There is much to be said about the endless round of inspections, the limitless oversight, the constant querying of petty detail, that we have to endure here in the Shrine of Aea in Her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm. But trust me when I say that this is not the place for a blow by blow account of the machinations of petty bureaucracy, their policies and procedures.
But word came through that we were to be inspected. There was to be a full accounting of everything from the tiles on the roof to the bent three dreg pieces in the collection plate. This is every temple warden’s nightmare. It is at this point you realise that one of your predecessors was foolish enough to put down on record that you have a full set of vestments adequate for the fourteen major and thirty-seven minor festivals. Indeed, forty years ago this might even have been true (although some of us beg leave to doubt it. The robes necessary would have taken up three vesting chambers, two for the dalmatics alone.)
It was Maljie who showed us what needed doing. In a firm hand she wrote opposite the potentially incriminating entry, ‘Disposed of with proper ritual after being soiled during the expulsion of demons.’ I approve, it sounds so much better than, ‘eaten by mice.’ This meant we could save, ‘eaten by mice’ for lesser entries. Just as the demon excuse boosts our claims to sanctity, the ‘eaten by mice’ lends an aura of spurious veracity to our claims of penury. Indeed Maljie was deploying this excuse with such wild abandon that I was forced to point out that the mice had apparently eaten three brass candlesticks. I felt this was unlikely to be convincing.
As the day drew closer we got a note from the Archhierophant who would be doing the inspection. It was Nissant Appeal. Old Nissant was well liked. A pleasant gentleman, generally liked, but placed by fate into entirely the wrong role. As it was, his note glossed lightly over the inspection and instead asked for our indulgence. Apparently his family had wanted a portrait of him, and had insisted that a painter accompany him to our inspection. The inspection was expected to last all day. Nissant used a quaint rustic expression ‘he would kill two birds with one stone’. I suppose this is much like our, ‘embarrass two musicians with the same paternity suit. He wondered whether we would mind.
Well obviously we wouldn’t mind. Anything that can distract an inspector from his role is to be cherished. I well remember one lady commenting on how the phenomena had worked to her benefit. She was in a small way of business and there was a suspicion she may have inadvertently avoided paying certain excise duties. An inspector would call upon her at home as the lady ran her business from her own house rather than going to the expense of renting an office.
When the inspector arrived she started briskly to business only to have a toddler clamber uncertainly up onto her lap. The inspector, (behind a stony exterior, a matronly lady of mature years) was immediately overwhelmed, the rest of the inspection was accomplished in baby talk amid a blizzard of pictures of puppies and kittens.
When old Nissant finally arrived we had everything prepared. We’d cleared away much of the clutter in a small room and made sure it was warm and comfortable. There was a table for him to rest his papers on with a north light to make things easier for the artist. We added little personal touches, a bowl of fruit, a carafe of wine to aid digestion, and obviously we provided an excellent lunch.
But we didn’t neglect the reasons for the inspection. The custumal took pride of place. We put on the table next to it all six of our florilegia. These anthologies of patristic texts are highly regarded as preaching aids in some quarters and the presence of a substantial collection is held in some quarters to be a sign of virtuous orthodoxy. Admittedly some of the original fathers might be regarded as verging on the heterodox but none in our collection had slipped into heresy. In all candour we had three more florilegia tucked away in the darker shelves. We have every confidence that the views expressed within will doubtless once day re-join the main stream of theological thought and at that point they will once more be exhibited with pride. At the same time I have no doubt that others of our collection will be quietly tucked away in the darkness until the rolling of the years once more leads to them being listed with the fashionable.
But along with these we had great piles of policies and practices send to us from the Office of the Combined Hierophants of Aea. These impenetrable documents descend upon us like a fog. Each comes in its own envelope, black with red edging. The temple warden who has to deal with the envelope will open it with great ceremony. The document will be carefully extracted and opened at the back page. There the temple warden will initial it. Tradition demands that the initials are those of a temple warden who died a generation ago, thus we commemorate our fallen colleagues whilst at the same time ensuring that there is evidence that the policy (or code of practice) has been read. Once signed, the document is sprinkled with sand to dry the ink, shaken out and returned once more to the safety of its envelope. Then in solemn procession, the temple warden and such minions and mendicants are to hand, will carry the document to the secure repository deep in our muniment room. There it is reverently entombed. Thus if, in some sad future day, an inspector asks if we have this policy or that code of practice, it is the matter of a moment to present it to them.
Then the inspector may call for plans for developing the church building, descriptions of the silverware, whether the retiring collection is counted in pairs, the number and condition of the hymnals, and whether the we have any Prebendary postulants on our books. Thus and so the morning passed in a scurry of mendicants carrying papers and Maljie gently explaining them.
Lunch was indeed excellent and after that we left old Nissant to his meditations. Two hours later, when he finally awoke, the artist had finished the picture which we all admired. When Nissant, rather guiltily, commented that it was perhaps time to finish the inspection, Maljie merely pointed to his signature, now dry, at the bottom of the inspection sheet. She commented that his diligence in putting off his lunch until the business of the day was finished struck her as entirely commendable.
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As a reviewer commented, “I am a fan of the writing of the very English, Jim Webster. Although his books are set in the fantasy Port Naain, there is a strong and delightful flavour of the best of English life and humour that flow threw in all of this author’s works.
Poor Laxey finds himself firmly entwined in the objectives of Maljie, and everything he does and every punishment that comes down on his surprised head as a result of his foolish actions, is exploited for personal gain by the dexterous Maljie.
Maljie, a strong and determined woman, who lets nothing, with emphasis on that nothing, stand in the way of her achievements, has taken ill. The ill fated, Laxey, who just cannot keep himself out of trouble, is tasked with travelling to a distant mountain monastery in the Aphices Mountains in search of a therapy for her ailment. Laxey’s journey is full of surprises, the greatest one being what happens when he arrives. He does, however, make it back to Maljie to enjoy another day. He brings her a tonic wine from a monk, but this does not stop Maljie from seeking her own interesting cures, including covering her painful area with a concoction made from a hot spice, called The Devil’s Pomatum. Having applied this exotic mixture, she sets off to attend a public hanging with rather unexpected consequences.
Maljie is a fascinating character as she manipulates her way through life, taking advantage of unexpected accidents and career opportunities to progress her goals. This is the first book in the Maljie series and I thoroughly enjoyed this new and spicy character, all the more because she is female and keep everyone, male and female, who crosses her path very firmly in their place. She is not past resorting to getting rid of unwanted people and disposing of their remains in the most peculiar places. Building alterations take on a whole new purpose when Maljie is around.
I recommend this highly entertaining short read for people who enjoy fantasy and a jolly good laugh and the lighter side of life … and death too.”