The Ardent Suitors
There was a legend about a man who sold himself to the devil in exchange for knowledge.
“But why was he unnamed?” Rebecca asked.
“It’s obvious child, isn’t it? Because nobody knew what his name was,” Grand Thello replied.
He was Rebecca’s private tutor, an old man whose long hair and beard had already turned white. He had a wrinkled-skin and wise black eyes. Like the rest of the servants in the Household of Gris, he too wore a fairy-mask.
“I think if he has a name it would be Faust,” Rebecca declared.
The old man stopped stacking his books to look at her. “Why is that?”
“I think it would suit him.”
“And what about the devil? Does he have a name?” Grand Thello asked.
“Mephistopheles,” she said.
He grinned underneath his fairy-mask and touched his long beard. “Yeah, it does sound right. How’d you thought of these names?”
“I don’t know. It seems like some other worldly being whispered it in my ears,” she laughed.
“It seems like they existed in a different world,” Grand Thello laughed along. “Anyway, in here, nobody knows the name of that man even when he existed. He wasn’t originally from Maskerville. Rumors say that he came from a faraway land with his wife and lived in the dilapidated manor house that had long been forgotten outside the coast of the old town. People were suddenly surprised to see smoke rising out of the chimney one day. They kept to themselves and made no effort to get to know anybody. It was only after a few months when people started disappearing from town that they started to became wary of them. Fourteen people vanished in three months since they have arrived. They became suspicious…”
Suddenly there was a knock at the door of the library, a man wearing a red ogre-mask with a gory looking scar on the forehead appeared at the doorway. It was Rebecca’s father, Romulus Gris. He was a man who had immense commanding presence, the kind you can just feel palpable in the air the moment he steps into the room. He was tall and always regal looking. Unlike other men, the frilly man dress doesn’t make him look funny. He was one of the few who could actually make it work. Through the holes of the mask, you can see his black eyes glistening.
“Are you going somewhere, father?” Rebecca asked.
“Yes, my child. I’ll be heading south to check on the forest plantation. Timber demand had increased the past month. It appears Sulare, the Capital of Vangora, are building galleons.”
Rebecca closed the book she was reading. “Can I come with you?”
Romulus was a bit surprised by Rebecca’s request. His daughter never really took interest in the business before. As a matter of fact, she hardly left the library whenever she’s at the mansion. And she is always at the mansion. She loved to read books and those had always been her companion seeming content not to step out of that world. Her interest wrapped around history, elves and mystical things.
She would often ask Grand Thello to tell her stories or legends that Romulus wasn’t sure whether true or a product of his wild imagination. Of course he knew the man was exceedingly bright. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have picked him to be Rebecca’s tutor.
However sometimes, he couldn’t help but worry about the stuff he’d been filling Rebecca’s head.
As far as Romulus knew, Rebecca hadn’t even been south. He wasn’t aware about her little escapade at the bell tower where her curiosity was picked by the things she saw that shed some light to the truth she had been ignorant with just a few days ago.
If Rebecca’s assumption based on the conversations she had overheard between Ink and the common people that day were right, then most of them were probably workers at the stone quarries. She heard a group of men saying that the northern district was filled with Masker - Villains. Villains who think they are better than everybody else. That’s why the common people are seldom allowed to go north because they were simply not in the same league.
The common people only went there unless they were summoned by the council, captured by the town defenders or were delivering goods to the town courier. And often times, the nobles would talk about how disgraceful they were walking the streets bearing their Marks. The more juvenile ones would offer spiteful words and even spit in their way. Rebecca thought it was very insulting but it seems like they have been used to such treatment.
As they said, their carriage always pass by a sea of spit every time they deliver stones to the courier department.
They figured getting tattoos might make these people shut up, the next time they make deliveries. At least by then, their foreheads would be devoid of the mark and replaced by a chunk of black tar.
Then, there was even a boy who she believed couldn’t be more than fifteen years old. Ink refused to give him a tattoo at first, saying he was too young. But the boy was so persistent that he gave up and did as he wished. He was crying as Ink was doing his tattoo - not because it was painful. But he cried as he recalled his experience a few days back - on the eighteenth day of Hanul, three days prior to Nathaheim.
