Ascendance of a Bookworm – 043
Lutz’s Education Plan
While I idly laze about in my bed, my fever returns, just like Lutz predicted . This fever, brought on by exhaustion, is mild, so all that happens is that my whole body feels heavy . Since this isn’t the all-consuming fever of the devouring, I should be able to cure it with plenty of quiet bed rest .
That, at least, has been what I’ve been thinking over the past three days . Although I’m getting increasingly irritated about my unbroken fever, I get scolded whenever I try to leave my bed on my own, so even though I’m sluggish from oversleeping I can’t do anything but stay in bed .
…Aaaaaargh, so bored .
Today is pig-slaughtering day . Unlike last year, I’ve managed to gain enough of my family’s confidence that they’re letting me stay here and watch the house by myself, so the headed out for that early in the morning . They made a sandwich for my lunch and filled everyone’s cups with water and left them in the bedroom for me so that I would neither get too hungry nor get too thirsty without any way to deal with it .
In this dead-silent bedroom, I technically could move around if I wanted to, but I know that all that would do for me is make my fever linger even longer, so I don’t have any choice but to stay quietly in bed . However, with nobody to even talk to, there’s no helping it: I am so, so bored .
If only I had a book…
I have a tremendous quantity of failed prototype paper with me, but I still haven’t used it . All it’s been doing since I’ve brought it home has been sitting in the box at the foot of my bed, neatly stacked to one side, gathering dust . Ever since we successfully finished our prototype, I’ve simultaneously been really busy and really fired up about wanting to make my first book .
Above all, though, since these are failed prototypes, both the material quality and sizes are all over the place . While I do have some paper that’s almost successful, I also have pieces that are such total failures that are badly ripped or crumbling to pieces . There’s paper that’s so thin that it’s nearly see-through, to the point where I’m almost scared to touch it, and paper that we reinforced so much that it looks brittle enough to break .
Out of the pieces that were almost perfect, the ones that got twisted when we tried to paste them up to dry out are still probably the easiest to use . If I were more skilled with my knife, I might be able to use the sheets that dried successfully but we couldn’t remove without ripping big holes in them, but cutting out only the pieces of the page that are actually usable proved to be surprisingly difficult . I really want a tiny, slender blade with a very sharp cutting edge, like a hobby knife . That would be much easier to cut with .
I think that if I wanted to make a book with this paper it would take a considerable amount of time . This winter I’ll have a lot of extremely productive free time, it seems .
…Ah! Now that I think about it, even if I don’t have a book, I have the board that Mister Benno gave me .
I remember that, before my fever flared up, Benno told me that I should look this over when I returned home . I think that I’ll probably be fine if I read it while lying in bed .
I get up unsteadily, open the box that I keep my clothes in, and retrieve the approximately A4-sized board from my tote bag . Flopping back down on the bed, I start to read .
“This is… the outline of a training course for new employees . ”
It contains a listing of the minimum amount of knowledge that it’s been decided that newly-entering apprentices should be taught . To break the contents down into broad categories, apprentices will need to know:
How to look after their appearance and give proper greetings . How to write all of the fundamental letters and numbers . How to use a calculator . How to perform monetary exchanges to a certain degree . The list of commodities in which the shop trades . The names of the merchants that associate with the shop .
“Hmmm, the things the two of us can study ourselves are… writing, math, and monetary exchanges, I think . Everything below that is probably going to be taught to all of the new employees during training, so I think we can put it off for now…”
As I monologue, mumbling, I start making study plans for the winter .
First off, I wonder how many of the fundamental letters and numbers Lutz remembers? I taught them to him a while ago, but they’re the kind of things that you tend to forget if you don’t use . I’ll need to verify what he’s forgotten, then teach those to him again . Instead of practice sentences, I wonder how well it would work if I had him write out order forms, formal introductions, and so on? They’re full of vocabulary words that he’ll need for work, so I don’t think there’s much harm there .
To be perfectly honest, I actually don’t know how to write many words that aren’t strictly work-related . Here, there’s no dictionary, and the words that have been taught to me were either drilled into me by Otto so that I could help him with the budget or are merchant-related ones taught to me by Benno or Mark . I think I’ve got a solid grasp on my work-related vocabulary . However, I don’t know how to write any common nouns or verbs .
“As for using calculators, I know how to add and subtract, but I’ve never asked Mark about how to do multiplication or division on them so I don’t know that yet, hmmm…”
I can work out all sorts of calculations by hand on my slate, but it’s essential for me to learn how to be able to use a calculator, too . In order to avoid standing out too much from the other apprentices, I should be able to do things the same way that everyone else does .
