87: A Family’s Hate

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“A right nasty bunch of fiends, all of us, what?” Wislydale grinned. “Matron doesn’t like any of us, and we don’t like any of us either. You’ve been thrown into the lion’s den, Edmund, and no mistake.” He held Edmund’s gaze for a few moments, and then turned back to his drink.

“Why do you all hate each other?” Edmund asked when his throat finally opened up again. A ripple of exasperated laughter shivered around the room.

“Hate?” Pinsnip snickered. “That’s not the right word, is it?”

“Loathe, perhaps,” Kolb coughed, downing his water in a single gulp. “Despise, detest, degrade and deplore. We have quite a few words for how our family feels about each other. Better to ask why wolves eat sheep, or cats hate dogs.”

“I’m sure some of us don’t even remember why we all hate each other,” Junapa smiled. “It’s become sort of a family tradition.”

“So do I have to hate you?” Edmund asked.

Again, the room fell silent. Edmund looked at each of them in turn and a chill ran down his back as he suddenly realized how they were looking back at him. They were scrutinizing him like he had been trying to do to them, exploring thoughts and reactions like butchers might study a cow that was ready for the chopping block. His chest tightened as he realized how much better at it they were.

“You’d be smart if you did,” Tunansia said, bluntly.

With a bang that made everyone jump, the door thudded open as Tricknee staggered in, glaring about him like an angry hawk. There was a stunned pause as everyone breathed heavily and resettled themselves into their seats.

“Tricknee!” Junapa stood from her chair and walked over to him, sounding quite relieved. “We were just wondering if we would see you this evening. How marvelous you could make it! We’re all really quite delighted.”

“Don’t be,” muttered Tricknee, his one open eye locked onto Edmund. “I didn’t come for you all, now did I? I came to size up the enemy.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” Junapa said icily, taking Tricknee’s arm to usher him to a chair. He jerked away from her grasp and threw himself with a loud crack into the nearest seat.

“I ain’t invalid yet, you hag!” He snapped angrily. “I’ll sit here! Now bugger off, and let me eat! I’m hungry” His eyes spun back Edmund. “So, you think you can stop us, boy?”

“No,” Edmund shook his head. He didn’t even know what half of them were planning, much less how to stop them–or even if he should. Tricknee nodded slowly.

“Good,” he muttered, crossing his arms as Ung slowly poured Tricknee his cream of green soup. “You can’t. You just sit there, and let the building fall to bits around you. Show the sense Matron hasn’t got, and give up.”

For minutes, the only sound was Tricknee sucking loudly at his teeth, making a sound like a sick whale.

“So much for our pleasant family evening, what?” Wislydale shrugged, sipping at his drink.

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86: The Moulde Family Name

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“Why doesn’t Matron want you to get her money?” Edmund asked. Kolb laughed loudly, tossing his spoon back into his bowl, splashing cream of green on the tablecloth.

“She doesn’t want anyone to get it!” Pinsnip interjected, cutting off Kolb’s reply by thumping the table with his fist. “Least of all us. She’d rather…burn the mansion down then let us get one splinter, even after all the… kindness we’ve shown her!”

“I beg your pardon?” Kolb asked, his eyebrows high on his forehead.

“Well… of a sort,” Pinsnip shrugged. “We’re here, aren’t we? It’s more kindness than anyone else in the family is showing. And in spite of it all, she’d rather see us all… starve in the streets than give us a single pound. No, her estate is hers, and she hates all of us because we want it.”

“And you’re all her cousins?” Edmund asked, trying to count the last names, and how many aunts and uncles Matron must have had.

“Not quite,” Wislydale said, swirling his drink in his hand. “Bit of a natty little ball of twine, what? Matron and old Tricknee are quite distant cousins, and I’m his son. Tunansia is the daughter of Matron’s half-cousin twice removed, Kolb is Matron’s son-in-law, and Junapa is her second cousin once removed from her grandmother’s side. Pinsnip there is a bit further off–he has a relative in Matron’s great-grandmother’s cousin-in-law.”

