Chapter Twenty: Temple's Priestess

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"I have decided not to wear them," he said.  “I walk as Phado walks, completely free.”

"You put yourself at risk," she said. "What will the other priests think?"

"It should not matter what they think."

"Wishing will not make it so, my friend. There are priests who detest freethinkers.  You must first protect yourself if you want to bring about any kind of change."

"Perhaps. Perhaps not." He paused. "Look there. Someone who wishes to speak with you?"

Hillm stood in the shadow of the temple watching them. Even at this distance Isela felt his eyes burning into her.

"Something more than that, I'm afraid," she said, softly. "I should go to him."

"If you must. But protect yourself, Isela. If you want to bring about any kind of change." The desert priest smiled. "A wise priestess told me that."

“Go gently,” she said.  

He smiled at the human expression.  Then, with a final glance at the angry priest, River turned and walked the other way towards the temple garden, where the ground was soft and cool in the shade.

Isela laughed and waved at Hillm. As she walked toward him, his expression did not change.

"How did you wake, Hillm?"

"A little lighter," he said, automatically. "Why do you let him speak with you, Isela? He is an abomination."

She shook her head, the rings around her horns jingling. "I will not hear this."

He apologized immediately. “Walk with me,” he said.

"I am."

“You know what I mean. Let's go somewhere. The city is alive; we are young, all the promises of the prophets are coming true. Let us celebrate.”  

She declined. As they said goodbye he pressed his body along hers so she couldn't help but feel his heat. He pressed, testing her for a response or a protest. She gave neither.

That night she saw River again. Again he was naked as Phado, not even wearing jewelry. She bowed low. "And are you lighter, River?"

"A little more now," he said. He looked past her.

She felt a small rush of air as someone swept up beside her. It was Hillm, swollen again with rage. He glared at Isela and then at River.

“Who do you think you are?” he said.

River was silent a moment. “I am no one,” he said. And then, “You know who I am.”

“I know who you are not. You're not one of us. Why are you here? Why are you spying?”

Isela shoved Hillm. “We are all guests in the house of Phado, brother.”

Hillm floundered. “He is a spy! Watching us for the desert Phodiine, that he might betray what we have learned!”

River showed his teeth. “Are not Phado’s teaching for all of Phyrnos?”

Hillm snorted. “They are not for vermin.”

River did not answer.  He was looking at someone else, behind Hillm.  The priest turned.

"Phado!" Hillm said.

The goddess rumbled, admiring her preternaturally long claws. “River,” she said. “Come.” She threw only a glance at Hillm before she strode away with the naked Phodiine following her.

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