Ten parts in and the plot is only thickening. So, what do you think? Have any guesses? Got your magnifying glass out, sorting through the clues?
The story progresses and I continue to stress as we're only TWO days from Pitch Wars announcing who is getting mentored and ushered on their way toward publication. I'm nervous. I'm anxious. But I'm ready to move forward. If I don't get picked for Pitch Wars, I'm still going to continue forward. I have everything I need, it's time to start submitting to agents.
Anyway, enjoy the latest part of Heir of Archmond. I had a blast writing it.
Be Excellent to Each Other.
She made her way down the guest wing, contemplating the musician's words.
“You were quite mean to that little mandolin player,” Mr. Grin observed.
“It's none of your concern how I conduct my investigation. Just be ready to answer my question when I solve the murder.”
“Oh, so confident. I like that about you.”
“Thank you, Grin, you know I just live for your compliments,” she muttered as she paused outside Marie's door.
“Sassy. I wonder if-”
The specter's words were cut short as two loud voices boomed up the staircase. Lieselotte cursed silently; she had wanted to save Charlotte for last, but it seemed like there was no other choice. Ignoring her incorporeal companion, she marched down the hall, wearing a lovely smile just for the two men. “Gentlemen, I trust your interrogation of the Count was productive.”
“Quite,” Conan replied as they paused outside Charlotte's door. “He hasn't confessed yet, but I trust by morning he shall.”
“We figured a little break would give him time to wallow in his guilt. Perhaps he'll decide to do what's best for his soul,” LeBlanc added.
“Oh, I do hope as well. Perhaps we should check in on Miss Charlotte in the meantime?”
“No, I think we'll start with that musician girl,” Conan replied. “Work our way backward. It's more organized.”
“Oh, well, I suppose I should defer to your judgement, Sir. I just assumed you'd want to talk with Charlotte's before she passed out again. It might take ages to awaken her.”
LeBlanc raised an eyebrow. “Whatever would cause you to draw such a conclusion?”
“Oh, I just noted that she seems to be an extraordinarily deep sleeper,” she replied.
“How would you know that, my dear?” Conan asked.
“Well, despite the shrieking we all heard from the servant girl, Charlotte was the very last person to arrive,” Lieselotte said, drawing their attention to Sariah and Walther's door, “even though her door is directly across from theirs.”
The Viscounts looked between the two doors, clearly having not considered this before. They turned to one another, silently conferring. “Yes,” Conan decided, “it seems it would be prudent to visit with Miss Charlotte next.
Lieselotte smiled. With just a few well-placed words her puppets moved once more, knocking on Charlotte's door. She stepped back, waiting for the potential Countess of Archmond answer the door and spew her frustrations and anger on the Viscounts. After a moment or two of arguments, the pair stepped inside and Lieselotte slipped in behind.
Charlotte's room was massive, easily as big as Sariah and Walther's, though without a second person to share it with. The young heiress, draped in her robe, took a seat in a lavish, red chair, covered with what appeared to Lieselotte to be velvet. The Viscounts began their interrogation clumsily, their questions being more or less deflected by Charlotte. Where were you? In bed. Did anyone see you? Genevieve. These were pointless questions that didn't served to further the case, so Lieselotte allowed the Viscounts to ask them while she examined the room closer.
Near the door was a vanity not too dissimilar from the one in Sariah's room. It had a large mirror and plush chair that matched the design. Brushes, oils, powders, and jewelry adorned the rather large surface of the vanity, but one caught the witch's attention above the rest: a fine necklace, with beads and pearls that seemed to decorate the chains like rain drops, all accented by a large, red ruby. She immediately recognized the necklace as the same one that the now deceased Countess wore in the painting outside the dining hall.
Looking closer she noticed that, while all the things on the vanity seemed to be nicely placed and intricately organized, the necklace lay crooked on its display. She reached toward the item to correct this, but was halted by the screeching of Charlotte.
“Do not touch my necklace!” She pushed past the Viscounts, inserting herself between Lieselotte and the necklace. She grumbled as she adjusted the chains on the display until it sat perfectly. “Look at the mess you've made!”
“A thousand pardons, your ladyship,” Lieselotte replied, snickering to herself. “I didn't mean to disturb the necklace, only to admire it.”
“Well you can admire without touching it,” Charlotte commented.
“Of course, of course. I must ask, is this the same necklace your mother wore? The one from the painting?”
The lady of the house frowned, turning away from the display. “As a matter of fact, it is.”
“I'm pleased to see it in your possession,” the witch replied.
“Yes, after everything that was going on, I was afraid Sariah had claimed it as hers.” This seemed to light a fire in the would-be Countess' eyes.
“Don't think she hasn't tried before,” Charlotte replied.
“She's stolen the necklace?” Conan asked.
“She claimed it was her right. But I always made sure it returned to where it belonged.” Charlotte returned to her chair, slumping back with arms folded. “Now, if your interrogation is complete, I'm quite ready for sleep.”
“Well,” Conan recalled, “we've checked your alibi... you say Genevieve can verify you were here, right?”
