To be fair to Maljie, it had been a hard day. It wasn’t that she was hewing wood and digging ditches, but still, just being nice to people can be hard work at times.
It started with a craft fair. The Shrine of Aea in Her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm runs a couple of them during the year. It does three important things. One is that we hope it will bring a bit of money into the shrine. Our coffers, whilst not, in point of fact, empty, are still hardly bulging. It has been pointed out that if we swept out the cobwebs and then emptied the dust out of some of our more venerable treasure chests, we might find as much as twenty or thirty dregs that have been hiding at the bottom. (To be fair, when one of the mendicants tried this he found nothing and suggested that it may only have been a decade since the last time we were desperate enough to try it.)
The second reason for the craft fairs is the encouragement it gives to local people. Many are their accomplishments, and some of these skills take on solid form. So whilst this lady may have an amazing memory for the failings of six generations of clergy, she can also make the most amazing rag rugs with only a few old shirts and a proggy tool.
The third reason is that it keeps people too busy making stuff to cause trouble.
When I browsed our craft fair I was, as always, amazed by the skill that was on display. We had fine paintings which looked like the view painted. We had cake in so many forms (because cake making is one of the higher arts and should be celebrated as such). There was wood working. There were many branched candelabra worked from one single piece of wood that had been grown laboriously to shape over previous decades. There were bowls, benches, vases, vestment presses and a Tabard stand.
Then we had dice, carved from bone, which contained little bells that tinkled as the dice rolled. Apparently you could tell which way up they would land by the sound of the bell.
But still I think the pride of show were the brass braziers. Tall and elegant, these were not the great bulky contraptions designed to warm a room. These were to burn those herbs used render a room fragrant. It was noticeable that the craftsman obviously knew her theology, capering demons lusted ostentatiously after winsome muses who danced forever just out of reach. On other braziers, heroines of old wielded tent pegs, mallets and great two-handed swords with overt but underdressed enthusiasm. An arch-hierophant, nay, a Patriarch no less, could sprinkle herbs into such a brazier with total self-confidence, secure in their doctrinal meticulousness.
I confess that I hadn’t anything to exhibit. Somebody did suggest I brought a few volumes of my poetry. Indeed I would have done so but I was distracted. Silac Glicken of Glicken’s Printers had contacted me. I thought at the time he appeared a little shifty, as if he were going to suggest something I might regard as an insult. Indeed he did. He had been asked to bind a volume in human skin (legitimately come by) and there was quite a lot left. He wondered if I would be interested in having my next collection bound in the remnants. He promised a good deal but still, I struggled not to take insult. It wasn’t as if he had a bale of the stuff, he was expecting to bind my verse with the oddments left over from one not particularly large hide. Why I doubt even he could have managed to cover five volumes with what was left. Even poetry sells better than that!
Not only that but it’s hardly the sort of material you bind a collection of joyful love poems in! Still it did set me thinking, and I have since toyed with the idea of assembling some work suitable for such a binding. I have already written a couple of pieces and have found three or four more, unpublished, that would fit well. Still I digress, but I feel that in my digression I have explained why I had no volumes to sell at the craft fair.
Still, Maljie obviously had to keep order. Somebody competent has to slip sweet treats to children. Teenage boys have to be glared at so that they know they’re considered a possible source of trouble, (otherwise the day will lack all savour for them) and teenage girls have to be kept in order with throw-away comments such as, ‘does your little sister know how you’re dressed and who you’re with?’
But the constant patrolling, the need to listen to all and sundry, and be suitably gruff with everybody, (skills honed over the years) can be hard work. So when evening came, and there was talk about attending an evening entertainment, Maljie’s sister, Margarita, put her foot down. She did it tactfully, or relatively tactfully. So there was none of this nonsense about ‘acting your age’ (because frankly we’re all terrified that Maljie just might), instead Margarita pointed to recent illness and suggested rest.
Maljie agreed, and announced she would burn soothing herbs in her newly purchased brazier. Margarita pronounced this an excellent idea, but still locked the door as she went out to the evening frivolities.
Next day, about noon, I saw Margarita and asked how Maljie was. She shook her head. “I found her this morning. She was fast asleep in a boat we don’t own, on a tarn a couple of miles from here, wearing a long dress I’m sure she doesn’t own, with her lipstick smudged. And she claims not to remember a thing.”
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As a reviewer commented, “
Maljie and Tallis start by taking action to protect their incumbent from being involuntarily removed from her post in order to serve the ambitions of Battass Droom. They then have to go on to protect each other from being elected Patriarch, which is, by definition, a job best done by somebody who does NOT want the appointment.
The efforts to achieve their aims become steadily more and more tortuous, including an attempt to delay a key meeting by employing such diverse methods as elaborate food poisoning and a trebuchet with an unusual payload, a race against time involving a one way balloon ride and having, temporarily, two Patriarchs (or are they non-Patriarchs?) with too much time on their hands.
Along the way, Jim takes delight in lampooning bureaucracy and its devotees, with some jaw-dropping moments that challenge the way things work. What would be non sequiturs anywhere else are hilariously believable in Port Naain and make you consider “real life” in a new light.
Do NOT read this book anywhere that full volume belly laughs are not socially acceptable.”