Workshop Selection and Tools
“Tell me everything you know about paper-making, so that I can figure out where and how large the workshop will be,” says Benno, looking very self-important . Wouldn’t it be appropriate, though, for me to ask for a fee for this information, like I did for the rinsham?
Watching him carefully, I open my mouth . “Lutz and I aren’t going to make any money off of this paper makers’ association of yours, so we’re going to have to charge you for any information about actually making paper, you know?”
“…Ah well, can’t be helped . How much?”
Benno smiles, smugly, tapping the table with his finger . How much should I actually charge, though? I have no idea whatsoever what a fair price would be in this case .
“Ummm, how much are you willing to pay?”
“Whatever you ask for . How much?”
He turns the question back around on me, his smile widening, perhaps having guessed my thought process . The only reference point I have for information fees is the rinsham, which was three small gold coins . Since Benno’s going as far as to make a new trade association for vegetable-based paper, he must be thinking that he’ll be able to do great things with this .
“Nnngh… H… how about tw… twice the fee from the rinsham?”
“Alright, deal . Here . ”
Benno pulls out his guild card and waves it around in front of me . I take mine out and clink it against his . He just calmly accepted my offer without even the slightest flicker in his broad smile . Should I have charged him way more? I really don’t have any idea how to estimate these things at all .
As I ponder, grumbling, Otto folds his arms, looking at Benno .
“For the workshop, let’s listen to what Maïne has to say, then start thinking about the size and amount of equipment we’ll need, and the scale and location of the workshop itself . For now, we can probably just appropriate the tools that we already have at the storehouse, right?”
Otto’s words cause my eyes to bug out .
“Those are the property of Maïne’s Workshop!” I say . “If you take them, then won’t Lutz and I basically not be able to make paper anymore?”
“…The storehouse itself is Master Benno’s, though,” adds Lutz .
I glare at Lutz, lips pursed, when he interjects, then look over at Benno . If they start doing things like appropriating our tools, then we’d be in a lot of trouble . Plus, those tools aren’t at all suited for mass production .
“Also,” I add, “that really won’t work . The tools we have at Maïne’s Workshop can’t really be used for mass production . ”
Benno raises his eyebrows, not following my train of thought . I start to explain .
“Our tools were made primarily for the sake of finishing our prototype, so we made them easy for us to use . They’re lightweight, miniaturized, and simplified, so they’re not really suited for mass production . Also, I was concerned about spending too much of your money, sir, so I made several substitutions using things at hand…”
“Huh?” says Otto . “Why would you be concerned about that when he said he’d give you money? It would have been better to put together the best equipment you could…”
Otto looks at me like I’m an idiot, but I really hadn’t been thinking about trying to put together the best possible equipment at all . Back then, getting even a single nail was extremely difficult for me, so the only thing I was thinking about was how I could make things as cheaply as possible .
“I wouldn’t have done something so shameless,” I reply . “I think that I might get a little more bold in the future, though . ”
“I really don’t care if you get more bold,” says Benno . “So, when you say these aren’t suited for mass production, what do you mean by that?”
“There’s a difference in physique . ”
I think about how to phrase things in a way that’s easiest for Benno to understand .
“For example, the paper frame that the two of us have been using is the size of a written contract, but an adult man could probably use a much bigger paper frame for making paper . If you could use a frame that’s large enough to make four sheets at a time, then you’d save a lot of time . ”
“Ah, I see . ”
Even if you scale up the operation, if you still make relatively small contract-sized sheets one by one, all you’ll do is increase the amount of time and manpower you’re using . If you’re strong enough to use a larger paper frame, then making several sheets at once is a better idea .
“And also, since we wanted something we could actually handle, we’re using a large tub to make pulp, but if you’re going to use a larger paper frame, then you’d need a larger vat to make all the pulp you’d need, wouldn’t you? And right now, I’m using cooking chopsticks to mix the pulp instead of the rake you’d usually use…”
“I’m not familiar with any of these tools,” says Benno, tapping his temple thoughtfully and looking down at me . Most of these tools are things that we didn’t order through him .
