The Spirit’s Ring
By: Vivi Snipes
Summer 2009 (Prologue)
Emmerick VonProstb and his wife of 61 years, Angelica Griffin VonProstb, sat on the spacious back balcony of Castle Stroughenburg, sun warming their faces as they enjoyed the view of the mountain’s vista before them. The castle sat on top of a mountain in the Bavarian Alps overlooking the small German village of Stroughenburg, where the Dukes of Stauphenburg had lived for over three hundred years. A glass of crisp Chardonnay that had been made on the estate in hand, they awaited the arrival of their favorite summer visitors, the Griffins. Ted Griffin, Angelica’s nephew, his wife, Sophia and their two daughters, Zelda and Zinzie, had spent summers with the VonProstb for over 20 years.
“Ted and family should be here any minute, my dear. I can’t wait to see my precious Zinzie,” Emmerick commented, brushing an aged hand back through his white – though once blond – hair. His still bright moss green eyes sparkled with excitement. “I can’t believe my Zinzie will be 22 next week.” He and Angelica had never been blessed with children of their own so had treated Ted, Angelica’s brother’s only child, as their son and his girls as their grandchildren.
“Emmerick, don’t forget Zelda.” Angelica patted her husband’s hand and chuckled at his excitement. Smiling up to him as she sat the now empty steamed crystal glass on the small table between them, she sent up a silent prayer of thanks for the many wonderful years they had shared.
“I don’t forget her, Angie. But you know Zinzie has always been my little girl. Zelda is much too rambunctious. She is never still…even after all these years.” Emmerick took his wife’s hand in his and kissed the backs of her fingers as Sebastyan, a unique onyx cat with a single milky whisker jumped into his lap, purring loudly.
“Hello Sebastyan,” Angelica chuckled, “have you been aggravating Kaden today?” She asked as she reached over and scratched the cat’s ears. “Kaden may not be mortal, but one of these days he is going to close your tail in a door for making him sneeze.”
Kaden Jorg Reddeck, the Fifth Duke of Stauphenburg had been dead for almost one-hundred and fifty years. He had been murdered and his killers never brought to justice. Angelica had made friends with him as soon as she had come to the castle as a new bride.
“Meowwwww,” was Sebastyan’s reply before he leapt to the banister and twitched his long, sleek tail toward the winding road that led to the castle.
“They are here, my dear.” Emmerick stood and held out his hand to his wife as he watched the airport shuttle van approach on the castles long curving drive.
“Finally,” she took his hand as she stood; Sebastyan jumped onto the balcony floor and followed them into the castle to greet their visitors.
Chapter 1 (2 years later)
“Aunt Angelica, is this all you are taking?” Zinzie asked as she picked up her great-aunts suitcase, marveling at how light it was compared to what she and her sister had packed. She looked around and almost laughed; it was the only bag her great-aunt had packed.
“Why do I need more, dear? I am 89 years old. I don’t need much to get by.” The older woman smiled at her great-niece’s reflection in the mirror. She applied her lipstick then dropped the silver tube into her purse.
“Come on, Aunt Ang, you know you want to look good for Sebastyan!” Zelda winked at her aunt as she passed the open bedroom door with her own suitcases – one large one in each hand and a black computer bag under her arm.
“I’ll go put these in the car and we can be on our way to the airport whenever you are ready.” Zinzie leaned down, kissed her aunt’s cheek and picked up one of her own suitcases that sat in the hallway outside her aunt’s bedroom door.
“I am ready when you girls are. I can’t wait to get home and see Emmerick. It has been so long.” Angelica smiled wistfully, a faraway look in her aged blue eyes.
Zinzie smiled, too. She shook her head and sighed, her dark brown pixie style hair cut bouncing from side to side with the sudden motion. Her aunt always spoke of her husband as if he were still alive and talked to him the same way every time they visited his tomb.
“And don’t forget Sebastyan!” Zelda laughed as she returned from the car and walked back to her room to retrieve more bags.
“Oh pooh!” Angelica scoffed. “Sebastyan has been at the castle forever, and he is nothing but trouble. That cat has definitely out lived his welcome.”
“I know he’s trouble!” Zelda had stopped in the doorway a black backpack slung over one shoulder. “That’s why he and I get along so well.” She laughed and continued down the stairs situated just outside the guest room her aunt and Zinzie stood in.
“That girl had better be careful.” Angelica warned, gathering her sweater from the bed. “Promise me you won’t let her get mixed up with him, Zinzie. He is not good. After all these years I’m convinced Sebastyan had something to do with Kaden’s death.” She signed and looked around the lovely peach colored room she had used for the last year. “I am going to miss this room. Maybe I will have my room at Stauphenburg painted this color.”
