Legendary (Caraval, #2): Chapter no 5

Legendary (Caraval, #2)

The air was full of salt and secrets. Tella took a deep breath, hoping the evening was also threaded with the magic that haunted Legend’s ship, La Esmeralda.

Everything about it breathed enchantment. Even its swollen sails appeared charmed. They blazed red in the day and silver at night, like a magician’s cloak, hinting at mysteries concealed beneath, which Tella planned to uncover that night.

Drunken laughter floated above her as Tella delved deeper into the ship’s underbelly in search of Nigel the Fortune-teller. Her first evening on the vessel she’d made the mistake of sleeping, not realizing until the following day that Legend’s performers had switched their waking hours to prepare for the next Caraval. They slumbered in the day and woke after sunset.

All Tella had learned her first day aboard La Esmeralda was that Nigel was on the ship, but she had yet to actually see him. The creaking halls beneath decks were like the bridges of Caraval, leading different places at different hours and making it difficult to know who stayed in which room. Tella wondered if Legend had designed it that way, or if it was just the unpredictable nature of magic.

She imagined Legend in his top hat, laughing at the question and at the idea that magic had more control than he did. For many, Legend was the definition of magic.

When she had first arrived on Isla de los Sueños, Tella suspected everyone could be Legend. Julian had so many secrets that she’d questioned if Legend’s identity was one of them, up until he’d briefly died. Caspar,

with his sparkling eyes and rich laugh, had played the role of Legend in the last game, and at times he’d been so convincing Tella wondered if he was actually acting. At first sight, Dante, who was almost too beautiful to be real, looked like the Legend she’d always imagined. Tella could picture Dante’s wide shoulders filling out a black tailcoat while a velvet top hat shadowed his head. But the more Tella thought about Legend, the more she wondered if he even ever wore a top hat. If maybe the symbol was another thing to throw people off. Perhaps Legend was more magic than man and Tella had never met him in the flesh at all.

The boat rocked and an actual laugh pierced the quiet. Tella froze.

The laughter ceased but the air in the thin corridor shifted. What had smelled of salt and wood and damp turned thick and velvet-sweet. The scent of roses.

Tella’s skin prickled; gooseflesh rose on her bare arms.

At her feet a puddle of petals formed a seductive trail of red.

Tella might not have known Legend’s true name, but she knew he favored red and roses and games.

Was this his way of toying with her? Did he know what she was up to?

The bumps on her arms crawled up to her neck and into her scalp as her newest pair of slippers crushed the tender petals. If Legend knew what she was after, Tella couldn’t imagine he would guide her in the correct direction, and yet the trail of petals was too tempting to avoid. They led to a door that glowed copper around the edges.

She turned the knob.

And her world transformed into a garden, a paradise made of blossoming flowers and bewitching romance. The walls were formed of moonlight. The ceiling was made of roses that dripped down toward the table in the center of the room, covered with plates of cakes and candlelight and sparkling honey wine.

But none of it was for Tella.

It was all for Scarlett. Tella had stumbled into her sister’s love story and it was so romantic it was painful to watch.

Scarlett stood across the chamber. Her full ruby gown bloomed brighter than any flowers, and her glowing skin rivaled the moon as she gazed up at Julian.

They touched nothing except each other. While Scarlett pressed her lips to Julian’s, his arms wrapped around her as if he’d found the one thing he never wanted to let go of.

This was why love was so dangerous. Love turned the world into a garden, so beguiling it was easy to forget that rose petals were as ephemeral as feelings, eventually they would wilt and die, leaving nothing but the thorns.

Tella turned and left the doorway before she could think another cruel thought. Scarlett deserved this happiness. And maybe it would last. Perhaps Julian would prove himself worthy of Scarlett and keep his promises. It did look as if he were trying.

And, unlike Tella, Scarlett wasn’t the one who’d been doomed to unrequited love by the Prince of Hearts.

The hallway shifted again as soon as Tella closed the door. The path of petals before her vanished and a new trail formed out of ginger smoke and incense—the scents that always lingered around Nigel.

Again, Tella sensed that Legend was toying with her as the smoking curls of incense widened into the shape of hands and waved her toward an open door.

Tella’s skin heated as she stepped inside. Waxy yellow candles lined the edge of the room, and in the middle of it all was Nigel, lounging atop a bed covered in a velvet quilt the deep shade of plum wine. His lips, surrounded with tattoos of barbed blue wire, stretched wide, not quite a smile, more like the opening of a trap.

“I wondered when you’d pay me a visit, Miss Dragna.” He motioned for Tella to take a seat against the mountain of tasseled pillows positioned at the foot of his temporary dais. Just like during Caraval, Nigel only wore a stretch of brown cloth, leaving all his vibrant tattoos exposed.

Tella’s eyes fell to the circus scenes depicted on his thick legs, transfixed by the vision of a woman with feathers for hair, dancing with a wolf in a top

hat. Not wanting Nigel to interpret the meaning, she quickly lifted her eyes, only for them to land on his arm and the image of a broken black heart.

“What is it I can do for you?” asked Nigel.

