The Bald Tattooist of Maskerville

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Who Should Take The Blame?

Ink stood beside Rebecca, not understanding what was happening. Along the course of her staring transfixed at the lightning flashes, which Ink thought was pretty cool as well but not quite cool enough to merit her unwavering attention, he found her slowly removing her mask - much to his surprise and satisfaction.

Now, it was his time to stare transfixed - not at whatever it is she was seeing through the lens - but at her, her glowing white skin. Well, it wasn’t really glowing, it just looked as if it was glowing because of the light of the moon. Nonetheless, it captured Ink’s attention. He felt like he was looking at a portrait of a goddess. Occasionally, a soft wind would blow her long silky black hair over her shoulder and he resisted the urge to touch it.

What am I thinking? It’s absurd. He chastised himself.

He doesn’t want Rebecca to merit his unwavering attention so he pried his eyes away from the priceless beauty and looked over the Eastern Sky. He wondered what it is she was seeing, especially now that she is openly gawking at the sight. All he could see were dark clouds gathered and it didn’t look heavenly at all. As a matter of fact, it looked ominous as if foreboding destruction of the land.

“It’s so beautiful. No, beautiful is an understatement,” Rebecca whispered as if talking to herself.

Ink glanced at her. “Yeah, I don’t quite see how that storm is beautiful,” he lengthened.

He felt stupid standing right next to Rebecca trying to see past the dark clouds. He wondered whether there was a rushing meteor, setting ablaze the horizon. And then he briefly wondered whether it might hit them on the tower. He thought of flying angels but then diminished the thought. He just couldn’t imagine what it exactly looked like. The story his grandfather told him was of dazzling light dancing in the sky but he couldn’t see any. The only dazzling light is a flash of lightning every now and then.

It’s no wonder no men had ever seen it. Right now, it feels like my own eyes are useless. He thought.

“You should see it,” Rebecca suddenly said pulling him out of his reverie. She had her hand outstretched with the lens in his direction.

Ink looked at her outstretched hand.

“You should hurry. It won’t last long. Any minute now it could all vanish. And you would’ve lost your chance to see it,” she urged.

So Ink took the lens, placed it over his eyes and marveled at the exact sight that Rebecca marveled at just a few seconds ago.


Lord Fillias had by now assisted Eris to a standing position. He edged him to the railing of the bell tower where he stood just a few moments ago watching Nathaheim.

The boy seemed to have recovered a bit of his strength. He could now manage to breathe properly lessening the bluish tinge to his skin. And his uncontrollable cough had subsided much to the delight of Lord Fillias. He hated the noise, he felt like he was accompanied by a dog who wouldn’t stop barking. Moreover, he hated dogs. He had a bad encounter with a huge hound once who just wouldn’t stop growling while he was passing by. Eventually, he broke off into a sprint as much as he could with the belly that he had, which only triggered the hound more resulting in a wild chase which led him to grab on a cycling stranger nearby. It was actually quite funny with his horrified expression and him shouting “faster, faster” to the poor cyclist.

“How are you feeling?” asked Lord Fillias.

“Better, my lord,” Eris replied.

“Good. Now here.” Lord Fillias handed him a lens which he instructed the boy to look through.

Eris did as he was told. He didn’t know what to expect. He never even knew about Ethereans Day a fortnight ago until the Lord told him about it. He flipped the lens in his hand three times not quite sure whether he is supposed to see something so holy.

“What are you waiting for? Go on,” Lord Fillias cued.

The boy looked through the lens apprehensively at first until he saw the wondrous and mysterious lights of Nathaheim, then a full blown smile crept unto his face. Eris reminded Lord Fillias of a boy who just got the best birthday present of his life. His grin is so wide Lord Fillias wondered if his face would split.

But it was over all too soon. The brilliant lights vanished one by one like vapor. The golden columns faded and the misty stairway dissipated along with the Ethereans leaving nothing but the dark stormy sky.

“Where did they go?” Eris wondered aloud turning to look at Lord Fillias.

“That my boy is the end of it,” he responded casually.

Eris abruptly turned at Lord Fillias and exclaimed. “End of it?!”

