“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.