I hope you're enjoying the story so far. It's the first time I've tackled a mystery, not counting the inherent mystery elements in any good novel. If you enjoy this, let me know, I'd love to do more stuff like this.
There's something about a good mystery, trying to lay out an entire group of characters, trying to flesh out everyone equally. It's fun and a bit of a challenge. Also, it's just good to stretch your literary muscles from time to time, to try something new.
Anyway, enjoy the story!
Be Excellent to Each Other
It took Lieselotte only a moment to confirm the woman was dead. Death was a familiar companion to the witch, a visitor who's arrival she was always prepared for. As such, she remained calm, stepping closer to the body as the servant girl wailed. Beside the servant stood the new widower, Walther. He was in his night clothes and leaning against a vanity, barely standing in the light that was cast in from the hallway.
Within moments the cluster of viscounts arrived, peeking past Tuttle and Lieselotte. The witch knew the situation was certain to get complicated the more bodies ended up in the room.
"Please, I need everyone in the hallway. There's been a -" Murder? Incident?
"She's dead!" cried the servant girl, weeping and hugging her knees to her chest.
"Dear lord!" cried Viscount LeBlanc. "What happened?"
"We're trying to figure that out," the witch cried, her commanding voice halting the curious viscounts. "Tuttle, I need more light."
The count stepped closer, looking down at the body of his wife. "I don't know what-"
"What did you do?" cried out one of the viscounts.
The count vehemently denied any connection to his wife's death, quickly turning to Genevieve. "Her! I was fast asleep! It was the servant!"
A sleepy Marie Dupin arrived at that moment, peeking in past the crowd.
"What is going on?"
Lieselotte clenched her fists. There was too much going on. Too many people. She needed order. She moved to the Viscounts, taking a moment to actually study each of them as they argued amongst themselves and with the newly arrived Marie. Her eyes settled on Viscount Conan's breast where lay a string of colored bars and medals.
"Sir Conan?" The older gentleman turned from the fracas, almost surprised by the witch's proximity. "A grave crime has been committed this night and without order justice will surely fail. We need someone to take command of this situation."
The Viscount took a moment to digest her words, nodding slightly. "Indeed, madam." As Tuttle returned with a lit candle, Conan grabbed the steward. "Light the room, but do not let anyone leave."
"Do as I say! Now! Sir LeBlanc, I think you should remain here with me to secure the scene. Ladies, please return to the parlor."
Lieselotte smiled as the puppets danced. She took the opportunity to turn back to the room. The Count moved to the door but was barred by Viscounts LeBlanc and Conan. As they began a shouting match, the witch knelt beside the body.
"More fun than you expected?" came a familiar voice.
"Grin, is this your doing?"
"Do you think you can solve it?"
"Why would I? I'm simply going to ask the Countess who murdered her," she replied, reaching out to lay her hand on the woman's face.
"Oh! But what about all that forensic study? That deduction? You're always going on about how you never have a chance to use it."
"It's not a parlor trick, Grin. A woman has been murdered. A disgusting woman, but a woman nonetheless."
"I could make it interesting..."
Lieselotte hesitated. "How?"
"One. And you get to prove how smart you really are."
Before the witch could decide, a great thud shook the room. Viscount LeBlanc and Walther were wrestling, the latter now shoved into the wall. As the Count cried out his innocence, Viscount Conan quickly seized some of the bedding and used it to bind the Count's arms.
"Good show, gentlemen," the witch said, rising. "We should restrain the Count until we've concluded our investigation."
"So you're doing it?" the voice whispered.
"I'm innocent!" the Count cried once more.
"Then stop fighting, man!" Viscount LeBlanc retorted.
"Indeed. None of us are going anywhere until the constabulary can repair the bridge. There's nowhere to run, good sir," Lieselotte reminded them. "Sir LeBlanc, perhaps it would be best if we separated our potential suspects." The witch moved to the hallway, looking at the concerned Marie. "Madam, would you be so kind as to return to your room for the time being?"
"What happened to Sariah?"
"That's what we're going to find out."
"What in blazes is happening?"
The group turned to see Charlotte at the end of the hall near the stairs. She looked over the group before pushing her way inside, only to be restrained by Viscount Conan. After a brief argument, Lieselotte pulled her aside.
