Ascendance of a Bookworm Chapter 94

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The Great Orphanage Cleanup

After finishing lunch, we immediately get to work on cleaning up the orphanage. However, it’s the orphans actually doing the work.

Historically, the general work schedule has been that laundry is done early in the morning and the other cleaning is done in the afternoon, but since at the moment there’s a surplus of gray-robed priests, everything is generally finished during the morning. So, during the afternoons, there’s likely to be a large number of priests without anything to really do, which is why we’ve decided to kick off our great cleaning plans now.

The officially-stated reason for this cleanup is to ensure that when I, a blue-robed apprentice priestess, come to visit the orphanage as part of my inauguration as its director, I do not see anything unsightly. It seems like using an excuse like this for forcing everyone to do such an enormous, unusual task is likely to make it easy for everyone in the orphanage to accept.

The main objective of this major cleanup operation is, of course, to clean up the orphanage, but I’m also using this as an opportunity to teach the orphans that if they work hard, they’ll get a reward. In order to that, I’m having the cooks make soup that I can give to the people cleaning as thanks for their hard work, and in order to reward the people who take the most initiative I’m planning on giving out buttered potatoes―or, more accurately, buttered kalfe―to the thirty of them who stand out the most.

The work to clean out the orphanage can be divided into washing the children while it’s still warm out, cleaning out the basement of the girls’ dormitory where the unbaptized children are staying, cleaning the other floors of the girls’ dormitory, cleaning out the basement of the boys’ dormitory and installing the workshop equipment there, and cleaning up the other floors of the boys’ dormitory. I’ll be having everyone split into teams and take on different aspects of the work.

When Benno and I had suggested this, Fran and Gil both reacted with utter shock. They explained that the servant work at the temple consisted of laundry, cleaning, and prayer. In the morning, they said, everyone washes the laundry, then everyone prays. Essentially, everyone does the same work at the same time. Nobody’s ever really split up to work on different things before, it seems.

After we explained that there’s a wide range of things that need to be done, and that things like carrying in the workshop equipment are very physically demanding, they agreed to actually split up the work this time.

“I wonder, even if we split them into groups and clearly explain things to them, will they really do their work?” I ask.
“It’ll be fine,” says Gil, “because everyone in the orphanage knows that Fran’s the head priest’s attendant.”

According to Gil, the gray-robed priests and apprentices of the orphanage recognize Fran, who is deeply trusted by the head priest himself, as very much their superior. If he’s the one giving directions, then just about everyone will follow them, even though some of them might grumble about it.

“There will… still be a few children who do not listen to what they are told,” says Fran, glancing briefly at Gil.

Gil averts his gaze. Although he’s a pretty hard worker now, it wasn’t too long ago that he was a real problem child that the other gray-robed priests had to constantly fight to keep under control.

Gil and Fran will be making the rounds, making sure that the cleaning is going well, finding out who is working hard and who is running away without doing anything, and checking in with me to report on the overall progress. Lutz will be supervising the cleaning of the basement of the boys’ dorm, since that’s the future site of Maïne’s Workshop, and helping to bring in the equipment. After that, he’ll make the buttered kalfe there in the basement. Delia will be keeping an eye on the cooks and cleaning the first floor of my rooms.

“I’ll be going―”
“You’re staying here,” Lutz says. “It’ll be a big problem if you collapse somewhere.”

Before I can finish saying that I want to go too, Lutz stops me. As I groan, at a loss for words, Gil looks at me in astonishment.

“So, Sister Maïne. Since all this cleaning is happening so that a blue-robed priestess can come to visit, wouldn’t it be a problem if you were to show up before it was actually done?”
“I guess you’re right…”

Since Fran won’t be with me, I can’t go to the library, either, so I let out a big sigh. Fran, looking at me with a fond smile, places a single sheet of paper in front of me. It’s covered with his neat handwriting, each precisely-formed letter reflecting his meticulous personality.

“There are many things that you must learn, Sister Maïne. Firstly, when you go to the orphanage this evening and give your inaugural address, I would like for you to have learned this greeting entirely by heart. Please pay close attention in particular to the names of the gods so that you do not say them incorrectly.”

