137: The Great Agreement

Eventually the coal in the mines dried up, but the city remained: a powerhouse of industry fed by the competitive fury of the nine families. For almost a century, Moulde Hall received money from taxes from surrounding farms and industries, until the early seventeenth century.

Then, against the express wishes of their parents, A young Feddric Bonne married an even younger Pollina Moulde. At first, the marriage was scorned and shunned by both families. Neither was willing to give the newlyweds any blessings, lest legitimacy would follow. Feddric and Pollina left the city, and vanished into the west, with only periodic letters to both families as any kind of correspondence.

But then, the Patron of the Moulde Family died.

Within the week, the Bonnes used the wedding to demand ownership of the entire Moulde estate, including all mining rights to the coal vein under Haggard Hill. Not half a year later, the head of the Bonne family died under mysterious circumstances, and the Mouldes made a similar claim to the Bonne estate.

This harsh land despite between the Mouldes and the Bonnes resulted in a sixty year feud of duels, insults, legal battles, tragically doomed love affairs, and–at least three times–full on brawls in the middle of the Brackenburg streets.

Finally, the other seven founding families agreed that the blood feud between the Mouldes and the Bonnes was bad for business. All seven stepped in to demand an end to the conflict by the signing of the Great Agreement, which gave the Mouldes and the Bonnes a simple choice. Both families had to either sign over all of their claims to their holdings and industries inside the city, crippling their financial income; or spend two months in a commoners prison.

At first, the two families simply laughed at the idea. As before, there was no authority that could compel the Families to do anything they didn’t want to do.

The idea of any member of the Families being labeled common criminals was too much for the head of the Bonne family, so they signed their deeds over to the city of Brackenburg, giving up their only source of income. This forced the Bonnes to spend the next few years marrying their heirs out to New Money, much to their chagrin, and the perverse amusement of the other founding families. According to much of the correspondence Edmund could find, the financial security of the family never truly recovered.

The head of the Mouldes, either out of a sincere conviction or stubborn contrariness, disagreed with the Bonnes choice. For two months, every member of the Moulde family was held in the Brackenburg gaol, and so the Mouldes were branded as criminals ever since, though no one could doubt they were rich ones.
From that day forward, the Mouldes had lost much of their respect and standing among the founding families and had suffered for it.

It seemed to Edmund that the Mouldes got the worse end of the deal.

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136: The Birth of Moulde Hall

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For the next few days, Edmund spent almost every spare hour he had in the Library.

His breakfasts were solitary, which gave him a chance to plan and think about what he still needed to learn, and his luncheons were often spent in the library, enacting his plans.

Any information about the Moulde family was obviously helpful, of course, but he also found himself confused by strange adult words and phrases that his cousins seemed to constantly use. The Nine Founding Families also seemed a good subject to study, as did the city of Brackenburg itself.

In the library, he started his studies on history and heraldry, seeing what he could learn about The Nine Families and the city they had all helped to found. The books were not very helpful; they were thick and full of words that he didn’t understand. Even the grammar seemed to be in some foreign structure he didn’t recognize. Eventually, he tossed these books aside, and searched for information on the other subject he felt woefully ignorant about: the Mouldes themselves, and the massive building in which they lived.

Edmund had been fortunate enough to locate a massive black book called The History of Moulde Hall some time after he had begun picking his way through the almanacs. It was full of interesting information about the building Edmund was becoming more and more comfortable with, and a much easier and simpler explanation of the city than the thick books he had looked in before.

Moulde Hall had been built nearly twenty generations ago by Prince Mascinate Moulde, a German heir to the throne who had been kicked out of the country for sparking some rebellion to overthrow his father, the king.

Supposedly, he had built the hall to provide a barracks and central focus for his army, so he could rebuild his strength and return to Germany to reclaim his rightful place as king. It wasn’t until a footnote on page 375 that it was revealed that the Prince had been defeated, imprisoned, and messily decapitated one week after he returned to his homeland.

After his death, Moulde Hall was then taken over by his surviving mistress, Orpha, and from there given to surviving offspring after surviving offspring, periodically to in-laws, but always to a Moulde, and always–always–after a long and bitter struggle with relatives.

The town of Brackenburg was formed after the Mouldes along with eight other families including the Bonnes became involved in a decades long struggle over a vein of coal found under Haggard Hill. Coal had become a very valuable commodity, and fortunes were born on the coal trade.

