The coach waggled along noisily.
Claude and Maria sat facing one another inside. Claude stared at the baroness, his head aching.
"Is this appropriate, Milady? You're a noble. My father ought to be the one coming to see you, not the other way around--"
"Nonsense!" Maria giggled, "I find such things irksome. I wish to meet your father, so that's what I'll do. I have something I wish to discuss with him as well, and the sooner the better."
The group had dragged the three carcasses over the hill with some difficulty. But when it came time to butcher them, Claude realised no one could. Wien, the coachman, fainted at the sight of blood. He'd done so the moment he saw the two big boars, blood still trickling out of the holes in their heads, and had to be carried back before the other four dealt with the boars. Rodan didn't even know how to hold a butcher's knife, nevermind how to cut up a carcass and Siori's wife, Lancy was no better. Siori, the only one left, had deformed hands from an accident while he was being trained as a soldier during the last war and he couldn't handle knives anymore.
As a result, Claude had to spend his afternoon butchering the three boars. The four spectators watched, mouths agape yet again, from the side. Claude was most surprised that Maria didn't twitch at all. He expected Lancy to have a somewhat decent stomach, since, as the one responsible for the cooking between her and her husband, she no doubt dealt with raw meat regularly, and possibly even butchered small animals like hares.
The sun was already heading to bed when he finished, so he asked if Wien could take him and his boar home on one of their carriages. Wien brought a coach instead, and he found Maria already inside, waiting for him.
"What do you wish to discuss with my father, Milady?" Claude asked.
"I want to hire you as a guard. The wood could do with a regular visit from you," the baroness answered in the kind of it's-already-decided attitude Claude had learned to expect from nobility from several movies in his previous life.
"Are you certain?" Claude asked nevertheless.
"Of course. Just look at Siori and his wife. He's cripple, and his wife is too old to take care of the wood. She can still handle the farm work, but she can't deal with boars. I'm not here all the time to look after things, either. You can clearly handle yourself though, so I won't have to worry about the place if I put you in charge of keeping it clear. It'll be the perfect excuse for you to come visit regularly."
Claude smiled bitterly.
"I am graduating in two months, Milady. Is now really the right time to hire me?"
"Fine, since we're so well-acquainted now, I'll tell you why I really want to hire you. You see, I need your help with something. It's nothing substantial. You'll just need to take a week or so off from school."
"What do you need, Milady?"
"I want to process the niros crocodile into parchment for tomes or scrolls before I return to the capital. I don't think I'll be able to keep my hands on it if I take it back as is, but I don't have the skills to process it, nor do I know someone who does... besides you, that is."
Claude's eyes glowed.
"What are tomes for, Milady? I thought they were just ancient, magical books."
Maria fought back a giggle, though not entirely successfully, for a few seconds, then burst into an exuberant fit of outright laughter.
"Sorry. I forgot you're a rookie. There are many different kinds of tomes. 'Tome' refers to any book written on magic parchment, including those diaries of yours. They're usually only written on the lowest grade of parchment, though. Those sheets usually only have the quality of being able to last much longer than normal parchment. Niros crocodile parchment is of a far higher grade. They're used for inscribing formations. Speaking of which, have you heard of unitisation theory? It predicts that mana can be split into discrete units of a particular size, and that the mana spells consume always corresponds to a volume that can be perfectly measured in those units. Kind of like how a beach is always made up of a whole number of grains of sand, and never has any grain fractions. A jar, too, will always be filled with a specific whole number of grains -- 3 045, for example -- never a fraction -- like 3 045 and 3/4."
Didn't Landes mention something similar in his diaries? Claude thought for a moment, then nodded.
"Well, magi aren't limited to the seven spells they can engrave in their hexagram. They can cast other spells, but those cost more mana. That means they can only cast any spell so many times, and they can't cast spells that use more mana than they can store. There is a way around this, however. Magic parchment contains mana and the formation drawn on it consumes that instead of the magus' mana to cast the corresponding spell, unless the spell required more mana than the parchment has, in that case the magus just has to cover the deficit. This allows magi to cast spells they otherwise can't. And since the formation is also already drawn on the parchment magi don't have to learn the spell beforehand.
