Ascendance of a Bookworm – 042
“Hey, Maine, why is it that you deposit a silver coin at the guild every time? Why aren’t you bringing it all home to your family?”
As we leisurely walk home, having gotten off the carriage at the Merchant’s Guild, Lutz spontaneously asks me this question .
“Aren’t you doing the same thing?” I reply .
“I’m doing it because you’re doing it . I thought there must be some sort of reason for it, so I was copying you . My family thinks that I’m bringing all of my earnings home, though, so I kind of feel a little bad about it…”
For commoners, who are used to scraping through their daily lives without any money to spare, there isn’t really any concept of “savings” . At most, when autumn comes around, they start stashing away a little money in their dresser drawers for winter preparations . They don’t do anything like depositing money at the Merchant’s Guild . Of course, since kids learn things by watching their parents, even the children bring all of their earnings home to their families and spend it all on living expenses .
“I’m saving for next time’s initial expenses, you know . ”
“Next time’s initial expenses?” he asks, his head tilted curiously to the side .
Drawing on our own experiences, I explain it to him .
“Remember how after we decided we were going to make paper, we didn’t have any tools, any money, nor any adults that we could ask for help, so even getting a single nail was really hard and we got in a lot of trouble?”
“Yeah . ”
It wasn’t all that long ago that we had gotten scolded by Benno for begging Otto for help . Lutz, remembering this, smiles wryly .
“We got lucky when Mister Benno bought the formula for my ‘simple shampoo’ in exchange for covering all of our initial expenses, but getting all of those tools took a huge amount of money, right, Lutz? Whenever you’re starting something, you need money . ”
“The pot, the wood, the ash, the thread, the bamboo work… now that I think about it, that was really expensive, wasn’t it?”
Lutz, who has recently been visiting various stores for the sake of stocking up on things, understands the quality and cost of things that are sold not at ordinary street stalls, but actual stores . His face goes pale as he realizes just how much the initial investments for our paper-making enterprise really cost .
“And that’s why I’m saving money . Since we made a working prototype for Mister Benno, he said that we were done with initial expenses, right? I think that we’ll need even more tools to keep making paper from now on, and I also want to start making something new, and all of that requires money . Once we make a lot of paper, and we start trying to make books, we’ll need new tools for that too . ”
“So, it’s for the next stuff, huh…”
I can’t figure out if Lutz’s expression means he has or has not actually understood this . I stare at him fixedly . He has far more pressing reasons than I to actually need to be saving money, but is he aware of them? I wonder if he hasn’t even noticed .
After thinking about it for a moment, I slowly open my mouth .
“I don’t really want to say or even really think about this, but… Lutz, if by the time we’re baptized your parents still don’t approve of you becoming a merchant, what are you going to do? …Have you… thought about that?”
His face twists painfully as soon as I ask my question . He answers in a low mumble, without any strength behind his voice at all .
“…I think I’d have to be a live-in apprentice at Master Benno’s shop . ”
“Yeah, if you want to become a merchant, you’ll have to do that, right? I’m glad you didn’t say you’d give up . ”
When Lutz seems me smiling, he sighs, looking just a little bit relieved . He’s talking about leaving his home behind at such an early age, which takes tremendous resolve, and I think he must still have some doubts about it . Lutz, however, is moving entirely along his own path, which means that he really will be needing money .
“But, Lutz, think about it . If you leave home to become a live-in apprentice, then until your first pay comes in you’ll still need money for living expenses, the clothing you’ll need for your apprenticeship, and so on . There’ll be a huge difference between the Lutz that leaves home with money saved up for his freedom and the Lutz that doesn’t have anything . ”
Lutz raises his head to look at me, looking completely taken aback .
“I don’t think it’s bad at all for you to take the money that you yourself earned and save it away for your own future, you know . I know we’re supposed to be giving everything we earn to the family, so you might feel guilty about it, but you’re not even old enough to be really working, anyway, and you brought home thirteen large copper coins over five days, you know? That’s more than Ralph brings home from his apprenticeship, you know? So it’s really okay . ”
“Huh… I make more than Ralph . ”
Lutz smiles proudly . Ralph, who’s still only recently started his apprenticeship, probably brings home only about eight to ten large copper coins over an entire month . The amount the two of us have earned is huge in comparison .
