pieces. Rejection is often so hard to stomach.

“You are the future Young Mistress Garcia, and even though I may finally put Master behind bars, your marriage with Mistress’ son is still binding and cannot be broken. Even if I want to, I can’t take you as my bride.”

“But I never wanted to marry him in the first place…He’s also just like a brother to me…With you, I…”

“It’s too late for regrets now. What’s done is done. There is no undoing it. Just remember, Maya dear, that you’ll always be dear to my heart no matter what happens.”

Maya nodded. She knew all that. Though it hurts not able to be with the one you want, like Pedro said, life was not all about fairytales in her storybooks. Finally she wiped her tears and said, “Do you know a lullaby, Pedro?”

“Only one,” Pedro chuckled as he helped dry her eyes with his sleeves, “but I don’t remember the words.”

“I don’t care. I still want to hear it. Sing to me, please.”

And so he did. As he held Maya close to his chest, he hummed the old forgotten song his grandfather used to sing to him before bed, gently lolling his little future Young Mistress Garcia to sleep…

PRINCESS CARMELITA
(Adapted from the movie “El Laberinto Del Fauno” or “Pan’s Labyrinth”)

Once upon a time, when the forest was young, it was home to creatures who were full of magic and wonder. They protected one another and slept in the shade of a colossal fig tree that grew on a hill near the manor. But now the tree is dying. Its branches are dry, its trunk old and twisted. A monstrous toad has settled in its roots and won’t let the tree thrive. You must put the three magic stones in the toad’s mouth and retrieve the golden key from inside his belly. Only then will the fig tree flourish again.

Maya fingered the three stones in the pouch before putting them back in. While she made here way into the mountain woods, she opened the book she took from behind the bathroom cabinet and sure enough, the pages began to fill themselves again with the words and pictures, revealing the drawing of a huge fig tree surrounded by magical creatures of every kind and a toad sitting underneath the tree, settling on its roots. She read the instructions and tried to gather herself together about the task she had in hand.

It didn’t take long for her to finally find the fig tree. As described in the book, the fig tree looked as if it had seen better days, like it had already been dead for more than the book described it to be. It was gnarled and twisted everywhere and there was not a single leaf on its withering branches. To make matters worse, it smelt like someone just dumped manure onto it. Right in the middle of the fig tree, there was a gaping hole that seemed hollow and looked like it was endless. Maya took that as a cue for her to go in and look for the toad the book was speaking about.

Maya knew she was going to get her beautiful dress dirty if she were to crawl into that hole with it—her black shoes was already beginning to cake with mud that were around the roots. After much contemplation, she decided to take off her dress, hair ribbon and shoes and hang them onto one of the fig tree’s branches, leaving only her undergarments on. Taking a deep breath, she went on all fours and started crawling into the hole, ready to start her mission.

Meanwhile, at the Garcia Manor, guests were starting to arrive in their carriages and were busy chitchatting with each other and the Count and Countess and nibbling on finger foods while waiting for dinner to be served. The Count and Countess received tons of praises and congrats from everyone in the room, and Madame Adrianna was none the wiser in trying to collect as much praises as possible as well.

“Now, my good Count, when can we see this little bride-to-be, eh?” one of the guests asked.

“Anytime soon,” the Count said. “The missus has picked a very pretty dress for her to wear, which I bought it at her account, of course, and she should be getting ready now, I believe. Alberto, would you mind calling the girl over? Dinner’s about to be served.”

“Yes, Master,” Alberto bowed slightly and left the room. He gestured Pedro and some maids to approach him and whispered, “Have you seen Miss Andre? Go fetch her. The Master and Mistress are waiting.”

“Yes, Alberto. We’ll do it right away.”

While Pedro and the maids looked for Maya, Maya was still in the hole, moving deeper and deeper into the tree in search of the toad the book spoke of. Inside, the walls were caked with mud on both sides and tiny roots dangled from the top and jutted out along with it. There was more mud on the ground in which she was crawling on and there were cockroaches as big as rocks creeping and crawling all over the place, including on her arms and legs, which she tried to flick off. The hole seemed like a never-ending tunnel that went on forever and ever with no end in sight.

No sooner she thought that she was going nowhere in this hole than she heard a croaking noise behind her. She turned around slowly to see the biggest toad that ever existed in the history of reptilian kind. It was almost as big as her pet dog and had skin the colour of clay. It had warts all over its body and its red eyes stared at her lazily, like she was someone whom it would not be bothered to be interested in. Maya knew this was her chance. It was now or never.

