Edmund Brews a Tincture

A quick run to the pantry and several of the linen and liqueur cabinets was all Edmund needed to acquire everything else for his experiment.

He placed the large collection of ingredient miscellany on one of the fourth-floor library balconies. One of the library’s gaslights with the glass globe removed served Edmund well as a burner. He had to use a chair to reach it though, which resulted in a lot of hopping up and down with different liquids and powders, double checking the recipe, and pouring things in and out of all the containers he had swiped.

Tunansia’s notes told him to put liquids over the flame until they smoked with a spiraling motion, or until the bubbles burst slowly, rather than sharply; powders were to be burnt until they were purple-gray, but not purple-white; and spoonfuls of other odd ingredients were to be added if it was winter, but not summer, or if there had been rain recently.

It was exactly like poetry, he reflected. He was following recipes with liquids and powders like he would with consonants and rhymes.

Finally, Edmund was finished–a small amount of thick luminescent blue liquid sat at the bottom of a tall glass. Edmund had burned himself twice on the gaslight, and was beginning to feel dizzy from the climbing up and down–although it could have been the fumes, he supposed. He giggled as he looked at the description of the resulting liquid in Tunansia’s notes.

Once you have mixed this solution well, a luminescence of bluish hue will emanate from the Mechanus Vitae. It shall pour as syrup in spring, and the odeur shall be that of a damp bloodhound from an autumn shower. If the smell is more of a doberman after a spring rain, the tincture is flawed, and should be disposed of into the nearest rosebush as hastily as polite company will allow.

Edmund didn’t know what a damp bloodhound smelled like, but he didn’t know what a doberman smelled like either, so he decided to risk it. The concoction seemed to pour like syrup, although Edmund had to admit to himself that he had never seen syrup pour. He continued to quietly laugh with excitement as he picked up the vial, and made his way through the tapestry to the statue.

His cousins had been so sure that he was nothing–that he wouldn’t be able to hold his own against them. Well, he wasn’t so useless after all, was he? He had brewed his own elixir. Eaten alive, indeed! They all thought he was useless, or helpless…well he knew he could be better than they thought he was, and now he had proof. He had created a bit of Mechanus Vitae all on his own!

He’d show them how useless he was. He’d show them all!

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Tunansia’s Bargin

Edmund fought the urge to simply shrug and ask to be let out. There was so much he didn’t recognize in the room, so much he didn’t know, that he was beginning to despair of ever learning enough even to fix a simple statue.

Yes, he scorned himself. Just walk away, like an eight-year-old boy, because you certainly aren’t Patron material.

Edmund steeled his jaw and cleared his throat as he surreptitiously pulled his copied recipe out of his pocket.

“I need something call- that is, I need some Linniman’s Rebuke, and an alembic. And if you have a spare vial-spinner, I’d like that too.”

Tunansia moved immediately towards a large trunk in the corner. She fumbled with the lock, pulled open the lid, and took out a thick sealed glass jar of a faded green liquid. Setting it on the table, she reached back into the trunk and hefted out a large black keg-like metal cylinder that she gripped by a leather handle.

“Here,” she said, tossing the heavy cylinder on the ground with a loud thud. “It’s old–don’t know why I kept it, retorts are much easier to use. I don’t have a spare spinner, just tie a piece of string to a vial, and that will do you. This is all the Linniman’s Rebuke I can spare–If you need more, go buy your own. What on earth are you using Linniman’s Rebuke for anyway?”

“An experiment,” Edmund said.

“An experiment? With Rebuke and an alembic?” She made a strange interested noise through her nose. “That sounds like something you don’t know anything about. Are you looking to blow up the mansion?”

“I have a formula,” Edmund said, hefting and then dropping the alembic with a thud.

Tunansia snickered. “What are you trying to make?” Her tone brooked no discussion.

“A revitalizing tonic,” Edmund swallowed. He wanted to stop there, but something made him continue. “I want to modify it to work with engines.”

“Ahhh…” She nodded slowly. “Planning on making some Mechanus Vitae, are you? You’re wasting your time, the last Plinkerton Engine in Moulde Hall was sold the city six generations ago.”

“You know about the Plinkerton engines?” Edmund asked.

Tunansia laughed as she walked back to her trunk. “Of course I do! I’m not an illiterate fool like everyone else–I pay attention! And it seems to me that you’re heading in a dangerous direction, boy. Chemistry isn’t for the faint of heart or infirm of stomach, and those aren’t qualities you can teach.”

