One by one the suspects are questioned. Who do you think "dunnit?"
As a personal update, the Pitch Wars mentees were announced today. Well, late last night. And... I didn't get in.
It's a little disappointing, I won't lie, but at least the contest kicked me in the butt and forced me to finish up everything I needed to with both this novella you're reading here and the greater manuscript, The Paladin. So... thanks for the motivation, I suppose? Either way, it's time to move on. Tomorrow I start sending out my official queries to agents. Wish me luck!
Also! I've updated the first three chapters on the main page. Since I started the last round of heavy edits, there were a lot of changes made to them, so make sure you check out the newest version.
While the Viscounts were no doubt grilling Marie by now, Lieselotte sat on the last step of the stairs, gazing out into the first floor halls. The moonlight danced through the stained glass as wisps of clouds passed by. Down the hallways opposite the dining room she could hear the quiet stirrings of the musical troupe, apparently camped out in the main hall. There presence didn't upset her, however. What gave the witch pause was the soft, faint crying that echoed from the dining room.
“Are you done? Giving up?” Mr Grin asked, drifting through the air like one of the clouds outside.
“No. Just waiting.”
“For him to stop crying,” she replied, forcing herself to her feet. “It's very unbecoming of a man, especially one of his status, to weep like this.”
“Is it wrong for men to cry? I've witnessed it many times.”
“Men cry in terror before you, Mr. Grin. It is not the same.”
The ghostly figure laughed as he drifted closer to the witch. “I hold much knowledge; believe me when I say that men weep, too.”
Lieselotte ignored the specter and moved down the hall, her heels clacking against the marble floors with each step, echoing through the empty halls. She paused outside the dining hall where she had started this whole affair hours ago. The doors were wide open, a strange tactic from the Viscounts, allowing her to peer inside. The hall was dark, with only a few, small candles to light the room.
Her gaze was drawn to the large table where the Dupins had hosted the dinner earlier. On the floor, bound both hands and feet, rested Walther. Though his weeping was quiet, it was continuous. The Viscounts seemed to have taken cords and sashes from the draperies to replace the heir-apparent's bindings. She questioned the strength of such bonds, but quickly surmised that bonds were barely required. The morose Walther seemed unlikely to go anywhere even if he were freed.
Without a word the witch strode through the hall. Her entrance was noted by Walther, who tried to compose himself. He asked who was approaching, but she gave no answer, save but to sit beside him. In the low, flickering candlelight, she could see the tear stains on his face. They reminded her of Ingrid. The pair wept like one another; perhaps they did deserve to be together.
“You... you're the shop keeper,” Walther managed.
“Are you all right? Did the Viscounts hurt you?” she asked.
“I... I am fine. But you should leave before they find you here. They're likely to think you're a co-conspirator.”
“The Viscounts will be busy harassing the rest of your family for some time, I'm not worried.” Lieselotte watched the defeated man hang his head. He held back his tears, but the pain was clearly still there.
“I didn't kill her,” he whispered.
“I believe you.”
Walther looked up at the witch, uncertain. “I wish you could convince the Viscounts.”
“I'm afraid they're too stubborn for someone like me to convince of anything. But don't give up. Maybe they'll stumble onto the truth during their investigation.”
“Unlikely. I've known those two for years. Once they've set themselves on something, there's no changing their minds. Well... Father could. But I'm afraid I'm not my father.”
“None of us are. We can only be who we are. And you... you didn't want any of this, did you?”
Walther hesitated. He weighed his words for several moments before speaking. “I... didn't. I just wanted...”
His eyes shot open. “I... I have no idea what you're talking about.”
“I already spoke with her. The poor thing is in as bad a shape as you.”
“Is she okay? Did they hurt her?” he cried.
“She's fine. Just very shaken.”
“Of course she is... she thinks I'm a murderer,” Walther sighed, his head falling back limply.
“Actually, she doesn't.” The would-be Count turned his gaze back to the witch. “I mean it. She's worried.” The witch leaned closer. “About you.”
