The morning of my baptismal ceremony is busy, particularly for my mother . She has to put together breakfast, tidy up after it, and get both her and my father into their only set of nice clothes, so if I were to sleep in or chew sluggishly on my food, she’d get mad at me . Thus, I cram my breakfast down my throat so fast I feel I might choke, and while she’s tidying up I retreat to the bedroom with Tuuli so that I can get changed .
Thanks to both Tuuli and my mother gradually making little additions to it here and there, my dress isn’t just fluttery because of the extra fabric that’s been pinned back . The two of them had used their skills at making lacework flowers, honed by a winter’s worth of handiwork, to decorate the dress with little flowers here and there, and now it’s almost excessively decorated . If Benno hadn’t let me keep the leftover thread from our winter handiwork, they probably wouldn’t have had the materials to do this with, I think .
My fluttery one piece dress rustles as I pull it on over my head like a t-shirt . I wrap the blue sash around my waist, and tie it tightly into a bow . The ends of it hang limply down past my shins .
“Maïne, didn’t you have to double that up?” says Tuuli, frowning .
I untie the sash, and try wrapping it around myself twice . However, even thought I’d been able to tie it off last winter, it’s just a little bit too short now, so I can’t make it into a good-looking bow .
“Huh? Have I been eating too much? Did I get a little chubby?”
“Oh, no! You just grew a little bigger . ”
“Huh? I grew bigger?”
“Probably, yeah . Look, we’d made the dress so that it would hang below your knees, but now it’s only halfway down your knees instead . You got a little bigger!”
It seems that I’ve gotten a little taller in the space between winter and summer . If I were a normal child, this would be an obvious thing to have happen, but since my devouring is causing me to grow excessively slowly, I’ve never really felt as if I’m growing much at all . I stand there, deeply moved, trembling with joy, but Tuuli is a little more pragmatic . She stares at ends of the sash, contemplating how everything fits together .
“…No matter how I look at it, the length just isn’t going to work . It’ll look untidy either way . Maybe we should cut it?”
“Oh no,” I say, “that would be a waste . It’ll look fine as it is, so there’s no need to cut it . I’ll just double it up . ”
“That didn’t work, though?”
“I won’t wrap it around myself twice, I’ll just double up the bow . ”
I wrap the sash around myself, then at my stomach tie a tight, two-fold, butterfly bow . Then, to complete the look, I rotate the sash until the bow is at my back, like when I put on a kimono .
“How does it look?” I ask . “Is the length okay?”
“So cute! That’s amazing! How did you do that?!”
As I try to figure out how best to explain it, my mother barges into the room .
“If you’re done changing, then get your hair done up . I’m getting changed now . ”
“Okaay! I’ll tell you later, Tuuli . ”
I quickly go out to the kitchen and start working on my hair . Last night, my entire family used some rinsham, so today everyone’s hair is smooth and glossy . Unusually, my father had looked like he wanted to be included in this, so I helped wash his hair too . When I tried asking why he was suddenly so interested, he said it was because Otto was bragging about how Corinna had washed his hair . Looks like he was a bit envious of that kind of life satisfaction .
“Let me do that for you, Maïne . ”
As I start combing out my hair, Tuuli comes over, her eyes sparkling . It looks like since I’d done her hair for her on the day of her baptismal ceremony, she wanted to return the favor today .
“Since you do the twirly thing with your hair ornaments, I can’t help you there, so at least let me comb your hair for you . ”
“Okay! Thanks . ”
I hand over the comb and Tuuli gets to work, humming to herself . She seems to be in a really good mood .
“Your hair is so straight . It’s really beautiful! It smells good, too . ”
“Your hair smells the same, you know?”
When Tuuli finishes, I thank her, then reach for my hairpin, my hair swaying behind me . I pick up the hairpin, careful not to crush the delicate-looking flowers, and then put my hair up as I usually do . Even if I’d thought about trying a more elaborate hairstyle, my hair can’t really be tied up with a string, so it would all quickly come undone .
Even though I’m using a different hairpin, I’m doing my hair the same way I always do, so I’m done with it almost immediately . This hairpin is somewhat heavier than the simple rod I usually use, and I can tell that whenever I shake my head the little flowers hanging off of it sway back and forth . When I start having a little fun shaking my head a bit, Tuuli claps excitedly .
