Ascendance of a Bookworm Chapter 68

Ascendance of a Bookworm -

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Opposition and Persuasion

The temple master, having seen me collapse right in front of him, summons a gray-robed priest to carry me to the lodging room, and left a priestess to keep an eye on me so that I don’t go wandering off again.

As a result, I wasn’t able to sneak out to go use the restroom by myself, but had to rely on the priestess’s help. Having to do my business while someone else watches is mortifying, and after being forced to ask the priestess for help cleaning up my waste I am so unbelievably embarrassed that I can’t even look her in the eye any more. I want to pull the covers all the way over my head and writhe in utter shame, but I can’t actually muster any strength to make my body do so.

While I lie limply on the bed, dejected about the things I can’t do, the baptismal ceremony comes to an end, and Lutz comes in to check on me. When he sees how nice the room is, and notices that someone is here to keep an eye on me, his eyes go wide and he rushes up to my bedside.

“What did you do this time, Maïne?!”
“Ummm, I got lost looking for the restroom… and collapsed.”

When I weakly lift my head from the pillow and give him very broad summary, he stares at me, unimpressed, then folds his arms and shakes his head.

“That can’t be all, right? Tell me everything.”
“Guh… Um, well, I found a library, and I got a little excited…”

Halfway through my sentence, Lutz squints, tilting his head.

“What’s a ‘library’?”
“An earthly paradise, crafted by the gods.”
“…A room with lots of books.”
“Ahh… Well, whatever. I get the gist of it either way.”

He rubs his forehead, waving dismissively. Since he cut off my story, I start getting ready to go home, reaching for the hairpin placed at my bedside.

“You’re leaving out something important, aren’t you? This little princess collapsed after she went to appeal to the temple master.”

As I wind my hair up, the priestess, who had been quietly listening to our conversation, interrupts, shocked, then shrugs.

“What were you thinking, you idiot?!” says Lutz.
“Sorry. I’m really thinking that I got a little too excited, though…”

Things would probably have gone better if I’d been a little more cool and collected, but it still turned out more-or-less all right. I accomplished my goal of laying the groundwork for becoming a priestess here, and the temple master will even let me go to his room to read the scriptures. I’m trying to properly reflect on my actions, but I don’t really have any regrets.

“We’re going home before you do anything else,” he says.

Lutz carries me on his back and, with the priestess’s guidance, leads us out of the temple. My father is nervously waiting for us in the plaza outside.

“…Looks like someone’s here for you,” says the priestess. “Well, this is as far as I go.”
“Thank you for all of the help,” I say.

And so, my father carries me on his back and takes me home. Along the way, Lutz gives my father a brief rundown of the day’s events. I leave it to him, as the swaying up here is lulling me to sleep.

“I’ve got to finish up my contract here at the shop,” says Lutz, “so I’ll head home after that.”

I snap back to my senses when I hear that, and see that we’re outside Benno’s shop. It’s clear that in my current condition I’m in no shape to visit Benno’s myself. Lutz is splitting off from us here, since he needs to deliver today’s report and to handle his apprenticeship contract.

Mark sees us from inside the shop and comes out to greet us. I wave at him from my spot on my father’s back.

“Thanks for earlier, Mister Mark,” I say. “I don’t think I can visit today, but I’ll come back later.”
“Take care of yourself,” he replies.
“Lutz, good luck with the contract,” I say.
“Yeah! Go get some rest.”

Lutz and Mark see us off with a wave, and my father and I head home together.

After a slightly extravagant celebratory dinner, as the family sits around drinking tea, I look at my father. I don’t have much choice, I need to ask him about becoming a priestess.

“Hey, Daddy.”
“What’s up?”

He lifts his cup to his mouth and takes a sip.

“I want to go to the temple and become a sister-in-training, I think.”

My father’s smile vanishes in an instant.

In the next moment, he slams his cup down onto the table with an enormous bang. I flinch in sudden shock as the tea flies out of the cup, splashing all over the table.

“…Could you repeat that?” he says, in a low, threatening tone. “I must not have heard you correctly.”

My eyes widen. The anger and disgust rolling off of him is so powerful that it sends shivers down my spine and makes my heart pound.

“…A priestess, at the temple.”
“Don’t be ridiculous! As if I’d ever let my daughter join the temple.”
“D… Daddy. Why are you so angry?”

