I suppose that because we helped Maljie acquire her new sedan chair, we are all somewhat to blame. She had had a chair of her own but frankly it was getting old, tired and a little bent. Not only that she had trouble getting chair-men and it was often easier just to hire a chair with the bearers for the evening. But the mendicants put their heads together. It appeared that they came to the conclusion that Maljie, with a chair of her own, would travel more and thus spend less time around the Shrine of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm, bothering them.
They raised this issue with Laxey, and he pointed out to them that whilst the chair was important, so was the possession of a reliable team of bearers.
“Ah,” said one of the mendicants, “We can be the bearers.”
“Reliable team of bearers…” Laxey repeated.
The mendicants went away and there was another serious discussion. Then they came back and pointed out that if they formed three, four person teams, they would always have a team ‘on duty’ and ready for immediate deployment. Laxey agreed that this would work. The mendicants pointed out that obviously the team ‘on duty’ would have to be excused work so that they were available to fulfil Maljie’s slightest whims.
Shuddering slightly, Laxey asked dryly whether the team excused work would also miss meals? The mendicants suggested that the team eat their meal next to the chair. With this level of planning and dedication, Laxey decided that the mendicants should be given their heads in the matter. After all, he too was not entirely unaware of the advantages which could accrue if Maljie was kept suitably busy harassing somebody other than him. As he said to the mendicants, all they had to do was to raise the money for a chair.
Sedan chairs are not cheap, and two person chairs don’t often appear on the second-hand market. Yet, within two days of Laxey giving his permission, the mendicants appeared in the shrine with a chair. The fact that they arrived during the hours of darkness and with the chair shrouded with sheeting, would make anybody suspicious. As was their insistence that it ought to be repainted immediately.
It was at this point that the deacon put his foot down and gave them a long lecture. The Idiosyncratic Diaconate is well named. The deacon excoriated them. He pointed out the quality of the wood. He bewailed the poor quality of varnish and paint that already defaced a potentially fine chair. He showed them how to take a chair apart and then had them sanding down all the pieces. Then he inspected every piece of wood carefully, showed them how to look for signs of strain and splitting. Then where a piece was perhaps worn, he used it as a template and showed them how to make a new piece. The next problem was that there was a mixture of woods and so the chair would have to be stained. Various stains were tried on small test pieces, and then somebody had the bright idea of just staining the whole chair gunmetal. This had two advantages, as far as we knew, there wasn’t another gunmetal sedan chair in Port Naain. Also the mendicants had acquired a large pot of the stain very reasonable. So reasonable that when she heard about it the Incumbent insisted they take it back, but fortunately they produced a receipt to show they had genuinely purchased it. Or at least had been given money to carry it away.
To be fair, whilst our mendicants may have a somewhat nebulous grasp of property rights, the transaction costs inherent within the system, or even basic theology, quite a few of them are well on the way to becoming useful carpenters.
Eventually the various parts of the chair were stained. It was then reassembled varnished and polished. As a final touch, I had Ingenious Trool, painter of chamber pots, paint to bucolic scenes on the door panels. Here I feel Trool had rather exceeded his brief. I’d asked for bucolic and to be fair, nymphs and shepherds are indeed bucolic. Still I felt matters were rather more down to earth than was perhaps called for.
Still, on Maljie’s birthday, when four well-scrubbed mendicants carried the chair to her front door, it was obvious Maljie was genuinely touched. She was obviously impressed with her new acquisition. She was forever using it to travel distances barely more than a stone-throw. Any number of friends were offered lifts over similar short distances. It was indeed a splendid chair.
Obviously such things produce jealousy amongst those lesser lights who seek to substitute the excellence of their possessions for the natural good qualities they personally lack. Whilst the chair was unique and drew gasps of admiration, the bearers did not have the same response. The problem is that mendicants remain mendicants, no matter how much you scrub them. Laxey had even gone to the trouble of issuing each of the sixteen bearers with a new robe. But still, other ladies had professional bearers. These would be superbly muscled individuals with tight britches and silk stockings to show off fine legs and firm buttocks. The mendicants didn’t really shine in this regard, new robe or no new robe.
After an evening of disparaging comments from two ladies who prided themselves in their well balanced and exquisitely proportioned teams, Maljie had had enough. She challenged them to a race around the city. Eventually it was agreed that the race would start at the fane of Aea, Guardian of the Roads. It would proceed down Three Mills Prospect, then along Ropewalk, before following the road through the Merchant Quarter and the race would finish at the Shrine of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm. Personally I suspect her competitors agreed to finish there because they hoped to humiliate Maljie in front of those at the shrine. But Maljie had her own plans.
At the first mile, Maljie and her chair were lagging. This was only to be expected, mendicants, however loyal, are not as fit as professional chair-men. But at that point four fresh mendicants, identical in their robes, their faces obscured by the hoods, took over and the first four faded quietly out of sight. At the next way point, the two other chairs were in sight but were not exactly close. Still, as the gunmetal sedan chair passed between two loaded wains, four more indistinguishable, but fresh, mendicants took up the shafts and ran with renewed vigour. This team, perhaps Maljie’s strongest, overtook the two other chairs and built up a good lead. So when passing through Usurers’ Gill it was the work of a moment to make the last swap when nobody could observe what was happening.
Finally the last team kept up a good steady pace. Here we must give credit where credit was due. The bearers of the other two chairs made truly gallant efforts to catch up, but Maljie’s lead remained unassailable. At the finishing line, Maljie had to wait a good five minutes for the other two chairs to finish. There, debts of honour were paid and Maljie, triumphant, bade her vanquished foes good day. She and her younger sister, Margarita, had an invitation to dine at the house of friends. It was no great distance, the evening was fine, and they decided they’d walk rather than summon the chair.
In the Shrine, there was what Laxey euphemistically described as a ‘choral evening’ in the mendicant’s quarters. Certainly there was singing. It appears that somebody had bought them brandy.
I’ve started a blog tour to promote the new novel
The tour is across at https://scvincent.com/2021/03/27/a-fear-of-heights-blog-tour-a-new-novel-from-tallis-steelyard-aka-jim-webster/
You might fancy the following book from Sue