“I really want to teach Lutz first- through third-grade arithmetic, but I don’t have either textbooks or workbooks, so teaching him is going to be really tough . Since I have to prioritize, I think the counting system and doing large monetary conversions is probably the biggest priority, and then getting him to do addition and subtraction, at least in the ones digit . Then, we can move on to the general concepts of multiplication and division… wait, can we actually do this over the winter?”
Drilling in how to work with numbers takes three years, so of course doing all of it over the course of a single winter is impossible .
As I let out a heavy sigh, I notice that my fever is wriggling around inside me, a pressure building up like it’s about to burst open . I press my fingertips into my temples, gritting my teeth .
I don’t actually scream “don’t come out,” though .
Imagining tightly screwing on a lid, I shut it back away, then breathe a sigh of relief . It hadn’t been for very long, but fighting against the devouring has actually made me hungry . I reach over and pick up the sandwich my family had left for me . I take a big bite then, while I chew noisily, start thinking about personal appearance and greetings .
“Now this is the biggest problem: looking after our appearance and giving proper greetings . Neither of us really know to what extent a merchant needs to prepare their appearance, or what kind of greetings and phrases are unique to merchants, if any…”
I have some idea of what the work clothes, which we will have to buy, are like, having seen the various employees at both Benno’s shop and the Merchant’s Guild . I have no idea how much any of that would actually cost, so I’ll need to verify that with Benno later .
As for the greetings, those are on the list of things I want someone to teach me . I already know that people here don’t ever greet each other by bowing, but I don’t know what the correct way to greet someone in the merchant world actually is . All I’ve seen is people smiling at others who they’ve just met while lying through their teeth . Although, I have a hunch that neither Benno nor the guild leader had been doing any sort of typical greeting .
At some point, while I was staring at the board I got from Benno and thinking hard, I gradually drifted off to sleep again . When I wake up, I see my family’s already returned home, and are busy bringing their various pork products into the storage room .
“Welcome back,” I say .
“Oh, hello, Maine! Did we wake you? How are you feeling?”
“…Better, I think . ”
Now that I’m awake, I actually feel very refreshed, so I think my fever’s gone down . Tomorrow, I’ll still be staying at home so we can wait and see, but the day after tomorrow I think I’ll be able to move around again .
The next day, Lutz, with a basket strapped to his back, stops by to pay me a visit on his way to the forest . Although my fever’s gone down, today’s another day in which I shouldn’t be leaving my bed, so I’m extremely happy to have someone to talk to, even if it’s only for a little bit .
“Hey, Maine! I heard you’re feeling better? Tory told me a little while ago, when she met me downstairs . ”
“Yeah, since last night . I’m staying home all day today to make sure, but tomorrow I think I’ll be able to go out . ”
“Oh, okay! It’s been a long time since you’ve been sick for so long, I was worried . ”
It seems that both Lutz and my family have been very worried, since I haven’t had a fever that’s lasted this long in quite some time .
“You missed helping prepare the pork this year, too . ”
“Ahhh, it just can’t be helped, this time of year . ”
I’ve slowly become more-or-less used to going to the butcher’s and seeing chickens get sliced up, but there’s no way I can go along with the rest of the family thinking that I’m going to enjoy this once-per-year experience . I still can’t even make myself want to participate . I actually caught myself thinking that I was so lucky that it came and went while I was still stuck in bed with a fever .
“Yesterday,” I say, “I looked over the board that Mister Benno left us and put together an education plan for us . Tomorrow, I’d like to go to Mister Benno’s shop, return this board, and ask him if I could buy a calculator, maybe…”
“…Oh, that’s right, what’s on that board, anyway?”
Lutz claps his hands together, apparently having only just remembered that the board even existed, and leans forward curiously . He looks like he’s ready to listen to every word .
“It’s related to the education apprentices get . Lutz, how much of your letters and numbers do you think you remember?”
“All the ones you taught me…?” he says, tilting his head doubtfully at me like the answer was obvious .
Startled, I open my eyes wide . I didn’t expect in the slightest that he’d completely remember everything .
“What? Really?! You don’t usually use them, but you haven’t forgotten any?!”
“…Well, you know, it’s so rare for someone to be able to teach me things, so once I finally learned how to write, I didn’t want to forget, so I kept writing on the ground or the wall with my finger, and then after I bought my slate I’ve been practicing on that ever since . ”
“Lutz, that’s amazing!”
