“Matron didn’t send your invitations,” Edmund said. The heads of the three families looked at him in subdued impatience. “I did. I signed Matron’s signature to your letters.”
“That was plainly obvious, boy,” Matron Scower spat, her small mouth pursed in disgust. “You bungled the handwriting quite terribly.”
“Though it was nice to see her name written so straight and clean again,” Matron Cromley sighed. “It reminded me of our childhoods quite strongly, you know.”
“Even so, we almost didn’t come at all,” Matron Scower continued, “after we realized you hadn’t sent letters to the rest of the families.”
“I apologize for any insult,” Edmund said quickly, his voice sounding far too high pitched to his ears. He tried to lower it, but somehow couldn’t. “I didn’t know I was supposed to invite everyone; I was under the impression the others wouldn’t come.” The quick looks exchanged by the three elders told him that they all agreed with his assessment.
“Dear god, boy, you don’t invite them all to come,” Patron Vanndegaar snorted, slipping his cane into his other hand. “You invite them to damn well stay at home.”
“I didn’t know you could do that,” Edmund said, slowly. Matron Cromley smiled, and patted him on the head.
“Well, we generally like it a bit more formal than that,” she said, kindly, “but it’s just common courtesy, and it does make sure we all know what’s going on.”
“So there aren’t any nasty surprises,” Matron Scower hissed. “And you won’t want to have any of those, would you my boy?”
“I cannot say I wasn’t expecting something of this nature,” Patron Vanndegaar rolled his one good eye. “Brash headstrong foolishness, a clumsy gambit that falls apart in the opening volley… Mouldes are hardly ones for straightforwardness at the best of times… and I think it’s clear this is not the best of times for the Mouldes.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Edmund said, feeling slightly bolder. This was a conversation he had played in his head before.
“Don’t keep thinking we’re fools, boy,” Patron Vanndegaar stepped closer, his thick cane hitting the ground with a solid crack. “Matron hasn’t invited anyone to Moulde Hall in fifty years, and it’s clear why. If the estate had any money at all, there would be servants, decorations, hors d’oeuvres, live music… a proper evening. Not this…shoddiness.”
“I think it’s encouraging,” Matron Cromley smiled. “It shows they’re trying to buck their thieving ways. The old Mouldes would have stolen everything they could to make a real show of it.”
“True,” Matron Scower grumbled, “but what you see as improvement, I see as a lack of organizational skill.”
“I agree,” Patron Vanndegaar thumped his cane on the floor. “The fact is they would have stolen an evening if they were able. Further evidence of their degradation. The sooner we are gone, the better.”
“Then…” Edmund paused. “Then why did you come?
An icy chill filled the air.
“We’re polite,” Matron Scower said, icily.