Ascendance of a Bookworm – 040
Lutz and I leave Freida’s house, commencing our journey home . She just saw us off with a smile, but why do I feel like I’m fleeing for my life? All we did was eat sweets and chat a little, but why am I more exhausted than when I go to the forest?
“Ah, have you finished your negotitions?”
As we pass Benno’s shop on our way home, Mark calls out to us . We’d previously been told that we should come by the shop tomorrow afternoon to deliver our report, so we were planning on heading home for the day, but Mark waves to us, smilingly beckoning us inside .
“I know that we had planned to discuss this tomorrow,” he says, “but since Master Benno is rather nervous at the moment, would you perhaps be willing to discuss the outcome of today’s negotiations right now?”
“…Yes, I would . ”
My stomach churns a little as I think about how much I might get scolded for arbitrarily charging half price for a second pin, but I do really want to finish this as quickly as possible .
“Master Benno,” says Mark, opening the door . “May Maine and Lutz enter?”
“Yeah, show them in . ”
Benno sits behind his desk, tapping his finger impatiently on its surface as if to tell us to get in there immediately .
“…Maine, what’d you think? Of that old man’s granddaughter . ”
“Ummm, she seemed like very cute young lady, like the rumors said . ”
“Alright, so she’s well-groomed . What did you think?”
I tried hard to be politely indirect about my description, but Benno waves his hand dismissively, telling me to get to the heart of the matter .
“To be honest,” I reply, “her appearance and her personality are so different that I was a little shocked . She’s not just a girl who loves money, though; she’s been close to the guild leader, observing him, since well before her baptism . She’s thinking about how to grow her capital, how to expand her business ventures, and so on . I think she has amazing talent for being a merchant . ”
“You think she’s amazing, hmm…”
Benno roughly scratches his head, then breathes a heavy sigh .
“Umm,” I say, “how should I put this… she’s cute, but very… strange . Right, Lutz?”
When I cram all those thoughts about my impression of her into that one sentence, Lutz raises his eyebrows, then looks down at me with a face that screams “like you’re one to talk . ” Benno, looking very interested, quirks up the edges of his mouth, then asks Lutz the same question .
“Lutz, what did you think?”
“She tried to recruit Maine just like the guild leader did yesterday, so I think that she’s not someone you can let your guard down around . Also, I think that… she’s kinda like Maine . ”
That’s way too unthinkable!
As I practically lunge forward, demanding an explanation for his shocking words, Lutz merely shrugs his shoulders .
“When that girl talked about money,” he says, “she looked like you do when you’re talking about books . Both of you act like you don’t have eyes for anything other than the thing you like, so it’s just like you said earlier: cute face, but weird inside . ”
Ah, I see . Right now, apparently, I look pretty cute .
There are no mirrors in my house, so I had tried to look at my reflection in a bucket of water, but all I could see was a warped, blurry shadow . The only people who have called me cute to my face were either people I’ve only just met or my excessively doting father, so I thought it was just polite flattery .
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been used to people calling me not just your average bookworm, but a weirdo . It doesn’t really matter much to me, but I wasn’t particularly cute at all . If you had looked at me, you’d have seen just the kind of nerdy girl who holed herself up in the library all the time . Nobody had ever said that I looked any different than they thought I should .
I imagine a girl who resembles her siblings, so one who looks like a younger version of Tory, who also chases after nonexistent books, so an eccentric, strangely-behaving one . As I think about that dramatic clash of images, I hang my head in defeat .
“…I’m sorry . I have something to think about now . ”
“Think long and hard about it . ”
“Ngh…” I say, depressed .
Benno, who has been watching our exchange with a smirk, starts tapping his finger on his desk again .
“Then what? Did you finish your negotiations?”
“Umm, Miss Freida wears her hair in two braids, so it turns out that I’ll be making two hairpins . ”
“Hmm! So we’ll make double the profit . ”
My heart skips a beat when he says that . There’s no way I can’t tell him about this, but if I tell him, he’ll absolutely get mad at me .
“Well, umm, you see…”
Benno stares pointedly at me with his reddish-brown eyes . My breath catches in my throat with a squeak, and I stammer, stalling for time, as I try to come up with some kind of explanations . Benno turns his sharp gaze from me to Lutz . The instant Benno opens his mouth, Lutz starts talking .
