“Pray tell what this is for,” he said, his lips turned up in an amused smile.
“Give it back!” exclaimed Willow, marching forward. Anala stepped to meet him in front of her uncle protectively, and he shot her a sardonic look. He wasn’t sure whether to be surprised at what had happened, or more so that it had happened by magick. With his other hand, Percival loosened his cravat to expose the soft length of his neck. “What are you doing?”
“Giving you a good spot,” he said, holding the shard out to him and gesturing for Anala to move back. Willow stood motionless, looking from Percival’s eyes to his neck to the flint to Anala, deliberating how to counter. The both of them functioned in a different way to him, living by calculated and polysemous actions. His move to kill or not to kill Percival would be done on impulse and in no other way; this they both knew. “I understand your desire to protect yourself,” Percival continued, “but there really is no need of it. We sought you out. If doing you harm was our objective, a mercenary would have been much more efficient. Now, please allow me to answer your questions within the security of mine and Anala’s life.”
Willow groaned, snatching the shard and dropping it onto the tea-tray. He stepped back and sank down in the opposite armchair, bitterly defeated. He held the satchel on his lap, thrumming his fingers considerately against the flap before he opened it and pulled out the letter.
“Arkus. That’s what you said.” He put the letter down on the edge of the arm. “So you wrote this?”
Percival nodded lightly. “I did. I thought it best that you have some idea of what was about to happen. The fact you still have it in good condition tells me that it struck a chord.”
Willow thought back to three weeks ago when a warden had smuggled it to him as he’d patrolled the line during roll call, striking him with his baton to obscure the transaction. He hadn’t told Wilmina what he’d read, and despite how ludicrous the words had been, the intricate writing and noble wax seal had made him keep it safe, rereading and thinking it over and over in his mind.