There was no reply.
Matron had told him to enter once before, Edmund reasoned, so he risked her displeasure and opened the door as best as he could while supporting the tray with one arm. Matron hadn’t moved an inch. There wasn’t a nearby table for him to lay the tray down on, so he simply entered the room and stood there, waiting for her to say something.
There was a long pause before Matron’s left index finger finally extended, pointing to a small chair-side table in the corner of the room. Edmund walked over to it, lay the tray down, and stepped away from it respectfully, like he had just placed a child in its crib.
“Well?” Matron snapped.
Edmund froze. She was asking him a question, he could tell, but for the life of him he couldn’t think what the question might be. Perhaps it was a question she had asked before? He couldn’t think of any question she asked that he hadn’t already answered. Maybe she wanted him to say something to be polite or start a conversation? He thought quickly for something to say, but there was nothing. His mind was empty; lost in a swirling sea of raven wings and battered umbrellas. Finally he managed a small shrug.
Matron frowned even more, her black eyes glittering like gemstones. The room suddenly felt darker to Edmund, the shadows growing longer and reaching out like crooked fingers. He wanted to run from the disapproving glare, but somehow he couldn’t. His gaze was locked with hers.
After a moment she nodded once, curtly. Edmund licked his lips and waited only the briefest of seconds before he realized she had told him to leave with that nod. He dashed back to the door and leapt out of the room. He closed the door as quickly as he dared, and ran back to the safety of his room.
When Edmund finally found his way back to the relative comfort of his chambers, he found a small tray with a bowl of reddish soup and a crust of dry bread. Opening the door, he shoved the tray inside his room and slammed the door behind him.
As soon as the door was shut, Edmund’s stomach growled loudly. He stared at the bowl of blood-red soup, struggling between hunger and distaste. Eventually he succumbed to sample the dribbly red ichor in the pewter bowl. It tasted like watered milk with a pinch of some musty herb. Relenting, Edmund began to eat mechanically, barely tasting what little flavor there was.
As soon as he finished his meal, he shoved the tray into the hallway and threw himself on his massive bed. He lay there for a while, desperately trying to coax his heart back to a stable and steady rhythm. He stared at the ceiling as the image of the raven carved on the door across the hall from Matron’s burned in his mind and her sharp frown filled his vision.