Lutz is an even harder worker than I thought . Wait, no; I’ve still been thinking that it’s only natural that people get educated, and that it’s easy to get any information you want whenever you want it . I wonder if this is too naive? I’ve never actually thought about not wanting to learn knowledge that I’d finally received . After all, if I ever forgot it, I could just get a book and read about it again . If I just remembered what kind of books I can find things in, then I could easily obtain, on demand, any information that I wanted . I’ve never had a need to memorize the entire contents of it before .
“Nah, I’m not amazing at all . You’re the amazing one, being able to read really large numbers like you can . ”
“Then, I can teach you how to read big numbers too! Pick up that slate . ”
I teach him about the ones, tens, hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, and ever-larger digits . The town marketplace uses three-digit numbers, so he can read those easily, but it seems he doesn’t understand numbers larger than that . Holding the slate in place, I run through the digits until Lutz starts counting along with me . After reading them aloud many times, I write up a series of suitably large numbers on the slate .
“Alright, question one . How do you read 78,946,215?”
“Ummm, one, ten, hundred, thousand, ten thousand, hundred thousand, million, ten million, so…”
Lutz tackles each problem earnestly and, in no time at all, starts to be able to read numbers up to the ten millions . I wonder what’s higher, his memory or his concentration skills? Lutz’s specs are way higher than I thought they’d be . We’ll be able to put a ton of effort into studying this winter .
If he’s this smart… there’s not actually a single thing I can actually beat him in, is there?
As I start feeling a little sorry for myself, Tory comes back up from downstairs, bringing a bucket of water from the well with her . When she sees Lutz, she shouts in surprise .
“What the… Lutz?! Weren’t you supposed to go to the forest? Everyone else left already, you know?!”
“Yikes! Sorry, Maine . I gotta go! Thanks for teaching me!”
Panicking, Lutz shoots to his feet, then dashes out the door . At that speed, he should be able to catch up to everyone else well before they even reach the gate .
The next day, my family grants me permission to leave the house, so Lutz and I head out to Benno’s shop in the afternoon, when he has the free time to meet with us . However, when we arrive, the entrance is closed, and a single guard stands quietly outside .
“Huh?” I say . “I guess it’s still lunchtime…”
“Want to go back to the central square and sit down for a bit? Standing around the whole time would be really hard, right?”
“Yeah, you’re right . Finding someplace to sit down sounds like a really good idea right now . ”
As the two of us discuss how we’re going to kill the time, the guard beckons to us, as if he’s completely recognized our faces .
“I’ll go ask the master if it’s okay to let you two in . Would please you wait here for a moment?”
“Yes, sir, and thank you!”
The guard disappears into the shop, then immediately returns, opening the door wide to let us in . Inside, the shop is gloomy with the windows and doors shut . He leads us briskly back to the office in the back and opens the door . Inside, the sunlight streams brightly in through the window, and a brilliant fire burns within the hearth .
“Maine, are you feeling better now?”
Benno, who seems to have been in the middle of some work, sets aside his pen and ink and stands to greet us .
“Yes, sir . I’ve come to return this board to you . I also have some questions I’d like to ask, is that okay?”
“Sure, go ahead . I’ve got some things I’d like to talk with you about too, but you two go first . ”
Benno gestures to the table we usually sit at, and prompts me to begin .
“Thank you very much for lending me this,” I say . “Thanks to it, I was able to form some ideas about a plan for studying during the winter . ”
“Ummm, as I was reading it, a few questions occurred to me . I understand that taking care of our appearance and giving proper greetings is necessary, but to what degree do we need to take care of our appearance? Also, if merchants have any specific greetings or phrases, unfortunately neither of us actually know them . ”
“Ahh,” he says, studying us carefully .
“To start with, although you two are commoners living near the south gate, you aren’t grungy at all, so all you need to worry about is your work clothes . You can get the minimum for about ten small silver coins, so if you start saving now, then by the summer you could probably afford it . ”
“Ten small silver coins…,” mumbles Lutz, dumbfounded . “I’m so glad I copied Maine and saved some away…”
To Lutz, whose mother spins thread and makes all of the clothes for her family, the concept of spending ten small silver coins on clothing and shoes comes as an enormous shock . I’m shocked as well, but clothing here is not something you get off the shelf . It’s all made to order, so I thought that the price was going to be something around those lines . It’s definitely very expensive, but it’s still something that we could buy if we work very hard come springtime to earn money making paper .