Sadly, since each family was either rich, powerful, or royal, there was no legal authority that all nine were willing to agree to. With no acceptable claim to the land, each family created their own mining and refining operation, hiring miners, blacksmiths, farmers, tailors, innkeepers, barkeeps, and the like, until the city of Brackenburg emerged as a diverse conglomeration of the nine families’ entrepreneurship.

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.”

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.

77: Tunansia Arrives

Edmund cleared his throat and set down his spoon. “Her name is Mrs. Kippling, not Mrs. Kopple.”

“Ah,” Kolb said after a long pause, staring at Edmund. “Of course! How remiss of me. Thank you, my… lad… for reminding me. I’m afraid it’s been ages since I’ve been here–much to my dismay of course, much to my dismay–and with the shear number of servants at Ninnenburg, it can sometimes be difficult to remember the… vowels. I assure you, I have never forgotten her cooking!” He dipped his spoon into the bowl, and delicately placed the soup onto his tongue, moaning with delight. “Astonishing! Another culinary victory of unparalleled beauty. Please, Ung my good man, pass on my compliments to Mrs. Kippling.”

“She’s her house-keeper too,” Junapa sniffed, shaking her head. “It’s not proper, someone doing two jobs like that. She’s liable to get them mixed up somehow.”

“A dreadful thought,” Kolb gasped in horror, his gloved hand flying to his mouth. “Making soup from soap? Washing our stockings with stock? One shudders to imagine it. How about you, Pinsnip? You’re the one whose been having the estate surveyed, no?”

“Survey? Oh!” Pinsnip nodded furiously. “Yes… I… that is, Mr. Shobbinton is nearly finished… He just has the grounds outside to cover… The rest is already… surveyed…”

“Jolly good!” Kolb leaned closer. “Then you know more about affordability and necessity than us, I’m sure. Do you think we should speak to Matron about hiring another servant?”

“No!” Pinsnip blurted out, his horror contrasting with the twisted grin that twirled onto Kolb’s face.

“Of course not,” he said, smoothly. “Three servants for a place as large as this? That might cost money, mightn’t it? I’ve never met a man who treated another’s money as his own so…acutely. It’s not your money yet, Pinsnip.”

Pinsnip grimaced and looked about to reply, when the doors opened again and Tunansia stepped into the room, sitting down with no flourish or regal grace. She simply glared at the other cousins as she sat, and began to eat as soon as Ung had served her.

“We were just discussing Matron’s servants, Tunansia,” Wislydale drawled, glancing at his empty spoon, “and I must say I agree with Junapa… It simply isn’t right to have only two servants. Mrs. Kippling shouldn’t be doing the cooking as well as the cleaning, what? And I saw Ung heading outside with the rake after lunch.”

“Ung is always gardening,” Kolb smiled, his piercing eyes scanning the table. “feeding his flowers and pulling up weeds… fighting off the curse, I suspect.”

“Balderdash,” dismissed Wislydale, while the rest of the family snickered softly. “I say that Matron needs a proper gardener, wait-staff, and cook. By Jove, she couldn’t even rustle up a proper greeting party when we arrived. People are starting to talk, you know. It’s reflecting poorly on the family, what?”

“I’m quite certain, my dear Wislydale, that most of what is said about our family is said by you and the rest of the Bonne family.” Junapa smiled brittlely, her delicate hands bringing a spoonful of cream of green to her lips. “As for any any of the other families who wish to whisper about us, I say they can all go rot.”

56: The Bonnes and the Mouldes

“Why?” asked Edmund.

“Such questions!” Mrs. Kippling shook her head. “Begging-your-pardon, but the truth is I have no idea why they’re fighting. Maybe something to do with a coach accident, or a piece of land… Maybe someone coughed when they shouldn’t have. There’s no telling with the families; they’re a capricious lot. Subject to whims and fancies just like the rest of us, though it’s-not-my-place.”

“So why are Tricknee and Wislydale here if they don’t like the Mouldes?”

“Oh, Wislydale hates the Mouldes, alright,” Mrs. Kippling snickered into the pot. “It’s in the Bonne’s blood to hate the Mouldes — just like the Mouldes hate the Bonnes — but he likes the estate more. The Bonnes have always been a poor family, you see — well, poor for a founding family at any rate, which is richer than I’ll ever be — but I’ll wager he’s holding his nose until the whole estate’s his and he can kick everyone else out and declare the Moulde family dead.” She leaned over and tapped her nose. “You watch, young Master, and see how often you see him without a drink in his hand!” Edmund wasn’t exactly sure what Wislydale drinking had to do with anything, so he didn’t comment.

