Ascendance of a Bookworm Chapter 67
The room the gray-robed priest brings me to is not the sort of room that would be used to give aid to poor people. No, this room is for lodging. On top of that, based on how clean it is and how much care has been put into the interior design, if I were to compare it to the waiting rooms at the gate then it would definitely remind me more of the room set aside for the rich, the merchants, and those bearing letters of referral from the nobility.
I wonder if it’s because of this dress…
Based on how much cloth is used in a garment, and how lavishly and colorfully it’s been embroidered, it’s possible to roughly guess how much money its wearer’s household makes. Compared to my normal clothing, today’s dress is unusually fluffy and frilly. Its embroidery isn’t just limited to the hems, and tiny lace flowers have been sewn onto it. It’s extravagant. My hairpin is a custom design too, so at first glance, I think I probably look like I was rich enough to be on Freida’s level.
But… I don’t need to expressly point out that I’m actually from a poor family, do I? The priest is the one who arbitrarily decided this, and if he were to change his mind then I have no idea what kind of treatment I’d actually get. Aren’t I always being told not to be so naïvely honest about everything?
As I frown, thinking to myself, they gray-robed priest gently sits me down on a couch. I feel like I’m about to fall over, so I reach for the armrest to steady myself. At about that time, the priest gently removes my hairpin and, with careful movements, removes my shoes as well.
I’m shocked by how spontaneously and naturally this treatment is coming. This reminds me of how in Freida’s house Jutte was constantly stepping in to assist with nearly everything. This gray-robed priest is clearly accustomed to taking care of people. My eyes grow wider and I completely forget to even try to politely decline as he stands up, gets a bed ready, and carries me like a princess over to it.
“…Ah, um, I’m really doing fine!”
“It isn’t good to lie before the gods. You’re in a temple, you know.”
It’s not a lie, though…
He lays me down on the bed, then politely covers me with the blanket. Then, he places my hairpin at the bedside, and arranges my shoes at the foot of the bed. Instead of a priest, this man seems to be an incredibly skilled personal attendant. This is making me more than a little uncomfortable.
“Rest here,” he says. “I’ll check in on you later.”
The priest leaves the room, closing the door behind him with a clack. It’s true that I can’t really move my body with any real power behind it, so I’ll wait here for now, recovering my strength.
My family will undoubtedly want to know why I collapsed, but I can’t actually tell them that it’s because I was laughing too hard. Lutz, who’d been so worried, would definitely get mad if he heard that, too. As soon as I think that, the image of Lutz doing the Gl█co flashes through my mind, and I snort with laughter.
I lay there idly for a while, and my strength comes back. I clench and unclench my fist to make sure of it.
Now then, what to do? I vaguely need to go powder my nose.1
There’s a chamber pot right next to the bed, but since I don’t know where to get water, cleaning up my mess afterwards would be problematic. The kinds of people who usually stay here probably bring servants with them so they don’t have to deal with that themselves, but I don’t have anything like that. There’s also no way I can ask that priest, who I just met, to clean up after me. At the very least, I want to find someone to ask where I can get water, then find a way to sneakily take care of my own business.
I slowly pull myself upright, and experimentally wave my arms and legs. It looks like I’m better to the point that I’m not going to suddenly pass out again. I use my hairpin, left at my bedside, to do up my hair. At Freida’s house, there was a bell at the bedside to call for someone, but there isn’t one here.
This is a state of emergency. Let’s go search for someone.
I have no idea how long it will actually take to find someone, so I’d rather get started on this before things get really desperate. I climb down off of the bed, put on my shoes, and slip out of the room.
Even though the walls are occasionally decorated with pillars, carvings, and reliefs, the corridors that stretch on ahead of me are made primarily out of white stone. The clicking of my shoes against the stone echoes off of the smooth walls, but I can’t hear anyone else’s footsteps, nor do I see any other trace of human presence. For now, I’ll start heading back towards the place where the baptismal ceremony was being held.
…Hm? Did I take a wrong turn somewhere?
Despite how white the temple is, I’m starting to see splashes of color here and there. The carvings and statues have gradually become more refined and elegant, to the point where I’m sure I’m not imagining how extravagant they’ve become. I think I’ve gotten myself close to where the nobility come and go.
