High Priests of America
⚞ ♗ ⚟
The bustling port of Cádiz took Blaze’s breath away. He had never seen so many ships in one place. He had been awestruck by the fleet of Narváez towering over the Mesoamerican beaches, but that image faded in comparison to this swarm of ships and boats of all sizes, some majestically dormant, others gliding across the water with great zest.
Shaazgai smirked at him. His mood had been steadily lifting ever since land appeared in sight, and he told Blaze that this city built by the Phoenicians was the most ancient one in Western Europe, and that the Spanish treasure fleet was going to be departing from here as well. Compared to that armada and the traffic that was planned, Cortés and Narváez were both just rival mother ducks leading their ducklings onto the water of a pond for the first time.
As they stepped off their ship, Blaze stood on the peer, turning around in wonder. Sailors hurried with cargo, carriages passed each other, seagulls screamed in the sky above. And beyond all that, there was the city itself, and everyone in it believed in their God strongly and fearfully, the priest could already feel it. But before the new view of the old world could overwhelm Blaze completely, a pale but very determined Shaazgai tactfully dragged him off the dock and towards a carriage that was waiting for them.
Beside the coach stood a servant who helped them with their rather few possessions and then intently listened to Shaazgai’s numerous orders, took a stack of envelopes from him and hurried away on foot. Shaazgai gave the coachman a few directions, and the moment they climbed in, the coach took off. The carriage was indeed much like Shaazgai’s drawings — a spacious palanquin on wheels, drawn by several hardy-looking horses. It offered decent protection from the elements, while with curtains drawn aside, it also provided a fair view of the city. There were four heavily padded comfortable seats and with the shaking caused by the cobblestone roads, the padding was a stroke of genius.
Seeing they would not be lingering in Cádiz, Blaze asked Shaazgai about the cathedral that some of the seamen had mentioned to him, but the man laughed and said that what passed for a cathedral here, was nothing but a church where they were going. The trade with America would help the city grow and then they could afford to build a proper cathedral. He asked Blaze for patience — he had a plan on what he wanted to show him and how, but also remarked, with satisfaction, that the said Cádiz ‘cathedral’ was built on the site of a Muslim mosque. There had been some bad blood between Shaazgai and Muslims, Blaze noted, though he had only garnered it from such brief mentions so far.
“We will be in Seville in four days give or take, then two more weeks to Toledo,” Shaazgai informed him as the coach clattered onwards rather pleasantly. “There you will see a real cathedral. I sent messages out to the leaders of the towns and cities we will be passing through, so that we are received with the hospitality we are due.” The man leaned back, getting comfortable in his seat. Now that he was off the boat and far from the sea, everything about his person was suddenly relaxing. “I will nap now. Please, entertain yourself with the views for a little while if you can.”
Having said that, Shaazgai kicked off his shoes, put his feet on the seat in front of him and almost immediately dozed off.
Blaze smiled and turned to watch the city while they passed through it. He’d had some expectations of what Spain would look like, based on all the stories and sketches that Shaazgai shared with him — the latter of which, unbeknownst to Shaazgai, Blaze had kept and brought here with him — but the construct of his imagination paled when confronted with this reality.
When he had last been on this side of the ocean, there was nothing here. Now man-made structures stretched far and wide, and their inhabitants hurried in all directions about their everyday business. Blaze watched those people as they moved past them. Their complexion was lighter, they certainly wore more clothes than the Mexica did, and everywhere he looked, they did seem to make tremendous use of that wheel that Shaazgai so loved. But was this civilization really more advanced than the Inca or the Mexica empire? Not necessarily. But it was impressive nonetheless, as were all achievements of mankind. And so just like Shaazgai hoped he would, Blaze enjoyed the view.
