Even long after we’ve returned home, Lutz’s words tumble around in my head . It looked like they were hard for him to say, but the fact that he was able to say them so clearly means that he holds some significant doubts in his heart .
What would he say if he knew I really wasn’t Maine?
“Give Maine back,” he would scream, “it’s your fault she’s gone!”, mixing his confusion, his anger, his fear into a deluge of verbal abuse . And if he tells my family about it, then I’d suddenly have nowhere to belong .
I’d be driven from my home or even, in the worst case, subjected to this world’s equivalent of a witch hunt . Their religion may tell them that I’ve been possessed by a demon, so they’ll torture, maim, and kill me .
I shiver as all of the things I’ve read about witch hunts and the tortures they involve flicker through my head .
…I hate painful things . I hate scary things . If it looked like I was going to be tortured, I think I’d want to die instead .
Getting driven out or getting tortured would both be terrible, but before that happens, I could just let myself be swallowed up by my fever . The only pain there would be whatever would seep through the feverish delirium as I died . I have a simple way to throw away my life at a single though without anyone being able to say otherwise .
I’d rather die than be tortured .
It’s hasty, but being carried away by fever sounds way more comfortable than being tortured . When I think about it like that, I can breathe just a little bit easier .
On top of that, now that I’m thinking about it, what made me fight back against the fever and struggle to remain in this world was the fact that I’d made a promise to Lutz . I told myself that I had a promise to keep, and drove my fever away .
I apologized to him, then introduced him to Otto, so I think I can tentatively say that I no longer have any regrets . After meeting with Benno and seeing that making paper is almost in my grasp, I realized that I wanted to make paper, and wanted to make books, but I don’t actually have any particular attachment to anything else in this world .
It would be very simple for Lutz to avoid the me who is not Maine if I disgust him, but if he does that, then the paper-making project won’t succeed . If I can explain things clearly, then I think it’s likely that Lutz will come along quietly until we finish making paper and finish getting hired as apprentice merchants .
If I can somehow manage to keep things together until we successfully make some paper, then I can die whenever I want .
Now that I’ve prepared myself for that, I feel much more at ease . It’s not the most conclusive conclusion I’ve come up with, but it’s the best compromise I’ve come up with .
I don’t particularly care when it’s time for me to die, but if I want to die without any regrets at all, I need to focus all of my efforts into making paper .
I may have said that I’ve prepared myself for the worst, but that doesn’t mean that I have no reluctance at all to meet with Lutz again . The next morning, I meet him outside, just a little bit nervous .
“I’m going to the forest today,” he says . “I’ve got to bring back a bunch of firewood . ”
My face lights up when I hear him say that . Today, I have to head to Benno’s shop to write up the remaining material orders and instruct him in the manufacturing process for my simple shampoo . If Lutz isn’t going to be there, this is the chance to get as many of the suspicious things that I need to do out of the way now, buying me some time .
“Got it,” I reply . “I’m going to Benno’s shop today . I need to place the order for the paper mat, and I’m going to need to talk with him about where our supplies are going to be delivered . ”
“…You’re going by yourself?”
“Yeah, I think so…?”
If Lutz can’t come with me, then I’ve got no choice to go alone today . Plus, since today’s primary order of business will be to dealing with adults, then it’s very convenient if nobody I’m particularly close to is there today .
“…You’re able to go by yourself?”
“Oh, I’m all right . ”
Lutz clenches his fist tightly, looking like he wants to say something . However, he heads off to the forest without saying anything but “see you” .
I’ve been to Benno’s shop once . Twice, if you include when I went to Otto’s home . Going there by myself shouldn’t be any trouble at all . Carrying my slate, slate pencils, and set of material forms with me in my tote bag, I set off for Benno’s shop .
Alright, so! Let’s get as many things out of the way as I possibly can today!
“Good morning,” I say as I enter the shop . Merchant’s bustle about frantically, and customers constantly stream in and out of the shop . I make a beeline straight for Mark, the only person whose face I know . “Ah, Mister Mark! Would Mister Benno happen to be in? I’ve brought some more order forms with me . ” “The master is busy right now, so I’d be happy to take them from you . ”
I pull out the set of order forms from my bag and place them in his outstretched hand, along with the ink and measuring tape he lent me .
“I’ve filled out these orders, but as I mentioned yesterday, if possible I’d like to explain how I’d like them to be made . Would it be possible for us to decide on the best day to do so now?”
