“Tuuli, what’s going on? What happened? Is Lutz alright?”
Falling back on the bed with a flop, I rapidly fire questions at her, causing her to show a troubled expression. She frowns and strokes my head soothingly.
“Sorry, Maïne. I told you since your fever has subsided but… it’s bad for you to get agitated. Your fever will act up again.”
“Tuuli, tell me.”
I grab Tuuli’s hand and beg her incessantly until she sighs deeply and gives in.
“… I will go call Ralph, so rest a little first. Okay?”
Once she sees me nod, Tuuli turns around and leaves the room. I hear the sound of the door opening and closing, and the telltale click of the lock before Tuuli’s footsteps fade away. I listened to all that while lying curled up.
Just as I’m beginning to get impatient, I hear quiet footsteps approaching. The door is unlocked and someone comes in.
“… Ralph, what happened to Lutz?”
Ralph, having been brought along by Tuuli, sees how I’ve been confined to my bed by my fever and sighs.
“I was definitely expecting you to be sheltering him…”
“I told you before, didn’t I? Maïne has been stuck in bed for three days. There’s no way she could know anything about Lutz running from your house last night.”
Tuuli’s cheeks swell as she pouts.
“I’m sorry for doubting you.” Apologizing to Tuuli, Ralph turns my way.
”Yesterday, Lutz was really angry at Dad when he got home, yelling Why do you have to keep standing in my way?! and I’ve endured for so long, but I can’t take it anymore. I’m leaving!”
From Ralph’s words, I understood why Lutz had run away from home. I’m pretty sure he heard from Benno the reason why he can’t be taken along outside the city. I was a little relieved upon hearing that. Lutz is probably taking shelter at Benno’s place. Even if he isn’t officially adopted immediately, he should still be treated properly.
“Mom was really upset but Dad said that we should just leave him alone and that he would probably be right back. We thought he’d be back as soon as he got hungry but he still hadn’t returned in the morning and even past noon…I can’t help worrying. Maïne, do you know where he could be?”
The anxious feeling in my chest grew at Ralph’s words. If he’s with Benno, Lutz should be working. It would be impossible for Ralph to not know where he is.
“If you are saying that you don’t know where he is… does it mean that Lutz hasn’t gone to work either?”
“That is… I don’t know that guy’s workplace…”
Ralph averts his gaze in embarrassment.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing for a second. Even though it’s only been about two and a half months since the coming-of-age ceremony, Lutz has been coming and going from the Gilberta Company for almost a year. It’s a shop that he frequented before becoming an apprentice.
“You don’t know? It’s the Gilberta Company, no?”
“… I know the name. You visited Sieg’s workshop before, didn’t you? But even Sieg doesn’t know where to find their shop.”
“So if Lutz and I hadn’t gone to Sieg’s workshop… you probably wouldn’t know about it even now?”
Ralph awkwardly turns away at my incredulous, verifying question. Seeing Ralph in such state, Tuuli exclaims “I can’t believe it!”
“Wait, Ralph! You don’t know the workplace of your younger brother? Surely, you talk about work with your family, right?”
I know that there’s a difference between how much and what men and women talk about, but this is a little excessive, isn’t it? I don’t know if it’s because they do not want to listen to Lutz’ side at all, or if they’re just indifferent, but not even knowing where to search for Lutz after he runs away is a problem. I reach out and clutch his shirt cuff.
“… Hey, Ralph. I know it’s not any of my business but you should really talk to Lutz more.”
“It’s Lutz who never talks! In the first place, aren’t I the one enduring? No matter how much opposition he gets from our family, he’s been doing whatever he wants! Even on his days off, he doesn’t come to the forest to help forage! Tell me, what exactly is he enduring?”
Ralph suddenly glares at me, slapping my hand away as he shouted out.
“Ralph, don’t be rough with Maïne! Her fever still hasn’t gone down!”
Well aware that I have been monopolizing Lutz’s days off, I back him up while thinking Don’t give me a headache with your loud voice!
“Isn’t Lutz working on his days off? Whether he’s summoned by Benno or working for me, he always gets paid, right? It’s not like he’s playing around.”
It really seems like there’s almost no conversation between them at all. Eyes widening in surprise, Ralph lightly shakes his head.
“… I didn’t know that.”