“Well, yes. You don’t suppose it would linger for long, do you?” he questioned.

“But wasn’t it to brief?”

“One thing you should know Eris is that, the Descent of Ethereans is an ephemeral beauty. That is what makes it even more precious. Suppose if something like that lasted for eternity, people would eventually grow tired of it’s beauty.”

“Human fascination is quite a bizarre thing, boy. It is easily captured but nothing can quite hold it for an extensive length of time. Before long, men will have found or would’ve looked for something else that would enamor them.”

“I don’t think I quite agree with that logic sire,” Eris answered.

“I mean, if such beauty existed for all the world to see wouldn’t they treasure it?” he asked.

“What is a treasure Eris? It can be very subjective. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned is that people do not put much value in the things very common to them. Do you think diamonds are a treasure because it’s something you pass by each morning? It is rare, difficult to find therefore precious, a treasure.”

“I guess so,” the boy uttered slowly.

“Very well. We need to move along now. Have you made your wish?” Lord Fillias inquired.

“Oh right,” Eris almost forgot.

“Believe me boy, in a few months time you will all be well, granted that you take proper care of yourself, of course.”

“Wouldn’t it work just like magic?” Eris wondered.

“It doesn’t work that way. Even though the forces behind it are magical, you also need to do your part. Only then will it be guaranteed that your wish will come true. It is really a simple matter, your wish is already sealed and ready to be delivered but you make sure you don’t do something that would gravitate you away from it.”

“Though you tell me that it is simple, I still don’t quite understand sire.”

“Here’s an example. You wish for good health, and the Heavens would grant that to you. But if you do something counterproductive like smoking tobacco for instance then that would gravitate you away from making it come true.”

“I think I get it now,” Eris managed to say after a few seconds of deliberating.

“Then enough chit chat. Let us now return to the mansion,” Lord Fillias ordered.

“By the way sir, what did you wish for?” Eris inquired.

“Oh, silly boy. What else would I wish for, Eris? Money, of course,”grinned the old man.

Eris grabbed the railing as he followed after Lord Fillias. “But don’t you already have more than enough money, sire?”

“You should know. Money is the only treasure that can buy other treasures, my boy,” he gloated.

Both of them descended the stairway. Lord Fillias quite satisfied by how the night turned out.


The enormous mountain of the east lined the horizon as the dark clouds scattered and the echoes of the thunder hushed. The wind blew gently, stirring the leaves of the surrounding trees. Crickets resumed their chirping. It’s as if nothing out of this world just happened. Nothing brilliant, nothing breathtaking.

But another storm was brewing.

“So, I guess that was it,” Ink deduced.

“For someone who had his jaw slacked through the entire show, you don’t sound so thrilled,” Rebecca remarked.

Ink rolled his eyes at her, clearly not wanting to discuss how he fawned over the spectacle. He had a lot on his mind. Sure, he was just as star struck as Rebecca was, only a fool would deny the beauty he had witnessed. But seeing what he saw also brought a lot of questions to the surface. Questions that he very much wanted answers to, though he doubted any answer would satisfy him.

“I’ve read before that Ethereans Day normally lasts 5 to 10 minutes, very brief if you ask me. But I think today is extra special, I’m pretty certain it exceeded that time, probably until fourteen minutes. We must be very lucky.”

Rebecca smiled. Looking down at her mask, she had decided against putting it back on. Considering the events of the night, she resolved that Ink was no longer a stranger to her. They even had a unique bond, now that they had shared the joys of Nathaheim together.

“Don’t you think it’s quite funny? If other people would’ve seen us, no doubt they’d think we’re crazy. Chilling here on the roof of the bell tower, which by the way is nothing but a little over a 100 feet fall to the ground,” Rebecca laughed.

Silence.

“I bet we’ll be labeled as cuckoos,” she grumbled.

“Yeah.”

“What’s the matter with you? No witty remarks left? Did seeing the Ethereans render you speechless?” Rebecca joked for the first time.

Ink had been unusually quiet for a few heartbeats that Rebecca started to worry. She could tell that something was bothering him.

“Ethereans?” Ink sounded spiteful. “I can understand the fascination. They sure are a beauty to behold.”

