“Still, this is a huge room, though . ”
Lutz, looking extremely excited, starts exploring the rooms of the director’s office . The second floor contains the master’s room, a room for the director’s handmaid, and a storage room .
Gil doesn’t want us to look at the rooms on the first floor, since they haven’t yet been cleaned, but, to his dislike, we do so anyway . The door immediately to the right of the entrance leads to four rooms for attendants, as well as another storage area . The door on the left side of the hall connects to a kitchen, large enough that several cooks could work in it simultaneously, as well as a door to an underground cellar .
“Once this is cleaned, we could certainly use this to serve tea for any visitors who come calling,” says Fran, sounding quite satisfied . “We should procure a tea set . ”
My eyes, though, have fixed on something completely different . The kitchen contains an oven, as well as many things like what the guild master has in his kitchen .
“Ah, that’s an oven, isn’t it?” I remark .
“It is ordinary for a kitchen to have an oven, is it not?” replies Fran, tilting his head .
All of the kitchens in the temple are for blue-robed noble priests, so it’s obvious that they’d all contain ovens, but for me and Lutz, they’re something rare that we’ve been actively searching for .
“Lutz! I found an oven! We need to tell Mister Benno about this!”
Lutz has been working alongside Benno and Mark to help open the Italian restaurant, so his eyes sparkle brilliantly as he spins around, taking in the noble kitchen .
“Now, Fran . Once this has been cleaned, would I be permitted to bring in cooks, perhaps?”
“Of course, Sister Maïne . It is a perfectly ordinary for a blue-robed apprentice priestess to bring in cooks and other such subordinates . ”
A plan starts forming in my head . I could train cooks here, and the food could then be given to my attendants and to the orphans .
Fran tilts his head, again . “Sister Maïne, as you did not bring any cooks with you today, how might you be planning to have lunch?”
Since the system here at the temple is one where the blue-robed clergy’s cooks prepare their meals for them, with the remainder being granted to the lower ranks, it’s impossible for me to have lunch without any cooks of my own .
“Let us have lunch outside . You two, please get changed . ”
I head back up to the second floor, then pull the cloth-wrapped packages out of Lutz’s basket . I set them on the table, pushing them towards Gil and Fran .
“These are not the blessings of the gods . These are rewards that I’ve prepared for the two of you as thanks for your hard work . You don’t have to share these with anyone . ”
“I am deeply grateful, Sister Maïne,” says Fran .
“Huh? What? It’s okay if I…?” says Gil .
The two of them, their expressions flickering between confusion, joy, and hope, carefully unwrap their bundles . They remind me of children that have received their first ever present… and, in the next moment, I realize that this might actually be true . In the orphanage, where all is shared equally amongst everyone, the concept of giving presents probably doesn’t exist .
Even though my family is poor, I’ve still gotten presents from my parents at major life landmarks, like the first time they let me go to the forest and at my baptismal ceremony . Fran, Gil, and the other orphans wouldn’t have gotten any of those .
“…So, these are… clothes, right?” says Gil .
“Correct,” I reply . “Go get changed, and we’ll go outside the temple . ”
“Really?! I’ve always wanted to go outside . I’m going to go get changed right now!”
The smile on his face as he hugs his new clothes to his chest is the most brilliant I’ve seen on him so far . He bounds out of the room with long strides, flying down the steps . It makes me happy to see how overjoyed he is that I got him those clothes . I look over at Fran, who has yet to say a word .
Fran stands there quietly, looking down at the clothing spread out on the table as if transfixed by something dazzlingly brilliant, idly tracing a finger along the embroidery on the hems . When I see how he’s trying to bite down on his happiness, I have to hold back an awkward laugh .
“Fran, would you please try those on?”
“Ah?!” He startles, suddenly realizing he’s being watched, and turns bright red in embarrassment . “Of… of course . ”
He hurries down the stairs . Seeing the usually cool and composed Fran so flustered makes me and Lutz giggle a bit .
“They were really happy to get those,” says Lutz .
He takes a quick look down the stairs, then lowers his voice .
