Today, we can finally start making paper . I’m raring to go, excited to the point where Lutz might tell me that I need to back it off a bit .
Today’s tasks include finding and cutting down wood from trees that we think might work, based on what we were told at the lumberyard and what Lutz learned after asking various people he knew . Then, I’m thinking that we’ll set up next to the river and steam the wood, then submerge it in the river and strip the rough outer bark from it . We can then leave that bark in the warehouse to let it dry out .
Since our prototype is only going to need to be postcard-sized, I don’t think we need very much raw wood to use as materials . However, since we’ll need to steam it for several hours, we’ll need to gather a lot of wood to use as fuel . If we’re working in the forest, gathering that much firewood shouldn’t be particularly difficult, and if we start to run out we can always go and find more . Lutz, though, seems to be having a hard time lugging both the pot and the steamer .
In order to do this, he had to go out early in the morning to get the key to the warehouse, then go back to retrieve the pot and the steamer . Since we’ll have more work to do in the warehouse afterwords, he also let Mark know that we’d be keeping the key for the day . All of this preliminary work went flawlessly, but right now, things are unexpectedly difficult .
“Lutz, are you okay?” I ask .
“…Yeah,” he says .
Although he says, that, he does not look at all okay as he trudges forward, the pot and steamer tied securely to his back . It looks like he’s about to give out any second now .
The cause is simple . When we looked at the pot, he judged that it was a weight he’d have no problem carrying, and he did the same when we finished the steamer . “Yeah, I can carry this much,” he said . However, he didn’t actually think about what it would be like to carry both of them simultaneously all the way to the forest .
“Can I carry the steamer, maybe?”
“No, it’s too much for you . ”
“…Okay . ”
If Lutz says it’s too much for me, then it’s probably too much for me . All I can do right now is cheer Lutz on while I make sure to get to the forest without overdoing it .
As always, a number of other children are walking with us as we all head to the forest together .
“Lutz, whatcha got there?”
“What’re you doing in the forest today?”
Since Lutz is carrying both a pot and a never-before-seen steamer, the other children are very curious .
“A pot and a steamer,” he says, tersely . “Making paper . ”
The stuff he’s carrying must be very heavy for him to be so taciturn . The children, though, are so full of curiosity that the pay no attention to his mood and keep peppering him with questions .
“Huh? What are you making?”
“Is it something fun?”
“…No,” he replies . “I have to do this if I want to get my apprenticeship, they’re seeing if I can do it or not . ”
“Oh, okay! Got it . Good luck, Lutz!”
I thought the questions were going to be endless, but as soon as they heard that it was something Lutz needed to do to secure his apprenticeship, they immediately started drifting away .
I have no idea why the kids left us alone so quickly, so I ask Lutz about it . He says that even though a lot of kids get their apprenticeships through their parents, a lot of the more popular professions can get a flood of applications . In those cases, some parents will change tack, but it looks like there’s also some apprenticeships that have selection tests .
It seems that other children are absolutely forbidden from interfering in these tests . There’s probably cases where some kids mess with others out of revenge, but if word of that were to get out then it would make their own job search even harder .
Oh ho, I see . Trying to get into a popular job is the same, no matter where you go .
When we pass by the gate, Otto waves at us encouragingly . “Good luck!” he says . He probably noticed the pot and steamer on Lutz’s back and figured out that we’re getting started making paper .
“Yeah, we’ll do our best! Oh, Daddy! We’re heading out,” I say, waving at him .
My father has been sulking a bit lately since I’ve been spending so much time with Lutz lately, but he still waves back at us, wearing a complicated expression that flickers somewhere between smiling and sullen . He’s not happy that I’m on such good terms with both Otto and Lutz, but I know very well that, with his particular mentality, there’s no way he wouldn’t be happy when his daughter waves cheerfully at him .
“Whooof . I’m tired~ . That was way heavier than I thought . ”
Lutz rolls his shoulders, having set the pot and steamer on the ground near the riverbank .
“Good work, Lutz . Want to take a break for a little?”
“Nah, steaming’s going to take about a bell’s time once we start, right? I’ll rest then . ”
Even as he’s saying that, he’s already starting to pile up rocks in a circle, building a makeshift stove that we can set the pot on top of .