“Technically, we haven’t seen their true form. As a matter of fact, they are supposed to be invisible to men. Only if an Etherean wishes to reveal itself can it be seen. Their faux appearance looks like drifting balls of light - like floating spirits,” she supplied.

“It doesn’t really matter to me what they look like,” he murmured looking out into the distance like Rebecca.

“Okay,” she drawled. Ink didn’t seem quite happy talking about Ethereans so she stirred the conversation into a different direction.

“Well, surely you had made your wish?” Rebecca asked brightly in an effort to divert into a lighter note.

Ink didn’t answer. Rebecca was stumped and she can’t even avoid the awkward silence being trapped on the roof of the tower. She took a deep breath. And here I thought we are finally getting along. She whispered in her mind.

“I just don’t get it,” Ink said aggravated, surprising Rebecca.

“Don’t get what?” she asked curiously looking at him now.

“You!” he bellowed, pointing at her.

“Me?” she replied in a slightly higher pitch, pointing at herself.

“Yes, you seem to know a lot about history and yet here you are fawning about the Ethereans,” he accused.

“Of course I am. Ethereans are servants of the angels, made of pure starlight - glorious and majestic in sight. They are pure like the rest of the heavenly beings.”

“Pure?” he mocked. “You call the heavenly beings pure when none of them is righteous,” he angrily said.

Rebecca gasped. She couldn’t quite believe what she was hearing. “This is blasphemy,” she said horrified.

“Blasphemy?!” Ink repeated enraged. “Don’t you even know that we are in this position because of them?! Because of the Ethereans, we are living hiding behind masks, feared by men like us.”

Rebecca fell silent. Of course she knew about their history - knew that it was the Ethereans who made them this way. But she never harbored any ill feelings towards them. She understood the reason why they were punished.

“It has to be done,” she said dejectedly. The only words that she could utter.

“I understand that our ancestors needed to be punished. What I don’t understand is why we have to suffer from it. Why must we be punished for the sins of our fathers? Does that seem righteous to you? We are innocent. None of us had taken part to what had happened four centuries ago,” he breathed.

“But such is the nature of the punishment.”

“And if they are so righteous, then why haven’t they done anything to help my people. They look upon us and see us suffering and they do what? Nothing? They have forsaken us, abandoned us,” he cried angrily.

All these years, Ink convinced himself that the Ethereans were nothing but a legend invented by his own people. A mere creation of their imagination so as they could provide an explanation to how they came to be. After all, nobody had ever seen them before. Elvish stories do not make a reliable evidence for their existence. They are sometimes, known to embellish their own stories. He thought that if there were such a holy being that existed, surely being holy, they wouldn’t let the innocent suffer.

But seeing what he saw proved that everything was real. Ethereans exist - and they punished the whole town for harboring a man who had consorted with the devil. And it made him angry, angrier than he had ever been. All the bottled frustrations, bitterness and resentments had finally found a recipient.

“Pure? Holy? Don’t make me laugh,” he deliberately said. “Surely, they have seen how your kind treated the peasants. Why haven’t they done anything then?” he questioned Rebecca.

So it has returned to this? My kind and his kind? Rebecca thought.

“You can say that it is out of their jurisdiction to interfere with domestic affairs.”

“Huh? Load of crap,” he replied. “I didn’t see them not interfering when they saw it fit to punish us.”

“It was a different matter. What happened four centuries ago involved an otherworldly entity which is within the scope of their limitations. They needed to act. I don’t quite suppose you ever wondered what would’ve happened to us had they not interfered. I believe they only take action when it is within that jurisdiction - involving hazardous otherworldly entities,” Rebecca argued.

Ink had his fists clenched. “Why do you sound like the champion of the Ethereans?"

“I’m not. I’m just stating what I believe. And I believe that you are quite consumed with anger as of the moment to see things clearly,” she stated.

He shook his head. “Oh no, I’ve always seen things clearly.”

“That’s what you would like to believe. But quite frankly, you are only looking at the standpoint of someone who believes he doesn’t deserve to be punished, someone who’s been treated unfairly. What do you think is the purpose of this punishment?” Rebecca asked.