“…But, did Gil just say he’d always wanted to go outside? …This place is strange, isn’t it?”
“It really is . But I’m sure that to the people living here, we’re the strange ones . ”
In preparation to go outside, I pull off my blue robes, fold them up, and set them in the closet . I think about how I should get a hangar so that they don’t get any weird wrinkles, and decide to ask Benno to have one made for me . Then, I take out enough money from my donation funds to cover today’s activities .
I leave the temple, my attendants following behind . Both of them hesitate for a moment as they pass through the gates .
“Fran, stop worrying so much about that, it’ll be fine, alright?”
Fran hasn’t ever worn anything but what gray-robed priests wear, so he’s constantly very conscious about the cuffs and hems of his clothes, but the calm color of his clothes, like black tea, suits his general ambiance . Gil, meanwhile, looks perfect in his green clothes, the color of spring leaves, as he energetically runs around .
“Whoaaa, I’m outside! Just this is enough to make me happy to be your attendant!”
“Then,” says Fran, “you should work earnestly for her, and also be more polite in your speech . You wouldn’t want to cause her embarrassment . ”
“…Right, I’ll get to that . ”
Gil races around the area excitedly, looking restlessly around at everything that catches his interest . There’s no way that I, who can’t walk any faster than a leisurely stroll, could match his speed . So, Lutz tries his best to keep Gil from running off on his own, and Fran carries me in his arms .
“It’s a very strange feeling,” says Fran, “walking around on our own outside the temple . ”
“…This is the world I live in,” I reply . “Fran, you too, when you’re outside, could you also change your speech a bit, too? If you’re too polite, you’ll stand out too much . ”
“Changing one’s… changing my speech pattern is surprisingly difficult . ”
Lutz guides us to a restaurant near the central plaza . It’s a comparatively high-class place, he tells us, frequently used by merchants . It’s an unusual sort of restaurant, where there aren’t any large tables, but only small tables where a few people can sit . I can see a few groups of customers in the midst of business negotiations .
Lutz, who has been here before, gives us a few recommendations, and we quickly get an order placed . A platter of boiled sausage and cheese is delivered to our table, and a basket of thinly sliced bread follows shortly after . Then, individual bowls of vegetable soup are placed in front of each of us .
“Time to eat!” say Lutz and I, reaching for the bread .
“What? That’s it?” Gil objects .
Lutz and I freeze, looking at each other, our hands halfway to the bread basket .
“Were we supposed to do something else?”
“You didn’t say the blessing, right? To the supreme gods who rule over all in the high, lofty skies, to the great gods who rule over all in the wide, vast earth, to all the gods who grant sustenance to the thousands upon tens of thousands of lives of creation, we offer this heartfelt prayer of thanks for this meal . ”
From how he is so smoothly reciting every phrase of this prayer, his hands crossed before his chest, I can see that this is something that everyone at the temple is expected to say before each meal .
“…Didn’t know that one at all,” says Lutz . “First time I’ve heard it . ”
“That’s something I definitely need to learn,” I say .
I ask Gil and Fran to teach me as I try to work my way through reciting the blessing . I can tell I’m not going to memorize this immediately . It’s just not possible if I can’t jot it down in a notebook .
Lutz and I pull ourselves back together and start eating, but Fran and Gil aren’t moving a muscle . They’re just sitting in front of their food, watching silently .
Thinking this strange, I speak up . “Huh? Aren’t you going to eat? Are you… not hungry?”
Fran shakes his head . “…As we are your attendants, we cannot eat until you are finished with your meal . ”
“If you don’t eat with us, it’ll get cold, though…?”
Gil looks like he wants to dig in, but he looks over at Fran, sitting next to him, and holds himself back . His restless fidgeting somehow reminds me of one of those toys that move in response to sound .
“Alright, then, this is an order . Eat while it’s still hot and fresh . ”
Fran, seemingly unable to refuse an order he’s been given, reluctantly takes a slice of bread . In the next instant, Gil gleefully reaches out to take some food .
