Ascendance of a Bookworm – 018
Gossip: Is my daughter a potential criminal?!
My name is Gunther . I’m the lucky husband of my beautiful wife Eva and the proud father of my two adorable daughters, Tory and Maine .
Between my two daughters, Maine is the one who looks most like Eva, but she’s going to be even more beautiful than her mother when she grows up . She’s surely one of the gods’ favorite children . Even her constant illness must be a sign of the gods’ love: they adore her so much that they keep trying to call her back .
Maine’s the kind of girl who gets sick the instant she works herself even a little bit too hard, but after one particularly bad fever she’s started to work on pushing that limit back, bit by bit . She’s been saying and doing some strange things, but lately she’s been putting a lot of effort into trying to make herself stronger . She used to need to stop and catch her breath after only just going downstairs to leave our building, but over the course of the last three months she’s worked so hard that now she can walk all the way to the gate without taking a single break .
She’s amazing, right? My daughter’s a real go-getter! Don’t you agree?
On top of that, she’s very, very bright… I think . I can’t really say for sure, honestly . It’s just that, Otto has always insisted that an assistant would only drag him down whenever I’ve brought the idea up to him, but when Maine came along, he got very excited and immediately asked if she could be his assistant, so she must be very smart .
According to him, she’s so good at math that she was able to spot calculation errors in my squad’s financial report just by looking at it, and it looks like she memorized how to write all of the words in our basic statements after just a little bit of teaching . On top of all of that, she has a very logical nature . She’s always looking at her surroundings, using her powers of observation to spot tiny little changes that she can make, always thinking about how to further her goals . It seems that Otto is convinced she’s absolutely exceptional .
What the hell?
I didn’t understand half of what Otto was telling me, but it’s easy to see that my daughter is so amazingly smart that she surprised even Otto .
That’s my Maine! My amazing little girl . She truly is blessed by the gods .
Today, Maine’s heading off to the forest for the first time! I’m on the day shift today, so I’ll be here to meet her group when she comes back . I can’t help but be worried, though .
“Sir, please calm down,” says Otto .
“Hm? Ah, yeah . ”
She’s gotten strong enough to walk to the gates, but is she really going to be able to make it all the way to the forest? If she struggles to make it, there, then she won’t be able to rest inside a building like she can here . She’ll be stuck outside . Earlier, I suddenly had the worst idea: what happens if her fever comes back while she’s out there in the forest?
“Sir,” says Otto again, “we need you to do your job . Please stop staring off into space . ”
“Oh . ”
“Are you thinking that Maine isn’t going to make it?”
“Otto, you… don’t say anything unnecessary!”
“Then, sir, please do your job . She’ll be back in the evening, right, sir?”
I’m still annoyed that Maine actually looks up to this impertinent man and calls him “teacher” . Well, I know for a fact that she respects me even more . Heh heh heh . After all, when I made her some knitting needles and helped her with the pin for Tory’s hair ornaments, she declared that I was the best father in the world! She was definitely not lying .
I go about my work, my subordinates steering clear of me as I restlessly wait for Tory and her group to return . Tory has an amazing sense of responsibility, and she agreed that she’d wrap it up early today, for Maine’s sake . Maine is still very weak and still slower than the other kids, so it’s conceivable that they’d leave the forest in the afternoon .
The afternoon . It’s obvious that they won’t have come back by now . I know that .
The sun is starting to dip a little bit towards the horizon, but they still haven’t come back . It should be soon, right?
The trickle of people leaving the city for the day has turned into a rush . Still no sign of her?
“Sir,” says Otto, “your daughter promised that they would return early, so they’re going to be back here soon, is that right? So, please, sir, please stop glaring at the travelers . You’re scaring everyone . ”
The number of people entering the city to find an inn for the evening has grown, while the number of farmers leaving the city after finishing selling their grain has shrunk . Still, Tory and Maine haven’t come back yet . They should be here any minute now .
They’re so slow! You said you would bring everyone back early, Tory! Oh no, did Maine collapse on the way back?!
An image suddenly rushes into my mind . Maine, collapsed on the side of the road, unable to move . Tory, panicking, with no idea what to do . A feeling that I absolutely have to do something seizes hold of me .
“Otto, watch over things here…”
“Sir! Are you abandoning your post?! …O, over there! Isn’t that Tory over there?!”
Otto stands on tiptoes to see over the crowd . He’s taller than I am, so he can see all the way back to the end of the line .
“She’s right outside the gate, standing at the very end of the line with everyone else . Let’s get move the line as quickly as possible, sir . ”
“Alright, they’re here!”
