Benno’s Meeting with the Head Priest
The cart stops at the entrance to the temple, and the coachman steps down . I can hear them saying something to the watchmen standing at the gates .
I stand up from my seat, getting ready to get out, but Benno, not saying a word, holds me back . I look blankly up at him, he slowly turns his head away, still staying silent . I guess that he’s trying to tell me to sit down and stay quiet, so I give him a small nod, sitting back down, a little heavily, in my seat .
Urgh, my heart’s pounding .
I have no idea about what’s happening now, and even less of one about what might be happening soon . I can’t stop shivering anxiously . I clench my fists tightly, looking around the inside of the carriage . Mark seems to be making use of the fact that the carriage has come to a stop to write something .
Mark, noticing that I’m looking at him, lifts his head to show me a calming smile . I try to smile back, but my face is a little too stiff, and it comes across as more of a grimace . Mark covers his mouth, trying not to laugh . I still don’t know if it’s okay for me to break this silence, so I scowl at him, puffing out my cheeks angrily . Benno, from next to me, pokes me in my puffed-up cheeks . It’s as if they’re ridiculing me for being the only person here who’s nervous about this whole situation .
After a little while, the carriage rocks slightly as the coachman climbs back on board . Mark quickly puts away his pen and ink, then hands Benno the paper he’d been writing on . Benno looks it over, then grins broadly . I lean over, trying to see what’s written on it, but in that moment the carriage starts moving again . When the clattering of the carriage’s wheels fills the cabin, Benno starts to speak .
“At this gate, visitors introduce themselves and request for their presence to be announced, then the gates are opened for them . When we get off, Mark will go first, then me, then you . You’re going to take my hand and step down slowly . Absolutely do not just jump off, and don’t lose your footing on the steps . ”
By “don’t jump off,” he must be referring to the time that Lutz and I rode in the guild master’s carriage . (To get down, we’d leapt off in unison, yelling “woo!” as we flew . ) I was already worried about being so tense that I’d miss the stairs, too . I look off sheepishly off to the side .
“Since they’ve gone and announced our presence, I’m betting that your attendants are going to be beyond that gate too . When we’re walking to the head priest’s office, I want the guy that he assigned to you in front, then me and you, and then Mark and your other attendants should follow behind us, carrying our gifts . ”
I’d honestly just planned on handing the head priest the money and saying “here’s my donation!”, but it looks like this has gotten exaggerated far beyond that . If I’d just brought the money by myself, I can’t even imagine what kind of rude blunders I’d make .
“So, the box with your donation in it is something that you had me carry . When we get to the head priest’s room, open it up and look inside to check its contents, and then thank me for my troubles . ”
“Huh? How? Like, ‘thank you’, or ‘I appreciate the effort’, or something like that?”
“Something more noble-like would be better, but, well, that’ll work too . ”
What would noble words of thanks sound like? “I appreciate what a laborious task this must have been . ” But that sounds way too self-important, though!!
I hum thoughtfully to myself while I dig through my memories . I can remember medieval legends and poetry collections, but not only would that sound way too theatrical, if I’m talking to someone who isn’t just quoting lines out of a book, being able to recite memorized lines isn’t going to cut it . If I were talking to a merchant, then I’d be able to pull out the various phrases I learned from books on business manners, but I feel like that’s not quite what a noble would sound like .
In the end, I dredge up my memories of what pampered rich girls sound like and try them out .
“Ummm… I am grateful from the bottom of my heart that you so willingly undertook my request, as difficult as it may have been… something like that?”
“And where did you learn how to talk like that?!”
Benno stares at me, his eyes wide in absolute shock . I can’t figure out if that was too overbearing, or if it was just right, or if it just failed altogether .
“So… no good, then?”
“…No, that’s perfect . Try to keep talking like that until we get back to the carriage . ”
I bite down on a cry of disbelief, my face contorted into a nervous grimace . I am currently, most likely, the furthest possible thing from the image of an elegant rich girl . I force myself to take a slow, deep breath, straightening my back .
“I understand,” I reply, as smoothly as I can .
Shortly thereafter, the carriage passes through the gates, and we come to a stop within the grounds of the temple . The door is opened for us by our coachman, and Mark steps out first . Next is Benno . Finally, I step forward to stand in the doorway .
The scene that I see when I look out the door is entirely unlike the temple I know . It seems like the entrance that carts stop at might be the temple’s true front entrance . This entrance appears to be for the exclusive use of the nobility and the very wealthy, with ornate sculptures and carvings made from a variety of materials placed amidst green gardens bursting with flowers . The mouth of the entryway itself is decorated with colorful tile in much the same way as the front wall of the hall of worship .
