Interlude: Master Benno and I
My name is Mark . I am the assistant to Master Benno, the manager of the Gilberta Company . I believe I’m just about thirty-seven years of age, if I recall correctly . When one is as old as I am, one’s age isn’t something that is clearly remembered .
I have served the Gilberta Company since its previous manager was in charge . If you include my time as an apprentice, they have employed me for thirty years of my life . The year I started apprenticing at this shop as a dalua was the year that Master Benno was born, so the years have passed amazingly quickly .
There are two types of apprenticeships amongst merchants and tradesmen: dalua and dapla . To explain it succinctly, a dalua makes a contract with the shop’s manager to simply work at the shop for a fixed term, while a dapla studies towards being able to assist in the management and affairs of the shop itself . There are substantial differences in the contract fees and the contents of the contract themselves, but at this moment there is no need for a thorough explanation .
The Gilberta Company, essentially, employs the children of other shops as dalua . The sons and daughters of merchants spend a certain amount of their lives studying at other shops . The particular duration of this stay is a matter of negotiation between the shop’s management and the child’s parents . I believe the most common arrangements are between three and four years, perhaps .
The reasons for doing this are manifold . By working at another shop, the child’s field of view is widened, they’re placed in a position where they are put to work, they’re removed from a place where they may be coddled, they make friends with other children who will eventually become the next generation of shopkeepers, and so on, but most importantly they serve as metaphorical bridges built between shops .
My original employment at the Gilberta Company was as a dalua, with the intent that when my contract expired I would return to my family’s shop . However, during my employment, my father passed away, and my eldest brother took his place as the shop’s manager . His attitudes towards commerce, however, were too different from my own, so rather than returning to my family’s shop, I chose to renew my contract as a dalua several times . Eventually, when I came of age at fifteen years old I signed a contract to become a dapla instead .
The term of apprenticeship for a dapla is eight years . In essence, when a child finishes their apprenticeship as a dalua at another shop, sometime between the ages of ten and twelve, they transition towards becoming a dapla instead . By the time they are twenty years of age, they have become capable of being entrusted with the affairs of the shop in place of the manager .
Since I had begun my apprenticeship as a dapla so late, I spent the first eight years of my adult life in renewed study . Of course, although I may say that it was eight years of study, in truth, I had already worked as a dalua at the shop for eight years, so I was already very much familiar with the operations of the Gilberta Company . Thanks to the good graces of the previous manager, I was not paid an apprentice’s wage as would be typical of a dapla, but was instead paid as much as any other adult employee of the shop . Thus, the prospect of eight additional years of study was not at all particularly painful . I was thrilled at how much better my treatment was compared to when I had been a dalua, and I threw myself into my work with zeal .
However, not all remained well . When my period of apprenticeship as a dapla was on the verge of completion, the shop’s manager unfortunately passed away . Master Benno, at the time, had only just reached adulthood himself, and there was much concern that he was not yet ready to manage the shop on his own . Of the dalua who had formed a contract with the previous manager, there was no small number who declined to reestablish their contracts under Master Benno .
As my own term of employment had not yet finished, in order to ensure that I could continue to work at the Gilberta Company, I proposed to my family that our own shop could lend their assistance to Master Benno . However, my eldest brother, who was still in charge of the shop, not only refused to offer any support, but went so far as to sneer at the death of the previous manager and sever all ties between my family’s shop and the Gilberta Corporation .
I wonder, how I might best describe the anger I felt at that moment? The instant that I swore an oath to myself to say my farewells to my family and remain at the Gilberta Company to support it and its new manager to the bitter end remains exceptionally vivid in my memory, even to this day .
When my term of apprenticeship as dapla to Master Benno ended, he asked me if I would be returning to my family’s shop . I, however, had already severed ties with my family and thus had nowhere I could go . Moreover, the shop that needed my efforts the most was still the Gilberta Company . After I expressed this to him, the two of us threw ourselves headlong into the hard work of reviving the company . We quickly returned it to its original state, and shortly thereafter were able to grow it yet larger . The work I did in the shadows to use my own family’s shop as a mere stepping stone along the path to the Gilberta Company’s resurgence is a story best left untold .
