I wrote “The Happy Prince” when I was 8. It is a fable depicting life under Martial Law in the Philippines (although I did not realize this then). At the time it was written in 1978, my father, a promising lawyer and banker, turned his back on his wedding sponsor, then First Lady Imelda Marcos to join the late Sen Benigno Aquino, Jr in his fight to win seats in parliament. It was he who took it upon himself to publish the book in 1980. This year marks the 30th anniversary of its release by the mosquito press. It also marks the year in which Benigno III became elected president of the Philippines, making him in a way the happy prince foretold in the story.
Chapter I: The Orphan
Once there was a king who died in bed, not in battle, for he was a peace-loving ruler. He had only one son. Before his breath faded out, he gave his friend, Merham, the Wizard, his last wish.
“Merham,” he said, “raise my son as if he were your own.”
“I can’t do that, your Majesty,” Merham replied.
The dying king was insistent. “Do you want my son to be lonely?” he asked.
“No!” Merham exclaimed. “But it is foolish for me to take care of the Prince.”
“I don’t have much time to live,” the king said. “You are to raise him to become a noble and great king.”
After saying his last words, the king died with a smile. Thus the King’s son became an orphan.
Chapter II: The Strange Ruler
After the funeral and burial of the king, Merham took the young King Matrahan II to the kingdom of the old king’s friend. On the way, Merham asked some villagers, “Pray, tell me, where is the palace of King Merchian?”
The villagers looked puzzled. “We have not heard of a King Merchian?”
“Then who is your ruler?” Merham asked.
“King Herdaka. He is our only ruler, and he will be our only ruler!”
Everywhere the pictures of King Herdaka were painted on the walls. “Even if he dies, it seems he will live on. With those ugly pictures, he will seem to be always alive and present in the kingdom.”
“Who is this strange ruler called King Herdaka?” The people merely turned away and kept their silence.
Chapter III: The Different King
As days went by, the young prince became known as King Matrahan II. He was a different king. He had no servants to attend to his personal needs. No slaves. No guards to protect his person and property. He loved his people and treated everyone as his friend.
Everybody loved him.
King Matrahan II was good of course. But he was sad because the villagers were unhappy. King Matrahan II wanted to know why and do something about it. He knew what he wanted for his people, but either day or night, the villagers were always unhappy.
Chapter IV: The Told Secrets
As time passed, the villagers became gloomier and gloomier. Until one day, King Matrahan asked them why they were so unhappy.
“Why are you always unhappy,” King Matrahan asked. “Is it because you hate me?”
“No,” replied a peasant called Canto. “It is because of King Herdaka, our ruler.”
“What?” exclaimed King Matrahan. “I thought I am your king!”
Then Canto continued, “I’m sorry King Matrahan. We pretended you were our king.” He then proceeded to talk of the cruelty of their mean king Herdaka.
Afterwards, Merham suddenly spoke, “Matrahan, I am sorry. I am not your real father.”
“What?” cried King Matrahan.
“It is true. Your real father died when you were an infant. But before he died, he told me to bring you here to this city to find your father’s best friend, King Merchian.”
Then Canto interrupted. “Merham, remember when you did that years ago? My father was the one who told you there was no such king called Merchian here.”
An old man stood up and said, “Yes, but I do recall what an old gypsy once told me. He said that there were two brothers—two princes. They were having a contest, an election, on who was to be king. He told me one of the princes was called Herdaka. He also said that the other prince won.”
“Then the other prince should have been King Merchian,” said Canto.
“That is a possibility,” said King Matrahan II.
“It is a distinct possibility,” agreed Merham. “Why do you think your father told me to go to King Merchian?”
“Then where is he?”
“In the dungeon of the palace of King Herdaka, probably,” answered the old man.
Chapter V: The Victory
King Matrahan gathered his men. They rode to the palace of King Herdaka. They stormed the walls. After days of fighting, King Matrahan’s men finally broke through. They defeated the army of King Herdaka.
King Matrahan captured King Herdaka who was forced to lead them to the dungeon where King Merchian was imprisoned. The stairway was dark, for the dungeon was deep under the palace. King Matrahan freed King Merchian. The people were happy.
King Herdaka was punished for his crimes. He was ordered imprisoned in the dungeon. The survivors of his army were all banished. The gypsy, a spy for King Merchian, was rewarded with a place in the King’s court.
King Merchian adopted King Matrahan and gave him a kingdom in the East. Merham, the Wizard, became a minister of King Merchian.
After many years, King Matrahan died. But his people still remember him as the happy prince.