Ascendance of a Bookworm – 028
The Invitation To Otto’s Residence
The invitation to Otto’s residence is a formal invitation from Corinna, delivered to me through Otto . It’s a thin board on which words have been written .
“This really isn’t something I should respond to by myself,” I tell him . “If I don’t ask my mother first…”
It is probably very strange for a child such as myself who hasn’t yet been through their baptismal ceremony to receive a written invitation like this . Wouldn’t this ordinarily be something addressed to one’s parents? That would mean that my parents would be the people who’d decide if I would actually attend .
Otto raises his eyebrows slightly at my remarks, then shakes his head . “Out of your entire family, aren’t you the only one who can really read? On top of that, this isn’t something you can refuse . If you did, there’s a chance that your mother and your sister would suddenly see their work dry up, after all . ”
“What?! Wh… what are you saying?!”
Corinna’s parents run a successful company, and she herself is quite skilled, so she must be a fairly influential member of the tailor’s guild . Based on the various explanations I’ve been given, if Tory’s seamstress apprenticeship is like being a part-timer, and my mother’s work at the dyery is like being a line manager, then Corinna can be thought of as being an executive .
Hierarchical societies are scary . I can’t turn this one down . Got it .
This, though, isn’t an invitation from Corinna, but one from Otto, so my father might be able to reject it using his own authority . This is very complicated .
“Besides,” says Otto, “I thought that now would be a great chance to study written invitations, too . ”
“Oh, I see! Thank you very much . ”
With Otto’s help, I look over the invitation, learning about both invitations themselves and how to reply to them .
“Did you just say a written invitation from Madam Corinna?! What? Seriously?! Why?!”
“She heard about my ‘simple shampoo’ from Otto, and wants to try it for herself . ”
“Well, I’ll be!”
When my mother saw me return home bearing an official written invitation, she flew into a huge panic . I try asking her if I should decline after all, but in her excessive panic her eyes go wide with rage .
“Turning it down would be unthinkable! We have to be polite!”
“Okay! I’ll be careful . ”
Somehow, this seems less like an invitation, and more like an official summons .
After that, my mother frantically starts making me a brand-new apron . It seems that going to Corinna’s dressed in my usual clothes would not be proper . As she works, she warns me about every breach of etiquette she can think of, so that I won’t accidentally be impolite . All I had planned to do was teach Corinna how to use my shampoo, but it’s somehow turned into this huge uproar .
“You’re so lucky, Maine… You’re going by yourself, even though I’m the one who made it…”
“Mommy, can Tory go with me too?”
“Absolutely not! She doesn’t have an invitation . ”
Although I’m the one who thought up the simple shampoo, Tory’s been the one doing the manufacturing up until now . I think she’s more than qualified to come along with me, but since bringing an uninvited guest along with you is rude even here, Tory is going to be stuck at home no matter how jealous she may be .
Otto and I have arranged to meet in the central plaza at the ringing of the third bell, just like last time . On top of my usual clothes, I put on the brand new apron my mother made for me, and head off with my father towards the plaza . I bring my tote bag with me, into which I made very sure to put a little jar full simple shampoo and a comb .
When we arrive, Otto is already waiting near the fountain . My father promptly turns me over to him .
“Squad Leader,” says Otto, “Don’t worry, I’ll take proper care of her . Now, Maine, shall we?”
“Yep . See you later, Daddy!”
“Yeah . ”
After waving farewell to my father, Otto starts walking towards the castle walls . It seems that his house is near the castle . The closer you get to the castle where the nobility live, the higher the rent becomes, so it looks like Otto’s house is in what you might call an exclusive residential district .
“Mister Otto, you live near the castle walls, even though you’re a soldier?”
“I live in an apartment above Corinna’s parents’ home . Her older brother couldn’t bear to let go of his adorable little sister, so he told her to live there . ”
“Huh, I see…”
Now that he mentions it, I think I remember hearing that it’s almost like he married into her family . Certainly, without the financial support of his wife’s family, he wouldn’t be able to afford living in such a place on a low-ranking soldier’s wages . He told me that he’d used up all his life’s savings to purchase his citizenship, so perhaps was everyone connected to his wife extremely concerned about how penniless they were immediately after getting married?
