The Prophet, the Priest and the Prostitute (Chapter 1)

By Daniel Adams

(Note: Over the next few weeks, we will be serializing a story written by Daniel Adams, posting one chapter each Saturday. Don't miss a week!)

"You Deserve This."

That's what the hand printed scrap of parchment said, the one pinned above his drawing table.

His hands worked fervently over the parchment before him, his right hand clutching a rule, his left hand feverishly gliding to and fro, stained by charcoal, leaving dark smears in its wake.  

He hovered over the desk in the dim light, barely able to see what he was doing.  He carved out a corner, made a note, and decided he needed more light.  In spite of it he put down the rule and grasped for his compass.  Using it he etched a series of arcs onto the scroll, connecting the pillar-like lines he had so carefully placed in succession.  

A bead of sweat rolled from his forehead across the bridge of his nose and onto his chiseled cheek bone, where it threatened to fall onto his work.  It sat poised to drop while he stared it down with one eye.

He set down the stick of charcoal gently and slowly leaned back on his away from the table, still hunched over at the shoulders.  He wiped away the harmless bead of sweat, smearing the resin across his face, unaware.  He wiped his brow with his sleeve, and reached for the lamp.  

Captivated, he admires his own work before glancing up at the scrap of parchment attached to the wall.

"I do deserve this," he said.  

The note was meant to motivate him to continue to work long hours.  He had a firm belief that you get what you deserve in life, and that was bound to be the sum of your life's experiences and the effort you gave to your path.  Simply put, one gets exactly what they earn, nothing more, nothing less.

He pushed himself to the limit.  Sweat stung his tired eyes, his back ached from being bent over the table, and he could not remember his last full night of sleep.  And that was saying nothing of the incredible sacrifice he had made to gain the tenuous foothold he had on this opportunity.  

In a way, the sacrifice drove him to such drastic ends.  He wanted, if nothing else, to prove that he was right for making it.  To fail now would render the sacrifice worthless.  To come this far, to leave so much behind, success was the only balm for his great injuries, the justification he needed to move forward.

He reached for the charcoal again just as he noticed the sound of familiar measured footsteps in the hallway behind him.  He gave pause to listen as the sound of sand grinding under sandal came to a halt in the doorway.

"Now is no time to rest on your haunches.  Tallulah has already turned in his sketches; and, you're meeting with Warda in the morning.  Are you ready?"

The grizzly voice caused him to bristle.  The hair stood on the back of his neck and chased a chill down his spine.  It belonged to Bailram, his superior in the priesthood.

"It's a late hour to be away from your chambers, Bailram."

"I'm told some priests keep late watches," he drawled, "away from their chambers."  

Bailram's comment stung like the sweat in the priest's eyes.

"Would you like to see my work?" he asked without turning around.

He listened to the heavy grind of the sandals on the stone floor until they stopped directly behind him.  He felt the heavy breath on his shoulder and the unwelcome scent of salted fish in his nostrils.  

"What am I looking at, exactly?"

The young priest sighed.  "It's a series of archways leading into the center court yard."

"Arches?"

"They're self supporting, and stronger than square frames built with beams."

"Interesting.  It's an ambitious leap."

"But a worthy one."

"You would know better than I.  I leave all of this design work and planning to my brother."

"He does good work."

"He's a pretentious bore, with no imagination....  But he gets the job done."

"I hope to match his accomplishments, one day."

"You'll surpass them if you go anywhere at all," said Bailram as he peered over the shoulder of the priest.

"You're too kind," the priest mumbled, unaccustomed to compliments.

"Not at all.  You may never go anywhere," the superior spat.  "You're a creative genius; but, you are prone to procrastination, pensive depression and most of the time you focus on the trivial rather than, well....  You lack perspective.  You are short on purpose and spend too much time pawning over the past.

"If you're ever going to win this promotion, and the chance to design the new temple, you'll have to focus as never before.  You cannot afford anymore distractions.  Are we clear?"

He sat silently studying the architectural sketch.

"I would be a shame to have to take matters into my own hands, again."

The priest turned his head ever so slightly and allowed a glance full of distain to seep from the corner of his eye.

"Remember, it's not just your dreams at stake here.  If my stay here in the House of Ishtar is extended because you're not prepared, my appointment to Calneh could be in jeopardy.  It is a greater risk than I am willing to allow."

"I understand.  I will be prepared by first light."

"To be sure, I'll expect to see all of the sketches an hour before Warda's party arrives," he said as he took a step toward the door.  "And do look presentable.  He will be looking at more than your skills in architecture; and, you must not disappoint.  This eunuch has the title of a servant, but speaks for the King."

With that he paced slowly to the door.

"Young man, I believe you can.  But you must prove that you will."

The young priest turned just in time to see Bail's robe disappear into the darkness of the hallway.

"I will you pompous prick," he whispered.

He sat in silence pondering.  

I don't give a rat's ass about your promotion.  I deserve this.

Confident that Bailram was safely away he rose, gathered his cloak, and departed his chambers.  He paused at the edge of the shadow cloaked doorway to the courtyard, watching.  He waited and watched until the dark figure of his superior rounded the corner on the far side.  

After a moment he moved into the starlight and crossed the courtyard toward the outer wall as quietly as he could, unaware he was not alone.