That’s Lutz for you . Nothing’s too impossible for him .
Compared to Lutz, who’s so used to outdoor work, my previous life was all about indoor work, so I don’t have very much experience with this at all . Not being very useful, though, is basically my natural state . All I can do right now is gather up wood from the nearby area and hand it over to Lutz . He fills the pot up with water from the river, sets it on top of the stove, then quickly piles up wood underneath it and gets a fire going .
“I’ll head off and start cutting down some wood, so how about you take a break and watch the fire for a while?”
“Aren’t you the one that needs a break?!”
“Well, if your health gets worse before we can make paper, I’ll really be in trouble . You’ll probably be fine gathering more wood around here, but don’t move around too much . Also, if anything happens, give a shout . Got it?”
“…Alright . ”
Like Lutz asked, I quietly stay near the fire, keeping watch over it . Although, it looks like it’s going to be quite a long time before it actually starts boiling, so I’ve got some spare time . I gather up more fallen wood from around the area, bring it back to the firepit, and feed it into the fire .
When I’ve collected all the wood from the immediate area, I head a little bit further into the forest looking for more . As I reach down to pick up a stick, I see something half-buried in the dirt . It looks like a large red berry, kind of like a pomegranate .
“Huh? What’s that?” I wonder aloud . “Is it edible? Or maybe can I press oil out of it?”
I’m convinced that most of the things in the forest are used in day-to-day life around here . After all, I’ve been living in this world for nearly a year now, so it’s only natural that I’d start thinking like it . When I was in Japan, I wouldn’t have done anything like arbitrarily gathering up whatever I see on the ground .
“I’ll have to ask Lutz about this,” I muse .
I grab a sturdy stick and start digging around the red berry, until I have it free of the ground . I reach down to pick it up, only to find it rapidly heating up in my hands .
Oh no! This is probably some incomprehensibly weird fruit .
Somehow, it seems like this red berry is another one of those really strange ingredients that I sometimes wind up using in my cooking . To be honest, I have literally no idea what’s about to happen, much less how to deal with it . Frantically, I summon all of my power, and throw it as far away from me as I possibly can… which means it lands about five meters away .
Bang! Ba-ba-bang! The red berry bursts open violently, scattering everywhere . Suddenly, countless plants start sprouting from the ground . As I stare, dumbfounded, they quickly grow until they’re up to my ankles .
What?! What the hell?! What are these pop-up trees?!1
I frantically run away from this clearly abnormal situation, yelling at the top of my lungs .
“Lutz! Lutz! Luuutz! Something weird’s happeniiiiiing!”
“What’s wrong, Maine?!”
Lutz comes crashing through the trees, probably from somewhere nearby . As soon as he sees what I’m pointing at, all the color drains from his face . He sticks his fingers in his mouth and lets out a piercing whistle .
“Tronbay!” he yells .
“What’s tro―” I start to ask, but he cuts me off .
“I’ll explain later!”
He immediately unsheathes his machete, chopping away at the rapidly-growing plants . By now, they’re up to his knees (and up to my thighs) . It’s very clear that these fast-growing plants are actually extremely dangerous .
“Head to the river, Maine! Got it?!”
“G… got it!”
There’s no spare time to chat in the middle of an emergency . I flee back towards the riverbank . The other children come running in from the other direction, summoned by Lutz’s whistle .
“What’s u― whoa, tronbay?!”
“Cut it down, now!”
As always, I’m the only one who doesn’t know what’s going on . It looks like all the kids who came running already know what these pop-up trees are . Like Lutz, they all take out their knives and machetes as they head towards the plants .
As the children run around, cutting down the pop-up trees, I sit by the pot and watch the reaping unfold . The foe is a plant, I think to myself, so couldn’t I just burn it down since I’ve got fire here?However, I’m already winded from that little bit of running I did, so I can’t really do anything but sit by the river like Lutz told me .
“Any more still growing?” I hear .
While I sat, worn-out, by the riverbank, the reaping of the pop-up trees seems to have drawn to a close . The children search about, making sure that there aren’t any that they’ve missed .