“None of you are actually just cousins, then,” Edmund said, thinking through the family terms he knew, and what they meant. “What does that make you?”

“Family,” Junapa smiled smoothly. The others around the table all began to slowly nod their agreement as they leered at Edmund, their faces looking far more hungry and frightening then they had a few moments ago. Edmund swallowed–he suddenly felt like the entire meal had simply been to fatten him up for slaughter by hungry beasts.

“But you’re not Mouldes,” Edmund said, “so how are you family?”

“My dear child,” Kolb grinned, “Moulde is so much more than simply a surname. It’s a title! A badge of honor borne proudly when strolling among the teeming masses to set oneself apart from the multitudes. One need not be borne a Moulde to become a Moulde, much as being born a Moulde does not make you one.”

“Though if any of us had…had the name,” Pinsnip interjected, “that would make it…easier. As it stands, without an Heir–”

There was a sharp throat-clearing from Kolb.

“–present company excepted–The estate will go…in whole or in part…to the cleverest of us.”

“Or quickest,” Kolb interjected.

“Or best equipped to do something with it,” Wislydale said.

“Property, titles, influence, even the decorations; it’s all part of the estate,” Junapa smiled. “And every piece we can get makes us that much stronger in the eyes of our peers.”

85: Edmund Learns About His Future

Edmund wasn’t entirely sure they had all told him the truth about their reasons, but he didn’t want to challenge them. It was evident they all were here for a specific reason, whether they were willing to tell him or not, which brought another question to mind.

“What am I doing here?” He asked.

His new cousins looked expectantly at each other, as though they themselves didn’t know the answer and were waiting for someone who did to speak up.

“As we said… well… Matron wants to… that is… is trying to keep to her estate,” Pinsnip finally said, clasping his hands in front of him. “I’m sure she thinks you’ll… be able to help her.”

“You’re a pawn, my boy,” Kolb leaned over and whispered into Edmund’s ear. “A soldier in Matron’s army–maybe her only one. You’ll have to deal with sharp tongues and sharp minds, and maybe even sharp blades before your time is done, but don’t worry. I’ve been family for a long time, and there isn’t anyone who thinks further ahead than Matron. She’ll do anything to keep her hands on this estate. Even if it means going into town and hiring herself an heir.”

“I wasn’t hired, I was adopted,” Edmund mumbled, focusing on his last few spoonfuls of soup.

“Adopted.” Kolb smiled grandly. “I apologize from the depths of my cummerbund for misspeaking. I admit, young master, I am surprised Matron adopted anyone, let alone someone so young. I don’t suppose she mentioned anything at all to you about why she did?”

“It’s obvious, you oaf,” Tunansia sneered. “Now that Matron has an heir, he gets the inheritance. All of it–no questions asked. We won’t even be able to wait for the old crow to die and then fight over the estate ourselves. Now we either have to get written into the will or we’ll get nothing.”

“I get the mansion?” Edmund said, latching on to the one part of the conversation he understood. Tunansia nodded, her frustration with Edmund plain in her burning charcoal eyes.

“Obviously. At the moment, if Matron dies you’ll become head of the family–Patron of Moulde Hall and everything in it.”

“And all the money,” Pinsnip sighed, spinning his spoon aimlessly around his fingers. “Don’t forget the money.”

“I doubt you could,” Junapa smirked. “And I know you haven’t, Wislydale. I’m sure Patron Bonne has been very clear on the subject. How much debt have you sunk the Bonnes into now? I can’t imagine all the fifty-year-old wine and fifteen-year-old girls come cheap.”

“No cheaper than keeping the neighbors quiet,” Wislydale said softly, his blurry eyes shifting to meet Junapa’s. Her mouth twitched as she slowly raised her glass in a mock toast before returning to her soup.

“I’d become head of the family?” Edmund asked, not sure what that really meant.

