That night at the Serene Ezov was one of its busiest.
People completely filled the tavern, with several even standing outside, in the cold, for lack of space. The place was abuzz with chatter, with Rosalind and myself rushing to meet the many orders that came in. Without exception, each patron held in their hand a large mug of beer, taking deep swigs while complaining loudly about the new taxes. Looking carefully, it was clear that few, if any, of the patrons had ordered food, and the vast majority had ordered naught but a drink. Even so, it was a sight unthinkable for a tavern in a small town, just a week after the announcement of new taxes that affected everyone. And yet, despite the fact that business was booming, Rosalind – the owner of this establishment – had a troubled look on her face.
When a temporary lull in orders presented itself, Rosalind pulled me to the side and whispered.
“Oi, Ely, are you sure about this? We’re losing way too much money here.”
“Ros. If you want great results, you have to take great risks. Half-hearted measures will only delay the inevitable. Trust me. I know what I’m doing.”
“…I certainly hope so. If whatever you’re planning falls through, we’re going to have to cut our forecast for the amount of time our savings will last.”
Of course, if I had to give the reason as to why we had such great business that night despite the sudden cut to most individuals’ disposable income, the answer would have to lie with the large board I had set up outside the tavern.
Scrawled across the black slab of wood in chalk was the announcement:
[All Beers, 75% off! This week only!]
On the chance that our patrons couldn’t read, I had further paid several children to run around town throughout the day, spreading the news. In my own world, I would have put out an advert in the news, but mass media had yet to be invented in this world. Either way, given such incentive, it was only natural that such a crowd would form.
Of course, it was also a truth that we were losing a lot of money. Even discounting the amount I had paid for the word-of-mouth advertising and a certain special order from the tailor, we were currently selling beer at under half of cost price. Every mug sold was a loss. Rosalind’s concern was understandable. I tried to reassure her.
“It’ll work. Probably.”
“Well, there are no guarantees in business. Still. I’d say we have about a 40% chance of success.”
“That’s unfavorable, isn’t it?!”
“It’s higher than zero.”
“Look, Ros, just trust me on this. Oh, and go put this on. I can handle things here for a bit.”
I placed a paper bag in her hands.
“Eh? What’s this?”
I grinned and ushered her out of the kitchen.
“Just go upstairs and put it on, then come down once you’re done. It’s essential for my plan.”
“It would be nice if you could actually tell me what your plan was.”
“That’s a secret. You’ll find out soon.”
Rosalind gave me a suspicious glance, but nonetheless did as I said. It was not so much that I did not want to divulge the details to Rosalind, but more that I was not in a position to do so. For the plan to work, it was better for her to be thoroughly unprepared. Of course, I had no evidence to support that conclusion. It was largely a gut feeling.
…Along with maybe just a tiny bit of revenge for surprising me with a butler outfit a year ago. But that was certainly not my primary intention. That would be petty.
As Rosalind went upstairs to get changed, I made the full use of my superhuman physique to keep up with the orders. I deftly balanced six to ten mugs of beer with each trip, memorising orders and moving faster than any human had the right to.
“Oi, Miss Elysium, where did Miss Rosalind go?”
“Stay put and find out~”
“Selling beer this cheap, won’t you go broke?”
“If you’re that worried, why not pay the full price?”
As I moved, several people called out to me, asking trivial questions. To each of these I gave only a teasing answer. What came next would be a surprise to everyone. Something new, as it were. Unheard of in this world, from what little I knew of it. It was a solution I had come to after putting together everything I knew of this world, my knowledge of Rosalind and her tendencies, as well as my understanding of the dispositions of our regulars. It was for the purpose of the upcoming spectacle that I had suggested we swallow the bitter pill of lowering the price of our beer for the week. It was imperative that as many people as possible saw what was to come.
After several more minutes of frenzied service, I finally heard the faint footsteps of Rosalind walking down the stairs. A smile played across my lips as the buzz in the tavern began to slow down, the patrons captivated by what they saw.
