“Aaaaaargh, it’s ripping apart…”
“This one, too . ”
The prototype paper we made out of tronbay worked out well, but batches we’ve been making to test other kinds of materials have not . I don’t know if it’s because the fibers aren’t adhesive enough, or if they’re too short, but they aren’t tangling together very well, nor are they sticking together, so as the sheets dry out they start falling to pieces .
“I wonder if it would work better if we add more binding agent…? What do you think?”
“I think we’ve got no choice but to try whatever we can think of, one after the other . ”
In order to make the fibers stick together more easily, we try adding more binding agent, and in order to make the paper less likely to tear, we try making it a little bit thicker .
“How about this?” I ask .
“I have no clue about how it’ll turn out when it’s dry, but it’s coming together pretty well, I guess . ”
The thicker, gluier paper dries rock hard, and when we try to peel it from the board it snaps in half . We stare, dumbfounded, at the fragments as they drop, one by one, to the ground .
“…That’s a failure, huh . ”
“Yeah, this one didn’t tear, it… broke? It wasn’t actually paper, at least . ”
I don’t know if the problem is with the ratio of fiber to binder to water, or if the raw materials themselves aren’t right for the job . At one point, I’d read something about what kinds of vegetation could be made into paper, but in this world that sort of knowledge doesn’t really apply . The failures have been accumulating, to the point where I want to scream, “how did this happen?!”
“This is just making me wish we could mass produce tronbay paper . ”
“There’s no way!”
“Couldn’t we make something work as long as we had tronbay seeds?”
I think that, as long as we had some of those red fruit, harvesting enough tronbay would be easy enough, but Lutz shakes his head vigorously when I suggest it .
“Don’t search for them! Do you want to destroy the forest?!”
“If we found a seed, couldn’t we get everyone to quickly cut it all down as soon as it grew?”
I’m a not quite sure about this because I don’t know when tronbay actually grows, but when someone finds a seed they could gather a bunch of people to wait for it to sprout, then as soon as it does they could jump in and deal with it . However, Lutz rubs his forehead, insisting that it’s not a good idea .
“You have no idea when tronbay will grow! It’s too dangerous!”
“Ah, I see . ”
It seems like I had stumbled across a tronbay seed that was coincidentally right on the verge of sprouting, but it turns out that tronbay don’t usually sprout immediately after you pick them up . Lutz is starting to get a little angry, so I decide to give up on using these mysterious pop-up trees .
“…Please learn how things work around here . ”
“I’m trying, though!”
Since Urano’s memories from my previous life are crammed into my head far more firmly than those of Maine, who rarely left her house, no matter what the situation the raw evaluation criteria I wind up using is still always Urano’s . However, because Lutz and I have been discussing some of Maine’s memories, I’ve gradually started thinking of them a little more, and Lutz has been helping to correct my actions, too .
“Anyhow, using tronbay is dangerous . When tronbay starts sprouting, it drains all the strength from the soil, so for a while after it sprouts nothing else can grow there . We can’t mass-produce it . ”
“Whaaat?! It’s that dangerous?! But nothing like that happened last time, right?”
“Didn’t I say that was weird? Did you not hear me or something?”
“I don’t know anything about normal tronbay, so I had no idea if anything about that was weird or not . ”
Tronbay has been the best material so far, but since it’s such a dangerous plant, and since it only grows in the autumn, mass producing it would be impossible . Rather than wishing for something that doesn’t exist, it’s much more useful to be thinking about if there’s something we can find that actually exists . So, we had no choice but to keep searching through trial and error .
While we were doing that, we had to consider whether any of the wood that we can easily find in the forest is actually something that’s mass-producible . Also, we needed to think about the ratios of materials, try crushing the fibers more or less, using sulamo bugs instead of edil fruit for the binding agent, and so on, in order to try to make gradual improvements in the final product .
“Out of these, forin seems to be the best for this . ”
“Yeah . If we add just a little bit more sulamo glue to the forin, it looks like we get something good enough to sell . ”
When we tested the three soft woods that the lumberyard recommended to us, we found that forin was able to make the thinnest paper . Forin fibers, compared to those of the other two varieties, are a little stronger . This makes them harder to beat into shape, but the more we beat it, the more stickiness is released from the fibers . Once we discovered that, we were able to make a comparatively good paper by beating the fibers thoroughly . Then, when formulating the pulp, we tested gradual changes to the ratios of the various ingredients that we used until we found the best proportions we could .
I write down the proper ratios on my slate, then clap my hands together to shake the dust from them .
“I think we’ve got it now, right?” I ask .