“Hey there, Mr. Toad. I’m Princess Carmelita, and I’m not afraid of you.”

The toad croaked nonchalantly in reply.

“Are you not ashamed living down here, eating all the insects and growing fat while the tree dies?”

It didn’t seem like the toad was in the mood for negotiation, or for agreeing to eat the magic stones for that matter, because the only reply it gave her was a long flick of the tongue to catch a cockroach that fell on her hair, swallowing it and burping loudly at her face.

Judging by the stench, the toad seemed like it needed more than a breath mint to get rid of that impossibly inhuman smell.

Maya was caught off guard by the toad’s burp that she dropped the stones she had taken out of her pouch. When she hurried to pick them up, she accidentally picked up a cockroach that was curled up in a ball as soon as she touched it. That was when she realized that the toad was licking its lips when she was trying to remove the curled-up cockroach from her stones. Suddenly an idea came in mind. She waved the curled-up cockroach in front of the toad and replaced it back with her stones. She then held out the stones together with the cockroach for the toad to eat. The toad took the bait. Within seconds, it flicked out its tongue, grabbed the cockroach and the stones and swallowed them all in a gulp.

What happened next was beyond Maya’s expectation. Moments after the toad swallowed the stones, it began to twitch and fidget like it was in a seizure or something. Then it started puking everything it ate onto the muddy ground. It puked and puked and didn’t seem to stop. Eventually the toad ended up literally vomiting its insides out and all that was left of it was its clay-coloured skin.

Maya grimaced for a moment before noticing a shimmer of light within the insides the toad vomited out. A closer look told her that it was the key she was looking for. She picked it up slowly and saw that it was long and thin, almost like the bone of a middle finger, but much longer. The base of the key was a ruby-studded moon and shimmered slightly as it caught light.

The first task was done. It was time to go back to the manor.

When she finally came out of the hole, she noticed that the sky was getting dark and she could hear more and more carriages coming towards the manor. The pre-engagement party! She had almost forgotten about it! She had to get cleaned and get dressed as soon as possible before she ended up upsetting the Count and Countess.

To her horror, her dress and ribbon were not where she had hung them. Instead they were lying there on a big puddle being totally soiled. They must have been blown off by the wind into the puddle when she was in the hole of the tree. To make matters even worse, it started to rain. She knew she was in deep trouble.

Needless to say, when she made her way back home, Pedro was outside looking for her and was shocked to see her in that state. The guests would have to settle seeing Maya at another time during the real engagement ceremony for the Count did not want them or the Countess to see her looking worse than a ragamuffin and get upset over the dirtied dress, and he had to make an excuse to them saying that Maya was not feeling well and would not be joining the party. The Count told Pedro to get rid of the dress before the Countess sees it and ordered Alberto to get a new dress of the exact same one that Maya soiled so that no one would be the wiser. And of course, as punishment, Maya was sent to bed without dinner.

“You shouldn’t have done that, you know, wandering around in the woods when you’re supposed to be in the house entertaining the guests. You’re lucky Master only sent you off without dinner and not whip you on the spot or something. That dress meant a lot to Mistress, and the last thing he wanted was Mistress to be upset,” Pedro said as he removed Maya’s dirty undergarments and dunked her into the warm bath prepared for her. “The mountain woods are not a place for a future Young Mistress like you to be roaming about. What if you come out worse than you are right now? What if you’re injured or eaten alive by the beasts out there? The Countess would be more than disappointed if anything happened to you.”

Maya took in Pedro’s nagging quietly. She knew that despite being an errand boy, he cared for her like a brother or a father would to their little girl. She could tell him where she had been and what she had been doing, and that she didn’t mean to get her dress dirty, but who would believe her anyway? She had a hard time believing it even now what she had just encountered.

“You’re even luckier that Master decided to cover up for you and get another new dress to hide the fact that they had to throw out the one you ruined. He didn’t want Mistress to be sad and traumatize the Young Master inside her. What were you thinking going out in the woods alone anyway?”

“I’m sorry, Pedro,” Maya apologized, feeling rather bad about all this.

“The last thing you should do is be sorry to me. You should be sorry to Master and Mistress, and you have to make sure you make up for it,” Pedro sighed before reaching into his pocket to take out a piece of Swiss cheese he smuggled from the kitchen. “Here, this should last you till breakfast tomorrow. You know, if the Countess knew of this, she’d be very disappointed.”

