So now that we're a little ways into the story, I thought I'd share a little art straight from the artist herself. Lieselotte, as you might recall, is not my character, but the character of the talented artist Dina. Please check out her blog HERE if you want to see her incredible work. And if you want to know what Lieselotte and Mr. Grin look like... well, here you go. Again, all credit to Dina.
This piece by http://ektetrolldom.tumblr.com/
This piece by https://badasserywomen.tumblr.com/
"Grin! Grin? Don't you disappear on me!" It was too late. The witch was alone now, shouting at nothing. Fists balled, she turned to the overwhelmed steward, pushing aside two of the Viscounts. "Lords and ladies, please give me your silence!"
The group turned to the witch, uncertain. Several still muttered, but her sharp tone and piercing eyes took quick control of the situation. "Your complaints are lost on this little man. He has no more power to fix the bridge than to fly. I suggest you hold your peace and allow him to find us lodging for the night until help can be summoned." She turned, eying the steward. "I trust that will be acceptable."
"Y-yes! Of course." The steward stepped through the hole parted by Lieselotte. "Allow me to take you to the parlor. I shall have drinks served while I inform the family. Of course we shall see that accommodations are made for your .. er... unplanned stay."
A general air of consent settled over the group and they fell in line behind Lieselotte as the steward led them back inside. "Mister...?"
"Tuttle, madam. Donovan Tuttle."
"Yes. Mr. Tuttle, how long do you think it will be before your men have the bridge repaired?"
The group wound through the hallway and began the ascent up the grand staircase, several of the players from the evening's entertainment watching in confusion. "Oh, we don't have anyone on staff. We'll have to send word to the village."
"And... how will you contact the village? And how shall they repair a drawbridge they can't cross?"
"I... well, we do have ways of signaling the constabulary. Though I'm not certain how they'll cross to affect repairs. Perhaps a rope?"
Liesolette rolled her eyes and chose not to pass this information on to the Viscounts behind her. They would clearly be no more help to the situation than Mr. Tuttle was.
After a few moments of travel across the second floor, the group arrived at the parlor where the steward immediately served up several glasses of wine. Lieselotte left her glass untouched as the Viscounts settled in, drinking and discussing the lack of preparation the Dupins were exercising. After a few minutes, the door opened and the scent of lavender and vanilla wafted across the witch's nostrils. She turned to see Mr. Tuttle speaking with the servant girl, Genevieve.
"Please prepare rooms for all our guests."
"I'll have to wait until I've finished with the family, sir."
"Well, be quick about it!"
She approached the flustered steward, eliciting the slightest of gasps from him as she tapped his shoulder. "Mr. Tuttle, might I inquire as the plans for tonight?"
"Oh, Miss... er..."
"Yes, well... I have someone preparing rooms, though she is rather slow. It may take a while, so please, help yourself to the wine and brandy."
"What about the family?" she asked.
"Well, I must inform them now of what has happened."
"So... we may not have accommodations? What if the Countess objects?"
Mr. Tuttle hurriedly shushed the witch, checking to see if the Viscounts had heard her. "I'm... I'm sure the Count will understand the situation. If you'll excuse me I must... speak with them." His body tensed as he completed the sentence, as if summoning up courage. Lieselotte nodded and allowed the steward to leave, returning to the Viscounts.
Within minutes Lieselotte was surprised to find herself thoroughly engaged with the nobles. They had been impressed with her seating next to the Countess and even inspired by her ability to take charge of the situation at the drawbridge. Soon they were bombarding her with a barrage of questions, most of which she simply deflected. Still, it was strangely pleasant.
Viscount Conan, a widower, shared his story of meeting the Dupins and did not skimp on the lurid details of their dealings. Viscountess Christie, a younger woman who clearly dressed to impress the other nobles, seemed fascinated by the clerk job that Lieselotte worked. Collecting herbs and processing requests (for what exactly she was purposefully vague) seemed absurdly intriguing to the woman. Lastly, Viscount and Viscountess LeBlanc, a middle-aged couple apparently focused on conceiving an heir, shared a story about the instability within the family, most especially since the marriage of Walther and Sariah.
Liselotte gave only token gestures of attention to their stories, instead worrying about spending the night at Castle Dupin. She supposed that if she could get away from the group she might be able to conjure the appropriate enchantment to extricate her from the grounds, but her disappearance might cause more of a fuss than it was worth. Perhaps she could take another look at the drawbridge when the others went to bed and see if she couldn't undo whatever the Grinning Man had obviously done to it.