The eldest daughter of the previous manager, Miss Corinna, became married . Master Benno, however, lost all interest in marriage after his lover, Liese, passed away . I as well never married; while I was so absorbed in my work, my marriageable years passed me by without my noticing . Life, it seems, never goes as one might think it would .
Because our work is going so well, and because Master Benno has decided that Miss Corinna’s children will inherit the shop, I can now say that our days are free of any problems that might imperil the future of the shop .
Now then; as there is a meeting today which must be attended by the owners of all large shops, Master Benno is currently absent . As such, each of the important matters that need immediate decisions made have been brought to me .
“Mister Mark, the rinsham workshop has contacted us to let us know that their shipment will be delayed,” says one employee .
“I see . The shipment of leve they were expecting was delayed as well, so it’s only to be expected . Please contact the foreman and ask him to have whatever they have already completed delivered immediately, and to finish the rest of it as soon as they can . ”
“Um, Mister Mark,” says another employee . “We’ve received a commission request for Miss Corinna from Baron Bron’s daughter . ”
“It’s rare for her to commission a garment in the summer . We should hurry, I think . Please deliver that to Miss Corinna immediately . ”
Some time passes, slightly more busily than usual, after which Master Benno returns to the shop, carrying Maïne in his arms .
“Mark, let’s talk . Come!”
He walks quickly towards his office in the back, eyes blazing with determination . Maïne looks perplexed . Lutz hurries along behind them, out of breath . I suddenly have a bad feeling that I’m about to be handed another unreasonable request .
So far, I’ve had to procure the materials and ingredients for the rinsham workshop, run around like mad to ensure a market for the rinsham would exist so that I could provide guarantees to the craftsmen, scour the entire town to find the tools and materials that Maïne and Lutz requested as part of their paper-making experiments, aid in the efforts to reduce tension with the parchment makers’ association, and effectively do absolutely everything to establish the full-scale workshop for paper production… Now that I think about it, it seems that this last year has seen quite a few unreasonable tasks forced onto me . What might this next thing be now?
“Mark, we’re going to train cooks to make desserts! Get ready!”
Train cooks to make desserts? The suggestion that has just flown from his mouth has absolutely nothing to do with any of our business thus far . I have an astoundingly bad feeling about this . There is no doubt: the abruptness of this must have come as the result of something Maïne has done . As for Master Benno, his eyes are glimmering with determination as he digs through stacks of wooden boards, verifying something or other . I am pleased to see him so energetic, but at the same time I feel like this may have terrible impact on those around him .
“When you speak of dessert cooks, what in the world do you plan to have them make?”
“Ask Maïne . ”
Ah, so this truly is Maïne’s doing? It seems that, somehow, another difficult problem has reared its head .
Originally, the Gilberta Company was founded so that Master Benno’s great-grandmother, Gilberta, could sell her wares . Essentially, the wife would make her wares at the company workshop, while the husband handled the sales . The husband’s name has always been the one registered as the owner of the company, but the true line of ownership has ultimately been matrilineal .
The Gilberta Company’s core clientele is the rich people of the city, but the designs that Master Benno’s mother came up with attracted the attention of some of the lower-ranked nobility . As such, the company has been able to gain a small amount of influence in noble society . Its ability to do business with the nobility has only come about within the past decade . It is a very recent thing . As Miss Corinna’s fashion sense continues to hold some interest in noble society, the Gilberta Company’s position could be said to be very stable .
In other words, the Gilberta Company trades in clothing, accessories, and other such beauty products .
The rinsham that Maïne brought to us is an excellent beauty product that has become very highly valued among our clients, and the hairpins that Miss Corinna’s workshop will soon be making have already gathered quite some interest amongst the people of the city . Miss Corinna herself has expressed profound joy over being granted the rights to produce the hairpins, saying that if one were to adjust the quality of the thread and the designs, it is likely that they would be well-received amongst the wives and daughters of the nobility .
However, on the other hand, the plant-based paper that Maïne brought to us caused the Gilberta Company to stray somewhat from its path, and the training of dessert cooks is something entirely different than any of the business that we’ve been a part of to date . Just what in the world could Master Benno be thinking, I wonder?
“What I’m trying to tell you,” says Maïne, “is that if you don’t have any sugar, then this entire thing is pointless!”