“The lumber dealer will be more free during the morning . How about we head there now?”
“Is that okay?” I ask . “The shop’s so busy, though . ”
Mark looks around the room at the other employees as they deal with customer after customer streaming through the shop . His mouth turns up into a smile, much like Otto’s, emanating a hint of a black aura .
“The employees here are very well trained; I’m sure nobody would shed a tear if I were to step out for a moment . ”
There are a few of them that look like they’re on the verge of tears already, though?
“Also,” he continues, “as Master Benno told me, your requests are a special case . I do not have anything else I need to be doing at the moment, so he has determined that I am well-suited to assist you in this . Please, do not worry about me . ”
“Ummm, then, thank you for helping!”
Mark and I head out from the shop . It seems that the lumberyard we’re heading to is near the west gate, where the town market is . Since the west gate is close to the river, most large goods are brought in through there . It’s probably a very convenient place for a lumber dealer to set up his shop .
“I had some things that I was hoping to ask Mister Benno, but since it seems that he’s busy, may I ask you instead, Mister Mark?”
“What is it?”
As we walk along the main road towards the central plaza, I start to ask about the things I wasn’t able to while we were in the store .
“I was hoping that you could lend us a storehouse or workshop that we could use to store the materials we’ve ordered . ”
It’s all well and good that we can place order after order for whatever we need, but we have no place to put any of it .
Mark blinks . “Where had you been planning to work before?” he asks, as if he hadn’t even considered the possibility that we didn’t already have a workshop .
“We were planning on splitting storing the tools between our two houses, and then we were going to bring everything either to the well or to the river in the forest to work…”
Originally, when we were planning on borrowing a pot from our families, we figured that we could essentially find substitutes for whatever we needed either in our houses or in the forest . We were thinking that we’d be able to beg our mothers for the ashes we’d need, and in the forest we’d be able to cut and then immediately use any wood we’d need .
If we don’t have to substitute things, we save a lot of time and effort, but the sheer amount of baggage we’ll have immediately increases . We’ll also have a lot more raw material to store, beyond just what we’d be using in a single day . However, neither Lutz’s home nor mine has very much extra space in it, so I don’t think that either of our families would let us store a bunch of stuff not actually necessary for daily life in there .
“There’s a limit to what we can store between the two of us,” I explain, “and it’s difficult to work like that . It would be best if we could borrow a workshop, so I thought I should ask you about it, since there’s nothing to lose . Wouldn’t you say this is also part of your initial investment?”
As I talk, Mark rubs his temples, muttering about how unbelievable this is .
“You were planning to do something much more unreasonable than I’d originally thought,” he says .
“We haven’t had the support of any adults so far,” I remind him .
There’s only so much that children can do without the cooperation of adults . Now that I’ve traded my simple shampoo for Benno’s support, I fully intend to use it to its maximum potential . If I let this opportunity slip, I don’t think I’ll have a second chance to try to make paper, so I can’t let things like restraint or discretion hold me back .
“Hmm, I’ll see what I can do to secure a storehouse for you . ”
“Thank you very much . With you on our side, Mister Mark, I have a feeling we’ll definitely be able to get a storehouse for sure . ”
Based on what I saw last time, I think Mark might be something like Benno’s second-in-command or right-hand man . (Because he looks so butler-y . ) If Mark is the one doing the negotiating, there’s no problem at all . He’ll definitely be able to get us a storehouse .
“Do you have any special requirements for the storehouse?”
“Ummm, since there are a lot of things that we’re going to need to go to the forest to do, it would be nice if it could be near the south gate . Besides that, as long as it has a roof and can hold the things we’re ordering, anything is good . ”
“I understand . …Ah, there they are . That lumberyard over there . ”
He points at something ahead of him, but at my height, I can’t see anything . I try hopping up and down, but I still can’t see over the crowds . I grab his hand and quicken my pace .
“Right, let’s hurry!”
Exuberantly, I turn towards where Mark is pointing, and break into a bit of a jog . In the next instant, my knees collapse, and my consciousness smash-cuts to black .
When I come to, I’m in a completely unfamiliar room .
Thanks to the thick covers of the bed I’m in, there’s no prickling from the straw mattress beneath me . It’s a very nice, comfortable bed . The ceiling is simple, but it’s been carefully kept clean . I don’t recognize it at all .
“…Where, am I?”
I sit up in bed and look around . Nearby, I see Corinna, working on some needlework . When she hears my voice, she stops working and immediately runs over to me .