“Aunt Angelica, Kaden has been dead a hundred and fifty years or more. How could Sebastyan have been involved?” Zinzie leaned her shoulder on the bedpost and ran her hand through her short golden brown hair, multi-colored bangle bracelets jangled on her wrist.
“Zinzie, I married my Emmerick in 1942, and as you know I was an Army nurse in England while he was a German soldier working for the US. When the war was over and I returned with him to his family estate, Stroughenburg Castle, that cat was there and is still there today.” Angelica pointed her finger at her niece, shaking it warningly. “You mark my words, Sebastyan was involved.”
“Aunt Ang, is Kaden still hanging around the castle? I’ve not seen him in years.” Zelda winked at her sister as she helped her aunt down the stairs.
“Yes, Kaden is still there. And you both should remember that not only is he in the castle but he uses the tunnel to visit the carriage house. So don’t talk about him as if he isn’t there,” Angelica harrumphed. “Don’t forget to lock the door, Zelda. I don’t trust that fancy do-dad your father uses.” Zelda caught her sister’s eye and held her finger to her ear and twirled it around and around.
“Zelda, stop it!” Zinzie whispered, mock anger laced in her voice.
“She has finally lost it Zin. Do you believe Kaden really haunts the castle?”
“No more than I believe Sebastyan is 60 plus years old. But she is an old lady and we should respect that.”
“Whatever, sis,” Zelda shrugged as she climbed into the back seat of the white Cadillac Escalade.
“I may be old, but I can still hear you!” Angelica scolded as she clicked her seat belt. “Ted, I say we drop these two with Sophia’s sister and the two of you come to Germany with me!”
“Please Aunt Ang, not Aunt Clarissa, she always smells like Ben-Gay!” Zelda begged holding her nose between her thumb and forefinger.
Ted and Sophia Griffin burst into laughter at their daughter’s horrified expressions.
“I suggest you don’t mess with Aunt Angelica girls, you know what they say about payback.” Sophia laughingly warned her daughters.
“Especially from an ‘old’ lady!” Angelica patted her steel gray curls.
“Best mind your manners Zelda. I don’t want to make another trip to the airport this week. If Aunt Angelica sends you home you had better have cab fare!” Ted warned his oldest daughter.
“OK, I’ll shut up.” Zelda muttered
“Yeah right!” Angelica said and they all burst into laughter.
Zinzie carried the tray of drinks into the library of Stauphenburg Manor, hot tea for her aunt and two glasses of iced tea for Zelda and herself. Even after twenty plus years of coming to Stauphenburg, she had never gotten used to having servants.
“Zinzie, why didn’t you let Marie bring that in for you?” Angelica insisted, she couldn’t help but laugh at her niece as she stumbled over the edge of the Oriental rug.
“I still cannot let someone else do for me what I can do for myself Aunt Angelica.” She regained her balance and sat the tray down on the low rise coffee table with a small clatter, handing her aunt the cup of tea and her sister a glass before she took her own and sat down in one of the plush, deep burgundy red leather wing backed chair. The library they sat in had always been her favorite room.
“Aunt Ang, when you and Uncle Emmerick first married what did you think the first time you saw Castle Stauphenburg?” Zelda asked as she looked up from her sketchbook, and raised the glass of tea to her lips. “We have been coming here for over twenty years and I have never gotten used to the sheer size of the castle. I can’t imagine running it as a household.”
“I was overwhelmed.” Angelica answered, taking a sip of tea. “What did I know about running a castle? I was a small town girl from South Carolina, whose parents worked in a Southern cotton mill. I had never had a housekeeper or maid. I always did for myself and being an army nurse so far away from home, well, I didn’t know what to do. But I knew I loved Emmerick and with the help of Frau Rhindhold, the housekeeper at that time, I learned to handle situations.” Angelica took another slow sip of tea, and gazed at her husband’s portrait. It was framed in gold and copper to match the color of the medals he wore on his US uniform.
“He was your soul mate,” Zinzie mused as she looked from her aunt’s face to her uncle’s portrait “I hope I find that some day.” A calm smile graced her features as she moved the iced-tea glass to her lips, momentarily putting down the crocheted afghan she was working on.
“He was my soul mate, and he was my best friend. Those last ten years, he was so happy. Your father’s idea of converting the carriage house into our home and opening the castle to the public was genius; it took so much stress off of Emmerick. Who knew so many people would want to tour it?” Angelica smiled at her nieces. “The castle was not practical, it never was really, but he had always lived in it. And when you girls came for the summer, oh how he looked forward to that. And he loved watching you play there.”
“We loved it, too,” Zinzie and Zelda said in unison. They all laughed, and Zelda resumed her sketching. Angelica picked up her book and Zinzie continued to crochet.
Later that evening when Marie announced that dinner was ready, the three ladies moved to the informal dining room to share their meal. As Angelica walked into the room, Sebastyan jumped down from the window seat, arched his back and hissed.
