Chapter 23

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ORIUS LOUNGED IN A CHAIR facing an ornate bedstead. Maiel slept on the mattress above the blankets, still dressed in her armor. She told him that she didn't trust Geitz and refused to remove one link of her protection until they were safe again. He doubted that she truly slept, either. She probably meditated, rebuilding her strength for what she believed was to come. Rising to his feet, he let her have her way. The moment of peace allowed him to have a conversation with Geitz alone, where he might get a sense of her suspicions.

Exiting their apartments in Esztergom's residence, Orius made his way down the hall toward the stairs. A fellow clergyman appeared ahead of him from another room. He stopped the man and asked where he might find the archbishop's office. The man eyed him, then responded with a deep frown and vague directions. The priest turned his back and left Orius standing there alone. Orius watched him go, confused by the man's reluctance to offer help. He folded his hands behind his back and pursed his lips, assuming he was just spoiled by the cordial and humble brothers of his small parish. Finding a set of stairs, he searched for the office with the directions he was given.

Orius emerged in a garden. Surprise turned to delight when he discovered he had no farther to go. Geitz walked with his head tilted down, deep in worried thoughts. Orius rushed to him, smiling  pleasantly. The other man lifted his chin and peered at him hard, as if Orius were an intruder. Orius drew up short. He didn't expect such a severe reception. After all, he'd just brought proof of his origins and proof of the whole meaning of their existence. Likely Geitz had already thought of the trouble it would stir up in Rome, but once things were smoothed out, it would only strengthen them.

"Bethiah is sleeping. I wanted to take the opportunity to thank you for your help, Archbishop," Orius said.

The archbishop nodded, appearing not the least moved by the appreciation.

"This changes everything," Geitz finally said.

"Not really," Orius countered.

Geitz laughed derisively.

"God turns his back to test your kind in a moment of doubt—I won't, though it may rend the Vatican. That's where we should turn, you know. They'll want to know why you didn't go to them first. Father Orius, do you have any idea what this means?"

Orius chose not to speak. Geitz wandered into the garden away from Orius in hopes of finding an answer to tie this up. Orius felt sorry for the man. What he knew was twisted-up rubbish. He followed the archbishop until the man faced him again.

"You should rest yourself. When she wakes, she'll need both of us clearheaded, to see a way around all this," Geitz said, not quite meeting his gaze.

Orius nodded and gave a soft smile.

"What?" Geitz asked.

"You're a true friend, Archbishop. I couldn't have done this without you," Orius said.

Something black passed over Geitz's face. Orius had chosen the words hoping to elicit a response. He watched the older man a moment, seeing through him for the first time. He sensed the heart of the archbishop, as it reached toward power.

"You flatter me—but I'm only doing what's expected. You'd do the same and have," Geitz told him, obscuring the hate in his voice.

Orius kept smiling, though it ceased to touch his eyes. He groped toward an explanation that would uphold the integrity of the church and the man. Perhaps he simply felt the lingering despair and the gnaw of hunger that set Bethiah on edge. Both were shadowy emotions, sure to unsettle any duta, but that explanation didn't satisfy. Bethiah had better sight than he and her warning had been right.

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