“For us to suffer because of the sins we didn’t commit?” Ink supplied.

“I don’t know if I like this side of you. You talk as if you’re someone who never made a mistake, who had never sinned. I’ve seen how you’ve helped the people. I know you are a good person. And it might be because you deeply cared for them that you are mad at the unfairness of it all. But I don’t think it’s quite right for you to place a blame on someone, let alone the Ethereans.”

“Then who should take the blame?!” Ink shouted.

Rebecca felt like she was about to cry. She bit the inside of her cheeks to keep the tears at bay. She doesn’t like people shouting, even more when the shout is directed at her.

“Why do you have to look for someone to blame in the first place?” she asked quivering.

Of course Rebecca knew why Ink was asking “who should take the blame?”. He needed someone, something to direct his anger into.

“What good will it do to point our fingers at someone?”

Ink fell silent. He could see Rebecca’s eyes glistening and he knew that she was trying to stop herself from crying. He felt bad that he let his anger overtook him. And he felt sorry that she had to be on the receiving end of it. It wasn’t his intention to raise his voice at her. He wasn’t even mad at her. He had already established before that it was neither her fault that he was in this situation - that his people were suffering. He was just mad at the world - at fate. He still couldn’t understand why it has to be like this and it’s just driving him crazy.

“Our ancestors harbored a man who consorted with the devil and as a result they were punished - all of Maskerville - as well as those of their offspring, that is how the curse works. We need to accept that and move on. Become better people than our ancestors were - because isn’t the point of a punishment is so that the mistake would not be repeated again? It’s a lesson we need to learn and we are an example to the rest of mankind. Don’t you think everything that had happened served a bigger purpose? Bigger than what we can see?”

The wind howled - blew stronger this time, making Rebecca’s hair fly in every direction - as if it could feel the intense atmosphere between the two. Somehow, the words Rebecca said made sense to Ink. It didn’t wholly abate his anger but it cleared a part of his mind enough to acknowledge that he had been an ass for the remainder of their stay on the tower.

“I’m sorry,” he said ruefully. “I didn’t mean to go off like that.”

“I think we should get back down. The wind is getting stronger,” Rebecca said.

There was no playfulness this time between the two when Rebecca climb his back. She’s still processing a whole new side to him she just witnessed right now. She couldn’t quite believe how many sides of Ink she meet today: there’s the champion of the common people, the guarded one, the playful one and the one who had some serious anger management issues. Honestly, she is a bit scared of the last one.

They descended the stairs quietly, both not knowing what to say to the other. When they finally reached the entrance of the tower, Ink was the first one to break the silence.

“Are you leaving now?” he asked.

“Yes, it’s probably close to midnight,” Rebecca answered.

“How will you get home?”

“I brought my horse. I left it tied at the church.”

“Of course you have a horse,” the words slipped from Ink’s mouth before he could stop them. He facepalmed. Way to make things more awkward, idiot.

Rebecca had already expected the comment though. So, she wasn’t surprised when Ink said it. She knew that the common people weren’t allowed to own a horse or more accurately, couldn’t afford to get one. They walked to wherever they wished to go.

She retraced her steps back to the church where she untied her horse, Marco and rode him. Ink watched her silently and briefly wondered whether she’ll be fine on her own.

“Um,” he began. “Are you going to be alright?” he asked.

“Don’t worry. I’ll manage.” She took the reins of the horse and galloped down the road.

Before she could disappear from Ink’s sight, she turned back, waved her hand and shouted “It was nice meeting you, Ink.”

Ink shouted back. “You too, Rebecca.” He smiled and noticed for the first time that Rebecca was no longer wearing the ugly ogre-mask. He was too preoccupied awhile ago with his anger that he didn’t notice she never wore it back after seeing Nathaheim.

“Ugh, stupid, stupid.” He kept hitting his bald head.

“Why didn’t you pay attention that she never wore it back?” he scolded. “Now, you’ll probably have no chance of seeing her face again. Stupid!”

He found himself looking up at the tower and then back at the entrance. The moon is directly right over his head now and shining brightly. He was just about to leave when something caught his attention.

A lone shoe lying on the ground of the tower.

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