“Sebastyan, you bad cat! Leave Kaden alone. Shoo, go back to your nap.” She shooed the cat away with her hand. “Bless you,” she said, looking to her right.
“Aunt Angelica, no one sneezed,” Zinzie said as she took her seat.
“Kaden sneezed, my dear. He is very allergic to cats.” The older woman stated matter of factily as she took her seat to the right of the head chair where Emmerick once sat.
Zelda just rolled her eyes and began passing dishes of squash casserole, mashed potatoes and meatloaf to her sister who in turn passed them to their aunt before they began eating their meal and chatting.
“Marie has outdone herself tonight. I think she is really enjoying the American cookbooks you brought her.” Zelda commented as she helped herself to more casserole.
Kaden Jorg Radek, Fifth Duke of Stauphenburg, could not believe his eyes. Little Zinzie had grown even more beautiful since he had last seen her. Though he missed her long, chestnut brown hair, he had to admit that the short style and golden highlights she now wore suited her.
“Angelica, you did not tell me Zinzie had grown so lovely.” His rested his elbows on the arms of Emmerick’s old chair, steepled his index fingers and settled his chin on them.
“I know. She has blossomed over the last few months,” the elderly woman smiled.
“Who has blossomed, Aunt Ang?” Zelda asked her fork full of mashed potatoes halfway to her mouth.
“Why, Zinzie, of course. Kaden has noticed how beautiful she has is.”
“Aunt Ang, you do know Kaden isn’t really here? He has been dead for almost a hundred and fifty years.” Zelda watched her aunt carefully.
“He may be dead, Zelda, but he is very real. And, he is here, now! The mystery that shrouds his death has never been solved, and, until it is he will remain earth bound,” Angelica snapped at her niece. “And that is something we are going to rectify this summer.” She looked at Kaden boldly. “Where do you suggest we start?”
Kaden was momentarily taken aback but quickly recovered. “I really don’t know what to tell you, Angelica. I have been searching for answers all these years and have not found a clue.”
“Do you see him, Aunt Angelica?” Zinzie asked, remembering when she was a little girl and how she would play in the castle nursery on rainy days. She remembered that she saw someone sitting in the rocking chair; remembered talking to him, and him telling her stories of what the castle was like when he was a boy.
Kaden knew both girls had seen him when they were younger. They had waved to him and talked to him many times over the years. But as they had gotten older, they had lost sight of
him and all he could do was watch over them while they visited the castle.
“Oh yes dear. I’ve known Kaden since I came to the castle. Emmerick introduced us straight away so that I would not be frightened of him. He, Emmerick and I used to have some fascinating conversations about the history of the castle and things that had gone on here over the years.” Angelica said, then smiled at the chair to the left.
Kaden smiled at his her and patted her hand where it lay on top of the table. Over the many years he had been a spirit, he had learned to control his energy so that he could touch things, move things and even excite the tourists once in a while by walking past the top of the stairs, moving portraits, or even speaking to them – his voice floating to them like a breeze.
“Well I plan to finish my afghan after dinner. What are your plans Zelda? Aunt Angelica?” Zinzie broke in, filling the awkward silence.
“I am going into the village to enjoy a local group at the pub. Jessica, the upstairs maid, was telling me about it this morning.” Zelda answered; she was glad for the change of subject.
“Just be careful dear. That road is so dark and there are so many curves.” Angelica rested her hand on Zelda’s. “I believe I will finish my book.”
I’ll be careful, Aunt Ang. I’ll call Zinzie when I am on my way home. You enjoy your book and rest. I will see the two of you in the morning.” Zelda left the dining room with a cheery wave before darting up the stairs to her room.
The next morning Zinzie drove slowly down the two-mile drive to the main road that led into the village of Stauphenburg. The first Duke of Stauphenburg had established the village so that his estate workers would have a place to buy, sell and trade their wares. He had married the daughter of the butcher who had moved from Munich to set up shop there. His Grace, Stephon Redek had never forgotten that he was a farmer’s son who had been awarded the title for his acts of bravery. Over the years the village had slowly flourished and had transformed into a thriving tourist destination, with the castle now being the main attraction, after her uncle and father had done much research and agreed that it was a sound investment.
It took them a half hour to get to the village because of the many switchback curves in the road. Zinzie did not want to frighten her aunt, so she drove exceptionally slow. When they reached the Stauphenburg family crypt they d placed flowers at her uncle’s tomb.
“I miss you, my love.” Angelica said, before she kissed the tips of her fingers then placed them over her husband’s name where it was carved into the concrete marker, tears glistening at the corners of her eyes.
“I hope I can find that kind of love one day soon.” Zinzie expressed as she squeezed her aunts other hand, tears gathering in her own eyes.
