At seven sharp, just as the sound of the foyer clock was fading from the walls, Edmund was sitting alone in the Dining Hall at the head of the table, staring at his place setting.
With his attention not being pulled between eating and watching Matron, he could see the subtle differences, now. The utensils were not, as he suspected last night, different sizes for different people. There were five spoons, four knives, and seven forks, along with three plates, four bowls, and six glasses, all of different shape, size, and design.
One of the forks had a sharp curved tine, while another had small barbs at the tips. One of the spoons had a faintly serrated edge, while another had tiny divots pressed into the bowl. The smallest knife was only a little bigger than a single tine of the largest fork, and the largest spoon was almost as big as the small water bowl. The six glasses were all different heights, widths, and shapes, though only one was filled with water while the others sat empty.
As Edmund stared at the bizarre silverware, the servant’s door opened to reveal Ung wheeling in a large cart with a big soup tureen and a large silver ladle with an ivory grip carved into the shape of a skeleton. With a loud squeak, he began to push the ornate metal cart towards the head of the table. Edmund watched as Ung carefully filled his bowl with a large ladle full of soup. It was green, thick, and creamy, and was completely devoid of anything floating in it. It smelled a bit like grass, and a bit like mushroom.
In the orphanage, Mrs. Mapleberry had been very adamant about proper eating etiquette. She had been adamant that everyone had to be present and sitting at the table before anyone could take a bite. Sometimes, everyone got very hungry indeed while they waited for the older orphans to wrangle the younger ones into their seats. Now, sitting alone at the massive table, Edmund was torn between waiting for anyone else to arrive and sampling the curious concoction in front of him.
He waited for almost a quarter of an hour. He didn’t dare ask the motionless Ung where Matron’s cousins were, much less if it was safe to eat without them. He tried to ignore the faint creaks and rattling grit that echoed from deep in the Mansion. Once he was positive he could hear a door slam shut somewhere in the distance. Ung simply stared, quiet and stoic
Finally, Edmund took a tentative sip of his soup and was disappointed to learn it tasted almost exactly the same as it smelled. He looked up at Ung to see if he could catch a look of approval or reproach. There was nothing; Ung was as still and stoic as a marble statue.
Edmund had a few more sips of soup and put his spoon down. It seemed safe to stop there; even Matron wouldn’t be able to tell that he had eaten anything before the guests arrived. Sitting back in his chair, Edmund continued to wait.