Paper: Impossible to acquire .
As I cling to Ralph’s back, my legs dangling, the gates of the outer wall come into view .
The outer wall was built to protect the town, so it’s considerably taller than other buildings nearby . It’s about two or three stories tall by Japanese standards, and it’s quite thick . It has gates at each of the cardinal directions, at which it seems that several soldiers are stationed in order to check incoming travelers .
The gate ahead is the south gate, and I can see several soldiers standing there . One of them is probably my father . I can’t tell which one is him, but it looks like Tory knows . She clutches the bundle close to her chest, and runs forward, waving her arm .
“Father!” she calls .
Our father looks surprised . “Tory, what’s the matter?”
“You left something at the house!” says Tory, beaming as she hands over the bundle . “We came to bring it to you . ”
Tory, you’re so kind . You’re too kind! If it were me talking to my previous father, I wouldn’t have said anything nearly so kind . My true feelings would probably have slipped out, something like “Mom would be pissed if she found out you’d left this at the house, and that would be a huge bother . Did you forget what happened this morning?”
“Ahh, I’m saved!” he says, reaching out to take the bundle with a sigh of relief . “…Hm? Did you leave Maine by herself?!”
Father scowls . It seems that he hadn’t noticed anyone except for his beloved daughter Tory, so he had completely ignored Ralph’s group and missed me, his other beloved daughter, clinging to Ralph’s back . Tory shakes her head vigorously, and points over at Ralph .
“Nuh uh, she came too! Look, she’s riding on Ralph’s back . ”
“Huh? Oh! I see . ” He glances around, feeling a little embarrassed that he hadn’t noticed us, then pats Ralph on the head . “Sorry you had to carry her all this way, Ralph . ”
“We were going to the forest, so it was on our way,” says Ralph, looking a little bothered by how my father is ruffling his hair . He sets me down, then goes to collect the stuff that Fey and Lutz were holding for him .
“Thanks, Ralph,” says my father . “Lutz and Fey, you too . ”
We see off Ralph and his friends as they head through the gate on their way to the forest, then Tory and I head to the gate’s waiting room . The wall here is thick enough that you could probably put a three meter by four meter room1 in it . This room isn’t nearly that large, so it looks like there’s both a waiting room and a room for the night watch in here . The waiting room is very simple, with a table, a few chairs, and a cabinet .
I look around excitedly, feeling like I’m visiting a foreign country for the first time . After a little while, one of my father’s coworkers brings us some water .
“You two are such good kids, bringing your dad something he forgot . ”
It took us about twenty minutes, going at Tory’s pace, to get from our home to the gate, so I’m incredibly grateful to finally get some water . I gulp back all of the water in the wooden cup I’ve been given, then let out a huge sigh .
“Ahhh, delicious! I’ve been revived!”
“Maine,” says Tory with a frown, “didn’t you barely walk at all?”
At those words, everyone starts laughing . I try to look upset, but I really can’t object since everyone saw Ralph carrying me in . I help myself to another cup of water as everyone laughs at me .
Another soldier enters the room . He grabs a wooden box, which seems to be some kind of toolbox, from the shelves, then immediately heads back out . Unintentionally, I frown a little at how hectic things seem to be .
“Daddy,” I ask, “Did something happen?”
“It’s probably just someone who needs special attention coming through the gates . Nothing to worry about . ”
My father may be waving his hand dismissively while saying not to pay it any mind, but I can’t help but worry a little when I see a busy situation like that . Are things really okay?
I mean, this is a gate . The gatekeepers are riled up, you know? Isn’t this a danger flag?
In contrast to my worries, Tory is just sitting there, looking like there’s no danger at all, with her head tilted to one side . “What kind of person needs special attention?” she asks . “Have I seen them before?”
It looks like Tory can’t think of anyone who would rile up the guards like this, even though she travels through this gate fairly often . Our father rubs thoughtfully at the stubble on his chin for a moment before answering .