Wherever he turned his eyes, everything was new, and that was not something a being as old as him could say often. Blaze knew that he would get used to this after some time, like he got used to all other places and nations he had settled with. But for now, his heart was filled with wonder and he chose to make the most of the feeling while it lasted. He surveyed the city with much interest, and when it ended and the rural landscapes began, he beheld those just as keenly. Even though somehow he always ended up in the center of things, surrounded with people far too energetic for his liking, he always liked the calmer side of things. He found the first Spanish village they passed on the way even more picturesque than the port city had been.
A variety of other coaches and carriages passed them on the way, as did lone riders. Horses were quickly becoming less mythical and more mundane in Blaze’s book. He imagined Shaazgai would have been making remarks about them and their riders, maybe rating them as they passed, but the notary was fast asleep. Blaze felt an unfamiliar urge to wake him up, just so that the man could tell him about the things they were passing. He let him rest instead. But when he finally woke up, Blaze was not disappointed. Now it was Shaazgai’s turn to talk, and his to listen. That is, until the man fell asleep again an hour later, trailing off mid-sentence. Blaze smiled, and decided to also take a nap.
They stopped a few times that day, only briefly, until nightfall when they reached the city of Jerez, where Shaazgai, finally fully awake, gladly gave Blaze an abridged tour of the city. Jerez was famous for its wine and its horses. Unfortunately for Shaazgai — and fortunately for Blaze — they would only have time to try the wine. It was getting late, and the mayor was probably at the edge of his seat, waiting to host them in the alcázar.
The alcázar was an impressive castle which Shaazgai said had been built several centuries ago by Muslims. Shaazgai was just beginning to delve into a deeper analysis of the differences between Yahweh and Allah, when they finally arrived at the foot of the castle where the richly dressed mayor and his timid servants were impatiently waiting for them.
Shaazgai stepped out of the carriage, all smiles and patriotic lamentations of being away from Spain for too long. He exchanged pleasantries with the mayor, introduced his travel companion and kept the mayor entertained with worthless trivia of the new world for the rest of the evening, taking over conversations and interactions, so that Blaze could watch and learn the common courtesies and manners of Spanish high society.
Just as he had promised Blaze, they were received as guests of honor. That night they bathed and rested in well-furnished private rooms, dined with the mayor and savored some of the city’s fine wines.
Early the next morning, after breakfast and before their departure, Shaazgai took Blaze on a tour of the city’s numerous churches. Again, he pointed as they stood before the first one, these were going to be just churches, not cathedrals, but Blaze paid no heed to that warning, and still marvelled at their exteriors and interiors. Less was more, simplicity above complexity. But then again, he could not deny that one of the churches they visited, the tall gothic Church of San Miguel with intricately carved flowery pilasters, left him particularly impressed, even though the building was still heavily under construction, decades after it was started. Shaazgai laughed and said that he wouldn’t be surprised if it remained under construction for centuries to come. Many churches and cathedrals of Europe were constantly that way, as new monarchs and high ranking men of the cloth liked to expand the structures to leave their mark in history. Blaze smiled. That sounded much like the temples he was used to.
And yet they were not at all. For once, there were hardly any stairs in these churches, except the few meagre steps leading to the altars.
“Wait until you see some proper church catacombs, those come with stairs,” Shaazgai teased.
Blaze snorted. “The catacombs will do nothing to help me tower above the crowds.” In contrast to Mesoamerica, here the priest and the faithful were for the most part all levelled with each other. It felt strange, and wrong in a way.
“But the good thing is, even though they will be gathered, you will not have to look at them for the most part, or talk to them. The sacraments are performed in Latin, which most do not understand, while you will be facing East, towards the coming of Jesus Christ, thankfully away from them. You should not be smelling the common masses either, thank God, there’s incense here too.” Shaazgai grinned, pointing out another similarity between the Europeans and the Mexica, his mood finally restored from somewhere at the bottom of the ocean where it had drowned along their voyage.
“Why do you assume I do not wish to see the people?” Blaze asked him incredulously.
“Because I won’t always be there, and without me, there just isn’t anything there to look at.”
The priest rolled his eyes but smiled. Shaazgai was sure getting back to his usual self.
