I suppose it started with the bells. Obviously in the case of the bells you could blame it on the tower captain, because when it comes to bells, it’s always their fault. But let us be honest here, Maljie is fond of bells. Admittedly this is a hitherto unexpected weakness that nobody has found a way to take advantage of, (save perhaps for the tower captain) but still.
Apparently a small shrine near the coast was closing. The walls and roof were no longer sound. Seemingly the ring of bells had been too much for the structure and the last time they had been rung, people swore they saw the stones in the walls start to shift. So the order was negotiating to sell the building.
It would make a nice house. Obviously you’d have to demolish the tower, and probably remove half of the upper storey. But still, the view was unparalleled and in all candour I suspect the buyer (A lawyer from Port Naain) was just intending to level the site and build himself a grand house there.
But then, rumours started circulating amongst the network of tower captains, and I am reliably informed that they were closeted with Maljie. Whatever was agreed, a dray left the back of the shrine early one morning, with some of our burlier mendicants riding on it. Next day, an hour before dawn, the dray returned to the city and drove into Momfret’s Breakers Yard.
Momfret has a foundry in there and has cast bells before. So not long after, the tower captain and Maljie arrived at the shrine with two newly tuned bells. Apparently there was a lot of fuss about it. The Order had completely forgotten about the existence of the bells, and the lawyer had been about to purchase the property for less than the value of the bell metal he was about to acquire with his purchase. He was not happy. The Order was embarrassed and therefore doubly unhappy, and there was an urge to blame somebody.
Strangely enough they all tried to pin the guilt on Laxey. Apparently to get the bells down would have necessitated a lot of rope work, and it was pointed out that Laxey, with his background as a sailor, obviously had the skills.
Laxey pointed out, not unreasonably, that he had not been that sort of sailor, but to no avail. It was only when he produced an excellent alibi, that they finally gave up trying to blame him.
To be honest, the very excellence of the defence would have given some reason to pause. I know that Laxey was very proud of how his mead turned out. The new recipe has much to commend it. As an aside I would also comment that those who think that it tastes of Scrumpy lack the nose to appreciate the full subtlety of the bouquet. Indeed I was present at the tasting he held on that evening. As were three justices of the peace, two senior magistrates, four priestesses of unquestioned moral propriety and Momfret.
After the bells it was the flagstones. At the time Exegesis Square was gravelled. We’d send a mendicant out most mornings with a rake to just level the gravel. In summer it worked well enough, but in winter it could be a different issue. Especially if winter was wet. The surface was gravel, spread with reasonable liberality. It appears that this was to disguise the fact that the contractor who had done the initial work had run out of money. By the time he’d paid off the gambling debts of his daughter, his son’s bill with his tailors, and of course bought the flowers his mistress demanded, there was no money left. So he just waited for a dry time and spread pea gravel over the baked mud.
Now it wouldn’t matter too much, except people used to turn their coaches there. Also delivery drays and similar would turn there. In a wet winter they could really churn things up. After one traumatic day when we’d used all the mendicants, a score of passers-by and a dozen yoke of borrowed oxen to drag a coach out of the hole it had got itself bogged in, it was decided that something would have to be done.
Maljie arranged for a collection among the residents in the square. When we counted the money, she rearranged the collection. This time she went herself, accompanied by the hairy mendicant, ‘to help carry all the money people want to give.’ Then work commenced.
We had the mendicants dig out the entire square, putting pea gravel to one side whilst the mud was carted away. Then dray after dray, loaded with rubble, were emptied into the hole left. This was all pounded down, and levelled with the pea gravel. But what to have as a surface? Maljie pointed out that the Shrine of Aea in Her Aspect as the Personification of Moral Rectitude was supposed to be closing. They had a large paved cloister and the corridors were paved with the same flags.
Maljie had two of us lifting the flags with a bar each. The work went easily enough, the flags had been set on sand. A beautiful job really. So you’d slid the bar under the flag and ease it up. Then two mendicants would grab it and carry it to the dray. Working by the light of the moon, it was cool and quiet. We were soon a well drilled team, we knew what to do without a word being spoken. By the time we had loaded the third dray we were well down the corridors. Eventually we just took four loads. When we got back to Exegesis Square, they’d almost finishing laying the flags we’d already sent them. So we helped them with the last load. Finally we spread sand across the surface. This has three main purposes. Firstly it muffles the sound of cart wheels with their iron tyres. Secondly the sand works its way down between the flags and this helps bind them together. Finally it means that the flags appear only gradually and there’s the period of growing excitement as everybody wonders what pattern will emerge.
Strangely enough one of the archhierophants appeared later than morning in a state of high excitement. He saw our incumbent coming out of the shrine and immediately went across to her.
“Madam, can you keep your temple wardens in order? I’ve just had a complaint from the Holy Mother at the Shrine of Aea in Her Aspect as the Personification of Moral Rectitude.”
“My temple wardens?” Our incumbent sounded somewhat surprised.
“Yes madam, your temple wardens. They have been ransacking…”
Our incumbent interrupted him. “I don’t have any temple wardens. They are elected by the parish and then are ‘sworn in’ by the Order, not by me. They are officers of the Autocephalous Patriarch. I recommend you take up the matter with him.”
With that she smiled brief and made her way decorously across the sand towards her residence.
I rather hoped this might be the end of it, but a month later Laxey and I saw Maljie admiring the grand entrance portico of the Temple of Aea in Her Aspect and the Personification of Chastity. It’s common knowledge that our shrine was probably finished in a hurry and to budget, because we have no portico. It does rather mean we lack ‘presence.’
We were near enough to hear Maljie mutter to herself. “They’ll never miss it.”
As we quietly tiptoed away, I mentioned to Laxey that I felt a growing urge to travel. Laxey replied that there was a distant shrine with excellent catering, and he recommended it for both of us for our spiritual development. A pilgrimage was obviously called for.
Should you wish to know more about Maljie, then the following novel is available. It is available from Amazon in paperback or kindle
And from everybody else in ebook formats
As a reviewer commented, “When I pick up a Tallis Steelyard book I know I am going to have the most enjoyable of rides start to finish. There will be social comment and cynicism, there will be intriguing concepts and fascinating settings, there will be battles of wit and cunning plans, but two things above all will stand out – the incredibly interesting characters and the wonderful moments of both subtle and laugh-out-loud humour.
The author has an eye for personality quirks and the humorous possibilities in just about every occasion, and seldom leaves either unexploited to the full.
This book was, however, something I embarked upon with a little more trepidation that usual when approaching a Tallis Steelyard book, because unlike the collections of vividly imagined and portrayed cameos which I have come to know and love, this is an entire novel.
Yes, there are still those wonderful cameos, but there is also a rare opportunity to follow Tallis through an unwitting adventure, all thanks to the indomitable Maljie of course. The way Jim Webster writes, I was sitting in the hot air balloon along with them.
If you enjoy Tallis Steelyard in shorts, you will enjoy as much in long form. If you have yet to make his acquaintance, then dive right in and do so, but hang onto your hat it’ll be a very wild ride!”