I confess that I hold all skilled trades and crafts in high regard. I care not if a man is a farrier, a white smith or a poet, if he is an exemplar of his chosen art, then in my eyes he is the equal of any. Even the clerk who can write down his columns of numbers in a fair hand and then make them dance for his pleasure is somebody whom I am happy to consider my equal. Each in his own way has grasped the essential poetry of his art.
But then over the years I have done many things, worked with many skilled men and learned much. I was a clerk for Miser Mumster and learned the joy of numbers. I have trimmed the feet of orids, I am carpenter enough to be able to replace planks in the barge, and have even worked as a builder, not merely a builder’s mate.
It was this latter skill that I was called upon to display not too long ago as these things are reckoned. I had somehow become enmeshed within the coils of the shrine of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm. Thus I will often drop in and am occasionally asked to help out in some minor capacity. In all candour I cherish my connection for the never-ending stream of stories the shrine produces.
But the shrine has connections with a distant, and somewhat grander building, the Balustraded Shrine, (also dedicated to Aea in the same aspect) which is situated upon the edge of the city and has fallen upon hard times. Apparently the congregation is small, the building large, and they need assistance in basic maintenance. Thus and so, for reasons not entirely unconnected with the musicians whom I caused to play a selection of lively secular ballads rather than the meditative sacred music that had been expected, Laxey and I, accompanied by an indeterminate number of burly mendicants, were despatched to assist with a repair job.
When you look at the front of the building, high above the door is a rather grand window. For reasons of economy the glass had been temporarily removed two or three generations previously (and if the rumours are true, sold to contribute to the cost of maintaining the incumbent’s mistress at the time). The glass had been replaced with boarding that was beginning to show the signs of age. It was rotting in one corner, and recent gales had blown it bodily into the shrine. Our task was to ‘fix it’ but without spending too much money.
On talking to the acting incumbent, who frankly was barely more than a Hierodeacon, spending ‘too much money’ was easily done. There wasn’t any. But on the other hand a couple of his parishioners had ‘acquired’, ‘very reasonable’ some rather nicely squared stone blocks. They were obviously second hand, they still had the mortar attached, but it struck us we could work with them. If we build a wall behind the battered boarding, it would support the boarding, seal the window for the future, and would also look as if nothing had changed. This latter point is important. Trust me in this, for many within a congregation, and even more so for those in higher authority, not changing anything is of supreme importance. Thus it was vital that our work would go unnoticed otherwise somebody would ask questions and that never leads to anything good. The same two parishioners who had sourced the blocks, when asked quietly, (with the incumbent elsewhere) assured us they could get us the makings of some decent mortar. Thus we set to work.
On investigating the window from the inside, we discovered that it was very deep indeed. The entrance hall below it was grander than it had any right to be, meaning that the window above was almost at the end of a tunnel longer than a tall man. So the incumbent managed to borrow some ladders for us, and Laxey and I were faced with carrying these blocks up the ladders. To be fair, the blocks had been cut to be used by people such as us, so they were possible to carry. They weren’t convenient, or even easy, but they were possible.
Once we had them in the tunnel it was comparatively easy to work, and with one of the mendicants enthusiastically mixing mortar, (which also had to be carried up in buckets) we set to work.
At one point in this process we were disturbed by Maljie. Whilst she couldn’t climb the ladder due to her sore shoulder, (she’d damaged it due to over-fervent wielding a felling axe, apparently the technique is different to that used when she wielded a piratical battlescythe in her youth) she got a fair idea about the nature of our job. She then disappeared.
Later that day, just as we were finishing off, the incumbent climbed up the ladder to join us, so excited was he at his good news.
Apparently an unknown but wealthy and influential patron had approached the shrine. They wanted to donate a fresco. Their idea was that, as we were already working on the window, we could wall the other end of this ‘window tunnel’ up, and then they would send their artist to plaster our work with lime plaster which they would paint whilst it was still wet. Apparently this unnamed patron was a usurer contact of Maljie’s. Somebody she’d known and worked with when she was in the business.
The enthusiasm for this project spread like wildfire through the small congregation. Apparently the artist was going to use their faces as models for the faces of the bystanders clustered around Aea. I must admit my admiration for the artist increased exponentially, here was a master who knew his potential audience. Not only that but the unnamed patron was somebody in whose presence even a hegumen would remaining standing, whilst a patriarch would treat them as an equal.
It must be confessed that Laxey and I cursed both artist and patron roundly the next day. Now we were building the new wall almost flush with the existing wall, there was nowhere convenient to put blocks before we needed them. There was nowhere to stand a bucket of cement, or even to stand ourselves. We were forced to work off ladders. It has to be said that the job could have been easier.
The arrival of Maljie to oversee our progress was not an entirely unalloyed joy. Her insistence that we managed to get the wall up at least halfway before we stopped for the evening was less than helpful. On the other hand I feel that her reaction to the dropped block was over-dramatic. It missed her by some paces. Admittedly it virtually exploded, sending shards everywhere, but still, it’s not as if we did it on purpose. It’s just that it’s difficult enough to manoeuvre one of them when you’re at the top of a ladder, without being harangued from below at the same time. It did at least have one advantage, she left, promising to arrange for something to be done.
