You’ve got quite a gift with coffee,” Father Rosario remarked, his face hovering behind the steam. He took a lengthy sip and offered an amorous sigh. Sister Mary Elizabeth smiled and simply drank hers, trying not to encourage the mischievous priest.
Shadows shrouded the dining room, with only the shimmering orange orbs of candles casting ghostly light throughout the room. They sat at an oak table, lacking decoration. Their chairs lacked cushion. The shutters creaked against the evening breeze, groaning from age and disuse. The priest and the sister lingered quietly. Rosario inhaled the aroma of the coffee, quietly thanking God for this rare luxury. He noted how the shadows caused the sister’s frown to age her.
“Millford’s a plenty long haul, Father,” she said, setting her mug upon the table. “Paulina and Doris are dedicated to the church and to God, that’s not to be doubted, but I’m not sure they were the best choices for the task. Father Bermudez needs someone to tend to his face, and my doctoring doesn’t go much past midwifing.”
“That’s a treasure to know, that amongst priests and nuns, we have someone capable of delivering a baby. Is there something naughty amiss that I need to be made aware of?” Rosario laughed. He was a lean man of an age with Bermudez, though laugh-lines creased his features more than stress and wrinkles. Dark hair, peppered with haphazard patches of gray, framed a kind face. His hazel eyes danced behind a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles.
“Not for here. I need to learn more, in case of any situations such as this,” she said. She shook her head. “I don’t like having her here. She says such frightful things, and she speaks like something from another time.”
Mary Elizabeth blinked. Rosario chuckled. “The girl that attacked Father Bermudez. Her name is Paz. You really didn’t know, did you?”
“I only knew her last name.”
“She lives not far from here,” Rosario continued. “On the other side of the dead city. Her family travels about, using the land as they can and trying to stay a step ahead of harriers.” He took another lengthy sip, relishing the flavor. “Brave people, to live on this sort of land. Far too many sorts that would come and take all they had. Sometimes, they did come. More often, though, they limped away.” A small curve of a smile rested upon his lips.
“Her father brought her this way. Said she was talking crazy, speaking like a different person. I’d met with them in the past, prayed and supped with them. Seemed like the least I could do, to offer hospitality to them when they’d given it so freely to me over the years.” He shrugged. “I didn’t realize how bad things were.”
“I hate that she has to be chained, but she is so very strong, Father,” Mary Elizabeth said, words rushed. Bermudez had never mentioned that Rosario knew the family. “If you had seen–”
“The scars that Father Bermudez bears are more than enough for me. He could have been more careful, but I know how he operates, and I’ve no doubt he was so sure he had a handle on things.” Rosario sighed. “He is my colleague, but he can also be a fool when his pride gets the best of him. I try to stay out of his way, mainly to spare his feelings: He’s always thought that I think he is inferior to me. In truth, I fear for him. He lives recklessly for a man in his position. He places more faith in his own intellect than in the will of God.”
“If I may speak freely?”
Rosario barked a laugh, gesturing with his mug. “Woman, I’ve been speaking freely all this time. I’m no nobleman lording over you and expecting you to remain subservient to me. Speak, and do it as freely as you can manage.”
“Father Bermudez nearly got everyone in that room killed. If the Sanchez woman–”
“Paz,” Rosario interrupted, though not chiding.
“Paz, forgive me. If Paz had managed to avoid the jug, she would have been able to kill all of us. The strength that she bears…it is unnatural, even for a strong woman.”
Rosario tilted his head. “It seems to me that all of you believe that Paz is the host for something unnatural. And whatever is within her is bestowing strength and knowledge and all sorts of malice upon her soul. Is that right?”
“It has to be,” Mary Elizabeth confirmed. “It’s been years since I saw one, but this is a demon. A strong one at that.”
Rosario nodded, but he held his index finger up, begging her consideration. “Yet both you and Father Bermudez say that Paz – or rather, the entity that is within her – chastised the Father for claiming that this was his own church, rather than belonging to The Lord. Do I have that right?”
“It was madness. The rage upon her face was terrible to behold, and–”
“Please, answer my question,” Rosario interjected, and though there was no impatience in his voice, his stare compelled Mary Elizabeth to stop and think.
“Yes,” she answered. “She…IT…called him prideful. And faithless.”
Rosario stroked his chin, eyes staring into the vacant shadows at the corners of the room. “Did she sound angry with him when she called him these things?”
“Oh yes,” Mary Elizabeth nodded. “Furious, in fact.”
He laced his fingers together, shaking his head. “Therein lies the deepest portion of my worry. I am concerned enough with Paz being horribly violent, and having to keep her bound, but the fact that she was angry when accusing Father Bermudez of pride and faithlessness makes me wonder. What kind of demon would be enraged by a priest that was falling out of line with God?”
He watched her comprehension dawn and quickly descend into a fresh shroud of confusion. It did seem passing strange that a demon would be angered with Father Bermudez succumbing to sin, even one that seemed so small in the eyes of men. Yet if it wasn’t a demon, what was it? “I cannot answer that, Father.”
Rosario pushed himself away from the table. “I suppose there is only one way to figure this out, without the Almighty opening the skies and telling us directly.” He paused, looking to the ceiling hopefully, then chuckled to himself. He winked at Mary Elizabeth. “Well, it was worth a try.”
“You don’t mean to go see her now, do you?” Mary Elizabeth gnawed at her lower lip. “There are so few of us here.”
“Never, Sister,” Rosario winked. “In these halls, one never walks alone. Praise be that He is always with us, especially in His own house.”