Ascendance Of A Bookworm - Chapter 78
Book 2: The Apprentice Shrine Maiden
My name is Ferdinand. I serve as the head priest of the temple of the city of Ehrenfest. People frequently mistake me as being between twenty-five or, if I'm unlucky, thirty years old, but in reality I am twenty. My half brother often comments that I was not blessed with enough youthfulness and it has already run dry, but this is, in truth, a product of my living environment.
All the way through my coming-of-age, I was part of noble society. I was the son of a concubine, but because I had just enough mana to contribute to the foundational magical tools and because (although this may be a little self-aggrandizing to say) the pursuit of knowledge posed no difficult to me, my half brother, who is older than me, had me raised to serve as his assistant. Regardless of my father's true wife, my relationship with my half brother was not at all bad.
However, my father's wife seemed to be displeased with the fact that I was serving as my half brother's assistant, so, after my father's death, she began treating me with open hostility. Several politically powerful adults supported her viewpoint, and I could not rely on my biological mother, and I began to fear for my own safety. At that time, my half brother recommended to me that I should join the temple.
To those in noble society, joining the temple is effectively a declaration that you are withdrawing from the world of politics. However, even at the temple mana must still be used to perform divine miracles, so there are still close ties to the world of noble politics. Also, because the higher-ranked priests and priestesses all originate from the nobility, there still exists a strict hierarchy based on social standing.
My half brother grinned as he told me to aim for the absolute top and take control of the temple from the inside. I, however, knew that was far easier said than done, as the current temple master is a man related to my father's true wife's family and his behavior could be extremely dangerous to me, so I just shrugged as I made my way into the temple.
My days at the temple were peaceful. There were people in charge of the temple's finances, of managing the orphanage, of making contact with the nobility, and so on, but that work never came around to me. As such, I had no real work beyond the work of maintaining the ritual tools, and found myself with an overwhelming abundance of free time.
Because I had so much time, I reached out to my half brother and asked him to send over books and wooden tablets from our home. I used them in order to build a library, one that even nobles with unfortunate economic circumstances would be able to use. However, the blue-garbed priests and priestesses at the temple were all people who were incapable of returning to noble society, so none of them had any interest in the pursuit of knowledge. The deplorable fact of the matter is that the only person who showed any interest in it whatsoever was a single commoner girl, who wanted to read so badly that she fell to the ground weeping.
Then, a coup happened in Central, and the ranks of the nobility were thinned out. What first happened to us is that our apprentices who were still young enough to be sent to the House of Lords were, one by one, called back home. Then, the priests and priestesses who were still of marriageable age were called back into noble society. Finally, a demand came from the temple in Central for all priests and priestesses possessing a particular degree of magical power to make their way there.
Now, there are no priestesses left in the temple, and the only priests left are those who are too old to return home and who possess not enough mana to be considered useful by the temple in Central. All of the people who were primarily in charge of managing the temple's affairs had been called away, leaving me to take on every single aspect of running the temple. My easy, peaceful days have vanished without a trace. Because of the scope and importance of my work, the stature of my family, and the supplication of my half brother, I became the head priest, despite the fact that it had not been terribly long since I joined the temple and that I was still very young.
’’Father, the temple master is calling for you.’’
’’...It seems he's alright, then.’’
When Fran, my attendant, informs me of this, I stand, sighing. As I leave my room hand head towards the temple master's chambers, I lament to myself that, if only the temple master could have been laid out a little longer, I could have gotten a little more work done. Father Bösewanz is a man who never assists me in my work, but is forceful in giving his opinions, so I am thankful for every moment that he sleeps while I am performing my duties.
As I make my way through the halls, the library room passes through my field of view. The face of Maïne, the child who ignited such chaos in order to read the books here, floats through my memory, and I reach up to massage my temples. She is the source of all of my most recent headaches, and it is likely that she is the reason the temple master is calling me to him this time.
During the baptismal ceremonies, Maïne discovered the library and declared that she wished to become a sister-in-training. At the time, she wore clothing that made her appear to be the daughter of a wealthy family. In order to secure her apprenticeship, she offered an enormous sum of money as a donation. The temple master, dazzled by the sheer amount of coin, met with her to discuss the matter of having the daughter of a wealthy family join the temple. When this happened, it was revealed to us that she possessed mana.
Based on her reactions when she was reading the scriptures, it was clear to me that she was quite intelligent, and from her demeanor and polite manner of speech, I could easily guess that she had had an excellent education. As such, when the temple master suggested that she be granted a blue robe when she joined the temple, I could not disagree.