“Yeah, if we make it like this, it looks like we can mass-produce it . ”
Lutz’s face is bright now that we’ve found the proper ratios . I happily run a fingertip along the surface of our completed paper .
“Mass production is going to have to start in the spring, though . Getting more wood right now is going to be a huge pain, and bark in the winter is going to start getting tougher and tougher . ”
“Yeah, you’re right . ”
We’d make much better paper if we waited until spring arrived and the plants came to life again, then went to collect young trees and new branches . Besides, the weather is already such that bleaching the bark in the river is already a very painful process . I want to wait for it to get warm for Lutz’s sake, too .
“So, let’s get our finished paper over to Mister Benno as soon as possible . I’m going to have to start helping Mister Otto at the gate for the winter, after all . ”
“Yeah . In a little bit we’re going to have to start preparing for the winter, so we should get this finished as fast as we can . ”
“Right . Tomorrow I’ll go to the gate and ask Mister Otto about how to write a thank-you note . We were finally able to make paper! I want to show him my thanks . ”
Lutz nods his agreement to my suggestion, as he starts gathering up the remains of today’s failed experiment .
“I’ll leave the thank you note to you, then . So, you’re going to be bringing today’s failed paper home with you?”
“Yeah . We’ll take the successful paper to Mister Benno, but I can use the botched paper, even if it has some holes or is peeling a little bit, to make a book . ”
I’ve already confirmed with Mark that it’s okay for me to bring home the large quantity of failed experiments . With this, I can finally start working on making a book
The next day, I return to the gate; my first time in a while . As winter accounting season comes around, all the necessary documents for processing the calculations have been gradually piling up, so Otto’s face is positively radiant when he greets me .
“Hey there, Maine! I’ve been waiting . ”
He pats the accumulated pile of wooden cards sitting next to him, smiling brilliantly as he beckons to me . The cards are covered with totals of goods and quantities, and it looks like Otto is in the middle of writing everything out into the official documents .
As I help him out with that, I eventually try asking him about how to write a thank-you note .
“Mister Otto, if you could, I’d appreciate it if you could show me how to write a thank-you note . ”
“A thank-you note? Like what the noblemen exchange?”
Well, no, it doesn’t have to be like what a noble does, I almost start to stay, but I stop myself . Perhaps it really is a custom that only noblemen practice .
“Umm, I figured that since there are letters of introduction, then maybe there was a letter of thanks from the people who got introduced… was I wrong?”
“Well, I know that noblemen exchange those among each other, but it’s not something that merchants explicitly write . It’s a waste of paper to use it on something that’s not a contract . ”
Of course, paper is such an expensive commodity that they wouldn’t use it so lightly .
“Then, how should they send thanks?”
“For a trader, you usually give the other party something from what you trade in that they might find useful . It doesn’t really matter if you have an attendant deliver it or if you deliver it yourself, but you don’t send a thank-you note, you send a gift . ”
I thought that there was going to be a general format for a thank you note, like there’s one for a letter of introduction, and that I could write one on a sheet of our finished paper, but he’s telling me that it’s normal not to send a note, but instead to give a gift .
“…Whoa, I didn’t expect that . Hey, Mister Otto . What do you think I should give to Mister Benno? I can’t think of anything that Lutz or I could possibly send to him that he would want . ”
I really can’t think of anything that I personally have that Benno might possibly be interested . Benno seems to be a man who has everything .
Otto shrugs his shoulders, then gives me some advice .
“Wouldn’t the paper the two of you’ve be a good gift? That’s all you two trade in right? If it has value as a commodity, then showing Benno that his initial investment is paying off would be the best . Besides that… maybe information on some kind of new product… or something like that, I think . ”
“I understand . Thank you very much, Mister Otto . ”
Something to increase the value of the paper, or information about a new kind of good, huh… I might be able to come up with something like that .
The next day, I immediately rush to Lutz to propose to him my idea for the paper we should make to show Benno our thanks .
“It turns out that merchants don’t say thanks by sending thank you notes . They give each other something that they think they’d like . So, I think we should make some special paper out of tronbay for him . We still have some tronbay inner bark, right?”
“Yeah . We should give Master Benno the best paper we can, shouldn’t we? …Hey, Maine, what’ve you got there? Leglas?”
He looks down at the red leaves I brought with me .
“Oh, is that what it’s called? I found it growing next to the well, so I picked some yesterday . I want to try doing something like pressing flowers, I think . ”
“What are you going to do with those?”
“I’m going to use them to make paper, of course!”
