Ascendance of a Bookworm – 058
Reporting to Lutz
The day after the family council, everyone was a little bit awkward around each other . My father’s smile looked a little bit lonely, my mother hugged me over and over throughout the day, and Tuuli kept suddenly bursting into tears . However, as the days pass, everything starts gradually returning to the same old day-to-day life that we’d been living before .
“You don’t have to do that, Maïne . I’ve got it,” says Tuuli .
“Huh? I’ve got to do it! Aren’t you the one who told me that I’ll never learn how to do something unless I do it myself?”
Tuuli, who had previously been encouraging me to help out more so that I could work on building my own independence, thoughtlessly takes over my work . It’s unmistakeable that she’s taking even more special care of me than she already was before .
I’m woken up by Tuuli’s excited shout . “Whoa, it cleared up! We have to go pick paru today!”
The sky is still dim and gloomy, but it seems like there isn’t much snow falling at all . Tuuli had seen a little bit of light coming in through the window and thrown it open wide to check the weather, letting the freezing air outside come rushing in .
“Tuuli, I’m cold!”
“Ah! Sorry, sorry . ”
She closes the window, then immediately gets started in on her breakfast . I, too, eat my breakfast, while my family noisily hustles around the house . The instant they finished their food, my mother and father started gathering up baskets and firewood . My father, starting to organize things by the entryway, looks up at me as I, still unkempt, chew on my bread .
“What will you do today, Maïne? Are you going to the gates?”
“Nuh-uh, I was thinking that I’d go and try help picking paru, maybe?”
From what Tuuli had told me, a paru tree is a beautiful and miraculous kind of plant . I’m not entirely sure what she meant when she said how it sparkles brilliantly with light as it spins around, though, so I kind of want to see it for myself . But, when my curiosity prompts me to say those words, every single member of the family turns to stare at me .
“Absolutely not! You’ll either stay here and watch the house or you’ll go help out at the gates . ”
“Picking paru is very hard, too hard for you! You’ll definitely get sick!”
“That’s right! You’re bad at climbing trees, and you can’t walk through snow so it’s impossible for you to help . ”
All three of them immediately reject the idea of me accompanying them to the winter forest to pick paru . Certainly, there’s no way someone such as me, who can’t even walk through the snow to get to the gates, would be capable of foraging in a snowy forest .
“…Okay . You’ll be picking paru until noon, right? So, I’ll go to the gate and help out there while I wait for you . ”
I prepare my tote bag and get myself ready to head out to the gates . I’d thought that since my father had the day off Otto might as well, but it seems that around this time of year he shows up nearly every single day .
My family loads up their baggage, including me, onto a sled, and we head off . I’d heard that everyone in the town goes to pick paru whenever they can, and based on the huge number of people dragging their sleds towards the southern gates, I’d heard correctly . The air is so cold that it bites into my skin, but everyone is filled with such excitement over being able to go and pick paru that the mood is very much like a festival . Even I am getting a little excited too .
“Sorry,” says my father to a soldier at the gate, “but take care of Maïne for me . She’ll be helping Otto out until noon . ”
“Everyone, good luck picking paru!” I say .
When we arrive at the gate, I get off the sled and wave goodbye to my family as they head towards the forest . I say hello to the gatekeeper, who I’m acquainted with, and head to the night duty room .
“Mister Otto, good morning . ”
“Oh? Maïne? I thought the squad leader had the day off, didn’t he?”
Otto’s eyes twinkle in wonder, and I nod, smiling slightly .
“Yes, since the weather is clear today, he went to the forest to pick paru . I’ll be helping out until noon today . ”
“Ahh, I see, I see . Hm, until noon, huh…”
Otto smiles broadly, seeming to immediately understand the circumstances, then starts laying out documents that he needs the calculations checked on . While he works on clearing a space for me to work, I thank him for the advice he gave me the other day .
“Mister Otto, thanks for the other day . ”
“Umm, when you consulted with me about my job prospects . I told my family about the devouring, and about finding a job that I can do from home . When spring comes, I’m thinking I’ll consult with Mister Benno, too…”
“Ah! Well, taking care of yourself is very important, so if Benno has no idea what you could do, then my door is always open if you’d like to ask about things you can do here . ”
I definitely notice a hint of something dark in his smile, but now that I’ve properly expressed my gratitude, I get to work on my calculations, feeling refreshed .
