The Reason I Collapsed
Benno strides quickly through the hallway, carrying me in his arms . The princess carry he’s holding me in leaves my head to dangle loosely, and every step he takes makes my head jerk violently . I feel like at this rate my brain’s going to wind up scrambled . I really wish he’d walk with a little less bounce .
As I think that, I hear from behind me the footsteps of someone frantically chasing us down .
“Master Benno, please wait!”
That’s Fran’s voice . The next time my head flops back, most of his torso and the bottom of his chin enters my field of view . Walking half a step behind Benno, he calls out again .
“What do you want? In case you can’t tell, I’m in a hurry . ”
Not only does Benno seem to have no intention of stopping, there isn’t the faintest shred of politeness in his voice as he snaps back in his usual tone . That bluntness makes Fran flinch for a moment, then he takes a deep breath, steeling his resolve .
“Please, let me carry Sister Maïne . ”
“Nope . In a hurry . ”
“I am her attendant . I cannot let a visitor to our temple such as yourself bear my burden . ”
Hearing Fran refuse to back down against Benno leaves my heart fluttering in suspense, but Benno abruptly stops walking .
“She can’t move, she’s tiny, and she’s heavy . Absolutely do not drop her . ”
“I am fully aware . ”
Benno kneels down, gently handing me over to Fran . Fran takes care to make sure my head rests securely against his shoulder, then stands back up . Now that he’s properly supporting my head, it’s no longer being jerked around .
“Fran,” I say, “you’re really good at carrying people . ”
“I must ask that you refrain from speaking unnecessarily,” he replies, his tone a little sharp with anger .
“I can’t move my body, but my head is clear, so it’s not a strain at all . ”
“…You are, however, not paying any attention to your manner of speech . ”
His words are tinged with worry . I manage a small smile . I’m a little embarrassed about how much he’s worrying for me, but at the same time, I’m a little happy, too .
“Umm, so, when Delia and Gil are around, I won’t have the chance to talk to you alone . Can I ask you something since it’s just the two of us?”
Because there might be other priests in the hallways, I keep my voice low so only he can hear it . Fran nods slightly, keeping his eyes fixed on the path forward .
“By all means . ”
“Um, I still don’t know anything about how to be a noble at all, and I think that I’ve really been embarrassing you, but I’m going to try my hardest to learn as fast as I can, and I really want your help . I want to learn how to be useful to Father Ferdinand, and I think you want to be useful to him too, so could we work together on this?”
From the way his arm tightens and his Adam’s apple moves up and down, I can tell that he just gulped in surprise .
“That is my duty, after all . …I must beg your forgiveness for earlier . My guess as to Father Ferdinand’s intentions was incorrect, and I let my personal dissatisfaction influence my behavior to you . ”
“Huh? What do you mean, your ‘guess’? Did he not explain anything to you?”
I’m dumbfounded . If he was assigned to me with no explanation at all, of course he’d be dissatisfied . He was an attendant in direct service of the head priest, and to be suddenly assigned to a mere apprentice priestess―and not even a noble, but a commoner, at that―would of course look like a demotion .
“Father Ferdinand can never be sure of whose ears his words might reach, so he tends to speak very little as to avoid having his own words used against him . Even though he had cleared the room during our meeting, I was very surprised to hear him talk so much . ”
“Wait, no, no, it’s a big problem if your subordinates don’t know what you actually want . You didn’t know why you were assigned to me, and that hurt, right?”
I honestly have no idea what the head priest’s situation might be that he has to act like that, but if he keeps making the people most loyal to him sad like this, then he’s not going to wind up with many allies at all .
“That is certainly correct . My assignment to you felt to me as if I was as poor an attendant as Delia or Gil and that Father Ferdinand had no need for me . ”
“That’s not true! I don’t believe for a second that he was trying to get rid of you by assigning you to me . ”
As I whisper to him, I’m hoping to reinforce his loyalty to the head priest, but at the same time, I’m secretly hoping that this’ll get him to treat me a little nicer too .
“Is that so, I wonder?”
He phrased it as a question, but from the tone of his voice he’s fairly solidly rejecting the idea .
