A Priestess’s Duties
“The Rite of Vows is now finished . ”
“So, which way’s the libr—”
“Hold on . We have more to discuss . ”
“…Alright . ”
At the head priest’s urging, I relocate from before the altar to where his work desk is . Fran brings a chair over for me, and I sit down .
“Thanks, Fran,” I say .
He looks momentarily startled . “…I require no gratitude,” he replies, frowning slightly .
Could even just thanking my attendants be a bad thing, too? The next time I see Freida, I think I’m going to ask her about what noble-like behavior would look like .
“Shall we begin?” asks the head priest .
“Yes, please,” I reply .
He looks over a set of wooden slips and pieces of parchment that he has arranged on his desk . They look like they might contain some sort of written reports . As he scans them, his eyes occasionally flick over to me . Then, as if he were a teacher lecturing a student, he begins to speak .
“As you are aware, the blue-robed priests here at the temple are entirely of noble blood . I would like you to consider that there may be nobody here who will think positively of the fact that you, a commoner, have been given blue robes . ”
“Alright . ”
I knew this already, but being told this directly to my face causes shivers to run down my spine . Back when I declared that I wanted to be an apprentice priestess, I thought I had only half a year left to live, so I’d figured that none of the conditions mattered as long as I could get to read the books in the library .
However, the temple has magical tools . Becoming a blue-robed apprentice priestess has allowed me to lengthen my lifespan, but now there is no strict limit on how long I will be associating with the temple . I can’t approach things here with the same sort of desperate mindset that I’d had before . I have a lot of things I need to carefully consider .
“As of now,” he continues, “we have few blue-robed priests here . As we need people who possess mana, the matter of your origins will be overlooked for now, but in a few years, the number of noblemen here will once again rise . I don’t know what will happen to you at that point . When I do have some idea, I will let you know in advance of it occurring . ”
“…Okay . ”
I bite my lip, clenching my fists in my lap . If I make any sort of blunder with respect to the nobility, then it won’t just affect me, but my family would be caught up in it too . All I want is information that I can use to make sure everything here goes smoothly .
“In particular, Reverend Bösewanz feels so strongly about this that he refused to participate in your Rite of Vows . As you are not even acquainted with any of the other blue-robed priests, it cannot be said that any of them hold you in any good regard . As such, the task of providing you with guidance falls upon me . ”
I possess mana and money, but no social standing whatsoever . Nobles, who are very used to their special privileges, could see my presence here as effectively trampling on their rights . I don’t think any of them would be happy about that . I know that . However, even though the head priest is emphasizing that no nobleman would have good feelings about me, the warning he’s giving me is extremely polite .
“Father, aren’t you uncomfortable about this? About, um, me…”
“I believe you are a person of great value, especially in light of our current situation . As the number of blue-robed priests and priestesses has declined, the official duties of the temple have all become concentrated on me . There is no way that I could refuse the freely-offered assistance of someone who is as good at paperwork as you, no?”
As he laughs heartily, I freeze for a moment . For him to be able to say that I’m good at paperwork, that means that the investigation he mentioned earlier is already complete, and a lot of information about me has already found its way to him . This is a world where the concept of personal information security doesn’t exist in the slightest . If a nobleman such as the head priest were to ask, I’m sure that anyone and everyone would fall over themselves to tell him everything he wanted to hear about . Just how much about me does he know? This is terrifying .
“I’ll do my very best,” I say, “but what are my duties here at the temple? If there’s anything I need to be doing, please tell me . ”
“Yes . Your duties are, for one, helping me with the paperwork . This is your most important task . I will have you spend every morning working here . Next are prayers and dedications . As a priestess in particular, it will be most troublesome for you if you cannot make yourself able to perform your prayers . ”
“I know what prayers are, but what are dedications?”
“Supplying the votive tools with your mana . Fran, the shield . ”
Fran nods slightly, then retrieves a shield . The shield is round, somewhere between fifty and sixty centimeters in diameter, and made of something that looks like gold . Just like something called a votive tool should be, it’s covered in intricate designs, with patterns in blue here and there .
