And What Happened After

Carron snapped the rains of his carriage gently, and the tired old horse began the long journey down Haggard Hill and into Brackenburg, carrying Edmund’s cousins away.

Edmund watched while Matron stood next to him, her finger gently tapping on her umbrella. After a respectful moment, Edmund dipped his hand into his vest pocket, and pulled out Plinkerton’s large pocket watch to check the time.

It was almost a week after the wedding papers were signed. The next day, at lunch, he had explained everything to Matron, who simply nodded and revealed little of what she thought about his actions. She smiled briefly when he talked about living in the walls for a few weeks, and no matter how cleverly he asked, or subtly he pried, she never explained where she had been for those weeks.

His cousins had spent the inter-meaning time in a state of detached politeness, speaking as little as possible to Edmund, or anyone else for that matter. Wislydale seemed bemused, while Tricknee and Junapa both avoided Edmund entirely. Pinsnip just stared at Edmund whenever he saw him, and Kolb was slightly stiffer than usual, though there was a bright twinkle in his eye. Tunansia gave him a sharp scowl whenever she could, though he thought once he almost saw her blush.

Then one day, almost in unison, they all announced their intent to leave Moulde Hall for places unnamed. And now, they were all riding away in the carriage, out of Edmund’s life for the foreseeable future.

“Well, Young Master Edmund,” Matron said as the carriage slowly shrank away. “It seems you’ve become a Moulde after all. Much good may it do you. I don’t think things will be as simple as you hope they will be. There’s still quite a lot you have to learn.”

“You’ve taught me a lot,” he replied, watching the carriage fade into the black fog of the city. “And I think a bit more than you suspect.”

“Good,” she nodded, her mouth flickering into something like a smile. “Don’t get too confident, you’re far from an expert. You missed some very basic opportunities that could have made your life a lot easier. I don’t suppose you’re serious about carrying on with this marriage of yours.”

“I have to, don’t I? I signed the paper.” Edmund shrugged.

“That’s nothing to a Moulde, Master Edmund,” Matron sniffed. “You should know better.”

“But it’s something to me,” he replied, feeling the weight of Plinkerton’s pocket watch sitting in his vest. Matron nodded once, her face blank.

Autumn was drawing to a close, and the chill winds of the coming Winter were blowing more frequently now. The dull gray grounds of Haggard Hill were fading even further into monochrome, as the sparsely leafed trees shed their foliage. The black smog of industry that covered Brackenburg was contrasting sharply now with the stark white of the cold clouds that were moving in from the north. The birdsong that was rare on the estate had vanished completely, leaving the impression that Moulde Hall was little more than a painting that someone had stepped into; still, silent, and subdued.

Edmund looked around at the dark surroundings. This was his home. Tomorrow there would be new struggles, and new problems to solve, but he could take them as they came. He was a Moulde, and that’s what Mouldes did.

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Edmund Sits Down

“It’s been some time since I’ve seen you three together,” she sniffed. “Had I known you were coming I would have joined you at dinner.”

“We had quite a pleasant evening without you,” Matron Scower said.

“You are looking quite terrible,” Patron Vanndegaar smiled. “I do hope you’re feeling unwell.”

“Never better,” Matron didn’t return the smile. “If there’s one thing that brings back pleasant memories, it’s seeing that scar of yours.”

“This young Master of yours is quite an interesting find,” Matron Cromley clucked, looking at Edmund like a skeptical schoolmarm. “I insist you keep him on, at least as a servant, if not an Heir. I think he will make things very interesting for you.”

“He already has. I take it you will all be leaving soon?”

“I believe we’ve taken care of all our business here,” Matron Scower nodded, to general agreement. “Please, don’t bother yourselves; we shall have no problems seeing ourselves out.”

When the last of them had vanished through the doors, Matron turned to Edmund, her eyebrow cocked.

“Where have you been?” he asked, the relief at seeing her paling next to his curiosity. Matron’s eyes flashed, or maybe twinkled.

“I expect to have lunch with you tomorrow,” she said. “Be prompt.”

And with that, she turned on her heels with such force Edmund was amazed she didn’t snap in half, and left.

