Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

Telling Tales 209

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Second Introductions

“No.” The glowering blue savage that was Conomor the Accursed grimaced his twisted mouth and bared his teeth. Beads of foam flecked his beard and mustache, Belle saw. “I cannot tell you about myself and my past.”

“You are cursed?” she guessed, gathering that whatever afflicted him may have preceded the enchantment that came with the palace.

He nodded. The gesture was short and violent and would have been the same if he’d had an animal in his mouth and sought to break its neck.

“Before you arrived at this place?”

“Come with me,” he said instead of answering her.

Conomor led her on a second tour of the grounds, and although it covered the exact same paths as Entendtout had shown her, it could not have been more different. In fact, the whole experience could not have been more different. Where Entendtout was civil and restrained and made eye contact in a humble, discreet manner, Conomor spat his words, spoke ill of the servants and their neighbors alike, and was in general the most boorish of hosts. He made no jokes but was surly, foul tempered and foul mouthed. His gaze upon her rarely rested upon her eyes but traveled over her body with a sick hunger. Nevertheless, he was restrained with her. She was the only person toward whom he showed the slightest restrain, in fact.

The truly remarkable and not alarming part of his tour was his knowledge and description of the grounds. Whereas the old steward had gestured toward the orangery and pointed out the fire pits inside that would keep the plants warm on cold nights, Conomor spoke of the plants themselves, the faceted fruits as much like carnelians and topazes as like oranges themselves. Instead of pointing out the gardens and noting the number of and some of the kinds of flowers there, he knelt in the gravel of the path to describe the very grass itself and its use for settling an upset stomach. Bordering the lawn were blue cornflowers that, if prepared in an infusion one way, would heal any eye wound. Another method would surpress hunger. His entire manner changed as he discussed the aspects of the grounds. He became focused and less agitated. As soon as he stood to take her to the next place, however, he would revert to his contained violence.

The tour of the palace was much the same, as it was the product of so much plant life itself. Although her father had faced locked door after locked door, Conomor summoned Entendtout, who presented Belle with four large rings of keys. The steward disappeared and the tour continued, with only one room in one tower forbidden to her. “Do not enter there, or you will bring bad luck upon us,” said the beastly man. He did not say which of the keys opened which doors, as they all opened to his hand.

Bad luck, thought Belle. It seemed to her that she was already up to her neck in bad luck.

As if to cement this idea, the last room they visited held two ladies-in-waiting and many, many yards of fabric.

The brute waved one clawed and encrusted hand toward them. “They will help you create your wedding dress. As soon as it is finished, we shall be wed.”

With a snap of his jaw and a roll of his mad eyes, the foam-flecked countenance of her husband to be shut the door and left Belle with her two silent maids.

Bad luck indeed. 

The scream that still lay in her gut waited and bided its time.

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