“Maïne, what should we do today? The weather looks pretty bad . ”
The dull, heavy clouds that blanket the sky outside my window aren’t at all ideal for making paper . It might still be possible to go to the forest to forage, but if it suddenly starts pouring I’ll just wind up being a huge burden, so I should probably just stay home and watch the house .
This spring, on days when we’ve been blessed with good weather, we worked on making paper to earn some money . When the weather wasn’t quite so good, we went with Mark, wandering around the city as we worked on getting the workshop ready . However, by now, the workshop is basically finished and all of the workers have been trained . The other day, they even successfully finished their trial run, so by now there’s not a whole lot left for me and Lutz to do .
“Mister Benno said that our baptismal ceremony is next Fire Day, so I wanted to do our last round of paper making, but I guess we can’t help the weather being as bad as it is, huh…”
“Kinda sucks about not being able to do another batch of paper, but man, I still can’t believe that I have so much money now, right?”
Every time we went to deliver our paper, we each brought back one small silver coin with us for spending money, which we gave to our families . This meant that our food situation had gotten a little bit better, but our lifestyles ultimately hadn’t really changed all that much . The amount of money we have stored with the guild, however, is enormous, partly due to just how comparatively great the weather has been for paper making and partly due to the fact that tronbay paper sells for an enormously high cost . After our most recent sale the other day, I now have a little more than two large gold coins’ worth of money saved up, and Lutz isn’t very far behind at all . No matter how you think about it, this is not the kind of money pre-baptized children should have .
Well, I guess that once we’re baptized, I won’t be earning any money for a little while, after all .
I think to myself, going over the list of what we needed to do before the day of our baptismal ceremonies, then suddenly look up in shock .
“Lutz, we need to go see Mister Benno today . I completely forgot!”
“Huh? He’s not expecting us, is he?”
“Oh, he isn’t, but our baptisms are next Fire Day, right? We need to make sure that you’ve got everything that you’ll need for your apprenticeship already prepared . …Your parents aren’t merchants, so they won’t have any tools prepared for you, you know?”
Since a child’s baptism marks the day they start working, it’s tradition for those children to be given the clothing and equipment they’ll need for their new apprenticeships . When a child follows in their parents’ footsteps, their parents pick out those tools to give to them as presents, as if to say, “do your best” .
However, Lutz’s parents haven’t been able to prepare him anything . One reason is that Lutz’s father still objects to this course of action . Another is that since neither of his parents are merchants, neither of them know what tools he’ll actually need . Even worse, they don’t even know just how much money it would take to get someone prepared to be a merchant’s apprentice .
Benno told us that clothing was necessary, and we’d placed an order, but I can’t believe that that could possibly be enough . When Tuuli, a seamstress’s apprentice, was baptized, our parents gave her not just a set of work clothes but also a kit full of sewing supplies . It’s highly likely that a merchant is going to need much more than just clothing . Luckily, we’ve saved up quite a lot of money, so we should be able to buy whatever we need to ourselves, and if we ask Benno or Mark, they’ll probably tell us what we need to know .
“I really don’t know what else you’ll need besides clothes,” I say . “Since you’ll be doing a lot of studying as part of your new hire training, you’ll need your slate and your calculator, but there’s got to be more than just that, right?”
“Right now, we can buy whatever we need . I’m really glad we saved up all that money, just like you said . ”
Even though Auntie Karla had become Lutz’s ally, there really wasn’t much of anything she could actually do to help her son become a merchant . She doesn’t have any connections to any merchants, and Lutz’s father still opposes his decision . All she was really able to do is scold his brothers for their bad behavior, but Lutz has told me that even just that has made his life a little easier .
“When you become an apprentice, Mister Benno is basically going to be acting as your guardian, so I think it would be best for us to go ask him about it,” I say .
I grab my usual tote bag and head out into the gloomy weather with Lutz, walking towards Benno’s shop .
“Oh my, but I thought you weren’t going to have any more paper for us for another few days?”
Mark, who has more-or-less figured our schedule out by now, looks a little surprised to see us approach .
“We’re hoping to ask Mister Benno about something,” I say . “…Although, maybe we might be able to ask you?”
I think I remember hearing that Mark was in charge of educating apprentices at this shop, at least .
“What might you need?”