The blood instantly drains from my face. If a noble spots me, I’ll get interrogated, and things will get really, really difficult for me.
Not good. I need to turn around, right now!
I spin on my heels, then, almost trembling in fear, quickly walk back the way I came. I want to get out of the nobles’ zone as fast as I can. To make sure I don’t get lost on my way back, I try to find recognizable landmarks as I walk.
I’ve seen that carving before, right? And I remember that cloth there, too…
As I search for the turn that’ll take me back to the lodging room, I hear the click of another person’s footsteps drawing closer. If I had already managed to make it out of the noble’s zone, I’d be whole-heartedly thrilled about this, but right now I don’t want to be seen. I need to hide. If it’s a priest, then that’s probably fine, but I’m scared of it being a noble. I frantically look around, but there’s nowhere I can hide in this hallway. I stand out plainly, and am spotted right away.
“Who’s there?! What are you doing here?!”
The strict voice comes from a priestess, whose hair is done up very neatly. Her appearance is very neat and businesslike, but for some reason she also gives off the impression of being a sexy private secretary. The priestly robes she wears are the same gray color as those of the priest who had carried me in, although the design is different. Whether that’s because priests and priestesses dress differently or because there are special ceremonial robes, I don’t know. Come to think of it, there weren’t any priestesses at the ceremony, were there?
I breathe a sigh of relief that this woman isn’t a noble, then immediately start apologizing for stepping into the nobles’ zone.
“I’m very sorry, ma'am. My name is Maïne. I collapsed in the middle of the baptismal ceremony and was lent a room to rest in. I don’t have an attendant with me, and there was no bell to call for anyone, so I went to see if I could find someone. I unfortunately got lost, and when I noticed that, I’d found myself here…”
The woman stares at me, looking me over from head to toe, then sighs resignedly. She taps her cheek, inhaling a long, weary breath, but doesn’t take her eyes off me.
“I have business that I’m in the middle of, but afterwards I’ll show you to the hall of worship where the baptismal ceremony is being held. Do you mind waiting a little?”
“Yes, ma'am, thank you very much.”
The priestess, her eyes slightly narrowed, sets off, the clacking of her brisk footsteps echoing through the halls. I follow along at a half jog, trying to keep up. If we have too far to go, I’m probably going to pass out.
“Wait here, please. I need to finish my business here.”
However, thanks to the fact that this priestess only needed to go about another room down, I happily manage to not collapse along the way.
I nod, sucking in air as I try to catch my breath. The priestess looks down at me with a slightly worried frown, then pushes the door open with a creak. I put my hand on the wall to steady myself, then look through the door into which the priestess had casually passed through. When I see what’s inside, my breath stops entirely.
“…?! Is… that… a library?”
It’s not a particularly large room, but the walls are lined with bookshelves. With a quick glance, what I can see on them are mostly stacks of papers and wooden boards, but there are shelves hidden behind closed, locked cabinet doors, and I can easily imagine that that’s where the valuable books are kept.
In the center of the room sit two long desks facing each other, their surfaces tilted up at a diagonal as if to make reading easier. The length reminds me of the long, connected desks in university lecture halls. They look long enough that five people could sit side by side at them.
Also, attached to the desks at rough intervals are six thick, sturdy chains. The ends of each of these is fastened to six massive books, which are lined up on the desks.
“…It’s a ‘chained library’…”
Visiting historical libraries in foreign countries had been one of my dreams when I was Urano. Sure, this is an alternate universe and not a foreign country, and this is a temple’s library, but even still, can I count this as a dream come true? A foreign library, locked bookshelves, books chained to tables, books that you could feel the history of the library through, no matter which you read… this is something that I could have never practically managed to see back then.
The hand I put on my chest to calm myself down quivers. My heart is pounding like an alarm, and I can feel how powerfully the blood is rushing through my veins. The things I’ve wanted for so very, very long are miraculously right before my eyes… eyes from which hot tears of joy are falling, one after another.
“I’ve… I’ve never seen this before…”
This is my first chained library, but, more importantly, this is the first time since I came to this world that I’ve seen enough books in one place for a room to be properly called a library at all. It’s not all that large of a room, but to me, having lived my life without having ever found a single book, this is a veritable treasury of happiness.
