New Product Development
The orphanage is off to a great start .
Ever since the cooking class, they’ve been making a whole lot of soup, and as they’ve been getting more and more used to the process, they’re gradually getting faster at it, and their knife technique is improving, too . Every once in a while, one of the children tries to add in some weird ingredients, but the other kids all immediately jump in to stop them, which is pretty funny to see .
I think everyone’s starting to seem calmer these days, maybe because their bellies are fuller than they were before .
By now, they’ve gotten settled into a new daily routine: in the mornings, they do their work in the temple, and in the afternoons, they clean the orphanage and make soup . Luckily, in a few days, Tuuli’s day off will line up exactly with my father’s . Benno has just gotten back from the trip to another town that he’s been on for the past several days, so I head over to talk to him and ask him to lend Lutz to me .
“Mister Benno! Please lend me Lutz in a few days!”
“Sure, but you’re mine the day after that . ”
“…What’s that disturbing look in your eyes?”
“Entirely your imagination . ”
…It most certainly is not .
His even stare puts me a little on guard, but since I nevertheless got permission to borrow Lutz, my next step is to get Tuuli and my father on board .
“Could you please take the kids from the orphanage to the forest?” I ask them . “Dad, if you’re with them, then nobody’s going to ask any questions when a whole bunch of kids that nobody’s ever seen try to go through the gates, right?”
“…I don’t mind, but are you sure it’s okay for the orphans to go outside?”
“I already got permission from the head priest, so it’s okay!”
He doesn’t look like he understands why I managed to get that permission, but since I did, he agrees to go along with it . Tuuli says she already planned to go to the forest anyway, so she doesn’t mind either .
“I’ll take them with me,” she says, “but what are you going to have them do?”
“I’m going to ask Lutz to teach them how to make paper, but I’d like them to learn how to go foraging, too . They’ve never been to the forest before . ”
Tuuli, after spending time with the orphans teaching them how to make soup, already knows that the orphans live in a world where the common sense doesn’t line up at all with ours . She had to teach them how to use both regular knives and kitchen knives from scratch .
She frowns . “If this is the first time they’re going to the forest, wouldn’t it be better to have more people come along to lead them?”
“Yeah, you’re probably right, but since we’re going to be showing off how to make paper, I want to keep this in the family if I can . ”
“Okay! Got it . I’ll help you out . ”
“Woohoo! Thank you, Tuuli!”
And so they agreed to lead the orphans of pre-baptismal or apprentice age to the forest . The adult priests want to go as well, but this time I need them to hold down the fort and take care of work at the temple . The kids need to head out first thing in the morning; otherwise, they won’t have enough time to work on making paper .
In addition to baskets, knives, and hatchet-like blades for cutting trees, they’re bringing along pots and steamers . Lutz will teach them how to make paper the way the two of us used to do before our baptism: harvesting folin wood, steaming it, and stripping the bark . While the wood is steaming, Tuuli and my father will teach them how to forage .
However, we want to avoid giving the orphans too much information, since there’s a chance that it might leak out . We’ll teach them how to recognize the wood we’re using, but not its name, and for now we won’t tell them anything about the ash or the binding agent we’re using . I’m not scared that someone might end up copying our product . No, what I’m scared of is the possibility that someone might try to sell it, and get caught up in the magical contract we have .
“Sister Maïne,” says Lutz, “I’m going to make sure I learn absolutely everything!”
“Make sure you pay attention to both the paper-making and the foraging,” I tell him .
Gil’s eyes sparkle as he takes off for the forest, leaving me behind, stuck in the temple . I go with Fran to see the head priest, where I work diligently through the pile of paperwork, then have prayer after prayer crammed into my head while the head priest endlessly critiques the finest possibly details of my footwork and finger positions .
From the outside, this looks like a peaceful, ordinary day, but in my head a tornado is spiraling out of control . No, maybe it’s not a tornado . It’s my financial situation .