He snuck behind a Lord’s carriage after work at the quarries. He wanted to go to the Northern District - more like needed to get there.
He had never set foot in the Northern District before and just like all the other peasants who had seen it for the first time, he was amazed for it was nothing like the rickety outskirts of the town like the southern encampment. It was, suffice to say, beautiful. The main road to the chief region is lined by two building of shops much like the ones in the public market only it was empty and unoccupied. It was filled with various merchandise all imported from the southern civilization. There were fruits like apples, peaches and pears. He had never even seen one before. While the rest almost paid it no attention, like an apple or a peach or a pear in a shop was no big deal at all, he was salivating. That was all he could do though because the number of zeroes in the price tag was more than the number of fingers in his one hand. Nevertheless, he was quite happy to look around. There was even a toy shop filled with caricatures of wild beasts like the Dimetrodon. There seems to be a place where they sold whimsical lamps. It was so bizarre he pressed his face at the glass of the store. He had never seen anything like it. The ones they have at home for lighting is a mere candlestick they’ve been quite careful not to use up. But this is more classy and captivating, blue glowing butterflies trapped inside a huge clear glass dome that can be hung suspended in the ceiling. The glass comes in different shapes too. But for those who want to buy something less expensive, they also have the conventional fireflies of the south. Then there was a hunting shop where you can buy weapons and gear used to hunt game in the Mountains of Awari. He heard the north eastern aristocrats have a very luxurious hobby and he heard right. The prices for these weapons are more than the entire salary he gets for the whole month. Metalwork is really expensive. Then he looked at a shop that sells different kinds of fabric: wool, linen and silk dyed in various vibrant colors only the rich could afford. He looked down at his own unbleached tunic and black trousers that sports a hole on its knee and sighed.
There were also a lot of people, all masked, going about their own business. He had never seen this many gathered people wearing vertigo disguise. Most of them wore fairy-masks; servants, no doubt, running errands for their households. Most shop owners on the northern commercial district wore witch-masks, he noticed. And every now and then he saw people wearing ogre-masks, the elitist of the elites. It was like entering a bizarre world. The masked people stole glances at him and scowled without a doubt underneath their covering. Some are whispering as he passed by - staying clear of his path as if he’s an infected person whose disease is contagious by the simple brush of his skin. It didn’t matter to him though.
He ran from one shop to another absolutely delighted by the things that are quite common for these people to see but for him are a rarity and a peculiarity. He was elated to see the beautiful structures, more elaborate than the buildings on the commercial district further down the road. The tallest of it all and at the center is the Sanctum of the Highest Order, where the Divine Spectre resides looking over the whole town. Around it are the seven administrative buildings: the council circle - a round shaped building which is flattened at the top; the town defenders building - a garrison with a huge metal gate that bears the symbol of a spear and a blade like an “x”; the couriers - a box-like structure with a wide cobbled open space in front that line rows upon rows of carriages and wagons of different sizes. The traders department didn’t look like an administrative building at all but a castle fit for a king, albeit just a bit smaller in size. Next, the artisans department was a sophisticated looking and elaborately styled building much like the artists and creative minds that are housed in it. The Scientia building looked the shabbiest beside the other administrative offices. Not that it wasn’t eye catching but it wasn’t as equally spectacularly styled like the rest. It looked plain compared to the others - a three floored building bearing no design or symbols with a normal looking door and occasional small windows scattered on the sides. It looked like an apartment building in the boy’s mind. And lastly, the Medics Department or what people call the white building, one can surmise from the name what it looked like - a building painted all over with white shaped like a horizontal “s”.
He stood in front of it, hands trembling. This was the reason why he went to the Chief Region in the first place. He didn’t go there merely for the fun of it or to explore and sight see. He must - at all costs - consult with an herbalist.
He walked towards the entrance where a guard wearing a pixie-mask dressed in dark long sleeved tunic inside a long scarlet open robe reaching his knees and frilled at the edges wound around his waist by a leather girdle with the symbol of the town defenders, stared in his direction. He was holding a spear in one hand and stood with his feet apart.