“Maine, thanks . I’m feeling way better about this now . ”
Grinning broadly, Lutz suddenly turns away from me for some reason, then squats down .
“What’re you doing, Lutz?”
“Get on my back,” he replies .
“We’ve gone to a lot of different places today, so you must be getting tired, right? You’re looking a little pale . ”
Without thinking about it, I reach up to feel my face . I still don’t feel particularly feverish, so I don’t think I have a fever .
“…I’m looking pale?”
“It’s not that bad right now, but we need to be meeting with Master Benno tomorrow afternoon, so I think you shouldn’t push too hard . My number one job is looking after your health, after all . ”
“…Alright . Thanks, then!”
It’s very true that, after a day of walking from place to place, I’m getting rather worn out . Since Lutz is telling me not to push too hard, things must be getting really dangerous .
Lutz takes me home, with me on his back . I, of course, climb the stairs up under my own power, but since there’s a chance I might get too tired halfway up, Lutz comes up with me, leading me by the hand . He’s seriously a big help .
To be perfectly honest, climbing the stairs up to my home is the hardest part .
“I’m home, Mommy . ”
“Oh my, Lutz! It’s rare for you to come all the way up here, isn’t it? Is Maine not doing well today?”
“We’d originally planned to just go show the hairpins to Master Benno today, but we wound up meeting the guild leader too, and then he invited us to his house immediately . He said that he wanted us to deliver the hairpins in person . So, I think that she’s probably very tired right now . ”
“I see . Thanks as always, Lutz . You’re a big help . ”
As she says that, she slips a bribe, a medium copper coin, into his hand . When I see the coin, I remember something .
“Ah, that’s right! Mommy, I want to give you this before I forget . ”
“Maine… what in the world have you done now?”
When my mother sees the five large copper coins I hold out for her, all the color drains from her face . Her eyes go as wide as I’ve ever seen them, as if there’s no way she could have possibly thought that the hairpins were worth anywhere close to that much money .
“This is the money from making the hairpins for Freida . I said that she was buying them for a lot of money because they were so rare, right?”
“I heard you say that, but… really, this much money…”
I’m sorry, Mother . There’s no way that I can tell you that this is after the introduction, handling, and materials fees as well as the small silver coin I set aside for my own personal use . Not with this atmosphere, anyway .
“Is this true, Lutz?” she asks him .
“She’s not lying, Auntie Eva . Since I worked on it too, I got the same amount too . Maine and I split it halfway . ”
As he says it, he shows my mother his own share of the money . With that, my mother is finally convinced, and places a hand on her chest to calm herself down .
Hey, wait, Mother . I’m your daughter, why don’t you believe me?
“Master Benno called us out to his shop tomorrow as well, so we’re going to have to go there again . So, I want to make sure Maine gets as much rest as she can . ”
“Thanks again, Lutz . ”
After we see Lutz off, my mother closes the door behind him with a clack . With her eyebrows raised, she throws me straight into bed .
“Don’t overdo it, Maine . Even so, you sold that for a lot of money, didn’t you?”
“Yeah . Freida’s really rich, and the thread was really high quality, and we made two instead of just one, you know? Plus, since everyone’s so busy this season with winter preparations, she paid a high fee for that, too . So, if we make it for other people, it’s not going to be that expensive . ”
“I see! She was being considerate, since it’s such a busy season for us . ”
It seems like my mother’s image of the guild leader and Freida is one of kind, gentlemanly rich people who consider the plight of the poor . Since I don’t think she’s ever going to actually meet these two, I don’t think I need to dispel her illusions . My mother, relieved now that she knows why her child brought home so much money, heads out of the bedroom so that she can work on preparing dinner for the family .
I, left behind in the bedroom, really do feel like a heavy weight presses down on me . As soon as I lay down on the bed, I start drifting off and soon, without even eating dinner, fall into a deep sleep .