Their tour continued in good spirits. Although it was far too rushed for the priest’s liking, even this first taste was still quite enlightening. Blaze managed to determine that churches were built on the plan of a cross, and just like the other man said, the altar was situated to the East to face the rising sun. The importance of the cardinal directions in the orientation of these structures turned out to be another common denominator between the temples of Europe and America. Blaze liked to seek out those similarities — they made the new seem old, and thus easier for him to embrace. By the end of their several hour long tour, between the knowledge from the mind he possessed and Shaazgai’s remarks, he understood the significance of different elements quite well and resolved that it should not be too difficult to eventually settle in one of such churches.
That morning provided Blaze with a lot of food for thought. But the more down-to-earth meal was needed as well, and so they returned to the alcázar, to eat and prepare for their further travels. The light lunch and heavy conversation they partook in seemed to have somewhat appeased the mayor who hated to see the brave explorers leave so quickly.
Soon after, they were on their way again.
Much of the same repeated in the towns and cities after that. Shaazgai, and by extension Blaze, would be received with great hospitality at the richest house in town, trade a few anecdotes for food and shelter for the night, then be back on the road come morning.
Watching the squalid inns where the common travellers had to lodge, Blaze couldn’t help but feel grateful for having such a well-connected guide with him. In all honesty, he had been ready to traverse Europe with nothing but a walking stick and his own two feet, but this truly was much more convenient.
Finally, they reached Toledo. All the socializing on the road proved to be a perfect rehearsal for their brief visit to the royal court. After the vivid glory of Mesoamerican royalty and the airy vastness of Christian churches, Blaze found himself slightly unimpressed by the comparative bleakness of the Spanish monarchy. It did not help that black was a color favored by many of the nobles gathered to hear the account of their voyage. The king questioned the two travellers quite extensively about the lands beyond the ocean sea and the perceived loyalty of Cortés and Narváez. Shaazgai assured the king of Cortés’ loyalty, and Blaze followed his lead. What ever political game Shaazgai was playing here in the old world, it only made sense to play along. When the crown was satisfied with their account, the priest and the notary left and soon were on the road for the last time, headed for Shaazgai’s own town and mansion a day’s journey from Toledo.
The town that had grown around Shaazgai’s castle-like palace was small, but tidy, and was effectively dwarfed by his behemoth of a home. And while they had been welcomed everywhere they went with open arms, it was here that true hospitality shone. Scores of servants waited for their arrival, dinner was served hot and ready, and the room that was furnished for Blaze was in his opinion more exquisite than the halls of the Spanish king. The walls, when not draped in silks and works of art, were works of art themselves, presenting beautiful frescos of exotic landscapes. Rich carpets covered the floor and the chests of drawers were filled with fresh clothes, linen and everything one could possibly need.
The next morning Shaazgai introduced him to his wife and, more importantly, his library. That was love at first sight. A long and passionate courtship ensued between them, with Blaze spending hours and hours inside in the library, browsing maps, manuscripts and the endless array of books. His host was glad with that development, as his duties at the court and otherwise soon called him back to Toledo, and he was not always there to entertain Blaze in person.
When he was not being a hermit, and Shaazgai was back home from Toledo, Blaze often found himself in the company of his host and a procession of explorers. Shaazgai invited such travellers to his mansion to feed them stories of the New World, while demanding tales of the Orient, the Indies and the rest of Europe in return. This time Shaazgai let Blaze take over the storytelling and questioning of the guests. Blaze found this more than a little tiresome, but did not want to complain. Shaazgai was after all a wonderful host, and in the end the priest did find the stories of the foreign lands quite interesting.
After a while Shaazgai managed to convince him to get back on a horse again, and so they rode together and hunted in the woods around the mansion. They feasted, pored over books and maps together, and on some nights, through a hidden passage, Shaazgai came into Blaze’s bedroom. Sometimes he even fell asleep there and had to hurry back to his own rooms early in the morning to pretend he’d slept in his study.
