I’ve never been the sort of poet who likes nothing better than to rant and raves about ‘issues’. There are things I disagree with, there are things which might even provoke me to verse, but I’ve reached an age where fleeing the city with only the clothes I stand up in has lost whatever attraction it might once have had. Not only that but I’ve done it a number of times and the romance soon wears off.
Some poets hope to make a name by offending the rich and powerful. People often admire them for their fearlessness, but you have to realise that these poets survive only because they are protected by others who are as rich and powerful as the people the poet is offending.
My admiration is for those who offend those who need offending and appear to have no fear of the consequences. Thus I propose to bring you the tale of Mollina.
As a very young girl she was given to the Temple of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Chastity. She was quite a pretty child, had more natural poise than you’d expect in one so young, and was trained as a temple dancer. She proved to be one of the best of her age and whereas other girls were encouraged to specialise in different skills; be it accountancy, divination or cooking, she continued to dance.
Within the temple she’d had a good education. Dancers are encouraged to do more than just dance, and she had somehow drifted into theology and meditation. For somebody with a good mind, a naturally fearless nature, and a strong sense of right and wrong, this made for an interesting combination.
By the time she was in her mid-teens, she had started to attract attention, mainly by asking pointed questions. Now what you must realise is that Aea has many personifications and aspects. Some are more or less fashionable than others. So whereas Aea in her Aspect as the personification of Motherhood is well supported and has a her own temple, with crèche and plenty of understanding sisters who can cope with small children running riot, Aea in her Aspect as the personification of Justice is almost shunned. Only the truly desperate want real justice.
So when Selania, the dancing mistress, ‘fell pregnant’ (a term that makes it sound like something which you catch accidentally, like a cold or flu) Mollina did not mince her words. She didn’t denounce her morality or fecklessness, but instead pointed out that she’d be better serving the personification of Motherhood rather than Chastity.
Because of her competence she was promoted to lead the dancers who were sent out to perform at minor functions held outside the Temple. Here she caused something of a stir when she personally ejected Doggar the Pimp from the premises. Yes you could see her point, but he did have three muscular thugs with him. Still she flayed him alive with the edge of her tongue, so that he slunk off, cringing with embarrassment, leaving his bullies to find their own way home.
Now to be fair to the Temple, they stood behind her. After all, it was the Temple of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Chastity. There was more to them than athletic but underdressed young ladies dancing beautifully. Still, whilst they supported her, they did begin to wonder if young Mollina was really suited to her role. Eventually there was a meeting held at a very senior level to discuss the matter.
It was there that Mollina’s future was decided. She was summoned to the meeting and told that they felt that Aea had work for her, but in a different position. She was formally escorted out of the premises and taken to a small, somewhat neglected shrine, on Dongan’s Ginnel. This narrow lane winds away from Ropewalk to the Merchant Quarter. The ginnel is narrow and is lined by the backs of houses. The only building that does actually face on to Dongan’s Ginnel is the Shire of Aea in her Aspect as the personification of Hypocrisy.
The only occupant of the shrine was the elderly prophetess, Ursia. Mollina’s job was to nurse the old woman and learn from her.
She soon learned one harsh truth. Whilst those who esteem chastity will donate to the temple, as will those who celebrate motherhood, Hypocrites rarely if ever darkened the doors of the Shrine, and preferred to be seen to give their money to more fashionable or glamorous causes.
Those who did venture into the Shrine were greeted by the old Prophetess who surprised Mollina with her gentleness. It was she who taught Mollina that the Innocent are rarely as innocent as they think, and the Guilty are rarely as guilty as we hope.
The next problem Mollina had to deal with was hunger. The few donations the shrine received barely sufficed to feed Ursia. Mollina discovered an old hand net tucked away in a dark corner of the shrine which hadn’t been cleaned for a century and next day found her in the estuary, walking out with the retreating tide. She soon came to be well known on the Old Esplanade. She disarmed the more belligerent shore-combers and line fishermen with her combination of wit and brutal honesty. When the two Tallain sisters suggested, perhaps with some genuine concern, that a ‘slip of a girl’ shouldn’t be out on the sands on her own, she merely replied that she’d “Rather work downwind of two large women than one thin one, especially if the two stood close together.”
Time passed, Ursia finally died, nominating Mollina as her successor, but stipulating that she should be called a Prophet rather than a Prophetess. The assembled senior priests of Aea ratified the decision and Mollina was formally installed. She kept to her routine, being available in the shrine for three hours before high tide. She also started to spend more time attending other religious festivals. She would watch people making their offerings to Aea as the personification of Chastity, or Aea as the personification of kindness, and would step forward, lay her hand on the giver and announce, “This person is one of mine.”
This led to a definite increase in offerings to the Shire of Aea in her Aspect as the personification of Hypocrisy, but Mollina still fished at least one tide a day and spent time talking to shore-combers and others she would meet as she went to sell her catch. Still the shrine’s relative prosperity meant that she could get the roof fixed and put glass in the windows. It also allowed her to get out and spend more time in the city itself. This had its effect; people seeing her walking down the street towards them would suddenly become more reticent about their virtues. Indeed when she attended one of the meetings of the Council of Sinecurists, three speakers excused themselves and sat down again when they noticed her sitting quietly, staring intently at them.
Amongst the poor of the city she was widely respected. Now we all know that Prophets ‘forthtell’ rather than ‘foretell’. Any prophecy is along the lines of something that your mother might say, “Carry on like that young man and you will come to a bad end.”
So yes, we were used to her forthtelling. But there was always the hope that she might slip into foretelling and let fall the name of a horse or two running at good odds.
As an aside I might mention that I, Tallis Steelyard, have written not merely a collection of anecdotes but a novella! Rather than a collection of worthy and inspiring tales to guide and assist the young, this is instead a tale of adventure, duplicity and gentility. Why does an otherwise respectable lady have a pair of sedan chair bearers hidden in her spare bedroom? Why was the middle aged usurer brandishing an axe? Can a gangster’s moll be accepted into polite society? Answer these questions and more as Tallis Steelyard ventures unwillingly into the seedy world of respectable ladies who love of sedan chair racing.
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