He also wrote me a cheat sheet, but it looks like I really should have as much of this memorized as possible. I look over the carefully-written sentences, then sigh. Fran, seeing this, smiles broadly, then starts placing a series of wooden boards on my desk, one by one.

“If you have the time, I would like for you to memorize this list of the teas and milks that have been brought here for your rooms, as well as where they originated. This is the pairing that you like. This is Master Benno’s, this is Master Lutz’s, and this is the Father’s preferred pairing.”
“Huh? What?” I say, flabbergasted.
“It is essential to memorize the tastes of those who come visit frequently,” he says.

I decide not to mention that the head priest doesn’t actually come here. It’s probably a good idea to learn what my boss, who I work alongside, likes to drink.

Lutz, trying desperately to suppress a burst of laughter, gives me a big thumbs up.

“This is great, Maïne! Look at all the stuff you get to read!”
“I like reading, yeah, but… I’m really bad at memorizing…”

Unless it’s something I’m actually interested in, my brain just isn’t good at holding onto information. Whenever I just mechanically go through book after book, the contents of one book slip out of my head the moment I start reading the next.

My shoulders droop as I reach dejectedly towards Fran’s pile of documents.

Fran returns after the fifth bell rings. He writes a series of names onto a wooden slip, his pen scratching across its surface, listing the names and appearances of the children who took initiative and tried hard, as well as the children who hid away from their work.

“Although the thorough bathing of the youngest children was the task you were most concerned about,” he says, “we were able to use the soap and towels we prepared to finish bathing them while it was still warm enough out. They are currently being dressed in cheap, second-hand clothes, and fresh straw is being packed into sheets.”

The sheets were bought cheaply, so they’re patched together, but right now the children are in the process of filling clean sheets with straw we bought from a local farmer to make their own bedding.

“There aren’t any sick or unresponsive children, are there?” I ask.
“No, they are all fine. I believe this is perhaps the result of Gil having brought them food these past few days. Those children have become to adore Gil as a messiah, it seems, and as he has been saying that this at your orders, you are likely so adored as well.”

Being told that to my face is actually pretty embarrassing, but I’m happy to hear that those kids have gotten a little healthier.

“A handful of the priestesses and apprentices who were assigned to wash the children are helping stuff the bedding, and the rest of them have been reassigned to help with the rest of the cleaning. Now then, I must make my rounds again.”
“Thank you, Fran. I’ll leave it to you.”

Fran gives me a slight bow, then heads back to the orphanage again. Shortly afterward, Lutz returns.

“Maïne, we’re done cleaning up the basement in the boys’ dorms. We’re going to start installing the workshop equipment now.”
“Got it. Thanks, Lutz!”
“Man, though, those guys are amazing,” he says over his shoulder as he takes off. “They’re really used to cleaning. They’re crazy fast at it!”

As soon as Lutz is gone, Fran comes back again to write down a list of names he heard from Gil, then quickly heads off again.

While everyone else is so busy, I just sit at the work desk that had arrived for me just a few days ago, staring at Fran’s handwriting. Man, these gods have some long names. And there’s so many of them too. I kind of want to ask the head priest if I could come up with some nice, friendly nicknames for them.

Since Delia is supposed to be keeping an eye on the kitchen while she’s cleaning, the kitchen door has been left open, and the delicious scent of the soup I’ll be giving out as a reward drifts through the air. As I sit there, thinking about stupid things, the cleaning comes to an end.

“Sister Maïne,” says Gil, “the boys’ dorm is all cleaned out.”
“Thanks for all the help, Gil! So it’s just the girls’ dorm left now, right?”
“Right. But boys can’t enter the girls’ dormitory except for the dining hall.”
“So, can you get started on getting the dining hall ready for the soup, then?”
“Got it!” he says, running excitedly from the room.

As he leaves, Lutz arrives.

“Hey, Maîne. We’re all done setting up the workshop, so we’ve started steaming the kalfe. Sound good?”
“Sound good…? Wait, you’ve already started though, right?” I chuckle. “Well, good timing either way. Gil just went to get the dining hall set up.”
Lutz leans in closer, lowering his voice. “Uh, so those kids are saying that they’ve never even seen a kalfe before. They’ve only ever seen cooked food. Even though all I’m basically doing is just steaming them, they’re all super curious. They’ve been crowding around me to watch. It’s been pretty hard to actually do anything.”
“…Ahh, right, they’ve only ever seen the gods’ blessings, so they’ve never done any actual cooking in the orphanage. It’s natural for them to be curious if they’ve never seen raw ingredients before, I guess?”

