It was morning a few days later and Anne was having her hair brushed. Again. All that hair took a lot of work to maintain, and it turned out it was one of Sister Murial's jobs to maintain it. She brushed it multiple times a day. And it took so long. And all Anne could do during the process was sit there. It was mind-numbingly dull.
In an effort to keep her mind occupied, Anne reviewed her situation.
She had managed to learn the daily prayers well enough to get by without looking overly suspicious, and most of the daily tasks had been easy enough to pick up. It was mentally exhausting to maintain a serene and saintly appearance all day, but it wasn't actually difficult, exactly. And the food was good, especially since she figured out the cook would make whatever the Saintess wanted if she just asked for it.
At this point, Anne got side tracked thinking about the unique pastries made in this world, like this one the chef had made her that was a lot like a cake donut, but somehow fluffier, and coated in cinnamon sugar and then dipped in icing, and her mouth was starting to water just remembering it.
Trying to pull herself back on track, she thought, Anyway, the point is that life in this world is mostly way more comfortable than my old life. I used to work all day at a job that was both difficult and boring, I ate nothing but cheap frozen meals, and I spent most of my time alone. Here my job is boring, but at least it's easy, and I'm surrounded by people that admire me, and I get to eat good food all the time.
The thing was that Anne's current comfortable life existed before the start of the novel The Foundling's Wings, and with the Summer Ball coming up, the start of the novel was rapidly approaching. With the start of the novel, Anne would inevitably end up embroiled in the center of a civil war. No more comfortable life.
And Anne hadn't yet decided just what to do with her knowledge of what were now future events. Should she try to follow the novel, or change it? A lot of bad stuff happened in the novel, and Anne had no interest in dating the Grand Duke, but at least she knew she'd be able to survive that way. The world of The Foundling's Wings was dangerous, full of assassinations, kidnappings, executions, and all sorts of other threats. If Anne changed things, who knew what could end up happening to her?
But if she didn't change anything, would she be able to live with herself knowing what would happen to other people?
In her mind she saw the image of Lady Corvina, bruised and battered, being dragged up the palace steps to her death.
But that was still far in the future at this point. The first problem Anne had to overcome, before any of that, was Sister Eva.
At that moment, Sister Eva burst into the room, startling Sister Murial into dropping her brush. "Is the Saintess ready yet."
"Oh, yes, I was just finishing up," said Murial, picking up the brush.
"Hmm," Sister Eva carefully studied Anne's appearance and Anne started to squirm under her gaze.
The first reason Eva was a problem was that she was Anne's childhood friend, which meant that if anyone was going to catch on to the fact that this Anne wasn't the original Anne, it would be Eva. Anne had managed to keep her from being too suspicious these last few days by using overwork and illness as an excuse, but that wasn't going to hold up for much longer if she didn't learn to do a much more convincing Saintess Anne impersonation.
Eva raised her hand and Anne had to stop herself from flinching away from it. But Eva just smiled and adjusted Anne's hair slightly so it covered her ears better. "You look beautiful as always," said Eva. She leaned in further and whispered. "I need to speak to you later this evening. In private."
The second reason Eva was a problem was that Eva was a leader of the rebellion, and therefore Anne's most direct connection to the civil war—the main conflict in the original story and the main source of danger to Anne. So far Anne had successfully dodged any conversations about the rebellion by avoiding being alone with Eva, but it looked like she wasn't going to be able to avoid it much longer.
Eva straightened up and clapped her hands together. "Well! Are you ready to go?"
"Almost," said Anne, shining her most serene smile at Eva. "If you could just wait in the hall for a moment?"
"Of course!" said Eva, obediently stepping out.
To Murial, Anne said, "I believe I'd like to spend the morning attending to the people. Will you fetch my basket for me?"
When Saintess Anne "walked among the people," she'd usually take a basket of bread rolls to hand out to the poor and unfortunate or just whoever asked. She would also say "May Her blessings ever be upon you" whenever anyone asked her for a blessing, or whenever anyone looked at her with a pleading look in their eyes. It was a little embarrassing, but at least it got Anne out of the monastery for a bit and she liked getting to see new parts of the city.
"But Saintess..." said Murial. "You don't need your basket today. You're scheduled to perform a miracle."
