Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: The Pen is Mightier than the Sword (04/08/10)
TITLE: The Prisoner's Testament
By Carol Slider
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When the noon bells began to peal, Lucia left the shop where she worked and ran through the streets of Villa Pedro. She crossed the river to the old city with its narrow cobblestone streets and weathered stucco houses. She paused at one of these, pushed open the gate, and entered the house without knocking.
An old man looked up from a scuffed wooden armchair, made comfortable by a striped woven blanket. He peered at her through sleepy eyes and smiled.
“Child! I just heard the bells...”
“Yes, yes—it is the noon hour—but never mind that. Have you heard? The General... General Viero... is dead.”
Grandfather’s mouth moved, perhaps in a smile.
“Ah... I heard a clamor in the streets, and wondered... but it is no surprise.”
“He was very old...”
“Old? Certainly. And more than that.” He shut his eyes. “You tell me he died today. I say he died years ago.”
Lucia drew a breath and sank onto a rickety chair.
“Grandfather! What are you saying? That the man in exile was an imposter?”
Her grandfather tossed back his head and laughed; and when he looked at her again, she saw that his eyes were bright and alert and almost merry.
“An imposter? No, no, dear. Only that his power for good or ill—mainly for ill—died long before he did.”
“When he was exiled?”
“Yes, and even before that: when the people of Loría learned of his crimes, the innocents he had bankrupted and tortured and murdered. I believed in him at first. Yet when I began to have doubts...”
“They put you in prison,” said Lucia, infinitely gentle. “Mother told me.”
“Your mother doesn’t know everything, child. She was only a baby then. Nor do you need to know about those horrors. But I will tell you something... something I have told no one else...”
Lucia didn’t move. Perhaps there were noises somewhere outside the house—but they no longer existed for the old man who spoke, and the young woman who leaned close to hear.
“Months passed. I was alone except during the interrogations... but I learned to tap a code on the walls and ‘speak’ with those in the other cells. I had a filthy old mattress... and one day I slipped my hand inside the torn cover, and found a single piece of paper and a scrap of pencil. A gift from God? Perhaps. But I began to write, in the tiniest letters imaginable, of those imprisoned... not for great crimes, but for daring to question.
“I worked for weeks, filled both sides of the paper... and when it was done, I folded it into a square and passed to a guard... young, with a guileless face...”
“That was a terrible risk, Grandfather,” said Lucia, knotting her hands.
“A risk? Of course. But you know what happened next, don’t you?”
“I... think so.” Lucia’s voice trembled. “That became... the Prisoner’s Testament?”
“Yes, child. I trusted the right man—for inside a month, my words were known to every person in Loría... and three months later, the tyrant was exiled, and I was free.”
Lucia did not try to hold back her tears, nor did she wipe them away.
“And I never knew you wrote those words... the words of liberation... the words that told the people what a despot they had created...”
Grandfather leaned forward and covered her hands with his.
“I created, Lucia.”
She met his gaze, uncomprehending; but he rushed on, as if fearful he might lose his courage.
“Who do you think wrote his glorious speeches... the speeches that stirred up the people, fomented the revolution? Who do you think wrote the newspaper articles that inspired all Loría to worship Viero as their savior... almost their god?”
For a long time they sat just like that. Then Lucia realized that her Grandfather had pressed something into her palm. She opened her hand and stared at a grubby bit of wood that had once been a pencil.
“He built vast armies...” Grandfather’s voice was hoarse, low, and barely audible. “Yet all of those could not stand against this...”
“Not just words, child... TRUTH.”
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