“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.