We Build for Eternity

I’d like to say I remember them, but in all candour I don’t. Not really. I suppose as a child I’d vaguely heard about them, but nothing that stuck in the mind. With names like Bugwrestle and Forbice you would have thought that at the very least they would have been immortalised in a girls’ skipping rhyme, but even that fame eluded them.

It was when I was helping to tidy out one of the lesser fanes that I came upon their names again. The shrine has an outdoor privy and as you can imagine it gets awfully cold in winter. To be fair it’s not a lot better in spring and autumn either but still.

Obviously, every privy has a good stack of paper, old news sheets, almanacs and similar. Normally these are worked through on a pretty regular basis, but it seems that over the years there had been an element of improvisation. Papers had been rolled tightly and jammed into various cracks and crevices to stop draughts.

As the privy was finally being dug out and ‘refreshed’ the suggestion was made that the box-like shelter, which had to be moved; should also be refurbished. I was volunteered to assist on the not unreasonable grounds that nobody else wanted anything else to do with that fane.

Anyway, with the shelter being moved somewhere more salubrious, I set to work to take out all the old newspapers. This would show me which planks needed replacing. To be fair, this was a fascinating task, some of the rolled up news sheets had been serving as draught excluders for more than half a century. Obviously the job took me far longer than it should have done, but I couldn’t help myself. I had to keep stopping to read. Then when I pulled out one sheet of paper, a smaller piece fell out with it. I picked it up and scanned it. It was an account of how Bugwrestle has be granted some minor award by the Sinecurists. You know the sort of thing, “Given with grateful thanks, as a token of our respect….” But judging by the date on the sheet, it had fallen out of a paper that had been printed at least two decades later. Obviously somebody had saved the cutting and eventually it too had been thrown out.

The later paper had a piece about the funeral of Forbice, and how the coffin had been attended by an honour guard drawn from the membership of the Reverential, Bounteous, and Peculiar Guild of Scriveners of Port Naain, the city’s most self-regarding secret society.

Obviously I continued my task, and then replaced some of the planks and generally got the shed sound again. It was as I was finishing off the job that the Fane Warden arrived. Even by the standards of his calling he was old. So I showed him the two pieces of paper. He spat into the now empty privy.

“So you remember them?” I asked, perhaps a little unnecessarily.

“Aye, I do, I remember the funeral as well. They were going to bury at least one of them under the floor of the fane, but the incumbent, back in the day, said ‘no’. He pointed out that the number of people expectorating on the grave slab would make a lot of work for the cleaner and he couldn’t see any point in that.”

“They weren’t liked?”

“As popular as plague.”
“Let’s just say that when they carried one of their coffins to the death ship, it was followed by a score of women worshippers who were dancing, singing, and pelting it with horse dung.”

“So they upset the ladies?”
“Aye, but they knew the right people, and kept lording it over folks. They had all sorts of plans, there was a lot of building work at one time. Indeed towards the end they were building another tower.”
I looked around, the fane didn’t even have one tower, never mind two. He saw me looking.
“Ah well, the tower wasn’t in good order, and they raised a lot of money and had it repaired. Then they would raise more and have a second one. Folk took to calling the towers Bugwrestle and Forbice. Happen the plan was that after their day, their names would have set on them.”
That surprised me, most temple wardens and similar are happy to avoid their name being attached to the temple or fane. After all, it just means folk know who to blame. “Are people sure about this?”

He nodded sagely. “We found the two stones. Each had a name on it and a list of their accomplishments. The stones were the right size to fit into a niche already cut into the tower walls.”
“So what did you do with them?”
“The stones? We put them to work, they’re set into the floor of the privy pit, so the lad who’s emptying it knows when he’s got to the bottom.

“So what happened to them?”

“Them or their towers?”

“Well both.”

“Well from what I could see, they were good at glad-handing posh folk and getting money off them for ‘a good cause.’ But they managed to irritate those who actually worshipped at the fane. After all, whilst the Reverential, Bounteous, and Peculiar Guild of Scriveners of Port Naain might need a fane for a funeral, they’re got no interest in turning up every week. And of course, the two of them had started running the fane as a retirement project. So they were old men when they started and never thought about succession planning. They just wanted to be in charge and didn’t want anybody who might ask questions. So eventually they just died and there was nobody to follow on with their schemes.”
“And the towers?”
The fane warden looked over his shoulder. “From what I’ve been able to make out since, they got a mate to do the building, probably because he were a Scrivener. The work continued after the last one died, but eventually in the autumn gales, the tower that they were building collapsed and damaged the other tower. With the week the fane warden at the time had had both demolished and sold the stone into the building trade. Even the stuff beyond salvaging was taken down to the estuary and used on the breakwater.” He paused and almost grinned, “Even the breakwater was smashed by the next winter storm. But anyway, the money came in useful, we started a small soup kitchen with it, and folk started drifting back.”

He took the two pieces of paper from me. “One of the perks of this job is I get to be the first to use the privy. I’ll put these to good use.”


Should you want to know more about Port Naain, try

As a reviewer commented, “

As a reviewer commented, “When I pick up a Tallis Steelyard book I know I am going to have the most enjoyable of rides start to finish. There will be social comment and cynicism, there will be intriguing concepts and fascinating settings, there will be battles of wit and cunning plans, but two things above all will stand out – the incredibly interesting characters and the wonderful moments of both subtle and laugh-out-loud humour.
The author has an eye for personality quirks and the humorous possibilities in just about every occasion, and seldom leaves either unexploited to the full.
This book was, however, something I embarked upon with a little more trepidation that usual when approaching a Tallis Steelyard book, because unlike the collections of vividly imagined and portrayed cameos which I have come to know and love, this is an entire novel.
Yes, there are still those wonderful cameos, but there is also a rare opportunity to follow Tallis through an unwitting adventure, all thanks to the indomitable Maljie of course. The way Jim Webster writes, I was sitting in the hot air balloon along with them.
If you enjoy Tallis Steelyard in shorts, you will enjoy as much in long form. If you have yet to make his acquaintance, then dive right in and do so, but hang onto your hat it’ll be a very wild ride!”

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