The plot continues to thicken.
On an unrelated note, I just got back from watching Venom and, honestly, I liked it. It doesn't deserve the hate it got. This is why we should disregard bad reviews like the ones from Rotten Tomatoes, take them, ball them up, and toss them away to tumble down the street... like a turd... in the wind.
Dinner ended with only minor complaining from the would-be Countess about the singing. Strangely, Lieselotte found herself enjoying the mandolin player's voice more now than when she had met her at the gate. Still, it was growing late and the witch was desperate to be free of this social obligation.
"It was certainly an evening, but unless you have further business with me, I believe I should be taking my leave."
Charlotte took a long sip from her wine glass, her attention still on Sariah and the band. She lazily turned to Lieselotte, gesturing toward their empty plates with her glass. "Was the food not enough for you?"
She quirked her lips to one side. "Oh, believe me, Madame Dupin, it was far more than I desired."
Charlotte summoned the servant from the gate with a gesture. "Donovan, please lower the drawbridge. I believe the evening has come to an end."
"I should say not!" Sariah frowned and stood up. "This is a celebration of my ascension as Countess!"
"Our," her husband quietly corrected.
"They've left their gifts and toasted your beauty at least five times more than you deserve," Charlotte countered, leaving to Sariah to count the evening's toasts silently on her fingers. "Don't you think they deserve some measure of benevolence from their new countess?"
"Darling, there will be a festival in the village when we ascend, you can soak up all the admiration you desire then," Walther offered.
Sariah crossed her arms and refused to acknowledge either of them. Lieselotte looked across the room. Marie had long since abandoned her food and table to converse personally with the Viscounts, apparently about art. The steward, Donovan, stood at the opposite end of their table, nervously waiting for confirmation. The witch decided that her evening was over. With a forced smile, she bowed to Charlotte and Sariah, the latter of whom ignored her and seemed to take pleasure in her departure.
Her leaving seemed to have stirred the desires of the Viscounts and they soon began to follow suite. With Donovan leading the way, the scattered group began their exodus through the great hallway once more, the very hints of moonlight now shining through the stained glass. With candles lighting their way, Lieselotte stopped, causing a small disruption in the flow of the visitors.
"What is happening?" she asked. She gestured toward the painting of the previous count and countess, now laid on its side on the floor. Her answer came momentarily as two servant brought in a new, larger portrait of Walther and Sariah. Before Donovan could properly explain, a shriek pierced the hallway.
"What is this?"
Lieselotte turned to see Charlotte, pushing through the players and the Viscounts to point at her parents' portrait. The servants carrying the new painting halted in their steps and Donovan seemed at a loss.
"Charlotte, dear, you're making a scene." Sariah stepped through the void in the crowd left by her sister-in-law.
"You're not countess yet!"
"It's only a formality, dear," she replied, a wicked smirk curling her lips. "In mere days I shall be, and I want you to know, Archmond appreciates the work you've done while waiting for us."
Flames lit in Charlotte's eyes, and Lieselotte thought she might have attacked the soon-to-be countess if not for the little servant girl, Genevieve, stepping between them.
"Mistress... perhaps I should run your bath."
Charlotte started between her servant and Sariah. With a great huff, she turned, signaling Genevieve. The servant nodded and followed her mistress down the hall and up a set of stairs, disappearing. This was not quite the end, as each of the Viscounts took a moment to praise the workmanship of the new portrait. Sariah, of course, drank in their adulation, but one person seemed to sour the mood. The minstrel girl with the freckles and mandolin had quietly made her way to the old portrait, kneeling beside it. She stared at the count and countess. Lieselotte could just make out the hint of tears in the corner of the player's eyes.
"And what do you think you're doing?" Sariah asked.
Walther stepped between the two women. "Dear, just... leave her be. She was fond of my parents."
"I'm sure the little bedswerver was, but -"
"That's enough!" Walther's eyes boiled with rage as he took hold of his wife's arm. The young bard looked up from the painting, watching as the soon-to-be Count tugged Sariah away from the group. "Donovan, see out guests out."
Lieselotte watched as the mandolin player's gaze followed the couple. She might have considered the situation longer, but the opening of the front door was enough of a signal to bring her back to the present. She turned, toward the entrance, the Viscounts now already moving into the outer courtyard, her movements halted only by the soft sound of crying. She looked back one final time and watched as the player wiped a tear from her eye before the the rest of her troupe came to console her.
"What's the meaning of this?!"
Lieselotte turned her attention back to the exiting Viscounts, all now surrounding the steward in a fervor. She stepped closer in an attempt to decipher the garble of complaints and shouts.
"Please, calm yourselves! We will have it repaired immediately!" The Stewrad, Donovan, stood with his back pressed against the wall, four Viscounts in an uproar. They shouted about appointments and desires and a host of things that would do little to solve the situation. A situation Lieselotte immediately understood.
"What did you do to the drawbridge?" she asked away from the crowd.
A thin smile materialized in the air before her. "I'm sure I have no idea what you're referring to."
"What is your game, Grin?"
"A game? Ooo... you know, perhaps there is a game to be had in all of this. But not quite yet."
Keep your eyes open for my debut novel, The Paladin.