“I’ll find a way,” Edmund insisted. After a moment, Tunansia returned, gripping a thin black book in both hands.

“Here,” she grumbled. “These are some notes I made on Mechanus Vitae that might be helpful. If you don’t blow yourself up, come back on Mondays and I might let you help me run some of my experiments.”

“Why?” Edmund managed to ask, after taking the book carefully from her hands.

“I have my own reasons,” she said, quietly, her eyes glittering dangerously in the dim light as she unlocked her door. “And I won’t help you for free. Remember, boy, you owe me a favor. Now leave!”

Tunansia’s Room

Edmund was becoming used to long pauses, so he waited patiently until Tunansia was finished staring at him. After what felt like several minutes, she spun on her heel like a dancer and began to walk with purpose down the hallway, her dress flowing behind her like the wake of a ship. Recognizing her lack of rejection as acceptance, Edmund followed quickly, jogging to keep up.

They walked for almost three minutes, turning periodically down the web of long thick hallways. At first Edmund thought Tunansia was a bit lost, turning several times until they were crossing a path they had already taken, when he realized she was trying to get him lost. He smiled to himself–it could have worked a month ago, but now he knew Moulde Hall quite well, and so when she stopped at a small birch-wood door, Edmund knew they were in the middle of the west wing on the fourth floor.

The door was carved with a strange twisting design that reminded Edmund of a thunderstorm. An ornate anvil was carved into the bottom of the door, while a basic and almost slapdash hammer rested on top of it. Tunansia tugged on a silver ribbon at her waist, and produced a thick iron key with which she unlocked her door. Stepping aside, she pushed the door open in an uncharacteristic display of manners to let Edmund enter. He did so, cautiously, looking around as Tunansia shut the door behind him and locked it again with a swift flick of the wrist.

Tunansia’s room seemed smaller than Edmund’s at first, but as he looked about he could see that the room was actually larger, yet much more full of furniture. Several large tables filled the floor, covered with long twisting glass tubes, thick iron plates, strange devices with copper wires and levers, and a softly burning flame that was gently warming a glass vial full of something green. The tables shared the room with a bed that reminded Edmund of the small ratty beds from the orphanage. All along one wall was a strange array of curved and sinister looking tools of various sizes. The curtains were drawn shut, with only a small gaslight and a few cracks of fading sunlight to brighten the shadowy corners.

Tunansia stepped into the room, tossing her book on her bed. She walked among the glass apparatuses like an ingénue strolling through a garden of flowers. As she walked, she would periodically grab a glass and pour the contents onto a plate, or into another vial. Sometimes she would add a pinch of powder, or drop of fluid that would make the concoction smoke, or shiver. After every three or four steps, she would pause to scribble something on a nearby notepad, or cross something out with a frown on her face.

Finally, after she had passed by all the tables and finished her administrations, she turned to look at Edmund again, her hands on her hips.

“What… exactly… do you need?” She asked, quietly.

Edmund’s Request

Edmund caught up to Tunansia in the next hallway, and fell into step next to her as she turned another corner. She made no sign that she noticed him, save for a small twitch in her jaw. Edmund cleared his throat.

“What on earth do you want?” Tunansia asked, her stride not letting up in the slightest.

Edmund licked his lips and tried to think of how to ask for Tunansia’s help. Reflexively, he tried to peek at the book she was reading, curious as to whether he had read it before. It looked to be a book on blood and its many different uses, ills, cures, and properties.

“Just to talk,” Edmund said. “I don’t know anything about you.”

“Imagine my dismay,” Tunansia said, flipping a page. “I’m a vicious brat of a girl who hates the Mouldes, hates her family, hates Matron, and hates you. What else is there to know?”

“You like science,” Edmund prodded, looking again at the book. There was a picture of some strange device that looked a bit like a drill, and a bit like a clamp. “And I do to.”

“You don’t know a damn thing about science,” Tunansia sneered. “I’ve been going to Grimms for two years to learn about science, and you’ve read one book a bit above your reading level.”

“I’ve read more than that,” Edmund protested, wondering what Grimms was. “I’ve read the ‘Symphonic Chemastrie,’ Killdot’s ‘Practicum,’ and Professor Triffle’s ‘Physical Body’ all the way through.”

“I don’t care,” Tunansia said, her pace increasing slightly. “There’s more to science than reading.”

“I can learn,” Edmund matched her stride step for step.

