“Sshh,” he hissed angrily, his warm breath lifting her curls. They were pressed so tightly together that she could feel the sharp jab of his ribs against her back, and a heartbeat thrumming faster than her own. “Move.” They were stood awkwardly on the same step, and his knee pushed against her legs to move. She did, the blade digging into her as she eased herself towards the bottom.
“Uncle –,” she called out, even as he hissed for her to be quiet. They reached the bottom, and she saw both Percival and Wilmina standing ramrod straight beside each other, staring wide-eyed as they came into view. She knew who was restraining her, his essence had told her from the moment they’d touched, the scent of wet leaves and the urge to do everything he said. “I found him.”
“Wilmina,” he said, his voice tight. “Who are they?” He pressed the blade tighter to her throat, “you wardens?” She tried to turn her head to see him, but couldn’t. He jerked his elbow towards the mantle. “There’s money there, in the tea-box, not a lot, but enough. Enough for us to stay,”
“We’re not wardens,” Anala wheezed. “I’m far too attractive –,”
The blade twisted, and hot blood surged to the surface of her skin, a single red line sliding down her collarbone. Percival’s expression became shadowed and tense.
“Willow,” he said, “let her go.” Anala felt his muscles tense at the name.
“How…how do you know –,”
“Let me go and we’ll tell you – ow,”
“Will, stop,” said Wilmina, stepping forward. She glanced at Percival irascibly, “they – they’se friends,”
“We don’t have friends,” he retorted,
“Or manners,” Anala grumbled, moving her hand slowly into her cloak pocket.
“Shut it!” he spat, his hazel-brown eyes dagger-pointed at Percival. “Leave now or I carve out her neck,”
“I’ll be much happier leaving with my niece in one piece, thank you,” he answered, unflustered. For an untraceable moment, he noticed Anala’s hand easing into her pocket, and his gaze met hers in the subtlest of confirmations.