Come to think of it, I read in some magazine somewhere that even in Japan there’s plenty of kids who only know what carrots look like because they’ve bought them in a supermarket and have never actually seen them growing, so when they see fields full of leaves they don’t actually understand what they’re looking at. If something like that can happen in a country like Japan where all kinds of information is so readily available, then it’s not strange at all that people here wouldn’t know much of anything outside of what they experienced in their everyday lives.

“So, how about I go teach them how to butter them?”

With butter and knife in hand, he heads out again, grinning. Shortly thereafter, Fran returns.

“As expected, cleaning the basement of the girls’ dormitory, where the youngest children were living, has been a very difficult task. Currently, everyone who had been assigned to cleaning the girls’ dormitory is assisting. It should be done shortly. Additionally, unlike the boys’ dormitory, there are not very many people living in the girls’ dormitory at the moment, so the unbaptized children have been given use of some of the small rooms on the first floor as well. Presently, the straw-stuffed bedding and changes of clothing are being brought in.”

I breathe a sigh of relief, hearing that report. Making sure that those children had a place to sleep is very important.

“Have you memorized your greeting, Sister?”
“…More-or-less. But, just to be safe, can I bring this paper with me?”
“Certainly. Now then, please call for me when you are ready to leave. Delia, please tend to Sister Maïne’s preparations.”

As Fran heads downstairs, Delia comes up to help me get my hair in order. She sits me down in front of the dresser and slides my hairpin out. As she picks up the comb, she looks at me in the mirror, her face a mix of pain and sorrow.

“…Did you save them?”
“I did,” I reply. “It seems they’re now healthy enough to be able to stuff their own bedding with straw.”

Even though I just told her I’d been able to help them, her expression doesn’t lighten at all. She averts her eyes, lips pursed as if she’s swallowed something bitter.

“…Delia, why are you looking so sad? Aren’t you happy?”
“I am, but… it’s just frustrating. Why… why didn’t you save me back then?”
“I wasn’t even here yet, so I couldn’t have—”
“I know that!” she yells. It looks like she couldn’t stop herself, even though she knows she’s just venting her anger on me. “I know that, but…”

Her pale blue eyes fill with tears that look like they might spill over at any moment. It hurts me to imagine how many painful memories she must have had to endure before her baptism, and how many times she must have wished to be saved.

“I wasn’t there in time to help you back then, but I’ll try to be there for you next time. I’ll really be there for you, so… don’t cry.”
“I’m not crying!!” she yells, scrubbing roughly at her eyes.
“S, sorr—”
“Don’t apologize to your attendant!”

It seems like I might have wounded her pride by pointing out that she’s crying.

…I think the poor girl might be just a bit unreasonable, though.

Since it sounds like my inauguration as orphanage director is something of a public occasion, we’ve decided that I’ll be wearing the same hairpin that I did for my baptismal ceremony, the one with wisteria flowers.

“This is an unusual ornament,” says Delia.
“It’s the hairpin that I made for my baptismal ceremony. The Gilberta Company is starting to sell them.”
“…You made this? By yourself?”
“I had some help, but yes, I can make things like that. If I have the materials, of course.”
“The materials…” she says, her eyes fixated on the hairpin as if she’s a predator locked onto her prey.

After she finishes combing out my hair, I put my hairpin in. Delia doesn’t know how to do it yet, so I have to do it myself.

“Sister Maïne,” says Fran, “we have finished our preparations to depart.”

The soup has been poured into several pots and loaded into the wagon. Behind Fran, I see a few gray-robed priests I haven’t seen before.

“These are the priests who will be assisting in carrying in and serving the soup,” he says.
“Ah, excellent. Thank you,” I say to them.
“No,” one replies, “it is we who should be thanking you. The gods’ blessings have been very spare as of late, so everyone will be very grateful for this.”
“Oh, but this is not the gods’ blessings. This is a reward from me.”
“Huh? A reward?”

