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.”