The Bald Tattooist of Maskerville

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Name Tattooed on the Heart

Finally, the carriage stopped in front of the entrance to the quarry. They all got out one by one and followed the boy who was leading their way. He practically grew up in this place that he knew every nook and corner there was to find. There wasn’t a lot of people in the entrance, only a lone guard who was sleeping at his post. The sight of the guard sleeping seemed to have irritated Demelov.

“You carry this,” he said, tossing the basket of bread to Sebastian.

“I don’t want to. You carry it.” Sebastian pushed it back to his hand. “I’m already holding one.”

Then Demelov pushed it in Claus’ direction.

“You wish,” Claus said.

He looked at Frank who isn’t holding anything, “Don’t even think about it.”

“But I need to teach that guard a lesson,” he indicated to the guard.

“You just like to beat people up,” Sebastian countered.

“That I do too,” he didn’t deny.

“Guys, we didn’t come here to start trouble,” Rebecca said indicating the boy whose hand she was holding.

Sebastian grumbled. “Do you really have to hold his hand?”

They walked carefully like people who didn’t want to be caught doing something terrible or maybe they didn’t want to catch the people’s attention. But that was simply impossible with the clothes they were wearing and the ogre-masks plastered on their faces.

The boy led them to the open mine where hundreds of people guarded by town defenders were mining, cutting or carrying stones. None of them seems to have noticed their arrival which Rebecca was thankful for. She didn’t want to be the center of attention.

“I’ve never seen so many unmasked people in my life,” Sebastian murmured careful not to offend any ears.

“Where is your grandfather?” Rebecca asked the boy.

“He is probably taking his lunch by now. Usually, he eats with me so he is probably alone,” the boy answered.

They followed him away from the open mine to a place where they kept the stones. It’s still out in the open and there on top of a huge boulder was an old man, his back hunched and his thinning hair barely visible.

The boy broke into a run and called out to his grandfather waving his hand. The old man looked up at the sound of his familiar voice - his facial expression morphed from one of depression into one of pure joy. He carefully but hurriedly walked down the boulder. The boy leapt into his grandfather’s arms who laughed joyfully at the sight of his grandson. The old man took the boy’s face between his calloused hand, his chapped lips kissed the boy’s forehead just right on the mark and he hugged him once again tightly.

Rebecca and the others dare not intrude at the moment.

“This is very touching,” Claus echoed.

“I know,” Rebecca agreed. “I guess that’s what you feel when you terribly missed and worried about someone,” she softly said.

“Did you ever miss me that much?” Demelov joked.

“You just have to go and ruin the moment, didn’t you?” Sebastian complained.

They could see the two talking in the distance. The grandfather asked the boy where he had been all this time. He had been so worried. The boy told him everything that had happened and gestured at the five people standing away from them wearing hideous ogre-masks.

You could clearly see the shock on the old man’s face after seeing five masked people rigidly standing a few meters away. They looked so out of place surrounded by blocks of stones and dust scattered everywhere. Their vibrant clothes were the only color amidst the pale shade of rocks and their plain tunics. Moreover, it is quite a scary sight to witness green, red, blue, gray and black horrible masks staring at them as if they were the spawns of the devil waiting to claim their lives. It’s only more comical that three of those people were carrying baskets of bread.

The old man didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t even believe that these people went to such lengths to help his grandson. He didn’t dare approach them and simply stared. The boy looked up at him and urged him to go and greet them. He looked at his grandson uneasily.

“It’s okay grandpa. They’re good people,” the boy said remembering what Claus had said to him.

His grandfather highly doubted that but since they went all this way to bring him back, it wouldn’t hurt to say at least a thank you. So, he slowly walked towards them - leaning unto his grandson for support.

As they were approaching, Rebecca took a step closer towards them. She curtsied, greeted a good afternoon and held out her hand to the old man politely. The four guys looked at each other. While the old man looked at her grandson asking for a clue on what to do. He glanced at her outstretched hand: smooth and soft, and to his own hardened and dirtied hands.

He bowed politely and said, “My lady, I’m afraid a lowly peasant like me couldn’t touch the hand of an aristocrat.”

“Hello Sir,” she began, taking back her hand and letting it fall to her side.

“Sir?” Sebastian whispered behind her.

“Quiet, will you?” Frank elbowed him in the ribs.

“My name is Rebecca. I happened to run into your grandson at the northern district and seeing as there will be no deliveries till the next two days. My friends and I thought, it’ll be best if we take him back,” she explained.

