Telling Tales 201
The Laws of Hospitality
Once again, the traveler found himself stuffed with food, though this time he was warm and rested. His horse was fed, brushed, and groomed in the stable. His clothes were clean and somehow already dry. The old steward met him as soon as the traveler had finished his breakfast. “Allow me to give you introduction that last night did not allow, sir.”
The steward walked the man through stunning halls. The most amazing climbing ivies wound their way up the walls and created green arches overhead through which he could see glints of sunlight and sparkles of the night’s rain. “Where does the building begin and the garden end?” he asked the steward.
“They are one and the same, sir. It is part of the enchantment here. No matter the weather, it serves our garden. Strong winds serve to seed our hardier plants and trees, and the outermost sections even require fire for some trees and grasses to burst forth.”
“But fire could destroy you here?”
“The castle is natural, but it is not all made of plant and wood. There are stones here, even if you cannot see them. Moss and ferns and other wetter plants make it difficult to have fires anywhere outside where they belong.”
It was then that the traveler noticed that the polished wood of the floors looked like intertwined roots, and that the soft carpet on which they strode was moss and lichen. It grew in all colors and was shaped into a design as intricate as any that the most professional weaver could create. In a low voice, the traveler asked, “Your master, Conomor, he is as violent as I have heard?”
“You are surprised that a violent man would have a taste for beauty?” asked the steward back. “In truth, he does not own this place so much as he belongs to it, the same as the rest of us.”
“You… belong to it,” repeated the traveler.
“There is an enchantment here. Do not worry, sir, you are not subject to it so long as you obey the rules and restrictions in place. Accept no offer of employment, not even one made in jest, and you shall not be a part of our curse.”
The traveler nodded, mute.
“Quite frankly, sir, that is the least concern to you. An offer and an acceptance of employment is the one and only way you can become subject to the curse over the castle. It is simple to avoid and no one will seek to trap you. The more particular thing of which you must be aware are the rules of hospitality of which I warned you. As a welcomed guest, you may stay with us for up to a full week if you need or desire. You have the run of the grounds and of all of the castle which is unlocked. That which is locked should stay locked and should you open such a door – should you even seek to open such a door – you will be found in breach of our hospitality and Master Conomor will be free to do with you what he will. Similarly, if a thing is not offered, you should not take of it. For example, if you arrive early for tea and see the service prepared and steaming hot, do not partake until one of us offers it to you, after which it is at your disposal.”
“It doesn’t seem complicated…” he said.
“No, it does not seem so,” the steward agreed.
But he made it sound as though it were.