Pinsnip’s Proposal

Edmund stepped off the elevator in a haze. His mind was whirling with the possibilities as he ran to the dining room, eager to eat and return to the library as soon as possible. He was so enraptured by his thoughts, that he walked straight into the grasping arms of Pinsnip.

“Master Edmund!” Pinsnip said, as loudly as his whispering voice would let him. “I…I’ve been wanting to speak…well…looking for you. How are you?”

Edmund could only manage a squeak as he coaxed his heart back down from his throat. Pinsnip didn’t seem to notice.

“I say,” he said, his mustache quivering with excitement, “I wonder…you know…I could teach you a thing or two, yes indeed. Would you…uh… like that?”

Edmund swallowed and took a few breaths. Pinsnip’s eyes were wide and staring, eyebrows high on his face. He had the look of a desperate man about him, Edmund thought. He had obviously heard, or at least surmised, that his other cousins were helping Edmund now, rather than ignoring him.

“Why?” Edmund asked, not able to resist asking. Pinsnip’s excitement turned to panic.

“Well… you… I… that is… you’ll owe me a favor,” he stammered as he tried to lean away from Edmund while still gripping his shoulders.

“You could just ask for a favor,” Edmund said. “You don’t have to teach me something in return.”

“No!” Pinsnip’s head shot back towards Edmund. “That’s…that’s just not done! I have to…that is…you know…it’s dangerous out there! There are a lot of cousins…people…who want to…shoot you, or throw daggers at you, or…or slip arsenic in your soup!”

“And, you want me safe?” Edmund prodded. Something flickered in Pinsnip’s eyes, but it was gone in a second.

“Of course I…Matron, the others…we all want to make…that is…to keep you safe.”
Edmund thought for a moment, and then decided he agreed.

“What can you teach me?” he asked. Pinsnip’s excitement returned, and a terrible smile grew from under his mustache.

“To hide!” he said in a harsh whisper. “Hide, and be silent! I can teach you how to vanish into shadows, and stalk your…that is… escape your pursuers and move as silent as a ghost! You’ve got the basics, I saw how you hid in the Great Sitting Room when we had our first family meeting…I can improve you!”

Edmund had to consider again. Did he really want to learn anything from Pinsnip? He didn’t like the idea, but looking into Pinsnip’s face, he wasn’t sure declining the offer was the wisest course of action. Besides, the better he became at hiding in passageways, the more he’d be likely to find out. Finally, he nodded.

“Excellent!” Pinsnip’s eyes flashed. “I…I have some free…time tomorrow? We’ll…we’ll meet up then, and I can teach…I’ll teach you what my nanny…that is…how to hide properly!”

Pinsnip squeezed Edmund’s shoulders, and stumbled his way down the hall, leaving Edmund in the hallway alone.

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122: Foiling the Cousin’s Plans

Edmund indignation quickly turned into elation. Whatever had been in that note Matron had written to Kolb, it was enough to get his cousins interested in him, even if only to get rid of him. He licked his lips as he thought. Why now? What did South Dunkin have to do with Edmund?

Nothing, of course. It wasn’t South Dunkin that got them interested in him. He was the one who told Matron. He was the one who handed the letter to Kolb.

Edmund smiled to himself. Perhaps he would pay more attention to his cousins in the near future. He would have to make sure he attended those family meetings now, and tell Matron if he heard anything interesting.

No time like the present, Edmund decided after he had left the dining room. Turning sharply, he ducked into a small alcove and twisted the ear of a small statue that was set into the wall. A secret door popped open and Edmund ducked inside.

He looked over the whole mansion for his cousins, but they were all on their own, writing, reading, or locked in their rooms.

It took almost a week before Edmund overheard another interesting exchange.

“No,” Pinsnip was saying as he tried to get away from Kolb. “I’m…I’m not interested.”

“Come now, my reluctant relative,” Kolb grinned as he kept pace with Pinsnip all along the hallway. “A little regal recalcitrance is all that is required. And if we manage to succeed…well… I do not need to tell you what we will receive.”

“A…dagger in the dark, Kolb,” Pinsnip spat.

“Ah, yes, well…” Kolb shrugged. “I suppose that is your…area of expertise, old chap. We’ll say no more about it.”

 

“Area of expertise?” Matron’s eyes narrowed. “You’re sure he said expertise?”

“Yes,” Edmund nodded. “He paused too. ‘that is your…area of expertise.’ Like that.”