It looks like conversation has been stilted due to the tensions in the house, but Ralph is genuinely worried about Lutz not coming home. There’s no doubt about that. And ultimately the one that has to talk to Ralph is Lutz, not me.
I look up at Tuuli. Given that she had gone to buy clothes with me, Tuuli has met not only Benno but also several of his employees. Having her go with Ralph would probably be better than him suddenly barging in all by himself.
“Please take Ralph to the Gilberta Company. It’s fine if he still doesn’t want to go home as long as he’s okay. Can you just go and check if he’s safe? Please.”
“I’m worried about Lutz as well, so I hope it all works out. Let’s go, Ralph.”
Ralph glances back over his shoulder as Tuuli grabs his hand and leads him out of the room, looking like he’s worried about my condition. I can only respond with a powerless smile.
Ralph has always been the big brother who takes care of others. Even now he’s worrying about Lutz, even though he resents how Lutz has been doing as he pleases.
Although neither Lutz nor Ralph fundamentally hates the other, the relationship between the two brothers has soured. I close my eyes and hope that Ralph can have a proper conversation with Lutz once he sees Lutz’ situation with his own eyes.
The sun is setting when I wake up. From the window, a bright beam of light is shining directly on my face.
It seems like Tuuli has already returned from Benno’s store. I hear the sounds of her preparing dinner from the kitchen. I’m thirsty, so I pick up the wooden cup and quench my thirst. As if she can sense me moving, Tuuli pops her head around the open door.
“Maïne, are you awake? Do you think you will be able to eat?”
Once I nod and sit up with a rustle, Tuuli brings a bread gruel to the bed. While I tuck in, Tuuli tells me what happened after they headed to the store.
“Lutz was present at the store and doing his job properly. He looked fine.”
“I see. That’s good.”
I’m relieved that the worst-case scenario of him getting involved in trouble after leaving his home or being turned away by Benno hasn’t occurred.
“When he found Lutz, Ralph told him to come home quickly and tried to bring him back by force. Lutz told him that he was bothering him in the middle of work and it turned into a dispute. Ralph got angry and left after shouting “to hell with you!”… Ralph’s dad was at work as well, and it seems like he told Ralph to leave Lutz alone.”
I feel my heart constrict as I see the small crack in Lutz’ family widening into a chasm that cannot be fixed.
“I understand that you are worried, but Maïne, if you don’t get better quickly, you won’t be able to go visit him either, right?”
It was Gil rather than Lutz who came to pick me up the next day. It seems Lutz told him to act as his substitute for a while. Although he made the effort to get me, I can’t go to the temple since my fever hasn’t subsided yet.
Watching me as I lay on the bed, Gil worriedly peers at my face.
“Sister Maïne, your fever still hasn’t gone down?”
“Yeah. Since I will have to monitor my condition for a day even after it goes down, can you come again in three days?”
Gil nods anxiously, and kneels by my bedside, grabbing my right hand and lowering his head as if kissing the back of my hand. Gil presses his forehead against the back of my hand and begins to pray.
“I pray for Sister Maïne to receive the divine protection of the Goddess of Healing, Lungschummel.”
“Thank you. I pray that you also receive the gods’ blessing, Gil.”
Gil went back with a painfully reluctant expression and, as promised, came to pick me up again three days later.
Because my fever has gone down and I finally have my family’s permission to go outside, I leave with Gil. Lutz’s absence feels weird somehow and I can’t settle down.
Once we descend the stairs and leave the building, I spot Lutz’ mother, Aunt Karla, doing the laundry by the well. I run up to her and ask,
“Aunt Karla, has Lutz still not come back?”
Aunt Karla shakes her head silently. The appearance of a cheerful, chatty old lady with startling intensity and a fine physique is gone. Now she looks haggard.
“Maïne… do you know about Lutz’s circumstances?”
“I heard about it from Ralph and Tuuli, but I had to stay in bed the whole time because of my fever. I had planned to go to the store today and see Lutz’ situation, but…”
“I see. Can you tell me if he’s okay?”
“Yes, I can check on him.”
I agree, thinking that it would have been fine if she had gone to visit him by herself, given the circumstances. Gil and I leave the square.
“Gil, I want to check on Lutz, so please stop by the store, okay?”
“It’s fine as long as it’s a place you want to go to, Sister Maïne. I mean, it will be alright even without that old lady worrying so much, won’t it? One can survive without parents. There are no parents at the orphanage.”
