The Shrine of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm is set back a little from Exegesis Square and is at the foot of the Sinecurists’ Grand Stair. In front of the shrine there is an open area which links the shrine with the square. This area belongs to the shrine but is something of a mixed blessing. In the long distant past it may well have been that the original builders of the shrine intended to use the land to create a grand entrance pylon. Whether the money ran out or common sense prevailed (with architects, experience tells me that the former is a more common condition than the latter) I don’t know, but the pylon was never built.
Still the open area was useful. Four times a year the shrine would hold a small fair or market. Because of the prosperity of the neighbourhood, this attracted vendors of the expensive, exotic and rare. For the rest of the year the space, in theory, stood empty. That is not to say it was not used. Because Exegesis Square has but one road in and out, it did mean that if you need to turn a coach and four, the open area in front of the shrine is much appreciated. Similarly should you be visiting friends, it is somewhere you can leave your gig without blocking the road. Indeed from time to time Sinecurists would avoid the difficulties inherent in getting their carriage through to the Council of Sinecurists building by driving to Exegesis Square and then walking up the Grand Stair.
Also, it was entirely possible that some wealthy potential donor might wish to visit the shrine. Thus it was entirely proper that they were able to have their carriage wait outside for them on the place specifically set aside for such occasions. Admittedly these occasions were diminishingly rare, but they could happen and there was a general feeling that the shrine ought to be prepared for them.
Thus Maljie waged unrelenting war on those she felt were unilaterally abrogating to themselves the perquisites properly pertaining to the shrine and its patrons. To a certain extent the inhabitants of the square supported her. After all they found the space useful and didn’t want it cluttered. Eventually there was general agreement that if you had to leave your coach there, you had to leave the coachmen and all the horses. This point was driven home when Maljie auctioned two carriages that had just been parked there. She claimed they had been abandoned, and three or four years later there were still complicated legal manoeuvres underway at a very high level but nothing percolated down to us.
Keeping the area clear to set up the fair was another nightmare. Maljie dealt with this by chaining a row of mendicants across the frontage the night before the fair was set up, so it was physically impossible to get onto the area. When I asked her why the mendicants were chained, Maljie merely glared at me. “Because anything not chained down will be stolen.”
I gestured at the predominantly male mendicants standing in the rain. “So who is going to steal those?”
“Look, I’m not having them ending up as pleasure slaves at the beck and call of some Partannese warlord’s concubine.”
I was tempted to ask whether this was a recurrent problem but thought better of it. I feel I was wise to allow the topic to lapse.
Still there was the case of Arcane Literature. One morning as Maljie and others made their way to the shrine they discovered a cart parked on the open area, placed so that you had to walk past it to get into the shrine. The cart had a banner across the side which proclaimed the owner of the cart traded as Arcane Literature and had books to sell. The Grand Archdeacon, (Acting) (Temporary) happened to be passing so called in to discuss matters with the proprietor, one Barrean. Barrean produced an impressive series of documents signed and sealed by numerous worthies from various shrines and temples in Port Naain, Partann and beyond, to prove his formal entitlement to park his cart there. Indeed he also produced a long list of testimonials from sundry clerics who admitted themselves happy to deal with him as a supplier of reading suitable for their flocks. So brief notes were made about the documents and these notes were deposited with the shrine records and matters were left at that. To be honest, the shrine, whilst well loved by those who frequent it, is a very minor shrine. Thus and so we rarely have dealings with those in high authority. Indeed, between ourselves we rather tend to avoid these people on the not unreasonable grounds that what they don’t know isn’t going to come back to bite you. Hence with the whole issue in abeyance until higher authority found time to deal with it, Arcane Literature became a feature of the square.
Over the next few days the cart somehow expanded into several more, two on each side of the shrine entrance. The cart sides were folded out, the canvas tilts became wooden roofs and the wheels disappeared under side-cladding which allowed for more storage. I confess to browsing the stock more than once, but found little of interest. Still, Barrean often picked up copies of various theological primers which he would sell at nominal prices to male mendicants interested in progressing further. One or two people commented that some of the stock was less than wholesome. One young female mendicant managed to slip into a back area that had been cordoned off. She claimed to have seen some tomes that hinted at a very dark eroticism. Also even his conventional stock drew a strange clientele to the square. His claim that he could probably find anything you wanted meant that the area was being haunted by an unlikely assortment of dark herbalists, cadaverous persons with necromantic leanings, and unctuous pimps intent on winning an advantage over their competitors.
There was a feeling that Arcane Literature ought to be moved on. Still the process was slow. Indeed after a year it was as if the literary emporium had always been there. Problems came to a head at one of the regular fairs. By this point Arcane Literature had effectively taken over four of the five best pitches, (the two on each side of the shrine entrance) and there was a lot of moaning. Some came from the other traders who felt they had been pushed out. Some came from the treasurer who made pointed comments about the fact that one of the documents Arcane Literature had produced appeared to have excused the concern from the tedious matter of paying rent. Once the bursar’s department had come down against Barrean the book seller, there was a feeling that eventually something would happen.