In the center of the shield is a large, yellow gemstone, about the side of my hand, glimmering in such a way that it looks like there’s a flame gently burning inside of it . A border of similar, but smaller stones, about the size of marbles, line the edge of the shield . Only half of the stones are yellow, however . The rest of them are clear, like crystal .
“Please touch the central magic stone . Then, imagine sending the mana within you out towards it…”
“Okay . ”
It looks like these aren’t gemstones, but magic stones . My heart pounds excitedly as I reach my right hand out towards the extremely fantasy-setting-like shield . When my hand touches the gem, the entire shield lights up with a brilliant golden glow . At the same time, complex designs and symbols the like of which I’d never seen before form out of emerald light, lifting off of the shield until they’re about at the height of my wrist .
Aaah! It’s like a magic circle! This is amazing!!
As I succumb to my curiosity, staring at the gleaming symbols, I feel a strange sensation inside me, like there’s a vacuum cleaner sucking away at the fever that’s burning inside my body . It’s the same feeling that I felt back when I was about to die of the devouring and Freida used a magical tool to save me .
I reach deep inside me for the mana I’ve been keeping tightly bottled up inside me for so long, then, tentatively, loosen the seal . The burning fever of the devouring rushes out of my heart, and instantly starts streaming toward my hand, where it’s sucked away into the stone . As the pleasant feeling of having this unwanted fever sucked out of my heart washes over me, I’m suddenly hit with a thought .
…This isn’t going to break, is it?
I suddenly remember how the magic tool Freida lent me had broken, and get a little scared that it might happen again . I unconsciously pull back my hand, sealing the mana, which has decreased by a little bit, back inside my heart .
Releasing my mana took only a moment, but in even that amount of time, I can feel just how much of the burden it was putting on my body has decreased . My body feels so light, like a heavy stone that’s been weighing me down has suddenly lifted .
“Hmm,” murmurs the head priest, “seven small stones…”
When I hear that, I look over at the shield . I see that more of the stones decorating the edge of the shield are yellow now . It looks like they change color when they’re full of mana . That way, you can tell how much mana is left in the shield at a glance .
…Why do I feel like I’ve become a battery charger?
I hesitantly close the hand I’d used to channel my mana as variety of thoughts drift through my head . I guess the devouring fever really is mana, I think . And it was surprisingly easy to send my mana out as soon as there was a clear exit for it, too…
As I ponder, the head priest looks at me with a worried expression .
“Was that too much stress on your body?”
“Ummm, it actually felt sort of refreshing . I feel like my body’s gotten lighter . ”
“…Is that so? Then, you will be performing as many dedications as you can without putting any undue stress on your body . ”
“Understood,” I reply .
Charging votive tools is called dedication, is it? This seems like some fairly easy work . It looks like the hardest part of my duties as a priestess will be praying . Standing on one leg is already considerably difficult for me with my body as it is right now . On top of that, I’m not able to have my hands out to the side for balance . I’m going to need to stretch them up at an angle, which is even harder . There’s probably strict guidance on the proper angles I’ll need to be holding my arms at and for how long I’ll need to maintain the pose, too .
“Your final task is to read the scriptures and memorize their contents . ”
He says it offhandedly, in a small, quiet tone, but my ears pick up his words with perfect clarity . He said read and memorize, didn’t he? I don’t really have that much confidence in my memory, but if there’s reading involved then I’ll gladly take on the task .
“I’ll do it! I’ll go to the library right now!”
I stand up quickly, my chair clattering behind me, and I raise my clenched fist, trying to show him just how enthusiastic I am . He, however, isn’t looking at me . Instead, he’s picked up another piece of parchment and is looking it over .
“Before that, I’d like to talk about the matter of your donation . Please, be seated . ”
“…Alright . ”
Money is a very important topic, all the more so because of how much money I declared I’d be willing to donate . I’ve been particularly concerned about this, mostly about how I’d pay it, and what it would go to .
“I believe you said you would pay a sum of one large gold coin…”
As the head priest looks down at me, I think back to the conversations I’d had with Benno about this . He’d first told me that the merchant’s guild actually collects donations from its members to make offerings for all of the ceremonies performed throughout the year, so he’d never made an offering directly to the church himself . Then, he’d told me that since the size of my donation is so unnecessarily high, there’s a good chance that I’m going to catch the attention of someone without my best interests in mind . A payment schedule would be a better idea than a single donation . Being so incompetently wild with my monetary donations would only bring trouble on everyone around me .