“I think he thinks that he’s just lending you to me . After all, even though I’m supposed to be your new master, and even though Mister Benno, a guest, was right in front of him, he gave you a direct order, didn’t he? He told you to become able to manage my condition by fall . If I were a regular noble, wouldn’t that be extremely rude?”
“…Hm, it would indeed be as rude you say . ”
A hint of a wry smile tugs at his lips . Just about then, the doors of the temple’s entrance are opened for us . It looks like our carriage had literally just arrived moments before us . The coachman seems astonished at how quickly we’d arrived, his eyes darting back and forth in surprise .
“Fran, hand her over,” says Benno, having already leapt into the carriage .
Fran hesitates for a moment, then pass me up into Benno’s outstretched arms .
“Might I accompany her as well?” he says, hesitantly .
“No,” snaps Benno as he loads me into the carriage . “If you leave the temple looking like that, we’re going to get a whole lot of boring questions . ”
Fran blinks in confusion, looking down at his robes . He looks like he’d never imagined that he’d be rejected based on what he was wearing .
“But, we priests don’t have any other―”
“If you don’t care if they’re second-hand, I’ll get something ready for you for next time . Give up for today . ”
“I would be most grateful . ”
After thanking Benno, Fran, standing by the carriage, crosses his hands before his chest, bowing slightly .
“Sister Maïne, I shall earnestly await your safe return . ”
That sounded like how a servant might bid his master on her way out the door, but his unexpected words leave me panicking . I have no idea how I’m supposed to answer him . I’m still thinking that the head priest is Fran’s master, and I’m really a pretty terrible master for him . I didn’t think I’d be someone for whom he’d await .
As I flounder, Benno leans down to whisper in my ear . “’I leave things to you in my absence . ’ You should respond like that . ”
Even if I tell him that I’ll ‘leave things to him in my absence’, what am I actually leaving to him? The temple’s not my home . I don’t have a room there . I still don’t even have any place there where I can say I belong . It would be so easy to reject that answer like that, but if Fran is telling me that he’ll be waiting for me, then I’ve got a vaguely uncomfortable feeling that that means that he is expecting that I, as his master, will return here .
I take a deep breath, summoning my most masterly voice .
“Fran, I leave things to you in my absence . ”
In the carriage, I’ve been laid out limply on the seat, my head in Benno’s lap . Benno wrapped me in his cape after removing the golden broach, and I can feel a little bit of warmth returning to my cold body . As I breathe a sigh of relief, I suddenly realize exactly what kind of situation I’m in . I force down a shriek .
What the hell?! I’m totally sleeping in his lap!
I can’t believe this . Not only was Benno the first man to pass me a secret note, he’s the first man, family excluded, whose lap I’ve ever rested my head on . This doesn’t count, right? There’s no romance here, so it doesn’t count, right?
Since there’s no way I can actually change the fact that all my weight is currently pressing down on Benno’s leg, I have no choice but to just grit my teeth and bear with this extremely, embarrassingly awkward situation until we make it to the shop .
In order to try to push away my frantic desire to run as far away from this situation I can, I ask Benno a question, my words coming out maybe a little bit too quickly .
“M… Mister Benno, do priests not have any street clothes?”
“They don’t need them . It’s not weird at all that they wouldn’t have any . ”
He explains that generally the only time a priest leaves the temple to enter the rest of the city is to perform ceremonies . A gray-robed priest wouldn’t stand out quite as much as a blue-robed one, but even so, if one wanders aimlessly around the streets, then they’ll draw a lot of unwanted attention . On top of that, if a gray-robed priest were to be specifically following mearound, then that’s only going to make me even more conspicuous .
“So, then, ummm…”
“Quiet, now,” he says in a soothing tone of voice, gently stroking my hair .
He holds my cold hands in his, as if trying to give me some of his warmth . This is exactly what someone would do if their beloved sweetheart were to collapse . I earned basically zero experience points in this particular skill in my past life, so at this point I’ve left the realm of embarrassment and launched straight into sheer bewilderment . I have no idea how I should be reacting right now .
Even if his phrasing was curt, if he’s doing this kind of thing unconsciously then people around us are going to get some really weird ideas!