“Hmmm, I think that it might be hard to understand what kind of tools you’d need and what we’ve been substituting if we don’t show you our actual process down at the storehouse while we explain it . ”
“Oh? Well then, I’ll stop by your storehouse tomorrow to observe you . I haven’t actually seen your workshop before, so this is a perfect chance . ”
I’m startled by how smoothly he suddenly decides tomorrow’s course of action . I try to recall what plans we’d already had for making paper .
“Even if you say you want to come by to observe us, we unfortunately just finished our current round of paper today . So, tomorrow all that we’ll be doing is letting it dry, so we don’t particularly have anything to do with that particular batch, so we were thinking that we’d go to the forest tomorrow to gather raw materials…”
“Hoh, so you’re saying that you’re starting a brand new batch?”
“That’s right . We’ll be cutting wood, steaming it, and stripping off the bark . We’ll then bring it back to the warehouse to let it dry, and that’s about it . ”
As I talk, Benno nods along .
“Alright,” he says, “Mark will go with you . ”
“Huh? To the forest?”
When he says that, I try to picture Mark coming to the forest with us . It just doesn’t work . I refuse .
“Mister Mark is a wonderfully proper gentleman who always dresses impeccably . He’s not at all suited for things like cutting wood or stripping bark . …Hmm, but, Mister Benno, you’d be alright wearing work clothes, right?”
“Hey, what do you mean by that?!”
“What I’m saying is that you’re the one who wants to learn more about the work, sir, so I think it would be best for you to go . ”
“That’s not what you just said . ”
Even though he has a pretty disagreeable expression on, Benno agrees that he does want to understand the process from beginning to end, so he decides to accompany us after all . Before we know it, we’ve made plans to head off to the forest to work tomorrow .
The next day, when Lutz went to retrieve the key to the warehouse, it seems that he apparently found Benno, already wearing work clothes . Mark, who came out to greet Lutz, had a troubled expression on his face, constantly worried that Benno might be running wild . Lutz quietly whispers all of this to me shortly after he returns .
“I’m impressed you can work in such a tiny space,” says Benno .
He slowly spins around inside the storehouse, taking it all in . To Benno, who usually works in such a large shop, it’s only natural that a storehouse only big enough for two children to loiter in would seem very cramped .
“It’s fine for when it’s just me and Lutz, but when you’re here as well it is pretty small . Well, most of our work takes place outside, so there’s not a lot that we actually do in here, you know . ”
We start gathering up the tools we usually take with us when we head to the forest to gather materials . Into the pot, we put the steamer, the bucket, and a bit of firewood . Today, all I’m carrying in the basket strapped to my back is my pair of chopsticks, the plank I use in place of a plate, some kalfe root, and some butter . Benno offers to carry part of Lutz’s load, but Lutz just slowly shakes his head .
“It’s okay, I’m used to it by now… uh, sir . Instead of helping with my stuff, it would really help if you could carry Maïne . ”
“You always carry all of this, kid?” Benno replies, frowning . “That must be rough, isn’t it?”
He snorts, then abruptly picks me up, backpack and all, carrying me piggyback .
“Hold on tight . Lutz, give me that big wooden frame, at least . I can’t stand how it looks like it might get smashed . ”
Benno takes the steamer in one hand, then starts walking . His strides are enormous, and he sways back and forth a lot as he walks . Terrified, I cling tightly to his head .
“Ummm, so we picked the size of our pot based on what Lutz is able to carry, but since the pot is fairly small that means that the amount of wood we can steam at once has to be small as well . You should probably consider whether you want to use one big pot or a few smaller pots, I think? If you find a workshop near the river, then you won’t have to carry the pots to the river, just the materials, so it’ll be much easier . ”
Since today we’re going with Benno, an adult, we don’t need to be with the rest of the unbaptized children today . We skip the usual meeting point entirely and head straight from the storehouse to the southern gates . When we arrive, I see my father and Otto talking about something .
“Daddy, Mister Otto . We’re heading out!”