“Next is your manner of speech . Maine, you’re okay, but Lutz, you need work . You need to learn how to speak politely, otherwise I can’t put you out in front of customers the way you talk now . ”
Lutz, having been singled out, is at a loss for words . Picking up how to speak politely is really difficult if nobody around him does it either . I try to think about who the best person for him to imitate would be, out of all the people we know .
“You could use Mister Mark as a reference for speaking politely . ”
“…Urrrgh, it makes me really kinda… itchy, though . ”
I can sympathize with the unstable sort of feeling of being suddenly told to change one’s manner of speech to something that’s entirely unlike yourself . However, if he’s unable to do so, he won’t be able to stand out in the front of the shop . This is doubly true in Benno’s shop, which is rapidly growing its base of noble clientele . If we want to climb to the top, we absolutely need to learn how to manage our appearance, our speech, and our manners .
“That’s okay,” I reassure him . “You can do it if you try! You know how Benno usually talks one way, then in front of customers he’s suddenly speaking very politely? It would be great if you could do the same thing when you’re dealing with customers, too . ”
Even though I’ve never actually seen Benno switch to a more polite manner of speech, even when talking to the guild leader, I’m certain that if he thought he had to, he could do it in a heartbeat . Otherwise, he’d be a terrible fit for a merchant .
“There’s no real need for you to talk super politely to me or your family, you know? Also, when I’m talking with the guild leader or Mister Benno, I use different words than I do when I’m talking to you, right? Does that make you itchy . too?”
“Now that you say that… nah, I guess not . You talk normally to me, so I guess I never really noticed . ”
If you can smoothly switch between modes, it’s not something you ever notice . Even if you start out being uncomfortable with it, as you keep using polite speech, you rapidly become used to it .
“So, for the words you’re going to be using just at work, why don’t you try practicing how Mister Mark speaks? Start with things like addressing people as ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’ and using ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ more often… I believe that would best, wouldn’t you agree?”
As I switch to more polite phrasing for the last sentence, Lutz nods in comprehension .
“Yeah, sounds good, sir!”
“Argh, no! I’m a girl, say ‘ma’am’!”
Benno, having watched our exchange, erupts in a belly-bursting laugh, slapping the table uproariously, wiping tears from his eyes and clutching his sides .
“Ahaha… well, I have no idea how far you two can get over the winter, but keep at it, kids . ”
He shows no sign of calming down, so I peer at him in mild disapproval, though it doesn’t seem to do much . I clench my fist tightly, resolving that we’re going to make so much progress this winter that he’ll be shocked . This jogs my memory, and I remember the favor I wanted to ask of him .
“Ah, that’s right! Mister Benno?”
“I’d like a calculator so that I can work on learning how to use it . If I can’t practice, I won’t be able to really master it . ”
Mark is capable of using his calculator very quickly, flicking beads around with his fingers while simultaneously thinking of the next steps . I probably won’t be able to get quite as good as him, but for things like abacuses, practice is very important .
“A calculator, hmm… If a secondhand one from my shop is alright with you, I can sell it for six large copper coins . How does that sound? Can the two of you share one?”
“Yes sir, thank you very much . ”
Lutz and I tap our guild cards together with Benno’s, agreeing to pay him three coins each . He then gives us our new calculator .
“We’ll be able to study math with this, Lutz . ”
“Yeah,” he replies .
“Did you have anything else you wanted to ask?” says Benno .
Something immediately flashes to mind .
“Ah, I’ll need to order a new contract sheet-sized paper frame before springtime, if that’s not too much trouble…”
“Just fill out an order form . Mark already knows what you’re looking for, he can go handle it . ”
When we’d been going around to various places to place our orders, Mark had told us that if we weren’t there ourselves to describe what we wanted, there’s no telling what kind of trouble we might get ourselves into . I don’t think leaving it all to him is the best idea .
“I’ve got something else I need you to do for me . Hey, just write it down, okay?”
Urged onwards, I draw my ordering set out of my tote bag . By now, I’m down to a single board that I can use for ordering .
“Mister Benno, it seems that I’m running out of boards for order forms…”
“Yeah, you’ve done a lot of ordering, haven’t you . I’ll get you some more . ”
“Whoa! I’ve almost run out of ink, too!”
Not only have I written a lot of orders, but when we were working on our prototypes, it was necessary for me to use even more ink in order to test how easy it was to write on the paper . I’ve used quite a lot of it by now .
When I say that, Benno’s face tightens sharply . “…I want to charge you for this, but… well, whatever . I’ll call this part of my initial investment . ”
I’m a little shocked by this . Otto had said that ink was very expensive and thus not a child’s plaything . However, I’d never heard how much it actually cost .
