Edmund’s Notebook 15: Happy

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

Excerpt from “Wroght Iron Words: the Poetry and Prose of Patron Lord Edmund Moulde” by Sir Wather Krink, PhD, DFA:

In his Manic period, the words of Lord Edmund Moulde, at the time Master Moulde, became effusively saccharine, suggesting a mind unmoored from the torments and ennui that had been the foundation of his life for so long. This disjointed nature is perhaps best exemplified in the seminal piece from the period, reprinted below with permission from the Moulde Estate:

Light.
Clean,
A bubble in the chest,
Covered in soft,
Clear and bright,
Colors everywhere,
Flying,
But not leaving,
Home.

This untitled poem has been used by several researchers, including the awkwardly respected Sir Loomus Kohlm, to suggest that the Manic period of Lord Edmund Moulde coincided with an experimentation with powerful narcotics, but this absurd and obviously unsubstantiated opinion will not be dignified with discussion here.

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Autumn Approches

Summer was drawing to a close.

The wind began to batter at the windows of Moulde Hall even stronger than before, and the drooping withered leaves of the treas outside began to turn from gray green to sickly yellow and brackish red. A bitter chill began to seep through the cold stone into Moulde Hall, a harbinger of the coming Autumn.

As the winds became more frequent, Edmund was delighted to see that the brass tree in the library was not just a statue. When he entered the library one day, he saw the massive statue had lost its leaves. The branches were smooth and bare, while the shimmering foliage had piled around its base, filling the small recess that the tree stood in.

Edmund picked up one of the leaves and turned it around in his fingers. It was almost as big as his whole hand, and fairly light. The leaf had been carved most delicately, enough so that Edmund could feel the veins that webbed through it like a real leaf. It felt fragile.

He played about in the leaves, careful not to harm them as he picked them up and tossed them between his hands. He stepped carefully, shuffling about in the cold metallic leaves and listening to them clink and clatter.

As he played, he saw one leaf that was a slightly different color than the rest. It was a bright golden color, and when Edmund picked it up from the massive pile of leaves, he saw it’s stem was thicker and longer than the others. At the end of the stem, the metal dripped down into three small ridges, like a key. On both sides of the leaf, a thick calligraphy proclaimed Memento Mori, in clear and easy hand.

Wasn’t that the same phrase carved into the Gargoyle’s sign in the tower? Edmund wondered again what the phrase meant, and slipped the leaf into his pocket. He decided he would keep it with him for a while, to see if he ever found a use for it.

As the cold weather began to press closer, Edmund took to reading to Tayatra from the History of Moulde Hall. It was informative to her, hearing of the other Patrons and Matrons that followed after Rotchild, and how they steadily drove the finances, goodwill, and social standing of the Moulde Family into the ground until it became the rundown mansion with two servants and no real family members that it was today.

“Why do you not give me something to read to you,” Tayatra offered one day, after Edmund finally finished the book. “It is what I was created for.”

She turned out to be a beautiful reader; her diction was perfect and intonation pleasant to Edmund’s ears. She read as fast or slow as he asked, and would define some words he didn’t understand. Several times, she even explained whole passages that he didn’t quite comprehend. She made the histories and scientific texts come alive

As time passed, he gave Tayatra more and more books read. He would sit quietly in the large chair facing Tayatra’s alcove, his eyes shut as her voice flowed around him. He began to have his lunch there, taking a small tray with him so he could read, write, and talk with Tayatra in peace.

For the first time in a very long time, Edmund felt happy.

It didn’t last.

Plinkerton’s Last Entry

It wasn’t until much later in the journal that Edmund noticed Tayatra’s name written in an older and shaking hand:

3/9/1713
Dearest Journal, Alas, my beloved son Rotchild has fallen to a curse-ed state of mind. I have long tried to reason with him, explain the state of affairs, but I fear my tongue has tasted from china plates for too long to have much silver on it. He is convince-ed that his siblings are rising against him, attempting to push his favor from my heart. I have even heard him say that only Tayatra truly cares for him –a mad boast, considering no humours abide in her stone frame. I fear my foresight in creating a Cavalcadium of my fortune was not ill-planned. The estate will still fall to him when I am gone, and I hope only my children will not bring more suffering to this family, after my mistakes.