“We’d like to know what kinds of things, such as tools, an apprentice might need . Lutz’s parents aren’t merchants, so they don’t know what kinds of work-related things to give to him at his baptism, so we need to prepare these ourselves…”
“Ahh, I see,” he says, looking a little astonished . “I hadn’t thought of that . ” He frowns slightly, tapping on his temples .
“I know the ceremony is very soon,” I say, “but do we still have enough time? Since Mister Benno will be Lutz’s guardian, would it be best for us to discuss this with him?”
“Hmm, you’re right . After you’ve finished your discussion with the master, shall we go purchase what you need?”
As usual, we’re led into the inner room . There, we see a busy-looking Benno, sitting at a desk piled high with boards and papers, quickly scribbling something down .
“Master Benno,” says Mark, “Lutz and Maïne have come to see you . ”
“What for?” he asks, not looking up as he continues to write on his board .
I gently push Lutz forward, urging him to ask on his own .
“Master Benno, sir, I would like to ask you about the equipment I’ll need to prepare for my apprenticeship,” he says .
“The equipment you’ll need to prepare…?”
Benno puts his pen down, perhaps having reached a good stopping point . He has a dubious expression on his face, like he isn’t quite sure what Lutz is asking, so I step in to explain further .
“Ordinarily, we were thinking that his parents would prepare these things, but since neither of Lutz’s parents are merchants, they don’t actually know what he needs . So, what will Lutz be needing when he becomes an apprentice? Surely it’s more than just clothes, right?”
“Ahh, that’s right . Go with Mark to buy your things . I got word that the clothes you ordered before are done, so go order a few changes of clothes when you go pick those up . ”
“Alright,” I say, nodding .
Lutz looks confused, slowly tilting his head to the side .
“Changes of clothes?”
“Obviously,” replies Benno . “There’s no way you’ll wear the same set of clothes to work day after day, will you? It’ll be a big problem if they get dirty or start stinking . ”
Since this is a shop that deals with the nobility, appearance is extremely important . An employee would absolutely not be able to show themselves in torn or dirty clothing . Practically every employee of this shop is always dressed very tidily .
“A change of clothes for every day, sir?” Lutz asks, frowning .
“That’s right . ”
“…You kidding me?”
In Tuuli’s case, and probably Lutz’s brothers’ cases as well, her work clothes get washed once a week . It’s work that our mother does on her day off, so the concept of changing clothes every day doesn’t even really exist . Since we don’t even have much in the way of ordinary clothing, we keep wearing the same set of clothing for as long as any freshly-laundered clothing is still drying . Also, when fabric gets washed, it gets damaged bit by bit, so there are many families that, with the exception of underwear, avoid washing their clothes for as long as they can bear it .
Unlike Benno, who has subordinates to do it for him, Lutz is on the bottom of his family’s hierarchy . It would probably be very hard for him to ask his mother to wash an entire week’s worth of changes of clothing . However, this is something that is definitely required for work .
“If you can’t ask Auntie Karla,” I say, “what if you washed it yourself? You’ll have some free days when you’re an apprentice . ”
“If you were a live-in apprentice, then you’d have to do it all by yourself anyway, you know . ”
“I… guess… you’re right . ”
I can understand his astonishment; this isn’t at all in line with what he’d thought was common sense . However, there’s nothing he can do now but swallow this new information about what society expects common sense to be .
“I know how shocking it is to be hit with something that doesn’t fit your common sense, but you can’t really do anything else but accept it . This is something that you need to do to make sure that the customers don’t get uncomfortable . It’s just another way craftsmen and merchants are different . ”
“Ah, okay,” he nods .
Benno, as well, looks like he’s experiencing some culture shock . He blinks, slowly, muttering to himself .
“Your lives really are fundamentally different, huh . ”
“So, please,” I say, “if you think something might be a little strange, please point it out . We really don’t know anything about it . ”
“Alright, I’ll keep an eye out . …Mark, I’ll leave these two to you . ”
“Very well, sir . ”
We wait briefly for Mark to reach a stopping point in his own work, then the three of us head to pick up our finished clothing . He carries me in his arms along the way there, but after an entire spring of being carried around while making arrangements for the new workshop, I’m fairly resigned to my fate .
“Welcome,” says the shopkeeper .
With a single glance at Mark, Lutz, and me, she immediately realizes what we’re here for, and she urges us towards rooms deeper in the shop .
