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By the time we returned home, the drizzle had turned into a proper rain, fat drops of water plopping heavily against the cobbles. Mother hurried us inside and locked the door against the storm.
The house lay cold and empty, its ragged edges showing. Dad’s favourite tattered armchair sagged, fraying, next to the dead fireplace, and the warped windows were dull and dark behind the black mourning curtains. While Mother and William removed their coats and shoes, I ran my fingers over the Wardmarks that Dad had carved into the frame of our doorway, meant to keep out harm. He’d put them together himself, without asking the local Warder, and I’d always assumed he knew what he was doing – that the Wards worked.
William drifted upstairs to his room, and Mother wasn’t far behind. I followed suit, and all three of us closed our doors, tired of dealing with the world. We hadn’t even gotten a chance to say goodbye, and now Inquisitors were asking if Dad had been involved in magic. I hadn’t thought it was possible for the day to get any worse than it already was, but there you have it. I sat watching the darkness rise outside my window. The sun had fully set when there came a knock at the front door.
I rose from my half-sleeping stupor and poked my head into the hallway. William was doing the same at the door next to mine. He raised his eyebrows in a question, which I answered with a shrug before we both crept to the banister of the stair, to see what was happening below. William crept too far down, and I had to pull him back, but he batted my hand away. Eventually, we settled for crouching side-by-side at the top of the stair, just far enough down that we could see most of the parlour.
Mother was peering through the peephole. A moment later, she pulled open the door for whoever it was that had knocked. The visitor stepped into the house, and I had to choke down a gasp.
It was the dark-haired gentleman who had tipped his hat to me in the cemetery.
‘Who’s that?’ whispered William.
The man removed his hat, and the memory hit me like a wave of déjà vu. This was the man who had come to our house that night, six years ago, on William’s fifth birthday, not long after my brother had suffered his first fit. The man had stepped into our house in just the same quiet way he did now, but by the end of the night, he and Dad had gotten into a raging row, and the one thing I remembered was Dad yelling at the man to leave our house and never return. The man had. And that, I thought, had been the end of it.
‘It’s our uncle,’ I explained to my brother. ‘Edward. Dad’s brother.’ I leaned further down the steps to peer at the scene below. Mother stood with her arms crossed while Uncle Edward hovered by the doorway, leaning on his cane, his eyes passing over the house as if cataloguing everything.
What was he doing here?
‘I came as soon as I heard,’ said Uncle Edward finally.
‘I figured you’d show up sooner or later.’
‘Maris, you know that I am fully invested in what happens to all of you. Whatever Lewis’ attitude about it may have been, that has always been my stance. Still–’
‘I worry, Edward.’
‘About the Court?’
Mother’s voice was soft. ‘About the children. About William. Especially given–’
‘I know,’ said Uncle Edward. Mother turned away, drifting to the other side of the parlour, and Uncle Edward followed her. I couldn’t go much further down the steps, but their voices were clear in the silent house.
‘Perhaps you should come to Ravenscourt for a bit – just a few weeks,’ said Uncle Edward. ‘I can contact people, and we can figure out the next move.’
I looked at William, who frowned back. The man couldn’t possibly be serious. Dad had kicked him out of our house with an order never to return. Surely he didn’t think…
‘Perhaps we should,’ said Mother softly.
Silence rose up again. I couldn’t fathom what was going through her head.
‘Shall we say that you will visit by the end of the month?’ said Uncle Edward.
Mother sighed. ‘The end of the month it is.’
Uncle Edward made quick steps back toward the door. ‘I look forward to seeing you then,’ he said, and with a short bow, he replaced his hat and let himself out. ‘Farewell, Maris.’
‘Farewell,’ whispered Mother.
The door clicked closed, and Mother turned the lock and latched the chain. Her eyes moved to the top of the stairs, where she found us staring. If she were surprised, it didn’t show.
‘I think we’ll be going on a little trip soon,’ she said, her voice oddly light. ‘Won’t that be fun?’
Happy Halloween, and thanks for reading Chapter 1 of A Murder of Crows! If you like what you’ve seen so far, don’t forget to follow us and get email or WPReader updates of new chapters as soon as they’re published:
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In any case, until next time — Farewell from the Ladies at Ravenscourt.