Edmund turned back to Matron Scower, her voice still echoing in the room.

“I am becoming quite irritated with you, Master Edmund. Either you tell us immediately why you have asked us here tonight, or I will leave this house forthwith!”

Edmund’s heart skipped a beat, fluttering up into his throat. He was only gratified by the comparable looks of horror that flashed across the faces of all of his cousins as well–they didn’t want her to leave either.

“I must beg you for patience, Matron Scower,” Edmund said, breathing deeply like Kolb had taught him. “Ordinarily, I would have explained myself at once, but I have a very important announcement to make, and I would like everyone present to make it.”

“Need I remind you of our opinion of surprises?” Matron Scower said, icily.

“Oh, don’t listen to her,” Matron Cromley smiled warmly. “I love surprising other people. It’s the look of shock on their faces, you know–it’s really my favorite thing. But I must say that as much as I am enjoying this parade of people, the carriage ride from Cromley Manor was quite long and I am famished. I hope you don’t think it rude to ask how many we are waiting on before we head in for supper?”

“Tricknee will be joining us, along with his granddaughter, Googoltha,” Edmund said, hoping he was right. He was about to continue when Kolb swept in front of him with a grand bow, and asked Matron Cromley about her hair.

Edmund was irritated at the intrusion when he suddenly realized what was happening. It was no accident that his cousins had entered the room so erratically–they were stalling for time. Dinner probably wasn’t ready yet and they needed to keep the Heads happy, or at least distracted, until dinner was prepared. Or, Edmund thought sourly, until Tricknee arrived and it became Edmund’s problem to keep them entertained. Edmund remained quiet while the others attempted to talk amongst themselves.

Junapa and Matron Scower were conversing with short clipped speech, each seeming unwilling to engage in too much discourse with the other, but equally unwilling to let the other mingle with anyone else. They somehow managed to have a complete conversation while pointedly looking everywhere in the room except at each other.

Kolb and Wislydale were speaking with Matron Cromley, trading stories and talking in animated movements that hid exactly how little they were saying.

Tunansia had managed to corner Patron Vanndegaar, making him look quite uncomfortable as she talked incessantly about his fine clothing and dashing airs. Sometimes she would ask a question about his scar, or cane, and he would start to reply, only to have Tunansia blush and giggle with such ferocity that he was forced to offer her assistance.

Pinsnip didn’t speak to anyone at first, instead keeping his back to the wall and slowly circling the room, his eyes periodically darting from group to group. Finally he sat down awkwardly next to Junapa, and stared at the floor.

It was fairly easy for Edmund to read his cousins; he had lots of practice. Reading the Heads of the Families, however, was another matter entirely.