After noon, my family returns from the forest, so I get back on the sled and head home . Since there were three of them out picking today, it looks like they’ve brought six paru back with them . Unlike last year, now we know that even the dried-up lees is useful, so my mother is in very high spirits .
While my mother works on preparing lunch, Tuuli and I work on juicing the paru . Tuuli grabs the skinniest stick she can find from the pile of firewood, lights it in the fire from the stove, then jabs it into the fruit . In the next instant, just that little bit of the rind cracks open .
“Maïne, here it comes!”
I stick a bowl under it, so as not to waste any of the creamy white fluid that starts spilling out . Entranced by the sweet smell, we finish draining the juice, then Tuuli passes off the drained paru to our father . He crushes the pit of the fruit, pressing the oil out of it . Since he’s able to lift the heavy weight we use for pressing oil, leaving that part of the task to him means that the oil is finished in the blink of an eye . Since the lees left over after the fruit has been thoroughly squeezed has actual use in cooking, we set aside four parus’ worth of it for ourselves, leaving the remaining two to give to Lutz’s house in exchange for eggs .
After lunch, I head out, bringing both the paru lees and some fresh ideas for recipes . If I could only just use an oven, I could make a gratin or a pizza, but since all I have access too are a griddle and a pot, the kinds of things that I can make are sharply limited .
“Hi, Lutz . Could you trade me for some eggs, please? By the way, I came up with a new recipe, do you want to try it?”
“Yo, Maïne! I’m happy about the new recipe, but there’s nobody around to help out right now so we can’t start on it yet . Come on and wait in here . ”
Even though I finally brought them a new recipe, Lutz’s older brothers aren’t here, it seems .
“Where’re your brothers? Did they go sledding or something, since it’s clear out?”
“Those kids went out to earn a little change shoveling snow,” says Lutz’s mother .
I had no idea this was a thing, since there’s no way I could participate, but it seems like some of the heavy labor of shoveling snow is something that kids can do in order to earn some decent pocket money .
“Why’re you still here, Lutz?”
“Someone’s got to juice the paru . If you wait too long, they’ll melt, right?”
It’s true that you can’t just leave paru alone for a while, but I can’t help but notice that it looks like Lutz has been stuck with the housework, unable to earn any pocket money, and I’m realizing that he’s actually looking a little gloomy . But, since neither Lutz or Auntie Karla are saying anything, I figure that I, as an outsider, should probably keep my mouth shut .
I’d at least like to help them with pressing the fruit, but since that’s something that fundamentally requires actual physical labor, it’s beyond my capabilities . All I can really do is watch as Lutz smashes the core with a hammer and Auntie Karla presses the oil out .
As I absent-mindedly look on, I suddenly remember that I haven’t actually told Lutz about the family council . Letting him know that I won’t be working at Benno’s shop is something that I absolutely have to do .
“Um, so, Lutz . I’ve, uh, decided that I’m not going to work at Benno’s shop . ”
Lutz, his hammer raised high, turns to stare at me with wide eyes . Auntie Karla looks over at me as well, her eyes open a little wider too .
“Umm… my mother mentioned something like this, right? I’d just be a burden on you . Plus, no matter how I think about it, I don’t have enough stamina for a job like that . I talked with Mister Otto about it, and he pointed out a few different things . ”
“A few things like what?”
Lutz gradually starts moving his hammer again, urging me on with a stare .
“Right, um . So, if a brand new apprentice keeps getting fevers and has to rest all the time, what do you think everyone else that has to work with her is going to think?”
“…Ahh . That’s…”
Murmuring quietly to himself like he might be starting to understand, he hits his paru . Auntie Karla, firmly pressing hers, squints .
“You’d be a bother to everyone when you’re absent,” she muses, “and you being absent during your training would hurt you in the long run, too…”
“That’s right . …Plus, I’ve still got lots of things I’m planning on making, and if they wind up being really profitable, I’m going to earn a lot of money, you know? So if there’s an apprentice that’s always absent, but she still makes a ton of money, wouldn’t that ruin human relations at the shop?”