And then there was also the cellar. Very well insulated to ensure proper storage of all the expensive wines and furnished with a cot, allegedly for when wine tasting got the better of the master of the house. On some nights they sneaked together into that cellar, and on that very cot they partook in passions they had previously had to hide in the jungle for. That and the fine wine as well.
Weeks passed this way, until there came a time when Blaze wished to move on and pursue what he had travelled here for. A European temple to reside in, and perhaps a new body, preferably one that was already well connected to it. And so, Shaazgai got into a coach with him, and together they set out to find a church that would be just the perfect fit.
⚞ ♝ ⚟
Shaazgai selected for the first temple on their tour to be the magnificent Toledo cathedral.
He would never forget the look on the priest’s face when they entered it through one of the portals. As they walked together, and the man beside him first saw the rib vault ceiling above, Blaze’s mouth opened in wonder. He spent a good quarter of an hour admiring the stained glass windows in the aisles, until finally they reached the gold and splendor of the altar. It was then that with a pang of satisfaction Shaazgai noted that after all, he was not the only one who liked shiny things. The difference was that he liked to wear them, while Blaze liked looking upon them. Shaazgai was perfectly content with that arrangement. As they strolled through the cathedral, Shaazgai made sure to casually point out the places where the artists still laboured each day to make it even more magnificent.
While he did not want to pressure Blaze into choosing this particular cathedral, Shaazgai hoped that the priest would. More than hoped, he wanted Blaze here. It would be just splendid to have the man so close both to the royal court and the Shaazgai mansion. Secret trysts could be arranged with relative ease. Yes, he wanted Blaze here, and he had a plan to make the priest want to be here as well. But like most of his plans, it was a long game, and its machinations were subtle and veiled. Blaze was his friend, and he had the right to make his own informed decision. Shaazgai was merely there to offer the right information.
Blaze was reluctant to settle on this first choice. The Toledo cathedral was in the center of everyone’s attention. The king and his court frequented this place for their liturgies. Coronations took place here. This was not what Blaze wanted. He looked at Shaazgai somewhat suspiciously and said he thought they agreed even back in Cholula that it was not good to be this close to the seat of royal power, that it was better to operate from the sidelines. But Shaazgai had an argument prepared for that — with the help of his master’s power, he had divined years ago that the capital would eventually be moved to Madrid. That was why his own property was between the two cities. It would happen sooner now than later, and then Blaze could enjoy relative peace in a beautiful cathedral, while all the royal hassle would be taking place elsewhere.
He could see that allayed at least some of the priest’s concerns and got Blaze thinking. It was a start.
They went to half a dozen different cities after that and saw a multitude of different churches. Shaazgai shared all kinds of details and educated insights about them, somewhere along the way always making sure to offhandedly bring Blaze’s attention to some critical flaw.
This way, at the end of their journey, they stood in front of the Toledo cathedral again.
“It was your first true love among the cathedrals,” Shaazgai pointed out. “I remember perfectly how enamoured you were with the interior, and wouldn’t it be lovely to spend your days in it, rubbing shoulders with the cleanest, best dressed and most educated strata of society?”
Blaze frowned, and Shaazgai knew he was starting to see through his plan now, but it did not matter. They were already at the finish line.
“It does sound appealing,” the priest admitted after a long moment’s thought. “Since you brought me here again, I suppose I might as well take another look.”
“Of course.” Shaazgai led the way inside. He allowed Blaze a moment to once more have his breath taken away by the interior, before murmuring to him, “The cathedral comes with a perfect body too. Guillermo de Croÿ, a lad of twenty one, yet archbishop already. He’s causing a bit of a stir, being a pawn of his uncle and not residing in Toledo. In fact he is in France and hasn’t ever been here, but I’m sure once I organize a meeting, and he hears your most convincing arguments…” Shaazgai looked at him meaningfully.
Blaze shook his head. “I am not going to take over the body of a young man. He still has much life ahead of him.”
“As a matter of fact, he does not. Here’s the best part about his candidacy as your next host: I read his future, if you do not take over his life, next year he will fall from a horse, while hunting in Germany and die.”
