Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

Telling Tales 223

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I Do

“You’re saying it’s my fault?” Conomor said, his voice suddenly quiet and cold. Foam flecked at the corners of his mouth and he licked it back in.

The scream kicked and Belle gasped. “No, not at all.” She laid her hands on her belly. “The wizard. The wizard tricked you. He made you look in the wrong direction.”

For the first time since she’d met him, Belle saw her husband still, frozen. “He tricked me…” He repeated the words, disbelieving and believing at the same time. “Yes. He must have done. He was that kind of man. Cruel. Vindictive.” Conomor’s massive hands clenched over and over. They copied the same movements of his mouth. “He tricked me.” His eyes came back to rest on her, traveling from where her hands protected her stomach to her face, pale with fear above her red-stained white wedding dress. “And you still love me.”

“I do,” she said.

“How?”

“I have seen your gentleness. I have seen how much care you spend on the life around us, our palace, the wildlife.”

“I am not so gentle with the animals.” His face darkened again.

“You do not need to test me any longer, my husband. You are like the wolf. You hunt when you are hungry but you do not pursue the rabbit or the deer for sport, or if you pursue them, you do not kill them for sport.”

“But I like killing.”

“Yes, I believe you do, and I believe that speaks even more to your restraint and to your character, that as much as you do enjoy killing you do not engage in it freely at all times.” The words coming out surprised her, that she knew these things and had tried not to think of them. They were too terrifying before. Now they were too terrifying not to say. They still seemed necessary to her survival. Even though it was not an active thought, she still did not want to die.

“I kill men.”

“And women.” She swallowed, hard past the thickening lump in her throat, forcing it back to the rest of the scream from where it had tried to escape. The image of the dead brides filled her vision, surrounding the very real face of Conomor. “I think you do not like people, my husband. People are duplicitous. We lie. We cheat. We cannot be trusted. That is why you prefer the world of animals and plants. It is more clear, more honest, and more true. Predators and prey. It is not a safe world. There is deception in camouflage, hunting and hiding, the bug that pretends to be a stick, the worm that copies a poisonous sibling, but it is not cruel.”

Conomor’s eyes widened. “You understand me.”

“I do.”

“Then why are you crying?” His hand, gentle as it had ever been, brushed away the tears that she hadn’t even noticed.

“I don’t know.” She was not sobbing, although the kicking scream made her gasp.

“Are you happy?”

She had to think about that question. She wasn’t sure that she knew the answer and she did not feel in as much danger now. Was she happy? “Yes, I think so,” she answered.

“You’re telling the truth,” he marveled. “And you love me.”

“I do.”

He gasped and shook. “I believe you!” he cried. Conomor fell to his knees. Neither of them could take their eyes from his trembling hands. His beastly skin fell in pieces to the stone and grass at their feet. “You have freed me! You truly love me!”

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