I move quickly, processing the queue of people waiting to get into the city at lightning speed so that I can get Tory and her friends in as soon as I can . Unlike just a few moments ago, people flow smoothly through the checkpoint, and very soon I can see Tory in the crowd .
This certainly doesn’t look like she was at the end of the line! Damn you, Otto! You tricked me!
However, I can’t see Maine anywhere nearby . I can’t believe that Tory, with her strong sense of responsibility, would just abandon her sister like that, but no matter how hard I look I can’t see Maine anywhere .
“Tory, where’s Maine?!”
“Lutz stayed behind, they’re still on their way . They should be back right before the gate closes, I think . ”
I immediately look off into the distance, but I can’t see Maine or Lutz anywhere . If they’re only going to barely make it back in time for the gate to close, then they can’t have left the forest early at all .
“You promised you were going to come back here early, right? Is this what you call early?”
As I scold Tory, the other kids exchange complicated expressions, as if they’re debating whether they should say something or leave it to Tory . It seems like they’ve decided to keep it to themselves .
“Tory, what happened out―”
She interrupts me before I can finish the question . “A bunch of things . I’ll tell you about it later, okay? We’re late, so all our moms are going to be worried, too . I want to get everyone home as soon as possible . ”
Abruptly cutting the conversation short, she starts walking off . The rest of the children follow her into the city, looking incredibly worn out .
“What could have happened out there? Hey, Otto, what do you think?”
“If it was anything serious, they would have asked for help, sir . ”
He may be talking like nothing could have possibly happened, but if Tory just blows off my questions and can’t even give me a simple answer about what happened, I’m going to have questions, you know? I’m going to get worried, you know? Maine! What in the hell happened out there!
I grow more and more restless as the day drags on . Sure enough, right before we start preparing to close the gates, Lutz finally appears, Maine leaning heavily on him, face blue .
“…Daddy… sorry . ”
Before I can ask anything, Maine mumbles out a single word of apology, then collapses into my arms . I help Lutz get remove the wicker box (with nothing but a shovel in it) from her back, then pick her up .
“Lutz! What happened out there? Why’s she apologizing?”
“Ahh… um, probably, because she made a promise that she didn’t mean to keep, I guess? She suddenly started digging a big hole when I had my back turned, then she spent a bunch of time making ‘cley tab-luts’, then she got super mad at Fey and the others, and then got really worked up… She’s probably going to be sick for three days . ”
Lutz rubs his temples in frustration as he tells me everything that happened . My eyes go wide with shock .
“And you didn’t stop her?!” I snap .
He looks up at me, resentfully . “Mister, do you really think that me and Tory didn’t try?”
That’s right . No matter how much I want to pin the blame on him, there’s no way that both Tory and Lutz didn’t try to stop her . Those two have done a good job of taking care of Maine in the past . Lutz, especially, has spent the last three months helping Maine get home from the gate, and even though they’re the same age he looks after her like she’s his younger sister .
“Ah… no, sorry . ”
“Don’t get mad at Tory, she really tried her best . Ah, you can probably get mad at Maine, though . I’m mad at her too . …Well,” he says, looking at Maine as she lies limp in my arms, “not really, anymore . ”
It feels like Maine’s fever is steadily starting to rise, bit by bit . Her face had been completely pale, but now it’s getting redder and redder .
“Take care of Maine, okay?” he says . “I got to catch up with Fey and go home too . ”
“Yeah, will do . Thanks for keeping an eye on her for me . ”
As Lutz runs off, I bring Maine into the night duty room and gently lay her down on the bench . Her face is bright red now, and her breathing comes in short, ragged gasps . This bench will have to be a good enough place to rest for now .
I finish up my work as quickly as I possibly can, then carry Maine all the way home .
“Welcome home, Gunther,” says Eva . “Did Maine collapse again?”
From her complete lack of surprise, it seems like she expected that this was going to happen . Swiftly, she gets Maine changed out of her outdoor clothes and gets her tucked into bed . I sit down with Tory in the kitchen, hoping to hear her side of the story .
“What happened out there today, Tory?” I ask . “I heard a little about it from Lutz, but I want you to tell me about it too . ”
Tory flinches in her chair, a frightened expression on her face as she hears that I already know about what happened . For someone like Tory with such a powerful sense of responsibility, being scolded for a major mistake is one of the most terrifying things out there . To put her mind at ease, I reiterate what Lutz told me .
