The duties of a Temple Warden are many and exacting. Mouldering in decaying libraries and forgotten storerooms there are tomes which list these duties in excessive detail. One aspect of this that has always intrigued me is that whilst each tome will share some of the duties with other tomes, none have the same list. Indeed if you take ten of these great volumes, there will be a common core in all of them. But from that point on, it is as if the authors had all decided to ensure that their own particular hobbyhorse was given pride of place by adding it to the list. As each of these volumes has its advocates in high places; should the shrine be inspected by the great and the good we can never be entirely sure which list will be considered canonical for the purpose.
For somebody less brazen in these matters than Maljie, this could have been considered a problem. Maljie plotted her course on the opposite tack. She looked at those duties that she felt could be interesting, or would provoke distress and dismay amongst those who had upset her, and regarded these duties as the undisputed rule.
One of the duties, widely accepted, is that the Temple Warden must maintain order on Temple premises. When I say ‘widely accepted,’ I mean that should a brawl break out among the mendicants, or a party of drunks wander into the sanctuary, then everybody gladly steps back, commenting that, “This is obviously a matter for the Temple Warden.”
That being said, what exactly are the Temple Premises? Obviously they include the temple. Most people will be happy to agree that the premises include the land outside where folk will park their coaches and similar. In our case, whilst the shrine is formally known as the Shrine of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm, nobody, save perhaps a visiting Hierophant, will use the term. To the world we’re known as the Staircase Shrine. Because of the implications of the name, our mendicants have cleaned and maintained the Sinecurists’ Grand Stair for years. Thus surely, Maljie argued, the staircase is actually Temple Premises.
Similarly the houses around Exegesis Square were all build on land which once belonged to the Shrine, and to be honest the deeds seem to indicate that the land was never in point of fact sold. The assumption is that a previous incumbent, some centuries ago, sold plots for cash, no questions asked, and no paperwork.
Still, the inhabitants of Exegesis Square were a mixed bunch. Some were families who had lived there for generations. Some were people who had somehow ended up there and discovered they fitted in. Others were those who had aspired to something better and had sunk to the level of gentility espoused by the Square. This latter group was a difficult group to deal with. The person who aspired to absolute greatness, reaches for the stars and falls short and ends up in the gutter, has a certain majesty still clinging to their person. The person who has aspired to modest success and yet has barely achieved mediocrity is on the other hand an entirely different kettle of fish. Almost insanely jealous of anything others have achieved, they cling desperately to the few perquisites they have managed to attain and will strive diligently to prevent others enjoying those same perquisites. In fact one begins to suspect they disapprove of others’ enjoyment in any shape or form.
Strangely, nobody seems to have queried Maljie’s assumption of authority. Those living in the square seem to have regarded her as a neutral party who could be trusted to keep order. Those using the stair were happy to foist on her the various problems the stair seemed to engender. Thus the young chevalier who would ride his charger at full speed up the stairs for a bet had Maljie to deal with. To be fair to him, he proved himself a master of more than horseflesh. Not only did his squire sweep the stairs, the horse dung, in a bucket, was delivered to the garden tended by Maljie and her sister Margarita. It was accompanied by a bottle of rather nice wine and an impressive bunch of flowers. Had the mumbling mad woman with the excessively incontinent hound been as accommodating, Maljie’s life would have been far simpler.
But in Exegesis Square, once you got used to the petty bickering and the tittle-tattle, Maljie’s job was quite simple. Everybody knew that life was easier if you didn’t upset Maljie. But then Maljie fell ill. Not only that but we had an outbreak of one of the summer plagues.
The problem with plague isn’t the plague, it’s the people. It brings out the petty in them. Because Maljie wasn’t there, half a dozen cliques all put forward their own leader and their own policy. The one thing these somewhat depressing people had in common was a feeling that people should not enjoy themselves. Apparently this sort of immortality and lack of good behaviour is what led to the plague in the first place. Indeed, unless matters improved rapidly, we were, apparently, all going to die horribly. When a kitchen maid was seen to kiss a groom at the back gate, one would have thought the end of civilisation had arrived. From there the general level of interfering got worse. A lady who wore her dress half way down her calf was sneered at as a common trollop, and may Aea have mercy on the lady who displayed too much embonpoint. One lady was forcibly covered up! Given that this is outside a shrine of Aea, who traditionally appears clad in very little and magnificently busted, there was certainly no theological underpinning to their attitude. (Indeed one might comment that the solid underpinning belonged to the lady with the embonpoint, but one probably shouldn’t.)
Still civilisation, or at least the good name of the area, was saved by the return to duty of Maljie. Perhaps she was not perhaps as strong as she had been, so she scooted around the area on a mechanical contrivance of some complexity travelling at insane speed. Still it did at least allow her to sit down as she restored order. No sooner had her presence been noted on the streets than the less bold of the vigilantes slunk back to their drawing rooms to bewail their plight and plot future mischief. The bolder ones who were tempted to outface her were put to flight when they noticed her assiduously practicing with a horse whip. When asked why, she merely commented that her doctor had recommended exercises to strengthen her right shoulder after surgery. To prove how successful her system had been, she then knocked a pipe from a man’s mouth as he passed.
That night, nobody put ladders to the windows of respectable married couples to tell them, “Disgusting, that sort of thing ought to be banned, what with the plague being so rife.”
Indeed kitchen maids kissed admirers, small boys whistled as they swaggered along, looking for opportunities to get up to no good, and a mature lady with a fine figure wore a dress which complemented it entirely. She won nothing but general admiration and, incidentally, a dinner invitation from a gentleman admirer who had been far too backward at coming forward.
Apparently, (and who would have believed it) I have been remiss in reminding people that there are indeed two collections of tales about Maljie. Available in paperback or ebook
In his own well chosen words, Tallis Steelyard reveals to us the life of Maljie, a lady of his acquaintance. In no particular order we hear about her bathing with clog dancers, her time as a usurer, pirate, and the difficulties encountered when one tries to sell on a kidnapped orchestra. We enter a world of fish, pet pigs, steam launches, theological disputation, and the use of water under pressure to dispose of foul smelling birds. Oh yes, and we learn how the donkey ended up on the roof.
Once more Tallis Steelyard chronicles the life of Maljie, a lady of his acquaintance. Discover the wonders of the Hermeneutic Catherine Wheel, marvel at the use of eye-watering quantities of hot spices. We have bell ringers, pop-up book shops, exploding sedan chairs, jobbing builders, literary criticism, horse theft and a revolutionary mob.
We also discover what happens when a maiden, riding a white palfrey led by a dwarf, appears on the scene.
As a reviewer commented about Maljie, “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.”