Ascendance of a Bookworm – 048
It’s been three days since Lutz’s older brothers promised to make hairpin parts for me . Today is the day I go to pick them up .
During those three days, I didn’t leave the house at all, spending my hours working on making tiny little flowers . Since the devouring fever has been very active lately, roiling about in my body, I’ve not been feeling particularly good, so I haven’t really wanted to go outside at all . I’ve even been attacked by the fever in the middle of the night, leaving me exhausted and sluggish the next morning . Honestly, since I have no idea when or where the devouring is going to strike next, I’m feeling kind of uneasy about how I could collapse at any time .
While secluded at home for the last few days, I managed to complete enough flowers for two hairpins . If you include the one I made before, I was only able to make three out of the whole twenty . All the rest were made by my mother and Tory . The sheer difference in speed is pretty depressing . The two of them, as before, seemed to race against each other while making their flowers . Tory’s speed has improved immensely by now, and between the two of them they made twelve more pins’ worth of flowers over the last three days . Right now, they’ve split up the work to get the last pin finished .
“I’m gonna go over to Lutz’s house now . I gotta go pick up the pins and give them their money,” I say .
“Have fun,” say the two of them, in monotone unison . Neither of them even look up, they’re so engaged in their work .
I put fifteen medium copper coins in a small coin purse and walk out the front door . I head down the stairs, exit the building, walk through the water well plaza, start climbing the stairs of the building that’s basically in the front .
Lutz’s home is on the sixth floor, but they’ve rented two floors’ worth of space . There’s lots of stairways, and going up and down them is really difficult, but the interior is spacious . Even though there’s four boys living there, it’s not actually that cramped . Lutz, however, says that it’s full of all sorts of craftsman’s tools and there’s a lot of space set aside for work, so it’s not really as big as it sounds .
I knock on the door and announce myself, and after a moment the door swings open with a creak, revealing Auntie Carla .
“Good afternoon, Auntie Carla . Are the boys home? I’m here to pick up some handiwork that I asked them to make for me . ”
“They are!” she says, beaming . “They’ve been waiting restlessly for you all morning . ”
Once she says that, her face darkens a bit . She furtively glances around a bit, then leans in, speaking in a lower voice .
“…Hey, Maine . Lutz is really serious about being a merchant, isn’t he? He’s being very stubborn, so the mood in the house has been pretty bad lately . Even still, he doesn’t look like he’s going to back down . Wanting to be a merchant isn’t something to tear up a family over! Don’t you agree?”
I’d already heard from Lutz that things weren’t going particularly well for him at home, but this looks more serious than I’d thought . He may be worried, but Lutz does not back down . After all, he’s already made up his mind that he’s going to be a live-in apprentice if he has to .
“I don’t think I can answer that, Auntie Carla . Lutz is the one who’d make that decision, you know?”
An outsider like me butting into a parent-child dispute is only going to sow more discord, so I just tilt my head doubtfully to one side . Carla, having not gotten the agreement she was looking for, frowns sourly, her lips pointed .
“Well, I guess you’re right . If I’d had a girl, she’d do what her parents said, but boys just don’t listen to anything . They’re so disagreeable . ”
Well, as for me, I have no real intention of living my life like my parents want me to . I’ll just keep that to myself, though .
Auntie Carla’s grumblings show no signs of stopping . Her sons, very much used to how troublesome their mother’s ranting could be, stay out of sight lest they get dragged up into it, and Auntie Carla hasn’t yet invited me inside . I should just politely agree with her and head her off before she gets really going . Unlike the older ladies who are more than willing to have long conversations outside by the water well as snow piles up around them, I have no particular desire to stand here and chat in this freezing entranceway .
“It must be rough living with four boys, Auntie Carla . ”
“It is! And they don’t even appreciate how hard they’re making it on me . You know, the other day…”
Ahh… crap . I have a feeling I’m going to be out here forever .
At about the time I start to wonder if I should just start over entirely, I hear Lutz call out from within the house .
“Hey, Mom . Didn’t Maine come to pick up that handiwork? She needs to get it before the snow starts falling, so I think she’s in a bit of a rush . It’s also really easy for her to get sick, so let her in, please!”