Gradually, the kinds of people I see walking around start to change from what I’m used to . Their clothing is less and less patched together, and incorporates more and more fluttering, decorative fabrics in their design . The shops on the first floors of the buildings we walk past are different, as well . The shops themselves are bigger, with more employees and more customers going in and out . Along the roads, the number of coaches and wagons has been increasing, while I’ve been seeing fewer and fewer donkey-drawn carts .
It’s an almost physical shock to see that such a clear class divide exists in a single city, and just within walking distance for me, too . I’d read about things like this, so I kind of had an idea of what it was like already, but there’s a night and day difference between imagining it and seeing it right in front of me . Eyes gleaming, I take in as much of the surroundings as I can .
“It’s on the third floor here,” says Otto .
Otto’s residence is on the third floor of a seven-story building . When the first floor of a building is a store, the second floor is generally the residence of the store’s owner . The third through sixth floor are rented out, and it’s very common to see the seventh story used for housing for the live-in apprentices and other employees of the store . The closer a floor is to the road, and the closer it is to a well, the more expensive it is . If I had to say it, my home is on the fifth story of a building out by the gates . (Please understand my financial situation . ) For Corinna to have a place reserved for her right above her parents’ residence, she really must be this store’s beloved princess .
…I wonder how he was even allowed to marry her . This is surprising! A trader and a rich young woman surely have very different social stature, I think, so how did something like this happen in this world?
“I’m home, Corinna! I’ve brought Maine with me . ”
“Welcome, Maine . I’ve been waiting to meet you . My name is Corinna . I’m Otto’s wife . ”
“It’s nice to meet you, Miss Corinna . My name is Maine . I’m grateful to everything your husband has done for me . ”
This is my first time seeing Corinna, and I’m startled by how pretty and lovely of a woman she is . Her hair is a pale cream, as if the light of the moon had gathered in it . She has is gently gathered behind her, accentuating her slender neck . Her eyes are a silvery gray as well . Her whole color scheme is very light, making her seem almost ephemeral .
In contrast, her boobs are huge . Everything she’s got that sticks out sticks way out, and her waist is very narrow .
Otto, you’re so shallow!
As I’m lead into the parlor, I let out an appreciative breath as I see the patchwork tapestries, Corinna’s handiwork, that decorate the walls . This is my first time since coming to this world that I’ve seen a house with anything ornamental in it . This is probably the room she uses to meet with potential clients, so it’s filled with both a large quantity of clothes as well as these decorations made from the fabric remnants . The colors throughout the room are put together with a good eye, giving the room a relaxing atmosphere .
However, even in the house of a wealthy merchant, there are still more subtle concessions to frugality than I would have otherwise thought . The round table and chairs in the center of the room are neither finely engraved nor gleamingly polished, but are a simple, unornamented wooden design, with the wood left as is .
If I remember correctly, the furniture of Northern Europe tended to be simple . Also, because people are often shut inside for long periods of time during the winter, perhaps the furniture is designed such that it’s possible to use it for long periods of time without getting tired of it .
“Thank you for coming all this way,” says Corinna . “I’ve been very much looking forward to this ever since I heard you were coming to work on my hair . ”
As Corinna pours us some herb tea, the gentle voice she directs at me oozes the feeling of a well-raised daughter of a rich family . Her calm demeanor is one that could stir up a desire to protect her from harm .
“I’m very flattered . I’ve heard so many things about you from Mister Otto as well, so I’ve also been looking forward to meeting you . He’d told me how beautiful and adorable you are, but the way you’ve decorated this room and the quality of the clothes you have laid out is beyond what I had heard . ”
“…You really are a very well-disciplined young lady . And, your hair is just as pretty as I had heard . I wonder, will my hair become like this as well?”
