My dogs went running.
At first, I couldn’t hear anything. By the time they bolted across the backyard and past the barn, I was racing after them. It was only as I reached the tree line that the first chords of music reached my ears.
The faint notes pulled me onward and caused me to draw the Colts.
Ahead of me, I could hear the dogs crashing through the undergrowth, barking and yipping and yapping as they went. The three dogs, each nigh on twenty years old, raced as though they were puppies and not burdened with the scars and injuries of life on my farm.
Their actions made me fear the worst, and so I was prepared for it when I raced into the small glen before the apple orchard.
I wasn’t prepared for the musicians.
They brought me to a stop, guns leveled, and my mind racing.
Three of the four men were armed with instruments, the fourth had a fowling gun and a chained dog with him.
One man, armed with a squeezebox, offered a short bow.
“Master Blood,” the man greeted me. “It is a pleasure to see you in the flesh, as it were.”
“Is it?” I asked. “Where are my dogs?”
The dog on the chain looked at me, and I saw the depth of his intelligence in his brown eyes.
The speaker chuckled. “Never fear about the chain, Master Blood. That is window dressing. Should Harald decide he’s leaving, well, there’s nothing anyone here can do. We are his servants, he is not ours. As for your dogs.”
“I can best explain about your dogs,” Harald interjected. “They have lived long, Duncan Blood. Much longer than most of their kin. This seems to be the case for most dogs who come to live with you, and this pleases me. You care for us. Your dogs, I am sorry to say, ate a bad rabbit yesterday morning, and sickness will carry them away. Rather than have them suffer, and rather than have you suffer by being unable to comfort or cure them, I have called them home early. It is not something I do often.”
I lowered my Colts, then holstered them. “My dogs are gone?”
“They are,” the dog nodded.
I looked beyond the musicians and shook my head.
Whatever joy had been in the day had fled.
“My dogs are gone.”
Without another word, I went home to silence.