And that was it.

Edmund sat down heavily in the large chair. In one evening he had ended the generations long feud with the Bonne family, hosted three of the heads of the Nine Families, and showed that he could afford not only provided an expensive meal, but also to use four extremely valuable writs of insurance as bargaining chips, rather than fight tooth and nail to cash them in.

Words were powerful things, Edmund reflected. In the right order and composition, they could illicit memories of springtime or summer breezes; they could entice, befuddle, and horrify; and they could even empower.

The Founding Families lived off of words. They were powerful simply because they said they were. They had money and credit in the town purely because that was how they said it should be, and no one had the gall to disagree.

This evening would be talked about, Edmund was certain. The tailor would whisper about the young Master of Moulde Hall, as would the grocer and the postman. Rumors would spread about how Edmund casually tossed away valuable paintings and statues as though he had too much of them. The Heads of the Families would talk too, though what they would say, Edmund couldn’t guess.

If there was one thing Edmund had learned about being important, it was that what someone said and thought often held more weight than the truth. It didn’t matter how much money the Moulde Estate had; as long as everyone thought they were rich. It didn’t matter how much power or influence they actually had, as long as everyone believed they did. It might take time, and a few more lies–or exaggerations, he corrected himself, hearing Kolb’s voice–but the Moulde family was on its way to rebirth.

And besides, he thought, smiling to himself, if worst came to worst he still had four more writs of investment in his room, rolled up and hidden inside the skull of the first Matron of the Moulde family where it sat on his desk.

The Three Writs

Edmund’s stomach dropped.

“Why not?” Edmund asked. “It’s happened before. Feddric Bonne married Pollina Moulde–”

“Neither Pollina nor Fredric were heirs,” Matron Scower snapped. “You are. Besides, that was generations ago, and started the whole trouble between the Bonnes and the Mouldes in the first place. We can’t let another feud sprout up because of you, so we are not going to give consent and we are not going to sign the document as witnesses. Now give up this foolish idea and go back to playing with your toys.”

“It’s not that it wasn’t clever, my lad,” Matron Cromley said, sympathetically. “It was, rather. Quite clever indeed, for such a young age. If I knew Matron wouldn’t let anyone else do her dirty work, I would have thought she had planned this for you.”

“But we’ll go back to fighting!” Edmund protested. “The Mouldes and the Bonnes will keep on struggling and nothing will ever get done! And if the Moulde family fails, then the other families will all fight each other to pick at the corpse–you can’t want that to happen!”

“Oh my dear boy,” Matron Cromley looked shocked. “Of course not! No, we don’t want that to happen at all! In fact, we would love to let you marry that young gel.”

“Nevertheless,” Patron Vanndegaar frowned, fingering his cane.

Edmund stopped, the world crystallizing in his mind. He looked at the three of them, their faces expectantly waiting for him to respond. Edmund nodded, slowly, and took the three writs of investment out of his pocket.

“How did you know?” he asked.

“Don’t take us for fools,” Patron Vanndegaar sneered, glancing at the writ before tearing it to tiny pieces and throwing it in the burning fireplace.

“Take it as a complement, my lad.” Matron Cromley tore hers in half, then quarters, and dropped it into a nearby cup of tea. “After this evening, I don’t think any of us doubted you had some sort of leverage to make us sign if we refused.”

“And anything that could convince Tricknee to agree with a Moulde is something we don’t want in your hands.” Matron Scower simply folded hers, and tucked it away into her dress.

“Now, there’s that little bit of business done,” Matron Cromley continued with a smile as she stood and walked to the wedding contract, plucking up the pen and shaking it. “I’m sure you’ll both be very happy together.”

“But Tricknee hasn’t signed it yet,” Edmund said.

“He will,” Matron Scower said, standing with the help of Patron Vanndegaar. “Especially now that our names are on it. And since we’re all… I suppose friends now, I have to ask you. How on earth did you manage to wrangle your cousins together? I’ve never seen them refrain from insulting each other like this. I’m forced to wonder if you’re not some sort of young genius. What would you say to that?”

