Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 42
Leonard froze in mid-step as he listened to the knocker finish their polite but determined series of taps. Since his back was to the door, he slowly turned to peer over his shoulder, uncertain of what he should do next; he could only hope that his indecision met with a better fate than most deer caught in headlights.
The minutes of silence stretched on until enough time passed to warrant yet another succession of knocks, this set with a shade more impatience added to the end of each rap. Still, Leonard remained motionless like a child caught with their hand in the cookie jar, afraid that movement would break the spell of stillness and trigger a reprimand.
Would they give up and leave? Should he answer? Try to hide? Leonard’s options flitted through his mind as he remained peering at the door over this shoulder.
The next insistent and less friendly sequence of knocks made Leonard jump and turn toward the door, deciding he had no choice but to open it. He expected the now impatient person to let themselves in at any moment but desperately hoped that they either weren’t rude enough to, or that there was some locking mechanism he had not noticed that would keep them out.
Just as Leonard took a breath and intended to reach for the door, he froze and turned back toward the bed. Jerra’s note. His own note. Both sat there, waiting for just anyone to read. Leonard grabbed and folded the notes as fast and neatly as possible, then tucked them into his boot.
He gave the bed a cursory glance to be sure there was nothing else that might provoke undesirable questions. The mess was easy enough to explain with most of the truth; he’d had trouble finding an item in his bag.
Leonard nodded then retraced his earlier steps to the door, just in time to pull it open and interrupt the knocker with her fist raised in mid-rap. In that moment, Leonard wasn’t sure who was more startled.
Wilhelmina lowered her hand immediately and then gently but firmly pressed the door open enough for her to slip inside. She yanked the door from Leonard’s grasp and shut it with a muffled thud. She turned and took stock of the room before turning her attention fully to Leonard.
Leonard’s mouth was uncomfortably dry. He fleetingly wished he hadn’t already finished his tea.
“What were you doing? Why did it take you so long to answer?” Wilhelmina whispered emphatically, speaking fast and closing in on Leonard until his back was literally to the wall.
“I-I must have zoned out, maybe nodded off a minute. I’m sorry I didn’t hear you,” Leonard replied, flustered as he struggled with relief and dread. He elected not to ask why she was whispering, but kept his voice low too.
The scrutinous look Wilhelmina gave Leonard made him gulp and want to curl up under the blanket on the bed like a child hiding from the monster under it. Her narrowed eyes threatened to slice him open and find all he was not telling her.
I beg yeh not to show this to Wilhelmina, lives are at stake. She’s not what yeh think, an’ her aims isn’ what she says they are.
Leonard tried to swallow but his throat was too dry.
Wilhelmina flicked her eyes to the door then said, “I haven’t much time now, since you took so long to answer. Has Osric been to see you, yet?” She asked casually, no longer threatening to dissect him with her eyes, but Leonard found nothing casual about her question, not anymore. He told himself he’d ask himself why that was, later.
Leonard shook his head, brow furrowed as to voice the question of his confusion.
“Then I imagine he’ll be along any minute. When he left me in my room, he said he was going to check something in the kitchen before coming to see you.” Wilhelmina’s reply hardly provided Leonard with the answers he’d hoped, and instead raised more questions; he vaguely wondered if it were possible to become physically ill from having too many unanswered questions, because he thought he might be closing in on the limit.
“Has anyone else come by? Spoken with you?” Wilhelmina’s voice still soft, mostly likely in attempt to avert possible eavesdroppers, but Leonard felt her question like crushing blow knocking the wind out of him.
Leonard was unsure what to say or to admit about who had come by, so he stalled. He gestured to the tray and evidence of his meal and rasped, “well, there was a young ah, woman-girl, the uh, the young lady came by with, um, tea and stuff.” Leonard wanted to kick himself.
Wilhelmina glanced over her shoulder and confirmed the presence of the tray with a brisk nod. She turned back to him, her face expectant as she waited for Leonard to continue.
“Wolfhart,” Leonard blurted as if he’d just remembered. He’d decided it would do no harm to admit his less than enjoyable conversation with Wolfhart. The man’s disdain and utter lack of confidence in Leonard would hardly be a secret.
When Wilhelmina remained silent, Leonard continued, “yeah, he uh- he came by and pretty much told me to go home because I wasn’t useful anymore.”
Leonard waited, expecting Wilhelmina to defend him in some way. He tried not to feel her momentarily downcast eyes like a jolt to his nervous system.
“Everyone is useful in one way or another,” Wilhelmina began, reaching out and grasping Leonard’s shoulder. Somehow it was devoid of real warmth, and the look she gave him was more reminiscent of pity than encouragement. “It would be difficult to bring someone along who is less familiar with, well, skills necessary to our task. It would not be impossible, but more difficult for some in the group than others. Don’t take his words to heart, but do what you feel is best.” She gave his shoulder a friendly squeeze then released him.
Leonard was not comforted by her words, no longer secure in his belief that she wanted him here. Though some of her words sounded encouraging, there was an edge. He couldn’t escape the impression that Wilhelmina wanted him to leave, but he didn’t know why. It didn’t make sense to him.
Her next words cut off his train of thinking.
“Anyone else?” when Leonard looked confused Wilhelmina followed it with “did anyone else come by, or was that everyone you spoke with?”
Leonard pretended to pause and think a moment before shaking his head. Though his gut clenched, something told Leonard to admit nothing more.
“You’re sure?” Wilhelmina pressed, her face coming within an inch of Leonard’s.
“I’m sure. Just the tea lady and Wolfhart.” Leonard smiled weakly.
“No wonder you were so lost in thought that you didn’t hear me knocking,” Wilhelmina said with a feeble smile of her own, the slight reprimand coated in apparent compassion.
A noise in the hallway that sounded like muted voices and boots effectively ended their conversation. Wilhelmina turned to the door and pressed her ear to it.
She whispered to Leonard as she braced herself to flee, “I’ll be back later to talk more. I’m sure you’ll have plenty of questions. Remember, tell no one about the shard.” Wilhelmina waited for Leonard’s nod before cracking the door barely enough for a child to traverse and somehow disappearing through it like vapor.
The scent of water lilies followed the snap of the door closing.
Click here for Part 44!