It was dark outside now, but there was enough ambient light for Seymour to make out the figures of the guards patrolling the wall above the main gate. By the sound of it, those outside had grown significantly in number, and most of the newcomers were less than sober. There was little chance of their breaching the gate, though, no matter how many arrived, as long as they didn’t produce a mage or sorcerer who could outmatch the combined power of the Alt-Mage of Murkintsen and his wife.
Seymour glanced down at Seoc, who was currently on his hands and knees on the lawn. “You all right, little fish?”
Seoc was silent a moment, staring into the pool of fresh vomit between his hands, then sat back on his heels and nodded. “I think so.”
The Aechyed helped the human to his feet and put an arm around his shoulders to steady him. “You know, we probably should go to the feast, if not to eat, then just to be seen. Else someone might get suspicious.”
Seoc grimaced and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. “It will no’ matter if Henry tattles on us, will it?”
“He won’t,” Seymour replied with conviction. “I struck a little bargain with him, and he’s not far enough off his rocker to go back on it. Not yet, at least. By the time he is, I doubt anyone will believe much of anything he says, so we should be safe.”
“You think he’s losin’ his marbles?”
Seymour looked skyward. “Let it suffice to say,” he responded eventually, “that I suspect he was born with a weak seam in the marble bag, and it has, over time, developed into a hole. So, in a word, yes. Come, let us proceed to the table.”
“Hope he’s no’ there,” Seoc mumbled glumly. “If he is, I’ll probably puke again.”
“Don’t worry,” Seymour assured him. “Something tells me that he isn’t.”
Seymour’s intuition was correct: Henry was not there, and, oddly, Simon wasn’t either. It seemed that everyone else was present, though. Seoc’s mother and her two other offspring were seated near the far end of the oaken banquet table, eating without talking. Alasdair and Mialina MacQuarrie were located on their left side, in throne-like chairs, and there were numerous others seated all about the table, people that Seymour did not recognize, many of whom, judging by their eyes, were mages as well.
Alt-Mage Alasdair MacQuarrie rose as they entered, and the noise level of the hall dropped considerably as everyone turned to look. “At last,” exclaimed MacQuarrie, eyes twinkling. “I’m glad that you finally arrive to grace us with your presence, Mr. de Winter. Do I detect a pattern in your tardiness?”
Seymour grinned abashedly. “I will surely be late to my own funeral, my good sir.”
There was laughter at this, and in the midst of it, Seoc slipped away to sit in the empty spot between his mother and his sister. The Alt-Mage beckoned to Seymour and indicated a vacant seat directly to his left. Seymour joined him there and sat down beside him.
There was a magnificent array of food spread upon the table, and Seymour found himself eyeing everything greedily, his previous aversion to eating forgotten. He always had had a selective streak of gluttony—if the victuals had been gotten at his own financial expense, he ate little. If, however, someone else was providing, he would happily devour every item of food within reach. Thus, he loaded up his plate with mashed potatoes, fried turnips, two slabs of steak, a large pork pasty, something wonderful yet unidentifiable that came drenched in gravy, a slice of vegetable pot pie, and three helpings of fruit salad.
“Are you going to be able to eat all that?” MacQuarrie asked, amused.
“Oh, yes,” Seymour replied, his mouth watering in anticipation.
The Alt-Mage proceeded to discuss a wide range of matters, from politics to fox hunting, while Seymour wolfed down his meal, occasionally making a mumbled reply to show that he was listening. But at last, a MacQuarrie’s features darkened, and he asked, just as Seymour was reaching for another ladleful of potatoes, what was really on his mind.
“You haven’t happened to have seen Henry or Simon this evening, have you?”
Seymour’s appetite was suddenly gone. He set down the ladle and pushed back from the table. “I did see Henry. But,” he went on with a glance around the table, “I think that is a matter best discussed in private.”
The shadow across MacQuarrie’s olive-hued face became more pronounced. “Is he alright?”
“No,” Seymour replied frankly. “I don’t think so.”