“I think his actions speak for themselves,” came a sharp crackling voice from the doorway. Edmund’s heart jumped as he saw Matron Mander Moulde, standing just inside the room like a statue, glaring at the small assembly.

A Successful Evening

All things considered, the meal was a stunning success, Edmund thought. Mrs. Kippling had managed to create the most delicious array of exotic and delicate soups that he had ever tasted. Even Tricknee seemed pleasantly surprised at the bowls put in front of him. It apparently had not been easy for Pinsnip to haul all of the quite expensive ingredients inside the Hall on his own, but after he had elicited Ung’s help, they managed. Mrs. Kippling had done the rest with her dusty cookbook.

He managed to pull Junapa aside as they left the dining room.

“How do you like the look of the Estate now, Mrs. Junapa?” Edmund asked her. Junapa cocked an eyebrow at him.

“It is not to my taste,” she said, coldly. She began to walk away before she turned back, a small smile on her lips. “However, it may grow on me. We shall have to see.”

After supper, they all withdrew to the sitting room again for tea, chatting uncomfortably about family politics, but without the usual snide comments and biting remarks.

It seemed Edmund had been right; reeling from the double blow of the Heads of the Families’ sudden arrival and the equally sudden end of the feud between the Bonnes and the Mouldes, his cousins had little energy left to plot or plan. Instead, the Mouldes were falling back on the defensive and making sure the guests saw their best and most proper side.

True, there were still awkward pauses after unpleasant truths were spoken, and Tunansia couldn’t go three feet from Patron Vanndegaar’s side, but compared to what Edmund was afraid could happen…

Even Googoltha showed up a bit later, smiling her chilling smile and not saying a word. If she was surprised or distressed by the news that she was going to marry Edmund one day, she made no sign or protest.

Edmund chose to sit in the corner and watch his handiwork, until Matron Cromley set her tea-cup down and cleared her throat.

“All right then,” she called, startling everyone with her sudden shout. “Everyone out. We need to talk with Master Edmund. Go on now, clear out before I get perturbed.”

There was a flurry of fabric and pearls. Edmund barely had time to think before the sitting room was emptied of his cousins and he found himself staring at the tall Patron Vanndegaar, the thin Matron Scower, and the broad Matron Cromley, all of them standing with cold purpose chiseled in their faces. Edmund shifted in his chair–He hadn’t been expecting anything like this.

“Well now, Master Edmund,” Matron Cromley said, a twinkle in her eye. “You’ve had quite an evening, haven’t you?”

“I suppose I have,” he admitted. Matron Scower sniffed, glancing at the closed doors.

“That Googoltha is an odd duck, isn’t she? Does she do much except smile with those pointy teeth?”

“She’s very nice,” said Edmund, wondering if it was true. “I’m very happy about marrying her.”

“I’m sure you are,” Matron Cromley patted Edmund’s knee.

“Of course, we can’t allow you to marry her,” Patron Vanndegaar said, plainly. The Matrons both shook their heads in agreement. “We will not sign your document.”

Tricknee Decides

Edmund suppressed a smile as Tricknee glanced around the room in well-hidden simmering frustration. A vein was throbbing on his forehead as his eyes darted from Edmund’s to the Heads of the Families. What before had been a fairly one-sided haggle over price had suddenly grown teeth.

Tricknee’s eyes snapped to Edmund’s, a glitter of realization flickering across the inky depths. A small flame of doubt quivered in Edmund’s chest; had he pushed too far? Would Tricknee cut off his nose to spite his face?

If he accepted Edmund’s offer, he would be welcomed back into the Bonne family as a hero–the Bonne who finally won not only the mining rights away from the Mouldes but all of Haggard Hill; all it took was a marriage, which got Tricknee the rights to the Whilkins fortune as well.

Of course, it was largely a symbolic victory, as the marriage would insure the Mouldes still retained control over the property, but symbolism mattered to the Founding Families. It wouldn’t be lost on them either that it seemed like Edmund had given Tricknee enough money to buy away his prejudice–a substantial amount indeed–and would probably think the Mouldes had money again.

No one would ever hear about the loan, of course; Edmund wouldn’t say anything, and Tricknee wouldn’t want anyone to know how close the Bonne family came to ruin because of the Mouldes.

