“You idiot, what kind of throw was that?”
Lutz watched in dismay as the Tau fruit struck the stone path, just short of the soil.
There was a loud series of popping noises, almost like popcorn kernels bursting in a pan. The seeds burst from the red fruit and covered the ground with a writhing mass of sprouts. Those that reached the soil took root, while those that fell short withered rapidly. In the blink of an eye, the sprouts had already grown ankle high.
“These things grow fast.” said Lutz, “As soon as they reach our knees, we’ll harvest them one by one.”
Lutz directed the wary orphans, while keeping a determined eye on the quickly growing Tronbay.
“Fran, take Maïne and stand back!”
At Lutz’ instruction, Fran carried me to a safe distance. Unable to even hold a blade, I could only give encouragement.
“Everybody, do your best~!”
“Let’s get started!”
Lutz ran to the furthest saplings and began harvesting the Tronbay with a hatchet-like tool. Gil, who was running just behind Lutz, had started cutting first.
“Haa…” Gil shouted as he swung the blade.
Gil’s blade makes a cracking noise as he cuts down a thin branch-like sapling. The Tronbay, felled by his wild slashes stops growing as it falls to the ground. The children, having watched how simple it was for Gil, join in on culling the growing Tronbay.
“Sister Maïne, what is going on?”
Depending on what Fran tells the Head Priest, I could end up with another mind-numbing lecture. I wrack my brain for a good way to convince him that this was a normal occurance outside the temple, and not a big deal.
“We can use what we harvest here to make high-quality paper. It’s a rare ingredient so you should know that this is a great opportunity for us. ”
While it was technically the truth, Fran’s question remained unanswered. As he began to speak again, Fran was interrupted.
“The saplings have grown too thick;” Gil shouted “knives can’t cut through them anymore. Fall back, I’ll handle the rest.”
I quickly face Gil as he grabs a girl, easily pulling her away from the plants, and energetically slashes at the now waist-high saplings. It’s clear that Gil, who had spent many a joyful day working in the forest, had grown strong.
“Woohoo, I did it!”
Gil proudly struck a triumphant pose and gave me a broad smile. He looked at me expectantly; “Praise me afterwards” he seemed to appeal. I nodded slightly.
“Are there any left?” Lutz asked.
After a brief search, the children shook their heads.
“What do you think Lutz?” I asked “Should we do this a few more times?
This is a good chance to gather such precious material in relative safety. It’d be a shame to waste this opportunity.”
Lutz gave his head a tilted shake and said, “Let’s do it one or two more times, then we can start throwing Tau fruit at each other. It looks like the seeds that didn’t land in the soil have withered away, but we should be able to find more in the forest.”
“Would everyone be willing to do this a few more times?” asked Maïne. “I would greatly appreciate it. We can make a high quality paper with the harvested Tronbay. This will allow me to increase the budget for the orphanage.”
“Sister Maïne, how will it help if the budget increases?”
These children have no understanding of money. For them, everything is provided as God’s Blessing. I could try to explain that, in society, everything requires money. That, as orphans, they would be unable to cover their own living expenses, not to mention the soup they enjoy so much. Though I doubt that I could make them understand.
“If the budget increases, the meals you can make for yourselves will increase. We would also be able to buy more winter firewood for the orphanage.”
“Alright, let’s do it!”
Firewood is precious, as the orphanage is given very little. The orphanage has only two fireplaces, one in the mess hall on the girls’ side and another in a large room on the boys’ side. The stone building retains heat poorly and rapidly cools as soon the fireplaces burn out. The orphans spend many days and nights of winter huddled together like penguins.
In an environment with scarce resources, wintertime food and heating is a critical concern.
With the suddenly eager children, we were able to harvest Tronbay three more times. The baskets were full of Tronbay branches alone. Since we have to process them into rind as fast as possible, we ended the Tronbay gathering at this point.
“Well then, I guess we can throw the remaining Tau fruit at each other?”
The children, who are still full of motivation to harvest Tronbay, blink at Lutz in confusion.
“Eeh? Isn’t it fine to turn all of the rest into paper as well?”
“Nah, it will be fine to go out again to pick them once we run out. Just like today.”
The children cheer at Lutz’ words. They had very much enjoyed venturing into the forest to gather Tau fruit. How enviable.