Blaze’s eyebrows rose. The man looked at Shaazgai, vigilantly searching for any signs of trickery, but seemed to find none. Shaazgai knew that Blaze would double check those divinations come evening, and see that he had been right. Until then, Blaze had nothing more to say to that, and so of course, he tried another line of defense. “Even if this is true, Toledo is too much of a hassle for me. The plan was for me to stay in the shadows, while this feels like being out in the open with a target on my back.”
“If God did nothing about this spoiled brat’s appointment as archbishop, he would not so much as spare a glance at your overall respectable person.”
Blaze frowned and told him he would think about it, but Shaazgai knew he took the bait.
And so it had been decided. He was going to take Blaze with him to France.
* * *
Before the year 1520 was over, Guillermo de Croÿ had a change of heart, and passing the French Archdiocese of Cambrai to his brother, Robert, he moved to Spain to preside over the beautiful Toledo cathedral that had been meant to be under his care since 1518.
The arrival of the young archbishop caused as much of a stir in the public opinion as his absence had before, but after some careful string-pulling on Shaazgai’s part, the polarized society settled down, letting Guillermo de Croÿ do what he had come there to do.
Which except for presiding over his see and celebrating the liturgy in presence of the royal court of Spain, included siphoning a very insignificant percentage of faith meant for Yahweh, and, more importantly, indulging in secret carnal pleasures and ploys with a very particular notary.
* * *
His current incarnation’s wife would not let the matter be, so after refusing her for months, Shaazgai finally relented and took her with him during one of his trips to Toledo. The woman was almost giddy with joy. She blabbered his ear off in the carriage, going on and on about how excited she was to finally see the royals and other noble families again. She had been so bored in their rural palace while her husband got all the excitement of not only Toledo, but the new world. She said it was unfair, and he didn’t even have the strength to argue.
Only entering the cathedral finally shut her up. Shaazgai mentally thanked the Christian God.
They took their places on a bench that already had several members of the Shaazgai family. Other noble families were all around, and aside for muted greetings and nods, everyone was silent. The service began, and the moment his wife set her eyes on Blaze’s new body in archbishop robes, she leaned over to him and whispered loudly, “Look, Alfonso, the archbishop is as young and good-looking as they say!”
“Shush, Selena, you will embarrass both of us,” Shaazgai hissed, but on the inside he agreed. He did pick that body for Blaze for a reason. And by now he knew better than anyone else just how good-looking the man was. Especially without those robes. Shaazgai smiled piously.
⚞ ♥ ⚟
Telpoch came to his senses and grasped at his chest, struggling to reclaim his heart and put it back in. But there was no heart for him to grab and no wound to restore it to. His chest was closed. In fact, he couldn’t even see it under the layer of unfamiliar fabric that covered his entire upper body. It wasn’t the red armor he was used to. He looked up from his chest, and his legs almost gave way under him. He was no longer on top of the great temple of the rain gods. And he was no longer in Cholula at all. Or anywhere near it. He was in an unfamiliar land, surrounded by the oddest looking people.
And he remembered then, why he was brought back. What he had to do, and why he wished nothing more than to see his task through.
Fury burned up in him. He would find the traitors, he even knew where to look. The temples of this land were supposed to be tall, hollow and topped with crossed rods. Somehow he knew where the biggest temple in this city was, and he ran towards it, snatching a knife from a fish-monger’s stand.
⚞ ♝ ⚟
The door to the cathedral opened and some of the people glanced back. Shaazgai did not. Not until he heard screaming in Nahuatl and saw a man dash between the pews and jump the archbishop. Before the stunned eyes of the congregation, the intruder stabbed the fallen man. Once, twice, thrice, he struck Blaze in the chest with a knife. And Shaazgai felt his own heart ache and bleed, as in horror he realized what this had to be.
Pandemonium erupted all around. People were screaming and running in all directions. A nobleman from one of the front rows who was recently knighted threw himself on the assassin. They struggled wildly as a few other brave men joined in to help subdue the killer of the archbishop.
