I don’t know about anybody else, but I am certainly left struggling when somebody tells me to act my age. Given that I have never been this age before, I don’t know how I ought to behave. Thus I am always ‘acting’ my age. If by some means I could discover how I was supposed to behave then I assure you, I would endeavour to do so.
Obviously I could watch others and see how they behave, but frankly they are not me and obviously cannot be expected to act with the wit, elegance and grace that I habitually display. Indeed, between ourselves, I suspect that they too are somewhat adrift, unsure of how to behave. Thus they too are acting, behaving as they feel they ought to behave. Indeed it may be they have been watching me and are taking me as their exemplar. It would be silly for me to copy them copying me wouldn’t it?
Still it has to be said that Maljie had rarely felt the need to act her current age. Her philosophy seemed to be that she had mastered certain ages and thus it seemed silly to abandon a good solid performance, for something scrappy and improvised.
Still we had a problem. Some years previously I had been one of a small panel charged with picking the Vicar for the Temple of Aea in her Aspect as the Healer. Thanks to the gentle guidance of our secretary, a young lady seconded to us from the Temple of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Chastity we picked as the new vicar, the apothecary and newly licenced physician, Maryl Antborn. For those wishing to remind themselves of the process I recounted it at
Now the secretary, young Annia, soon married her Maryl and they were both very happy. Maryl was an excellent vicar. He developed his skills to become an accomplished physician, and was well thought of by all. The position of Vicar came with impressive accommodation, and over the next few years, Annia produced four children.
The problem was that whilst the position of Vicar is really a medical post, there are some spiritual duties and Maryl threw himself into these as well. That’s the problem when you start working for Aea. She gets you into one job and leads you into others. You can find yourself walking down roads you previously had no thought of walking.
Apparently Maryl then met a chap who came in for treatment. This individual was somebody who lived along the River Areiu well to the east of Port Naain. He mentioned to Maryl that in the mountain headwaters of that river were any number of small communities which lacked both physician and priest. This left Maryl troubled. Technically at least, he was both. He brooded on the matter over many months and came to the conclusion that Aea wished him to move to the upper reaches of the Areiu to serve the people there.
It has to be said that Annia was not entirely thrilled by the prospect. Because I was one of those who initially had been behind Maryl’s appointment, she approached me to see if anything could be done. I may have been less help that she hoped because she also approached Maljie.
Still we discussed the matter, seriously. It was Laxey who came up with the solution. We needed a wise woman who would read Maryl’s future and show him how he was supposed to stay here in Port Naain. Indeed, ignoring Annia’s feelings in the matter, with Maryl as their physician, the poor of Port Naain had never been so well looked after.
It was decided that Annia would bring Maryl and the children to a summer picnic and fair, run by the shrine of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm. There he would meet an aged fortune teller who would put him off moving away from Port Naain. Annia went home rejoicing, and Maljie, in all innocence, asked where we were going to get an aged fortune teller from.
There are two issues that need dealing with here. One is that, in principle, Aea does not approve of fortune telling. I suspect that in all her aspects, she disapproves of people trying to ‘second guess’ her. But as an organisation, the various temples have no real problem with fortune tellers, soothsayers, and those who calculate horoscopes. It merely regards them as charlatans at the worse and light entertainment at the best. There is one proviso. The person must be a charlatan. Given that Aea doesn’t make a habit of cooperating with fortune tellers, if the person doing the predicting is in the habit of getting it right, who is giving them the correct inside information? Under these circumstances there is the suspicion of necromancy or demonology.
So as our fortune teller was obviously fraudulent, (But not so fraudulent that Maryl wouldn’t take her seriously) this wasn’t really an issue. The real problem was convincing Maljie to act her age and be the elderly fortune teller. To be fair, we concentrated on using words such as ‘venerable’, ‘wise’, ‘distinguished’, and ‘esteemed’. Fortunately Maljie didn’t appear to hear the mendicant who used the term, “Cantankerous old witch.” So Maljie allowed herself to be convinced that the role was rightly hers. Indeed she was somewhat consoled by the fact that she would have to be veiled lest anybody recognise her.
On the great day we ran into an unforeseen problem. Maljie was primed to tell the fortune of Maryl and Annia, but her tent was open to all. Refusing admission to all but the chosen victim was not going to help our soothsayer’s credibility. So she had to take on all comers.
At this point Laxey did provide some assistance. He promised her a sandwich of finest Mott bacon, on fresh bread. Indeed he hinted that there might be more than one. At this point I feel obliged to raise a serious issue. If the bread is any good and the bacon made to exacting standards, then a bacon sandwich needs nothing else. There is no need for a sprinkling of salt, the bacon brings this with it automatically. There is no need for butter, the place is taken by the bacon fat. Sauces merely disguise the flavour of two perfect ingredients, whilst adding fruit to such a sandwich is an abomination. I can only put it down to habits picked up from consorting with those lesser breeds beyond the law when Laxey was a sailor. Civilised people know better. Still perhaps he feels the need to mortify the flesh?
Still, I appear to have wandered from the point. The tent was ‘opened’. By this I mean that one of our more charming female mendicants, who scrubbed up nicely, would admit people. In the dimly illuminated half of the tent nearest the door, the veiled Maljie sat in the gloom, a table in front of her. Behind her was a tapestry hanging and behind that was Laxey, bacon sandwiches and a number of mendicants (who tend to congregate in the presence of bacon sandwiches, even, Aea help them, those which contain fruit).
