36: Clearing the Table

Finally he was finished, and he stood up to gather his dishes. Things may have changed a great deal for him recently, but Mrs. Mapleberry had been very clear on what his Duties As A Young Lad were. He reached out his hand for his empty bowl and grabbed it at the same instant that a massive hand gripped the opposite side. Edmund looked up into the thick face of Ung, his broad mouth not quite scowling but definitely not smiling. They stared at each other a moment, holding the bowl between them.

“I have to clear my dishes,” Edmund said, feeling the need to explain himself. For a moment, Ung seemed almost surprised. There was a pause as his brows furrowed and he looked to Edmund as though he was trying to remember how to speak. Finally, Ung shook his head.

“That is my job, young master,” he said, his deep voice rolling out of his mouth like distant thunder. “I am your butler.”

“I thought you were Matron’s butler.” Edmund said, feeling less and less certain about his Duties.

“I’m the Moulde’s butler,” Ung said slowly. “Therefore, I am your butler too. I will take care of your place setting while you retire to the sitting room, the game room, or wherever else you wish to go now that you have finished your supper.”

Numbly, Edmund slowly let go of the bowl. For eight years he had been cleaning his own dishes after he was finished. This new life, as confusing and bizarre as it seemed, had still looked manageable because he knew his place. Even in this dark and horrible mansion, he was a Young Lad. He knew what was expected of him, and how to do it.

Now, the largest man he had ever seen was telling him that doing his own dishes wasn’t his job anymore.

Edmund’s thoughts were interrupted by the feeling of a hot splash of water on his hand. He glanced down, and saw a single drop of warm water sliding down his finger. Quickly wiping his face, Edmund turned away from Ung and pushed through the dining room door into the hallway.

After eight years in the orphanage, it felt like supper wasn’t properly finished until he had cleared his dishes. He had wanted to explore a little after supper, perhaps find a tree to look at outside, or maybe just spend time in his room. Instead he was stuck with a perpetually finished meal, unable to end his repast properly and continue with his evening. He saw himself trapped on the edge of a precipice, wobbling and wavering, but neither falling nor pulling back from the edge.

The hallway outside the Dining room stretched off into the depths of Moulde Hall, flanked by the rusted shells of knights and ancient crumbling pottery. In that moment, he wanted nothing more than to return to the relative safety of his room, to calm himself down with his books or his poetry.

Edmund felt his throat tighten as he looked back and forth down the long tunneling passage. In the next moment, he realized he had no idea how to get there.

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