Perhaps this library is a paradise made by the gods themselves. My god is here for me!
“We pray to the gods! We give thanks to the gods!”
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Deeply moved by finding this library, no, this chained library, I make the Gl█co pose, then drop into a dogeza, lifting my thanks to the heavens. I’m a little wobbly when I do it, but I hope that both my emotions and my gratitude were properly conveyed.
I quickly scrub my face and hands on my clothing, checking over and over to make sure they’re not the slightest bit dirty. After verifying that my hands are spotless, I turn to follow the priestess, and with a triumphant stride, step forth into this glorious paradise.
“Pardon my intrusMPH?!”
My face smacks into something, like I’d just walked into a sliding door that hadn’t yet opened. Since I’d slammed into it so forcefully, stars dance before my eyes.
I sit there on the ground, rubbing my head with one hand. With my other hand, I reach out towards the door. After a certain point, I can’t move my hand any further. It seems that there really is some kind of invisible wall there. I try hitting it a couple of times, but there’s no sign of it opening.
“Huh? Wh… why?”
The priestess had walked in normally with no issue. I have no idea why only I would be rejected like this. The world before my eyes grows a little darker, and I start pounding on the invisible wall. It doesn’t budge an inch.
Paradise is before my very eyes, yet I cannot enter. I can see so many books right in front of me, yet I cannot touch them. Is it okay for such a cruel torture to exist? To come so far and then be denied? You asshole gods! Give me back my gratitude!
“Nooo, let me in!! Let me in tooo!”
Books are so valuable that, practically, only the nobility have access to them. The temple used a magical tool to quiet children down during the baptismal ceremony, so it’s not unreasonable to think there’s some gimmick protecting these precious books. I know that, but this is just too much. Caught in the grip of this despair at being able to see, but not enter this room, I collapse in an undignified heap, unable to even wipe away the tears spilling from my face.
“I just want to read…”
The priestess, finished with her business, exits the room carrying a bundle of papers that look like some sort of documents. She looks down on me as I sit on the floor, leaning against the invisible wall, and crying my eyes out, and takes a startled step back.
“What are… you doing…?”
“Waaaaaah!! Why, why can’t I go in?”
I smash my fists weakly into the invisible wall, the priestess looks back behind her, into the library room. “Ah,” she says.
“There’s very valuable books in there, so only people authorized by the temple are able to enter.”
Her words give me a sudden flash of hope. If only people authorized by the temple are able to enter, then I should get that authorization. The gods have not abandoned me yet. I quickly rub the tears and snot from my face, then shoot my hand straight up into the air.
“Question! How might I become authorized by the temple?”
“…The simplest way would be to become a sister-in-training, wouldn’t it?”
It seems that women members of the clergy are called “sisters” instead of “priestess”. So, since this woman in front of me is an adult, it would be more accurate to call her a nun.
“Then, I’ll become a sister-in-training! How do I do that?”
“You’d need to talk to the head priest or the temple master. Now then, let’s go to the hall of worship.”
She looks like she thinks the conversation’s finished, but I shake my head vigorously.
“Where might the temple master be?”
“His part in the baptismal ceremony is over by now, so he’ll most likely be in his chambers, but… you want to go now?”
She’s quite clearly trying to push me away, but I’m not going to let this source of valuable information out of my grasp.
“Yes, ma'am! I can’t go home until I do!”
“…Let’s go ask the temple master, then.”
I don’t know if it’s because she understands my deep conviction or if it’s because she’s judging how to treat me based on my clothing, but she sighs resignedly, then brings me to the temple master’s chambers.
It seems like I managed to get entirely lost inside the temple, because the temple master’s chambers are very close by. I’m left outside a magnificent wooden door as the nun gets permission to enter. Looking around, I see all sorts of expensive-looking ornaments and paintings. The higher-ups of this religion must be very rich.
“Father Bösewanz2, there’s an applicant to become a sister-in-waiting here to see you…”
Through the crack left in the door, I hear the temple master and the priestess conversing. Tension wells up in me at the realization that this is about to be a job interview. Making sure I’m hidden behind the door, I quickly check to make sure my appearance is in order. The one spot on my dress that had gotten wet from tears and snot has dried, although it’s a bit stiff.
“Yes, a girl who came here for today’s baptismal ceremony.”