“Whoa, cute!” says Tuuli . “That matches your hair color perfectly! And it’s so wonderful watching it sway whenever you move . ”
“That suits you very well, Maïne,” says my mother .
“You look like a princess,” says my dad . “You’ll be the cutest kid at the entire ceremony!”
My parents, both finished changing, come out of the bedroom and start complimenting me on how nice I look in my new dress . I’m happy for all of this open, unreserved praise, but it’s also a little embarrassing, too .
“Hey, Daddy, isn’t that what you told Tuuli, too?”
“Of course it is!” he says, grabbing me and Tuuli in each of his arms . “I’ve got the cutest two daughters in the whole wide world . ”
Tuuli and I shriek, trying to free ourselves . He cackles, refusing to let us go .
“Aaah! You’ll mess up my hair!”
“Enough of that!” says my mother . “If you’ve got enough time to fool around, then go and get outside already . ”
My father immediately lets us go as soon as she says that, but it’s too late . As I catch my breath, my mother looks me over, sighing .
“Maïne, you’ll need to re-do your hair,” she says .
“Sorry ‘bout that,” says my father, shrugging apologetically .
I smile at him, then pull out my hairpin, shake out my hair, stick it back in, and fix it . Sure, my hair can’t ever be done in any sort of extremely elaborate hairdo, but thanks to its peculiar smoothness, even if it gets a little ruffled all it takes is a little bit of hand combing to sort it back out .
“Looks like everyone’s starting to gather outside,” says Tuuli, opening the front door wide and waving us over . We go downstairs and head out into the plaza around the well, where many of our neighbors have already started to gather .
“Oh, there’s Ralph and the others . Looks like Lutz is wearing Ralph’s hand-me-downs, too . ”
I look over at where she’s pointing, and see Lutz, indeed wearing Ralph’s nicest hand-me-downs, surrounded by a large number of people . Since I didn’t actually see Ralph on his baptismal day, I wouldn’t have been able to tell that they were hand-me-downs if I hadn’t been told, though . Lutz is wearing a white shirt and pants, with a light blue sash tied around his waist . If I had to guess, this was probably made for Zasha, the oldest child in the family . Both the sash and the embroidery look like they’d match Zasha a lot better .
“Oh my, Maïne?! What is with that dress?! You look like a very rich little girl, don’t you!”
Before I can get to him, Auntie Karla catches me . Her loud, resounding voice quickly draws the attention of everyone around us .
“They’re Tuuli’s hand-me-downs,” I say .
“Those are hand-me-downs?!”
“Yeah . It was way too loose around the shoulders, so we gathered it up here and here and added straps, then there was extra cloth on the sides so we added some pleats here, and then it was too long so we rolled it up and sewed it in place . That’s all, just some really simple alterations . ”
As I give a quick explanation, the nearby women all gather round, jostling each other as they try to get a better look . Since I’m far shorter than the average child of my age, they all have to stoop down to see . Being surrounded by all these people staring down at me from above is actually a little scary . I unconsciously reach behind me and grab tightly to my mother’s skirt .
“Hmm! This doesn’t look like it was an alteration at all . It looks quite splendid!”
“Oh, let me see! Aha, I see, you could do this because Tuuli and Maïne are so different in build . That won’t work in our family…”
“Ahahah, I’d thought the sash was a bit extravagant, but it was too long so you had to double it up, didn’t you?”
As all these people are chattering amongst themselves however they like, they occasionally throw a “congratulations” or a “happy baptism day” at me, but they all feel very perfunctory .
“And this hairpin! It’s so elaborate, isn’t it? This must have been so expensive . ”
When they point out how pricey my hairpin must have been, my mother just laughs, shaking her head .
“We made it ourselves, so it wasn’t very expensive at all . Since I was able to alter this dress to fit her, I had all sorts of thread leftover that I thought I’d need in order to make her own dress, so we used that . ”
“Really? My daughter said that she’d wanted me to buy her one of these for her baptism . Do you think you could teach me how to make them?”