“Yes, but don’t worry yourself,” Kolb leaned closer to Edmund, his grin splitting his face. “There are a lot of people out there who are going to try very hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

84: A Few More Plans

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“As a matter of fact, I do,” Wislydale tipped his drink into his mouth, smacking his lips noisily. “I intend to rebuild the Moulde family name. Ever since the Great Agreement, the Mouldes have been considered little better than scoundrels and criminals, what?”

“Quite correctly, too,” Tunansia muttered. Wislydale ignored her.

“On top of that, there’s been quite a lot of scandal in this family, with Kolb running around in jungles and on mountains, and all that trouble with South Dunkin recently, well… It doesn’t take a bally lot of the old brain to see we’re in a spot of bother. I say we throw out some of the riff-raff and start to behave like a real founding family, what? I say let’s get our respect back.”

“Hear, hear!” Kolb shouted, pounding loudly on the table with his fist. “Let’s rid ourselves of the bandits and bashi-bazouks that burden our beloved family. Let me see if I can think of anyone who might fit the bill…” Theatrically, he placed a finger to his lips, and seemed to lose himself in thought.

“I’m sure what Kolb is so eloquently not saying,” Tunansia said, staring coldly, “is that a washed up member of a family of leeches is hardly what the Moulde Family needs to regain respect. Farmers don’t ask locusts for help when rebuilding a farm and I likewise will not trust in your good intentions.” For a moment, Tunansia and Wislydale locked eyes, until Wislydale sighed and looked away, sipping at his drink.

“What about you, Pinsnip?” Wislydale said, clearing his throat. “We’ve all been sharing our ideas, what about you?”

“I…” Pinsnip looked suddenly very ill, glancing around the table, not looking at anyone or anything for very long. “It’s… I think they’re… all very nice, but, well… I mean, I think we’d get better return on… what we have.”

“Pinsnip, would you please pull your pitiful tongue out of your palate and proceed?” Kolb rubbed his temples with two massive fingers. “I don’t think I can take too much more of your stammering.”

“Well…” Pinsnip swallowed, running his fingers over his mustache nervously. “I think… Yes, I think it would be best to keep most of… that is, the rest of the money in the estate. The Moulde name still carries weight, and we could do things with it, like… well, like hold festivals, or… or things for the common good?”

A shift in posture rippled around the table, and suddenly everyone was smiling, and chuckling quietly. Edmund couldn’t help but think someone had told a joke, but he hadn’t heard it.

“I’m finding this a damned delightful dialogue, truly–I only wish one of us had asked this question earlier.” Kolb turned to Tunansia. “And you, dearest of dear cousins? Would you care to join in and explain your enterprising endeavors?”

“No,” Tunansia said. She kept her eyes on her soup, eating pointedly while the others all stared at her.

“Don’t be a spoilsport dear,” Wislydale admonished, waving his glass about like a wand. “Tell us something. If you can’t think of anything to say it will be most disappointing, what?” Tunansia didn’t respond, but simply continued to eat, her free hand aimlessly playing with her locket.

“Yes, well, there you have it,” Junapa nodded to Edmund. “We all have our reasons for wanting the estate–some better than others, of course.”

83: The Cousins’ Plans

Edmund’s tongue stuck to his suddenly dry mouth. How could he pick just one thing? After riding to Moulde Hall through Brackenburg, and learning he was now heir to a vast estate and title, there wasn’t anything he didn’t want to know. Edmund licked his lips and took a drink of water. He decided to start simply.

“Why do you want Matron’s money?” Edmund asked.

The cousins looked at one another, exchanging glances that held entire conversations in almost painful silence. Finally, after a solemn pause, Kolb cleared his throat.

“Not all of us want Matron’s money, my lad,” he smiled uncertainly, his sharp eyes peering through his eyebrows at Edmund. “In fact, some of us would be perfectly content if she kept all of it.”

“How ever much of it there may be left,” muttered Tunansia, her spoon aimlessly swirling the cream of green in her bowl.

“True,” Kolb continued, slightly louder than before, “Since it is obvious Matron has spent little money on the upkeep of the estate, some seem to think the fabulous fortune of our forefathers has faded into a feeble figure of late. However, others such as myself, are confident that the countless coins are being coveted and collected in our capable Matron’s coffers. And for myself, I seek her patronage for my explorations and fabulous journeys into the deep and dark hearts of unexplored lands.”