“Miss Freida provided Maine with the thread that she’ll be using for the raw materials, so Maine said that she’d make the second one for no extra charge…”
“Lutz?!” I cry, panicked .
“What did you say?!” roars Benno, at the exact same instant .
“Miss Freida,” continued Lutz, “insisted that the price had already been established, so she’d pay full price for the second one…”
“It didn’t seem like they’d ever agree on anything, so I spoke up, and we came to an agreement that Miss Freida would pay half price for the second hairpin . ”
After Lutz delivers his precise, succinct report, Benno raises his eyebrows, then turns to look at me .
“Maine… are you an idiot? Have you heard a word I’ve said? Or did you just forget everything?”
“I… I remembered! So even when I got the materials, I didn’t try to lower the price at all for the first one . But then, after we agreed on half-price for the second, Freida said ‘whenever and wherever you can take money you should take it, because it’s something that’s there to be taken’, like you do . ”
“The person you were negotiating with told you that?”
Benno rubs his forehead, an amazed look on his face, then shakes his head . Even I had thought it was kind of pitiful that my opponent would remind me of that, but the thought of overcharging her that much made my stomach churn .
“But I was thinking that maybe there’s a limit to how much I should be profiting, or maybe I was way past asking for a fair price, so my stomach started hurting… please forgive me . ”
“What kind of merchant gets a stomachache when earning money? Seriously… Well, that’s just money out of your pocket . I’m charging the same handling fee for both of them, so I don’t care either way . If strange rumors start to spread about how you can get a second hairpin for free if you buy one, then you’re definitely going to get pushy customers coming in to demand it . Make sure you pay attention to what customers you can afford to lose . ”
I hadn’t realized that customers like that could possibly exist . I hang my head even lower, the awareness of my lack of basic knowledge being hammered like nails into my skull .
“Ngh, I hadn’t thought that far ahead . I’m sorry . Then, here is the thread that Freida lent me to use as materials . I’m going to want some white thread that matches this one . I’m going to need, ummm…”
I pull the measuring tape out of my tote bag, then stretch it from fingertip to fingertip .
“About this long… I’ll need a piece that’s about 100 feli long, please . ”
“Got it . Tomorrow, come back here so that you can go to the thread warehouse with Mark . While you’re at it, you should pick up the thread you’ll need for your winter work . ”
“Yes, sir,” I reply .
After we’re told that it’s okay to leave, Lutz and I head out from Benno’s shop to return home . I suddenly sympathize dearly with all of the worn-out salarymen back home . I want to go home and be comforted .
“I’m home,” I say, as I walk through the door .
“Welcome back, Maine,” says Tory . “How was the girl you met today? Did you make friends?”
She, on cooking duty for today, looks up from the pot she’s stirring and smiles at me . She has a cute face, she’s very helpful, she’s kind, she’s been getting better at cooking so she’s a (future) excellent cook, and since she’s working as a seamstress she’s a (future) sewing beauty . When I see her, emotion suddenly wells up in my heart .
“Toryyy~!” I cry, running up and clinging to her tightly .
She looks down at me, frowning a little . “What’s wrong, Maine, did something happen?”
“Tory, you’re an angel! You heal me . You’re the best older sister in the world, but I’m not even just sick and useless all the time . Lutz told me today that I’m way weirder than I look, so I only just noticed . I’m so sorry, Tory!”
“Hah…” she sighs, stroking my head . “You just noticed?”
After a little while, she points over to the bedroom . “Maine, I can’t cook like this . Go put your stuff away, okay?”
I put my tote bag away, then come back to help Tory in the kitchen . Even though people keep saying over and over that I’m so small, I have grown a little bit, so now I can actually stir a pot safely, if I’m standing on a chair .
While I carefully stir the pot so that nothing burns, I tell Tory all about my day .
“Okay, so, the girl I met is called Freida, and she’s really cute, but her hobby is money . She said her favorite thing to do is count gold coins . ”
“Gold coins?! I haven’t even seen those! She must be super rich to have enough of those to count . ”
Tory seems to have jumped straight to the quantity of gold coins, missing Freida’s weird interests entirely . Around here, I think it might not be uncommon for someone to spend their entire life without seeing a single gold coin, so I know just how big of an impact that might have .
