A cold gust of wind whipped his cloak back as soon as he stepped outside. Shielding his face from the flying dust and leaf particles that had been swept up in the current, he turned left and trudged alongside the front of the inn, toward the carriage that waited around the corner. Above him, the wooden sign creaked in the breeze, the raven still atop it, unruffled and croaking grimly. Lupe had gone silent.
“Evenin’, your lordship.”
Henry jumped, instinctively drawing his sword on the speaker. Heart pounding in his ears, he stood alert, the tip of his blade trembling mere inches from the shadowed face of an abnormally tall, slender hooded figure, who was leaning against the wall of the inn with his arms folded across his chest and showing no signs of being particularly bothered by his proximity with death.
“Thank you, Lord Henry, but if I wanted any alterations to my nose, I would have asked.”
Henry lowered his weapon by a few inches, but he made sure to keep it still within easy striking range. “Who are you and what do you want?”
“I’ll give you three guesses,” he said, drawing back his hood to reveal his face.
“Oh,” said Henry, who suddenly couldn’t say anything else.
The Lord of Carvil had never actually met a merman before. He had seen them from a distance on his visits to the coast, where many of them labored in the pearl farms, but never had he encountered one so near. In the stories, they were always hideous, and he had on some level taken that to be true. Looking at this one, though, this one who had the light of the full moon running like water through his thick black hair and glinting in his cold green eyes, Henry could not help but stare, mesmerized by his peculiar beauty.
Henry caught his breath and stepped back a pace, sheathing his blade. “Y-you’re late, de Winter.”
Smirking, the merman took a timepiece from the pocket of his weathered tunic. “Not so. Even if I had just arrived, I’d still be ten to fifteen minutes early, SBT.”
“South Brysail Time.” He put the clock back into his pocket, his grin widening to reveal a set of brilliantly white (and unnervingly pointy) teeth. “But I was here before you. I’ve been observing you since your arrival. And call me Seymour, by the way. Surnames alone are just far too military.”
“If you’ve been here all along, why did you not come inside?”
“I wanted to speak with you alone, your lordship.”
“Then how did you know—?”
“How did I know you’d be coming outside? Because I summoned you.”
Silently, Seymour pulled a small, silver whistle—held on a string about his neck—out of the front of his collar, placed it in his mouth, and covered his ears with both hands. Then he blew on it. Henry heard no sound, but in the carriage around the corner, Lupe started howling again.
The merman, still with that unsettling smirk, dropped the whistle, letting it fall against his chest. “Too high for human ears to perceive. Dogs can hear it, though—elves can, too—and I can attest that the sound is bloody horrendous.”
Henry sighed. “All right. You summoned me, I’ll give you that. But why? You were the one who suggested we meet in a public establishment, not I.”
“No, you misunderstand me, your lordship. You made no mention in our correspondence that you meant to bring along company. What’s with the other two mages?”
“They are the Alt-Mage and Lady Altis of Murkintsen,” said Henry.
“Yes, but why are they with you?”
Glancing up at him, Henry crossed his arms and brought his cloak closer about his shoulders. “They too have a relative imprisoned at Waelyngar. Alt-Mage MacQuarrie shall explain you the details.”
“Very well,” Seymour said, turning back towards the entrance. “But, for future reference, I don’t hold with last minute shit, so don’t try to pull it on me again. Understood?”
Henry nodded, and Seymour opened the door and held it for him.
“After you, your lordship.”