With the Queen of Heaven’s reluctant acceptance of Michael’s help came some new living quarters. He was still under guard, of which I was a part, but we were led to an apartment a short journey from the market rather than the prison. Michael immediately made use of its bathtub, explaining as he emerged wearing a towel that he hadn’t had access to one since his arrival in Iravati.
“That would explain the smell,” I said as he sank into a chair opposite me.
“It is odd, being a water-aligned city. One would expect them to have facilities everywhere,” he replied.
“Maybe they just really don’t like you.”
“That is likely. I understand their bitterness about the whole affair, of course, but I am still grasping why they seem to hold me personally responsible.”
“Did your family gain any favor or wealth by their work here?”
“And are you still benefiting from that favor and wealth?”
“Hm. I think I see where you’re going with this. But excuse me to get dressed. I”ll have to consider the matter further when I return to England.” He rose again and slipped into one of the two bedrooms. The other, I was informed when the guards let us in and took up their posts outside, was reserved for me; to ensure I was always close at hand should he try anything. The apartment was originally intended for guests to the city, I’m told, and appeared to have been designed by someone who knew guests would need separate spaces but didn’t quite know what those spaces were. The kitchen, or at least the area that appeared to be for cooking, was in my bedroom. The only restroom was in Michael’s bedroom, and the communal space with the chairs also housed what looked to be some sort of meditative or religious space. Ignoring the incense holders but lighting a candle that I hoped didn’t have alternate ceremonial importance, I utilized that area for a round of daily prayers while I waited for Michael to return. He emerged before I was done, but seemed to recognize that I was busy and sat silently until I was done. When I finished and turned toward him, he was flipping through a leather-bound book.
“Anything interesting?” I asked, taking up my seat again.
“Haven’t a clue,” he replied, closing the book and setting it aside, “I don’t know the language.”
“I could ask Akshainie if they have anything in English.”
“I do speak multiple languages, Benedict. Just not this one.” He leaned back and crossed his arms. “But speaking of Akshainie. What is the nature of your relationship with her?”
“We’re partnering on official business on behalf of our benefactors.”
“Is that the official answer, or the honest one?”
“What are you getting at?”
“Hopefully, something worth talking about that isn’t official business.”
“There is nothing between Akshainie and I to discuss.”
“And are you happy with that?”
“I accepted the terms of my office long before you were born, Michael.”
He raised his hands as if giving up the subject. “Very well, then. But one could hardly be faulted for noticing that acceptance is not the same as enjoyment.” We sat in silence for a minute before he leaned forward. “But if I could ask just one more thing.”
“I seem to have little ability to stop you.”
“I saw the way you looked at her in England. And how she looked at you. The way you two moved in sync, and worked through information together.”
“That isn’t a question.”
“Do you know how she feels about you, and does she know how you feel about her?”
“We know what we need to know.”
“You didn’t seem so dodgy last we spoke.”
“I am not a man of secrets. But I am a man of mission, and this matter is not helpful to our mission. I suspect this is a trait you’ll have to learn someday, future Lord Hudson.”
“Yes, of course. But I don’t intend to put my entire life on hold over it, and I don’t believe you should, either.”
“My life is not on hold. It is simply not guided by earthly desires.”
The door opened and a soldier entered. “The Queen of Heaven is ready for you to begin preparations,” she said.
“Thank God,” I said. Michael laughed as we both rose and followed the soldier.
Evidence compiled for use during the trial of Father Benedict de Monte.