“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.”