“What on earth for?” Junapa set down her book in her lap.
“I’d like to know you better?” Edmund said, tentatively. It was only a half-lie, really. Junapa stared at him, searching his face for something, and then gave a small nod. With a circular movement, like crashing waves, she flicked a red ribbon into her book, closed it, and set it aside.
“Very well then, what would you like to know about me?” She asked, her faint and somewhat ethereal smile already starting to fade. Edmund tried to speak but found his mouth had gone dry. He swallowed quickly, trying to get some fluid into his throat before he managed to croak out:
“What are you doing here?” Immediately he felt stupid.
“Reading,” she said, quickly. “What else do you want to know?”
“You’re Matron’s cousin once removed, right?” Edmund desperately tried to redeem himself. “From her mother’s side?”
“Correct,” she gave a short nod. “Anything else?”
Edmund wanted to say no, there was nothing else, run back to his books, and behave as if there was nothing odd about finding another person in his private space. Then, unbidden, a question popped into his mind and forced its way out of his mouth before he could think about it.
“Why did everyone introduce themselves like that? Why did they say how they were related?”
Junapa’s head cocked slightly. She took a deep breath, and flicked her tongue over her teeth.
“It saves time,” she said, leaning her head upon her hand. “There are so many alliances and feuds in the family, it’s easier to simply say how you’re related to whomever you’re meeting, rather then work out whether you’re supposed to like or hate someone just from their name.” She thought for a moment. “Of course, most everyone hates everyone else, so I suppose it’s mostly a way of keeping score.”
“Score of what?” Edmund asked. Junapa’s smile grew a bit wider.
“Oh, my poor boy, you really are going to be devoured alive, aren’t you?”
“No,” Edmund stuck out his chin, desperately trying to suppress the fury at the implication that he was inept. “I’m going to be Patron.”
Junapa’s sudden laugh was quiet and musical, flitting about the massive library like a butterfly. She shook her head, and reached for her book again.
“I doubt that, master Edmund.” she gave him a mockingly sympathetic look. “I doubt very much there will be much of an estate left for you to inherit.”
“Why?” Edmund persisted, not willing to let Junapa vanish back into her book until he had gotten some kind of answer.
“Because I am going to take it out from under you, of course,” she smiled kindly. “Or if I don’t, through some miracle someone else will. It’s true, Matron is smart and crafty as a fox. She has quite a bag of tricks rattling around in that head of hers, and she’s kept a corroding house standing for fifty years, but crafty as she is, there are six of us and only one of her. She can’t fight us all off, even with your… help… and if she were intelligent, she wouldn’t want to; she’d hand the estate over to me and I would save it from dissolution.”