The repeated Tronbay harvest had left the grounds full of gouged-out holes and littered with dead weeds. Everyone works to clean up by filling in the holes, smoothing the dirt, and stomping down any loose paving stones.
“The weeds around here are completely gone, but it can’t be helped, right?”
“I guess so. However, in this season things like grass will grow back quickly.”
“… Let’s just say that it saved us the hassle of weeding.”
The Ritual of the Star Union had finished and no blue-robed priest would visit this backyard. I concluded that there would likely be no particular problem with that.
“Maïne, you’re looking pale and feverish. Go change clothes. I’ll handle the Tau fruit match.”
“Yeah, I think you’re right. I’m feeling sluggish and cold.”
Fran carries me in his arms and says “Delia should have prepared the bath by now, so your body will probably warm up quickly.”
As Fran whisks me away, I peer back over his shoulder. The orphans were split into two groups throwing Tau fruit at each other. Their joyous shouts and squeals are no different than those of the lower-city children. I think I’d like to bring a bit more fun to the orphanage.
“Geeze! What do you think you’re doing!?” Delia stares daggers at me and continues, “Destroying your health by playing around in the orphanage is not proper behavior for a blue-robed priestess!”
Delia was upset at my worn-out appearance as we return to my rooms. She has Fran carry me into the bathroom and then chases him out. After stripping me of my damp clothes, she places me into the bath that she had prepared earlier. Delia keeps adding hot water to the bath until she is satisfied with the temperature.
I quietly mumble “You really like the bath to be hot, don’t you?”
Delia’s glare hardens “The bath has to be hot because your body is chilled to the bone. As weak as you are, you shouldn’t be out playing in the water. Don’t you at least understand that much? Geeze!”
“… Delia, be quiet for a bit. After all it’s such a nice bath at long last.”
A grateful sigh of relief leaves my mouth as the hot bath warms my body.
“That’s only natural since it was prepared by me.”
“Yes, it’s just as you say, Delia. It’s very comfortable, thanks to you. Thank you.”
Given that I’m unable to draw water from a well to this very day, I’m incapable of preparing a bath by myself.
“I just did what I was told to do. I’m not like Gil. Something like gratitude for all my hard work…”
Despite her quiet grumbling, I know that she’s simply bashful.
Giggling quietly, I submerge my shoulders and think about Tronbay.
Was I unaware of it last time because it was almost on the verge of sprouting or because I had absolutely no knowledge about my mana and the Devouring? I didn’t feel the flow of mana at all the first time.
This time I clearly sensed mana flowing into the Tau fruit. I think it takes around 2 or 3 small magic stones worth of mana to cause an engorged Tau fruit to bud.
It depends on the amount of mana currently possessed by those with the Devouring, but I believe that we could reduce the number of children dying from the Devouring if we use Tau fruit. If we make the Devouring well-known, we can let the people disperse their mana with Tau fruit. Maïne’s Workshop could then accept the offcuts right? That was my overly optimistic calculation.
However, if what Lutz said is true, then the Tau fruit can’t be preserved. If they are separated from the soil in the spring, the water in them will vanish within half a day. Even in the summer the fruit will only last a couple of days before drying up, just like the seeds that missed the soil today.
I don’t think they will wither as quickly if I place them on a soil similar to where Tronbay grows, but I’m scared that they will be washed away by wind and rain causing Tronbay to sprout in the middle of the city come autumn.
“… I suppose I will report to Mister Benno for starters?”
I will report that we can now collect Tronbay as we like from spring to the beginning of autumn. I will also ask him to spread the information on Tau fruit and the Devouring, and to gather information regarding Tronbay.
With my thoughts concluded, I step out of the bath and am hit by a wave of dizziness. I don’t know if it was due to the fever or not.
I grab my head as I crumble to the ground with a thud. Delia covers her mouth and stifles a scream. She quickly works to dry me off and dress me in a blouse and skirt, frantically calling for Fran as she finishes.
“… Oh, don’t worry about there not being a mattress on the bed. You can put me down, I will be fine with laying on top of the base board.”
Fran, who didn’t know where to put me, ended up just holding me awkwardly in his arms, but he immediately laid me down carefully when he heard my words.