“Ummm,” I say, “I did say I would pay it, and I can pay it, but could I perhaps pay it over time at the rate of one small gold coin per month?”
“I am not the one to specify donations, so it is not as if you cannot defer payment, but what is your reasoning?”
“An acquaintance told me that donating the entire sum at once might cause people to be dazzled by the large sum of money and spend it unnecessarily… I’ve been thinking that it would be best to ask someone who manages the temple’s finances how the money is allocated and what it is spent on, and then decide on how my donation should be paid . ”
I really can’t say it as plainly as the way Benno said it . But even though I’d prevaricated so much, it seems like the head priest has figured out what I meant . He slowly inhales, pondering my words .
“Fifty percent of our donations go to maintenance of the temple, and the remaining money is divided amongst the blue-robed priests . The money allocated to the priests is divided based on relative social standing . Speaking as the person who manages the temple’s finances, I think that it would be best for you to donated five small gold coins up front, with the remainder paid in monthly increments of one small gold coin . ”
“Why that amount?” I ask, tilting my head .
The head priest picks up a stack of bound parchment and holds it out for me . When I look over it, I’m startled to see that it’s part of a ledger . The head priest points at the top sheet, running down the list .
“In broad terms, our temple’s primary income comes from the offerings given to us by the lord of the land as well as the alms we collect at our ceremonies . Beyond that, the families of the blue-robed priests give money to the temple to support them . In other words, as the number of blue-robed priests has declined, so has our income . To put things in terms a merchant can understand, we are running at a deficit . Furthermore, the temple master has instructed me to wring as much money out of you as possible, so it would help me out if I could secure a large enough payment to curry favor with him . ”
I have a feeling he might be a little too forthcoming telling me about the state of affairs, but is it really okay for me to hear about how the temple’s running in the red?
“Ummm, Father Ferdinand, is it… really okay to be telling me this information?”
“In a few days, this is going to be your job, so I don’t see any problem with telling you about this now . ”
It looks like helping with the paperwork isn’t going to be just helping with calculations like I was doing with Otto . I’m going to be plunged straight into the middle of things .
“…I understand . How should I get the money to you? I usually use my guild card to transfer money, but you probably don’t have one, do you?”
“Can’t you simply bring the money here?”
That’s easy for him to say, but I’ve only ever done my dealings with the guild card . I’ve never actually held a gold coin in my own hands . The thought of a child like me carrying a huge sum of money all the way from the guild to the temple is far too terrifying . I’m such a timid person that even when I was collecting my commission on my winder handiwork, I had to have Mark carry it for me .
“It may be simple for you, since you’re used to large amounts of money, but to me that’s a terrifying amount of money to be carrying . ”
He sighs . “What do you think you have attendants for?”
I glance back over my shoulder at the attendants standing quietly behind me, then tilt my head . There’s no way that I could trust any of those failures of personnel selection with large amounts of money . If Fran’s still listening to the head priest’s orders, then there’s a chance he’ll listen to me, but Delia and Gil already hate me, so using one of them is a pretty scary thought . Given their attitudes to me so far, I don’t think I can depend on any one of my attendants .
“I don’t want to get anyone else involved . What if I give it to them, and then you say you never received it? I don’t care if I’m the one carrying it or someone else is, it’s still terrifying . ”
“…You have no trust in your attendants?” he says, looking as if he’s finding this concept strange .
I can’t help but think this whole thing is strange myself . Are nobles really able to meet someone for the first time, notice their terrible reactions to them, and then immediately trust them with five small gold coins? Or, do they maybe have some sort of magical contract set up so that their servants can never betray them? When I think back on our introduction, I can’t remember anything contract-like involved . Magic contracts involve bleeding, so I’m prettysure I would have noticed .
“Even if you call them my attendants, these are still people who I’ve just met, over whom I have no binding authority, right? I’d ordinarily never be able to suddenly trust someone like that well enough that I’d let them carry huge amounts of money for me . ”
On top of that, these people aren’t even showing a tiny sliver of friendliness, you know? Absolutely no way . If I had to choose who to trust between these attendants and the guild master, I’d definitely pick the guild master .