Lutz scowls, nodding in understanding, but Karla looks a little astonished .
“Well,” I say, “the bit about the money applies to you too, I think, but if you work as hard as you can, I think people’s reactions will be different . I think we should discuss this with Mister Benno in detail, though . ”
“Yeah, let’s make sure we talk to him in the spring . ”
I think it might be possible to keep Lutz’s profits separate from his wages . Then, he could be given the extra money secretly . After all, even now, all it takes to give someone money is to tap your guild cards together .
“If you’re not going to work at the shop, then what are you going to do after your baptism, Maïne?”
“In my case, I don’t know what I’m going to do about the devouring, so I’d work out of my home transcribing letters or official documents while coming up with new products, or helping out at the gates… I told my family that I don’t really want my lifestyle to change all that much . ”
“Ah, okay . Yeah, that’s probably better for your body . ”
Now that I have Lutz’s support, I let out a little sigh of relief . As I do, Auntie Karla’s expression suddenly brightens .
“Well, now! If Maïne’s not going to work at the shop, then there’s no need for you to work there either, Lutz, is there? Now you can be a craftsman!”
I tilt my head to the side, confused . What does me deciding not to work at Benno’s shop have to do with Lutz not working there? Lutz, however, raises his eyebrows high as soon as he hears his mother’s sigh of relief .
“Huh?! What are you saying, mom?!”
“What do you mean?” she asks, a complete lack of comprehension on her face .
Lutz clucks his tongue . “I want to be a merchant!” he yells . “Maïne has nothing to do with it! I’m the one who dragged her into it!”
She stares at him, looking as if she can’t believe a word he’s saying .
“What did you just say?! So, you still are planning on becoming a merchant?”
“Of course I am! I really wanted to be a trader, but after I talked with one I learned about how citizenship works, so I decided I wanted to be a merchant instead . ”
“Lutz, why didn’t you say anything about this before?!”
“I did! Were you not listening, or did you just forget?!”
It looks like she really hadn’t acknowledged what he’d been saying . She looks at him as if this is the first time she’s ever heard this .
I, not wanting to intrude into a conversation between mother and son, watch quietly from my chair, not saying a single unnecessary word .
“…You did say that you wanted to be a trader,” she says .
She shakes her head weakly, a troubled expression on her face . It’s clear to see that she’s bewildered by how her expectations aren’t matching up with reality .
“But, that was just a childish fantasy, wasn’t it? That was just something you were dreaming about, not something that had any basis in reality, wasn’t it? I didn’t actually think that’s something you really had your sights set on . I’ve been thinking that you’d eventually come to your senses . ”
I think that what Auntie Karla is saying isn’t unreasonable at all . It’s rare for someone who lives in the city to go any farther than the forest or the surrounding farmland . A trader is a foreigner that unexpectedly drops in from time to time, not someone that anyone typically aspires to be . It’s a childish fantasy, and he needs to wake up from it soon . Karla’s line of thought is probably pretty typical of people living around here .
“…I really did want to be a trader . I want to leave this city, and go to other cities that I’ve never been to before . I wanted to see all sorts of things that I haven’t even heard of… and I still do! I’m still holding onto that dream . ”
Auntie Karla rises halfway from her seat, looking like she’s about to say something . From her expression, it’s probably some sort of objection to his train of thought . However, before she can say anything, Lutz continues talking .
“But, I talked to someone who used to be a trader himself . He told me that only an idiot would give up his citizenship . And traders don’t have apprentices, so it would be impossible for me, anyway . ”
“Well, he was right,” she says, looking a little bit relieved . She sits down with a thump .
It seems that being a trader is an occupation that is very much something to avoid . I’d thought, naively, that being able to travel the world and see the sights sounded really fun, but I still really haven’t internalized enough of this world’s common sense .
“So then, once I found out that I couldn’t be a trader’s apprentice, I started thinking that maybe I could just go out and be a trader on my own . Then Maïne told me that maybe instead of being a trader, I could be a merchant in this city . If I was a merchant, then I could still go to other towns to buy and sell things, she said . It’s more pragmatic, and more realistic to try to do . ”
She shrugs . “Well, compared to being a trader…” she says, tiredly . It seems like she had no idea that her son was serious about his plans to become a trader, so this might be a bit of a shock for her .
