Rumour insists that Maljie has a chequered history when it comes to vehicles. Currently she doesn’t command sole use of a sedan chair, but then few do. The bearers take a lot of feeding. Her sister, Margarita, travels at a fair pace in the dog cart but for longer journeys you need something more robust.
One long lazy afternoon at the Shrine of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm we discussed the perfect vehicle for Maljie. Admittedly this was in her absence which might have led to a more imaginative approach to the issue. The general consensus was that it ought to have at least two horses, although some felt that four was more appropriate. To put not too fine a point on it, most felt she needed a chariot and there was a general feeling that it should have scythes!
As it was, Maljie was also feeling the need of a new vehicle. She had pondered the matter and felt that the dog cart was close to what she wanted but it lacked storage for luggage and similar. Indeed she revisited the idea of a two-seater sedan chair but with the rear bearers standing further back and with a large trunk for luggage behind the passengers. She borrowed a suitable sedan chair, lengthened the poles and had somebody tack on a frame for luggage. The two rear bearers tried carrying the loaded chair and protested vehemently. The two bearers at the front didn’t notice any particular problem.
Those of us watching this experiment pointed out that the problem was that the two rear bearers had to hold up a lot more weight. Laxey suggested that Maljie add a set of wheels to take the weight so that the bearers weren’t carrying, so much as they were providing motive power. Next day, thanks to the assistance of a generously remunerated wheelwright, the contrivance was ready. Maljie and Margarita filled the trunk and then climbed aboard. Initially the bearers praised the improvements and to be fair to them, managed to cover the ground at a fair rate. Then they started uphill. Acrimony reigned. The front bearers claimed that the rear bearers were not pushing, whilst those at the rear insisted it was the front bearers who were not pulling their weight. On the downhill things got worse. The chair started to overtake those pulling it, and those at the back couldn’t provide enough braking. Thanks to the assistance of passers-by, disaster was averted and Maljie directed her bearers to take the more level route back to the shrine.
It was obvious that manpower wasn’t enough. ‘Assisted’ by kind friends, Maljie returned once more to the problems of design. She realised that even if she managed to overcome the braking problem with her modified sedan chair, she would end up with a vehicle that was not so much light as flimsy. So she looked again at the dog cart. It struck her that just building one, but larger, might solve her problem. She then went to discuss matters with a manufacturer. Now most people would assumed she would approach the Garbbent and Shroud Carriage Works. But instead she went to Harbet Bloggage. He builds carts, not carriages. But to be fair, he’s a craftsman and his vehicles, whilst less grand than anything that might come out of the carriage works, are sound.
He suggested a modification of an ordinary short four wheeled wagon. There would be a bench seat for driver and one passenger, with seats for two more passengers behind. But this left little room for luggage. Harbet pondered this and suggested that rather than just strapping a trunk to the back, he built a storage box at the back. It would extend the length a little but having two axles would mean that this wasn’t a problem. Indeed his idea had the advantage of being able to take several trunks, not just one. Maljie was soon sold on the idea and a deal was done.
Now it so happened that Maljie and her sister, plus a couple of the more mature members of our disparate congregation, were due to go on pilgrimage to the Shrine of Aea the Blessed on the coast not far from Candleman’s Cove. This would be the perfect journey to test out her new vehicle. The shrine is on the coast, with superb views and it boasts of its tranquillity, ideal for a silent retreat. It also has a reputation for culinary excellence, plus its own, outstanding, brewery. The distillery is adequate, producing raw spirit which is blended with the juice of various berries. Apparently the perfect blend is defined as one where there is enough juice to flavour the spirit but not enough to colour it.
Maljie and her party departed in their new conveyance. Somewhat ostentatiously Majlie had harnessed four horses and the whole thing skipped along at an excellent pace. The journey passed smoothly enough. Whilst her new vehicle wasn’t, in point of fact, sprung; if you kept a sensible pace it was quite stable and not at all uncomfortable.