“Even if they don’t have any sugar they can still bake bread . That’s good practice for using an oven, isn’t it?”
“But bread workshops already exist, which means that a bread-maker’s association already exists, which means that we’re going to have another battle over people’s vested interests! Even if it’s just practice! And on top of that, weren’t you planning on hiring away people who already work at bread workshops, too?!”
“If you’re always so concerned about vested interests, then how can you ever get anything new off the ground?!”
Master Benno sits in his chair . Across from him, Maïne is on a chair of her own, standing on her knees so that her eye level is the same as his . Watching the two of them go back and forth like this reminds me strongly of how he used to argue with Miss Liese . I wonder if it would be better to describe them as being on too good terms for a quarrel to shake, or as them having such trust in each other to the point where they can have fights like this without caring too much?
It has seemed that, as of late, Master Benno has never been quite so lively as he is when he is fighting with Maïne over matters of business . Perhaps it’s because cornering a skillful speaker like Maïne in an argument gives him the same joy as when he was able to best Miss Liese in one of there quarrels . This, incidentally, did not happen very often .
“Lutz,” I say, “perhaps we should leave those two to their own devices . Could you please describe to me what happened to bring this about? Why did Master Benno suddenly decide that he needed to train cooks to make desserts?”
“Ah, yes,” he replies .
Lutz, who had been staring at the the two of them as they fought, startles, straightens up, and begins to explain to me what had happened . Since he is so used to being thrown around at Maïne’s whims, his mind is remarkably agile at switching to a new focus . He is capable of quietly absorbing any information thrown at him and has a very patient personality . He could be described as someone with talents that are hard to come by . He smoothly recounts the events of the day in an easy-to-understand order, as if he had done this all his life .
According to his explanation, after the meeting at the merchants’ guild, a tasting party was held for pound cake, during which it seems that Master Benno got into a fight with the guild master’s cook . He declared, says Lutz, that if he does not have a cook capable of making sweets, then there’s nothing stopping him from training one himself .
Master Benno does not like to lose, and it seems that in this case he was simply unable to bear it .
“What Maïne was saying,” says Lutz, “is that in order to make desserts, one needs a cook capable of skillfully using an oven . They must also have an enquiring mind and not be afraid to spend a lot of time experimenting with the recipe to make it more delicious . Master Benno was originally thinking that he would be able to find someone who had already mastered the use of ovens at a bread workshop, but Maïne said that since they would wind up making things other than bread, it seems that unless they’re enthusiastic something new, it wouldn’t go particularly well…”
After Lutz finishes explaining the circumstances, I finally start to see the points of compromise that could be reached in the argument between Master Benno and Maïne .
“It seems that Master Benno has determined that these desserts would be suitable for selling to the nobility, then?”
“Lutz, you cannot say ‘but’ . When Master Benno is determined to do something, we have no choice but to follow along . ”
This may reflect my own particular partiality towards Master Benno, but I believe that he has an excellent sense for matters of business . I cannot recall any instances where he has decided something will sell and, after pursuing that goal with all of his power, failed to make a profit .
I clap my hands together twice, drawing both Master Benno and Maïne’s attention to me .
“Master Benno, when you say that you are going to be training dessert cooks, might I ask how long you believe that would take? Would such an action be profitable?”
He quietly nods . “…Yeah, it’d be profitable . I’m planning on hiring someone who’s already able to use an oven from a bread workshop and using them to teach other people, so that shouldn’t take that much time . ”
His eyes are full of self confidence, and his face shows that he’s not seeing even the tiniest sliver of a chance for failure .
“As Maïne has just said that one cannot make her desserts without sugar, you must believe it is possible for you to acquire some, then?”
“It’s been a while since I talked to my relatives, but if I reach out to them, I think I’ll be able to manage something, even if it’ll be a little bit tough . I think Uncle Emil might have a bit of influence in Central? I could also have Otto get in touch with his friends from his trading days . In the meantime, I can have the workers make bread in order to get them used to working with ovens . ”
“Hm,” I reply . “it certainly does not seem entirely impossible . ”
It seems that because it is impossible to secure victory when there are fundamentally zero chances for success, Master Benno has been considering how he might acquire sugar from the moment Maïne had started talking about desserts .