“And your… investments?” Tunansia whispered, not very quietly. “You have quite a few to pay for, don’t you?” Kolb’s face turned redder.

“It’s true, I’ve fallen into a minor spot of trouble, but nothing I shouldn’t be able to handle with a generous loan from any number of my friends.”

“And some help from Matron?” Edmund prompted. Kolb shrugged.

“If my lovely in-law decides to lend her lamented luckless–”

“Lack-wit,” Junapa interjected smoothly. Pinsnip snickered in appreciation as Kolb inhaled sharply.

“Well, if my tragedy seems comic to you, Misses Knittle, perhaps you would care to enlighten the young master as to your reason for hanging over this hall like a hungry hyena?”

“It would be my pleasure,” Junapa tilted her head back slightly as if she were about to recite a poem. “I intend to use the money Matron has saved to help fund new projects for the Brackenburg Mayor. Funding the city is what made this family great in times past, and it is what will make it strong again.”

“Really!” Wislydale snorted, shaking his head. “Is that what you’ve been up to this whole time? Well bad luck, old gel. The Mayor is hardly likely to want to tack the name of some washed up old family to a new train station, what? He’d ask the Cromleys or the Buckleherses long before coming to you Mouldes.”

“I’m quite sure the Mayor will see things my way once I speak with him,” Junapa smiled and sipped at her water.

“You’re going to initiate?” Wislydale sputtered. “Oh, I say! That’s a mite too far, I think, what? Begging the Mayor to take our money like… like a common investor?”

“I assure you, there will be no begging involved,” Junapa’s mouth became firm. “At least, not on my end. I will simply make it clear that it would be for the public good, and he will agree. I’m sure you think you have a better plan for the Moulde Estate?”

82: Tunansia’s Assessment

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“I’m afraid you are right,” Kolb crossed his arms, leaning his head back slightly. “Our magnificent Matron has masterfully mollified our Machiavellian machinations.”

“By Jove, did she really?” Wislydale looked shocked. “I say, that’s a spot of bad luck, what?”

There was a pause as everyone turned to look at Wislydale, who calmly held out his glass to his side, where Ung happened to be with a bottle of brandy.

“You don’t agree?” Tunansia asked, her voice smooth as silk. She clasped her hands in front of her as a sneer slid across her mouth. “Perhaps this whole thing was your idea? You didn’t happen to send a letter to Matron about someone’s plans, did you?”

“Perish the thought,” Wislydale smiled, sipping his glass. “I merely can see the opportunities that you all seem to have forgotten, what? Seize the day, and all that.”

“There must be something you can see, cousin,” Pinsnip grumbled, drumming his fingers on the table. “Because to me, it looks like a complete mess.”

“As much as I hate to descend to the juvenile taunts of the schoolyard” Kolb guffawed, slapping his stomach with a large hand, “I’m afraid there is no better response to your statement than that it takes a mess to recognize a mess. I think I understand our cousin’s point. There’s a chance we could shift this situation to our satisfaction. Perhaps pivot our plans to potentially prevail against our pernicious parent?”

“Why bother?” Tunansia whispered loudly, leering at Kolb through her eyebrows and gripping her spoon like a knife. “Isn’t there an easier, and more final way to return the status quo?”

There was a sudden silence, as if Tunansia had let slip with some terrible faux pa. Slowly, like a parliament of owls, every head in the room turned to face Edmund, their eyes flickering in the dim gaslight. Edmund wondered if the sudden silence wasn’t embarrassment but relief, as though they all had wanted to say it but no one else had dared to be the first.

For a moment, Edmund felt the urge to run for his room. Seconds ago no one was looking even near him, and now all five pairs of eyes were locked on him and staring intently.

“My dear Master Edmund,” Junapa lips parted with a slick smile. “I simply must apologize. Here we are talking about adult matters and ignoring you completely. It was dreadfully rude of us, and I do hope you can forgive our poor manners. How are you finding your time at Moulde Hall?”

