The Cake Fairy
Now I don’t want you to think that Maljie is without her gentlemen admirers. Whilst there are some who might remember her and wake up screaming and have to take a glass of something medicinal to help them recover their composure, they aren’t the majority. Many remember her warmly.
Also it should be remembered that whilst I use the term ‘gentlemen admirers’, a fair proportion would struggle to lay convincing claim to the term gentleman. There are keeps deep in Uttermost Partann where some brooding warlord would look at his daughter and say, “Why can you not be more like Maljie.” To be fair to the girl, he can hardly then cavil when she cashes him in for the reward money.
But even those who remember Maljie with affection seem to feel the need to somehow stay in her good books. As we sit drinking cider together in the Shrine of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm, it is something that gets discussed, but only on those occasions when Maljie is absent.
One school of thought is that these gentlemen are worried that Maljie will succumb to the temptations of a cathartic death-bed confession. Or at least a confession made when she is no longer in danger of being involved in any judicial unpleasantness. I don’t think she has ever expressed an interest in doing this, indeed I can think of nobody within her circle of acquaintance who has the slightest interest in encouraging her down that road. Even members of the judiciary have reacted negatively to the idea. The feeling seems to be that once Maljie starting telling all she knows, there’d be
nobody left outside to cook for all the prisoners.
A second school of thought seems to be that they alone have done something so terrible that Maljie will finally listen to the dictates of her conscience and take damning information to the authorities. Anybody who believes this has a poor grasp on reality, and a self-image in need of rapid correction. To put it bluntly, if you’ve done something so shocking that Maljie will listen to her conscience and tell the authorities, then the authorities already know about it from other sources. For example, they’ve
probably noticed the summoned demons cavorting on the rooftops of the city.
Also whilst Maljie has a conscience, the pair of them have a mature relationship. The conscience doesn’t dictate to her, instead they have a reasoned discussion about the matter and at the end of this debate, action may be taken.
The third school of thought strikes me as the most reasonable. Maljie has the ability to leave people with a vague and nagging sense of subliminal guilt. I’ve known people who have led blameless lives leave her company worried about sins of omission rather than commission. For these people, some vague expression of appreciation and affection is perhaps considered a useful insurance policy.
But setting aside their reasons, the gentlemen in question face a delicate problem. How exactly should he show his affection? Given that many will be married, some obvious alternatives have to be vetoed even before they are considered. There have, over the years, been any number of tentative offerings. Then one of the gentlemen had a moment of inspiration. He was wandering through the area and noted a group of young mendicants talking to Maljie. As she went about her business he struck up a conversation with the mendicants.
After asking perfectly reasonable questions about the shrine he asked, “Do you know Maljie?”
Of course the mendicants replied in the affirmative.
“So what does she like?”
After a brief discussion they replied, tentatively, “Cake.”
The gentleman admirer went on his way rejoicing. After all, even the most jealous of wives is unlikely to take umbrage at her husband buying an old friend a cake. Cake is comparatively innocent. Clothes and jewellery both fall under immense suspicion, even wine can cause a sharp intake of breath.
But even if the lady is predisposed to consider the recipient of your gifts to be a rival, cake is only going to make them fat. Cake might even be what the shrewd wife would suggest as a gift had you raised the issue with her.
Now it didn’t stop there. Gentlemen talk. They share ideas over a glass. The idea of purchasing cake for Maljie was greeted with enthusiasm by a select group (but one which appears to be expanding) within society as an inspired idea. After all, there is nothing about cake which hints at a guilty conscience. Cake is so innocent it’s frivolous. It’s fun. Where is the harm in cake?
The issue comes more complicated when you are the recipient of cake. The first time it happened, the carefully wrapped parcel was equally carefully unwrapped. The rather bland card included was read judiciously. In reality all it provided was the name of the sender and generalised good wishes.
Given that the person sending the cake was somebody who, in reality, had no reason to worry about Maljie’s opinion of them, Maljie and her younger sister, Margarita happily ate and enjoyed the cake. From the point of view of the generous donor, although they might not have realised it, the cake had done everything they hoped. Maljie remembered them, but slightly more affectionately.
Apparently on one subsequent occasion, where there might have been reason for doubt, Laxey was summoned. He was given a generous slice of the suspect cake. He was half way though it before he realised the other two had left their pieces untouched and were watching him with intense interest. Laxey described it as the sort of interest that the Emperor of the Perfected Empire might show as his food taster tries a spoonful from a doubtful dish.
But this minor difficulty aside, when cake arrived it lacked novelty. The fourteenth was frankly a bore. Also how much cake can a person eat? Maljie turned to the mendicants. Now people assume that our mendicants are the active rogues who keep the Sinecurists” Stair so clean. Well obviously they are, but there are other mendicants who don’t wear robes. There is the elderly widower who is just about getting by, the young mum with two children. The children are fine but her health is such we despair of her living to see either of them wed. There are any number of folk who whilst not destitute, have to be ‘careful’. Maljie and Margarita would cut up the cake and take slices to these mendicants.
Now some po-faced people took exception at this. They claimed that people were being unreasonably cosseted, they didn’t need cake, just give them bread and work to do. One of them even said it to Maljie, but only one, and she never repeated the error.
A slice of cake is more than sustenance. A slice of cake in those circumstances is permission to dream. It allows you, briefly, to remember that you are a person, not just a nobody on the edge of society struggling to survive. It does a little to boost your nutrition but it works its magic on your morale. People would face the rest of the day with a smile lingering on their lips.
Now occasionally one of the recipients would ask Maljie where the cake came from. Maljie would just smile and claim it was ‘the Cake Fairy.’ People had to be satisfied with that.
But there again, word gets round. People would hear about the Cake Fairy and people instinctively approved of this anthropomorphic personification. There probably are people who have lived lives so sheltered they never appreciated a nice piece of cake in a rough week. In my experience they are few and far between. There are far more who know the magic a piece of cake can work.
Soon Maljie was being given cake by people without guilty consciences. Maljie had discovered the Cake Fairy, but other folk were determined not to let this fairy fade away.
And now a brief note from Jim Webster. It’s really just to inform you that I’ve just published a full Tallis Steelyard novel. Yes the rumours are true.
A Fear of Heights
Tallis Steelyard, the man who considered jotting down a couple of anecdotes to be ridiculously hard work, and considered the novella form to be the very pinnacle of literary labour, has been cozened into producing a novel.
It is, ‘Tallis Steelyard. A Fear of Heights.’
In this novel, recounted by Tallis Steelyard in his own inimitable manner, we discover what happens when the hierarchy plots to take control of the Shrine to Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm.
Will the incumbent be exiled to a minor fane in the far north? Will Tallis end up having to do a proper job? Does ordination and elevation beckon for Maljie?
This story includes the Idiosyncratic Diaconate, night soil carts, Partannese bandit chieftains, a stylite, a large dog and some over-spiced food. On top of this we have not one but two Autocephalous Patriarchs and a theologically sanctioned beggar.
Available both for kindle and in Paperback.