“More than the Count?”

“Pretty much. I’ll have to attend to the guests. Make sure you dry yourself well before bed,” Pedro said as he left her alone in the bathroom to fend for herself.

Maya sighed guiltily. She didn’t mind disappointing the Count—he wasn’t much of a nice man and she never wanted to be here in the first place anyway—but disappointing the Countess was the last thing on her mind. The Countess was a very weak woman and she shouldn’t be doing such things like this to make her condition any worse. But she had to complete her task and there was nothing she could do about it.

Soon, the familiar sounds of cricket came again as her fairy friend flew in through the bathroom window. Throughout her whole ordeal of trying to endure whatever punishment the Count had to offer, she had kept the key clutched tightly in her hand in order to keep it hidden from them. She was sure they would not understand anyway if she told them the truth about where she had gone.

“I’ve got the key,” Maya said as she brandished the key at her fairy friend. “Take me to the labyrinth.”

No sooner she said it than she found herself walking down the stairs of the gorge again wrapped in a bathing robe as her only clothing. As she fingered the key, she saw something new in the gorge. It was a carving on a slab of stone, which, when she watched closely, showed the form of a Faun, a little girl and a baby in her arms surrounded by surreal fire etched at the edge of the stone slab. She was trying to guess which is who when…

“That’s me, and the little girl is you.”

Faun’s voice echoing behind her shocked her out of her concentration. Maya was annoyed at Faun’s habit of emerging in the shadows without warning.

“And the baby?”

“Ah, you’ve retrieved the key,” Faun said, seemingly avoiding her question. “I’m glad. She believed in you from the very beginning. She’s so glad you succeeded.”

Maya could only assume that Faun was talking about her fairy friend perched on his mossy left shoulder. She handed the key to him but he refused it.

“Keep the key. You’ll be needing it very soon. And this too…a piece of chalk.”

So saying, he materialized a piece of white chalk out of the midair and gave it to Maya. Maya quickly put both the key and the chalk in her bathing robe pockets.

“Two tasks remain, and the moon is almost full. Be patient, Your Highness. Soon we’ll be strolling through the seven circular gardens of your palace.”

“How do I know what you say is true?” Maya asked, feeling a little bit skeptical and was reminded by Pedro’s words about Fauns being tricksters.

“Now why would a poor little Faun like me lie to you, hmm?”

As he disappeared into the darkness and sent her back to the bathroom within the next second, she didn’t know what to believe.

PRINCESS CARMELITA
(Adapted from the movie “El Laberinto Del Fauno” or “Pan’s Labyrinth”)

“Maya dear, time for your bath.”
Maya came at the call of Pedro. So far, only the Count and Countess and Pedro had the privilege to call her by name. The rest of the household servants, despite her insistence, continued to call her ‘Miss Andre’. She knew sooner or later, she was going to be called ‘Young Mistress’ and that she had to get used to being called by title, but she didn’t want instill fear on anybody. She just wanted to be their friend.
“Take a look and see what Master has bought you, Maya.”
Maya looked at the dress that Pedro helped take out from a silver box. It was slightly darker silver than the box itself and was embroidered with precious diamonds with white mesh underneath it. Beautiful frills covered the collar, the end of the sleeves and the end of the dress and at the end of those frills were laces of grey. There was even a darker silver hair ribbon and black shoes to match.
“There will be a pre-engagement party tonight thrown by Master where everyone in his community would be able to witness his baby son’s bride-to-be. Of course, Madame Adrianna would be there to gloat on the credits she would receive later from the guests. The Mistress requested that Master buy this dress to be worn for tonight. She thought it fit you, because you’re from the moon. Isn’t it beautiful?”
“Yes,” Maya replied half-heartedly. “Yes, it is.”
“Why, you don’t seem happy, Maya dear,” Pedro noted, concerned. “Don’t you like it?”
“Of course I like it,” Maya replied hurriedly, not wanting to upset her friend. “It’s really beautiful. Really.”
“Oh well, I suppose you’re just getting the jitters then. I would be if I were in your shoes: meeting dozens upon dozens of strangers who are going to judge you and consider your position as the future Young Mistress Garcia. Off to bath now, Maya, before the water gets cold.”
With that, Maya was ushered to the bathroom and the door was closed behind her. When she made sure no one was outside the door, she quietly walked over to the bathroom cabinet where she kept the book hidden behind the gap. She opened the book to a particular page and waited. A few moments later, the page began to fill up by itself, like there was invisible drawing and writing the contents out. First it was a picture of a tree, then words that spelled ‘tree’, ‘toad’, ‘stones’ and ‘fig’. One by one they appeared to make up a story.
“Maya? Maya dear.”
Before she could read the words, there were knockings on the door. It was Pedro, calling for her to hurry up.
“Do hasten, Maya dear. You don’t want to become a prune now, do you? The Mistress wants to see you in your new dress. I’ll bet you’re going to look like a princess in it.”
Princess… Maya was reminded of Faun’s words of her being the Princess her grandmother had been telling her in her tales. She went over to the mirror to look at her reflection. Faun was right; there was a birthmark just right on top of the back of her left shoulder that was the shape of a crescent moon. There were small tiny full stop-sized moles that surrounded the birthmark, like stars surrounding the moon. She had always dreamed of being a Princess like the fairy tales in her story books, but now that she was one, she didn’t know what else to think of.
“Princess, huh…?”
*
“Oh, Maya, look at you. You are so beautiful.”


