It has to be said that those of us involved with the shrine of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm do occasionally feel ‘put upon.’ I suppose it’s because we’re not involved in any great public ceremonials, are stuck out on the periphery and don’t have a lot of money. Change any of those three parameters and suddenly we would be a lot more cosseted by those in authority.
Still we keep our heads down and press on regardless. After all, if the eye of a wandering Hierophant should chance to alight on us, it would be followed by the sort of vague request that is in reality an instruction. Thus one of these worthies dropped round to see us after she’d enjoyed a good lunch with friends on the Council of Sinecurists and asked vaguely if we had done anything to help the Fane of the Wise Maiden Halina. To which the incumbent muttered something along the lines, “Obviously we keep an eye on them,” whilst Maljie frantically scoured the city map to discover where the damned place was.
She discovered that it was a couple of miles away, on the northern edge of the city. Here the city has promiscuously expanded, encompassing villages, farms and hamlets, some of which still retain their original character. The Fane of the Wise Maiden Halina was on the edge of a hamlet originally known as Burdock Well. According to the map the area is now known as Burdock Gardens. So an expedition was mounted to discover whether the Fane in point of fact needed our assistance.
We were somewhat nonplussed when we arrived to discover the Fane was surrounded by a tall fence, made largely of rotting timber boards. We tried the gate and discovered a templewarden (or perhaps fanewarden?) dozing in the afternoon sun. He welcomed us and showed us round.
Apparently the area had in the past been wooded. The Wise Maiden Halina had fled to the woods for unspecified reasons more than a century ago, and had somehow had a small fane built. This she dwelt in. Not long after Port Naain started to expand into the area, and she hastily erected a fence to mark out her territory, and various neighbours did the same. So in the immediate area there are a number of houses with well wooded gardens.
It was after we shared a bottle or two of raw spirit infused with juniper berries that the fanewarden became more loquacious. Apparently in his youth he had known Halina, then a lady of considerable age. Indeed it was his father who had erected the fence and had painted it with a preservative of Halina’s devising.
“Aye. It were made fra boiling up a lot of mushrooms and stuff.”
Laxey asked, curiously, “Did it work?”
“Well t’fence is still standing.”
Maljie tried another track. “Why did she use mushrooms?”
“Oh she were a one for her mushrooms. Used to eat a plate of mushrooms every night before retiring to bed to meditate. She said Aea used to speak to her.”
“About anything in particular?” Maljie asked.
“All sorts of stuff, awful esoteric it were. She said as how when she were meditating, she could hear colours and words all had their own smell. She said Aea told her that she were on t’right track and should keep it up.”
Laxey asked, “Did she just live on mushrooms.” As he said it we glanced around the little copse that formed the garden of the shrine. Even at this time of year there was a fair selection of fungi obvious.
“Well alt’ local maids would bring stuff to her and she’d make up potions and nostrums for them. This used to be a respectable area, in Halina’s day there was none of this young women ‘falling pregnant’ all over the place. Some of them would bring her mushrooms, or herbs, or even ordinary food. They’d see her right.”
Maljie looked at the rotting fence which blocked our view. “But why such a big fence?”
“Ah, she never wanted folk peering at her when she was ‘aving her visions. Not only that but she used to make coins as well to pass the time.”
“She made coins? She was a forger?”
“Oh we never used that word, Maljie. She alus reckoned that everybody needed a craft an’ demons would mek work for idle hands. So she would craft two vintenar pieces. She had the gift, they were beautiful bits of work. She’d carefully layer lead on a thin piece of beaten iron, wash it wi’ silver and then stamp it. Oh they were nicer than the real thing.”
It was at this point that Laxey got down to the reason for the visit.
“Is there anything you want us to help with?”
The old fanewarden pondered as he stuffed powdered lichen into his pipe. “Aye lad, if tha could tek the fence down and burn it. Oh and there’s a fair few rotten branches on the trees, they could go in t’fire at the same time. I’ve got someone as would be happy to put up a new fence but one we can see over.”
So a working party was planned. With a decent number of mendicants we descended on the place with gusto and within an hour or so the fence was smashed to pieces and piled high.
The trees were somewhat trickier. We had to have people climb up them and then cut the branches off. The incumbent appeared and commented somewhat nervously that Maljie appeared to have climbed up to one of the higher branches and was brandishing an axe at a rotten branch above her. Obviously this was not having the desired results, as she shouted for somebody to pass her up a saw. Looking down she saw one of the mendicants looking hesitantly at the rope before tentatively starting to climb.
Maljie roared, “Get your fat backside up here you idle gleeking pantywaister.”
Quietly the incumbent said, “Should she be up there at her age?”
Laxey commented, “Well she is roped.”
“But even so, she’s not as young as she was.”
Laxey asked, “Are you going to tell her that whilst she has height advantage and an axe in her hand?”
Eventually everything was cleared up and piled into a heap ready for burning. Maljie regarded the bonfire with some enthusiasm. “It should burn well, we ought to have a party, get all the mendicants up here, a barrel of something good and some musicians.”
Laxey asked, somewhat diffidently, “What about the mushrooms or whatever the wood was painted with. Won’t that have an effect?”
Maljie smiled, “I certainly hope so.”
Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at things) that night was foggy and somebody obviously slipped out and set fire to the heap before we could get the party planned. Seemingly the smoke hung over the area for two or three days before finally dispersing. There was some muttering locally, but I might mention in passing that there were a remarkably large number of babies born in Burdock Gardens nine months later.
Obviously there is always more to learn about Port Naain and the antics of it’s inhabitants.
More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Includes the unexpurgated account of the Mudfold and Cockeren feud, the dangers inherent in light music, and how Tallis first met and wooed Shena.
As a reviewer commented, “This is a collection of stories about Tallis which go to show that it’s not all drinking afternoon tea or partaking of soirees for a jobbing poet. We discover some of his early life, some of the society feuds he became entangle with, and the story of how he met his wife and acquired the boat on which they live. Great little tales!”