Arranging for a workshop and purchasing ovens is a tedious and complicated process, but is not exceptionally difficult . It does seem that, after all, the most significant problem that must be dealt with will be negotiating with those businesses that already have vested interest in this field . I dare say that the guild master will likely have objections of his own, as well . Thinking back on all of the strife that had happened with the parchment makers’ association when we wished to start selling plant-based paper makes my eyes narrow . These disputes that have happened over these things outside of our core business, like making paper or training cooks, are exceedingly difficult compared to the rest of my work .
“Maïne,” I say, “might you have some idea as to how we might avoid strife with the bread makers’ association, similar to the solution you came up with to ensure we did not encroach on the profits of the parchment makers’ association?”
“Huh?! You want me to think that up?!”
Master Benno is a man who prefers to solve his problems by breaking through them with sheer force and fundamentally dislikes compromise . Maïne, who is unskilled at direct conflict and thus avoids them as much as possible, is much more suited to finding a good compromise . Not to mention, the training of dessert cooks is so far out of my area of expertise that I don’t have the background information required to find any points of common ground .
“Of the four of us here, I believe you must be the one most familiar with the topic of dessert cooks, are you not? Because you are thus much more suited than Master Benno to find points of common ground, please, help us determine if there is any view that would allow both parties to still profit . ”
I am fully aware that this is an unreasonable demand to be making of a young girl who has only barely just been baptized, but I, along with Master Benno, do not think of Maïne as an ordinary little girl .
“Eh?! Umm… common ground? I mean, you’re, kinda putting me on the spot, but, uh… if you want both sides to profit, umm…”
“Let me see… perhaps there might be some other kind of bread besides the bread being produced now, or something one might use an oven for besides making bread…”
As she broods, I offer her a couple of suggestions, reframing the ideas from her paper compromise so that they might apply to bread . Nothing at all comes to my mind, of course, but since Maïne is a constant font of strange ideas, I believe that there must be something that she will be able to think of .
Confirming my hypothesis, Maïne quickly turns her head to face me, her dark blue hair swinging behind her . Her golden eyes glimmer as she shoots her left hand straight up into the air .
“There is something! I’ve really been craving ‘Italian’ food!”
She’s brought out a word I’ve never heard before . Both Master Benno and Lutz tilt their heads, looking at her funnily, but Maïne seems to not care in the slightest as she launches into the topic .
“Even if we don’t have any sugar, then if there’s a style of cooking that uses an oven, then that’s still good practice, right? So if we can make things like ‘pizza’, ‘gratin’ dishes, or ‘lasagna’, then that’ll definitely work . …Ah! Also, also, you can cook meat in an oven, and also make things like ‘quiches’ and ‘pies’, too . Aaah, I can’t wait!”
Maïne cheerfully lists off name after name of possible dishes, but based on the fact that she mentioned cooking meat in the oven, I can’t imagine that the rest of them are any sort of dessert . She looks off into the distance, eyes sparkling, looking so entranced by the idea of food that she might start drooling at any moment . Lutz, standing next to me, lets out a small groan .
“Uh oh . She’s going wild again . ”
“Oh?” I reply .
“She’s imagining something that she really wants . Once she sets her mind on something, she blazes forward at full speed… I don’t know if Master Benno’s going to be able to win, huh?”
The way he’s groaning makes it easy to understand that Maïne’s rampages often involve forcefully dragging him around to do things . She and Master Benno are very much alike, it seems . Once they have an objective in mind, they blaze directly towards it, perhaps not even realizing the hardships they may cause others around them in the process .
“Mister Benno,” she says, “let’s just give up on desserts . We should make a ‘restaurant’… ah, um, a kind of high-class place where you can eat food . ”
“Hey, wait! You can’t just declare that we’re giving up like that!”
“Oh, once we get sugar, we can also make ‘Italian’ desserts there too . It’s fine! Let’s make ‘Italian’ . ”
“What about that is fine?!”
As Lutz feared, Master Benno appears to be losing . I realize just how similar Lutz and my situations are, with how he is dragged around by Maïne and how I am dragged around by Master Benno . I shed a tear for him, in my mind .