From time to time I would drop in to see what was happening, when my other duties gave me leisure. Thus I heard several of Maljie’s interviews. The first was a young lady who asked whether a young gentleman (whom I won’t name but he knows who he is) was faithful to her. Maljie was a little put out by this but one of the mendicants put his hand through a gap in the tapestry hanging and at great personal risk to himself, tugged on her dress. He then whispered that the gentleman named was stringing along three young ladies. Maljie with a curt gesture whispered, “Deal with it.”
Three mendicants faded out of the back door of the tent whilst Maljie assured the young lady that all would be made clear very soon. Apparently the young gentleman in question got a black eye when tripping over a guy rope, and (judging by the bruising) was then trampled on by a horse as he received a lecture, the gist of which can be summed up in the words, “Make your chuffing mind up; now.”
The next questioner who caused any interest was the elderly lady worried about her middle aged daughter who struggled to cope with a tear-away son. It wasn’t merely that the son was disobedient, it appears he was not merely stealing from his mother, but threatening her as well. Again, Maljie, somewhat beatifically, commented, “Aea has the matter in hand.”
The son chanced to bump into four mendicants as he made his way from beer tent to the jakes. The lecture was brief and to the point and he was found floating, face up, in the dunny pit, unable to pull himself out without assistance.
The final incident that I feel worthy to report was almost a repeat of the first. Only in this case it was a young gentleman asking whether a young lady was being true to him. In this case, in spite of Laxey’s misgivings, a posse of female mendicants was despatched to rectify matters. The female of the species is so much more deadly than the male. Fortunately we needn’t have worried, they merely smiled sweetly at the various young gentlemen the young lady was keeping in tow and lured them away with a few honeyed words. The young lady herself came out of it unscarred, save for a red handprint on her left cheek which was nothing to do with us. The sister of one of the young gentlemen had decided to act, in a manner calculated to loosen teeth.
But eventually Maryl and Annia were shown in. Maljie was at her most commanding. She heard Maryl’s question, should he go and work amongst the poor folk along the Upper Areiu? Maljie sank effortlessly into the mumbo-jumbo. She had already decided how to proceed, she had just finished drinking a glass of infusion and swirled the dregs ostentatiously so she could ‘read’ what they said.
She put the glass down and peered at the dregs. They very clearly spelled out the word ‘Areiu.’
To be fair, Maljie didn’t panic, she stuck an arm through the gap in the tapestry, grabbed the ear of a mendicant and hissed into it, “I want two priestesses, here, now.”
Smiling wanly at Annia, she went through some more rigmarole until the two priestesses arrived. To be fair to the mendicant he had excelled himself. He’d grabbed two ladies of immense spirituality. Snobs might wonder how it was that two such paragons were present at a children’s summer picnic and fair, especially one run by a shrine so lacking in kudos as ours. What they fail to understand is that genuine spirituality is not daunted by the sound of happy children. Still these two ladies came into the tent. Immediately Maljie became calmer and took a set of sticks. All have complex markings and you’re supposed to throw them on a table and read the future by the way they overlap and which one is on top of which and in what direction they lie. Maljie threw them up, and they landed, spelling Areiu.
One of the priestesses glanced at the other who nodded. The first priestess turned to Maljie. “It is not the work of any dark spirit.”
Maljie swept the sticks to one side. She took out a pack of cards. “I’ll shuffle these and deal out three.” As she shuffled she somehow slipped. The cards flew into the air and landed on the table, spelling out Areiu.
Annia sighed, turned to Maryl and said, “It looks as if you’re right dear. I’ll start packing and you tell the temple of your plans.”
With that they left. They did go to the Upper Areiu and I hear from the area occasionally. Apparently they’re still both happy, busy, and indispensable. Maljie rose from her chair. I think she wanted to follow Annia to apologise. As she did so, one of the two Priestesses said, “Maljie, Aea has a word for you as well.”
With that Maljie fled. The priestess shouted after her, “You can run but you cannot hide.”
From the distance we could hear a voice shouting back, “Try me.”
It was at that point that Laxey took down the tapestry and started getting things packed up. The other priestess looked thoughtfully at him.
“Laxey, I have a word for you from Aea.”
In resigned tone Laxey asked, “Does it involve serving in the shrine in the Warrens with its congregation of crazed anthropophagi?”
“No, it’s just that the head of all orders, the Autocephalous Patriarch, is looking for somebody to promote to Grand Archdeacon. The idea is he needs somebody who isn’t afraid to wade in and metaphorically slap people around a bit and shake things up.”
“You mean he wants somebody to become the most hated person in the order.”
Sadly the priestess nodded her head.
Laxey made for the door of the tent, “There’s a venerable, nay, elderly lady out there and I better go and make sure she doesn’t come to any harm.”
With that he too disappeared.
I helped the mendicants put everything away. After all, what had I to fear? Poets and writers live by reading the writing on the wall. Admittedly we might be too zealous to critique it for spelling and punctuation, but still.
Anyway, I gave the two priestesses a bacon sandwich each and being a decent person I didn’t put fruit in it.
The adventures of Tallis Steelyard have been exhaustively chronicled.
When he is asked to oversee the performance of the celebrated ‘Ten Speeches’, Tallis Steelyard realises that his unique gifts as a poet have finally been recognised. He may now truly call himself the leading poet of his generation.
Then the past comes back to haunt him, and his immediate future involves too much time in the saddle, being asked to die in a blue silk dress, blackmail and the abuse of unregulated intoxicants. All this is set in delightful countryside as he is invited to be poet in residence at a lichen festival.
As a reviewer commented, “What’s a poet to do when one of his lady patrons is being blackmailed and his own life may be at risk due to his actions in defending another from attack some time in the past.
How are both these events connected?
Well – read this tale and find out – trust me, it’ll be time well spent.”