Telling Tales 200
The knock on the door came in the darkest part of the storm, in the darkest part of the night. It was a wonder this man heard the knock at all, but then again, it was what he was trained to do – pay attention to the castle, to its inhabitants and to its guests, and to make sure that their needs could be addressed by the rest of the staff. He discovered a stranger huddling under the jamb. The man was drenched with the force of the rain. Even his horse shrank beneath the storm’s anger.
“Sir.” My friend the servant, he would have liked to invite the traveler in, but there was a protocol to follow and the castle was not his property, after all. Some men of higher class, no matter their suffering state, might fly into a rage should a servant not show them the proper respect, men such as Conomor. My friend is a wise man and he knew the limits of his authority. “We expect most guests at the main gate. My master is not awake and cannot receive you.”
“But you can offer me shelter from the storm?” the traveler demanded.
This was the first part of what my friend needed. “Shelter and more, should you desire it.” He rang a bell and within moments a boy appeared by his side, as attuned to the sound of that bell as my friend was to the sounds of guests. “Take the gentleman’s horse to the stables and see that it fed, combed, and kept warm. Sir, if you would follow me.”
To the traveler’s evident surprise, they were greeted by a young woman who carried a warm blanket in which to wrap the soaked man. In moments, it was clear to him that they seemed to be prepared for his arrival. A feast was underway in the kitchen. A warm bath awaited him.
“Would you prefer to change into dry clothes before you eat? Take all of the time that you need, sir, we will be ready when you are.”
A well appointed young man led the traveler to a well appointed room where he dressed in dry evening clothes. He hastened to change and return to the dining room, accompanied by yet another young man. As with the others, however, this one refused to speak, but only nodded his answers and gestured his directions. The traveler was anxious to meet again with the steward who had answered the door. “What is this place?” he asked when he found himself seated before a sumptuous feast. Maids and footmen stood nearby, awaiting his every command.
“This is the domain of Conomor the Accursed,” said my friend, “and we are his servants.”
The name of Conomor was familiar to the traveler but only as rumors and legends. “He is real?”
“Most real,” my friend assured him. “Whatever you have heard, however, so long as you follow our master’s hospitality, you have nothing to fear.”
“The stories are true?”
“I do not know which stories you have heard, so I cannot say, though I assure you that the master of this house is more dangerous than any wild beast you may encounter, because he is smarter and more cunning. Do not cross him and do not cross his hospitality.”
The traveler wondered at this, but in his exhaustion from the storm and the ride and with a full belly of warm food, he did not know what much to say. “Have I done anything amiss?”
“No, sir. Rest tonight. Tomorrow I shall explain my master’s rules.”