“Lutz told me that he didn’t want me to get angry at you . I heard that you did your best out there . He also said that I should really be getting mad at Maine, so, could you tell me what happened?”
Now that I’ve told her that I’m not mad, Tory’s look of terror starts to gradually fade away . Her eyes flicker back and forth as she tries to get the words together in her head, then she slowly opens her mouth to speak .
“To be honest, I really don’t know all that much . When we made it to the forest, Maine was about as tired as she usually is, so she sat down on a rock to take a break . Me and Lutz went off to do our gathering . I wanted to finish up quickly, so I thought that I had to hurry, and…” She trails off, worry building on her face again .
“It’s okay, I’m with you so far” I say . It’s easy enough for me to see what happened when they first arrived .
“So I thought to myself, ‘it’s probably time to go soon’, but right when I was gathering everything up I heard Maine start screaming . I ran over there as fast as I could, and I saw Maine really, really angry, so angry that she was crying . Fey and his friends apparently destroyed something that she had finally been able to make? She was so mad that I couldn’t calm her down at all, and she kept saying things like ‘I’ll never forgive you’, and… Eventually Lutz said something about helping her make everything again, and then she finally started calming down . ”
I close my eyes, trying to piece together Tory’s messy explanation . I try to imagine what it would have looked like if I had been there with them .
…I don’t get it . Maine was making something, and Fey broke it, so then she threw a tantrum?
“What was Maine making?”
“I don’t know, exactly . I think I heard her call it a ‘cley tab-lut’, but… Everyone stopped to help her make them again, so that’s why we were so late . ”
I still don’t really understand what exactly happened, but I do know one thing .
“So, what you’re saying is that Maine broke her promise to do nothing but rest once she got to the forest?”
“Huh… um… probably…”
Maine didn’t keep her promise to sit still and arbitrarily went off to make something . That thing got broken, so she got everyone else caught up in making it again, so they spent too long out there before coming back, so she collapsed, so now her fever’s back . There are limits to how much of a bother someone can be, even if they’re Maine .
“I’m not going to let her go to the forest again,” I say .
“What?! No! She’ll be so mad!”
For some reason, Tory with me disagrees vigorously . It doesn’t matter if Maine gets angry, though . I’m the one who should be angry, since she made a promise to me and then broke it .
“It’s only fair . I can’t let a girl who doesn’t keep her promises go off to the forest . ”
I’m going to have to be very strict with her . I can’t let her go out only with other kids if she’s going to ignore all the rules for doing so and break the promises she makes for her parents’ peace of mind . It’s too dangerous .
I stand up and start heading towards the bedroom so that I can have a talk with Maine herself, but Tory grabs onto my arm and won’t let go . She seems desperate to stop me . I feel bad for her, since she’s just trying to look out for her little sister, but I absolutely have to have a talk with Maine .
“Dad, please! Think about it again!”
“My mind’s made up . I won’t let her go out there again! If she doesn’t keep her promises, there’s nothing else I can do . ”
Maine looks up at me as I enter the bedroom, although I don’t know if she heard me . Her face is red with fever and her eyes are watery, but she still opens her mouth to speak, though it looks quite painful .
“…Daddy, just one more time . …I’m making ‘clay tablets’ . ”
However, what came out of her mouth was not at all what I expected . She isn’t apologizing, she isn’t reflecting on what she has done, she’s making demands! For some reason, she still wants to go to the forest and keep making something or other . For an instant, I lose my temper .
“What are you thinking?!” I roar . “Absolutely not!”
Maine gives a little sigh, then turns her head to look at Tory, standing next to me .
“…Hey, Tory . …I’ll make them at home, so…”
“G… got it! I’ll bring them home with me next time . ”
Wait a minute, Tory . Why are you just accepting this like it’s the obvious next step?! Maine, what the hell do you think you’re going to be doing in my house?! Also, are you just ignoring how angry I am?!
I spin to face Tory . “You’re talking about the thing that made Maine collapse? Like hell I’ll let you bring that into my house!”
As soon as the words leave my mouth, Maine’s eyes narrow to slits, her expression growing unbelievably cold . Like the flip of a switch, the atmosphere in the room suddenly goes icy .
A strange shimmer of color, like the surface of an oil slick, dances across the gold of her eyes, but it must just be my imagination .
“…Are you serious, Daddy?” she says, quietly, and the incredible pressure of her words sends a shiver down my spine . I take a step back, unintentionally, shocked by the raw intimidation that my own daughter is putting out .
“Ab… absolutely serious!”
Maine looks away, like she’s suddenly lost all interest in me .