I have no idea what on earth could have made him so suddenly angry, so all I can do is stare in bewilderment. I’d thought that there would be some opposition, but I hadn’t even considered that the topic would cause my father to have this kind of furious outburst.

“Apprenticing as a priest or priestess is something that orphans do! If you don’t have parents and don’t have a patron, then that’s your last resort in order to survive. That’s not for you, Maïne!”
“Only orphans… become priests?”
“Yeah, that’s right,” says my father, suddenly looking helpless. “You’ve got parents, so it’s not a job for you. Don’t ask me again!”

I’m dumbfounded by my father’s reaction. Then, something clicks, and I realize what he’s saying. I think I might have been misled a bit by how the temple master had said that he hadn’t expected there to be any applicants to become apprentice priestesses from someone “with a family like yours”.

“Gunther,” says my mother, “Maïne didn’t know, there’s no need to get so upset with her.”
“…Yeah, you’re right.”

My father takes a long slow breath, as if to let out his irritation, then rustles my hair. My mother starts wiping up the splash of tea from the table, tilting her head curiously.

“But, either way, why in the world did you suddenly decide that you wanted to be a priestess?”

I can see from how my parents are talking that we have a different view on how we think about priests and priestesses. If I had to describe how I thought about priests and priestesses, I’d say that I thought they’d generally be pretty respectable, so this is a little surprising.

“So, um, after I collapsed at the baptismal ceremony, I went to look for the restroom and got really lost.”
“You were in the aid room, right? Isn’t there one right when you exit?”

My father, who’d gotten a simplified rundown of events from Lutz, cocks his head in puzzlement. Certainly, there do tend to be restrooms very near large rooms that commoners use.

I shake my head. “…Since my dress was so nice, they mistook me for some kind of rich girl, so I got brought to a different room, like the one where merchants with letters of recommendation from nobles go. So, there wasn’t one nearby…”
“Aah, of course, if it was that dress.”

My father nods several times. My mother and Tuuli look pretty understanding as well.

“While I was looking, I kinda stumbled into a place that looked like it was used by the nobility…”

All the blood drains from my parents’ faces. In a society that’s as stratified as this one, we’re actually completely segregated from the nobility. If I were to stagger around, lost, and get caught by a noble, there’s a good chance that might be the end of my life right there.

“I was found by a priestess, so I didn’t meet a noble, but there was a library! There were so many books there. I really, really wanted to read them, so bad I couldn’t help it, but I couldn’t go in…”
“Books?” says my father, his eyebrow twitching.
“When I asked if there was any way I could go in, she said that I could if I became a sister-in-training…”
“And then you just decided you’d become a priestess without thinking about it?” He sighs. “Give up on those books. Just keep making them like you’ve been doing so far.”

I stare blankly at him, unable to believe that I was just told to give up on books. He stares back at me, completely serious, without a single trace of a smile on his face.

“If you had to choose between cutting all ties with your family and going to live in an orphanage so you could be a priestess and read books, or staying here with us like you’ve always done, what would you pick?”

He asks me to choose between books and my family, and my head goes blank. I want to stay with my family until the very end, before the devouring rots me away. I’ve been thinking that while I do that I’d make a few books and read those until I was satisfied. Today, however, I found a library, and was overjoyed that I might be able to read books, and got very excited, but I hadn’t even considered that I might get separated from my family.

“…Cutting ties… with my family?”

My shoulders shake, and my voice comes out weak and cracked. My father nods gravely.

“That’s right. Apprentice priestesses live in the temple. The work is hard, and the people you’d be working together with are all orphans. It’s not the kind of thing you could do since you have the devouring. You collapsed during the ceremony because you couldn’t manage your physical condition, so how do you expect to be able to work? Plus, books are extremely valuable. They’re rare enough that those people are protecting them using some sort of magical tool to make sure strangers can’t go into their library, right? Do you think that you’d be able to touch them as soon as you become an apprentice?”

Every single point he makes is a good one. I’ve got no room to refute any of it. The answer in my head is clear: becoming a priestess won’t work. However, I really don’t want to give up on all of those books that I’ve found. As I chew on my lip, feeling like I’m about to cry, Tuuli takes my hand. Her eyes are brimming with tears, and she squeezes my hand like she never wants to let go.

