Gossip, Rumour, and Innuendo

One of the banes of my existence is gossip. At times it feels like the sea in which I struggle to stay afloat. Even if I wanted to stay abreast of the talk there is no way I can commit to memory these ridiculous stories as quickly as others invent them. In the course of an afternoon I was informed that one lady had secretly married to a man half her age, and had been spotted cavorting naked in front of the shrine of a minor demon. Now both of these are possible. Indeed it is even possible that they happened in this order. But I can vouch for the fact that the lady is still married to her husband of thirty years, and that the shrine was demolished two decades ago and the site is now used by the city to store wheat.

Strangely enough, and this may be a purely Port Naain phenomena, if you take the time to trace back gossip to the source, it is surprising how often it comes from a man. Normally they’re elderly and were in the habit of regarding themselves as persons of consequence. Yet retirement has meant that they are sliding slowly into invisibility, and no matter how often they explain to people that they were important, nobody seems to care. So if some young upstart crosses them, they are at a loss how to proceed. Twenty years before, they can assure themselves, they would merely have had a word in the right ear and that pipsqueak’s career would have been destroyed. Now in a far less deferential age they are forced to resort to gossip.

Still, they are also vulnerable. On one occasion when the stories circulating about one lady had become ridiculous, I merely started a story of my own. In the presence of somebody I knew would immediately spread the story, I explained that the lady in question was now walking out with a young lawyer who would undoubtedly be keen to win her undying gratitude by taking those spreading slanderous stories to court. I added, reflectively, that this could be bad news for somebody who owned their own house.

It may be that I succeeded, but if I did, the gossips needed to find a new outlet. I dropped in to see Maljie after her operation. She informed me that the current gossip about her was that she had been banned from the Shrine of Aea in Her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm.

Now we should try to find evidence which might have given rise to this amazing bit of news. Well I suppose she hadn’t been seen in the shrine for a couple of weeks because she had had a major operation on her leg. (And she sends her thanks for all the good wishes)
Other than that? Nothing. But then nothing is sometimes all that is needed.
I asked Maljie who had been spreading the story. She named a name and immediately it made sense. The lady was somebody whose father had, in his own opinion, done great things. The world in general rather rejected his assessment. It looked as if the daughter was cast from the same clay.

As somebody who comes across the people who do the gossiping, (as opposed to those who invent some of these stories) I think I have spotted some common factors. Again, this may be a purely Port Naain phenomena. These gossiping individuals are normally people who don’t really amount to much, but by sharing the story they are guaranteed the attention they crave, if only for a while. On top of that they have the subconscious assurance that anybody who knows the truth also knows that life is too short to educate people out of their cherished ignorance. So they gossip secure in the assumption that nobody will contradict them.

But what of the rumour, has Maljie been cast adrift. Has she indeed been banned?
Now the role, rank, or burden of Temple Warden is an unusual one. The only way of banning a Temple Warden is for Aea herself to turn up in person and formally tear the Temple Warden’s buttons off. This rarely happens. Either, as some claim, Aea has low standards; or alternatively she realises what Temple Wardens have to put up with and makes appropriate- allowances.

But still, what was Maljie intending to do about the gossip? Apparent she had had Margarita collect some of the older tomes from our freshly wood-panelled library in the shrine. Apparently the old punishments were interesting. One had the gossip dressed in sack cloth, kneeling and washing the feet of all those who passed the shrine during the course of a week. Still, as Maljie commented, this demands a base level of competence and she wasn’t sure whether the person in question had achieved that level.

Instead Maljie has just put her name down on the preaching rota. She’s picked a feast day a couple of months ahead. Apparently the sacred text for the day is a condemnation of tittle tattle and Maljie shall preach on the topic. I have already reserved my seat.


Should you want to know more about life in Port Naain


As a reviewer commented, “Jim Webster’s sly wit and broad understanding of human nature makes his work deliciously appealing. The adventures of Tallis Steelyard, and the characters who inhabit his world, are particularly delightful. Tallis and his creator both have a dry, wry and wonderfully playful perspective, and while the tales may seem like a bit-of-fluff entertainment initially, the aftertaste is that of rich wisdom shared with a wink.”

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