For all her dreams of joining the priesthood and making a difference in the world and everything else, Beatrice had never actually been on the inside of a convent until now.
This one here, one block away from St. Helens Academy and situated on the same campus as one of the biggest churches in the city, was home to all the dozens of priests of downtown Balarand. But it was hardly bigger than Emi’s home, and unlike almost every other building in the city it was built almost entirely out of stone.
Each priest was allotted one bedroom and one meditation room, together adding up to a space hardly bigger than Beatrice’s own cramped bedroom. Though it seemed most of the priests made efficient use of their space with what few possessions they had. In addition to this space, there were three or four common rooms with chairs, tables and a kitchen laid out throughout the convent.
A few priests sat around the common room reading books, perusing today’s issue of the Balarand Circle, and sipping on tea. Beatrice glanced at each of them and tried to take in just how they felt about their own situation. They looked… completely neutral about it. Oh, okay.
Stone walls and stone floors with hard wood furniture made the convent not only feel homely, but downright rustic. The priests seemed to be enjoying themselves, but they certainly weren’t given any bit of luxury.
Still, the atmosphere seemed relaxed, almost casual, and full of intellectuals with high education, to boot. She was sure there was a library around here somewhere, but she hadn’t noticed it yet to judge how extensive it was.
Her purpose here wasn’t to tour, though; it was to meet with Mr. Statusian regarding the upcoming Priesthood Exams. He had compiled some study materials for her to pick up, but when she got here to the convent, their meeting turned into a much more extensive conversation about her future. And that included a full look into what was to become her home if she completed her training.
Out of all the teachers Beatrice had had as a junior priest in all her subjects, Mr. Statusian was the only one who ever seemed to care about Beatrice’s welfare beyond passing classes, the only one interested in actively engaging her in conversation outside of school and discussing the facts of life. She respected him.But she also felt confused by him sometimes.
“What do you see in me that’s different than the normal student?” she asked, not wanting to skirt around the question. “Besides that I’m better at studying.”
Mr. Statusian laughed softly. “It’s a lot more than your study habits, that’s for sure. Something about your… smile, I think, is what caught my eye.”
“My smile?” Beatrice tried to imitate the way she normally smiled, but it felt weird.
“Let me explain. When you get an answer right, or when something clicks in that head of yours, you have this sort of smile that brightens up your entire face. You usually don’t raise your hand or try to upstage your classmates, but whenever I see your smiling face, I can know I’m getting through to at least one person.”
Beatrice didn’t know her smile was capable of anything like that.
He continued. “It was about a week into our last term when I realized you were leagues above the rest of the class. You might still need to do some studying before the Priesthood Exams, but I have no doubt that you’re going to be something special very soon.”
“What do you mean?”
“In the priesthood, we talk about the ebbs and flows of popularity in the Church, and right now, what with all the wars and occupations with Dannark and Doros and Elince, we are definitely in a down period. People still pray to the Gods, but they don’t really attend Church services or try to pass on their beliefs to their children. The wonder of magic is seen as parlor tricks and gimmickry. Sometimes these eras go on for a century or more. But every time the religion looks to be on the wane, someone comes along and acts as a spiritual rallying cry for all of us. Certain religious figures, such as Father Yolanda, Queen Yukai, or even Ulric Fathie himself in a twisted way, have brought about new revivals for the Gods. I think you could do the same.”
This was nonsense.
“I highly doubt I can do something like that!” she laughed.
“I might be wrong, but I think you will change Tsubasa for the better,” Mr. Statusian said. “You will be the one to help usher in a new harmony to the continent. Of course, you’ll have to end your relationship with whoever you’ve been seeing. But it’s just a youthful fling, I know. You won’t let that become a problem.”
….Eh? “Wait… what? You know about Emi?”
He laughed. “Well, I didn’t know her by name, but I figured you might have found romance lately. You stopped staying late and you seemed distracted in class. Not that your grades changed, of course.
