Ascendance of a Bookworm

 
 

Ascendance of a Bookworm Chapter 52


Freida’s Baptismal Ceremony

Translator’s note: After soliciting feedback from some people more familiar with Germanic naming conventions than I am, I’m going back and making changes to how I’m spelling certain names. Older chapters will be updated when I get time to do so.

  • Maine is now Maïne. Her name is supposed to be pronounced as “mine” (one syllable, like the English word), and I was basically deluding myself into believing that’s how people were pronouncing it. Maybe an umlaut will fix it.
  • Tory is now Tuuli. (A mistake I’ve regretted since chapter 5 but have been too lazy to fix.)
  • Yutte is now Jutte. The J is pronounced as a Y. It’s German.

It’s very lively outside the bedroom door when I awake. A servant girl―not Jutte but somebody else―sits next to the door, waiting for me to wake up. She looks very youthful, probably not even twenty years old yet, and she gives off a very friendly air. When I get down off the bed and push the unexpectedly heavy canopy curtain aside, she looks over at me with a brilliant smile.

“Good morning,” she says. “How are you feeling?”
“It seems like my fever has gone down,” I reply, “but I can’t say that I’m fully recovered, so today I’d like to rest quietly until my family comes to pick me up.”

She chuckles wryly.

“There was quite a stir at dinner yesterday! When the dessert came out and the young mistress told the table that she and you had made it, the entire family wanted to meet you. They were quite excited, saying that they absolutely want you to work in our shop.”

Wait, wait, lady, this isn’t a laughing matter, you know? Did I somehow manage to narrowly save myself from certain death by going to sleep when I did? Should I just hide away in here for the rest of the day?

As soon as she said “your future is secure if you work at our shop”, I realized that even she was trying to get her hands on me, putting me on my guard.

I look over at the door. “Ummm,” I say, trying to change the subject, “it really is noisy out there, isn’t it…”

“Ahh,” she replies, her smile widening. “The young mistress has finished breakfast already and is in the middle of getting dressed. Miss Maïne, when you get dressed yourself, I’ll guide you to the dining room.”
“Um, I’m really sorry to bother you like this, but might you be able to bring me my breakfast in this room? I’m still not fully recovered, so I don’t need very much, and I’m nervous about meeting people for the first time. I’ll lose my appetite, so…”

To be honest, since I skipped dinner, I’m actually pretty hungry. However, having met Freida and the guild leader, I can guess that the rest of the family is just as diabolical. Just thinking about being surrounded by those people while trying to eat my breakfast makes my stomach ache. I don’t think I’d be able to get anything down.

“Heh heh,” she chuckles, “Understood, miss. I’ll bring your breakfast here.”

After the servant girl brings out and helps me change into some of Freida’s old clothes, she leaves the room. As soon as I’m alone, I collapse to the ground, head clutched in my hands.

Oh crap. Something weird is happening. I knew that the guild leader and Freida had their eyes set on me, but why does the rest of the family want me now, too? Is it because of the pound cake? But, they have sugar here, so they have sweet things, right? There was that one sweet they brought out for me before, that pizza-like thing baked with nuts and drizzled with honey, right?

This really isn’t something I actually want to think about, but if sugar has only just started appearing on the market, then the art of making sweets might not be well-developed yet… that can’t be what’s happening, right?

As I lay there, head still in my hands, I hear the footsteps of the servant girl coming back with my breakfast. I quickly stand up and, with a careful nothing’s-going-on-here expression, go to greet her.

“Please enjoy your meal,” she says.

It looks like they figured out my tastes exactly after yesterday’s breakfast. There’s white bread with jam and honey, paired with juice from some sort of sweet fruit. There’s not as much soup, but there’s a proper full portion of bacon and eggs for me.

Under these keenly observing eyes, it feels like my weak points will be found out in an instant.

“Thank you for the food,” I say, and start eating.

I feel like, once breakfast is finished, I should stay hidden in this room, claiming to still not be feeling well, until my family comes to pick me up. The guild leader and Freida are menacing enough as it is; I can’t face an entire family like that myself. I desperately wish that I could summon Benno and Lutz.

As I slowly eat my breakfast by myself, thinking about how I’m going to deal with what comes after this, Jutte bursts into the room.

