By Diana the Valkyrie
I thumped the refectory table that we used for meetings, and got Mandy to stop telling Nora all the sordid details of our soul-saving side-track, because we had a couple of real problems to tackle. Nora wanted to know why she'd been left out of the trip to the pool hall, so I promised her next time we did a bit of salvation on the side, I'd be sure to include her in the Satan-smashing. That mollified her enough for me to get her report on Septadecaherbis, which turned out to be not too bad.
"There's seventeen herbs and spices involved", she started. Yes, well, we knew that, that's why it's called Septadecaherbis. "Some of them are fairly common, like the horseradish." The horseradish, I think, is one of the strongest components. "But some of them aren't so common. Some were rare 1500 years ago, like the cloves, but those are easy to get now. The same with Ginseng. But some of the others, like Mandrake root, and Orange Madder, which used to be easy, are now a lot more difficult to get, and our suppliers say we're already buying all they have." "Then we have to find more suppliers, Nora." "How?" "Yellow Pages, of course." "Oh, of course" I told Nora, when we go to Borchester tomorrow, she's to peel off and pick up copies of the Yellow Pages for as many towns around here as she can, and fetch them back to the kid's place, so that Vads can start phoning round to get what we need." "Why don't I phone round?" asked Nora. "Because we don't have a telephone" I replied, patiently, "that's why we've made our base at the kid's place instead of here. We aren't exactly gifted with all the mod cons here. And that's why I've got Vads staying with the kid - partly to keep him on the straight and narrow" - Mandy sniggered wickedly, Vads was probably leading him further round her wide curves than he'd ever been before - "and partly so that she can have access to phones and computers."
"OK" I continued, "that's settled. Now we need a name for the product, Mater won't let us call it Shit." "Are you surprised?" asked Mandy. "Not really, although my ears are still ringing from what she said. So what can we call it?"
"St Hilda's Muscle Tonic?" "No, we want to de-emphasise the muscle, remember. More women will buy into the chest part of it." "St Hilda's Developer" "Sounds like something photographic" "St Hilda's Better Body Lotion" "Sounds like sun cream" "I'm beginning to think that St Hilda's Iron Tonic wasn't such a bad idea." "Shut up, Di" said both of them in chorus. "Look, let's all make a list of names, amalgamate the lists, cross off any non-starters, and settle on something." So we did that, and spent the next hour arguing about fifteen different names. And then the bell for Compline went, and I said "Look, this democracy stuff isn't getting us anywhere. After prayers, I'll going to ask the Mater to pick one of these, and we'll go with that, OK?" The others nodded. So we put our heart and souls into the Compline hour, bellowing out the Aurea Luce as we pumped the iron, followed by a couple of Bach's best fugues, and working up a fine sheen of perspiration, or even a bucketful of sweat over "Ecce nomen Domini" as a finale. Then I had the cold shower, brrr, changed from chapel gear back into posh habit, and took my list of 15 possibles to the Mater.
"Mother Superior, we can't decide on a name for the product, and we need your wisdom". Flattery will get you everywhere. "Here's a list of ideas we had" and I showed her the parchment we'd prepared earlier. "St Hilda's Growmore" she said. That wasn't on the list. But it was short, snappy, said the right thing, and best of all, since it came from the Mater, no-one would argue with it. "Super", I enthused, "thank you Mother Superior, we'll call it that." "And Sister Diana?" "Yes, Mother Superior?" "Try not to spend too much time having fun in pool halls." "We were casting out the Devil" I protested. "Yes, I know, but establishing the convent on a sound financial footing is more important than saving a few sinners; without the convent, thousands of souls will be lost to the fires eternal." "Yes, Mother Superior." Why did she always make me feel like a small and guilty child?
Next day, the three of us went to Borchester. As previously arranged, Nora trundled down to the Post Office to get a bunch of Yellow Pages so we could search for our seventeen herbs-and-spices, Mandy and I rolled round to see what Novice Evadne and the kid were getting up to. Apart from the obvious, that is.
When we got there, it was clear that something had been going on. Although the kid didn't have the full battered-and-bruised look, you could see he wasn't getting enough sleep. And when I looked at the web site he was supposed to be making for us, there didn't seem to be much progress. Time to split up this cosy little nest, I think. "Vads, tomorrow I want you at the convent, you've missed far too many chapels." Vads knelt on the floor, looking obedient, demure, submissive and like she wanted to murder me. The kid looked stricken, so I walked over to him and pulled him into my embrace. "Don't worry kid, you won't be alone. Nora will be staying here." Even though I was holding him fairly tight, I could feel him shudder. "She'll look after you." Vads looked daggers.
"Name", reminded Mandy. "Oh yes," I went on, "we have a name for you. St Hilda's Growmore." "Mmmph umphh mmm" said the kid, so I let go of him, and he repeated it. "Sounds good, I'll get right onto it. So, what can we tell people about it?" "Well, tell them what it is, and what it does." "And what is it, and what does it do?" "Nora will tell you all about it when she gets here. Come on Mands, let's go. It's market day today." "Ooh, you mean ..." "Yes! Shopping!!"