Lieselotte lifted her nose, taking a brief sniff of the air. Still lingering from Charlotte's time next to her was the aroma of honey and vanilla. She smiled. “Oh, I can guarantee Genevieve was with Miss Charlotte, gentlemen. I spoke with her myself.” Charlotte eyed the witch curiously. “She's practically covered in that lovely oil,” Lieselotte continued, turning her attention to the vanity once more. Without hesitation or permission, she pulled the stopper from one of the bottles of oil, the air now filling with that same scent that covered both servant and mistress.
“Well,” Charlotte replied, “she does spend considerable time in my service. It's only to be expected that I'd want her to smell... tolerable.”
“Oh, this scent is far more than tolerable,” Lieselotte said, wafting the nearby air toward herself. “It's downright intoxicating.”
“Quite so,” LeBlanc observed. “I don't think I would share something this lovely with my servants.”
“I suppose I treat mine servants with more class,” Charlotte offered. “Now, if you've nothing more-”
“Of course not,” Lieselotte replied, “we know how deep a sleeper you must be.”
“What in blazes are you talking about?” Charlotte asked. The Viscounts turned to one another, conferring silently once more, a gesture that only served to upset the heiress again. “And what are you two going on about?”
“Well, Miss Charlotte, it just seems curious that, despite your close proximity to the murder scene, you were the last person to arrive.”
“I.. well...” Charlotte's demeanor shrunk, the countess-to-be quickly considering her words. “I suppose I am a heavy sleeper. One must be if they sleep next door to a shrew like Sariah.”
“You didn't get along with her?” Lieselotte asked.
“No one did, don't act surprised. You were an observer to her charms earlier today. It's a wonder Walther didn't throttle her sooner.”
“You knew she was throttled?” Lieselotte asked.
“No,” she responded. “Did I guess right?”
Lieselotte studied the woman's eyes, her lips, looking for signs of dishonesty. Did she truly guess or was this a slip up? That smile, that confidence despite three people interrogating her. She gave away nothing.
“Indeed, madam,” Viscount Conan answered. “It seems likely your brother throttled her.”
“Then why are you questioning me?” she asked, holding up her pristine, delicate hands. “I've no more ability to throttle that woman than toss her from the ramparts. Though, believe me, I wish had. I take solace only in the fact that someone with the Dupin name ended her despicable life.”
“No, we don't imagine you could, Miss Charlotte,” LeBlanc agreed.
“Of course not,” Lieselotte chimed in, turning her attention back to the necklace. Her fingers gently graced the dangling ruby. “You'd need something quite sturdy to act as a garrote.”
Charlotte's eyes narrowed as she watched the witch play with her necklace, the Viscounts now drawn to the display. As LeBlanc moved closer to inspect the necklace, she stood once more from her chair. “This entire affair is pointless. If you have an accusation to make, I suggest you do so. If not, leave my chambers and bother me no more!”
“Our apologies, madam,” Viscount Conan offered. “This was merely a formality, a chance to see if you could strengthen our case against your brother. We'll leave at once.”
Lieselotte frowned as the Viscounts turned away from the vanity. She had hoped she'd get a better chance to examine the necklace, but without the Viscounts' support, this interrogation was over. She had to act quickly if she was going to get any more information out of Charlotte. “I suppose this would be as good a time as any to speak with Genevieve now that she's calmed down.”
“Yes, a good idea,” LeBlanc replied. “She was so distraught before, I couldn't understand a word she was saying.”
“You will do no such thing!” Charlotte protested. The Viscounts turned, halting in the door to face the heiress.
“Is there a problem, Miss Charlotte?”
“Of course not,” Lieselotte answered. “I'm a fool. Miss Charlotte knows her servant, she can vouch for her. Wherever Charlotte told her to go, I'm sure she went.” The Viscounts weighed the witch's words, glancing across the hall to Sariah's door.
“Could you tell us about your servant's whereabouts tonight?” Conan asked.
Charlotte's eyes hid a building anger and frustration that seemed to delight Lieselotte. The witch remained silent, eager to hear Charlotte's testimony. “Genevieve had to prepare the guest rooms. For you. After that she checked on the family members and that's when she found Sariah.”
“Sounds reasonable,” LeBlanc commented.
Lieselotte could see the Viscounts losing interest. Perhaps it was time for a gamble.
“Ah, of course. That explains why you were late. She hadn't had time to come check on you like she had everyone else, so you were still asleep.”
Charlotte eyed the witch cautiously. “Yes, of course. Genevieve always attends to me last.”
The Viscounts, satisfied by this explanation, nodded and moved into the hallway. “We apologize for taking up your time, Miss Charlotte,” Conan said.
“Just make sure you find the killer,” she replied.
“We shall endeavor to do so,” LeBlanc answered.
The pair exited the room and Lieselotte turned, intending to follow, but Charlotte halted her exodus with a hand on her shoulder.
“Did you need something, Madam?” the witch asked with a coy grin.
“I can see what you're doing, witch. Do not confuse me for the simpletons that inhabit this mansion.” She turned Lieselotte around to look her in the eyes. “I am not a fool like the rest of them.”
“No,” the witch replied, “I don't suppose that you are. You are an entirely different kind of fool.”
With a grin, Lieselotte pulled herself free and exited into the hall.
Keep your eyes open for my debut novel, The Paladin.