The Bald Tattooist of Maskerville

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The Request (Part I)

It had been two days since they had stayed inside the dangling vines of the huge tree. Catherine’s condition had worsened and if it wasn’t for that, they would’ve already moved forward on their journey. However, she wasn’t fit to travel. So, the group agreed to stay for a few more days until she looked better.

Marty hardly left her side. He diligently looked after her though she was unconscious: wiping her face, cleaning her wound and applying the herbs Eris’ gathered upon Claus’ instruction. He barely ate anything too, too worried about his fiancée’s condition to properly take care of himself.

Ink made it his mission to look after the pair. He was closest to the two, after all. He made sure that Marty ate his food, to the point of literally shoving the spoon down his friend’s mouth.

“Geez, Ink, I’m not a kid. I know how to hold a spoon,” Marty complained.

Ink placed the bowl of meat soup hard on the flat rock. “Then I suppose you also know how to eat. You seriously need to feed yourself.”

Marty sighed. “I just don’t have the appetite.”

Ink squared his shoulders and grabbed Marty’s tunic, forcing him to avoid Ink’s gaze.

“Look at me!” Ink said. Marty was quiet and didn’t answer.

“Ugh, are you looking at me?” he wondered. He had no idea whether Marty was really looking at him or not because of the mask. So, he roughly pulled both of their masks off. And they stared at each other eye to eye.

“You are not helping Catherine by starving yourself to death. Do you understand me?” Ink reasoned. “The Marty I know is not someone who gives in so easily: not to depression, not to hopelessness. So please, get yourself out of that slump,” he begged.

“Leave him be, Ink. If he wants to die with his fiancée. Let him be,” Demelov piped in.

Ink turned his attention to Demelov. “Not helpful Demelov.” I had been patient with you all this time but now is not the time to test that patience.

Rebecca swooped in just then to chastise and take Demelov away. She looked back at him as if to silently apologize for her friend’s behavior. Oddly enough, it calmed him. Lately, he realized the reason why he has been more tolerant of the nobles than usual was because of Rebecca’s presence. He was adjusting himself to her crowd. He didn’t want to make more mistakes of going off at her because of his issues with the aristocrats and the world. It was quite difficult to keep himself quiet and reign in his biases. But he considered it a challenge. And he felt like he was progressing a bit on that area.

“Is that all you want to tell me?” Marty asked, his eyes lacking the usual spark it has.

Ink ran his hand through his bald head. “Marty, I’ve known you ever since we were seven years old. This is not like you to act so defeated.”

He sniffed. “It’s because I’ve never been so close to losing Catherine in my life before. You know she means everything to me. Without her, I wouldn’t know what to do with my life.”

“And she’s going to be just fine,” Ink bit his lips. He had less belief in his words as well. But he had to keep on believing.

Marty pulled a handful of his hair. “You know you also doubt that. Look at the state she is in. There’s hardly any color left on her face. And her wound is starting to fester, despite of how many times I cleaned it and tended to it. She has been unconscious for so many days. Claus thinks that the blade was smeared with some kind of poison or toxin that keeps it from being healed. I don’t know what to do anymore,” he cried.

Ink’s composure almost crumbled upon seeing Marty’s pain. He wished he knew the cure as well. Just like Marty, he deeply cared for Catherine too. She was the little sister he never had. He hated himself for not being able to do anything, relying on the knowledge of Claus to save his precious friend. Every day he watched the color drain from Catherine’s face and resisted the urge to succumb into the pits of despair. For Marty’s sake, he had to remain steadfast and strong.

“Marty, listen to me. Catherine is a strong woman. She would never give up so easily. And she wouldn’t want to see you looking like this. You have to be healthy and strong for the time she regains consciousness,” Ink encouraged.

He looked straight into Marty’s eyes and willed him to see the hope that Ink himself had a hard time finding. It was elusive but he knew that it was there. He had to believe it was there.

Ink clasped Marty’s shoulders, bent down and handed him the mask he removed just a few minutes ago. Marty took it and placed it back on his face. He took a deep breath and exhaled loudly as if letting all his worries out together with his breath.

“That’s right. Let it out. Catherine won’t be going anywhere,” Ink reassured.