The big problem with shopping, is that the nuns of St Hildas have taken a vow of poverty. That means we don't have any money. And that puts a bit of a crimp on any shopping trip. Fortunately, some genius way back in the middle ages, realised that although we're poor in the Mundane world, we have huge riches in heaven. Trouble is, this is a bit like having a paper fortune; lots of loot in theory that is actually tied up in brick-and-mortar, or unsalable shares. Well, that was obvious - the touch of genius was in working out how to draw on those the assets of the hereafter, in the here-and-now. And the way they devised, was called "Indulgences".
Here's how it works. We've got loads of credit in the Book of Reckoning, so that come judgement day, we have ample and to spare to get our slice of Eternal Joy. So, we're willing to trade some of that credit, against a Note of Account. There's a whole scale of fees for Indulgences from different sins. We can get you off a minor sin for a mere tenner. Major sins are fifty, and Mortal sins go for three hundred. The Seven Deadly sins are a quite popular item; they count as Mortal, and you get a discount if you buy an Indulgence for the whole seven. So, if you fancy a bit of gluttony, it'll cost you just three hundred, plus however much the hamburgers cost. I had a bunch of Indulgences stashed in my wimple, and we'd use those.
The other problem with a vow of poverty is that you not only don't get any money, you're not allowed any possessions, either. I've got my good habit, my training togs, and a couple of spare surplices And even that lot is, in theory, convent property, I'm just borrowing it. There is a bed in my cell, but until we borrowed the refectory table, that was all there was. Poverty, see. No possessions. You certainly keep a nice tidy cell that way. So how do we get round that? Well, although we aren't allowed possessions, the convent obviously is, otherwise we couldn't actually live. So, anything we acquired today, would be acquired for the convent, and we'd just be borrowing it. The shopping instinct cannot be suppressed.
So, we trundled down to the market, and found the Indulgences stalls, where people buy and sell second-hand Indulgences. You see, you might have bought an Indulgence for getting drunk ten times, and halfway through experienced a Wakening of Conscience and given up on the demon liquor. In which case, you had five indulgences lying around doing nothing, and might as well liquidate your assset. Or there were people who would buy a "Seven Deadly" indulgence, find that Lust and Greed were all they actually used, and sell the other five back onto the open market. I sauntered up to one of the Indulgence-sellers, and flashed my wimple-full of parchment at him. I could see his eyes grow small with Greed, so we settled down for some serious dickering. Half an hour later, I had his check. We aren't allowed to take money, because that's against the poverty vow, but a check is just a promise, really.
We took the check to Dixon's, and ten minutes later, the convent was the proud owner of a new notebook. And I don't mean the sort you write on with a pencil. "I hope you know what you're doing, Di" commented Mandy. "Mands, we can't be a dotcom and not have a single computer!" "But the kid has one, why do we need one?" "You think the kid is *reliable*?" "Well, maybe not. But with Nora taking care of him ..." "With Nora taking care of him, he could be out of action any time." "Good point" "Mands, when you're running a business, you don't want anything to be a single point of failure. Right now, young Bertie-wertie is a single point of failure. No kid, no dotcom. I aim to change that, maybe not immediately, but as soon as I can." "Di, you do think forward, don't you?" "Mands, it's not rocket science to see that the kid is the weakest link."
By the time we got back to the kid's place, Nora was there, and so was a heap of phone books. The kid was pecking away at his keyboard, Vads was sitting on the floor, looking glum. I felt sorry for her, she's been having fun away from the convent, and now I was putting her back under Novice discipline again, which we all remember as being pretty harsh. Well, maybe I could sweeten the pill a bit. "Nora, you stay here and look after the kid, and get on the dog-and-bone to source those herbs-and-spices. Mands, you take the new computer back to the convent." "What should I do with it?" I thought for a moment; nuns not being allowed possessions means that you have to be a bit devious. "Take it to the Scriptorium, Mands, and dump it on the Armarius. Tell her I'll come by after Compline to sort things out." Mandy nodded. Then I thought, Vads is looking a bit down now I've taken her toy away from her, she needs cheering up. "Novice Evadne, you come with me, it's time you had some practical work." Vads brightened up a bit, and followed me out of the door. She got on Nora's bike, well, I say Nora's bike, but nuns don't have possessions, so it was actually the convent's bike that Nora had been temporarily using, and which was now being used by Vads. You see how it works?
"Follow me, Novice Evadne".
There's more than one pub in Borchester. Sometimes I think there's more pubs than churches, and better attended, too. So, the Sisters of St Hilda do our good work where the people are, not where they aren't. We hang out in all the low dives, looking for lost sheep that can be brought back into the flock, prodigal sons to return. There's some great raw material in pubs, drunkards, blasphemers, smokers, heretics and all kinds of unbelievers - any sin you name, you'll find in a pub. Except one. So I took Novice Evadne round to the establishment run by Madam Rosie Marie.