Enraptured, Corinna gently strokes my hair . Last night, in order to make sure the value of this shampoo as a commodity was plainly visible, both my mother and Tory worked hard to make my hair practically shine . Today, my hair is even more glossy than it usually is .
“Shall we begin immediately?” I ask .
As I pull the small jar from my tote bag, Corinna’s face lights up with excitement . She’s absolutely adorable when she’s expressing herself so openly . I can definitely see why Otto dotes on her so much .
“I would like to wash your hair, so I’ll need to make the necessary preparations for bathing . If it isn’t too much to ask, may I bother you for a bucket full of water and a cloth for washing?”
“Bathing, you say?”
Otto, not Corinna, shouts out in astonishment, his eyes going wide .
“…I’m only going to be washing her hair, Mister Otto . Umm, Miss Corinna, while Mister Otto is getting things ready, would you please change into clothing that is okay to get wet?”
“Yes,” she replies .
“…Oh, she’s going to be wearing clothes, huh . ”
Corinna isn’t just a child like Lutz, so it’s only obvious that I’m not going to tell a woman such as herself to strip down . …Wait a minute, why are you talking like you’re hugely disappointed?
Otto stands up to get everything ready for bathing, saying that physical labor is the man’s job . He spreads out a cloth in the bedroom and brings in some water, then sets a small washcloth next to my jar of shampoo .
“…This is it, huh . What do you do with this?”
Otto, with keenly interested eyes, picks up the jar, shakes it a bit, peeks inside, and takes a sniff . I’m suddenly keenly aware that if he were to stick around while I’m working on Corinna’s hair, he’ll try to help out with everything, keep opening his mouth, and otherwise constantly butt in on the two of us, making the whole process extremely bothersome .
“This isn’t for men to see,” I say . “If you’re done with setting up, Mister Otto, please wait in another room . ”
“What? I’m her husband!”
“If you’re the husband, then it’s even better for you to wait outside . When we’re finished, you can look at how beautiful your wife has become and shower her with compliments . Please don’t do something as un-gentlemanly as watching a woman pretty herself up . ”
“That’s right,” says Corinna . “Otto, please do wait in another room . ”
The two of us join forces and drive Otto, who still clearly wants to stay, out of the bedroom . I can hear his footsteps through the door as he wanders aimlessly around outside, but I ignore him, pouring some of the contents of the little jar into the washing bucket .
“This is called a ‘simple all-in-one shampoo’ . To use it, you first fill up a bucket with about this much water, then pour about this much ‘shampoo’ into it . ”
“Next, we’ll drench your hair in the bucket, and wash it . Could I ask you to untie your hair, please?”
Corinna loosens her hair, and I timidly lower it into the bucket . Somehow, it’s not as dirty as I thought it would be; perhaps it hasn’t been that long since she last bathed . In order to make sure her scalp is thoroughly cleaned, I pour water over her head over and over as I wash .
“Please make sure you make extra effort to clean this part,” I explain as I work .
“…Letting someone else wash my hair feels really nice . I never knew that before . ”
“I think that Otto would be happy to do it for you if you asked, you know?”
Or, rather, I’m pretty sure he’d try to jump in even if she didn’t ask .
“Oh? But didn’t you say that it was ungentlemanly for him to watch?”
“…I just thought that it would be a problem for him to be bothering the two of us, that’s all . ”
“My! Heh heh, I wonder what in the world Otto has been saying around you for such a young girl as yourself to say things like that?”
It’s harder for me to wash Corinna’s hair than it is for me to wash Tory’s, since Corinna is so much bigger . I know without a doubt, however, that Otto is going to base the number of nails he gives me on how satisfied she is with my handiwork . I work diligently, to the very best of my ability .
“…Maine, do you mind if I ask you something?”
“What is it?”
I hear a hint of sharpness in her voice, and I’m suddenly put on edge .
“What’s Otto like, at the gate?”
I was totally preparing myself to deflect a question about how to make my simple shampoo . Her question caught me completely off-guard, and what she was asking didn’t immediately register in my mind . I tilt my head to the side in confusion .