Matron closed her eyes for a second.

“Do you know what a reluctant relative is?” she asked.

“No,” Edmund shook his head. Matron’s lunch was getting heavy.

“Go and ask Junapa,” Matron said, pointing at her table for Edmund to set down the tray. “And make sure you are honest.”

 

“Of course,” Junapa smiled blandly. “It means a relative who doesn’t want to do something.”

“Thank you,” said Edmund, as he turned to leave the small sitting room.

“I am so glad you came to me with that question,” Junapa said, her voice pleasant.

“Tell me, did you perhaps hear any other…alliterative words that I could help you understand?”

Edmund knew what alliterative meant from his poetry books.

“Regal…re-calc-a-trance?” Edmund said, trying to remember how Kolb had pronounced it.

“Ah…” Junapa smiled a bit wider. “And who was Kolb talking to?”

“Pinsnip,” Edmund said honestly.

The next day, Edmund saw Ung deliver a letter to Pinsnip. His face screwed up like a prune, and he seemed to avoid Kolb for the rest of the month. That day, Junapa had a small smile on her face that lasted until dinner time.

120: Pinsnip’s Offer

“I will,” he lied, trying very hard to smile sincerely. Wislydale clapped his hands, and stood up gesturing wildly.

“That’s all I’m asking for, my boy! Think about it! A life without that haggard old crow leering at you all day. A life with proper food, not this constant soup. A life with the best society that money can buy! Friends! Horses! Anything you want!”

Wislydale gestured too far, and stumbled, almost tripping over his chair. Just before he fell, he managed to catch himself, and clumsily pull his body upright before sitting, extremely carefully, in his chair again. Edmund’s smile became more sincere as Wislydale sat for only a few seconds before standing up again.

“By Jove, I’m bushed,” he slurred, shoving himself towards the door. “Best be off to take a quick nap, what? Drearily sorry and all that…” and he was gone.

Edmund barely had time to turn back to his almost a stew before the door opened slightly again, and Pinsnip slipped into the room. He looked around the room quickly, as if he was looking for something, and then slipped towards the table, sitting down quickly next to Edmund.

“He’s gone!” he muttered quietly through his mustache. His eyes darted back and forth, as if he didn’t trust his own statement. “I thought he’d never leave, pompous old windbag. What did he tell you?”

Edmund shrugged noncommittally. “He said it must be hard for me to live here with Matron. Not much else.”

“Well, I certainly agree with him,” Pinsnip grinned quickly before returning to his nervous twitching. “I bet you’d love to be somewhere else, wouldn’t you? Away from all this… this?”

“And go off on my own?” Edmund asked. Pinsnip looked shocked.

“Oh my, no!” He stammered, rubbing his mustache with a thin finger. “Good heavens, you’re only eight! But you could go somewhere nicer, couldn’t you? You’re doing well with your studies… I’m sure you could find someplace more fitting than… a house full of Mouldes? I think… I think you might like being a… well, a Sadwick.”

Edmund put down his spoon. Edmund Sadwick, he thought. It sounded terrible. It must not have shown on his face, as Pinsnip was still nodding excitedly.

“We’re very nice,” he was whispering, as if he was telling some awful secret. “And we feed our children well. You won’t have to fight with anyone that you don’t want to, and you could even have a hobby! We…well…we wouldn’t look down on you for that, you know. We Sadwicks are good at…at hiding hobbies, you see… and… well… think about it.”

With that, Pinsnip leapt up like someone had lit a fire under his seat, and scampered from the room like a nervous spider. Edmund looked at the few spoonfuls of almost a stew left in his bowl, and decided he wasn’t hungry.

118: Edmund Carries A Letter

Thankfully, he didn’t have to wait long for his chance to learn.

At least once a week, Ung would appear out of nowhere and tell him that his presence was requested by one of his cousins in one of the sitting rooms, or sometimes the game room. He soon learned that his cousins were only inviting him out of some strange familial obligation; they didn’t really expect him to come, and didn’t care much when he did.

There would be idle chatter, mild boasting, and seemingly pointless discussions or arguments about politics or money. Periodically Junapa or Kolb might ask Edmund a question, but they never bothered to listen to his answer. He tried to pay attention even though none of it made much sense, and he usually left early or at least when the arguments and threats started.

Sadly, though perhaps not surprisingly, when he tried using the peepholes in the walls to spy in on the meetings there was little ascertainable difference.

