Telling Tales 208
A Settled Scream
Everything that the steward had said was true, but… He is this creature’s steward. He would not speak ill of him, not to me nor to any other. He would and will speak of him in the best light possible at all times.
She had heard stories of Conomor the Accursed though she had not known his name to put next to the tales, not until her father told her everything that she could expect on the unending trip that was their three-day journey back to the palace.
He was not simply tall. He was not simply broad, nor big, nor blue. He was all of those things, but he was also misshapen.
“Welcome to my home,” he said. His voice was a frustrated growl from a mouth used to speaking in anger, trying to enjoin compassion, as foreign to it as another language. Sharpened teeth peeked out of his jaws past his upper and lower lips, which were themselves dark, darker even than the skin on his face. He was a man who lived under the sun at all times, that was clear. He was leathery, brown, with deep creases around his mouth, by his eyes, and along his hands.
Belle choked back the scream in her throat, swallowed it down where it sat in her stomach, shivering. “I thank you for your hospitality,” she said instead of screaming. Her voice quivered as much as his, though from different reasons entirely.
Conomor’s mouth twisted into a true snarl and she realized what it was about his face that struck her as wrong. His mouth – his teeth – were too big. His cheeks were full and forward. Even with his heavy, blue beard she could tell that his jaws pushed out with his nose, making his face seem more like an animal’s than a man’s. His eyes sat back and his ears flicked lightly as though the wind were telling him secrets. “You mean no such sentiment! Do not lie to me!”
“Your steward Entendtout informed me of the rules of this palace. I understood his meaning to be that decorum is of the utmost importance.” She did not meet his eyes, nor did she hide her controlled fear. “I meant you no disrespect, my lord.”
His body shifted back before she realized he had leaned in close. The fetid smell of an unwashed body flooded the air around her, mixed with the odor of grass and fields, even rotten meat. “I… apologize.” It was clear that it cost him to say those words. He fidgeted where he stood, easily half again as tall as her, and she was not a petite, shrinking girl. He wore a kind of leather or skin smock and pants. They hung loose over his body and had been ill-prepared from whatever animal he had taken them, almost making them seem as though they were his own skin and fur, afflicted with mange. His arms were uncovered as were his calves, and the muscles there were visible even under the thin layer of blue-tinted hair. His hands and feet were larger than they should have been, even for a man his size. The nails were thick and pointed, almost claw-like, and filthy. Dirt caked his skin. He wore no shoes. “The steward does his job well.” It was a grudging compliment.
“I only know of you legends, hearsay, and slander. Would you tell me your history, my lord?” Belle asked.
Conomor’s dark eyes gleamed with an unhealthy light. The scream in Belle’s stomach asked to come out. She did not let it.