Rosalind, slowly descending the spiral stairs, had traded her practical bar dress for a long, elegant one-piece. The V-shaped neckline displayed just enough of her bare skin to incite the imagination while protecting her modesty, striding the line between sensual and risque. As she walked down the spiral stairs and was forced to turn, the back of the dress was shown, displaying a low cut that left much of her bare back exposed. The sleeves of the dress, reaching her wrists, billowed about as she moved down, shimmering like the water in a fountain. The striking blue of the dress clashed wonderfully with her flame-red hair – as well as her rapidly reddening face. She stepped down the stairs barefoot – as per the instructions I had left on a card in the paper bag. Her visage was every bit that of an ephemeral nymph descending from a higher plane – exactly as I had envisioned it, even surpassing my expectations. A few whistles sounded from within the crowd. One of them was mine. Hearing these, Rosalind flushed bright red. Deciding that it was probably unsafe – and unsanitory – to let her walk onto the floor of the tavern barefoot, I leapt up onto the staircase railing and pulled myself in, landing next to Rosalind. Casting a glance at the silent, stunned crowd, she whispered fiercely into my ear.
“Ely, what’s all this? Why did you make me wear this?! Wait, when you said you needed to get something from the tailor… how much did this cost?!”
“Er. Well. It wasn’t cheap, to say the least.”
“We’re already struggling, and you wasted our money on something like this?!”
“Calm down. This dress is necessary to the plan.”
“What plan?! What could me wearing this possibly accomplish?! Why couldn’t you wear it, instead?!”
“Well, I could wear it, but I lack the necessary talent for the next part, see.”
“You’re going to tell me, right now, what the next part is. No more surprises.”
I grinned mischievously.
“Well, that’s fine. I was about to reveal the next step right now, anyway.”
I pulled away from Rosalind’s intense glare and turned to face the crowd of patrons, who had begun whispering among each other. I cleared my throat and spoke with a loud voice, honed by ten years of making myself heard over the sounds of war.
“Ahem. Ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming tonight. I can tell you’re enjoying yourselves, though I suspect that much of that might just be due to the cheap alcohol.”
Loud cheers of affirmation ran through the crowd. I smiled.
“Now, I have little doubt that most – actually, probably all – of you are here because of the cheap beer. Some of you asked me whether it was really okay for us to sell it so cheaply. Not that you’re complaining, of course.”
A few chuckles, particularly from those that had posed the question.
“Well, if you had to ask me why we’re selling it so cheap, it’s because we’ve found something more valuable than alcohol. Something better. Alcohol lets you forget your problems. Trust me, I understand. I, too, occasionally drink a sip of the stuff. Just a bit, though. I’m a light drinker.”
There was much more laughter this time – in my short year here, I had gained quite the reputation for drinking any challenger under the table. It was a skill I had to hone out of necessity back in the other world, where negotiations often began with drinking challenges. Taking in the laughter, I continued.
“But what you’re about to experience dwarfs the power of alcohol. Drink lets you forget your problems, but what you will see next lets you accept them and move on. Something that, to me, is far more valuable than whatever alcohol can provide. Sounds hard to believe, I know. But experience it for yourself, and you’ll see that I’m speaking the truth.”
I stepped aside, gesturing at Rosalind, who wore a cramped expression as she glared at me. She knew, based on my preamble, what I intended for her to do. At the same time, she made no rebuttal. She probably decided that objecting at this late juncture would accomplish nothing. She sighed and shook her head, but her lips curled into a smile as she stepped forward such that the patrons could better see her. She waved a hand, and several balls of light emerged from her palm, floating above her head and illuminating her like a spotlight. I withdrew from the light, and, once I had ascertained that the gazes of the audience were fixed on her, I completed my introduction.
“Madam Rosalind, owner of this establishment, my employer and my friend, will now sing for us. Please relax and enjoy her performance.”