Maljie, (who changed into something less formal and more suited to a pleasant summer’s day) captured by Jen
People do comment, from time to time, (but never within earshot of Maljie) that here in the Shine of Aea in Her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm, our services lack a certain style. It may be that we don’t have the well drilled precision of some shrines where the preacher arrives at the great lectern just as the bell tolls out the last sonorous note. Or we lack the dancers who will perform a choreographed routine which is a complex, seamless, swirl of colour and grace as the terpsichoreans weave in amongst each other in a pattern that can only be described as kaleidoscopic.
I suppose we could always point out that the answer to their unspoken question is in our name, but in all candour, the constant whining comments began to irritate. Thus we decided to do something about it. In retrospect I suppose we should have mentioned it to the incumbent.
The first problem was the dancers. We didn’t have any. We contemplated the mendicants, hairy or otherwise, and came to the conclusion that life was too short. On the other hand their singing wasn’t too bad and with a little work we felt we could make something of it. Instead of dancers, due to a stroke of luck, and Maljie knowing somebody who knew somebody, we got the Flagellants Minor!
It has to be said that we excelled ourselves with the planning. We held our rehearsals late at night when we wouldn’t get in anybody’s way. Others we held during the quiet times when the incumbent was called away by some archhierophant or the other to deal with yet another matter of concern. Finally we were ready.
It was on the day of the service where we realised that somehow we’d forgotten to mention it to the incumbent, but given that everything was going to be absolutely ‘by the book’ we had no doubt she would be able to cope. Admittedly she wasn’t present when the procession was being marshalled but as her position was the place of honour at the end this wasn’t necessarily a problem.
We’d chosen the Veneration of the Abundant Solemnity as the service we would ‘do properly.’ Thus people wouldn’t be too surprised if we were a little more formal than usual. As it was things went well.
As the procession entered the Shrine through the great formal door we were halted by Laxey, fully robed, wearing both rochet and sclavine with scallop. Splendidly attired and bearing the intricately ornamented lead maul of a sub-hierodeacon he stopped us at the door.
“Who enters the Shine of Aea in Her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm?”
Maljie, in the full robes of a Stipendiary Maiden Penitent led the procession. She slammed the butt of her temple warden’s goad down onto the stone flags.
“The temple wardens and celebrants.”
Laxey formally bowed, stepped to one side and grounded his maul. “Pass.”
The procession then formally proceeded. Maljie set a slow, measured pace, beating out a slow rhythm with the butt of her goad. She was followed by the Flagellants Minor. This was a small group of superbly muscled young men who, stripped to the waist, would swipe each other lightly with willow switches. Apparently they are remarkably popular as confessors with some of the ladies.
At the same time, our choir of mendicants split into two columns. One peeled off to the left, the other to the right. They followed the walls of the central chamber where the service was being held, singing as they did so. The rest of the procession then advanced to this melodious accompaniment.
After the flagellants came the thurifers. It’s rare that we have one, but this time we had six. We borrowed them, and their thuribles, from other shrines. Now this had one side effect we hadn’t allowed for. When a thurifer whirls his or her censer, the censer is whirled. The idea is that one swings the thurible or censer because this forces air past the glowing incense. Thus is glows more fiercely and produces more aromatic smoke. But for the thurifer’s thurifer, mere swinging was almost an insult to their art. Once the flagellants had advanced far enough to give them the space, the thurifers advanced. The first, a mature lady, twirled a censer in each hand. The censers, swinging on their chains, were a silver blur, and in time to the thump of Maljie’s goad, she would throw both thuribles up into the air and catch each with the ‘other hand’ like some sort of exegetic martial artist.
The next four thurifers then came down the aisle, twirling their thuribles as they did cartwheels and backflips, moving in among each other, proceeding with both forward and retrograde motions. Finally the last thurifer appeared. His thurible was on a chain at least twenty feet long and he twirled it dexterously ensuring it passed over the heads of the congregation who cowered, nervously. He was accompanied by a dozen of our youngest and most cherubic mendicants (padded out by equally young and cherubic children from the immediate area) who carried sance-bells which they jingled in time with the thump of Maljie’s goad.