“You want to be a priestess? You promised me that you’d stay here with me, but you want to break your promise and go be a priestess?”

Tuuli’s words hit me like an arrow through my heart. Feeling like all the strength has left my body, I shake my head.

“…Nuh-uh. I was just trying to think of a way that I could read the books that were right in front of me. I didn’t really want to be a priestess at all.”

Apprenticing as a priestess is a means to an end, not the end itself. I don’t want to become one so badly that I’d make my entire family cry and leave them forever.

When I answer, Tuuli smiles brilliantly, but a sliver of anxiety still remains.

“I’m glad,” she says. “…You’ll stay here with me, right? Like we promised?”
“Yeah. …When I’m feeling better, I’ll go see the temple master and tell him no.”

When he hears my answer, my father suddenly breathes a huge sigh of relief, like he’d been holding his breath the entire time, and hugs me tightly.

“I’m so glad you understand. You’re my precious daughter. Don’t go off to the temple.”

While in my heart I really am happy that this ended without me making my family cry, the instant I close off my path towards that library, the devouring fever, of course, starts to spread through my body.

“Maïne, your temperature’s going up, isn’t it?” says my father.
“Didn’t you collapse several times today?” says my mother. “The stress of talking about this must have been the only thing keeping you going. Go rest already.”

I’m put to bed, and as I feel the devouring fever slowly spread through me, I gently close my eyes.

I didn’t think I’d ever not be able to chose books.

Until now, there hadn’t even been a “not books” option in me. Back in my Urano days, I probably would have immediately picked the books and leave my family behind. No matter what, books were foremost in my mind. Despite that, I’m not immediately choosing books. I’d been thinking that my family was the most important thing to me only in the absence of readily-available books, but at some point it looks like they’ve become just as important to me as books are.

But still, I finally found books, though. I really want to read them…

I’m not able to choose between my family and books, but there’s no way I can just abandon books entirely. In this kind of mental state, even though I’m trying to contain my fever like I usually do, I can’t really manage it as well as I usually do. It struggles with more force, as if sneering at me for being unable to cast off my lingering desires for that library. Irritated at how I can’t make this fever move, I start trying to come up with a way that I can find some compromise between books and my family.

Is there any way I can read those books without becoming a sister-in-training? Since the temple master’s attitude changed after we started talking about donations, perhaps I could try saving a bit more, then throw money at them until they let me in? I’m not really the kind of person who likes slapping people around with money to get my way, but desperate times call for desperate measures, do they not? For now, if I could only go to the temple master’s room and read the scriptures, that would be satisfying enough, wouldn’t it?

It ultimately takes me about two days to shut away the devouring fever. When my temperature finally goes back down and I can finally get up, my body is still sluggish. The devouring fever’s receded, so if I spend another day resting I should be recovered after that, I think.

Lutz comes to check on me, and when he sees my face gives me a difficult expression.

“You’re still not looking too good. Master Benno said that he wanted to talk with you, but it looks like you can’t do that today.”
“Lutz, do you have plans tomorrow? I want to go to the temple, and then after that go to Mister Benno’s shop; can you come with me?”

When I ask my question, Lutz tilts his head slightly to the side.

“The temple? Sure, but what do you need there?”
“To read the scriptures. …Also, to tell them that I don’t want to be a sister-in-training.”
“Huh?! An apprentice priestess? Where’d that come from?”

Come to think of it, although the priestess had said that I’d collapsed while making an appeal to the temple priestess, she hadn’t said just what I was appealing to him for.

“I told you that I found a library during the baptismal ceremony, right? I was told that the only people who could go in were people connected to the temple, so I thought that I should get connected to the temple. I heard that being a sister-in-training was the simplest way to do that so I jumped straight to that.”
“Isn’t that more reckless than me wanting to be a trader? Look at reality for once. Aren’t you the one who taught me not to leap straight ahead, but to look for a different path that’s actually possible?”

Hearing those words coming from Lutz, who’d gone from a boy just dreaming about a better life to a boy with his feet firmly on the ground as he chases after that dream, is pretty painful.

