Telling Tales 202
The traveler decided to stay only one more night to be on the safe side. “I will make sure I am recovered, that my horse is ready for the rest of the journey, and I will ask if the castle staff can provide us with any food for our trip home.” The steward, who seemed to hear the traveler’s every movement and anticipate his every wish, assured him that the kitchen would prepare him food for his trip. Comfort has a way of making a person more tired, however, and one night turned into two and two nights turned into three. “I am under no enchantment? No curse?”
“No, sir,” the steward said with confidence. “You are tired. Do not worry. You have only two more nights before you will be forbidden from this place. We will not keep you here against your will, so long as you obey the rules of hospitality.”
The traveler had already walked all of the halls of the castle and explored its every nook and cranny. He knew where all the locked doors were and never tried to open them again once he knew how they were shut. “If I am not wanted, I will not be a poor guest,” he said to himself. He made a point of saying this out loud, as much for himself as for any sorcerer that might be listening. The steward had told him that testing a door was not an infraction, but trying to gain entrance to a door he knew was locked would be one. He had walked the grounds with its magnificent hedgerows of iron thorns with silver roses. He made his way through the floral mazes and in the gardens, around the fields where the most marvelous crops grew. Orchards where bejeweled grapes hung on vines. Ruby apples and emerald pears dragged branches low to the ground. The traveler had been served slices from these very fruits and knew of their amazing flavor, bursts of sweet and tart in measures of which he’d never dreamed. He knew, therefore, as much as each branch contained a fortune that each one was a temptation to be shunned.
On his sixth and last day before his seventh and last night, he began to think of his family and how worried they would be about him. “A week late,” he said to himself. “I will have to explain the storm and the castle, though I doubt they will ever believe me.” He explained his dilemma to the steward and asked permission to take one of the fruits or some other token so that he could prove his incredible story.
“I understand your problem, sir, but unfortunately this is not within our permission to grant. Only our master Conomor could grant such, and he, I do not believe, would ever do so.”
As he departed the next day, taking his grateful leave from the silent staff and the helpful steward, he saw his opportunity at the gate. A variety of flowering weeds grew on the track that led out of the gate. He knew they were weeds because the steward had told him so, and so it was that he plucked one particular bunch with four flowers, one for his wife and one for each of his daughters.
No sooner had their stems separated from the earth, however, than a distant howl shook the air. The traveler’s horse reared in fright and with no more warning, in front of him appeared the towering figure of the very hairy, very blue, and very angry Conomor the Accursed.