Private Talk with the Head Priest
There is nothing much I can do with my resolve to help the orphans while I’m at home . I had a discussion with Lutz and Fran, then after agreeing “life is precious”, we started our secret work .
Since I have no idea what, if anything, the kids over there are able to safely digest at this point, we decided that we’ll be soaking crumbled bread in soup to make a bread porridge, and Gil will bring it to them via the secret entrance .
“Gil was the most interested in this,” Fran says, “so I believe he should be willing to take the initiative . ”
“If Gil’s doing it,” adds Lutz, “then tell him I can lend him a set of clothes so he can do that kind of dirty work . ”
That’s all we could do today, but it’s only because I can tell myself that none of those kids are going to starve to death literally tonight that I’m able to relax a little bit . I let my face slacken, breathing a sigh of relief, but Fran’s face remains tense as he looks at me .
“Sister Maïne, it is very likely that the temple master will disapprove of your plan to save the orphans, so please be very wary of Delia,” he says .
“…You think the head priest will be okay with it?”
I thought that it wasn’t just the temple master who disapproved, but the head priest as well, but I wonder what Fran thinks?
“Allow me to convey the Father’s thoughts . You are most assuredly not alone in being chagrined by the state of the orphanage and the treatment of the priests and priestesses there . ”
“Huh?” I say, tilting my head doubtfully . “I got the exact opposite impression, though?”
Fran’s eyes widen momentarily in mild shock, then, with an expression of resignation, casts his eyes downward .
“Were you not listening to what Delia was saying? The temple master has more power than the head priest does . In addition, the Father keeps his true intentions deeply concealed so that the temple master cannot nitpick his every move, which makes him very difficult to read, but I feel that he is indeed irritated at the current state of the temple . ”
“…I had no idea at all . ”
Where in that conversation had the head priest conveyed his irritation? Is Fran just able to hear his inner thoughts as well as the words he’s saying?
As I wrack my brain, trying and failing to understand, Lutz just shrugs his shoulders .
“You should probably tell the head priest that Maïne didn’t get his meaning,” he tells Fran .
“As you say . And it will be very necessary, Sister, for you to learn the particular euphemisms that the nobility cloaks their words in . ”
The way that they look at me with their tepid eyes, like I’m a helpless little child, really hurts .
Over the next few days, as Gil secretly sneaks food in, Fran and I discuss the easiest way to convey our requests to the head priest . We ask Lutz’s opinion as well, and since this involves Maïne’s Workshop, Benno gets involved as well, grumbling about how he’s being dragged into another pain in the ass .
I originally wanted to get permission from the head priest as soon as possible and get my orphanage improvement plans started by force, but Benno got angry again, yelling about what a thoughtless little girl I am .
“Don’t just force your way through! When you’re dealing with the nobility, no matter how much you hate all the extra effort to take a roundabout path, you absolutely have to lay all the groundwork first! Rather, you need to have everything decided in advance . If you just suddenly show up, you can’t even be sure if they’ll talk to you to begin with!”
“It is exactly as Master Benno says,” adds Fran . “I know that you typically begin to act the moment you decide on your goals, but when you need to have a conversation, you must first in advance convey to them the relevant information and your requests and then request the meeting . In a meeting with the nobility, you cannot be hasty . You must take as much time as you need to quietly make your preparations and ensure that the outcome will be advantageous for you . ”
When I, in my shock over seeing the state of the orphanage, when I kept begging the head priest for help, asking “isn’t there something you can do?”, I was committing a grave breach of manners, Fran tells me . The head priest was unable to make the proper preparations to meet with me, nor had he been able to gather any relevant information .
“This time is an excellent opportunity for learning, Sister Maïne . Please watch carefully as we arrange this meeting and make the necessary preparations, and then make sure to learn from the experience . This will be important to know going forward . ”
After all of our various discussions, we determine that, to start, I’ll be taking on the role of orphanage director, then use my funds from Maïne’s Workshop to reform the orphanage under the pretext of establishing a workshop in it .
We’ll bathe the orphans and thoroughly clean out the orphanage . From there, we’ll set up the workshop in the basement of the boys’ dormitory, then in order to both cook and make paper, we’ll install stoves and bring in the necessary tools .
We’ll divide the people living in the orphanage into teams―the forest gathering and paper-making team, the orphanage housework team, and the temple work team―and then rotate them through each one in one-month intervals until they have experienced everything . Then, we’ll ask everyone their preference and assign them to that team . They’ll be able to freely chose what they want to do .