“So, I told a merchant that I wanted to be his apprentice . He was only a second-hand acquaintance of Maïne’s, though, so he basically refused me right away . ”
“…Sounds about right . ”
With how the apprenticeship system works in this town, Lutz’s odds of actually becoming a merchant’s apprentice were really slim . So, probably, even though Lutz kept telling her that he wanted to be a merchant, she didn’t consider it to be any more than some half-hearted ideal . Then, working from that assumption, she might not have ever really fully listened to Lutz when he explained that he actually would be able to do it .
“But, we got him to set out some conditions, and agree to let us apprentice under him if we met them . Maïne and I already met those conditions, so we’ve got his approval to be his apprentices . So, whether Maïne’s there or not, I’m going to be a merchant . ”
Karla finally looks directly at Lutz, a serious look in her eyes, noticing at long last that Lutz has started forging his own path forward .
“…Lutz, even if you got this man’s permission to be his apprentice, did you really think you could do so if your parents disapproved?”
“I already decided that I’d do it . In the worst case, I’d be a live-in apprentice . I got him to hear me out, I got him to set some conditions, and I finally started on a path towards becoming his apprentice . I’m not gonna give that up . ”
“A… live-in apprentice…?”
Being a live-in apprentice is probably among the worst lifestyles you could have . First of all, as an apprentice, you can only actually work half of the week, so your wages are low . Plus, you have no family to rely on . A child suddenly forced to live on their own would find it both really physically taxing as well as time-consuming .
His living quarters would be the attic on the topmost floor of the building . Summers would be hot, and winters would be cold . It wouldn’t be at all rare for the roof to constantly leak . Carrying things upstairs, especially water, would be an enormous undertaking . It’s not unusual for birds to nest in attics, like they do in Lutz’s home, so the smell would be horrific, too . Plus, unlike the rooms rented out for families to live in, there wouldn’t be any place for Lutz to cook, so he’d need to either get someone else at the shop to let him use theirs or eat out a lot .
Naturally, that kind of lifestyle isn’t something that leaves you with any money left over . Rather, he’d need to constantly be taking advances on his pay, putting him in debt . The shop would provide the bare minimum to keep him alive, but until he grew up he would basically be living solely to work his apprenticeship .
“Lutz, think about what you’re saying! Do you really think you could live that kind of life?!”
I don’t think any normal parent would want their son to have to live such an austere life . She raises her voice so high it’s practically a shriek . Lutz, however, just shrugs .
“I can, yeah . I’ve started preparing for that already . ”
In Lutz’s case, he’ll be able to save up the money we’re going to make from paper-making during the spring . If we use the bark that we’ve already got in the storehouse, we’ll be able to put quite a lot of money in the bank . By my calculations, even after buying the clothing necessary to be a merchant’s apprentice, he’ll still have a sizable amount left over .
Plus, during his apprenticeship he’ll have half of his days off, which he’ll be able to spend with me, developing new products to potentially make money off of . If we can do that, then there’s no doubt that he’ll be making much more than an ordinary apprentice’s wages . He won’t have a lot of room in his budget to spare, but I think it’ll definitely be much better than destitution . I don’t think he’d have enough extra money to rent a place for himself, though, so he wouldn’t really be able to do anything about his awful living conditions .
“…You’re serious about already preparing, aren’t you?”
“Very serious . ”
After a long silence, Auntie Karla lets out a deep sigh, slumping her shoulders . She wears a complicated expression, like she’s given up on challenging Lutz’s seriousness but still can’t give up altogether .
“I still think it would be better if you found a nice, steady job as a craftsman instead of something as unstable as being a merchant . ”
Lutz purses his lips in dissatisfaction . “…If I do what you say and become a craftsman, nothing’s going to change, is it?”
Auntie Karla squints at him . Since he just effectively said he’s dissatisfied with his current life, her mood quickly grows sharp .
“What do you mean by that?”
“My brothers do whatever they want with me, and when I have something they want the just take it, and I never have anything left for myself . ”
“That’s… you’re siblings, so of course they take things from you, but they give things too you as well, don’t they?”