“Maine, you’re awake? Benno came in carrying you, saying that you’d suddenly collapsed in the street . I was so surprised! I heard from Otto that you used to not even be able to walk to even walk to the gate in the morning without having to rest until noon, so since you didn’t have a fever I thought you must just be tired and I let you sleep here for a while . ”
“Th… thank you very much for your care, ma’am! I am very sorry for the inconvenience!”
Eeek! On top of the bed, I breathlessly prostrate myself before her in apology . 1 It seems like I collapsed in a heap on the way to the lumberyard, so I was carried here to Corinna’s house thanks to Benno . I’ve really imposed heavily on these people . If my mother or Tory hear about this, there will be no end to their scolding .
Aaaaaargh, I need to deeply apologize to Mark too! I’m sure he must have had a heart attack when I spontaneously collapsed in the middle of an ordinary conversation .
I think I now know why I collapsed . First, I didn’t get very much sleep last night, since I stayed up far too late brooding over Lutz’s words . Then, I got a little bit overenthusiastic when I decided to finish as much of the negotiations as possible today when Lutz wasn’t around . On top of that, since it looks like my paper-making is starting to go really well, I’ve been so inspired that I haven’t actually been paying attention to the condition of my own body . And, since I didn’t have anybody near me to pay attention to my health for me, I didn’t have anyone to stop me from overdoing it .
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is extremely weak . My body is a real piece of junk .
“Maine, what are you doing? You don’t need to apologize for that . I’ll go contact my brother . I wanted to let your family know as well, but it seems that they weren’t around…”
Today, I don’t think anyone should be at home, so it’s only natural that they’d be hard to get hold of . On top of that, my family thinks that Lutz is out there with me . I don’t think they would have even imagined that I’d go out to Benno’s shop by myself, then just spontaneously collapse . Just imagining my father, so worried that he flies into a rage, is terrifying to the point where I don’t even want to imagine the magnitude of my mother’s wrath when she finds out how much I’ve inconvenienced Corinna .
“Ummm, Miss Corinna . C… can you please keep this a secret from my family?”
“My family thinks that I’m out with Lutz right now, so they’ll get really angry at him…”
I try to use Lutz as a shield to negotiate an escape from my family’s wrath, but Corinna only smiles, a smile so sweetly radiant that it’s almost like that of a goddess .
“Now, now, they’ll get mad at you anyway . ”
As I’m assaulted by expectations of how awful my scolding is going to be, loud footsteps approach before Benno bursts into the room . His reddish-brown eyes narrow sharply as he glares at me .
“Little girl,” he says, in a low voice .
With a snap, I sit up perfectly straight, kneeling on the bed .
“You took some years off my life, there . ”
It feels like my lifespan is being eroded away by his threatening glare . All my conditioning takes over, and bow down, pressing my forehead into the mattress .
“I am extremely sorry and beg your forgiveness!”
“…What are you doing?”
“This is a ‘dogeza’, how I show that my apology is of the utmost sincerity!”
“Ah, I see . ”
He sits down next to me on the bed, ruffling his milk tea-colored hair as he scratches his head .
“I’d heard a bit from Otto about how frail you were, but I had no idea it was this bad . ”
“Neither did I,” I reply .
I got greedy, thinking that I could somehow manage to get by without Lutz there . When I decided that I’d be fine if I was only doing this much, I was unconsciously judging things based on my old body . Since I’m in Maine’s body now, it’s only natural that I’d collapse .
“The problem was that I thought I could do anything, as long as I had the drive to do it . ”
“Well, okay,” he mutters to himself, turning to look at me . “From now on, only come here with that kid . I won’t approve if you go out alone again . ”
“…Yes, sir . ”
I didn’t expect that I’d collapse just because I didn’t have Lutz nearby to serve as my pacemaker . I figured that since I am now able to make it all the way to the forest under my own power, then I’d be fine walking anywhere as long I was in town . I made too light of my situation .
“Go home for today . Mark’s worried about you, so take him with you . ”
My eyes go wide . “Umm?! That’s too much for me to ask . I need to apologize to him and then I can go home by myself!”
I wave my hands frantically, trying to refuse . I couldn’t possibly impose on Mark any more than I have already . However, Benno’s face goes tight, and he glares at me with a dangerous glint in his eyes .
“Didn’t I just say I don’t approve of you going out alone? Did you hear me the first time?”