“It’s interesting,” he said, truthfully. “There seems to be a lot going on. I wish I knew what some of it was.”

“Well,” Junapa smiled kindly, “We should see if we can fix that, shouldn’t we?” The eyes shifted to her, and she met each pair with a look that brooked no opposition. “We are all very well versed in different parts of the family… I’m sure if we all worked together we could help you learn a great deal. What would you like to know?”

81: A Frank Discussion

“About what, Pinsnip?” Junapa asked, her quiet voice cutting through the silence like a knife. Pinsnip looked sick.

“Look, we all know…” He coughed. “It’s plain to see that… most of us are going to have to change our… plans for the coming months, what with… Now that… I don’t see how…”

“Don’t be a bore, old boy,” Wislydale rolled his eyes again, shifting creakily in his seat. “We have plenty of time to discuss family business later, after we’ve enjoyed each other’s company, what?”

“Oh don’t start throwing that humbug around,” Tunansia muttered, setting her spoon down on the table. “No one is enjoying themselves here, and we all know it. We know the situation, and we just have to live with it.”

“I don’t see why,” Wislydale said, licking his spoon. “There’s always room to maneuver, if you know where to look.”

“Tricknee should really be here,” Pinsnip muttered.

“Why on earth do you want that old olfactory offense around?” Kolb sputtered, placing his hands on his hips as he leaned back in his chair. “He’s barmy as a Brazilian bat, and twice as ugly.”

“At least he says what he means,” Pinsnip snapped back. “My ears don’t have to do cartwheels to understand what he says.”

“That’s probably what got him in such trouble with the rest of your family, isn’t it, Wislydale?” Junapa asked, her eyes still firmly locked on her plate. Wislydale gave a small cough.

“I assure you, as… uncomplicated as my dear father is, the rest of my family were far more troubled by his experiments than his behavior. They were worried some unpleasant questions might be asked–questions the old boy would have no choice but to answer, if you take my meaning.”

“Didn’t I hear something about…um… wasn’t the Church getting involved?” Pinsnip asked, a wry smile flashing under his mustache like a shy lizard. “Well, I don’t think I’d want anyone around who attracted that kind of attention, either.”

“If we’re discussing flaws, Pinsnip,” Wislydale cocked his head. “I rather think attracting attention is the forte of your nature, what?”

“And what… what’s that supposed to mean?” Pinsnip’s eyes narrowed, and he leaned forward over the table.

“It means your hobbies tend to make newspaper headlines,” Tunansia jumped in, glaring through her bangs at Pinsnip.

“Well… yes but no-one can… nobody’s ever linked them to me,” Pinsnip muttered sullenly

“Regardless,” Junapa smoothly interjected, resting her hand lightly on Pinsnip’s, “perhaps Pinsnip is correct. It is about time we laid our cards on the table.”

“You couldn’t perhaps think of a better time?” Tunansia grumbled. “In private?”

“I wouldn’t dream of spending any time in private with you, Tunansia,” Junapa snapped. “I’d be too concerned about maintaining my self-respect. Besides, there is far too much at stake for us to keep pretending we don’t know what’s going on. Matron obviously figured something out about someone’s scheme, and now all of our plans are in danger.”

80: Avoiding the Point

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Image: Pollyanna, Disney

“So, my dear Junapa,” Wislydale languidly said, stifling a yawn as he blinked blearily across the table. “I think I have yet to congratulate you on your recent acquisition, what?”

“Indeed,” Kolb smiled. “You managed to snap up that shoddy little inn before any of us could get to it. Particularly well played, my cousin.”

“You flatter me,” Junapa smiled gently. “It was merely a spot of luck, a drunken innkeeper, and a well-paid solicitor. I count myself fortunate that Matron was not faster.”

“She… well… she does seem to be slowing up…or rather, down, doesn’t she,” Pinsnip said. “I know I would be tired, fending off the… the whole family.”

