At Mark’s request, one of the female employees clears off the table in front of us . As she does so, he brings over a platter, bearing various things . It might be more accurate to call the thing he’s holding a “tray”, but since he’s so incredibly butler-like, it’s difficult to refer to the round, flat, wooden disk as anything but a platter .
Mark sets out the objects he brought on the table in front of us: a number of thin boards, a pot of ink, some kind of pen made from something like bamboo or reed, a slate, a slate pencil, and a cloth . He lines them up perfectly, without the slightest bend in the line, then looks up at us .
“Now then, I shall teach you how to write a materials order . ”
“Thank you very much,” I reply .
“Th… thank you,” mumbles Lutz .
Mark glances back and forth between the two of us, comparing us .
“Lutz, are you able to write?”
“…I can just write my name . ”
It seems that Lutz has held on to the name-writing lesson I taught him back when we were making clay tablets . However, the writing we’ll need to do here isn’t just limited to one’s own name, so he turns away to hide an embarrassed expression . Mark nods once, with a thoughtful hum, then picks up the slate and places it neatly in front of Lutz .
“You say that you are able to write your name? I had heard that you were not the children of merchants, so… you’ve surprised me . You’ll have no problems with the contract . However, if you were to work as an apprentice here, you would be expected to know how to write every letter . While Maine and I work on preparing the materials order, why don’t we have you practice writing some basic letters?”
It seems that Mark had thought Lutz, having not come from a merchant family, wouldn’t be able to write his own name, and had planned on having him learn how so that he could sign the contract . Changing his plans, he writes five or so letters on top of the slate, and has Lutz start practicing those . I wonder if he’s in charge of teaching the apprentices how to write? He seems very used to this teaching method .
“Maine, are you able to write?”
“There are definitely words that I won’t know, but if you can teach me those, I’ll be able to write them . ”
“Very well . ”
Mark places two boards in front of me, one with nothing written on it at all, and one that already has some things on it . Some sort of copybook, perhaps . There are a few words I don’t understand, but I can read about seventy percents of it .
“This reads ‘order for goods’,” he says, indicating the words at the very top . He also teaches me about the general format of the document . Once he shows me the words for “ordering proprietor”, “goods requested”, and “quantity requested”, the rest of it is not particularly difficult .
“Now then, do you know what materials and tools you need to order?”
“Yes, sir . ”
With a big nod, I start to write . The board clatters as I write on it, though, making it harder than I thought it was going to be . On top of that, this unfamiliar pen is very difficult to write with, making this rather unpleasant . Compared to a pen like this, the soot pencils I made were far easier to write with, although the letters did crumble and smudge into an illegible mess of black at the slightest touch .
“Urgh,” I say, “this is so different from writing on a slate . ”
“You’re doing very well for your first time,” says Mark .
Being praised like that lifts my spirits, and I press on . As my pen slides crisply across the board, Mark looks over my shoulder at what I’m ordering, frowning slightly .
“…Maine, we can purchase a pot, but how big do you need it to be?”
“Ummm… I think one the same size as the second-biggest one we have at my house would be okay, but…”
Mark’s frown deepens . It’s clear to see that my explanation did nothing to clear things up for him .
Right, I see . There’s no way he’d know what I meant when I’d talk about my family’s pots, right? However, I have no idea how to express the size of the pot I want . I don’t think they use centimeters here, so how should I explain it?
“Hey, Lutz,” I say . “About how big is the pot you use to carry water?”
“Hm? Oh, um… about this big,” he says, making a circle with his arms .
After I pass the buck completely to a little kid… ahem, ahem, I mean, after I ask Lutz, the most knowledgable expert on the matter for his opinion, Mark immediately takes out something like a tape measure and quickly measures the circle Lutz has made .
“And its depth?” he asks .
“Lutz, how deep is it?”
“About this deep,” says Lutz, spreading out his hands . Again, Mark takes a quick measurement .
Since there’s never been any sort of measuring device around, until now I’ve been doing all of my measurement by eye . There’s never been any need for anything precise . However, although that might be fine when we’re making things on our own, when we’re placing orders for other people to fill, that kind of ambiguity is unacceptable . I hold my head in my hands, and let out a small groan .