“Ah, that’s right . Come in, Maine . ”
“Thank you,” I say .
Lutz and I exchange glances . You seriously saved me, thank you so much, I say silently . Sorry my mom talks so much, he replies .
Finally, I’m able to enter Lutz’s house . It really is warm in here compared to outside .
“Lutz,” I say, “did your big brothers finish their work? And did you make sure to practice your math?”
“Yeah . ”
“…Maine, are you perhaps the one teaching Lutz how to do math?”
Lutz’s mother, seemingly having listened in on our conversation, asks that question in a somewhat pointed voice . There’s an undercurrent of “don’t make my life any more difficult” buried in there, which I completely disregard, instead turning to smile up at her .
“Yeah! I’ve been helping with math at the gates . ”
“Ahh, you’ve been helping your father, then? That’s so wonderful . It would be really nice, though, if Lutz would help his father out with his own apprenticeship . ”
In this world, a young girl generally helps her parents out with their work until she gets married to a boy that her parents introduce her to . Then, she helps her husband with his work . If she were in a rural farming area, she’d be helping out with farm work, so she’d marry a farmer .
In other words, while I, the daughter of a soldier, have been studying various things, others have had the expectation that it’s so that I can eventually become the kind of wife that can support a soldier . It is actually really difficult to be the wife of a soldier, with their irregular work hours and such, and whether or not she’s able to adapt to it depends largely on if there are other soldiers in the family and if she already understands what the job entails .
I wonder if Carla had heard that my father is letting me help him out at the gate to help me with my future prospects? Unfortunately, I’m rocketing along the path towards my merchant’s apprenticeship, and have not even the tiniest shred of an intention of becoming the wife of a soldier .
As I head deeper into the house, Lutz’s brothers are lying in wait, gripping hairpins in each hand . When I get close, they all simultaneously stand up, shoving their fistfuls of pins in my face .
“Hey, Maine! Take a look . ”
“I got these done in no time at all . ”
“I think these are perfect!”
“W-whoa!” I stammer . “Line up! By year!”
Having a whole bunch of sharpened hairpins thrust into my face is actually terrifying . I wave my hands frantically as I dodge out of the way . In a flash, the three of them line up in order of age, just like I asked . One by one, I examine each hairpin and deliver them their pay . Not a single step had been skipped . The smooth finish and expert craftsmanship causes a smile to float across my face .
“All three of you did way better than Lutz did! You really are professionals . Tory and Mommy are better than me at what I’m making at home, too . Hey, guys! Do you think I could ask you to help me with my handiwork this winter, too? I’d have to wait to pay you until the spring, but the pay would be the same . ”
“Yeah, leave it to us!”
The three older brothers agreed to the work with big smiles . Thanks to the fact that they’re going to be doing the actual handiwork, Lutz should be free to focus all of his efforts on studying .
“Lutz, did you do the calculations? How much is it?”
“Six thousand leon, so six large copper coins . …Is that right?”
This time, Lutz’s older brothers made fifteen pin parts . Since each one makes him four medium copper coins, that’s six large copper coins in total . He’s making a killing just off of the commission .
“Yep, that’s perfect! Let’s keep practicing calculations like that . I’m gonna go bring these home now and finish them up; how does going to Mister Benno’s shop tomorrow sound?” “Sounds good to me . ”
By the time I gather up the pins and return home, the final decorations have been completed . I work with Tory and my mother to sew everything together and finish off each pin .
“I’m gonna go bring these to the shop tomorrow and bring back the rest of the money, okay? You guys were so fast, I couldn’t keep up with the amount of money I already had . ”
When I’d originally asked Benno to give me some money in advance, I thought that we’d wind up delivering only ten hairpins . I’m actually kind of shocked that we managed to make twenty . Both my mother’s raw determination in the face of money and Tory’s massive speed increase were far beyond anything I could have imagined .
“Heh heh, I’m getting pretty fast, aren’t I?”
“Yeah, Tory, you’re amazing! We’ll be able to make so many of these this winter . ”
“Right! Let’s work hard and make a bunch!”
I must tip my hat towards Tory, who is walking steadily along the road of becoming a sewing beauty . I simply cannot compare .