Maya, after her bath, put on the dress and came into the Countess’ room as requested, and as expected, the Countess was thrilled to see Maya looking the way she imagined she would look. Pedro and a couple of maids were tending to her and she looked impressed as well.

“My, my, Maya dear. Aren’t you the most gorgeous little girl I’ve ever seen! I just love that dress!” Pedro exclaimed.

“You agree too? Isn’t she a beauty?”

“What I’d give to have a dress like that when I was a little girl, Mistress. She looks positively like an angel,” one of the maids complimented, staring at the dress in eagerness.

“A future Countess is more like it,” the Countess smiled and gestured Maya towards her. “Come here, child. Let me see you up close.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Maya came closer to her. The Countess fingered the frills and diamonds on her dress and stroke her hair, smiling weakly at her while rubbing her protruding belly with her other hand.

“Look, my son, your beautiful fiancé is all dressed up for you. You are going to have the most beautiful wife you’ve ever seen. Maya dear?”

“Yes, ma’am?”

“You know sooner or later I’m going to be your mother-in-law now, right? Almost like a new mother?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Maya nodded. As much as she liked the Countess better than the Count, she didn’t really relinquish the idea of having her as a new mother since she already had a real one.

“How about getting a head-start by calling me ‘Mother’ then? Hmm? Is it alright with you?”

Mother? That’s how I call my mother, Maya thought, but she didn’t want to offend the Countess, so she said timidly, “Can I call you…Mother Garcia instead?”

The Countess considered for a while, then replied, “I understand, dear. Sure, you can call me that. Pedro, would you get some milk with honey for Maya? Just a little starter before tonight’s dinner party. Make sure you don’t get your clothes dirty, Maya dear.”

“I won’t. I promise.”

Pedro excused himself and took Maya’s hand, leading her down to the kitchen—earning a lot of praises by the servants in the process—and to the cattle ranch, carrying a jar of honey in the process. Taking a bucket, he sat down and milked one of the cows grazing at hay on the manger. He knew Maya liked her milk fresh since she tasted it on her first day in the manor, and he wanted to give her the best of what he can offer as an errand boy. To him, Maya was more than just a future Young Mistress, she was like the sister he never had.

“Here you go, Maya. Don’t spill,” Pedro said as he mixed a tablespoon of honey with the milk he scooped in a bowl and handed it to Maya.

“Thank you,” Maya said, then asked, “Pedro, do you believe in fairies?”

“Fairies?” Pedro echoed, chuckling. “Not anymore. I’ve sort of stopped believing things that I used to believe when I was a child. Like I said, life is not all about fairy tales and story books.”

“I saw a fairy last night, and I met a Faun too.”

“A Faun? What does he look like?”

“He’s tall and gangly, covered in moss, and he smelled of earth.”

“You know, my grandfather used to warn me about Fauns being tricksters and stuff…”

“Pedro! Pedro! We need you at the warehouse!” another errand boy suddenly called out from afar.

“I’ll be there! Gotta go, Maya dear. Don’t ruin your dress.”

Pedro made a dash off before Maya could promise to him not to ruin the dress. She took a look at the sky and decided that there was still more time before the pre-engagement dinner party.

It’s time to complete her first task.

PRINCESS CARMELITA
(Adapted from the movie “El Laberinto Del Fauno” or “Pan’s Labyrinth”)

Another long day has passed and all Maya wanted to do right now is hole up in her room and enjoy a little alone time. She hurriedly changed into her night clothes and scrambled up on bed before grabbing one of her story books to read.

