Diptychs and Karuta
We leave the metalworking workshop and go to a woodworker’s . They’re both along the craftsmen’s road, so they’re pretty close to each other . After walking past about three other workshops, Benno pushes open a door carved with a design of a pair of saws crossed before a large tree, then enters, carrying me along .
“I’m Benno from the Gilberta Company,” he calls out, “is the foreman in?”
“I’m sorry, sir,” says a young apprentice, “but he’s not here at the moment… wait, Maïne?!”
“Oh, Zeke!” I say . “Is this where you work?”
There’s a familiar face here: Zeke, Lutz’s second-oldest brother . He looks up, seeing me being carried in Benno’s arms, and when our eyes meet, his jaw drops to the floor .
“…Do you know him?” asks Benno .
“He’s Lutz’s older brother,” I reply .
Benno sets me down, and only then does Lutz enter Zeke’s field of view as well . I hear him mutter “…that’s Lutz, then?” to himself .
Since Lutz goes to change his clothes at the room he’s borrowing at the Gilberta Company, this must be the first time that Zeke has ever seen him wearing his apprentice’s clothing and with his hair neatly groomed . When Lutz is at work, he looks nothing like how he does when he’s in his street clothes with his basket on his back as he gets ready to go to the forest .
“Huh, Lutz’s brother?” remarks Benno mildly . He looks over at Zeke . “I’d like to place an order, is that alright?”
“Co… could you wait a bit? I’ll call the assistant . ”
Zeke hurries off deeper into the store, flustered . Shortly thereafter, a leanly-built man comes out .
“Hey there, Mister Benno,” says the man . “Welcome . What do you want made this time?”
“Lutz?” prompts Benno .
“Yes, sir,” says Lutz . “This, please . ”
He pulls out the diptych that had been made for Fran and sets it on the table . Benno points at it, describing his order .
“I want you to make boards for one of these, at the same size as this one . On the front, I’d like you to carve my store’s crest, and on the back I’d like my name engraved as well . ”
The assistant produces a tape measure and takes various measurements, jotting them down on a wooden board as he does so . While he discusses the details—what kind of wood to use, the appearance of the crest, the spelling of his name, the style of lettering, and so on—with Benno, Zeke comes back out, perhaps out of curiosity over Lutz .
“Hey Zeke,” I say, “can I order something, too?”
“You want something? …Sure, I guess?”
“I want a bunch of thin, hard boards . They need to all be exactly the same size, about this big…”
When I indicate that it should be about as big as my hand, Zeke hurriedly goes to grab a tape measure . We figure out exactly how tall and wide they should be, as well as how thick .
“Please make seventy of them,” I say .
“Seventy?! What do you need seventy for?”
“Heh heh heh~, I’m making ‘karuta’ for the thirty-five basic letters,” I reply . 1
Gil and Delia, my apprentice attendants, can’t read . Since attendants are supposed to be able to help with official documents and take dictation for letters, like Fran does, being able to read and write is an essential skill .
If I only get a present for Fran, then I can imagine that Gil is definitely going to sulk over it . When I started thinking of something that I could give him, I had the idea of coming up with a fun way for him to learn his letters . If I could make him some karuta out of wooden boards, then he’d be able to study along with the children in the orphanage . Reading and writing are things that they’ll be forced to know when they get older, so I think it would be best if they learn it in a fun way while they’re still young .
“’Karuta’? You’re making something weird again?”
“Yep . That’s right . When do you think you’ll be done?”
“Hmm, it’s just cutting boards to the same size, so…”
“It’s not just cutting . I need both the front and the back to be smooth, so you need to sand them flat . ”
“Like those hairpins?”
I nod vigorously, and Zeke scratches his head . Sanding every single one of them one by one is going to take a lot of time, but cards for karuta aren’t something that should be made hastily .
“It’ll take about ten days for the other things I’ve ordered to be finished,” I say, “so it would be great if you could get these done by then . ”
“Oh, that’s plenty of time,” he replies .
“How does double what I paid you last time sound?”
“You should ask the assistant about that . I don’t really get how pricing works . ”
As he says that, the assistant suddenly turns to look our way, as if he’d long since finished his discussion with Benno and had been listening in on our conversation .
“What do you mean by ‘the last time’?”
“I had Zeke help me make hairpins as part of our winter handiwork last year,” I reply . “I paid one medium copper coin each . ”
“So, you’re offering two coins each this time, then? …If you were asking him as an individual to do it, then that would be fine, but you’re making an order at a workshop . That’s not enough . ”
Despite how broadly he’s grinning at me, I have no intention of letting him jack up the price . I know how much wood costs from when I was making paper, and I also know how much craftsmen are ordinarily paid .