Outfitting my room, my kitchen, and the orphanage took a lot of money . It was an enormous drain on my finances . I have no idea what kind of noble things I’m going to be obligated to spend money on in the future, and no idea just how much that’s going to wind up costing, so I really want to figure out if I can secure a source of income .
“I’ve already sold the hangers, and the cooking’ll take a little longer… man, it would be good if the restaurant could open, at least… do I have anything, huh? Was there anything I talked about with Lutz before that I could commodify, maybe? Hmmm…”
“Sister Maïne,” says Fran, “it would seem you have been brooding over something for some time now, have you not?”
“Just, raising money…”
Since it’s about time for the children to return from their first ever trip to the forest, we head towards the temple entrance in order to welcome them back . Through the gate, I hear the sound of children talking happily growing closer, and shortly afterward a crowd of kids comes stampeding in .
“Sister Maïne! We’re back!”
“Welcome back, everyone,” I say . “Did you perhaps gather a lot?”
“We brought back tons of bark,” says one orphan .
“I got the most!” says another .
“I see,” I reply . “Very good! Now, perhaps we should take it all down to the workshop to dry . Lutz, if you would?”
“Sure thing!” he replies .
Down in the workshop, Lutz hangs up the bark up to dry, my father goes over the fine points of how to take care of a knife, and Tuuli teaches everyone how to eat all the things they brought back .
“Now then, everyone,” I say, “let’s show our thanks to your teachers for all of the things they’ve taught you today . ”
My intention, at least, was to have everybody say “thank you very much!” and wrap things neatly up from there, but this is the temple . Instead, they all drop to their hands and knees, bowing deeply as they yell “we give thanks to our teachers!”
My father and Tuuli pull back in shock .
“…Umm, this is how they show thanks at the temple, so, they’re as grateful to you as they are to the gods, so…”
“Yeah, I figured,” says my father . “I figured, but… it surprised me . ”
After I quietly try to explain things to the two of them, the children, having finished expressing their gratitude, start heading back towards their dorms .
“The priests who stayed here are making soup for you now,” I tell them as they shuffle out . “Make sure you wash your hands before dinner . Also, please make sure to bathe yourselves before you go to sleep tonight . Today was very hot, so you must be quite sweaty, aren’t you?”
“Yes, Sister!” they chorus, shuffling into their dorms .
After I see them off, I let out an enormous sigh .
“Sorry, everyone . Could you wait here, please? I need to go get changed too . ”
Fran and I head back to my room, and Delia helps me change out of my clothes . On days when I plan to stop by Benno’s shop, I come to the temple wearing my apprentice’s clothes, so only my blue robe needs to be taken off, but today I came wearing my street clothes to match Tuuli and the others who went to the forest, so I need to take off the blouse with its fluttering sleeves and get everything changed .
“You need to have a few more blue robes made for you to wear around the temple,” complains Delia . “Your robes get all dusty after going down to the basement . I want to wash them, so please get a spare . ”
These robes are made from a very high quality, silk-like cloth . If they have to be tailored, too, then this is no doubt going to be extremely expensive . It seems like I absolutely have to get serious about raising some money .
“Thanks for waiting!”
Freshly changed, I head back down to the workshop . We lock everything up, I hand the key to Fran for safekeeping, and everyone starts heading home .
“Master Lutz,” says Fran, carrying a wooden tablet, “here is today’s report on Sister Maïne’s activities . ”
He reads off his report, detailing what I’d done during the day and how my physical condition was holding up . As I watch him, a thought suddenly occurs to me . He has to give a report every time I come here, but since it’s hard to take out a pen and open a bottle of ink when we’re outside, if anything were to happen then he couldn’t jot it down .
…Hm, if I made something like that, wouldn’t it be pretty useful?
Paper is still very expensive, so memo pads aren’t a popular idea . I think there’ll probably be a demand for these, though . There’s a chance that something like this already exists on the market, but at least it’ll be a perfect present for Fran and Lutz .