When I awaken, it’s already morning . Since I’m going to be going to Benno’s shop in the afternoon, I decide that I should spend the morning resting . It’s only about half my choice . Thanks to the fact that I’ve been going out quite a bit lately, my body is still rather heavy despite the fact that I got quite a bit of sleep . My family, seeing flickers of signs that my fever may be returning, have forcefully thrown me back to bed as they do their winter preparations .
“Maine, be good and rest up,” commanded my father as he inspected our wooden front door . “You’ve been working too hard lately! You’re making more money than Daddy, you know?”
Tory and my mother, as they spread out the thick blankets and carpets we’ll be using during the winter so they can air out, tell me,
“You’re going to Mister Benno’s shop today as well, aren’t you? If you don’t sit quietly this morning, you’re going to collapse again, you know?”
“Maine, you’re not really useful for winter preparations, so focus on what you’re actually good for . ”
And, with that, they prohibit me from leaving my bed . Since there’s nothing else I can do, I squirm my way back under the blankets, watching as my family ceaselessly moves about, working on their preparations .
This year, unlike last year, I actually understand what goes into preparing for the winter, so I really thought I could be a little more useful, though…
I think my family’s excessive care might be because I came home yesterday, delivered five large copper coins to my mother, then promptly fell fast asleep . I, who can’t even satisfactorily do a single thing around the house to help out, earned thirteen large copper coins over the course of not even five days, and then slept so soundly that I missed dinner . They suspect, in their minds, that I must have been doing some absurdly hard labor .
However, over the past few days, I’ve been going around to a lot of different places, which for me really is a kind of hard labor .
When the fourth bell rings at noon, I grab my tote bag as usual and head out the front door, dressed to keep out the cold .
“I’m off,” I say .
When I reach the bottom of the stairs and meet Lutz, he greets me with a little frown .
“Maine, you don’t look too good, you know? Isn’t it okay if I go by myself?”
“It’s because we’ve been so busy lately . Mister Benno said that we were going to talk about pricing for our winter handiwork today, though, so I’m going today . I’ll leave carrying the thread to you, Lutz, but I want to go so that I can handle deciding on a price . ”
“…Right, pricing, yeah . I still don’t really understand that . ”
I can’t, of course, leave deciding prices to Lutz yet, since he still doesn’t understand numbers very well . Today, I just want to go to the shop and discuss things relating to the pricing of the hairpins with Benno .
“Well, at least let me carry you there . ”
“What? No, I can’t ask that . You already carried me home yesterday…”
“I’m going to be carrying all the thread back with me today, so I can’t carry you then . So, save your energy for now . ”
I know full well that it’s impossible to get Lutz to back down when he gets this stubborn in times like this, so I get up on his back . Even though I’ve grown a little bit taller, I feel like Lutz has gotten even bigger . Although I know it’s because of my illness, it’s still a little frustrating that there’s this much of a difference in size despite us being the same age .
“Lutz? It seems that you’re carrying Maine, is she all right?”
When Mark sees Lutz approach with me on his back, he rushes towards us, with startled eyes wide open . He reacts far too sensitively to my physical condition . It seems like me collapsing to the ground right in front of him caused quite a bit of trauma . I’m really, really sorry about that .
“…Lately, we’ve been going out every single day to go to various places, so she’s started to get a little tired . I think she’ll probably be stuck in bed after tonight . So, I’d like to finish up our business as fast as we can . ”
“I understand,” he says with a nod, then leads us to the room in the back . “Master Benno, Maine and Lutz have arrived . ”
“Bring ’em in . ”
The door opens with a creak, and Mark shows us in, following shortly behind us .
“Lutz has informed me that Maine’s condition is not very good today . Please consider conducting your business with haste today . ”
“Got it . Sit down, you two . ”
“Yes, sir . ”
As soon as we arrive at the table, we immediately begin discussing our winter handiwork . Benno informs us of the price of the thread, I estimate how many we could make with these quantities of material, and we decide on a price .
“Mister Benno, I’d like to avoid making these hairpins too expensive . Since the thread we’re using is cheap as well, could we maybe price it as cheaply as we need to so that many people would be able to purchase them?”
