Sorry last night's section came in so late. Held late at work and the weather was atrocious. And editing anything on a cell phone is a pain in the butt. Anyway, I hope you're enjoying the story so far. Feel free to leave a comment below with any questions or thoughts.
"You could've gotten a reward out of her, you know." Lieselotte ignored her ethereal companion as she moved through the mill, arranging bottles of various liquids and potion ingredients. This did little to discourage the Grinning Man as he drifted closer and closer to her. "Maybe enough to get away from the mill."
"She was a servant girl," Lieselotte groaned. She rolled her eyes and shoved the rest of her armload onto a nearby shelf unceremoniously. "She had no money!"
"But surely her masters-"
"Find her as easily replaceable as a missing handkerchief. Nobility are the same wherever we go."
"Yes, rich and easy to manipulate."
"No," she held out a correcting finger. "Disconnected and unconcerned about those they rule over." She paused for a moment. "And... your thing, I suppose. But mainly the latter."
It was far too early for this much frustration and drama. She was already having a dreadful time adjusting to the local time after moving from such a distant shop, and now she had to deal with him. Weren't the missives from the Council and stacks of orders enough? But as she heard the door of mill open, she saw her relief approaching in a bundle of white fur. Her frown quickly dissolved into a smile as she knelt and wrapped her arms around the wheezing dog.
"Xaran! My dear sweetness... you would never try to exasperate me like Grin, would you?" The dog sat silently as the young witch poured out her affections on the beast, only the hollow chuckling of the Grinning Man disturbing them. "Don't be jealous, Grin. It's unbecoming."
"Oh I'm far from envious of your little pet, but I might implore your to look a little closer," he replied as his gloved hand gestured toward the dog's mouth.
There, camouflaged in its fur was a large, white envelope. Lieselotte stared at the envelope for several seconds, unwilling to acknowledge its existence out loud, her eyes filled with a hint of betrayal.
"It's not going away," Mr. Grin said.
Lieselotte stood, brushing stray fur from her dark clothes before taking the envelope. Blazoned across the back was a bright, blue diamond crest. She stared at the seal, silent and unmoving. She gave a low humph and tossed the letter over her shoulder, marching back to her desk. Of course, the letter never reached the ground, but was instead caught by a disembodied white glove.
The witch dropped into her seat and pulled the orders that had piled up in her absence close. They were extraordinarily boring, but it was still work.
"To the Madam in charge of the Mill," echoed the Grinning Man's voice.
"Do I have any mandrake root?" the witch asked, staring at her order.
"- in recognition of your brave service to Archmond-"
"I think it's in the herbalist bag. I hope it’s still good."
"-you are cordially invited to Castle Dupin-"
"Wait, does he seriously expect me to just have void root laying -- floating around?"
"-to receive personal gratitude from from the Dupin family."
"Are you quite done?" Lieselotte's balled fist had somehow slammed into the desk without her knowledge or permission. A light air of laughter was the only response for several moments as she took long, deep breaths to calm herself.
"Signed... Charlotte Dupin, Stewardess of Archmond."
Lieselotte stood and moved past the Grinning Man, snatching her hat from a surprised bear head mounted on the wall near the door. The Grinning Man drifted through the air carelessly, his smile piercing the darkness of the mill. "Where are you going?"
"I need more ingredients."
"You're not going to find void root around here."
"Then I suppose I'll walk," she replied as she opened the door, shafts of blinding light bursting in.
"To the desert?"
"If I must. Xaran!"
The white dog stood from where it had been laying in the corner and joined its mistress outside. The first morning rays were arching over the town and in the distance a cock's crow echoed. Lieselotte didn't seem to be moving toward anything in particular, having simply started down the nearest road, silently marching.
"Why don't you want to go?" the Grinning Man's voice whispered.
"Because you wish it." This was met with raucous laughter, which bothered her only slightly less than his actual talking.
"You don't really think you have a choice in the matter, do you?"
"You're witnessing my choice in the matter."
"You can't turn down a summons from the nobility. Who knows what they might do to your little mill if you offend them."
"Let them burn it if they feel so inclined; it will be less work for me," she replied.
"Oh, and how will the Council react if they knew their representative acted so poorly to the governing family?"
Lieselotte stopped, fists clenched and a sour expression twisting her face. She didn't really think the mill would be burned down. Even if it was, it would only mean one less shop to manage and the Council would find plenty of ways for her to make up the difference. Either way, the Council was unlikely to be pleased with her disrupting their business in an area like Archmond. What should she do? She hated pausing to think like this. She needed to say something clever, and quickly before Grin -
"You're going, aren't you?"
"Only to be done with the matter all the sooner." She held her hand out and the Grinning Man gently laid the invitation in her grasp. She opened it, reading through the important bits. Cordially invited...impending ascension... Count Dupin... "Count Dupin?"
"It seems the former Count passed away not long ago. His son is set to inherit the title soon and they're having a banquet to celebrate," the Grinning Man informed her.
"You seem quite knowledgeable about the local nobility. Suspiciously so."
The Grinning Man's form materialized before her, hovering in the air, the morning light radiating through him as he balanced somewhere between this world and the next. He leaned closer, his grinning maw inches from her. "I'm a keeper of knowledge, my dear. It's my job."
"Then share one bit of it: why are you so keen on my attending?" she asked. Her golden curls, even shadowed by her large hat, shimmered in the sunlight, her blue eyes attempting to pierce his mysterious demeanor.
"Well... there's really only one way to find out."
Keep your eyes open for my debut novel, The Paladin.