Five to ten minutes later, Bernard returned, followed by the Duke and Duchess of Viarlieth, their daughter, and a tall, thin man dressed all in black, whom Seymour took to be the priest. Henry stood as they entered.
“Good evening, your grace,” he said.
“And a jolly good evening to you, too, Lord Henry!” The duke, a portly, aging man with a grey beard and thinning hair, strode over to him and slapped him good-naturedly on the back. “I hope you’re well?”
Henry smiled tightly. “Indeed, I am. And you?”
“Yes, yes.” The duke sat down. “Congratulations on your engagement, by the by. Your priest told me.”
The mage’s mismatched eyes flickered toward the black-robed man. “Did he now?”
“Reluctantly, I can assure you.”
“And who do we have here?” the duke asked, noticing Seymour for the first time.
This time, Seymour made a point to reply before Henry could answer for him. “Seymour de Winter, your grace. I’m a private detective from Brysail.”
Enthusiastic, Viarlieth leaned over the table to shake his hand. “A pleasure to meet you, Mr. de Winter. You wouldn’t happen to be the merman detective that helped Sir Abel Caligard out with that monetary kerfuffle a few years back?”
“Yes, your grace. In fact, it was through Sir Caligard that Hen—that Lord Henry heard of me.”
“Jolly good! He speaks highly of you, Caligard does. Claims you’re the best detective in Brysail.”
“Well,” Seymour said, bowing his head in a show of modesty. “He may be a bit biased, as I was the only one to take on his case. I’m honored, though.”
By this point, both Henry and Sir Ferdinand were glaring daggers at the pair of them, while the others—the duchess, Lady Alina, the priest, and Bernard—looked on with mild interest. Seymour could understand Ferdinand’s wrath, but he wasn’t quite sure why Henry was upset with him. Hadn’t the point of this endeavor been to get on the duke’s good side? If so, he was doing a decent job of it, if he did say so himself. Or had Henry wanted him to be seen and not heard? That would make sense, seeing how intent the mage had been on doing all the talking for him.
“So how did you come to be a detective, Mr. de Winter?”
Seymour shrugged. “To cut a long story short, I needed a job. I thought that I might as well put my elfin senses to use, and I knew I was smart. I mean, I was seventeen at the time, so I probably overestimated my actual intelligence by a long shot, but it worked out in the end.”
Bernard uncorked a bottle of wine and began to make his way around the table, filling goblets. The liquid was as red as blood. Images of ravens flew unbidden into Seymour’s mind, causing him to shudder.
“Are you alright, Mr. de Winter?”
“Do excuse him,” said Henry. “He hasn’t been well lately. Seymour?”
“Yes, your lordship?”
“You look ill. Do you need to leave?”
“No, I’m fine. I just…I just had a thought, that’s all.”
Frowning, Henry reached over and laid a hand on his shoulder. The anger was gone from his eyes. “Well, if at any point you have to, just go. You have my permission.”
“Thank you, your lordship.” Seymour took a sip of wine and closed his eyes. “North Vailee, d’Fierra, oak-aged, 1207?”
The corners of Henry’s mouth inched upwards. “How did you know?”
“Oh…you read the label on the bottle, didn’t you?”
“For a moment, I thought you might be a genius.”
Seymour leaned back. “Well, the art of ingenuity is in finding the simplest solution to any given problem, so perhaps I am.”