“Well then… I’m just going to have to do to Fey what he did to my ‘tablets’, then… heh heh…”
A cruel smile spreads across her face, that strange color still shimmering in her eyes . I shiver, again . I feel like I’m drowning in this strange atmosphere, and my breath catches in my throat .
“…Maine?” I say . She starts to chuckle, a dark, terrifying sound .
Tory goes completely pale, like she’s seen a monster . “Dad!” she says, shaking my arm, “just say she can go back to the forest!!”
“…Maine,” I say again, “what are you thinking about?”
“Hm~mm? …Well, I was thinking of how I was going to make it so that Fey can’t go to the forest either . …How, indeed?… …’Psychological trauma’?… …So, ‘Bancho Sarayashiki’_1, then?… . …Oh, or maybe _’The Ring’?”
Her words are broken and nonsensical, delirious from her fever, but her head keeps moving and she keeps mumbling things out, bit by bit . I can’t really hear it very well, but it almost sounds like there’s a dark, gloomy echo underneath her words . It must be my imagination . Her voice must be a little cracked from the fever .
My little daughter can’t be this scary .
“…Why are you talking about Fey, now?” I ask . “He doesn’t have anything to do with this . ”
“Oh, but he does,” she says, drawing in a slow, painful breath . “…But I understand what you’re saying . …Truly, I understand . ” She nods slightly, several times .
I might have gotten a little swept away in the strangeness of the moment, but if Maine understands what I was saying, then everything’s okay . She’s very bright, so I’m sure she understands what she did wrong .
“Ah, okay, if you’re reflecting on your actions, then―”
“I will make them cry . …Well, I’m going to sleep . ”
“Maine, wait! You didn’t understand at all! Why did you just say that?!”
If she really understood me, then where the hell did “I will make them cry” come from?! Makewho cry?! Me?! I don’t understand her at all! You’re nearly bringing me to tears, Maine!
“You’re noisy . …Get out . ”
“I’m your father! Do not make me angrier than I already am!”
Tory pulls hard on my arm, dragging me back into the kitchen . I’ve been ejected from my own bedroom by my two daughters .
“Tory, that was Maine in there, right?”
“I think that was Angriest Maine . Her eyes were sparkling kind of weirdly . When Fey broke her ‘cley tab-luts’, she got so mad that she started crying, and the same thing happened . Everyone said it was really scary . ”
Ahh, if even I got a little bit scared after that, it must have been absolutely terrifying for those kids .
“She only started to cheer up when we were helping her fix things, so when it was time to go, I couldn’t make myself say it…”
“I see . ”
If she was putting out that much pressure, I don’t blame her . Right now, even I really just want to leave her alone .
“When it looked like we’d just barely make it back to the gates before they closed, I begged her to go . Lutz helped, and when he said we’d definitely finish it next time, we finally got her to stop working . Then everyone promised to help her finish it next time, and she said that she’d come back with us . ”
I understand now what Tory was getting at when she tried to stop me just a little while ago . If she had only managed to calm Maine down by telling her that they’d finish up next time, then of course she wouldn’t want me to go in there and tell her that she can never go back .
“Dad, can you let her go just one more time? I think that Fey and the others are really scared of what’s going to happen if she gets mad again . Didn’t she say that she was going to do to Fey what he did to her ‘cleh tab-luts’?”
“What happened to those, anyway?”
I still don’t understand what a ‘cleh tab-lut’ is . What the hell kind of thing is it?
“Fey and his friends stepped on them and squashed them, so what’s she going to do to them? Is she going to trample them flat?! She said she was going to make sure they couldn’t go to the forest again either, what did that mean? She said she was absolutely going to make them cry! What is she going to do? What is Fey going to do?!”
The blood drains from my face as I listen to Tory . Hearing everything Maine had said again is only making me more scared . I wonder, no, I need to know what Maine is planning to do . Is… is my daughter about to start committing crimes?
“Tory, what can we do to stop her?”
“I don’t know . Try asking Lutz . He was the one who got her to calm down when we were in the forest . ”
The next day, I pull Lutz to the side as he passes through the gates on his way to the forest and ask him what Maine could have meant . Tory was probably just scared and blew things out of proportion, it’s probably not actually that big of a deal, right?
However, Lutz smashes my tiny bit of hope with a cheerful answer .