“Good morning, Maïne. How are you feeling this morning?”

She’s very hurried for someone coming in to ask me how I’m doing. I get the impression that I should keep my answer to just the bare facts, so I put down my bread and give her a foolishly honest answer.

“My fever’s gone down, you know?”
“Might I ask you for your assistance with the young mistress’s hair? I would like for you to show me how to put in her hairpins.”
“…Sure, but can I finish my breakfast first, please?”

I can probably count showing her how to use them as warranty service for a product I’ve made. I’m probably not doing this because I’m being too eager too help, or because Jutte’s staring at me strangely.

I finish my breakfast relatively quickly and then head for Freida’s room, guided by Jutte. Her room is on the third floor. From what Jutte says, it seems the second floor is for the guild leader’s generation, while the third floor is for is sons’ and grandchildren’s generations. Since the two floors are tied together by an indoor staircase and everyone takes their meals together, it doesn’t really feel like it’s two separate houses, though.

“Mistress Freida, I’ve brought Maïne to see you.”
“Please, come in!”

In Freida’s room, near the door, is a standing partition. If it were to be turned around, it could be used to section off the room into something like a parlor, so in one corner there is a canopy bed, and opposite that is a set of shelves that reminds me of a writing desk. In the middle of the room is a small table with a few chairs set around it. The curtains on the windows and the canopy are all done in girlish reds and pinks, but there are no dolls or accessories anywhere in the otherwise simple room.

Today, hairpins and several combs are lined up atop the table. Freida sits at one of the chairs, her hair combed out. With her pink, fluffy hair let down and carefully combed out, she looks almost like a life-sized doll.

“Good morning, Maïne. You feeling better?”
“Morning, Freida. My fever’s gone down, but I’m still not totally better yet, I think.”

In other words, I can’t do too much. When I give her my honest description of my condition, her expression clouds a bit, and her eyes drop.

“Oh. Sorry to call you up here. I thought that since you were the one to make your sister’s hairpin, you might have been the one to style her hair, were you not?”
“That’s right, so…?”
“Do you think you could give me the same style, please?”

Tuuli’s hairstyle involved bringing both sides of her hair together in the center and braiding them together in a half-up style. That kind of style wouldn’t suit Freida, but since I went through all that trouble for making two hairpins, and since pigtails are cute, I think the best style for her would be twintails.

“Hmmm, well, since I made two hairpins, instead of doing exactly the same thing, let’s do it in two parts. I’m going to braid it, okay?”
“I’ll leave it to you!”
“Please, teach me as well,” says Jutte, her eyes glittering.

I use a comb to separate Freida’s hair into halves, then start braiding one half of it together over her right ear, explaining what I’m doing to Jutte as I go.

“Gather it up from here, then match it to this, and then twist it like this to make the plait.”
“Gather it up from here, then I match it to this, and… like this?”

Jutte takes the left side and, carefully observing what I’m doing, starts to braid. As expected of someone used to working with her hands, she’s very skilled. Since my hands are small, though, and since I am by no means handy, no matter what I try to do the braids keep slipping out of my fingers and coming loose. Tuuli’s hair is naturally wavy, so even if a braid is a little bit sloppy and a bit too loose here and there, that in and of itself just adds to the overall grand impression, but the quality of Freida’s hair means that any such mistakes would just immediately stand out.

“Since you picked it up so quickly,” I tell Jutte, “I think it would be best for you to do both sides. My hands are small, so it’s hard for me to gather up all the hair.”
“It certainly does seem like it would be difficult to try this with hands as small as yours. Very well, I’ll braid the other side as well.”

Having already learned how after the first braid, Jutte sets to work, smoothly braiding the other side. Perhaps it’s because she’s working with hair she’s used to the feel of, but she leaves no holes or gaps as she works. Because Freida’s hair was so cleanly divided by the comb, it’s parted very neatly, unlike when I’d done Tuuli’s hair.

…Nngh, it really hurts to see my own unskillfulness on display like this.

“I’d be much happier if I’d had just a bit more time to practice, but…”

Jutte mutters fretfully to herself as she looks at Freida’s done-up hair. My eyes go wide as I notice how intensely she’s reacting, and Freida chuckles wryly, with a troubled expression.

