Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

Telling Tales 215



Shared Perfection

The scream froze her face in an expression of deceptive calm. “Too perfect, my lord?” She clenched her jaw to keep it squarely in her throat and from coming no further. She had a great deal of practice, after all.

With a gentleness that she had only ever seen Conomor show toward the garden and the plants, he took her delicate hands in his massive, calloused, claw-like ones. “It is too perfect,” he said once more. “Too perfect to share with anyone besides ourselves.”

Belle swallowed the knot-like scream in her throat. “To share?” She knew that she was simply repeating his words, but that was all she could do without setting the scream free. She had worked so hard to reach this point, to have him show her this kindness, but now she found it so out of character that she didn’t know what to do. Out of character, she was discovering, was much more alarming than consistent anger.

Conomor nodded and his bristly blue beard shivered with the motion. His eyes bore into hers with an intensity she had never seen in him before.

Could this be love? she wondered. Or at least, love’s beginning? The scream settled in her chest and refused to move further back to the comfort of her stomach. “I do not understand your meaning,” she managed at last.

He knelt before her, although such was his height that he was only slightly below her own eye level. “We will be wed here, just the two of us.”

“But my family…”

He squeezed her hands. She didn’t know if he meant it to be comforting or a punishment. “Your family may come later. Let us not spoil our union’s happiness with the presence of others. I know what they think of me!” His mood turned dark with the suddenness of lightning.

“No, no, my lord, that is only because they do not know you as I have grown to know you,” she said. He did not release his grip on her, but his eyes begged her to go on. “You are brusque, but that is only because you do not wish to waste time on the polite fictions of society. You would call a tree by its proper name and ask for the thing you desire rather than dance in circles, hoping upon hope that the conventional rules of conversation will permit you to speak at all. You see such behavior as the cage that it is and you run free.”

His grateful smile made up for the fact that he was crushing her hands in his. “You understand me,” he said, his voice full of emotion.

“I am learning, my lord,” she answered with a smile.

His dark eyes fell to the rings of keys at her waist. “And you are learning the grounds?”

“I am.” Her answer said without words that she had not explored the door he had forbidden her to open.

“And there are no secrets between us?” he pressed.

“There are only things we do not know yet, but no secrets,” she said with the same smile.

Her scream stretched into her heart and lungs with those words, but especially with all of the unspoken ones, what he was hiding and what he did not yet know about her scream flowers.

Conomor smiled then, a broad, sharp-toothed smile that tried its best to look kind. It did not entirely succeed.

He left her with the promise that they would be wed within days, and, alone in the garden cathedral, Belle buried her latest scream under the altar.

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