He blinks, as if unsure what I actually mean. I just smile at him, ending the conversation.

Fran holds me in his arms, and we make our way around the building, heading along the walkways until we reach the front door of the orphanage. Since we’re taking the long way around, it’s actually a surprisingly long walk. If I’d been on foot, the priests wouldn’t have been able to match my walking speed.

He lets me down before the orphanage’s door, then makes sure that neither my hair nor my clothing has gotten disheveled. A priest, seeing that everything’s in order, pulls the door open with a creak, then in a clear, carrying voice, calls out to everyone inside.

“Everyone, by the blessings of the highest of all gods who rule over all in the high, lofty skies and those of the five gods who rule over all in the wide, vast earth, the priestess who has become the new orphanage director has arrived.”

On the other side of the door is the dining hall. At first, I’m a little surprised that what I see through the front door are the rows of long tables that fill the room, but when I think about how the gods’ blessings must be carried in by hand, and that the boys only enter this building for the sake of going to the dining hall, it seems pretty reasonable.

Seated along the tables were rows of gray-robed people, but as soon as the priest called out his introduction they all stood up in unison, turning to face me. I feel the pressure of everyone staring at me, appraisingly, and I have to fight the urge to look away and to shield myself from their gazes.

“Let us welcome her, and raise our prayers to the heavens. We pray to the gods!”

When everyone, as a group, suddenly snaps into the Gl█co pose, I don’t just fail to look away, but I find myself just staring.

“This way, Sister,” says Fran.

He takes my hand, guiding me along a carpet that has been laid out towards a table. The priests in the front of the crowd that are easiest for me to see are all holding their prayer poses perfectly, but behind them I can see the younger children having trouble keeping their balance. They’re a good match for me.

As the prayer ends and all eyes return to me, Fran gently lifts me up and sets me down to stand on the table. Quietly, he murmurs in my ear.

“As nobly as you can, please.”

When it comes to getting gray-robed priests to follow your orders, it seems that the first impression is key. Just like Gil knew who I was right from the start, it seems like it’s common knowledge among the gray-robed clergy that I, who joined the temple as a blue-robed priestess, am a commoner. Fran cautioned me that if I give off the impression that I lack self-confidence, they’re not going to take me seriously, so I must show them the dignity of a noble.

I must stand proudly and never avert my gaze. My smile should show as much calm as I can manage. The basics of it are the same as when I’d come with Benno to deliver my donation to the temple.

Fran had told me that if it absolutely comes to it, I should feel free to release a bit of my mana to lightly coerce them. That will make them understand the difference in our statures, he said, with a smile. I really don’t want them to be weirdly terrified of me, though, so I hope that I can get out of this without having to use my mana at all.

I’ve somehow managed to memorize my greeting, but the only experience I have speaking in front of a crowd like this was during Urano days, back when I had to present my bachelor’s thesis, or even way back in elementary school when I’d won some kind of award for my book report and nearly died of embarrassment while having to read it out loud to the entire student body.

As everyone in the crowd stares at me, I force myself to take a slow breath, still shivering with tension. When I do, I feel the flowers hanging from my hairpin gently sway behind me. Reminded that I have the hairpin that my whole family made for me, I find myself relaxing, just a little bit.

“It is a pleasure to meet all of you on this day that so shines with the blessing of the god of fire, Leidenschaft. My name is Maïne. I have been entrusted with the duty of being the director of this orphanage. I am grateful, from the bottom of my heart, that you have so willingly listened to my wishes today and given me such warm welcome.”

Now that I’ve expressed my thanks for the welcome and stated my reason for being here in such pretty, ornate words, I need to tie it all back together by reciting the names of the gods.

“Let us now lift our prayers and gratitude to the highest of all gods, who rule over all in the high, lofty skies, and to the five gods who rule over all in the wide, vast earth: the goddess of water, Frühträne, the god of fire, Leidenschaft, the goddess of wind, Schutzaria, and the god of life, Ewigeliebe.”

It seems like the remarks Fran had written out for me are some kind of standardized speech in the temple. In response to my words, the priests all immediately assume the prayer pose.

“We pray to the gods! We give thanks to the gods!”