“Well, there’s the mandatory exit time…”
“You know what I mean,” he said. “How is she, though? This Emi?”
Normally, Beatrice would have felt too embarrassed to describe her girlfriend to a stranger, but before she could even think about it, she was already speaking: “She’s sweet. She’s pretty shy but loves exploring the city with me and loves reading. We’re a really good match, even if she lives in a huge house and her parents are famous diplomats. She still hasn’t introduced me to them… I wonder if…” She trailed off, but she did have the nagging feeling that Emi was afraid of bringing a commoner home for supper or something like that. “She’s tall, she’s smart, and she blushes all the time.”
Mr. Statusian scoffed. “Diplomats? So her family is part of the bureaucracy that helped oust King Kline and his family?”
“I, uh, guess so. They’re still doing a lot of stuff, travelling to Zahn and Dannark sometimes. I think they’re away right now, doing some business or another.
“Let me warn you of one thing,” Mr. Statusian said. “Families like that are not to be trusted. If one cannot stay loyal to one’s country, how can we expect one to stay loyal to a friend, or even a lover?” He had suddenly turned much more serious, his normally pleasant expression having morphed into a stern scowl. It took Beatrice completely by surprise.
Beatrice felt sweat at her forehead, which was strange because it was very cold in this monastery. “Well… I… I don’t know.”
“There’s a lot of brewing forces out here in Balarand right now. Dannark has been taking many ill-advised actions lately, and people are getting restless. Elince won’t stay silent for much longer.”
“Oh, I, uh…”
“You heard what they did during the Winter Ceremonies, right? They took the Jewel of Elince and locked it up in Castle Balarand when parade organizers tried to use it. For the first time ever, in the history of our kingdom, Elincian flags were banned from festivities. It would have been unthinkable just months ago. But here we are.”
Mr. Statusian shook his head and softly chuckled. “Sorry about that. It’s just… a topic a lot of the priests have been debating about recently.”
“And let me guess, you’re involved in most of those debates?”
“Well, I am Ulric the Plainsmith, after all.” He smiled, but it faded quickly. “I researched extensively in my training about the extent Church should be involved in local political situations,” he continued. “There has never been a consensus reached, but in general, we try to stay out of warfare and uprisings and scandals of any sort. The Church has made an official decree of neutrality in the occupation of Elince, but considering that the Holy Place is in the capital city Dannark…”
“It must be tough to stay out of it,” Beatrice said. “There’s so many protests these days.”
“Yes, yes there are. But… that’s not important right now. What’s important is seeing such an important girl like you down a path that might change the continent for the better.” And with that, he veered back into their previous topic. “I must warn you, though. This fling you’re having is surely a pleasant experience in the moment, but you can never forget that this Emi girl is merely a distraction on your path to serving the Gods. You can’t let any feelings you may hold for her distract you as you study for your test.”
“I…” she mumbled, without finishing her thought because she didn’t have one to give.
“I had someone before I joined the priesthood, too,” he says. “They were sad to see me go, but it was never meant to be. I think the difference I have made at St. Helens has more than made up for the sadness I caused that one person. It will be the same for you.”
Beatrice nodded, but she suddenly had a great urge to cry. “Thank you, Mr. Statusian.”
“Oh, and one more thing… have you told your parents about her yet?”
“I thought not. Your father didn’t mention anyone the last time we talked.” Beatrice always felt that it was weird that Mr. Statusian was on speaking terms with her own Dad. “I’m sure your parents suspect, but… I think it would be best if you left them out of it.”
“Right,” she said, less to agree than to simply keep from dwelling on any of this.
The rest of the conversation went normally, but Beatrice was a bit wrapped up in worry, the Emi kind of worrying. She was already a bit leery of actually joining the priesthood if it meant abandoning her family, abandoning Emi, and going off to the mountains somewhere to train. But if Balarand were in any serious danger, like Mr. Statusian suggested? Well, she wouldn’t know what to do at all.
She definitely didn’t feel like someone special.