“…Yes, I did . I understand . I’ll go home with Mark, even if it upsets him . Ummm, but, since I’ve finally managed to see you, I’d like to tell you about how to make my ‘simple’—”
As I open my mouth to try and explain my main reason for coming here today, Benno grabs my head in one hand, a terrible look on his face .
“Now! Lis! Ten! Here!”
“I, told, you, to go home!”
As he yells at me, my head firmly in his grip, I tremble in fear . Tears well up in my eyes on reflex as I look up at him, but in the recesses of my mind, a dispassionate thought comes to life . Ah, I see . This is what truly being yelled at is like .
“From now on, you are prohibited from entering my shop without that boy with you! If your memory works at all, remember this!”
“I got it! I’ll remember! Ow! Owowowowow!!”
After that, I had a bit of a discussion with Mark about whether I could walk home or whether he’d carry me, but he first said, kindly, “I don’t want my heart to stop like that again, so please come along quietly,” then, when I tried to insist on walking, he asked, “did your apology just now mean nothing?” and I decided there was no way I would win .
Giving up my futile resistance, I allowed Mark to pick me up, and was carried home . When we got to my home, my family saw me being carried by Mark and extracted a report of my actions for the day from him and, as I expected, they got angry . In the middle of their enormous lecture, my fever flared up with full force, and I was stuck in bed for two more days .
“So, basically, since I was such a hindrance and made everyone so mad, please come with me to the shop today . ”
The day after my fever subsided, I explain my circumstances to Lutz, and ask if he’d accompany me to the shop . He stares at me, completely stunned, then lets out a huge, huge sigh .
“Haaahhh~… Didn’t I tell you? I asked if you really could make it there, and you said it was okay . That wasn’t okay at all, was it?”
“Is… is, uh, is that what you meant? I was thinking you were asking if I remembered how to get there… Lutz?!”
“Ahahaha! What kind of crazy world do you live in that you’d think that’s what I meant? I’m always thinking about your health, aren’t I?!”
I pout at Lutz, lips pursed, as he bends over in riotous laughter . He looks up at me, smiling so wide that it looks like his face might break .
“If you’re collapsing like that, you really shouldn’t go there without me,” he says .
“Yeah . Mister Benno actually banned me from entering his shop if I don’t have you there too . ”
“Ahahaha! You got banned?!”
I’ve been reminded of just how useless I am, so I’m feeling rather depressed right now, but for some reason Lutz is in an excellent mood . I’m glad he’s not in a bad mood, but I kind of want an explanation .
I’d stayed up so late, worrying so much about what he’d said, and I thought that seeing him again was going to be so difficult, so why is he acting like he always does?!
“Hey, Maine . Stop sulking, let’s get out of here . ”
Just like always, Lutz starts acting like my big brother, pulling me along as we start walking towards Benno’s shop .
“Lutz, what did you get when you went to the forest the other day?”
“Firewood and some bamboo . Didn’t you say that you wanted to whittle some bamboo down into something so that you could show it to some craftsmen?”
“Now that you say it, I did . I forgot!”
After Mark wasn’t able to understand what I was talking about, no matter how I described it or how many diagrams I drew on my slate, we’d decided that Lutz and I should come up with a physical example . I’d completely forgotten .
“Hey, hey, keep it together!”
“Lutz, you’re here to keep it together for me, so everything’s just fine . ”
In a world without notebooks, there’s no way I can remember literally everything . I’m a notebook fiend . I used to always carry a notebook with me, and write down literally everything so that I wouldn’t forget it . If I took good enough notes, it wouldn’t matter if I couldn’t remember something, so I guess I became so reliant on always having my notes on hand that my memory might actually have been pretty bad .
As I tell him that we’re not going to forget anything if we’ve got each other, Lutz suddenly looks like he’s almost about to cry .
“…Um, Maine, when I saw that you’re so good at writing, and that you can do all that math, and that you can talk with the adults about all those things I don’t understand, I got really sad . ”
“I started thinking, what am I really good for? Like, maybe I’m not going to be any help in that shop at all . ”
There’s no way that anyone in that shop would expect a kid who hasn’t even been baptized to be immediately useful . Lutz can already write his name, and he studied very hard, so I’m sure they think highly of him . It seems like he didn’t notice that at all, and was only depressing himself by comparing himself to me .
As I console him, telling him that there’s no need to compare himself to me so much, he looks up at me, smiling just a little bit .
