There are some interesting posts in Port Naain that would suit the right applicant. One of these is the role of Priest of the Temple of Aea in her Aspect as the Healer. Because the Temple is the personal property of the priest, the appointment is never made, and for the last three centuries a vicar has been appointed to stand in for the Priest. The Vicar is paid a generous salary and has the use of a rather grand set of apartments which lie at the front of the Temple. Indeed the Vicar’s private front door is somewhat grander than the front entrance of the temple.
The duties of the Vicar are precisely laid out. They must preach one sermon per month, (a duty which has been farmed out to visiting preachers for the last century or more,) and out of their salary they must pay for an apothecary to assist in the treatment of any poor folk who come to the temple seeking medical attention.
As you can see, the post is sought-after. Even allowing for expenses the salary is such as to fan the flames of cupidity in the bosom of even the most self effacing citizen. Also the apartments are indeed grand and very tastefully furnished.
Where I enter the tale is through an accident of history. The Priest, or Vicar, is chosen by a committee of the patrons of the temple. The patrons include the Temple of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Chastity, the Guild of Minor Poets, the Guild of Apothecaries, and ‘the wisest and most humble philosopher currently dwelling within the bounds of the city.’
The committee was easily convened. Darnyl Cheal was picked as the philosopher. Basically the Temple asked for the best philosopher to submit an application and then picked the only philosopher they’d heard of who didn’t apply. I was currently acting Convenor of the Guild of Minor Poets, and Twassle Harn was Gallipot in chief of the apothecaries. The Temple of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Chastity traditionally does not send anybody to sit on the committee, feeling that this would produce an even number which would cause problems if the matter were ever put to a vote. But as always they sent a clerk to make a record of our deliberations.
We had received well over a score of applications, but had rapidly whittled them down to a short list of three. We decided to interview in The Flensers. We would conduct the interviews in a small private room, and then dine at the buffet. During and after this we would discuss the candidates and would come to a decision. The costs were covered by the Temple, and the meal was considered our remuneration.
The first candidate for interview was Madam Fronicks. I had never knowingly met her, so studied her carefully when she arrived. An attractive woman, no longer in the first flush of youth, she was handsome with a fine figure. She answered our questions about her aims, intentions and previous experience frankly, all the while smiling knowingly at Darnyl Cheal. He blushed redder and redder and said nothing. I had left several copies of my little book of poems, ‘Lambent Dreams’ on the side. Madam Fronicks noted its presence and indeed in the interview quoted from it. (‘How fortunate the light that falls, my sweet, between your stirring body and its bodice’. I thought to detect a note of promise in her tone.) I made a few notes, Madam didn’t immediately stand out as an obvious candidate but I was open to being convinced if any of the others decided to champion her.
The next candidate was Osher Blon-Tillisfield. Even as he was entering the room he congratulated Darnyl Cheal on his latest work. ‘The place of Gnosiology in the study of Philosophastry’ with the words, “Future generations will use this book as the foundation stone of their work.”
He then saw my slim volumes of poetry and immediately scooped up all six and announced he had been looking for the work for some time and had promised himself he would buy copies for his friends and family. With this I pulled a box containing another score of copies from under my seat and asked how many friends and family he had? I sold him seventeen copies in all, so the morning was not entirely wasted.
Still Blon-Tillisfield didn’t shine under questioning. He had certainly researched us carefully but had failed to give any real thought to what he would bring to the role.
The final candidate was Tiffan Postin. He was distinctively dressed in the working smock of a member of the Jackers’ union. In his case it was tailored to fit and the material excellent. He started sneering at us as he entered and continued to sneer at us consistently throughout the entire interview. We were, apparently, merely the tools of a corrupt system and had sold our souls for the trappings of wealth. He demanded that he be given not merely the position as vicar, but was awarded the full Priesthood. Thus remunerated he could use his position to succour the poor and raise them up to take their rightful place in society, trampling on those bloodsuckers who kept them down.
We did not so much as question him as attempt unsuccessfully to interrupt his harangue. Finally he stormed out.
It was with some relief we adjourned for a well deserved meal. After we had filled our plates, I poured wine with a generous hand, taking especial care to ensure that the glass of our minute secretary was always full.
It was Twassle Harn, our apothecary who spoke first.
“Tiffan Postin? Champion of the poor?”
Darnyl, our philosopher, spoke quietly, “He’s certainly very prominent in various movements, lobbying and agitating.”
“But he’s already drawing a salary from the ‘Ladies league for poor law reform.’”