“You’ll need some very, very fine needles to make it work . If you can get a pair of those, the rest is easy . ”
I hadn’t expected her to interrupt at all! She’s managed to redirect everyone’s attention towards herself . Now that she’s the one getting flooded with questions, I quietly manage to slip away through the crowd of older women . Looks like having just a slightly different dress and a slightly different hairpin really did make me the target of a lot of interest after all .
Alright, escape complete .
The instant I let myself breathe a sigh of a relief, however, I immediately find myself surrounded by a ton of girls interested in both my clothes and my hairpin . These are all slightly older girls, who’d already had their baptisms by the time I was finally able to go to the forest . Aside from Tuuli, I didn’t really have any contact with these people .
“Aaah, so cute!!”
“Let me see, let me see! Whoa, Tuuli made this, right? Amazing!”
A girl who seems like she’s spent some time with Tuuli rudely grabs at my hairpin . It smoothly slides out and my hair falls down around me .
“Oh, I’m, I’m sorry! What do I do…”
She turns green, clutching my hairpin, mortified that she’d just destroyed a hairstyle that must have taken ages to put together . I hold out my hand, though, smiling sweetly .
“It’s okay! I can fix it . ”
She gives me my hairpin back, and I get to work fixing my hair . I quickly comb it out, wrap it tightly around the pin, and with a twist, secure it in place .
“Huh? What? What did you just do?! That’s no ordinary decoration, is it?”
“Eh heh heh,” says Tuuli, “It’s just a decoration, yet it can hold hair in place . My little sister is really amazing, after all!”
Tuuli, for some reason, puffs up her chest proudly . After that, everyone takes turns admiring my two-fold bow and pinching my dress here and there, all the while Tuuli triumphantly explains everything . Everyone seems to be having a lot of fun, but ultimately everything they’re saying and doing is exactly what the older women had been saying and doing too .
I somehow slip away from that crowd as well, and breathe another sigh . Now that I’m finally not surrounded by so many unfamiliar faces, I suddenly realize just how tired I am . I start heading towards Lutz, hoping to find some place to take a breather .
“Oh, Maïne! Looks like you finally got away from Mom—”
He turns around to look at me and suddenly freezes .
“Hm? What’s wrong?”
“Uh, nothing . Umm—”
“Whoa, what’s with that dress? That looks totally different from Tuuli’s . ”
Ralph appears, pushing Lutz aside .
“We just altered Tuuli’s dress from bef— gaah! Zasha, put me down!”
“Congratulations, Maïne! You’re so tiny and cute . Way cuter than cheeky Lutz here!”
“Maïne, happy baptism . That dress really suits you! But, man, you’re really tiny . You barely even look like you should be getting baptized today, huh?”
“I’ve gotten a little bigger! Not that you’d be able to tell, though!”
I’d sought out Lutz so I could finally relax, but now I’m surrounded by all of his older brothers . Lutz flushes red with embarrassment, and chases his brothers off .
“Oh no, Zasha! Maïne’s looking kinda ill!”
“Whoa, Maïne . Hang in there . The ceremony hasn’t even started, right?!”
Still held in Zasha’s arms, I let myself go limp . Zasha, who’ll come of age next year, already has the kind of stability a full-grown adult would have .
“I wanna go home…” I whine .
“We haven’t even left,” says Lutz .
The temple bells start to ring in the distance, their rhythmic chiming resounding through the town . It’s the signal that it’s time to head towards the temple . Out of all of our neighbors who use the same well we do, the only children getting baptized this season are Lutz and myself . The two of us are quickly surrounded by cheering adults .
“Maïne, let’s go! Onwards to the main street!”
With a jerk, my father lifts me out of Zasha’s arms and takes off towards the main street, at the head of the pack . After a moment, Lutz frantically chases after us . Over my father’s shoulder, I can see our families, as well as the other adults, following behind . In the street ahead, just like when Tuuli had her ceremony, I see children emerging from alleyways here and there, followed by their families . Then, crowds of spectators start pouring out, until the edges of the street are covered in people .
“Are you okay, Maïne?” asks my father .
In the distance, I can hear the sound of cheering grow louder . It seems like the procession is drawing near .