“Lutz, you must strengthen your heart . Do not let yourself simply be dragged around . You need to learn to predict when she might start to run wild . If you can turn things around before you get dragged into them, your life will be much easier . ”
“There’s a knack for everything, even getting dragged into things . ”
Lutz looks up at me, his green eyes shining with pure admiration . Looking down at him, I silently swear to myself that I will train him to the best of my capabilities so that no matter what unreasonable things he and Maïne find themselves doing, he will be able to bear it fully .
The entire time that the two of us were sharing our moment of appreciation for each others’ hardships, Maïne has not stopped talking . She is currently describing reason after reason as to why establishing an eatery is superior to simply starting a workshop .
“What I’m saying is that if you can cook anything, not just sweets, then that’s way more marketable, you know? And if you’re offering the food that the workers make for practice to real customers, then not only is the food not going to waste, but the workers themselves will be way more motivated, right? And then if you get to a point where they can start making sweets, then before you start selling them to the nobility, then you can have your customers sample them first, and use their feedback to make it even better!”
As Maïne lists her arguments, with levels of both persuasiveness and expression that one wouldn’t think would come out of the mouth of a child, Lutz looks up at me, eyebrows lowered, looking concerned .
“I… when I hear how passionate she is, I can’t help but start thinking that she might actually be right,” he says .
I hum thoughtfully, nodding . “The ability to make someone want to buy what you’re selling is a much sought-after talent amongst merchants . ”
Lutz shrugs, giving me a small smile . “In Maïne’s case though, it’s a talent she doesn’t actually use at all unless it’s for something she wants . ”
“Take care to watch how she says things to convince others of what she’s saying . Remember, everything around you can be an example to learn from . ”
The persuasive power to make your opponent believe what you do is a very attractive ability, but ultimately, if Lutz is to manage a shop in the future, he cannot live a life of merely being dragged along by Maïne’s zeal .
“All that aside, Lutz . Is Maïne all right? I can’t help but wonder if she might be a little toozealous…”
“Aah! Maïne! Calm down a little!”
As soon as he says that, Maïne stops talking, and flops over onto the table, resting her head on its surface . It seems that she really has overdone it . Even still, it seems that she has yet more to say . While laying on the top, she starts mumbling, continuing her previous thought .
“There’s a huge difference between what rich people eat and what the nobility eat, you know . If you can provide tasty food, I think that people will absolutely come to eat it, even if it’s a little pricey . Definitely . ”
“A huge difference? Where in the world would you have learned about what nobles eat… the guild master, huh?”
“See? You’re interested too, aren’t you?” She chuckles gleefully . “They’re really different . But, you still have a chance . I’ve still got plenty of information that I haven’t given over to Miss Ilse yet, after all . ”
I can tell that her words have swayed Master Benno significantly, but at this point, he should not be making any firm decisions . He needs to step back, calm down, and go over Maïne’s proposal with careful, deliberate thought . If there are so many points in this plan’s favor, then there must be points against it as well .
“As you say,” I interject, “we must carefully consider whether or not we truly need to train workers to be able to make desserts . Maïne, thank you very much for this wonderful suggestion . It is an enormous help . Won’t you return home and take care of your own needs, though? You must be quite tired after pushing Master Benno around like that . ”
“Oooh, Mister Mark,” she says, still slumped over the table, “your kindness always goes straight to my heart . ”
I instruct Lutz to ensure that Maïne makes it home safely, then see the two of them out of the shop . After I see them off, I return to the back office, to find Master Benno slumped over like Maïne was just a moment ago, his face buried in a pile of documents .
“Seriously . That girl’s just full of surprises, isn’t she . ”
“You are very right . I did not expect in the slightest that her plan to avoid friction with the bread makers’ association would have turned into that . ”
Master Benno scratches his head, rustling his hair, as he slowly sits upright . He looks at me, a sharp glint in his reddish-brown eyes .
“…What do you think, Mark?”
“I do believe that it would be easier to establish an eatery than it would be to train workers to make desserts . With an eatery, we don’t risk starting any conflicts with the bread makers’ association . Instead, we would have to consider how we would deal with the food vendors’ association, but if we properly follow the processes in place, I do not think that the act of establishing the shop itself would be particularly difficult . ”
“Agreed . ”
Maïne’s proposal is for a high-class place to eat . A shop such as that should not disturb the much cheaper vendors that operate in the town marketplace, so I am comfortable considering that the food vendors’ association will not put forth any significant opposition .
