Put that in your pipe and smoke it, although you probably shouldn’t.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, although you probably shouldn’t.

To be fair, in retrospect it is almost certainly all the fault of the Grand Archdeacon, (Acting) (Temporary). After all he was the one who led the official visitation. This is the sort of nerve-racking event which puts temple wardens on their mettle and has incumbents spending the week at one of the nicer retreat centres. Shrine register in hand, the Archdeacon would consult the document, ticking off items found and making notes and comments. It was only when he arrived at the inner shrine there were any real problems.

“Altar, sacrificial, stone.”
Maljie looked round in bewilderment. “I’m sure we’ve not got one of them.”

It was old Prophet Weden who came to her rescue. “Tis buried. Damn big block of stone, too big to get out the door. Couldn’t even smash it. So five incumbents ago they dug a damned big hole in the floor and buried it. Cemented over it.”

The Archdeacon looked carefully at the floor. “The cement is looking badly worn and is flaking away.” He prodded with the wooden end of his dip pen. “This bit’s coming away, there’s metal underneath.”
“Aye, that’s the pentagram round t’altar. Left that buried as well.” Then the elderly prophet added, “Just in case.”

The Archdeacon nodded, and ticked off the altar and pentagram on his list. “And the wooden sacrificial altar?”

Here Maljie was on safer ground. “That large wooden table with the sloping top that meant that any drink spilled on it ran to one end?”
“Aye,” said the Prophet, “so as they could collect the blood from t’sacrifice.”

“That’s probably the one,” the Archdeacon commented.

“Woodworm,” Maljie said, apologetically. “Collapsed in a cloud of dust.”

“It happens,” the Archdeacon said in consoling tones, “and it’s not as if we needed it.”

“There were a right fuss among them as comes here regular.”
“Are they demon worshippers,” the Archdeacon asked in tones redolent with resigned professional interest.”
“Aea no!” Maljie said, horrified.

“Not as such, but they do like the auld ways. Every year we still gets the maidens in white carrying in the fruits to deck the altar and put rushes on the floor. Then there will be a party or dance of some sort.”

“It’s charming,” Maljie commented.

“Aye and when I were younger, the maidens were older and most of ‘em weren’t maidens by the end of the evening. Ritual fertility magic, can’t beat it. Way back, they’d have sacrificed one of ‘em on t’altar an’ all. They ‘ad demons in their theology back then in a big way.”

“Not recently,” the Archdeacon asked, a trifle nervously.
“Nah, not in my time and not in my father’s or his father before him.”
Somewhat reassured, the Archdeacon glanced at his list. “Sacrificial dagger?”
Maljie shrugged. Old Weden said, “It’s the cheese knife, girl.”

“Oh.” Maljie went to a niche at the back of the chapel and pulled out a box of mixed cutlery. Cautiously she rooted through it before bringing out a long bladed dagger with a hilt carved in the shape of the priapic demon. “This it? We use it for cutting cheese, the handle’s a bit too uncomfortable to use it for anything else.”
The Archdeacon ticked it off his list. “Don’t see many of them about any more, apparently they’re getting quite rare and they’re sought after amongst the showier type of demonologist.




It was after the Archdeacon had left that depression began to sink in. Laxey, the sub-Hierodeacon had made an appearance at about this point and was perusing the list. “To be fair to the Archdeacon, most of his stipulations are fair and not particularly expensive.”
Maljie turned the list over so he could see the second page, and pointed. “Renew the floor of the inner shrine because the cement is cracked and needs chipping off. And then there’s this one. “Replace roof over inner shrine.”
Old Weden looked up at the roof. “Aye, the slate’s so old it’s like biscuit and the laths have the same woodworm as did fer t’altar.”

“It’s going to be a lot of money.”
“Go round the regular suspects, Maljie.” Laxey suggested.

“I’ve been too often. Last time one said it would probably be cheaper to just pay the fine, and three others threatened to propose matrimony to me in writing if I reappeared looking for money before the year end.”