As if he’s reading my mind, Mark speaks up from his seat across from us, his eyes cast down sadly .
“Master Benno, Maïne is not Liese . It’s all right . ”
“…I know that,” he replies, looking out the window . “I know that, so don’t just say it’s all right . ”
He doesn’t let go of my hands, though . Since he’s looking away from me, I can’t see his expression at all . But, no matter how he hides, it’s plain to see that this has hit him in a place that should never be hit . I think that when his lover died, she did so smiling, telling him it’ll all be alright .
There’s nothing I can say, and I can’t muster the strength to hold his big, warm hands reassuringly, so we ride like that for a while until we reach the Gilberta Company .
The instant that the coachman unlatches and opens the door, Mark leaps straight outside, pushing open the door to the shop and issuing instructions to the employees inside . Even though he’s clearly in a rush, he’s still showing every bit of his skill as a splendid butler . Benno lifts me up, still wrapped in his cape, and carries me inside . By the time we reach the back room, Mark has already had the employees carry in a couch for me .
“Lutz, please come to the back office,” calls Mark .
It seems like Lutz has been waiting for me here, doing work in the meantime . When Mark calls out for him in a much louder voice than normal, I can hear the clatter of his footsteps as he hurries over .
Benno unwraps his cape from around me and lays me down on the couch . My arm falls limply to the side, but he lifts it up and rests it on my stomach . I’m surprised at how heavy my own arm is . Then, he gently spreads his cape over me, like a blanket .
“Lutz, Maïne collapsed at the temple . ”
Lutz carefully studies my face, feeling my brow, the nape of my neck, and my hands, tilting his head in puzzlement .
“Her color’s off like it usually is when she collapses, but she doesn’t have a fever . Her hands are actually kinda cold instead, huh? She just can’t move, huh… I’ve never seen anything like this . Hey, Maïne . What did you do today?
At his prompting, I start going over the events of my long, long day .
“Ummm, I went to the temple, I had my rite of vows, I did my prayers and my dedications, I was assigned my attendants, the head priest gave me some explanations, then I read the scriptures in the library until you came to pick me up . I think you and Mister Benno know everything after that happened . ”
“What are ‘dedications’?”
“Ummm, putting mana in a votive tool . ”
My stomach suddenly growls, halfway through my explanation . Everyone in the room turns to look at my stomach .
Now that I think of it, I skipped lunch, didn’t I? I forgot all about it until just now . I’ve been too stressed to remember it, but now that I’m thinking about it, I’m really hungry .
“…Oh, I guess I’m hungry,” I say .
The tension in the air suddenly slackens . Mark smiles faintly, turning to open the door leading upstairs .
“If she doesn’t have a fever and is instead merely hungry, I don’t believe that her condition will suddenly worsen anytime soon . Master Benno, let us head upstairs to change . I shall bring something down for her to eat . ”
“Sure . ”
After the two of them disappear through the door, Lutz brings a chair over next to the couch . He sits down on it, scowling, looking like he’s not satisfied with my explanation .
“How are you hungry at this time of day? What did you eat for lunch?”
“I skipped it . ”
He tilts his head in wonder . “You skipped lunch? Why?”
“I didn’t want to waste any book-reading time . I can go two days without eating if I’ve got a book to read . ”
The instant I say that, Lutz’s jade-colored eyes narrow dangerously, gleaming with a cold anger .
“So, Maïne,” he says, his tone sharp . “When do you know that from?”
“Ever since you became Maïne, you’ve been trying to make books because you don’t have any, right? So, when did you figure out that you could go two days without eating if you’ve got a book? You sure that wasn’t from before?”
When he says that, I break out in a cold sweat . Lutz knows that I’m not the real Maïne . I’ve got Urano’s memories . It’s exactly as he says . Going two days without food was something I did back in my Urano days . Ever since I became sick, feeble Maïne, the only times I’ve skipped meals were when I was too unwell to eat . I’d never skipped a meal of my own volition before .
“Plus, when you say you used your mana, that means you consciously made your devouring fever move around, right? When you were almost about to die to the devouring, your temperature suddenly went really high, and then came back down just as fast, right? Wouldn’t using your mana do basically that, too?”