Ever since coming to the temple, I’ve had to practice my prayers with Fran and the head priest, so I’ve gotten just a little bit better at the prayer pose. I’m still not actually good at it, but even still, my balance is good enough now that I’m not risking falling over. Todays prayer was, if I do say so myself, excellent work.

Next, now that my speech is done and I’ve gotten over the part that I was nervous about the most, it’s time to pass out the rewards.

“You have done such an excellent job today in cleaning the orphanage for my sake. I brought you a reward. Fran, if you will, please have it served to everyone who worked hard today.”
“As you wish, Sister,” he replies.

Fran takes out a wooden slip and reads off the names of the people who didn’t help with the cleaning. As he does so, the priests who are helping pass out the soup walk around, serving it to everyone except for the people whose names were called.

As I look on, reminded of food being served at a school cafeteria, a young boy, about as old as Gil, who hadn’t gotten any soup turns to glare at me, his face bright red.

“You’re mean! This isn’t equal!” he yells, sounding just like Gil did at the start. “The gods’ blessings are given equally to everyone! Even a commoner like you should—”
“Indeed,” I reply, “the gods’ blessings are given equally.”

I smile pleasantly at him.

“But these are not the gods’ blessings. I told you that this was a reward given to those who worked hard, did I not? Were you perhaps not listening? A reward is not equal. I’m afraid that I cannot reward those who do not work. It is said that if any would not work, neither should he eat.1 Everyone, please remember this.”

The boy stares dumbly at me, his anger forgotten, as if he’d been completely caught off guard by my rebuttal.

“…A, a reward?”
“That’s right, a reward. Please, try to work hard next time. Now, I have something more for those of you who worked exceptionally hard for me. When your name is called, please bring your plate to the front of the room.”

At that, a gray-robed priest opens the lid of the steamer that contains the buttered kalfe Lutz made. The smell of butter wafts gently out into the room. As Fran begins reading off names, priests and priestesses start walking hesitantly forward holding their plates, looking fearfully around the room. One by one, the buttered kalfe are placed onto each priest’s plate.

“I heard you were the quickest to run to get the children and help wash them. I very much appreciate it.”
“You’re very fast at cleaning, I hear? Lutz had great praise for you.”
“You took the initiative to carry some of the heaviest things, didn’t you? Thank you for your hard work.”

All I’m doing is reading off of the notes I made when Fran and Gil explained the reasons for their selections to me, but all of them are looking at me like they’re overwhelmed with emotion. Some of them are even making the same face that Gil did the first time I praised him.

I’m suddenly deeply aware of how blessed I am to have the family I do. Memories of how tremendously they praised me whenever I was able to do even just a little bit more than before float through my head.

Just like how my family did for me, I think that as the director I’m going to need to look hard for everyone’s strong points and make sure to praise them for it.

“Please continue to keep up the good work. Now, please, enjoy your food.”

The next afternoon, we hold a cooking class, teaching everyone how to make soup. Everyone’s been split into groups again—the vegetable-washing group, the vegetable chopping group, and the group in charge of filling up the pots and tending the fires—and are learning under the tutelage of Tuuli and Ella. Hugo is back in the kitchen, working hard by himself to make dinner.

Professors Ella and Tuuli are teaching everyone how to chop vegetables. Those of the priests who have enough strength use kitchen knives, and those apprentices who aren’t strong enough yet use smaller paring knives. Since this soup is going to be a reward as part of tonight’s dinner, everyone is working in earnest. Even while marveling over the meat and vegetables that they’ve never seen in their raw forms before, they’re doing their best to wash and chop the vegetables, despite how unfamiliar the motions are.

I quietly observe how the first batch of cooking that Maïne’s Workshop has ever done is going. Fran has instructed me that, as a blue-robed priestess, it’s okay for me to be here as long as all I’m doing is watching. Under no circumstances am I allowed to help.

I vaguely feel like there’s someone’s eyes on me. When I turn to look, I see that the boy who hadn’t eaten yesterday keeps glancing over at me as he makes sure to take the initiative as he works. I’m pleased to see him so fiercely asserting himself, so when I give out slices of fruit as a reward, I make sure he gets a slightly bigger piece.

Translator’s notes for this chapter:

1. This is another line from the New Testament.

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