For the first time, my weekly (or biweekly, depending on how busy the inn was) visit to the temple was headed by Gus. He woke me up in the morning and almost seemed eager to go, which was…weird. Usually it was like pulling teeth to get him to go to the temple, and he’d inevitably go only because ‘I needed protection’ or whatever. His oddly complacent mood carried on all the way to the temple doors, which he entered without scowling or looking tired once. He even bowed his head and folded his arms in prayer once we sat down in a pew without my nagging.
It was almost…disturbing.
Especially since I was the one trying not to fall asleep. Nehcor’s answers to my prayers ranged from single sentences to an entire conversation that bordered on making me pass out whenever I came to the temple to pray. Today I knew we had a lot to talk about, but I didn’t know how much I’d be able to receive before giving in to my exhaustion. Needless to say, I hadn’t slept all that great the night before.
But even as I knew we had a lot to talk about, I didn’t know what to say. There was either too much to say or I’d already figured out the answer and now I couldn’t figure out what was left that I needed to know.
So I found myself sitting blankly for a while after opening the prayer.
Thankfully, Nehcor didn’t need me to start out.
‘If you take his offer to take the job of being the ducal healer, it’d help you feel a lot better about receiving all this help for Damascus’s education.’
I already figured that, I said. But will I be okay? Like…no kingly hunt for me or getting set on an alter?
‘You are inevitably going to get bad attention at some point. But at least under that guy, especially when he becomes the duke, you’ll have more protection than if you’re found in an inn.’
Aren’t you supposed to see and know everything? Why can’t you just tell me how to avoid all this?
‘I’ve already answered this before, but seeing and knowing everything also includes knowing what not to say and when to say it. I will help you to avoid what’s necessary to ensure the best outcome, but you can’t avoid everything. It would—‘
Infringe on agency and the value of suffering, yeah yeah.
‘And the creation and strengthening of valuable relationships and opportunities. There are a lot of strings to be aware of, you know?’
You know, the more we talk, the less all powerful you seem. You’re constrained by so many rules.
‘It’s the rules that give me all power. The rules are the tools that make creation and power possible. A kite cannot fly without string to hold it to the ground, or the wind to flow in a certain direction.’
Yeah, godhood lessons aside, why the heck did you make me so freaking pretty if you knew it would make him fall in love with me?
‘…you’re really shallow minded.’
‘Do you really think it’s just because you’re pretty?’
Point is, continuing on the misinformation of giving me a baby—
‘—I didn’t misinform—‘
Why the FRICK did you tell me to raise him when he was going to want to make me his bride, huh?! Are you sick in the head?
‘Why are you so appalled by this? There are many who believe a child wishing to marry their parent is cute.’
Yeah, when they’re, like, five.
‘It’s not like it’s a bad thing for him to love you. And you’re not going to do anything creepy to him.’
I nearly screamed, then and there. It would be great if I had the strength to upend a pew and chuck it at his statue.
Even as I imagined that, I could feel him chortling at me, as though he thought my anger was cute.
‘Don’t worry, everything will work out, and you don’t have to marry him. Not in the least. And this is entirely his choice. Agency after all. Just marry who you want.’
I don’t want to get married, I want babies! BABIES!
‘And as I said, it’ll be much easier, healthier, happier, and natural for you to have babies once you’ve decided on a helpmeet. You’re going to need a husband to become a god anyway.’
Why do I feel like you sent me here just to matchmake me?
When I didn’t hear an answer, I considered it as good as a verification as any that I’d hit jackpot.
‘No, I really needed your help—‘
Shut up, I’m done with you.
‘Sisteeeeerrrrr, don’t be like that. Finding a good husband here is way easier than it was on your earth! Your world was dying anyways.’
That gave me pause. What?
‘The details aren’t really important. You’re running out of energy as it is.’
I opened my eyes, only to find he was right as my vision blurred and attempted to spin, like my brain was revving up an attempt at being a washing machine.
‘Just focus on supporting Damascus. You’ve been doing great so far, I’m super pleased.’
Glad you’re pleased, when do I get paid?
‘I gave you an opportunity to live in a duke’s house with all sorts of luxuries and money, and you’re asking for more? Greedy much?’
I imagined myself looking to heaven and rubbing my thumb and fingers together up towards him for money, while saying ‘babies.’
‘Ugh, you give baby hungry a new meaning. I gave you a bunch of guys to choose from, take your pick and get making if you want them so bad.’
Again, I wanted to throw a bench. But the sensation of falling distracted me.
I fell into Gus, who gave an undignified squeak.
“Lilly? Are you okay?”
I cussed under my breath.
‘You know, most girls transported to a fantasy world would want to become sorcerers or roll around as a beautiful princess with men falling at their feet or fly dragons. What kind of heroine dreams of laundering diapers all day?’
‘Nah, you’re already blacking out. Might as well use what consciousness you have left to push in my last remarks about how weird you are. But that’s what makes you cute. You got your heart in the right place.’
That makes you sound…like a chauvinistic pig.
It was getting hard to string my thoughts together. Gus’s worried voice was getting farther and farther away. This was so not cool.
‘Why? Men’s hearts would do best to be there too. There is nothing more holy than the desire to give one’s life for another. That’s where you truly learn to live. If not that, you desire to simply love and be loved above all else and have recognized it. That’s something to be praised for. You’re doing so well, little sister. I’m so proud of you.’
I woke up a bit as arms lifted me into a carriage. I could hear Gus nearby, but couldn’t make out what he was saying. I caught a flash of blond hair in the sunlight and knew the one holding me was Priest Miurian. He really was a saint.
The next time I woke it was to Hal’s low voice as I was set into a bed. I didn’t try to open my eyes, focusing instead on trying to make out what they said. But just as Gus was explaining how I’d simply passed out in the temple, I could feel my exhaustion pulling me back in.
“The temple healer said all she could see was that Miss Lillian was exhausted,” said Priest Miurian.
“Today was her day off,” said Hal in confusion.
“Often time, that is when the body finally gives in to the exhaustion it’s been pushing back all week in the name of function. Stress can do that too.”
“Well…I guess I can see that…”
Milly broke in then. “Get out, boy, and let her sleep. You probably ain’t helping with all your drama.”
“What?! How did I cause this? You two are the ones that let her work herself to death.”
“Let? Hardly. You don’t know what working to death even is, and you talk about sustaining yourself on a farm, pfft. You get to clean out the chamber pots today.”
Gus’s protests followed me into the dark until they faded with the rest of my awareness.