“Faaaaaather!” Bazan’s low, singing tone.
Ruy leaned into the comforting stone of the balcony for a moment, lifting a hand to his tired eyes and rubbing at the skin around them. The scratching sound of skin on skin was at least comforting, even if it wasn’t comfortable.
“Beloved Father Rodrigo, please speak with me!” He sung it, to the tune of the Glory to the Mother.
Ruy stood up, shook his sleeves out to get most of the dust off, and turned to face his quarters. The door was, probably through some kind of miracle, still closed. Bazan wasn’t even supposed to be allowed up into this part of the temple.
“Beloved god child, son of the Mother—On-High.” Ruy sung it to the next line. He couldn’t help himself. “Please grant me rest and peace!”
The lock, which Ruy realized by the silence had been clicking, clonked, and the door opened. Bazan’s huge, shark-shaped head came around the frame. Three jangling bits of metal hung from the knob. Ruy saw them flashing, black against copper, as Bazan’s scared hand drew them from the knob and into his sleeve in a smooth motion. “Ha! Ha! Father, the kidding which you own will be forever known!” He used the last of the song.
“That was a bit of a stretch.” Ruy said, in a dry voice. He walked through the open curtains and into his rooms.
Bazan shrugged and stepped through the door, shutting it behind him. He let his voice drag along the bottom of the room, like a child responding to a disheartening scolding. “I know, I know. Improvisational singing, yet another talent I need to cultivate.”
“Yes. Along with respecting rules.” Ruy tried to keep his voice firm. It was hard. Bazan was all together too good at making him laugh. He kept his motion forward, walked past Bazan, and opened the door.
Bazan ignored him, looking around the room with an overplayed curiosity. “Oh come on Father, I can hardly be expected to follow rules. They make me itch.”
Ruy didn’t spend any time wondering if that was true. A problem for later. “Perhaps you should take it as a gift from your Mother and meditate upon it.” He gestured to the door. “The door remains open, my lord.”
Now Bazan turned. He was still smiling. But it was toned down, not a grin with his lips stretched wide, just a smile. “I need to talk to you, Father.”
Ruy nodded. “Indeed. And you may do so. In my office. Or the chapel. Or at meals. Or, indeed, any time when I am not here.” He gestured with both arms out the door.
Bazan crossed his massive arms. He’d gained weight since he joined them, but the muscles still bulged under his tattoos. “What if it’s private?”
“My office is private.”
“No, it’s not. Anyone can climb up two floors, with the shitty mortar job this temple has. And once you’re up there, it’s no trouble to hang under the flower box and listen.”
Ruy pressed his lips together to keep his annoyance from showing. “The window can be shut, Bazan. And there are guards below it anyway.”
“Yeah, who never look up. And the guards on the wall never turn around, which I think we need to talk about.”
“They’re supposed to be watching for threats from outside the temple.”
“Right. Which is why no one has any privacy around here.”
Ruy opened his mouth to argue, but Bazan was still talking, “And why I’m here, now, to talk to you about this thing which is very important to me.” He took time to emphasize ‘Very’ and ‘Important’.
Ruy hesitated, and he knew he was lost. Before he could recover, Bazan was already striding across the room to the balcony. “Thank you, Father.” He said. “I knew you would have compassion on me.”
Ruy turned around, jaw clenching, shut the door, and took a deep breath. Mother, you have infinite patience as you wait for your children. Give me some small portion—
There was the clicking of the huge shutters as Bazan drew them across, and the dark wood of the door grew black as the light left.
“Do you think someone would climb up five stories?” Ruy asked, turning around to find Bazan locking the shutters.
“No.” Ruy couldn’t see his shrug, in the dim light leaking through the wooden shutters. But he could hear it in his voice. “But this will make me more comfortable.”
Ruy sighed, letting his anger wind out on his voice. He walked over to the small table, two chairs and an unlit lamp, and neatened his papers so that they could sit. Bazan didn’t. He stood, arms crossed, back to the window.
“Please, sit.” Ruy said, gesturing to the chair. “How can I help you?” The air had grown heavy already, and the darkness only made it seem more close.
Bazan uncrossed his arms and walked to the chair, but he didn’t sit. He put his hands on the back, looked down.
Bazan’s hands were wringing the back of the chair. He heard the wood creak under the pressure.
Ruy opened his mouth to offer Bazan something to drink, and then stopped himself. Whatever it was, he was struggling to say it, and an interruption would not be welcome.
Without the breeze, the smells of the room grew stronger. The incense, burned at night to help keep away mosquitoes, began to leak out of the wood and the linens. A heavy, sweet smell. Lavender perhaps, sandalwood and rose. The dying sunlight lay in long lines across the room.
It had been a long, long day. There were more services in less than an hour, and the Blessing on the Mother’s Day at midnight, to begin the round of services that made up Holy Week.
The god child was looking down, at his gnarled hands twisting on the wood. His brows shadowed his eyes. In the dark, they were completely invisible. His thin lips were pressed so tightly together they looked like another scar across his face.
“Father, I-” It came so unexpectedly, in such a deep and sober voice, that Ruy thought for half a heart beat that someone else had come into the room. But Bazan kept speaking. “I need your leave to go to Port Callais.”
Ruy bit down on his impulsive response, which was to say no. Instead, he leaned on the chair in front of him, letting his sleeves slide down to cover his fingers. “That’s almost one thousand miles from here.”