The entrance that I’ve been using up until now, the one that leads straight from the main road, seems to be the entrance used by the commoners who arrive on foot . Compared to this, it seems like it’s just the back door . There is a strict separation between the dull monochrome of that world and the vivid color of this one . The scene before my eyes is a harsh reminder that there are a lot of stark differences that I just don’t know about .
For a temple, a place that purports itself to be a house of the gods, to be so sharply different even just at its entrance is something that I couldn’t have even imagined . When the unexpected evidence of this clear disparity hits my eyes, my heart freezes .
“Maïne, your hand…”
Benno’s voice snaps me out of my trance, and I hold out my hand . I glance down at my feet, worried about falling, and in that moment he grabs my hand tightly and picks me up .
“Don’t look down,” he says in a quiet voice, his smile unwavering . A cold sweat runs down my spine, and I smile broadly back, nodding . One of the key points that he had explained to me was “even if you don’t have any confidence in yourself, don’t lower your head”, but it seems like that extends to a ban on looking down for any reason at all .
He gently sets me down, more courteously than I could ever imagine him doing under normal circumstances . Fran quickly approaches .
“Sister Maïne,” he says .
“Master Benno,” I say, “This is one of my attendants . Fran,” I continue, looking up at him with a slight tilt to my head, “might I perhaps be able to request a meeting with Father Ferdinand?”
A look of astonishment flashes briefly over Fran’s face, then he smoothly crosses his hands before his chest and bows slightly .
“Preparations are already underway,” he replies .
“Madam Maïne,” says Mark, “who might I be able to ask for assistance with bringing Master Benno’s gifts to the head priest?”
A tiny jolt of panic shoots through my heart, and I glance back at him over my shoulder . When I slowly look around the area, I see neither Gil nor Delia nearby . I can’t decide if I should be worried that I don’t have them to help carry things or relieved that they’re not here to make trouble for me . Either way, I have no idea what the correct answer to this particular problem is, so I decide to pass the burden onto Fran .
“Fran, might I ask you to find a few trustworthy individuals to assist me?”
“As you wish,” he replies .
Even though I’d just shoved a bunch of work onto him, he immediately nods and starts quickly carrying out my request . No look of dissatisfaction, no “but”s, just the smooth acknowledgement of an excellent attendant fulfilling his master’s request .
I tilt my head in blank confusion . Why is he behaving so differently all of a sudden? Literally the only thing that’s different between this morning and now is the fact that I’m talking differently…
And then it hits me . Fran finds it very important that I speak like a noble .
I’d been irritated that he seemed to only have eyes for the head priest, but at the same time, he resented the fact that I didn’t seem to be even the slightest bit noble . If I want him to feel good about the work that he’s doing, then what I’ve been doing isn’t good enough . Just like Lutz said, I need to put a ton of effort into learning how nobles speak and act .
Fran calls over several gray-robed priests and starts directing them to carry the gifts, splitting the work between them . After checking to ensure that nothing was left behind, he says, “please, this way,” and begins to lead the way . Unlike this morning, when a vague air of dissatisfaction had followed him around as we walked, he seems lively now, as if he’s very much in his element .
Benno gives me a look, silently urging me onwards, and I start following him . Just as we’d discussed, everyone falls into place as Benno had described . However, Fran is an adult, and his brisk pace is rather difficult to keep up with . As I frantically move my feet as quickly as they can go to keep up, Benno speaks up, unable to keep quiet about the situation .
“Aren’t you going a bit fast?” he says .
Fran looks over his shoulder . “I beg your pardon?” he says, blinking .
“Madam Maïne is your master, isn’t she? I’m well aware that you were only just assigned to her this morning, but if you don’t pay attention to how quickly you’re walking, she’s going to collapse . So, this might be a bit impertinent of me to ask, but would you maybe keep an eye on your speed?”
“…My sincere apologies . ”
Fran looks ashamed that Benno, a visitor, had been the one to point that out . Really, I as his master should have been the one to ask that . He immediately starts to apologize, but I realize that if I let him do so then I would be failing my obligations as a noble .
“Master Benno, I apologize for making you worry . Fran is an excellent attendant, assigned to me by the head priest himself . I have no doubt that he’ll adjust quickly . Your concern is appreciated, but unnecessary . ”
“Alright,” he replies . “How about, for today, Mark carries you, since he is already accustomed to you? It would be rather problematic if you lost consciousness today, as you have before . ”
Glancing up at Benno, it’s very easy to see what’s written on his face: “you’d better not pass out on me in the middle of the corridor after we’ve come this far” . Mark hands the cloth-wrapped bundle he’s been carrying to Fran, then, with a courteous apology, gently lifts me up in his arms .