Lutz, standing next to me, looks like he feels exactly the same as I do . He looks up at the assistant, his eyes sharp .
“Assuming, sir, that your workshop will be charging a handling fee of thirty percent, if one were to consider the prices of the wood and the labor, then I believe that what Maïne is proposing is a rather generous amount as it is . Please keep in mind that this is not an order for one board, but for seventy . ”
He smiles a smile that reminds me very much of Mark . It’s a smile that says You’re attempting to take advantage of what looks like an unbaptized little girl, aren’t you? The assistant frowns .
“Lutz! What are you doing?!” yells Zeke, like he’s probably used to doing at home .
“My job,” Lutz replies, not even looking away from the attendant .
Just like Benno and Mark must have drilled into him, Lutz confidently negotiates with the assistant . It’s really apparent just how much he’s grown since last year, where he couldn’t read anything but the numbers on the price tags in the city market and was overjoyed to finally learn how to write his name .
“Zeke,” I say, “Lutz is in the middle of negotiations with the assistant . You just said you don’t really get how pricing works, right?”
When I stop him, Zeke looks restlessly between me and Lutz, a troubled expression on his face .
“Maïne… but, Lutz, he…”
“He’s been working really hard at his merchant’s apprenticeship . Just like you’ve been working really hard to learn all the skills you need to be a good craftsman, Lutz has been working really hard to learn all of the knowledge and skills he needs to be a good merchant . ”
In this world, where the only way knowledge is transferred between people is verbally, it’s exceedingly rare for anyone to succeed in a profession other than the family trade that their parents taught them about . I’d guess that, since Lutz’s family has only ever shown scorn for his desire to become a merchant, this might just be the first time any of his family has seen him at work . Zeke is wearing a complicated expression, looking like he wants to say something, but can’t figure out how .
“Zeke, could you maybe acknowledge, even just a bit, that he’s been working hard?”
As a result of his negotiations with the assistant, Lutz manages to get the price down to what I’d initially suggested . Benno, who’d watched the fruits of Lutz’s studies with a wide grin, picks me up in one arm and, rustling Lutz’s hair with the other, leaves the shop .
Over Benno’s shoulder, I see Zeke frowning harshly as we leave .
Ten days later, both the styluses and the boards that will become my karuta are finished . Of course, the boards for Benno’s diptych that he’d ordered are done as well . Benno, in high spirits, brought his luxuriously-crafted diptych to the wax seller and had them fill it up to finish it off .
“Now then, Maïne,” he says . “How do you use this?”
After returning to the Gilberta Company, Benno excitedly takes out his diptych . Lutz looks down at his own with great interest .
“These are something that we can use to take notes while we’re out and about . Using the stylus that’s clipped onto this ring here, you can write onto the waxy part here . Since it’s sized so that you can hold one side of it in one hand, and since it’s a solid surface, it’s way easier to write on it than paper, isn’t it? And its biggest appeal is that you don’t need someone next to you to hold an inkwell while you write . ”
Benno immediately writes his name in the center of the board that he’s holding . The stylus etches lines into the wax as it travels, leaving white traces along the surface .
“…I see, the wax captures what you’ve written . ”
“That’s right,” I say . “And when you close it, the words won’t get erased like they do when you’re working with a slate . This is a just tool for taking notes, though, so when you get home then you need to transfer what you’ve written to paper or a board for safekeeping . After you’re done copying things down, then you use the flat part of the stylus here to smooth out the wax, letting you reuse it… probably . ”
It’s not like I’ve ever made anything like this before . I just read about it in a book . It’s something that I’d read that tax collectors used to use in the olden days so that they could take notes while still riding on their horses .
“Even if the wax gets old and flaky, you can scrape it out and refill it with fresh wax . …Do you think that this is something we could make a product out of?”
He runs his fingers along the carvings of the store’s crest and his name . “…It’s something that merchants or nobles, who know how to read and write, would use . Considering that level of clientele, we’d need to retain a woodworking shop that’s skilled at engraving so that we could add ornamentation to the frame like this one . But being able to write things down immediately, without needing any ink, is very convenient . ”
“Do you think it’ll sell?”