“Uhhh, perhaps its someone who looks like a bad person who committed a crime . Or, maybe, it’s an arriving aristocrat that we need to inform the lord about . ”
If he says that someone looks like a criminal, then it seems like they pass judgement just based on how someone looks . Although, if I think about how things work around here, it seems unlikely that they have any real way to transmit information around, so they probably have no choice but to stop and investigate every suspicious-looking individual .
“We’ll have them wait in another room while the higher-ups decide if it’s okay to let them into the city . ”
Ahh, so that means that there must be several waiting rooms around the gate . I get it now . Surely, there must be significant differences between the rooms for the nobility and rooms for criminals, from the size of them to the quality of the furniture . Life’s unfair, no matter what world you’re in .
While I contemplate these things, the young soldier returns, bringing back the wooden box as well as some sort of cylindrical, pipe-like item . There wasn’t even a trace of any tension on his face, like you’d expect from an emergency situation . Looks like my father was right, this is no big deal .
The soldier, with cargo in his left hand, walks up to my father, raises his right fist, then thumps the left side of his chest twice . My father stands up, straightens himself, and returns the gesture . This is probably this world’s salute .
“Otto, I’ll leave the report to you,” says my father, with a stern, commanding expression that I’ve never seen at home .
“Ohh,” I murmur, appreciatively . I haven’t seen him do anything but laze around, so this is really fresh . His expression is sharp, and he actually looks really cool .
“Count Lowenwalt wishes for the rampart gates to be opened, sir,” says Otto .
“Has been verified, sir . ”
“Right, he can pass . ”
Otto salutes once more, then sits down in the chair across from me . He sets the wooden box down on the table next to him, then uses both hands to spread the other thing out . It isn’t as smooth as paper, and it has some sort of smell to it, but my eyes snap to it immediately .
I don’t know if it really is parchment, but it definitely is some kind of paper that has properties like it was made out of animal skin . I can’t read anything it says, but there are words written there using the alphabet of this world . Before my staring eyes, Otto takes from the box an inkwell and a reed pen, then starts to write something down on the parchment .
Whoooooooooooa!! Writing! There is a person who can write here!! This is the first civilized man I have met in this world . I absolutely want him to teach me how to read this language!
As I think, my gaze is fixed on Otto’s hands as if I were going to devour them . My dad places a hand on my head and ruffles my hair . “What is it?” he asks .
I look up at my father, then point at the parchment-looking thing . If I don’t figure out what it’s called, I won’t be able to ask about it in the future . “Daddy, Daddy! What’s that?” I ask .
“Ah, that’s parchment!” he says . “It’s a paper made from the skin of goats or sheep . ”
“What’s this black stuff?”
“That’s ink, and that’s a pen . ”
As I thought! I’ve found paper and ink, so I can make books . I’m so happy that I could start dancing, but I try to stay calm . I clasp my hands tightly in front of me, look endearingly up at my father, and start begging with all my might .
“Hey, Daddy . Can I have that?”
“No, Maine, that’s not a kid’s toy . ”
Even though I’d tried to project every last mote of adorable little girl charm, he rejected my pleas immediately . Of course, just because I’ve been shot down, doesn’t mean I’m not going to stop trying .
When it comes to books, I clamp down on them like a snapping turtle and stick to them like gum on a shoe . You really shouldn’t underestimate my adhesion!
“I wanna write like this! I really do . Pleeeease!”
“You just can’t, Maine! You don’t even know how to write . ”
Certainly, if you don’t know how to write, then you don’t need any paper or ink . For this very reason, now’s my greatest chance to twist my father’s words back around .
“Ah, I’ll learn if you teach me! If I learn, then can I have that?”
The younger, lower-ranked soldier can write, so it’s likely that my father, who seems to be his superior, can write as well . I never would have thought that someone who knew how to write would live in a house without a single sheet of paper, but I’m happy to have been proven wrong . If my father can teach me how to read and write, then reading the books of this world is no longer an impossible dream .
As I sit there with a huge smile plastered over my face, feeling like I’ve gotten one step closer to realizing my ambitions, someone lets out a muffled snort . I look around, trying to find the source, and see Otto barely holding in his laughter, as if our father-daughter conversations about pen and ink are almost too much to bear .