“Speaking of tired,” Wislydale cut in with a cough. “What is this I hear, Kolb, about you funding for some trip up the Amazon?

“Yes,” Junapa smiled slightly. “I thought you had given up all that nonsense after your troubles with the courts?”

“I had,” Kolb’s eyes flashed as they locked with Junapa’s. “I was forced back to my knight errant ways, as a result of a particularly pernicious problem from my past. Our mistakes do tend to follow us long after they seem dead… and buried, do they not?”

Junapa’s eyes narrowed as she nodded slowly.

“Yes, quite,” Wislydale drawled, his head rolling about his shoulders. “But I say, you’re not really starting all that rot up again, are you? It’s hardly appropriate for Family to run off to someplace… foreign. My dear chap, there are all sorts of diseases out there!”

“I assure you,” Kolb’s smile broadened. “When I return, I will stay as far away from you as possible.”

“I think,” Junapa smiled in return, “Wislydale is far less concerned with your health than what it says about the Family, dear cousin.”

“And why on earth shouldn’t I be?” Wislydale grumbled. “Dashed silly business, what? If you want adventure, why don’t you go on Safari, or do something respectable, like that? It’s bad enough you spent all that time with that traveling jackanape band of fellows; your behavior is damned silly, and you’re making us all look damned silly too, what?”

“I’m sorry if you feel the good name of Moulde has been sullied,” Kolb smirked. “Please feel free to return to that horrible little hovel of hobos you call a family… If the Bonnes will let you, of course.” He shot off a parting sneer as his whole body shifted to point towards Junapa. “I would be honored to hear how your holiday to your summer home went, dear cousin. Is old Mr. Keaney still there? I hear he’s threatening to leave.”

“Oh really,” Wislydale rolled his eyes lazily. “Is that old fool still bearing a grudge about that little mess with the police?”

“The sentence was seven years, Wislydale,” Tunansia grunted, sipping her soup. “Maybe he thinks it’s not a grudge. Maybe it’s justice.”

“Justice?” Wislydale snorted. “How quaint. It wasn’t Junapa’s fault he didn’t have a convincing alibi. You’d think he didn’t realize; Murder is a serious business, what?”

There was another pause while everyone nodded the nods of people who knew this to be true.

“I must say, the trouble in South Dunkin has taken a turn for the worse, hasn’t it?” Junapa said after a pause.

“Why on earth are we talking about this?” Pinsnip blurted out with sudden ferocity. “Why aren’t we talking about–” and he fell silent. There was a pause while everyone gently set down their spoons and glasses, focusing their attention at him.

79: The Family’s Attire

Kolb was dressed in a fine white-tie suit that looked very similar to his earlier attire. The red fabric with yellow trim had been replaced with white cloth and black trim. The suit seemed almost too small, as his thick neck strained against his tight collar and cravat while his jacket sleeves seemed to struggle towards his elbows. His roguish smile never left his broad face, and the faint five-o-clock shadow that covered his chin under his long mustache gave his face a sallow and angular look. He ate his soup quickly and silently, without slurping or spilling a drop, and his chair never creaked. His eyes were bright and clear, and he seemed to always be looking at something–whether another person at the table, a painting on the wall, or the chandelier, his eyes never looking below table level for more than a second.

Tunansia was dressed in the exact same clothing she had worn before–a pale yellowish white blouse and skirt, with silver jewelry covering her fingers. Her tan skin glowed in the gaslight, and her eyes were highlighted by the red ribbon she still wore about her neck. The only change from when Edmund first saw her was her hair–it was done up now, off her neck, in a silvery net that cling to her head like a crown. Her broad mouth only ever seemed to open just enough for her to slide a spoonful of soup in, and then close. Periodically, she would finger a small silver locket that hung around her neck. She wasn’t looking at anyone; her eyes remained locked on her food, and she moved with a smooth still purpose that made her look very old.

