“Thanks for your patronage! We’re all out of alcohol, but Rosalind will still be singing tomorrow night, so do feel free to come down, we’re open at the usual times!”
With that, I ushered out the last patron and flipped the sign on the door from “open” to “closed”. Shutting the door, I turned my head back to watch Rosalind, who had already begun tidying up the place, singing to remove the dirt and grime.
When she was done, she sat down at one of the tables and stared into the distance. A slight grin played around her lips. I casually sat down across from her and rested my face on my palm. It seemed that she was extremely distracted – she did not react to my sudden appearance for maybe half a minute, before she jolted and pushed herself upright, face reddening. I laughed.
“Did you enjoy it? Singing. Getting adored. All your fans, clamoring for you.”
“Do you really need to ask? That was amazing. I loved every second of it.”
Rosalind’s quick reply was accompanied by a dreamy gaze, as if reliving her moment of glory. It was understandable – a common reaction for many people who performed for the first time. It was an expression I was familiar with – I’d seen it before somewhere… but who…? I did not meet any performers in both my former worlds… I felt the inkling of recognition tugging at the edge of my consciousness, but I could not bring forth any image to the forefront. I shrugged and decided to leave the enigma be, for the moment. As I did, Rosalind continued to express her enjoyment.
“I’ve always loved singing – singing the songs that Ruth taught me, that my parents taught me. I’m certainly aware of the fact that there might be people who enjoyed hearing my song – you, for example, or those rare customers that visit in the afternoon, all seem to enjoy hearing me sing. But… even so, I never thought that so many people would cheer that much for me. I mean, I have no training. I’ve never been in a court. I’m not qualified to be a bard.”
Bards did exist in this world, but as a rule, they were employed by nobles or other equally wealthy individuals – most bards were attached to a single employer, and made music for the listening pleasure of their clients. To have a bard in one’s employ was a sign of wealth and prestige, and to enter the profession required connections to either existing bards, or otherwise to potential employers. Additionally, within this country, a license from the Guild of Bards was required if one wished to perform as a bard, and attaining this license involved studying for a written examination, and qualification for this examination was based on reccommendation. In other words, the bardic trade was nigh-impossible for someone with no connections to gain a footing in. Furthermore, the difficulty with which bardic licenses were granted meant that few, if any, bards performed their songs outside the court of their employer.
Rosalind’s performance – a public performance, open to the unwealthy population of this small town – might have been the first of its kind in recent history.
“Well, you’re certainly not a bard. You’re definitely a born performer, though.”
“Not a bard, but a performer? What does that make me then?”
“Not a bard, because you’re not stuck in some manor somewhere singing for stiff old men with nothing better to spend their money on. But make no mistake, you are definitely a performer. That feeling, that exhilaration you felt when you sang? You felt it, right? I saw it in your eyes, in your manner, in your words. That feeling is proof that you are born for the stage.”
“…While that’s true, I’m still not sure what you mean by a performer who is not a bard.”
Due to the lucrative nature of the bardic trade, there were no professional singers other than bards – those with the talent would seek work as a bard. As such, it was unsurprising that the idea of a “performer” should be almost indistinguishable from that of a “bard”. I tried to come up with a name for what she was doing that was a bit more impactful than merely “singer”, but I could really only think of one analogue.
“…A singer, a public performer, someone who did what you just did – in my world, such a person could be described as an ‘idol’.”
Well, the term did not originate from my home country, and it was really only one other country that embraced the idea, but it fit. Of course, it was not a perfect fit – idols in my home plane placed as much emphasis on their appearance and mannerism as on their singing, to the point where the singing was sometimes secondary. In the case of Rosalind, it was the other way around – her performance was focused on singing, and the rest was less important. But it was a more impactful name than ‘singer’, and did not carry the negative connotations of, say, ‘diva’.
…And her appearance would likely have passed idol standards, too, so if I ever wanted to explore that avenue as a source of revenue, the option would be open to us.
Rosalind rolled the word around on her tongue.
“‘Idol’… I like it. It sounds simple, but distinct. I’m an idol. Well, I guess I’m still a barmaid, but now I’m an idol as well. Your world has so many interesting words…” She blinked and glanced at me, as if she had remembered something she wanted to ask. “Speaking of new words, what was with that ‘encore’ thing? Weren’t the audience already asking for another song? Was there really a need to make them learn that new word?”
I felt my face contort into a smirk. It was a wholly involuntary action, but it made Rosalind shrink away from me somewhat. I hurriedly tried to fix my expression, tweaking it back to a gentler, less villainous smile.
“A trick of the trade. See, these people all know the word ‘encore’ now, and they all know it means ‘one more song’. But nobody else knows. If they use the word in any other setting, it would be effectively gibberish. This strengthens the group identity – as of now, all your fans are members of the social group that denotes ‘fans of Rosalind’. The introduction of a context-specific term that only members of this social group would know helps to strengthen the impression of group membership – think of it as a secret password, or code word, that identifies them as a part of this social group. The more they use it, and the more often they come into contact with a crowd that uses the word, the stronger this sense of belonging will become, until eventually, it becomes an integral part of their identity – and this will, in turn, ensure that they keep attending your performances, because that is the only way to affirm their group identity. So you can think of the word ‘encore’ as a seed, a seed that will eventually sprout into a reliable source of support and a consistent revenue stream.”
As I finished my explanation, I noticed that Rosalind had since left my table and was currently sitting at the next table over, staring at me with some trepidation.
“…What kind of manipulative villain are you…?”
I indulged in an exasperated sigh and waved my hand in dismissal.
“Ros, please. I’m not a villain. I’m just a professional. Besides, I’m just an amateur when it comes to manipulation; Shenqu was way better at it.”
I decided to mention Shenqu, my tactician back in the War of the Six, in an attempt to divert Rosalind’s unease. I learned everything I knew about manipulation from him, but he was still far better at it than I. Shenqu was a name I had not yet mentioned to Rosalind, and her innate curiosity about my past worlds should have caught it and latched on to it. However…
“Shenqu…? Who’s -! No! I’m not falling for it! And you called me ‘Ros’ there, are you trying to make me drop my guard or something?”
“Ros, I always call you that in private. Like how you call me Ely.”
“But what’s with that timing? Calling me a nickname and bringing up someone new for no reason? You’re trying to manipulate me, aren’t you?”
I stayed silent. She wasn’t exactly wrong.
“You’re not denying it! I knew it! You’re tricking me!”
She hurriedly left her table and moved one table further away while pointing an accusing finger at me. I laughed and pushed off my own chair, closing the distance in the blink of an eye, putting one hand on her head.
“Calm down, Ros. Even if I’m a manipulative villain, I’m still your friend. I value my friends. Now let’s go upstairs and get some sleep. We’ve got another big night tonight.”
She glared at me, seemingly angry at my changing the subject, but her eyes and lips held a twinkle that proved her jest. Without saying anything more, she complied with my suggestion. And thus ended Rosalind’s first day as an idol.