“I think it’ll sell to merchants, but I’m not so sure about the nobility . They have attendants, after all, so they usually have pen and ink handy . …Attendants might find it useful, though . ”
“I agree . I came up with the idea when I was watching Fran . Also, if we’re going to be selling them for attendants to use, then they don’t need to be so heavily ornamented, which will keep the cost down . ”
“Alright then, I’ll buy the rights . ”
I sell off the rights to Benno in their entirety . Since there’s things like the styluses that need to be made, Maïne’s Workshop is currently not able to manufacture diptychs . Also, I want actual, spendable money in front of me now .
“Incidentally, Maïne, what are you making with those boards?”
He points at my bag, where the pile of boards is rattling loosely around . In this world, there’s no free bags provided as part of your purchase . If you’re buying something, you need to bring your own reusable shopping bag . When I finish making these cards, it’ll probably be a good idea for me to ask my father to make a box for them so that they’re easy to put away .
“These will be ‘karuta’,” I reply . They’re not finished yet . The next step will be for me to draw on them . “
“Draw on them?”
“Half of these will be face cards, where I’ll write one of the letters of the alphabet and draw a picture of something that starts with that letter . For example…”
I open up my own diptych . On one side, I draw a picture, and on the other side I make up a sentence about that picture on the spot . For the face card, I write a capital S and draw a picture of a stylus, and for the text card I write “Stylus . Something used to write in a diptych . ”
When I show it to Benno, he stares at me, extremely perplexed .
“Are… you… going to draw all of these yourself?”
“That’s my plan…?”
I can’t leave this to someone who doesn’t know anything about karuta . I’m planning on being the one to finish up Gil’s present for him . When I proudly say so, Lutz looks very troubled .
“Maïne, let someone else do it . Especially the pictures . I… have no idea what that’s supposed to be . Gil’s going to be stumped if you give it to him like that . ”
“You’re good with your letters,” adds Benno, “but your drawing skills are pretty bad . ”
Their merciless evaluation makes my breath catch in my throat . I don’t think I’m particularly terrible at drawing . At least, back in my Urano days nobody told me I was bad at it .
“…I, I’m not bad at drawing! Sure, it’s a little bit cartoonish, so I can see where you’re coming from, but this is avant-garde! The world is going to catch up to my aesthetic in no time, so it’s fine!”
“I have no idea what you’re saying,” says Benno, “but you should face the facts . Leave the drawings to someone else . Got it?”
…I, I’m not bad at drawing .
I’m not entirely convinced that what they’re saying is correct, so the next day, in my room at the temple, I ask my attendants for their opinion .
“…That is what Master Benno had to say about it, though,” I say, finishing up my explanation .
Delia looks at the drawing in my diptych with wide eyes . “As Master Benno says, that’s rather appalling, isn’t it? Have you not seen a painting before?”
“She has to have seen all the ones in the hallways when she goes to the head priests office, right?” retorts Gil . “I think she’s just bad at drawing . ”
Their words pierce deeply into my heart . I turn to Fran, but he just frowns bitterly, averting his gaze a little .
“…It is certainly a very unique style,” he says .
The halls of worship, the gates, and the corridors of the temple are covered with religious sculptures and paintings, and the offices of blue-robed priests are filled with all sorts of works of art . My attendants, who grew up in the temple and have seen nothing but the beautiful paintings inside, are especially harsh with their critique . It seems like they won’t be satisfied unless it’s true-to-life and exquisitely detailed .
“Sister Maïne, perhaps you could entrust the paintings to Wilma?” suggests Fran . “She received some training in the basics of painting from a blue-robed priestess some time ago . ”
“Huh? Training in the basics? Attendants can do things like that too?”
“…To serve our masters’ wishes, attendants are required to be capable of doing a good many things . ”
Fran explains that, after an orphan’s baptism, they become apprentice gray-robed priests, assisting in the subordinate work of cleaning the halls of worship and the hallways, doing the laundry, and so on . Attendants judge those apprentices on their earnestness and cleverness, and select children from among them to become apprentice attendants .
When they’re made apprentice attendants, they move from living in the orphanage to living in the nobles’ area . While they largely continue doing the same subordinate work as before, they also have all the knowledge they’ll need to be an attendant drilled into their skulls .
“As such,” he concludes, “while the manners and etiquette necessary to properly receive guests is necessary for all attendants to learn, each individual priest or priestess may learn vastly different things . ”
“Basically,” adds Delia, “just like there are apprentice priestesses who learn how to offer flowers, there are apprentice priests who study mathematics . ”
“Ah hah,” I say thoughtfully when they finish their explanation, then turn to Gil . In the end it’s probably best to hear what the person receiving the present has to think .