“You will, my dear. You will.” Angelica reassured her squeezing her niece’s hand before she turned and they walked back to the car.
An hour later, Zelda sailed into the library cheerfully, Sebastyan at her heels meowing with her every step.
“I am meeting some new friends for lunch. Would you ladies like to come with?” She asked as she leaned down and kissed her aunts cheek.
“I’m much too old to tag along with you young people. But thank you for asking, sweet girl,” Angelica laughed as Zelda scooped up Sebastyan and began to dance around the room with him.
“Well, get everyone’s name and address because I have just had the most wonderful idea. Why don’t we have a summer masquerade party?” Zinzie asked excitedly. She stood and waltzed around the room with her sister and Sebastyan.
“That is a wonderful idea!” Angelica laughed at her nieces, her gray-blue eyes sparkling with excitement. “And I know just where to tell you to look for costumes.” She winked at Kaden, who sat in a winged back chair beside her holding a handkerchief o his nose.
“I didn’t know you had costumes!” Zelda exclaimed, Sebastyan licked her cheek and jumped from her arms.
“Oh yes, Emmerick and I used to have a masked ball at least once a year and sometimes more than one. Why don’t we have it in the castle proper and use the ballroom? That would be just like old times and I’ll get Marie to set up a supper buffet.” The older woman’s eyes sparkled with anticipation, her smile lighting up her whole face.
“That would be wonderful! Zelda, you go meet your friends and find out if there is a local band we can hire. I will go in search of the costumes.” Zinzie said as she did one more twirl before she stuffed the sea-foam and cream colored ripple afghan back into her workbasket.
“I’m off!” Zelda waved. “I’ll call if I’m not going to be home for dinner.”
“I will go and find Marie. You, my dear, go over to the castle and into the attic. There are five or six trunks that have costumes. They should be over by the chimney.”
“I shall return.” Zinzie saluted her aunt and started for the door, laughing to herself the whole way.
“Zinzie, go through the tunnel please. And use the secret passage to the third floor.” Angelica instructed her niece.
“But Aunt Angelica, the castle is closed today. Why not just go in the front door?” Zinzie gave her aunt a confused look.
“Please, just humor an old lady.” Angelica said as she started towards the kitchen. As she stood from her chair she looped her arm through her niece’s and together they crossed the hallway.
“As you wish, Auntie,” Zinzie replied as she bent and kissed her aunt’s cheek, her smile never fading. “And you,” she pointed her index finger at Sebastyan, who was following at their heels, “stay here so that you don’t scare me half to death in the tunnel.”
Sebastyan twitched his tail, stretched, gave a wide yawn followed by a purring meow and turned his back to her. He stalked back towards the library. Zinzie stuck her tongue out at him before she continued towards the kitchen with her aunt. Before she pushed open the swinging door that separated the dinning room and kitchen. Angelica glanced over her shoulder at Kaden, who stood by the table and she gave him a wink. With a nod, Kaden knew what she wanted him to do and he was happy to comply.
Zinzie took the large yellow flashlight from the hook at the entrance of the tunnel that connected the castle proper with the manner house. She quickly tested the batteries, clicking it on and off several times. The tunnel was approximately 200 yards long and curved once to the left then back to the right. Uncle Emmerick had explained many years ago that the tunnel was dug by hand and when the workmen hit rock, they had to go around it. It was dug as an escape route for the Second Duke, who Uncle Emmerick thought to be slightly insane if the family history was to be believed.
Just after she had made the first turn her flashlight beam glanced off of something glistening on the floor. As she drew nearer, she saw that it was a ring. Picking it up and holding it in her palm, Zinzie held the light so that it was shining directly on the ring.
“WOW,” she gasped aloud. “This looks really old.” Turning it over and over in her hand she recognized it as a signet ring for the Duke of Stauphenburg. Zinzie placed the ring on the ring finger or her right hand, but it was much too big so she made a fist to keep it from falling off. “I know Aunt Angelica still has Uncle Emmerick’s. I wonder who this one belonged to?”
As she completed the next turn, Zinzie thought she saw someone ahead of her. “Hello?” she called. “Is anyone there?” There was no answer. “This place gives me the creeps! There really needs to be lights installed down here,” she muttered and continued on to the castle stairs.
Zinzie marveled at the stone staircase every time she saw it. The stones had been placed by hand, and they were so precisely set that there was no mortar needed. The craftsmanship was unlike anything she had ever seen and she doubted it could be matched today.
As she topped the stairs, Zinzie knocked before she opened the doorway into the castles workman’s kitchen; the smell of pipe tobacco greeted her like an old friend, as did the man sitting at the table. His short gray hair was neatly combed; rumpled old fashioned black slacks, white dress shirt, and a tweed sports coat with large brown patches at the elbows completed the only outfit Zinzie had ever seen him in.
