Anala moved across the room, meeting the many curious looks with one of reservation and nervousness. It was an act, and as Willow followed her up the stairs to the higher floor, he noticed how she tried to hide her inherent elegance behind lumbering and thoughtless movements.
“This way,” she murmured, heading him through a T-shaped corridor to the left wing, the most expensive room with a thick wooden door as opposed to the draped doorways of the other rooms. She knocked in a specific rhythm: tat tat-tat tat and entered, leaving the door open for Willow to shut it behind him. As soon as he crossed the threshold, he knew something was different. The distinctive smell of the inn and the distant sound of clinking tankards and hushed sentences disappeared, not lighter or quieter, but gone entirely. Only the sound of Anala’s footsteps crossing the room to her bed and shedding her wet cloak, one of two against the left wall, filled his ears. The room had a misted bay window and its own hearth with two hogskin armchairs surrounding it; Percival was seated in one of them.
“Willow,” he said, smiling. His overcoat was tossed over the back of the chair, leaving him in dark trousers, a white shirt and a dark blue cravat held in place with a nacre pin. His hands were intertwined calmly against his stomach. “Good to see you again.”
Willow looked closer around the room, on a table beside him was a clay tea-set newly steaming, prepared for three.
“You knew I’d come,” he said, gesturing. His hand still inside his satchel, his finger grazed the edge of the shard and snagged, drawing blood; he tried not to react.
“We had an inkling,” said Anala, standing beside her uncle’s chair, her arm draped idly over the top.
“You look soaked,” said Percival. “Perhaps you’d like to dry yourself off.” He tilted his chin to the corner of the room, where an ablution bowl and jug stood on a dresser, as well as a bundle of warm towels. Willow hesitated in front of the door, but felt the weight of his shirt, as if the hem was stuffed with pennyweights, and how it clung to his chest uncomfortably like a second skin. He took a couple steps towards the dresser when Percival raised his finger slightly, and the satchel tugged away from his body. He was too late to counteract it as the flap lifted and the flint shard flew out, zooming through the air and finishing pinched between Percival’s index and middle fingers.