“I received a message from a Mister Stamford, informing me that Menac’s to go to his school.” Count Saturnine took a long slurp of his soup. It stuck to his upper lip and dribbled down his chin. Barnaby Featherspoon stared at him before reaching over with his napkin to dab it clean.
“For heavens’ sake,” the Count batted Featherspoon’s hand away. Menac sniggered. His mother slapped him across the back of his head.
“Who is this Stamford?” she asked.
“Damned if I know.”
“Damned anyway, I expect.”
“What was that, my dear?”
“Nothing, my husband.”
“Turns out he’s on the Grand Council. Upshot is, Menac’s going there.”
“I want to stay here,” Menac said.
“Speak when you are spoken to,” his mother snapped.
“The boy can speak, wife. Don’t smother him like you always do. Ignore her, Menac. She’s like all women, stupid and vain.”
“The only reason you aren’t the most stupid, vain person in this room is because that thing is sat next to you,” the Countess hissed, jabbing her knife at Barnaby.
Mr Featherspoon gasped.
“Ignore her, Barnaby. Anyway, Menac’s going...”
“I don’t want to!”
“You’ll do as you’re told boy!” The Count sprayed soup from his mouth. “You can’t stay coddled up here. Let’s see if they can’t beat a bit of gumption into you.”
“I have gumption!”
“You’re a weak, snivelling little shit. We provide everything you require, yet you mope and whinge. They won’t tolerate whingers there, I tell you. They’ll beat you to a damn pulp.”
Menac’s mother nodded. “You’ll have to be clever, learn how to charm Imperial advisers.”
“I daresay your mother can give you first-hand tips on charming Imperial advisers.”
“Your father could give you chapter and verse on diminishing one’s fortunes through inappropriate connections.”
“As if you had any idea of Georgie’s position at Court!” Mr Featherspoon spat.
“I’ve an idea it’s much the same as yours,” she snapped.
“I am clever. I don’t whinge!” Menac shouted.
“Go to your room. The sooner you’re out of this house, the sooner I can murder your blessed father!” His mother threw a silver vase at the Count, complete with flowers and water. It landed on his dinner plate.
“Oh you’d like that. You’d turn this house into one big, gaudy ballroom. I’m going to the colonies. I’d rather bake in the heat or drown in a monsoon than spend another hour with you.”
“You know Imperial advisers think you’re a preening monkey?”
The Count stood, throwing back his chair. The Countess leapt from hers, wrenched a carving knife from a servant who was preparing to carve a goose and threw it. It flew, point first, into the rug. The Count slapped his wife’s face. She fell next to the fireplace, picked up a poker and whacked him between the legs. The Count went down cursing. Barnaby ran around, screeching, and snatched a handful of her hair. Menac crawled under the table and slipped from the room.
by Audrey Miles