However, when her parents were called out to the temple in order to discuss the matter further, it became apparent that Maïne was not the daughter of a wealthy family, but instead the daughter of commoners.
To my sensibilities, it did not matter whose daughter she was. Provided she brought her donation and possessed mana, there was no problem at all. Reverend Bösewanz, however, thought differently. He adopted an openly aggressive demeanor towards the three of them, angering Maïne in the process.
If she were a noble, she would have had magical tools to help her manage her mana. Or, in other words, she would have offered her mana to magical tools at regular intervals, so even in the event that her emotions were to stir her mana into motion, it would not have run rampant. However, Maïne was a commoner, and as such had no access to magical tools.
Of course, when her mana did run rampant and escaped from her body, it was directed entirely at Reverend Bösewanz. Her mana was far stronger than could possibly have been expected from a girl who managed to survive the devouring all the way through her baptismal ceremonies. The reverend, taking the full force of Maïne's magical coercion, fainted on the spot and did not regain consciousness for some time. As he slept, I made use of the excellent opportunity to have a conversation with Maïne's parents directly and was able to come to an arrangement with them.
Although the temple master has only just regained consciousness and is still resting, he made the express effort to summon me. Most likely, he wishes to confirm how the discussion with Maïne had turned out and, of course, voice his complaints. It's easy for me to imagine all of the many complaints that might fly from his mouth.
The figure of the attendant standing next to the door comes into view as I approach. It's not my place to say it, but it might be good for the temple master, the most important man in the temple, to stand up himself every once in a while. I take in a long, slow breath, and as I let it out I let my irritation out with it.
’’Reverend, Father Ferdinand has arrived.’’
The attendant opens the door for me, matched perfectly with my walking speed so that it opens exactly as I arrive. From the slight tension I see on his face, I wonder if he might be a newcomer. When I enter, I see that the temple master is sitting at his work desk, slumping heavily into the back of his chair. It is a pose that highlights his protruding belly.
If one were to think solely of our families' relative positions in noble society, I would be more highly ranked than he is, but I am an illegitimate son, while he is legitimate. And, as he is a member of the extended family of the mother of my half brother, the standing of his house is not at all all insignificant. As such, since he cannot help but to show his superiority over me, whenever he calls me to see him, without fail he will always be sitting at his work desk, leaving me to stand as he smirks at me.
However, today he does not have the emotional leeway to even smirk at me. His expression is fiendish, his brows so tightly knit that deep bumps cross the bridge of his nose, and he drums his fingers hard against the surface of his desk in clear irritation. The instant he sees me, he vigorously starts to speak.
’’Father Ferdinand,’’ he says, ’’what happened to that thing?’’
I leisurely make my way over to him then, with careful emphasis on the grace a nobleman should comport himself with, tilt my head slightly to one side.
’’To what thing are you referring?’’
’’What else?’’ he yells. ’’That unbelievably impertinent little child!’’
Like a child throwing a tantrum, he sits up straight, slamming his fist into the surface of his desk. This falls entirely within my expectations, so I have long since raised the wooden tablet on which I had brought my report, pretending to read it while actually using it as a shield to protect my face from his flying spittle.
’’Ahh, of course... I believe her name was Maïne.’’
’’That's right. You sent her away, right?’’
He glares at me with wide eyes, but I just slowly shake my head.
’’I fully understand your displeasure, Reverend, but the temple is facing a serious shortage of mana. You must be very aware of this yourself, seeing as you had been trying to get her to join the temple. This will only be a problem until the number of nobles in this city has increased again.’’
’’Ferdinand, are you telling me to be patient? Me, the master of this temple...’’
Before he can launch into his usual long, long tirade about his parentage and position, I launch into an outline of the current status of the temple.
’’If we do not have her, then our dedication ceremonies will almost certainly be fraught with difficulty. And then, when autumn comes... And what if a request for us comes from the knights' order? Would you be willing to say that we don't have enough mana and cannot help them? Or, would you be willing to have to constantly ask for help from other temples until the number of nobles here rises again?’’
The temple master's social stature is high and, proportionally, his own sense of self-conceitedness is high as well. I know full well that a man like that would never be able to bow his head to another human being. It seems that my words found their mark, as the temple master starts to turn bright red, perhaps imagining himself having to beg other temples for assistance.
