Behind His Mask

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Chapter 7 - With a Drop of Blood

I had never been on a sailboat before and I was surprised at the speed with which Murmur got us away from the shoreline. Even though I couldn’t stand the second prince, I was kind of impressed that he knew how to operate a boat that required more than firing an ignition switch. I had no idea what the different ropes did when you pulled them or loosened them or anything.

When we boarded the boat, the sky was black, but as we sped across the water, the sky brightened into a curious mixture of gray and yellow. Murmur took us into the shadow of the castle and furled the sails, so that instead of moving steadily in a straight line with the wind, he allowed the waves to knock us gently around the bay.

I should have been afraid. After what happened when I went down the river, I should have known that Evander’s dream world definitely had its dangers, but whenever I went back to reality, I sort of forgot the intensity of what happened the last time. The thing was, I didn’t think Murmur would do anything that would put me in my grave.

I even had the pluck to start talking to him on a friendly level. “How did you learn to sail? I thought you were so proud to be a castle brat, you wouldn’t know how to handle a boat.”

Murmur rolled his eyes and looked pained. “If you ever went to the capital yourself, you would see the King’s castle is built on the edge of a crystal lake. Every member of the court who has any style knows how to do at least this much. The capital city is beautiful. It’s a shame you’ll never see it.”

His voice was menacing, but I didn’t let it frighten me. Instead, I teased him. “Why not? Are you planning on drowning me, here and now?”

“Maybe,” he said. He took a black leather case out of his pocket and drew a golden blade out of it.

I gazed at him seriously. “Just throwing me over isn’t enough?”

“Turn around,” he said tolerantly. “I’ll cut your bonds.”

I accommodated him, but the second my hands were free, he took my right hand in a death grip and cut across my palm.

I screamed.

“Not so funny now?” he asked fiendishly as he forced me to the side of the boat and held my bleeding hand over the water.

I saw the drops of my blood dissipate into the green water. Something under the surface swelled, like muscle straining from under the sea.

“Murmur, are you sure you know what you’re doing?” I sputtered. “Provoking the capricorns can’t be a good idea. Have you seen their horns? Besides, if they can capsize an enemy ship, what makes you think they won’t topple this one? Especially if they smell blood and think they’ll get fed.”

“This ship is fine,” Murmur said arrogantly. “It was built by us, so it’s strong enough to withstand a few little capricorns, but you…”

Just then the tip of a horn came above the surface. It reminded me of a shark fin. My arm was still hanging over the edge of the boat.

“Let go of me!” I screamed. I hit him over the head with my free hand, but my struggles were just as useless as they had been on the floor of Tremor’s bedroom. “They’re going to bite my arm off!”

“Say it!” he bellowed as he refused to be fazed by my blows.

“Say what?”

“Say you want to divorce Tremor.”

I gasped. “No. Even if this is just a book Evander wrote… No! Especially if this is just a book Evander wrote, I’m not going to betray him.”

“Really?”

I looked into his eyes. It was weird. He should have paused and looked at me blankly when I said something about the outside world. Instead, he answered me rationally. What was going on?

Murmur turned his attention back to the sea. A nose came out of the water and a drop of my blood fell directly into its gray nostril.

“No!” I screamed.

The thing leaped.

Murmur pulled my arm into the safety of the boat at the last second as we both were sprayed by the beast breaching the water.

“Let’s try again,” Murmur said as he grabbed my waist and wrestled me back to the edge of the boat.

“No!”

The boat rocked desperately on the heavy waves the capricorn made, but neither that nor my kicking and screaming changed the fact that a minute later I was forced back to the edge with my arm hanging over the side of the boat. Murmur hollered in my ear, “Say you want a divorce!”

I could see more horns over the edge of the boat. I counted them. Since each capricorn had two then there were at least five circling the craft.

Tears streaked my cheeks and snot ran down my face, but I still struggled against his grip. It didn’t do any good. He held me still and didn’t budge. My jaw was tight as I braced against the pain. I didn’t think I could avoid what would happen next—which would be my arm getting torn from its socket.

“Say you want to marry me and I’ll take the boat back to shore,” he hissed so venomously in my ear it felt like he had stuck his tongue in.

I took a deep breath and screamed as loud as I could out to sea, “Tremor!”

Murmur covered my mouth, but it was too late. A deep sound like a whale’s song echoed so loudly through the water that it made the boat tremble.

“What have you done?” Murmur said, pulling me in.

I fell backward and held my bloody hand tightly. “Is he really a monster then? Was it him who answered me?”

“I don’t know, but I’ve got to turn this boat around.” Murmur got the boat pointed toward the castle and adjusted the sails.

