Teaching a cat to dance

There is a school of thought which pronounces, with some vehemence, that one ought to undergo continuous training throughout your career. I can see the advantages of this. I make a point of reading the works of great poets, so I can see how they have tackled problematic issues or handled various verse forms. I put down their work and I am inspired.

I also read the work of the bad poets, the writers of doggerel or of lyrics for popular ballads. When I put these works down my eyes are wet with tears. I grieve for those poor innocent words, tormented beyond measure and forced into unnatural juxtapositions.

But let us be honest here, why should I go to attend courses on my art from people who have never practiced it professionally? People who haven’t spent decades perfecting their art, performing in venues so tough that condottieri tell their men-at-arms to visit only in parties of six or more, and insist that they remain armed at all times. What would I learn from them? Other than the old, old, truth, that there is better money to be earned teaching people how write poetry than there is in writing poetry.

It is the same with the role of the temple warden. I have listened to, nay I have hung on every word of, those veteran temple wardens grown old in office. Bowed under the weight of responsibility they have carried for half a century or more. They have forgotten more that I have ever learned. But in all candour I’m not sure there is much I can learn from a junior hierophant who’s back still stings from the ritual birching they received when they were elevated. Hence in this tale I confess my sympathies lie very much with Maljie.

It was towards the end of day and Maljie was making her way into the shrine. She was a little perturbed because she could hear, coming from inside the shrine, the sound of a recorder being played. Badly. Obviously this is something a temple warden ought to investigate. But as she arrived at the door she found Laxey sitting on a bench with a tankard in hand. He beckoned her to sit next to him and proffered a second tankard. Obviously temple wardens are not expected to drink on duty. But it had been a long day, and plum brandy is in realty, medicinal. When drunk by the tankard it is remarkably rejuvenating.

Maljie gestured into the shrine. “What’s happening?”
Laxey sighed. “It’s a training event for temple wardens.

“Shouldn’t I be there then?”

“No, it’s a training event for those who are then going to train temple wardens. It’s to make sure that a group of barely post-adolescent temple administrative personnel can tell you how to do your job.”

Maljie leapt to her feet, but Laxey managed to get her to sit down by topping up her tankard.

“For a start, apparently they’re going to teach you how to be pastoral.”

Maljie relaxed. “That I can do. I’ve been doing it for years. So that bit shouldn’t be a problem.”

“What about the Battin incident?”
“Wandering hands Battin? He was just reported to the watch.”
Laxey looked at her steadily. “After your little talk, he bolted to the watch demanding protection. Then he fled south into Partann.”

“Driven by a guilty conscience.”
Laxey nodded, “Well at least he’s not making salacious suggestions to the prettier mendicants.”

This won him a smile from Maljie. “His head decorates the belt of an Urlan maiden, he’ll not be making salacious suggestions to anybody.”
“The problem, Maljie, is that this isn’t supposed to be the way we do things any more. There’s a whole new paradigm. That’s why they’re going to start training temple wardens to do things properly.”
“How do you mean, ‘properly’”.

“Well let’s assume you have to solicit donations. They will show you how to do it.”
“But I can do it, look how much I raised for the mendicants.”

Laxey gave Maljie that long steady stare. “Yes, exactly how did you do that? One of the usurers was moaning about undue pressure.”
Maljie snorted. “I know how they made their money.”

“And…” Laxey tried to encourage her into further revelations.

“And I promised them that if they gave generously, the authorities wouldn’t learn how they made their money.”

“Oh, blackmail.” Laxey sounded almost disappointed.

“We’ve got the best fed, best dressed and most well-scrubbed mendicants in the order.”

“True. And apparently there are people in the Office of the Combined Hierophants of Aea who twitch when your name is mentioned.”
“They should do, I trained their usurer.”
“Still it’s hardly pastoral care. Blackmailing members of the congregation.”
“They’re not members of the congregation, they’d never dare show their faces here.”
Laxey tried another track. “What about your pastoral care for Retan Woll.”