There was a prolonged silence, then Maljie commented, “He described the cheese knife as ‘sought after.’”
Weden nodded in agreement. “Might fetch a tidy sum.”

Laxey asked, dryly, “Know many demonologists?”

“Not as many as I once did. They don’t have a long life expectancy. Still I can ask around.” Maljie stood up. “I’ll start now, you start talking to builders.”

In the end it worked out rather well for them. Maljie brandishing a knife of unwholesome design concentrated minds wonderfully, and eventually a friend of a friend, who worked professionally as the Vile Adolfan, bought the blade for an eye watering sum of money. Simultaneously, Laxey got a builder to give a sensible quote for the roof, and also picked up some remarkably cheerful blue and yellow glazed floor tiles, enough to do the entire inner shrine. These he got for taking them away, the previous owner having disposed of the spouse who’d purchased them and was methodically ridding the house of all other traces of the spouse.

It was barely a month after the visitation by the time all the remedial works were accomplished. The incumbent was pleased and even the Archdeacon made favourable comments when he dropped in to see how things were going. Admittedly the regular congregation were, as usual, in at least three minds about the improvements.

One group thought it cheered everything up nicely.

One group thought the floor tiles were in bad taste and they’d never have been allowed in the Archimandrite’s day. Given that worth individual had died forty years before, they may even have been correct.

The final group muttered darkly that they’d always liked the way the sunlight played on the cement floor through the holes in the slates above.
Still the muttering remained at a low level, the incumbent raised salient theological issues to dispel resistance and Maljie took to parading with her staff of office during services. Hence after a bare six months, the improvements seem to have been finally accepted.

It was as autumn arrived that the incumbent drew Maljie and Laxey aside and said that she’d been approached by the group who organised the procession of maidens in white dresses, with associated symbols of fecundity. Apparently somebody had remembered that in their youth, the various fruits and similar had been cut using the old sacrificial knife. Given that the incumbent had noticed that there was a new cheese knife in the drawer, they thought it might help both keep the peace, and provide ammunition for a few damning sermons discussing the dangers of paganism and demon worship if they were allowed to use the old one.

As Laxey said after the incumbent had left. “Ah.”




After some discussion it was decided that they had better get the sacrificial knife back, and quickly. Luckily Maljie had kept the name of the person who had purchased the knife. A temple warden can never have too many names of people who might, for reasons of their own, wish to make a discreet donation to the fabric fund. Laxey located their abode and with a couple of the mendicants, reconnoitred the place. Apparently the necromancer lived in a suite of rooms on the third floor of the fourth terraced house in a long street around the back of Ropewalk.

Maljie walked along the street and came back with her own plan. She would climb up the front of the house and enter through a window. When Laxey expressed surprise, Maljie was almost indignant. “I used to climb a lot in my youth.”
“A lot of girls climbed trees, but I’m not sure it qualifies you to take on a house.”
“Trees? I climbed rock faces in the Aphices.”

A note of explanation might be invaluable here. There may well be legitimate reasons for climbing in the Aphices. If anybody knows of any, I’d be intrigued to know what they are. The only reason I know is to collect the various lichens off the rocks. These lichens have many effects, culinary, medicinal, recreational, or in some cases, merely lethal. Still they are widely traded within the city.

Still that night found Maljie with her equipment hanging from her belt, standing in the darkness of a side street waiting for the clouds to cover the moon. She turned to the big and hairy mendicant she had brought with her as an assistant.

I’ll just get my pipe going first.” With this she pulled a long clay pipe out of her pack and started filling it.

The mendicant asked, “What’s that you’re smoking?”

“It’s herbal, helps the nerves.”

The mendicant peered closely into the pouch. “Looks like lichen to me.”
“Like I said, it’s herbal.” Maljie lit the pipe and puffed furiously on it to get it going properly. “And if you want promoting to acolyte then you can stop being so damned inquisitive.”

She look a long draw on the pipe, and smiled beatifically. “So which house did Laxey say?