“Guten Tag, Miss Zinzie.” The lone occupant of the room greeted her.
“Hello Claus. How are you today?” Zinzie smiled at the old German man who sat at the scarred table, his pipe in one hand and a mug of beer in the other. “How is Mrs. Claus today?” She asked and nodded to the flowered urn that sat in the chair beside him.
“I am good, veil danke. The misses, she is, how do you say, still giving the cold shoulders?” Claus chuckled and raised his glass to the urn.
“Claus, you are a hoot! Aunt Angelica sent me to look for costumes in the attic.” Zinzie said as she sat down across from the caretaker, opened her fist and placed the ring on the table before she removed the chain and locket from around her neck.
“Da Duchess, how is she?” Claus asked as he picked up the ring examining it with great care.
“She is wonderful. She is very excited that we are going to host a ball.” Zinzie watched him handle the ring. “I will be sure and tell her you asked about her.”
“Dis ring, where did you get it?” Claus asked, his eyes narrowed against the smoke from his pipe.
“I found it in the tunnel,” Zinzie explained, “Do you know who it might belong to?”
“It belonged to Master Kaden; he came in just seconds before you.” Claus replied as he helped her put the ring on her chain.
“I knew I saw someone down there!” Zinzie put her necklace back on and tucked it back under her t-shirt. “Do you see him often?”
“Oh yes, he visits the misses and me almost every day.” Clause said as he relit his pipe. “I believe that is his signet ring. The legend is that his killer stole it and it has not been seen since his death.”
“This is so strange. Maybe I should do some research on him and try to piece together what happened to him.”
“ I am sure he is in the family history. All of the Dukes have been avid record keepers.” Clause puffed on his pipe, then nodded toward the ring. “He was murdered, you know, right down there in the tunnel, almost right in the middle. He has shown me the exact spot where he fell.”
“Has anyone ever tried to solve his murder?” Zinzie asked as Claus slowly stood to his feet.
“There have never been any clues until now.” Claus said, as Zinzie turned left out of the kitchen into the servant’s hall. “The books you want will not be in the library. They will be in the old Duke’s study. His Grace was always very careful about keeping the family history together.” He stopped and pulled a large ring of keys from the clip on his belt. “Master Kaden had a brother, you know. That one was a bad seed.”
“So he took the title after Kaden died?” Zinzie asked as she watched Claus nod and fit a key into the lock. “I am assuming Kaden was unmarried with no legitimate heirs.”
“That is correct.” He pushed the door open and replaced the keys on his belt. “This is one of the rooms that is never open to the public. His Grace made sure of that when he and your father started making plans to open the castle for tours.”
“My father loved coming here and visiting with uncle Emmerick. They were so close. I think Dad was like a son to Uncle Emmerick.”
“Oh yes, his Grace trusted Master Ted as much as he trusted me. He knew Master Ted would follow his instructions and wishes to the letter.” Pride filled the older man’s voice. “That is why the castle has prospered the way it has.” He pushed open the study door and allowed Zinzie to precede him into the room that was just as Emmerick VonProstb had left it. The large mahogany desk dominated the room and she could picture her uncle sitting in the high backed dark chocolate colored desk chair.
“Cool!” Zinzie looked around the room and felt as if she had stepped back in time. All of her memories of her uncle returned in a rush. “Oh my gosh, I remember Uncle Emmerick sitting here with Daddy and I would come in to say goodnight.” As she looked around the much used room her eyes lit on an array of framed photos that rested on the desk and shelves behind it.
“And you slept many hours on that sofa.” Claus smiled and gestured towards the fireplace and the soft leather sofa that faced it. “The family histories are behind the desk on the shelves there.” Claus gestured with his pipe to the wall filled with what looked to be journals, family Bibles and other written records of the Dukes of Stauphenburg.
“Let me go up to the attic and look for the costumes. Then I will find a couple of boxes and move some of the books to my room.” Zinzie stated as she removed a book from the shelf and scanned the pages. “Aunt Angelica reminded me to use the passageway to the attic and the trunks would be close to the chimney.” She stepped to her uncle’s desk, slid her fingers under the blotter and pressed the recessed button she felt there. With a soft ‘snick’ a panel from the bookcase behind the desk opened a few inches.
“You go on up and look for the trunks. I will see what information I can find on Master Kaden.” Claus smiled and patted her arm gently before he pulled an ottoman behind the desk and began looking through the books.
“Thank you Claus.” Zinzie kissed the older mans weathered cheek.
Dust and cobwebs greeted her when she opened the passage door fully. “At least we know no one has been sneaking about in the passageway.” She smiled to herself and fanned her hand in front of her face, sneezing several times. She pulled the smaller flashlight her back pocket. “Here goes nothing!” She thought to herself and started up the stairs.