"The stronger spells that consume all the mana in a parchment, destroy the parchment when cast, but spells that don't use all the mana can be used multiple times, the magus just has to replenish the parchment's mana between casts. Even so, however, the parchment is only good for so many casts. It can only withstand so many replenishments and uses before it crumples.
"Single sheets of parchment are called spell scrolls, or just scrolls. But many sheets can also be bound together into a tome. This had a number of advantages over scrolls. Though they're more unwieldy, the binding strengthens the parchment. Formations in the cover of the tome stores more mana, which can be used when casting from one of the pages inside, reducing the strain on the individual page, so it lasts longer. Some of the highest grade tomes even contain recovery formations that restore damaged pages so they can be used indefinitely. There's also the fact that tomes contain many different spells. The quality of the binding and cover limit how many, though, and most can only take 24.
"Any magus worth his salt will own at least two tomes and have at least one with him at all times. Scrolls haven't been entirely replaced, however. A famous magus developed a new formation about four hundred years ago that allow even people with no sense of magic at all to cast spells from scrolls. They have to destroy the parchment to do so, usually by tearing it up, so it can only be used once, however.
"The animals from which tomes are made are mostly extinct now, however, and the knowledge of how to make the highest grade tomes was lost with the fall of the magi, so they're a rare sight nowadays. I rushed over to get the niros crocodile because it's one of only three beasts left that can produce parchment. Red-eyed apes from the highlands in the far west of Freia, and bloodback wolf from the southernmost parts of the continent are the other two.
"Parchment made from niros crocodile skin can only be used for the simplest of spells. Well, you can technically inscribe more powerful spells, but it'll crumple after the first use and nobody would waste such a rare material to make a single use only item anymore.
"Magi today will literally duel each other to the death for an intact specimen like this. Luckily I found it first. If the Watch learned of this first, or if they get here before I finish making parchment and engraving spells, they won't leave anything for me.
"That's why I need your help. I could take it with me to the capital and look for a decent butcher who knows about magic there, but why risk it if I have you? I'll even have enough parchment to make two or three tomes if things go well!"
"I could just give you Fine Control and Magus' Hands and you could do it all yourself."
"It's not just a matter of having the spells for it. You need to know how to work with carcasses, too, and I don't. Not to mention that those spells are very expensive on mana if you have to engrave them every time. You have them in your hexagram, so they're cheap for you to cast, I don't, and the skin will lose its mana if you don't complete turning it into parchment soon after starting."
Damnit, she was putting everything on him...
"I won't make you do it for nothing," she offered, "I'll make sure you have some benefits, too."
Benefits? Claude stared her a question.
Maria smiled again, as if she liked to see Claude's naive expression.
"Think about it. If you help me, wouldn't you learn how to turn skin into parchment? You don't know how to do that, do you?"
He did, he thought. Landes had detailed the whole process in his diaries. Landes only used the parchment for his diaries instead of making them into low-level tomes, but the fundamental process was still the same.
It would not do to let Maria know that, so he nodded obediently.
"You're free to watch and learn while I make the tomes and scrolls. I'll answer any questions you have," Maria tantalised again.
Now that was something Landes hadn't described. With that knowledge he could do everything from catch the crocodile to sell the finished tome.
"If I make enough, I'll give you a tome as well," another temptation came, "but only if you accept my job offer and move to the manor.
"Rodan told me about you being mistaken for a thief when you climbed onto your roof. I bet you were meditating, weren't you? You won't have to worry about those kinds of things if you move to the manor.
Claude sighed inside, half disappointed that he was so easy to buy, and nodded.
"Very well, Milady. As long as you can convince my father, I'm fine with it."