Edmund Tells The Truth

“Matron didn’t send your invitations,” Edmund said. The heads of the three families looked at him in subdued impatience. “I did. I signed Matron’s signature to your letters.”

“That was plainly obvious, boy,” Matron Scower spat, her small mouth pursed in disgust. “You bungled the handwriting quite terribly.”

“Though it was nice to see her name written so straight and clean again,” Matron Cromley sighed. “It reminded me of our childhoods quite strongly, you know.”

“Even so, we almost didn’t come at all,” Matron Scower continued, “after we realized you hadn’t sent letters to the rest of the families.”

“I apologize for any insult,” Edmund said quickly, his voice sounding far too high pitched to his ears. He tried to lower it, but somehow couldn’t. “I didn’t know I was supposed to invite everyone; I was under the impression the others wouldn’t come.” The quick looks exchanged by the three elders told him that they all agreed with his assessment.

“Dear god, boy, you don’t invite them all to come,” Patron Vanndegaar snorted, slipping his cane into his other hand. “You invite them to damn well stay at home.”

“I didn’t know you could do that,” Edmund said, slowly. Matron Cromley smiled, and patted him on the head.

“Well, we generally like it a bit more formal than that,” she said, kindly, “but it’s just common courtesy, and it does make sure we all know what’s going on.”

“So there aren’t any nasty surprises,” Matron Scower hissed. “And you won’t want to have any of those, would you my boy?”

“I cannot say I wasn’t expecting something of this nature,” Patron Vanndegaar rolled his one good eye. “Brash headstrong foolishness, a clumsy gambit that falls apart in the opening volley… Mouldes are hardly ones for straightforwardness at the best of times… and I think it’s clear this is not the best of times for the Mouldes.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Edmund said, feeling slightly bolder. This was a conversation he had played in his head before.

“Don’t keep thinking we’re fools, boy,” Patron Vanndegaar stepped closer, his thick cane hitting the ground with a solid crack. “Matron hasn’t invited anyone to Moulde Hall in fifty years, and it’s clear why. If the estate had any money at all, there would be servants, decorations, hors d’oeuvres, live music… a proper evening. Not this…shoddiness.”

“I think it’s encouraging,” Matron Cromley smiled. “It shows they’re trying to buck their thieving ways. The old Mouldes would have stolen everything they could to make a real show of it.”

“True,” Matron Scower grumbled, “but what you see as improvement, I see as a lack of organizational skill.”

“I agree,” Patron Vanndegaar thumped his cane on the floor. “The fact is they would have stolen an evening if they were able. Further evidence of their degradation. The sooner we are gone, the better.”

“Then…” Edmund paused. “Then why did you come?

An icy chill filled the air.

“We’re polite,” Matron Scower said, icily.

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A Failed Subterfuge

“This sitting room hasn’t changed much since I saw it last,” Patron Vanndegaar muttered disapprovingly, lifting his cane to poke aimlessly at a small candlestick that squatted calmly on the fireplace mantle. “Not much for keeping up with the times, I suppose.”

“Not a bit, really,” Matron Cromley sighed as she settled into a wide settee. “I must say, though, it still shows a great deal of character. I remember when Matron Moulde and I once sat in here when we were young, playing at tea. She would always claim she had poisoned me, and then I had to flop about on the floor like a fish. Ha! It was quite amusing.”

“Did you ever poison her back?” Edmund asked, clasping his hands in his lap. Matron Cromley giggled.

“Oh my, no. I would always stab her in the back with a letter opener. Much more satisfying, I thought.”

“Can I have Ung get you anything?” Edmund asked, remembering his hostly duties.
“No,” Matron Scower shook her head, grimacing. “I will wait for supper.”

“I think we’ll all wait,” Patron Vanndegaar said, bending over painfully to look into the fireplace. “I, for one, won’t eat anything I can’t see you eat first.”

“Now, Samsuel,” Matron Cromley groaned theatrically, “Don’t you go on with all that. I can’t imagine the young lad wants to kill us–he seems like such a smart boy.”