Leglas is a plant that looks like a red clover . I thought that we might be able to put it in the pulp after we spread it out, substituting it for the maple leaves that would be used for that in washi . I make a message card with leaves arranged along the edges of the page, like a bookmark or a piece of nice stationery . I also cut up some of the leaves into smaller pieces, then scatter them on another page in a heart shape, making something kind of like chiyogami . 1
On the message card, I write “Because of you, Mister Benno, we were able to make this paper . Thank you very much . ” Lutz and I sign our names at the bottom .
“This paper is really pretty,” says Lutz, looking at the other sheet .
“Since it’s got leglas in it, it’s kinda showy, like it’s got a picture drawn on it, you know?”
“What are you going to do with it?”
“I’m going to make origami,” I reply .
I take the chiyogami-like paper I made and use my knife to cut it into a square, then fold it into a celebration crane . 2 In my old memories, shuriken patterns were the most popular with people from overseas, but I don’t know if anyone here has ever seen a throwing star before . I don’t have enough paper to make something large like an origami balloon, either .
A celebration crane is a simple, yet flashy design that I can make with a single sheet of paper . Since its tail spreads out wide, like a peacock, it’s far more extravagant than an ordinary crane .
“What do you think? Is this showy enough?”
“…Wh, whoa,” he says, timidly, lightly poking at the crane . “You can make paper do something like this? Man, I have no idea what you’re capable of, Maine . ”
I’m a little taken aback by his reaction .
How much would a crane like this be worth?
“…Now that I think about it, making decorations out of paper would be super extravagant, wouldn’t it?”
“A~ah, w…, well, since it’s for Master Benno, it’s alright . ”
I’d been thinking that origami was lighthearted, cheap, and comparatively unusual, so it would make a nice gift, but now that I’m actually thinking about how expensive paper is here, I’m wondering if I’ve just done something monumentally wasteful .
…I wonder if I should make sure to tell Benno that he can unfold it and still use the paper, despite the creases?
“I was also told that information about some kind of new product would be good…”
“You’ve got better ideas for that than me, right?” asks Lutz offhandedly, shoving the entire burden onto me .
It’s not that I have no ideas whatsoever, but I don’t know if any of them are actually at all salable, so I want to ask Lutz for his opinions .
“…When we first met Benno, he looked pretty interested in my hairpin, so I was wondering if we should teach him about those, but this,” I say, pointing at my head, “is basically just a wooden stick, isn’t it?”
Lutz gives a big nod . “Yeah, you’re right . It’s just a stick . ”
“You think he could sell them?”
“…People can make them themselves, so it’s not the kind of thing you’d really just go out and buy, I think?”
I’d thought that, even though it was unusual, it wouldn’t really be salable, and Lutz seems to agree .
“If you want hairpins you can sell, how about that other kind? …You know, like the one Tory wore during her baptism, or like that . ”
“Lutz, you’re a genius! That got an amazing reaction back then, too! And I think making those would be great to do for our winter work, too . ”
With this, we’ve completed our preparations for what we’re bringing to Benno . Next, we need to figure out the circumstances, then make some time with him to meet .
“Hey, Lutz . When you go return the lock today, could you ask Mister Mark what Mister Benno’s schedule looks like?”
“Yeah, sure thing . ”
On the day that we arranged with Mark, Lutz and I head to Benno’s shop, bringing with us the completed paper . Our finished product has both tronbay- and forin-based papers, each in three different thicknesses, for a total of six different varieties . With that, we also are bringing the message card and origami celebratory crane, into which leglas has been pressed for color . I also have Tory’s hairpin in my tote bag as well, so that we can consult with him about it .
“Good morning, Mister Benno . We’ve finished a prototype of our paper, and have brought it with us . We were able to finish it so quickly thanks to your generous initial investment . ”
“I heard about it from Otto, but you’re done already?”
“Yes, sir . Here it is . ”
I draw the sheets of paper from my tote bag, then arrange them on Benno’s desk in front of him . When he sees them, he looks at them with slight amazement, then reaches out for the first sheet .
“Well now, let’s take a look . ”
He holds it up to the light and tests it for feel, then takes out a bottle of ink . He tears off the top part of one of the sheets, then draws a line across it with his pen .
“…This is good for writing on . The nib doesn’t get caught in this as easily as in parchment, so it’s easy to write… though the ink is spreading just a little bit . Not enough to make a difference though… hmm!”
“Did we do it?!” I ask . “Can Lutz be your apprentice?”
Benno strokes his chin, grinning broadly as he reaches for the next sheet .
