The Rite of Vows and The Attendants
Starting today, I’m going to be an apprentice priestess .
They told me that it would take a few days to prepare a set of blue robes for me, so my start date is nearly a month later than Lutz’s, even though we got baptized on the same day . I couldn’t help but be impatient to go, so it was only inevitable that I felt that the days until I could go to the temple felt very long .
Although, even though I say that they felt long, I didn’t actually have all that much free time to spend . I went with Tuuli to Corinna’s house a few times to teach her how to make hairpins, and there was the pound cake tasting party too . Benno got riled up by Ilse during that party and swept me up in his rampage, so I went on a field trip to a bread workshop and even got to participate in the preliminary investigations into the workers that we wanted to hire away . Of course, I wound up overexerting myself, so the last few days I wound up stuck in bed with a fever again .
I was kept busy with so many different things, but to me all that time was just keeping me from the library room, so to me it felt like forever, every day feeling like a thousand years . However, today that long wait has come to an end .
I finally, finally get to read book! And they’re those chained-up books, too, you know? Aaah, just thinking about it is getting me really excited!
“Maïne, Lutz is here for you . ”
As I twirl merrily around the room, Tuuli walks in, stops, looks at me in amazement, then shrugs .
“Thanks, Tuuli . I’m heading off!”
“Maïne, be careful not to get too excited!”
As if! I yell in my heart, leaping out the door .
Since the temple is in the north part of town, I’m wearing the nicest set of clothing that I own: my apprentice robes from the Gilberta Company . This will work for me until I get the blue robes that’ll be my priestly uniform .
“Hm hm hmmm, hm hmm~…”
I skip down the street, humming merrily . Lutz grabs my arm to stop me, scowling at me .
“Maïne, you’re acting a little too happy . Your fever’s gonna come back before you even get to the temple . ”
“Urgh… that wouldn’t be good . ”
I force my feet to stop skipping on their own, cursing my body for being so frail that I can’t even skip happily down a street . I squash down every instinct I have to speed up, even just a little bit . Taking Lutz’s hand, I walk, slowly, towards the temple .
“Maïne, are you really going to be okay today?”
“All I’m doing today is getting my robes and meeting the attendants they’re assigning me today, so it’ll be fine, trust me . ”
It turns out that my work days largely wound up overlapping with Lutz’s . Both my family and Benno decided that it would be best for Lutz to stick with me like he’s always done, at least until the attendants that’ll be with me at the temple know how to keep a handle on my physical condition .
I think it might be impossible for someone to be able to judge my condition as well as Lutz can, though, no matter how much time passes…
I wonder if maybe they want Lutz to stick with me forever? It started with my family, but even Benno, Mark, and Lutz are all extremely wary of the nobles at the temple . If I’m always depending on Lutz, though, then I’m still just going to be weighing him down, which would make me giving up on being a merchant’s apprentice basically pointless . When I tried explaining my objections to Benno, he just snorted, which prompted Mark to give me a vague sort of laugh and, with a troubled look on his face, explain a few things to me .
It looks like Lutz is getting a lot of coaching directly from Mark so that he can help out with opening the new Italian restaurant and establishing paper-making workshops in other towns too . Since he’s the primary point of contact with me, the original inventor of these ideas, it’s a very different curriculum compared to what the other apprentices get .
Since Lutz is going to be involved in these new businesses from the start, said Mark, he needs to very quickly put the things he learns into practice, so everything he needs to know for work is getting drilled into him very quickly . When I heard this, I thoughtlessly objected, insisting that that’s not new-hire training at all, but it turns out the Lutz himself is very enthusiastic about the whole thing, because it means that he gets to go visit other towns far earlier than he’d been anticipating .
If it makes him happy, then that’s all right . Good luck, Lutz!
We arrive at the temple to a lone gray-robed priest stands by the gate, waiting for us . When the relatively well-built man sees me approach, he immediately bows to me, crossing both of his hands over his chest .
“Good morning, Miss Maïne . I am here to guide you to the head priest . ”
“Miss Maïne!? Pff, ahahaha! Seriously?”
