Working Towards Resuming Paper-Making
The snow has begun to melt, and the days have grown clearer . The days are still cold, but my family has said it’s no problem for me to go out to Benno’s shop, so Lutz and I get ready to make our way there to settle the final accounts for our winter’s handiwork . Each person who helped with the work has entrusted me with a small bag to put their earnings into . I put these into my tote bag, along with the last completed hairpins, and we head towards the shop .
Traces of winter still remain: the center of the main road has been cleared of snow, but in the corners of the alleyways there’s still some snowmen that have yet to melt, and along the sides of the road there are still mountains of snow that had melted a little bit and then refrozen hard . The faces of everyone who has gone out to meet the new spring are bright, and their footsteps are buoyant as they go to and fro along the streets . The number of carts and carriages on the main road has significantly increased as well .
It looks like the number of people visiting Benno’s shop is much higher than normal, so even though we’ve arrived in the afternoon, where there are usually comparatively few people present, it seems extremely busy . As I ask Lutz if it might be best for us to come back later, Mark appears, walking towards us . It seems as if one of the employees that we’ve become acquainted with might have noticed us and called him over .
“Good afternoon,” I say . “It’s good to finally see you again, Mister Mark . ”
“Ah, Lutz and Maïne! Blessings upon the thawing of the snow . May the goddess of spring bring you great favor . ”
Mark raises his right fist in front of his chest, then presses his left palm to it, fingers together, slightly bowing his head . I have no idea whatsoever what he could possibly be doing, so Lutz and I stare wide-eyed at him .
“Uh? What was that?”
“…It’s the way you greet someone in the new spring?”
Judging by Mark’s tone of voice, he doesn’t know how we couldn’t know what that was, so I can guess that this is some sort of extremely obvious greeting that is exchanged around here .
“This is the first time I’ve heard it . Lutz, did you know about this?”
“No, it’s my first time, too . ”
If Lutz hasn’t heard of it, then it may be something unique to this particular part of the city, or perhaps it’s something occupationally-related .
“…Is this maybe a greeting only merchants use?”
“It is something that has always been done in my family,” Mark replies, “so I haven’t given it much consideration, but all of the socialization I have done outside of work has been with other merchants, so that might be entirely possible . Since business booms as the snow thaws, we wish blessings upon the thawing of the snow, and greet our fellows by wishing that the goddess of spring brings them great favor . ”
Having said that, he teaches us this merchant’s greeting . It looks like this is a greeting you give the first time you meet someone in the spring . I’m just going to file this away as something similar to “happy new year” .
As Mark did a moment ago, I put my right fist in front of my chest, press my left hand against it, and try practicing the greeting .
“Blessings upon the thawing of the snow…?”
“That’s right,” he says .
“May the goddess of spring bring you great favor, I think . ”
I quietly mutter it to myself over and over, but I’m fairly confident I will have completely forgotten about this by tomorrow . It’s times like this that really remind me that I very much want a notepad . I may have a slate tucked in my tote bag, but that’s not a notepad .
“The master is presently conducting a negotiation . What matters of business might you need to speak with him about?
In response, I start ticking off the things I’d like to do today on my fingers .
“Umm, first I would like to settle accounts regarding our winter handiwork . Next, since I’d like to resume paper-making as quickly as possible, I’d like to verify whether or not the craftsman has finished making the larger bamboo mats by now . Also, I would like to speak with Mister Benno about my apprenticeship, but it seems he’s currently busy?”
“I understand . Very well; let us begin with settling your winter’s handiwork . He should finish his business while we work . ”
He guides us to a small table inside the shop . Lutz and I sit down next to each other, and Mark seats himself opposite us .
“These are the last of the hairpins we made for our handiwork, if you please,” says Lutz, speaking in much more polite language than he’s used to using .
He presents the bag containing the hairpins . Mark removes them from the bag to count them .
“There are twenty-four here,” he says . “Including the ones you left with us during the winter, this makes a total of one hundred and eighty-six, is that correct?”
