This is a story about pilgrimage and the quest for enlightenment. A moral tale, a story written for the spiritually discerning. Even as I write it I have to stop to wipe away a tear.
There are all sorts of shrines and fanes where those who seek closer communion with the divine can repair and spend time in contemplation. Maljie was recommended (by the incumbent no less) to spend some time in such a place, contemplating her manifold sins and wickedness and generally preparing herself for a frank and open exchange of views with Aea herself. Or so at least it was reported to me. Others have claimed that an Archhierophant had personally commented in the hearing of his assorted myrmidons, “Who will rid me of this turbulent temple warden.” Apparently, our incumbent was unwilling to have the open area around the shrine littered with the groaning bodies of ecclesiastical bullies who had just discovered that they weren’t as tough as they thought. I rather agree with her in this. Once is quite often enough. I do however refute the claim made in the courts that some of them had been stabbed. The only reason for stabbings being recorded is that the watchman who attended couldn’t spell contusions.
Still, Maljie chose for her pilgrimage the shrine on Westerrock. This is so close to Port Naain it is virtually a suburb, but is unfashionable in the extreme. It is a fishing village on a small peninsular which threatens to become an island at high tide. There are issues with making a pilgrimage there, the shrine is ruined. That is considered to be part of its spiritual appeal, and as any temple warden will tell you, there’s a lot to be said in favour of ruins. Maintenance and upkeep for a start. The less you do the more picturesque they become. It does mean that the shrine isn’t really suitable for habitation, especially in autumn when the rain blows in from the Western Ocean. So Maljie was forced to stay in the Westerrock Inn. This is run by Grampan Garmin, a retired man-at-arms who had been in service with a previous Lord Cartin. He had retired to join some somewhat nebulous religious order, and after a period of vocational discernment, realised his ministry was to run an inn.
Maljie arrived, surveyed her room and decided she liked it. Then prior to becoming suitably spiritual she decided that she would go downstairs and have her meal. Grampan discussed the options available, and given that this was in some way a retreat, she decided to limit herself to the meat course and then perhaps something sweet to finish off with. The meat course, an excellent horrocks steak, well hung and cooked with mushrooms, onions and peppers, proved to be an excellent choice. Then when she asked about something sweet to finish the meal, Grampan mentioned he had some honey ale.
Maljie commented that one rarely gets a decent honey ale. To this, Grampan replied that the problem with it is that once you start a barrel, you have to finish it that night lest it go off.
Between ourselves, the beers of Port Naain leave much to be desired. But one or two of the smaller breweries do produce rather nice honey ales. Given that most Port Naain beer is thin and sour, a honey ale is almost by definition the exact opposite. But because of rumours that it might go off once the barrel is opened, the ale is rarely transported in barrels larger than a firkin. Indeed I’ve heard of some establishments where the tapster lacks confidence in his clientele, where they only ever buy half firkins. Certainly if they ever get a barrel at the Misanthropes, it’s always at least a firkin, because ten gallons goes nowhere with poets. The drink is so popular that some of them dispense with the habits of a lifetime and will even buy their own.
Still it has to be admitted it was only a half firkin that Grampan had tapped, and he confessed that a little had been imbibed by midday drinkers. Maljie tried a first tankard and agreed it was good. The second tankard, necessary purely to be companionable as Grampan had poured himself a drink as well, was excellent. The third tankard was necessary to honour to a truly sublime brewing.
Indeed it was a pleasant evening. Grampan and Maljie discovered they had friends in common. Maljie had loaned them money and Grampan had subsequently despoiled them. They had also travelled to many of the same places. Grampan to sack them, Maljie to lend money for reconstruction. Dutifully they worked their way down the barrel, the fifth and sixth tankards sliding down without real effort.
Then at that time of night when you’re not quite sure whether it’s still today or already tomorrow, there was a hammering on the door. Grampan opened it and two young people, little more than teenagers, came in. “Our mam has thrown us out and she won’t let us have our stuff.”
Grampan sighed, the deep sigh of a man who’s heard it all before. He turned to Maljie, “A little local problem. Somebody will have to go round and sort the auld witch out. Want to come?”
Grampan led the small party of Maljie and the two teenagers down the narrow street and stopped by a door that had been repeatedly patched with bits of planking robbed from other jobs. He hammered on the door. Nothing happened so he hammered louder. Maljie noted curtains along both sides of the street were twitching somewhat. Grampan was now kicking the door and shouting a name. Finally a window above their head was flung open and they were treated to a stream of abuse and the contents of a badly aimed chamber pot.
Grampan shouted up that they’d come to collect the belongings of the two young people. The female voice upstairs screamed that they didn’t have belongings and were nothing to do with her. This discussion, conducted at a volume that meant it could be heard with ease throughout the village, continued for some time. Finally Grampan introduced Maljie.
“This ‘ere woman is an off duty watch officer who is looking to investigate a theft.”
Maljie, her memory beautifully lubricated by all the honey, proceeded to quote the law, at volume. “A person steals who, without the consent of the owner, fraudulently and without a claim of right made in good faith, takes anything capable of being stolen with intent, at the time of such taking, permanently to deprive the owner thereof.”
“Provided that a person may be guilty of stealing any such thing notwithstanding that she or he has lawful possession thereof, if, being a bailee or part owner thereof, she or he fraudulently converts the same to their own use or the use of any person other than the owner.”
She stopped to draw breath and continued. “The expression ‘takes’ includes obtaining the possession—by any trick, by intimidation; under a mistake on the part of the owner with knowledge on the part of the taker that possession has been so obtained. Note also that the expression ‘owner’ includes any part owner, or person having possession or control of, or a special property in, anything capable of being stolen. Claims to ownership cannot be made on the strength of being a foul mouthed termagant who, if she doesn’t modify her language, is going to find herself falling down the watch house stairs on her way to the cells.”
There was a more muffled cursing from upstairs. Then five minutes later two bags were hurled out of the window to the accompaniment of more abuse.
The party made their way back to the Westerrock Inn. Grampan found the two teenagers a room for the night and he and Maljie returned to the bar where there was still some Honey Beer that needed finishing off. It was two hours before dawn when Maljie made her way to her room. It was perhaps four hours later she awoke to the smell of bacon cooking. She dressed and made her way down stairs. She stuck her head round the kitchen door, and looked at the rashers in the pan. “I think I can manage three with some mushrooms, a fried egg and some black pudding.”
Grampan looked up from his cooking. “It’s always good to meet another warrior.”
Maljie merely snorted, “I’ve got a hard day being spiritual in the drizzle to look forward to.”
Should you wish to read more from the pen of Tallis Steelyard, and explore a little further the city of Port Naain and it’s environs
Life for a jobbing poet is difficult. You have to be flexible with regard to your art. One day you’re organising an elegant soiree, the next a pie eating contest. Yet all the while you are striving to raise the tone and to ensure that decency, dignity, and an appreciation of the fine arts prevails.
And sadly it appears that the more honest your attempts, the more noble your endeavours, the more likely it is that you end up making enemies. Tallis helps out the family of an old friend, obliges a patron, and does his best to aid the authorities in the administration of justice. Each time he merely manages to upset the powerful, the petty, and the vindictive.
As a reviewer commented, “Any story that contains immortal sayings like “I will merely point out that whilst the little ship did not lack ambience, it was an ambience that clung, and it took three washings before I could get it out of my shirts.” Is well worth reading.
Additionally, this tale refers to maps, missing gems, pie eating contests and even a marimba – what more could a reader want?”