The boy looked down and trudged forward praying that the guard wouldn’t halt him. Once inside the white building, he saw what appears to be a long desk in front of a very large wooden furniture filled with vials of what he thought could only be medicine. It was manned by a lady with long black hair, face covered by another pixie-mask. He thought that most of the workers there were probably middle classes judging by the masks they wore. He approached the employee and asked whether he could get medicine for fever explaining that his mother had been sick for days and her feverish body temperature had never cooled down to normal heat.
The woman had her back to him while he was explaining. Upon turning around, she made an audible gasp at the sight of the unmasked boy in front of her.
“What are you doing here?” she hissed. “You can’t be here. If the lord sees you we will both be endanger,” she whispered.
“I’m not going to stay for long. I just really needed to get some medicine for my mother. She is really ill and in a lot of pain. Here take this,” he said as he emptied his pockets and shoved her 5 Siram coins. Siram is a 100,000 silver coin. Silver coins are mostly used in purchasing among the middle and lower classes. Only those of the nobles carry Lirham. Lirhams are 1,000,000 gold coins which make it 10 Siram coins to make one Lirham. Bronze coins called Iram are rarely used but also present, each coin is worth 10,000.
“I know that is not enough to buy one vial of medicine but that’s all that’s left of my salary. Please, take it. I will pay the you the rest next month. Please,” he begged the woman.
The woman pitied the boy. Seeing him begging and almost crying just tore at her heart that though prohibited she handed him a vial of greenish concoction and returned his money to him.
“Make her drink this three times each day - once in the morning, afternoon and evening till the fever is gone,” she said when footsteps in the background approached and a voice uttered.
“Are we a charity?” Lord Firenze asked the girl, his purple colored ogre-mask looking like chapped skin. The girl kept quiet and gripped the boy’s hand.
“Oh, Tilda, Tilda… Did you pity the boy? Seeing that your mother was in the same position as his before she died? Were you thinking that if only I was able to give her the medicine in the right time, I could’ve saved her.” The girl bit her lip behind her mask and struggled to keep herself from crying. The boy looked curiously at her and at the man.
“Did you think that you will be doing him a favor, trying to save his mother they way you hadn’t saved yours?” he said maliciously. “Hand me the vial,” he ordered the boy.
“No,” he said gripping it tightly.
“No?” he laughs. “And who are you to say no to me?” he asked. “You know, death would be a less cruel fate for your mother.”
Tilda gasped as the boy let out an angry cry and almost charged at Lord Firenze if not for the hands that grasped him tightly.
“Oh yes, death is just another journey boy. It’s better if you learn of it’s pain sooner. For we do not cater to the likes of you, filthy peasant. You dare walk here bearing your mark as if it’s a trophy,” he said grudgingly grabbing the vial out of his grasp.
“And you Tilda, if you wish to keep your post and your father fed, it will be in your best interest if you do not let feelings of pity get in your way." He called upon the guard stationed outside who dragged the boy away and tossed him into the streets.
He didn’t remember what happened next then. He walked for what seemed like forever and arrived at his house only to see his mother on the brink of death. Her body shuddering as if it was on convulsion. She was sweating profusely, her eyes in delirium. He ran to her side and cooed softly, eyes watering. As the teardrops fell to his mother’s cheeks. She looked up and smiled at the sight of his loving boy, grateful for his company as the last breath of life was sucked out of her body.
Rebecca remembered crying along with the boy as he retold his story and she felt extremely sorry towards him. She wondered how many people like him in the south suffer from this kind of fate. She wondered and the more she did, the more resolved she became. She wanted to know more and she’ll have to venture outside of the familiarity of the north, of her mansion, of the library she’d been so attached to.
So she went with her father, together they rode the carriage and went south. On their way to the forest plantation, her father had to make a short stop at the commercial district to buy something. Rebecca stayed in the carriage and waited for her father’s return. She was looking through the window and staring at the people that went to and fro when a wagon of timber goods brought by the common people from the plantation to the couriers were passing by. And true to what the stone masons said, people spit at the road the wagon passed by. She was appalled at the sight of it - witnessing it for the first time.
