Midnight in Brysail
The moon was out, low on the horizon and nearly full, when the four exited the Silver Phoenix several hours later. It seemed unusually large that night, fat, flat, glowing golden-orange, like a clock face by torchlight. The sky around it was starless and brownish, painted with the occasional long, wispy cloud.
The raven, which had perched patiently all the while on the creaking sign, now quietly spread its wings and flapped away into the hazy autumn night.
* * *
Seymour de Winter escorted the three mages back to their inn. This was partly out of common courtesy, partly due to the fact that he had nothing better to do, and partly because he hadn’t gotten an adequate chance to study Henry.
Lord Henry Thomas Mantoux Edmund may have been a testy son of a bitch, but he was no ugly one. Sure, he wasn’t exactly handsome, and he wasn’t particularly bright, but Seymour had never been too picky. He was decently built, and his mismatched eyes were certainly striking. Good taste in clothing, too, although Seymour thought he’d probably look better without it. But it wouldn’t be wise to pursue that notion before he was absolutely certain about the present situation…
He took out his pocket watch and flipped it open with his thumb. Ten minutes to midnight. He snapped it shut again and smiled crookedly. Time to get Henry talking.
“He’s your twin, you say?”
“Yes,” Henry replied. “Fraternal.”
“But you had birthright?”
Henry’s eyes flicked briefly toward him, then back to the cobblestone street. “No, actually. He did. Ten minutes my senior.”
“Then he was next in line for succession when your parents died?”
Henry shook his head. “No. Father had already disinherited him, some three years before. ‘Better that Carvil be governed by a mage than by a madman,’ he said. My father, that is.”
Seymour frowned. “Was Simon’s mental state the only reason that he was passed over?”
“So it seems. First-born, better-looking, smarter, more persuasive… nonmagical— he had everything in his favor. Until he had to go bloody well bonkers.”
Seymour noted the bitterness in the young man’s voice. “I take it you aren’t enjoying your lordly position?”
“No,” Henry replied bluntly. “I don’t deserve it, and I’m not fit for it.”
“Is that so?”
“Everyone knows it. Not many mages amidst the peers, are there? Plenty of madmen, though,” he added under his breath. “Simon would have fit in perfectly.”
Seymour was momentarily taken aback. Henry had made a joke. Seymour wouldn’t have guessed that the mage had much in the way of a sense of humor. He didn’t misjudge people often. Henry was an atypical specimen.
“And how would Simon feel about being compared to such a low breed?”
The corners of Henry’s mouth twitched. Seymour could tell he was suppressing a smile. “He wouldn’t appreciate it.”
Seymour began to laugh quietly, and, at long last, Henry’s grim composure crumbled and he started laughing as well. He began to laugh so hard that he had to stop and double over, hands on his knees, tears streaming down his face.
Alasdair and Mialina, who had been walking some ways behind them, caught up to them and regarded Henry with a mix of amusement and mild bewilderment.
“Vhat d’thid’th you d’tho to him?” Mialina asked Seymour.
Seymour shrugged and shook his head. “I have no idea.”
But that wasn’t true. It wasn’t true at all.