Telling Tales 207
Trades of Dubious Merit
“Let us say you have a job to do. Any job, pick one. A butcher? A baker? A candlestick maker? Say then further that your employer has some power over you, that if you were not to work quite as hard as he thought you should, or not quite as fast, or perhaps you laughed too loud or too long. Say that he had a way of gaining more efficiency from you. Imagine that you are not yourself doing a task, but you become the very task itself. To the woodcutter you might say, ‘Chop, axe, chop!’ To the hunter, ‘Fly, arrow, fly!’ That is our fate here. We exchange our freedom for stability.
“Do not make that face. You think it is worse than it is. We are not bound to the palace every moment of every day. There are servants who work during the day and there are those who work at night. Although they do not speak while on the grounds, they regain their voices in their own homes. They eat well. Their families are provided for. And really, what have they lost? What have we lost? We cannot even remember well when our curses are invoked against us so it is not as though we labor under the knowledge that we have been enchanted.
“My fellows’ silence? Yes, well, I expect that they feel that they have no need for speech. Certainly, I have often noted that I feel no need to ask them questions. I give them commands. I have them show me things that they cannot address themselves, though those are infrequent, and I suspect that they could engage with me or with each other if it became necessary. Our enchantment is both thorough and subtle.
“Anything at all about Lord Conomor, you say? Certainly, though nothing that a good steward could or would not say otherwise. I remind you, mademoiselle, I must do my job to its utmost lest I become my work. You see?
“Lord Conomor is amongst the strongest of men. This will be apparent to you in his size alone. He towers over even me, and you see how much taller I am than you. The thing that will strike you at once is that he seems to be covered in blue hair. In truth, his hair mostly comes from his head and beard. That which is on his arms, yes, that shares a bluish tint, but it is not any longer than mine nor than any other person’s.
“He spends most of his time outdoors. He is an avid and successful hunter and avoids the use of horses, which he says are a crutch for the weak. A true man, he avers, is one who can hunt and kill game on its own terms. If the game uses tools, the man may use tools. Each follows according to his own strengths and abilities and cunning.
“Yes, he includes intelligence in that, which is why he is always successful, and his response to your challenge is that were he to stalk ravens he would indeed use bow and arrow, for ravens are as partial to tools as you or I.
“Yes, indeed, I have seen them create hooks from branches, but only after being apprised of their intellect.
“Ah, here he comes.
“Mademoiselle, now that Lord Conomor is here to look after you, I leave you in his care.”