The polite way that the gray-robed priest had addressed me caused Lutz to burst into laughter . He glances between me and the priest, cackling . I notice the priest’s eyebrows twitch in a brief look of discomfort, so I frantically start pushing Lutz, who is clutching his sides, back in the direction of Benno’s shop .
“Don’t laugh, Lutz!”
“Ahhh, sorry, sorry . I’ll be back by fourth bell to pick you up, so wait here for me, okay?”
“Okay! I’ll be here . ”
I wave goodbye, then after just a little bit of seeing him off, I turn around to face the gray-robed priest .
“I’m very sorry if my friend caused you any discomfort . ”
He casts his eyes downward . “…There is no need for you to apologize to me, ma’am . Leaving that aside, Father Ferdinand is waiting for you . ”
As I stand there, shocked at how he turned down my apology, he turns his back on me and starts walking into the temple . The clicking of his wooden shoes on the smooth white stone resounds through the temple . I hurry after him, making no other sound than that of my own footsteps as a heavy feeling of restraint settles over me .
We turn a corner in the hallway, and I start hearing noises other than just our footsteps . I glance up, looking for the source of the noise, and see a handful of gray-robed priestesses sweeping the hallways . I’d seen a few gray-robed priestesses during the baptismal ceremony, but these women don’t seem to be as clean as the ones I’d seen back then . It’s not just because they’re in the middle of sweeping or that their robes have gotten a little bit dirty . Maybe it’s a reflection on how frequently they bathe, or how much effort they put into their personal appearance, but when compared to the priest I’m walking behind, they have an entirely different atmosphere about them .
As each priestess and apprentice looks up, one by one, and notices the priest’s approach, they stop sweeping and line up against the sides of the corridor, looking demurely downward .
Are they maybe showing deference here?
Since I’m so small, I’m effectively hidden by the gray-robed priest as we walk . Judging by how a few of the priestesses looked shocked to see me behind him, I’m pretty sure their behavior wasn’t directed at me . The sudden realization that there’s a strict hierarchy amongst even the orphans that make up the gray-robed priesthood leaves me completely filled with unease at how absolutely different the world I’ve just stepped into is compared to what I’m used to .
Until now, my daily life hasn’t really been affected by any nobility . I’ve basically spent my entire life interacting with people who are like me . Even when I’ve met with wealthy merchants, the quality of the goods that I brought with me meant that I still got treated more-or-less as an equal .
Am I really going to be okay here? I don’t understand anything about hierarchical societies . I’m going to make some seriously massive blunder, aren’t I?
As we pass through the richly-appointed, empty hallways, our footsteps are the only thing that breaks the deafening silence . I feel like the world that I’ve stepped into is something that, even with everything I learned as Urano, is far beyond my wildest imaginings .
“Father Ferdinand, Miss Maïne has arrived . ”
Hearing myself referred to as “Miss Maïne” sounds entirely unfamiliar to me and I don’t like it at all . I’m a child, and I’m certainly not important, but this gray-robed priest is a fully-grown adult, and him addressing me with a respectful honorific makes me very uncomfortable . It nettles me .
However, in this temple, when I’m given my blue robes, I’ll be treated the same as a noble, so it’s not like I’m going to be able to constantly say “please don’t call me ‘Miss’” . I have no choice but to get used to being called that .
“Pardon my intrusion,” I say out of instinct, ducking my head as I enter the head priest’s room . 1
When I look up, I see that a simple altar has been set up in the middle of the room . I can tell at a glance that this is a simplified version of the massive, many-tiered altar in the ceremonial room that I was in for my baptismal ceremony .
The topmost level of the three-tiered stand contains two dolls, one wearing a black cloak and one wearing a golden cap, just like it did during the baptismal ceremony . On the middle level are five dolls, bearing in turn a staff, a bow, a chalice, a shield, and a sword . The bottom-most level contains flowers, fruits, an incense burner, and a bell, but the closest thing to the edge is a neatly-folded set of blue robes . A blue carpet has been spread out before the altar, which, no matter how much I try to avoid it, brings to mind memories of the prayers from the baptismal ceremony .