There are very few adults I’d trust with a large amount of money . I wonder if I could get Benno or Mark to bring it? The head priest is a nobleman, so if I frame this to Benno as an opportunity to make a connection, I don’t think he would refuse . I’d be really happy if he didn’t, at least .
“If I were to have an adult that I trust, who is used to handling large amounts of money, come with me to deliver it, might I be able to have that person come with me into the temple?”
“Who is this person?”
“The man who has effectively been my guardian in matters of commerce: the proprietor of the Gilberta Company, Mister Benno . ”
“…Hm, alright . ”
When Lutz comes to pick me up, I should stop by the shop to discuss this with Benno . While I’m there, I might as well try to ask him if he might know how I go about making use of attendants . Maybe there’s some similarities between how you make use of attendants and how you make use of an employee .
As I contemplate, the head priest closes the ledger and hands it to Arnaud .
“That’s all I had to say to you today . Do you have any questions, Maïne?”
“Yes! I’d really like to read the books in the library until Lutz comes to pick me up at the library, but can I really enter the library? I definitely want to do my job and memorize the scriptures!”
“By Lutz, you mean the boy who manages your physical condition? You should work to ensure that your attendants will be able to manages your condition as well . ”
I’d asked about whether or not I could enter the library, but he turned the conversation to managing my condition . I once again look back at my attendants . There’s Gil, who’s scratching his head, very obviously completely unmotivated . There’s Delia, currently staring vacantly out the window . And finally, there’s Fran, who’s looking right past me to watch the head priest . I can’t see any of them ever actually being able to manage my condition .
“My family has told me that Lutz should continue to accompany me until my attendants are capable of managing my health . I know that this is a large burden on him, so I too really want this to happen quickly . If we all try hard, I’m sure it’ll happen . …So, can I go to the library now?”
“Yes . Fran, show her the way . ”
“Of course, Father . ”
At the head priests command, Fran crosses his hands in front of his chest, a faint smile drifting across his face as he nods . The proud look on his face is completely different to the expression he’d been wearing when he was looking at me . It’s easy to see who Fran’s master truly is .
Well, you know, if he’s the gray-robed priest that the head priest specifically assigned to me, then he’s probably pretty safe . He seems to adore the head priest, so he probably won’t be doing anything particularly problematic .
I skip along merrily behind Fran as I silently judge him .
Whatever else is happening, I’m going to the library! This is work! This is my job!
As I bounce lightly along, Delia and Gil follow behind me . After we’re out of earshot of the head priest’s room, though, Gil clicks his tongue .
“Why would anyone ever want to go to the library,” he spits . “Are you some kind of idiot?”
Sparks fly through my head . You’re the idiot for not recognizing the magnificence of books!
I stop in place, spinning on my heel, then give him the hardest glare I can muster . Gil looks ready for battle, his face scrunched up so hard that his nose is wrinkling .
“What’s that look for?” he says . “You’re not even a noble . You’re just a commoner, aren’t you? You’re not even different from the rest of us, but you get a nice set of blue robes and you think you get to look all self-important . You’re not my master . I’m absolutely never going to do anything you tell me, and I’m going to do my absolute best to get on your nerves . ”
Just like he’s saying he doesn’t think of me as his master, I can’t possibly think of him as my attendant . As I am right now, I don’t possess the strength, willpower, or affection to teach this rude little brat and manners . So, I’ll ignore him .
“Ah, I see . Same here . ”
“…Huh? You see what?! You think I’m an idiot or something?!”
He starts to yell angrily, and I turn my back on him, continuing to walk . Moments later, I hear a young girl’s high voice from behind me .
“You really are an idiot . ”
She snorts disdainfully, every trace of her fake smile vanishing from her face . I’d thought that she was the type that liked to flatter the boys, so I’d been expecting that she’d never actually show her true colors as long as the other attendants were around, so seeing her change so quickly leaves me a little shocked .
It looks like I have to change my estimation of her . Maybe she’s not actually the kind of person who fawns all over men and pretends to be everyone’s friend . Is she maybe more of a carnivorous hunter-type, who only actually flirts with the target she’s set her eyes on?