Anne's smile became more strained. "Ah, that's a common mistake of mortals trying to engage with the divine. Miracles can't actually be scheduled, you see."
Murial looked confused. "But they've always been scheduled before..."
"Of course, you're right. I was just... testing your knowledge of miracles. Of course I'm scheduled to perform a miracle. Can you tell me... what does it usually look like when I perform a miracle?"
"Is this part of the test?"
"Something like that."
Murial looked thoughtful. "Well, usually you stand in front of the crowd and you close your eyes and pray and then something miraculous happens. Once you made yourself glow. Another time you made a flock of birds appear. Once you made a statue of the Goddess cry. Is that a good enough answer? Do I pass?"
"Yes, you pass," answered Anne. "I suppose I'd better go perform a miracle, then."
Eva was still waiting out in the hallway ready to escort her. Anne did her best not to show how nervous she was as they walked through the maze of the monastery and out into the square just outside the gates, where a small wooden stage had been set up for the event.
A large crowd of believers was gathered to watch, and they cheered as Anne emerged from the monastery. The three High Clerics in charge of the monastery waited on the stage and bowed to Anne as she climbed the steps. Murial waited at the bottom of the stairs, but Eva followed Anne up the steps and went to stand beside the High Clerics. Eva was merely an ordinary Cleric herself, but evidently being friends with the Saintess carried some privileges. Anne stepped up to the front of the stage.
Anne tried to remember everything she knew about miracles from the book. All she could remember about how they were done was that they weren't really miracles from the Goddess, at least not directly. They were a result of Saintess Anne's natural magic in a world where magic had largely disappeared. The original Anne hadn't been very good at controlling it, but when she concentrated she could usually make something happen.
So the important thing about Anne's prayers wasn't communicating with the Goddess, then. It seemed most likely that the prayer served as a sort of meditation to unlock her natural magic.
Anne had tried mindfulness meditations a few times, back in her previous life. She had never been very good at it. But as she stood in front of the crowd, she desperately tried to remember the techniques.
Anne held her hands in a prayer position and closed her eyes. She could still feel the weight of the crowd staring at her and, maybe even more intensely, she could feel Eva's gaze on her from behind. No pressure.
I wonder what happens to a Saintess that can't perform miracles anymore? Would I just get demoted or would it be a "burned at the stake for heresy" kind of situation?
Anne tried to drown everything else out and concentrate on her own body, and the physical sensations of the light breeze on her skin and the warm sun on her face. Then she began to concentrate on her breathing, counting each breath from one to ten and then starting the count over again. She kept getting distracted and losing count.
This isn't working, she thought, losing count again.
She started over from the beginning, and she had just reached eight when she heard the crowd gasp.
Ann opened her eyes and looked around. She didn't see any supernatural glows or birds or crying statues. Then she looked down.
She was floating several inches above the ground.
As soon as she noticed, she fell back down to the wooden stage with a small thud.
But that was enough for the crowd. They were cheering wildly. Many of them were weeping and saying prayers of their own. Sister Eva stepped forward to lead them in a collective prayer, and Anne joined in, a bit in awe herself. She hadn't expected it to be that easy, and her toes were still tingling with the memory of what it had been like to float.
"Well done," Eva said to Anne, as they descended from the stage. "Your power is always beautiful to watch."
Murial was there at the bottom of the steps to greet her. Tears were in her eyes. "You bless us all with your presence, Saintess," she said.
Anne smiled faintly in response before being mobbed by various other church sisters congratulating her on the miracle. When she finally escaped the crowd and got back to her room, she closed the door behind her with a sigh.
I can do this, she thought. I can get away with this.
"Sure, they all love you now," said a voice. "When you hide your ears behind all that hair. But what would they think of you if they knew you were an elf?"
A young elf was sitting on her windowsill, one leg up, one hand on his chin, and a bow and arrows strapped to his back. He had short, spiky brown hair and a spark of defiance in his dark blue eyes.
"Oh, fuck," said Anne, forgetting to not say it out loud.
She should have expected this appearance. After all, this was another one of the supporting characters from the novel.
The young elf was clearly none other than Agis Clearshot, Anne's half-brother, the third prince of the elves, and the military leader of the rebellion.