Kaden stood by the passage doorway into the attic. He had already put the six trunks together by the chimney as Angelica had asked. He heard her footsteps on the stairs and watched as she entered the cluttered catch all space of Castle Stauphenburg.
“This is fantastic,” Zinzie smiled as she looked around. “I could spend days up here!”
Slowly, she made her way to the trunks, exploring an antique cedar wardrobe that was filled with fur capes and stoles, a chest of drawers that held early 1800’s style men’s underclothes that made her giggle and another wardrobe that was fitted with shelves and filled with hat boxes, along the way. Zinzie sank to her knees in front of the first trunk and opened the lid. Inside she found costumes for the 1920’s. Taking out one of the ‘flapper’ dresses, Zinzie held it up and turned to look for a mirror.
“Ah ha,” she spied a tall form draped in thick holland cloth furniture covers to protect it from dust and dirt. She picked her way around the trunks to get to it. When she removed the cloth dust flew causing her to sneeze several times.
With a startled yelp, Zinzie looked around, but saw no one.
“I must be hearing things,” she said aloud and shook her head. She scanned the room slowly before taking the bright gold colored dress with all of its little tassels and beads by one shoulder and holding it up. She placed one arm across her waist to hold the dress in place and laughed at her reflection.
“This is going to be fun!” She laughed and turned to replace the dress in the trunk. “Well hello, what are those?”
Carefully she replaced the dress, closed the trunk and then maneuvered to the opposite wall to explore several large items she believed to be portraits. When she removed the first thick dustsheet, she saw that it was a portrait of the Second Duke of Stroughenburg.
“The Second Duke,” she said aloud. “So you are the crazy dude.” She laughed as she stared at the big, burly man holding a tiny dog and dressed in what she was sure was the height of fashion for his day, a tan colored cutaway tailored coat with an elaborately embroidered waistcoat underneath. His breeches were black, knee length adorned with large gold buttons just below the knees, and he wore white stockings with low healed black shoes topped with gaudy gold bejeweled buckles.
“I am so glad fashion has evolved!” she muttered as she uncovered the next portrait.
The Third Duke was dressed very similar to his predecessor and their features were so similar their was not mistaking their kinship. Both shared wide-set eyes, hawk like noses and dimpled chins. Both wore their hair long and clubbed back. The Second Duke favored powdering his hair, but the third left his natural and it had been painted jet black.
“Third Duke, so next would be Fourth…” She removed the cover and stood back and looked at the face in the painting. She arranged the heavy portraits so that she could see all 3 faces. The family resemblance was prominent and the changes in fashion subtle. The Forth Duke’s breeches were ankle length and he wore flat, almost loafer like shoes.
“So you are Kaden’s father, Jorg, and next would be, drum roll please….” She removed the next to last cover and caught her breath.
“Oh my God, he was hot!”
“I’m not hot, I’m dead,” said a deep voice from right behind her.
Zinzie spun around so fast she would have fallen if a cold hand had not clamped onto her elbow, steadying her. Standing just mere inches away was the man from the portrait.
“Oh dear God, you are real.” She felt her knees go weak and sank to the floor.
“Of course I am real. Have you not been hearing Angelica?” Kaden said in accented English.
“I’ve heard her, but my sister and I thought it might just be her age.” exclaimed Zinzie as she stood to her feet, praying her weak knees would hold her, and tilted her head back to look into his face. He stood well over six feet, his overlong blue- black hair touching the collar of his off white lawn shirt, with sleeves rolled back to expose muscled forearms that were well muscled and had known work. Amber colored riding breeches encased his long legs and molded to his muscular thighs, while perfectly fitted tall, black Hessian riding boots, still stained slightly with mud completed his attire.
“You have not ‘seen’ me in years. Why all of a sudden can you see me now?” Kaden ran a hand through his hair, taking in her gray t-shirt, jeans and sneakers. She was tall for a woman, but the top of her head would only reach just under his chin. Her sparkling blue eyes reminded him of a clear blue mountain lake and were framed by long black lashes.
“That is a very good question.” She turned back to the portraits and removed the cover from the next one. “The Sixth Duke, Gustav Ivan Radek,” she read aloud. “So this is your brother?”
“Yes, Gustav was three minutes younger than me. We looked identical except for our eyes. My right is blue and left is green. His were the opposite. In every other way we were poles apart.” Kaden stared into the painted eyes of his brother.
“And he also liked cats,” Zinzie pointed to the black cat that sat on the table beside
Gustav and smiled, knowing Kaden’s allergy.
“Ah, yes…Sebastyan. He has been a sneeze in my nose for many, many years!” Kaden smiled at her and Zinzie felt her breath hitch; he was handsome, even if he was a ghost. “Gustav had no legitimate male heirs so his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, inherited the title of Duchess. She and her mother had the portraits brought up to the attic after Gustav’s passing.”