As I watch, she flips her crimson hair, looking exactly as aloof and arrogant as any antagonist in a shoujo manga . The fact that she can pull that look off at eight years old is actually pretty scary .
“Argh, seriously! I’d finally managed to become an apprentice under Reverend Bösewanz, but then who in the world does he reassign me to but a girl who isn’t even receptive to my charm? And a stupid, penniless child at that? This is the worst . ”
It seems she was assigned to me by the temple master . There’s no way she’d be friendly . Even still, didn’t she just declare out loud that she’s a spy? Did the temple master tell her to do that too?
I tilt my head, puzzled by her sudden declaration . “Alright, then, I’ll find someone else to take your place . ”
Even though I’d delivered what I thought would be good news, she only sticks her nose even higher in the air as she starts to lose her temper .
“Seriously! You are absolutely an idiot . As if you could replace me . What do you think you’re saying!”
That’s my line . What does she think she’s saying?
“Reverend Bösewanz himself personally asked me to make trouble for you! If I’m replaced, then that’s just going to make him doubt my abilities!”
I can hear what she’s saying, but I am absolutely not following her logic . I don’t understand this at all . There is no way that I’d want to be anywhere near someone who so openly declares that she was personally asked by the temple master to harass me . I would like nothing more than to replace her immediately .
As I think that, though, I come to a sudden realization . Even if I can get rid of Delia, then the temple master is only going to have a different attendant assigned to me . I’d much rather have someone so conspicuously easy to read as Delia than someone who is actually good at skulking around . It would be a lot safer for me .
Delia interrupts my train of though by thrusting her finger in my face .
“Even if you’re wearing a blue robe, I’m not afraid of you! I’m absolutely going to be recognized by Reverend Bösewanz, and then I’m going to be his mistress!”
Did I mishear her? Or maybe is it popular among little girls to dream of making a contract and being someone’s mistress? I feel an echo of the same shock I felt when I heard Freida say the same thing . Then, I suddenly remember just how old the temple master is, and revulsion creeps over me . The temple master being a pervert who’s into little girls is completely and utterly beyond my expectations . Based on the gray-robed priestess I’d seen before, I thought he’d be more into the secretarial type, but I see my eyes have betrayed me .
“…Uh, is being a mistress something to be proud of?”
“Of course! Being a mistress is the highest position a girl could hope for . What, you don’t know that? Well, I guess if you’re not as cute as me then it’s pointless even if you wanted it . ”
“Huh? Is being a mistress really the best thing you could hope for?”
This doesn’t line up with any of my common sense at all . At least, when I was talking with Freida about the concept of mistresses, she seemed to be on the same page as me when it came to the nuances of the idea . At the very least, she wasn’t saying that it was something you’d puff out your chest and swagger around over like this .
As I stand there, trying and failing to immediately reconcile these two viewpoints, Gil gives me the most unpleasant grin, shrugging his shoulders mockingly .
“Isn’t it obvious? If you become a blue-robed priest’s mistress, then you get to boss around the other gray-robed priests, right? And if you get to be the temple master’s priestess, then none of the other gray-robed priests can ever bother you . That’s the best thing for a girl . …But yeah, are you sure your head’s on straight? Why don’t you know something so obvious?”
Even though he’s sneering at my ignorance, I don’t feel the slightest stirring of anger . Rather, I just didn’t know that a girl in the orphanage would think that the best thing they could hope for would be to become the mistress of someone influential . The idea of becoming a mistress being the best thing that could happen to a girl is just something that isn’t common knowledge among anyone I’ve come in contact with . These people, however, have lived their lives in the temple, and that’s common knowledge here . I’ve lived a different life than the other people here, so no matter what I say, I don’t think I’ll be able to make them able to understand .
“Gil, be silent!” yells Fran, looking at his wits’ end .
Gil, however, doesn’t look the slightest bit cowed . Instead, he laughs scoffingly at me .
“Oh, no, this is all her fault for not knowing it . It’s something everyone knows, right?”