“Hmm, perhaps I should meet her.”
“Please go in,” says the nun to me.
I try to enter the room quickly and professionally, but the door is far heavier than I thought it was going to be. With no other choice, I throw my weight behind it, pushing the door open with all my strength, and then slip through the gap as soon as it’s big enough.
“Pardon my intrusion,” I say.
The temple master’s chambers very much resemble Freida’s room. In the center of the room, close to the door, there is something of a reception area, with a table and a few chairs in the center. On the very far wall of the room is a bed with a thick canopy, and in the opposite corner there’s a place for doing work. The workspace has a thick desk and two bookshelves. On a display shelf sit thirty-centimeter-tall statues of the gods, the scriptures I saw a little while ago during the ceremony, and candles, arranged symmetrically so that the scriptures are in the center.
The temple master and the nun are at that work space, so I approach them, minding my posture. He’s fixing me with an almost painfully hard stare as I approach. I take a slow breath and ready all of my determination. This is a job interview. The job interview that will decide whether or not I can ever enter that library.
“Maïne, sir,” I say. I clasp my hands in front of my chest. “If at all possible, I would like to become a sister-in-training here. I would very much appreciate your consideration.”
The temple master gives me a slightly amused smile, then puts down his pen. “Well then, Maïne. Why don’t I start by asking you why you think you’d want to become a sister-in-training?”
“Because there’s a library here, sir.”
The temple master’s eyes widen slightly, perhaps because my answer was so completely unexpected.
“…The library? You can read?”
“Yes, sir, although there’s a lot of difficult words I still don’t know. If I can read a book, I’ll learn more words. That’s why, for as long as I live, I’d like to thoroughly read all of the books here.”
The temple master rubs at his forehead, sighing. His shoulders drop so much that it looks almost forced, and he shakes his head.
“I think you might be misunderstanding something. A temple is where one prays to the gods. The priests and nuns here are servants of the gods.”
“Of course,” I reply. “I’m well aware of that. But, wasn’t that thick book of scriptures you read to us at today’s ceremony written about the gods? To me, those scriptures are as the gods themselves. I wish to read everything about the gods. I would like to learn everything about the gods, sir.”
“Are you a scriptural fundamentalist?”
A sharp gleam enters the temple master’s eyes. I have no idea whether or not I should say yes or no to that question. It’s a little troubling, but I can’t imagine that that’s a phrase any of the other kids I attended the baptismal ceremony with would have known. Rather than risk saying anything unnecessary, I think it would be best if I just tell him that I don’t know.
“I’ve never heard those words before, so I don’t know what they mean, but there isn’t a shred of doubt in my heart: I want to read the scriptures and learn about the gods. Please, believe in the passion that the god of fire has blessed me with. I truly hope and pray that I can become a sister-in-training, read all of the books here, and learn about the gods. How can I convince you of this?”
He looks a little taken aback when I press him for an answer, but he looks me up and down, hums contemplatively to himself, and then nods.
“I’m already convinced of your passion. If that is indeed your wish, then you certainly should become a sister-in-training.”
“However, if a child of a family such as yours wishes to join the church, they must make a donation that matches that level of passion. Do you know how much that is?”
It appears that, since my clothing implies I have a lot of money, this man is going to try to take advantage of me. “If you want to join, pay up,” he seems to be saying. I’m already fully aware that a religion such as this can’t be exclusively made of nice ideals. All he’s asking is that, if I want to join, how much money can I comfortably offer him in exchange?
Now that I think of it, I’ve heard that to buy a single book, you need to spend several small gold coins. If I were to gain access to that chained library, then I’d have access to at least ten of those bulky books. I don’t have any basis for this besides rental libraries in Japan, but in those libraries, you pay about as much as a book in order to be able to read all of the books in the library. Then, if you add to that all of the documents on the shelves as well as the ability to read as much as I want before I die, and then set aside the money I’ve been saving for my family… one large gold coin shouldn’t be a problem.
“I don’t know what the actual price of a donation is, but… if I think about the amount of money I have available to me, I could spend up to one large gold coin.”
“L… large?!”, the temple master shouts, spittle flying from his mouth.
The priestess, as well, claps her hand over her mouth, her eyes wide. Judging by their reactions, I’m fairly confident that I presented them with an excessively huge sum of money.