Then came the party of the reader of the sacred scripture for the day. Old Prophet Weldun took on this role, he was formally dressed, wearing the traditional kilt of battered sailcloth around his waist, his long grey hair hanging down his back. He was accompanied by a bearer of the sacred text, the porter of the lesser lectern, two candle bearers, two wand bearers, and an imaginifer bearing the imago. His party was rounded off with an aquebajulus who was accompanied by the bearer of the portable lavatorium and a lesser thurifer attached solely to the prophet. Finally he was granted the services of a temple warden to ensure that matters proceeded with proper dignity. This was me, which meant I spent my time trying to keep my distance from candle bearers. Personally I blame Laxey for the fact that somehow the shrine had acquired ‘scented candles’ which smelled like an incontinent dog that had been for a swim in the estuary and was now lying in front of the fire in the front parlour, drying out.
Finally in the main procession we had the remaining temple wardens, the deacon, and at the end, the incumbent who had just arrived at a run from her residence and was wondering what exactly was going on.
It was here that we hit the problem. The clouds of fragrant smoke billowing sweetly through the shrine were not quite thick enough to impede vision, much. But they did mean you were forced to take shallow breaths. The choir’s singing had petered out into coughing and croaking. The incumbent, when she tried to speak, couldn’t.
So she beckoned us to follow, and with streaming eyes we all left the shrine and stood in the sunshine on Exegesis Square. We hastily improvised seating from the deacon’s woodpile and found a barrel for the incumbent to stand on as she preached.
As the service wore on, all sorts of bystanders joined us. After the service I saw three carters discussing her sermon with the incumbent. She was explaining the relationship between the Aspects and the Personifications, scratching geometrical hermeneutic diagrams on the floor using Maljie’s goad. At the same time, Maljie, (who had changed into something less formal and more suited to a pleasant summer’s day) organised the passing round of refreshments. It made for a pleasant afternoon, the flagellants and thurifers, now having plenty of room, gave us a full performance.
As always there were those who sought to find fault. Yet as Maljie commented at the time, it was all absolutely by the book. For myself there was the issue of the smell of smoke that hung to my clothes. That evening, as I was assisting a patron, a number of ladies asked if I had been caught up in a fire somewhere. I merely gave a non-committal smile and allowed the conversation to move on.
Gratifyingly, this led to a number of ladies starting a rumour that I had rescued somebody from a burning building but was too modest to mention it.
Rather less gratifying was the rumour that I had been the one rescued from the burning building, carried out slung over the shoulder of Madam Gollay’s cook. As this formidable lady has been known to carry a full side of a horrocks carcass into her kitchen from the butcher’s cart, whilst the butcher and his apprentice struggle together to carry the other side, I am not going to say anything that might offend her.
Should you want to learn more about Maljie and her circle of acquaintance;-
In paperback and ebook
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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As a reviewer commented, “
I’m not sure what it is, but there is something irresistibly uplifting about the Maljie stories – well, to be honest about all but the very darkest tales by Jim Webster about Tallis Steelyard and his strange friends and acquaintances of Port Naain.
Maljie has to be the uncrowned queen of Port Naain, although I would not be surprised if one day we find she became queen too, it would be a completely Maljie thing to do, but she is a woman who needs no other authority than her own intense personality.
This is a book to cheer and warm, but it is packed with social commentary as well and no small amount of wisdom too:
“The law is like a monster which will gobble up everything in its path. But because it’s an elderly monster, lame and blind in one eye, it depends on people to help it. If the people are grown-up then sometimes you get justice and sometimes you get mercy, and sometimes you might get both.”
So with wisdom, with cleverness, with cunning, with a smile on her face and always with enough – usually very subtle but sometimes laugh out loud – humour to make you chuckle, Maljie dances her way through the pages of this third selection of her memoirs.”