And again:

5/5/1716
I am afear-ed that my planning was all for naught. My failure is complete. Master Rotchild is insane, ranting and raving in his room for hours about the plots of his siblings to kill him, or me. He spends more time with Tayatra now than anyone else, and he has forbidden anyone to speak with her. I snuck into her study late last night, skulking about like a common street urchin to place my words within her. The future of our family is within her, now. When the madness has passed, The Moulde Family will once again be respected, and ready to take its place among the great families of the city.

And then the last entry:

8/12/1718
It is with a heavy heart I pen these, my final words. Master Rotchild has born a daughter, Isaybel, and has demanded I step down as Patron of Moulde Hall. I spoke with all of my trusted allies, and they all tell of a great conflict within the family if I do not. I am an old man, I know, and if my shaking hand is not enough to prove to you I am past my prime, let the spilled soup on my words provide certainty. I hold no hope that my family will survive, as their madness seems complete. No longer shall the Moulde Family hold respect in the world. Perhaps I am lucky to be so old, and die now before my withered eyes can witness the decline. I only hope that some day, some poor soul that bears the name Moulde can find it in their head to understand, though I hold no prayers that they will have the heart to forgive.

Most of it Edmund couldn’t understand, while what he could understand was banal and full of adult drama that didn’t interest Edmund in the slightest. He was only slightly interested to read that Plinkerton apparently thought Tayatra was the key to the Moulde Family’s resurgence–it felt much more important as a personal success.

It was disappointing, frankly, to have access into the minds of one of the old Patrons of the Moulde family, and not be able to comprehend it.
Eventually, Edmund set it aside and returned to his books on history, physics, and chemistry.

Edmund Reads the Journal

The first one he found was almost a fifth of the way through the journal.

4/3/1673
Dearest Journal, I have just return-ed from my first year at Grimms, and my mind is full of a great number of fantastic and wonderful things! The teachers are strict, and seem to do their best to keep us from learning anything interesting, but I’ve already learn-ed much, mostly from my new friends. They seem to know much more than I, and, though I am learning quickly, I cannot help but feel they were better prepare-ed for this place than I. I have resolve-ed to do as much studying as possible while I am home. I only hope the Library is as well stock-ed with books on chemestrie as it is with other tomes.

Edmund flipped further into the book, until he found another entry that looked interesting.

3/12/1688
Dearest Journal, Is it hubris to not be aware of an honor bestow-ed? I honestly cannot remember when it was that I was first call-ed Patron by my hand-servant. For some reason, now that my dearest is with child, I cannot help but hear the word each time it is spoken, by my servants, my siblings, or my relatives. In some ways it sounds hollow and false to my ears. In others, it becomes more and more fitting. I suppose I must become used to two paternal titles in rapid succession: that of Patron, and that of father. We have decide-ed that if our child is a boy, we shall name him Rotchild, after my great-uncle. Though I am full of hope for a good and wonderful future, I cannot help but fear for my unborn child; there is great pain and suffering in the world, and dark times lie ahead of us all at some point. Though I will feel foolish, and I doubt not but I will attract some stares from my servants, I plan to go and help our gardener pull some of the weeds that have sprung up on the grounds.