“Rest until we get you to the temple,” he says .
“Okay, I will . Thanks, Daddy . ”
It seems like my father will be carrying me all the way to the temple . After all, I can’t walk at the speed everyone else will be going at, and if I collapse in the middle of the procession, the whole thing will be ruined .
Behind the slowly-growing column of children dressed in white, their families follow behind . It looks like my father is going to try to put himself right at the end of the line of children, in the front row of parents . However, if Lutz stands here with us, he probably won’t be able to see anything but the people immediately around him .
“Lutz, do you want to go on ahead?”
“Nah, if we’re split up, then when we get to the temple I’d have to search for you, so I’ll stay here . ”
“Then, maybe you could walk near the edge? So that you can see Mister Benno’s shop on our way past . ”
“…Yeah, good idea . ”
As I watch, the procession starts to pass us by . My father steps forward, me held in his arms, and Lutz follows us, joining the procession . From my tall vantage point, I can see everything around me, unlike during Tuuli’s ceremony, when I’d been completely buried . On both sides of the main street, people are waving hugely at us, whistling shrilly, and showering us with blessings . The windows of the buildings that overlook the streets have been thrown open wide, and groups of people lean out of each, shouting congratulations down at us . The children ahead of us smile widely, filled to bursting with pride, and wave back at the people along the streets and in the windows .
“Maïne,” says my father, “make sure you wave back at everyone . You’re saying thanks . ”
“Oh, I see!”
With my father’s prompting, I let go of him with one of my arms, and, with a smile, start to wave . I try to pattern my waving after the way members of the Imperial Family back in Japan would respond to cheers with their gentle smiles .
Yes, just like that! With elegance and grace!
Even if I had the determination, this isn’t the kind of smiling or waving that I could suddenly figure out how to do on my own, but if I have something to model it after, then copying that isn’t a problem at all . Plus, in this town, there’s nobody to laugh at me for mimicking the Imperial Family . So, I smile as elegantly as I possibly can, and wave my hand in the most gentle, elegant manner that I can muster .
Whoa, people are pointing, am I standing out too much?!
I don’t know if it’s because being carried by my father makes me too conspicuous or not, but I feel like I might be attracting too much attention . But, since everyone’s looking at the procession, I don’t think there’s any way that I’m the only one drawing attention here, though .
“Maïne,” says my father, “my arm’s getting a little tired . I’m going to switch . ”
“Okay,” I reply .
While we wait in the central plaza for the processions from the other streets to arrive, my father shifts his posture . I’ve already seen everything up until this point during Tuuli’s ceremony . After everyone has gathered in the central plaza, we’ll start proceeding towards the temple that sits in front of the castle ramparts .
From the central plaza, I can see that the temple is a building made of white stone that stands taller than the city’s outer walls . In fact, it’s as tall as the castle ramparts themselves . It’s a large, splendid building, but between the long, narrow windows that line its surface and the fact that it’s built so that it’s almost jutting out from the castle walls themselves, I can’t help but wonder if it was originally used as a fortress or if it was even part of the castle walls themselves .
Hmm, although, did they really take a building designed for soldiers to use and use it for religious purposes instead? In wartime, the temple probably sends out people to provide aid, but in ordinary times, they could probably build something like that with all the offerings, donations, and whatever other ways they could squeeze money out of their believers…
Since the only knowledge that I can base any of this speculation off of is what I know from Japan, no matter how much I think about it I can’t actually be sure of anything . However, up until now, I haven’t really thought at all about this institution they call “the temple”, and haven’t seen anything that even remotely resembles its architectural style or appearance, so it’s kind of fun to try to puzzle my way around it .
Now that everyone’s gathered, we start proceeding towards the temple . From this point on, both the people along the sides of the road as well as the children who join the procession are wearing noticeably different things . It’s clear that the cloth itself is worth a lot of money, and even though the outfits are still basically all white, the cuffs and hems are all lavishly embroidered .
After we walk a little ways, Benno’s shop comes into sight . Lined up in front, I can see Benno, Mark, Otto, and Corinna, all surrounded by other familiar faces from the shop .
