92: The Legal Lessons

His lessons in law were no less disappointing. At first, the size of the legal books excited him, but the text was so small he needed a magnifying glass to read it. When he did, it was written with such bizarre syntax and exotic words that it made Edmund dizzy.

‘The party of the first part will, in due time as befitting that which the party of the first part in due and reputable state of being in society claims their station, bestow or distribute as the party of the first part claims able and in concert with the demands or agreements signed and shaken in any previous claimant by the party of the second part, if and only if the party of the first part were the first part in said claimant…’

It took Edmund almost ten minutes to read one sentence, and when he finally understood what it said, it was usually something so obvious it only became more confusing, like: ‘when two people agree to do something, they should do it.’

Edmund wondered if solicitors were really as smart as everyone seemed to think they were, if they needed so many words to say something that everyone else already knew.

After two hours of this rote busy-work, Edmund picked up his papers, closed the books, and begin to look for Mr. Shobbinton. Eventually he found him in a nearby study, scratching calmly on a long curled piece of paper and tossing beads back and forth on an abacus.

“Given up already, have you?” He asked, without looking up. “Very well. Read the rest of the books today, and I will expect to see you early again tomorrow.”

Sighing to himself, Edmund returned to the large stack of books. The stack was heavy in his arms, and he had to pause several times to rest on the way back to his room.

As he turned the corner to his hallway, the top book slid off the stack. Edmund reflexively dropped his hand to try and catch the thick tome, but it was too heavy for his limb to arrest its descent. His other arm was insufficient to support the other six books, and so the entire stack toppled towards the ground with several loud bangs just as Edmund felt something whistle past his ear.

In the ringing silence that followed the books’ fall, he heard footsteps running away from the other end of the hallway. Edmund turned, but whoever it had been had vanished down another corridor already.

He turned back to notice a small hole that had appeared in the wall almost at his eye level. A faint smell of sulfur was drifting through the air. Curious, Edmund thought as he picked up his books. He didn’t remember seeing a hole there before.

“Master Edmund. Are you alright?” Ung had appeared from nowhere and was looking around, cautiously.

“Yes, sorry,” Edmund said. “I dropped my books.”

Ung stared at the hole in the wall. He appeared to be thinking. Finally he looked back at Edmund, his voice slower than usual.

“Mr. Wislydale has invited Matron’s guests to a family meeting in the great Sitting Room before lunch. Please, forgive me for not telling the young master sooner. The lack of invitation on Mr. Wislydale’s part was…obviously an oversight.”

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91: The Math Lessons

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Image: Uncredited, HomeMyDesign.com

“These books will help you grasp some of the simpler principles of finance, law, and accounting,” Mr. Shobbinton cleared his throat. “After you have memorized these fundamental principles, we can start with the basics.”

Edmund stared at the stack. It was at least half as tall as he was… He nodded slowly as he sat down in the nearer chair.

“I will be busy with my survey,” Mr. Shobbinton said, adjusting his monocle. He pulled a small pad of paper from his coat and handed it to Edmund. A small pencil stub was attached with a string. “These books will be very hard for you to read, and you will have many questions. When you do, write them down on a piece of paper and hand it to me when next our paths cross. If it is a good question, I will reply in writing. Is that understood?”

Edmund took the pad, and stared at it. It seemed pitifully small next to the massive stack of books, and he knew he would have questions, so he asked the first one that leapt to mind.

“Can I skip over the books I’ve already read?” Mr. Shobbinton froze, his monocle leaping from his eye like a startled frog.

“Already…” he paused. Edmund nodded.

“I’ve read these already,” he said, pointing at the top book, the third book, and the three on the bottom. They looked even older than the ones Mrs. Mapleberry had tried to throw out. “This one was kind of hard,” he admitted, feeling he should make a small concession. Mr. Shobbinton licked his lips, slowly.

“You understand the principles of Applied Euclidianism?” he asked.

“Yes,” Edmund said after a few moments of thought.

“And the properties of Prime Multiplication?”

“Yes,” Edmund said.

“And Koch Derivations?”

Edmund nodded, hoping that Mr. Shobbinton meant the recursive derivations discovered by Lauburn de’Koch.

“Well, well… I’ve underestimated you,” Mr. Shobbinton tried to smile as he pulled a thin stack of papers from his briefcase. “I think we shall start with something a bit more… advanced…”

After half an hour, Edmund was bored.