As we discover the kinds of clothing and tools we’ll be needing, we’ll have to go through Benno to acquire them . In order to acquire the funds we need to do that, I asked Lutz and Ralph to make wooden clothes hangers . Specifically, the kind of clothes hangers I’m familiar with, build to mimic the roundness of human shoulders . “These will keep clothes looking nicer than the cross-shaped hangars I saw at the used clothing store,” I told Benno, and with glimmering eyes he immediately pounced on it .
Thank you, come again .
“What is the ultimate goal of the orphanage branch of Maïne’s Workshop?” Benno asks, looking at me . I know that if I can’t answer him now, he’ll get mad at me for being thoughtless again .
“To make sure the orphanage can cover its living expenses . When the gods’ blessings are insufficient, I think it would be good for them to be able to earn the money they need in order to buy enough food to make up for it . ”
“The temple generally provides the bare necessities of what they need to live, so I think it’ll be fine if they’re able to earn enough to pay for food . ”
As I answer Benno’s question, Lutz starts working through the calculations for the price of the paper and the cost of the necessary amount of food .
“…If it’s just food, then it’s way easier to make that happen that I thought . ”
Lutz had originally said that if the orphans didn’t have money, then they could gather food in the forest, but when you think of how large the orphanage actually is, there’s no way that they’d be able to sustainably gather all that they need . But, if you consider that they’d be able to earn enough money through the workshop, then if things go according to plan they’ll be able to feed themselves out of the workshop’s funds .
“If you’re providing funds,” says Benno, “is there any point to having them learn how to gather food?”
“I just want them to learn how while they’re out there making paper . If they know, and if they’re starving to death, then they’ll be able to eat something, right? If they don’t know any better, then they might pick poisonous mushrooms like I used to . ”
“You did pick a ton of poison mushrooms, didn’t you…” says Lutz .
Fran, meanwhile, worked in the shadows to convey as much of the information he could to the head priest, and get his informal approval to my plan to become the orphanage’s director and establish a branch of my workshop . On top of that, he arranged a meeting with the head priest to have a formal discussion about it .
It looks like formally requesting a meeting must take place several days in advance, so Fran teaches me how to format that particular letter, and I write it out .
…Man, nobles are a pain in the butt .
By the time the head priest’s written invitation arrives, the orphans are much healthier due to Gil’s secret efforts . He tells me that they’ve started gaining an appetite, and have moved on from eating only soup to being able to eat a little bit of solid food, and they’re starting to get a little more lively . It sounds like they’re getting to the point where they’re healthy enough to be scrubbed all the way clean while their absolutely filthy rooms are cleaned out .
The head priest had told me to meet him after third bell, so when it chimes, I walk together with Fran to his chambers . Back in my rooms, Gil and Lutz are on standby, with ready so that they can leap into motion at any time .
“Father,” I say, “Thank you for taking the time to meet with me . ”
“Ah, Maïne . …Come this way . ”
It seems that the head priest has already had people clear out, since there’s nobody else in his room apart from Arnaud . As I start walking to his work desk, as I usually do, he stands up and starts walking towards his bed .
“Father?!” says Arnaud, surprised .
Fran looks just as shocked, his eyes wide . I have no idea what’s happening, but I follow behind the head priest anyway . He pushes the canopy around his bed aside, beckoning me closer . I tilt my head, wondering if there’s something in deeper behind the bed, as I cautiously approach . Behind the canopy, I can see another door .
“We’ll have our conversation in here,” he says .
The head priest holds his hand out before the door, as if presenting it to a fingerprint scanner . In that moment, a glimmering blue-white magic circle springs into existence, and from the gem on the ring on his right finger a bright red light shines forth . The light traces the edge of the circle once, then dims .
“No attendants can pass through this door . Come here, Maïne . ”
The door clacks as he pushes it open, then he walks through, with neither Arnaud nor Fran following behind . When I see the dark room beyond, I’m momentarily filled with anxiety, and I glance back over my shoulder at Fran . He gives me a slight nod, urging me forward .
“P… pardon my intrusion,” I say, stepping through the doort .
As soon as I pass through the door and close it behind me, leaving the room in pitch darkness, windows suddenly appear, flooding the room with light, just as if shutters had opened, revealing the windows beyond .
As I squint, shielding my eyes and waiting for them to adjust, I hear the head priest bustling about the room . I slowly open my eyes, and see that the formerly pitch-black room has revealed itself to be something that distinctly reminds me of a university professor’s office .