CRASH!

The boat reeled off to one side. A capricorn had rammed us and the side of the boat was splintered. No water came in yet, but I couldn’t believe the strength of the capricorn. We were almost knocked upside down.

“Murmur!” I screamed. “We’re not going to make it to shore. We’re going to die!”

His face was grim as he corrected his steering. He didn’t say anything, but in the next second we were hit again and both of us were reeling.

I saw him correct his balance. After a moment of deliberating, he was beside me. “You’re right. There’s no way that both of us can make it to shore.” His eyes were hateful as he said, “You should have married me.” He swiftly picked me up like a princess and dumped me over the side.

The water was cold and smelly and once again I was weighed down by my clothes. I got my head above water and tried to work my way out of my coat. Then I had an idea and dunked my head under the waves to scream with a full breath, “Tremor!” The bubbles spewed out of my mouth and then a blast of water went up my nose.

I got my head up and choked and sputtered before sucking in one final breath before I felt massive jaws tighten around my leg to drag me under. The pain was unreal and there were so many bubbles that even if I opened my eyes underwater I could scarcely see anything. In a break through the curtain of froth, I saw the black capricorn coming toward us—fast. I was about to become a cord in a game of tug-of-war.

Then the black capricorn sang. The sound was so intense I had to cover my ears even though I was underwater and running out of breath quickly.

The capricorn biting me loosened its jaws, but once I was free, I couldn’t swim upwards easily. The leg that had been bitten was bleeding profusely. That leg was completely useless against the weight of my nightdress and coat. My arms and my useful leg weren’t holding up well.

The black capricorn swam underneath me and heaved me to the surface. It had to be Tremor. Once above water, I mounted his back and crawled to his shoulders, where I could hold onto his horns.

I sputtered for breath and then saw the scene ahead of me. Murmur’s boat was surrounded by horns. I had thought there were five before. They had more than doubled their numbers. Tremor saved me from them.

Tremor gave one last look toward his brother before he left him to his fate and carried me to the rocky shore. Craning my neck to look behind me, I saw the ship’s mast tip and fall into the water. Once we made it to the cliffs where Murmur’s boat had been docked, I dropped myself onto the rocks. In the distance, I could hear Murmur shouting curses and screaming for Tremor to come back for him. Tremor stayed in the water next to me, his nose just above the water. Then the ship seemed to crumble in on itself and shortly afterward, the noise stopped.

I tried to feel sorrowful for Murmur, but I was not going to break my heart over the antagonist. Instead, I focused on myself. Hiking my nightgown up, I had a look at my leg. There were teeth marks in my thigh and in my calf. It was disturbing how much it bled. I felt faint.

A black hoof came out of the water and Tremor’s two capricorn legs lifted the goat half of his body out of the water. He was huge, much larger than a horse. If my leg hadn’t been mutilated, I would have done something to retreat, but I couldn’t move at all. I gasped at the sight of him instead.

Then I saw his black hoof become a black hand that gripped the sand-colored rocks in front of me. He was shrinking. His head changed shape and he went from being a goat-face to the prince I knew. The skin on his abdomen was already tan and the color was spreading with speed over his whole body—except not on his arms for some reason. His arms remained black and slightly furry with one or two scales. That must be why he kept covering his arms with bandages, to cover the black. It was because it hinted that he wasn’t completely human.

Standing on the rock in front of me, he tugged his slipping waistband tight and knelt at my feet to have a look at my wound.

“Looks bad,” he whispered tightly.

“Well, it’s not as bad as it looks,” I said, swooning.

He caught me in his capricorn-skinned arms. “Come on. I’ll get you inside. You’re going to bleed to death.”

“Would you really let me bleed to death in your book, Evander?” I mumbled as he lifted me up and carried me to the castle.

“I would never let you bleed to death.”

“But it’s okay if Murmur bleeds to death?” I questioned hazily.

He scoffed. “What was I supposed to do? He shouldn’t have spilled your blood into the water. Once that was done, there was nothing I could do for him. One of you was going to lose your life. I told the capricorn they could have Murmur instead.”

“That’s why there was no point going back?”

“Exactly. Capricorns are trained to eat humans. He knew that.”

I smiled, thinking about the perfect happily-ever-after. “Does this mean that you’ll be king now?”

I was smiling, but Tremor’s expression didn’t change. “My father isn’t too old of a man. Forget the Queen. If she can’t mother another heir, he’ll just find a woman who can. He’s very resourceful, and I will never be king. Why? Don’t you want to be married to the perpetual crown prince?”

“Who needs a prince?”

His laugh was sarcastic. “What are you saying?”