“A~ah,” he says, in a light tone of voice, “she got super mad at Fey and the others, after all . You absolutely can’t stop her when her eyes get like that, you know . ”
“If she finds even the tiniest chance, she latches onto it like a magic beast . She’ll get whatever she wants to get done, done . She’s the kind of girl who absolutely finishes her goals . No matter what she has to do, no matter how long it takes . ”
His eyes glimmer with pride and his chest is puffed up, and he talks like he’s enthusing about how awesome Maine is . But, wait a bit, think about this for a second . If a person like that decided that they wanted to hurt someone, that would make them a supremely dangerous individual, right? And why is Lutz acting so proud of her? She’s my daughter, you know?
“Like, say, these ‘cley tab-luts’ . She wanted to go to the forest, so she spent three whole months getting strong enough to get there . She said all of that was so she could make those ‘cley tab-lut’ things . So, I think that she’s definitely the kind of person who’ll never give up on what they’ve set their mind to . ”
“…Those ‘cley tab-luts’ were that important to her, huh…”
I had no idea that she’d put that much effort into making those things . It looks like it’s not such a simple thing to just ban her from finishing them . Just when I decide that I should probably talk to her about it again, Lutz drops another bombshell .
“A~ah, you know, after she finally made her ‘cley tab-luts’ only to see them smashed in front of her, and then running out of time before she could finish remaking them, and then getting sick and collapsing on her way back, and then being told that she can’t go back to the forest and that she can’t have any clay in the house either… She’s going to blame it all on Fey, for stepping on them in the first place . I really hope they come out of this alive . ”
“Don’t say something so terrifying! Are you saying I’ve raised a criminal?!”
She said she was going to make them cry, not kill them . It’s okay!! …At least, that’s what I want to tell myself .
“Eh? Well, maybe you really did, Mister Gunther?”
“Huh? I did?”
“Well, you banned her from going to the forest and making her ‘cley tab-luts’, right? Me, I’m terrified of what might happen if she goes at it with all of her might . I wouldn’t dare try to help or hinder her, and I’d never, ever tell her she couldn’t do something . ”
I blink my eyes repeatedly, trying to process what he’s telling me . No matter how I look at it, Maine is only six years old, though she’s so little she looks like she’s three or four . She’s sickly, frail, short, weak, and slow . I can’t help but think that Maine using all of her strength to do something isn’t actually all that much of a problem . Lutz, though, shrugs his shoulders, continuing to describe why he thinks she’s so scary .
“Because, you know, Maine thinks differently than I do . I don’t know what she’s going to do, where, or how . She might be so weak that I wouldn’t take her seriously if she came at me with a weapon, but that’s not something she’d ever do . I don’t know how, but she’d find and attack their weak points directly, and that’s really terrifying . ”
I groan to myself . Lutz is being completely serious here . I hadn’t really thought that what Maine meant by all of her might might have been different than what Lutz or I would mean . I’m scared that I don’t even know how serious she’s going to be . That lack of understanding alone is terrifying .
“A while ago, she even beat my big brother Zeke, like to the point where he was seriously begging her to stop . She told me that strength isn’t everything, and lately, I’ve been beating my big brothers too, sometimes . ”
Wait a minute! This is the first I’m hearing about this! How could she possibly beat Zeke? And we’re talking about beating as in “winning”, right?! What has my daughter been doing?!
“Hey, Lutz,” I say . “This is a completely honest question: how would you stop Maine from being so angry, if you were in my shoes?”
“Hmmm, I think that I’d find a lot of clay and pile it up in front of her . She seems absolutely fixated on nothing but her ‘cley tab-luts’ . ”
Now that Lutz has described the situation to me, I know what I have to do . In order to preserve the safety of this town and keep my youngest daughter from a life of crime, I’m going to, begrudgingly, have to let her go back to the forest .
When I tell her this, though, she looks very dissatisfied, puffing out her cheeks in frustration .
“…And I’d come up with all of these really good plaaans… and it would be a waste to just let them go, right?”
“Not at all!! Throw whatever schemes you’re plotting out of your head right this very instant!”
It seems like she dreamed up some sort of plans to squash Fey flat while caught in her feverish nightmares . I don’t know if it’s because she’s a little too smart, or just far too angry, but I feel like this was a very close call .
For now, I’ve stopped Maine from committing any crimes . Fey and the others won’t have to face her wrath, and I’ve protected the peace of this town . I’m very, truly grateful that Lutz told me how I could calm her down .
I breathe a sigh of relief, having put everything back in order, then suddenly gasp as I come to a realization .
Huh? Didn’t all this start because she needed to think twice about breaking promises?
Translator’s notes for this chapter:
1 . A Japanese ghost story about broken promises .