He had been very excited when he first entered the study and saw the large stack of books, but what Edmund thought would be some form of tutoring turned out to be little more than several pages of numbers and letters being thrown at him, and being told to add or subtract them for strange and esoteric reasons.

The books were little more than lists of formulae and symbolic logic, something Edmund would have found amazingly interesting if they weren’t so bland. Symbols were introduced, demonstrated, and then ignored, with no style, passion, or…well, poetry. Edmund barely had to glance through the book before he understood the principles, and then there was nothing more to say. They were unsatisfying drops of water in the book-less desert of Moulde Hall.

He added, he subtracted, he divided, multiplied, recursed, modulated, applied, and derived. And when he had finished double-checking his work, he had to do it all again.

Intermission – A Yuletide Interlude

Edmund will return on Monday!

Until then, may your Holidays be filled with reminders:

Remember this world is a great and wonderful place to live.
Remember your loved ones love you in return.
Remember that the future will be full of both Pleasure and Pain.Remember today may be too soon.
Remember tomorrow may be too late.
Remember those who are Here.
Remember those who are not.
Remember to care for those who need it.
Remember it’s okay to cry.
Remember it’s okay to smile.
Remember the Easy way isn’t always the Right way.
Remember Success can lie.
Remember Failures can too.
Remember you are Better than you are afraid of.

And when all else fails, Remember you have the power to touch everyone around you in a myriad of simple and wonderful ways. Take care of this power and use it responsibly.
And good luck to you all.

90: Shobbinton’s First Lessons

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Image: welcome foolish mortals, by SpookvdOpera

When Edmund awoke, he wasn’t entirely positive he had slept at all. Somehow, he didn’t feel any more rested or relaxed then he had the night before, which was to say, not at all.

He glanced at his clock. It was a quarter past seven in the morning.

Last night’s dinner had helped him in one way. He knew now that Matron had adopted him not to have a son or build a family, but as a pawn in some big game of king-of-the-hill with her relatives. This did raise another question about Matron’s motives, however: She had said she just needed him to be alive. It unnerved him to know that was all that was expected of him–and to have his ability in this task be held in question.

When he felt the mansion strike eight, The faint sound of silver clinking outside his door alerted Edmund to the fact that it was breakfast time, and Mrs. Kippling had doubtlessly left a tray of soup for him in the hall.

Edmund shoved himself off the bed, and pulled the tray inside. It tasted somewhat milky with a pinch of musty herb, like sage. He had finished his soup and was working on the stale bread, when there was a rapid series of knocks at his door. Edmund opened it to find Mr. Shobbinton standing in the doorway, his monocle glinting in the dim gaslight.

“Please follow me, Master Edmund,” he said, stiffly, as he turned sharply on his heels and began to stride down the hallway. Edmund barely had time to pull his tray into the hall to be cleaned before scrambling to catch up with him, trying to keep pace without being hit by the heavy briefcase that swung rhythmically at his side.

“I haven’t seen you at dinner,” Edmund said, as Mr. Shobbinton pulled him along. “Do you eat?”

“I do, but not dinner,” Mr. Shobbinton sniffed. “I find the dinner meal… arresting.”

“Is that why Matron wasn’t at dinner either?” Edmund asked. Mr. Shobbinton’s eyebrow raised again, arching smoothly over his eye like a bird in flight.

“I don’t know,” he said, slowly. “As the Moulde Family solicitor, I never ask questions I do not need to know the answer to. You may consider that your first lesson in Law.”

After a minute or two of winding their way through the stairs and hallways, Mr. Shobbinton stopped next to a thin pale wood door on the third floor and pushed Edmund inside. The room was small, and furnished with only a small table, two chairs, and four large paintings, one on each wall. A few books lay scattered on the chairs and floor, while a large stack of ten or twelve sat squarely in the middle of the table. Mr. Shobbinton set down his briefcase, and lay his hands on either side of the stack as if it were some holy relic.

“We shall begin your lessons today,” Mr. Shobbinton said, his voice clear and precise.

89: Googoltha in the Hall

Come to that, Edmund had never experienced a family before–perhaps this was normal behavior? His only understanding of the concept came from Mrs. Mapleberry, who didn’t really have a family. She seemed to get all her wisdom and understanding of family from her books of shirtless men, and from smelly older women who stopped by the orphanage every Tuesday around tea-time to complain. Of course, the periodically returning orphans never liked their parents, painting pictures of horrible houses and vile relatives, but his situation was nothing like that, so Edmund wasn’t planning on running back to the orphanage any time soon.

Was he?