“But hey, Maine, you collapse a lot, and even though you’re really smart you forget things, and you’re not strong at all, and you’re really tiny, and now that I think about it there’s a lot of things that you actually can’t do . Like, you’re even banned from going to that shop without me there too…”
“That’s so mean! There’s some things I can do, you know!”
As I protest the way he’s describing me, for whatever reason he clutches his stomach, nearly falling over as he’s laughing so hard . He calms down after a while, then puts his hand on my head, ruffling my hair .
“The other day, when I said that you weren’t really Maine, that was really mean of me . I’m sorry . ”
“…Oh . You were being… mean . ”
That’s kind of deflating . I took Lutz’s words so unbelievably seriously, but it seems like he was just being mean . The lingering threads of tension that coiled around me suddenly slacken .
“…I thought you really hated me, I’m so glad…”
“Nah, I don’t hate you . Hey, let’s keep moving!”
I take Lutz’s outstretched hand, and we walk together down the street . My usual daily life feels like it’s coming back around .
“Good morning,” I say, as we enter the shop .
Mark looks up as we enter, then leads us to the back of the shop, where Benno is . He looks up at us, his eyes sharp as ever, rubbing his temples .
“Kid,” he says, looking at Lutz, “taking care of this unreasonable girl is now your absolute maximum priority . This is your most important job, that nobody else can do . Got it? My heart can’t take it, thinking about this kid could be walking around out there, then with no warning at all suddenly collapse in the middle of the street . ”
Lutz blinks as Benno, displeased, delivers his orders . He points at himself, doubtfully .
“…I’m the only one who can take care of her?”
“That’s right . Besides you and her family, is there anyone that actually looks after this unreasonable girl? Know anyone?”
“Nope . ”
“How about anyone in this shop?”
“No, sir . ”
Lutz immediately shakes his head at each of Benno’s questions . I think it might not be just my imagination that his face is practically shining and there’s a hint of a proud gleam in his pale green eyes .
Nngh, I want to grab those proud cheeks and stretch them out .
“Well then, kid, I’ve got a few questions for you . Today, can this girl walk out to the south gate?”
“If we’re watching our pace, then yeah . Since the south gate is near where we live, if she starts feeling bad we can also just go home . ”
This is an everyday thing, but as both Lutz and my family well know, my physical condition is downright deplorable . I’ve been working to gradually train myself up, but no matter how I try I just can’t get my stamina to increase .
Even though, as a kid, I should be steadily growing up .
Benno looks down at me, the girl whose growth rate is terrible even though she’s been training hard, then picks up the bell on top of his desk and rings it once . The door opens with a click, and Mark enters .
“You called for me, Master Benno?”
“Looks like she can walk there if she watches her speed . Lead them there, please . ”
“Understood, sir . ”
“Huh?” I ask . “Where are we going? I thought the lumberyard was near the west gate?”
I didn’t think we had any business that required us to head towards the south gates . I blink, uncertainly, as Benno shrugs his shoulders .
“Mark told me about your request for a storehouse . I’ll lend you one that’s down by the south gates . ”
“Really? Thank you very much!”
As I thank him excitedly, he lets out a little sigh .
“This isn’t for your sake, it’s for the boy’s . It’d be very difficult for him if he has to lug all of the tools everywhere while also looking after you . ”
“Whaaat?! I can carry things too, you know! I’ve gotten a little bit stronger, lately . ”
As I try to assert my own strength, all three of them simultaneously open their mouths in rebuttal .
“You shouldn’t do anything rash, kid, just go along with it . ”
“I’m the one who does the lifting, so don’t do anything that’ll make you sick again . ”
“Since you won’t have to carry anything, please look after your health . ”
I, however, refuse . I’m not just going to go along with it . I promised Tory . I’m going to do the things that I can do, and I’m going to increase that number . I’m going to do my own things by my own strength, and I’m going to work hard until I can do the things that I can’t do right now .
With a meek expression, I nod in assent, but Lutz immediately reaches out to grab my cheeks, staring me down .
“Maine, that face… you were just pretending to listen, weren’t you?”
How did that slip out?!
I look up at him, surprised, as he pinches my cheeks . Benno and Mark exchange glances, then nod .
From that day on, Lutz had a very important role in Benno’s shop: “Maine Duty” .
Translator’s notes for this chapter:
1 . Dogeza is a very Japanese way to express your deepest apologies or show the highest deference by kneeling on the floor and bowing so deeply that your head touches the ground .