Shaazgai saw those bloodthirsty mad eyes staring at him, and the bloodied, enraged stranger croaked, “Death to the false priests!” in Nahuatl, before disappearing from view as the other men overpowered him. Shaazgai suddenly found himself running. His wife had grabbed his hand and was pulling him confidently towards the door. She glanced back at him, and her eyes were shining lilac.
A sigh of relief escaped from Shaazgai’s lips, and he eagerly ran outside with the rest of the escaping nobles. The two of them hurried further away and into the seclusion of a side alley. They pressed into an alcove to avoid scrutiny, and Shaazgai looked his wife over with care he never showed her before.
“Blaze, are you going to be alright? W-was it quick?” He didn’t ask if it was painful. It had looked painful. Shaazgai cupped the woman’s face in his hands staring intently into the clever lilac sparks inside her eyes.
“I’m fine,” she confirmed and got down to business. “Now, this was a spirit of some sort. I saw its form briefly when I was between the bodies. And judging by the looks of it, it came with a vengeance. After what we have done there, somehow, I am really not surprised.” Selena sighed. “It looks like poor Guillermo de Croÿ was not meant to live past this year after all.”
Shaazgai said nothing and instead just grabbed the woman and held his friend close. After a moment passed, he let Blaze go gently, feeling a little weird about the situation.
Blaze smiled. “That’s the one memory I will let her keep.”
“You’re too generous.” Shaazgai sneered. Then he cleared his throat and continued more seriously, “The Mexica gods are mad at us. This could be the manifestation of their anger. Or someone’s anger at any rate. Tecocol. We can call it that.” Shaazgai congratulated himself on the apt name.
“Agreed. We are safe for now. They slew him there at the church, I sensed it happen moments ago. Unfortunately I feel we will see more of Tecocol. Probably not too soon, it takes power to send a spirit over such a distance. But soon enough. You should take precautions.”
“Yes, I will ask for protection from my Master, but what about you?”
“I will be alright.” Blaze in Selena’s body looked towards the cathedral. “I’m sorry, but I think that is about it for me in Toledo. Architecturally, it is beautiful, yes, but just like I suspected, I did not enjoy the royal angle at all. They have been parading Indian slaves around the court, and even the cathedral recently. I’m tired of being constantly reminded of the conquest. Since I’ve been forced out of my host anyway, I’m going to look for a different place.”
Shaazgai let his disappointment show. “It was quite convenient to have you here. I suppose Madrid would not be so bad, but then you would have to move again when the monarchy does. Do you want me to look into the priesthood in Madrid, pick you a nice new body? You can use my wife for now, if you wish.”
Blaze shook his head. “Thank you, I really appreciate the offer, but I will figure it out on my own. I would like to ask one thing of you however.”
“Could you hold onto some of my possessions for me? It will not be much. I will arrange to have them delivered to your mansion soon.”
“Of course. Send as much as you like. Anything else you need?”
“Thank you, but I do not believe so.” The woman shook her head. “I should be going now, it is not good for her if I linger. I will be in touch as soon as I settle on a new location.”
“Stay safe. You know how to reach me.” Shaazgai lifted his hand, as if he wanted to stroke Blaze’s face, but ended up just putting his hand on the shoulder of his wife.
The priest put his hand on Shaazgai’s briefly. “You stay safe as well. It might be some time before you hear from me, so do not panic. Stay vigilant. And hug your wife like that sometimes. For decency sake. She’s a good woman.”
Shaazgai sighed. “I guess she’s not the worst I’ve had. I’ll be waiting for a message from you, so we can work out an arrangement.” He did not want to let Blaze go, but he would.
“Good. Until then. Take care.”