I give the two of them a big wave over Benno’s shoulder . Their eyes widen a bit, and they hurry over to us .
“Maïne, who’s this?” says my father .
“This is Mister Benno, the merchant that I’ve been working with . Mister Benno, this is my father . ”
While the two of them exchange their greetings, I notice out of the corner of my eye that Otto is shaking a little bit .
“Mister Otto, what’s wrong?”
“Oh, nothing, I mean, looking at you two together, Benno’s looking a little bit fatherly…”
“Shut up, Otto . I’m a bachelor . ”
Benno angrily smacks Otto upside the head, then starts walking with long, swaying strides .
Huh, Benno’s a bachelor, he says? He’s at a great age, though .
Since the marriage age is pretty low around here, my father is barely in his thirties . It feels a little strange for Benno, who looks to be roughly the same age as my father, to be unmarried .
“Mister Benno, you’re not going to get married?” I asked .
“…Yeah, probably not . ”
“Would it be okay for me to ask why? This is purely out of curiosity, so if you don’t want to say then I can forget all about it . ” Benno smiles wryly . “It’s not like it’s a big secret,” he says . “When I wanted to get married, I had my hands full taking care of my family . After Corinna got married, I didn’t have anyone left that I still had to take care of, but then the woman I wanted to marry died . There wasn’t anyone else but her, so I never got married . That’s it . ”
“That’s it,” he says, even though it’s such a heavy story .
I let out a slow sigh . The reason he’s single is because a very important person to him died . I can’t really pester him for more details, nor can I poke fun at his bachelorhood . I pat his head gently, and he smiles wryly .
“What’s this, now?”
“Oh, nothing . I just thought that you were going to say that you’re single because you’re in charge of such a large shop and things like marriage and succession and all of that would make your life obnoxious . ”
“Well, you’re not wrong . But, it’s been pretty quiet lately . I’ll be training Corinna’s kids to by my successors so there’s no problem there . That was one of the conditions I gave for those two to get married, after all . ”
Whoa . Hang in there, Mister Otto .
As I quietly cheer him on in my heart, we reach the end of the dark tunnel and emerge into the world beyond, where the stone-paved road is replaced with dirt and the air is much, much fresher . The broad field of view leaves me with a great sense of freedom .
“Ahhh, it’s been a while since I’ve gone to the forest,” says Benno .
“Now that you mention it, you did say a while ago that you’d gone picking paru . I thought that merchants’ children didn’t really go to the forest, though . Freida even said that she’d never been except for picnics…”
I can’t forget the shock I’d felt when Freida said that it sounded like I went on picnics every day . Benno chuckles, then gets a nostalgic look in his eyes .
“I’d occasionally slip out of my house to go in secret,” he says .
“The other apprentices around my age that were working in my family’s shop would go there to forage, you know? So it’s only natural that I’d get curious, right? Kids still do that, right?”
“…Aaaah, yeah,” says Lutz, “now that you mention it, every now and then when some of the apprentice kids come with us I see some people I don’t really know . ”
After their baptisms, apprentices still go to the forest on their days off to forage or hunt . Unlike us pre-baptismal children, they can go to and from the forest freely, so there’s lots of them that just go whenever they want . However, sometimes they have friends who aren’t apprentices yet, so they occasionally meet up with other kids at the usual meeting stop and go with the group . It seems like even Benno went with other kids like that .
“So, how do the children of merchants generally spend their time?” I ask .
“I spent most of my time studying . I studied how to receive customers that come to the shop . When I went to the town market, I had to do calculations on the prices I saw, learn how to identify outsiders, how to tell when goods were good or bad, and so on…”
No matter how he describes it, it’s really difficult for me to understand a life where every single action is related to commerce . All I can really understand from that is how utterly different his life was compared to mine and Lutz’s .
“That’s certainly very different from how Lutz and I live, huh…”
“I’m sure kids from smaller shops are even more different, too . ”
Lutz puts our gear down by the riverside, makes sure the fireplace is still intact, and sets up the pot . I draw some water from the river, pour it into the pot, and set the steamer on top of it . Today, I throw in potato-like kalfe roots in as well .