You might thing that a nun wouldn't be exactly welcome at a House of Ill Repute, even one with as good a reputation as Madam Rosie's. That might be true for some nuns, but Madam Rosie Marie always had a warm welcome for the Sisters of St Hilda. She said we not only added a bit of tone to the neighbourhood, but even better, when the johns saw that we were regular visitors here, they'd be very disinclined to make trouble. In return, we were always assured of a warm welcome and a nice cup of Rosie Lea. After we'd sat and sipped and exchanged opinions about the weather for a while, Madam Rosie Marie suggested that the gentleman currently in number fourteen, who had been making whining noises about the cost of services, might benefit from a glimpse of Light Everlasting. So we thanked Madam Rosie Marie nicely, put our teacups down, and glided softly and silently upstairs to number 14.
When we reached the landing, I looked left and right to see where number 14 was, and Vads whispered to me "Sister Diana, this is a brothel!" and looked kind of horrified. Oops. I guess they hadn't covered this yet in the Novitiate. "Vads, if you want to find sinners, you don't go to a church. Look it's over there." "And she's a whore's Madam!" "Vads, she's the equivalent of our Mother Superior, show proper respect. This is where you find sinners, and leading the Sinful to the Pasture of God is what the Sisters of St Hilda do. Now, just follow me, and keep your mouth shut."
The door was locked, so I gripped the doorknob hard and turned it. There was a cracking noise as the lock broke, and the door swung easily. We entered the room, which had the usual number of occupants; one whore, one john, and one bed. I went and sat on the bed, and told Vads to sit on the floor by the door, and stop any entrances or exits. The john started making WTF noises, so I put my hand round his scrawny neck and yanked him out of bed. "You're about to have your miserable soul brought back to the Shining Path, that's what, so shut up and get ready to pray", I informed him.
"What the F..." he started to say, but I already had my hand round his neck, and a slight squeeze calmed him down considerably. "Pray I said, john. That wasn't a prayer." I turned to the whore. "How about you, love? Would you like to lead us off in prayer?" "Um, I don't think I know any" she said. "How about a hymn, then?" She thought for a moment. "How about Amazing Grace?". I nodded, thinking about Sister Grace in the convent laundry, and her nickname. I relaxed my grip on john's neck a little, so that he could join in, it's a great hymn, and everyone knows it. And then afterwards, I said "And now a sermon." John shot out of my grip like a grape pip, and dived for the door, but Novice Evadne grabbed one of his ankles as he shot past her. He tried to run down the hall to escape, but Vads had her hand round his ankle like a manacle, and although most of him was moving forward, one of his legs wasn't. The result was that he descibed an arc of ninety degrees as his face smashed into the carpet, and Vads hauled him, slightly bloody-nosed, back into the room. "Sorry, Sister Diana, I seem to have damaged him a bit." "Not your fault, Vads, he shouldn't have bolted."
So then we had a couple more prayers, I gave him the standard sermon on the evil of attempting to avoid proper payment for prostitution, told him that the Wages of Sin are Death, shamed him by asking what his wife and kiddies could be doing with the money he was wasting on whoring, and had him blubbering into my shoulder within half an hour. "You've been an evil wicked man" "Yes, I've been an evil wicked man" "You should ask for forgiveness" "Forgive me, Sister, for I have sinned" "And a miserable sinner you are too" "I'm a sinful wicked man, please lead me to redemption" "Before redemption, there must be punishment" "Oh, punish me, punish me" So I took down his trousers, put him over my lap, and gave him a thorough spanking. Novice Evadne took a turn at this, and the whore turned out to be a pretty fair spanker too, and by the time we'd finished, you could have read the Bible by the glow on his backside. "Take it away, Vads", and Vads carried him out, singing Amazing Grace again. One more strayed lamb brought back into the fold. I turned to leave, and the whore spoke to me. "Excuse me", she said. "Yes?" "I'd like to be like you."
We talked a bit; she was fed up with the life she was leading. "Long hours, low pay, most of them don't even tip. And look here..." She showed me an impressive bruise on her shoulder; purple, blue and green. "Some of them get their jollies out of hurting people, it's a bitch of a life." So I told her about life in the convent; 18 hour days, eight hours working out in chapel each day, plus doing the chores, trying to redeem sinners, the whole nine yards. And she was still keen on the idea. "The way you handled him, I mean you didn't even use both hands!" Neither did Vads, actaully, and she's just a novice.
So, when we got back that evening, we were late for refectory and I had to beg in the kitchens, and then we had to miss Compline (but I told Vads that she had to do anyway) so that I could report back to Mother Mary Rose that things were humming along nicely, plus one more soul saved, plus the convent now owned our very own computer, plus I had fresh meat for the Noviciate. "Twenty eight mouths", she said. I'd have thought she'd be pleased. But the lateness of the hour meant I didn't get to play with my new computer, oops, I mean the convent's new computer.