“I am truly grateful, my lady,” the old man said thankfully but also a bit apprehensively.

Sensing the old man’s wariness, Rebecca said, “I guess we better take our leave then, seeing as the boy made it here safely.”

She curtsied once again and turned to leave when the boy suddenly grabbed her skirt. Demelov, obviously, didn’t like the action and was about to explode.

“You! Insolen-“ his words were cut off as Claus rapidly put his hand over the mouth of his mask. He whispered in his ears, “Rebecca is leaving a really good impression. Don’t ruin it, Demelov.”

The old man was also taken by surprise at his grandson’s actions, suddenly grabbing the boy away from Rebecca.

“I’m so sorry, my lady. He’s just a boy who doesn’t know what he’s doing. Please spare him,” he begged, expecting some kind of cruel punishment to be given at the behavior. He wouldn’t be surprised if they suddenly say they’d have to take him to the Town Defenders for such a minor infraction.

“Oh, no. Don’t worry, Sir. It’s quite alright. I assume he just have something to say. Am I right?” directing the question to the boy as she bent down to his height.

The old man was now really confused like he just entered into some kind of an odd dream where the northerners acted so…….. amicable. Or maybe, these people were high on some kind of luxury drink bought from the south. This is just not normal behavior. He pondered over this inside his head.

“My name is Arlo,” the boy said timidly.

Rebecca smiled beneath her mask. “Well, nice to finally know your name, Arlo.”

“After all this time, he tells us his name,” Sebastian shook his head.

“He’s more open now,” Frank added.

“Oh, yes, before I forget. Your bread,” Rebecca motioned for the three to give the baskets to the boy. He grinned as he held two baskets in his thin hands. And since, his hands were already full. Claus gave the third one to his grandfather who took it in a daze.

Claus noticed some blood splattered on the shoulders of his tunic as he handed the basket. He looked at the old man’s eyes and as if asking for permission stepped closer to examine where it came from. He stood behind the old man.

“If I may?” he asked the old man who was as rigid as a tree due to the close proximity of a terrible gray ogre-mask. He merely gave a small nod and Claus pried the cloth with dried blood sticking to his skin.

There, several open wounds lie. The skin at the back of his neck was bleeding. The other three men moved closer as well to see. Upon seeing the blood, Rebecca gasped. Then the old man wobbled and fell.

At the open mine, people were changing shifts as some men move to take their lunch. The menu? Well, soggy corn soup. It tasted bland: no spices or flavoring, just mere water added to boil corn kernels. It was good enough to keep the hunger at bay though - enough to push them through another day.

A short, olive-skinned girl with hazel eyes and short hair was helping distribute the food to the laborers. She wasn’t working at the quarry though. She only went there to assist the people. She was a daughter of a humble public market merchant and a part of the middle class that lived in the bungalows of the east.

Her name was Catherine, she’s not a very pleasant person to those she didn’t know and like the others, she shared the same distrust towards the nobles. She had a very good reason to feel so, since her fiancee was taken by the town defenders - charged for disrupting the peace. He was very vocal about the oppression of the common people and was labeled the instigator of social unrest. It’s been three months since the incident and whether he’s dead or alive, nobody knows.

She had been very close to the boy who had been working at the quarry together with his grandfather. The boy was an orphan. His parents were killed due to a sickness they had never known what. Medical support was not offered in the southern district and only a few amateur herbalists try to practice healing and curing diseases.

She was actually worried. Old man Palo approached her this morning asking if she had seen Arlo. He said he didn’t return after the last delivery last night and had no idea what had happened to him. The thought had been bothering her ever since then. She fixed her pixie-mask in place and decided to look for him again around the place later. Maybe, even ask the stone masons whom he went with last night.

She busied herself scooping corn soup to bowls. Then she heard someone calling her name.

“Catherine, Catherine,” a voice shouted frantically.

She saw Arlo running towards her from the distance. He was frantic and his expression was that of shock and fear. She wondered if something wrong had happened that’s why he hadn’t been able to go home last night. But before she could ask him anything, he grabbed her hand and demanded that he needed a paper bag.

“A what?” she asked confused.

He was catching his breath and said, “Paper bag. I need a paper bag.”

“Hold on Arlo. Calm down. Breathe. What’s wrong?” she asked the boy.

“Grandpa has fainted,” the boy explained.