“I understand how you feel, Maine, but there’s no way I can sell these at a bargain right from the start . The price is only going to decrease once a lot of these start entering the market . We should be selling these for about three large copper coins at first . ”
Since these are for special occasions, that’s a price that my family could hypothetically afford, although it would be a bit of a reckless expenditure . It’s a little harsh, I think, but if sisters could share them with each other, somehow… if I consider that prices will slowly go down from this initial price, I think I can say that this is alright .
“If that’s the case, that’s fine, then . I understand . ”
After I nod in agreement, the conversation next moves onto Lutz and my share of the profit .
“For each hairpin, your cut is about five medium coins after the materials cost and my commission . I’ve set it higher than usual, since this is a new handicraft and there’s nobody else I can order these from . ”
“Five medium copper coins is high?! Doesn’t that mean that we really ripped the guild leader off for Freida’s hairpins?!”
At the price Benno had negotiated, our share after making two hairpins should have been five small silver coins . That’s a hundredfold increase in price .
“That was based on that old bastard’s opening bid, so don’t worry about that . ”
“…So, ordinarily, how much would we be getting?”
Last year, I helped Tory out with her basket-weaving handiwork, but the two of us were never actually given any of that money, so I was never really curious about how much each one was actually worth .
“For things like winter handiwork, us merchants take our commission, then the master of the sewing or craftsman’s workshops takes his cut as well, so the amount that the people who actually make the thing would get is about one medium copper coin per item, I think? Since this order is going direct to you, without going through a workshop, your cut is high . ”
“What?! One medium copper coin… it’s that little?!”
After my initial shock wears off, I remember that the things people back in Japan made at home for a little side income were also pretty cheap . Something like a beaded strap would be something like 50 yen each . If I think about it like that, one medium copper coin each isn’t that surprising . Getting five coins is actually extraordinary .
“At workshops, the only people who can actually buy and sell things are basically just the masters . The amount any given workshop master takes can vary somewhat, though? Maine, don’t you have any experience with that?”
Since I said we could make hairpins for winter handiwork, he’s asking, don’t we already know how this works? I think about what happened last year .
“Last year, I helped my older sister Tory with her work . I was working without any actual knowledge of how much they cost or what the commissions were, and I didn’t see any of the money from that . Huh? Now that I think about it, since we were selling something, we needed a guild membership, wouldn’t we? I wonder if my mother’s registered?”
The one who delivered Tory’s and my handiwork was my mother, but I’ve never once heard her mention anything about going to the Merchant’s Guild . When I said I’d gone, she’d asked about it as if it were something very rare .
“Ah, so your mother runs a street stall, does she?”
“No, she usually works as a dyer, I think . ”
“If that’s the case, then that was probably work given to her for the winter . Since each worker just delivers the products of work she was assigned to do by her job, there’s no need for each of them to be registered with the Merchant’s Guild . It’s fine if the master’s the only one registered, as a representative of the studio . ”
It seems that the managers at the places where craftsmen work handle the actual buying and selling of things, so individual employees don’t need to be registered as merchants . Instead, it seems like craftsmen register with the various crafting guilds .
Whoa, this is the first I’m hearing about that . Then, if I were to get help on making the hairpins, it would have to be after they meet their quotas .
“In other words, last year’s handiwork was assigned to my mother at work, and Tory helped her out with that, and then I helped Tory out in turn . ”
“What did you make?”
“I made things like this . This is the first one I made, so it’s very simple, but I made the others I helped with in my spare time a lot more elaborate . ”
Triumphantly, I hold up my totebag to show it off . Benno, in response, smiles bitterly, rubbing his temples .
“What’s the matter?” I ask .
“…So it was you, again?”
Why is he saying “again”? Now that I think about it, I think I’ve seen that particular bitter smile before . Have I, once again, done something bad?
“I recall that amongst all of the baskets being sold near the end of spring, there certainly were some number of finely decorated bags like that . For winter handiwork, if you can’t handle the quantity, your income won’t increase . Since it’s quick and dirty work, there’s a lot of roughly woven baskets out there, so those really stood out far too much, I’m afraid . ”
I, in my free time, tried making somewhat elaborate handbags, and then taught Tory how to do it… I never thought that those would stand out so much on the market .