“Does he?” Matron Scower said, her tone making her opinion clear on that point. Her eyes slowly traversed the room until they landed sharply on Edmund. “And yet he faked the invitations so poorly.” Edmund felt his blood begin to chill.

“Exactly,” Patron Vanndegaar began to pace the room. “And I wouldn’t put it past a young and… foolishly misguided heir to think that throwing our three houses into disarray by ending our lives would improve his standing. It’s been tried before, after all.”

“Yes,” Matron Cromley nodded sadly. “And it didn’t go well for the poor lass, did it? Do you know if they ever found her?”

“Some of her,” Matron Scower said, her eyes still focused on Edmund.

Edmund felt sick. Everything was falling apart. He had been so careful too, making sure he copied Matron’s handwriting as perfectly as he could from an old letter, and double checking the spelling and proper names and titles…

“I think you had better tell us what this is all about, boy.” Patron Vanndegaar muttered, glaring out from under his sharp eyebrows. Edmund desperately tried to think of something to say, some exaggeration that could salvage his crumbling evening, but as he looked at the heads of the three families, their eyes were cold and clear, proclaiming in no uncertain terms that they were better at this than he was.

Edmund swallowed, and took a deep breath. He would have to tell the truth.

Scower, Vanndegaar, and Cromley

“Matron Lerriet Scower,” he said, taking her hand gently. “It’s so nice to have you here, at Moulde Hall. Please enter, and I hope you enjoy your stay.”

Matron Scower’s eyebrow raised sharply, and then fell almost as quickly. Edmund smiled internally, pleased he had made an impression. He couldn’t tell if it was a good one or not, but that almost didn’t matter–he needed to be noticed first. Matron Scower gave a sharp nod, and stalked through the door, completely ignoring Ung and Mrs. Kippling, who both kept their heads bowed respectfully as she passed.

The second family head had a full mane of brown curly hair that fell from under his cap like a muddy waterfall. He had a patch over one eye that barely covered a vicious scar that ran down towards his jaw, and he walked clumsily, leaning heavily on his thick black cane. He reminded Edmund a little of Kolb, though there was no glint in his eye nor spring in his step.

“Patron Samsuel Vanndegaar, it’s so nice to have you here, at Moulde Hall,” Edmund stuck out his hand, only to withdraw it lamely when no hand was returned. “Please enter, and I hope you enjoy your stay.”

“Poorly said,” Patron Vanndegaar said, sniffing disinterestedly. “But you may deliver my thanks to Mander before dinner. I doubt I shall offer them again this evening.”

Edmund nodded as Patron Vanndegaar slowly walked up the steps to the front door, his large black cane loudly punching the ground.

The pleasure Edmund had felt at making an impression was quickly shifting to dread–while mere seconds ago impressions had been all well and good, now he was concerned that a poor showing would not help him any. He knew he was going to have a long way to convince the other family heads of his legitimacy, but it was not going well so far and that distance seemed longer then ever.

He put another smile on his face as the third and final family head approached.
“Matron Hagetha Cromley,” he said to the enormously fat woman who was waddling towards him. “It’s so nice-”

“Yes, yes,” she puffed, wiping her brow with her white blouse’s sleeve. “I heard you the first two times. You must be Mander’s new heir, I suppose? And she must be just too busy to come down and say hello? Busy looking for some stone to draw blood from?”

“Not at all,” Edmund said, trying to decide if he should extend a hand or bow. He decided on neither. “She is feeling ill and won’t be joining us for dinner. She asked me to host instead.”

“Did she now?” Matron Cromley smiled. “How kind of her. I’m sure you’ll be an excellent host.”

Edmund followed as Matron Cromley began to pull herself clumsily up the steps. He hoped she was correct.

Heads of The Founding Families

Edmund stood at the front door in the finest fitting suit he had been able to purchase in the town, and watched as Carron slowly drove up to the front of Moulde Hall.

When he had arrived at his room, he was only mildly surprised to find Ung there to help him get ready, and he was dressed within minutes.