Timidly, I ask, “If you’ll pardon the digression, might I ask how much a bottle of ink would cost?”
“About four small silver coins each . ”
Lutz and I couldn’t afford it even if we scraped together everything we’ve saved so far!
“Use it carefully,” he warns me .
“Y… yes, sir . Of course!”
I’d been thinking that I wanted some ink of my own to use for my book-making project, but I think I’ll have to give up on trying to buy it . Using my leftover soot pencils is probably my best bet .
My pen scratches at the surface of the board as I write out my order . I’m very used to this by now . The tip of the pen quickly dulls, but Lutz immediately sharpens it again for me . I ask Benno to get an average-sized contract for me, use my tape measure to determine its size, and finish writing out the rest of the order .
Benno looks over my completed form, then nods slightly .
“No mistakes or spelling errors at all . I’ll get this over to Mark . …Maine, if you don’t get that paper frame and can’t make any paper, I’ll be in just as much trouble as you . Don’t worry about it, I’ll make sure it’s done right . ”
“Thank you very much, sir . ”
I’m relieved to hear Benno say that he’ll take responsibility for making sure it’ll be made correctly . Breathing out slowly, I tidy up my ordering set .
“…Is that all you wanted to talk about, you two?”
“Yes, sir,” I say, nodding emphatically .
Benno sits up straight, his expression going serious . Guessing that this is going to be a discussion about some sort of transaction, Lutz and I straighten up as well .
“Well then, I’ve got something I’d like to ask as well . Maine, it’s about the hair-washing liquid you taught me how to make . ”
“What is it?”
I’d explained how to make it quite a ways back, when we were still in the middle of prototyping our paper, on one of the days where we were borrowing the key for the warehouse . I should have already told him everything . Since I’ve already relinquished all of my rights to it thanks to the contract magic, I have no idea whatsoever about what he could possibly have to ask after all this time . As I study him curiously, my head tilted to the side, his expression grows increasingly troubled as he opens his mouth to speak .
“You told me that melil oil is best oil to use, so I’ve been gathering it until now, but…”
“Huh? Shouldn’t melil be almost out of season? Have you not made anything yet?”
Lutz and I exchange glances . Melil should be about out of season . The two of us had gathered a lot of it already and made it all into simple shampoo . I would have thought that Benno, who is constantly seeking profit, would have started production a long time ago and would have sold a large quantity of it since then .
“Well, I’d acquired a large crop of them, and had a workshop start making it, but the other day they came to me and said that it wasn’t coming out right, even if they made it exactly the way you said . Can you think of any reason that might be?”
I frown as I think about what he said . Fundamentally, the entire procedure boils down to just smashing, then pressing, then mixing in scents . I can’t think of any place in the process that could actually go wrong . I tilt my head to the side in confusion, as does Lutz, who has helped me make shampoo countless times .
“…Even if they’re saying it’s not turning out right, if you’re making simple shampoo, then… it’s not a very difficult process, is it?”
“I know, right?”
I have a ton of ideas on how to make it better, if I only had the ingredients, but in its current simple form, I can’t think of a reason why it would ever fail . It always turned out the same no matter if it was me, Tory, or Lutz who was making it .
“I really didn’t want to bring you out, but if we don’t manage to complete this, then this will turn into something the contract magic would have to deal with . Sorry, but could you come with me to the workshop?”
“Yes, sir!” I reply .
If I recall correctly, the penalties for violating a magical contract are very severe . In the worst case, they could even mean death . As soon as I cutely chirp out my immediate response, though, Lutz grabs hold of my arm .
“Maine, I think you should probably stop for today . Your fever’s only barely just gone back down, and you’re not all the way back to normal, right?”
Lutz is correct, but in this season there’s not going to be a whole lot of time where I’m actually at peak health . This is definitely a season where my fever could flare up at any point, if I’m even just a little bit unprepared . If just not having a fever doesn’t count as being healthy, then I’d never be able to leave my house for anything .
“But I don’t know how long it’ll take me to get totally healthy again, and if we let this go for too long then the snow is going to start falling, so we should go now, while my fever’s down, right?”
“Well, you’re not wrong, but…”
Benno pats Lutz’s worried head reassuringly . “Don’t worry too much, Lutz . I’ll carry her, so we won’t be making her walk . Not like I can stand walking that slowly, anyway . ”
“…Well, in that case, I guess it’s okay, huh?”
With that, Benno picks me up once again, and we head out .
He asked me about what could have caused the failure, but I’ve never actually seen this fail before .
I wonder if he really understood me?