Ascendance of a Bookworm – 049
Discussing the Devouring With Freida
Engulfed by this fever, I remember that this sensation of being slowly eaten away from the outside in is just like it was before . Just like before, I focus my willpower as best as I can, struggling to somehow push back the fever .
I haven’t even made any books yet!
Remembering how I dealt with it the last time it slipped out, I try to wrestle it back into my inner core, but, unlike the last time, it burns far too hot to do so . Although I push and I push, it refuses to budge a single inch .
You’re in my way! Get back! There’s no way I’m going to die like this!
As I flail stubbornly at the fever weighing down on me, suddenly, it starts to be pulled away in some direction . Just like a mound of dirt in a vacuum cleaner commercial, the fever surrounding me is sucked away with a roar .
Yeah! Get the hell out!
I shove more of the fever at the vacuum cleaner as it steadily sucks away . I’m thrilled at how quickly my fever is going down, so I throw glob after glob at it, but then suddenly, from somewhere, I hear something burst open with a loud bang . In that instant, the fever abruptly stops flowing away, and no matter how hard I throw, it just comes back .
Huh? Did the vacuum cleaner… break?
I suddenly realize that maybe I was the one to break it, having gotten carried away at cramming things into it .
…Did I just do something awful? What do I do now?
I drift lazily about in the much-reduced clouds of fever for a while, completely confused . Of course, there’s nobody around me at all, let alone anyone I can actually ask for an explanation .
It looks like I’ve been saved, so let’s think about the rest of it later .
Now that the raw heat of the fever has finally gone down, I immediately work to put it away . There’s only about half of it remaining, so, unlike before, I can gather it up in my core and seal it away without any particular difficulty . I cram it away into the depths of my heart like shoving old cardboard boxes into a closet and shut the door tightly behind it . Basking in the triumph of finally finishing this job, I feel my consciousness gradually start floating to the surface .
When I open my eyes, I’m once again in a completely unfamiliar world . No, seriously . Although fighting against the devouring has left my body completely and utterly exhausted, my mind is as clear as it’s ever been . This isn’t a dream .
Where am I?
First off, it’s dark . My first thought is that it’s because the sun’s gone down, but on closer examination it’s more that the area around my head is dark . There’s a little more light down by my feet . So, once I take another look around to confirm what I’m seeing, I now understand that the ceiling, or, rather, the thick green cloth that covers most of my field of view, hangs down around the entire bed . The part of it at my feet has a separation running along it, looking like it could be opened like a curtain .
This cloth is not the fluttery lace canopy around a fairy-tale princess’s bed, but a thick, heavy canopy designed to completely block out vision . Only rich people can afford to use cloth like this .
Wait, maybe, did I get reincarnated as a noble this time?!
The bed itself is completely different from my own . Unlike the straw mattress I usually sleep on, warm woolen sheets have been filled with something soft and cozy, like a thick, warm futon1 . The texture is excellent, and it feels like it would be amazing to sleep in .
Back in my Urano days, I had a spring mattress with a quilted top and some very high-quality blankets, but this last year has completely reconfigured my views of what a bed feels like . As I’m lying here, the mattress isn’t rustling beneath me, nor is the pillow beneath my head as I’m looking around . There is no straw poking itchily at me through the sheets, either . This feels rather strange .
Straw mattresses can be warm, too . Once you get used to them, you can even sleep through being bitten by the ticks and the mites . Yep, once you get used to them . Oooh, it’s been so long since I’ve been on a mattress this good . I just want to sleep a little longer like this .
The bed I share with Tory is so small that I have to take great care when I’m turning over in your sleep, but this bed is big enough that I can roll around and around with no problems at all . As I’m rolling around, I notice that there’s a chair and a small nightstand next to the desk, with a candlestick whose light has long since burned out . None of these things are anything that I’ve ever seen before .
However, as I’m rolling around, something very familiar enters my field of view: my own hands and my own hair . I stretch my hands in front of me and pull my hair in front of my face, verifying that I have not, in fact, turned into someone who is not Maine .
…So I haven’t reincarnated again, then . So, really, where am I?