“Delia, go and call Lutz. Fran, can I have you change clothes so that you can go outside? It looks like it would be best for me to go home early today…”
Since Lutz took part in the Tau throwing match together with the children, he was naturally sopping wet, so Fran carried me home.
Upon hearing Lutz explain that I had to change at the temple after receiving concentrated fire at the festival, mother sighed and said “As expected. I knew that something like this would happen if Maïne went to the Star Festival. Please do me the favor of informing the Head Priest that she will need to stay in bed for several days, okay?”
Fran nods and apologizes gravely about his being an incapable attendant as mother puts me into bed.
“Did you enjoy the festival that put you in this sorry state?”
“… Yeah, there were plenty of things that startled me, but all of the orphans were smiling. That was nice.”
Just as my family and Lutz thought, I develop a fever and am bedridden for three days. I ask Lutz, who has come to make a sick visit, to report to Benno about the Tronbay and Tau fruit. Later Lutz relays the following answer from Benno: “I want to talk about the details so when your fever has subsided, come to my store before going to the temple.”
“Good morning, Mister Benno.”
“You caused trouble again Maïne, didn’t you?” Benno asked, glaring at me with his reddish brown eyes.
Flinching, I try to respond “… T-Trouble, you say; didn’t I manage to find a reliable way to gather Tronbay which we thought was too unpredictable to use as a material? If you can prepare a number of people in advance, it will be safe since we can harvest it easily, so shouldn’t you praise me?”
“As for that, you are certainly right. Confirming that the Tau fruit is the seed of Tronbay is a joyous matter as it will allow us to safely gather Tronbay. However, there are many troubles connected to that, right?”
“Is that so?”
Seeing my blank expression, Benno mutters “So you haven’t thought about it at all, have you?” and turns to Lutz, who was standing next to me.
“Sorry Lutz, but please inform the Head Priest that Maïne’s arrival will be delayed. After that stay with Mark until I call you. This lecture is going to take a while.”
Lutz smiles bitterly, leaving behind a half-hearted encouragement: “Do your best, Maïne”.
In a room that lacked any allies for me, Benno is lightly tapping on top of the table.
“I heard from Lutz: The Tau fruit suddenly absorbed your mana, grew in one go and turned into Tronbay. Is that right?”
“Does it look like it could be a replacement for magic tools?”
The fact that Tau fruit cannot be obtained during winter is worrying, but if I use around 20 Tau fruit, I probably won’t die of mana overflow until the following spring. Since it seems that mana capacity grows with the body, I don’t know around how many will be necessary once I become an adult.
“… I believe it will. Therefore…”
“This must absolutely never become known.” Benno interrupts sternly.
I had intended him to spread information regarding the usage of Tau fruit for the very sake of saving those suffering from the Devouring, so my eyes widen in disbelief at Benno’s response.
“The management of mana is under the jurisdiction of the nobles. If they learn that a fruit that can be easily picked up in the forest can replace expensive magic tools, the current state of affairs in noble society and in the temple will be upended. If it’s passed on in a weird way, you will probably get crushed.”
“… But, if we stay silent, commoners with the Devouring will remain a lost cause, won’t they?
Although I found a precious method of saving them, one that doesn’t even cost any money, those who can be saved won’t be saved if they don’t know!”
“Yes, that’s correct. However, how can you tell if children have the Devouring? Is there a way fellow Devouring sufferers can recognise each other?”
I shake my head. The only person with the Devouring I’ve met is Frieda, but I couldn’t tell Frieda possessed mana or had the Devouring by just looking. There’s no way for me to save anyone if I don’t know whether they have the Devouring or not.
“It might be possible to identify at birth whether children possess mana or not by having them hold that fruit, but the moment it’s known they possess mana, they will likely be taken away by the nobles. What parent would try to identify them if they know they will be taken away as soon as they are found out? At least in your case, you couldn’t take your family along, right?”
I am suddenly at a loss for words. Not wanting to be separated from my family, I thought I needed a means to stay alive without having to rely on magic tools. That was for the sake of avoiding the nobles. If we identify those with the Devouring on a grand scale, the nobles will likely learn of me, and it will all have been for nothing.
And there’s no way that the information to save people from the Devouring through the Tau fruit will circulate if it’s not spread on a grand scale.