And another:

8/19/1688
Dearest Journal, I am vex-ed most peculiarly, and overwrought with perturbations. My son is born, this day at seven twenty-three in the morn, healthy and bright pink. Thunder split the sky at the moment of his first breath–fitting, I thought at the time, for a Moulde of great destiny as he no doubt is going to be. His hair is brown, his eyes are bright, and I thought him worthy of thanks to the heavens for his health and happiness. Oh, but then for Doctor Salin! I am not one to shy away from new and unwash-ed practices–as a scientist I am mindful of the ever-marching advance of progress–but this new and amazing science of Phrenology fills me with uncertainty. Doctor Salin has informed me that the skull borne by my son Rotchild has the forehead of a chimney-sweep, and the side-pan of a dentist. He is doom-ed, so says the good doctor, to grow into adulthood forever paranoid, fearing and searching for unseen plots, secret deposits of grime, and hidden cavities. This science is new, and I am loathe to condemn my son for an untest-ed art, but my heart is wary…

The Routine

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Image: Edmund and Tayatra
by Megan Suttner

The week that followed was spent in a whirlwind of repetitive activity.

Edmund woke up every day, washed and dressed for breakfast, and hurriedly ate his leftover soup as quickly as he could before Mr. Shobbinton’s lessons. After an hour of maths and law, he would run back to the library, and his new friend.

There he would spend hours speaking with Tayatra, and learning everything he could about her and the Master then Patron Rotchild Moulde. A few days after he re-activated her, he tore out more of the nails from the wall and fixed a small clasp to the corner. When Junapa wasn’t around, he pulled the entire tapestry back, letting the gaslight kiss Tayatra’s pale form again.

The rat began to appear more and more frequently, until Edmund began to see it almost as a pet. He fed it bread, sometimes soaked in soup, and before long it was crawling into his hands and squeaking as politely as a tame mouse.

Once a week he would meet with each of his cousins. Junapa continued to play more and more complicated games with Edmund while he desperately tried to learn from her. Chess was his favorite, though there was an organic appeal to Go that he found fascinating.

Pinsnip kept drilling him on stealth and silence, on stillness and shadows. He would talk for hours about skulking in dark corners only to suddenly stop, his eyes losing focus as he vanished into his thoughts. For some reason, he rarely stuttered during these lessons…

Kolb was impressed with Edmund’s progress, and Edmund could tell that he was sounding less and less sick whenever he tried to be stern or adamant.

Wislydale’s lessons on manners were boring, but Edmund still learned, and he could usually reward himself with stopping by Tunansia’s room just afterwards to see what she was doing, and if he could help. He usually could, but never by doing any more than holding some test tube, or stirring some oddly colored liquid. Tunansia rarely even looked at him.

And once a week, Edmund made his way to the east tower door where he gently knocked on the wood, and then talked about the things he was doing. Sometimes he heard breathing. Other times he didn’t.

Any time that wasn’t spent with Tayatra, his rat, or being tutored, was spent reading, sometimes in his room, other times in the library.

The first thing he read was Plinkerton’s journal. It was written in tight handwriting, covering his entire life, and Edmund spent a few hours flipping through it, reading random pages and entries looking for anything interesting.

At first the journal was dry and boring, full of the minor interests of a young child, dramas of pulled hair and scuffed knees, which gradually moved on to mentions of interesting dinners or intriguing correspondence with someone-or-other. He flipped through as quickly as he dared, looking for anything interesting or useful, while being mindful that any small detail might be the secret to understanding the author. When he did find a word or phrase that interested him, he would quickly go back to the beginning of the entry and read the whole thing.

Tayatra is Fixed

Finally, the last tine was tied, and Edmund re-affixed the stone plate to the back of Tayatra, the threads slipping through the several small holes at the bottom of the statue. Edmund stepped back to look at his handiwork.

It was a mess. String hung everywhere like a sad pot of noodles that someone had thrown over the whole alcove. It was messy, confusing, and somewhere in Edmund’s heart, he knew it was… inelegant. He considered re-cutting some of the strings, but decided against it –Tayatra had been very specific about the lengths and placements of all the thread he had hung.

“Okay,” he said, licking his lips nervously. “I think you’re fixed.”