“I haven’t laid eyes on you for longer than an hour, and I know you haven’t got what it takes to follow a formula.” Tunansia’s voice began to drift into a hazy lecturing tone. “There’s an art to it. A spirit. Real science has a bouquet all its own. It has an ethos… it has…”

“Poetry?” Edmund asked.

Tunansia stopped dead in her tracks, causing Edmund to step past her. He turned back to see Tunansia staring at him with a terrifying glare in her eyes. She began to slowly circle Edmund so closely that the still open book brushed against his hair.

“You’re up to something,” she said finally, snapping the book shut with a crash next to Edmund’s ear, causing him to jump. “What is it?”

“I want to make something,” he said, deciding that some level of honesty was called for at the moment. “I have the recipe, but not all of the ingredients. I thought you could help me.”

“And why on earth do you think that I would ever bother to help you?” Tunansia asked, her eyes narrowing.

Edmund stood up straighter, and looked her in the eyes. “Because I would be in your debt.”

If he had said this to her when she had first met him, she would have laughed; or she would have turned away in a huff, irritated at his waste of her time. He hoped now that she realized he could be a threat, or even maybe useful.

123: Edmund Takes Initiative

One day, Edmund heard shouting through the walls.

Peering through a peep-hole, he could see Tunansia and Wislydale arguing. Wislydale was wavering about, his arms cutting through the air, while Tunansia was standing perfectly still, her mouth pursed into a fine point.

“Of course not!” Wislydale shouted. “I doubt you could keep a cracker secret, my dear Tunansia. You haven’t kept a single secret in your life. Why on earth should I trust you to keep this one?”

“I’ve kept just as many secrets as you,” Tunansia spat. “And it wouldn’t matter, even if I didn’t keep this one. That’s why it works. Even if they knew about Whilkins, they couldn’t stop it.”

“Tricknee could,” Wislydale grumbled, swigging a clear liquid from is omnipresent glass. “The old fool could bring the attention of–”

“And would Tricknee trust anything from me?”

Wislydale paused in his wobbling to sway gently for a moment as his eyes began to unfocus. a small smirk popped out from under his lips.

“Well…well now…is our little Tunansia growing up?” Tunansia’s eyes narrowed while Wislydale snickered. “That old goat won’t trust a word you say, anymore, will he?” Wislydale took another swig. “Did you just now come up with this little scheme? Or were you planning this all the way back when you were purporting to be his ally?”

“That’s a secret,” Tunansia said. Wislydale gave an unbalanced nod.

“Well then,” he said, “let’s talk.”

Edmund was about to run off to Matron, when he stopped himself. Why? They had as much as told him what to do. Closing the peep-hole quietly, Edmund moved off to find Tricknee.

 

When he returned, Wislydale and Tunansia were still talking. Edmund pressed the listening tube to his ear again as he peered through the peephole.

“Kolb won’t like it at all,” Wislydale said, stroking his chin.

“And?” Tunansia smirked. “You wouldn’t love the chance to see that puffed up popinjay get what’s coming to him?”

“Oh, of course, old thing,” Wislydale said through his drink, “only I was planning on talking with him tomorrow…make things a bit harder, you understand.”

“It won’t matter,” Tunansia shook her head. “By tomorrow the letters will have been sent.”

The door to the room opened and slammed against the wall. Tunansia and Wislydale jumped and turned to see Tricknee standing in the doorway, his eyes aflame.

“How dare you!” He shrieked.

“Steady on, old boy,” Wislydale smiled weakly. “We haven’t–”

“She’s my family!” Tricknee walked into the room, leaning heavily on his cane as he raged. “The only family I have, and you’d dare to use her like this?”

“Like what?” Tunansia asked sweetly.

“Don’t think me a fool!” Tricknee’s cane came up and pointed like a sword to Tunansia and then to Wislydale in turn. “The East Lighton line and the Raggleman Engine company! You’d have the whole east of Brackenburg locked up, wouldn’t you? All you’d need is the Whilkin’s Corp, and I won’t let you get it!”

“I say,” Wislydale blinked hard. “I don’t quite know what you’re–”

“I’m sending a letter to Victor today,” Tricknee spat. “Today. They’ll petition the Mayor to lock you out before the week is out.” He leaned closer. “Don’t you ever bring my granddaughter into this again!”

Tricknee left, fuming, leaving a defeated Tunansia, a deflated Wislydale, and behind the walls, a somewhat confused yet still delighted Edmund.

