78: The Opening Small-Talk


Image: by Frances Benjamin Johnston, Library of Congress

Everyone seemed to be satisfied with Junapa’s assessment, and for several minutes no one said a word while Edmund tried to think of something that it would be good for a host to say. Nothing came to mind. He alternately sipped his soup and glanced at the others, hoping something would inspire him.

Try as he might, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was somehow failing at some test Matron had put to him. He needed to learn about being a rich heir, about being a Moulde, about living and behaving as a member of one of the Nine Founding Families; and here he was, seated at the head of the table on his second day. He felt lost, without even straws to grasp at to help keep him afloat.

Finally, the silence was broken by Junapa, as she demurely mopped her mouth with her napkin. “Are we to expect Tricknee this evening?” she asked, innocently.

Wislydale snorted. “I doubt it,” he said, setting his glass on the table. “Probably messing about in his room as usual. He was ranting on about some new test he needed to work on as soon as he got here–something to do with that limb he’s been hauling around ever since that accident with the young footman at Ninnenburg… what was his name? Dashed queer if you ask me.”

“I don’t believe anyone did, Wislydale,” Tunansia said, staring at the table.

“Impetuous floozy,” Wislydale muttered, shaking his head as he tipped his glass. “And whether asked for or not, I think we all can agree that carting around a severed arm is odd, even for a Moulde.” His eyes found Pinsnip, and a slurred smile crossed his lips. “Well, for some of us, at least.”

Pinsnip began to sputter, when Junapa held out her hand and grasped his.

“Now, now,” Junapa purred. “Let’s not blame dear Pinsnip for his nature. We each of us have our own…oddities and compulsions.”

“Some more productive than others,” Tunansia muttered.

“Now then!” Kolb boomed, leaning towards her. “Let’s not have our first dinner together be a meal of murderous malcontent. Let’s be kind to one another for once, so we may enjoy each others exuberant and enlightening elocution. We can fall on each other like wild dogs tomorrow, no?”

“I quite agree,” Pinsnip nodded, tapping the table with his fist. “Let’s put aside the… the sniping for a bit. It’s too much–I mean, it has been… in the past…”

“Then let us eat in silence,” Tunansia said, finally looking up from her bowl and casting an icy glare over the table. The others made no comment, and simply returned to their repast, eating their soup with, if not contentment, at least resignation. Edmund took the opportunity to observe each of his new relatives in turn.