If he declined, it would be purely because he couldn’t bear to see the Mouldes prosper, even if he prospered with them.

Slowly, Tricknee lowered the writ, and Edmund was shocked to see a shimmer in his eye.

“Will you keep her safe?” he asked, softly, so only Edmund could hear. “Safe from the world?”

An odd question, Edmund thought, but he knew what a proper suitor should say to such a question. He placed his hand over his heart, and gave a firm nod of his head.

After a moment, Tricknee returned it.

Edmund quickly picked up a pen, filled it as quickly from the inkwell, and scrawled his name as fast as he could on the contract. “Here we are. Now all it needs is your signature, and the arrangement will be fully legal. I will be wed to Googoltha in ten years, and the Bonne family will receive the money and land rights to Haggard Hill.”

Edmund turned to the three heads of the families. “And now we come to you, our honored guests, and why I really asked you here; we will need witnesses. We would be honored if you would sign this document after Tricknee.” He carefully lay the pen down on the marriage certificate, and gently took the writ of investment back from Tricknee’s hands. “You can sign anytime you wish this evening.”

After an aching pause, Tricknee opened his mouth into a vain attempt at a smile.

“Perhaps I will sign it after supper.”

The Sale of Haggard Hill

Tricknee’s mouth almost dropped open. Everyone else seemed stunned as well. The Mine had been sacrosanct for so long, no one had even considered its power as a bargaining tool.

“There isn’t a fleck of coal in Haggard Hill anymore, what?” Wislydale snorted. Edmund nodded.

“Then you agree that it is a silly thing to divide two of the founding families over. I have no hesitation in signing over all mining rights to the Bonne family.”

“Now that wasn’t all that we agreed, was it?” Tricknee sneered, obviously thinking Edmund had overplayed his hand. He had to be desperate to sign over the mine to the Bonnes…and that meant Tricknee had the power. “Don’t try and soften the blow, just because our family is listening in. I believe we decided that all legal land rights to Haggard Hill would be transferred?”

“You’re giving all of Haggard Hill to the Bonnes?” Junapa exclaimed, her voice cracking slightly. “We’ll be…renters?”

“That’s right,” Edmund said, trying to subtly look like he had been outmaneuvered. “Once we are married, the grounds of Haggard Hill will belong to the Bonnes.”

“But when she’s married…” Pinsnip said, his voice betraying his sudden understanding, “all her property falls to her husband.”

Tricknee’s grin faltered.

“She’s a Bonne, whatever else she is,” Edmund used the phrase he had heard Tricknee say to Matron, “and the deed remains signed.”

He had double-checked the law books several times to make sure. As long as the deed bore the name Bonne, it was the Bonne’s, no matter who actually possessed the property. And then, as husband to the owner and minister of the land, Edmund was legal and social guardian of the real estate. Both families had a claim, and neither was completely in control.

“All perfectly legal,” Matron Cromley grinned. “A very clever offer, I must say. But as much as I hate to interject myself, I think dear Samsuel was asking for something more…material? I’m sure you don’t have enough money to fund both families–I think we were all given to understand that both families were quite poor now.”

Tricknee’s grin returned.

“A good point,” Patron Vanndegaar interjected, his good eye focused on Edmund. “Since most of the Plinkerton engines were long ago replaced, I’ve heard that the Moulde family was quite destitute. Exactly how are you planning to fund two Founding Families?”

“I assure you, Matron Cromley,” Edmund smiled with all the charm he could muster. “Reports of our poverty have been greatly exaggerated. The Moulde family will be providing enough capital to pay off a sizable portion of the Bonne Family’s debts.”

All eyes followed Edmund’s hand as it slowly slipped into his jacket pocket and took out the writ of investment signed by Plinkerton Moulde and countersigned by a previous Patron of the Bonne family.

“I think this is the sum we agreed upon, yes?” Edmund said. “Do you still feel it is a fair price?”

He unfolded it, handed it to Tricknee, and watched the barely masked look of gripping horror slowly cross his face as he did the math.

Checkmate.