Then, one day towards the end of the month, after Edmund set down Matron’s tray and she shot off a strange question that made him pause.

“Have you heard anything of South Dunkin?” she asked, her cold eyes boring into his. Edmund was about to shake his head no, as usual, when a flicker of memory lit in his mind.

“Yes,” he said, slowly, careful not to scare the memory away. “I overheard Junapa saying something about South Dunkin…” he decided not to mention he was hidden in the walls at the time. “She said she had the situation under control.”

“Did she?” Matron muttered, after a pause. “And I suppose Kolb responded?”

“No,” Edmund shook his head. The memory was quite clear now. “It was Pinsnip. He said she was being too overconfident.”

“Really?” Matron’s eyebrow shot upwards. For a moment, Edmund thought she might hit him with her umbrella, but she merely stood up and crossed with surprising alacrity to her small desk. Whipping out a piece of paper, she pulled apart a pen, carefully filled it with a glass eyedropper, and scrawled something on the paper before folding it in half and pointing it towards Edmund.

“Take this to Kolb,” she said, sharply. “And slip it under his door… no, better yet, make sure he takes it from your hand. Let him see your face.”

“Is this some adult thing?” Edmund asked, staring dismally at the paper in his hand. Kolb’s name was written on it in a large and spidery hand. Matron gave a sharp crackling laugh.

“Not at all, boy. It’s very childish indeed. Now get a move on–I have to write a letter to an old friend in South Dunkin.”

Edmund took the note away as the door slammed behind him. His heart beat loudly in his chest. He knew he would probably never know what this note or South Dunkin was all about, but it did seem clear that something important was happening.

And this time he seemed to be in the middle of it.

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.”

93: The Family Meeting

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The mansion had just begun to strike eleven when Edmund slipped back into the large sitting room in the east wing of Moulde Hall.

It was a simple plan. People never paid attention to him when he was sitting quietly, and there were plenty of places to sit. Eventually, his cousins would arrive and have their meeting, and Edmund would hear all of it without any of them being the wiser.

He selected a large plush chair in the corner of the room–the most unobtrusive spot he could find–and waited.

He barely had time to settle when the door was pushed open with the sudden arrival of his cousins. They didn’t even glance in his direction as they filed in, settling in various chairs and settees around the large fireplace while Wislydale headed straight for the large drinks cabinet next to the door. Pinsnip joined him, grabbing a small glass as he faced his relative.

“There now, we’re here,” he said as Wislydale reached for the large bottle of brandy on the shelf. “We’re having one of the first family meetings we’ve had at Moulde Hall in a very long time indeed. Now why don’t you tell us why you’ve called it?”

“My dear chap, you should be a bit more patient, what?” Wislydale beamed at him, making Pinsnip’s mustache twitch. “There’s plenty of time.”

“To do what?” Tunansia asked from her settee, not even bothering to turn around. “I’d rather be doing anything than having a ‘friendly’ chat with you lot–what is there to wait for? Why not get it over with?”

“I’m inclined to agree,” Kolb groaned theatrically, posing his hand on his forehead. “Tell us what you have tripping about your tongue, Wislydale.”

“It’s simple, really,” Wislydale slowly began to walk towards the fireplace, his shoes squeaking as they crossed the thin carpet. “Our ultimate problem isn’t that our dear Matron now suddenly has an heir, what? Our problem is the same that it has always been. Matron controls the estate.”

“Well of course she does! It passed to her from Patron Killgore,” Junapa stood from her chair, and walked to stand behind where Tunansia was sitting. “The estate belongs to the Mouldes, and as far as Matron’s highly paid lawyers are concerned, none of us are technically Mouldes.”

“If she’d only died before she’d adopted an heir!” Pinsnip whined, gulping at his brandy. “We’d have been able to get her estate transferred to one of us. I’m sure there was something about that in the original deed.”

“Don’t bet on it,” Tricknee grumbled, stroking his chin. “That rotting crow had to have put something in the will. I’d be shocked if the old bag hadn’t done something tricky like that.”

“It wouldn’t stand with the other families,” Pinsnip waved a hand dismissively. “The deed would have to take precedence, since it was signed by her great-great-great-”

“A moot point,” Wislydale coughed, speaking a bit louder than before. “I dare say I have a plan that will render Matron’s hold over our estate completely… impotent.”