Fran eats with a level of politeness I’ve never seen around here before . Even Gil, who was raised by the orphanage, eats in a manner that I’d have to call polite . Compared to them, Lutz, who constantly fights with his brothers at the dinner table, is just greedily chowing down . Is this what happens when everything is divided equally amongst everyone, with no need to fight for anything?
“You two eat so politely,” I say . “Were you taught that?”
“Nothing that a blue-robed priest would consider unsightly is allowed to leave the orphanage,” says Fran, “so our elders teach us both table manners as well as how to walk properly . ”
“Yeah, that’s right,” says Gil . “I really hate purifying myself before I can leave the orphanage . It’s fine for now, but I’m totally going to die in winter . ”
“An attendant must be able to take a bath, after all,” adds Fran .
What a terrifyingly strict environment, if they insist that unsightly things cannot leave the orphanage . But, thanks to that, even Gil is actually pretty polite .
As we eat, they keep talking about the differences between living at the orphanage and being an attendant, but at some point I notice some subtle movement in Fran’s eyebrows . Even though Fran is usually only given leftovers, he’s still used to eating noble food, so it seems like he might be dissatisfied with the taste of the food here . His eyebrows are just a little bit furrowed as he eats .
“Fran, is this that different from what you normally eat?”
I tap my own eyebrow with a fingertip, smiling a little at him . Fran immediately smooths out his expression, then smiles embarrassedly .
“It is . It’s very different . …The warm soup, though, I think is delicious . ”
The food he got from his masters was probably delicious, but since it’s all leftovers, this might be the first time he’s eating something hot .
“As long as I can fill myself up, I don’t care what it tastes like,” says Gil . “Since there aren’t as many blue-robed priests as before, there’s waaay less of the gods’ blessings, and there’s been a lot of gray-robed priests that have come back to the orphanage, too . ”
It looks like Gil’s satisfied with how much he’s eaten, but compared to Lutz, who’s the same age as him, he’s eaten a whole lot less . It’s possible that his stomach just hasn’t had to grow, since he usually doesn’t get to eat that much .
“Then, how about we go buy dinner for you two on the way back, and also bring back some presents for the orphanage? Since I’m going home this afternoon, dinner’s going to be a problem for you, right?”
“Really?! Woohoo! We pray to the gods!”
Gil, overflowing with gratitude at being able to fill his belly after so long, leaps up from his chair with a clatter, and then, right in the middle of the restaurant, assumes the Gl█co pose . The restaurant, which had been buzzing with the sound of eating and negotiation, falls dead silent, and every single person there turns to look at our table .
“H… hang on!” says Lutz . “Stop praying here!”
Lutz frantically escorts Gil out of the shop . I settle the bill, leaving an extra tip on top to apologize to the shopkeeper for the disturbance, and flee the scene .
“Keep your prayers in the temple,” I say, sighing heavily . “Got it? Just like how Lutz and I don’t know a lot of things that are common knowledge in the temple, there’s a lot of things out here that you two won’t know about, either . ”
Gil, easy to read, droops his shoulders and hangs his head in shame .
“…Sorry,” he says .
“It’s all right,” I reassure him, “just be careful in the future . ”
“Not about that! …I mean, sorry that I was making fun of you for not knowing things, earlier . ”
It seems he’s rethinking a lot of things from back at the temple . Seeing him apologize so seriously, Lutz laughingly pats him on the shoulder .
“Man, none of us know anything,” he says . “If you think Maïne’s doing something weird, tell her about it right away . Like that blessing earlier . I’ll keep an eye out for you, too, in case you start doing something weird . ”
“Gil,” I say, “there’s some street stands over there selling things for travelers, so let’s go there to buy your dinner and the presents . ”
Since the eastern gates open onto the highway, there’s lots of travelers, and lots of activity . However, since there’s lots of outsiders around, public order isn’t all that great . I look around, trying to find a stall as close to the central plaza as possible where we can buy what we need . I buy a few sandwich-like things, with ham and cheese stacked between two thin slices of bread, wrapping them in a cloth that I’d brought with me and putting them in my tote bag .