“…Miss Maïne, please recall what Father Ferdinand told you earlier, about rebuking an attendant if their behavior is out of line . ”
“Ah, that’s right . Incidentally, is this the library?”
I don’t even care the slightest bit anymore . Rebuking Gil and Delia is something that I don’t have any interest in spending the time or energy on . Fran adores the head priest and most likely isn’t happy about being forced to work for me . Delia wants to be the temple master’s mistress and plans to get in my way as much as possible . Gil, the moment we met, announced that he had no intention of serving me, and thinks I’m an idiot for ignoring him .
Instead of spending my time figuring out how I could possibly handle attendants like these, I think I’d much, much rather read a book .
“I will inform the head priest of this,” says Fran .
“By all means,” I reply .
Fran sighs, then pushes a door open, heading inside . When I see the paradise waiting for me beyond the door, my heart starts to pound . I’m a little nervous that I might still be barred from entry, so I reach a trembling arm out and start slowly walking forward, feeling the air ahead of me for any invisible walls . Unlike before, nothing holds me back, and I’m able to enter the library .
The moment I step fully into the room, the atmosphere instantly changes . I tremble with emotion as I inhale deeply, savoring the unique scent of a dusty archive filled with old tomes . The smell is different from the archives that I know, perhaps because parchment is so prevalent, and perhaps because of how many wooden boards there are here . I wonder if there’s a difference in quality of the ink here? Despite the differences, the smell of ink and old paper makes me so nostalgic and so happy that my eyes grow hot .
There aren’t that many bookshelves in this room . Some of them have closed doors hiding their contents, and others are stuffed with wooden boards and loose papers . There’s separate shelves that seem to be set aside for scrolls, and some shelves are lined with rolls of cloth like you’d see at a fabric store . Each roll is wrapped around a book, and has the title of the book written on a label hanging off of it . Towards the back of the room are a set of cylindrical stands, each keeping a set of scrolls and bearing a label listing the title of the set it contains .
Equally-spaced windows allow shafts of sunlight to spill into the room, and a long reading table, like one might see at a university, is placed so that it perfectly catches the light . Atop a slanted bookrest sit several books, each chained to a spot above it . As I try to figure out which to read, Fran indicates one in particular .
“These are the scriptures,” he says .
At his urging, I reach for the tome of scriptures bound by chain, gently touching the surface of its leather binding . Then, I unfasten the small belt along its fore-edge that prevents it from opening . In the next moment, the fore-edge expands, the cover opening a little on its own . This is a perfectly natural thing for a book made of parchment, which absorbs moisture, to do . To me, however, it feels like the book itself wants to be read .
Ahh, how long has it been since I’ve last touched a book?
When I open the front cover, the chains jangle, the sound filling the interior fo the library . The pages are slightly yellowed with age, and my fingers tremble as I reach out to turn them . My eyes trace over the words, written in someone’s slightly quirky handwriting, and I begin to read .
“Hey, it’s noon . It’s time for lunch . ”
It has been so long since I’ve been able to immerse myself in such bliss, but a nuisance has appeared to take me out of it . If he’d just said something it wouldn’t have even reached my ears, but since he’s actually shaking my arm, I have no choice but to bring myself back to reality .
“Gil, no talking in the library . If you can’t be silent, then please leave . I’m in the middle of reading . ”
“Huh?!” he shouts, startled . “It’s lunch time!”
To me, though, there isn’t even any point comparing eating lunch to reading a book . If I have a book to read, I can go two days without even feeling the slightest bit hungry .
“Well, since it seems like I’m not your master, then there’s no point in you being here, is there? You can go eat whenever you want, so get out . ”
I’d tried be nice to him and give him his freedom, but he just stares wide-eyed at me, getting ready to say something else .
“Leave . Me . Alone . ”
Rather than let things continue until I lose my cool, I deliberately loosen the cap on my mana and let it diffuse throughout my body, then immediately release the power that I’d somehow held onto after the dedication . In the next instant, Fran grabs Gil and Delia by the scruff of their necks and frantically runs out of the room .
Ah, and now it’s quiet again .
I lock my mana back up in the depths of my heart, and I continue to flow through sentence after sentence . Not a single person came by to bother me, all the way until the fourth bell rang and Lutz came to pick me up .