“Her house is amazing too . There’s decorations and cloth everywhere, and it’s very pretty . Oh! And then Freida told me that the sickness I have is called the devouring . ”
“…Huh, I’ve never heard of that . ”
Tory tilts her head to the side doubtfully when she hears about that previously-unknown disease . It can’t be helped; it seems like there’s very few people who actually know about it, after all .
“It’s a really rare disease . Mister Otto and Mister Benno even said that they didn’t know about it . She knew about it because she used to have it too! But she also said that it took a lot of money to cure her . And if a girl that rich says that it took a lot of money…”
“…then there’s no way we can afford it . ”
Tory immediately comes to the same conclusion that I had . She didn’t even need to think about it . With our economic status, where we can’t even call a doctor when someone collapses with a fever, there’s no way we can make that happen, no matter what we do .
“…Yeah . But she told me about what I can do to make sure it doesn’t get any worse!”
“If I have a goal or a target in mind, and I’m always working really hard on making it there, then I’ll be fine, she says . ”
“Ah! That makes sense . You’ve been kinda doing whatever you like lately, so you’ve been much healthier . Before, you always used to cry about how only I could do things that I liked…”
Now that she mentions it, Maine’s memories are full of times when she was feverish, crying a lot, and bothering Tory . Now that she’s made that comparison to the past out loud, though, I think she had to have noticed something strange had happened, right?
As I start to brood, Tory hurriedly comes over to stroke my hair comfortingly .
“Don’t feel bad . I think it’s great that you’re feeling so much better . So! How about the hairpin?”
“I asked her about what her favorite color was, and she gave me some of the thread that her dress is embroidered with . I’m going make the pins out of it . And since she has her hair in two braids, she needs two pins . ”
“Hmm, I see!”
Our mother returns home while we’re still in the middle of our preparations, and after a little while our father, who has recently been stuck only on night shifts and thus I haven’t seen very much, returns from his first day shift in a while . While we eat the first dinner in a while that we’ve had the whole family together for, we talk a lot about the guild leader’s home . It’s not at all common for someone like us to be able to visit the home of someone so rich, so everyone at the table was extremely interested in hearing all about it .
My mother seemed most interested in hearing about all of the decorative tapestries and cushions they had, and my father was more interested in the brands of liquor they had lined up on the shelves . Tory was curious about the things that Freida wore and the kinds of things she owned, so her questions were all about Freida’s belongings .
After a much more exciting dinner than I thought we’d have, I pull my mother aside and ask her if she could give back my embroidery needles .
“What are you going to do?” she asks .
“I’m going to make some hairpins . I told you yesterday, right? They’re what Freida wants me to make . Today I went to find out exactly what she wanted to order . I also told her that I wanted to make it out of the same thread that her dress was embroidered with, so she lent me some . ”
“Could you show me that thread, please?”
My mother, the skilled seamstress who works as a dyer, could not, of course, hide her great interest in the thread I’d brought home from Freida . She tells me that she’ll get her sewing kit and take out the embroidery needles, so I should immediately go and fetch the thread .
I pull the thread out of my tote bag . The instant I set it on the table, my mother picks it up, staring at it very closely . Tory, who is apprenticing as a seamstress, is also interested in the kind of thread that the daughter of a rich family has embroidered on her dresses, so she excitedly comes in to sneak a peek .
“Dying a thread this deeply red takes a lot of work, you know . ”
“It really is a high quality thread!”
While the two of them are entranced by the bundle of thread they hold, I sit down at the table in front of them and get my embroidering needles ready .
“Since hairpins like this are super rare, we’re going to sell it at a really high price . So, I’m going to try my hardest on this!”
“Is it going to be like mine?” asks Tory .
When I was making Tory’s pin, my first priority had been making economical use of the thread we had, so I was only really able to make it out of tiny flowers made out of the colors of thread we had left over . This time, though, I have quite a lot of the red thread that Freida lent me . Also, since we’re charging as much as we are, I’m going to try to make it somewhat more elaborate than Tory’s . For me, I need to put in a good faith effort .
“The flowers are going to be bigger,” I say . “since I’ve got so much more thread . ”
My mental image is a bouquet, with a ring of miniature red roses set against green grasses . If I’m talking about a rich girl, the only thing my terrible imagination can come up with is, regrettably, roses . Roses, however, are very gorgeous flowers, and it’ll be a very showy piece .