Corinna frowns . “He gave up on his career as a trader all because of me,” she murmurs . “Sometimes I worry…”
“There’s no need to worry,” I say . “Even working at the gates he’s still very much a trader . ”
He handles all of the accounting work by himself, even though it’s so busy . He haggles with traders over the prices of goods and furnishings . He uses his position at the gate to its fullest to gather useful information . Truly, his guiding principles are that of a trader .
“Really? …He’s a trader, at the gate?”
“Yes, he is . For example, when merchants come to deliver things to the gates, the wicked smile on his face while he drives down the price of the order is very trader-like . ”
“Heh heh, so you can see the trader in him . Yes… yes, of course . It’s a big weight off my chest to hear that . ”
I use the washcloth to dry off Corinna’s cream-colored hair . As I start to comb it out, it starts gleaming like a pearl .
Just like when I was washing Lutz’s golden-blonde hair, I’m envious of how pretty Corinna’s hair looks . It would be great if my hair looked like that, wouldn’t it…
“If you can, please use a wooden comb when you comb out your hair . As you continue to use it, the wood of the comb will absorb moisture from your hair, and will make it shine even brighter . ”
“Alright . …It’s really become quite beautiful, hasn’t it,” she murmurs appreciatively as she runs her fingers through her hair .
“The color of your hair was already very nice, so all you need to do is maintain it to bring out its natural beauty . I recommend that you wash it like this every five to seven days . ”
I gesture at the pot, which contains the rest of the shampoo, as I give my recommendation . Corinna frowns slightly, tilting her head to the side .
“Are you really alright with giving me this? I feel rather bad, not giving you anything in return…”
“That’s alright . Mister Otto is already paying me for it, in nails . ”
“…Nails? Huh? Isn’t he getting the better end of the bargain? Are you alright with that?”
Even though he might be profiting more right now, I haven’t given up the recipe for how to make my shampoo, I’m getting my hands on the nails that I wanted to get, and since I know that Corinna is going to want more shampoo in the future, I’ll be able to get more things I want in the future, too . There’s really no problem here .
“Um, Maine . My clothes have gotten a bit wet, so I’d like to change . Would you mind waiting with Otto in the other room?”
“Yes, ma’am . ”
I leave the bedroom so that Corinna can change her clothes in peace . As I open the door to leave, though, I see Otto, loitering by the bedroom door like a hungry bear waiting for his food to appear .
“Corinna?!” he exclaims .
“My clothes got a bit wet,” she says, poking her head around the door just a little bit, “so I’m going to change into something else . Otto, take care of Maine for me, would you?”
Her hair still hasn’t completely dried, so it slips along her damp clothes as she peeks around the corner . Her shy demeanor radiates a certain kind of appeal .
“I’m sorry to let you see me like this,” she says . “I’ll get changed right away . ”
Corinna hurriedly ushers me out of the room, then quickly closes the door . Otto had caught only a glimpse of her just now, but he’s staring at the door with a completely blank expression . When I see Otto’s longing reaction after only seeing a little bit of her, I strike a triumphant victory pose in my heart . Without a doubt, he’s falling in love with her all over again .
“Eh heh heh, hasn’t Corinna become even more beautiful than before? Her creamy hair is shining like a jewel…”
“She’s still changing!!”
Otto unthinkingly starts charging towards the bedroom door, and I hurriedly try to block him . Of course, with my strength, I can’t do anything to stop him . The only one who can stop his rampage now is Corinna .
“Otto,” she says from the other side of the door, “do you really want Maine to see me while I’m in the middle of changing?”
As soon as he hears her gentle voice, he suddenly stops moving, like his batteries got yanked out . After a brief moment of silence, he turns to me . He gives me a beautiful, terriblesmile as he firmly squeezes my shoulder .
“…Maine, didn’t you have something important you needed to go do?”
I get it . I want to make out with my wife, so get the hell out of here, he’s saying .
I glance over at the bag sitting on the kitchen table . “I might remember something, depending on the number of nails I get,” I say, smiling sweetly .
