58: Matron’s Door

Gamely, Edmund tried to remember all the instructions Mrs. Kippling had given him to find Matron’s room. The suits of armor were sparse, and none of them looked like they were inclined to lead Edmund anywhere. Several times he tried back-tracking, but this only confused him more.

The heady smell of tea began to seep into Edmund’s brain as he walked through the hallways, the tangy tart smell popping and sparking in his skull. His feet began to feel lighter, and the twists and turns of Moulde Hall somehow softer. The tray wasn’t nearly as heavy as it had felt before, and he stopped paying attention to keeping it balanced in favor of staring at the decorations as he passed by.

As his brain prickled his scalp, he began to wonder what the inside of Matron’s room would look like. He first thought it would be covered in soft black silk, and elegant wafting curtains overlooking the grounds outside. He imagined she had several rooms leading outward from the main chamber, full of rich brown wood and bright shiny bronze and silver.

Then, he imagined it was cold and dark, like a dungeon, with iron furniture, no windows, and a single hanging tapestry emblazoned with an ornate design of a raven. There would be only a few chairs, and no bed save a wooden plank lying in a small alcove cut into the stone wall.

Then, he imagined a room full of gold and glass, glittering like diamonds in the dim gaslight, mesmerizing anyone who dared to enter until they could not discern which glitters were glass and which were Matron’s eyes.

After backtracking the second time, he even imagined she lived in the middle of a massive web of thick black string, climbing about the walls like a spider and drifting down on heavy drafts with an open umbrella.

Finally, after what felt to Edmund like hours of aimless wandering, suits of armor, and various animal heads, he turned the corner to find Matron’s Door sitting quietly in front of him.

There could be no mistake; it was a massive cherry-wood door, twice as big as any of the other doors he had seen in the Hall, with a large spreadeagled raven carved into it. It’s eyes were sharp and piercing, even when carved in wood, and it seemed to Edmund like they followed him as he walked closer. Perhaps, he thought, the sizzling fumes bubbling in his brain, the raven was actually alive and kept watch outside Matron’s bedchamber to alert her to unwelcome visitors.

Carefully laying the tray down on the floor next to the doorway, Edmund lifted his hand to rap on the raven’s beak as quietly as he could so as not to disturb.

Moments before his fingers touched wood, the thin pine door across the hall from the raven-door burst open, and the short form of Mr. Shobbinton came stumbling out into the hall, his face ashen with a grim look in his eyes.

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