There was only one bookstore in town, Bark’s Books. It was mostly frequented by the scholars and members of the Whitestag elite. So even though it wasn’t that big an establishment, it spanned two storefronts and was very quiet within.
“Uncle Bark, I heard that you just got a new batch of books. Where are they?” shouted Borkal when he entered. He was a regular customer of the bookstore and couldn’t be bothered with keeping the silence within it.
“Over there, there are 15 books in total. Please be careful as you look through them. I only got three copies of each book and you’ll have to pay me back if you ruin them,” said the owner, Bark, as he adjusted his monocle and continued to count his bills at the counter.
Among the 15 books, eight of them were biographies. Claude had always considered those books motivational chicken-soup novels. Usually, they came about as a result of some famous noble or council member asking someone to publish a book about their experiences and exploits. The books would usually go on about how much hardship those people had to experience before they inevitably overcame them and became the successful people they were today.
Only idiots believe in that kind of thing… Claude was no stranger to chicken soup books in his previous life. He felt that these novel-like biographies were only a sad parody of the actual chicken soup books he read in his previous life. Most of them followed the same formula, with slight variations in name, places and dates. In the end, they were published for two main reasons: to hoodwink and to profit.
The were five other chivalric novels that contained stories of certain brave knights who went around saving princesses or noble ladies from the clutches of the evil magi during the dark ages. The knights would always emerge victorious in their struggle and return with a damsel in their hands with no exception. They’d also have their fair share of the treasure the evil magi gathered, getting the best of both worlds of romance and wealth.
Claude felt that swapping out the evil magi for terrifying dragons would make the stories more convincing, but for some reason, the dragons in this world’s mythology didn’t seem to enjoy capturing beautiful women to hear their squeals for help. Instead, they were almost always reduced to being forced to serve as the magi’s mount or minion and would always end up turning against their masters, being killed by the protagonist or becoming their mounts.
Those nearly identical chivalric romances used to be Claude’s favorite when he first arrived in that world. He used to be so excited while reading them. But now, he was well aware that the stories were merely ridiculous fantasies made up by their authors with nothing to do with the actual history of this world. Though, it wasn’t that he didn’t understand the need for those authors to make a living and limit the scope of their writing to appeasing the tolerances of the kingdom.
One of the last two books was a journal of travels across the continent. It was written by a diplomat of Aueras who had served in the kingdom of Shiks. The book was the consolidation of his five years of experience there. This looks good, I’ll take it with me.
The other was the latest investigative report about maritime flora and fauna. After eight long years of research, an expert in herbalism managed to refine a kind of dye from a violet-colored water plant atro grass. Cloth dyed with that grass hardly faded in color and it added another color option to the clothes of the kingdom. The book detailed the process of cultivating atro grass and a price guide for them.
Hmm, ‘Atro Grass’ sounds like a good new addition for father’s study. As the chief secretary of the town, Morssen would occasionally show his visitors his study to present his wide-reaching knowledge and attention to the trends of the kingdom. Perhaps, he could also use that book to justify funding for a project to let the townsfolk cultivate this plant. Even if it were to end in failure, people wouldn’t give it much heed as it was common for research projects to have no yield.
In the end, Claude purchased four books, namely, ‘Atro Grass’, ‘Sights of Shiks’, a chilvaric romance and a biography, spending two riyases and two sunars in total. Even though he didn’t really want to buy that many, his father had given him two riyases’ worth of coins for him to buy books, so he made a purchase nearly equalling that amount.
Though he was particularly unwilling in purchasing the biography, Morssen liked to read books like those for inspirational lessons to teach his children with. As for the chivalric novel, Claude would use it to kill his boredom when he was within the toilet. He had been spoiled with the conveniences of a smartphone in his previous life, so he couldn’t empty his bowels without sitting on the toilet with his mind occupied with something else.
“Claude, come here to take a look,” Eriksson said in a suspiciously soft tone, “There’s something good…”
“What are you up to? You look like a thief,” said Claude as he walked over.
Eriksson put a finger to his lip. “Shh, be quiet. I’ll show you something cool.”
He slipped a book into Claude’s hand. Claude didn’t know where Eriksson got that handcopy from. When he flipped it open, he smiled with understanding. I didn’t think there’d be adult magazines in this world with such racey pictures of couples going at it… Even though it was copied by hand, it could be seen that the copier was extremely attentive to his work. The proportions of the people in the pictures was mostly normal. Even though it wasn’t completely realistic, the art style wasn’t abstract either. The ‘key parts’ in question were rendered with great detail on paper. It was no wonder Eriksson was blushing all the way up his ears.
After giving it a rough flip and briefly looking through its contents, he found that the book detailed the story of a young noble lady who was doing her best to help her father retain his rank and title after losing his business. She went to the capital and traded favors with her body and the scenarios described in the book was intense. Paragraphs upon paragraphs described the actions during the deed and it was endlessly entertaining.
No wonder it’s a handcopy instead of a printed one. These books are banned in the kingdom after all… Authors of books of such nature would face five to six years of jail time if caught. Copiers and readers on the other hand would be fined or forced to serve three months of unpaid labor. But the degree of such punishments usually depended on the enforcers themselves and those who had good relations with them would have their transgressions overlooked.
