The Primrose Path

It has to be said that normally a story with this title would be illustrated by pictures of young ladies of remarkable pulchritude and comparatively little clothing. Indeed, forgive me my cynicism, but I have noticed that the number of people reading seems to increase in inverse proportion to the amount of clothing worn by the lady whose picture ornaments an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.

But in this case, the ‘primrose path’ is a genuine track, which may, or may not, be adorned with primroses in season. In point of fact it’s known locally as ‘the Humility trail’. This is because the monks of the Hareshaw monastery maintain it. They make sure the setts are firm, the bridges are sound, and the trees don’t overgrow the path. In the latter case they only trim back branches to a certain height. I’m still not entirely sure whether this height is determined by practicality or theology, but it means that a man on a horse will have to dismount or be knocked of his mount by a low hanging bough. Yet a tall man on foot, or Basmuth Redemouth leading his string of heavily laden pack ponies with supplies for the monastery, can pass undisturbed.

But I get ahead of myself. I was summoned by the Autocephalous Patriarch.  I confess that I did originally hope that he might be contemplating commissioning a work from me, something in keeping with our status as undisputed leaders in our areas of work. Perhaps he wanted me to rewrite the corpus of scripture in verse? That task would comfortably take me several well-remunerated years. Even some lesser work would be welcome, our family expenses are not trivial. Yet his opening remarks were somewhat disconcerting.

“Ah Tallis, you’re a fellow who has travelled widely.”
This was a two-edged compliment. It may merely mean, ‘Tallis, you spend a lot of time fleeing creditors and avoiding the bullies hired by those who you have insulted.’ It was a comment that needed to be answered carefully.

“Well my muse has led me to many places, and I have had the honour of presenting my work to grateful patrons from Avitas to Prae Ducis.”

“Then you will know the Hareshaw monastery.”
Between ourselves this was something of a non sequitur. It is a small mountain monastery to the north of the Paraeba River. I knew of its location and had even seen the road to it, from a distance. But it is far from those civilised parts that wise poets frequent.

“I know of it, but have never visited.”

“It matters not, the penitentials used by Hareshaw are not merely more than substantial, they are of considerable antiquity and are written in a dialect that nobody speaks anymore. Nobody is entirely sure which actions warrant penalty or even what the penalty should be. I have offered them a slim, one volume, penitential that was devised by my predecessor.

I nodded gravely. I felt this was a trend in ecclesiastical jurisprudence that should be encouraged. The Autocephalous Patriarch continued. “So I’d be grateful if you could deliver the document for me.”

“Oh I’ll have my people arrange the printing of a few new copies, see if there is any post you could drop off on the way, and arrange accommodation. Let us agree that you will leave in five days from now?”
Now I didn’t in point of fact need to flee the city at the moment and my creditors had lapsed into apathy. On the other hand I was looking at a quiet month or two as so many people of consequence had left the city for summer. On balance it struck me that I might as well accept this commission. On the positive side I now had five days in which I could insult people who really needed insulting, before quietly leaving the city in a remunerated fashion.

This may seem to involve a lot of hard work, but thanks to the growth of the printing press it is now possible to insult a score of people, more thoroughly and in less time, than one could previously have insulted one. Not only did I insult people who have ‘never been so insulted’ but I won the golden opinions of those who shared my views but were unwilling to be as forthright as I when it came to giving vent to them. Also I won quite useful sums of money in a number of wagers with people who didn’t believe I would write what I did.

Thus on the fifth morning, before dawn, you would have found me leaving the city on foot, burdened with a pack that would have given an itinerant peddler pause. I also wore the Autocephalous Patriarch’s token. I merely had to display this at any religious institution and they were bound to provide me with bed and board.

Admittedly I would have preferred cash for my expenses, then I could have moved from inn to inn and could have supplemented my funds by tips poured into my lap by delighted patrons. I could have converted a three week journey into a triumphal three month tour that took most of the summer. It may well be this that the Patriarch was trying to avoid.

Still the catering available at various shrines and monasteries is not without merit. But you have to be aware that there are, in effect, two kinds of Monastery. The first is Coenobitic, where the brethren live a communal lifestyle, eating in a large refectory, their meals cooked by (ideally) competent cooks working in a large kitchen.  The other sort of Monastery is Eremitic. Here monks live a solitary hermit life, but within a vaguely defined perimeter which is regarded by all as the bounds of the monastery. In an eremitic monastery you will just be lodged with an individual hermit and it is the whims of fate which decide whether you have a host who can cook coarse porridge without burning it, or who is in the middle of a three week fast which he expects you to join. Thus I plotted my course carefully. Also some establishments have a well justified reputation for their catering, and whilst visiting them all did mean a few small diversions, I confidently expected my three week journey to last no more than seven weeks. But finally I arrived at the Primrose path. It stretched before me, climbing up into the trees. I was lucky to miss the last large party of pilgrims and instead joined Basmuth Redemouth and his pack train. To be fair I hardly needed a guide.

There are few real hazards. One is the Transcendent Glade. Here wise travellers hammer a donation into the trunk of a fallen tree. Even Redemouth and his pack train are expected to pay, but I merely displayed the token given to me by the Patriarch and bowed towards the fallen tree. Almost immediately I heard faint music and a shaft of sunlight illuminated the route we had to take.

The other issue was the bridge. As you can see it is not without hazard, especially when wet and slippery underfoot. Yet the pilgrims cross it, or alternatively fall from it and are drawn to the bank by their fellows, sodden and bruised. Redemouth showed me the ford which is just a little upstream which he and his pack ponies use.

Hareshaw monastery is pleasant enough, I stayed just long enough for the abbot to read his mail and write his replies before I was once more on my travels. Eventually my trip took eight weeks and when I finally returned to Port Naain I was pleased to discover I had calculated matters to a nicety. My clients had returned to the city after their summer retreat to the countryside. Not only that but news of my absence intrigued them and I was happily besieged by requests for me to attend this function or that function. But at the same time, other scandals had swept through those small-minded and petty enough to hold a grudge, so my insults had been largely forgotten, displaced from mind by newer quarrels.

Added to this, I arrived in the city late in the day, so never saw the Autocephalous Patriarch. Instead I merely handed the replies to his letters to a clerk. So it has not yet occurred to him to ask for his token back.


Should you wish to know more about the life of Tallis Steelyard and the city of Port Naain


6 thoughts on “The Primrose Path

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s