“What?!” Catherine asked alarmed.

The boy was running around the tent, opening and closing cabinet drawers as he goes. “I need a paper bag,” he urged.

“Your grandfather had fainted and you need a paper bag?”she asked ridiculously.

“That’s what he said. Hurry,” the boy prompted.

“Said who?” she wondered.

“No time to explain.I need it now.”

The boy was already panicking and feeling the urgency in his tone. She immediately took a spare paper bag which she uses to pack her lunch, gave it to the boy and followed after him as he ran.

She didn’t know what was going on but as the boy came to a stop, she saw four figures standing around someone who was lying on the ground. Another man was crouched beside the person in a reclining position and seemed to be tending to him. Judging by the clothes they were wearing, they were no ordinary people. She scowled and wondered how in the hell they reached this place.

She strode towards them and as she grew closer, she can see that the person lying down was an old man, Grandpa Palo.

She sprinted towards him and shoved Claus out of the way.

“What’s wrong with him? What have you done to him? You villains!” she accused, glaring at them through her orange pixie-mask.

“Arlo, go and call the rest of the guys. We need to get these people out.”

“Woah, easy there. He hadn’t fainted completely. He was just dizzy,” Claus said calmly.

Catherine whipped her head so fast it felt like her neck was about to break. Claus could clearly sense the hate emanating from her aura, it’s as if she was trying to poison him with her glare.

“We didn’t do anything to harm him,” Rebecca pacified.

“Oh, damn right, you didn’t,” she spits.

Demelov looked at Frank. Somehow the conversation reminded him awfully about the ones he had with the guards. He immediately knew he didn’t like the girl.

“Look,” Demelov started. Catherine’s head now whipped in his direction.

Frank grabbed his arm. “It’s better if you shut your mouth,” he hissed under his breath.

He looked at Frank as if he had two heads. “I agree with Frank,” Sebastian echoed.

“We are friends of Arlo,” Rebecca added. “And this man here in the gray ogre-mask was helping Arlo’s grandfather.”

Catherine looked at Arlo for confirmation which he nodded his head in return. She unwillingly allowed Claus to get closer. But kept a watchful eye at his every move.

“Are you an herbalist? Do you know what you are doing?” she asked suspiciously.

“I am not an herbalist. But I know first aid. Well, theoretically. I’ve read about it,” Claus answered.

“You better not do anything to harm him. Remember, this is not your turf,” she threatened.

Demelov gritted his teeth at the words she had been saying but kept his mouth shut nonetheless.

“Do not worry. I am no murderer nor do I take pleasure at inflicting pain to people,” Claus said and Catherine scoffed.

The old man tried to get up, but Claus gently pushed him down indicating that it would be better for him to lie down since the symptoms of dizziness would typically worsen when standing or in a vertical position. He explained that it was caused by insufficient blood flow to the brain and relief can be gotten by breathing in and out of a paper bag. He helped the old man hold the bag as he breathed using it. The others were watching anxiously.

He further explained that because of a temporary reduction in the blood flow, there has been a shortage of oxygen. It could be because of the bleeding at his neck or a drop in his blood pressure due to a change in his body position. He recalled that the old man was sitting just a while ago before they have arrived and suddenly hurriedly stood upon seeing Arlo. Lastly, he believed that dehydration had been a factor as well in causing a decrease in blood pressure.

All of them including Catherine was quiet as he explained these things. They were actually quite amazed that he knew these kind of stuff. Rebecca and the others knew Claus was a wide reader but they didn’t know to what extent. And he explained it so well, that they actually understood what he meant. He was such an eloquent speaker.

“You are such a freaking freak,” Demelov said.

Claus laughed and joked, “If you have bothered to read more books, you would’ve known a better word than freak.”

“Shut up,” Demelov replied.

“In any case, once he starts to feel better. You should take him home. Make him rest and drink water,” he said to Catherine and Arlo. “He shouldn’t be out in this heat lifting rocks.”

Catherine bit her lip. As if Grandpa Palo had a choice in the matter when he gets to rest or not. “Yeah, right. Why don’t you tell that to the council who doesn’t do anything about it?” she said bitterly.

“Watch your mouth, you peasant!” Demelov bellowed.

“Don’t Demelov. I told you we are not here to cause trouble. And I wont let you cause one,” Rebecca said glaring at him.

“Don’t what? Go on. Let him say whatever he wants to say. I bet it’s nothing new. You northerners are the same,” she spits.

