Telling Tales 212
The Good in Him
With her screams planted in the garden, Belle was able to focus on more than simply putting off her wedding date. She continued to draw out the process, but she no longer sought to avoid it altogether. Not that she looked forward to a marriage to Conomor, by no means. It would still be a forced marriage, one meant to save the lives of her family and one to which she had consented under duress. The difference was that she was able to think clearly and consider how she would approach their united lives as a couple.
She had Entendtout and Conomor give her new tours of the grounds – separately, never together, as Conomor’s patience for his perfect steward was fragile on the best of days. “Who comes to work her of his own accord? That old man has secrets,” he spat when Belle asked him about his visible dislike.
“We all have secrets,” she noted, thinking of the door he told her not to open and of her private garden of screams.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he bellowed into her face.
Belle froze her face in the moment, cool disregard, and raised the handkerchief that she kept for this purpose to wipe the stinking spittle from her face. She swallowed the lump in her throat that was only the latest scream to birth and felt it settle in her stomach, cool and tight. She shivered. Although Conomor did not raise his hand to her – he never raised a hand – his body shook with the effort not to do so. “My lord. You told me never to enter a certain door or it would bring bad luck upon us. You have not told me what is beyond nor have I asked. Whether or not you mean it to be a secret, to me it is a secret. I do not question your right to this one privacy. You have been so open and generous with everything else. That is all I meant.”
This was only a partial truth. The lord had indeed been open, but hardly generous. Belle suspected that the enchantment of the palace forced such “generosity” from him. Although calm and even passionate when talking about the miraculous and magical properties of the plants that shaped the palace’s grounds and walls, nearly any other topic of discussion only incensed him. In particular, he disliked talking about his neighbors, all of whom were, for one reason or another, enemies. “They slander my good name,” was all he would say, and not even Entendtout would elaborate other than to note a “fractious history” between the palace and the unenchanted people around it.
“Open!” snarled Conomor. His face twisted as though he saw her thoughts, and not for the first time he reminded her of a mad dog or a slavering wolf. “Bah! We will finish this another day when you are more polite. When we are married you will keep your snide thoughts out of your speech!”
The steward found her in the garden, kneeling deep over the earth, wiping her mouth. “Are you well, mademoiselle?”
“Quite well, now, thank you.” She considered her question. “Can you tell me, would my lord Conomor ever be a danger to me?”
“We are all capable of harm to one another, if that is what you are asking,” he said, avoiding her inquiry in one way and answering it in another.
“I have seen good in him,” she said, thinking of how gentle he could be with the plants.
She didn’t know if that meant he agreed with her or not.