“You know,” she says to me, “Jutte said that she really wanted to talk with you yesterday evening so that she could spend all night practicing.”
“Ahh, and then I got tired and went to bed early, so… I’m sorry!”

As I try to apologize for having caused her trouble by my feebleness, Jutte quickly shakes her head.

“Don’t worry about it at all. It’s your condition, you couldn’t help it. I was just thinking… if I had known how to do this earlier, I could have done the young mistress up even more prettily.”

Oh my, I see. Her hobby is dressing up Freida, is it? She is as cute as a life-sized doll. I understand perfectly! I, too, got fired up over making her hairpins.

Next, when Jutte finishes with the braids over Freida’s ears, I carefully insert my masterpiece hairpins through the string binding them together and arrange them so they won’t fall off.

Since there are four deep red miniature roses, no matter if you look at her from the front, the side, or the back, you can always see at least one flower. The way the spray of white baby’s-breath is set against her light pink hair makes the tiny flowers look like white lace, making the red of the roses stand out even more. The green leaves that peek out here and there accentuate everything very nicely.

“Yep,” I say, “even better than I thought! These match you perfectly, Freida.”
“You look quite adorable, Miss Freida,” says the servant girl who had helped me get dressed earlier, while Jutte brings over the garments that Freida will be wearing today.

Freida stands up, and the servant girl takes the chair away. Immediately, every person in the room transitions into clothes-changing mode, and I hurriedly get out of the way. Freida raises one arm, onto which a sleeve is quickly placed; when she raises the other, it’s also sleeved much the saem way. Several people button down the buttons and tie up the strings, as Freida gets dressed without doing anything but standing there. I let out an amazed breath, watching the kind of princess-like dressing scene you’d only see in books or movies.

If it weren’t for everyone’s many years of experience, this wouldn’t be going anywhere near as well. Not only do the servants need to know how to dress her, but Freida also needs to know how to be dressed, otherwise things wouldn’t go smoothly at all. If I were in the middle of that, me trying to raise and lower my arms would just end up with me hitting someone I can’t see, I think.

Freida, still in the middle of getting dressed, looks over at me, smiling brilliantly.

“Maïne, if you’d like, do you want to try watching the procession from this room? The windows in here were made specially to let me see outside better.”

The windows of the guest room I had been in had wavy glass in them, but the glass in the windows here, in Freida’s room, the glass is perfectly flat, making it easy to look at the scenery outside. It wouldn’t be any exaggeration to say that watching the ceremonial procession through the windows here as it advances towards the temple would be like having a prime box seat.

“Can I?”

I glance back and forth between Freida and the windows. She smiles broadly at me.

“Yes, of course! If you’re afraid to be here by yourself I can have Jutte stay with you.”

I would indeed be uncomfortable staying in someone’s room while they were away, so Freida’s suggestion is most welcome.

“That would be really helpful, thanks.”
“Certainly,” says Jutte, “I would be happy to accompany you.”

Jutte’s face immediately lights up, probably from hearing that she can watch from this window. It can’t be helped that she’d want to watch her mistress Freida go out in her finest clothes, and if Freida has her stay with me, she’ll be able to see her in all her glory.

“Thanks, Freida,” I say. “I’ll watch from here.”

It seems like all of the dressing-up work, down to the boots, was finished while we were talking. The two servants who were crouched in front of her feet smoothly stand up and take a step back.

“Miss Freida, we’re all finished.”
“And nothing’s out of place, I wonder?” she replies.

Freida, completely done up, turns slowly on the spot. Her outfit is white, with fluffy, warm furs around her neck. It’s embroidered here and there with bright red and pinks, matching both her hair and her hairpins.

“Well,” she says, “this seems cute.”
“Whoa, amazing, amazing!” I enthuse. “Freida, that looks really good on you!”
“Miss Freida,” says a servant, “I’ve brought your family to see you.”

It seems that as we were praising her, the rest of her family had been told that she was done getting ready and had come here to see. The first person to step out from around the screen is the guild leader.