“Lutz, I can see Mister Benno and Mister Mark! Mister Otto and Miss Corinna are there too to congratulate us . ”
Unlike me, who can see at the same level of my father, Lutz is in the middle of the procession, so it seems like he still can’t see Benno’s shop . When he finally spots it, he grins hugely and waves . Mark waves back, and all of the other employees follow suit, all shouting out as one .
“Lutz, Maïne, congratulations!”
I’m a little startled to suddenly stand out so much, but I’m thrilled to be congratulated by everyone, and I give them a huge wave back . With my spirits as high as they are, there isn’t a trace of Imperial dignity left . Otto embraces Corinna with his left hand and waves at us with his right . Corinna waves at us as well, smiling gently .
“Make sure you stop by to say thanks on your way back from the temple,” says my father to Lutz, reaching down to ruffle his hair as he walks beside us .
The two of us, of course, nod emphatically .
“Hey, Maïne,” says Lutz . “Do you think Master Benno looks a little shocked?”
“You noticed it too, huh?”
Amidst all of his broadly smiling and waving employees, Benno stands alone, staring at us, rubbing his temples and scowling .
Hmmm, knowing Benno, isn’t that the same look he gives me whenever I do something really unnecessary? Did I somehow do something wrong again?
We draw closer and closer to the temple, and the details of the white building I’d been observing from far away slowly start to come into view . Reliefs have been carved along the walls, and on both sides of the entrance there are four statues carved of stone lined up . Whether these are statues of this city’s gods or just ordinary decorations, I can’t really say .
While my vision was occupied by the sight of the front of the procession starting to enter the temple, we’d started pass Freida’s house . The guild master and his family have all taken positions along the side of the street . I even see Ilse and Jutte there too .
The people I know call out to me, waving . I wave back at them, and yell back .
The guild master has Freida in his arms, like my father is carrying me . She looks a little shocked as she smiles and waves back at me .
“Maïne, you look wonderful!” she yells . Amongst all of the cheering, I can just barely hear her .
Before the several stairs that lead into the temple, guardsmen stand, looking imposing . They wear blue clothing underneath what appear to be simple pieces of armor . I can see fine ornamentation on it, and it is polished to the point where it gleams in the light . Coupled with the fact that their clothing is glossy as well, it seems clear that even this is ceremonial .
The enormous double doors loom over us, towering taller than two grown men . Both the doors and the thick wooden gate they’re set into, are crafted expertly and carved intricately . The gates have been opened wide, and beyond them I can see a long white stone plaza stretching ahead . At the end of it is a large, five-story building, and to either side are smaller three-story buildings, all tied together by walkways . All three buildings are built from the same white stone, but only the one in the center has been decorated with carvings and reliefs .
“Well, this is as far as parents go . Lutz, take care of Maïne for me . ”
“Yeah, leave it to me . ”
My father sets me down . I take Lutz’s hand, and we walk, at the tail end of the procession, towards the enormous doors . As even the most loudly excited kids start to quiet down as soon as we pass through the doors, the noise gradually starts to abate .
“Hey, Maïne . ”
Lutz’s voice reverberates much more than I expected . I turn to look at him . “What?” I say, keeping my voice down, leaning in close as if I’m trying to hear a secret . Lutz keeps looking forward, but leans closer to my ear, and speaks in little more than a whisper .
“That dress and that hairpin really suit you . You’re shockingly cute . ”
When everyone else praised me like that, I always just smiled back and thanked them as normal, but somehow, having this whispered into my right before entering a temple destroys my usual reaction .
“Um? Uh? Why, now…”
I instinctively look up at him, and see him smiling a genuine smile, as if he hadn’t a care in the world .
“My brothers said it before I could back there, so I figured I should wait until they weren’t around . ”
“Ah… oh… is that it? Then, thank you!”
I put one hand on my chest to try and still my leaping heart, and, holding hands, Lutz and I walk together into the temple .
Since we’re the last people through, even if nobody could hear what we were saying our entire exchange was visible to the people behind us . The fact that the crowd behind us had yelled “wow, cute! It’s like they’re getting married,” and my father had been gnashing his teeth as he saw us off is something I only learn after the ceremony is over .