“Please, try these on . ”
The clothing that she presents me with is just a simple blouse and skirt, but since it’s cut to my exact measurements, it fits me perfectly . I’d be extremely excited just for clothing that isn’t patched together, but this is order made . I experimentally raise and lower my arms, squat down, and stand back up, checking for any problems with the fit, but it feels incredible . It fits amazingly, with no parts of it too tight or too baggy .
“Amazing! This feels great to wear,” I say .
“Oh, excellent!” she says . “Now, Mark said you’ll be wearing this today, so I’ll wrap up these clothes for you here . ”
It seems that Lutz had ordered two more sets of clothes in the same style and design while I was still trying on my clothes . When I leave the dressing room, Mark and Lutz, who had been talking with the shopkeeper, turn to look at me .
“You look very cute wearing that,” says Mark . “A simple change of clothes has made you look like a child from a good family . ”
“Yeah, you look like a proper lady!” adds Lutz .
Being praised by the two of them like that gets me even more excited . I pinch up the folds of my skirt .
“Really?! I’m cute? Like a proper lady? With just some new clothes?”
“When you’re standing still and not talking,” says Lutz .
“Hmph,” I sulk . “…But, Lutz, your posture has gotten a lot better lately, too, so you’re looking like a proper gentleman!”
Benno has been reminding Lutz to mind his personal appearance, so he’s been keeping himself as clean as he can, and occasionally washing his hair with rinsham . His golden hair is glossy and sparkling . Also, he’s been paying more attention to his posture and movements, saying that he’s copying Mark because I keep talking about how excellent he looks . So, now that he’s in a proper set of clothes, he really does look gentlemanly . He doesn’t look out of place wearing them at all .
“Now we will be able to actually enter the other establishments we need to go to,” says Mark .
It’s not rare to be turned away at other stores for being improperly dressed . After Lutz and I use our guild cards to finish paying for our clothes, Mark leads the two of us, in our proper garments, towards the next shop .
We arrive at a stationery shop, and Mark opens its wooden door, which has the mark of a pen drawn on it . The front of the store is dominated by a long counter, behind which stands a kindly-looking old man, polishing something . Products are neatly lined up shelves along the wall, but since this store doesn’t sell many goods directly, these are largely just individual samples . This is a fairly typical sort of shop in this town . Small shops are primarily reception areas for their customers, with most of their actual goods in storehouses . It’s a necessary measure to protect against robbery, but it’s somewhat of a shame that you can’t easily compare products against each other .
“Mister Mark! What can I get for you?”
“Hm, let me see . We’ll need an ink pot, a pen, and parchment for a contract of employment . We already have a slate, slate pencil, and calculator, I believe? Then, if we add some number of writing boards, that should be it . ”
As I listen to Mark, I let out a small sigh . These are definitely not the kinds of things that Lutz’s parents would be able to afford . Lutz and I may be able to afford them now, but neither ink nor parchment are things that we could be able to so easily buy in our usual sphere of influence .
“Oh, me too!” I say . “I’d like a pen and some ink, please . ”
Seizing the opportunity Lutz’s errands have afforded me, I also purchase a pen and an ink pot for myself . Being able to buy ink, which is such an expensive, unobtainable item, leaves me deeply emotional . The old shopkeeper places pen and ink on top of the counter for me . After we touch our guild cards to complete the transaction, I reach out and pick them up .
“Woohoo! My own pen and ink!”
My smile almost splits my face wide open as I twirl around, holding my new bottle of ink and my wooden pen . However, Lutz’s smile, unlike mine, is bitter .
“All that money I saved is just going away bit by bit . …Does being a merchant really cost this much?”
In a small shop, they’d probably have the necessary tools already prepared . They also probably wouldn’t make their employees buy parchment for their own employment contracts, either . They’d usually use wooden boards for that, I think?
“I don’t think it’s just being a merchant . I think it’s that Benno’s shop is so big . But, you should still have money left over, right?”
“But, I mean, we spent so much of it, in just one day! That doesn’t really feel good . I don’t want to have to rely on my parents, so let’s try to make even more paper before our baptismal ceremony . ”
“We really don’t have much time left, so it’ll be good if it clears up soon, yeah . ”
We return to Benno’s shop and deliver him the news that we’ve finished our shopping . “From now on, wear those clothes whenever you come here,” he tells us, giving us the stamp of approval now that he can see us looking properly apprentice-like .