She frowns, troubled . Lutz, however, immediately rejects her opinion .
“It’s not like they can give my food back after they eat it, and when I get stuff from them it’s all just broken hand-me-downs, you know? And if the hand-me-downs are too awful to actually use and I get something new for once, then they immediately take it away!”
The fact that the youngest child always gets hand-me-downs is something that’s true for me as well . However, while Tuuli is always helping me out, Lutz is constantly being ordered around by his brothers . I don’t know if that’s just what brothers do to each other, but the difference between the two of our experiences is enormous .
“I set my sights on becoming a merchant, worked really hard doing a lot of different things with Maïne, and learned what it’s like to actually hold onto something I’ve earned . I want to see how far I can take myself without anyone getting in the way . I’ve never even consideredbeing a craftsman . ”
Lutz, who has always been kept down by his family, has made it his goal to find an environment where he can be free of their control, and he was finally able to find a place where he might be able to accomplish his dreams .
Auntie Karla hangs her head . “I didn’t think you were so serious,” she says softly . “I thought this was just Maïne dragging you along…”
“I wouldn’t make this kind of life-changing decision if it was like that…”
“I really thought it was, so that’s why I was objecting . ”
She lets out a long, deep sigh, looking down at the floor . She thinks to herself for a while, then slowly raises her head, a smile on her face as if she’d come to accept things as they are .
“If you’ve thought it through that far, and this is something you really want to do, to the point where you even started preparing to leave home, then why not go for it as much as you can? Your father will probably object, but you’ll have at least one supporter in this family . ”
“Really?! Thanks, Mom!!”
Lutz’s face is practically sparkling . He had long since giving up on earning his family’s understanding, so hearing something so unbelievable makes him so happy he could jump for joy . Until just a moment ago, he’d been forcing himself to look focused, but now his expression is something that a child his age should actually be wearing, and I can’t help but smile, too . Having even just one family member on his side must make a whole world of difference .
When his brothers come home, Lutz is still in a good mood . The four of them work harmoniously together as they start making my new recipy .
“Zasha,” I say, “could you and Zeke please heat the griddle? Lutz, please grate plenty of cheese and mix it with the paru lees . Then, Ralph, could you chop those lege leaves finely, please?”
While I divide up the work amongst the brothers, I add some paru oil and salt to the bowl that Lutz is grating cheese into . Once Ralph is done chopping the basil-like herb, I add it to the bowl, and all that’s left is to mix it and grill it .
“The griddle’s hot!”
“Alright, then grill this please, like how you do the parucakes . ”
We grill it thoroughly, until the cheese gets crispy, then eat it . It looks kind of like _okonomiyaki_1, but thanks to the melted cheese that’s holding everything together, it has a very western flavor . This recipe is a variation on something I’d come up with in my Urano days, making use of leftover cooked somen or spaghetti noodles by chopping them up really finely .
“It’s so simple, but it’s so filling!”
“It would be really good if you added minced ham or veggies, too,” I add .
“Yeah, now that I think of it, these would actually make a good meal on their own, unlike the parucakes . ”
Everyone eats their food, smiling happily about how delicious it is . In the middle of that, Ralph tries to help himself to seconds off of Lutz’s plate, but Auntie Karla smacks him in the back of his head .
“Don’t take other people’s food . That’s greedy! How about you grill another for yourself?”
Ralph, who had just gotten smacked on the head, looks at her with mild shock . Lutz does, too . After a moment, Ralph gets up to start grilling up his seconds, and Lutz goes back to eating, relieved . Karla watches the two of them, then smiles . Now that Lutz has convinced someone as influential as her of his problems with the rest of the family, it looks like things have calmed down around here, at least for now .
After that, I return to being a shut-in . My life becomes an endless cycle of handiwork, tutoring Lutz, helping at the gate, and lying in bed with a cold, while Lutz keeps stopping buy to deliver hairpin parts, be tutored, and occasionally bringing completed product over to Benno’s shop .
Eventually, the snow starts gradually getting weaker, and my wintry shut-in lifestyle comes to an end .
Translator’s notes for this chapter:
1 . Okonomiyaki are a savory grilled food, kind of like a pancake with a variety of other ingredients inside .