It is not often I am summoned to appear before the Autocephalous Patriarch and frankly the less often it happens, the happier I am. I have noticed that it is rare for such worthies to send me a note saying something along the lines of, “Tallis, old chap, drop round for a spot of lunch and we can discuss publishing your next collection of verse.”
No, they only ever notice you when, frankly, the great and the good would serve us better by glancing elsewhere.
The cause of my summons was the dung rolling of Tullon Splart. Now to be fair, whilst I had not lobbied for his dung rolling, or even so much as touched the barrel, I fully approved of the action, and in all candour, still do. Lying as poorly as he did verges on casual disrespect.
For those who don’t know what dung rolling involves, the guilty party is thrust into a barrel which is packed with dung. (In reality this is something of a safety measure but the guilty rarely appreciate the care one shows for them) The barrel is then rolled down a steep hill.
Ideally the rolling should start, with some fanfare, along Sinecurists’ Walk, picking up speed as the barrel is turned down New Gallows Prospect. It will continue to accelerate before finally plunging down Lame Pauper’s Ginnel, the whooping crowd being left far behind. On a good run it might even cross the Ropewalk and bounce off the end of the wharf into the estuary. Artistry demands that the barrel break open when it hits the water and indeed sometimes this does actually happen.
In the case of Tullon Splart, it was the perfect run, the barrel ricocheted off several walls, bounced over an empty dray that was being hauled along the Rope Walk and broke convincingly as it hit the water. Not only that but the water was deep enough to carry Splart out into mid channel when a boat threw him a rope and dragged him and the barrel back to the shore.
It was at this point the problems started and I discovered I was the only temple warden of our Order in Port Naain. One would almost think they had known what was going to happen and had arranged to be elsewhere.
The Autocephalous Patriarch gestured at the ruins of the (freshly cleaned) barrel that stood between us. But before he could ask any difficult questions, our Incumbent said, “Yes it was missional.”
The Autocephalous Patriarch looked somewhat surprised by this. Our incumbent continued, “Has not Tullon Splart been washed thoroughly from his iniquity? Indeed he may have been scoured from his sin.” When the Patriarch still looked doubtful she added, “The pot is to be scoured and rinsed with water.”
The Patriarch asked, “Do you mean that this episode is in keeping with not merely the thrust of the sacred scriptures but showed us living them out?”
“I couldn’t have put it better myself Patriarch. I see you have grasped the situation in its entirety.”
At this point our incumbent seemed to draw inspiration from somewhere as she continued, “Indeed the whole thing is Ecclesial. The barrel came from the Shrine of Aea in her aspect as the personification of Tempered enthusiasm. Many of those who assisted were mendicants and lesser clergy of the Order. The whole thing couldn’t have been more Ecclesial if we sat down and planned in in detail.
The Patriarch rested his elbow on the arm of his seat and sat with his chin resting on the palm of his hand. “Dare I ask whether this episode was also formational?”
“It was indeed. Obviously it will have a salutary formational impact on Tullon Splart, but has also helped in the development of a number of other people. Take Jaysen Fanshaw, night soil collector as an example.”
“How was it formational for young Fanshaw?”
Our incumbent leaned forward conspiratorially. “Jaysen Fanshaw has always been on the edge of our congregation.” (To be fair, on the edge and downwind was how we preferred him) “Remember that not only was Tullon Splart’s barrel packed with night soil provided by Jaysen, rather than more common horse dung, but people personally thanked Jaysen for producing some which had been maturing in some dark corner of his yard. Jaysen obviously felt included and his wife and daughter have joined our small dance troop.” Our incumbent paused as if wondering whether to say more but then pressed on. “He told me that he would give the Order priority if they contact him with an emergency.”
I noted that off to the side, one hierophant was scribbling this last bit of information on the cuff of her shirt where it stuck out from under her cassock. It had obviously won the approval of at least one senior member of the hierarchy.
The Patriarch tapped his finger on the arm of his chair. “There is one other matter, the dancing.”
“The dancing?” Our incumbent seemed at a loss.
The Patriarch picked up a piece of note paper from a table next to him and read aloud, “A large number of female members of the congregation were seen to dance naked around a fire during the evening, before storming the home of Tullon Splart, and dragging him from there to where the dung rolling was to commence.”
“Ah,” said our incumbent. ”That would be Maljie’s doing.”
It was the Patriarch’s turn to look somewhat worried. “Maljie’s doing?”
“Yes, she has spent a lot of time going through the earlier writings of our particular branch of the order.”
“You are the Shrine of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm?”
“The doesn’t seem anything particularly tempered about dancing naked around a fire before dragging Tullon Splart from his house and dung rolling him.” The Patriarch checked his notes, “Even if Madam Splart did open the door to admit the ladies.”
“Yes, Maljie explained it to me, and we went through the earlier writings together. Apparently, in the early years of our Order, it was realised that Tempered Enthusiasm ran the danger of becoming bland and tepid. Thus they decided that it was the duty of members of the Order to make the occasional untempered or even extravagant gestures.”
“So it is laid down in the guidance handed down by the founders of your Order?”
“Only then Contextually Appropriate.”
With this last comment, the Patriarch relaxed slightly and seemed to come to a decision. “Ah well, that clears the whole business up. I’m glad we’ve got to the bottom of it. I’ll have a hierophant write a vague and insincere letter of apology and we’ll say no more about it.”
Then he looked at me. “Tallis, be a good chap and take those bits of barrel out with you, they’re beginning to stink.”
Should you wish to know more about Port Naain
As a reviewer commented, “I know, without any doubt, I’ll thoroughly enjoy any book written by this author – especially if it features Tallis Steelyard and Maljie collaborating to right any wrongs.
The blurb gives some hints but if that’s not enough to tempt, add three capering Prophets, a ‘demonic’ attack, a hair raising egress
from a rapidly descending balloon, creative bureaucratic archiving practices and … more … MUCH more.”