Let it be admitted that Maljie has her informal side. There are times when she unbends slightly. Mind you this unbending is reserved for a select group, sometimes known as the lesser mendicants.
Let us be clear, at the shrine of Aea in Her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm, we don’t encourage children to join the mendicants. There are other institutions which will reach out and support children. Until they’re old enough to wield a broom with vigour, we tend to regard them as ‘somebody else’s problem.’ Our enthusiasm is indeed tempered.
‘Nice’ children who have parents and families can be coped with by the system. It’s the children who are difficult that people struggle to cope with and who present problems. Whether it is something from her own past, her time spent working at the Insane Asylum, or whether she merely likes the challenge, but these children somehow gravitate to Maljie.
There are theories as to why this happens. Some little time ago there was a problem with lice and the mendicants. Eventually Maljie ended up getting her hair cut short with clippers. Indeed it was so short she might as well have had it shaved. Thus for the next month or so she kept getting stopped by the Watch. They appear to have assumed that she had escaped from a corrective institution. At one point she was even arrested, having been mistaken for a deserter from a penal company being sent south to die in the breach at the siege of Broken Keep. My suspicion was that this collection of juvenile recidivists recognised in the crop-haired Maljie a fellow malefactor.
Maljie responded by ‘keeping them out of trouble.’ I remember one occasion when she would take them fishing. With her sister, Margarita, driving the dog cart, she piled half a dozen of these small brigands into the back. The plan was to drive to where the River Laio met the Paraeba. It appears they travelled in fine style, a venerable gentlemen taking an early stroll with his dog had to throw himself into the ditch to avoid being run down. Still they arrived at the Laio and Maljie would teach them how to fish for flounders.
Now forget the complexities of rod and line, when you fish for flounders one merely needs bare feet. Casting off everything but her shift, Maljie plunged into the water and explained the technique. Basically you walk taking small steps and put your foot down firmly. If you tread on a big flounder, it feels like a slimy sponge under your foot. But they do have a rough spine running down the middle of their body, so you can orientate them. If you step on the tail then they can wiggle free. Step on the head that the tail comes up to slap you on the back of the leg. But once you’ve got your foot on one, hold it there, then reach down, get your fingers into the gills and haul it out of the water.
In a very little time she found one and pulled it out onto the bank. Of course, children being children, they all wanted a go. So Maljie spread them out along the edge of the water and had each move slowly forward. Now, as is inevitable when dealing with children, all is not plain sailing. Indeed after the first ten minutes both Maljie and Margarita were soaked to the skin, having to rescue those who had somehow stepped into deeper pools, or who had tripped and fallen.
Soon the bushes and trees along the bank were festooned with a large assortment of sodden garments and the largely disrobed party continued to fish enthusiastically. By lunch time they had caught a number of fish, so Maljie lit a fire and cooked the fish (A delicate operation when fate has decreed that you are dressed only in a charming smile) whilst Margarita sliced and buttered bread. After their lunch in the hot sun, the children fell asleep in a heap like a litter of puppies. It was perhaps an hour later when one of the children awoke, glanced round and prodded Maljie.
“’Ere, someone’s watching us, ‘idden in that tree.”
Malie opened an eye and could discern a crouching shape on one of the branches. She whispered, “When I say the word I want everybody to get to their feet and wave. Shout “Hello Snooping Nobbart.”
Once she was sure everybody knew what was going one, Maljie whispered, “Now.”
The reaction was immediate and from the tree there was a rustling of branches, followed by a cry and then a loud splash.
Maljie turned her back on the presumed intruder. “Now children, once more into the water, see if we can get some fish to take home.”
An hour later, when they had caught at least one fish per child, Maljie declared that it was time to go home. She put on her shift but left her shoes and the rest of her clothes bundled up to deal with when she got home. The rest of the party dressed in picturesque disarray and Margarita harnessed the dog cart. Thus they made their way home. Again the pace was brisk. There were cheers as an elderly gentleman walking his dog was forced to throw himself over a low wall. Indeed there was some discussion as to whether it was the same gentleman. Some of the children claimed to have recognised the dog.
It was as they made their way through Port Naain that one of the children, snuggled up to Maljie, asked, “Was what happened to Snooping Nobbart justice?”
Maljie seemed to ponder the question for some time. “Yes, I think it was. It was funny. But because there were children involved, it was probably justice.”
The child stopped to think and then said, “So it wouldn’t be justice if grown-ups were involved?”
“If grown-ups are wise, they know too much to demand justice. Justice might just look at you as well as the person you’re pointing at. Wise grown-ups tend to prefer mercy to justice.”
The child, probably somewhat confused, asked, “What about the law”
“The law is like a monster which will gobble up everything in its path. But because it’s an elderly monster, lame and blind in one eye, it depends on people to help it. If the people are grown-up then sometimes you get justice and sometimes you get mercy, and sometimes you might get both.”
The child sat up and looked at Maljie. “Are we going to cook the fish when we get home?”
There are indeed two collections of Maljie stories, in paperback or on kindle
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.