Her train of thought was derailed by a loud scream from above. The gathered guests halted their conversation only momentarily before they began to chuckle. Lieselotte ignored them and tried to focus as the screeching continued. It was certainly the Countess-to-be and she was not holding anything back. Her tirade was dotted with profanities and insults, both at her husband and, apparently, Mr. Tuttle. Just as it seemed to cool, a final exclamation of "trollop" echoed through the walled, eliciting a larger laugh from the Viscounts.
"Must be the top of the hour," Mr. Conan proclaimed. "The woman's complaints are more regular than any clock I've found."
This brought another round of laughter from the group as they enjoyed their spirits.
"I wonder what they'll do with the musicians?" Mrs. LeBlanc asked. "I can't imagine Sariah would allow them to stay in the manor."
"She has no choice, dear. There's nowhere for them to go," her husband answered.
"That would hardly stop her," Ms. Christie added. "She's just as likely to throw them from the drawbridge."
"Mmm," Conan interjected, sipping his brandy. "At the very least, Ingrid."
"Who is Ingrid?" Lieselotte asked, returning to the circle of Viscounts.
"Oh, dear Lord, woman. You are in for a wonderful story," Conan replied.
"Oh! May I?" Christie asked. The Viscount merely nodded and took another sip. "The players from this evening, they've been with House Dupin for years. In fact, most of them are the children of the original players."
"Fascinating, but what does this have to do with Ingrid?" Lieselotte asked.
"I'm getting there, dear. You see, Ingrid grew up playing in this very manor. Alongside a certain soon-to-be Count."
"She was friends with Walther?"
"More than friends," Mr. LeBlanc added, "if the rumors are to believed."
"Mmm, yes, and now young Ingrid is the leader of that merry troupe," Christie finished.
"Ah, the freckled mandolin player? Intriguing. I suppose this is why the Countess is so,,, -"
"Loathsome toward her?" Mrs. LeBlanc asked. "Most certainly. It's a well known secret that young Walther and Ingrid were lovers. But Sariah's family has strong connections and the Dupins' power has been waning."
The door opened once more and a disheveled Mr. Tuttle appeared. He began to speak, but was quickly drawn away by an unseen figure. As the Viscounts continued their conversation, Liselotte drew closer to see the players standing in the hallway.
"I don't know! The Countess is beside herself. If not for Master Walther, she would have you sleeping outside the gates."
"It's fine, Donovan," the young troupe leader replied. She brushed back her curly brown hair and sighed. "We'll sleep in the hall downstairs. It wouldn't be the first time."
"Are you sure you'll be okay, Miss Ingrid?"
"We'll be fine."
The players turned and proceeded to the stairwell. Mr. Tuttle returned to the doorway, startled by Lieselotte's presence.
"Is everything okay?"
"Of course! Everything is fine. I've just come to let everyone know that your rooms are being prepared. Can I do anything to make the wait more pleasant?"
"More of this brandy!" Mr. Conan called out, lifting a now empty bottle.
"Of course, sir."
The steward quickly scurried to a cabinet in the room and selected two large bottles. He moved from raised glass to raised glass, refilling each and offering a practiced smile to each Viscount.
Another half hour and two bottles of brandy passed, Lieselotte growing more and more weary of her noble companions. They seemed to take great delight in ordering Mr. Tuttle about, not that she cared; she found both the servant and the masters contemptible. She was quite certain that the steward's graciousness toward her only extended to her proximity to the Viscounts. As for the Viscounts themselves, she saw little difference between them and the dysfunctional Dupins a floor above her.
It was as Viscountess Christie complained about the delay in their rooms for what had to be the fourth or fifth time that Lieselotte finally broke. A public show of witchcraft was now a perfectly acceptable risk to escape the doldrums and inanity of the Viscounts. She opened the door to the parlor, intent on either forcing the gate down or perhaps summoning some creature that could rescue her from this torture, but as the door parted, a high pitched shriek pierced the entire room. She looked up to the ceiling, then to the Viscounts. Their confusion seemed to confirm that this voice was not the Countess nor an expected interruption of their conversation. The wailing resumed once more and a concerned Lieselotte stepped out into the hall, closely followed by Mr. Tuttle.
"What is that?" she asked.
"I've no idea. Please pardon me, I must check on the family!"
The steward pushed past the witch unceremoniously, rushing up the stairs. She gave a single glance to the room of confused viscounts and hurried behind him. She flew up the stairs, gaining ground on the elderly Tuttle. She found him scanning the hallway, pausing at a cracked door. He threw it open and rushed inside, Lieselotte close behind. There on the floor knelt the servant, Genevieve, her pale face even whiter now than before. It didn't take the witch long to see what had shaken her, for beside her, slumped onto the floor was the unmoving body of Countess Sariah Dupin.
Keep your eyes open for my debut novel, The Paladin.