I dig through my memories, trying to remember what happened to me right before I lost consciousness . Now that I’m thinking about it, I do remember Benno saying something about contacting the guild leader, I think .
“…Ah, so, maybe this is the guild leader’s house?”
I think I remember hearing that the guild leader had a magic tool that could do something about the devouring, so this is almost certainly the guild leader’s house . The level of wealth here supports that theory, too .
“Excuse me,” I call out, “is anyone there?”
My body is still so heavy that I really don’t want to get up, but I should get a good grasp of the situation . From the edge of the bed, I slowly reach out my hand, pulling slightly on the hanging, curtain-like cloth . Soon, an unfamiliar person slips through the curtain, perhaps having heard my voice .
“Uh, ummm…” I stall .
“One moment, please, ma’am . ”
“Huh? S… sure . ”
Although I have no idea what’s going on, I still can’t move . I wrap myself in the blanket, and as I grow warmer, my eyelids start to droop .
Oh, no, I’m getting sleepy again .
When I start nodding off, I hear the sound of a door opening and closing, then the approach of soft footsteps . Just like a student hearing the teacher’s footsteps when dozing off in class, I’m instantly wide awake .
“Maine, are you awake?”
The curtains part, revealing a girl with pink pigtails . She steps inside the canopy, bringing a lit candle with her .
“Yes, it is I . How much of what happened to you might you remember, I wonder?”
She sets the candle on the nightstand and seats herself on the chair next to the bedside . Since it seems we’re about to have a conversation, I start trying to sit up as well, but Freida reaches out to stop me .
“The fever this time took quite a toll on your body . I don’t mind if you lie down . ”
“Thanks, Freida . Although, if I’m lying down like this while we’re talking, I think I might fall asleep, so…”
I move my body, pushing myself up into a sitting position . Freida, with a wry smile, reminds me not to overdo it .
“Ummm, what happened to me, huh? Well, I only really remember as much as when I was in Mister Benno’s shop, then the devouring came up and swallowed me . …Then I remember that there was way too much of it for me to deal with by myself, but it got sucked away somewhere, so… Freida, did you do something to help?”
I’ve never experienced anything like that fever vanishing the way that it did . I think that what probably happened was that someone used a magic tool, like Benno said… and then while that was happening I broke the extremely expensive tool .
The blood instantly drains from my face . In contrast, though, Freida gently nods her head .
“That’s essentially correct . We crammed as much of it as we could fit inside a magic tool that was just about to break . It broke partway through, but I think your devouring fever must be very much lessened . How do you feel?”
“Yeah, much better . Although, I heard magic tools are really expensive…”
Although my face is ghastly pale, Freida smiles again, looking amused as she tells me just how much it costs .
“That’s right . The one that broke just now was two small gold coins and eight large silver . Mister Benno said that you would pay for it, but, can you really, I wonder?”
I can’t help but think that Benno, when buying that additional information about rinsham from me, already knew how much this was going to cost . It would be a little bit too conveniently exact, if that wasn’t the case .
…Huh? Didn’t he open up his bid at two small gold coins, not three? If I hadn’t made him go higher, then…
Feeling a little weird about that inconsistency, I nod towards Freida .
“…I can pay . ”
“You really do have that much, huh… I underestimated you, Maine!”
Freida’s eyes momentarily shine with amazement, but then she starts to sulk a little, her cheeks puffing out .
“If you couldn’t pay, he was saying that you’d sign up to work at my shop . Grandfather said that he’d told Mister Benno that the tool would cost one small gold and two large silver coins, so I thought you definitely wouldn’t have enough . It seems that Mister Benno is one step ahead of me!”
Good job, me, turning down that two-gold offer! Also, Benno, excellent call on raising your offer at the last minute! Working at the kind of shop that would try to trap people by misrepresenting the price of life-saving magical tools would give me ulcers!
As I breathe a sign of relief, Freida looks at me, her lips pointed .
“What that magic tool did… to use a metaphor, if you had a cup that was overflowing with water, it siphoned off some of the excess . There’s still water left in the cup, and as you keep growing, it’s only going to keep filling back up . Do you understand, I wonder?”