I’m fairly sure that there wasn’t an altar like this set up the last time I visited the head priest’s room . As I stand there in the entrance, searching my memories, the head priest stands up from his work desk, putting aside what he was doing, and walks before the altar .
“This way, Maïne . ”
“Yes, of course,” I reply, hustling a bit to where the priest is standing .
He looks down at me with his orange eyes that almost look like they’re golden . He sighs momentarily, then looks over to the altar .
“We’re here because you magically coerced the reverend,” he says . “You frighten him, so he very much dislikes you . ”
“That’s… well, understandable . ”
The temple master’s haughty attitude and comments had cut me deeply . Regrettably, my emotions caused my mana to explode out of its prison, mixing with my anger and annoyance to rush out towards him . However, I can understand why he, as the result of having my out-of-control mana forced upon him, would hate me, and even maybe carry a grudge .
Even under normal circumstances, as the child of poor people, he’d scorn me anyway…
“Under ordinary circumstances, you would go to the temple master’s room to pledge yourself to the gods and the temple and then be given your robes, but it would seem Reverend Bösewanz wishes for you not to enter his room, so I rather urgently had to build an altar here . ”
“…I’m sorry for all the trouble,” I reply .
It seems that he hates me very much . For the highest authority in the temple to hate me so irrecoverably from the moment I joined… this is an extremely awful situation to be in, isn’t it?
As I worry about how all the obstacles I might suddenly face in my life at the temple, the head priest slowly shakes his head .
“I would like to avoid adding fuel to this flame, so for now I think it’s best for you not to meet him . ”
“Of course,” I reply .
Since the head priest knows much more about the temple master’s temperament than I do, if he’s saying that, then I really should avoid contact with the temple master .
“Now then, let us begin the ceremony of vows . ”
“Thank you very much . ”
The head priest picks up the incense burner, grasping it by its chain, and begins to slowly swing it like a pendulum . As he does so, the smoke of the incense within starts to dance, filling the room with a calming scent that’s not unlike frankincense .
Then, in a low, careful voice, he begins to explain the meanings behind each of the ritual objects arrayed on the altar . On the highest step, the black cloak represents the night sky, and is thus the symbol of the god of darkness . The golden cap represents the sun, and is the symbol of the goddess of day . These two married gods rule over all the sky, making them the highest-ranked gods, which is why they are placed on the highest step .
On the middle step, the staff is the symbol of the goddess of water who washes away the snow and ice, the spear is the symbol of the god of fire who urges life to grow long and tall, the shield is the symbol of the goddess of wind who pushes back the chill of winter, the chalice is the symbol of the goddess of earth who accepts everything she receives, and the sword is the symbol of the god of life who pierces his way into the earth .
On the lowest level are the offerings to the gods . The head priest tells me that we offer plants to symbolize breath, fruit to celebrate the harvest, incense to show peace, and cloth to express piety .
“The holy color of spring is green . It is the color of the life that passes through the harsh winter to sprout anew . The holy color of summer is blue . It is the color of the sky that life reaches for as it grows ever bigger and taller . The holy color of autumn is yellow . It is the color that wheat becomes when it is ripened, and each stalk bends under its own weight . The holy color of winter is red . It is the color of the hearth that is lit with the hopes that it will soften the cold . ”
It seems like the colors revered at the temple change as the seasons do . He tells me that the cloth adorning altars, the carpets spread before them, and the decorations that the blue-robed priests wear over their robes follow the colors of the season .
“Now, for the speaking of the vows . ”
He kneels on the carpet before the altar, resting on his left leg . Then, he crosses his hands before his chest, bowing his head . I take my place beside him in the same pose, and he, after quickly ensuring everything is in its place, opens his mouth to speak .
“Repeat after me,” he says .
“Alright,” I respond .
I stare the head priest’s face, carefully watching his mouth to make absolutely sure that I don’t make any mistakes . He speaks slowly, his thin lips moving in a way to make his words easy to understand, as we move through each phrase of the vows .
