They squelched. It’d been raining since lunch and every movement wrung water out of their clothes to join that already flowing downwards under gravity.
There had been no room at any of the inns, not for the likes of them, black-clothed dissenters and pestilence burners that they were. This part of the country hadn’t seen pestilence for fifty years and no-one wanted to start a rumour it was back by giving them house room. Perforce then, they walked onwards, hoping to make their destination by full dark. Their ancestral home at Sourbridge should only be a few miles ahead.
“Are we sure this is a good idea?” Karyn asked her brother.
“Needs must,” he replied grimly. “Cousin Talbort summoned me by my full name, Clarence Cheyney Chisholm Parks. I am bound to answer and,” he flashed a dripping smile at his sister, “I’ll need you to watch my back.”
“Indeed,” she agreed thoughtfully, as pale and thin as he. “We must assume he meant to include the distress mark?”
“Yes. Something must be very wrong.”
They walked on. In the west the clouds began to colour, giving hope for a break in the rain and beginning a countdown to true night.
When they reached it, the village of Sourbridge was not as they remembered it. In the dusk they could see the broken windows, the caved-in doors, and long scratches on stone and wood. The church had been tumbled down and the graveyard dug and ripped up. A body lay on the steps among the fallen stones, a fleshless mess of broken bones and clothes.
“This is the only body,” Clarence commented dourly.
“Yes,” his sister agreed. “The rest have fled or are in refuge.” The rain stopped. “It seems Cousin Talbort is besieged.”