He was no expert, but Tayatra had assured him that his suit was very well made, and fit him perfectly. The collar was broad and tall, with a deep neck in the jacket that reached almost to his belly button. The vest was a thin leathery gray, with Plinkerton’s watch tucked neatly into the pocket. His pants were well fitted, resting lightly on his shiny black shoes, while faint beige ruffles slipped out from around his sleeves like a flower.

Ung had dressed himself in a suit that looked almost exactly the same as his standard uniform–a jet black suit with a white shirt and tie–but it was impossibly clean and bright; it almost looked polished.

Edmund checked his watch as Moulde Hall began to chime. Six-o-clock exactly. The Heads of the Families were prompt, if nothing else. He slipped his watch back into his vest and turned his attention back to the coach.

Wislydale had caught him by the arm when they had passed in the hallways. At first Edmund had thought Wislydale was going to hit him, so fierce was the glint in his eye, but instead he simply gripped Edmund’s shoulder.

“I hope you were paying attention during our little lessons, old boy,” he said.
“Very carefully,” Edmund had replied.

“Then we may have a chance, what?” Wislydale smiled grimly. It was the closest thing to a compliment he had ever given Edmund.

He could feel his heart beating fast as the carriage slowly ground to a halt. The spindly driver unfolded himself from the front and opened the carriage door, bowing almost to the ground.

Edmund had prepared himself for this moment. He had never met a member of another founding family before, so he had no real idea of what to expect. Thankfully, his training sessions with Wislydale gave him some idea of how to behave properly, and as Kolb had once said, ‘if you’re ever unsure, flattery is always a safe recourse–they will never disagree with you.’

A thin woman dressed in a mourning veil stepped from the carriage first, taking Carron’s offered hand and opening a silver fan as she walked up to Edmund.

She was old–easily as old as Matron–but her face was round and her nose small. Her mouth was smaller still and twisted into a permanent frown. She held out her hand to Edmund, as he quickly ran through the notes in his head. He had spent a lot of time in the library, studying the three families before he even dared to write the letters.

Now he would see how usefully that time had been spent.

Edmund’s Notebook 18: Pull it Together

https://www.flickr.com/photos/twm_news/7447732100/

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

Excerpt from “Sir Edmund Moulde Revisited” by Sir Loomus Kohlm, DFA, MRD, NDA:

And what about his final period? Despite the inept views and shallow musings of Mr. Walther Krink, it is clear that Sir Edmund took it upon himself to become something of a messiah figure, neatly circumventing the martyrdom necessary for such an appropriate designation; rather than embracing the label of ‘bootstrappy orphan’ that my poorly mentally unfit college thinks is so apropos.
A thorough and intricate study of the following poem entitled “Pull it Together” displays this most clearly:

Pull it together.
Don’t let them see the cracks.
Sealed like a wall from the worst of the winds,
Plastered against the snows and soot of outside.
Composed, collected, displaying the best,From the family, for the family,
Pull it together, together.
Because together is better
Than apart.

The Dinner is Planned

Edmund arrived moments before Wislydale, peering through a waist-high hole in the stonework. Mrs. Kippling was there, scraping away at a pan with a thick brush when Wislydale cleared his throat loudly from the door.

“It’s open,” Mrs. Kippling called, the smile in her voice barely hidden. Edmund breathed a small sigh of relief. It seemed she got Edmund’s letter.

“Yes,” Wislydale said, obviously uncomfortable with the fact. “I say, you’re the cook, what? Do you have a recipe fit to serve three Heads of the Founding Families?”

“I’ll try to not be insulted by the question,” Mrs. Kippling said, her voice echoing slightly in the pan. “I have a recipe for every guest you could imagine. It’s-not-my-place, but I could serve a meal the King of Siam would never forget.”

“Jolly good!” Wislydale smiled. “What do you have in mind?”

“Soup!” Mrs. Kippling said. There was a silence as Edmund saw Wislydale’s mouth droop.

“Ah…” he said, finally. “And can you make this special soup… for tonight?”

“I most surely can not,” Mrs. Kippling looked up in surprise. “Begging-your-pardon, I might be able to make it in time, but I’ve only got potatoes and greens–nowhere near the right ingredients. I’d have to go shopping first, and then prepare the kitchen, which will take quite a bit of time, and my leg’s been acting up, no mistake. I think there’s a cold winter coming.”