“The highest of all gods, who rule over all in the high, lofty skies, the gods of darkness and light . ”
“The five gods who rule over all in the wide, vast earth:”
“The goddess of water, Flütrenne . ”
“The god of fire, Laidenschaft . ”
“The goddess of wind, Shutselia . ”
“The goddess of earth, Gedullich . ”
“The god of life, Ehvilibe . ”
“The brilliant divine power of the highest of all gods, which shines from the high, lofty skies to spread across the wide, vast earth . ”
“The divine power of the five gods, which bestow life upon all that exists across the wide, vast earth . ”
“To return the blessing of this precious divine power,”
“We reform our hearts, prepare our hearts, steel our hearts, worship and believe in the gods, who are not confined by the years . ”
“To all the gods of nature,”
“I swear to give my earnest prayers, gratitude, and dedication . ”
I look up at the head priest when he finishes his recitation, and he nods at me as if to say I did well enough . He stands, looking over at the gray robed priests standing along the wall . The priest closest to the altar soundlessly walks forward, picking up the set of folded blue robes at the front of the altar and bringing them to the head priest .
“Blue is the holy color of the god of fire who helps life grow to its fullest, and the color of the high, lofty skies over which the highest of all gods rules . We give these robes to those priests and priestesses who swear to give faith to those highest of gods and forever strive to grow . ”
An apprentice priestess that had been waiting along the wall steps forward to dress me in the been robes that have been given to me . The robes are very simple: they go over my head, then are tied at the waist with a sash . It seems like I’m free to pick what I want to wear under the robes to match the season, and during ceremonies I’ll wear additional ornaments in colors that match particular gods .
“Maïne, you are now a disciple of the gods, piously led by their divine guidance . We of the temple welcome you . ”
The head priest bends forward slightly, his hands crossed before his chest . I cross my hands in front of my chest as well, mimicking him .
“Thank you very much for the warm welcome, from the bottom of my heart,” I say .
“Now, give your prayers . ”
I actually don’t understand what I’m so suddenly being instructed to do . I tilt my head in confusion, my hands still crossed in front of my chest . The head priest frowns slightly, as if surprised by my inability to guess what he meant .
“You were taught this during your baptismal ceremony, were you not? Lift up your prayers to the gods . ”
Ah, that? The Gl█co pose? That’s right . Now that I’m joining the temple, that’s going to be an everyday thing, isn’t it . …Will you be alright, my sides?
The imagery of the baptismal ceremony from which I was forced to retreat due to total abdominal collapse flashes through my head . I shake my head to chase the memory away, tightly bracing my stomach to stop myself from laughing . I can keenly feel the sharp gaze of the head priest on me, as if he wants to ask me if I’ve seriously managed to forget it already, so I lift up my praises to the gods .
“W… we pray to the gods! …Ngh?!”
I’m finding it unexpectedly difficult to hold myself straight upright in the Gli██ pose . A good sense of balance and enough strength to hold my entire weight on a single leg is an absolute requirement . I can’t maintain the kind of perfect, beautiful Gl█co pose that I saw all of the priests do during my baptismal ceremony, and I wind up wobbling unsteadily .
“Maïne! That kind of prayer won’t do at all . You will one day be required to participate in prayer ceremonies for the general public . What would a priestess who could not pray do then? Before such a ceremony, you must make yourself able to give proper prayers . ”
“Urgh… I will try my very, absolute best . ”
The head priest sighs, shaking his head, before turning to look at the gray-robed priests lined up along the wall .
“Let us introduce you to the gray-robed priests and apprentices who will be your attendants . Arnaud?”
Arnaud, a gray-robed priest, indicates three people in gray robes standing in the corner of the room, who then step forward . One of them is an adult man, and the other two are a boy and a girl, about the same age .
It looks like the priest who had brought me to this room is going to be my attendant . He’s built relatively solidly, and is about as tall as my father . He has light purple hair and dark brown eyes, and I get the impression that he’s a man of few words . His facial expression is very stiff and silent, like it was when he was bringing me here . It might be because of how tightly his lips are pressed together, but he looks like he might be a little difficult to get acquainted with .
“My name is Fran . I’m seventeen years old . I look forward to serving you . ”
“The pleasure’s all mine,” I reply . “I look forward to working with you as well . ”
I only meant to politely return his greeting, but the head priest immediately rebukes me .