I knit together a jagged strip of lace, designed so that it’ll form into petals once it’s rolled up . When I decided it was long enough, I roll it up, stitch it shut along the bottom, then spread the petals out a little bit, turning it into a small rose .
Happy because Tory praised me, I immediately get started on the second flower . My dad, drinking some liquor, looks over to see what’s happening, then turns to my mother, who’s been watching me this whole time and acting like she’s itching to jump in .
“Say, Eva . If you’re so interested in doing that, would you like me to make you another set of needles?”
“Dad,” says Tory, “I want some too, so make two sets please!”
Emboldened by my mother’s grateful embrace and Tory’s begging, my father, in high spirits, gets some wood and starts whittling . Since he’s already made a set of these for me, it takes him a relatively short amount of time to craft each slender needle .
Tory grabs the first completed set, then starts knitting along with me . Since she’s been going to apprentice as a seamstress, it seems like her skills have been leveling up; after thinking about it for a few moments, she starts knitting fluidly . To be honest, she’s faster than I am .
My mother has been hungrily watching me work, so when she receives her freshly-made needles she smiles brilliantly at my father, then tears into the work with a fierceness I never thought was possible .
“Maine,” says my father, “do you want your Daddy to make the pin part for you?” says my father eagerly .
His hands are idle, now that he’s finished carving the needles . I feel bad for him, because he just wants to help his daughter with her work, but that part is Lutz’s job . If it were to be taken away from him, then since we’d no longer be making it together, there’d no longer be any justification for him having come along with me to Freida’s place and intruding on our meeting . Also, Lutz isn’t the kind of person who would accept money for doing nothing, so if he doesn’t actually help make the pins, despite the fact that he’s always been there with me as I go around, he’ll be the only one who doesn’t make any money from this .
“You can be emotional support! Carving is Lutz’s job, please don’t take it from him . ”
“It’s always Lutz, Lutz, Lutz . Maine, why are being so cold to your Daddy lately?”
My father, ever easy to read, sulks . He has way too much love for his family, so he gets strangely jealous about Otto and Lutz, to the point where sometimes it just gets annoying . I breathe a sigh, then shake my head .
“If you want to make a hairpin, why don’t you not make pins for the other kids, but make one for my baptism? I’m planning on wearing a hairpin, so I kind of want something like before, with a hole in it…”
“Oho, what’s this, Maine? You don’t want me to make them for the other kids, because you’d get jealous?”
Wrong . I have no idea where you could have possibly gotten that impression .
My father smiles broadly, due to whatever bizarre thoughts are bouncing around in his head, and starts working on making my hairpin . Since his mood is instantly good again, I shift my focus back to my needles . While I was busy talking to him, Tory and my mother have raced way ahead of me .
“I think we should be good on the red flowers now . Let’s finish up the ones that we’re doing now . ”
I needed to make several roses like the first, but with three people working on it, it’s done in a flash . My mother is particularly fast . I, the one who is actually being paid to do this, am the by far the slowest .
“Whaaat? Done already?”
Tory pouts in dissatisfaction, perhaps because she found the knitting far more enjoyable than expected, but I merely shrug my shoulders as I finish forming the last of the roses into shape . Originally, my plan had been to have the left and right hairpins each have three miniature roses, but by the time I noticed how quickly they were getting made we had enough for four on each side . Given the size of each of them, we really don’t need any more than this .
“It wouldn’t be right for us to waste any of the thread that someone else lent to us, right?”
“Ah, that’s right . We shouldn’t use such a pretty thread on something useless . ”
Downhearted, Tory quietly agrees, then starts putting away her needles .
“The next step is to make a lot of little flowers out of the white thread that I’ve asked Mister Benno for . I think white thread would match this red very well, so I think it would be a good thread to use . When I bring it back with me tomorrow, Tory, if it’s okay with you, you can help me with the white flowers too . ”
“Sounds like fun!”
Tory smiles happily as she picks up her sewing box .
…Hmmm, if Tory’s like this, I wonder if it would be okay for her to skip making baskets for her winter work and help me make hair ornaments instead?
The next day, Mark, Lutz, and I head out to the thread warehouse so that we can stock up on supplies . It’s the same shop that the craftsman we hired to make the paper mat took us to previously . The shopkeeper immediately stands up when he sees us, perhaps because we’d made such a big impression last time after buying the highest-quality spinne silk from him .
“Ah, if it isn’t the folks who bought spinne silk a while ago! Are you here to buy some more?”