“Yes sir, that is correct . ” Lutz nods, having verified Mark’s final count matches the tally we had made on a small board .
Each hairpin is worth five medium copper coins . From that, the handling fee Lutz and I are charging will be deposited directly into the guild . Then I take out the various bags that I’d brought with me in order to make distributing the rest of the money easier, and start dividing it up .
To make sure that Lutz’s brothers don’t fight, we divide their share evenly across the three of them, excluding Lutz . Splitting it up is easy: each of them gets six large and two medium copper coins . As for my family, my mother made eighty-three, Tuuli made sixty-six, and I made thirty seven . Since these numbers are all over the place, splitting it up is a bit of a pain . My mother winds up with one small silver, six large copper, and six medium copper coins . Tuuli’s share is one small silver, three large copper, and two medium copper coins, and my share is seven large and four small copper coins .
“With this number of pins, we should have stock to last us until next winter,” says Mark . “There’s quite a lot of demand for these! Since there are so many colors to choose from, our customers seem to enjoy themselves picking theirs out . ”
I smile, imagining a parent and child picking out a hairpin together .
“Ah, is that so? I’m glad,” I say . “I made myself a hairpin as well, you know!”
“How might it be decorated?”
I giggle . “That will be a secret until the day of the ceremony . ”
Mark quirks an eyebrow . “Oh my,” he says . “Then, I shall look forward to seeing it on that day . Now then, you next wished to discuss the resuming of your paper-making, did you not?”
“That’s correct,” I say . “We won’t be able to actually resume work until Lutz has had the opportunity to visit the forest and check on the state of the river, but since spring has come, I think that I would like to start as soon as possible . ”
Benno’s investment will only continue until the early summer, when our baptismal ceremony will be held . Thus, I’d like to resume our work as soon as we can .
Mark nods slightly . “Very well . I shall ask the workshop about your order . If I’m correct, you wished for two bamboo mats, the size of a contract sheet?”
“Yes, sir, thank you very much . ”
I notice several merchants leaving the back room, as if the negotiations taking place there finished at about the same time we had finished our discussion out here .
“I shall go inform the master of your presence . Please, wait one moment . ”
After he momentarily disappears into the back room, he returns to lead us in . Since this is the first time I’m meeting Benno this spring, I promptly press my left palm into my right fist in front of my chest, delivering the greeting I’d memorized .
“Mister Benno, it is good to see you again . Blessings upon the thawing of the snow . Oh, um… may the goddess of spring’s, um, great favor… huh?”
As I struggle to remember something I’d heard just a moment ago without the aid of a notepad, Lutz looks at me in amazement . He steps in front of me, pressing his left palm into his right fist in front of his chest .
“Master Benno, blessings upon the thawing of the snow . May the goddess of spring bring you great favor . ”
“Aha, yes, that! Blessings upon the thawing of the snow . May the goddess of spring bring you great favor . ”
Thanks to Lutz jogging my memory, I deliver the proper greeting . Benno, visibly trying not to laugh, returns our greeting .
“Ahh, blessings upon the thawing of the snow . May the goddess of spring bring you great favor . …I have to say,” he says, chuckling, “that was a very sloppy greeting . Make sure you learn to say it correctly . ”
He taps the table with his finger, beckoning Lutz and I to sit down . We do so, and then talk about the spring well-wishing .
“That was something we just learned from Mark a little earlier, you know . It’s not something either of us heard growing up, so say something like, ‘very good for your first try’, please!”
“…Oh, is that so? Then, good work, Lutz . Now then, you wanted to talk about your apprenticeship?”
Benno only praised Lutz, who’d completely remembered the greeting . I pout, briefly, before launching into today’s main question .
“I won’t be apprenticing here after my baptism,” I say .
“Huh? …Wait . Why are you saying this? Is it because I didn’t praise you just now? Well, you didn’t say it right, but at least you tried?”
He rubs hard on his temples, uncomprehendingly, and forces out some praise for my greeting .