“Well, surely the butler…Mr. thingy…Ung, that’s right. He’ll be able to go shopping for you, what?”

“Not at all!” Mrs. Kippling snorted. “He has to clean the foyer and prepare the dining room. There’s no time for just the two of us to do everything. And before you suggest it,” she waved her hand under Wislydale’s opening mouth, “Tricknee’s too old, Master Edmund is too young, and Mister Kolb is already polishing the silver.”

“Ah,” Wislydale paused for a moment, and then downed his drink in one swallow. “I suppose I will have to get you the ingredients while you prepare the kitchen, what?” he said, straightening his jacket with firm purpose. “What do you need?”

Mrs. Kippling shrugged, and reached down below the counter. The counter lifted and sank again with a thud as she pulled a thick dusty book out from under the leg. She flipped through the book, scattering dust over the room and causing the flame in the stove to flare.

Edmund checked his watch–it was almost five thirty. Confident that the two of them had everything under control, he slowly began to creep back up to his room. He still needed to get ready.

His cousins had found the clothes draped over their beds, and where first they saw nothing but doom, now there was hope. Thankfully, the grocer in town had already been well paid with a large silver statue, and orders to be ready to give a large amount of quality goods to anyone from Moulde Hall who stopped by, looking rushed.

His cousin’s humours were shifting in their bodies like a weighted scale, and as their fear of failure sank with every minor relief, so would their passions rise. If Edmund knew the Mouldes at all, he knew that if their backs were to the wall and there was a chance–any chance at all–of success, then they would fight like rabid animals.

And they would all fight together.

The Evening Dress

Darting between the walls, Edmund crept as quickly as he could through the mansion until he reached Junapa’s room. Hers was the furthest away from the sitting-room, and with the short-cuts he knew about he had the best chance to get to her room first.

Panting slightly, he pulled aside the small latch that covered the peep-hole to her room just as her door snapped open to reveal Junapa standing in the doorway. She strode swiftly into the room, and then stopped, her eyes fastened on to the top of her bed.

Edmund was glad he had thought of the clothing. Junapa stepped closer, reaching out to the extravagant dress that Edmund had lain on her bed. He had found detailed rules in the library about proper clothing etiquette for when hosting the patrons and matrons of founding families. After that, he had managed to pick the locks of his cousin’s rooms and steal some of their clothing to measure.

A quick trip to the best tailor in Brackenburg resulted in what Edmund thought was a beautiful looking collection of formal dress. He had been assured by the tailor that the clothing was of the highest quality, and well worth the two paintings Edmund had dragged down to the city from the east tower. For some reason the tailor’s eyes had lit up at the chance to own art that had once hung in Moulde Hall.

Junapa held up the dress, scanning over in intently, her fingers counting the buttons, tracing the lace, and fingering the cuffs to make sure everything was proper for hosting the founding families. After a moment, she heaved a frustrated sigh.

“That little brat,” she muttered. “He was ready for this.”

“That he was,” Wislydale’s voice came from the doorway as he slipped in. He was still dressed in his normal clothing. “I found a similar surprise laying on my bed.” He slowly walked to the far wall, and leaned casually against it, sipping at his ubiquitous drink. “What do you suppose we should do?”

“What choice do we have?” Junapa said, beginning to take off her jewelry. Wislydale watched for a few seconds before nodding.

“I agree. I will manage the affairs here, while you attend to the meal. I’m sure-”

“I will not,” Junapa snapped, as she slipped off her shoes. “I take quite a long time to get ready, while you won’t take two minutes. Go to the kitchens and see what Mrs. Kippling can manage.”

“Probably not much, what?” Wislydale rolled his eyes.

“Perhaps,” Junapa paused. “Perhaps not. Go find out exactly how far our dear Master Edmund has planned ahead. I’m willing to bet he’s forgotten something–and we need to find it fast!”

Wislydale gave a sharp nod, and ran out of the room. Edmund smiled to himself as he darted through the walls towards the kitchen.