My father picks me up, and we head off . I’m so lost in pondering how to make these things and what kinds of materials I’d use that we reach the central plaza before I even know it .
“Lutz, Lutz!” I say, calling down to him as he walks alongside Tuuli .
“Mister Benno has contacts with a metalworking workshop, right?”
“He… does, but… have you come up with something?”
“Yeah! But I want to ask Ralph and Zeke to do some woodworking, first . ”
No matter how good Lutz is with his hands, his woodworking skills are no match for Ralph and Zeke, professional tradesmen who work at a woodworking workshop . I learned that very well after having them help me out with the hangers . Besides, what I want made this time is going to be a present for Lutz, so I think it would be better if he didn’t have to make it himself . I should ask Ralph or Zeke .
“What,” says my father, sounding hurt, “you’re not going to ask your dad?”
“You worked really hard for me already today! So it’s okay . ”
“I can do a little more, you know?”
“Really? You’re not going to have a drink and go to bed?”
I look up at him, pouting a little . Since he already spent the day leading novices around the forest, I’m pretty sure he’s on course for heading home, drinking some booze, and passing right out .
“…It’ll be fine . ”
“Can’t trust you when you say that,” chimes Tuuli, echoing the words in my heart . “You’re definitely just gonna drink and go to sleep . ”
My father pouts sullenly over having been called out .
“Going to Lutz’s house right now isn’t great either,” I say, “so as long as you promise to do it before you drink you can do it . ”
“I’ll have my drink later, so it’ll be fine, alright? Good grief, you two are just like your mother . ”
“…But they’re so cute you just can’t help it, right Mister Gunther?” laughs Lutz, shrugging . “At least that’s what you keep telling me . ”
I ask my father to measure Lutz’s hand, and then we head home .
“So, what am I making?”
After returning home, my father endures a dinner without a drink, then heads into the storeroom and starts rummaging around, looking for some suitable wood and getting out his tools .
“So, question,” I say . “Which would be easier: taking a thick, rectangular plank and gouging out the middle, or taking a thinner board and nailing on a tall border around it? Either way, I’m going to be pouring wax into the hole . ”
“Hmm, I think adding a border would be simpler, wouldn’t it?”
“The wax isn’t going to leak out?”
“Depends on how you do it, but I think it should be fine . ”
Since he’s taking over for me, I set about rummaging through the wood pile, looking for pieces of the right size .
“So, I’d like you to make some boards about this thick . Could I get two about the size of my hand, two about as big as Lutz’s, and two as big as yours?”
“How tall do you want the border?”
“About as thick as my finger, going all the way around the board so that the wax won’t spill out… Oh, and I’m going to want holes along one side so that I could tie a string or loop a ring through, so could you please drill holes, too? Like this,” I say, sketching out a diagram on my slate as I explain .
My father nods, stroking his stubbled chin, then gets started . While he works, Tuuli and I bathe each other . Since the hottest days of summer are getting closer and closer, I got pretty sweaty even just doing paperwork all day, and Tuuli wants to wash off all the dirt she’s covered in after spending all day in the forest .
“So, Maïne,” she says, “what’re you making?”
She scoops some water from the washbasin, which I’d added some of our handmade rinsham to, over my head, and starts working it into my hair . I relish the feeling of the scalp massage as I answer her question .
“A memo pad . ”
“So, you mean a different kind of memo pad than the one you tried making out of the messed-up paper you brought home, right?”
“Yeah,” I say, smirking, “but at some point I really want to try using some good paper for one of those . ”
I wipe down my entire body and dry off my hair . When I’m done with that, I swap places with Tuuli, and take my turn washing her hair .
“It’s really called something like a ‘writing board’ or a ‘tablet book’ or a ‘diptych’, but you can think of it like something that you can take notes on that’s hard to erase, unlike a slate . ”1
“So why do you want Mister Benno to take you to a metalworker?”