"Yes. And we have some questions for you, Ms. Dupin."
"You can't possibly-"
"Please, we just need to figure out what happened." Lieselotte turned to include the younger Dupin. "If you would both return to your rooms, we need to secure the area."
"That's for the constable!" Charlotte argued.
"And there will be no constable until the bridge is fixed, by which time our murderer may have destroyed all the evidence. Now, please. Return to your rooms."
The Dupin sisters seemed unsatisfied, but acquiesced, Marie moving to the end of the hall and disappearing into her room while Charlotte entered the door immediately opposite Walther and Sariah's.
"Are we missing anyone else?" LeBlanc asked as he stepped out from the room.
"The servant... the Count... the two sisters... I believe that's everyone that was unaccounted for," Conan replied.
A soft voice destroyed this assumption.
"What - what happened?"
It was the troupe leader, Ingrid, hat in hand. She stood at the end of the hallway, peeking around the corner. Lieselotte approached, passing Marie's room and entering guest wing. She surveyed the new hall: only a row of doors. Tuttle approached behind her as she turned back to Ingrid.
"How did you get here?"
"I... I was just..." The troupe leader squeezed her hat, eyes shifting along the hallway. Lieselotte could see the stains of tears along her cheekbones.
"Mr. Tuttle, is there another stairwell to the third floor?"
"No, ma'am, only the one."
Ingrid peered down the Dupin's hallway, eyes wide. "What happened?"
"Mr. Tuttle, see if we can find a room to keep Ms. Ingrid in until we can question her."
The steward, looked about for a minute, but quickly gave into the witch's order. He took the player's hand and led her back down the guest wing.
Moments later Lieselotte arrived in Walther and Sariah's chambers again. Genevieve was sitting on a plush chair, Viscount LeBlanc attempting to coax information out of her. The Count himself sat at the edge of his bed, arms bound tightly behind him and Viscount Conan knelt beside the body of Sariah. With more light in the room, he appeared to be inspecting the corpse.
"Ah, you've returned."
"Yes," Lieselotte replied. "And it seems we have one more person to account for. But it seems you've already begun your investigation, Viscount."
"Ah, yes, my dear. And it seems rather cut and dry."
"He's lying!" Walther shouted.
The room seemed to ignore the Count, remaining focused on their tasks. Conan gestured for Lieselotte to join him.
"I suspect you've not dealt with many dead bodies."
Lieselotte tried not to roll her eyes. "I'm sure you have more experience than I, dear Viscount."
"Well, if you look here," he gestured to her neck, "you can see the marks where she was strangled."
Lieselotte looked closer to see a set of bruises wrapping around the woman's throat, even and uniform. The candlelight flicked over her pale face, illuminating a swollen tongue and red spots in her eyes.
"It seems the Count finally had enough," Conan continued.
"And you believe it was indeed Mister Dupin?"
"Our other suspects are women, my dear. None of them would have had the strength to accomplish the task."
Lieselotte looked over the body, nodding as Viscount Conan explained his findings. The bruising around the neck was firm and even, and from what she'd seen of the Dupins, she doubted either of the women could manage that with their bare hands. She tilted the Countess' head, seeing the swelling in her face. She could smell what had to have been the woman's vomit, forced up, but unable to escape, instead pooling in her lungs. Her hair was a mess, splayed out against the hard floor. There were flakes of what appeared to be wood underneath her. The witch turned to examine the chair by the vanity. Solid oak or something similar.
"Hmm? Oh, Viscount. Perhaps we should find someplace downstairs to keep the Count until the constable arrives."
"Agreed. What about you?"
Lieselotte turned to the still crying Genevieve, the servant taking no solace from Viscount LeBlanc's words. "Perhaps it would be better if I comforted the women. You understand, we can be quite emotional at times like this."
"Oh, yes, of course," Conan agreed. "Though you do seem to be made of sterner stuff, madam. LeBlanc? Let us escort the Count to his chambers for the night."
"What are you doing? I'll have your titles for this!" Walther cried.
The Viscounts ignored his pleas and dragged him into the hallway. "I'll be back shortly to ... tend to the body," Conan said before he disappeared.
Keep your eyes open for my debut novel, The Paladin.