During her first hours in the manor, Alberto took her directly into the study to meet up with Count and Countess Garcia. The Count Miguel Garcia looked like a no nonsense man, with clean, cut hair and a neat moustache and piercing green eyes, and his voice was cold as ice. The Countess Amorosa Garcia, on the other hand, was a weak woman. Her black raven hair ran loosely on her shoulders and her skin was as white as snow. Her silver eyes looked tired, and she was sitting on a wheelchair beside her husband with a belly that seemed like she had just swallowed a watermelon in whole. She looked almost kind, but she’s mostly drained. She didn’t talk much, but her eyes told her that she was more than welcome to be in the Garcia Manor and glad that she was her future daughter-in-law. The Count seemed slightly satisfied with the choice of bride that Madame Adrianna made, but didn’t seem too eager to want her in the family. It was as if her presence here to him was to merely keep his son alive and nothing else, and he would not hesitate to kick her out of the house and denounce her title as the Garcia daughter-in-law as soon as she served her purpose. After introducing herself, Maya was given some general ground rules by the Count while she stayed in the manor and was immediately ushered to her room by Alberto. At least her room was a warm welcome for her; all her familiar things were there to keep her company. She understood now the reason why the strange men kept coming to take her things away.

Days in the manor was an adventure altogether. Maya tried many attempts to look for the fairy she saw, but to no avail. It was as if it just disappeared in the face of this earth. She tried everywhere but it was nowhere to be found. Sometimes she began to suspect that maybe it was all her imagination, that she really had been reading too many story books like her mother nagged about. She wanted to try her luck in going to the labyrinth to look for it but the fear of getting lost again like before held her back, and she didn’t dare ask Pedro to spare her some string to start her search, so she had to settle with getting along with everyone in the manor. She got to know all the servants, maid, errand boys (Pedro being one of her best friends) and the strange men, including Alberto, in the household, and she familiarized herself with her surroundings better. She would occasionally help them tend the cattle, horses, sheep and chickens and join in with the cooks to make meals. Though the servants prefer that their future Young Mistress do something else rather than lowering herself with the commoners, but they appreciate her help all the same. The only person she was uneasy with was the Count. He was an icy man who wouldn’t stand for any incompetence and insolence. Everything had to go his way or the highway, that’s how it’s done in the Garcia Manor. The Count didn’t seemed to mind Maya going about cleaning and cooking like a lower-class girl, most probably because he still viewed her more of a survival tool than an actual daughter-in-law, but sometimes Maya wished that he would forbade her from menial work once in a while. She was, after all, going to be the wife of his baby boy.

Despite the drawbacks, the most important thing was that she got to know the Countess and her future husband a lot closer. The Countess was in bed most of the day and could only move around on the wheelchair, so all Maya had to do to keep her entertained was to go to her bedroom and chat or play cards with her. Sometimes, when the baby is acting up inside the Countess, Maya would tap lightly on her belly, whispering “My husband, my little husband” and tell him the Princess story or make up some fairy tale to calm him down. Although now, she treated the Countess’ fetus as a baby brother, she knew that sooner or later she was going to treat him as her husband for years to come. She found it hard to believe that she was going to be engaged to a baby whose age is going to be 10 years younger than her. She had not even experience a first love yet, let alone being married. But there was nothing she could do but accept her fate. Times are harsh and they often called for desperate measures.

While Maya read her story book, she heard that familiar cricket sounds again. She knew what those sounds were. She looked around but saw nothing. She lowered down the light of her oil lamp and looked around again. Slowly but surely, she saw something peeking out from the foot of her bed. It was the fairy she had seen that fateful night when she first came to the mountain of Garcia Manor. It grinned with its naughty blue eyes shining under the pale light and its transparent wings shimmered under the moonlight that shone through her half-opened window. It flew out of its hiding place and settled onto the blanket where Maya’s knees were.

“You’re a fairy, aren’t you? A real fairy?” Maya asked.

The fairy chirped in reply, like a mixture of crickets and birds, smiling at her like a kid who had a secret.

“Have you been watching me all this while? I’ve been looking for you everywhere. I wanted to see you.”

The fairy suddenly flew up a few inches and made a gesture to follow it. Maya was surprised.

“Do you want me to go with you? Where? Outside?”