“Please stand back,” she said. “I am going to wind the string taught.”
There was a whirring noise deep in the desk, and slowly… ever so slowly… Edmund saw the strings begin to tighten.

It was like curtains raising on a beautiful stage. White strands of string rose into the air like angel wings. String after string became taught, as one after another they pulled gently on the statue. The mess of thread behind Tayatra became a beautiful spiderweb that surrounded her like a halo; a mosaic of lines that made Edmund think of a stained glass window in a church.

He stood, amazed, as the strings became straight, like harp strings. There was a pause, and then the strings tugged together, lifting the statue’s body like the gentle hands of a master puppeteer. Tayatra was lifted like a limp rag doll, carefully straightened, and posed like a mannequin.

Then more strings tightened.

In the blink of an eye the clumsy statue seemed uncannily human. Her fingers bent and joints twisted as her hands spread wide in a smooth and elegant embrace that looked like it could encompass the world. Her torso leaned as if she was stretching. Her arms flexed and rested lightly on her desk with a poise that made Edmund’s chest hurt, until her head finally rose, and Edmund got his first look at Tayatra’s face.

It was not a thin face, nor wide. It was not rough, nor kind. It looked to Edmund like the heads he had seen in the hallways on Greek statues, with the eyes open and pupil-less, and the mouth an inexpressive line. Her nose was small and straight, her lips plain and smooth. And on her forehead, a single green glass circle, no bigger than Edmund’s thumbnail, sat embedded in the stone.

She was the most beautiful thing Edmund had ever seen.

Her head moved around, at once graceful and clumsy, tugged by the net of strings until the glass circle pointed at Edmund. Tayatra froze, and slowly leaned closer to him, her hands resting on the desk.

“Master Edmund,” she said, her voice drifting mistily through the air. “You look so much like Master Rotchild.”

Finding Plinkerton’s Journal

Edmund considered this as he finished threading the pulley. It made sense. If Plinkerton had foolishly squandered the estate without telling his son, the suddenly vanishing money would be a cause of grave concern to the seemingly paranoid Rotchild. Plinkerton had probably been ashamed of his foolish investments, and made sure no one knew what caused the sudden lost of money.

“Did you enjoy it?” Edmund asked, climbing down again. “Working for Patron Rotchild, I mean?” Tayatra thought long and loudly.

“I did what my Patron asked.” she said, finally. “It is what must be done.”

Edmund decided not to press the point as he tied the string to the loop on the statue’s left wrist.

“Did anyone else ever ask you to do anything? Or was it just Rotchild?”

“Others used to speak to me quite often,” she said. “Patron Plinkerton gave me math problems to solve in front of his guests, while others gave me books and letters to read aloud. When Patron Rotchild became Patron, the others began to disappear, until it was only Patron Rotchild that spoke with me.”

“And you never asked him why?” Edmund stood with two pieces of thread in his hands. The idea that she had never thought to try and find out what was happening was confusing to him.

“I do not ask questions of my Patron,” she intoned. It sounded almost like a prayer. “It is what must never be done.”

“Well, he’s not my Patron,” Edmund said as he started to braid another thread, “and I’d like to know more about him. Did he have a journal or diary? Anything I could read?”

“Patron Rotchild would not appreciate his privacy being violated,” Tayatra said, her voice sounding almost reproachful.

“Patron Rotchild isn’t Patron any more,” Edmund countered, “and he’s dead. He doesn’t have privacy anymore.”

Tayatra thought again, very loudly, and then fell silent. For several minutes, Edmund continued to braid thread in silence, until he sighed and gave up.

“Oh alright then, what about Patron Plinkerton? Do you know anything about him?” There was a brief whine, and Tayatra spoke again.

“Patron Plinkerton kept a journal that he sometimes asked me to read, or write his words in. If it is no longer on Tayatra’s desk, than he has moved it somewhere else. I do not know where.”