“I think we’re alright now . ”
“There may be more tronbay around, so be pay attention out there when you’re working . If anything happens give a whistle . ”
The children disperse, going back to their gathering . Lutz comes over to stand next to me .
“I told you to go sit by the river… was that too much?”
“…Yeah, too much . ”
Lutz just finished chopping down a large number of plants, but I’m still the one who’s shamelessly gasping for every breath . If someone were to stumble across us like this, they definitely wouldn’t be able to guess who was on the front lines of that battle .
“Lutz, what was, that?”
“That was tronbay . ”
Tronbay, he says, are extremely fast-growing trees that, if you let them grow to adulthood, immediately suck up all the nutrients from the surrounding soil . Also, if you let them get too big, they become extremely difficult to cut down, to the point where you need to request the order of knights to send someone to deal with them .
Huh, so there’s an order of knights here? As I’d expect of a fantasy world .
“It’s weird, though . ”
Lutz sits down on a rock on the riverbank, catching his breath, his head tilted to one side in puzzlement .
“It’s kinda early for tronbay to show up . It’s usually much closer to autumn before you start seeing them . ”
“They also were growing really quickly . But the soil around them wasn’t really churned up…”
“What, you don’t think that’s weird?”
Lutz stares at me, unimpressed by my lack of reaction . Asking me directly like that, though, puts me in a tight spot . This is the first time I’ve seen something like this, so I can’t tell if it’s weird or not . Trees popping up out of the ground like that is weird enough to me already .
“Umm, I’ve never seen tronbay before, so I can’t tell if that was any different than usual . ”
“Ah, that’s right . You’ve only been coming to the forest since the spring . ”
He nods several times in understanding . As he does so, the pot starts audibly bubbling as the water comes to a boil .
“Lutz, where’s the wood?”
“It’s scattered somewhere around there, I think…”
He points over to where the tronbay was growing, hanging his head . It looks like he’d found enough wood well before the pot came to a boil, but he threw away all his hard work when the tronbay suddenly appeared .
“…Hey, Lutz . We’ve come all this way, so how about we try making paper out of tronbay? There’s a lot of it, and since it was cut down right after it started growing, its fibers are probably still very soft…”
“Hey, you’re right . Going back to get the other stuff right now would be a huge pain . ”
We put the tronbay in the steamer, then Lutz sets it on top of the pot . All we need to do for a little while is just keep feeding the fire so it doesn’t go out . Lutz keeps an eye on the condition of the fire for a while, occasionally throwing in a few pieces of the firewood that I’d gathered earlier .
“Maine, sorry, but could you watch the fire for a bit? I’m going to go gather up the wood I dropped . ”
“Okay,” I reply .
He heads back out to where he’d been startled by the tronbay to go pick up the wood, perhaps because he’s had a bit of time to rest . I, in my new position as fire watchman, grab tightly to a stick, staring intently at the fire . By now, I’m actually able to regulate fires a little bit, but I’ve made too many inattentive mistakes getting to this point that I can’t take my eyes off of it now .
Gas stoves really are convenient . At this point, induction grills and microwave ovens are practically magic . Seriously .
As the tronbay steams, Lutz heads off to work on his gathering duties . It seems like there’s quite a lot of things to eat in the forest around the time summer turns to autumn . I gather some things as well, alternating between keeping an eye on the fire and picking up whatever catches my eye .
“I found a lot of stuff, Lutz! What do you think?”
“Lemme see, lemme see… …Maine! Pay attention! Actually look to see if you can bring something home before you pick it up . ”
As he looks over the pile of things I’d collected, the color drains from his face . He goes through the pile, pulling out everything that couldn’t be eaten . Over thirty percent of what I’d found was poison .
“This one’s bad . If you eat it, your arms and legs will go all numb, and you won’t be able to move for three whole days . This is bad too . If you eat it, you’ll foam at the mouth and die . This too! It’ll make your stomach hurt terribly for two days . …Maine, if you don’t learn this stuff soon, you won’t have to worry about dying from sickness, because you’ll poison yourself to death! Got it?”
Yep . And it’s not just me who’ll die if I don’t remember this, it’ll be my family, too .