“Yes . ”
There was more half a year ago than a year ago, more last month than half a year ago, and more just now than last month . The devouring fever steadily became harder and harder to handle, and it’s only become manageable now thanks to the magic tool absorbing some of it . There’s a lot less of it now, but it’s only going to start building back up again . I’m more than well aware of this fact .
“The troubling part is that the rate at which the cup fills is faster than the rate at which it grows bigger . So, you probably don’t have any more than a year before it fills up again, I think . ”
Since Freida has the same devouring I do, I know that she’s telling the truth, and I nod my understanding . Freida makes a visible effort to put all the emotion from her face, and speaks with forced indifference .
“So, Maine . You need to choose . Will you enslave yourself to a nobleman, or live with your family until you rot away?”
I blink in disbelief, and a troubled smile flickers across Freida’s face .
“Magic tools are, fundamentally, the possessions of noble families . My grandfather knew about my devouring and spent a lot of money to buy nearly-broken magical tools that the nobility consider worthless, so my family now has a few, but I think that even if you were to look very hard, there wouldn’t be any more out there . ”
“Whaaaaaat?! A broken, worthless thing is two small gold and two large silver?!”
My eyes go completely wide with shock . Freida stares at me for a moment, blinking a few times, then slowly tilts her head to the side .
“That’s a small price to pay for your own life, is it not? A properly-functioning magic tool is something you buy with large gold coins . If a commoner with the devouring wants to live, they need to make a contract with a nobleman to work solely for their sake, buy the tool, and then work for the rest of their lives to pay off that debt . ”
Freida looks at me like this is the most obvious thing in the world as she explains it to me, and I realize that this must be an explanation that she herself has been told many, many times .
“…Freida, does that mean that you…”
When I ask her if she’s also going to enter in a contract with a nobleman to buy a magic tool, she suddenly smiles brightly, like a flower blooming .
“That’s right,” she says, nodding . “I’ve already made a contract with a nobleman . He’ll let me continue living here until I’m 15, when I’m an adult . Then, when my coming-of-age ceremony is complete, we’ve agreed that I’ll become his concubine . ”
“What?! H, h-hi-his, concubine?! Do you know what that word you’re saying means?!”
I cannot possibly believe that a word like that could have come out of the mouth of a sweet, adorable little girl like Freida . My mouth flaps open and closed, speechless, but Freida, strangely, looks at me in astonishment .
“…From that reaction, Maine, you know what a concubine is?” “I mean, a concubine… a concubine…”
This is not a word that a six- or seven-year old child should know . On top of that, not only does she know what it means, she is perfectly okay with knowing that she’ll become one . This can’t be happening .
“There was talk about being his second or third wife, but they said that if I were to be his official wife then things like the line of succession and the order of precedence amongst his other wives would become quite complicated . In particular, since our family has more money than many lower-ranked noble families, the chances are quite high that me marrying a nobleman might cause quite a lot of unnecessary strife . That’s what my grandfather told me . ”
“Eeeeeeek?! Guild leader!” I unintentionally shout out loud . “What are you saying around kids?!”
Freida’s facial expression hardens, and she looks at me sternly .
“Maine, don’t think that this is not your problem too . If you choose to live, then you will have to live in the world of the nobility . Unless you’re skilled at social maneuvering, even if you gain a magic tool there are still many other reasons you could be killed . Information is key if you want to protect yourself . If he’d hidden that from me, I would have been in danger, you know?”
“I’m sorry . I wasn’t thinking . ”
As usual, I’d let my stupidly peaceful Japanese thought process slip, and it seems like she didn’t miss it at all . This is not the lukewarm world I had so peacefully lived in .
Freida smiles wryly at me as I apologize .
“Don’t worry about it . My particular case is rather unusual . My grandfather is the guild leader, and very many members of the nobility do business with him, you know? There are those who wish to develop closer ties to my family, and there are those who seek our help, so we were able to select conditions that were the most favorable to both myself and my family . ”
“When you say conditions, you mean…?”
Somehow swept along, I tilt my head curiously to the side and ask my question . Freida gives me a look that seems to praise me for actually following along, then opens her mouth to reply .