“… I guess that’s true.”
When I stepped into the orphanage for the first time, I fully grasped the meaning of children being unwanted. That’s because the orphans, who were living without any parents, must have thought that it would be alright even if they didn’t exist, feeling as if they shouldn’t be alive.
Once we arrive at the Gilberta Company, we are greeted with a broad smile by Mark. Behind him, Lutz is recording something on a writing board.
“Good morning, Maïne. Is your physical condition alright now?”
“Good morning, Mark. My fever has finally subsided. Rather than that, I heard that Lutz ran away from home…”
“Please, let’s take that inside, okay? A few days ago, people concerned with Lutz have disturbed the store and even the employees are slightly worked up.”
Mark had interrupted my speech with a gentle smile as he spoke. It seems there were others besides Ralph who showed up at the store and tried to take Lutz back home.
If poor people, who don’t care about their attire, turn up at a store that deals with sales of high class and quality goods for noble business partners and kick up a fuss, it will likely give the store a bad image. If it goes on like this, Lutz’ position will get worse as well. I hold my tongue and nod.
“Master, it looks like Maïne wishes to speak with Lutz, so we will go this way, alright?”
“… You do remember that this is a lounge and not a counseling room, right Mark?”
“I have taken that into account.”
He’s smiling, but Benno acknowledges it with a sigh after being overwhelmed by Mark’s uncompromising aura.
“Excuse me, Mister Benno. Although it would also be fine if we went outside…”
“No, talk inside. Last night Lutz’ mother came to my house instead of the store and went on a tirade about how we have to return Lutz right away and that we are kidnappers, you know? Mark got angry and turned her away.”
“I’m sorry, master.”
Imagining how Aunt Karla must have yelled at them with her usual intensity, I felt dejected. Immediately following that, I shudder at hearing that Mark had snapped at her. For him to be able to turn away Aunt Karla, just what had happened? I wonder if the reason why she looks so exhausted as if she’s become another person entirely might be because of this?
Having a hunch that it’s better if I don’t ask about the details, I turn to face Lutz.
“Lutz, how is it going right now? Are you are staying at Mister Benno’s place?”
“Even if you ask me how… I’m living in the attic after taking my luggage there? That’s why I didn’t know about mum until this morning…”
Aunt Karla was apparently chased away without being able to meet with Lutz. Now that I understand the reason she wanted me to check on his situation, I have complicated feelings.
“… you say. Wait? The attic?”
“I mean, there’s no other place for me to stay besides there, right?”
Lutz said that he’s living in the attic that was used as a storeroom. That’s the treatment of a live-in apprentice. Benno, who did say that he’s considering to adopt him, has decided not to give him any additional support.
“What’s this about, Mister Benno!? Didn’t you want to adopt Lutz!?”
“… Me adopted by master? Huh? What are you talking about?”
Guessing from the look of the bewildered Lutz, it appears that Benno hasn’t told Lutz anything.
Sending a glare my way, Benno looks down on me with eyes full of fury. “You idiot!”
“Even if I want to adopt him, there’s no way that I can arbitrarily adopt him legally without the permission of his parents. This is a path chosen by Lutz after I explained the circumstances to him. Putting that aside, how many times have I told you to stop speaking without using your brain!? Don’t spout off talking about adoption in a situation where it’s not possible to get the parents’ approval, like a moron!”
Damn it, even if I hold my tongue now, it’s already too late.
Lutz’ eyes lose their luster. The difficulties of living alone have likely been weighing on him since he ran away. Lutz’s eyes, usually full of hope for the future, become hard as he finds a target for his frustration.
“Maïne, you knew about this?”
Benno interjects. “I talked to her. For the sake of obtaining information about your parents and your home life, okay?”
Lutz’ eyes waver slightly due to Benno’s words. Lutz looks at me with eyes similar to those of a lost child who’s looking for his own place in this world.
“But, if that’s so… if you knew, why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because I thought you would act like this, Lutz. Turning your back on your family…I didn’t want to break your family apart since mine means so much to me.”
I didn’t want to do something like wrecking Lutz’ family, but even so, I believed that if Benno could take Lutz in… if he could adopt him, it would be fine as long as he first made sure it was Lutz’ choice.