“But these are all of the Dukes of Stauphenburg. Why have they never been placed back in the portrait gallery?” Zinzie asked as she gestured to the stack of paintings.
“Elizabeth was very much a blue stocking. She replaced the portraits with paintings of the women of the family, beginning with my mother,” Kaden explained. “The only Ducal portrait that still hangs in the castle is that of the First Duke.”
“Interesting,” she began replacing the covers over the portraits.
“Come, I will replace those.” He held out his hand to help her navigate the maze of ‘stuff’ that littered her path.
“Thank you kind sir,” Zinzie smiled as she took his hand. “I had better get back down stairs and let Aunt Angelica know I have found the costumes so we can get them moved to the manor house.” Zinzie pushed a wisp of hair back off of her forehead and left a smear of dust.
“This I know already.” Kaden smiled, hoping she did not feel the tremble in his hand when he took hers.
Kaden entered the ballroom dressed in Emmerick’s SS uniform; white double-breasted jacket complete with ornamentation of rank displayed on the left chest, his black trousers tucked into highly polished black leather jack boots and his peaked hat, or Schirmmutze, tucked under his right arm. Slowly he surveyed the ballroom taking in the beauty of the room itself as well as all of the colorful costumes. The long room was lit by four large chandeliers, fresh flowers provided brilliant points of fixed color, while each of the one hundred or so guests were dressed as characters from different eras in time and storybooks, their elaborate costumes creating a brilliant kaleidoscope effect for the eye. Women were dressed as Queen Elizabeth, Little Bow Peep, Red Riding Hood and many more. The men had chosen Dracula, King Arthur, Attila the Hun and one was even dressed as a Knight In Shining Armour.
Angelica saw a flash of white from the corner of her eye and quickly turned toward the uniformed officer. “I haven’t seen that uniform in ages,” she muttered to herself. “And I only know of one person who would have the stones to wear it!” She laughed and winked at Kaden.
“Aunt Ang, who is that dream boat in the black and white uniform?” Zelda asked, she took a sip of her drink and nodded towards Kaden.
“That, my darling, is Kaden!” Angelica watched her niece’s mouth drop open. “Close your mouth dear. You will catch flies.” She chuckled as she pushed her nieces chin up.
“He is drop dead gorgeous.” Zelda looked around for her sister. “I wonder why he decided to show himself tonight.”
“Because there is a full moon, and it is the blue moon. If a ghost chooses to, they can make themselves visible to one and all on the night of the blue moon.” Angelica explained before she started to make her way around the perimeter of the crowded ballroom.
Zinzie’s eyes followed her aunt’s Marie Antoinette wig and she watched as Angelica stopped to speak with some of the guests while making her way around the dance floor. She watched her aunt’s progress and caught her breath when the German soldier bowed over Angelica’s hand. She knew who it was without even looking at his face. The white mask, decorated on each temple with the Prussian Eagle, only covered the upper half of his face, but nothing could disguise the light in his eyes when he held his hand out to take Angelicas.
“Angelica, my sweet, may I have this dance?” Kaden placed her hand on his arm, smiling at his old friend.
“Of course meinen lieben! You look just like my Emmerick when we first met at the hospital in London.” Angelica sighed, her gray-blue eyes bright with the memory of her husband.
“Yes, but I’ll still bet you did not look like Marie Antoinette.” Kaden smiled and swept her into the waltz, leading her with ease through the sea of colorful costumed dancers.
“No, I was covered in blood, and Lord knows what else! But it was love at first sight for both of us,” she sighed again, her steps as light as if she were back in Emmerick’s arms. “Have you seen Zinzie?”
“She is very beautiful, but from her look I think she is a little put out with me.” The music ended, and Kaden took her elbow as they made their way to the edge of the dance floor.
“She has mentioned you several times the last few days. I think she was expecting to see more of you.” It was Angelica’s turn to grin. “Dance with her and explain to her why.”
Threading her arm through his, Angelica led Kaden to the foot of the grand staircase where Zinzie stood.
“Kaden, you have finally decided to show yourself!” Zinzie nodded curtly to her aunt’s escort. She kept her white-gloved hands tightly clasped at the front of the multi-crinoline peach silk over skirt of her Southern Bell costume.
“Yes, I have been trying to stay away from Sebastyan so that I am able to dance with you tonight,” he explained, not missing the frosty note in her voice. “You look extremely beautiful tonight,”
“Children, don’t argue,” exclaimed Angelica. “Go and dance,” she pushed them towards the dance floor, “ the night is young and tomorrow we have a mystery to solve.”
With a startled look, Zinzie followed her aunt’s progress through the crowd. She could not remember the last time she had seen her aunt so animated and lively.
