The long stone road that lead up to the house was bumpy, and uncomfortable to ride on, but Edmund didn’t complain; he was too busy counting the windows, and when he was finished counting again to make sure he hadn’t made a mistake.
Once he was positive that there were thirty-nine, he tried to imagine what on earth could possibly be behind them all. He decided it was possible there could be rooms he had never heard of that were quite common in other houses. After all, he had only ever lived in the Orphanage. Perhaps he was dreaming too grandly and they were all simply bedrooms. One for each of her servants.
“How many people live with you?” he asked. Matron snorted, as though the question was far more foolish than Edmund had hoped.
“No one lives with me,” she sneered, rapping her umbrella on the floor of the carriage. Her glare was spiteful. After a moment she sniffed. “There are four others who also live in my house.”
That was a lot less than thirty-nine, Edmund admitted to himself. Matron looked angry at the thought of others living in her house, so he decided it was safer not to pry and looked back at the mansion to try and guess which room would be his.
It proved a fruitless enterprise, however, as all the windows looked alike. He was just about to give up when something caught his eye. He looked back at one of the tall windows stuck into the east tower just as he thought he saw something moving behind it. It was tall, and white, and flashed away so quickly he wasn’t sure he had seen anything. He leaned forward, staring intently at the east tower window, when he heard a thump next to his leg.
“Can you read that?” Matron asked. He looked to see her umbrella pointing sharply where his clothing had fallen, revealing Dr. Prissarium’s Practicum on the seat next to him. He felt his face start to flush as he turned back to her.
“Some of it,” he said, truthfully. “Chapter twenty is a bit hard. I don’t quite understand most of it yet. The words are very confusing.”
“Are they?” She muttered, as though it wasn’t a question. “Well then, I suppose you’d like to read something else? A book that is a bit more suited to your age, perhaps?”
“No,” Edmund shook his head as he looked back at the mansion. “I’ll work it out.”
“And do you read stories at all, boy?” Her voice was getting harsher and more brittle, as though he was avoiding answering some question she hadn’t asked. Edmund was slowly beginning to realize exactly how different life with this woman was likely to be. He shrugged.
“Not really, I don’t like storybooks because they never end properly.”
“And what, according to you, would be a proper ending?”
Edmund thought for a few moments, and then looked Matron squarely in the eye.
“The hero need to die at the end. Otherwise, it’s not really an ending — it’s just where the storyteller got tired of telling the story.”
Matron stared at him, her eyes sharp and clear. After a moment, she nodded very slowly.
“Well,” her voice was softer, “we’ll have to see what else you find to read.”