Panic in Moulde Hall

“You did what?” Tunansia gaped, leaning forward in amazement. “You can’t do that!”

“Of course he can,” Pinsnip said, looking uncertain. “He’s the Heir, isn’t he?”

“Well, we’ll see about that! What about the Guardianship?” Junapa asked, looking back and forth between Edmund and Wislydale. “What have your solicitors found, Wislydale?”

“Ah, well… It appears…” Wislydale began, coughing uncomfortably. “It seems that, legally, it’s a bit of a sticky wicket, what? They’ve been looking into this, and they can’t seem to find a precedent–it seems the nine families have always sorted things out amongst themselves…”

“Mr. Shobbinton?” Tunansia asked.

“Yes…we…that is, I…haven’t seen him in…three weeks,” Pinsnip muttered, looking almost guilty. A few others nodded their agreement.

“Call it off,” Tricknee snarled, hitting his fist on his chair. “Send another letter telling the old crumbs to go away and leave us alone.”

“Unthinkable!” Junapa gasped. “Think of the scandal!”

“I don’t think Tricknee cares about scandalous situations, dear cousin,” Kolb stepped forward, posing to orate. “Perhaps we should prepare ourselves for pomp and presentation? The heads of the honorable houses that helped hatch this humble hamlet all those years ago deserve to be shown a grand old time. When are they arriving?”

“Today,” Edmund said. He quickly checked Plinkerton’s pocket watch; it was a quarter past five. “This evening. In fact, they should be coming up the drive fairly soon–they said they’d be here at six.”

For a moment, there was silence.

“WHAT?” Pinsnip shouted, starting forward and almost crashing headlong into a chair.

“At six?” Wislydale’s glass was emptied in a single swallow, and then dropped on the floor in shock. “And you are only telling us now? I say, you must be joking! It takes time to plan for the hosting of a head of a founding family, what? And money! Have there been preparations?”

“I don’t think so,” Edmund said, hiding a smile. “I think Mrs. Kippling is making soup.”

There was a pause, no longer than a heartbeat, and then chaos reigned. Everyone was on their feet and talking at once.

“We’re finished!” Wislydale moaned, gripping his head in his hands. “The families will disown us completely, no matter what leverage we have! We’ll lose our credit, our standing… we’ll be commoners!”

“No one will fund my expeditions,” Kolb ranted, his hands jerking about like a puppet. “Who would fund a former founding family member? I’ll have to play… music halls!”

“You’ve ruined us!” Junapa spat. “I’m not wearing anything remotely appropriate to host the heads of the other families!

“My god, you’re right!” Pinsnip said, his hands leaping to his throat. “We have to change!”

They all ran out of the room as fast as they could, leaving Edmund alone with Tricknee, who was staring at Edmund with undisguised loathing.

“You think this will change anything?” He said, slowly. “I know the Families. You think you do? I promise you, they only agreed to come for the show. They’ll laugh at us like they always do, leave, and we’ll all return to the bickering and fighting like we did before. You’ve just embarrassed us further, boy.” He slowly stood with Googoltha’s help, and then a small smile flit across his face. “But it was fun to watch them panic, wasn’t it?”

Edmund nodded, letting his grin finally see daylight as Tricknee sulked out of the room, snapping his fingers at Googoltha to follow.

The Fuse is Lit

Tunansia and Wislydale entered next, both with sour looks on their faces that made it perfectly clear they had met in the hall, and divined exactly where they were both headed, and why.

“Must we meet like this?” Wislydale murmured into his drink. “I have a great many things to do before supper, what?”

“I’m sure you do,” Edmund smiled. “I thank you for coming. I promise this won’t take long.”

Wislydale shrugged, and headed for the drinks cabinet while Tunansia sat across from Edmund, her eyes narrow and burning. They all sat and stood in silence for a few minutes, the seconds stretching longer as they waited for Tricknee to arrive. Edmund was already beginning to feel the sharp pangs of defeat creep around his heart. None of his cousins seemed particularly shocked or put off by his amazing reappearance. He worried this augured danger for his plan.