“That’s not it! It has nothing to do with that . ”
“If not that, then what?”
“Umm, well, I’m kind of weak, you know?”
“Astoundingly so, yes . ”
His interjection stabs straight into my heart .
“Urgh… You were worried earlier about whether or not I’d be able to properly do my work here, weren’t you? If you had an apprentice who was always taking days off because of her poor health and was only being assigned easy work that wouldn’t put a strain on her body then, if you think about it, wouldn’t that be bad for human relations here at the shop?”
“Is that all?”
He glares down at me with his reddish-brown eyes, and I remember the other concerns that Otto had raised with me .
“Also, if I’m earning profits from my goods, then isn’t there the chance that I’d be making more money than even the veterans who’ve been working here for over ten years? Money’s the easiest way to ruin relationships . ”
“Who told you that?” he says, eyes narrowed . “There’s no way you would have come up with that on your own . ”
I nod vigorously . Back when I was Urano, the only thing I ever did or ever really wanted to do was read, so my field of view was pretty narrow . This time around, I hadn’t really been considering anything but my own physical strength . It took Otto pointing things out for me to start thinking about human relations .
“Mister Otto,” I reply .
“…I see . ”
Huh? I think his voice just now was pitched a fraction of a step lower… And then, he’s got a sort of predatory aura going on now… or am I imagining things?
I tilt my head slightly to the side as I think about Benno’s ferocious aura, then say the thing that’s been weighing most heavily on my mind .
“Also, you know about my devouring, right? If I were making the decision, then I don’t think I’d hire an employee that I wasn’t sure would still be around in a year . ”
It’s very likely that any resources spent on my education will go entirely to waste . I don’t think a merchant would be capable of wasting resources like that .
Benno rubs his forehead, looking at me with sharply discerning eyes .
“Then, if you’re not working at my shop, what do you plan to do instead?”
“I’ll be transcribing letters or official documents at home, working with Lutz to develop new products on his days off, and from time to time helping out at the gates… basically, I’ll just keep doing what I’ve been doing . After talking with my family, I’ve decided that it’s best for me to do things that don’t place too much of a strain on my body . ”
“And being an apprentice and so on would . Got it . ”
The strain goes out of his eyes and shoulders . He rubs at his temples, looking like he’s trying to figure out what he’s going to do next . As he mutters to himself, I speak up again .
“Umm, Mister Benno . Do you have any work that I might be able to do at home?”
In that moment, Benno’s eyes gleam, and a slow, predatory smile spreads across his face .
“Your writing is very neat, hm . I can send some amanuensis work your way, so stop by with Lutz from time to time . Alright?”
“Thank you very much . ”
What was that just now? I feel like I’ve just been cornered by a carnivorous beast…
Since my request was accepted so easily, I put aside my deep thoughts and move onto my other question .
“Umm, so if that’s the case, what’s going to happen to my guild card? I’m planning on selling through Lutz, but I’m not going to have an apprentice’s card from your shop, right? I’ll be unaffiliated, right?”
We had originally planned around my eventual registration as an apprentice at Benno’s shop after my baptism, but if I’m not actually going to be his apprentice, then I wonder what will happen to my guild card? Since it’ll be after my baptism, I don’t think they’ll let me have a temporary registration . However, if I’m not attached to a shop, I won’t be able to conduct any business without being registered .
“I don’t know what kind of products you’re planning on making, but how about we call the storehouse you’ve been using ‘Maïne’s Workshop’, register you as the workshop head, and get you a card that way? If you enter into an exclusive production agreement with my shop, then our business won’t be much different from how it is now . ”
“Workshop head?! That sounds kinda cool! If everything will be more or less the same as it is now, then yes, please, let’s set it up like that . ”
I clap my hands excitedly, and Benno nods happily .