“I wanted to know who made them, and I was able to track down the workshop they came from, but since all of the winter handiwork was turned in basically all at once, I wasn’t able to determine the specific craftsman who’d made them . ”
“Ah, that’s good~… you didn’t find out…”
I’m well aware that I’m a little different, so I’ve been trying to keep myself hidden from the world as much as I can, but I have a feeling that doing so might not actually be possible .
“Since a bag you made for yourself would be, of course, as durable as you could make it, I didn’t think that the one you carry was particularly unnatural, and there aren’t any decorations on it, so I hadn’t made the connection until now, but… it seems like every single mysterious thing I’ve seen in the last half year or so have all come from you, Maine . ”
Elaborate bags, hairpins, simple shampoo, paper… now that I’m actually counting them out, I’m growing increasingly perplexed . Now that I’ve heard Benno’s perspective, I can’t actually say that my actions were at all those of someone who wanted to stay hidden . Feeling so amazingly ashamed that I have no idea what else to do, I apologize in a tiny voice .
“…I’m sorry, I guess . ”
“Well, whatever . More importantly, it looks like you have a tendency to make things elaborate in your free time . For the hairpins, just make the same design as the first one you did . Don’t change it arbitrarily . This is final . Got that?”
“I understand . The colors on them will be different, but they’ll all have a unified design . ”
I never would have thought that the bags I made last year would have stood out so much, and I definitely do not want any new hairpins to stand out so terribly as the ones I made for Freida . I can sidestep this problem entirely by making sure that the design of each hairpin matches the rest .
“I think that concludes all of the business we need to talk about for now . Ah, that’s right; you said you wanted to study during the winter, didn’t you? I’ll lend this to you for now, look over it when you get home . ”
When I look down at the wooden notes he hands me, he firmly pinches my cheek .
“When you get home! Got it?!”
“Good grief… . You can bring it back when your fever’s gone back down . Head home right away and get some sleep . Lutz, keep an eye on this idiot . She looks like the type to get in some kind of accident walking home because she’s too busy reading . ”
Suddenly remembering the time during my Urano years where I was heading home from school with my nose in a book and got hit by a car, I shut my mouth tightly and look away in embarrassment .
As we leave, Mark gives us the basket he’s prepared for us, full of the thread that we had ordered, which Lutz takes . We depart for home, with Mark seeing us off with an extremely concerned look on his face . We take it at a slow, leisurely pace . On the way, I ask Lutz about something that I want to discuss with him before I’m stuck in bed for a while .
“Hey, Lutz, about splitting things up on the hairpins…”
“Since the flower part takes way more time to make than the pin part, do you think we can split it three coins to two?”
“Sounds good . If we’re thinking about the time it takes, I’d be fine with four to one, I think . ”
If we’re just thinking about time, then Lutz has the better suggestion, but I’ve got a somewhat different reason behind asking for three to two .
“In that case, since your math is so terrible, let’s stick with three to two . ”
“Right! This time, we’ll each take one coin for our commission, and we can pay two medium copper coins for each flower part, and one coin for each pin part . Why don’t we get our families to do those?”
“Huh? Our families?”
Lutz tilts his head doubtfully, as if he has no idea what I could possibly be saying . I press on .
“Yeah! If I think about my own speed for the flower parts, I don’t think I could make any more than about thirty of them a month . Since we’d be in a fix if we had a lot of pin parts left over, how about to start with you get your family to make thirty pins in a month? Then we can charge a commission for them . ”
“And that’s so we can become merchants?”
Lutz, remembering our earlier discussion about the differences between merchants and craftsmen, seems to be understanding the point I’m trying to get at .
“Right, don’t you want to start acting like Mister Benno? You need to study really hard in order to be a good merchant’s apprentice, you know? I think it’s impossible to make only the hairpin part . Well, if you make any yourself, then I think you can do whatever you want with the money you make from the stuff you make, though . ”
This is effectively holding money back from our families, which I also don’t feel very comfortable with, but we’re going to be merchants . If we give our families preferential treatment like that, we won’t be able to make a living in commerce anytime soon .