I raise my hand, looking at Mark . “…Mister Mark, before I write out this order, would you please teach me the units of measurement for length?”
“Of course,” he replies .
“Also, after we leave today, we won’t be able to place any more orders since we don’t have any way to make measurements ourselves . Could you lend us a measuring tape?”
If we can’t measure the frame that we’ve already built, we can’t make the paper mat .
“Let us order a tape measure for you as well . It seems like you’ll be needing one now . ”
When we’re making trial runs in order to determine things like the types of wood we’ll need and the mixing ratios we’ll be using, we’ll be making postcard-sized sheets . However, when we’ve managed to perfect it, we’ll be making much larger sheets . When we do, we will, of course, need larger tools . A measuring device is necessary .
Mark lends me a measuring tape . As he explains how to use it, I start working on writing out the order .
Steamer, pot, squared timber, ashes, tub, paper frame, drying bed, weights, flat board . Also, raw wood and sunset hibiscus sap .
Since I want to start making paper as soon as I can, I want to list out absolutely everything right now, but until we actually get our pot, I don’t know how big the steamer will need to be . And, if we don’t know how big the steamer will be, we don’t know how large the wood we’ll need the wood to be, either .
I describe the squared timber to Mark and explain how it’s used, and we decide how large and heavy it will need to be . For the ashes, we don’t know how much we’ll need until we actually try making paper, so for now we order a small bag of it . For the rest of what we need, I wrack my brain madly, trying to figure out how best to explain it .
“Aaargh, this is hard . For the paper mat, I actually want to bring the frame we’ve already made directly to the craftsman and talk with him myself . ”
“I agree,” replies Mark . “I’m not entirely certain what would would serve well as this paper mat that you describe . Even after looking at this diagram you’ve drawn for me, I still don’t quite understand it . ”
Aside from the paper mat, which made even Mark give up, we somehow manage to get everything else written into out into an order .
As I’ve been grappling with this supply order, Lutz has been valiantly practicing his letters . I’m actually shocked to see that, even though I’m fairly certain he’s not used to sitting down and working for long periods like this, he’s showing an amazing ability to concentrate . This is very different from the apprentice soldiers that came to study at the gates . It’s only natural, though: of course you’ll be able to concentrate harder on something you think is important to you .
However, Lutz’s facial expression is completely blank . I wonder if he’s been pushing himself too hard?
“Now then, since we still have some time remaining, how about you learn how to calculate? Here, we add our sums using calculators like this . ”
After taking a brief break, Mark starts instructing Lutz in how to use a calculator . Since I don’t how to use calculators in this world either, I sit next to him, watching and listening as well . As I mentally compare this simple device with an abacus, Mark briefly pauses his explanation and looks at me, head cocked slightly to one side in curiosity .
“Maine, aren’t you already able to do calculations? I have heard as much from the master . ”
“Oh, I, don’t actually use a calculator . ”
“Then, how do you perform your calculations?”
“I do them on my slate . ”
On my slate, I start working out by hand the calculations Mark gives me . He calls my ability to work out large out large sums unbelievable, so, somehow, I wind up teaching him a little bit about how to do complex calculations by hand .
“If you have a calculator,” he says, “you wouldn’t need to know how to ‘work things out by hand’, as you call it, correct?”
“There are times when you don’t have a calculator, and it’s useful then . Also, though I can see how you use a calculator, I don’t actually know how it produces those numbers . It’s very interesting to me . ”
I marvel at Mark, who seems completely mystified by an arithmetic lesson usually reserved for elementary school students . The things I think of as completely obvious aren’t completely obvious at all . Once again, I’m struck by how awesome Japan’s public education system is .
Maybe it would be a good idea to not spread around this kind of thing too much?
In my view, sharing knowledge is a good thing, but I don’t know if that meshes well with how things are commonly done in this world . Perhaps I’ve gone a little bit overboard, this time .
“It’s almost time for the master to return . I’ll start making arrangements for the contract magic . ”
“What’s ‘contract magic’?”
I can’t stop my heart from pounding when I hear those words, the first fantasy-sounding thing I’ve heard since coming here . I had never even considered that a world as filthy and unpleasant as this one could possibly contain something as fantastical as magic .
