Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

Telling Tales 216



A Key to the Past

It was not the wedding she had dreamed of, nor was the marriage one she had imagined. They exchanged vows by themselves at the altar with not a single guest in sight and not even a priest to officiate. Belle thought it irregular and unlikely but she did not want to disrupt her fiancé’s promising mood by questioning his judgment. He refused to let her parents and sisters visit afterwards, although with time and cajoling he permitted her to send word of their union and their happiness, although he read the letter over himself several times to make sure that there was nothing in there that she had not told him about.

Belle knew that she had a great deal of work to overcome Conomor’s natural distrust. Entendtout helped her to track down information about her new husband and his family to the best of his ability. She was able to put together that, as long as he was able to convey only positive or, at worst, neutral information about the lord of the palace, he could assist her. In the months that followed, as she worked to calm her husband and gain his confidence, he would occasionally ask if she had gone into the room to which he had forbidden her, but the more time passed, the less he inquired.

“Milady,” said Entendtout one day, breaking into her reverie of cultivating the scream flowers around the remains of the cathedral, which had since stretched itself into a grand arboretum, “we have a visitor.” The steward recognized her confusion. “I have phrased it poorly,” he apologized with a bow. “The visitor in question is a tradesman.” Although the palace was not popular with any of the local populace, they paid both well and with remarkable goods, meaning they could always find someone to bring in any supply that the environs could not themselves supply. “He is a silversmith, which is why his skills may be useful to us here, but to your inquiries, he may have served or been in attendance at Lord Conomor’s previous court.”

Belle stripped her gloves from her hands, supple skin that spared her from her scream flowers’ stinging nettles, and followed Entendtout to the stalls behind the kitchen. The silversmith was an old man, bent at the shoulders and the waist. His ropy arms and thick hands belied his small, round belly, and his wrinkles cut deep into his leathered face.

” T’s going ta be expensive,” he warned without turning around. “Cost more than ye tink, most likely more tan ye want.”

“That will not be a problem, monsieur,” answered Entendtout.

“Who’ve you got wit ye, ten?” asked the smith in his turn, and only after speaking did he twist his gnarled body to examine the mistress of the house. His face went dark and he cursed the steward. “Blackguard! Ye should have warned me ye’d bring such like her here! Ah’m not one ta speak wit the better folk! Ah’m a simple man, no airs, no graces, sure ta disgrace te family name!”

Belle couldn’t place his accent, a rough brogue with no education or culture but assurance and confidence all the same. “I requested you,” she said. “My husband is Conomor, called the Accursed, and you knew him before.” She did not need to state her request and he did not have to say he would tell her.

He began.

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