Edmund turned the corner and stopped short. There, standing in the middle of the hallway just past the door to his room, was Googoltha, wearing the same blood red dress from before. She stood quietly, without moving, like a porcelain doll with her sharp-toothed grin still frozen on her face. They stared at each other for a few moments, before Edmund began to walk slowly towards his door.

She didn’t move an inch.

Finally, Edmund was standing only a few feet from her in front of his door. He looked at her, while she looked at him.

“You didn’t come to dinner with Tricknee,” Edmund said. “Are you hungry?”

Googoltha didn’t answer, but simply stood and smiled. Edmund shifted his feet back and forth.

“Are you lost?” he asked, wondering if she was feeling as confused as he had. “I had trouble finding my way around my first night too.”

His second attempt at hosting proved as fruitless as the first; Googoltha remained silent, grinning at him.

“Well, you can get something from the kitchen if you’re hungry,” Edmund said, “and Ung will be happy to show you to your room. I’m tired now, so I’ll be going to bed. Goodnight.”

She watched him silently as he opened his door and slipped inside his room. With a quick thought, he twisted the small key that was stuck in the interior keyhole, locking his door with a click. He pressed his ear to the door, and after a few seconds he could hear the sound of small hard shoes skipping away down the hall.

Edmund let out a sigh, and carefully began to pull off the layers of mismatched dinner dress.He slipped on a pajama shirt that covered his whole body, and lay down on his bed.

As soon as Edmund’s head hit the pillow, he realized he had never felt so tired in his life. He had never really been physically exhausted before, having never spent much energy running around the Orphanage, but now he knew what it meant to be tired to the core. His brain felt like a large lump of lead, and while his eyelids weren’t drooping his mind had almost stopped forming coherent thoughts. Without even bothering to pull up the covers, he closed his eyes.

88: Edmund Goes to His Room

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Image: Dark Mansion Premade BG by inkzfx

Edmund walked quickly through the winding halls of the mansion towards his room as the bell tolled nine. Once Tricknee had showed up, the evening had turned remarkably quiet. Edmund asked a few questions about Brackenburg, the estate and other simple things that anyone could have answered–and all the while, Tricknee stared at him angrily with his good eye. Edmund didn’t ask all of his questions of course. It must have been instinct, but he was beginning to think that revealing exactly how much he didn’t know wasn’t a smart idea.

Eventually everyone began to make poor excuses and left to return to their rooms, or walk about the grounds, until it was just Tricknee and Edmund who still sat at the table; and Edmund didn’t remain there long. The whole meal had unsettled him greatly. He wasn’t sure what he had been expecting, but he certainly hadn’t expected… whatever the meal had been.

Edmund was out of his depth; he didn’t even have the words to describe what was happening. Meals in the orphanage had been large and somewhat noisy affairs, with children of all ages talking or laughing, while Mrs. Mapleberry desperately tried to keep everyone proper. This had felt more like an interview with prospective parents than an actual meal.

Of course, none of his cousins seemed to want him anywhere near the family.

Edmund turned a corner, passing by a strange coat of arms that displayed two men pointing pistols at each other across a large field. Edmund paused a moment in thought. Perhaps he was supposed to challenge them all to duels? Edmund didn’t like the idea and hoped that there might be some way to split the estate and make everyone happy. His second thoughts told him to be honest with himself and admit that wasn’t likely to be possible.

His third thoughts were thoughts of despair. He couldn’t fight, couldn’t hide, couldn’t run; he felt trapped, like some animal being hunted through the brush. It sounded like the cousins would stop at nothing to achieve their ends–not even him. It didn’t seem quite fair, really; he had only become a Moulde a day ago.

Moulde. It was his name now.

It was hard for him to not feel a little resentful of the fact. Matron had adopted him, thrown him at her cousins, and expected him to survive. It didn’t seem right to him; this wasn’t the sort of thing that a parent should do to their child. He had taken Matron’s name, did that mean he had to like her? In the epic stories of the great knights who died for their King, there had never been any mention of how the knights had actually felt about their Lord. If he didn’t like Matron, did that make him a bad son? Or a bad Moulde?

He smiled to himself. From the shape of things, it sounded like not liking Matron made him a very good Moulde indeed.

Edmund’s Notebook 7: A Dire and Dour Dinner

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Image: A Young Scholar, Tyne & Wear Archives; Museums

A Poem, written in the style of Madame Lady Winneffreste Francinqua Vivioliani Rebeque Anchesstra Chesterfolke the Seventh, during her Third Diary period:

Crisp and Brittle
Like a roast Chicken’s flesh
Dished on Golden plates and silver forks,
And paired with the proper wine; a nice dry white from the western villas of France, not Italy.
And a side of fresh gravy made from the brown kind of mushrooms and stewed over the oven for an hour with the leftover scraps of turkey from last night.