“An eatery isn’t a bad idea . A lot of rich people already employ cooking girls, but those girls are, fundamentally, commoners . So, even if you throw a lot of money at them, all that’ll happen is that you’ll be able to eat a lot of food . The actual food itself isn’t going to change all that much . The food the nobility eat uses recipes that can’t be made unless you have a very good cook working in a noble house, so everything of course tastes different, and there’s a difference in variety . Even if it’s somewhat expensive, considering the subject matter and the flavors involved, I believe a such a shop might be successful . ”
I have never myself had the opportunity to eat the food of noblemen, so I do not have a clear understanding of what’s at play here . Master Benno, however, has eaten it a number of times that could be counted on one hand, as a result of being invited to a meal by a nobleman on several occasions . If Master Benno says so, then I have no doubt that there are significant differences between the food that the nobility eat and the food that merely very wealthy people eat .
“However, how does Maïne know recipes for noble food? That girl’s only been at the guild master’s house for a few days total . Why does she know so many different varieties of recipes? How can she just produce recipes that require an oven off the top of her head?”
“Because she is Maïne, sir . ”
I sigh as I answer his question . He seems dissatisfied by my answer, but I have no better explanation to give .
“Mark, you just—”
“It’s pointless to waste time thinking on questions we cannot answer . Weren’t you the one who said that it doesn’t matter who she was as long as she was useful to us merchants, back when she sold us the rinsham? Even after all this time, we’ve learned nothing new . It’s a far better use of our time to instead think of ways to ensure that we do not let her precious information leak out to anyone else . ”
I shrug my shoulders and shake my head . Benno glances away, as if he felt bad about something, then claps his hands, awkwardly and abruptly changing the topic of conversation .
“Ah, well, sure, but… I’ve been thinking of adopting Lutz . What do you think, Mark?”
“It would seem that Maïne is having quite the influence on you, sir, if you are blurting out ideas that you haven’t actually thought through . ”
“Huuhhh? Well that’s rude! Don’t lump me in with that thoughtless little kid!”
No matter how threateningly he shouts at me, I can’t imagine this idea of adopting Lutz to be anything but thoughtless . If it isn’t, what in the world could he possibly be thinking? If Master Benno, the manager of a shop, is seeking an adoptive son, perhaps he is looking to find an heir amongst the people around him . This would be troublesome for him to do so, however, as it would sow the seeds of strife with Miss Corinna, who has yet to bear a child .
“Well then, if you truly have a reason as to why you would propose something that would cause such great discord between you and Miss Corinna, would you perhaps explain your careful thinking?”
He sighs . “You’re just going to pick this apart, aren’t you,” he grumbles, before explaining why he wants to adopt Lutz .
“First, if we want to keep our connections with Maïne, we absolutely need to secure Lutz . You’re with me so far, right?”
“You’re quite right . ”
I already am aware that, because of the magical contract that stipulates that the things Maine’s Workshop produces will be sold through Lutz, keeping hold of him is very much necessary . Additionally, as Lutz is currently employed as a dalua, when his period of employment is over, if he were to have the inclination to go to somebody else’s shop, he would be entirely capable of doing so . It would seem that preventing this from happening is Master Benno’s objective .
“I was thinking I could hire him on as a dapla, but I’ve been thinking that if I want someone that I can definitely trust with the shop, then maybe adopting him to carve out a more solid position would be a better idea . ”
“Wouldn’t hiring him as a dapla be enough, in that case? If you truly need someone you can definitely trust, then when Miss Corinna gives birth to a daughter, would you not be able to have them marry?”
Rather than raising him as an adopted son, giving him a thorough education as a dapla, then having him marry into the family would cause far less strife, I believe . Master Benno, however, merely shrugs, waving his hand dismissively .
“That’s not going to work with Lutz . He’s only got eyes for Maïne . Either way, Lutz’s original dream was to become a trader . He’s been looking for a chance to leave the city . And that’s even more reason why I think that tying him down to this shop is going to be really difficult . ”
“…A trader, you say? That’s…”
This is quite surprising . It’s very rare for someone born and raised in a city to dream of becoming a trader .