Could I maybe use magic too? Is that my reincarnation-story-protagonist cheat?! Exhilarated, I sit on the edge of my seat, waiting for Mark’s answer .
He chuckles at me . “Magic, as you know, is something that only the nobility possess . ”
“…Only the nobility?”
“Yes, that’s right . Since it’s so rare for people like us to see, it’s not something that we understand very well . ”
In an instant, my joy at having found myself in a fantasy world is smashed to bits .
Only the nobility have magic? What the hell . They’re not just keeping books from me, but magic too? Those damn aristocrats .
“Contract magic was originally created as a way to keep the more violent noblemen in check . To perform it, you need a special ink and paper . If you write and execute a contract with those, then you’ll be bound to the terms of the contract by magic . It’s a powerful way to ensure that neither party breaks the terms of their agreement . ”
“Huhhh, that really is convenient . ”
A contract, guaranteed by magic, that can’t just be torn up and ignored seems very useful indeed .
“It’s convenient, but the paper and ink are magic tools, and are thus both very rare and very expensive, so it isn’t used except for the most profitable contracts . ”
I see . Somehow, it seems that Benno sees a tremendous amount of profit in my simple shampoo .
Certainly, consumable products have that kind of power . If you run out of them, then you’ll need to get more . I can’t imagine a woman out there who would ever let their supply run out once they got used to having glossy, silky hair . This is doubly true for those women with money, like the noblewomen who put so much effort into their appearances .
…Did I perhaps sell this for too cheaply?
As soon as that thought flashes through my head, I remember that it’s not good to be too greedy . What Lutz and I need are security, stability, and a firm financial footing . I should focus on securing that .
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” says Benno, walking quickly as he walks through the door of the shop . It seems like he was actually concerned about how long we were waiting .
“Are you finished with the materials order?”
“We’ve written up what we can for now . ”
I indicate the pile of boards that we’ve accumulated behind me . “That’s a lot,” he murmurs . There’s still stuff we need to measure, Benno, so there’ll be even more soon . We’re counting on you .
“How is Lutz doing?” asks Benno .
Mark proudly places his hand on his chest as he answers . “He was already able to write his name when we began, so ever since then he has been devoted to learning how to write beyond that . This young man has an excellent memory . ”
“Ah, I see . ”
Even though Mark is praising him, Lutz only manages a small nod of acknowledgement, as if there’s something big on his mind . He’s spent a full half of a day studying, so it’s likely that he’s quite tired by now . Doing something you’re not used to is very exhausting, after all .
“Mark must have explained this by now, but for this contract magic we use a paper specifically used for contracts and a special kind of ink . This is something that only merchants who’ve been approved to work with the nobility can use . ”
Benno takes out a small ink bottle with a peculiar design . At a glance, it looks like it contains regular ink, but it seems like it must be something completely different . As I watch him intently, Benno neatly spreads the blank contract out on the table in front of him .
“…Is it okay for you to be using that? It looks very rare and expensive . ”
“I wouldn’t be using it if I didn’t think this was a very important contract . Don’t worry about it . ”
…If you tell me not to worry about it, I’ll worry about it .
Benno dips a pen into the inkwell, then smoothly begins to write out the terms of the contract . The ink is actually not black, but a rich blue . As Benno fills the page with neat, practiced handwriting, I follow along closely .
Maine agrees to transfer all rights to her Simple Shampoo to Benno .
In exchange, Benno agrees to assume all costs of the paper-making enterprise to be undertaken by Maine and Lutz, until the date of their baptismal ceremony .
Maine will retain all rights relating to the manufacturing of the paper, and Lutz will retain all rights to the sale of the paper .
However, they will retain neither the right set the sales price of the paper, nor the right determine their profits .
Maine carefully reads the contents of the contract from end to end, verifying that nothing strange has been written . This, however, is only a pretense . In reality, I’m taking this time to deeply inhale the intoxicating scent of fresh ink on paper .
Aaah, I want to make paper, then make books, so badly…
“…Is there some sort of problem?” asks Benno, incredulously .
With a sigh, I come back to my senses . I turn to face a suspicious Benno and an amazed Lutz . I think Lutz might have realized that I was captivated by the smell of the ink .