“I’ll be able to get a shop in the nobles’ quarter . This won’t just be me being given the first floor of my patron’s residence or a detached room on the property, I’d get my very own shop . The startup fees and living expenses would be provided by my family, but this will be the same thing as establishing a branch of our store in the nobles’ quarter directly . We’ll be able to start up the kind of trade we had to abandon due to the devouring . I’m really looking forward to it!”
Freida smiles brightly, her eyes glittering . Her entire posture conveys just how much she’s looking forward to her gleaming future . I, however, am confused .
“I… see . Have you thought at all about marrying someone you love, instead?”
“Now, Maine, what are you talking about? No matter what kind of life you live, marriage is decided by your father, is it not? There are cases where you might pick between a few suiters, but it’s always the case that the man you marry will be decided for you . ”
“Ah… you’re right . ”
Argh, my common sense is really a lack of common sense in this world . Now that she mentions it, one’s spouse really is decided by one’s father . It’s a relationship between two families .
“So, my family will be able to establish a permanent location in the nobles’ quarter, and even though my patron will take thirty percent of my sales I’ll be owning my own shop, and since I’ll have some physical distance between myself and my patron I’ll be able to escape the more troubling things, so I think these are quite favorable conditions for me . ”
Watching Freida talk about becoming a concubine while wearing such a dazzlingly cute smile, I am once again reminded of just how much my own intuition differs from that of this world . My feelings right now are complex .
“Although, Maine,” she continues, “you don’t seem to have anything to offer a nobleman, do you? I thought you’d be quite envious of my situation when I told you about me becoming a concubine . Think about it, Maine, and try to live a life that you won’t come to regret . ”
Ahh, I see . Since I have the devouring as well, if I want to live, I’ll need to find the patronage of a nobleman, too . So, what she’s telling me is that before the next time I’m overwhelmed by the devouring I should think about what I plan to do with myself in the future .
Do I plan on forever indebting myself to a nobleman, or do I die surrounded by my family?
“Thanks, Freida . I’ll think about what I should do . I’m glad you told me all of this . ”
“Certainly; you don’t have anyone else in your life that could tell you of these things, correct? If you’re ever worried about the devouring, please come talk to me . We’re the only ones who can really understand each other about what’s happening to us . ”
Since the devouring is such a rare disease, it’s similarly rare to find someone who knows about it . It’s extremely reassuring to know that there’s someone I can talk to about it .
“I’m grateful for the offer, thank you,” I reply . “I should probably go home now . ”
I’ve realized that the room is gradually growing darker and darker . The sun will probably be setting soon, I think . I need to return home as soon as I can, or my family will be worried about me . Since our conversation is finished, I move to get down from the bed, but Freida pushes me back down .
“It’s okay, your family already knows you’re here . Please keep resting . ”
“They were here again earlier today . ”
“Again…? How long was I unconscious?”
I was not expecting it to be a totally different day . As my eyes go wide, Freida puts a hand to her cheek, tilting her head thoughtfully to the side .
“You were carried here shortly before lunch yesterday, and today the sun is already setting . It seems that you’re still very exhausted, and it seems like it took you a very long time to wake up even after your fever went down . Even though your fever’s already gone down, it’s been decided that you’ll stay here, just to make sure you’re okay, until after the baptismal ceremony the day after tomorrow . ”
It looks like a lot of things happened without me knowing about them . Even just thinking about what my family must have felt when they were told what happened to me makes my stomach ache .
“Lutz, I believe, will be coming here tomorrow morning, and I think your family might come along too . So it is okay to close your eyes again and rest for now, Maine . ”
“Thanks, Freida . ”
“Before you talk with your family tomorrow, please think hard about your own opinions . …Now, tomorrow, if you’re feeling up for it, how about we make sweets together, like we promised?”
Freida stands up, her chair clattering behind her, and picks up her candle, then quietly walks away out of my field of view . I start to ruminate about what she’d told me, my thoughts going between various possibilities, but my body still craves more rest, so even though I’m still sitting up my eyelids start to droop . I squirm my way back under the covers, unable to resist the snug comfort of this bed, and I go out light a light .
Translator’s notes for this chapter:
1 . “Futon” here refers to the Japanese-style futon, which is a quilted mattress filled with batting, unlike Western futons, which are generally fold-out couches filled with foam .