To be fair, she did. When we arrived next morning, frankly dreading our forthcoming task, we discovered that there was scaffolding already erected. Whilst we still had to climb up ladders to get to the top, when we reached where we were to work, there was a sturdy floor composed of half a dozen thick planks. Not only that, but somebody had fixed a robust pulley to a great ceiling beam. Hence our mendicants merely had to place the block, or the mortar, in a bucket and they could then pull it up to us.
As we turned our attention to the wall and surveyed our forthcoming day’s work, we noticed that the space between the outer wall we had finished two days previously, and the inner wall we were now building, was packed with long wooden boxes wrapped in old carpet and sheet. I looked down to where Maljie stood watching us. Before I could say anything, she shouted up, “It’s insulation. We checked with the artist, he wanted the area packing so that there were no big temperature fluctuations.”
I tapped one of the wooden boxes in various places with the handle of my trowel. It sounded half full. From below came Maljie’s voice, “Remember to point up the blocks from the other side as well as this side, the artist doesn’t want any damp coming through the wall to damage his fresco.”
To be fair, working on the scaffolding, we soon got the work done, and were doing the final pointing as the artist arrived. He watched as we put a thin layer of render across the entire face of our work, and then he grooved it so that his plaster would stick more easily. That done, we bid him a courteous farewell. We left a note for the incumbent to let him know we’d finished, and slipped away before he found us anything else to do.
It was next morning, as we entered the Mendicant’s Stairway Shrine, that our incumbent met us. “I’m glad you’re back, it struck me that our west window needs fixing.”
We looked at the west window. It too had been boarded up in the distant past. We could just block it up. This window had two advantages over the previous job we’d done. Firstly it wasn’t too high, we barely needed scaffolding. Secondly it wasn’t so deep. We could simply pack it solid with blocks. We send one of the mendicants to ask the incumbent of the Balustraded Shrine if his parishioners could get us a cart load of those useful squared blocks. Obviously our work was appreciated because word came back that a suitably filled cart would be with us next morning.
So Laxey and I set to work cleaning this window out and preparing it. As we worked away, Maljie appeared. By unspoken agreement, neither of us appeared to notice her until she spoke.
“Laxey, Tallis, have you got this window to do?”
“Yes, but we’ll just block this one solid.”
She stepped forward to get a better look at it. “Surely you can put one layer up against the boarding to jam it into place, then leave a gap and then just put a single block wall at the outside.”
We stopped what we were doing. Cautiously I asked, “But will the space between the two walls have to be packed for insulation?”
“Don’t worry about the details, I can fix that for you.”
Laxey asked, “So who’s died?”
“Nobody yet, but thanks to the favour we did some people over at the Balustraded Shrine, that could happen very soon.”
Wondering if this was what usurers meant when they talked about ‘terminating an account,’ I looked again at the space and tried to see it with the two walls in place. “There’s still not a lot of room, you couldn’t lay a coffin down.”
“Don’t worry, put him in standing up.” She seemed to be struck by an idea. “We could put him wagging a finger at us, or perhaps preaching a sermon at us. It would be entirely suitable for a person of his position in the very highest levels of the ecclesiarchy. ”
I was about to ask just who had managed to annoy Maljie this time. I knew that one of the older mendicants ran a book on this sort of thing, and inside information like this was worth having, it could ensure that Shena and I dined well for a couple of days. Fortunately or unfortunately our incumbent arrived at this point, and Maljie faded quietly away. I was intrigued by the fact that next morning the incumbent confessed to a previously unsuspected fascination with blockwork, and remained with us until we had the entire window cavity blocked solid and had commenced rendering it.
It was a couple of days later that Laxey and I, with a couple of mendicants, dropped round to see Maljie and her sister. Maljie’s shoulder had been playing her up, apparently she’d been carrying heavy weights about and had damaged it further.
It was a pleasant day so we drank white wine on the patio.
Maljie’s younger sister, Margarita, was displaying her ability with divining rods. As she walked across the patio they kept crossing at the same point.
I asked, “Water?”
“I had these tuned, they are only supposed to pick up gold and precious metals.”
Laxey contemplated the slabs which made up the patio. “We could come back with a bar, we’d soon have them two slabs up, and it probably wouldn’t be more than half an hour’s work to get down to whatever is there.”
Maljie was remarkably firm. “We are not digging up the patio.”
“Did you design it Maljie?”
Rather more decisively than I felt was necessary she said abruptly, “It was here when we moved in. I cannot even remember who the previous owner was.”
Then sternly she glared at Margarita. “So we are not digging up the patio.”
With that she rose to get more wine. As she left, Margarita commented, sotto voce, “Probably gold teeth.”
Should you wish to learn more about Maljie, the following work is available in paperback and as an ebook
As a reviewer commented, “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.”