Edmund looked at her desk. There was a small stack of books next to her outstretched hands that looked promising. Leaving the thread, he poked about through the books until he found what looked to be an ancient journal. This was confirmed when Edmund opened to the first page where it said, in brilliant calligraphy, ‘Plinkerton’s journal.’ He probably mentioned his son somewhere in his writings, so Edmund would just have to find it. The book was fairly large–too big for Edmund’s pockets–so he shoved it through the tapestry to read later.

Satisfied, he let that subject drop too, and continued to wind the threads back and forth around the alcove while talking with Tayatra about everything he could think of.

Speaking with Tayatra

Edmund blinked blearily as he tied another knot onto Tayatra’s shoulder. He had been braiding, climbing, looping, and tying for hours. Before he was simply tired. Now he was exhausted. Even with the chiming of the mansion he had completely lost track of the time; his nerves were so tired that every chime blended into the previous. For all he knew it was morning already.

Tayatra was having him tie and loop strings back and forth across the alcove like a spider web. Some were tied to the arms and hands, others to the head and torso. Some were looped about the statue, or tied with odd knots that Tayatra had to instruct him how to make, that slid back and forth along the string.

After he finished tying the string, Edmund stepped back from the shoulder, and asked the question that had been bothering him since he had found the statue.

“Why were you hidden here?” he asked. The dog-and-wheel whirred, which Edmund was beginning to realize was Tayatra thinking, and there was a pause.

“I do not know what you mean. Am I hidden? I was always open to the study.”

“Only there’s a tapestry over your alcove now,” Edmund explained as he began to braid another string. “Do you know why?”

“No,” Tayatra said, her voice slowing. “The last thing I remember is speaking with Patron Rotchild.” The thinking noise was sounding almost painful now. “Patron was asking me about several documents he had asked me to read. He needed to know if the maths had been done correctly. I told him they were…” Tayatra fell silent.

“And then what happened?” Edmund prompted. She thought for a moment, and then spoke again, her voice so soft that Edmund had to strain to hear.

“The Patron seemed unhappy with my answer. I saw him move behind me, and I heard him say…that he could not allow me to be used against him. He made it clear he believed someone had tampered with me to thwart him… Then I slipped away.” She paused, and then spoke again, almost a whisper. “I do not know why he thought this. I never did anything but serve him faithfully.”

“That’s very sad,” Edmund agreed, looking at the braided string in his hands. “I’ve just finished another one.”

“Attach it from the extended tine to the far left pulley on the ground, the far right pulley halfway up the wall, and then to the left wrist,” Tayatra’s voice was normal again.

“Why was he upset about your answer?” Edmund asked. “What was he asking you to look at?” There was another pause as Edmund climbed up the chair to loop the string through another pulley.

“I was never told what I was looking at. Numbers. Words. I never asked,” she said, slowly. “However, I overheard Patron Rotchild speaking quite loudly several times about money. He seemed… confused about the sudden lack of funds in the Moulde estate. I heard him blame the other members of his family, claiming they were stealing money from him.”

“Well,” Edmund thought for a moment. “Maybe it was financial information that Rotchild thought was wrong, and when you told him it wasn’t, he thought you had been tampered with?”

The First Thread

It was hard to get the spool of thread down the thin and winding library steps, but eventually Edmund managed to roll the spool of thread into the stone alcove. Tayatra was just as he had left her, head on her desk as though she had been crying.

“I have some thread,” he said. “I hope it’s enough.”

“Sewing thread?” Tayatra asked.

“I guess so,” Edmund looked at his spool. “It’s pretty thin. But there’s a lot of it.”

“You will have to strengthen it, but sewing thread will be quite sufficient,” Tayatra said, her raspy voice echoing slightly in the tight stone concave. “First I will have you repair my torso. Please cut three pieces of thread five meters in length.”

“I don’t have a meter stick,” Edmund said as he began to unwind a piece of thread from the large ball.

