Lord Henry stared back at him with an expression of exasperated disbelief. “You don’t know? Do you mean to tell me you did not read the letter?” he demanded.
“I read the letter,” Seymour replied. His tone was calm, but his eyes flashed. “I read the letter, deciphered the message concealed within your loopy, patrician handwriting…But the written word, you understand, can be deceptive, your lordship. It is much easier to read a man’s intentions in his eyes than in his ink.”
“Pardon me, then, for thinking that every detective had such a skill,” Henry spat caustically. “I must have been misinformed.”
Seymour frowned into his nearly-empty tankard. “I’m sorry, did I say I couldn’t read a person’s character in his writing? No, I can. It’s just a more arduous process, based more heavily in conjecture, and thus less reliable. But I did study your letter for quite some time, your lordship, and concluded that you were no more than twenty years of age, right-handed, well-educated, and perpetually anxious. From the diction, I could see clearly that you were of Murkintsenian nobility, emotionally insecure, of average intelligence, desperate and well-versed in the art of cunning. From the content, I gleaned too many traits to list. On top of, of course, the obvious facts of the matter and your apparent biases. All of these insights, however, I could have attained within a second of laying eyes on you, and twice as many in two. So please, your lordship, forget the letter and tell me why in the name of bloody, fucking Rezyn I am here.”
Henry was too stunned to be offended. His eyes darted around the table and he wetted his lips with the tip of his tongue. “My brother,” he replied eventually, resigned. “My twin. Simon. He’s…well, they locked him away. For a murder he didn’t commit.”
“One murder?” Seymour probed. “Or perhaps you meant two?”
Henry scowled at him briefly. “Two. Two murders. Those of our parents.”
Seymour smiled grimly. “That’s what I thought.”
“Anyway,” Henry went on, “he’s been in Waelyngar Penitentiary for two years now. I’ve tried countless times to get him out of there, legal and illegal, but to no avail. He’s…he’s grown weak.” He swallowed hard. “I doubt he has much longer to live.”
Seymour nodded once, studying the scuffed wooden tabletop. “So you want me to break him out, then.”
“But why me?”
Henry leaned back in his chair and signaled that he would be deferring to Alt-Mage MacQuarrie for that answer.
“A certain Abel Caligard put in a good word for you, merman,” Alasdair informed him. “He was impressed with your work.”
“Yes, well, I’m a detective, not a mercenary. I try to stay on the friendlier side of the law.”
“We have influence with the law,” said the Alt-Mage, nodding to the other two humans. “It ought to be no trouble to clear your name when all this is over.
Seymour frowned again, knitting his brows. “If you have so much influence with the law, why can’t you take care of the whole business yourselves? Why do you need me?”
“It is not a simple matter, merman.”
The detective finished his ale in one swallow and fixed the Alt-Mage in a rather unsettling, feline stare. “I’m not simple-minded, sir. And please, stop with the ‘merman’ nonsense, for Rezyn’s sake! The correct term is Aechyed, if you must insist on reminding me of my species at every available occasion. Thank you,” he concluded, and then added, as an afterthought, “Sir.”
Alt-Mage MacQuarrie seemed a bit taken aback.
“It would do you well to learn your place,” Henry suggested quietly, “you web-fingered, plebeian—!”
“I know my place well enough,” Seymour interrupted tranquilly. “Right where no one wants me to be. Now, may we proceed?”