She was sitting at what looked like a table set for tea, her large umbrella open and stuck in a strange hand-like mount that kept her and her table dry. A thick black kettle sat next to two tea-cups, and an empty chair was across from her, waiting to be filled.
Even in the dark, with the black rain falling in droves, her glittering eyes practically glowed from the shadows. With a small puff of smoke, she plucked the bone-white pipe from her mouth.
“Leaving, are we?” she asked, as though this was a perfectly natural time to sit and chat. Edmund had no words; he didn’t even try to think of anything to say. Instead, his hands slipped into one another behind his back as he stepped to the edge of the rain, staying as dry as he could as he stared at Matron through the storm.
After a moment she replaced the skull-pipe between her teeth and beckoned with a single finger. Edmund considered simply running down the path, but there was something in her eyes that made him jump through the rain and stand under her umbrella, brushing the spatters of soot and water off his clothes as he did. He wanted to sit, but she hadn’t told him he could, so he decided not to.
“Tell me, boy,” Matron said after a long pause, punctuated only by the loud rapping of the rain on the umbrella like dice on a carpet, “what do you think of my home?”
Edmund considered lying and telling her he loved it, or even just being politic and only tell her the things he didn’t mind. But why would he bother to do that? He was free, he told himself; he didn’t care about Matron any more. He didn’t want to make her happy so she would like him. He didn’t need her approval, or want to be her son. He could be honest.
“I hate it,” he said, simply. Something glittered in Matron’s eye as a crack of thunder rolled some distance away and the rain continued to pour.
“You know where the gate is,” she said, as motionless as a gargoyle. “I don’t like to think that anyone could say I keep my guests from leaving when they have a mind to, and you’ve obviously got a mind to. If you don’t think you can handle yourself here, you may leave.”
Edmund nodded even before his ears had finished listening–Matron’s tone would not allow anything but complete acceptance. Reflexively, Edmund started to turn to leave, and then stopped.