“The front of my desk is one meter long,” Tayatra said. “You may use it to measure.” Edmund pulled the string along the front of the desk five times, and used the bronze letter opener to saw at it until had the three pieces gripped in his hands.

“Now what?” he asked.

“If you would, please fix one end of the threads to my torso manipulator–thus.” Edmund heard a small whirring from behind the statue. He sank to his knees and crawled back to the small panel. The tines had all retracted up into the statue, except for one that stuck halfway down towards the floor. Twisting the small key on the end, he fit the ends of the three pieces of thread into the key, and then closed it with another twist. He tugged gently at the threads, but the key held the string fast to the tine.

“Done,” he said.

“Thank you. Now, please braid the thread. This will make it strong enough to hold me.”

“I don’t know how to braid,” Edmund almost felt insulted. He didn’t like the implication that he should how how to do a female’s hair. Maybe Tayatra thought he was a girl? The very idea! The whirring dog-in-wheel sound happened again, and Edmund could tell now, being so close to the statue, that it was coming from deep inside the desk.

“I will teach you. Take the three threads, and lay them parallel to each other on the ground,” Tayatra began.

It didn’t take long for Edmund to learn how to braid, but it took almost twenty minutes for him to braid the entire five meter length of thread. The time passed in silence, with Edmund half concentrating on the braiding, and half thinking about what on earth he could talk to Tayatra about.

Another Tutoring Offer

“Come on lad, stiff upper lip, and all that,” Wislydale sounded sympathetic as the hand patted his shoulder. Edmund nodded, running his sleeve across his nose.

“But I’m a problem for the family,” he sniffed, aimlessly kicking at the round ball of thread. “What good am I, really?”

“Not much, I’m afraid,” Wislydale sighed. “Not much at all–it’s true.”
Edmund was shocked at the rush of heat that rose from his stomach to his face, and the anger that followed it. Something in him wanted to yell at Wislydale, but instead he clenched his fists as tight as rocks, and bit his lip until the blood sank back down his throat into his chest.

By this time, a gasp of inspiration had leapt from Wislydale’s throat, and his hand gripped Edmund’s shoulder tightly.

“I say!” He said, as the elevator landed on the first floor. “I think I might just have a solution!” Edmund looked up at him, biting back the anger that still bubbled under his skin. Wislydale winked, and knelt down like he was talking to a toddler, pointing and gesturing with his glass. “I’ll bet you’re a sharp lad, what? And I know you don’t want to let the family down…” Edmund nodded eagerly. “…Why don’t I help you? I could teach you all the things that you never learned in that grubby little orphanage about what it takes to live in a world of proper gentlemen and ladies.”

Edmund stared into Wislydale’s blurry eyes. The idea was ludicrous at first–manners seemed to have absolutely no connection to the world of the Mouldes–but the more he thought about it the more it seemed to make sense. If he was going to become Patron some day, he would have to speak with other members of high society. He couldn’t spend his whole life locked away in Moulde Hall muttering to himself like Matron, and if he didn’t look or act the part, how could other important families ever respect him or his family?

Besides, it didn’t seem like proper behavior was something he would be able to easily learn from watching; there were a lot of rules that made no sense to him. Polite society seemed to be full of nothing but strange dances and rituals more arcane than anything he ever read about in the tombs and volumes of biology and chemistry.

“Okay,” he said, letting a smile cross his face. “I’d like that.”

“That’s the spirit!” Wislydale clapped Edmund on the back. “Jolly good show! I’ll meet you in the large sitting room tomorrow, say after lunch? Then we’ll get started teaching you how to act like a real Moulde, what?” He straightened up and pushed open the elevator door, stepping out onto the first floor. He looked back as Edmund stayed behind. “Aren’t you coming?”

“I forgot my kite,” Edmund said quickly, closing the elevator gate and pushing the lever. Wislydale nodded slowly as the elevator rose out of sight.