I need to immediately start memorizing not just the things that are useful in everyday life, but also how to distinguish which things out here are poisonous . I don’t have anything like an illustrated field guide, either, so I have no way to do this other than have it shown to me in person .
“I’ll try hard to remember, so please teach me about it,” I say .
“Yeah . ”
Faintly, the sound of the city’s bell rings through the air, and we take the steamer off the pot . A burst of steam hits us in the face as we open it up, but just from taking a look at it I actually can’t tell if it’s had enough time to steam .
“Is this okay?” asks Lutz .
“I don’t really know, but let’s put it in the river and peel off the bark . ”
We dunk the wood in the river, then try to strip off the bark while the wood is still warm . It comes off cleanly, without crumbling or snapping at all . This is far easier than I thought it was going to be . We might have found an excellent material after all .
“This tronbay might be really good for making paper,” I say .
“We don’t know when it’ll grow, though, and we have to cut it down when it’s really young, right?”
“…Whoa, this isn’t going to work, then . ”
I sigh, thinking back on how things unfolded today . If we could cultivate this, it would be an amazing material, but, alas .
“Hey, Maine . Is this all we need to do today?”
“Yeah . Next we need to let the bark dry out completely . ”
“…Hmmm . Alright, I’ll go wash up the pot, so take care of these, okay?”
Lutz leaves me with tidying up the pile of bark as he goes to clean up the pot and the steamer . Sitting there and lining all of the strips in a row is remarkably fun, so I’m in good spirits as I pick away at the pile .
As we return home, I carry several strips of the bark we harvested in the basket on my back . Lutz carries the pot and steamer, putting his entire soul into lugging it along . Since he’s also carrying the things we gathered today, his burden is definitely way heavier than it was when we had first gone out .
Both Lutz and I are barely still on our feet as we make it back to town and split off from the rest of the group to head to the warehouse . When we get there, Lutz unlocks the door, steps inside, and drops everything to the ground .
“Aaargh, that was heavy!”
“You had a lot more stuff coming back than you did before, after all . You know, I could probably have carried a little more…”
What I’d carried back already took all of my effort . I didn’t really have any extra surplus of energy to help him out . Lutz sits down in the corner and takes out a fistful of bark strips from the pot .
“Hey, Maine,” he says, waving them around, “how and where are we going to dry these things?”
“Eh? Ummm… how, huh?”
I’d been thinking that we’d dry it out kinda like you dry out hay, but we don’t have any poles to do that from . I look around the room, searching for something to use .
“Lutz,” I say, putting a hand on his shoulder, “I know your tired, but could you hammer a bunch of nails at even distances into these shelves, please? I’ll dry the bark on that . ”
“…If I have to…”
Lutz hammers nails into the board, his hammer ringing, and I hang strips of bark from them . This is doable for now, since we don’t have very many of them, but when we move on to mass production, we’ll need a dedicated place for drying .
When we get to the point where we start mass production, I’ll ask Benno about it . We don’t need to worry about that right now, right?
“It would be pretty bad if these couldn’t dry completely here . If they’re damp for too long they’ll start getting moldy . Tomorrow, when we go to the forest, maybe we should take these along and dry them in the sun?”
“So, could we just bring the bark with us tomorrow and keep the work pretty light? I want to gather some normal things . There’s a lot of things I need to get for my family, so I’d really appreciate it . ”
“Yeah, I want to gather a lot of mushrooms too so that I can try drying them out . I want to try making soup stock out of them . ”
“…Maine, get better at picking out the poison ones first . ”
The next day, we bring the bark with us . I hang the strips off the rim of my basket, then collect quite a large number of mushrooms .
About twenty percent of them were poisonous .
That’s weird, I didn’t expect that…
Over the next few days, we let the bark dry out in the sun until it was completely dry . I don’t actually know how to tell when it’s “completely dry”, so I let it dry until I started wondering if I was maybe overdoing it . With the hard, dry bark strips in hand, we head back out to the forest . Our next step now is to let them soak in the river for a full day, so the weather is actually important .
We pick a spot in the river that wouldn’t really stand out to anyone looking for it, then arrange some rocks in a circle and place the bark inside .