“Oh, Freida! You look magnificent. Wearing such beautiful flowers during the winter’s baptismal ceremonies, you look like an angel… no, a goddess of the blooming spring! You are truly lovely. As expected of my granddaughter!”
“These hairpins you bought for me really suit me, don’t they?” she says, smiling, lightly touching her hairpins.
A broad grin splits the guild leader’s face. “They really do. Your delighted smile is worth more than anything in the world.”

The rest of the family starts to enter, one by one, as if they had been waiting for the guild leader to get enough praise in before interrupting.

“Whoa, Freida. That look really suits you.”
“Out of all the girls I know… you’re the cutest!”

Two young boys, about the same age—probably about ten or ten and a half years old—start to praise Freida.

…Huh? A little while ago I was thinking that maybe Freida wasn’t used to being praised like this, but these two boys seem to be acting like giving her compliments is no big deal, hm?

I tilt my head questioningly to the side as Freida looks up at her older brothers with a troubled expression, like she couldn’t believe that she was being praised.

“…Why are the both of you here?”
“Why? It’s Earth Day, so we’re off from work. Didn’t we say we’d be here to celebrate with everyone?”
“I’d heard, but until now I’ve never seen anything come from words like that, so I didn’t think you’d really be here this time.”

…Wow, so these brothers don’t keep their promises. With that kind of uncertainty, she might be convinced that their compliments were just empty words too.

The brothers, perhaps because they noticed Freida’s distrust, instantly grow pale and start coming up with various excuses. While they do that, a married couple wanders over, completely ignoring the situation and overlooking the two children.

“Amazing, those hairpins.”
“Yes, I want some for myself! How splendid they are.”

As I watch the chaotic family gathering unfold, suddenly, the guild leader leans down, thrusting his face in front of me.

“Ah, Maïne!”

Crap! I’d been planning to lock myself in my room so that I wouldn’t have to meet these people!

The guild leader, not at all caring that I stepped back with a squeak, clasps my hands tightly, moved to tears.

“You’ve done so well. I must thank you, Maïne. This is the first time I’ve ever seen Freida so happy with something I’ve bought for her to wear. Just like you said, her delighted face is worth so, so much more than her surprise.”
“I… I’m very glad you’re pleased, I put a lot of effort into it.”

Eeeeeek! Save meeee, Bennooo!!

“There aren’t many other people around here who understand these feelings. From now on, when I buy a gift for Freida, I’ll consult with you first! Incidentally, Maïne, there’s one thing I wanted to ask you about… guh?!”

With a jerk, the guild leader is pushed away. For a moment, I’m grateful for my rescue, but it really is only for the briefest moment. The guild leader is suddenly replaced by many faces, crowding in to see me all at once.

“You must be little Maïne, aren’t you? I’ve heard so much about you from Father and Freida.”
“Yes, umm—”

As I start to try to properly introduce myself to Freida’s father, I’m spun around to face someone else. I blink quickly to reorient myself, and see Freida’s mother in front of me.

“Thanks for making friends with Freida. She’s been having so much fun lately and is smiling a lot more. As her mother, I’m really quite grateful!”
“Th… the pleasure is all m—”

As I start to try to express my own gratitude, her two older brothers shove themselves in front of me.

I beg of you! Just give me a second to get a response out! …Ack, too close! Your face is too close!

I’m panicked to the point where my voice doesn’t come out at all. I freeze up, my eyes darting back and forth uselessly. The brothers, without any reservation, poke at me and pat my head.

“Huhhh, so this is Maïne? I’d only heard stories, but she really does exist, huh. I guess she’s not made up after all.”
“She’s supposedly been here for a few days, but this is the first we’re seeing her, isn’t it? Maïne, your mouth’s just flapping, you know?”

“She really does exist,” he says, like I’m some kind of rare monster with a low spawn rate, or some mythical beast?!

“You two, isn’t it about time to go? Let’s head downstairs. Give Maïne a little space.”

The one who reached out to save me from being crushed was Freida. Today, she really is a goddess.

“Yes, yes,” I say, slowly trying to back away. “It would be really bad if you were late, so it would be best for you to get going, you know?”

One of the brothers firmly grabs my right arm, and the other catches my left hand.

“Let’s go together, Maïne. Come celebrate Freida’s baptism with us.”
“Ah, no, I was just going to stay here and…”
“You’re a guest of the family, it shouldn’t be a problem if you come out with us.”
“Right, right! Celebrations are more fun when there’s lots of people, after all.”

