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.