When the weather got worse, Arcane Literature acquired a roof. Barrean slung an old sail between his various carts, above the entry to the shrine. This enabled the customers to browse under cover. A sign was also erected saying that worshippers to the shrine were welcome to make their way to the shrine by passing under the sail. Given the only other way our worshippers could get in was by making a long detour around the back of the carts, there was a feeling that it was making a mockery of the situation. Effectively the shrine was now an annex to Arcane Literature. Indeed some commented that the shrine had at last acquired an entrance pylon. Admittedly this putative pylon was a disreputable shanty, but still, theologians have overlooked larger inconsistencies than that. Indeed so much did passers-by regard the book seller as an integral part of the shrine that people started leaving donations for the shrine in a jar Barrean had placed convenient for that purpose.
Now I must briefly turn my attention to gentlemen’s dining clubs. To be honest, I am not a member of any. My feeling is that, if I could afford the subscription, then in all candour I would prefer to dine out regularly with Shena, my lady wife, rather than with a bunch of gentlemen, however collegial. But as I am regularly asked to entertain such clubs, I tend to be muted in my criticism of them. Indeed one or two of them I have a genuine affection for. I give as an example the ‘Amateur Philanderers.’ Any philandering they do is certainly not done at the dining club. An exclusively male group, I entertain them with a few anecdotes and a poem on two.
But at my first visit I discovered a great deal about them. Firstly they insisted that I dine with them. Some clubs expect you to arrive after the meal, do your piece, collect your money, and leave. Whilst not entirely hospitable, I can understand their stance. It does mean that confidential matters can be discussed in confidence. Whether these clubs should have confidential matters to discuss is an entirely different question. Still when with the Amateur Philanderers, I ate at the top table as their guest. Not only that but when I stood up to do my piece, they summoned the staff from the kitchens to listen. (They booked the entire dining room so there was nobody else to feed) Indeed everybody, including the kitchen porters, got a glass of wine to toast my good health. Finally the meal made a reasonable profit, which was given to various of the more genuine charities around the city. Given that at the meeting I attended, the charity was the soup kitchen run by my cousin, I waived my fee so it went to that. This they allowed me to do, but then sent me home so burdened with supplies from the kitchen that I eventually had to summon Mutt with a hand cart.
But setting that to one side, I was dining with one of these clubs and one of my fellow diners was telling the tale of how a number of the smaller usurer’s houses had been tricked into accepting worthless financial bonds sealed with the seal of the Acting Archhierophant Dolmen. It was later discovered that Dolmen had died in Prae Ducis forty years previously. Apparently his seal was supposed to have been buried with his body.
Next time I was at the shrine I mentioned this to Maljie and she immediately went to the records. It took a full day for her to find the notes, so badly was everything misfiled. But I was present when she finally emerged triumphant. She read the notes aloud to us. Not only was the main text signed and sealed by Dolmen, but none of us recognised the names of the other four worthies who had put their names to the documentation. The somewhat elderly Prophet Weden was summoned, and he thought to recognise two who had been men of consequence when he was but a youth. A third he did remember, apparently this worthy individual had been cast out of the order for a mixture of offences, including heresy, malfeasance, aggravated peculation, and the misappropriation of the sacred treasury for immoral purposes.
Thus and so, an official note was handed to Barrean as he served a customer. The note asked that he bring his documentation into the shrine next morning for proper inspection. At the same time a mendicant was sent running to the Watch headquarters, suggesting that they might wish to interview Barrean with regard to the use of the seal of Acting Archhierophant Dolmen. Apparently Maljie might also have mentioned this interesting detail in passing when chatting to her old friends in the usury profession.
Next morning, curiosity got the better of me and I made my way to Exegesis Square to see what transpired. Of Arcane Literature there was no sign, save a flattened area where the carts had stood. It seems that during the night everything had been whisked away, and had apparently disappeared south, hotly pursued by the watch, who alas couldn’t follow south of the Paraeba. On the other hand Barrean was also pursued by some enforcers hired by an avarice of usurers. They were unlikely to stop their pursuit until the money ran out.
I made my way into the shrine, and found Maljie, the other temple wardens, and the incumbent, warming themselves against the dank winter weather with a cheering glass. I would not go so far as to say they were celebrating the departure of their uninvited neighbour, but they were drinking spirit out of glasses so large I initially mistook them for vases from which the flowers and water had been emptied. Not only that but it wasn’t decent Urlan plum brandy, but some grain spirit flavoured with berries. I can only assume they felt the need to mortify the flesh to save themselves from celebrating too enthusiastically.
Should you wish to know more about Port Naain and the life of Tallis Steelyard, there is a new novella available for the discerning
Life for a jobbing poet is difficult. You have to be flexible with regard to your art. One day you’re organising an elegant soiree, the next a pie eating contest. Yet all the while you are striving to raise the tone and to ensure that decency, dignity, and an appreciation of the fine arts prevails.
And sadly it appears that the more honest your attempts, the more noble your endeavours, the more likely it is that you end up making enemies. Tallis helps out the family of an old friend, obliges a patron, and does his best to aid the authorities in the administration of justice. Each time he merely manages to upset the powerful, the petty, and the vindictive.