“How many people live here?” Edmund asked, trying a different question that had been bothering him since he had first arrived.

“All together? Four, now that you’re here, Master Edmund.” Mrs. Kippling slid the onion pieces into the pot.

“Matron said there were four that lived with her, besides me,” Edmund prodded, gently. Mrs. Kippling stopped swinging the knife, and looked at Edmund, a puzzled look on her face.

“Really?” She said, turning white again. “Well, it’s-not-my-place to disagree with Matron. I must have miscounted.” She dropped a large beet and began to point at her fingers with a knife-blade, counting them off. “There’s me and Ung, and Matron of course — that’s three. Add you, and that’s four. She must have meant four including both you and her.”

“No one else?” Edmund asked with a sigh. Talking with Mrs. Kippling was dizzying. Her constant shifting between frenzied activity and meek supplication was giving Edmund a headache.

“Hmm… well, it’s-not-my-place; I ain’t one to say for sure whom she might be talking about. I suppose she might have meant Carron — he works here sure enough — but I doubt she’d think of him as living here. Oh, long ago there used the be more than fifty people who lived in these walls… that was a proper time for the family, and no mistake. They were truly one of the Nine Founding Families — even had a curse! You can’t be a proper hobnobbing family without a curse.”

“A curse?” Edmund felt a chill run down his back.

Mrs. Kippling nodded with a manic grin on her face. “Something about a great calamity befalling the family if the estate was overrun with weeds or nonsense like that. But don’t you waste your time on old curses, young master — Ung keeps up the gardening, even without pay.”

55: The Nine Founding Families

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Image: Smog City by 01quilan

Mrs. Kippling paused in her chopping and thought a moment.

“Well, there’s the study on the second floor; there’s some shelves of books there but nothing good for a young boy like you. It’s mostly old ledgers and almanacs.

“Are there any books besides the ones in the study?” he asked.

“No, I can’t think of any books fitting for a young master around here at all.” She blushed again. “Begging-your-pardon, of course, it’s-not-my-place to say what’s fit for your fine self, Young Master Edmund. Mind you, it would be proper for a Founding Family like the Mouldes to have a huge library full of books, but there just aren’t many people who read here anymore.”

“Founding Family?” Edmund asked, jumping in while Mrs Kippling took a breath to slice a carrot in half from top to tip. “You said that before, in the hallway. What do you mean by that? Who are the Founding Families?”

“Oh,” Mrs. Kippling shrugged, blushing. “Begging-your-pardon! That’s nothing for a young master to worry about. All you need to know is that the Moulde Family was one of nine different families that helped to found Brackenburg. They’re all very important and powerful, and now you’re the heir to one of them.”

Edmund held back a gasp. Nine? There were eight other houses as large as this one? It was clear to Edmund that he was living a much bigger life now than he had ever dreamed of at Mrs. Mapleberry’s. His head began to spin, and he once more felt a deep tug in his heart to return to the safe and secure wooden fence of the orphanage.

“I thought Matron owned the city,” Edmund said, thinking back to the ride up the path from the gate.

“Aye, I reckon the Mouldes own a ninth share of it. Mind you,” Mrs. Kippling chuckled, “Matron sure doesn’t give me a grocery allowance that compares. She’s a tight-fisted one, our Matron is. Oh-begging-your-pardon.”

“And they all are fighting each other? Doesn’t anyone like anyone else?” Edmund asked, hopefully. He didn’t like the idea that he had found himself dropped into the middle of a barbarian war.

Mrs. Kippling shrugged. “Oh, I doubt it,” she said as strip after strip of white tuber landed in the pot. “It’s-not-my-place, but there’s usually a couple children every year or so, so some of them must like each other enough. I think that Mr. Kolb and Mistress Tunansia don’t mind each other that much, but they’ll still stick a knife in each other just as fast as the next Moulde. I just count myself lucky I’m not one of them… they’re all nice enough to the help.”

“Everyone seemed to hate Ung. They wouldn’t even talk to him.”

“You saw that, did you?” Mrs. Kippling sighed. “Ung fought in the last war, you see, and some may think that he chose the wrong side. The families hold grudges, you see. Every little branch of all of the families has their own little feuds with this cousin or that one, and it carries on for absolutely ages. The Bonnes and the Mouldes have been fighting it out with each other for generations. I think it’s the longest held grudge out of any of the Families, probably since before the city was founded.”