’’Tch, if we didn't have a mana shortage, I'd have that impertinent girl executed immediately...’’
’’Provoking her to her face is quite dangerous, Reverend. If you are on the receiving end of that much mana again, your heart might not be able to withstand it.’’
I wonder if he has forgotten that it was his heavy-handed behavior towards Maïne that caused her to use her magical coercion on him until he fainted? This is the problem with old people.
Reverend Bösewanz audibly grinds his teeth together. As a mild diversion, I decide to bring up the topic of the discussion I had had with Maïne's parents and the agreements that we had come to.
’’As the two of us had discussed prior to the meeting, it was ultimately agreed that we would provide Maïne with a special set of blue robes. Her parents also agreed to our other proposal that she be assigned to not only maintain the magical tools, but also to be given work in the library room as she herself had asked for. This is all as we had planned beforehand.’’
I make very sure to hammer in multiple times that these were points that the temple master and I had agreed on beforehand. This may be due to his age, but he has lately been prone to forgetting the contents of conversations he was part of, whenever it seems to suit him. And, perhaps because he forgot everything just as I expected, he sits there glaring at me, with an extremely unwilling expression, like he wanted so badly to object but was unable to.
’’Ahh, and then, we agreed that Maïne would not live in the orphanage, but instead be able to commute between her home and the temple. Since there are already many nobles here who have homes that they return to, I did not judge this to be particularly problematic, and gave it my approval.’’
’’What did you say?!’’
The temple master's eyes fly open wide as he snaps he snaps at me. This, too, is well within my expectations.
’’...I believe that allowing her to live at home would be preferable to having her demand that since she has been given blue robes she should be given a room in the parts of the temple reserved for the nobility. Do you not agree?’’
’’Hmph! Well, you're right in that.’’
The choice between giving her a noble's room and letting her live at home seems easy for the temple master to understand, so he gives me a very unpleasant smile as he nods in approval. It seems that he's already forgotten his own declaration that he wouldn't think twice about throwing her into the orphanage, but since he has just agreed, Maïne's ability to commute has been established.
’’In addition, because Maïne is very frail, it seems that she may be unable to perform her duties every day, but since there is ultimately not a tremendous amount of work for a blue-robed sister-in-training to do, I believe that it should not be a problem for her to rest when she is not feeling well.’’
’’Hah, what an unmotivated little girl.’’
It seems like he will not be satisfied if he doesn't find some way to complain about every single thing. He appears to understand, though, so I merely shrug my shoulders and continue.
’’I merely judged that doing so would be preferable to her falling ill while at the temple. ...On that note, we also agreed that Maïne, in order to manage her condition, would be assigned attendants.’’
Father Bösewanz's objection was very much within my expectations, so I simply breathe a small sigh, then deliver yet another rehearsed answer.
’’If someone from outside the temple were to see a blue-robed priestess without any attendants, it would only reflect poorly on the temple and, in turn, I believe it would reflect poorly on you. ...Besides, as of now we have an excess of gray-robed priests and priestesses. Do you not think that it would be a good idea to simply assign some of those to Maïne?’’
Although the blue-robed clergy has left, the gray-robed priests and priestesses have largely been left behind, save for those few who were the favorites of any individuals who were being called away. Given that the donations to the temple from the families of blue-robed priests have diminished, the ever-accumulating expenses of the largely masterless gray-robed clergy are nothing but a problem for the temple.
’’Next, according to my investigations into Maïne, it seems that she has been registered with the merchant's guild as the manager of a workshop. It would have been quite simple to be able to tell her that those working in the service of the gods have no need to make money, but I believe that if we can regularly acquire some of the profit from the workshop for ourselves, it would be quite beneficial to the temple. What do you think?’’
’’Wring her dry.’’
’’As you wish.’’
As the size of the clergy has decreased so much, the amount of money that the temple can earn on its own has diminished. To Father Bösewanz, this money is far more useful than the public doctrine of the temple. With this, I have finally gotten his approval on all of the points I had come to an agreement on with Maïne's family. I breathe a sigh of relief.
’’For the time being, in order to avoid causing you any trouble, I plan to personally see to handling all of the burden Maïne will bring. If the merchant's guild is going to be involved, I believe I should be able to handle the additional paperwork. Also, I shall ensure that she never shows her face in this room. Then... ah, yes. When selecting the gray-robed priests to be her attendants, I will assign one of my own attendants to her as well, so that we can receive detailed reports on her activities.’’