“I want them to make me ‘styluses’ . ”
The next day, I put the boards that my father made for me in my tote bag, which I have Lutz carry for me, and the two of us set off for Benno’s shop like we always do . Since I got to borrow Lutz yesterday, I promised to hand myself over for a day in return, so this is perfect timing .
“Good morning, Mister Benno,” I say . “Could you please tell me where I could find a store that sells wax, and also a metalworker?”
“What are you scheming this this time?”
“Saying ‘scheming’ makes me sound so untrustworthy… I’ve got an idea for presents that I’d like to make for Lutz and Fran, but I can’t make them myself, so I’d like to be introduced to workshops that can do it for me . ”
“…For me?” says Lutz, looking down at my tote bag, frowning at the boards packed into it .
“That’s right! It’s a thank-you gift for all the hard work you and Fran have been doing for me . ”
“What about Gil?”
“He can’t write yet, so I think it’ll be better for him and Delia to get slates, instead . ”
As a delighted smile spreads across Lutz’s face, Benno’s mouth tightens into a frown .
“Hey . You’re not getting anything for me?”
“I think that when you see the finished product, you’re absolutely going to want one, but I think yours should be made professionally, at a woodworking shop . I don’t think something made by an amateur would suit you . ”
Benno is the proprietor of a major store who has surrounded himself with high-quality goods of all sort, so him holding a handmade diptych would feel entirely out of place . It would be okay as a thank-you present, but I for one wouldn’t want to use it if it wasn’t made by an expert craftsman .
“A wax store and a metalworker? Alright, let’s go . ”
He first takes me to a store that makes and sells candles, where I ask them to fill the reservoirs in the center of each board with wax . I watch over the counter as the man lines up the six boards my father made for me, then pours goopy melted wax into each of them . It doesn’t take much time at all . Waiting for the wax to harden enough to carry takes much longer .
“This is simple enough to do,” says the wax seller, as we wait, “but this is a strange project you’ve got here . What are you making?”
“Umm, I’m making ‘diptychs’ . ”
“What’re those?” he says, skeptically .
I try to explain, but he doesn’t quite seem to get it . This isn’t really unexpected; since it’s not the kind of thing that someone who didn’t have to do any writing outside would find useful . Now that I think of it, there’s a chance that these diptychs might not actually be a good product to sell .
…I might need to come up with some other ideas .
After waiting for the wax to harden enough to carry, we head to the metalworker’s workshop . I marvel about how easy it is to get my hands on what I want, this time . I can really see how having assets and connections is super important . This is vastly different from all of the trial and error I did at home right after becoming Maïne .
We arrive at a workshop along the craftsmens’ road, and Benno opens the door .
“Is the foreman in?” he calls inside . “I’m Benno, from the Gilberta Company . ”
A blast of hot air, hotter than even the heat of the summer day, roils out of the open door . Since this is, after all, a metalworking shop, it’s only natural that they’re using fire, but the sheer intensity of it startles me .
When I excitedly peek in, trying to see just what kind of work they do, I see that the hottest part of the workshop itself is tightly closed up behind another door . There’s an apprentice here who looks like he’s stuck watching the storefront, a counter that looks like it also serves like a table for taking orders at, a few simple wooden stools, and not much else .
As I look around the storefront that has no products to be seen, a heavily-built man comes out from deeper inside . Both of his arms are wider around than my waist, and the thickness of his beard is matched only by the thinness of his hair . His large, staring eyes are a little scary .
“Hey there, Benno . What’re you looking for? More buttons for the nobility?”
“No buttons this time,” Benno replies . “Listen to what this kid’s looking for . ”
“This tiny little girl? Alright, lay it on me . ”
“Uh, umm! F, first, I’d like some circular rings to tie two boards together, something like this . ”
On my slate, I sketch out a diagram of how the rings should connect the two boards together .
“That’s easy,” he replies .
“And then, I’d also like some ‘styluses’, too . ”
“A ‘style-us’?” he repeats, uncertainly .