“Fran, how many people live in the orphanage right now? What should I bring back for them?”
“…I believe there are somewhere between eighty or ninety people, at the moment . They generally aren’t given anything sweet to eat, so perhaps I might suggest a fruit that is easy to cut up, or perhaps small fruits like those over there?”
As Fran holds me up, I use my high viewpoint to look over the surrounding stalls . I can see three stalls selling fruits . We wander between them, comparing them to see what’s reasonably priced .
“These… are the gods blessings,” says Gil .
As soon as we hear him speak, Fran and I look over our shoulders . Behind us, we see that Gil has arbitrarily picked up one of the fruits piled up at one of the stalls and is messily biting into it . Lutz, who had been holding Gil’s hand so that he didn’t go running off on his own, stands there frozen, eyes wide open in disbelief .
“Hey, kid! You didn’t pay for that . Are you trying to rob me in broad daylight, right in front of my store!?”
The woman working at the cart punches Gil without even waiting for a reply . Gil looks at me, dumbfounded, holding the half-eaten, peach-like, bralle . I immediately ask Fran to let me down, taking out some money .
“I’m very sorry, ma’am . He’s lived a very sheltered life and doesn’t know much about the world . He’s only just learning about money . I’ll pay for it, so please don’t call the guards . ”
“Sorry, ma’am,” says Lutz . “I was supposed to be keeping an eye on him . ”
I pay her as the two of us apologize profusely . She looks down at Gil in shock, then shrugs her shoulders .
“My word . I don’t care how rich of a family he’s come from, if you’re walking around with him, you should really pay more attention . ”
“We’re really very sorry, ma’am,” I say . “Hey, Gil, you should apologize, too . ”
“Ah? Um, s… sorry . ”
With prompting, he shakily apologizes, looking completely lost as to what to do .
“Gil, did you like that bralle?”
He stares down at the half-eaten fruit, looking worried . “It’s okay to eat it now, I paid for it,” I tell him as I fish two more wrapping cloths out of my tote bag, tying the corners together to make two cloth bags .
“Ma’am, could I get five bralles in each of these bags, please?”
“Sure thing . ”
We apologetically buy the presents for the orphanage from her place, then head back towards the central plaza . I have Gil, as punishment, carry the bags . I figure that as long as both of his hands are full, he’s going to be a lot less likely to do something unexpected .
“When I give you your wages I’ll make sure to teach you how money works, but until then, don’t touch any of the goods at any stores,” I tell him .
“…Okay . ”
As we start heading north along the main road back towards the temple, with me in Fran’s arms, Lutz looks up at me .
“Hey, Maïne . Before we head back to the temple, can we go talk to Master Benno?”
“Yeah . I was planning on asking him to get a tea set and cooking utensils for me, so that’s a pretty good idea . ”
Lutz races off to the store, which is bustling with activity as it gets opened back up after lunch break . I ask Fran to set me down, and head over to the store at my normal, leisurely pace . Gil, both hands still full of bags, follows along behind me .
“Maïne, Master Benno is waiting for you,” says Mark, stepping outside to greet me as I approach .
“Good afternoon, Mister Mark,” I reply .
I head into the back office, with Fran and Gil in tow . Inside, Lutz is standing in front of Benno’s writing desk, finishing up his report . As soon as Benno sees me, he stands straight up, strides over, grabs me under his arm, and lifts me up high .
“Maïne, you’ve really done it this time! Just being able to look at a kitchen that a nobleman used will be a great reference for that Italian restaurant . ”
He ruffles my hair so hard that my head rattles . He’s so overexcited that Fran, who’d only known Benno from how he’d been acting at the temple, takes a shocked step back .
I push his hand away, ask him to put me down, and go to sit down at the same table as always .
“I’ve been told that I can bring cooks in to use the kitchen in the director’s office, so I wanted to come here to talk about maybe using that to start training cooks right away . The food they make would be used as meals for my attendants, and anything after that would go to the orphanage, so none of the ingredients would have to go to waste . ”
“Hmm, I see…” he says, nodding, taking notes on a wooden board .