“It’s different though . The dedication sucked the mana out from me by force . It’s not like how it usually happens, where the fever just thrashes around in me with nowhere to go . ”
“But the part where your mana is moving around is the same, right? So after you put that stress on your weak, frail body, you skip lunch, and then you keep wandering around like this? No wonder you collapsed! You’re so dumb!” he yells .
He suddenly deflates, letting out a helpless sigh . He picks up my arm and makes me punch myself in the face . “You’re so cold, even though it’s summer,” he mumbles, looking at me like he’s about to cry .
“You might have died . Don’t do this to me . If something like this happens every time I take my eyes off of you… my heart can’t take it . ”
I want to reach out to comfort him, but the only things I can move are my eyes and my mouth . It’s like my arms and legs have completely forgotten how to move .
“I was so happy to be in the library that I totally forgot . I’m sorry, Lutz . ”
Tears well up in his eyes . He clutches my hand tighter, getting even angrier .
“Don’t forget! It’s your own body, right?!”
“What’s all this noise?” says Benno as he walks into the room . “Lutz, you’re yelling at a sick girl . Tone it down a bit . ”
It looks like he got changed quickly . He walks towards us, frowning at Lutz . Lutz jumps down from the chair to make room for Benno, letting go of my hand . As he steps aside, he vents his frustrations .
“But Master Benno . She got really engrossed in reading, so she skipped lunch, and that’s why she collapse . I—”
“You utter imbecile!!” he roars at me .
“Gyah?!” I squeak .
Benno, having only just told Lutz not to yell at a sick girl, blasts out at me with a voice like a clap of thunder . Even though he’s yelling so loudly, I can’t run away . I can’t even cover my ears . All I can do is watch, with tears in my eyes, as he stands imposingly over me .
“The reason why people with the devouring grow so slowly is because mana absorbs nutrition . Even knowing that, you used mana and then skipped a meal? What were you thinking?!”
“I… I didn’t know that—”
“It’s a fact about your own body! Care enough to gather some basic information, you moron!”
What he’s saying is absolutely correct, but I have no idea how to gather any information about the devouring . I realize, though, that pointing that out would only throw fuel on the fire, so I keep my mouth shut .
“Maïne,” says Mark, entering the room carrying a tray, “your inattention is hardly a new phenomenon, but please do pay more attention to your own body . Master Benno, I would ask that you as well refrain from yelling at a girl so sick she cannot even sit herself up .
Mark, his voice tender but his words not giving me any slack, sets the tray of tableware down with a clatter, then helps me sit up .
“Maïne, do you think that you’ll be able to eat something like this?”
It looks like bits of hard bread have been soaked in milk, making a kind of bread porridge you’d feed to a sick person, to which honey has been added . It looks sweet, and delicious .
“Lutz,” he continues, “as I am helping her sit up, could you help feed her?”
“I’m, uh, not very good at this, so I’m probably going to spill it on those robes, I think . ”
He points at the blue robes I’m wearing, a troubled expression on his face . Because this outfit is something that nobles wear, it’s made out of expensive, high-quality material . Spilling milk on it and having it get stinky would be a bit problem . Another problem is that these robes are the type designed to be pulled on over one’s head . Since I can’t move at all, getting them off of me while holding me upright would be a huge undertaking .
“I see, this is a conundrum, isn’t it . ”
“Mark, go get the hardened bits of honey . If we can’t get her moving on her own even a little bit, getting that robe off her is going to be a problem . ”
At Benno’s instruction, Mark retrieves a little nugget of crystallized honey . It’s hard and spiky, like konpeito1 . As I roll it around my mouth, it gradually starts to dissolve, and I can feel the sweetness gradually spreading through my body .
It really looks like skipping even just one meal left me seriously lacking in nutrition . By the time the lump of honey finishes dissolving away, I can feel a little warmth returning to my body . A few more are tossed into my mouth, and as I suck on them, Benno roughly scratches his head .
“Maïne, did the head priest say anything about using your mana? Did he ask you if you were feeling okay, or tell you that something like this might happen…?”