“Hey, Lutz . Where are you going to store all this? The storehouse?”
“That’s probably safest, huh…”
The two of us start discussing how leaving the things we buy in the storehouse for safekeeping would be a bit of a pain, since we’d need to borrow the key in order to get into it . Benno, overhearing this, shrugs his shoulders .
“There’s no real reason to keep any of that in the storehouse, why not just keep it in your own room?”
“Umm,” I say, “Mister Benno . We don’t have our own rooms . I only have a wooden box to keep my things in, and I can only keep what I can fit in there . ”
Benno’s eyes widen when I point out this difference in our standards of living . When I saw Corinna’s house, I’d noticed that there were a lot of rooms . It seems that Benno, who was raised as the successor to a large shop, didn’t have any friends who didn’t have their own rooms, either .
“I’ve got it worse then Maïne,” says Lutz . “Even if I put stuff in my box, someone will just arbitrarily rummage around in there and take it all out . ”
“What do you mean by that?”
Benno’s eyes are filled with surprise . He squints down at us, uncomprehendingly, and I explain Lutz’s living situation a little more,
“Lutz is the youngest of four brothers . So, his older brothers often just do whatever they like with his things . It’s really rough . ”
“So, the brothers are always stealing each others’ things?”
“It’s okay if it’s the younger brother’s things, they say . A younger brother’s things are an older brother’s things . The older brother’s things are only the older brother’s things, though . ”
Benno rubs his temples as he listens to my description of Lutz’s home life . I’m sure he had no idea that our living situations could possibly have been this different . As a working man who has supported his family ever since his father died, Benno has probably never had to worry about his family stealing his things, nor has he ever had to worry about where to keep his things to begin with . His expression is one of sheer astonishment .
“Lutz . How about you store your things upstairs? I’ll rent you one of the live-in apprentice rooms for cheap . If all of these things that you’ve finally put together disappear before your baptismal ceremonies, or if the things you need for work get stolen, that would be a big hindrance to your work here . That storehouse is too far away, too . ”
“…Thank you very much, sir . ”
Through Benno’s arrangement, Lutz manages to rent one of the rooms on the top floor of the building that are usually used by live-in apprentices, and use it as a better substitute for our storehouse . If he leaves the things that he’s purchased here and locks the door behind him, then he won’t have to worry about any other person going through any of his things .
“So, when I come to the shop, can I come up here first to get changed?”
“Sounds great,” he says . He wears an enormous smile over having finally acquired a space of his own .
I leave my things here too until we can finally go home . Benno had told us that, since we had some time, we were going to the merchant’s guild with him, so we won’t be able to head home immediately .
“If I don’t teach you some things about how the guild works in advance, I can’t use you to run errands, after all . ”
Since the children of mercantile families constantly visit the guild to help out their parents, it seems like going there to help retrieve documents is a fairly everyday sort of thing for them to be doing . So, one of the things that an apprentice at a shop can do from the very start is run errands at the guild . Even so, Lutz hasn’t been back to the guild ever since we went to deliver Freida’s hairpins, so of course he can’t run any errands there . He just hasn’t ever done so before .
“Is there anything else…?” mutters Benno, trying to figure out what other things a merchant’s child would be expected to be able to do . He gathers up a few written applications and hands them to Lutz to bring to the merchant’s guild . I decide to tag along, mostly so that I can read the stacks of wooden tablets they keep on their bookshelves .
“Man, this is nuts . ”
The merchant’s guild building overlooks the central plaza . In front of it, many wagons are lined up in a long queue . I can see traders leaving their carts in the hands of their fellow passengers as they run into the building, applications in hand . We’re still outside, but already I can see how massively congested everything is .
“It looks like the second floor is going to be very busy,” I say .
“Yeah,” replies Benno . “The baptismal ceremonies are just around the corner, and market day is pretty soon, too . ”
Just like I’d predicted after seeing all of the carts outside, the crowd packed into the second floor is enormous . Benno pushes his way through the crowd, Lutz trying to avoid being crushed behind him, as he makes his way towards the inner staircase . As usual, I’m being carried in Benno’s arms, so I’m thankfully not getting crushed too . We show our guild cards to the guards in front of the stairway, and start to ascend . The tumult of the second floor almost instantly fades behind us . I have the strongest suspicion that the gate we passed through has some sort of magic on it to block out sound .