Dark and Cruel
Like a sweet table wine from Germany, of all places, when I was expecting a smooth and dry red from the Northern Slopes of the Southern Americas, to go with the freshly seasoned fish that she just can’t seem to season properly during the summer.

It’s never Enough.
To drown out my Husband’s Voice. To Smother in fresh butter and cream from the local cow-man who is ever so kind, if somewhat eager.
No matter how many courses we have.
Perhaps the Italians have it right.
Perhaps seven courses is only half-way there.
Lord knows how they’re not all spherical with their thick wine and olive oil.
Perhaps a Midnight Snack.

87: A Family’s Hate

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Image: Uncredited, mathmorph.com

“A right nasty bunch of fiends, all of us, what?” Wislydale grinned. “Matron doesn’t like any of us, and we don’t like any of us either. You’ve been thrown into the lion’s den, Edmund, and no mistake.” He held Edmund’s gaze for a few moments, and then turned back to his drink.

“Why do you all hate each other?” Edmund asked when his throat finally opened up again. A ripple of exasperated laughter shivered around the room.

“Hate?” Pinsnip snickered. “That’s not the right word, is it?”

“Loathe, perhaps,” Kolb coughed, downing his water in a single gulp. “Despise, detest, degrade and deplore. We have quite a few words for how our family feels about each other. Better to ask why wolves eat sheep, or cats hate dogs.”

“I’m sure some of us don’t even remember why we all hate each other,” Junapa smiled. “It’s become sort of a family tradition.”

“So do I have to hate you?” Edmund asked.

Again, the room fell silent. Edmund looked at each of them in turn and a chill ran down his back as he suddenly realized how they were looking back at him. They were scrutinizing him like he had been trying to do to them, exploring thoughts and reactions like butchers might study a cow that was ready for the chopping block. His chest tightened as he realized how much better at it they were.

“You’d be smart if you did,” Tunansia said, bluntly.

With a bang that made everyone jump, the door thudded open as Tricknee staggered in, glaring about him like an angry hawk. There was a stunned pause as everyone breathed heavily and resettled themselves into their seats.

“Tricknee!” Junapa stood from her chair and walked over to him, sounding quite relieved. “We were just wondering if we would see you this evening. How marvelous you could make it! We’re all really quite delighted.”

“Don’t be,” muttered Tricknee, his one open eye locked onto Edmund. “I didn’t come for you all, now did I? I came to size up the enemy.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” Junapa said icily, taking Tricknee’s arm to usher him to a chair. He jerked away from her grasp and threw himself with a loud crack into the nearest seat.

“I ain’t invalid yet, you hag!” He snapped angrily. “I’ll sit here! Now bugger off, and let me eat! I’m hungry” His eyes spun back Edmund. “So, you think you can stop us, boy?”

“No,” Edmund shook his head. He didn’t even know what half of them were planning, much less how to stop them–or even if he should. Tricknee nodded slowly.

“Good,” he muttered, crossing his arms as Ung slowly poured Tricknee his cream of green soup. “You can’t. You just sit there, and let the building fall to bits around you. Show the sense Matron hasn’t got, and give up.”

For minutes, the only sound was Tricknee sucking loudly at his teeth, making a sound like a sick whale.

“So much for our pleasant family evening, what?” Wislydale shrugged, sipping at his drink.

86: The Moulde Family Name

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Image: by Louis Reens, britannica.com

“Why doesn’t Matron want you to get her money?” Edmund asked. Kolb laughed loudly, tossing his spoon back into his bowl, splashing cream of green on the tablecloth.

“She doesn’t want anyone to get it!” Pinsnip interjected, cutting off Kolb’s reply by thumping the table with his fist. “Least of all us. She’d rather…burn the mansion down then let us get one splinter, even after all the… kindness we’ve shown her!”

“I beg your pardon?” Kolb asked, his eyebrows high on his forehead.

“Well… of a sort,” Pinsnip shrugged. “We’re here, aren’t we? It’s more kindness than anyone else in the family is showing. And in spite of it all, she’d rather see us all… starve in the streets than give us a single pound. No, her estate is hers, and she hates all of us because we want it.”