He looks at the bag of nails, then back at me . In his eyes, I can see a battle raging between his cool, calculating trader’s senses and his burning love for his wife .
“If you give me all of them, I might even give my father a good excuse for why I’m going home alone . ”
Otto, who’d promised he would properly look after me, presses the entire bag into my arms, and I quietly head out the door .
…Go get ’em, tiger! Well, I acquired even more nails than I was hoping for, so, whatever . Please, do whatever it is you’re going to do!
Gripping the bag full of nails tightly in both arms, I struggle my way down the street, all alone . Nails are heavy . A single one is pretty light, but when you pile them up like this, they’re heavy as hell . Even after just walking a little bit, my arms are already trembling .
It’s no use . I need a break .
At this rate, I’m not going to be able to stumble all the way home . I manage to make it to the fountain in the central plaza, then sit down to take a break .
My arms hurt .
As I shake out my trembling hands, then rub them together, Lutz comes into view, on his way home from somewhere . He walks past me, briskly .
“Oh? Lutz, what’re you doing here?”
“Maine?! What are you doing here? Uh… all by yourself?!”
Fundamentally, my usual area of action is confined to my home, the gates, and the forest . Since I only ever take the shortest possible distance anywhere, I’m never out here in the central plaza . On top of that, since I have a habit of unexpectedly collapsing at any time, anywhere, it’s unheard of for me to be anywhere by myself . Lutz’s eyes go wide .
“Hm? I’m on my way back from Mister Otto’s place . I was able to get all these nails from him . They’re really heavy, and it’s really far, so I’m taking a break . ”
“Argh,” he grumbles, “I’ll carry those for you . Man, why didn’t he make sure bring you back safely?”
As he mumbles under his breath, he picks up the bag full of nails . I may have found that bag so heavy that it physically hurt me to carry it, but Lutz lifts is up like it isn’t even that big of a deal .
“Thanks a lot, Lutz . ”
As the two of us walk back home, we tell each other about everything that happened today . While I was exchanging my shampoo for these nails, it looks like Lutz was asking around, checking with people who know a lot about the forest or know a lot about handling lumber to see if there might be any kinds of wood that would be easy to make paper with, or any plants that might be a reasonable substitute for sunset hibiscus .
When making washi, you traditionally use sunset hibiscus as a binding agent, but here, if you’re looking for a sticky liquid, it seems that your best bet is either edil fruit or the bodily fluids of a slarmo bug .
Ur… urgh . I’d much, much prefer to use edil fruits than squeezing out an insect’s fluids . Bugs, though, might be more resilient to the changing of the seasons…
I shake my head to clear out the unwanted thoughts of juicing bugs, then change the topic of conversation .
“Now that we’ve got nails, we can start working on the steamer . ”
“Hm? How big are we going to be making it? Didn’t you say you wanted it to match the pot we’ll be using? Did you get your mom to say we can use yours?”
Our steaming basket doesn’t need to be very large at the moment, since we’re just starting out, but if we can I’d really like to match it up with the pot we’d be using . However, both of our families use their pots only for cooking . Even if we ask to borrow one, it’s unlikely they’ll lend it to us .
“…No, I didn’t . Actually, one time she got really mad at me and told me not to use the pot for anything that wasn’t food . ”
If my mother won’t even let me cook dried fish, I don’t think she’d lend me a pot so that I can steam or boil any wood to make paper .
“That’s no good,” he says .
“It really isn’t . …So what do we do?”
“Well, it’s not like I can make one myself…”
Pots are expensive . Extremely expensive . They’re always in use, even when they’re in need of repair . This isn’t the kind of thing that we can easily get our hands on just because we want one . Manufacturing one out of metal would also be very difficult .
“That’s right, isn’t it… maybe we should make the paper frame first . We already know how big it’ll be, so we can start on that now . ”
“…I guess we have to build what we know we can build, yeah . ”
We got even more nails than I’d hoped for, and we’ve tentatively identified some materials we can use as a substitute for sunset hibiscus sap… so that’s a step forward, at least… right?