“So,” I say, “this is something that I mentioned to Mister Mark, but we’re going to be restarting our paper making as soon as we can go look at the river’s current condition . We’re currently planning on the two of us making the paper until our baptisms, but after that Lutz will be busy with his apprenticeship and I won’t be doing an apprenticeship at all, so I’m hoping that we’ll be able to pass the entire task on to a workshop you select . Is that okay?”
“When you say the entire task, do you mean that you’ll still be the one picking the workshop? Is that right?”
Our magic contract stipulated that Lutz and I would be able to have safe, stable employment at Benno’s shop . Since this is turning into a new industry, I think the people and the workshop making it would be particularly important to Benno . For me, however, I won’t have either salary or extra profit, so as long as a large amount of paper winds up in circulation, I don’t particularly care who winds up making it .
“I mean, I don’t know anything about workshops, and I also don’t know anyone who might want to work on making paper . All I know is that since the process requires soaking tree bark in a river, it would probably be best for the workshop to be near the river, I think . ”
“Near the river, huh… that’ll be difficult . How are you doing it now?”
Lutz shrugs . “Right now, we’re carrying all of our equipment to the river bank in the forest, but doing that every day is really hard… oh, um, difficult, sir . ”
“If you think about scaling things up for mass production,” I say, “then the equipment will need to be much bigger, so transporting it to the river will be next to impossible, I think? Well, thinking about that is probably a job for you, Mister Benno, or the people at the workshop . ”
“…Hmm, you’re right . ”
Since it looks like Benno has understood, I’ll just leave selecting a workshop and sourcing the tools to him .
“Please take care of selecting a workshop, getting the equipment, and finding suppliers for the materials before our baptisms . As the actual day of the ceremony gets closer, Lutz will go and instruct the workers in the actual manufacturing process . ”
Lutz’s eyes go wide, and he gapes like a fish . I smile sweetly, giving him a big nod .
“I mean, aren’t there steps that I can’t do myself? I think it would be best for you to show them how to do it in person . If after spending the entire spring doing it over and over you’re still uneasy about it, then I can go with you too, so you’ll be fine!”
“You’re really passing the entire task off, aren’t you,” says Benno, with an amused chuckle .
I glance guiltily to the side . I’m definitely well aware that I’m seriously shirking a lot of responsibility here . However, more than just making prototypes, improving distribution, and setting up mass production, I already want to be setting my sights on the next project . If I spend all my time fussing over the particulars of making paper, then I’ll never actually get to making books, no matter how much time I spend . This spring, I want to make enough paper for me to use, and then turn my attention towards printing .
“Then, please excuse us . ”
With my heart full of my time-limited ambitions, I depart from Benno’s office .
The next day, the fast-working Mark delivers new bamboo paper mats to our storehouse . Hearing that, Lutz takes the opportunity to check on the condition of the river when he heads to the forest for his gathering .
“Lutz, how’d it look? You think we can make paper?”
“There’s a little more water flowing than usual from all the snow thawing, but not more than we’d get after a heavy rain, I think . ”
And, with that judgement, we officially resume making paper . First thing in the morning on the following day, Lutz fetches the key, then we immediately head off for the storehouse . As we walk along the alleyways, still cold enough that you need a coat, I spend my time thinking about the day’s work .
To start with, when we get to the warehouse, we’ll check to see if the outer bark we’d harvested from the tronbay back in the autumn and left out to dry is still alright . If it is, then we’ll start by working on stripping that down to its inner back . While that happens, I’d like to use the preserved folin inner bark to start making actual paper .
“I’d really like it if we could wait for the water to get a little warmer, though…” I say .
“Yeaaah, you’re right . But, if you keep in mind that we’re trying to save up money, the sooner we start the better . ”
Benno’s support for our paper-making enterprise is only going to last until the day of our baptismal ceremony . Until then, we want to do as much as we can to earn as much as possible .
“I wonder if the tronbay bark’s going to be alright…?” I say, wondering aloud .
“That’s been airing out this entire time, so it’s probably going to be completely dried out by now . ”
“It wasn’t drying in the sun, so I’ve been really worried about mold growing all over it!”