I, both arms firmly captured, shake my head frantically, but this overbearingly pushy family doesn’t hear a word of my complaints.

Is this genetic?! Does the guild leader’s family have a doesn’t-listen-to-people gene?!

Out of all of the people here smilingly watching on as my wishes are completely ignored, Freida is the only one who sighs and scolds her brothers.

“You two, if she gets sick again because you push her around too much, I’ll get scolded too, you know? Maïne has the same devouring fever I do, please don’t make her do too much. Her family’s coming to get her this afternoon, but if her fever comes back or she faints then that’ll be a problem.”
“But, we finally get to meet her. We just want to make friends, right?”
“She’s still not feeling well, so we’ve decided that she’s going to stay in this room and watch the ceremony from the windows here instead. She can’t go outside. I’m sure she wants to go outside, but…”

It seems that she’s evoking images of herself, not able to go outside because nobody knows when she might collapse from the devouring, enviously watching the world pass by her window. Her older brothers instantly look much more serious, and they let go of my arms.

“Now, everyone,” says Jutte. “The bell is about to ring. The young mistress must go outside to make her debut.”

At her word, the rest of the family gathers up around Freida, then quickly bustles off, leaving me with the impression that I just watched the passing of a hurricane. It looks like it really was the right decision to not have breakfast with them. If they kept firing questions off at me with that much force, jerking me around like that, I’d definitely pass out for days afterward.

“Miss Maïne,” asks Jutte, “are you feeling alright? They aren’t bad people, but they can sometimes come on a little strong.”

That wasn’t a little!

I keep my retort to myself, and instead move over to the window. Despite the fact that there’s a fire burning in the hearth, it’s still chilly near the window. Jutte brings me a shawl, which I wrap around myself, and I look down out of the window.

It’s very sunny outside, but the occasional glitter of a falling snowflake and the fog my breath leaves on the windowpane shows just how bitterly cold it is outside.

Across from the window, I can see that Freida has already left the house and is now being admired by the neighbors, standing out like a queen amongst peasants. Surrounded by her family, she wears the happiest smile she’s ever had.

From where I watch, amongst the few decorations that the children are wearing, the hairpins I made stand out conspicuously. I understand now just how Freida could have noticed Tuuli’s hairpins from her window here.

Tuuli must have stood out just like this, huh. She was so cute that everyone must have been talking about her, huh.

As I look down at Freida’s baptismal ceremony, all I can think about it Tuuli’s ceremony, how my father had a meeting he really didn’t want to go to, how my mother looked as she smiled, wearing her only good dress, and so on, and so on. Somehow, I really want to see my family again.

“Miss Maïne,” says Jutte, “you look a little pale, is something wrong?”
“When I see how happy Freida is down there with her family, I think about how I want to be with my family too. They’re not coming until the afternoon, though…”


As soon as the noonday bell rings, my family arrives to pick me up, as if they were lying in wait outside. My father’s affection, as overbearing as it ordinarily is, warms my heart.

“Maïne, were you lonely? Daddy was so lonely!”
“A little, yeah. I was a little bit lonely.”

Freida’s family invited us to have lunch with them, but my mother politely told them that she couldn’t possibly ask them to do more than they already had, and I struck the decisive blow by nagging her about wanting to eat her home cooking after so long, so we wound up going home without any significant resistance.

“Aww, but I wanted to have a big feast too…” whines Tuuli, puffing out her cheeks.
“Sorry, Tuuli. The food at Freida’s house is wonderful, but I really want to eat Mommy’s cooking even more.”
“Eva,” chimes in my father, “your cooking really is delicious.”

We head home, with me riding on the shoulders of my high-spirited father. It’s only been a few days, and the home I’m returning to is poor and worn out, but I can finally breathe a sigh of relief now that I’m no longer under constant mental strain.

Freida’s house was full of extravagant meals, luxurious baths, and comfortable mattresses. Even though every single thing there was fascinating, the mental strain from being there wore me out completely. Everything was so clean and easy there, but for some reason, I never found myself wishing I could live like that forever.

Ahh, at some point, I started calling this place home, huh…

It was a stay at Freida’s house that made me surprised by the change in my own heart.