“Would you instead have any and all fever-prone children brought to you? Are you going to turn them away, saying that If it was the Devouring, it would be healed with Tau fruit, but since it’s a different sickness then tough luck? If you did that, you would just receive those with strange diseases instead, and pointlessly invite the hatred of their parents if you couldn’t cure them.”
It’s clear that I would be told, “Even though you easily healed the sickness of that child, why won’t you do the same for our child?” I clench my fists at the scene Benno predicted. I hadn’t thought that far ahead.
“Besides, is there absolutely no chance that they won’t become a problem growing up with the Devouring without having to rely on the nobles? Will they be able to handle the mana of the Devouring correctly if they grow up without any knowledge? How will the temple operate its ritual articles if they can’t look after the children of nobles who can’t afford magic tools? Won’t it turn into something that shakes the foundation of the noble society itself?”
“… I don’t know.”
I am unable to answer any of the problems he rattled off. I don’t know about the social situation, the structure of politics and even the treatment of mana in this world.
“As for the advantage in saving those with the Devouring, you don’t even know how many are afflicted, and the aftermath could be disastrous. Say nothing for now, and just be grateful that you have obtained a means to secretly stay alive even if you are expelled from the temple or if it turns into a situation where you are threatened by being denied magic tools. The situation would get out of hand quickly. At the very least, I won’t be able to handle it.”
There’s no way that I can handle something that Benno can’t. If I’m asked whether I want to sow confusion, just when the state of affairs has calmed down after the purge and mass appointments in the central government and with the current lack of nobles, the answer is no. I don’t want to do something as troublesome as that.
“If it’s just picking up Tronbay in the forest, it’s probably possible to use that as a deception, since that is what we’ve been doing so far. But I believe it would be best to stay silent regarding life extension and identification of those with the Devouring.”
I’m still not happy at all that I cannot save the lives that I should be able to save, even if I understand it logically. My dissatisfaction likely showed on my face clearly. Benno shrugged his shoulders helplessly.
“Don’t put on such a face. … It’s fine if you secretly help those whom you happen to find. I’m just telling you to not let the nobles suspect anything. Can you declare war against noble society? The customers for your books will be nobles, right?”
I laughed at Benno’s last words. It cheered me up a bit. If there’s someone suffering from the Devouring in front of me, I will save them. Places that I can’t see are none of my business. It’s best if I just keep that mindset.
“At the very least I won’t be able to declare a war until I have raised the literacy rate to the level that ordinary citizens will be able to freely read books. Though it’s still unthinkable for me to do such troublesome thing.”
Our conversation becomes more light-hearted and Benno’s expression loosens up as he sighs “Well certainly, reaching the point where ordinary people can read is troublesome, isn’t it?”
“That isn’t what’s troublesome; the declaration of war is. If I want to spread books, it’s only natural for me to want to raise the literacy rate.”
After all, I got into the temple with great pains. “Sooner or later I intend to start a small temple school separate from the temple elementary school, using the orphanage. First I will educate the orphans, and train the grey-robed priests to be teachers.”
Once I develop what I remember of printing techniques…I continue, “Then, I can create textbooks based on the Scriptures. If I propagate the Scriptures, even the Temple Master shouldn’t have any complaints.”
I conclude by asking Benno, “How about that? It’s perfect, isn’t it?”
I puff up with pride and chuckle; but Benno is at his wits’ end for some reason.
“Since it’s your plan, I imagine it will be full of holes, but that’s fine. … Say, Maïne, can’t you use your head for anything else but books?”
“Well, given that I have never used it for anything besides books, it’s more like I don’t know whether I can use it or not though”, I add.
Benno sighs very, very deeply “You are too disappointing.”
Benno laughs and says, “It’s the truth” then changes his expression all of a sudden. With a serious expression and a somewhat lowered volume he starts a serious topic.
“That means you have to keep silent about the Tau fruit so that we can monopolize the Tronbay as long as possible, is that clear?”
“Well then, I’d like to hear your opinion about the last entry on the problem list I handed you the other day.”
… Ah, is that why he sent Lutz away on an errand?
Realizing that Lutz had been sent away so Benno could ask about this in private, I widen my eyes and gulp.