My first days as a fire-imp were as exhausting as they were confusing. I reported six levels down the switchbacked ramps leading between the quays and the land level. The tallest lip of the port soared far above the waterline of the port.
The first night, I hovered in the double hide-curtained doorway at the threshold between the covered ramp and a contained series of infernos. This was the furnace room. Immediately above it were the glassworks. Another fire-imp, coming off shift, eyed my scrawny-seeming person dubiously.
“You the new imp?” she asked, shouting to be heard over the roar of flames as one furnace hatch after another was opened and fed with shovel after hod full of fuel. I nodded.
“Matro Deenah will tell you what she needs and where to get it from,” the imp tossed over her shoulder as she slipped past me.
I saw a number of brawny women, skins colored a howling red against the light of the searing flames. Sweat and ladles of water slicked their heads and arms. None looked more like a Deenah than any other. So I waited, half invisible, at the shadowy door.
The furnace maws cast dancing light through the dim cavern. There were no other lamps, nor windows nor open doorways to admit another source of light. Darkness wreathed the raging, crackling, flickering gloom.
Then came Deenah. She towered over me as Zebadyah had. She was built much on his lines. She had a great barrel chest, and bulging shoulders. Her forearms were larger than, and as muscled as, my acrobatics Matroi’s thighs. Her black and curling hair wisped damply from under a thick leather helm-- to keep the sparks from it as they flew upward with each tumultuous feeding of the flames.
The furnaces themselves were shaped like crouching lions (so I learned, having never seen a lion at Migdala). Their roaring mouths were the furnace hatches. The mythic fierceness and insatiability of real lions spoke to our work feeding the very real flames of Tzor’s many crafting industries.
The temple workshops produced their goods in shifts of laborers. The most skilled selected their own preferred support colleges, and the hours they best liked for their creative acts. So the temple kept Her furnaces fed round the clock, and found there was less fuel required to run them continuously than in allowing them to cycle down and back up on a diurnal cycle.
I coveted a position as a fire imp on the Galactaea watch. Even novices who chose the night shift had their own dark rooms to sleep in. This alone would have been enough to convince me of the desirability of the least popular schedule at the temple.
Marta could take her repose while I hauled anthracite up the ramp from the under caverns at the back of the quays. I would be safe in my sleep if she were busy elsewhere when I took my scheduled rest. Novitiates of the Galactaea colleges slept in their own wing. It lay in deep parts of the Temple demesne, where air flowed freely but no windows marred the velvet darkness, even in daylight when the Moths of the Mother took their rest.
The Matroi stored anthracite near the water because salt and damp did not corrode the sharp black fire rocks. The barrow wanted some pushing when full, but a narrow track of hammered bronze for the barrow’s one wheel had been laid to smooth the upward passage of the uncanny, light-weight rock we burned in our hottest furnaces.
Great ricks of wood, under cedar-shingled roofs cured in the sun and breezes above Port Sidon’s sheltering gloom. The Hecatoi set the ricks to act as windbreaks all along the edges of the port’s sheared edges, as well as the near cliffs stretching west and north.
I loved the scent of the curing wood. There sat shaggy-barked, pungent cedar from only up the coast.Over there the astringent oak giants lay sorted by their home forests: Thessaloniki, Albion, Armorica, Helvetia. We stored fragrant pines which might have made an armada’s worth of masts. I climbed the stacks of tangy birch from dark, sweeping forests of the farthest north, and dense, must-rich beeches from Allobroges. Some of these woods became ships. Some became furniture or floors, or firewood, or finely lathed sheets one might write on. Some the crafters used for veneering, exploiting rich colors or dense textures.
The firewood ricks were nearest the ramp’s mouth switchbacking from the lip of the land all the way to my anthracite cavern’s leather-hung opening. These coarse woods were my whole concern, but I took breaks to breathe among all the fallen waiting. I tried to know their homes from their scents and textures. I promised them I would tell their native forests hello from them if I ever journeyed through those lands.
Silly, to talk to a tree no longer living, I know. But we honor them when they are alive, and keep them in sacred groves like the cattle of the Sun or the deer of the Moon. Or even the Earth Mother’s sows.
I honored them as I found them. I told them ahead, from what I knew of the sorting, where they might be used to further support and embellish the glory of Our Lady Rolling. And I told myself stories of the travels of the fallen trees down rivers and mountains, across lakes and deserts, to reach our lodges where they would find their next shape or their final end as ash. Though that was often not a final end in our temple.
My Aunt Mimi taught me to extract further virtues from even ash. We turned those ashes to cleansing and clearing functions. The alchemy and magic of soap from ash, and even some of the best fixatives for our Murex dyes, was every bit as smelly and corrosive to smooth skin as I could wish.
I spent my winter seasons dividing my time between the colleges of movement and the cellarers’ breweries. Soap and beer, candles and incenses were made there from the scrapings, leavings and discards of other Temple industries.
Even the fabled drifts of profligate rose petals from the great celebrations and processions through the avenues and groves of the New City were swept up and repurposed. We extracted their rich scents for sachets, soaps and cosmetics, unguents, candles and incenses, attars and wood conditioners. The Viragoi taught thrift as the Matroi nurtured confidence and the Hecatoi promoted wisdom.