“Ahahaha, ‘teach me’, she says… heh heh, sir, aren’t you pretty bad at writing?”
With a sharp snap, cracks spiderwebbed throughout my ambition . My smile freezes on my face, like someone’s dumped a bucket of ice water all over me .
“Huh? Daddy, can you not write?”
“I can read, more-or-less, and write too . My job involves paperwork, so I need to know how to read, but I’ve never really needed to know any characters outside of the ones I use at work . Just enough so that I can write down the names of people who come from far away, after I hear them . ”2
“Ohhh…,” I sigh, staring at my father with a sullen expression on my face as he makes his excuses . So, it seems that my father’s literacy level is such that he’s only got a basic grasp of the alphabet to the point where if his class assignment was to write out his friend’s names then he could . The young Otto, though, said “pretty bad”, so he must be on the level of a first grader, who’d still make some mistakes with his classmate’s names . To be frank: worthless .
“Hey now, don’t look at your father like that!” says Otto, the person who caused my opinion of my father to drop so dramatically, with a nervouse look on his face as he scolds me . Then, as if he’s covering for my father, he starts to explain the duties of a soldier .
“The job of a soldier is to keep the peace in the town, but when there’s big events that the nobility put on, the knights usually are the ones who get the written instructions, and for smaller events all of the coordination is done verbally . We don’t really see a lot of different characters . Just being able to write people’s names is enough . ”
My father had a chance to pull himself together while Otto was covering for him, and has pulled his pride back together . It seems like my unimpressed stare hurt his feelings unexpectedly much .
“Barely anyone knows how to read amongst the peasantry, except for the village leaders . I’m pretty amazing already, you know!” he says, his chest puffed out .
“Whoa, you really are amazing, Daddy! Can I have this? Pleeeease?”
You’re amazing, Daddy, so you want to give your beloved daughter with a hundred sheets of paper as a present, with fanfare . I stare into his eyes as I layer on the extortion, but he wavers a little and retreats a step .
“……One page would make an entire month’s wages disappear, so giving it to a kid…”
What did you say?! An entire month’s wages?! Wh… how much could parchment cost?! This… even though I’m not a child, this is not the kind of thing that you should dangle just out of my reach!
The reason why there’s no paper in the house, the reason why there’s no bookstores in this town, they’re all the same . The price just isn’t one that us commoners can afford to pay . No matter how much I beg for paper, my family barely makes enough money to keep us fed . Nobody’s going to buy me paper .
I drop my shoulders, a defeated look on my face . Otto pats me gently on the head, trying to cheer me up .
“Paper’s not the kind of thing you can find in stores that commoners can enter, anyway . It’s the kind of thing that’s only used by the nobility and the people they work with, like important merchants and government officials, so it’s not something that kids can use anyway . If you want to learn how to write, why not use a slate? How about I give you the one I used to use when I was just learning?”
“Really? That would be great!”
I immediately nod, and graciously make arrangements to get the slate . I’ve waited so long, and I really want to learn how to write too, so I’m going to figure out how to press Otto into serving as my teacher .
“Thanks, Mr . Otto! Please, could you teach me how to write? I’m counting on you!”
As I pressure Otto with my adorable smile, my father looks back and forth between the two of us with a pitiful expression on his face, but I’m not paying attention .
Being able to practice writing, getting a slate to write on, these things are enough to set my heart soaring, but what I truly want, books, require paper . After all, you can’t preserve anything on a slate . A slate is something that you write on and erase many times, like a chalkboard . It’s great for practicing how to write, but you can’t use it as a book .
It hadn’t even crossed my mind that paper might be something that just wasn’t sold to commoners . Hmm, how can I make any books if I don’t have any paper? If I can’t just acquire any paper, what should I do? What can I do?
Can’t I just make it myself?
Before I make any books, I’m going to need to start by making my own paper . However, making paper really isn’t all that simple . I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that I can just pass off as a kid playing around .
Grr, the road to books is long!!