The lilac light faded, and the woman blinked several times like she was coming out of a daydream. She looked up at her husband in confusion. “Alfonso, what happened? I-I must have fainted. Did the archbishop survive?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Oh no. That poor, poor man… How dreadful.” Selena shook her head. Then she shuddered and looked around herself in wonder. “Oh! You carried me all the way out here to safety? You are so brave, my husband! I was worried the trip to the new world had scarred you, but now I see the hardship made you fearless!” She fell into his arms, and Shaazgai reluctantly hugged the woman.
“Well, then I hope you will stop complaining that I don’t fulfill my husbandly duties,” Shaazgai said.
Selena smiled. And he did too. With his lips only, as he searched for the lilac light in her eyes but found only its absence.
* * *
The night of the archbishop’s murder Shaazgai prayed to his Master and politely inquired about protection of his immortal life from emissaries of foreign gods. It took some sweet talking and the promise of a few more wars in Europe that finally got Shaazgai what he wanted — an assurance that he would remain obscured from the vengeful spirit as long as he was young. He did not need anything more. He never allowed himself to grow old anyway.
Reassured, Shaazgai went to bed at peace by his wife’s side. Selena gave him one of those long expectant looks, and this time he caved in and reluctantly had sex with her, conjuring in his mind the memory of light inside her eyes. The woman was delighted. He hoped she would get pregnant and leave him be.
The weeks that followed Shaazgai spent restlessly checking with his servants if a message had perhaps arrived from a bishop, archbishop or any other clergyman. And everytime the answer was no. Until finally, one afternoon, a young man delivered a letter for him from an archpriest in Milan. Shaazgai had to sit down. Milan. Lombardy. What in the blue blazes was the man doing in Lombardy?
Shaazgai had one of his servants pay the messenger and retreated to his study to read the letter in private.
Blaze, or Vincenzo as he now called himself, wrote that Milan was a fair city and that as a Catholic it was wonderful to be so close to Rome. The letter had a lot of veiled information and subtext that led Shaazgai to believe Blaze had no intention of coming back to Spain but wanted to continue their collaboration. He even invited Shaazgai to visit him in Milan.
Shaazgai glared at the letter for the longest time. He did not want Blaze all the way out there in Lombardy, but what was he going to do? Chain him to the currently vacant Toledo cathedral? The man was more powerful than he was, the idea was laughable. And he didn’t want to force something on Blaze, but losing access to the man he had by his side for decades stung. It was much worse than when a good servant died. Those were somewhat replaceable. Blaze was someone he could be honest with and someone who could satisfy him in bed, someone he could plot with. Where else would he find another man like that?
Shaazgai glared at Blaze’s letter, crumpled it and tossed it into the fireplace. The fireplace was not lit, and after a while of angry pacing Shaazgai took the letter out of it, unfolded it and sat down to write a reply. The first version of his response ended up in the fireplace, which was then lit. So did the second. And third. Too confrontational. Too scathing. Too needy. Shaazgai spent the rest of the day coming up with a letter that conveyed his feelings without betraying any weakness or presenting any information that could compromise them should the letter be intercepted.
Shaazgai picked the finished letter up and read it.
I hope my letter finds you in good health and uplifted spirits. I was infinitely relieved to hear you are doing well, and I hope that you will not fret for my well-being as my letter travels all the way to Lombardy to reach you.
From your description Milan sounds like a wonderful city I shall visit at the first opportunity. I struggle not to envy you such closeness to Rome and its holy relics, as well as the tomb of Saint Mark in Venice. Such beacons of holiness within your grasp!
Shaazgai hoped he managed to be both clear and passive aggressive enough to let Blaze know he hated to be so far away from him and required a meeting soon. It was impossible to find an adequate replacement for him as a lover, and any communication would now have to be this snail-pace exchange of manuscripts, which rendered honesty and plotting both highly problematic. Shaazgai sighed, sealed the letter, stamped it with his signet ring and passed it to a servant to take care of delivery.
His frustration was paramount. But at least Selena had not bled in over four weeks, which meant there could be a child on the way, and he would not have to deal with her womanly wants and needs for a while.
⚞ ♗ ⚟
You can expect me to visit in late May, unless something urgent comes up, in which case you will receive a letter instead of a guest. Such is the price we must pay for our current occupations and accommodations.