The next day, Lutz and I head for Benno’s shop, completed hairpins in hand . As we walk along the cobbled road, Lutz asks me a question .
“Hey, Maine . Do you have any other things you can to sell?”
“Master Benno told me that if you wanted to do anything about the devouring, you need a lot of money . When we start selling paper in the spring, it looks like we’ll sell it for a really high price, though, but if you had anything else, then… If you think of something, I’ll make it, after all . ”
Seeing the honest worry in his face, I start to think if there’s any new products I could come up with to do something about the devouring .
“Hmmm, let me thing . All the things I’ve come up with until now that can earn a lot of money are things aimed at wealthy people, huh . ”
It’s obvious that everyday necessities are goods that require spending constant amounts of money . Even the hairpins, though, if we increase the quality of the thread and change the designs, the pricing will be way different, and paper made from the very rare tronbay will be more expensive as well . As such, if we want to make a ton of money, what we need are products that the upper class are likely to want .
“I don’t really have a clue what wealthy people want, though . Rinsham, hairpins, and paper are all things that used to be all around me . ”
“Man, your world must have been amazing…”
Lutz, who’s fully aware of the fact that I have memories that aren’t just Maine’s, is not only not creeped out by it, but is actually interested . So, when it’s just the two of us talking, that’s the only time I don’t have to keep my memories of Japan purposefully concealed .
As I’ve only become more and more nostalgic about it, I haven’t been able to say anything but the most amazing things about it, so I think the image Lutz has of Japan is that of an amazing utopia . To me, it certainly was a utopia compared to here, if only because of the proliferation of bookstores and libraries . Even now, if I could, I’d go back in a heartbeat .
“I guess I could try taking hints from ‘dollar stores’ and think of things that could improve people’s daily lives? Maybe improving soap, or making more stylish candles? I made some herb candles last year, but I guess those might be a good idea . ”
“Herb candles?” asks Lutz, tilting his head to one side and frowning .
“During last year’s winter preparations, the candles were extremely smelling, so I added herbs to some of them to try to eliminate the smell . I found some that smelled good, but I also found a bunch that synergized terribly and smelled awful, too . My mom told me not to mess with things I shouldn’t and forbade me from making them this year . ”
While I was laying in bed, I’d said that I wanted to make herb candles, but my mother immediately refused and strictly forbade me from leaving my bed . That was absolutely not just out of concern for my health, but probably much more that she was worried about the candles I’d make .
“Man, you get in trouble a lot . ”
“Urgh… Trial and error is an indispensable part of making things! For some other ideas, my baskets and lacework were pretty popular, so I wonder if I could make some other kind of ‘arts and crafts’… wait, no, ‘arts and crafts’ aren’t usually very useful at all . ”
Even while casually dismissing my own idea, I dig through my memories from my Urano period for any useful sort of arts and crafts .
“Hmmm, ‘bead accessories’ won’t work since I don’t have any ‘beads’, making art out of pressed flowers might technically work but I don’t think we could actually sell those, we can’t do ‘tole painting’_1 since we don’t have paints… what do we do?”
“I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about . In the end, what _can we do?”
No matter what we make, we’ll need to start by making all the tools we’ll need for that, just like we did with the paper . When I think about that, all of my will to actually do any of that instantly vanishes . Honestly, if it’s not going to be something that can immediately improve my own life, I actually can’t summon up very much energy .
“Ummm, I think my biggest problem right now for coming up with new products is that I really can’t get fired up for making a bunch of tools for things I won’t actually use in my own life . ”
“You have to!” yells Lutz . “Do you want to die?!”
“It’s not that I’m not worried, it’s just that I’m not very enthusiastic for making things I don’t think are necessities, like, next up is a book…”
“Hey, wait! You’re the only one actually saying that if you yourself don’t think something’s essential then nobody else is going to buy it! Think of something we can sell!”
Lutz is a little teary-eyed, maybe from getting a bit too agitated . I pat him gently on the shoulder .
“Lutz, you should calm down a bit . ”
“You’re the one making me agitated!”
“Yeah, you’re right . Sorry, sorry . ”
As I soothe Lutz’s nerves, somebody suddenly grabs my head from above .
“Just what are the two of you talking about in the middle of the street? People are laughing; was that supposed to be funny?”