98: Tunansia’s Revelation

“I can’t say I would find working with any of you easy,” Kolb shrugged. “If I wasn’t positive it would never happen, I would suggest us all working together. We’d be formidable as a functioning family.”

“And an army of cats could rule the world,” Pinsnip sighed. “Please, Kolb, stay…um…sane.”

“Yes, Kolb,” Wislydale snorted, his glass of thick liquor almost sloshing over the side. “If a mewling plea from our pathetic cousin will finally break through that eccentric skull of yours–”

“I believe this meeting is over,” Junapa’s voice sliced through the room like a dagger, silencing the verbal brawl. She swept to the door, glancing over the rest of the family as she passed. “For the moment, Wislydale, you have given us a lot to think about, but it doesn’t seem there’s much more to be discussed. I think we can all agree that this has been a very informative meeting, but no more fruitful than any other we’ve had. If no one else has any other business to discuss, I would like to adjourn to my room.”

Finishing his drink in a single swallow, Wislydale poured another one before following her along with Kolb, Tricknee, and Pinsnip, leaving Edmund alone with Tunansia. For a moment, neither of them moved. Edmund stared at her while she stared straight ahead at the opposite wall. Somewhere in Moulde Hall, doors began to slam.

“Enjoy that?” She asked, causing Edmund to jump. She locking eyes with him as he felt his skin start to crawl along his back. “If you really want to be involved with any of our little meetings, you won’t be  able to survive on coughs and politeness. Then again, I don’t think you’re going to survive at all.”

A twisting wrenching sensation hit Edmund in the gut. “You heard me?” he asked. Tunansia sneered as she fingered her necklace.

“Of course I did. I saw you too. Junapa and Wislydale probably did too, and I know Kolb did. If you were trying to hide, you were doing a damn poor job of it, sitting out in the open like that.”

“People usually don’t notice me,” Edmund explained, lamely, as the twisting sensation grew stronger. A distant thunderclap rippled through the room. There was a storm brewing.

“I’m not surprised,” Tunansia laughed cruelly. “But we’re Mouldes. We notice everything people want to hide. Every little detail that can be used to bribe or blackmail. Every scrap that anyone could possibly be ashamed of. Of course we noticed you. And once we’ve noticed something we decide exactly how useful or significant that little scrap is, and if it’s not significant at all… we ignore it.”

Tunansia gave one final smirk, picked herself up out of the chair, and walked calmly out of the room. Edmund’s head sank to his chest as the room was lit up by lightning.

They had heard him, and seen him, and hadn’t cared.

97: Edmund Intervenes

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“I wouldn’t be so confident about that,” Kolb mused, stroking his rough chin. “I’ve been surprised before.”

“Quite often, I’d imagine,” Tunansia grumbled. “If you want to waste your time with that worm, than be my guest. I’ll keep my focus on Matron.”

Edmund sat up a little straighter in his chair. A worm, was he? Now might be a good time to show them that he still had a few tricks up his sleeve; maybe then they’d treat him a little kinder.

Taking a deep breath, Edmund coughed in a disapproving manner. He had heard Mrs. Mapleberry use the exact same cough multiple times before; it was quite effective at quelling any fights that were brewing among the children.

“So that’s that. Well done, Wislydale,” Tricknee sneered. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more elaborate way of doing nothing in my life.”

“Not me,” Tunansia smirked. “Though I’ve spent more time with Pinsnip than you have.”

Edmund tried coughing again. Maybe they just hadn’t heard him over the storm that was still raging outside?

“If we’re discussing doing nothing,” Pinsnip said, his eyes narrow, “Then I have to ask how well you are faring at Grimm’s, Tunansia. I’ve heard tell that you’re not much for impressing the teachers, are you?”

“They don’t know anything!” Tunansia snapped. “And I didn’t go there to impress anyone.”

“A wise move, darling,” Kolb smiled. “Best to set reasonable goals for ones self.”

“Excuse me,” Edmund said, foregoing the cough entirely. Surely they had heard that, but they kept arguing, sniping back and forth like angry crows, pecking and snapping at each other.

“Don’t make me laugh,” Pinsnip interjected. “I’ve never seen you set a reasonable goal in your life. You just bumble around making mistakes.”

“Don’t bring me into this, you petulant pup!” Kolb’s voice boomed. “Or need I bring up the trouble we had last year, hiding your little mishap? I can only imagine the scandal if one of us decided to send an anonymous letter to the police.”