“Fourth floor of the third house.”

She looked across the street. It was empty. “Right, let’s be going. I’ll go up first and you climb up the rope after me when I give you the word.”
Slowly she made her way up the side of the house, using a cloth-wrapped hammer to drive wooden pegs into the rotting cement between the bricks. When she reached the third floor balcony she tied the rope off on the metalwork and gestured for the mendicant to follow her. Ignoring the muffled curses from below as the pegs gave under his weight she pressed on and pulled herself over the window ledge on the fourth floor. The room was not lit but there was some light coming in around the door. She allowed her eyes to grow accustomed to the gloom and soon she could see a double bed, neatly made, taking up half the room.

She climbed into the room and stealthily made her way to the door. She heard the mendicant cross the room behind her. “Right,” she whispered, “Be prepared for anything when I open the door.”

Quietly but swiftly she pulled the door open and stepped into the room.

“Well I weren’t prepared for that,” the mendicant muttered.

In the middle of the room was a complex frame, and suspended from it, his buttocks pushed upwards, was a naked man.

“It this what demonologists get up to, Maljie?”

Before Maljie could speak a large lady stepped out of the side room holding a mug of some infusion and a cane. “What do you mean, I’m a wacker-nanny, not a demonologist.”

“Yes,” agreed the man on the frame. “She’s expensive but she is one of the best.”

“Sorry to have intruded,” Maljie apologised. “We’re looking for the Vile Adolfan, the demonologist.”

The wacker-nanny looked at her client. “Isn’t that him next door?”

“Yes I remember reading the brass plaque on the wall be their front door. I think he’s on the floor below this one.”

Maljie turned to the mendicant and clipped him round the ear, “Third floor of the fourth house, idiot!” She turned to the wacker-nanny, “Sorry about this.”
“Think no more about it, I’m sure the extra humiliation helped this worm. That’s why his wife sends him here.” With that she brought the cane down swiftly on the buttocks. “The Vile Adolfan’s balcony is level with the one below, so just swing down from here.”

“Thank you.” Maljie prodded the mendicant, “Say thank you.”
“Thank you, Miss.”

“Charming boy. Anyway don’t let us keep you.”
With this Maljie climbed out of the window and swung across to land on the correct balcony. The mendicant landed heavily next to her. Drawing deeply on her pipe, Maljie stood and listened outside the heavily curtained window. “Sounds as if the room is empty.”
She lifted the window as quietly as she could. As she disturbed the curtains, light streamed out. She twitched aside the curtain and looked into the room. “This is the right one.”

“How can you tell?”

“Pentagram chalked on the floor, dribbling candles, naked maiden tied to the altar next to the brazier.”

“Any sign of the knife?”

“Good question.” Maljie stepped into the room and looked round. “Yes, it’s here next to the girl.”

She looked down, “I think we’d better get her out of here. I think she’s been doped with something.”

With the knife she cut the robes holding the girl to the wooden table. “Right, pull down a curtain and we’ll wrap it round her.”

Soon the pair of them had the girl decently covered and Maljie had rigged up a sling. “You get down and I’ll lower her to you. You get her to the shrine.”
The mendicant shinned down the rope and stood waiting. Carefully Maljie lowered the girl down to him. Then as he threw the girl over his shoulder and ran off she looked round the room. Her initial thought was to wait for the demonologist and give him a piece of her mind. She knocked out her pipe on the side of the brazier and refilled it. She sat smoking and considered the room. To be fair, they’d made a bit of a mess, her assistant had dragged the curtain across the room and back, smudging the pentagram. The curtain rail and other curtain were hanging crooked, and the table looked bad with bits of cut rope all over it. Eventually she decided she could wait no longer. She tapped her pipe out on the brazier and put it back in her pack. To be honest, she felt a bit light headed. It was obvious that the mix she was smoking was off. There again, she couldn’t remember the last time she had smoked it. Probably the last time she went climbing. Regretfully she shook the dregs from her pouch out over the brazier. Then she took the knife and carefully cut away all the bits of rope and put them on the brazier. Finally with the knife she tried to carve the sign of Aea Undivided on the centre of the table. The knife slipped and caught her thumb. She cursed and looked at the wound. It wasn’t deep but it was bleeding onto the table. She wrapped it hastily in a piece of cloth.