When I hear the familiar sound of Benno’s voice, I look around my surroundings . Just as he says, I can hear people chuckling as they watch the two of us with small smiles . My face goes red with embarrassment, and I channel my urge to lash out angrily into a fierce glare up at him .
“Mister Benno, why might you be here?”
“I’m on my way back from the workshops . What about you two?”
“We finished the hairpins and were going to deliver them to you . ”
“Ah, really? Then, let’s go . ”
Benno promptly picks me up and starts walking off at an impatiently brisk pace . From over his shoulder, I see Lutz having to jog to keep up .
He doesn’t even put me down once we enter the shop, instead carrying me to his office and setting me next to our usual table . I climb up into a chair, then pull the hairpins from my tote bag, lining them up on the table in front of me .
“Counting the ones we delivered before, this makes a total of twenty,” I say . “Please look them over . ”
“…Great, now I can sell hairpins, too . The baptismal ceremony is next Earth Day, so this is pretty urgent . ”
Since there’s nobody in my house with any connection with this season’s baptismal ceremony, I don’t particularly care about the details, so I nod politely without paying much attention to what he was actually saying . Then, I realize there was a new vocabulary word I hadn’t heard before .
“…Hey, Lutz . What’s Earth Day?”
“What?! What are you saying… Earth Day is… Earth Day, right?”
Since it seems that Lutz can’t actually explain it, he passes the buck on to Benno . Benno sighs, then starts explaining it to me .
“They’re the names of the days that constantly cycle around . Water Day, Sprout Day, Fire Day, Leaf Day, Wind Day, Fruit Day, and Earth Day, you know?”
Huh? “You know,” he says, but I don’t actually now . This is literally the first time I’m hearing it . Are these the days of the week?
“Spring is the season of water, when the snow melts and the sprouts start to grow . Summer is the season of fire, when the sun is the closest and the leaves are growing . Autumn is the season of wind, when the cold air is blowing and the fruits are ripe . Winter is the season of earth, when all life is sleeping . That’s why Earth Day is the day of rest, when we close the shop .
Earth Day is basically Sunday then . Got it . Since my mother had days off on fixed intervals, I knew that the concept of days in a week technically existed, but since there’s no calendars in my home, my dad has an irregular schedule, and nobody ever actually mentioned any of the days by name, so I just didn’t know them . So, the days of the week have names? Perfect .
“Huh,” says Lutz, “I didn’t know that . I knew what the names were, but I didn’t know what they meant . ”
“That kind of discussion happens around baptism time . The baptismal ceremonies for each season happen on the first day of that season, so the winter ceremony is on Earth Day . ”
“Ah, I see . ”
Since there’s neither garbage pickup days nor any calendars, the average working person, in their day-to-day lives, doesn’t need to know about any other day besides their weekly day off . If the subject isn’t specifically brought up at all, you can live your life without needing to think about it .
Even when making arrangements with people, we haven’t needed to use anything besides saying how many days in the future it’ll be . Perhaps that’s preferred over the days of the week because it’s easier for both parties to understand? From what Benno’s saying, this seems like it’s got primarily religious significance . Learning more about this subject makes me kind of uncomfortable, though, so I think it shouldn’t be a problem if I just leave it at that for now .
“That’s enough about the names of days . How about we finish settling this account?”
“Sure, it’s not like it’s particularly useful information, ordinarily . ”
We finalize the transaction . I take the money I owe Tory and my mother in medium copper coins, which I put in my coin purse, which then goes back in my tote bag . As for the rest of the money, I touch my card to Benno’s to add it to my savings .
“There’s one more thing I’d like to talk to you about . ”
As I was packing up to leave, since our business was finished and I didn’t want to get in the way of Benno’s work, he grabs my arm to stop me .
“Did you come up with any new product ideas? That’s what you were talking about on the way here, right?”
I have no idea for just how long he’d been listening to our conversation, but judging from the fact that his eyes are brimming with expectation, I see that it was him who kindled Lutz’s sudden passion in coming up with new ideas .
…Well, I do need the money, so it’s not like it’s that big of a problem .