I think back to what he had said this morning .
“Ummm, he said that I should only give my dedications as long as it doesn’t put a strain on my body . It made my body feel light and felt pretty refreshing, though, so I didn’t think it was a strain at all . ”
“Ah, I see . But, since you’ve had the devouring all of your life, you’re used to having your body full of mana, aren’t you? Could it be that when something you were used to having went away, it caused some sort of abnormality?”
“…You might be right . ”
I concentrate my will, loosening the seal keeping my mana contained . I slowly, carefully let a tiny little bit of the heat flow through my body . I can immediately feel my cold fingers start to warm up . After I’m sure that I’ve filled up all the places that needed it, I seal everything back up tightly .
“It looks like you were right,” I say . “My body’s getting a little warmer . ”
Lutz immediately interjects . “Make sure you don’t overdo it and get so hot that you pass out,” he cautions . He’s completely aware of what I might wind up doing .
“…I think I’m doing okay . ”
Now that warmth has returned to my hands, I try to slowly clench and unclench my fist . It still feels very stiff, but at least it’s moving as I’m willing it to .
When Benno sees this, he puts a hand on his chest, breathing a sigh of relief .
“…Maïne, most of the information I have about the devouring is hearsay . You need to ask the head priest about mana . He’s young, but he’s pretty sharp for a blue-robed priest . ”
“…Huh? The head priest is young?”
I blink a few times in bewilderment . Benno mutters something to himself about how hard it is explain how young someone is to a kid like me .
“He looks, what, twenty-two or twenty-three?” he says . “He comes across as inexperienced, like he hasn’t gone through a whole lot, so he might even be younger than that…”
“No way! I thought he looked thirty! I don’t think he looks any younger than you, Mister Benno!”
“Maïne,” he says, glaring at me with terrifying intensity, “that’s not something you say to someone’s face, now, is it?”
I think I’ve struck a nerve .
But, the head priest is very composed, he’s got a sort of dignity about him, he’s skilled at directing others, and he’s holding the rank of head priest . Doesn’t getting all that take a lot of time?
As I hum thoughtfully to myself, I start moving my body this way and that, turning myself over in preparation for getting myself up . Unfortunately, due to the fact that not quite everything is in full working order, in the process of rolling over I fall right off the couch .
“Maïne!” shouts Lutz .
“What do you think you’re doing, you idiot!” yells Benno .
“I was just thinking it was about time I got up…”
All three of them get very angry at that .
“You couldn’t even move a minute ago!” yells Benno . “How did you think that was going to turn out?”
“Ah,” says Mark, “it seems you can’t be left alone even for a moment . ”
“Please,” begs Lutz, “just stay put!”
They had all seemed relieved that I had recovered a little, but now their worry seems to be turning to anger . They crowd around me as I lie there on the ground, their anger rising off of them like an aura .
“Lutz,” says Benno, “every time you get Maïne from the temple, talk to Fran, her attendant, and get a detailed report from him on the day’s activities, if she used mana or not, what she ate, and so on . ”
“A good idea,” adds Mark . “If her actions aren’t closely managed, then who knows just what might happen . As you can clearly see . ”
Benno taps his finger restlessly against the table, glaring at me with irritation . Mark, at first glance, seems to be smiling, but it’s a terrifying sort of smile that doesn’t reach his eyes at all .
There’s no objection I can make, so I just meekly hang my head in shame .
“You’re not fooling me with that expression,” says Lutz, quietly .
“If there’s a book in front of you, I don’t think anyone beneath you, not even your attendant, will be able to get your attention . ”
Lutz, who knows me the best out of anyone here, points his finger accusingly at me .
“If, when I get that report from your attendant, he tells me that you got mad at someone for interrupting you when you were reading, or that you didn’t make sure to eat your lunch… then I’m going to march straight to the most important person in the temple and make them ban you from the library!”
How could you do something so cruel!
…It seems that, somehow, thanks to everyone’s help, even at the temple I shall be forced into living a healthy life .
Translator’s notes for this chapter:
1 . Konpeito is a kind of hard sugar candy . They’re small balls of sugar with tiny bulges all over them .