“I’m going to go cut some wood,” says Lutz . He looks up at Benno . “What will—”
“Lutz,” Benno interrupts, “if you’re going to work at my shop, start calling me ‘sir’ . ”
“Sir, what will you do? Are you going to stay here and wait with Maïne, come with me to cut wood, or…”
“I’m interested in the kind of wood that you’ll be cutting, so I’ll go with you . Shall we?”
Lutz and Benno head deeper into the forest to search for wood . I collect whatever firewood I can find in the area around the pot, keeping an eye on our things . The two of them eventually come back, carrying a lot of freshly-cut wood . When Benno looks at me sitting idly by the pot, he raises his eyebrows a bit .
“You’re not doing anything?”
“You asked me what I can actually do, right? Right now, my job is to sit here and be quiet . If I faint, there usually isn’t anyone here to carry me back home . ”
When Lutz isn’t by my side, that’s when I have to try my hardest to move around as little as possible, or so I’m constantly told . There have been many, many times where I’ve arbitrarily started doing things on my own and wound up causing a lot of trouble for everyone .
“…Lutz, you always surprise me with how patient you are . ”
“That’s right!” I say . “You’re really amazing . ”
“Stop it, Maïne!” he says, giving me an embarrassed glare . “I’m gonna go grab some more firewood . ”
He makes his escape, and Benno and I grin at his back as he runs off . Then, I pull out my knife . I start picking folin out of the pile of wood Lutz brought back and cutting it down to a size that will fit into the steamer . Meanwhile, I keep telling Benno about Lutz .
“Lutz really is amazing . If he hadn’t been there, I don’t think I’d even still be alive . The first time the devouring tried to swallow me, he saved me . ”
“Oh?” he says, looking a little impressed .
“Back then, before we started doing things that actually made money, Lutz was always looking after me, and helping me make a lot of different things . ”
“…Ah, I’d heard about that . So, Lutz is basically your patron, then?”
It was entirely possible for me to have hogged all of the profits to myself for our winter handiwork and our paper-making enterprises . To a merchant, it must seem very strange for me to split the rights and profits for the things I’ve been dragging him into .
“That’s right . Since Lutz basically saved my life, I’ve been doing what I can to help him . Although all I’ve really been able to do is come up with new things to make, and then once we have that, sell them through you and make money off of that . ”
“…Ah, I see . So, I need to make sure to keep him at my store at any cost, hm . ”
“Thank you for your continued support,” I reply .
Benno pats me on the head, as if to say “leave it to me”, and I feel relieved .
By the time I finish cutting the folin down to sticks of about the same length, Lutz comes back . He adds some water to the pot, and I use my cooking chopsticks to put the wood into the steamer, taking out the potatoes already in there .
“Lutz, quick, add the butter!”
“Yeah, I know!”
He sticks some butter in it, giving us buttered potatoes . Benno looks down at the potatoes lined up on the plate-substitute board with the same unimpressed expression that Lutz had the first time he’d tried it .
“Master Benno, sir, Maïne’s cooking is really delicious . Even if it’s just a potato . ”
Lutz laughs excitedly as he bites into his potato . Seeing this, Benno shrugs, lifting his potato to his mouth as if he doesn’t have much choice in the matter .
“…That’s actually good . ”
“Eh heh heh, steaming it actually locks in all of the flavor, and biting into a piping hot potato on a cold day is really extraordinary . ”
After we finish eating our potatoes, we ask Benno to keep an eye on the pot for us while Lutz and I start foraging . We manage to gather a few medicinal plants .
After the bark is steamed, we rinse it in the river water and immediately start stripping it off . Benno helps us as well, but he’s unexpectedly clumsy with his knife, and leaves the bark in tatters . As he helps us, I watch our total amount of usable bark slowly decrease .
“Mister Benno,” I say, “we’re all done with stripping the bark now . Could you please help Lutz clean up?”