“Say one more word or -“

“Or what? You’ll hit me? I dare you. Go and hit me,” Catherine taunted.

Demelov flexed his hand. “Oh, don’t tempt me. I don’t really hold back even if you are a girl.”

“I’m sure you don’t. Seeing as you have the silver hair, you must be one of the Kales. They aren’t known for their good nature, you know.”

Frank suddenly grabbed Demelov by the scruff of his neck and dragged him out of there.

“What are you doing?! Let me go,” he shouted.

“I’m getting you out of trouble,” Frank said firmly.

Demelov lifted his upper body in a jump then made a swift kick to the back of Frank’s head.

“Oh no, he just didn’t,” Sebastian echoed.

Claus closed his eyes and sighed. “Yes, he just did.”

Frank threw his body to the ground. Demelov just barely stood when Frank threw a punch to his gut. He coughed.

“Get it together, will you?” Frank said. But Demelov only grunted and charged at him.

The two ended up fighting: kicking, punching and evading blows. The rest of them watched as they both used up all of their energy falling on the ground.

“Have you cooled down yet?” Frank asked.

Demelov punched his biceps playfully. “Thanks man. I needed that.”

“You two should get married!” shouted Sebastian from the distance.

They turned to look at them who were just shaking their heads and their childishness.

“You wish we would so that you can keep Rebecca. But that wont happen,” Demelov shouted back at him grinning.

Ink heard someone said Rebecca’s name in the distance. He had been looking for Catherine for quite awhile when some of the workers said they saw her ran after Arlo to the boulders kept in stock.

He knew he was probably hearing things. There’s no way Rebecca would be there in the quarry. She had no reason to be. But some part of him hoped, like how she just popped out of the blue at his workshop.

He wasn’t wrong. He stopped in his tracks when he saw the familiar green ogre-mask standing beside Arlo. Arlo? He was confused. There wasn’t only Arlo, Catherine was there too and old man Palo. He was sitting holding a paper bag. Furthermore, their were four burly men who looked like body guards wearing ogre-masks just like Rebecca's.

He hurried to the most unlikely group of people he saw hanging out. Though, he didn’t really think they were hanging out.

“Ink, you’re here,” Catherine said once he saw the man approaching.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“Long story,” she replied. “Something happened that led this people here. Honestly, I didn’t want the association but they helped old man Palo,” she said as if that left her no choice.

“Those men over there had been arguing over something so stupid. All they do is fight and argue,” she complained.

Ink looked over at the red and the blue ogre-masked guys who were deep in an argument. He strained to catch a hint of what they’ve been discussing when he heard the mention of Rebecca’s name again. He looked at the girl whom he thought was just about to wave at him, but her attention was suddenly dragged away by the guys who were arguing. He scowled.

He eavesdropped more on their conversation.

“I’m the one who always takes good care of Rebecca,” the blue ogre-masked guy declared.

“Just how far are you willing to go to prove your feelings for her?” the red masked guy dared.

“Seriously guys, this is nonsense. You’re friends. We’re all friends since we were kids. I don’t see why you have to make a big deal out of this,” she exasperatedly said.

“Oh it is a big deal, trust me,” the gray masked guy chimed.

“Now, prove to me your eagerness, Sebastian,” the red masked said. He turned around, looking for something he could use as a dare. In that brief moment, their eyes met and Ink swore he saw a glint in the eye of the silver-haired guy.

“You there! It seems like you do tattoos. I’ll pay you 50 Lirhams to tattoo Rebecca’s name over our chests. That’s the dare,” he said triumphantly at the other guy.

Ink looked at Catherine incredulously. It so happens that Ink brought his bag and equipment with him.

He looked at his friend once again who just shrugged at him and said, “It’s money. A lot of it. You better not turn this down,” she echoed. “I have no idea what their deal is but we don’t say no to 50 Lirhams.”

Demelov knew that Sebastian would never dare put any black ink on his body - on any part at that. So there on that afternoon under the shadow of a large stack of rocks, Demelov sat and had Rebecca’s name tattooed on his chest. All the while smirking at the poor Sebastian who couldn’t do the dare Demelov had so craftily thought.

Ink didn’t understand what he was feeling as he tattooed the letters of Rebecca’s name on this guy’s chest. He didn’t even know him but somehow he felt like he and this guy are not going to get along and it doesn’t even have anything to do about him being a noble.

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