Clandestine (Chapter 38)
I stroll with confidence though the narrow streets with James nearly shaking as he follows along behind me. I already regret bringing him along, not because he can’t be trusted, but because he looks so nervous that he is drawing attention- attention you don’t want in this part of town.
The East District is a rough place, filled with father-less youths running through the streets and women past their prime standing in the windows selling their bodies to the highest bidder. Men whose minds were ravaged by the last war or who are otherwise unsettled also roam these parts, but luckily their activity is limited during the day. The narrow alleyways are full of shadows despite the harsh afternoon sun and I have to watch where I am walking else I might step into garbage- or on a cat. It’s unfortunate that I had decided to wear a rather new pair of shoes.
We are headed to meet Apothen and his nephew and clearly I had not been thinking when I agreed to it. Not only is it a hair-brained and risky plot, but I have to waste my day wondering through filth. I could be at home having lunch with Ivy.
Ivy. We have been spending more time together ever since the incident last week. We have developed a routine at meals. I ask her about her day and she asks me about mine. We eat. It’s almost… familial. Comfortable. We are nowhere close to lovers, but perhaps we are close to friends. I should keep my internal pledge to stay away, but I can’t. I’m going to spend the rest of my life with her, have children with her; we need to have a relationship if only a friendship.
A large rat scurries along the edge of the street and I have to school my expressions to stop from cringing. Fucking Eastern District.
We turn a corner. We are almost there and I can only hope that the secret meeting spot is cleaner inside that the streets are outside. I hear a telltale squish and then James cursing. I look to my left to see the disgusted look on James’ face and I have to stop myself from chuckling.
Then we are there. House number 752. It’s a two story building with white peeling paint and a few small windows with brown curtains. It’s so far to the east of the city that it backs up to the city wall which overlooks the entire street. A suspicious destination for a meeting between senators, but it was too risky to sit down at a restaurant and Apothen and I were not exactly known as friends or allies.
I knock on the weathered door and wait. James crowds behind me, eager to be free of the polluted street. He is so close that I get a whiff of his strong cologne. The boy needs to quit trying so hard, the priestesses will fuck him anyways.
The door creeks open and we are welcomed into a small hallway by a small round woman with gray hair wearing a simple dark purple dress.
“They are waiting for you in the sitting room” She gestures towards an open side door.
Having heard us enter, Apothen has already made his way to the doorway.
“Welcome gentlemen!” He calls. He is wearing a rumpled causal gray suit with his white hair wild and unkempt. He is missing all of the finery and gold chains that make the upper classes so recognizable, but he is still overdressed considering the neighborhood.
I, myself, left my chains at home in an attempt to avoid attention but wore my usual attire. I am overdressed but it had not bothered me.
“Senator” I acknowledge as I walk towards him.
“Come” Apothen brings us into the sitting room “This is my nephew I was telling you about, Master Priest Dunn Apothen”
A man with black curly hair stands from a chair to greet us as we enter. He has a strong square jawline with serious blue-gray eyes that tell of having seen things. He wears a gauzy layers of priestly robe in black which swamps his figure in a mystical haze of mourning. He looks to be in his early 30s. He is too young to become the High Priest, what is Apothen thinking?
“Senator Hertilz, Mr. Maddoy” the Priest greets.
“Master Priest” I return. I hear James mumble something behind me, but it is too quiet for me to pick up.
Senator Apothen claps his hands before signaling we should sit down on a brown couch opposite him and his nephew.
The room is a standard middle class sitting room I suppose, whitewashed walls, an unlit fireplace on the far wall, a faded rug under our feet. A lumpy couch on which I sit across a large wooden coffee table from two chairs holding our hosts. It smells of long burned out candles and stale flower potpourri. It’s clean but feels well used.
“Miss Garett, could you bring us some liquor?” Apothen says to the short woman who had made her way into the room. I hear a soft scoff as she walks away to do his bidding.
I wait for Apothen to begin and he doesn’t disappoint: “You have probably heard the rumors of abuse and neglect coming from the goddess’ temple”
I am tempted to correct him, I have more than heard the rumors, I have seen the repercussions of the High Priest’s policies first hand.
“Dunn, here” Apothen points his thumb at his nephew “would like to make the public aware of these abuses- bring them into the light so that we can bring down the fat High Priest and stop his tyrannical rule.”
I say nothing, this is not news. James is almost shaking in nervousness beside me. Not for the first time, I am regretting bring him along. The boy doesn’t have the nerves for this sort of thing. I would have brought Sean, but he was taking Ivy to see my mother.
“He has taken our religion to perverted extremes and used women to-“
I raise my hand to interrupt Apothen’s moralistic ranting. He can’t pretend to be doing this out of the goodness of his heart and I’m not interested in listening to the old man’s fucking justifications for his selfish actions. I already know he wants his nephew to take the High Priest’s place.
I look the priest right in the eye as I ask “So you think you have what it takes to be High Priest?”