The light was fading by the time they left for supper. Outside the window, the world had gone a sickly shade of greenish-grey and the fog was beginning to creep up the hill from the lake. On the lawn, a congregation of large, black birds had gathered. Seymour’s stomach churned as he considered what sort of creature might be camouflaged among them.
“A murder of crows,” Henry observed.
“Couldn’t they be ravens?”
“One never sees ravens in flocks so large.” He gave Seymour a poke between the shoulder blades. “Come on. We’ll be late to the table. I have guests. It’s rude to keep them waiting.”
Reluctantly, Seymour tore his gaze from the window and followed Henry down the spiral stairs. “Who are your guests?”
“The Duke of Viarlieth, his wife, and their son and daughter, both grown. Viarlieth is where Alasdair’s nephew was arrested. The duke’s opinions will almost certainly influence the outcome of the trial, so I’d advise you to make a good impression. That means no swearing or commentary about bodily processes, Seymour.”
The merman feigned innocent indignation. “Who, me? I’d never!”
“Just be tactful, all right?”
The dining room was stately, but not quite grand enough to be considered a hall. A pair of tall, arched windows graced the western wall, letting the muted pink and violet light of dusk into the room. Most of the lighting, however, came from a single blazing candelabra that was suspended over the center of the long, oaken table. Henry took his seat at the table’s head, while his stony-faced butler guided Seymour to a chair on the side, nearer to the other end, across from a youngish man that must have been the Duke of Viarlieth’s son.
“Will your parents be joining us this evening, Sir Ferdinand?”
“They should be along shortly, my lord. I left them engaged in conversation with your priest. It was quite dull. I hope your lordship won’t begrudge them for keeping you waiting?”
“Not in the least. Bernard!”
The butler stood to attention. “Yes, my lord?”
“Tell the kitchens to hold supper a few more minutes. It wouldn’t do to let it go cold.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Bernard the butler hurried out. Sir Ferdinand’s eyes followed him through the door, then drifted around to look at Seymour.
“And what is this, your lordship?”
Seymour opened his mouth to speak, but Henry’s glare burned into the side of his head and he decided it might be better to hold his tongue.
“That,” said Henry, “is Seymour de Winter. He is a detective, and he will be aiding me in clearing my brother’s name.”
“Admittedly, I’m not terribly surprised that you would associate in such a way with a lower being, my lord. You never have done things according to convention, have you?” Ferdinand laughed. “But to bring one into your home! To dine with it! This is certainly something new!”
Seething, Seymour gritted his teeth and concentrated on a knot in the wood of the tabletop.
“He is my guest, Sir Ferdinand. To do anything else would be bad form.”
Sir Ferdinand reached over the table and snapped his fingers in Seymour’s face. “Say, it certainly is an ugly creature, what?” He snapped again. “Look at me, grunie!”
Seymour scowled at him.
“I wouldn’t provoke him, were I you,” Henry said. “He’s stronger than any human of his build—and frankly, I wouldn’t carelessly provoke a human of his build, either.”
“Aw, it’s just a bit of fun, your lordship. It won’t attack me, not if it has any common sense at all. Will you, grunie?”
“No,” said Seymour, his scowl slowly transforming into his customary smirk. “But tell me, Sir Ferdinand: Does your mother know you’ve been using her hand cream for lubricant?”