Every table and shelf is covered in piles of scrolls, sheafs of parchment, and stacks of several books . On racks I can see rows of tools that I’ve never seen before that somehow look like some kind of scientific equipment . In the corner, I see a couch that looks like it’s supposed to be for relaxing, but there’s yet more piles of documents scattered across it .
With no attendants allowed in here to keep everything neatly in its place, this room looks nothing like the head priest’s other rooms, but instead very much like his own private space .
“You cannot enter this room unless you possess a certain amount of mana . I think you might be the only priest currently living at the temple besides myself who’s ever been in here . This is a perfect place for a conversation . ”
“This is a really cool secret room! It’s, like, super magical…”
The head priest looks over at me as he shoves the stacks of papers on the couch aside .
“…Your room should have something like this, shouldn’t it?”
“Really? I didn’t know that . ”
My bed doesn’t have a canopy on it . All I have is the frame, without even a mattress on it . Thinking back on the time I collapsed though, it might be a good idea for me to get some sort of bedding on there .
“Your mana needs to be registered with the door, so you may not be able to use it . ”
“That’s not important at the moment . Let’s discuss what we are here for . Sit over there, please . ”
The head priest forcibly changes the topic, indicating the spot that he’d just cleared on the couch for me . He pulls his desk chair over for himself to sit on . When I look up at him, his face isn’t guarded and expressionless like Fran’s . His brow is furrowed, looking displeased .
…Is he about to spoil me?
I’ve been on the receiving end of several lectures from Fran over the last few days, so I think I can guess what’s about to happen today . I wonder if he perhaps picked this particular place so that he can lecture me to a level that he can’t do in front of the attendants? Even if I want Fran to come save me, there’s nobody in here but the two of us, nobody will be coming to my aid .
“Uh, umm, so, Father . Why might you have brought me here?”
“I heard from Fran that you won’t understand me if I were to use the roundabout phrasing that we noblemen typically use,” he replies .
He looks pointedly down at me . Since he is normally the type to keep his face cool and expressionless, seeing his brow furrowed in displeasure is actually very scary . Unlike Benno, whose scoldings echo like thunder, the head priest’s anger is cold, slowly freezing me from the feet up .
“Similarly,” he says, “the other day, you thoughtlessly said some very important and very dangerous things very bluntly . Had you noticed that there were several of the Reverend’s attendants there in my room, working?”
“I didn’t, no . Not at all . ”
“In a place full of the Reverend’s attendants, you criticized the Reverend’s actions, and then you…” he takes a slow breath . “In other words, you put my life at risk with that conversation . You had no awareness of this fact, did you?”
“…I’m, I’m very sorry . ”
I thought that what I’d been doing was trying to get the head priest to understand the situation, but what I’d actually been doing is criticizing how the temple master runs things . Everyone there, from the head priest to the attendants, must have been frozen solid with terror .
“At the very least, you will learn the names and faces of the other blue-robed clergy, as well as the faces of their attendants . If you lack awareness of what is happening around you, what might your enemies be doing without your knowing? You are far too careless . ”
His flabbergasted expression looks a lot like Benno’s . It looks like, no matter where I go, I’ll get scolded .
“…Mister Benno calls me thoughtless a lot,” I say .
“Come to think of it, he did say you lacked wariness and didn’t learn your lesson no matter how many times you are deceived . I agree wholeheartedly with his opinion . As a blue-robed priestess, you will be working alongside the nobility, so you must learn and understand how nobles interact . ”
“Yes, Father . ”
The head priest seems to be concerned entirely about my position . Just like Fran had said, his true motives had been so concealed that I hadn’t been able to read them, but it seems like he’s been protecting from the temple master .
“You have no sense that would allow you to uncover the meaning hidden within my words, and no matter what your opinion may be you express it nakedly, yet in noble society this can be quite literally fatal . You must not, by any means, speak with such fright as you did . As I am incapable of determining whether or not I am successfully communicating my intentions to you, I have judged it best to use this room whenever I need to have a discussion with you that I do not wish for others to hear . ”
“I truly am very sorry, Father . ”
Since the head priest is unable to tell me what he truly means without saying it frankly, it seems like he’s decided to have our conversations here . I know it’s a huge bother, but I’m relieved to be able to talk openly with him .
“I heard this from Fran,” he says, “but it seems you have decided that you will become the orphanage’s director, then? You had said that you felt no sense of responsibility for that situation; will you truly be able to do this?”
He studies me closely, his coldly gleaming eyes seeming to stare directly into my heart . I straighten up, solidifying my desire to help . I look right back at him, trying to convey my determination .
