Next came a young girl, at least a teenager, Edmund guessed. Her hair was jet black like his, and straight, but the similarities ended there. Her hair was long, almost to her waist, and her skin was a healthy tan. Her nose pointed upwards slightly, and her eyes sat wide on her face like a frog’s. Her mouth was pursed and thin, and she had a broad red ribbon tied around her throat. The rest of her clothing was a pale yellowish white with silver jewelry. She was clothed in a tight blouse with a long skirt that hung so straight and still while she walked that Edmund wondered if she had legs at all. Her eyes were buried in a thick book she was holding while she walked.
“Mistress Tunansia Charter,” Mrs. Kippling said, curtsying politely as the girl shot past them. “A pleasant morning, miss.”
Edmund felt some acknowledgment was required, so he managed to squeak a small “hello,” before falling silent.
Tunansia stopped the instant he spoke. Slowly, she turned and floated back to him, her face sour. Her eyes drifted up and down, scanning him over like she was looking for something to complain about, until she finally clicked her tongue and turned to Mrs. Kippling.
“Make sure you show him my room,” she sneered, “So he knows exactly where to stay away from.”
Edmund thought he had seen quite enough rooms he wasn’t allowed to enter, so he tried to find some common ground with his new relative.
“How far have you read?” he asked, pointing at the book that now rested on her hip. It was titled The Practical Study of Minerals in the Tribal Jungles of East Africa. He had read it last year and found it quite interesting, covering a great deal of the varied uses of the unique alloys and tinctures created through a scientific exploration of African tribes and their rituals.
“I’ve read it before,” Tunansia said, not looking at Edmund. “I’m refreshing my memory.”
“Ah,” Edmund said, nodding slowly as if she had made an interesting point. “I particularly liked the chapter on aluminum,” he tried, hoping that Tunansia also had an opinion they could discuss. Instead she slowly turned her head and looked at him, her eyes full of scorn.
“Did you?” she asked, pronouncing each word like it was a particularly disgusting beetle. Edmund nodded.
“I think we’ve taken enough of your time, Mistress,” Mrs. Kippling interrupted, curtseying again. Tunansia nodded in very pointed agreement as she swept up the stairs and through the front door. “That was a dangerous thing to do, Master Edmund,” Mrs. Kippling said as they turned back to the couch. “That gel is a cold one, make no mistake. You don’t want to get on her bad side, no sir.”
“I was trying to get on her good side,” Edmund muttered, scratching the back of his knee with his shoe.
“I don’t think she has one,” Mrs. Kippling snickered. “But you didn’t hear that from me. Safer to just keep silent for now — let them speak to you, and don’t tell them anything they don’t already know.”
After spending eight years at the orphanage and having Mrs. Mapleberry urge children to sell themselves as an ideal child for anyone who might adopt them, Edmund found the idea fairly unnerving. He nodded anyway, resolved to only answer questions he was asked.