Benno shrugs his shoulders, quirking up the corners of his mouth . “I’ve been thinking that the main reason for that was because his life at home was so constrained, but honestly, if he didn’t have Maïne tying him down, there’d be nothing keeping him here . There’s no doubt about how Maïne’s going to be swallowed up by the nobility in the near future . I don’t know if it’s going to be the nobility in this city, or if she’s going to get tangled up with some other city’s nobility, or even get called all the way out to Central, but… I don’t know just what the odds are, but there’s a good chance that she’s going to leave this city at some point or another . ”
Lutz is currently an apprentice under Master Benno’s patronage, and he has neither knowledge nor anything else that he can use . However, by the time he comes of age, he will have learned quite a lot, and most likely come to realize his own worth . If by this point Maïne has been removed from the city and their magical contract rendered meaningless, it’s entirely possible that he might leave for a shop in another city .
“When Maïne leaves this city, I want to be in a position to follow her with Lutz in tow . ”
My eyes narrow slightly . “Why would you go that far, sir?”
He gives me a slightly troubled smile . “The actual successor to the Gilberta Company is Corinna . I’m just a middleman . Maïne says she wants to make books, but that’s not what this shop does . This isn’t going to be anytime soon, but I’m thinking that maybe I what I really want is to leave the shop to Corinna and Otto and build my own, separate shop . ”
Ownership of the Gilberta Company is in fact matrilineal, so he is correct: the ones to which the shop should be entrusted are Corinna and Otto . However, I can’t quite make the connection between his desire for independence and his intentions for Lutz . As I look at him curiously, he sighs . “Mark can keep a secret,” he mutters to himself, and a nostalgic smile floats across his face .
“Lately, when I’ve been watching Maïne and Lutz, I’ve been remembering how I used to be . When my dad was still alive, when I didn’t have anything to worry about in my life… like how I used to be when I was together with Liese . ”
The way Lutz and Maïne interact with each other is very reminiscent of the way Miss Liese and Master Benno used to laugh together . I can understand, somewhat, what he is feeling . I can almost see, in the corner of my eye, images of the two of them playing grown-up in the back of the shop or sneakily planning some sort of mischief .
“Looking at those two made me remember . I had a dream, once, before my dad died and I put all of my efforts to keeping this shop and my family safe…”
“Ah yes, your dream of becoming a merchant respected around the whole world . ”
As soon as I say that, Master Benno’s eyes go wide, falling into such a state of disarray that he appears, quite frankly, amusing .
He points accusingly at me . “Wh… why do you remember that?!”
“Because it was your dream, sir . ”
I do not want this to be taken lightly . I have known Master Benno ever since he was born . As I puff my chest out with pride, he clutches his head, moaning . He is quite terrible at dealing with people who know all of the little details about his childish past . I’m very aware of this . After a moment of continuing to hold his head and grumble, he clears his throat, as to free himself from his momentary embarrassment .
“If I can keep implementing every one of the things that Maïne’s got in her head, I can actually achieve that dream, can’t I?”
“…This may sound pretentious, but if you indeed can realize everything that Maïne describes, then you truly will gain the respect of the world . ”
“So, to start, I’m going to go to the cities my brothers and sisters are in, get paper-making workshops set up there, and start trying to distribute this vegetable-based paper . …Mark, what will you do?”
He looks up at me, head tilted slightly to the side, leaning back in his chair with his fingers laced together in front of him . Seeing him stare at me, waiting for an answer, almost makes me laugh out loud . After all, when the shop’s previous manager had died, my educational period had ended, and he’d asked me whether or not I would be leaving the shop, he’d worn exactly the same expression on his face .
“I think that Theo might be much better at dealing with Mister Otto than I would be . I’ll come with you . After all, Lutz will need training, won’t he?”
“…Alright then . ”
Seeing him sigh in relief brings a nostalgic smile to my face .
Master Benno had forgotten his dream, replacing it with a stubborn desire to protect his family and his shop . Maïne is pushing him into motion, making him form a paper makers’ association, making him get ready to start even more new ventures . Just like Otto had said before, Maïne, to Master Benno, is the goddess of water, bringing about the end of a long, long winter .
And thanks to her, I have remembered my own dreams as well .
If Maïne is his goddess of water, than I want to be, now more than ever, his god of fire, helping him grow and flourish .