Avon, Lautrec, and Siegfried were all awake at the same early hour the next morning, two of them finding much less sleep than usual. Radford was already seated and dining contentedly, as though his capture the night before of the most malformed bird in the entire forest had no effect on him.
“It’s a sign, I say,” Siegfried muttered. “A warning. It isn’t natural for a bird to live like that. How would it have survived, feeding two greedy stomachs with only one mouth?”
“A warning? For what?” Lautrec asked. “To stop eating birds, because some of them are terribly ugly?” As if to prove his indifference, he cracked the shell off a boiled egg and placed the entire thing in his mouth, throwing the shell aside. “If we spent our days worrying about every awful creature we came across, we would have no time left to do anything else.”
Siegfried pointed to the floor where the bird or birds had sat the evening before. “Can you blame them for burning it?”
Calista had summoned Amand shortly after she had realized what was lying on her floor. Amand had taken the carcass in a coal scoop and carried it out past the property line, where he had burned it along with other unwanted refuse.
“I’ve witnessed ugliness before,” Avon said. “The markets of Macquarie are lined with it. Some of the scaly beasts they dredge from the deeps would drive anyone from eating fish again. I’m sure Radford could attest to it.”
At this Radford appeared to notice the others for the first time that morning. He swallowed an impossibly large piece of bread spread thick with honey and butter and fruit jelly. “Macquarie has some foul-looking castoffs, but every one of them has a function, and every one of them performs it in its own way, whether we appreciate it or not. That,” he said, squinting at Lautrec. “That were no bird. It didn’t fly, it didn’t sing, it didn’t care for the wee birds like any decent winged creature. It flopped on the ground like some awful fish, dragging its half-dead self through the bushes until I put an end to its creeping pain. I don’t know what attacked it in the first place, but even that poor beast had the sense to turn and run from it.”