“How nice to see you!” the Count exclaimed, rushing over. He embraced the figure in a hug, which was not returned.
“I… I’m sorry I’m late,” said the nervous voice of a young woman. She threw back her hood, revealing flowing, brown hair and a face that was drawn taut over her bones.
“It’s no worry.” The Count ushered her in and quickly closed the doors behind her. “There’s plenty of time left for you to enjoy yourself. Where would you like to go, Lili?”
He turned his attention back to the girl, but her eyes were transfixed on the group of people surrounding the main area on the floor. She stepped closely, driven by curiosity, but the Count snatched her hand and drew her back.
“Let me show you around,” he said with a wide smile. “There’s so much to see. We might as well get out of his old room.”
At that moment, the Deformed lumbered over, stepping close to his brother so that his lips were against his head. He whispered something quietly in the Count’s ear, as both their faces turned grave.
“I’m afraid I have some business to attend to,” the Count said darkly to Lili. “Stay here with my brother, and he’ll show you around the main room.”
The Deformed nodded to her. Even with his hunched back, he stood nearly seven feet tall and three times stronger than herself. Lili cowered behind the coat, too large for her and too thin.
“You won’t need yer jacket, misses,” he whispered. “The peoples here isn’t the kind to wear much clothes.”
“I’ll keep my jacket on for now,” she said firmly. “Is there any food here? I’m famished.”
The Deformed nodded, and started to barrel his way through the crowds, with Lili following close behind. It was a short walk to the banquet, which was down the right hallway. Against a side wall, the table sat brimming with plates of food and countless goblets.
“This is wonderful.” Lili stopped and took in the sights, her eyes wide and mouth watering. “How… where did all this food come from?”
“A nice gather,” he shrugged. “Eat as much as you please.”
Behind the table was a glass window, reaching from the floor to the room. Outside, there was a dark backdrop as snow began to fall. Lili sighed and gathered a plate, filling it with meat.
“You eat not much?” the Deformed asked, standing over her shoulder and breathing in her ear.
“Um, not since yesterday.” She stepped away. “Can you… go do something else? I’d like to eat alone.”
“Master has said to stay and guide, he nodded vigorously. “This my job, this I do.”
Taking her plate of food, she sat down on the floor beside the window, watching the snow fall quickly outside. Without much thought for appearance, she began to stuff the chicken into her mouth, ignoring the disgusted glance from the Deformed.
He sat down across from her, with two cups in his hand. One, he gently pushed over to her. She thanked him through a full mouth, and turned her attention back to outside. Lili could feel his eyes on her, but not in a lustful way. It was curiosity that drove his actions.
“I has not seen a beautiful girl with poor clothes,” he commented. “Most beautiful girls is rich and wears the fancy of clothes. Why you not?”
Lili put her plate down and pressed a hand on the window, which was ice cold to the touch. It was a familiar feeling.
“Why you are poor?” the Deformed repeated.
“Most of us are poor,” she stated blandly. “My family was better off than most, but my dad got arrested and killed. Since then, we haven’t been so good. We’re poor, but we’re not any poorer than anybody else.”
“If you is poor in the town below, where do all the rich peoples come from?” he asked. “We have many hundreds of them tonight.”
“They come from far away, I’m sure. Around here, only the Count and the Mayor have money. The rest of us are…”
She smiled feebly. “Yes.”
“You are nice,” the Deformed said meekly. “Even more nice than beautiful. You are many nice and many beautiful.”
“Thank you,” she said, shivering.
“Here.” He took off his outer cloak and handed it to her. “Wear this.”
She shook her head. “I’m okay.”
“I understand why you wear jacket.” He nodded, and handed her the cup he had been drinking from. “Here is this. You can drink rest. I take your plate to wash.”
The Deformed left, carrying her plate and empty cup to the kitchen down the hall. Lili sat by the window, watching the hills outside. Below those hills, somewhere, was her town.
When the Deformed reached the kitchen, he walked inside to find the Count holding a whip, and one of the servants on the ground cut up and bleeding profusely. The young boy was barely holding to life, crawling his way towards the corner of the room.
“What is it, stupid?” The Count turned towards him, breathing heavily. “Are those the lady’s plate and cup?”
The Deformed nodded, placing them on the counter. “I has talked.”
“With her?” The Count nodded, thinking. “Maybe this will be good for us. For my plan.”
“What are you plan? What are you plan with the girl?” The Deformed took a step towards him, growling.
The Count smacked his whip against his brother’s face. It ripped across, tearing three strips of his skin. He fell to his knees, whimpering.
“Not so strong now, you ugly giant.” The Count puffed out his chest and put on a jacket to cover his blood-stained shirt. “I will propose to the girl, and she will accept my hand. Soon enough, we will have a permanent guest at this castle.”
“You loves her?”
Chuckling, the Count stepped over his brother, stepping on the giant’s head briefly. “Love does not matter. She will be the prize on my arm, and when I gain control over the surrounding cities she will lose her purpose to me. And die. Of some unknown sickness, in the most dramatic way possible.”
Leaving the kitchen behind, he walked down the hallway, strutting like an ostrich. Lili turned her attention as she heard his shoes clopping down the hallway. She opened her mouth to say something, but before she could the Count was down on one knee with a beautiful ring in his hand.
“It’s been nigh on three months since I laid eyes on you, but I know for sure that you are the one I love, and I want you to spend all those cold nights here. In my castle. In my bed.” He grinned, pushing out the ring a little farther towards her. “Let us bless the world with our beautiful children, and make the world shine with our beauties put together.”
Lili shook her head, pressing back against the window. “I… I can’t…”
“Just say yes, dear. Just say yes.” He stood to his feet and pressed in on her.
Lili grabbed a plate of food from the table and threw it at him. The pudding flew all over his clothes, and the plate shattered at his feet. The Count stood there, shaking from head to toe, as his eyes turned from lust to hate.
“I’m sorry,” she whimpered, before sprinting away from him towards the main hall.
The Count stomped his way to the kitchen, where he found his brother standing. The Deformed shook his head as he saw the mess all over his master’s clothes.
“I told you,” he said.
The Count grabbed a knife from the drawer and stepped up to his brother, who shrunk back against the counter.
“You turned her against me,” the Count growled. “You made her hate me!”
“You are to be hated,” the Deformed snapped. “You are scum of earth.”
The Count roared with anger and plunged his knife into the heart of his brother. The Deformed writhed in front of him, but fell to the ground. Turning away, the Count headed back to the hallway, but felt his anger was not quenched. There had to be blood spilled. There were more bodies than needed to fall.
He walked up the empty hallway, towards the crowded front room where the Slave was being beaten.