Ascendance Of A Bookworm - Chapter 81
Blue Robes and Differences in Common Knowledge
The instant I see Lutz's face, the sheer sense of relief over having returned to a world where my own common sense prevails makes me feel like all the strength is leaving my body. I race down the stairs towards him, grab his arm tightly, and burrow my head into him.
’’I'm so exhausted, Lutz!’’
’’Yeah, you look kinda pale. Rough day, huh?’’
He gives me a sympathetic look as he pats me on the head. What I did today was basically just read a book, but it seems like being with me is my attendants' entire job, so the basically the entire time someone was standing near me, constantly watching me.
Of course, when I'm absorbed in a book, it's typical for me to be completely and utterly unconcerned by my surroundings, but every time I came to my senses I could feel someone's gaze fixed on me, which made me really uncomfortable. You could call those stares painful, or heavy, but either way being constantly watched is a huge burden. It's left me exhausted.
Man, nobles are amazing. How long does it even take to get used to that?
I'm just happy because I get to go home in order to sleep. If I had to deal with all that from ’’good morning’’ to ’’good night’’, I would go insane.
’’Hey, Lutz. I want to meet with Mister Benno today, is he at the shop?’’
’’He actually just got back right when I was leaving, so he should probably be in right now, I think? Why, did something happen?’’
He looks worried, so I shake my head.
’’No, I just need to go to the merchant's guild to withdraw money for my donation and bring it to the head priest. I figured I should tell him about it in advance...’’
’’Hmm! Alright, let's go.’’
When he says that, for some reason, the trio of attendants behind me starts heading with us at well. I don't even want them following me around in the temple, so I really don't want them following me around outside, too! I really don't want to be stared at.
’’...You don't need to come with me, you know?’’
’’I'm afraid I cannot leave you,’’ replies Fran. ’’I am your attendant, after all.’’
’’That's right!’’ adds Delia. ’’It's impossible for you to meet with anyone without your attendants around.’’
Since it's not just Fran telling me it's impossible, but even Delia too, I guess it must be common knowledge that a blue-robed priest never meets with anyone without their attendants. I'll have to add this to the list I'm keeping in my head.
’’Hmm?’’ says Gil. ’’Well, if I don't have to go, then yeah, I'm out of here. I'm starving.’’
As I thought, Gil, who's disinterested in even an attendant's common sense, shoots me a resentful glare as he turns his back on us and starts heading back inside. The other two, however, aren't following suit. If I had to compromise and bring someone along, Fran's the only one I'd be able to have follow me around. Even still, I'd be able to relax a lot more if I didn't have any of my attendants following me around. Plus, I'm just going to the Gilberta Company, where I go all the time, and since I have Lutz with me I don't have any particular use for an attendant.
...Can I just drive them off?
’’Oh, Delia,’’ I say. ’’Could you go tell Father Ferdinand that I'm going to come back with my donation once I'm done talking with Mister Benno? I really need him to know about this. I'm relying on you!’’
’’Hmm? You really need it? Alright then. I'll make absolutely sure to go tell him right away.’’
The wide smile she gives me is unbelievably easy to read. I wonder, is she just going to do literally nothing, or is she just going to go straight to the temple master instead? She turns around, looking the happiest I've seen her all day, and goes back into the temple.
I breathe a sigh of relief over having managed to drive her off. Fran, however, grimaces in displeasure, looking back and forth between me and the departing Delia.
’’Miss Maïne, if you would like a message delivered to Father Ferdinand, I would be happy to do so. Please allow me to accompany Delia.’’
’’Fran, I've already sent Delia. If you're telling me that I have to have an attendant with me, then would it really be okay for you to go with her?’’
Fran shakes his head, his displeasure still clear on his face.
’’But, I can't say if she'll even go see Father Ferdinand...’’
’’...I have Lutz here with me, so I'll be fine if you go tell Father Ferdinand, you know? I really do need someone to go tell him about this.’’
As I say this, I grab Lutz's hand and start walking. Fran stands in the temple's entranceway for a while, turning indecisively back and forth, but he ultimately seems to decide that he'd prefer to report to the head priest, and heads back into the temple.
’’Maïne, are you sure that's alright? Isn't he supposed to be learning how to keep an eye on your condition?’’
Lutz looks over his shoulder, tilting his head as he looks back at the empty temple entrance. Come to think of it, I was told to let my attendants monitor my health, wasn't I? As I think that, I let out an enormous sigh.
’’...Hmmm. He is one of the attendants picked for me by the temple, but I still think it'll be difficult. First off, he really doesn't have any enthusiasm for it.’’
