One problem about plague years where everybody hides in their houses is what do you do about those too poor to have a home? For us at the Shrine of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm our major worry was for the mendicants. Given that they had largely been beggars and vagrants before they somehow ended up with us, the best they could hope for was to return to being beggars and vagrants. So we hatched a plan. As nobody would be using the shrine, we would.
So we brought all the mendicants into the shrine and a number of us remained with them to maintain good order and regular meals. We even went so far as to lock the doors and relied upon hauling food in a basket through an upstairs window. Now to be honest once you have things organised and everybody slotted into a routine, there is only so much you need do. There’s only so often you can instruct the mendicants to polish the brassware before the mirror finish already achieved seems to mock their efforts.
We tended to spend quite a lot of time just sitting and telling of our various adventures. One that stuck in mind was Maljie’s story about sedan chairs. What never occurred to me was who owned the sedan chair and how much one cost? Obviously the lady with her own chair and with bearers on her staff, funds everything, purchase, maintenance and refurbishing. But what about the chair you hire in the street?
By and large, the independent chairmen own their own chairs. Effectively they exist as a partnership of two people with the chair as their joint asset. Now when it comes to maintenance, a lot of chairmen or bearers have over the years developed the skills you need to fit new poles and fix the odd knock or scrape. But sometimes the chair will need a lot of work. This, as an aside, is why the chairmen get so vengefully obstreperous about the drunken passenger who vomits in their chair. It can take a lot of cleaning or even replacing covers and padding, before the chair is fit for somebody else to travel in. This costs time and money.
Also whilst the wise partnership will put money away for when they need to finally purchase a new chair, what happens if it gets seriously damaged in an accident? This is where Maljie used to step in. As a usurer she was used to chairmen coming to her wanting to borrow money to buy a chair. To be fair it was slightly specialist area, but there were enough usurers who knew the trade and knew the sort of terms that were offered. But Maljie (as usual) took it one stage further.
Realising that if a chair was badly damaged, the partnership could find themselves having to pay for a new chair whilst still trying to pay off the old and damaged one, she offered them an Indemnification plan. The partnership would make a monthly payment. This they would do over the period of ten years. At the end of the period, they could withdraw two thirds of the final sum to fund buying a new chair. If, during that period their chair was badly damaged, they would receive the ‘two thirds’ sum immediately. It was a gamble on everybody’s part. If the plan ran without paying out, Maljie would profit handsomely. If in the first year or so the chair was destroyed, then Maljie would lose spectacularly.
She ran this scheme successfully for some years and other usurers working in the chair market studied it and started their own versions. By and large it seems to work well but obviously you have to be wary of people trying to cheat you. So Maljie, when faced by an expensive accident which happened late at night with no witnesses and a passenger who appeared to be a family member or a business associate of the two bearers, was prone to institute sweeping investigations. Depending on the level of suspicion on her part, the investigations have been known to be carried out by muscular individuals with brass knuckles.
On the other hand, even Maljie was known to have been defeated. The case that always intrigues her was the case of the sedan chair with the philosopher as a passenger. Maljie was alerted to the claim by the clerk who dealt with the paperwork. He pointed out that it was the first time that he had come across a claim where somebody insisted that the wall had hit the chair.
Intrigued, Maljie summoned the chairmen and interviewed them. They seemed entirely bewildered as to what had happened. Indeed they admitted that at one point they had been clear in their own minds as to the events, but having been in discussion with the passenger, (who to be fair, had insisted that he was the only reliable witness) they were no longer sure as to the course of events. Even Maljie’s significant glances towards to two remarkably muscular clerks who were watching the interview didn’t appear to concentrate their minds. So when Maljie suggested that she ought to interview the passenger, both bearers almost wept with relief.
Maljie then invited the philosopher, Jad Hammershalt, to an interview. She listened to his explanation, but after ten minutes she interrupted him.
“It says on the form that the wall hit the chair.”
“But walls don’t move!”
“Ah, cast aside that alief which is blocking your grasp of the situation. Why you will be insisting we revert to ‘common sense’ next, ignoring totally the intrinsic and extrinsic properties. I would prefer to start from a position of non-maleficence and consider in detail the potentiality of the polychotomous key.”
“You would?” Maljie replied, somewhat uncertainly.
“Indeed, we must avoid the risk of a slippery slope argument. Remember always the inexorable difference between the saying and the said. Obviously one doesn’t wish to ignore well-founded phenomenon even when they are at odds with the zeitgeist. I think we must seek the unconditioned reality.”
After a further half hour of discussion, Maljie was forced to make her excuses and fled her own office. Still, next morning she returned to work with the beginnings of a plan. Two days hence was a monthly dinner normally attended by most usurers. She invited the philosopher to speak and in a letter to those attending she challenged them to explain to her, after the speech, what the speaker had been talking about. Her intention was that by pocketing the speaker’s fee and any money she made on side bets, she could cover the cost of repairing the sedan chair.
The meal was excellent and when Jad Hammershalt stood up to speak the audience was utterly silent. With Maljie’s challenge in mind, they listened with an almost frightening intensity. Master Hammershalt, realising he had the audience’s entire attention, rose to the challenge and scaled heights of philosophical speculation he would never had dared with a lesser audience. Finally he drew his talk to a conclusion and sat down. There was a dazed silence followed by rapturous applause. As one of those present confided to me later, “I may not have understood a word but I knew I was in the presence of a master who had given the performance of his life.
As Maljie rose to give the vote of thanks, Master Hammershalt also stood and kissed Maljie on both cheeks. “Madam, never have I had such an audience. Would that my students were but a tenth as attentive.”
With that he slipped several gold coins into her hand, the cost of a new sedan chair.
Should you wish to know more about the life and activities of Maljie, there is, available in paperback and ebook, a brief chronicling of some of her deeds.
As a reviewer commented, “Maljie is a pretty amazing woman, especially when you consider she has to deal with living in Port Naain, which is a medieval fantasy city. However, she is not one to let such things as expected gender roles hold her back – indeed no, those are merely there to be exploited!
We see Maljie and learn of her adventures through the eyes of Tallis Steelyard, a jobbing poet and himself an acute and wickedly perceptive inhabitant of Port Naain.
These stories are not so much a collection of anecdotes as a tour de force of hilarious and unlikely situations brought together in a single volume and showing the unstoppable rise and rise of the irrepressible Marjie.
If you want some feel-good reading to brighten your day, Jim Webster is your man and Maljie is, most certainly the right woman for the job!”