“Running errands is going to be really difficult, huh,” sighs Lutz .
If we had to force our way through that oppressive wave of people without Benno’s help, we wouldn’t be able to run errands here at all .
“It’s possible that your documents could get stolen or crumpled up by other people, so make sure you watch out for that . ”
“Yes, sir . ”
“Now then, first off, these documents go…”
Benno starts heading towards the counter, giving Lutz an explanation as he goes . I turn my back on the two of them and start heading towards the bookshelves, but Benno smacks me on the back of my head and grabs me by the scruff of my neck .
“And just where do you think you’re going, kid?”
“…I was going to go to those bookshelves and read . ”
“In your dreams . You don’t get to go off and read . You’re going to be the head of a workshop, so you need to learn all of this too . ”
Benno teaches the two of us how to use the merchant’s guild services, going over the minute details of how to use the reception desk, as well as the various places that particular documents need to be brought to . He makes sure to point out to me where magical contracts are registered and inspected, since I’ll be working to develop new kinds of goods .
“If you file a request here, you can inspect the magical contracts that are registered with the guild . ”
“Oh my, if it isn’t Maïne!”
A pair of light pink pigtails rushes up towards us from the other side of the counter . There’s no mistaking who this is . This is the guild master’s granddaughter, Freida . She clearly looks like she’s here to worn as an apprentice . I hadn’t even considered that I might run into her here, so I stand there in shock while Freida crosses her arms and pouts at me .
“Spring is nearly over, and you haven’t even been by to visit once!”
“Ah, sorry about that, I’ve just been so busy…”
I’m really sorry, but between making paper and establishing the new workshop, I’ve been extremely busy . I was thinking that, since I had fulfilled my promise to make sweets with you, I could just kind of break it off . If I were to go, you’d inundate me with invitations, and I wouldn’t know exactly how to spot the traps you’d hide in our conversation, so I wouldn’t be able to relax at all .
“Well, I’m free tomorrow, so you’d be most welcome to come and play at my house,” she says .
“Oh? Umm, but, if the weather clears up tomorrow, then—”
Benno has been lightly resting his hand on my shoulder, and he suddenly squeezes it while I was mid-sentence . I had been about to say that I wanted to make some more paper, but I’m suddenly reminded that he had told us that he wanted us to do everything we could to keep our involvement in the paper-making process a secret, so I hurriedly snap my mouth shut .
Freida glances briefly at Benno’s hand, then smiles sweetly . “If it’s raining tomorrow, then you’re very welcome to come over . It seems that you’ll be busy again if the weather clears up, but if it’s raining, perhaps you’ll come and play? I do recall you promised you’d stop by this spring, yet spring is just about at its end . ”
If she phrases it like that, it’s hard to refuse . It’s true that if the weather is bad tomorrow I won’t be able to make any paper and will thus have plenty of free time .
As I waver, she piles on more pressure . “There’s so much I want to talk with you about, especially about the devouring . ”
“Oh, I had some questions about that as well . ”
The person I know who has the most knowledge about the devouring is, in fact, Freida . There’s things that I’ve been thinking I want to ask her about, so the chance to speak with her is actually really helpful .
When I say this, Freida’s face immediately lights up, and she claps her hands joyfully .
“So, if it rains, then this will be perfect! I’ll make some pound cake and have it waiting for you . ”
“That sounds great . If it rains…”
Fascinated by the thought of pound cake, I agree to her proposal . Benno’s grip tightens on my shoulder even more . He smiles down at me, a blood vessel clearly popping out on his temple .
“Maïne,” he says, very patiently .
“Mister Benno,” says Freida, smiling sweetly as she jumps in to save me . “we’re just talking about if it rains . ”
“Yes, that’s right!” I add, looking up at him . “Only if it rains, you know?” I reach up and pat his hand gently as his fingers dig deeper into my shoulder .
“This idiot,” he grumbles to himself, then looks back down at me . “It will rain tomorrow,” he says, matter-of-factly . “Huh?”
It seems that everyone here knows how to read the weather, even without a weather forecast . The rain that begins to fall in the evening lasts all the way through the night, and continues well into the day .