Well, I told you there’d be fiction again! I figure after that doozy of a post, I should lighten stuff up. But I also want to stay on target somewhat. While thinking about what I wanted to write in the previous entry, a thought had occurred to me that I might have another outlet for expressing my anxiety, one that would also allow me to work on the well overdue The Priest of Smugglers’ Run. Of all my characters, the one that would absolutely struggle with anxiety — in fact, I think he does without me even having known about it — would be the titular priest, Protharious.

I really haven’t written much1let’s be honest I haven’t written much at all about the several drafts of manuscript I wrote during my time in Singapore. I haven’t forgotten it, and I haven’t dropped it, but I haven’t worked on it. I’m the worst.

That being written, what I have written about on this blog has been about Protharious. He’s fascinating to me. While Jest and all her irreverent commentary is absolutely what sells TPoSR, Protharious is by far the most interesting and complex character. But he’s so adept at playing it close to the chest that I haven’t even cracked him open yet. However, I’m not Jest. Despite her inconstant sobriety and difficulty with maintaining relationships with other people, she’s pretty damn observant. So, let’s let her do what she does2second best, and enjoy a little more fiction3damnit.

I watched him as we rode south in silence. My head still pounded and my throat still felt as if all the sand in Narit had been poured down my mouth while I slept. Despite the hangover, though, I was content to ride along, feel the rhythmic steps of the priest’s pack horse below me and listen to the clap clap clap of its hooves. To our east ran the Maranhara, trickling out in the distance, running over boulder and rock alike.

I’m assuming that you haven’t done the ride upriver from Fal Gera to Smugglers’ Run. Maybe I’m wrong. But if you haven’t, you should. The Maranhara is navigable for a bit past Fal Gera, but for most of the way, it’s more of a fast moving brook, running along several rocky outcroppings and a few short waterfalls. Some of those waterfalls have formed due to natural rock faces, some of them however are the results of beaver dams. Those dams are money just waiting to be made; Acians have been demanding beaver fur by the bushel. Not that I was considering a side trip at the moment. Not seriously, at least. Plus, Randy’s the trapper, my traps don’t always work the way they ought to. This was likely where him and Baol were thinking about setting up for the winter. Randy would be just fine.

Beaver dams and fur trapping aside, the trip is beautiful, and though I prefer the deep wilds in the heart of the forest, the river was a welcome and calming sight to see. We could ride down nearly the entire length of the river and relax as much as one could in the forest, as Perian outposts and patrols were regularly visible on the other side. I allowed myself a moment to just take in the fall colors as the season started its glorious march of red and gold. I may have also taken a serendipitous sip on my stolen wineskin or two before turning my attention back to my patron.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Protharious on the road. Truth be told, I hadn’t even really considered his ability to exist in the wild, though the path down river to Fal Gera isn’t at all what I’d call “wild”. With our rapid departure from Smugglers’ Run, I never considered that someone as urbane as Protharious would likely be useless in the forest. The thought that I might have just signed on to babysit a priest through a relatively tame journey ran through my head. I shouldn’t have worried, though. The priest knew enough about travel to shut his mouth as soon as we left “town” and headed south. He kept the pace I set to conserve the horses’ energy for a three day trip, and rode alert, if not quite with the care of a hunter. It made sense once I thought about it; he had rode into Smugglers’ Run by himself already from points unknown.

As I watched him for signs of discomfort in the woods, I started to notice small tics of his. He often bunched up and then rolled his shoulders, slightly swinging each arm in time. He was careful with the reins, too, deliberately passing them from hand to hand before rolling and working out each shoulder. I’m not going to lie, John. The thought of giving him a massage when we camped flashed briefly before a serious swig of my wineskin quieted that thought back down.

Protharious, I realized, could not sit still in the saddle. The more I watched him, the more I saw his need for motion. At some point, I came to the conclusion that his mind was always working on something, some problem to be solved, perhaps, and that he was keeping his body in that same level of motion.

Am I certain of that? I wasn’t then. I am now. Let me continue.

The thing I realize now about Protharious is that he couldn’t help it. His mind would never sit still, never switch off. He would analyze every word he heard, every sensation he experienced, for meaning and intent. He would play out a dozen scenarios to a given situation, analyze the results, discard them all, and try again. I suspect that’s what gave him his incredible power. He told me once on the journey that though The Gift was just that, something given by the Nine Gods. But where his colleagues and contemporaries assumed that what one was given was what one got, Protharious didn’t believe that. He believed that the Gods challenged each of us, that the Messenger would set riddles and puzzles upon us to make us better, to rally against what the Scribe had written in his great book at the moment of our births.

I don’t know if I believe that. But he did, obviously. And, yeah, maybe the Gods reached down and turned Protharious’ brain into a terrifying weapon of control and order. But I tell you, John, he worked at it nonetheless. I understand that now. Whatever drove him to his near-manic level of constant motion also sharpened that weaponized mind of his.

I think I had begun to grasp at that idea then, watching him animatedly lead us south towards fate and fire. At that moment, I think I began to know what lay in store for us. I can’t tell you why — not yet — you wouldn’t believe me without knowing the rest of the story. I couldn’t quite tell you then myself, and that disturbed me. So I did what has always came naturally to me; I began the hunt. I looked around for game sign, anything to take my mind off what my study of Protharious had begun to yield.

And me, being me, I took another drink.

I called for a stop and dismounted. “It’s time I paid you back for this bow.” My cryptic statement produced that attractive look of confusion. “I’m going to branch out and get some dinner,” I explained.  

Protharious arched an eyebrow at me. “I thought you brought rations and food?”  

“Well yes,” I lied, “but I spotted some feathers. Doesn’t fresh turkey sound good?”  

He smiled. “It does.”  

“But?” I undid the strap that held my scabbard to my back and stowed my new toy in one of my saddle bags.  

“I don’t want to just sit here and wait here for you.”  

I laughed as I strung my new bow and strapped a quiver to my back. “Just keep going south, priest, I’ll find you.”  

“But, how?”  

Gods and men, priest, I do this for a living. I’ve tracked rabbits and squirrels when I was starving and soaked to the bone. I can track a priest with two horses following a track along side the river. “Leave markers,” I said, “and I’ll follow. Every hour or so, leave three rocks stacked up on top of each other.” I made a little motion with my fingers, like I was laying out dimensions for his pile of rocks. I don’t know how I didn’t laugh. “Make them small, I’ll see them, but you don’t want to be too obvious.”  

He nodded, taking on that knowing look of someone who thinks they know far more than they actually do. Three rocks, Smiths’ tits, what a bell-end. Like finding a small stack of rocks is somehow easier to spot than the tracks of two horses. Whatever. It would keep that mind of his occupied, at least. I hitched the pack horse to his saddle. Protharious arched his eyebrow again, but I didn’t even acknowledge the forthcoming question. Did he really think I was going to go charging into the underbrush atop a horse to hunt a bird that runs on the ground?  

Maybe he wasn’t quite a hundred percent capable out in the woods. That immediately made me feel better.

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