“Wha?! Ev… everything looks fine! You’ve written things out just like we talked about them, so there’s no problems . ”
“…I’m fine, too,” says Lutz .
Benno nods, then dips the pen into the inkwell once more .
At the bottom of the contract, Benno signs his name . He spins the pen around and offers it to me . I exchange a brief glance with Lutz, then accept it .
I run a finger across the parchment . It’s so much softer than the paper I’m used to . Satisfied, I adjust my grip on the pen . I carefully dip it into the inkwell, letting the nib absorb just enough ink so that a tiny bead forms on its tip . I sign my name just beneath Benno’s . Unlike writing on those wooden boards, this is a very pleasant surface to write on .
Writing on paper feels far better than those boards, after all…
“Your turn, Lutz . ”
Lips pressed together in concentration, Lutz takes the pen from me, dips the pen in the inkwell, and writes his name below mine . The blockiness of his handwriting betrays how unused to writing he is, but he still writes his name clearly and legibly .
“Aaah! Mister Benno?!”
Benno abruptly pulls out a knife and slashes open his own finger . As Lutz and I watch on, startled, a drop of blood wells up on his fingertip . He smears it onto another finger, then presses down on top of his signature, sealing it with his blood . As he presses his finger tightly to the contract, the bright red blood is absorbed into the paper . In that instant, the blue ink of his signature abruptly turns deep black .
This is some scary magic, yikes!
“Right, and next is…”
Benno looks over at me . I’m paralyzed with fear, staring at the bright red drop of blood that lingers on Benno’s knife . Lutz looks over at me, sighs, then takes out his own knife .
“Give me your hand, Maine…”
I shove my hands behind my back without thinking about it at all .
“Maine, you can’t do it yourself, right?”
“Th… that’s right, but…”
Cutting open my own finger is scary, but having someone else do it is scary too . I really hate pain .
“Whose idea was it to make this contract?” he says, patiently .
Steeling myself, I close my eyes tightly, then timidly extend my hands . Quickly, Lutz deftly slices open the tip of my left pinky . Blood starts to trickle down my finger, accompanied by a sharp, hot, stinging pain .
“Spread that blood to your thumb, then press it into the contract,” says Benno .
Trying very hard not to cry, I smear some blood on my thumb, then press it firmly onto the contract, where I’ve signed it . Just like Benno’s, the ink immediately turns pitch black . While Mark stops the bleeding and wraps a small cloth around my pinky, Lutz unhesitatingly cuts open his own finger and leaves his own bloody seal on the contract .
How can he do that without even flinching?! Isn’t that scary?!
As soon as Lutz’s hand leaves the paper, the ink of the contract shines with a brilliant light, as if it’s burning . Spreading from the ink itself, a hole opens up in space, then snaps shut, taking the entire sheet of parchment with it . Even though I saw it happen right in front of my very own eyes, I can’t help but think it’s exactly like some CG you’d find in a movie .
…Wow, this really is fantasy . I can’t believe that I’ve been living in a fantasy world!
As I marvel over this strange new way of signing a contract, I suddenly notice that the contract has completely disappeared, and snap back to my senses .
Aren’t I supposed to get a copy of this?
“And, with that, the contract is complete . Violating is is a deadly matter, so don’t do it, okay?”
“Deadly?!” I shout, terrified by his dreadful words .
He looks down at me with a broad, amused smile . “Well, if you don’t violate it, you’ll do just fine . But, this is the kind of guarantee you wanted, isn’t it?”
“…Thank you very much,” I say . “I’m very grateful . ”
In the end, I didn’t get a copy for myself .
With the contract magic complete, Lutz and I leave Benno’s shop . By now, the sun is quite low in the sky, and I watch it slowly sink towards the horizon, its golden hue gradually dimming to red . Lutz and I walk back the way we came, through streets that seem so different in the evening glow .
“It’s later than I thought,” I say . “Let’s get home quickly . ”
The people around us seem to be in a hurry to get home as well, walking with a bit of extra speed . As we’re carried along by the wave of traffic, I turn to Lutz .
“Today was super exhausting, huh?”
