I feel that it ill-becomes a chap to take advantage of another person’s illness, but sometimes you just have to stand back and admit that you have witnessed true genius at work. One truly unsurpassed example of this I came upon during Maljie’s illness. I was in the area and wondered about dropping in to visit her. But as I approached the house I saw my cousin Thela. She is a temple dancer at the Temple of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Chastity. She was walking along talking to Sergeant Maggon of the Watch. He was resplendent in his forest green jacket with yellow frogging and cuffs. They were obviously deep in conversation, and together they turned down the short drive and into Maljie’s house. It was obvious that they were going to visit her so I decided to call on some other occasion.
Next day I heard a worrying rumour. Somebody said that they had heard that Maljie was dangerously ill, as Thela and Maggon had visited her. Apparently they had both been there to listen to her last confession, but Maggon had been taking notes!
Now I found this somewhat disturbing. Yes, Thela is a temple dancer. But she is high enough within the organisation to be regarded as a priestess. So yes, she is the sort of person you might summon to your bedside if you wanted to face death with a clear conscience. Similarly old Maggon is the eternal sergeant. He is always on duty. Not only that but if you had knowledge of something going on you felt ought to be stopped, ideally when you were safely dead and beyond the reach of most of Port Naain’s most dangerous rogues, he would be the man to tell.
(In the interests of completeness here I ought to point out that there are, in the darker parts of the Port Naain criminal world, those for whom death is not a barrier. They are not well liked by the rest of the fraternity. Most criminals prefer their victims to remain dead and not to be reanimated to testify at the whim of a necromancer. But occasionally the really vindictive will have a victim hauled back because the person inconveniently died without revealing the information needed. As far as I know, this is rarely done, it is frowned upon by most religious authorities, and tends to be punished by a large fine and, if you’ve offended the authorities enough, banishment for a term of decades to one of the less salubrious hells.)
Still setting aside these minor aberrations, I confess that I hadn’t considered the situation to be so grave. Thela has known Maljie for years and I can well imagine her visiting. Similarly old Maggon is the sort of chap who wouldn’t think twice at dropping in to ensure that a lady of Maljie’s maturity and wisdom was being properly looked after. The thought that they had been summoned to assist her in her passage onwards was one that hadn’t occurred to me. I decided I would visit next day. But next day, about noon, I heard from a totally different source that another senior watchman had been seen entering Maljie’s premises. When I passed I couldn’t help noticing that there was somebody in a forest green jacket with yellow frogging and cuffs standing with their back to the window. Well I had to see somebody else so I rearranged my schedule with the plan of visiting Maljie an hour or so later.
Later I was down near the Partann wharf, and was surprised to see Slark the Leg heading for a boat. He’s a mugger, and frankly a bad one. I’ve known elderly ladies set about him and knock him cold.
I shouted after him, “Slark, you off to Partann?” To be honest it was a jest. There is no way one as incompetent as Slark could survive to ply his trade in the towns of Partann.
He turned hurriedly and relaxed a little when he saw it was only me. “Yes.”
By this time I had caught up with him. He continued, “Yes, I’m off before the watch get me. Maljie is apparently confessing everything she knows and the watch have a watchmen and two secretaries to take it all down.”
To be honest, that’s what convinced me that she was ill. His comment had the ring of truth. If Maljie started confessing everything, it would take at least two secretaries to keep up with her. I could put off visiting her no longer. I turned and walked briskly to her house. When I got there her sister, Margarita, let me in.
“How’s Maljie?” I asked the question before I’d even taken my hat off.
“Nicely, but I don’t want her getting tired. Still she’ll be glad to see you, I’ll take you through.”
I was taken to the upstairs parlour where Maljie sat in a comfortable armchair. Maggon of the watch was standing, red hot poker in hand, mulling a tankard of ale for her. She smiled when I entered the room, turned to Maggon, “A tankard for Tallis as well please.”
I watched her as Maggon made my mulled ale. He passed me a tankard and I sipped it. He had the knack, he sprinkled it with a little nutmeg and other spices. He then stirred in a spoonful of honey. In fact mulling ale is about the only thing you can do to a lot of Port Naain beers to make them drinkable. Maggon put enough honey in to disguise the normal sour taste, and the cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves improved it no end.
The three of us chatted for perhaps half an hour before Margarita came in to check on the patient. I had come to the conclusion Maljie was on the mend. Certainly she was a long way from death’s door. So I was now somewhat confused about why she’d been confessing her various sins to the authorities. Margarita let us talk for a few minutes more and then ushered us out of the room, “to let my sister rest.” We bid her good day and Maggon and I left together. It was as we stepped out onto the street I asked him about Maljie’s supposed ‘death-bed confessions.’ He smiled hugely.
“Honestly Tallis, it was an accident. I just happened to visit Maljie at the same time as your cousin Thela. People jumped to conclusions, and when Tackker Jake dropped by to see me, to explain that he might have, ‘inadvertently’ smuggled something past the authorities by accident and felt he ought to declare it, ‘just in case’, I decided to see what else might happen. Since then three usurers have left the city in a hurry and a dozen notorious rogues have slipped across the river heading south. The city is remarkably quiet at the moment.”
“So you started the rumours?”
“Oh no, in this city I don’t need to. All I need is to have a watchman and a couple of young ladies who are known to take notes for us call in and visit Maljie and the city did the rest.”
“Does Maljie know?”
He paled a little. “Gods but I hope not. To be fair one of the young ladies took an excellent fruit cake with her, and the other a large bottle of her grandmother’s tonic wine. And because I wanted them in the house long enough to look convincing, they spend three hours helping Margarita with various household chores.”
I nodded in what I hoped was a judicial manner. “Well it strikes me that you’ve been looking after her. I’m not going to tell her.” Then a thought struck me. “But what happens if she really does decide to tell everything she knows?”
He gripped me firmly by the shoulder. “Don’t say things like that to an old man. I’d have to hire condottieri to arrest everybody. We wouldn’t have the judges to try them all, and nobody left in authority with the power to appoint more.”
Should you wish to know more about Maljie
To quote the reviewers,
“Maljie is indeed a Lady Par Excellence. From mountain climber to pirate, currency inventor to financial genius, balloonist to Temple Warden, and more – much, much, more…
The female reader will want her as a best friend, the male reader would be wise to exercise extreme caution if he knows another lady like her.”
“This author has created a rich world, filled with interesting characters – of whom Maljie is one of the most colourful. Her life and adventures are presented though the gossip of the poet Tallis Steelyard who has a sharp eye and a sharper tongue. Reminiscent somewhat of Pepys’ diaries about the small and large events of London, Tallis is a better writer. And why is Mr Webster dangerous – too much of my money is being spent on his books.”