“Gil, what do you think? Should I have Wilma do the drawings?”
“Huh? Me? Why me?” he says .
He looks completely mystified that I’m asking him, so I explain to him the reason why I’m giving it to him as a reward .
“…Every day, you snuck food into the orphanage for all the little children there, didn’t you? You were the one who worked hardest for the sake of those kids, so this is your reward . ”
“A reward, huh? Hmmm…”
After saying that, he falls silent . For some reason, though, as time passes, his face is getting steadily redder and redder until he finally grabs his head in his hands . “I can’t . I can’t say it,” he mutters . “It’s too embarrassing . ” He moans and groans, walking in circles on the spot .
I wonder, does he maybe have some kind of fun feelings towards Wilma? Or would he just be embarrassed to ask her for help? Either way, as I wait patiently for him to finish his odd deliberations, he suddenly looks up, as if he’s made some momentous decision .
“…Either’s good! If you don’t have time to do it yourself, then you can ask Wilma . …I, I just want you to do the writing . Your handwriting, is so, pretty, that, um… aaaargh!”
He bolts from the room, flying down the stairs, the embarrassment clearly too much for him to handle . Moments later, I hear the loud bang of a door being slammed . I’m guessing that he’s locked himself in his room and is currently trembling in embarrassment .
“…Sister Maïne,” says Fran, “what will you do?”
“Gil isn’t used to giving anyone praise . I thought it was adorable how, despite his bashfulness, he so desperately tried to praise my handwriting, so I think I shall do my very best with writing the text cards . ”
“Very well,” he replies, obviously holding back a smile, “then I shall ask Wilma for her assistance with the face cards . ”
And so, we decide that I’ll be leaving drawing the face cards to Wilma . Fran, sensing a stopping point in the conversation, turns to leave and go back to work, and I hurriedly call out to him .
“Fran, wait a moment . This is for you . ”
I produce the diptych I had made for him . The sizes are different, since it’s scaled to fit easily in his hand, but it’s a match with mine .
“You’re the one who has the most work, are you not? I only have one fully-fledged attendant, yet I accepted the directorship of the orphanage . Coordinating everything must be terribly difficult . You’ve been working so hard, and I am truly, truly grateful . I would like to reward your efforts . ”
I explain to him how to use the diptych . Then, when I tell him that I had the idea when I saw him having trouble at the temple gate the other day, he smiles delightedly, his eyes crinkling .
“To have an idea and then immediately turn it into a real product… Sister Maïne, I shall endeavor to learn to perfectly manage your physical condition, so that I can meet your expectations . ”
“Nothing would please me more,” I reply .
As Fran gently takes his diptych from me, I notice that Delia’s been staring enviously at it . She’s as easy to read as ever .
“This is for you, Delia,” I say, reaching into my bag . “Though you haven’t gone to the orphanage, when Gil is not here you work hard, all by yourself, at cleaning the first floor, and when Fran isn’t here you work hard to receive my visitors, and I’d like to acknowledge that . ”
“This is a slate and a slate pencil . Please use these to practice your writing . After all, an attendant should be able to write letters to her master’s dictation, should she not?”
I write Delia’s name on the slate, then hand it to her . Her eyes latch intensely onto the writing . I’d thought there might be a chance that she, unlike Gil, might already know a little of the alphabet, but I now I wonder if nobody had taught her any reading at all while she was with the temple master .
“This is your name,” I say . “It’s the first thing you should learn to be able to write . Alright?”
After some time passes, Gil finally calms down enough to leave his room, and I hand him a slate as well . Immediately, he and Delia start competing over their studies . So, in order to make sure I’m providing the best example to learn from, I pay meticulous attention as I start to write out each of the letters on the karuta . For the text cards, I pick things that would be easy for Wilma, who’d been raised in the temple, to draw, such as passages from the scriptures or images of the gods .
When Benno sees the finished product, with my writing and Wilma’s drawings, he wanted to buy the rights from me on the spot, but I think I want Maïne’s Workshop to make them, for the children’s sake . Benno, ultimately, still has a monopoly on them, but since the workshop is making them, and since I can charge a fee for having the idea, I negotiate a contract where I get thirty percent of the profits . Now, with this, as karuta starts to sell, I’ll start seeing a little bit of revenue coming in .
I, having secured my finances, breathe a sigh of relief, thinking about things to come . I wonder, would other educational toys or other kinds of amusements sell?