“…Yeah . ”
There’s still more material orders for us to write up, but, the orders that I spent so much time filling out today are going to be processed, we’ll get our materials, and we’ll be able to devote ourselves solely to making paper . On top of that, the contract magic means that Lutz and I have guaranteed our rights . When we finish perfecting our paper, we won’t get abruptly fired from the shop .
“Now, we just need to make this paper, then we’re totally secure, Lutz!”
“…Mm . ”
Lutz’s tongue is so heavy that I can barely hear his response before it disappears amongst the noise of the crowd . Usually, we talk a lot as we walk, to distract from the fact that I’m so slow . I wonder why his responses are so dull right now .
I wonder if this wore him out more than going to the forest? Maybe memorizing letters and learning how to do calculations doesn’t really agree with him?
I look over at Lutz as he walks beside me . His blond hair glows a brilliant red in the evening sun . As I look up at him, though, I can’t really make out the expression on his face through the shadow that falls across it .
“Hey, Lutz . What’s wrong?”
Even though I ask, Lutz doesn’t reply . He opens his mouth a little, looking like he almost wants to say something, but he immediately snaps it tightly shut . He hangs his head a little, as if he’s brooding over something . Like that, we walk in silence for a while .
Lutz always slows down for me, acting like my pace-setter . I wonder if we’re walking at Lutz’s natural speed right now? I’m almost having to jog to keep up . He’s acting so differently compared to how he normally is . I’m getting a very bad feeling about this .
“Wait, Lutz . ”
We stop in the central plaza, and Lutz immediately turns to look away from me . He presses his lips tightly together, then turns to look at me . His face, half-shrouded in shadow from the evening sun, is deadly serious . Looking like he’s gathered all of his resolve, he opens his mouth, and speaks in a cracked voice .
“You… you’re Maine, right?”
My breath catches in my throat . In an instant, all the blood in my body turns ice cold, and a heavy weight clamps down on my heart . The sounds of the bustling plaza fade away, replaced by a deafening ringing in my ears, pounding with each rush of blood through my veins .
“If you’re really Maine, then… how could you talk like that?”
“Like how you talked to the shopkeeper today . I didn’t even understand half of it . Hearing Maine talk about things I don’t know anything about, and keeping up with an adult… it’s strange . ”
The ringing in my ears continues . I gulp nervously as I listen to him .
“Hey . You’re really Maine, right?” he says, looking for confirmation .
I force down the prickling in my throat . I tilt my head way over to the side doubtfully, pretending like I have absolutely no idea what he’s talking about it .
“Well, um… Lutz, do I look like I’m not Maine?”
“…My bad . That was a weird thing to say . …I was just a little surprised to see you talking like an adult . ”
Lutz manages to put something like a smile on his face, then starts walking again .
I stand there, mutely, strange thoughts turning over in my head . When I notice Lutz’s figure slowly growing smaller in the distance, I start moving forward as well .
…I messed up, didn’t I .
That’s right . I haven’t interacted with very many people so far . Since I don’t have any strength or stamina, I haven’t been useful for much of anything . I’ve been working as Otto’s assistant, but for that, I’ve been at most a child that’s uncommonly good at calculations, and none of the kids I know ever come in contact with me while I’m there .
What I’ve done with Lutz has basically just been making clay tablets and carving wood . Even if my motives were strange, that’s still something a child could actually do, so my doing so wouldn’t be particularly suspicious .
However, today I showed off a speaking ability as good as Benno’s, and fought very hard to secure a position for me and Lutz . I fought too hard . I’m sure that Lutz didn’t see in me today a trace of the weak, frail Maine that he has to protect from everything .
As we start making paper in earnest, the number of arguments with adults I’ll need to have is only going to increase . When we’re having tools made for us, I’m going to need to be able to lay out proposals and give clear directions . I’m going to have to do more and more un-childlike things, but this is what I have to do in order to obtain paper for myself .
I’m going to drift farther and farther away from the Maine that Lutz knows, I think . As Lutz and I work together, he’s only going to grow more and more convinced that I’m not actually Maine . This isn’t that far off .
What would Lutz think if he knew this?
What should I, who am not Maine, do now?
As we return home, Lutz’s face is hidden in the shadows of twilight . I can’t bring myself to walk at his side .