“Since it’s going to be food for my attendants, I’d pay for the ingredients, so it’s not going to cost you anything at all . That sounds great, doesn’t it?”
Providing food for the orphanage is the duty of a blue-robed priestess, so I need to do what I can to fulfill it . Plus, if I think of the orphanage as being full of starving children like Gil, then on a purely personal level I want to do something about that, too .
Benno, however, thinks about it for a while, then slowly shakes his head .
“No, hold up . The cost of the ingredients is an expense of training the cooks, so I’ll pay that . If I let you pay for everything, then I’m not going to be able to complain if you decide to keep those cooks working for you there . ”
I shrug at his very merchant-like answer . If he’s offering to take on the cost of the ingredients, then it’s actually better for me to let him . Right now, although Maïne’s Workshop is technically open for business, at least on paper, I’m not actually making any money .
“…Then, how about I provide the funds for the equipment and cookware for the kitchen, and you pay for the ingredients used for training purposes?”
“Sounds about right, since I’m just going to be borrowing that kitchen for a while as a training facility . Alright! Let’s go check it out . ”
Benno, perhaps wanting very much to see an oven, stands up as if to end the conversation . He’s got the exact same expression on that Gil did when he found out he got to go see the town . All of this, somehow, leaves me perplexed .
“Mister Benno, we can’t go right now . The kitchen hasn’t been cleaned yet . ”
“It is as Sister Maïne says,” says Fran, nodding emphatically in unison with Gil . “It is not yet a place where we can invite a guest such as yourself, nor can we serve you a satisfactory cup of tea . ”
However, Benno is plainly full of curiosity, interest, and practical desire to see reference material for the Italian restaurant, and pays no heed whatsoever to our opinions . He smiles broadly at us as he throws on a jacket suitable for wearing to the temple over his street clothes .
“I’m not a guest . I’m a merchant! You’re an apprentice blue-robed priestess who’s only just got her own rooms, and I’m just the man who’s there to take down the order for all the things you need to furnish them . It’s only natural that the cleaning’s not done yet, isn’t it? Plus, I want to see how it looks before you do anything strange in there . ”
“So, then, are you going to help me clean, or what?”
“Hmm? Of course I can help you clean . I got my start as an apprentice sweeping out this shop, you know . ”
It’s no use . I can’t say anything to stop him . Benno wants to know everything he can about the nobility, and he is not going to let this perfect opportunity escape from him .
“…Fran, let’s give it up . It’s not like we’re going to have a tea set ready by the time we’re done with cleaning, anyway, so now that’s he’s gotten like this, we might as well let him help clean . ”
Figuring how to stop Benno has gotten just bothersome enough that I’ve stopped caring . Every moment we spend on this pointless chatter is a moment out of my afternoon that I don’t get to spend reading .
“Fran, you might not know this saying, but sometimes you just have to take whatever help you can get . He himself says he wants to go, and he says that he can help us clean, so let’s let him work . I just want to go read a book . ”
Fran’s eyes momentarily go wide, then the corners of his mouth start twitching as if he’s holding back laughter .
“…I am terribly sorry, Sister Maïne, but you are not allowed to enter the library without me present . If Benno accompanies us as we return to the temple, I’m afraid that you will not be able to read . ”
In the end, no matter what I tried to say, Benno completely ignored it, instead snatching me up and hauling me off . So, now, we’ve returned to the temple, and I can’t read any books .
Just as Benno said, after he surveys the rooms of the director’s office, he takes off his jacket, gives some directions to Gil and Lutz, and starts cleaning . Everyone else, caught up in his wake, quickly get to work as well . Benno and Fran take on the tasks that involve reaching high places and the work that involves a lot of physical strength, while Gil and Lutz take the low places and the detail work .
I have no strength, no stamina, and would only get in everyone’s way if I tried to help, so I am left sobbing at the upstairs table, yearning desperately for a book as I fill out the order form for all the things I can think of that I’m going to need Lutz to deliver .