’’Huh?’’ he replies, disbelievingly.
’’I think that, probably, he really wanted to serve the head priest, but he got told that he was being assigned to me instead. He always looked like he was doing things kind of begrudgingly, no matter what we were doing. If I could maybe make him consider me his master more than the head priest, that might change, but I'm pretty sure that's hopeless, right?’’
’’You, a master... don't you need, like, dignity and presence for that?’’
He laughs teasingly at me, and I can't help but start laughing too. I feel so much better now that I'm back in such a comfortable environment.
’’Good afternoon, Mister Mark,’’ I say. ’’Is Mister Benno in?’’
As Lutz opens the door to the shop, I see Mark inside and, as I always do, wave as I call out to him. The instant he sees me, though, his face turns pale.
’’...Maïne, quickly, please come in.’’
Mark, in an atypical hurry, rushes to show the two of us inside. Under ordinary circumstances, when we drop by without having made arrangements beforehand we're usually asked to wait inside the store for a while, then are brought into the back room when Benno is able to see us. Today, however, Mark immediately opens the door to the back room and pushes us through, his face still drained of blood as he calls out to Benno.
’’Master Benno, Maïne has come to see you. I'm showing her in.’’
’’What's this now, Mark?’’ replies Benno. ’’Why're you being so hasty when it's just Maïne... dropping...’’
Mark shuts the door behind us as Benno looks up from his desk. When he sees me, he just stares at me for a moment, then immediately flies into a rage, his eyes wide.
’’Maïne! You! Idiot!’’
I squeak in fright, covering my ears as I recoil. Lutz flinches too, his breath audibly hitching as he steps back.
’’Uh? Huh? You too? What now?!’’
’’You thoughtless little kid! You came here looking like that?! Don't tell me you walked here all the way from the temple wearing that?!’’
I look down at myself, then tilt my head curiously. ’’...Yes, I did, is there a problem with that?’’
Lutz tilts his head too. Benno looks at the two of us, sees that we aren't able to understand why there could be a problem here at all, and scratches his head vigorously in frustration. Mark closes his eyes, rubbing at his temples.
’’Maïne,’’ says Benno. ’’You're wearing the clothing that a blue-robed priestess wears, aren't you?’’
’’Yes,’’ I reply.
’’Ordinarily, blue-robed priestesses are nobility.’’
’’That's right,’’ I reply.
’’When the nobility have to travel, they ride in carriages. They're not able to just wander around the city on foot. Can you tell me why that is?’’
I tilt my head further as I consider his question. I think back to the few times I've ridden in a carriage. It shook a lot as it was moving and felt pretty terrible to ride. However, riding in one is something that us commoners never really get to do often. All we can do is stare yearningly as they ride past. So, it's a great way to instantly show off how high your status is.
Back in my Urano days, I had a car, of course, to use for transportation, but I didn't use it all the time. It made sense for when I went shopping and knew that I was going to be buying more than I could carry, or when I was going on long trips. I also drove when the weather was bad enough to make walking difficult.
’’Ummm... because walking walking is too hard and not ostentatious enough?’’
’’Wrong! If they're staggering around on the streets, then they will be abducted and held for ransom! So if you don't want to be abducted, then don't wear that robe outside of the temple!’’
I immediately start taking off my robe on the spot. Since I already have my apprentice wear on underneath, it's as simple as undoing the sash and pulling the robe over my head.
I've always been the child of poor people. I hadn't even considered the idea that anyone would want to kidnap me and hold me ransom.
I see now. I've been thinking of this blue robe like it was just another kind of uniform, but to other people I'm basically wearing a sign that with ’’HELLO, I AM NOBILITY, I HAVE MONEY’’ written on it in big, bold letters.
After I finish neatly folding my robe, Benno sighs exhaustedly, looking down at the bundle of cloth in my arms with a complicated expresion.
’’Well then... why are you here, Maïne? Surely you didn't show up here just to try to scare us to death, right?’’
’’Right. I have a favor to ask. Would you mind accompanying me to the merchant's guild, and then after that to the temple?’’
’’What for?’’ he asks, his head tilted in incomprehension.
’’I'd like for your help in withdrawing five small gold coins for my donation and bringing it to the temple. I've already asked the head priest, and he said it was okay.’’
’’All of my large transactions so far have been done through my guild card, but the head priest doesn't have one of those. I'm kind of scared of walking around with that much money on me. When I told that to the head priest, he told me to have my attendants take care of it, which actually surprised me a little.’’
Benno frowns, his eyebrows knitting together. ’’What's surprising about that? That's an attendant's job, isn't it?’’