Pinsnip was also dressed in the same clothes Edmund had first seen him in–his clothing was jet black, with a tailed coat that reached the backs of his calves. His collar was high–almost past his bright pink ears–and the only piece of white on his person. It made him look a bit like a pencil with a face that had put on a suit. His small black tie wobbled up and down when he swallowed; his salt-and-pepper mustache quivered as he ate. The large top hat was absent, revealing a matted pile of graying hair that stuck to his skull like paint, with only one small spot on the crown where the hair was thinning. His eyes darted around the room, and then back to his soup, like he was afraid of catching anyone’s eye. He hunched over his bowl, his thin face hidden in the shadow of his brow.

Junapa was bedecked in a shimmering gray dress with elegant gloves and fine lace. Her shoulders were bare, and her pale slim face was framed by glittering diamond earrings and a necklace that formed the shape of a perfect V as it plunged down her chest. Her hair was tightly tied in a bun, sitting almost on top of her head like a tiny round hat. Her eyes were sharp, glancing for a few moments every minute or two around the table, and returning when her spoon dipped into her bowl again.

Wislydale was only half focused on eating. The other half was drinking. His hand still gripped a glass full of some foul smelling liquid, and the other hand held the spoon like a pencil, scraping up the soup and pouring it into his open mouth like he was ladling it into a bowl. His suit was a very well fitting white-tie affair, and his pencil thin mustache and carefully combed brown hair gave him an air of quiet confidence, while the faint red nose and the few flips of hair that had become uncombed belied how much drink he had already swallowed this evening. His eyes wandered lazily, never settling on anyone or anything, like a tired fly was buzzing around the room. He alternated between pouring soup and pouring drink into his mouth, giving a contented sigh every time.

As Edmund watched him, he set his glass down and cleared his throat, preparing to speak.

78: The Opening Small-Talk

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Image: by Frances Benjamin Johnston, Library of Congress

Everyone seemed to be satisfied with Junapa’s assessment, and for several minutes no one said a word while Edmund tried to think of something that it would be good for a host to say. Nothing came to mind. He alternately sipped his soup and glanced at the others, hoping something would inspire him.

Try as he might, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was somehow failing at some test Matron had put to him. He needed to learn about being a rich heir, about being a Moulde, about living and behaving as a member of one of the Nine Founding Families; and here he was, seated at the head of the table on his second day. He felt lost, without even straws to grasp at to help keep him afloat.

Finally, the silence was broken by Junapa, as she demurely mopped her mouth with her napkin. “Are we to expect Tricknee this evening?” she asked, innocently.

Wislydale snorted. “I doubt it,” he said, setting his glass on the table. “Probably messing about in his room as usual. He was ranting on about some new test he needed to work on as soon as he got here–something to do with that limb he’s been hauling around ever since that accident with the young footman at Ninnenburg… what was his name? Dashed queer if you ask me.”

“I don’t believe anyone did, Wislydale,” Tunansia said, staring at the table.

“Impetuous floozy,” Wislydale muttered, shaking his head as he tipped his glass. “And whether asked for or not, I think we all can agree that carting around a severed arm is odd, even for a Moulde.” His eyes found Pinsnip, and a slurred smile crossed his lips. “Well, for some of us, at least.”

Pinsnip began to sputter, when Junapa held out her hand and grasped his.

“Now, now,” Junapa purred. “Let’s not blame dear Pinsnip for his nature. We each of us have our own…oddities and compulsions.”

“Some more productive than others,” Tunansia muttered.

“Now then!” Kolb boomed, leaning towards her. “Let’s not have our first dinner together be a meal of murderous malcontent. Let’s be kind to one another for once, so we may enjoy each others exuberant and enlightening elocution. We can fall on each other like wild dogs tomorrow, no?”

“I quite agree,” Pinsnip nodded, tapping the table with his fist. “Let’s put aside the… the sniping for a bit. It’s too much–I mean, it has been… in the past…”

“Then let us eat in silence,” Tunansia said, finally looking up from her bowl and casting an icy glare over the table. The others made no comment, and simply returned to their repast, eating their soup with, if not contentment, at least resignation. Edmund took the opportunity to observe each of his new relatives in turn.