After I explain it to him, Lutz stares down at the ground for a while, but soon he firmly raises his head .
“…I’ll give it a try . ”
Since I’m the one who’ll be making the flower parts, the thread for doing so should go in my house, so Lutz carries it all the way up to our door . This is only natural, but my entire family is so shocked by the fact that we’ve come home with such a huge quantity of thread that they stop working on their winter preparations .
“Lutz, what’s all this thread for?”
Hey, you know, why are you asking Lutz that and not your own daughter?
Grumbling about our difference in reliability, I offer an explanation anyway .
“This is the thread for making hairpins . Since Benno’s going to buy the finished product from us, he bought the thread for us in advance . This is the raw materials for my winter handiwork, so don’t just use it on your own!”
“I understand,” says my mother . “Thanks again, Lutz . Here, eat this, it’s tasty!”
She hands Lutz a small bottle, filled with the jam she’s just finished . Lutz gladly accepts it, smiling brilliantly, and then leaves for home with a bounce in his step .
“I’ll get this into the storeroom,” says my father, “so Maine, get to bed . ”
He picks up the basket full of thread to bring to the storeroom, shooing me briskly towards the bedroom .
“Urgh, at least let me wash off first! I didn’t get to yesterday, and I went out today too so now I feel really gross . ”
“Perfect timing,” says Tory, “the water’s just starting to get hot . I wanted to get clean too, so I’ll bring it in for you . ”
“Thanks, Tory . ”
For the last year, I’ve been regularly wiping ourselves down to get clean, along with Tory . Lately, she’s started feeling bothered whenever she goes more than three days without washing off . She sets things up for bathing in the bedroom in the spot that’s closest to the stove and thus the warmest . As she washes herself off, she starts speaking with an earnest tone .
“Maine, last year you didn’t know how to do anything at all, so I was super surprised when you found yourself a job all by yourself, you know . ”
“Are you making baskets this year, too?” I ask, soaking a towel into the bucket and then wringing it out .
Tory moves her pleated hair out of the way, wiping down the area around her scalp, while explaining her plans to me .
“Yeah . Mom’s work is worth way more than I can make from the handiwork at my job . I’m going to be cutting up the wood we’ll need for making baskets from now on, and peeling all the bark off . ”
“Oh, really? You don’t absolutely have to do the handiwork from your own job?”
Was she not assigned anything to do by the master of her workshop? I tilt my head curiously to the side, since I’d heard from Benno that they worked on a quota . Tory chuckles quietly .
“It’s just pocket money . There’s other people that make a lot, and some people are also busy making clothes for their families, so it’s not mandatory, you know?”
“Aaah, so everyone’s got their own deal . ”
I thought that I could get Tory to help me out after she’d filled her own quota, but if she doesn’t really have to actually meet a quota, then I wonder if there isn’t any problem with having her help me right from the start?
I briefly look over at her, smiling broadly .
“What I’m making this year is hairpins, like the one I made for you . I can make two medium copper coins for each one I make like that . ”
“Huh?! Really?! That’s a lot of money, isn’t it? Can I help too?”
“Yeah, let’s work together!”
When I say that, Tory gets really happy and excited . Her eyes brighten at the thought that if she makes a lot of them, she can get some pocket money .
“Hey, hey, Maine . Can I do anything to help prepare?”
“Mister Benno already got us all the thread, and Lutz is making the pins, so we don’t need to do any more preparing . As long as we’ve got thin needles, we should be fine . ”
“This’ll be super nice if we don’t have to do any groundwork first,” she says, laughing gleefully to herself .
Her smile suddenly freezes . She blinks her eyes once, then points at something behind me . When I turn my head around to see what’s the matter, I see my mother standing behind me, scowling, tapping one hand against her cheek, thinking about something with a profoundly serious look on her face .
“Hey, Maine . Once I’m done with your new dress, I can help too, right?”
Lutz, what do we do now?
My mother’s getting fired up .
We might need more pins .