“Your aunt, she is talking of solving my murder.” Kaden commented as he led her onto the dance floor and took her in his arms for the slow dance the band was playing. “She has never shown any interest until now.” His eyes followed Angelica
“She and I wanted to start going through the books, journals, and other documents Claus gave me the day I came for the costumes. We just have not had the time, I think we have spent every waking moment planning this party.” She looked up into his eyes and forgot everyone else in the room.
“Then, tomorrow, we will begin,” he smiled down at her and pulled her closer, tucking her head against his chest and resting his chin on top of her head.
Many curious eyes followed the dancing couple and many whispers passed between the guests, who wondered who the tall dark stranger was.
“Hey sis, you don’t seem to mind hanging out with a dead guy this evening,” Zelda commented later as she handed her sister a glass of wine.
“Tonight, he seems very much alive,” Zinzie smiled at her sister. “The guy in the band seems to be keeping an eye on you.” She gestured towards the low dais where the band was playing a current pop song.
“Oh, yes, that is Christian Stavinski. He has the band, and he is also the owner of the local pub I was telling you about,” Zelda explained. As the band announced a break, she left Zinzie to join Christian and her other friends, her Cleopatra costume sparkling and shimmering as she walked away.
“Tonight, Miss Zinzie, you are the bell of the ball.” A low pitched deep voice spoke from her left.
Zinzie turned, startled to see a gentleman dressed as the Phantom of the Opera standing slightly behind her. He seemed familiar, but she was sure she had not been introduced to him.
“You, sir, seem to have the advantage.” She flipped open the lace fan that matched her costume and fluttered it nervously.
“Oh, yes, my dear, I have a great advantage. This house holds many secrets. Would you care to dance?” He pulled her onto the dance floor before she could answer. The only way to refuse would have been to make a scene. The colorful costumes of the other party guests swirled around her, but Zinzie did not see them. She kept her eyes on her dance partner trying to understand why he seemed so familiar.
Zelda and Angelica saw Zinzie at the same time and both noticed the look of unease on her face. Quickly, Zelda joined her aunt who stood on the stairs and surveyed the room.
“Who is he?” Zelda asked as she scouted the room for Christian and Kaden.
“Oh dear God, that is Gustav.” Angelica lifted her hand to throat. “We must find Kaden.”
“There, in the corner.” Zelda pointed, not concerned with good manners. “He is talking to Christian.”
“Go, now and hurry Zelda. I will watch them. Kaden will know what to do.” Angelica moved up two stairs so that she would have a better vantage point.
Zelda hurried around the room, ignoring several friends who tried to stop her. As calmly as she could Zelda pointed out Zinzie and her partner to Kaden and whispered Angelica’s belief that it was Gustav.
“It seems my brother has decided to put in an appearance tonight too. Christian, please escort Zelda back over to Angelica.” Kaden placed a hand on his new friends shoulder. “ I will handle my brother.” He stepped around Zelda and strode purposefully toward the dancing couple, weaving his way in and out of the other dancers. As he approached, Kaden caught Zinzie’s eye, and he could see the fear mingled with relief in hers.
“Excuse me, brother, but I believe Miss Zinzie has promised this dance to me.”
Gustav pulled up short and all but snarled as Zinzie took Kaden’s outstretched hand.
“Ah, if it isn’t my big brother.” Gustav sneered “It is good to see you after all these years. I, too, have been storing up my ‘ghostly’ energy so that I could attend tonight’s festivities.”
“I cannot say that the feeling is mutual.” Kaden pushed Zinzie behind him and ignored all of the onlookers and the sudden quiet that had swept over the room. He instinctively knew not to let Gustav get the upper hand.
“Please.” Gustav held up both hands, “I would never harm a lady.” He looked around and smiled at the other guests. “This is a party after all.”
“Gentlemen, may I suggest we take this discussion to a more private setting. We do have guests.” Angelica nodded toward the curious stares of guests dressed as Sherlock Holmes, King Arthur, Lady Guinevere, Merlin, Flappers and Gangsters.
“There is no need, your Grace.” Gustav gave a courtly bow. “I am only here to warn Miss Zinzie to be very careful. She does not need to go poking into matters that do not concern her.” With another bow to Zinzie, Gustav turned and walked out the open balcony doors.
“What was that all about?” Zelda asked looking from Angelica to Kaden to Zinzie.
“I would say someone does not want us looking into how Kaden died.” Angelica tapped her chin with her index finger. “Very interesting.”
“Gustav was always a little high strung and odd when we were boys. Mother used to say he was father made over.” Kaden kept his eyes on the door his brother had exited through.
“Children, lets get back to the party. We can sort all of this out tomorrow. Christian, strike up the band!” Angelica threaded her arm through Christian’s and began leading him to the stage.
Zelda looked from her sister to Kaden, rolled her eyes and followed her aunt.