“Bringing up scandals, Kolb? We’ll be here for hours recounting yours,” Tricknee rolled his eyes back in his head as he leaned back in his chair.

“At least Kolb is productive,” Tunansia muttered. “All you care about is your damned laboratory.”

“Defending me against my decrepit daddy? Now there’s an alliance I never thought I’d see,” Kolb grinned, stepping through the room. “Tricknee and Tunansia, teaming up to topple the terrible tyrant of Moulde Hall. Tremendously tantalizing.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Tunansia snapped her mouth shut, crossing her arms. “I wouldn’t ally myself with Tricknee if my life depended on it.”

“Come now, dear,” Junapa rolled her head gently around her neck to look incredulously at her younger cousin. “You’re fifteen now, you’re old enough to know your own tells. The only time I’ve ever heard you defend anyone in this family is if you’re trying to ally with the offender. It’s clumsy double-bluffs like that that make working with you so difficult.”

“Among other things,” Tricknee grumbled, glaring at Tunansia. She sneered, tossing her hair as she pointedly turned away from him.

Edmund licked his lips. Something was wrong. He took a large lungful of air, and coughed as loudly as he could. There was no avoiding it…they had to have heard him.

96: The Plan Falls Apart

“And terribly bad form,” Wislydale drawled. “Please curtail your instincts, Pinsnip; we mustn’t invite a scandal, no matter how simple it might make things. And as for you, Kolb old chap, I quite agree,” he turned to face his cousin. “This paper won’t stop her; she’ll think of something, but it will keep her tied up for a year at least, and the estate will transfer to her legal guardian while she’s away. And that would be her closest living relative who, thanks to her preemptive action, is…?” He paused suggestively like a schoolmaster, the question hanging in the air for someone to answer.

“Someone much easier to manipulate,” Kolb smiled. “You think we should simply shift our attentions to a somewhat simpler target?” Junapa nodded slowly, while Tunansia remained still and silent. Edmund leaned an inch closer. Were they talking about him?

“He would be far easier to deal with than Matron, that is without question,” Junapa said, cocking her head to one side.

“I don’t like the idea of having to butter up that brat,” Tunansia muttered darkly, fingering her locket.

“Than you needn’t bother,” shrugged Wislydale. “Go back to Grimms empty-handed. I’m sure the rest of us will be more than willing to deal with the situation without your interference.”

“No, it won’t work,” Pinsnip suddenly groaned, sitting down heavily on a nearby chair. “The estate won’t fall to him…because…well…legally…he’s not of age yet. Any contract he takes part in becomes…his guardian’s. Control of the estate would fall to… his legal parent…”

“That’s absurd,” Wislydale sputtered, waving the paper in the air like a flag. “She’s mentally unfit!”

“I’m sure your well paid lawyer would love to lever open that legal whip-lashing of the law,” Kolb chuckled. “But it seems things are not quite as clear cut as you’d hoped, dear cousin. I hope you haven’t sent a copy of that letter to anyone else? The newspapers, perhaps?”

“Certainly not!” said Wislydale, looking offended. “It’s none of their business!”

“So at the moment, we’re right back where we started from,” Junapa said, walking slowly across the room, sipping at her drink.

“Well… not quite,” Wislydale rallied. “If nothing else, I believe Pinsnip gave a very reasonable suggestion earlier. I’m lead to believe that adopted children tend to run away or vanish all the time. There’s hardly any scandal in that, now is there?”

“You can try and explain that to the other families if you’d like,” Kolb shrugged. “I’m sure Matron would have a few things to say… and now that you’ve mentioned it in front of all of us, I assume we all would too, if anyone asked.”

“I’m afraid there’s not much else to be done,” Pinsnip shrugged. “Unless you think we should start flattering two people, now, instead of just one.”

“Why bother?” Tricknee snorted. “He won’t last long anyway.”

95: Bickering and Squabbling

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“If we let her?” Kolb clapped his hands, striking a pose that made it look like he was ushering a customer into a circus tent. “My dear, I doubt very much there is anything we could do to stop her! But for a few lucky breaks of late, she has managed to befuddle our individual efforts at every turn. She’s a wily crafty old stoat, and I doubt we’ll be able to stop her doing anything she wishes. It’s why I’ve been trying to get on her good side for so long!”

“Flattery won’t get you anything, Kolb,” Junapa smiled brittlely. “You’re asking for too much.”