’’...I genuinely, completely, thoroughly distrust my attendants. The thought of trusting them with a large amount of money is utterly terrifying.’’
Benno pauses for a moment, eyes wide, then blinks a few times.
’’So, the girl who never thinks anything through, who constantly just shrugs her way through problems, who is so resistant to learning from her mistakes that she still goes to the guild master's house after being so massively deceived, has finally found someone she distrusts? Please, tell me, just who are these individuals?’’
I'm still going to the guild master's house because it's beneficial for me, though. I get to trade recipes for sugar, and even though the guild master had deceived me about the magical tools there's no question that he saved my life. Of course, I don't have enough trust in them to let them carry my money for me, but if I'm dealing with them as partners in a mutual transaction, then I'll shrug my way through that particular problem.
There's no way that I could ever trust someone who flat-out say so my face that they're going to intentionally cause trouble for me.
’’Out of the three attendants I was assigned, one of them is a spy for the temple master, one is a spy for the head priest, and one of them is a problem child who seems like he was assigned to me purely as harassment. I don't even want them loitering around near me at the temple, much less carrying any amount of money for me.’’
’’That's... I'd thought this might happen, but you really made some enemies over there, didn't you.’’
I groan a little at how accurately he hit the nail on the head.
’’Back when I thought that I only had half a year left to live, I was thinking that it didn't matter how well-liked I was as long as I got to read books, but if this is going to go on for a while then this is really going to be a problem.’’
’’Circumstances really are different now. So, for the spies, all you can do right now is try to improve your surface-level relationships with them. You don't need to trust them, but figure out what exactly you can trust them with. ...And for that problem child, you're basically going to treat him like you'd treat a wild animal.
The image of Gil as a wild baby monkey atop a tree, clapping his hands and shrieking down at me, floats through my mind.
’’People aren't animals, though?’’
’’They're basically the same thing. If they don't do what you say, give them a lashing. If they do, give do, give them a treat. If you want him to know who his master is, you'll need to beat it into him.’’
That sounds less like building a healthy relationship of mutual trust and more like just forcing him into subservience.
’’...That sounds like it would take a lot of time that I would rather spend reading, though.’’
’’Don't be lazy! Being in noble society and not knowing how to use your attendants is a serious issue!’’
’’Ngh... Okay, I'll think about the future.’’
Benno lets out a long sigh, then lightly shakes his head as if to reset his thoughts.
’’We've gotten off topic. So, when are you going to be delivering this donation?’’
’’That's what I'm here to discuss with you, though? I told my attendants that we'd be back with the money as soon as it was convenient for you ’’
The color instantly leaves Benno's face.
’’ Which means you basically said 'immediately'! Mark, get things ready! We're going to the temple!’’
’’At once, sir!’’
Mark leaps out of the room, ghastly pale.
’’Uh, um, so, then we're going to the merchant's guild?’’
’’No time to waste on that. We don't actually need to go. Card?’’
After we tap our cards together, Benno tells me to put my robes back on since we're going to the temple, then disappears through the inner door, bounding up the stairs.
I unfold the robes that I had taken off just moments ago, then slip them back over my head. I tie the sash around my waist, then let my head hang dejectedly. I didn't think it would turn out like this. I just told my attendants that to get them to leave me alone, and it looks like that's just made a whole lot of trouble for everyone.
’’...What did I do now, Lutz?’’
The subtle implications of phrases and the way that promises are made can change depending on what organization you're part of. It's such a simple, obvious thing. I knew it, but I didn't understand it.
Lutz pats me comfortingly on the head. ’’We don't know anything about how the nobility work, do we?’’
’’Sure, you messed things up this time, but use this opportunity to fix your weak points.’’
I tilt my head. ’’My weak points?’’
Lutz nods emphatically, looking at me with a little bit of strictness in his eyes.
’’Look, I know you love books more than anything else, and I know you've been wanting to read them for so, so long, but, before you can do that, you need to learn the way of life over there, which means you need to be asking everyone around you even the tiniest little questions you have.’’
’’Their way of life?’’
’’...Like, right now, there's so much stuff I don't know about the world of merchants. It's all sorts of stuff that everyone around me thinks is obvious, but I've never heard of it before. So, I've been asking about everything I don't understand, no matter how small it is. When I do that, then it doesn't matter if it's just the other apprentices or even Mister Mark, they'll all teach me what I need to know. If you don't put in the effort to ask, then you'll never learn anything.’’