Careful Haggling

“It’s not just what they can give us, but what both of us can give each other,” Edmund said.

Now came the difficult part. Both Tricknee and Edmund had to work out a deal while making it seem to the Family Heads that they had agreed on one long ago. He briefly wondered if Tricknee had ever played chess.

“We are a fresh start for each other,” Edmund began. “The Mouldes have been considered criminals for far too long, without the honor and dignity that comes so easily to the Bonnes. Likewise, the Bonnes have not been afforded the lifestyle they deserve. United, we can wipe away the grime and rust from both of our families, and become brilliant beacons of the bourgeois once again.”

Kolb smiled, and winked his applause.

“And you think this would help, would it?” Matron Cromley interrupted, sweetly. “The granddaughter of an old Bonne who is on the outs wedding a Moulde?”

“Wedding an Heir,” Edmund corrected, holding up his finger, “with a lineage that reaches further back than any of the other families. It was a Moulde that first found the coal vein under Haggard Hill, a Moulde that stood by your families when the war came to Brackenburg, and a Moulde that created the Plinkerton engines that ran many of the factories that made this city the wonder that it is.”

“And the money?” Tricknee interjected, his eyes glittering dangerously. “I’m sure they are curious about the dowery you agreed to give the Bonnes… how much the Moulde Estate can spare for this union.”

In his mind’s eye, Edmund saw Tricknee take the threatened pawn, and spring the trap Edmund had set. He smiled calmly, which seemed to make Tricknee madder.

“Certainly, you will be receiving a large amount from Googoltha’s parents,” Edmund said. He was delighted to see Tricknee’s eyes widen slightly in surprise. He probably didn’t realize exactly how much Edmund had learned sneaking between the walls. “I heard somewhere they were planning on exchanging quite a fair amount for getting her attached to a Founding Family? Our marriage would do that quite effectively, I think.”

“It is so,” Tricknee grumbled, “but that’s what they’re giving me, not you. I’m sure our guests are not intrigued with all the little extraneous details. There’s more that the Moulde Family is offering, isn’t there?”

It wasn’t really a question–it was haggling. Edmund nodded.

“Of course,” he said, turning back to the assembly. “This feud started ages ago, all because of a dispute over the coal mine that lies beneath this very mansion. In a sign of good will and sign of sincerity, the Moulde Family will also be signing all mining rights pertaining to Haggard Hill over to the Bonnes when we are married.”

An Aghast Audience

For a moment, a pin falling on a carpet from the height of an ant’s back could have been heard in the still silence. The air itself seemed frozen, not daring to cross the room for fear of disrupting the stunned tableau. Everyone was still, their faces covered in amazement, horror, amusement, and confusion.

Then, as a unit, Edmund saw each of his cousins begin to struggle desperately, aching to cry out, but daring not to, as they cast furtive and surreptitious glances at the three Family Heads, trying to discern what the appropriate reaction might be.

“WHAT?” Tricknee finally broke the silence. Quick as lightning, Edmund spun his head to look Tricknee squarely in the eye, speaking quickly before he could interject further.

“I am sorry for revealing this sooner than we had planned, Mister Tricknee, but I simply didn’t feel right keeping such important news from our honored guests. I understand your anger and apologize, but this is something that everyone should know, and as soon as possible. Don’t you agree?”

Edmund held Tricknee’s terrible gaze. In the depths of his iris he saw the thousand unnatural tortures Tricknee was planning for him, and the slow and inexorable death that would follow. Edmund desperately wanted to look away, to cast his gaze around the room and see what the others were thinking, but he dared not. If he looked away, all would be lost.

“Settling your feud with the Mouldes?” Patron Vanndegaar mused, scratching under his patch. “The Heir to the Moulde estate marrying a Bonne? Intriguing, I must say; I would have thought your families would take your foolish little grudge to the grave.”

“I agree,” said Matron Cromley, her soft smile widening ever so slightly. “Tricknee, that’s a spot of forward thinking I wasn’t expecting from you.”

Tricknee was thinking, Edmund could tell. Everything depended now on how well he had predicted Tricknee’s behavior. Would he ruin everything just to embarrass Edmund by calling him a liar in front of the family heads? Or would he play along while trying to discern exactly what Edmund had planned?