“…I wasn’t thinking about anything but the shortest route to reading those books.”
“Man, you don’t pay attention to anything else when books are involved. It’s okay to just not go back to the temple at all, right? Jumping between hope and despair isn’t good for your body. Doesn’t that make your devouring fever start going crazy?”
“I was only able to get it under control this time by telling myself that I could at least go and read the scriptures,” I say.

He looks down at me, at a loss for words, then smiles wryly, patting me on the head.

“A compromise with yourself, huh? I didn’t think you’d ever back down when it came to books. Good job, that must have been hard. …Well, if just going to the temple will make you feel better, then sure. I really think living there would be way too much for you.”
“Yeah, I know.”

The next day, I head with Lutz over to the temple. I put on my new, nicer clothing, since we’ll be going to Benno’s shop afterwards. Also, since the area around temple master’s chambers is particularly nice, I don’t think it would be proper for me to show up in my usual attire.

I tell the temple gatekeeper my name, and that I’d like to meet with the temple master. It seems like they had already been told about me, because a gray-robed priest appears, ready to show me around the temple.

“What will you do, Lutz? Even if you came with me, you wouldn’t have anything to do, right? Maybe you could go to Mister Benno’s shop and study? When I’m done with my business here, I can go to the shop too.”
“I’ll come pick you up at fifth bell, so wait here. Don’t go wandering off by yourself, okay?”
“Okay,” I reply.

The gray-robed priest guides me through the temple to the temple master’s chambers, but the temple master isn’t there. Instead, the head priest, dressed in blue robes, is there to greet me. He’s roughly the same age as my father, with pale blue hair that reaches down towards his shoulders. The temple master had been a dignified, slightly portly older man, but the head priest is fairly tall and slender. He looks like he’s used to practical work involving organizing people and running about.

“You must be Maïne?” he says. “My name is Ferdinand1. Father Bösewanz told me about you. Please, come in.”
“Thank you very much,” I say.
“He’s asked me to read the scriptures to you until he comes back.”

It seems like the high priest is here to read aloud to me, but why would the high priest himself be here to entertain me? What did I do this time? …Ah, the donation, huh?

Since I’m someone who can give them a lot of money, they’re treating me with a lot of courtesy, I think. It seems like the amount of money I presented them with had a pretty significant impact. If that’s the case, depending on how negotiations go, I might be able to open the way towards that library.

“Now then, please have a seat over there and listen.”

We sit down at the table in the center of the room and he starts reading to me, but because I’m sitting across from him, all I can see is the book’s cover. It seems like they won’t let me touch the book. They’re treating me with caution, not knowing what I might do or what I might be thinking.

“Um, Father. I don’t want to just listen, I want to actually see the book.”
“Why is that? Didn’t you want to know the story of the gods?”
“I do, but I also want to learn new vocabulary words as well.”

From his face, it looks like my words struck a weak point. He thinks for a minute, then nods deeply.

“…Ah, I see. However, these are our very precious scriptures. Can you promise me that you absolutely won’t touch them?”
“I promise.”

The high priest lifts me up on his lap so that I can see the scriptures, then starts reading aloud. The pages of the book are yellowed around the edges from where they’ve been touched, and are covered with absolutely beautifully-inked calligraphy. I inhale a deep lungful of the scent of old paper, then let out a slow, appreciative sigh.

It seems that the story we had been told during the baptismal ceremony really had been significantly rephrased in much simpler vocabulary. It has a very different sound to it now. As the high priest reads to me, I start learning new vocabulary words. It’s fascinating to see all sorts of common nouns and verbs that I’ve been wondering how to spell for so long show up one right after another. I point out words that I recognize in the scriptures, careful not to touch the pages, and the high priest, looking amused, starts helping me with the rest.

“You’re a very quick learner! If you’re this good at absorbing knowledge, teaching you is very worthwhile. …You aren’t nobility, are you? Perhaps one of your parents might have some noble blood in them?”
“Not in the slightest, I don’t think.”
“Ah, a shame.”

I have no idea why the high priest would think that’s a shame. However, I get the feeling that the high priest might be like Mark, in charge of the education of the priests and priestesses. He seems very teacher-like, perhaps, and gives an impression that he’s very accustomed to teaching things to other people, much like Mark.

“Ahh, you’ve come?” says the temple master as he enters the room. “I hope I haven’t kept you waiting.”