The great hands twisted on the back of the chair. It was a broad head-board, with the Fifteenth Story depicted on it, Cautious Industry and her movement of her brother’s weapons through the armies of Destruction. They’d had guided chairs, when he moved in. But Ruy had had them sold. These ones he’d kept, because they were a gift. “Yes, Father.” Bazan said. Ruy heard him bite down on what he was going to say next.
“May I ask why?”
“No.” Like a scorpion striking. Not even a pause.
Ruy let another breath pass, kept his voice calm. “May I ask how long you will be gone?”
Bazan hesitated this time. “Perhaps a month.”
Ruy raised both eyebrows, eyes growing in surprise. “You’ll kill more then one horse, and you won’t get much time in Callais.”
Bazan shook his head. “I only need a few days. A week, at most.”
“You’ll kill yourself too.”
Bazan chuckled. It wasn’t a nice chuckle, but he looked up and met Father Ruy’s eyes. “Hardly, Father. I’ll just be tired.”
Ruy looked for the words he needed, but they wouldn’t come.
Bazan stared at him, and the shadows that covered his eyes made it seem like a glare. “I’ll pay my own way, Father. I don’t need to kill the Church’s horses.”
Ruy pressed his hands, still hidden in his sleeves, more tightly together. That just made what he had to say worse. “Bazan, I am forced to remind you that you took an oath to abandon the world.”
The headboard cracked. Like a shot, rattling around the stone walls. Bazan pulled his hands back, starting in surprise at the noise, and the wood fell, rattling against the seat of the chair. “I am sorry, Father.” He said, voice startled, eyes wide. “What did you say?”
Ruy closed his eyes for a moment, and then opened them again. “This is distressing to you.” He said. “What is going on?”
Bazan had picked up the piece of chair. He was looking at it with a bemused expression. “I’m sorry, Father. I appear to have broken your chair.”
“Just a little.”
Bazan laughed, but it was forced. He put the wood on the table with a clunk.
Ruy held his silence.
Eventually, Bazan’s answer was pressed out by the weight of it. “It’s a personal matter, Father.” His hands were behind his back now, and he continued to look down.
Ruy was surprised. That was probably true. Why hadn’t Bazan tried lying first? Something about a vision from the Mother, perhaps? Or a compulsion of the spirit? That might even have worked.
Bazan looked up. “It’s,” He paused again. “Very important to me.”
“I’d.” Ruy looked for a better word, a different way out, and wound up with, “Gathered.”
The silence went on. The bell began to ring out the half hour. A warning for him, time to start preparing for the next service.
“Father, please.” Bazan said. There was pleading in his voice.
“Bazan.” Ruy stopped. Bazan had sworn an oath to surrender his humanity, his personal capacity. He was sworn to seek the Mother and his true spirit, nothing else. It was the right path for him, the holy path.
“Let me have an errand, then.” Bazan said, as if reading his concerns off of his face. “Send me to Callais in the capacity of the Church. I will do everything you wish. Not even a whisper of irregularity in my behavior. I swear it, Father.”
That would be a lie. It would be his own interests he pursued, just like it was his own interests he pursued when he’d sworn the oath in the first place. If Ruy had known him better at the time, he never would have let him swear it. But it was too late now.
“The oath is one of intention.” Ruy said. “Not one of formality. You’ll still be violating it if you go in an official capacity to pursue your business.”
“Please Father.” Bazan knelt. “Please. This is it, the last thing, I promise.” He put his hands together and raised them. “I will give you everything, anything. Just let me do this.”
Ruy felt the tears building up in his throat and behind his eyes, and forced himself to concede that this was probably a trick. When else was Bazan honest? “Get up, Bazan. Please.”
Ruy continued, trepidatious. “I have very little reason to trust you.”
“I know, Father.” Bazan said, not even looking up.
“Will you please tell me what this is about?”
The silence oozed back in. Bazan lowered his hands, and his back changed. A defeated man, instead of one bowed in penitence. “I— have a daughter. I owe her— everything.”
“It, it never came up before because she was— I thought she was dead.”
“Bazan, I will hold you to your promise. Can this really be the last thing?”
Bazan looked up. “Father, I didn’t take the time to prepare before I swore. I thought I had nothing left. I swear now, this will be it.”
Ruy shook his head. “Don’t swear Bazan.”
The big man’s face fell.
Ruy held himself back from answering. “I will answer you after holy week.”
Sorrow turned to hope, and hope turned to distress.
Ruy felt his brow wrinkle in concern. “You are in a hurry?”
“I don’t know how long she’ll be there, Father.”
Ruy resisted the urge to rub his eyes. “Bazan, I need the whole story, and I need to go to the evening service.”
“Father, she has no time. She is on a slave ship, bound for Tau Nau.”
Ruy leaned on the chair. “How did you even find out about this?”
Bazan took a breath, stopped, and said, “I may have stayed in contact with a few old friends. You cannot tell me that I was supposed to stop having old friends after I swore?”
Ruy closed his eyes. That was, in fact, quite explicitly the case.
“Please Father.” Bazan said. “It’s too late for me to change the past, but I cannot stay here knowing she is both alive, and facing a future of brutal slavery.”
Ruy took a deep breath, praying for wisdom, or strength, or something. He opened his eyes. “I will answer you tomorrow. Give me at least until then.”
Bazan hesitated, eyes back on the ground.
“Please, Bazan.” Ruy said. “Trust me. I will have your answer tomorrow.”
Bazan nodded, and rose. His face was sober and still. “Thank you, Father.” He bowed and left, shutting the door behind him.