Chapter 10: Cordoba

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When Sam was told they were going to see a priest, Telmo Abbott was not what she'd expected. The clergymen in Haywood were severe, pious men, with long gray beards that signified the wisdom that comes with age; Telmo’s clean-shaven face revealed a man of no more than forty. Whereas most men of the cloth adopted an ascetic lifestyle, Telmo eschewed neither indulgence nor physical vanity. Dressed in fitted trousers that showed off his muscular calves, a pleated tunic embroidered with gold and a velvet overcoat, the priest clearly did not lack for funds.

Even stranger, they’d gone to meet Telmo at his private residence instead of at a temple. The Cissonius Order, explained Tristan, operated more like an exclusive underground network than a religion; its disciples demonstrated their faith by engaging in high stakes information trading rather than traditional prayer.

After Tristan had knocked at the priest’s door--much louder than necessary, thought Sam, as she clutched her pounding head--it took Telmo mere seconds to ascertain his visitors’ identities. “What can I do for you, Paladin Lyons?” He turned to nod in greeting. “Master Braeden, Master Sam.”

Sam wondered for a moment if Tristan had warned the priest they were coming, but answered her own question when she saw that he was as taken aback as she. After he recovered, Tristan said, “I heard you might be able to help us. I’m in need of information. On a somewhat delicate matter.” 

Telmo’s eyes gleamed at the word information. “My home is open to all those who bring benefaction.”

“Aye, we would happily leave a generous donation in exchange for your services,” said Tristan.

The priest kept his expression blank. “The Order does not accept coin, Paladin.”

Tristan inclined his head in acknowledgment. “So be it,” Telmo said, and ushered them into his home.

The priest led them to a room that was part chapel, part library. An altar to the Cissonian god was nestled in a stone ledge at the rear of the room, and silver-tasseled pillows lay scattered nearby. The walls were lined with innumerable books, some the latest bestsellers and some ancient tomes that looked as though they would crumble to dust at the lightest touch. The table at the room’s center was covered by a map of Thule, to which someone had pinned scraps of parchment paper with notes.

The priest propped up one of the pillows against the wall and reclined against it, indicating for them to follow suit. After they’d settled themselves comfortably, Telmo said, “So you’re here about the Uriel.” When they gaped at him in shock, he snorted. “Please. My people have eyes and ears everywhere. And you, Paladin, are about as discreet as the town crier.”

When Tristan started to balk at the insult, Telmo shushed him, his eyes shrewd. “I am a priest of Cissonius. I know how the king likes his tea and the High Commander’s favorite bauble.” His eyes locked on Braeden’s. “I know that demons’ blood flows through your veins. I know the reason the people of Yemara were not sad to see you go.” He turned to face Tristan. “And you, Paladin, for all your bluster, I know you suffer still.”

Finally, his knowing gaze fell on Sam. She trembled. How much did the priest know? Could he see through her ruse?

 “Sam of Haywood.” The priest cocked his head to the side. “The High Commander has asked the Order about you, you know. But I confess that the reason for his intrigue is beyond me. Insofar as I can tell, you’re a bastard of His Grace, Lord Haywood. You’ve the coloring for it.” The priest didn’t know. Sam held her breath, not daring to speak a word that might betray her.

“But a mystery for another time, eh?” he continued in more jovial tones, oblivious to the upheaval he had wrought with each revelation. Sam stole a look at Tristan. His face was shadowed, the humor she’d grown accustomed to seeing replaced by stark grief. She wondered what Telmo had meant when he’d said that Tristan suffered still.

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