For the last few days, the devouring fever has been steadily growing more restless, and pinning it down has taken longer and been more exhausting each time . To be perfectly honest, I can’t be sure my body will last long enough for me to actually save up enough money . There’s no actual reason for me to openly say something so extremely pessimistic, so I shrug lightly shrug and decide to play along .
“Mister Benno, can you think of any sorts of things that would sell for a lot of money? I think that if you want to make a lot of money, you need to sell something unusual or an expensive consumable item to the upper class . ”
“Sure, that’s a good start,” he says, nodding, with a hint of a wry smile .
“If I’m selling something unusual, though,” I continue, “then it loses its meaning once everyone has it and it stops being unusual, but if someone uses a consumable item, that means they have to buy it again, so that’s something you can make money off of forever . …Now that I think about it, about the rinsham, you’re probably making a lot of money off of that, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, you could say that . ”
All of the profits from the rinsham are exclusively Benno’s, so he says that with a broad, self-assured smile . Incidentally, the high-quality rinsham should be done as well, so he should be starting to sell it soon . If I can think of something like rinsham, I think it’ll earn quite a bit of money .
“My gut feeling is that I should go with more beauty products after all, maybe? You can’t underestimate the passion of a beauty-conscious woman, you know . ”
Cosmetics are expensive . Even though they’re expensive, there are many women out there searching for products that suit them and will spend unreservedly on something that might make them a little more beautiful . I think that the nobility and upper class especially will be willing to shell out for effective products . Benno, perhaps having exactly the same idea I am, looks at me with glittering eyes, leaning forward across the table with anticipation .
“What are you thinking?”
“Ummm… personally, I want a high-quality, good smelling soap . After that, since a lot of these are used during the winter, I think candles that have a variety of different scents pretty popular, maybe? I feel like the herb candles I made last week would make a decent product . After that, this is something that I don’t need right now, but I think there would be solid demand for some kind of facial lotion . ”
As things come to mind, I count them off on my fingers, and soon I’m able to list off a few things that might be decent products to sell . Lutz’s eyes are shining too, now, as he looks eagerly at me .
“Hey, Maine,” he says, “do you know how to make all those things?”
“Ummm, I know enough to get started . It’s like the paper, getting the materials and the tools is going to be a big effort, and there’s going to be a lot of trial and error in order to get the fine details down…”
“Alright, give it a shot!” says Benno, grinning broadly as he points right at me . This is the face of a merchant running profit calculations in his head .
I mumble something to myself about counting chickens before they hatch, reaching up to rub at my temple .
“Mister Benno,” I sigh, “it’s really easy to say ‘give it a shot’, but that’s going to be all the way in the spring, and I don’t even know if I’ll even be able to leave the house then… wha?!”
Honestly, will I be able to hold out until spring? That’s a risk, right? The instant the thoughts form in my head, the tight seal within me blasts wide open and the white-hot fever of the devouring surges out . It burns within me like a blazing pillar of fire . I can’t surround it and push it back away like usual, and in my brief moments of panicked confusion it roars out, consuming my entire body .
“Oi, Maine!” yells Lutz, noticing this sudden disaster . He stands up, his expression changing in an instant .
I find myself unable to put any real strength into my limbs, and I start to sway dangerously .
With my body burning up from a fever that can’t be pushed away, I’m aware that I’m in the process of falling from my chair, but I can’t manage to stop myself .
It’s only the fact that my field of view suddenly changes that makes me realize I’ve hit the ground . Even though I hit the ground with a heavy thud, the heat raging within my body far surpasses the pain of the impact, and I don’t feel it at all . My eyes, somehow still open, see two sets of feet rush up to me through the thick carpet .
“Maine, are you okay?!”
Lutz grabs my arms to shake me . He instantly lets go, surprised by the heat, but grabs on even tighter . Benno turns around to face the door, not wasting a moment before ringing the bell to call Mark .
“Shit!” he yells . “Mark, get her to the old man’s right now!”
“Hey!” yells Lutz . “Didn’t you say you were going to make a book?! Didn’t you say you can’t lose yet?! Maine!! Keep it toget…”
“Mark, …urry… …e prepare…”
Their shouts gradually fade into the distance until I have no idea what they’re saying anymore . Then, with a snap, I lose consciousness .