“Will this work?” asks Lutz .
“…Probably . Let’s check on it on our way back home . ”
I don’t have much practical experience, so I’m not very confident, but I’m pretty sure this is probably going to work . While I think about it, I look down at my feet, immersed in the river water .
…It should be obvious, but I don’t have any rubber boots or gloves .
Today, the weather is still fairly warm, so the water is merely cool, but as the seasons progress, the river might start getting life-threateningly cold .
“Lutz, before it gets too cold, we need to get all of the wood to this point, not just the tronbay . At some point we won’t be able to go in the river anymore . ”
“…You’re right . The river’s pretty cold already, too . ”
Perhaps he’d been thinking about what was going to happen when the weather got cold too, because he frowns, nodding in agreement to my suggestion .
“Today let’s cut down some wood, and hide it somewhere like we did with the clay . Tomorrow if we bring the pot and the steamer, shouldn’t we have some wood ready to go?”
“Yeah, you’re right . ”
We spend some time searching for suitable wood, collecting a variety of different kinds and stashing them underneath a bush . While we do our gathering, I occasionally stop by the river to check on the state of the bark . They’ve been drifting around within the enclosure of the rocks, but they don’t look like they’re in any danger of being washed away . They’ve also started to swell up a bit from being immersed in the water .
“I’ll be kinda worried while we’re away from the forest, but I think it’ll be okay,” says Lutz .
“…Yeah . ”
With great reluctance, I head home, but even then I can’t help but worry about what’s happening to the bark . What if it suddenly starts raining super hard upstream, causing the water to surge and wash everything away? What if bandits come, see that there’s floating treasure, and steal it? Increasingly strange thoughts bounce unceasingly around my head as I stare blankly at the wall .
The next day, I’m fidgeting constantly as we walk back towards the forest, but when we arrive I see that neither has a flash flood washed everything away nor have bandits stolen it, so they’re right there where we left them .
“Oh, phew, they didn’t disappear . ”
“…So,” says Lutz, “now what do we do?”
Lutz picks up a soggy, floppy strip of bark and looks at it dubiously .
“We’ll use our knives to strip off this outer part, leaving only the white inner part of it . Although, let’s start steaming the wood we got yesterday first . We can work on this while the wood’s steaming . ”
“Got it . ”
The stone stove we made last time is still there, so after we do a little bit of maintenance we set the pot and the steamer back on it again . With that complete, we find a large, flat rock near the riverbank, close enough that we can keep the an eye on the pot, and start working on peeling off the outer bark .
“Looks like we can leave the bark we want to dry here for now . Let’s try to get all of the white bark finished while the weather’s still warm out . ”
Skrnk, skrnk, skrnk…… Screeeeeeeeeeeek……
We place the bark on top of the stone, then start stripping the dark outer bark away so that we can keep only the lighter inner bark . It’s kind of like slicing off the high-quality breast meat from a chicken . The bark isn’t quite as tough as that, though, so we have to use short, halting strokes . There’s probably better tools and better methods for doing this, but right now, I need to make the best of what I’ve got .
Skrnk, skrnk, skrnk…… Screeeeeeeeeeeek……
“Hey, Maine . This, um… well, it’s not like I can’t do it, but…”
“Yeah, we need a table for this . ”
The sound of our knives scraping against the stone shoots through my body, leaving me with unceasing goosebumps . I very, very much want some sort of cutting board to do this kind of work on .
Thinking back on the list of tools that I’d written down, I really did wind up missing a lot of necessary things . I thought I’d had a good grasp on it, but there’s a lot of things I didn’t know about at all . As we work, it looks like we’re going to need to gradually supplement our supplies with more things that we need .
With tears in my eyes, I continue peeling away at the bark, my goosebumps serving as a keen reminder of how important experience actually is .
1 . There’s a pun here that doesn’t have a particularly good translation . Urano describes the plants as “にょきにょっ木” (nyoki-nyokki) . “にょきにょき” (nyoki-nyoki) is an onomatopoetic expression that describes tall, thin things popping up everywhere, one by one, and “木” (ki) means tree . She’s swapping the last syllable of the first expression with the word for tree to describe trees that pop up everywhere .