Pope Innocentius received his visitor by night this time. It was, he agreed, the better arrangement.
Cardinal Garnhalt had overstretched badly, but he at least had had the grace to die with his command. There would be no need to punish anyone. Not this time, and the visitor, well, to punish that kind Innocentius left to his god.
“We started too early. I can see that now,” he acceded to the man in the couch. Dragon more correctly, but Innocentius had yet to see one in that form.
“You did, and you suffered badly for it. It pains me greatly to hear of your losses.”
Polite as he was Innocentius greatly doubted the stranger really cared. Stranger, because that was also something he was. Visits to the papal seat, and to his bishopric before that, had never really yielded anything about the person who was also a dragon.
He was a person. That much was clear. Not a soulless demon. That admission pained Innocentius. Somehow making a deal with the devil had seemed more appropriate. At least he could find a perverse safety in the knowledge his eternal soul was forfeited, but now he didn’t know any longer. That uncertainty was worse in many ways than certain damnation. Because that uncertainty carried overtones Innocentius didn’t want to hear. It nagged at his belief, and even if he had been guilty of many an evil deed he’d always been safe in the solid knowledge he acted for the best of God. If not always in His grace.
“We did gain a foothold in Mintosa though.”
“So you did. It will hamper De Vhatic shipping indefinitely. I believe they will attempt to retake the port.”
Innocentius nodded. It wasn’t a matter of belief. Keen needed that port. Or they needed it to be in friendly hands, and Chach had never been a friend of Keen’s.
“I could still help you with analyses, and my insight in how events unfold,” the dragon offered.
Not for the first time Innocentius regretted he’d never asked what the stranger expected to gain from the arrangement, and now it was far, far to late. Too late to start asking for names as well.
“Yes, yes I think I would like that,” he said instead.
“Are we agreed then?”
“Yes, we are,” Innocentius said. It wasn’t as if he could stop the stranger from coming and going as he chose anyway. This time he planned to listen more carefully to the advice he received. Venturing out on a military adventure without asking the stranger first had turned out costly.
He met the dragon’s eyes. Cold, and with that glint of metal that gave away what he really was. Once they might have been golden but no longer.
He watched the stranger take his leave. It was time for another meeting. One he feared more than the one he had just finished. And yet Cardinal Zaarbach was but another human. But he was more outspoken than the stranger ever was, and those questions would give birth to others. Not even a pope was powerful enough to prevent that, unless he started to kill off all noisy cardinals, and Innocentius wasn’t prepared to take that path—yet.