“Huh? Is that too much? But, that’s just the absolute maximum, so I can pay less, you know?”
The temple master exchanges a look with the priestess, then clears his throat, as if to smooth over that outburst. He leans forward, looking at me seriously.
“Ahh… well, although I am overjoyed that a girl such as yourself burns with enough passion that she’d be willing to go that far to join our temple as a sister-in-training, by the time the baptismal ceremony comes around, you have already decided where you’d like to work, correct? Aren’t you already a member of something else?”
Of course, if I were to already have a place of employment picked out, suddenly becoming a sister-in-training wouldn’t be feasible. However, I’d been planning on working out of my home, so I don’t actually have a workplace to leave.
“I’m already provisionally registered with the merchants’ guild, but I don’t yet have a job. My body is very frail, so I was planning on working from home.”
“Working from home? A daughter of merchants? If you were to become a sister-in-training, you’d have to sever any links you have with other organizations. What would your parents say if you were to withdraw from the merchants’ guild and become a sister-in-training?”
“I’ll have to talk this over with my parents, but…”
I trail off. I can’t immediately answer about the merchants’ guild. I’m probably going to need to still be in it if I’m going to continue buying and selling things.
“I wonder if I can even withdraw from the merchants’ guild at all? What would happen to all of the money I’ve made so far, and all of the products I’m going to be developing in the future?”
As I wonder aloud, trying to gather my thoughts, the temple master, overhearing, widens his eyes a bit, looking like he has a question to ask.
“The money you’ve made? The products? Are you not just helping out with your parents’ work?”
This is my chance to show how uniquely appealing it would be for me to join the temple. Recalling the list of important things to cover in a job interview, I explain to him all of the things I’ve tried so hard to do, and all of the ways I’ve learned from my experiences. In brief.
“…Hm,” he says, “if you’re not registered with the guild so that you could help with your parents’ business, then perhaps instead of having you withdraw your registration, you could simply join us here. I might need to consult with the guild master, though.”
He smiles at me admiringly, as if that’s exactly the answer he needed to hear. If he could talk with the higher-ups in the merchants’ guild for me, that would be a huge lifesaver. I thank him politely, entrusting the negotiations with the guild master to him.
“First, I do need to consult my parents,” I say.
“Well, if your parents object or if there are any other issues, then please come talk with me right away. If what you’re after is reading books, then please, come here, to this room. You wouldn’t be able to enter the library, but I would be happy to let you read the scriptures I have here.”
“Really?! Thank you so much! Prayers to the gods!”
The instant I leap up into the Gl█co pose, I can feel my body start to lazily tilt to the side, and all the blood starts to drain from my face.
I overdid it again, didn’t I.
Since Lutz isn’t here, there’s nobody to stop me from getting overexcited or running around recklessly. It seems like I, having paid no attention at all to my own behavior, have pushed my body past its maximum limit, and it’s rebelling my cutting me off from all of my strength.
“…Oh, not again…”
With a thump, I fall to the ground and can’t get up. I’m very thankful that this time I’m still conscious, even if I can’t move my body. As I lay there, I focus all of my mental energy at the blob of devouring fever within me, even though there’s not all that much of it at the moment.
“What’s wrong?! What happened?!”
The temple master’s eyes are wide with alarm as he watches me collapse and go still before his very eyes. He stands up with enough force to knock his chair back. The nun, dumbfounded, stares at me, and then murmurs to herself in a quiet voice.
“…Now that I think of it,” she says, tilting her head to the side, “didn’t she say she’d collapsed in the middle of the baptismal ceremony?”
“What?” says the temple chief, looking up at her.
Stuck here on the ground, I apologize to the two of them.
“I’m sorry, but I got a little overexcited. I can’t move at all right now, but please, just give me a minute.
Translator’s notes for this chapter:
1. The Japanese term originally used here is お花を摘みに行く, or "go pick some flowers”. This is a feminine euphemism for using the restroom.
2. The temple master is not explicitly named here in the original text, as it’s common in Japanese to refer to your superiors purely by their title. This sounds extremely stiff in English, so here the nun refers to him by his name and informal title. Maïne, a proper Japanese woman, will continue internally referring to people by their titles as long as the author deems necessary.