Demelov tossed bits of rocks at some of the pixies flying by. The pixies were quick enough to avoid it and they turned their angry heads at him. It annoyed the flying creatures. He whistled, turning to the side pretending like it wasn’t him who was the culprit of the attack.

He accompanied Claus who was looking for a particular red pointed-leaved plant which he said could possibly help Catherine’s case. He didn’t really want to come with him. But Rebecca forced him to, in order to get him away from the peasants. Why she cared so much about them was beyond his understanding.

“You know, we really need to leave soon Claus. So far, we’ve been lucky that the Brotherhood hadn’t found us yet. But there’s no telling until when we can hide out here,” Demelov said.

Claus stopped walking and looked at him. “I know, that’s why we need to hep Catherine as soon as possible. If only you’d stop yapping and stop messing with the pixies, you can use your time to look for the plant. That would be helpful.”

Demelov sighed. “I don’t really think she is going to make it. Wouldn’t it be easier if you just tell that peasant that there’s nothing you can do for that girl?”

“I can’t do that Demelov,” Claus replied.

“Why not?”

“Suppose it was Rebecca who’s standing in Catherine’s place, would you simply abandon her?” Claus asked.

“Of course not,” Demelov answered.

Claus raised his eyebrows. “Why wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t that make things easier for you?”

“Because she is important to me.”

“Exactly! Catherine is important for Marty and Ink. You should learn to put yourself in other people’s shoes. It will do you a whole lot of good.”

Demelov rolled his eyes. “Oh, yeah. Lecturing me again.”

Claus shook his head and tapped his friend’s shoulder. Someday Demelov. Someday. You’d finally learn to care for other people more than just yourself and those you care about.

Fallen leaves crunched as footsteps approached them. Ink’s sun-kissed chest was bathed in the glow of the setting sun.

“Hey, tattoo friend. Finally managed to shove food down Marty’s throat?” Demelov joked.

Ink nodded his head. “Managed to make him see some sense.”

“I assume you’re here to ask me about Catherine’s condition?” Claus asked.

“Okay, I don’t wanna listen to more of these details,” Demelov said, walking backwards away from the pair. “You both have fun looking for that red plant!” he hollered.

Ink looked at Claus confused. “Red plant?”

“Yes, I believe that this particular red pointed-leaved plant could help hasten Catherine’s recovery,” Claus explained.

Ink closed his eyes and took a deep breath, tilting his head up towards the sky. “So, she’s gonna be fine, right?”

“I gotta be honest with you, Ink. We all know Catherine’s condition is not improving at all. But I’m trying my best to help her.”

Ink dreaded hearing the words coming out of Claus’ mouth. He kicked a rocked with so much force it got stuck at the bark of the Rimu tree.

“I heard you told Marty there must be some kind of poison on the blade used to cut her.”

Claus cleared his throat. “Well, that was just deduction on my part. We can’t be certain, but judging from the worsening state of her cut, it is plausible to think that she might indeed be poisoned.”

They continued to move forward in the forest as Claus filled him in on the rest of the details. Ink was a step behind Claus, mulling over his own thoughts. Despite the bravado he had been showing in front of his friend and the rest of their company, he too worried about the state Catherine is in.

He had met the pair during the darker days of his youth. He considered his life much better now compared to the time when he was still young and alone. He grew up under the care of his grandfather who worked for the Couriers Department. And being his only living relative, he treasured the old man more than anything else. Their life wasn’t the easiest but he was pretty content with it. Until he lost him in a fire that engulfed the whole wagon he was riding. He was only seven years old then. He must’ve stayed inside their rickety hut on the south western encampment for a week without eating. He remembered crying himself to sleep, only to wake up and resume crying. The shock of losing his grandfather was too much for him to handle that he didn’t talk for months. Eventually, he stole food from the public market, and he dug through other people’s trash to look for something to eat. He holed himself inside their small house that’s almost crumbling to pieces. Those were truly miserable times of his life: feeling all alone, questioning his existence, mourning his grandfather’s passing; he was the only person who cared about him.

Until he met Catherine who dragged him out of the misery he’s in. In a way, she saved him. He owed her a lot and it’s killing him how he could do so little to save her this time.

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