“To be honest, the concept of taking responsibility is still terrifying . However, things there cannot stay as they are, so if I am able to help, I want to do it . ”
“Hm . If you’re resolved to do it, then I don’t mind . ”
The fact that he agreed so easily is almost a total letdown .
“Huh? I say, looking quizzically up at him . “You’re okay with it?”
“I already told Fran this informally, so you should have already received my approval, haven’t you?”
“I did hear that, but that was so different from what I’d heard from you during our last conversation that I was pretty shocked…”
“Since I spoke circuitously, you didn’t understand, so something like that was inevitable . ”
“Whoa, I’m sorry . ”
As I apologize for what must have been the thousandth time, the head priest picks up a few sheets of paper . He skims over them briefly, then looks back up at me .
“I heard the general details from Fran, but I wasn’t able to understand them . I believe this may be because Fran did not have a complete understanding himself . He said that your conversations contained a lot of language and unspoken understanding peculiar to merchants . Please, explain to me just what you plan to do once you’ve become the orphanage’s director . ”
I start to explain the plan that everyone’s come up with .
“I will establish Maïne’s Workshop within the orphanage . My first priority is to improve the dietary conditions of the children who will serve as my workers, as well as thoroughly clean the orphanage that they will be operating out of . I will then install the tools and equipment necessary for their work . From there, in order to improve their diet, I plan to enable them to cook their own meals . If they are able to make soup for themselves, then when they add that to the gods’ blessings, they will be able to dramatically improve their nutrition . ”
“I see,” he says, glancing at me . “And what did he mean by you taking everyone in the orphanage as your attendant?”
“…If they are my attendants, then I’ll be able to send them on errands outside the temple . ”
“If that’s the only reason, then give up on that . If, for instance, another blue-robe joins the temple and there are no capable individuals left in the orphanage to become their attendants, than your having acquired all of them will inadvertently cause strife . If you’re the director, then it should be fine if you were to send them outside on errands . ”
“Understood . ”
If I can bring the children out of the temple, then there’s no particular reason for me to make them my attendants . I nod to show my understanding .
“When you have their diets under control, then what?”
“I plan to have them make plant-based paper for me . Originally, I was capable of making this with only myself and Lutz, so once the children are taught the proper method, even they should be able to make it . ”
“Plant-based paper, you say…”
His eyes flick briefly to the stack of paper on his desk . Come to think of it, out of all of the gifts that Benno had brought him, he had been most interested in the paper .
“To prevent, say, sale of stolen goods,” I say, “I have already signed a magical contract ensuring that all products produced by Maïne’s Workshop will be sold through the Gilberta Company, so confiscating this paper will not be possible . ”
“Excellent judgement, very merchant-like . So, for instance, even if the Reverend were to find out about this, he would not be able to abscond with it . Very good . Then, when you sell the paper, what next?”
He looks mildly disinterested, his eyes narrowing slightly as he prompts me to continue .
“Once they sell the product, they will be able to buy enough food to fill their needs . If they do so, then I will not need to bring them food directly, and they will not risk starvation depending on the number of blue-robed priests and priestesses . ”
“Why would someone as ordinarily apathetic to others as you go so far as to do this, even though you stand to gain nothing from this highly difficult task?”
The intensity in his eyes tells me that this is the most important question he wanted to ask . I look back at him evenly .
“It would be so that I could protect my ability to read without worry, would it not?”
“What did you say?” he says, his eyes opening wide in disbelief .
“Knowing that I am separated by a single wall from children who are starving to death, I cannot help but be upset . Although I’m fine while I am immersed in a book, the moment I stop reading I remember that awful scene . The guilt and the disgust are too much to bear . ”
“So, in other words, it is for the sole purpose of removing obstacles in the way of your reading that you are taking on the role of orphanage director and establishing your workshop?”
“Precisely,” I say, with a big nod .
The head priest rubs at his temples .
“You are, beyond all expectations, a colossal idiot . ”
“So I am often told,” I reply mildly .
“…Fine . What is your timeframe? How long do you estimate this will take now that you’ve been given permission?”
“My initial preparations are nearly finished, so given the current season, we should be able to be producing paper, selling it, and purchasing food within the month . ”
“Oh?” he asks, impressed .
He murmurs to himself about how thorough my preparations are this time . Both Benno and Fran looked carefully over the plan more times than I could count, making sure it was airtight from both a merchant’s and a noble’s standpoint, so there should be no problems here at all . Their statement that the weakest link in the plan was me is still fresh in my mind .