It was at this point she noted a change in the atmosphere of the room. Her blood on the table was smoking and the brazier had flared up. Maljie found the green flames distinctively unsettling. Then from the other side of the door came a shout, “What’s going on through there?”

Maljie dropped out of the window and down the rope just as the door burst open. At the same time the room above her flashed green and there were terrified screams and a truly foul smell. Maljie hit the ground feet first and ran across the street to take cover in the alley opposite. There was an explosion of coruscating light from the window she had just vacated and then everything went ominously quiet. Maljie picked herself up from the dirt where she’d instinctively thrown herself to take cover. “Don’t suppose he’ll be asking for the damned knife back.” Suddenly the whole street was bathed in a fetid green light and unearthly screams came from the window. Maljie fled.




Back at the shrine, Maljie arrived to discover people were asking difficult and embarrassing questions to her mendicant, as to why he had a young lady wearing only curtain slung over one shoulder. When she entered the shrine people backed away from her. It was at this point she realised that she was gesticulating with a long bladed knife in her hand. Suddenly inspiration struck.
“We have been engaged in theological business. Rescuing maidens. This knife has power over dark mages and suchlike.”
Laxey wandered into the shrine. “What has been going on at that house? You took so long I went to look for you.”
“Oh nothing much, we just rescued this girl,” Maljie said, casually.

“I’m pretty sure I could rescue a girl without the demonic screaming and strange green flames.”

“Oh the flames will be where I knocked my pipe out on the brazier.”

“No wonder the demon was screaming.”

“How do you know there was a demon?”

“I saw it come flying out of the window, shrieking, squealing, twisting, and slowly tearing itself apart as it struggled to escape our plane of existence.”

Maljie shrugged. “I call it shocking. I think the landlord of those houses needs to be more discerning when picking tenants.”

Still in the end the incumbent was quietly pleased. Given the presence of a young lady who’d been kidnapped by a demonologist, and the knowledge that the ‘cheese knife’ apparently had such awe inspiring powers, nobody mentioned using it to cut the offerings with. Thus when the white clad maidens presented the autumn bounty, it was mainly rushes and windfalls as usual.

Not long after that, the Grand Archdeacon, (Acting) (Temporary) returned to collect the sacrificial dagger. He admitted that whilst the official line was that it was an artefact too powerful to leave in a minor shrine, the real reason was that the Temple of Aea in her Aspect of Chastity needed work doing to the roof and the hope was that the sale of the dagger would fund this.


Should you be interested in the darker side of Port Naain scholarship then perhaps this is the book for you?



As a reviewer commented, “I came to this from reading of the exploits of Tallis Steelyard. Knowing that this story was set in the same world, and with some of the same characters, I looked forward to more of the same. It isn’t the same, but is none the worse for that. Tallis lives by his wits in a fantastical city, Benor, the hero of this tale, is likewise quick-witted but lives by the sword, which makes this much more standard fantasy fare. Having said that, the hero is considerably brighter and more engaging than most fantasy heroes and has a fine sense of morality, albeit one suited to his particular place and time. If you fancy a story of swords and sorcery, lost souls and battling mages, which doesn’t take itself too seriously, you’ll enjoy this.”







11 thoughts on “Put that in your pipe and smoke it, although you probably shouldn’t.

      1. And rightly so 🙂
        Because she had humour and wisdom 🙂

        “Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.”

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Anyone for cheese? I shall look for such an impliment when next I peruse the brickobrack in the local Risby barns … Suffolk has had dealings of witchcraft and skullduggery in its past, there is bound to be an artifact or two.

    Liked by 1 person

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