At first glance, the figure striding up the dirt road in the fading light might have been mistaken for a very tall, thin man. Closer inspection, however, would have revealed that his skin had a greenish tint, that his fingers were long, webbed, and tipped with claws, and that his ears were pointed like those of an elf. His clothing did not appear to be expensive, but it was of good quality and current fashion, and he wore several metal piercings in his ears. On his face he carried an expression of grim determination; in his eyes, a look of cold intelligence. Overall, he conveyed a subtly threatening air. As he made his way to the main door of an old building crafted of bricks, one woman who passed him thought to herself that she did not envy whoever it was he intended to meet. Evidently, it had shown on her face for, he laughed softly and told her to mind her own affairs. He had been invited.
Taking hold of the brass knocker, he rapped sharply upon the door. A maidservant came to answer it, and she looked him up and down with a look of mild distaste. “Who calls?”
“My name is Seymour de Winter, and I am here at the request of a certain Mr. Abel Caligard.”
She sniffed. “I suppose you’d better come upstairs then. Though I don’t know what Mr. Caligard is thinking in bringing a merman into his house,” she added.
Seymour de Winter followed her inside. “The proper term is ‘Aechyed,’” he corrected her. “Not ‘merman.’”
The maidservant ignored this remark and led him up an ornate staircase to the next level of the house. He looked about to get a sense of the place as he walked, resisting the temptation to pause to study the banister for further detail and contenting himself to run his fingers lightly over it as they ascended.
“The family is low on money, I see.”
The maidservant shot him a suspicious glare over her shoulder. “What gives you that impression?”
“The banister is only partially dusted.”
“Yeah? I was dusting it when you called upon the door.”
“Exactly. You are responsible for both the dusting and the door…as well as the cooking as made evident by your sauce-stained apron, indicating that you are the only servant left on staff. Thus, the Caligard family must have lost some significant amount of money since the peak of its influence. Thank you,” he said as she showed him to the parlor.
An elderly man was seated in an armchair beside the fire. He gave a start of surprise upon seeing his visitor. “You must be Mr. de Winter,” he exclaimed. “I’ll admit that I had not expected you for some while.”
“Your case caught my interest, and I am quick upon my feet.”
“I see. Well, I suppose I ought to explain to you the details of my predicament. Mildred,” he addressed the maidservant, “Will you kindly fetch us a pot of tea?”
She left, and Caligard began his narrative.