“Yes,” replies Mark, “we’ll be coming back another day with our craftsman to make another purchase . Today, though, we’re here to inquire about a different kind of thread . ”
Mark’s words remind me of what Benno said earlier, that he’d have the craftsman make another paper mat for us by springtime . My head has lately been full of thoughts about Freida’s hairpins and my winter handiwork, but I can’t let myself forget about any of the preparations that need to be done in order for us to make paper come spring .
…I want a notebook . I don’t want this slate, which gets erased whenever anything gets rubbed against it . I really want a notebook .
“What can I help you with today?”
“Umm,” I say, “I’m looking for a white thread that would match this one . ”
I pull Freida’s thread from my tote bag and hand it to the shopkeeper . He stares at it closely, then hums thoughtfully .
“This is a very high-quality thread . What I’ve got that wouldn’t strange next to it would be… these ones . ”
He pulls out two kinds of thread and sets them down in front of me, then places the red thread next to them . After I spend some time looking back and forth between them to compare, I pick up the one that makes the red pop out a little more, then hand it to the shopkeeper .
“Could I please get 100 feli of this thread, and 100 feli of that green you have there . Also, I’d like many different colors of the cheapest thread you have . I’d like 200 feli of each of those, please . ”
I need to separate the thread for Freida’s hairpins and the thread for my winter handiwork into two separate orders . I take out the order form set (the blank wooden order forms, the tape measure, the ink, and a wooden pen) that I always keep in my totebag . When I’ve finished describing the orders to the shopkeeper, I write them out immediately, my wooden pen clacking against the wood of the order forms .
A lot of the cheaper threads don’t have particularly good coloring, but for only two large copper coins I can’t really make a huge fuss about it . These hairpins aren’t things that’ll be worn in everyday life, just for formal events . If the price is high enough that people would regret purchasing it for just a single occasion, the few people will buy it . I can’t let myself set my expectations by the six small silver coins the guild leader will pay for his granddaughter’s two pins .
“These threads for your winter work will take some time for me to prepare, so how about I deliver these to your shop once I’m done with them?”
“Yes, please do . ”
I put the high-quality white thread that I’ll be immediately using in my tote bag, then head out of the shop . Since the thread warehouse is close to Lutz and my houses, we split off from Mark in front of the thread warehouse and head back home . As we head home, I tell Lutz about how we were already able to finish the red part of the pins last night, and his eyes go wide .
“Huh? Then, you’re already ready to finish off the pins? Didn’t you say that we had some time left, so you’d take your time on it?”
“Yeah, I think it’ll be ready tomorrow or the day after . Mommy and Tory really want to help, and they’re way better and faster than me, so they did it in no time at all . If it were just me, it would have taken a lot longer . ”
My initial estimate of seven to ten days was based on me having to go to either the forest or the shop during the day, and working on the hairpins between dinner and bedtime . I hadn’t even considered the possibility that I might somehow finish everything off in just a single day .
“Got it . I’ll get started on my pin part immediately . ”
“Yes, please! My dad really wants to join in and help make it, so…”
Lutz, seeing his work being almost stolen from him, hangs his head, sighing .
“Although… I’ve been thinking about what we’d do if my family takes all the work from us, but that’s not quite right, is it? Merchants are people who let other people do the work making things so that they can buy and sell them . Mister Benno doesn’t make anything himself, but he’s still earning a commission off of the things we’re making, right?”
“Huh . You’re right . ”
Lutz looks up at me, taken aback . It is not the case that we can’t earn any money if we don’t actually make anything . Merchants are people who can bring forth money by just moving goods from one place to another . We’re still thinking too much like craftsmen .
“This time, we already told the guild leader and Mister Benno that we were going to be making these pins together, so even though it’s going to be difficult to change how we think so quickly, the two of us need to study really hard together how to work like a merchant . ”
When I bring the thread home, the work that I had originally planned on doing was, just as I thought, snatched away from me by Tory and my mother .
In the time it took me to make a single small flower, Tory made two, and my mother made four . In the blink of an eye, we were finished . Next, I was got ready to start making little leaf decorations out of the green thread, but the two of them wound up making the vast majority of them . Once again, I find myself pretty damn useless .
…Conclusion: It is impossible for me to become a sewing beauty . Opening my path towards being a merchant’s apprentice was definitely the correct one .