Indeed the whole journey would doubtless have passed without incident save for the Candleman’s Cove night soil wagon. This is driven by the redoubtable Butterworth Gee. He fills his wagon, drawn by a great bull horrocks, and transports the night soil of Candleman’s Cove south to the farms of Brownhead Catch. When we say his wagon is ‘drawn’, in reality it is pushed. Butterworth Gee’s bull was a magnificent creature, but unfortunately it was as mad as a usurer who decided to specialise in lending to poets. The bull as not always aggressive, but could take rare, sudden, violent, dislikes to individual people. On the other hand it could decide a person, a vehicle, or even a building, was a worthy recipient of his affections. Given he must have weighed a ton, whether aggressive or affectionate, he could cause problems.
Butterworth realised that if he had his bull push the wagon a lot of these problems could be avoided. Even more could be avoided by adding a ‘shed’ to the wagon in which the bull effectively walked. Thus Butterworth and his bull could work in perfect safety, although it must be admitted that Butterworth’s reputation for eccentricity was probably well-founded.
Now the road from Candleman’s Cove to Brownhead Catch runs not far from the Shrine of Aea the Blessed. To get to the shrine you follow the road over Topping Down. At the bottom of the long descent is a narrow bridge which leads over Calan Beck. Once over the bridge you go straight on to Brownhead Catch, or take the lane to the right for the shrine. Maljie and her loaded conveyance made their sedate way down the incline. They could see several vehicles approaching the bridge from the opposite (or southern) side. Maljie slowed down and eventually stopped.
Unfortunately she was being followed by Butterworth Gee. His bull was being unusually troublesome that morning. These is a suspicion that something unusual had been tipped into his night soil wagon and the bull was intrigued by the smell. He kept throwing his weight on the harness to try and get closer and have a good sniff. This mean the wagon kept accelerating and Butterworth struggled to hold it back. Finally on the incline he lost control of the bull altogether and it pushed so hard that it broke the harness. Suddenly bull and wagon were merely moving in the same direction, but neither had any control over the speed of the other. The wagon rolled forward and ran directly into the rear of Maljie’s conveyance. The night soil wagon collapsed under the impact. Maljie and her carriage were jerked forward a little, but as the last of the traffic passed them, they moved smoothly forward and crossed the bridge. Behind them Butterworth Gee looked at the ruins of his wagon, its cargo spreading slowly but inexorably across the road. In this it was encouraged by the bull who was enthusiastically tossing bits of wagon into the air.
It was only when Maljie’s party arrived at the shrine that they realised they had a problem. The impact of the night soil wagon had jammed the hatch of the luggage compartment. It was impossible to open it.
Luckily Maljie had insisted on the compartment having inside access. So Harbet Bloggage had put in a panel which could be removed. So if you lay on your back under seat, working by the light of a strategically placed candle, you could first wiggle the panel out (comparatively straightforward, Harbet is a craftsmen) and then withdraw the trunks.
But obviously you could only pull out the bottom layer of trunks. So first you had to reach into the compartment and put something under the top layer of trunks to take the weight before you slid the bottom layer out from underneath them.
Then you could remove the props and slide out the top layer.
After a pleasant week, Maljie started to load her carriage. The theory is simple enough, you put in the top layer, and then you prop them up and slide the bottom layer of trunks underneath them. Maljie had obviously mastered the technique, it look her less than an hour to be ready for departure.
When they arrived back at the Staircase Shrine there was a large party waiting to greet them. After all we’d had some news of their misadventure. Everybody fell over themselves to be helpful. Even before the carriage had drawn properly to a halt, Laxey went to the luggage compartment, turned the handle and the hatch opened beautifully. We had the luggage out and stacked for collection before Maljie had climbed down from the front seat to join us.
It may be that you’d like to know a little more about Maljie? There are several books dedicated to chronicling her various achievements.
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.
As a reviewer commented, “
Maljie is a pretty amazing woman, especially when you consider she has to deal with living in Port Naain, which is a medieval fantasy city. However, she is not one to let such things as expected gender roles hold her back – indeed no, those are merely there to be exploited!
We see Maljie and learn of her adventures through the eyes of Tallis Steelyard, a jobbing poet and himself an acute and wickedly perceptive inhabitant of Port Naain.
These stories are not so much a collection of anecdotes as a tour de force of hilarious and unlikely situations brought together in a single volume and showing the unstoppable rise and rise of the irrepressible Marjie.
If you want some feel-good reading to brighten your day, Jim Webster is your man and Maljie is, most certainly the right woman for the job!”