“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.