“What about him?” Maljie sounded a little defensive.”

“Retan the reformed cat burglar.”
“He was only reformed because he had a bit of a tumble and lost his nerve.”

“And you proceeded to call him a skiving milk-livered scut.”

“Because he was coming on all ‘holier than thou’ over how he’d repented and seen the light, but he wasn’t earning any money and his family were going hungry.”
“So you shamed him back to being a cat burglar again.”

“And a good one.” Maljie smiled at her success. “He led the watch on a rooftop chase that lasted for an hour and a half and they still never caught him.”
Laxey sighed. He felt that he’d been doing quite a lot of that recently. “So you sent him back into a dangerous and criminal career.”
“No, I’ve got him an honest job. With his skills he’d be the obvious man to do rope-work.”

“So you’ve got him a job in the building trade?”
“No, as a hangman.” Maljie paused, “But he can work his way up, and at least it’s an honest job and he’s supporting his family again.”

Maljie paused to top up her tankard. “So what exactly are they wanting us to do?”
Laxey hastily emptied the last of the plum brandy into his own tankard. “Apparently everything will be forwarded to a higher level. When you have problems with somebody you will refer them to the Office of the Combined Hierophants of Aea.”
Maljie grimaced, “It takes over a year to get a response from them at the best of times.”
“Ah but they’re taking on a considerable number of junior hierophants who will investigate the matters and put the person forward for salutary exculpation or in extreme cases, some form of rest cure to enable them to overcome the distress of the process.”
Maljie looked at him with disbelief. “They’ve put that swag-bellied orid-brain Belchan in charge of the ‘Committee for the Regulation of Doctrine amongst the Laity’ haven’t they. What exactly is this course called?”

Laxey rubbed one ear. “Let me get the title right. ‘The use of Hermeneutics to enable Temple Wardens to apply modern theological exegesis in matters of temple discipline.’” He paused, “Yes I think that was it.”

 Maljie slammed her tankard down on the bench, perhaps more firmly than she had intended. She stood up and physically braced herself. This is a disconcerting sight, one gets the impression that foundation garments are somehow manoeuvring themselves into a position of maximum combat readiness. It’s like seeing a man-at-arms slam shut the visor of his helmet. There is finality in the gesture.

Maljie said, sternly, “We’ll see about that. I’m going to have a word.”
She turned and made her way briskly into the shrine. I choose not to use the phrase, ‘stormed into the shrine.’ That has connotations of people waving swords and smashing down defences, with a lot of screaming and shouting. Anybody who saw Maljie at this point just got out of the way. She followed the sound of shrill recorder playing until she arrived at its source. A small room used for occasional meetings, short term storage, and some of the mendicants dined there. Firmly she lifted the latch and opened the door. A handful of the younger mendicants, who had set aside their robes, turned and looked at her.

Their expressions, initially of guilt, relaxed when they realised who had disturbed them. Whilst everybody might respect the monster that hides under their bed, once they’ve seen the monster leap to their defence against seemingly impossible odds, (and emerge victorious) fear is soon replaced by genuine affection.

Far more gently than she’d initially intended, Maljie asked, “So what are you doing?”

The girl put down her recorder. “Please, Maljie. We’re teaching the cat to dance.”

Maljie looked back towards the exit. The bench was empty, Laxey had faded away as if he’d never been there. Only an empty brandy bottle, forgotten and forlorn, remained.


For those who love the Maljie stories, there is a treat. Yes a new collection of them has just been published as an ebook or paperback.

In this volume we stand shoulder to shoulder with Maljie as she explores the intricacies of philosophy, marvel at her mastery of pre-paid indemnification plans, and assist her in the design of foundation garments. When you read this, not only will you discover just who wears the trousers, but you can indulge in a spot of fishing and enjoy the quaint fertility rites of our great city. This book contains fashion, honey, orphans and the importance of dipping your money in vinegar to ensure it is safe. Indeed you may even learn how to teach a cat to dance.

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