The fairy nodded and made its way out of the window. Maya wasted no time. She grabbed a coat and went out of her room, down the stairs and out of the manor quieter and faster than you can say “Rumpelstilskin”. She soon realized that the fairy was waiting for her at the labyrinth entrance. Maya took a gulp. She didn’t dare set foot into it, not like the last time. What if she got lost again? What if she couldn’t find her way back to the manor? The Count would definitely go off his rockers and the Countess would be upset, and everyone in the manor would be unhappy…

The fairy’s urging chirps threw every worry she had out of the window. She would figure out what has to be done later. Right now, she needed to know what the fairy wanted.

It soon led her all the way to the centre of the labyrinth where there was a gorge that led almost 10 feet down the earth by a long winding flight of stone steps. As she went down the stairs with the fairy, she saw that in the middle of the gorge, she saw a flat statue of the stone face creature she had seen in the entrance standing in the middle of a spiral crevice that was almost to the brim with rain water and dew. To be more exact, it was the full scale statue of the creature from head to toe, looking like something very out-worldly. It had the same facial features portrayed at the entrance and a body that stood almost twice her height and it was a half-man-half-goat. She had never seen statues or creatures like this, not even in her story books. On the walls of the gorge there were millions upon millions of vines and moss growing through every nook and cranny, like it had been growing there since the dawn of time.

The fairy took off and disappeared mysteriously into the darkness of the wall, leaving Maya to fend for herself in the dark, dripping gorge. Maya got a little nervous being left alone in there.

“Hello? Anybody here? Hello?”

“It’s you!”

Maya spun round at the raspy voice. She saw a tall creature—taller than Pedro and bigger than the Count—moving towards her. As he came into the light, Maya found herself staring at the same creature that was portrayed by the statue, only that he was in the flesh and was walking and talking. His red hair dangled lazily on his shoulders and face and he had the smell of earth around him. His body was covered with moss and vines and tiny branches with leaves were sticking out of him. His eyes were pale, like the blind man who lived across the street in her village, but the difference was he could still see. He had long, pointed nails and his legs, which were of a goat, made a sort of clogging sound as he walked. Maya was speechless staring at this oddity, and above all else, afraid.

“Oh, it’s you, you have returned, my dear!” the creature said in his happy, raspy voice. Noticing that Maya looked petrified and backing away from him, he quickly calmed her down, “Oh please, do not be frightened, I beg you. Here, look.”

So saying, he opened a cylinder-shaped box that was hanging around his waist for her to see. Out flew three more fairies together with the fairy Maya first met. They all hovered around her, chirping happily and played with her silky brown hair. She soon stopped being afraid and braved herself to come nearer towards the creature.

“My name is Maya. What’s yours?”

“Me?” the creature asked, then huffed and replied, “I’ve had many names, old names that only the wind and the trees can pronounce. I am the mountain, the forest and the earth. I am Faun, your most humble servant, Your Highness.”

Maya felt awkward looking at the creature who called himself Faun bowing down at her, “No, I’m…”

“You are Princess Carmelita, daughter of the king of the Underworld. I do not expect you to remember anyway; it has been so many centuries since we last saw you.”

“Daughter…? King of the Underworld…? But that’s just a fairytale legend! I’m not the Princess! My father is a carpenter…”

“Bah!” Faun waved away her words, as if they were all just excuses and lies. “You are not born of man. It was the moon that bore you. Look at your left shoulder and you will find a mark that proves it.”

Maya glanced at where he was pointing. A mark? Now that was something she never noticed before.

“Your real father had us open portals all over the world to allow your return. This is the last of them. But we have to make sure that your essence is intact, that you have not become a mortal.”

Before she knew, Maya saw a huge red book in his hand together with a small pouch that felt slightly heavier than the usual money pouch she carried when she helped her mother do her groceries. Faun handed it to her and said, “You must complete three tasks before the moon is full. This is the Book of Crossroads. Open it when you are alone and it will show you your future, show you what must be done.”

Maya opened the book tentatively, but to her surprise, the pages were empty. There was not a single word written on them and even the cover had no titles. When she looked inside the pouch, there were three stones that looked like rock sugar her mother used to make sweet potato broth whenever she was sick.

“But there’s nothing on it…”

When she looked up, she found herself standing in her room near the window, the breeze blew through it and caressing gently onto her hair and skin instead of the cold, dreary gorge in the labyrinth. For a second she thought she was dreaming, but one look at the book and pouch that were still on her hands and her muddy shoes confirmed that she had not dreamt all this. It was real, and she had an important mission in hand.

Things get more and more curious by the minute.

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