Now that the temple master has returned, the high priest tells me to return to my seat, and he carefully sets the book back on its shelf.

“Since Father Ferdinand was reading the scriptures to me,” I reply, “it was a very fun and worthwhile use of my time. Thank you very much for your consideration.”

With slow, easy movements, the temple master moves to sit down in the chair the high priest had been sitting in, while the high priest stands to one side.

“Well then, what did your parents say?”
“They told me that only orphans become priestesses, so they scolded me and told me no.”

The high priest had been leaning towards me with anticipation gleaming in his eyes, but when I tell him this his shoulders droop dejectedly. He sighs, shaking his head. Next to him, the high priest opens his mouth to speak.

“It’s not entirely true that only orphans join the clergy. Noble children do so as well. It’s true that an orphan is very likely to become a priest or a priestess, but that’s because they can’t find another profession. The jobs that orphans can take are sharply limited, so they often have no choice but to become priests and priestesses.”
I blink a few times. “Why can’t they find another profession?”
“They don’t have anyone to refer them to one, and they don’t have anyone to look after them.”

I can clearly understand this. The system of employment in this town is highly dependent on having a relative or a friend who can refer you to an apprenticeship, so it would of course be extremely difficult for an orphan. It’s already hard for people to find jobs besides the ones their parents can refer them to, so I can’t even imagine how hard it must be for an orphan, who can’t even find any connections.

“So, I’d like to be clear, it is possible for you to become a priestess without being an orphan.”
“I understand. However, my parents also told me that if I was an apprentice here I’d have to live in the temple, and the difficult work I’d have to do here would be far too stressful for my weak body.”
“Do you mean that you weren’t simply feeling weak, but you are normally frail?”

The temple master frowns slightly, stroking his white mustache, and I realize that his face would make him look perfect in a Santa suit in the snow. I give him a big nod.

“That’s right. I have a disease called 'the devouring’.”
“The devouring?!”

The slow, graceful temple master suddenly stands bolt upright, his eyes wide. The high priest, already standing, slams his hand into the table, leaning towards me excitedly.

“Did you say devouring?!”
“Y… yes. Is something wrong?”

The two of them have completely different expressions as they crowd their faces towards me, and I instinctively shrink back. I frown, wondering if I’ve somehow said something terrible, and the temple master slowly lifts a trembling finger towards the door.

“Father Ferdinand,” he says, “please bring the relic.”
“I know!”

The high priest nods slightly, then makes use of his long legs to briskly stride out of the room. He appeared so elegant at first glance, but he is amazingly quick. He seems in such a hurry that he leaves the door open behind him after he leaves. I stare at him, dumbfounded, as he leaves, but out of the corner of my eye, I see the temple master turn to the shelf the book of scriptures is resting on.

“We pray to the gods!”

He suddenly starts praying, rising into the Gl█co pose. Caught in his rhythm, I reflexively raise my hands as well.

“We give thanks to the gods!”

Flowing like water, he sinks down into a dogeza, and I stare, dumbfounded, at his back. I tremble in fear, wondering what the hell is going on. I’m convinced that something terrible is clearly happening. I really want to run far away from here, but judging from their threatening attitude a moment ago I can’t imagine they’d let me escape so easily.

Frozen stiff in my chair, I slowly look away from the temple master, who continues to pray. From outside the door, I hear very rapid footsteps quickly growing louder, and the high priest bursts back into the room, carrying something wrapped in a bundle of cloth. He unwraps the cloth, revealing the chalice I’d seen during the baptismal ceremony, and gently sets it down on the table.

“Please, touch this chalice.”
“Huh? It’s really okay for me to touch this?”
“Yes, quickly now!”

I timidly reach out for the chalice on the table. The two of them watch it closely, their eyes sparkling. The moment my fingertip reaches the chalice, it starts gleaming with dazzling light.

“Whoa?! What the heck?!”

I frantically yank my hand back, and the light gradually fades. As I look back and forth between my finger and the chalice, the temple master and head priest look at each other, then exchange nods.

“Maïne,” says the temple master, “I’d like to speak with your parents.”

Mother, Father, I’m sorry.

It seems something important just happened.

Translator’s notes for this chapter:

1. As with the temple master, I’m introducing this character’s name earlier than in the original text to make dialogue less stiff.

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