A light glimmers in the temple master's eyes, as if he's found something interesting in the idea of being vigilant about Maïne. He thoughtfully strokes his white beard, smiling that unpleasant smile that he gets whenever he cooks up another worthless scheme.
’’Hmm? ...In that case, perhaps I should assign someone to her as well? Even that girl should confide in another girl around her age. Delia, I think, would work hard for my sake. And for the others, let's give her the most troublesome kids we can dig out of the orphanage. Inconvenience her as much as humanly possible. Squeeze every last drop of donation that we can get out of her. After all, there's nothing else that that... thing is good for.’’
’’As you wish.’’
This became something problematic. Maïne is unfamiliar with the details of noble society and the workings and the workings of the temple, so I had planned to assign to her an assistant who could help her navigate both of those things, but if the temple master's protege is assigned to be her attendant as well, then my own actions will wind up being brought to the temple master's attention as well.
I weave my fingers together in front of me, thanking him, then leave his room. Bitter regrets plague me as I return to my own room.
What a profoundly troublesome temple master. The blue-robed priests and priestesses given to the custody of the temple are largely illegitimate children. Amongst such company, he, a legitimate son from an influential family, finds much to boast about. In truth, he has comparatively very little mana, so he has a terrifyingly powerful inferiority complex towards those given to the temple who have more than he does.
If we are not careful with our behavior towards Maïne, there is a good possibility that he may cause her to run rampant again. Besides the fact that her social standing is even lower than mine, she brings with her not just mana and coin, but an aptitude for writing reports and handling paperwork, so to me, she is a far more capable person than Reverend Bösewanz.
I look over the report on Maïne, and my eyes find their way to the section on her commercial dealings. With the backing of the Gilberta Company, she was registered with the guild under a provisional apprentice's license. The products that she has transferred rights to up to this point are ’’rinsham’’, a vegetable-based paper, hair ornaments made by knitting thread, ’’pound cake’’ and many variations thereof. It would seem that she, as an individual, commands sizable financial assets, to the point where her declaration that she could afford to donate a large gold coin was no exaggeration.
Due to concerns with her physical condition, she abandoned her path towards becoming an apprentice, and instead plans to use Maïne's Workshop, set up for her by the Gilberta Company, to continue to profit from the goods she invents.
’’To make this many contracts for new products within just one year... she seems to just think of one invention after the other.’’
It seems that the goods Maïne's Workshop will produce will generate spectacularly large amounts of profit. I must ensure that I assign an attendant to her who will be capable of making very detailed reports to me, if we are to avoid being deceived by any greedy merchants.
As I consider that thought, I look around at the attendants currently stationed in my room. Now then, who must I assign to be Maïne's attendant? I will need someone deeply loyal to me, capable of making accurate reports, and very patient, I think. They will, after all, need to be able to flawlessly handle the trouble that the temple master's chosen attendant will cause.
’’Yes, Father, how may I assist you?’’
Upon hearing his name, he smoothly steps closer to me.
’’I will have you become Maïne's attendant. I would like you to provide me with reports on her actions, as detailed as you possibly can. Additionally, please ensure, to the best of your ability, that she does not cross paths with Reverend Bösewanz.’’
’’Um?! ......Very well, Father.’’
For an instant, a discontented frown flashes across his features, but then he nods slowly in agreement. Fran had been present when Maïne's mana went out of control, so it's possible that the image of the temple master fainting flashed across his mind.
’’Her other attendant should be... Ah, yes. Do we have anyone who is particularly difficult to handle, to the point where they would be a poor fit to be assigned to a noble? We must, after all, at the very least appear to take the reverend's opinion into consideration.’’
A look of bewilderment enters Fran's eyes as he glances nervously around the room. After a moment, he lowers his gaze. Arnaud, who had waited on me as I went to Reverend Bösewanz's room, speaks up, coming to his rescue.
’’Ah, I see. How about Gil? He is frequently sent to the meditation room, but never seems to learn. He very much troubles the managing priest.’’
’’...Hm. Then, let's have Gil, Delia, and Fran be Maïne's attendants.’’
It has been decided who Maïne's attendants shall be. It will take her blue robes another three days to arrive, and Maïne's apprenticeship is set to start in five days.
All of the preparations for Maïne's arrival are very much in order, but I wonder just what might happen next?
Although at this point I was able to imagine that Maïne might stir up strife with her arrival, I had not even the slightest idea of just how much chaos she would incite.