Send your response with the same messenger that delivers this letter. He is a trustworthy courier and faster than most.
Stay safe and reach out to me should you need anything at all.
Always at your service,
Blaze smiled with fondness as he finished reading the last lines of Shaazgai’s neatly written letter. He knew the man would be righteously frustrated with his decision to settle in a different country altogether, and he knew he would be forgiven. Shaazgai liked a challenge, he was great at overcoming obstacles — based on his own stories, more than once he had been left on his own in an unknown land by his master and always emerged at the top, riding the wave of schemes, plagues and conquests. Blaze was positive that he would swiftly work out an arrangement just like he said during their parting. Meanwhile the distance would keep the avenging spirit away from the man and his mortal family that should not suffer for the sins of the two of them.
Blaze was certain that Tecocol had tracked him, and not Shaazgai, down to the cathedral that day. Blaze knew for a fact that his own imprint on the spirit world was much more immense than Shaazgai’s, and he firmly believed that should that incarnation of fury and vengeance seek the death of his tormentors again, the spirit would show up on the priest’s doorstep, and not Shaazgai’s.
Besides, Blaze was guessing who that could be. There had been just one young man who trusted the supervising high priest of Cholula only to wake up as a sacrifice hours later. It felt right that Telpoch would come for him, and Blaze was going to take that martyrdom… no, the duty of penance onto himself fully. The archpriest nodded, satisfied with how well he had embraced the Christian terminology and ideals.
One good thing about dying back then was that being temporarily free of a permanent body, let Blaze visit many more churches. After he left Shaazgai’s wife, he briefly possessed some of the staff on his own property to make arrangements for his personal belongings to be passed to Shaazgai for safekeeping, and afterwards, he set out travelling through the spirit world instead.
This way of travel enabled him to see the patterns in which faith flowed around the places of worship, and choose the most convenient new location. He went through some Spanish churches at first, before he got the novel idea of crossing the border, that in the spirit world, did not even exist.
Once he reached France, nothing was stopping him from exploring all the way in the direction where — with the proximity to Rome — the faith grew even stronger. But even though Rome was tempting, Blaze stood by what he had told Shaazgai before. He did not wish to be in the very center of things. So instead, he decided to give Milan a try. The currents of prayers were to his satisfaction there, and he could not resist the cathedral. It was just as beautiful as the one in Toledo. This time however, he avoided the positions of the archbishop or bishop, and settled for the archpriest instead, a role granting the same levels of access within the church, but with far fewer high society commitments. He was pleased with this place. There was some unrest caused by the conflicts in the region, but luckily all factions involved were respectful of the Christian faith and the diocese was not too affected.
Not wanting to keep the courier or Shaazgai waiting, Blaze soon sat down at an ornate desk with blank letter paper, and dipped a quill in an inkwell to write down as much of that as an archpriest of Milan cathedral could convey in a letter to a Spanish notary.
He was going to miss Shaazgai. He highly enjoyed the man’s company and very much appreciated the grand welcome to this old world that Shaazgai had given him in Spain. But the way his accomplice liked to plan everything in Blaze’s life at all times both throughout Blaze’s stay at the mansion and even afterwards when they were both in Toledo, had quickly become a very taxing experience, and truth be told, while he wouldn’t tell Shaazgai that, the avenging spirit had given Blaze an excuse to cut it short.
It was going to be good to be able to rest from Shaazgai’s hectic way of life for a while. And it will be good to see the man again later. In the meantime, Blaze was going to enjoy these letters a lot. Even if they could not say things outright in them, figuring the right phrasing to the meaning they wanted to channel, was going to be an interesting mental exercise in its own right.
For example, he had read Shaazgai’s suggestion about a meeting in Venice for what it was. And now, he was going to write back with veiled arguments against going there. Venice, really. The city of the masked and the lecherous. He could well imagine Shaazgai there, but it just was not a thing for him. Not at all.