“A fresh start for the man who so loved her daughter is hardly too much, even for a shriveled heart like Matron’s,” Kolb muttered, running his hand through his hair. “Besides, I agreed to let her keep the rest of the money, and the house, didn’t I?”

“With your name on the deed,” Tunansia grinned evilly. “You can’t expect her to agree to that, no matter how much you flatter her!”

“It is a much better deal than you’re giving her,” Kolb shot back. “Just the title? What use is that?”

“It’s more use than her hoarded fortune and this run-down old mansion. And besides, everyone in this room is offering more than anyone else in this family is! And then she goes and gets an heir?” Tunansia hissed, her composure leaking away as she furiously fingered the locket at her neck. “How could she have gotten the idea? She was never so…fashionable. We’re Mouldes; we don’t adopt!“

“I promise you, my fine delectable kettle of stew,” Kolb leaned his head back, “as far as Matron is concerned, none of us are Mouldes. If it wasn’t for the scandal of it, I’m sure she would find a way to have all of us arrested–or at least removed from the family and thrown out of the house.”

“She likes most of us better than the others,” Junapa waved a hand dismissively. Edmund wondered what others she was talking about–how many other relatives could there be who wanted the estate?

“That doesn’t mean much, what?” Wislydale murmured into his glass. “I doubt she likes anyone or anything.”

“No matter!” Junapa snapped back. “If she likes us better, that means we have a better chance of getting what we want!”

“Matron’s no fool,” Kolb’s chunky finger stabbed the air at Junapa as she leveled an icy gaze at him. “She may like us better, but that doesn’t mean we’ll see a dime. If anyone else manages to weasel their way into the will, or lever some legal loophole, we haven’t a chance. And even if they don’t, she won’t sacrifice the estate for sentimentality.”

“I still don’t understand why we don’t… that is… a knife is quicker…” Pinsnip mumbled. There was an uncomfortable pause.

94: Wislydale’s Paper

Edmund struggled not to lean forward in his chair. Right now, as far as they were concerned, he was just part of the scenery. He tried to breathe quieter, almost holding his breath. Thunder rolled from somewhere over Brackenburg.

“I consider it quite bad form to keep us in such suspense, Wislydale,” Junapa sighed. “Get on with it.”

Wislydale smiled and reached into his pocket, pulling out a small piece of paper. He unfolded it and held it out like a preacher’s bible, gripping his drink to his chest like a crucifix. A glint crept into his eye as the languid and slow drifting drawl faded from his voice.

“I have here a signed affidavit from a noted solicitor, from a reputable family, which clearly states that Mander Moulde, Matron of Moulde Hall, head of the Moulde Family and possessor of the estates and titles pertaining thereto, due to an appropriate amount of actionable evidence that was provided by Burnabum Wislydale Bonne, First cousin-in-law once removed from the aforementioned Matron Mander Moulde, is now hereby, immediately, and unconditionally declared mentally unfit and unable to make the decisions and choices necessary for the continued management of the aforementioned estate and all of its holdings.”

There was a pause, then Kolb gave a small cough.

“I beg your pardon?” he asked, leaning forward over the back of a chair. “You’ve declared yourself mentally unwell?”

Wislydale’s smile faltered, and he cleared his throat loudly, taking another quick gulp from his drink. “That is,” he rallied, “Matron is now legally unfit to own the estate. As such, as of this moment, control of the whole bally estate now falls to her legal guardian.”

The room held its breath. Slowly, Tunansia stood up and walked to the drinks cabinet, reaching out for a glass. Kolb let out his breath on a low whistle.

“By Jupiter’s boils,” he whispered. “So now what?”

“Now what?” Tricknee shot back, his voice sharp and biting. “What on earth do you mean ‘now what’? If the estate is under the thumb of her legal guardian, then we’re no better off than before.”

“Well, now,” Wislydale chortled, finishing his drink and walking to the drinking cabinet. “I don’t think so. I think we suddenly have a lot more room to maneuver, what?”

“Do we?” Kolb asked, taking the stage at the edge of the fireplace. “What will our malodorous Matron throw our way if we make her mentally maladjusted?”

“You think there’s anything she can do?” Pinsnip asked, his mustache twitching like a mouse’s whiskers. “I mean… if she’s mentally unfit… I mean legally, then…”

“She can always do something,” Junapa muttered, crossing her arms. “The founding families have never abided by the common courts–I warrant she’ll do something quite vicious if we let her.”