Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

Telling Tales 219

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A Clue

“That’s when all of the real problems began.”

Those were the words with which the silversmith had ended his brief history of Belle’s husband and they nagged and ate at her. She planted her frustration in the garden far from the scream flowers that now grew like ground cover underneath the trees in the orangery and which sprouted from every nook and cranny between the leaves of the shrub-altar in front of which she and Conomor had become husband and wife. Her frustration grew into dirty yellow grass, prickly, stiff, sharp, and unpleasant, but with a lulling odor that always brought the gardeners to work near it if they weren’t paying enough attention.

“An anniversary present, no doubt?” the smith had asked. An anniversary present. Her husband was much older than her… The man would have kept talking, she was sure of it, had Entendtout not stopped him, corrected him… Prevented him from giving anything away.

Quite suddenly, she knew the question to ask.

“Entendtout.”

“Oui, Madame?”

“Has my husband been married before?”

The steward inclined his head, a clear yes.

“What happened to his previous wife?”

“I could not say, Madame.”

A new scream squirmed but this one was trapped in a swirl of excitement that kept it from growing too fast or too strong. Finally, a hint of the past, a clue to her surroundings and her husband’s curse.

“Did the wizard have anything to do with it?”

“I could not say, Madame.”

Try as she might, she could not get past the curse that prevented Entendtout from offering any more detail. Still, she admired how he worked around it on his own. He had brought her to the silversmith. She was sure he had orchestrated the encounter, sure that he had chosen a talkative man, sure that the man would be allowed to say just enough to pique her curiosity. Now the question was how she would find out about her husband’s first wife.

A thrill of fear made her shudder, wondering what Conomor’s reaction would be if he found out she knew anything about this, anything like this. As far as he was concerned, he only wanted her to know his misery and his suffering. And she did. She plied him with questions that allowed him to respond in safety and she hardly ever went too far, which made him bellow at her until she wept and cowered before him as he shredded her clothes and rent the walls. That hardly ever happened at all. But she had to know.

“You can tell me nothing at all?” As oblique as Entendtout’s answers were to her, she preferred to be straightforward with him. It gave him less room to dodge.

“Nothing that you do not already know, Madame. Excuse me, please, I believe the kitchen staff is waiting for direction for this evening’s meal.”

Nothing that you do not already know. What don’t I already know?

As obvious as the answer was, because she had blocked it from her head, it was not until dinner that she remembered. Conomor looked across the table at her, suddenly anxious, his mood swinging as violently as ever. “You have not opened the door I warned you against?”

“Never, my husband.” Never so far, she thought. And that is something I do not know – what is behind that door.

She did not plant the scream and thrill in her belly. Not these two. She saved them as though they were precious stones.

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