“I don’t want my future told. I want information about Legend.”

The tattooed stars around Nigel’s eyes glittered like wet ink, eager and intrigued. “How much are you willing to pay for this?”

Tella pulled a purse of coins from her pocket.

Nigel shook his head. Of course he would not accept her money. Coins were not the preferred method of payment in the world of Caraval.

“Traditionally we perform once a year, giving us months to recover,” said Nigel. “This time Legend has given us less than a week.”

“I’m not giving you any days of my life.” “I do not desire your life. I want your rest.”

“How much?” Tella asked cautiously. She had gone days without sleeping before. Giving up a few nights of rest didn’t seem too great of a sacrifice. But that was how these bargains always appeared. On the surface, Legend’s performers made them sound like insignificant inconveniences, but they were never that straightforward.

“I will take from you in proportion to what I give you,” Nigel said. “The more questions I answer, the more rest I will receive. If I give you no answers of value, you will lose nothing.”

“And when will you take my sleep?” “As soon as you leave this room.”

Tella attempted to see every angle of the deal. It was the evening of the twenty-fourth and they were scheduled to arrive in Valenda the morning of the twenty-ninth. There were four days of travel left. Depending on how much sleep he stole, she’d be exhausted by the time they reached Valenda. But if he gave her concrete information about Legend, it would be worth it.

“All right. But I will only give you my sleep as long as we are on this boat. You cannot take anything from me while we’re in Valenda.”

“I can work with that.” Nigel retrieved a brush along with a tiny pot full of burning orange liquid from the stand beside his bed. “I’ll need your wrist to complete the transaction.”

Tella hesitated. “You’re not going to paint anything permanent on it, are you?”

“Whatever I draw will disappear as soon as you pay me in full.”

Tella stretched out her arm. Nigel moved with practiced skill; his cold brush swirled and twirled along Tella’s skin, as if he often used body parts as a canvas.

When he finished, a pair of eyes, exactly like hers, peered back at Tella. Round and hazel-bright. For a moment she swore they pleaded with her not to make this choice. But losing a little sleep felt like a small sacrifice if it would give her the information she needed to fulfill the debt to her friend and finally end the last seven years of torment that had begun the day her mother had left.

“Now,” said Nigel, “what is it you wish to know?”

“I want Legend’s true name. The one he was called before he became Legend.”

Nigel ran a finger over his barbed-wire lips, drawing a drop of blood—or was the blood tattooed on the tip of his finger?

“Even if I wanted to, I could not tell you Legend’s name,” said Nigel. “None of his players can reveal this secret. The same witch who banished the Fates from earth centuries ago gave Legend his powers. His magic is ancient—older than he is—and it binds us all to secrecy.”

Though no one was certain why the Fates had vanished and left the humans to rule themselves, there were mumblings they’d been vanquished by a powerful witch. But Tella had never heard anyone say this was the same witch who had given Legend his powers.

“That still doesn’t tell me anything about Legend’s true identity.”

“I’m not finished,” Nigel said. “I was going to tell you: Legend’s magic prevents his true name from being spoken or revealed, but it can be won.”

Spider legs danced over Tella’s skin, and one of the painted eyes on her wrist began to close. It fell swiftly, in a way that made her feel as if she was running out of currency, but also very close to the answer she needed.

“How do I win the name?” she asked quickly.

“You must participate in the next Caraval. If you win the game, you will come face-to-face with Legend.”

Tella swore one of the stars tattooed around Nigel’s eyes fell as he finished. It was probably all the ginger smoke and pungent incense addling her brain, giving her visions of living tattoos.

She should have left then. The eyelids on her wrist were more than halfway closed now, and she had the answer she needed—if she won Caraval, she’d finally have Legend’s name. But something about Nigel’s last words left her with more questions.

“Is what you just said a prophecy, or are you telling me that the prize for the next Caraval is the real Legend?”

“It’s a little of both.” The tattoos of barbed wire piercing Nigel’s lips turned to thorns, and black roses bloomed between them. “Legend is not the prize, but if you win Caraval, the first face you see will be Legend’s. He plans to personally give the next winner of Caraval their reward. But, be warned, winning the game will come at a cost you will later regret.”

Tella’s skin frosted over as the painted eyes on her wrists closed shut, and her mother’s familiar warning flashed back: Once a future is foretold, that future becomes a living thing and it will fight very hard to bring itself about.

Then it hit her. A wave of fatigue so intense it knocked her down against the cushioned bed. Her head spun and the bones in her legs turned to dust.

“What’s happening?” she panted, her breathing abruptly labored as she fought to sit up. Was there more smoke in the room, or was it her vision blurring?

“I probably should have clarified,” Nigel said. “The spell on your wrist does not take your ability to sleep, it makes you fall asleep so that you can transfer the rest you receive to me.”

“No!” Tella swayed as she pushed up from the bed, vision narrowing until all she could see where glimpses of scoffing tattoos and snickering candlelight. “I don’t want to sleep all the way to Valenda.”

“I’m afraid it’s too late. Next time, do not agree to bargains so easily.”

You'll Also Like