Since we left it alone all winter, it’s only natural that it would have completely dried out by now, but whether or not it dried in a way that we actually want is another question entirely .
“There aren’t really any molds that grow on tronbay,” says Lutz .
He may be shrugging it off, but since we completely skipped the sun-drying part of the process altogether, I can’t help but worry .
We arrive at the storehouse and unlock the door . With a creak, the door opens . Through the gloom and the dust, dark, wavy strips of material hang from the shelves like strands of seaweed, giving the entire place a supremely ominous air .
“Is it really going to be okay?” I ask .
“I think I’m a little worried now,” Lutz replies .
I prod at a strip of outer bark, finding that it’s completely dried out . Since the outer bark itself is dark, I can’t really tell from the color alone whether or not it has mold growing on it .
“How about we bring these to the forest and try soaking them in the river for now?” I mutter to myself .
“What all are we going to bring to the forest today?” asks Lutz, sweeping dust off of the wooden box with back straps that he’d left in here .
“Umm… Lutz, how about you bring the pot and some ash? And, hm, I don’t think we’ll need something as big as a tub, but maybe we should bring a bucket as well . It would be kinda bad if we couldn’t find any firewood in the forest, so maybe we should bring some with us? I’ll bring this outer bark and this preserved folin inner bark, and my ‘chopsticks’, too . ”
“I don’t get why we need a bucket, but if you say we need it I’ll bring it . ”
I gather up the dried tronbay outer bark and the folin inner bark from where we’d hung it in the warehouse, fetch the pair of cooking chopsticks Lutz had made for me, grab a few dust rags, and put it all in a basket . The two of us strap our supplies onto our back, and rush off to where the other children are meeting to get ready to go to the forest .
We all arrive at the forest, and as the other kids scatter about to go foraging, Lutz and I head for the riverbank . Lutz starts getting the pot ready right next to the river . He sets it down on a stove made of piled-up rocks, then uses the bucket to fill it up with river water .
“Oh,” he says, “if we use this then we don’t have to get soaked when we get water from the river . I knew you had a good reason!”
If you want to fill up the heavy pot with water directly from the river, then you’ve basically got no choice but to get in the river yourself . It seems like Lutz hadn’t quite been thinking ahead that far .
Now that the pot’s full of water, we use the firewood that we brought to get a fire started . While we wait for the water to boil, I want to start soaking the outer bark in the river, if possible .
“Wow, that looks cold,” mutters Lutz, staring at the river, swollen with water from melting snow .
If we want to make sure that the bark doesn’t wash away as it soaks, we need to build a circle of rocks to put it in . The one that we had made during the fall, however, has fallen apart, and only about half of it remains . Our first step thus has to be building a new stone circle .
“You can do it, Lutz!”
Lutz squawks as he wades into the river of ice water . If I were to go in myself, I’d almost certainly get another fever and my family would probably bar me from leaving the house for a while, so basically the only thing I can be doing to help is to cheer him on .
For Lutz’s sake, I walk around the area, gathering up fallen firewood . While I’m in the middle of that, though, he calls out for me .
“Maïne, bring the bark over!”
As soon as the bark’s in the circle, Lutz leaps out of the river, running to the stove to warm himself up with the fire . He holds his bright-red hands up to the fire, rubbing them vigorously together . I fill up the bucket with some warm water from the pot, then set it down in front of him .
“Put your hands and feet in here . If you don’t warm them up, you’ll get frostbite!”
“…Ah, warm… this feels great!”
He sticks his hands and feet into the bucket of warm water, heaving a sigh of relief . The hot water starts cooling down almost immediately, but thanks to that foot bath, it looks like his body’s warming up a bit .
The pot has started gently simmering, so I add the ash and the white bark to it, stew it well, then get Lutz to put it in the river to rinse out the spare ash . Thanks to Lutz’s hard work, even if it did seem like the freezing river had him on the verge of tears, our job for today is finished .