I thought that, if Benno was with him, it would be unlikely to turn into a situation where Lutz would have to endure the cruel life of a live-in apprentice until adulthood, when only then he could finally be able to move free of his parents meddling. However, the reality of the situation is that Lutz is now a runaway, living in the attic as a live-in apprentice, and he is unable to be adopted without his parents’ permission. After a mere five days of this, Lutz’s eyes have lost their usual luster.
“Are you also saying that it’s my fault, Maïne? My fault for running away…”
His family probably said the same things as Ralph, Don’t be selfish and come back home! Don’t do whatever you like! The one causing trouble for the store is you! Haven’t you had enough of this already!? I heard from Tuuli that Ralph had told Lutz things like that.
If Lutz apologizes and goes back home, he should be able to live like before again. But he would be told Look, we told you so, something like being a live-in apprentice was impossible for you after all, and his determination would be reduced to selfishness. He would be able to live, but not only would he be suppressed, he wouldn’t be able to say anything either.
I don’t want to see such a thing happen to Lutz, so I deny it right away.
“I never said it was your fault, Lutz. There’s no way I would say that, is there? I know how much effort you are putting into this, Lutz. I also know what you have been enduring all this time.”
Relieved, Lutz breathes out a bit. Meeting his jade-green eyes, I continue.
“No matter what happens, I’m your ally, Lutz. I’m here right now because you told me that I was fine just as I am.”
I know how it feels to shut yourself away and feel like you have no real allies around you. I didn’t feel like I had a place I belonged, and had been suffering under that. The one who changed that, telling me It’s okay if you’re my Maïne, was Lutz. If only I could give Lutz a little of the sense of that same security I had received from his words.
“That’s why I will tell you as well. Lutz, it’s fine if you stay as you are. I will always support you. I will help you with all my power, just like you helped me, so depend on me when it gets tough.”
Lutz hugs me with a teary smile.
“Haha… What an unreliable ally. It looks to me like you will get crushed before I can depend on you.”
I am almost crushed in Lutz’s arms with that declaration, as I tap sullenly on Lutz’s back.
“… I can help at least a little.”
“With what for example?”
I can hear him sniffing close to my ear. Nonetheless, it feels like Lutz’ voice has become a lot brighter.
“Are you going to eat lunch together with me…? Since there’s no kitchen in the attic, you can’t make any meals, right?”
“… Telling me to eat with you, it’s not like you are the one making it, Maïne.”
“That will be a big help, Milady; that is what you were about to say, right?” I gently whisper.
Lutz lifts his head and chuckles. I’m relieved that his usual, positive smile has returned. Maybe I’ve helped Lutz a little.
“… Hey, are you done now?”
Benno calls out to us with an exasperated expression, resting his chin on his hands as he props his elbows on the desk. I tilt my head to the side while patting Lutz’ back.
“… It’s fine, but what do you mean?”
“Well, if you are satisfied, return to your work.”
Lutz separates from me in a hurry and leaves the room after Benno waves his hand and says “Disappear at once.”
As I try to politely disappear as well, Benno starts talking while still staring after Lutz.
”Maïne, I understand your feelings of wanting to handle this situation as soon as possible, but from the looks of it the matter, adoption will have to wait. Given his mother’s threatening attitude yesterday, there won’t be any room to discuss it unless they calm down. “
Benno’s words, coldly logical despite the circumstances, make me feel like I’ve swallowed something bitter and there’s a lump in my throat.
“It looks like he will have to live like this for a while, so even if he can bear it now, it will take a toll on him if his quality of living drops any further. In my current situation I can’t interfere since it will also affect the reputation of the store. Imagine if we are accused of kidnapping, tricking him and whatever else Lutz’s family might say. If you say that you are Lutz’ ally, then help him as much as possible.”
Even if he leaves home, Lutz should be able to fully devote himself to his work once he becomes Benno’s adopted child. He should be able to fulfill his own dream of going outside the city to build a workshop for producing paper.
It’s troublesome if it’s something like becoming a live-in apprentice and suffering more hardships than he has already…
Just as Benno says, if Lutz continues such a harsh life, he will likely fall apart. It might result in him resenting his family for not accepting it, and he might blame himself.
I wonder if there is anything I can do for him, just like when he supported me. Unable to come up with a single reasonable method, I sigh heavily.