They stared at each other for what felt like minutes while Edmund tried to breathe. Then, for barely a second, Tricknee’s eyes flicked towards the heads of the families.

“I imagine not,” Tricknee said smoothly, though Edmund could hear the slight knife-point hidden in his tone. “Well, you’ve started this little show, boy, why don’t you finish it? Our guests are obviously curious as to what could possibly convince me to allow you to marry my granddaughter.”

“A good point, Master Edmund,” Junapa said sweetly, her voice trembling slightly. “What… on earth… could be going through your head right now? What could the Bonnes give the Mouldes that we don’t already have?”

Edmund’s Notebook 19: Rebuttal

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

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

Excerpt from “The Final Word in Sir Edmund Moulde’s Poetry and Prose” by Sir Wather Krink, PhD, DFA:

Oh don’t give me that, you pompous old windbag. If you had half a mind, you wouldn’t suggest that Sir Edmund Moulde’s journey is one of divine mandate? Of course not! Everyone can rise from obscurity and poverty to become something better than their humble beginnings suggest! All it takes is the adoption by someone with incredible resources and social power! I can do no less for evidence than direct you to Sir Edmund Moulde’s entire collection of poetry, as to select a single poem would do nothing but demean this great man’s legacy! You hag!

Edmund Shocks Them All

They were unreadable.

Even Patron Vanndegaar, who seemed to be quite resistant to Tunansia’s attentions, had neither amusement nor disgust in his face. They were perfectly stoic, keeping their reactions aloof from prying eyes.

It almost felt to Edmund like he was back in the tunnel, groping in the dark and hoping that each step was as steady as the last. He thought he had covered everything, but he could tell he was simply not on the same level as they were.

Edmund tried to steel himself; if he failed, he would be back at the orphanage, and no worse off than he had been half a year ago. If he succeeded…

Tricknee burst in through the door, interrupting Edmund’s thoughts. He scuttled across the floor, his bent posture and twisting limbs looking all the stranger with the long silver and gold white-tie suit that hung loosely over his spindly frame. He quickly took the hands of the family heads, and then threw himself into a chair next to the fireplace, scowling at the room.

“Right then,” he snarled, clasping his hands together. “Are we going to eat or not?”

“And hello to you as well, Mister Bonne,” Patron Vanndegaar sighed, carefully extracting his arm from Tunansia’s grasp, and then catching her as she began to faint.

“Where is…” Edmund started, before catching himself and speaking slower. “Is Googoltha going to be joining us this evening?”

“Pha!” Tricknee waved a hand like he was swatting at a fly. “That little brat can barely handle a spoon yet. If she wasn’t my granddaughter, I’d kick her into the kennel where she belongs.”

“Grigori might find your caustic behavior boorish, Tricknee…” Matron Scower cautioned.

“My dear Patron Grigori Bonne,” spat Tricknee, saying each word as if he could draw blood from them, “can go sit on a gate-spike. I’m old, hungry, and I don’t give a damn about much else at the moment.”

“I doubt the Bonne family is quite so poor as to be unable to afford manners,” sniffed Matron Cromley. “This evening will go much more pleasantly if we all remember our manners.” She looked around the room, daring anyone to disagree.

The brief pause while everyone considered her words was all Edmund needed. He cleared his throat, stood up, and moved to stand in front of the fireplace.

Instantly, all nine pairs of eyes in the room were locked on him. He could feel the humors bubbling in his body as his heart began to race. For a moment, he couldn’t speak–his throat closed and his breath caught, threatening to choke him rather than let out the words he was about to say.

Slowly, he let his breath escape his lungs. He wanted to run, to escape back to his room. His muscles tensed to hurtle him out the door…

…when the image of Orpha Moulde’s skull swam into his mind. Closing his eyes, he thought of the flaming skeleton, and the ticking watch.

His throat opened. Pulling himself up to his full height, he spoke aloud to his waiting guests.

“I invited you all here to inform you of the arranged marriage between myself and Googoltha Bonne, to be consummated in ten years.”