It has to be admitted that this city has a fair collection of half-forgotten fertility rites. It’s not surprising really, the inhabitants of Port Naain are descended from those who arrived from small villages situated all over the west and north. So as well as the traditional method of ensuring conception, we have many small rituals which some people swear to be efficacious. A lot of these rites are entirely innocent, stroking the flanks of a particular equestrian statue, hammering two coins together and dropping them over the side of the Roskadil Ferry, or even sleeping with the windows open on the nights of a full moon.
Other ceremonies are more ‘civic’ in their function. They cheer the populace, amuse children and remind us all that spring is here at last. In these commemorations rabbits and hares play a larger part than you might expect. But then both are notorious for their prolificacy.
It has to be admitted that within the worship of Aea, the various branches adopt very different responses to the season. The temples of Aea in her aspect as the personification of Chastity tend not to get involved. They might make a token gesture in that direction, but it is much nuanced.
On the other hand the services of Aea in her aspect as the personification of Hypocrisy can be great fun to watch. Normally the observances end up with various worshippers denouncing the whole proceeding as scandalous, immoral and disgraceful. All the while their priestess is watching them sardonically until the pontificating worshippers stop and listen to what they are saying, and shut up out of embarrassment.
Aea in her aspect as the personification of Motherhood on the other hand tends to cast caution and inhibition aside totally. Their temple services become festivals of singing, dancing and merrymaking. It is considered that any child born nine months after these celebrations is especially blessed.
It must be admitted that here at the shrine of Aea in her aspect as the personification of tempered enthusiasm, we also live up to our name. In the distant past it used to be taken for granted that before spring everybody ought to start the New Year by sorting out their consciences and apologising to people if they’d wronged them in the previous year. Now to be fair, people are neither good at this nor particularly keen on it. So this was formalised into the ritual of flogging the mendicants. Everybody approves of humility and contrition on the part of others, even if they cannot manage it for themselves. Still, in the old days any mendicants who had especially transgressed against the rules and guidelines were publicly flogged. This was transformed over the years into merely caning the one who had behaved the worst. Eventually even the canning was reduced to three formal strokes. Nowadays the incumbent merely writes a vitriolically censorious letter to the most badly behaved mendicant and this is read aloud at one of the major services. As one mendicant commented, “To be honest I’d rather be caned.”
Then there’s the whole fertility aspect. Customarily we’ll have the mendicants pull a cart round the city. In the cart will be a pretty young woman wearing a somewhat revealing rabbit costume. She carries a basket from which she gives sugar buns to charming children, pregnant women, and such female friends whom she wants to embarrass in public. As you can see it’s all very sensible and almost respectable.
It was in the year when we had the spot of summer plague when we ran into a problem. There was a general feeling that our procession wasn’t going to happen, so the Temple of Aea in her aspect as the personification of Motherhood decided not to send us a priestess.
Given we’d spent two days baking sugar buns, we were somewhat put out by this unilateral decision on their part. A group of us had a look through various cupboards and wardrobes filled with old vestments and finally we found a costume which, by the look of it, was last worn the year before I was born. One of our female mendicants did try to squeeze into it. She was assisted by four female friends and whilst we never did find out exactly what happened, there was a lot of giggling and muffled curses. Eventually she sent one of her assistants out to inform us that if the garment hadn’t flouted decency before she tried it on, the extra holes that had appeared since meant that it was no longer fit for wearing in public.
It was at this point Laxey enters the scene, bearing with him a costume he’d ‘found’. It was most definitely for the larger lady, and also for a somewhat coy larger lady who was happy to remain decorous. He pointed out that this costume would obviously fit Maljie. What that good lady thought about his suggestion isn’t recorded, but instead of commenting immediately she merely said she would retire to meditate upon the subject. Indeed she retired to the Temple Wardens’ chambers and there immediately started delving into the pile of tomes which contain the rules of the order. It is a matter of some pride in the shrine that we have a copy of every ordinance produced in the last six centuries. Admittedly some have never been opened but still we feel that merely having them in our charge should be seen as evidence of good intent.
Next morning she went to visit the incumbent, taking several volumes with her. After an hour closeted together the two ladies emerged and explained how things would be done this year. Instead of the cart, there would be a palanquin, carried on the shoulders of sixteen mendicants. Apparently the cart had been a relatively modern innovation. Because of the somewhat revealing costumes worn by some of the younger women who took on the role, it was felt that only by standing them in a high sided cart could propriety be preserved.
Also it was pointed out that when the palanquin was last used, the lady did not merely hand out sugar buns, but had a rolled umbrella with which she would belabour the unworthy. At this point Maljie commented sadly that given the problems she was having with her arm, she could no longer do that.
The incumbent then pointed out a part that Maljie might have overlooked. The maiden on the palanquin was allowed a black-clad hooded imp who would caper, anonymously, around the palanquin belabouring people for her. Apparently the imp was to be restrained by being kept on a chain attached to a collar worn around the neck.
Recognising the inevitable, Laxey volunteered for the role before he was conscripted into it.
Looking back at the parade it has to be admitted it was a great success. Maljie, lying in some state, cast sugar buns to the worthy and Laxey belaboured with enthusiasm all those Maljie pronounced to be scolds, shrews, the workshy and those suspected of bullying their spouse. Indeed on three occasions he pursued his prey with such praiseworthy enthusiasm that Maljie quite lost hold of the chain. In one case he pursed a particularly unsavoury specimen for well over ten minutes.
All in all, it was agreed by those who were present that it was the best show we’d put on for years, and there was general agreement from all present that we should stick with the new format for next year.
Should you wish to learn more of the life of Maljie,
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!”