We were too late.
I saw the smoke rising, and there was no question as to whether it was a chimney or a house fire. The dark, churning clouds screamed house fire, and so I ran to it.
Some of the dogs raced ahead and beside me while Octavius thundered toward the smoke.
The structure belonged to the O’Rourke family, recent transplants from Boston Towne, and dead from what I could see.
I came to a stop by Octavius as the dogs fanned out and some of the ravens settled into the trees, their sharp eyes searching for survivors and for those who might have set the house ablaze.
“This smells wrong,” Octavius muttered.
I glanced at him, and when I did, one of the dogs trotted up on unsteady feet. In its mouth, the dog carried a letter, and when he presented it to me and I accepted it. The dog took another shambling step and then collapsed, seizing for a split second before he died.
My fingertips stung as whatever was on the letter burned my flesh with a deep and hateful poison.
I opened the letter as Octavius peered over my shoulder.
“Read it aloud, Duncan,” the donkey said. “There are none of us here who can read.”
I nodded, cleared my throat, and began.
“My Dear Son,” the letter greeted, “it is my hope that you are suffering as you read this. You know full well that I have butchered the family within these walls and that I will, at some point, be feeding them to my dear Kinderzähne. I trust you feel the poison, although it will not do more than discomfort you. I believe that the death of the dog will harm you more. Yes, I know that you are running with dogs, as you always did as a child. Filthy creatures.
“Rest assured, this family died badly. I took their intestines with me as I left, and they didn’t die until I lit the flames a short time later. Tonight, I might make some sausages. As I recall, they were your favorite.
Miriam came and sat beside me. “There are bodies inside and a blood trail out the back.”
“Don’t go inside. I’ll bury them.”
“We’ll keep you company, Duncan,” Miriam replied.
I took out my pipe, packed it, and lit the tobacco.
I sat down beside Miriam, and Octavius did the same.
All we could do was wait.