Since we’re done stripping bark, we head back to the storehouse and hang the bark up to dry . Benno wrinkles his nose when we ask him to hang the bark on the nails we have pounded into the shelves, but helps us out anyways . I’m a little envious of how he doesn’t need to slowly inch a footstool along as he works in order to reach the top shelves .
“Like this, if we had any more bark then we wouldn’t be able to dry it . If we wanted to dry that much, then you’d want to build something like this . ”
I sketch out diagrams on my slate, explaining some of the tools we don’t have at the workshop . Benno nods, asks questions, and picks up some of the tools we do have to feel them .
“We’ll dry this batch of bark in the sun until it’s completely dried . If we don’t make sure it’s entirely dry, then it might start getting moldy . Then, we’ll take the dried bark and soak it in the river for at least a day . ”
“Hm, that could be stolen then . ”
“That’s right . That’s the part that’s the most worrying . If someone knows how this is made, then here’s where the money is . That’s why I think it’s all the more important for the workshop to be near the river . ”
As I continue talking, I pat the bag of ash sitting in the corner of the workshop .
“After soaking the bark in the river, we use our knives to strip off the outer bark, boil the inner bark with ash, and then soak it in the river for another day . Boiling the bark with the ash makes the fibers soft and flexible . ”
“After that, we remove any impurities or defects from the fibers, then beat the fibers with this rectangular stick here until they’re as soft as cotton . This specific one is sized for Lutz, so an adult man could use a much larger and heavier stick, which would be more efficient . ”
I point at the table we use for beating fibers, and Benno picks up the stick and waves it around . “I would want something heavier if I was going to be smashing things,” he murmurs .
“Then, we take the now-fluffy fibers and mix them with a sticky fluid called a binding agent, making pulp . Since we’re using this paper frame, we can make it in this tub, but an adult would be able to use a much bigger paper frame, so increasing the size of both the frame and the tub would let you make much more paper . To mix the pulp we’ve just been using a bunch of cooking chopsticks that Lutz made tied together, but if you’re using a big vat then you wouldn’t be able to mix the entire thing together like that, so you’d want to use a larger tool, something like a large comb to mix it . Something like this . ”
I sketch out another diagram on my slate . Benno hums thoughtfully, and starts stroking his chin .
“After that, we use this paper frame . We shake and tilt it around like this, to make sure that it all ends up the same thickness, then take the finished sheet and pile it here, on the paper bed . We let it dry on its own, giving us this,” I say, indicating the pile of mostly-dried paper on the bed . “Tomorrow, we’ll put a weight on top of the pile, drying it out even more . ”
“This will squeeze the last of the stickiness from the binder out . After that, we stick each sheet to that board over there, one by one, and let it dry out in the sunlight . Once we peel it off from there, the paper is finally done . ”
After I finish my rough explanation of the entire process, Benno lets out a long sigh, seeming to admire our work .
“This is a much longer process than I’d thought,” he says .
“Well, while it’s drying, then you can work on something else, so it doesn’t really feel like that long of a process . If you want to make a lot of it, I think you’d wind up very busy . Besides, right now, actually going into the river is extremely difficult . ”
Benno nods deeply, having helped us draw water from the river today . “So this’ll be the kind of workshop that shuts down in the winter,” he mutters . If you couldn’t put the wood in the river during the winter, then it would be too hard to work with, so you couldn’t make any paper .
“Since you can’t make it without a river, please make sure you think very hard about the location of the workshop itself . ”
“Alright, got it . Looks like things are going to be pretty hectic for me, then!”
Despite the fact that he says things will be hectic, he looks like he’s actually enjoying himself . You can do it! I think to myself, silently cheering him on .
I thought that at that point everything would be completely out of my hands, but Benno, having only a little practical experience making paper, excitedly starts picking out workshops, the people who wind up being extremely busy are me and Lutz . When we’re not making paper, Mark sticks to us like glue, escorting us around to various craftsmen to help him order tools and equipment . “This is still covered under your information fee,” we’re told, and are given no choice but to go along with it .