Well, this is it. I hope you enjoyed The Heir of Archmond. Tomorrow I'll be picking back up with a Paladin Playlist since I missed that the last two weeks. Then... who knows?
So, what did you think of the story? Please leave a comment down below or hit me on social media to let me know. Did you figure it out?
When morning came, the constabulary arrived, using long planks to cross the chasm. It took some doing, but after a while they managed to release the drawbridge, allowing the Constable to cross and speak with the Viscounts. After a long tour through the house with Viscounts LeBlanc and Conan detailing the murder in the most dramatic of fashions, the Constable thanked them for their work and took Charlotte into custody.
As proper manacles were placed on her, she stared across the room at Lieselotte. The witch watched silently. Genevieve wept in the corner, pleading for them to release her mistress. “Genevieve!,” the Lady Dupin spoke, “do not weep. Be strong. Take care of the house. And take care of yourself. That is my final order.”
Lieselotte turned to see the servant nod, obedient to her mistress' command. She almost felt a tinge of guilt but she knew Charlotte's hands were far from clean. No noble's were.
It would still be a bit before Lieselotte was allowed to leave. At the moment the Constable had just moved to the foot of the stairwell where Ingrid sat beside Walther. The Constable asked if he planned on continuing the ascension ceremony in two days, but vehemently declined. Apparently the entire affair was more than he could handle and he decided to step down, allowing Marie to inherit the title of Countess. It actually made Lieselotte a little sick to her stomach, watching him and Ingrid steal awkward glances at one another. You're free now, she thought. Just do it if you're going to do it! She moved past the pair, ascending the stairs and heading to the third floor. Knowing what she knew about the youngest Dupin, she thought it might be entertaining to tell her about her brother's decision.
Lieselotte made her way through the third floor hall, stepping aside as two of the constable's men left Sariah's bedroom. She continued past arriving at Marie's door. She knocked firmly. No answer.
“You were quite cruel to Charlotte,” the Grinning Man said, appearing near her shoulder.
“Not now, Grin,” Lieselotte said, waving him off. She peeked around the room, seeing no trace of the youngest Dupin. She stopped in front of the painting she had been working on.
“Do you really believe she's guilty?”
Lieselotte ran her fingers over the canvas, the paint now dry. Turning, she made her way to the hallway.
“Are you trying to ignore me?” Grin asked.
“I've tried for several years. It hasn't worked yet,” she replied, stopping at the last door in the guest wing. Opening it she stepped inside, hesitating at the bottom of the old wooden staircase. Dust dancing and drifted through shafts of sunlight and the floor groaned with each step as she made her way up. There it was, just as Ingrid had said, the portrait of Count and Countess Dupin. Lieselotte moved closer, inspecting the painting. She had only glanced at it in the hallway, but here, next to it, she could see the intricate lines, the harsh strokes, and the vivid pigments. She ran her hand over the canvas lightly.
“So I assume our game is over then. You've decided on Charlotte?” Mr. Grin asked.
“Oh, heavens no, Mr. Grin, it wasn't Charlotte,” she replied, stepping back from the painting. “She couldn't have done it because when Sariah was murdered, Charlotte was waiting in Genevieve's bed. No. I'm convinced the person that did it was the same person that painted this portrait.” The stairs creaked and groaned once more and Lieselotte turned to face the new arrival. “Good morning. Marie.”
The young girl stood at the top of the stairs, her hair draped down on either side of her face and her shoulders slumped. “I just heard the news,” she said, her voice less dreamy than dark.
“You're in charge now,” Lieselotte replied. “Just like you planned.”
“I'm sure I have no idea what you're referring to.”
“Please, Marie, this act didn't work for your sister, it won't work for you.”
“You think I planned Sariah's murder?”
“Not for very long. I suspect it all fell into place like a muse singing inspiration to you. You've resented being left behind. With two siblings ahead of you, there was nothing to inherit. You said it yourself, the rest of the family would have to die for you to take power.”
“Walther isn't dead.”