“Maïne . You are someone who has been granted blue robes . Do not debase yourself to the gray-robed clergy . ”
“S… sorry . I’ll be careful . ”
I don’t get hierarchical societies . I don’t know what’s right or wrong to do . I can’t make any guesses based on anything I’ve learned so far . It’s just like when I first became Maïne and I had to learn all of this world’s common knowledge from scratch .
Even as I start to succumb to my anxiety, another, even more anxiety-provoking attendant steps forward . I’m not sure if it’s because of nutrition or whatever, but even though he’s about as tall as Lutz is, he’s got a bad look in his eyes and he’s rail-thin . He has pale golden hair, and his eyes appear black at first glance but after a closer look turn out to be a deep purple . My first impression of him is that he’s a clever, awful little brat .
Urgh, I hate this type of kid .
In my Urano days, I stayed in my room reading a lot, and in my current feeble state I wind up frequently shut inside with a fever, so I’m basically a purebred shut-in . Rude… no, naughty, energetic, sharp-tongued boys are exactly the kind of person I have no desire to get close to at all .
I look at him, resigning myself to the fact that I’m going to have to get on good terms with him . He gives me an appraising look in return, looking me over from head to toe with a pretty rude look on his face .
“I’m Gil,” he says . “I’m ten . Are you seriously my master? Wow, this sucks . You’re tiny . ”
Huh? Is it okay for an attendant to act like this?
I’m shocked by how he looks like he’s just straight-up scoffing at everyone around him . My mouth flaps wordlessly, and again, the head priest gives a rebuke . Not to Gil, though, but to me .
“Maïne, Gil is your attendant . If he displays a poor attitude, it is your job to warn him to not do it again . ”
“Uh? My job?”
“If you don’t do it, who will?”
He’s talking to me like it’s the most obvious thing in the world, but, how do I actually tell him off? Isn’t he the kind of person who would just ignore anything you tell him?
“Umm, could you try to speak a little more nicely?”
“Hah! Are you an idiot?!”
…Is it okay for me to ask for someone else?
The head priest is shaking his head, like he wants to say how my words had no effect at all, but I’m pretty sure this is a fairly obvious mistake in his personnel selection . The thought flashes across my mind that this might be deliberate harassment, and I take a step back .
This is, without a doubt, harassment . There’s no way anyone could think that Gil is suitable to be someone’s attendant . This is clearly the result of someone deciding to give the most troublesome person to me, the commoner . Now that I understand this, I realize that trying to deal with him politely is utter folly . I should treat him like I’d treat the rambunctious class clown: ignoring him .
I hold up my fist, shutting him up, then I look over to where the last attendant, a young girl, is standing . She has crimson hair and light blue eyes . She’s wearing a fiercely determine expression, but she has a beautiful face . Not a cute face, but a pretty one . I get the impression that she’s the kind of girl who knows just what she looks like and uses that to flatter all the boys . Since we’re both girls, I intuitively sniff that out about her .
“My name’s Delia . I’m eight! I hope we can get along . ”
Despite the fact that she’s saying that she hopes we can get along, her smile isn’t really reaching her eyes . She’s got the kind of air around her that makes me thing that we won’t be able to become friends . It looks like she’s ready to go on the offensive . Even still, it seems like the seemingly-smiling Delia is not a particularly objectionable pick . He has no rebuke this time .
None of these attendants has even the faintest glimmer of amicability about them . I don’t think I have any hope of being able to deal with these people . I feel like just having them around me would be exhausting .
“Umm, Father Ferdinand . I, um, I’ve never had attendants before, so I don’t really need—”
“That won’t do . It is an obligation of a blue-robed priest to have attendants . The temple master and I have personally selected these three for you . You are a blue-robed priest . Thus, you are their master, and must conduct yourself accordingly . ”
“…I see . Alright . ”
I can’t even say I don’t want them? Plus, I don’t even get to pick?
It looks like, even starting from my very first day, just when I’ve taken my vows, I’m faced with frustration .
Translator’s notes for this chapter:
1 . It’s customary in Japan to announce your presence when you enter someone’s room by apologizing for intruding upon their space to bother them .