His words strike home. He's a son of craftsmen, throwing himself into the world of merchants. I know full well just how hard he's been having to work to get familiar with how things work in a shop. Despite knowing that, even after finding myself in basically the exact same situation of having thrown myself into the unknown world of the temple, I've been putting no effort into learning anything about the common knowledge of the temple, even beyond just wanting to spend my time reading books instead.
’’I'm planning on working as hard as I possibly can so that I can live as a merchant. If you want to go to temple and read books, then first off, you need to learn how they do things at the temple. It's gonna be okay, though. I know you can do it. You're really smart!’’
’’I'm not, though! I'm always so thoughtless. You're way smarter than I am.’’
There's no way that I'm actually smart. Just like Benno always says: I'm thoughtless. I've got a bunch of prior knowledge, sure, but I wouldn't say any of that makes me smart.
’’Yeah, sure, but even if you're thoughtless, you're still the kind of person who can always blast your way forward towards your goal, right? So, if your goal is to be able to read books without anything bothering you, then you'll be able to do whatever to do whatever you need to make that happen, right? You just need to work hard to make sure you can read your books in peace.’’
’’Ngh... you know me too well.’’
As soon as I start thinking a little more about the future, I hear the clatter of footsteps coming down the stairway. The door creaks open and Mark steps through. He's wearing a long-sleeved garment that seems like it's been made from a material light enough to still keep him cool.
’’I am sorry to keep you waiting,’’ he says.
Unlike his usual work clothes, the sleeves on his white coat are long and fluttering, with enough extra cloth hanging from them that it almost reminds me of a long-sleeved kimono1. The hems of the coat are embroidered, primarily with blue thread, and hang low, reaching down to his knees. Beneath that, he wears a comparatively crisp set of slender trousers. The overall outfit gives me the impression of a much more extravagant version of the nice clothes kids wear to their baptismal ceremonies. The quality of the material is much nicer too, so it's clear to me that this is clothing worn when dealing with the nobility.
’’Thanks for waiting,’’ says Benno, coming down the stairs shortly afterward.
The sleeves on Benno's large, white coat are even longer than Mark's, and the hem of his coat falls all the way down at his ankles. The quality of the embroidery on his coat is leagues above that of Mark's. On top of his coat, he wears a thin cloak, clasped shut at his shoulder by a golden brooch, set with a blue gemstone. In his hand, he carries something that looks like a flower. He's also put some sort of pomade in his usually quirky, milk tea-colored hair, fixing it in place. He looks like an entirely different person.
The sudden reminder that interacting with the nobility requires so much attention to be paid to even such things as clothing causes my throat to run dry. I'm gripped by the terrifying realization that I have just blundered my way into a world I know nothing about. I shouldn't have said anything to drag anyone else into this mess with me.
’’I'm really sorry, Mister Benno,’’ I say, as I rush over to him. ’’I didn't know that I'd get you caught up in all this...’’
’’Don't worry about it,’’ he says, grinning his usual fearless grin. He holds up the flower ornament. ’’This is a new model,’’ he says, then sticks it in my hair next to my usual chopstick.
’’My motto is that you find your best opportunities in your biggest predicaments. If we can safely deliver your donation while comporting ourselves as we should around the nobility, then that's an opportunity for us to demonstrate just how quick and thorough the Gilberta Company's services are. Let's go.’’
Benno's confidence is no lie. I have no idea what sort of chain of command there is in the store, but in the time Benno and Mark were out getting changed, the employees assembled a small wooden jewelry box with my donation inside, a roll of cloth, a small jar, and three cloth-wrapped packages. Then, when we go outside, there is already a horse-drawn carriage waiting for us, big enough to fit four adults, with sharply dressed coachmen waiting for us to embark.
When did this happen?!
As I stare, dumbfounded, Benno lifts me up, much more courteously than usual, and helps me into the carriage. As I look around the obviously expensive carriage, my stress level only starts to rise. When I worriedly look up at Benno, though, he flicks me in the forehead.
’’Right now, you're a noble. I know what I'm doing, so I'll make it all work out, but what I need you to do, no matter what happens, is to not get flustered. Just smile. Be dignified. And never hang your head. Can you do that?’’
’’...I will do that,’’ I respond.
Through the window in the carriage, I see Lutz yelling something to me. I can't hear it, but his lips are easy to read. ’’You can do it,’’ he says. I nod back, as exaggeratedly as I can so that he can see.
Mark climbs on board and shuts the door behind him then, after a moment, the carriage starts slowly moving forward. The clattering of the wheels matches the unsteady rhythm of my heart as we head off towards my first encounter with noble society.
Translator's notes for this chapter:
1. The coat more specifically reminds her of furisode, a style of kimono with long, voluminous sleeves.