Eeek! In a princess carry?!
I choke down a shout over having picked up in an entirely different way than I’m used to . Elegantly, elegantly, I repeat to myself, putting on the most elegant smile I can muster .
“Fran, if you will,” I say, gesturing down the corridor .
“Of course, Sister,” he replies .
When the head priest’s room comes into view, Mark lets me down, takes his bundle back from Fran, then steps back to rejoin the squadron of gift-bearers . Fran, despite the fact that the head priest’s room is literally right in front of us, constantly checks over his shoulder as we walk, making sure that he’s matching my walking speed . I smile and nod back at him, trying to silently convey that his speed is fine . A look of obvious relief crosses his face .
Unlike the temple master’s room, no priests stand guard outside the high priest’s room . When Fran reaches the unattended door, he retrieves a small bell from his sash, then rings it once . I’ve only ever seen doors like this opened after someone calls out to the gray-robed priest next to the door, who then opens the door for them, but this time, he opens the door himself after a single ring of the bell .
I start heading towards the door as it swings open, but Benno squeezes my shoulder to get me to stop . I glance at the other people around me and see that everyone is patiently standing by . It seems like we mustn’t start entering until the door is completely open . I step back to my previous position, keeping a perfectly straight face as if nothing at all had happened, and wait for the door to finish opening .
Beyond the door are two gray-robed priests . The head priest sits at his desk, with Arnaud standing beside him . Fran enters the room, stopping in front of the reception table . Seeing that, I stop as well . Benno and Mark stop behind me, and the squadron of gift-bearers spreads out along the wall .
Benno smoothly takes a single step forward, sinking down onto his left knee much like I did during my ceremony of vows, then gently bows his head .
“On this brilliant day, granted to us by the power of Leidenschaft, the god of Fire, the gods have guided me here . May they bless this auspicious meeting . …I believe this is the first time we have met, Father . I am Benno, the proprietor of the Gilberta Company . I am here today at the behest of Madam Maïne . I am most pleased to make your acquaintance . ”
Benno fluently recited the name of the god of fire as if it were the most obvious thing, but I still don’t actually remember them myself . I’m guessing that if I don’t learn the names of the gods that affect each season, I won’t be able to properly greet any nobility . When I think of what it’ll take just to be able to properly introduce myself, I can feel the blood start to drain from my face . I suddenly realize just how important the task of memorizing the scriptures that the head priest had given me really is . Learning how to deal with the nobility is going to be very difficult, it seems .
“I grant you my blessing,” replies the head priest, “from the depths of my heart . May the guidance of Leidenschaft, the god of fire, pour down upon the Gilberta Company . ”
He raises his left hand over his heart, stretching his right hand before him until his fingers come to rest just above Benno’s head . A gentle blue light shines forth from his palm, and Benno’s pale hair, ordinarily the color of milk tea, is dyed blue . The light disappears quickly, but it’s plain for anyone to see that Benno has received a blessing .
This unexpectedly solemn scene takes my breath away . That blue light must be mana, isn’t it? All I can do is force my mana out using my emotions, creating that coercion effect, but if I’m taught how to use it, could I give blessings like that? Or, rather, since I’m an apprentice priestess, am I going to be expected to be able to give blessings like that?
The list of things I need to keep track of in my head just keeps on growing . Lutz’s words prickle in the back of my mind: I have a lot I need to do before I can read my books .
“Sister Maïne,” says Fran . “Please, may I offer you a seat?”
His voice snaps me back to reality . I can see that he’s already moved next to the head priest’s reception table . Now that I think of it, given my social standing here, if I don’t move, I’m pretty sure that nobody else can .
I walk over to the chair that Fran guides me to . That, at least, poses no difficulty . However, since I’m basically only as large as a five-year-old, whenever I need to sit in a chair, I have to climb up onto it . Ordinarily, this poses no problem at all, but today, that just won’t do .
I didn’t think of this! How the hell do I sit gracefully on a chair that’s too tall for me? What would an elegant rich girl do in this situation! Do I just make an “oh, bother” pose and hope for the best?!
I stare at the chair, at a loss for what to do next . Then, not entirely sure whether or not this would actually convey what I want it to, I lift my right hand, resting my index finger on my face, then bring my left hand up to my right elbow as I would if I were crossing my arms . I look up at Fran, tilting my head slightly to the side .
I stand like that for about three full seconds .
“…Pardon me, Sister,” says Fran, picking me up and sitting me down in the chair .
Oho! It went through?!
I smile brilliantly at Fran as he pushes my chair in . A faint, almost wry smile tugs at the corners of his mouth .