I added to Twassle’s comment, “And he has a pension from both the Sorority of Mercy, and another from the Jackers Union.”
Our secretary, a somewhat pretty and mousy haired young lady added quietly, “He tried to get a pension from us as well. We did some checking; he apparently owns a rather nice house in the Merchant’s quarter.”
Twassle Harn emptied his glass and set it down firmly, “That has decided me. I feel it would be too much to ask him to sink so low in the world as to live in our temple.”
I looked at the other two, and they nodded their agreement. I said to our secretary, “I think that means we can strike him from our list.”
Our secretary asked, tentatively, “Blon-Tillisfield? You rather seemed to favour him Tallis.”
I smiled at her. “Even I am not so shallow. Yes I sold him an inordinately large number of copies of my work. But did you notice that he’d abandoned them on the table in the lounge outside our meeting room?”
The secretary nodded. “I see what you mean; it shows a distinctive lack of planning and forethought. He could at least have disposed of them where you wouldn’t find them.”
“Exactly, and now I’ve been put to the trouble of selling them all over again, and at least one copy has been creased so I’ll be lucky to get half value for that.”
The secretary asked, “Wasn’t he involved somehow in the premature death of a merchant?”
That was an incident that I remembered, Blon-Tillisfield had noted that a wealthy merchant was travelling for some months in Partann. Thus he hired several witnesses to swear to the merchant’s death and then produced papers showing he, Blon-Tillisfield, was executor of the estate. He had started auctioning of the contents of the house when the merchant returned in haste having read both his obituary and an announcement of the auction in a copy of the Port Naain Intelligencer that he’d found in an Avitas hostelry.
Twassle Harn glanced at our philosopher, “Well I wasn’t impressed with him either. What about you?”
Darnyl Cheal shook his head sadly. “If he’d actually read my book and understood it, he’d have realised it was a spoof on the pomposity of my colleagues.”
Our secretary picked up her pen, “So I’ll cross him off as well?”
We all nodded and so I asked, “And what about the lady?”
At my comment Darnyl Cheal blushed deeply. We all sat in silence, waiting for him to say something. Finally after several false starts he drained his glass and held it out to me. I filled it and he drained it again before speaking.
“I received a note from her three days ago, asking to speak to me about a matter of philosophy that she had trouble understanding. So obviously I replied inviting her to visit me. I had her shown into my study, a comfortable environment, surrounded by books. I find it helps people relax and cast of the cares of the world aside, thus allowing them to give their minds to higher things.”
He sat silently for a while, until our secretary asked, “And?”
“It may have relaxed her too much, she’d not been sitting there for more than half an hour before she started removing her garments and was sitting virtually naked before me.”
This was met with total silence, until again our secretary said, “And?”
“Luckily my housekeeper came in with a selection of infusions and sugar fancies for us. With no change of expression she served us, and from that moment on, one member or another of my household would appear in the room to ask me a question about the running of the house or at what time I wanted my evening meal serving. Finally Madam Fronicks put on her clothes as if it were the most natural thing in the world and departed.”
We sat in silence and then Twassle Harn put down his glass. “Now I’m affronted, she never tried to seduce me!”
The secretary toyed with her glass. “So are we saying that if she is attempting to sway one of us with her sexual wiles, she ought by rights to attempt to sway all of us?”
In the silence I said, somewhat tentatively, “I think one thing we’re looking for in a vicar is a sense of fairness. We want somebody who will be even handed and isn’t going to be surrounded by a coterie of favourites.”
“So I’ll mark her down as a ‘no’ as well then?”
We all nodded our agreement. The secretary looked at her notes. “We appear to have disapproved of all the candidates. Has anybody any suggestions?”
Twassle Harn said, tentatively, “I suppose we could re-advertise…”
Darnyl Cheal added, “Or perhaps take another look at those we discarded to produce a short-list.”
It was obvious that this idea didn’t appeal to any of us. Then the secretary said, a little pensively, “What about the current apothecary?”
I asked, “What about him?”
“He has recently been licensed as a physician. So I wondered whether we might appoint him to be vicar on the understanding he kept working, and took on another apothecary.”
Darnyl Cheal looked interested, “But does he want the job?”
Diffidently the secretary said, “Having seen the candidates, I took the liberty of inviting him to join us for lunch, I expect him at any minute.”
Needless to say he got the job. A fine young man, kind, considerate and soon to be married to our secretary. Whether he has realised this yet or not.
It strikes me that you might not have realised that I have another collection of tales, recently published.