“I tried to comfort the dear, but I didn't have the words. I didn't know what to tell her.”
“Tell her I'm innocent!”
“She believes that! It's the details. She wanted to know what you did, where you were, how it all happened. I... I just didn't know. Walther... what happened?”
Walther stared down at the floor. A hazy, dreamlike moon reflected off the posh surface, casting just enough light to illuminate the man's eyes. Shadows from the candles danced against his auburn hair as he took a long, deep breath.
“It wasn't me. I know Sariah and I didn't get on well most of the time, but I would never have harmed her. The last time I saw her alive we... we fought. Again. Somehow she had convinced Charlotte to relinquish mother's necklace. I was done, exhausted from the night and only wanted to sleep. I begged her to put the necklace away and come to bed, but she would have none of it. I was ready to surrender there and go to bed without her, but then Mr. Tuttle arrived.”
“To ask about the players?”
“Yes. She didn't want them in the house. Well.. she didn't want her in the house.” Walther sighed, holding back another wave of tears. “I put my foot down. She exploded. I told her to quiet herself or the whole house would hear her. So she threw open the door. She berated poor Tuttle and then turned it on me. But... I had had enough.”
“Had enough? Are you saying-?”
“No! I mean... I just meant that I surrendered. I went to bed. Between the night's affairs and my wife's words, I was exhausted. I was out the moment my head hit the pillow.”
“And she was still alive when you went to bed?” Lieselotte asked.
“Of course! She was in front of that damned mirror, playing with mother's necklace.”
“I see. And what did you do when you awoke? I assume it was Genevieve's screaming that stirred you.”
Walther shifted in his bonds. “You assume correctly. The room was dark, I had no idea what was going on. Then I saw the light on Sariah's face. And Charlotte's servant.”
“Genevieve. I... I don't know what happened.”
“Didn't you claim it was her that murdered your wife?” the witch asked.
“I don't know. But I wouldn't doubt it.”
“Did Genevieve have a grudge against Sariah?”
“Not as such, but Charlotte... they hated each other. She sent Genevieve out that night in the hopes that she'd be hurt, you know? Charlotte was furious. I wouldn't put it past her to order the girl to kill Sariah.”
“Genevieve would do that?”
“Without hesitation. She would do anything Charlotte asked.”
Lieselotte nodded slowly, absorbing the man's words. There was a certain truth to Walther's words, and yet it still wasn't adding up. “It obviously wasn't Ingrid, but what about your other sister?”
“Marie? Good lord, no. The girl barely understands what room she's in most nights. Mark my words, this was a plot from Charlotte.”
“You seem eager to accuse your sister.”
“Hardly. I know her, though. However she did it, she masterminded a cunning plan to murder my wife.”
“And frame her brother?”
“I... I don't know.” Walther shifted, looking the witch in the eyes. “I suppose she felt betrayed when I married Sariah, when it was announced I would be ascending.”
“She assumed she would become Countess?”
“Yes. I was in favor of it. But our parents decided that a marriage between Sariah and myself would … well... it would be beneficial. That changed everything.”
Lieselotte stood, bending slightly to address Walther. “Thank you, Sir Dupin. I think I can calm Ingrid's fears with this information. Be strong.” She placed a gentle hand on his cheek. “For her.”
Walther nodded silently and the witch took her leave, stepping out into the hallway and making for the staircase. She could hear that the Viscounts were apparently done with their interrogations upstairs. The parlor would be her next destination, someplace she could sit, contemplate the evidence, and feed what she wanted to her little puppets.
“That was unexpectedly kind of you, my dear,” Grin noted, walking beside her.
“I got what I needed and, best of all, it silenced his unbearable sobbing.”
“Are you saying that all that was an act? Every word?”
“Just be ready to answer my question when the time comes, Grin.” Lieselotte opened the door to the parlor and disappeared inside.
“I most certainly shall, my dear,” the ghoulish man said, disappearing into the night.
Keep your eyes open for my debut novel, The Paladin.