Perfect confidence

The temple wardens of the Shine to Aea in Her Aspect as the Personification of Irritation

It was with some sadness that we heard of the passing of the Most Venerated Jaster Gruel. He was somebody we had always had considerable sympathy for. When I first met him he was a middle aged priest with a delightful sense of humour and immense enthusiasm. He had a passion for helping people. He could converse with anybody, be they rich or poor, wise or foolish. He was insightful and soon sized people up. I was pleased when I heard he’d been appointed to be the incumbent of a shrine.

Unfortunately for him, he was appointed to the Shine to Aea in Her Aspect as the Personification of Irritation. Now you might ask why on earth the Order has such a shrine. I once drank wine with a hierophant and after the fourth bottle he grew garrulous. So I raised the issue of this shrine. He shuddered and ordered a bottle of Urlan Plum Brandy. He drank a glass off in one before answering. Apparently there is a long and complicated theological answer to my question. Indeed savants, sages, scholars and similar had fought the theological equivalent of running battles in the street over this issue. Eventually they had agreed on a very general answer to the question. It uses terms like anthropocentrism, syllogism, theodicy, and situational ethics. Thus at the end of his explanation I was no wiser than I had been at the start of it. I drank a glass of the plum brandy as I tried to grapple with the terms. Finally I asked if he had an explanation I could understand.

He looked at me in a somewhat owlish fashion, glanced ostentatiously over his shoulder to see if there was anybody listening and then in a stage whisper he said, “Tallis, have you ever seen a flooded dunny pit?”

Well that surprised me, or would have if I’d drunk less. “Yes I have.”

“Well what happens.”

I thought back to the somewhat unpleasant sight. “You mean the turds float to the top.”

He roared, “Exactly,” slapping his hand down hard on the table with a resounding bang. So much for secrecy. “So if you cut a drain running downhill from your flooded dunny pit what happens?”

“I suppose the solid stuff floats down the drain?”

“Right first time, Tallis. And if you have several flooded dunny pits, all draining into a separate pit, what happens?”

“All the turds end up in that separate pit.”

He tapped his nose in a knowing manner. “And that’s why we have the Shine to Aea in Her Aspect as the Personification of Irritation.”

I asked, “But what about Jaster Gruel?”

He sighed mightily. “I know, it’s sad. But if not him, then who?”

Which is a good answer I suppose. But I don’t suppose Jaster Gruel found it particularly consoling. He did his best. He spent a lot of time on retreat. He took up several of the less fashionable chaplaincies. I met him coming from preaching to a gathering of dunnykin divers. Obviously it was held in the open air and as a concession to him, they placed his pulpit upwind of his congregation. But they loved him. He always stayed and had a bite to eat with them afterwards, and would stop and talk to them if he met them in the street. He admitted to me in a moment of weakness that it at least kept him away from home.

Finally Jaster died and was mourned by everybody but the worshippers of his own shrine. The Order cast about for a new incumbent for the shrine, or failing that they wanted to add the shrine to the responsibilities of an incumbent who already had one. Obviously we were one of the shrines considered and I was deputised by my fellow temple wardens to reconnoitre. After all we might end up having to work with them. 

The obvious approach was merely to attend a service. When one is between incumbents there are some services which can be lay led, and some where you beg, borrow or steal a priest from elsewhere, purely to preside briefly over the ritual. Looking at the hand written note on the door it was obvious that their reputation was against them and their next dozen services were all lay led. I entered through the door and avoided the puddle on the floor. Looking up at the low porch roof it was obvious that there had been issues. I guess the mortar had perished. This is common enough, it can happen with age and the mixture of smoke and salt that afflicts the buildings of the city. You normally have somebody competent to pick it out and either repoint it, or if it is very far gone, reset the bricks in entirely fresh mortar.

I wasn’t sure what had been done here, and curiosity led me back outside. Stepping up onto a decaying ornamental bollard and from there onto the roof of a lean-to shack built against the wall I could inspect the porch roof. Apparently somebody had ‘repaired’ it by covering it with thin tar paper. Not once, but repeatedly, there were several layers, which had obviously been applied over the years.

I went back into the shrine. Some of the bench seats were roped off and others had particular parts of the bench marked with a chalk cross. Close examination showed that these appeared to be riddled with woodworm. Warily, I took a seat in an inconspicuous corner and waited for something to happen. Nothing did so I turned my attention to reading the notices on the wall. One, somewhat stained where water had dripped on it from above, announced a scheme where the generous donor who paid for a replacement window could have it named after them. One or two windows had obviously been replaced using this system. There were names discreetly carved into stonework of the window. (Later, when I left I noticed that outside the shrine the windows that could be seen from the street had all been replaced. The inscriptions on the outside were grandiose to the point of being florid.)
I heard the sounds of a loud discussion coming from another chamber somewhere in the building, so I made my way towards them. The chamber had a stairway which led to some upper belfry. A group of the temple wardens were marking various stairs. They noticed me watching and vouchsafed an explanation.

“We are restoring access to the belfry. Some fool said the stairs were perilous, but if you stand where we have marked, and hold on to the rope, it’s perfectly safe.”

The temple warden in me took over at this point. “So you’ve got some works planned?”

“Yes, we’ll knock a few pegs into the wall where it’s marked safe. Then you can stand on the peg as well as the step. Also we picked up another rope from a ship they were breaking up. It’s far better than the current one and has years of life.”

I stepped back to avoid a piece of falling plaster. “Who does your maintenance, it looks like things could get expensive”

“Not a problem, we’re lucky to have craftsmen like us in house. We’ll soon have the work done.”

I smiled vaguely at my informant and backed out of the chamber and made my way home. I was reminded of a comment I once heard from an older and wiser person than me. “The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.”

♥♥♥♥

To read more about Tallis and his world

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14 thoughts on “Perfect confidence

  1. That man far left, in the top hat. He is remarkably similar to a con-man who called at my door in September, offering to tarmac my driveway for a mere £200. Once I had parted with the cash, I never saw him again. Dereham Police have my identikit image of him on record, should you want to check.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

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