“Yeah, I did promise that, after all . How many of these can you make?”
“Ummm, since this is just a prototype, if we start making it for real, I want to use larger tools . I think that these sheets are a little too small . What would be the best size of sheet for us to be making?”
The letters of introduction I saw at the gate were all different sizes, so I don’t know what the standard would actually be for making paper . If we were to be making paper the same size as actual washi, the paper frame we’d need would be far too large, and it would take a tremendous amount of strength to spread out the pulp evenly over it . If Lutz and I aren’t able to make consistent, quality paper at that scale, there’s no point in trying, so I want to focus on mass-producing paper of the most widely-used size .
“…Hm, let me see . For letters of introduction and contracts, we usually use sheets about this size . It’s not a precise standard, though . ”
The sheet of parchment that Benno pulled out from the shelves behind him is sized somewhere between an A4 or a B4 sheet of paper . 3 It’s a size big enough that we can still swing the paper frame by hand .
“Okay, I’d like to make another paper frame, of about that size . Although, it’s only going to be practical to make paper again in the springtime . For now, we really can’t keep getting raw materials . ”
“Just get all your tools in order by springtime, then . Work with Mark on that . This’ll be a great product once you’ve done that . ”
Benno’s given his approval of our paper . Thrilled that our hard work has finally paid off, I exchange a look with Lutz, smiling broadly .
“This is a much higher-quality paper, huh . ”
The sheet he currently holds in his hands is one of the ones made from tronbay . At a single glance, the difference in quality is obvious . It is both much whiter and much smoother .
“This was made using tronbay . ”
“Did you say tronbay?!”
Benno’s head snaps up, startled, and he looks back and forth between me and Lutz . It looks like tronbay really is famous for being such a dangerous plant . I take a step back, letting Lutz give the explanation as to what happened so that I don’t inadvertently say something foolish . Lutz, reading my intentions perfectly, takes a step forward, opening his mouth to speak .
“While we were gathering things in the forest, Maine stumbled across tronbay that had just started growing, which is how we got this . It’s very dangerous to get, though, and finding it is unreliable, so I think it will be very rare for us to make . ”
“Well, I guess that makes sense… Still, tronbay, huh…”
Benno seems to be frantically thinking if there’s anything he might be able to do to make mass-production of this happen . Despite the fact that he’s making that calculating merchant’s expression, it seems that this is the rare case where he can’t actually come up with a way to get what he wants .
“After several tests, we determined that tronbay was the material that made the best quality material, but we can’t make it into a commodity if we can’t actually acquire the raw ingredients . Also, this paper here is made from forin . Since forin is much easier to find, it’s much better suited towards mass-production, and thus commoditization . ”
“Ah, I see,” says Benno, nodding vigorously . “Forin is definitely much better for production . ”
Since it seems that the paper has met his satisfaction, next I take out the thank-you gifts .
“Now, this is… a thank-you note, to you, Mister Benno . I heard from Mister Otto that the best way to thank you would be to show you how we could add value to the paper we’ve made, so we tried making a special paper for you . ”
“A thank-you note? I’ve given these to some high-ranking noblemen, but this is the first time I’ve gotten one myself . How do I say this… I feel like I’m moving up in the world . ”
Benno smiles broadly as he takes the message card from me . When he opens it to look inside, his eyes go just a little bit wider .
“Um,” I say, “while we were making this page, we added leglas to the mixture . …What do you think?”
“Ah? When you say ‘leglas’, you’re talking about that weed that sprouts here and there around this time of year? …When you see it like this, it’s rather beautiful . This would be quite popular with the noblewomen and their daughters, I think . ”
Benno, as a merchant, is very reliable: as soon as he saw that, his thoughts immediately went to trade . He looked at it with his merchants eyes and judged it as something that he could sell to the nobility . I’m sure that we’ve successfully shown to him that we’ve managed to add some additional value to this paper .
“Ummm, and I don’t know whether to say that this is a thank-you, or a gift, but… this is a decoration that I made from paper . It’s called a ‘celebration crane’ . ”
“Hoh! This is paper, too?”
I take the folded crane from my bag, spread its tail back out, and set it on the desk in front of him . He reaches over to pick it up, his eyes gleaming . He turns it over in his hands, looking at it from all angles, but no matter how hard he looks, he won’t find any use for it besides as a decoration .