“Very well . I’ll approve your plan . ”
“Thank you very much,” I reply . “Fran had told me that if I explained everything thoroughly, you in particular would be sure to understand . Mister Benno thinks highly of you as well, saying that you have excellent eyes for a priest, and told me that if I had to have a discussion with anyone at the temple, then it should be with you . …If I may ask, why are you so different compared to the other priests?”
If anyone else had heard me ask this, they’d probably scold me to no end, and sure enough, as soon as I do, he sighs and says that I shouldn’t ask things like that outside of this room .
“I don’t intend on going into the precise details, but much like you, I was not raised here in the temple . I was raised instead in noble society, then joined the temple for certain reasons . That’s all the more why I am so irritated with the Reverend’s way of doing things, but as things are right now there is no real benefit in standing up to him . I would ask you to take care not to provoke any more of his anger than you already have . ”
“…Will my management of the orphanage not provoke his anger?”
If the orphans are able to earn a wage for themselves, that would fly in the face of the way things have been done until now . When I nervously ask my question, he snorts, asking why I’m only worried about this now .
“For now, I intend on making it appear that I am forcing this role on you, but you should take care not to do anything too ostentatious . In your particular case, your idea of common knowledge is so different from the rest of ours that I quite frankly have no idea what you might get up to . No matter what you want to do, tell me first . Also, pay very close attention to what Fran tells you . Am I clear?”
“Yes, sir,” I reply .
After he reminds me, over and over, to report to, contact, and consult with him, I leave his secret room and, with Fran, head back to my rooms .
“Maïne, how did it go?” asks Lutz .
“He was really mad at me . He told me I need to be serious about studying how nobles work . He called me thoughtless and careless, too…”
“So, uh, does that mean that we can’t work on the orphanage?”
Lutz and Gil look worriedly at me, anxiety clouding their faces . I frantically shake my head .
“No, no, I’m the director now . We’re okay to set up the workshop . But, seriously, no matter where I go, someone always gets mad at me…”
“Well, that’s just because you’re you,” laughs Lutz, patting me on the head .
Before we can get our plan fully started, there’s one last thing that remains for me to do: I need to talk to Delia . Her job is to report information to the temple master, and I want to bribe her into secrecy .
No matter how well I think I’m hiding things from her, my other two attendants have been wandering about, and Benno and Lutz have been constantly coming and going . If the orphanage suddenly starts getting more lively, then it would be impossible for her not to notice what’s happening . However, until the workshop is actually on track to being profitable, I don’t want the temple master interfering .
Since Delia had said that if I was able to help the orphans, then I should, I think that she will at least agree with the actual idea of me helping the orphans . I’d expect that since we’ve made all of the preparations necessary to help them, she’s probably not going to say she’d rather let them die .
I decided to look her straight in the eye and tell her honestly . Since Delia also tells me when she meets with the temple master’s other attendants, I think it’s better to ask her for her help directly, rather than beating around the bush .
“So, Delia . I’m planning on doing something to help the orphans who haven’t been baptized, and I don’t want the temple master to interfere with that . I would like you to keep quiet about this for now . This is what you can do to help the orphans, and I think that helping them is something you want to do . Can I ask you to do this for me, perhaps?”
Delia is silent for a long time, but then she squeezes her eyes shut, shaking her head like she’s trying to clear it of something she’s remembered .
“…I don’t want to go to the orphanage . I don’t want to remember anything about it, and I don’t want to have anything to do with it . ”
“Yes, I know that . That’s why I think you should stay here and keep an eye on the cooks . All I want you to do is look the other way, just a little . Can you do that?”
Keeping track of the ingredients and monitoring the cooks is an absolutely essential task, so someone absolutely needs to be left in my rooms . If I leave that task to Delia, who doesn’t want to go to the orphanage, then there’s no need for Delia herself to face it at all .
For a moment, she looks slightly relieved, but then she turns her head away haughtily . “Fine then, I’ll stay quiet . But let’s be clear: I’m not doing this for your sake . I’m doing it for the orphans . Don’t think that you’ve moved me by your kindness . ”
I’m very relieved to hear her promise to keep quiet, and I promise her something in return .
“Thank you, Delia . I’m definitely going to save them . ”
“I, I’m not particularly asking you for anything! But no matter what you’re doing, if you mess this up, I’m never going to forgive you . ”
She’s acting very prickly, but is it wrong for me to think that she’s somehow hopeful about this?