“Like this . ”
I erase the picture I’d drawn of the diptych and start drawing the stylus I’d like him to make . One end is tapered like a mechanical pencil for scratching words into the wax, and one end is flat like a spatula for erasing them . If possible, I’d like for there to be a clip on it as well so that it can be attached to the binding rings as well .
“I’d like three of these, please . ”
“What’re those?” he says, skeptically, tilting his head . “That’ll take some real precise work . …Hey, Johann, got an order for you!” he yells over his shoulder, calling for someone beyond the closed workshop door .
Shortly thereafter, a teenaged boy with frizzy, bright orange hair comes out . He looks like he’s somewhere between fourteen and sixteen years old .
“This is my apprentice, Johann,” says the foreman . “He may still be an apprentice, but he does some very precise work . His skills are fully-fledged . ”
I show him my slate and give him the same explanation I did to the foreman . Johann takes out a wooden board and starts drawing something like a blueprint . It’s far more exact than my scribbles . As expected of a craftsman .
“How fine of a point do you need on the tip?”
“Please sharpen it to about as sharp as a sewing needle . That might be hard to hold, though; could you please make the part we’ll hold it at about as thick as a pen—”
“That’s not very exact,” he interjects .
Johann sighs, putting down his pen, then disappears back into the workshop . He returns momentarily, carrying with him a series of rods of different thicknesses . He lays them out on the counter, motioning for me to try holding each of them .
“Which of these is easiest to hold?” he asks .
“Umm, this is the easiest for me . How about for you, Lutz?”
“If I’m using it like a pen, then this one fits my hand perfectly . ”
Since my hand and Lutz’s are different sizes, the thickness and weight of our styluses will need to be different if we want them to be easy to hold .
I look up at Benno . “Could you please pick out one for Fran?”
“…This one,” he says, after a moment . “Make two of these, one for me as well . ”
“Huh? But, even if you have your ‘stylus’, if you don’t have a ‘diptych’ you won’t be able to use it?”
“It’s fine, since I’ll be having one of those made . Metalworking takes a lot of time, so it’s better to order in advance . ”
I nod at him, then turn to Johann . “Four of them, then, please!” I say, with a big nod .
“Understood,” he says . “Now, could you describe this flat part? What will it be used for? How wide would you like it? What angle should this part be at? What is this ‘clip’ here? Ah, you’d like it to clip to the rings? In that case, it needs to match the thickness of the rings, doesn’t it? How long would you like it to be?”
The questions come one after the other, but with how obsessive he’s being, I’m pretty sure he’ll understand exactly what I’m looking for . I happily answer every question he asks .
Meanwhile, the foreman talks to Benno about Johann . He’s got the temperament of a true artisan, obsessing over the finest details . His work is flawless, but it’s this part that he’s very slow at . It sounds like he gets depressed when clients tell him he’s asking too many questions, which happens often . He’s happiest when someone like me comes along and gives him as precise an order as he needs, but it seems like there aren’t that many people like that out there .
“If he’d be a little more compromising,” says the foreman, “he’d have a much easier life . Him being uncompromising, though, means he can do some great things . What he really wants is a patron that’ll make the most of his skills, but you don’t know anyone like that, do you?”
Benno hesitates, briefly, glancing at me .
“Nah, that girl’s way too young,” says the foreman . “Hard to be a patron when you’re not grown up and can’t spend your money freely . ”
“…You’re right,” he says .
He abruptly cuts off the conversation there, so I hold my tongue .
…Even though I’m technically the head of a workshop, I really don’t have any money that I can use freely, after all . I like how precise he is, although I haven’t seen the finished product yet, but when I’m looking for metalworking in the future I think I’d be happy to patronize his services . Yep .
“Hey . Maïne,” says Benno . “Stop just staring into space . If you’re done with your order, we’re heading to a woodworker’s next . ”
He suddenly picks me up, and quickly strides out of the metalworking workshop .
It seems like he’s full of excitement about getting his own diptych made .