“Then I suppose it's a pleasant coincidence. After all, you knew something like this would finally break the poor man.”
“And so I masterminded everything? Including your presence?”
“Hardly. It was just a lovely coincidence for you. Sinful serendipity, if you will. You hated Sariah. You resented your older siblings. You were furiously painting when Sariah screamed out, loud enough that everyone but your distracted sister heard. You stepped outside, brush in hand, to see what happened. That's when you saw her, Sariah, wearing your mother's necklace. The same necklace you painted into your parent's portrait, a portrait Sariah had removed.
“It was the last straw, wasn't it? You stepped inside. Maybe she saw you, maybe she didn't. But you said she had no quarrel with you. She might have even welcomed you in, asked you how it looked. You stepped up behind her. You jammed the brush through the necklace and twisted, over and over again. It hardly took any strength with a lever like that. All you had to do was hold it until she stopped moving. Then it was just a matter of snuffing the lights, closing the door, and returning the necklace to your sister's empty chambers. Your brother falls apart, and, so long as anyone with half a brain looked at the case, your sister takes the fall.”
Marie stepped closer, eyes locked on the floor. A tiny smile etched across her lips. “You're quite the clever one, aren't you? It took some creativity to make those leaps in logic, but here we are.”
“Indeed. Now what happens next, Marie? Will you rule kindly over your people?”
“I haven't decided. But I know this; I can't risk you ruining it for me. Witch.” There was a glint of metal as the artist's palette knife slid from her sleeve. Lieselotte didn't even flinch as Marie lunged at her, the blade aimed for her throat. But before she could pierce flesh, her hand halted in mid-air. Slowly, a white glove materialized around her wrist. “Dear God!“
“Oh, no god will hear your pleas today, Marie. Today you'll only be heard by the Devil.”
With these words the razor-toothed smile of the Grinning Man flashed into existence and the room filled with his laughter. He seized the girl's throat and pulled her closer, Lieselotte not even bothering to look as she descended the staircase and exited into the hallway.
Lieselotte stretched her arms and back as she stepped out of the mill, the moonlight beaming down around her. She secured her beloved hat and turned to the door. “Well, are you coming?” she asked happily. A large, white dog lumbered out from the mill nuzzling up against her leg. She dropped to her knees and wrapped her arms around him. “Yes! That's my good boy! I missed you so much when I was with those stuffy nobles. Did you take good care of the shop?”
A raven perched on the top of the open door, eyeing the pair. It crowed a petty crow before flying off. Lieselotte dismissed the bird with a wave of her hand. All was right with the world once more. Or at least, it was better than being at Castle Dupin. Sure, she was still stuck selling herbs and potions to people who had no right using them, but it didn't matter. She had a prize to collect.
“Grin?” she almost sang. “Where are you, dear?”
“You seem in quite the chipper mood,” he replied, materializing in the moonlight.
“Of course I am. It's time to collect my reward.”
“That was the deal. I solved the murder without the use of my magic. You owe me one answer.”
The specter rolled his head then gave a small laugh, nodding. “I suppose I do. Though I must say, you surprised me. Was it really necessary to bring down that entire noble house? You could've implicated Marie at any time.”
“No, I suppose it wasn't necessary, but it was certainly a delightful addition. Now, you owe me an answer.”
“Very well. But make it quick, I have a client to see tonight. He's not the kind to wait around long. Now, what is your question?”
“A client?” Lieselotte paused, pondering. Grin had gone to meet a client when they first arrived in Archmond, hadn't he? And he disappeared when the gate malfunctioned. She knew his dealings were often secretive and usually didn't care to know what he was doing but now? “Grin? Did – did you use me to bring down a noble house for your client?”
The Grinning Man smiled brightly. “Yes. Have a lovely night, my dear.” With this, he bowed and drifted into the city.
Lieselotte's eyes widened with realization and she gave chase to the demon man.“Wait! No! Grin that didn't count! That wasn't my question! Grin? Grin!”
Keep your eyes open for my debut novel, The Paladin.