“Perhaps we begin this… discussion… without him?” Wislydale asked suddenly, a touch of hope in his voice. “After all, the sooner we start, what?”

“I agree,” Pinsnip snapped. “I’d just as soon get out of this room as fast as I can.”

“We all would,” Junapa said. “But young Master Edmund has requested us to be here, and it’s only fitting that we show him the same courtesy that we would show any one of us.”

A scornful snort echoed from someone in the room. For a moment, no one moved–it was like some horrible tableau of cloaks and daggers. Edmund couldn’t help but feel small, seeing the whole family gathered together, their narrow eyes shifting back and forth, waiting for someone to made a fatal move–or at least a move that could be made to be fatal.

Edmund swallowed nervously, trying to keep his uncertainty hidden. This was the group he had thought would come together? He couldn’t possibly succeed. The plan–his plan–was doomed.

He almost opened his mouth to send everyone away with some benign excuse, when Tricknee burst through the door, Googoltha in tow. He snorted in derision, and threw himself into the closest chair, snapping his fingers and pointing at the floor in front of him. Edmund watched as Googoltha stepped through the room, and curled up her legs as she sat in front of him like a hunting dog. She looked around the room curiously, and then locked eyes with Edmund.

She smiled, but this time her smile was small and simple. She smiled without bearing her sharp teeth. There was something almost soothing in her toothless smile. Edmund swallowed his nerves as he reached into his breast pocket, and pulled out the three yellow letters, holding them out in front of him like a shield.

“I have invited the heads of three other families to dinner. I have informed them of your presence at Moulde Hall, and they are expecting to enjoy dinner with all of us.”

The Cousins Start to Arrive

The walls struck five-o-clock in the evening when Pinsnip entered the room, sliding in like a shadow. He darted from door to chair, sniffing the air like a prowling wolf, when his eyes locked with Edmund’s.

He froze, and in an instant he collapsed into his usual fumbling self.

“Master–! That is… Young Master… Edmund? You…I’m glad to see you, it’s been…that is…we’ve missed you these past three weeks.”

Edmund didn’t say anything. He just smiled. Pinsnip rubbed a finger along his chin.
“Where…I hope I’m not being rude…Where have you been?”

Edmund’s reply was cut off by the doors opening again, and Junapa stepping grandly into the room, her long black dress glittering in the dim afternoon light. Pinsnip looked up in surprise, his mouth working furiously.

“Junapa!” he gaped. “We… that is… Edmund and I, we were… just talking about…”
“I see this is to be a family meeting?” Junapa interrupted, clasping her hands in front of her. “Ung didn’t tell me that.”

“Nor me,” Pinsnip muttered, darting a suspicious glance at Edmund. “I take it… that is… are the others arriving soon? I don’t think… I mean… Junapa and I don’t have anything to… discuss, do we?”

“If we’re lucky, Master Edmund called us here to inform us of the death of our dear Matron. I can only presume he was at her bedside these past three weeks, since we haven’t seen either of them much recently.” Junapa smiled. “I hope it was painful.”

“Oh…no, I…” Pinsnip’s face fell. “I hope she isn’t dead…I…I wanted to…well…I suppose it’s too late…”

“I believe Matron is in as fine health as always,” Edmund said. Pinsnip’s eyes glittered, and Edmund wondered if he had simply wanted to drive the knife home himself.

The door opened again with a bang to reveal Kolb, posed as though he was ready to recite an epic poem to a mass of revelers. Snapping into motion, he leapt into the room with a single bound, barely stopping at all as he noticed the others.

“How wonderfully welcome!” he said, his piercing eyes encircling the room. “I wondered if my meeting with the suddenly remergant young master would be mano-a-mano. Am I to assume that this is a meeting with our entire family?”

“I do not believe that Matron will be joining us,” Edmund said, steepling his fingers. Kolb smiled a bit more sincerely.

“Thank heaven for small favors,” he said, with a wink. “I would be delighted to hear where you’ve been these past weeks.”

“I admit to a curiosity myself,” Junapa’s eyes focused on Edmund. All three of them leaned towards him subtly. Edmund just smiled and waited.