By the time I look away from him, Benno’s already taken a seat next to me . Behind him stands Mark, and, across the table, behind the high priest stands Arnaud . Fran must be standing right behind me as well . The gift-bearing priests are still lined up against the wall .
“Madam,” says Benno, to me, “here is the item that you requested I bring for you . Is this to your satisfaction?”
He reaches towards me, holding out the ornately carved wooden jewelry box he has been carrying in both hands this entire time . He opens the box, showing me its contents . Inside are five small gold coins . This is the first time I’ve ever seen a gold coin . I spend a moment staring at their dazzling sparkle, then thank Benno for his effort, just as we practiced .
“Master Benno, I am grateful from the bottom of my heart that you so willingly undertook my request, as difficult as it may have been . ”
“It was no great trouble at all,” he replies .
He sets the box down on the table, leaving the lid open, and presents it to the head priest .
“Father,” he says, “this box contains Madam Maïne’s donation . Please accept this offering . ”
“…Hm, this is indeed all in order . Maïne… also, Benno . I appreciate what a laborious task this must have been . ”
The head priest looks into the box, verifying its contents, then closes it . He hands it to Arnaud, who carries it off somewhere, most likely to where they keep their coin for safekeeping .
“Additionally,” says Benno, “I would like to offer you these gifts of my own, as a token of my thankfulness to you . ”
With these words, the gray-robed priests lining the walls step forward, placing their bundles on the table . Mark moves to down his bundle as well . The head priest looks over them, frowning .
“I’d understand if this were a greeting, but thankfulness? I don’t think I’ve done anything you’d be thankful for . ”
“It is through your good graces that Maïne’s Workshop will be able to continue operating . It is this for which I am most deeply thankful . ”
Benno crosses his hands before his chest, casting his eyes downward . “Ah, I see,” murmurs the head priest . Benno then starts to introduce the head priest to the items he’s brought .
“This cloth is of the highest quality that my shop has to offer . This, here, is called rinsham . While I presently hold all of the rights to its production, this product was originally produced by Maïne’s Workshop . This, here, is a product of her workshop as well: a plant-based paper, which we are only just beginning to sell . ”
The thing that seems to have caught the head priest’s interest the most is the plant-based paper . He picks up a sheet, feeling its texture .
“I would like to dedicate these gifts to you, Father, as well as to the Reverend, the master of this temple, who it seems could not be here with us today . I would also like to dedicate these to Madam Maïne, through whose good graces has allowed this meeting to occur . ”
I can’t stop my eyes from widening in shock, but I at least manage to stop myself from saying anything out loud . The two of them, paying no attention as I force down my surprise, continue their conversation .
“These are excellent gifts . You have my gratitude . ”
“I am deeply delighted that they have pleased you, Father . ”
The head priest glances at the gray robed priests . “Put these gifts on the shelves, if you would . ”
At his word, they begin to put everything away . Mark helps to hand things to them as he wraps the paper back up in its cloth .
Ahh… it’s over .
My donation has been delivered, the gifts have been received, and so our business today has gone off without a hitch . The moment I let out a small sigh of relief, however, Benno’s hand moves nimbly under the table, lightly tapping against my leg .
I turn to look at him, tilting my head curiously . He looks back at me, copying my surprised expression . He smiles a fake smile, then makes a show of glancing down . Careful not to bow my head, I glance down as well, and see that there’s a small scrap of paper tucked between his fingers .
I quietly reach out to take the paper, suddenly hit with nostalgia . What schoolkid hasn’t passed notes like this during class? I, personally, exchanged a few notes like this with girls before, but I never got any notes from boys . Benno is more than a little too old to be called a boy, but this is the first time I’ve ever gotten a letter from someone of the opposite sex . I know it’s just Benno, but I can’t help but get a little bit excited as I unfold the paper .
When I casually glance under the table, taking care to keep it hidden, written there on the paper, in neat writing, is “stay sharp, idiot . ”
You got me excited over this?!
The head priest looks at me, perhaps having noticed that my elegant demeanor suddenly slipped . I frantically paste a smile on my face, but it might have been slightly too obvious, as his expression suddenly changes . I straighten myself, swallowing, as the head priest holds his hand out to the side, gently waving it . The gray robed priests, seeing this, all cross their hands over their chests, bowing gently, then file out of the room one by one .
“While we have this opportunity,” he says, “I have a few questions I’d like to ask of you, Benno . ”
The head priest’s face grows tight . He looks at Benno with sharp eyes that seem to brook no lies nor deceit . At the same time, the feeling that Benno is giving off suddenly grows much sharper than it did before .
It seems like this is the start of the real conversation . I sit up ramrod straight, clutching Benno’s reminder to “stay sharp, idiot” in my fist .