She felt ashamed of herself that she belonged to these group of people in the society who - just like what Ink and the rest of the common people said - acted like they were superior. She hung her head low when suddenly, a shriek sounded. She saw a peasant boy running away from a stall stealing a bread from the pastry shop.
A group of town defenders came running after him. He was just about to pass by her carriage door when he was over run and captured by the guards.
She couldn’t just sit there inside her carriage and do nothing. So, she opened the door and walked towards the ruckus that was now starting to get the attention of the people passing by, her green ogre-mask firmly in place. The boy was struggling to get away from the guards.
“You brat, where do you think you’re going, aye?” growled the first guard.
“Ye think ye can get away with stealing?” echoed another.
“Caught in the act, stupid boy,” the third guard said hitting the mark on his forehead with his pointing finger.
“Let me go!” shouted the boy. Then suddenly, he bit the hand of the first guard that was grabbing the front of his tunic. The guard screamed and threw the boy to the ground - landing in a thud. He was angry and in a rage, he kicked the boy’s ribs over and over again until the boy grew limp.
“Stop! Stop it! He’s only a boy!” shouted Rebecca to the guards.
“This is none of your business, lady. It is the job of the town defenders to maintain peace in town. And clearly, this boy had violated that peace. Therefore, he needed to be punished,” the guard replied.
“You had already beaten him. Isn’t that punishment enough? Or is it the job of the town defenders to abuse the authority that has been given to them?” she countered.
The three pixie-masked guards grumbled.
“You there. Get up,” he ordered the boy. But the boy was grunting as he was sprawled on the cobbled side street, clutching his probably broken ribs.
“Didn’t you her what I said?” he shouted landing another kick once again.
“Can’t you see? You had injured him severely that he wouldn’t be able to get back on his feet or are you blind?!” Rebecca said outraged.
She stooped low and crouched beside the boy, looking at his dirty clothes and bloodied face. His long brown mane almost covering his mark of the undead.
“We will be taking him back to the department charged for theft. He need to learn his lesson inside a jail,” the second guard said taking a step closer to the boy.
“You take one step and I swear you’d wish you never crossed me,” Rebecca threatened.
“I don’t know who you are lady but punishment must be delivered to those who break the law and the law states that stealing is not tolerated in town,” the third guard answered.
By this time now, a crowd had already surrounded them. Onlookers who are being nosy pushed against each other to see what the whole commotion was about.
“It seems like there’s an uproar over there,” Sebastian said.
“You think the defenders are hacking someone to death?” Demelov grinned.
“We are not a group of barbaric people Demelov,” Claus remarked.
“What do you think, Frank? Bet they caught some bloody peasant skulking around in the north,” Demelov concluded.
“It’s none of our business,” Frank simply shrugged.
“Um… guys? Isn’t that Rebecca’s mask over there?” Sebastian said confused.
“Tsss, Rebecca? Get your eyes checked Sebastian like Rebecca would leave her mansion’s library to gawk at something like that,” Demelov dismissed.
“The thing is… she isn’t simply gawking. I think, she’s arguing with the guards,” Sebastian said trying to get a better look at the girl.
“Nonsense,” Frank replied.
“But it is her mask,” Sebastian sounded worried looking at the horrid masks of the three. “You are not saying that, that mask simply looked just like hers, are you?”
“Is it possible that the Artisans department failed to make a distinctive mask that should never resemble other people’s?” Claus directed the question to Demelov playfully.
“Don’t ever question our craft bonehead,” Demelov said irritated. “No two masks are ever alike,” he said as he shoved other people out of the way to see for himself the spectacle. The other three guys followed behind.
The crowd parted at the sight of a person with silver hair walking gracefully. Whispers erupted and you can hear the bystanders murmuring “Kale” , “It’s a Kale”.
As the number of people thinned towards the center, the four men easily wove their way through until they saw a bruised unmasked boy lying in the ground with a girl protectively crouched beside him.
Demelov blinked: once, twice and thrice. Then he was furious.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” he shouted towards the girl and then to the guards.
“Demelov?” Rebecca said his name. Then she looked behind him to see the familiar masks she’d known her entire life.
“Claus, Frank and Sebastian? What are you doing here?”