“And you’re all her cousins?” Edmund asked, trying to count the last names, and how many aunts and uncles Matron must have had.

“Not quite,” Wislydale said, swirling his drink in his hand. “Bit of a natty little ball of twine, what? Matron and old Tricknee are quite distant cousins, and I’m his son. Tunansia is the daughter of Matron’s half-cousin twice removed, Kolb is Matron’s son-in-law, and Junapa is her second cousin once removed from her grandmother’s side. Pinsnip there is a bit further off–he has a relative in Matron’s great-grandmother’s cousin-in-law.”

“None of you are actually just cousins, then,” Edmund said, thinking through the family terms he knew, and what they meant. “What does that make you?”

“Family,” Junapa smiled smoothly. The others around the table all began to slowly nod their agreement as they leered at Edmund, their faces looking far more hungry and frightening then they had a few moments ago. Edmund swallowed–he suddenly felt like the entire meal had simply been to fatten him up for slaughter by hungry beasts.

“But you’re not Mouldes,” Edmund said, “so how are you family?”

“My dear child,” Kolb grinned, “Moulde is so much more than simply a surname. It’s a title! A badge of honor borne proudly when strolling among the teeming masses to set oneself apart from the multitudes. One need not be borne a Moulde to become a Moulde, much as being born a Moulde does not make you one.”

“Though if any of us had…had the name,” Pinsnip interjected, “that would make it…easier. As it stands, without an Heir–”

There was a sharp throat-clearing from Kolb.

“–present company excepted–The estate will go…in whole or in part…to the cleverest of us.”

“Or quickest,” Kolb interjected.

“Or best equipped to do something with it,” Wislydale said.

“Property, titles, influence, even the decorations; it’s all part of the estate,” Junapa smiled. “And every piece we can get makes us that much stronger in the eyes of our peers.”

85: Edmund Learns About His Future

Edmund wasn’t entirely sure they had all told him the truth about their reasons, but he didn’t want to challenge them. It was evident they all were here for a specific reason, whether they were willing to tell him or not, which brought another question to mind.

“What am I doing here?” He asked.

His new cousins looked expectantly at each other, as though they themselves didn’t know the answer and were waiting for someone who did to speak up.

“As we said… well… Matron wants to… that is… is trying to keep to her estate,” Pinsnip finally said, clasping his hands in front of him. “I’m sure she thinks you’ll… be able to help her.”

“You’re a pawn, my boy,” Kolb leaned over and whispered into Edmund’s ear. “A soldier in Matron’s army–maybe her only one. You’ll have to deal with sharp tongues and sharp minds, and maybe even sharp blades before your time is done, but don’t worry. I’ve been family for a long time, and there isn’t anyone who thinks further ahead than Matron. She’ll do anything to keep her hands on this estate. Even if it means going into town and hiring herself an heir.”

“I wasn’t hired, I was adopted,” Edmund mumbled, focusing on his last few spoonfuls of soup.

“Adopted.” Kolb smiled grandly. “I apologize from the depths of my cummerbund for misspeaking. I admit, young master, I am surprised Matron adopted anyone, let alone someone so young. I don’t suppose she mentioned anything at all to you about why she did?”

“It’s obvious, you oaf,” Tunansia sneered. “Now that Matron has an heir, he gets the inheritance. All of it–no questions asked. We won’t even be able to wait for the old crow to die and then fight over the estate ourselves. Now we either have to get written into the will or we’ll get nothing.”

“I get the mansion?” Edmund said, latching on to the one part of the conversation he understood. Tunansia nodded, her frustration with Edmund plain in her burning charcoal eyes.

“Obviously. At the moment, if Matron dies you’ll become head of the family–Patron of Moulde Hall and everything in it.”

“And all the money,” Pinsnip sighed, spinning his spoon aimlessly around his fingers. “Don’t forget the money.”

“I doubt you could,” Junapa smirked. “And I know you haven’t, Wislydale. I’m sure Patron Bonne has been very clear on the subject. How much debt have you sunk the Bonnes into now? I can’t imagine all the fifty-year-old wine and fifteen-year-old girls come cheap.”

“No cheaper than keeping the neighbors quiet,” Wislydale said softly, his blurry eyes shifting to meet Junapa’s. Her mouth twitched as she slowly raised her glass in a mock toast before returning to her soup.

“I’d become head of the family?” Edmund asked, not sure what that really meant.

“Yes, but don’t worry yourself,” Kolb leaned closer to Edmund, his grin splitting his face. “There are a lot of people out there who are going to try very hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.”