“Where’d you get this?” asked Claude.
“It’s in Uncle Bark’s private collection. What do you think of it?”
“Just average,” Claude said as he tossed the book back to Eriksson, “When you grow up and experience it with lots of women, you’ll no longer care about such a silly book.”
“You say that like you have been with lots of women,” Eriksson said as he hurriedly put that book back, “Claude, do you think buying this book and making a few copies to sell to our friends at school is a good idea?”
Claude glared at him and solemnly warned, “Eyke, if you want to die, feel free to do so. I won’t stop you if you want to buy it for your own consumption. But buying it to make copies of it for sale is a fool’s errand. The moment one of our schoolmates gets his hand on one of your copies, the whole school will know that you have such a forbidden book in your possession. The more copies you sell, the closer your doom will creep. When the instructors find out about it, it won’t be hard to imagine your ending. Even your father, the famed Captain Altroni, would find it hard pressed to stop you from being sent to the labor camp.”
Eriksson was completely speechless for a moment. He mumbled with dissatisfaction, “I’ll beat anyone who dares to tell on me to death.”
“Fool, do you think that they will tell the instructors in front of you? By the time you find out who did it, it’ll already be far too late. These handcopies are banned by the kingdom. Distributing them is no smaller crime than being an author of these books,” Claude said with a pat to Eriksson’s head, “Return it to Uncle Bark now.”
Apart from those four books, Claude spent another four sunars to buy a piece of green-colored card stock and 20 pieces of good-quality mali paper for the recipe book he was going to make for his mother as a birthday gift.
Compared to the cheap, rough-textured and yellowish papyrus sheets made in the three southwestern prefectures, mali paper produced exclusively in the south of the kingdom was fine and clean-looking. However, they cost one fenny each. Mali paper was used as a standard in official documents.
Morssen, being Whitestag’s chief secretary, would often bring stacks of mali paper left over in his office. Eventually, they had an abundance of them and Claude and Angelina used them as draft paper for their homework or doodling. Sometimes, Claude would fold them into paper planes, boats and lanterns for Bloweyk to play with.
As the mali paper he bought was of the larger variety, not the small ones his father brought back home, he had to roll them up to carry them back. When he finished paying for it, he saw Eriksson stuffing the handcopy book into his chest pocket. That fool bought that adult book in the end…
“How much did it cost?” asked Claude in a whisper.
Eriksson started with shock. He only breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that it was just Claude. “One riyas and eight sunars.”
“What?!” Claude was flabbergasted. The books he bought only cost around six sunars each. How could a handcopy cost more than three whole books? “Why’s it so expensive?”
“Uncle Bark said that copying that took quite a bit of effort. The price is also jacked up because books like this one are banned. He doesn’t have a choice after all since he can’t just display something like this out in the open. It’s also quite rare for such a specimen to end up in his hands, hence the price. He only has one of these…”
Bullshit. I’d never believe it if it were me, thought Claude. It was no wonder Eriksson thought of making a few copies for his friends. That book was a little too expensive and buying one for himself wasn’t that worth the high cost.
Claude gave it some thought and made a suggestion to Eriksson. “Why don’t you sell it to Boa or rent it to him when you’re done reading it? At the very least, you’ll be able to earn half the money you spend on it back.”
“Do you want to read it then? I’ll resell it to you at a lower price, or make a copy for you…” Eriksson went full sail when he saw the wind blowing.
“Buzz off. I don’t want to read a childish book like that!” said Claude as he pushed Eriksson away.
When they were on the way back to school, Borkal slapped his forehead as he thought of something.
“Oh, Claude, did you hit your sister, Anna, when you got home yesterday?”
“What did you say?” Claude froze. “I didn’t. I would never hit my sister. She’s the most precious little girl in the world! Why would I hit her? I went to sleep straight away when I went home yesterday. Why’d you say I hit her?”
“So it wasn’t you… Yesterday when Boa and I went to your house to give you your share of the goat leg, python meat and deer jerky, we heard your sister crying in a corner of the kitchen. When she heard us call, she stopped crying, wiped her tears and came to take the things we brought. When we asked her who was picking on her, she didn’t say. But we could see the reddish palm mark left on her face. It seems like someone slapped her. Since you went home not long before that, we thought it was you who did it, so we didn’t press the question.”
Welikro nodded. “I really thought you were the one that hit her, so I wanted to advise you against disciplining your little sister like that…”
Claude’s eyes turned bloodshot in a moment. Ever since transmigrating to this world, Claude had done his best to play the part of the elder brother of his younger siblings. That made him experience siblinghood for the first time. As he was an only son in his past life, he had always envied those who had brothers and sisters.
“Arbeit…” mused Claude with grit teeth as he thought about how Arbeit didn’t utter a single word when his father was reprimanding him yesterday. When his father left, Arbeit followed immediately and seemed like he was avoiding Claude. He instantly snapped with realization upon that thought. Only that fool would dare to lay hands on my little sister… I’ll have to give that two-faced bully of those weaker than him a harsh lesson when I get home tonight…