“I’d like you even if you weren’t a prince,” I confessed dreamily. It was easier to say that kind of thing to Tremor than to Evander because I could say it without backlash or even embarrassment. “I like you so much.”

He didn’t look at me but instead kept his eyes fixed steadily ahead of him. “Even with these arms? Most of the time I can’t keep them the color of my skin.”

“It’s no worse than a tattoo.”

“Even if you’re ridiculed by Hilda or the Queen for being married to a man the size of a whale?”

I thought about the wedding dress the Queen sent me. I hadn’t even realized there was a double meaning behind it. “Spiteful hags,” I muttered.

He opened the gate that led into the basement and his bedroom. Then he took me to the bed and sat me down. It wasn’t until that second that he really looked into my eyes.

But I was a teenage girl and I couldn’t let him talk. I had to be the one to talk. “And you were the capricorn that saved me on the river, weren’t you?”

He nodded.

“I like you.”

Tremor looked at me evenly and said, “I trust you.” He kissed my mouth with parted lips and it was perfect—sweet, warm, salty, and lucky.

And then… I passed out.

***

I blinked myself awake and was actually surprised when I didn’t wake up in the basement of Tremor’s castle. Instead, I was lying on a hospital gurney and clearly in an emergency room in present-day Edmonton.

My mom was standing outside the curtain talking to the doctor. I could hear her. Privacy in that sort of place must be a complete illusion.

“Has this sort of thing ever happened before?” the doctor asked.

“Of course not.”

“When she wakes up in the morning, she hasn’t had difficulty waking up?”

“No more so than any other teenager.”

I was about to interrupt them and tell them I was awake when I thought about my leg. I wanted to check it, so I pulled up my jeans and saw my unbroken skin. That was good to see. I put my feet on the floor and realized I was hooked up to a couple of different things—an I.V. and something was clipped to my finger. Fun. I took the finger one off. Then I tried to walk.

I fell on the floor. “Dang.” My leg was like jelly.

The doctor flicked back the curtain and came in with my mom. They stared at me on the floor in horror.

“Sarah! How did you fall off?” my mother exclaimed.

“Uh, I tried to walk and it didn’t work so well.”

My mom and the doctor helped me back on the gurney.

Then the doctor introduced himself. “Hi Sarah, I’m Dr. Harvester. You were brought in via ambulance when you were found passed out in the school library. It was the librarian, Ms. Preet, who called. She said that you came in during the lunch hour and slept all afternoon. She left you alone, but ended up calling for an ambulance when she couldn’t wake you up after school was over.”

“What time is it?”

“Close to seven,” my mom supplied.

My brain convulsed. It was Thursday! I was supposed to be at Emi’s. “Did anyone call Emi and tell her I couldn’t come?”

My Mom pursed her lips in a way that let me know my right to make choices had been rescinded. “No one called her, but I will as soon as we’re finished.”

Effectively silenced, I let the doctor examine me and ask all those adorable, infuriating questions doctors liked to ask. He wrapped up by saying, “You know, I’d let you go in a second if it weren’t for the leg issue you’re describing. Would you mind trying to walk on it again?”

I tried, but it was just as useless as before.

“See, I can’t let you go home like that. We’ll admit you, run a few tests, and keep you overnight for observation. A nurse will be in to complete your paperwork in a second. Don’t go anywhere.” He smiled at his lame joke and exited the curtained room.

“Like I could,” I mumbled after him.

Once we were alone, my mom leaned forward and said in a whisper that was barely audible, “Sarah, do you have any idea why you passed out? Was there a reason you didn’t want to tell the doctor?”

“Like what?” I huffed.

“Like… did you overdo it on energy drinks?”

Scoffing, I said, “Are you serious? I hate those things. They give me a headache and cost a fortune.”

“Or,” she continued in an even lower voice, “did one of your friends give you something?”

I smirked and went along with it for kicks. “Actually, one of my friends did give me something.”

“What was it?”

“Is my school bag here? I’ll show you.”

She handed me a white plastic hospital bag that contained everything I had been brought to the hospital with and, sure enough, all my books were there. Shifting through it, I found Evander’s book and handed it to my mom.

“What’s this?” She flipped it open. The way she did it made it seem like she was expecting the pages to be hollowed so someone could hide something inside. “There’s nothing here. It’s just a book.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. It’s not just any book. Look at the cover.”

She turned to the front. “Behind His Mask by Evander Cheney.” Then she bonked me on the head with it.

I shrieked and rubbed the sore spot with my palm. “What was that for?”