“After I made it, I realized that I’d just done something very extravagant . It doesn’t have any use other than as a decoration . Um, though, since the paper is only folded, you can use it as regular paper again if you unfold it, although there will still be creases . ”
“No, it’s just fine being a decoration, isn’t it? This seems like a good advertisement for the paper I’ll be selling in my shop . ”
Benno places the crane on one of the shelves behind him, murmuring that once he starts selling paper he’ll need to move it to those shelves instead . It seems like the little crane will be living on a shelf for a while . Honestly, I had no idea that origami was going to be this well-received . In retrospect, I’m actually a little glad I made it .
“To be honest,” says Benno, “I didn’t think you could make paper out of wood . The quality is also far beyond what I was expecting it to be, if you even could . This, however, is more than good enough to sell as a commodity . Well done! I’m looking forward to seeing you start mass-producing this in the spring . ”
When Benno delivers his high valuation of our efforts, Lutz and I grab each other’s hands joyfully . Thinking back on all the time we spent gradually improving the quality of the product, I’m suddenly moved to tears .
“We did it, Maine!”
“It’s ’cause you worked so hard, Lutz . ”
Benno smiles wryly at the two of us, stacking the paper back up on top of his desk .
“I’ll buy this paper from you today . I’ll pay you on the way out, so call Mark for me?”
Now that I think about it, we had talked about how, before our baptism, we would get to keep the money from selling the paper, minus material and handling fees .
Finally, my first real cash!
If we turn the rest of our processed white bark into paper now, then we can probably sell that too . As soon as I think that, I suddenly remember something else, and I take Tory’s hairpin, which I wanted to talk about selling, from my bag .
“…Also, I had something I wanted to consult with you about; do you think that this is something that we could sell?”
I place the hairpin that Tory had used as a hair ornament on top of Benno’s desk . It’s a short wooden pin, decorated with a bouquet of small blue and yellow flowers .
For some reason, Benno’s face twitches and goes very stiff as soon as he sees the hairpin .
“Young lady, what is this?”
“It’s a hair ornament . After someone ties her hair back normally with a string, she can then use this to decorate it . …Like this . ”
To demonstrate, I swap out Tory’s hairpin for my own and show it to him .
“This particular one is something that I made for my older sister’s baptismal ceremony, so I can’t sell it, but if I make more decorations like this while I’m doing my winter handiwork, do you think I could be able to sell them?”
As I ask my question, Benno keeps his glittering eyes fixed on the hairpin . In a low voice, he growls out an answer .
“…You could . ”
“Then, I think I will . Then, um . Mister Benno, I’ll let you sell them for me, so would it maybe be possible for you to provide the initial investment for these too, please?”
He lets a loud, long sigh, then looks me in the eyes . He suddenly seems very, very tired, but I wonder if I’m just imagining it?
“What on earth do you need?”
“Just thread . The quality doesn’t need to be particularly high, but I’d like as many different colors as possible, please . ”
Making every single one of them using the same colors would be very boring . Besides, I’m sure that everyone is going to want to pick ones with colors that match them the best, so it’s a good idea to have as many colors and designs as possible .
“Just thread? Nothing else?”
“I’d be happy if we could get a little wood, but since we’re already going to be gathering a lot of firewood for the winter, we don’t particularly need it . ”
“And you’re doing all this yourself, young lady?”
Benno glances at me, scowling . Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure we’re in a “Maine thinks, Lutz makes” kind of situation . Perhaps it would be best for Lutz to help out as well .
“…Lutz will handle the woodworking portion, and I plan on handling the rest . Of course, we’ll be making them together . Right, Lutz?”
“Right,” he says, gripping my hand tightly as he nods frantically . “I’ll handle the wood parts . ”
Benno scrutinizes us carefully, looking like he has something he wants to say, but then sits back, covering it up with a forced, happy smile .
“Well, sounds good to me . So, you two, do you have some time and energy to move around a bit?”
“Yes, we do . ”
“Alright . So, let’s head to the Merchant’s Guild, shall we?”
“The Merchant’s Guild?!”
Whoa, once again, some new vocabulary just showed up . I wonder, is this going to be like a medieval European guild, or a fantasy world guild…? What the heck kind of place is this going to be?
Translator’s notes for this chapter:
1 . Chiyogami is brightly-colored, patterned paper used for a variety of decorative purposes . It’s typically made by applying a pattern to the paper using ink applied either through wood block printing or through silkscreening .
2 . Celebration cranes are very showy origami cranes with wide tails folded so that both sides of the paper, which are usually different colors, are outwardly visible .
3 . For American audiences, A4 paper is slightly skinnier and slightly taller than letter paper (8 . 3″ x 11 . 7″) and B4 paper is about as tall as legal paper but somewhat wider (9 . 8″ x 13 . 9″) .