“How many nights have you stayed up all night to read this? I knew you had a crush on Evander, but letting your schoolwork suffer, falling asleep in school, and finally ending up in the emergency room. You little…”

Apparently, the sounds we were producing caught the attention of the medical staff, and the doctor came back. “What’s going on?” he interrupted.

“She was reading!” my mom accused me. “She’s been reading all night, every night. That’s why she fainted at school.”

The doctor looked at the book my mother was brandishing, then at me, and then back to my mother. “Ms. Reagan, put the book down. Your daughter is not the first kid to over-read. Regardless of how she ended up here, we still need to keep her because of her leg.”

“Fine,” she conceded. She confiscated Evander’s book by depositing it in her purse. Then she planted a kiss on my head. “I’ve got to go to work. Call me when you’re discharged and I’ll escort you home.”

“You’re going to call Emi for me?” I pleaded.

She rolled her eyes. “Yes.”

“Thanks.”

Then she left. The nurse came, filled out my forms and I was wheeled into another not-so-private room. They planned to do my tests (the scans) in the morning, but they had no problem taking my blood pressure for the trillionth time and commenting on how strange the numbers were, or taking vial upon vial of my blood. By the sixth stab, it hurt more than when Murmur cut me.

Finally, they left me alone and I got to enjoy the fact that I had a window in my corner of the room that let in some of the city lights.

Just after eight o’clock, Emi came in.

“Wow,” I said when I saw her. “You didn’t have to come all the way down here.”

She stared at me in horror. “Sorry. I had to see it for myself. Your mom said you fell asleep in the library and they couldn’t wake you up because you were reading that book I gave you.” Emi made a strange motion with her head, pointing toward the door.

I mouthed, “Is Evander outside?”

She nodded and then continued talking. “I didn’t know you started reading it. How far into it are you?”

“I made it to the part where Murmur tries to kill Sarafina and Tremor saves her.”

She lowered herself onto the bed by my feet and gripped the railing. “Really? That must be the end of the first part. The next section you’ll read is a completely different story.”

“I hadn’t even read the title. What’s that one called?”

The Witch and the Fool.”

“It sounds good, but why did Evander come here?” I whispered.

“Well, he was the one who talked to your mother—she didn’t tell him the name of the book—thank goodness. Anyway, he volunteered to watch Paisley for me when you didn’t turn up. He called me at work to tell me what happened, so I left work and came here with him. I was impressed. He really wanted to make sure you were okay. That’s really rare of Evander.”

“Yeah, amazing,” I mumbled. It was then that I started to wonder if Evander knew what was happening when I was in the book. It would make sense for him to be worried since I almost got my leg bitten off inside his book and then outside the book I was having trouble using it in the real world. “Does he want to come in?”

She shook her head negatively. “No. He’s watching Paisley.”

“Thank him for me.”

“Sure. Is there anything I can bring you to make you more comfortable? I mean, do you want me to get you something from the food court downstairs or something?”

“No. I’m fine,” I quickly reassured her. I couldn’t think of letting Emi (or anybody) spend money on me.

“It’s okay if you want something. You missed dinner, didn’t you?”

“I’m not hungry,” I said, even though I hadn’t had lunch.

Emi turned on her black high heels and pointed herself toward the door. “Well, even if you’re not hungry, I’ll pick up something for you anyway. Who knows? Maybe you’ll want a midnight snack.”

I shook my head and settled into my pillows as she click-clacked on her heels out the door. Emi was really too kind. Then I heard a male tenor voice say, “Knock, knock,” outside my curtain.

“Yeah,” I called.

Two fingers came around the fabric and brushed it aside. Evander parted it and waited until he had made eye-contact with me before he came in.

“Hi,” he said. “Emi and Paisley went downstairs and I thought it would be sad to leave you alone. It’s boring to stay in the hospital even if it’s just for one night.”

“Is it? This is my first time.” I was blushing. I wanted my face to chill out, but I couldn’t help it. One of my fantasies was coming true.

“Yeah. It’s really boring. Here,” he said, pulling out a gold iPod and a set of headphones. “You can borrow this and give it back to me when you come to babysit next time.”

I stared as he placed it on the bed by my knees.

“I don’t know if you’ll like my playlist, but trust me, even if you don’t, having this will be a lot better than nothing come one o’clock.”

“Thank you,” I said immediately.

Then he smiled at me and everything was beyond perfect.

After he and Emi left, I sat and listened to the songs he had lined up. There was one that was pure magic. I wiggled my toes and let the words soak into me. Actually, we had the exact same taste in music.

___________

Author’s Notes: Thanks for reading. If you’re interested in more of what I do, please check out my website at https://tigrix1.wixsite.com/stephanievanorman

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