“Glint! What’s going on?!”
“What happened to Rosalind?!”
“What have you people been doing?!”
“That was the Emperor during the performance, wasn’t it?”
“What was he doing there?!”
Questions of this nature bombarded me the moment the crowd caught a glimpse of my face. I grimly weathered the initial barrage with a stoic gaze, waiting for them to expel all their impulsive inquiries. Marisa, who was standing several paces in front of the door, nodded in acknowledgement and retreated back inside the door, where she stood quietly behind me, leaning on the door frame. The onslaught of demands and questions continued for some time, before eventually subsiding as it became evident that I was not going to speak until the crowd had quietened down.
When it became quiet enough that I could finally expect my voice to be heard, I began.
“Dearest guests, I sincerely apologise for the disruption to our concert. I won’t attempt to say that it was an unanticipated result, but it was unfortunate nonetheless.”
“You mean you knew this would happen?!”
“Not in so certain terms, no. But as long as the Emperor was insistent on attending our performance, it was always a possible outcome. So, it would be deceitful to say that it came as a complete surprise. Particularly in light of the recent revelations that I have received.”
“Why didn’t you cancel the concert? If you knew this would happen, why’d you go ahead?! Isn’t that basically admitting that you planned this?!”
A well-built, gruff-looking man stepped forward confrontationally as he said that. I was, thankfully, saved the trouble of composing my response by an equally large man who smacked him on the head.
“Don’t be an idiot. Why not you go defy an Imperial command and see how that ends up for you?”
I nodded my gratitude to the interceder and returned my attention to the topic at hand.
“I have, unfortunately, ill news to confer. That it should disquiet you, I have no doubt, but I’d say that it is most disheartening for myself and for Rosalind.”
I took a deep breath, rehearsing my line, then executed it.
“It has come to our attention that the attempt on the Emperor’s life was orchestrated by none other than Elysium herself.”
The crowd erupted into protestations and disputes.
“Elysium? Rosalind’s friend, the violinist – that Elysium?”
“Bullshit! No way! She might be aloof, but she’s a perfectly nice woman!”
“Why would she even want to do that?”
“No way she planned it!”
Aware that the crowd, on this occasion, was far less likely to subside naturally, I raised my voice to be heard above the din.
“Please! Please stay calm and listen!”
The people quietened down, but continued murmuring among themselves. I cleared my throat, and confirmed that I had the attention of all present before proceeding.
“I can think of no reason for Elysium to have contemplated a plot so foul, nor can I bring myself to believe it – indeed, if it perplexes you, dear guests, imagine how much more it perplexes myself, who have lived with her and worked with her for years, or Rosalind, who considers Elysium her first and dearest friend? Trust me when I say that such an action is completely at odds with the Elysium I know. However, facts are facts; and it is indeed a fact that the Imperial Guard has extracted a full confession from Elysium, one where she claims sole responsibility for the plot – she has disavowed both Rosalind and myself, and has declared us to be only pawns in her larger design.”
For the more sensitive in the crowd, my peculiar emphasis allowed them to grasp my implied meaning, and several faces contorted into expressions of grief and indignation. The rest of the crowd was displaying disbelief and outrage in equal parts. I estimated that about a quarter of them had realised the truth of the incident. I made eye contact with those who had displayed this understanding, and they each returned me some quiet acknowledgement, after which they set about calming those around them.
When the crowd had calmed down, a younger girl, near the front, flanked by what I presumed to be her parents – both of whom had caught my implication – timidly raised her voice.
“So… what’s going to happen to Rosalind?”
I resisted the urge to bite my lip. This would inevitably drive a wedge between Rosalind and her fanbase, but I trusted that Rosalind’s powerful influence would not be so easily broken.
“Since Elysium has confessed sole responsibility, Rosalind and myself are no longer under suspicion – we are but victims in this poor affair after all, used and then discarded by a woman that we had thought our friend. I was granted my liberty, and shall soon return to my duties in managing the Ezov, but as for Rosalind… she has gained the esteem and attention of the Emperor.”
The crowd broke out into murmurs again, some excited, some fearful. For many of them, who were Rosalind’s faithful supporters, the thought of her having gained the patronage of the Emperor was a wondrous thing – but for others, who had heard rumours of the Emperor’s character, they received the news with a graveness that betrayed their concern for her well-being.
“Allow me to assure you that although Rosalind is currently detained in the Palace, she is, by all appearances, not the least bit unhappy. I have but heard vague reports, but it seems that her behaviour would suggest that she is pleased with the Emperor’s affections – I have even heard reports that she gives the appearance of reciprocating them.”
The number of people who understood my hidden meaning this time numbered fewer than before, but that was to be expected. Unlike the previous instance, I was not pointedly emphasising the key points, but my choice of words was enough to inform the careful listener about what Rosalind was endeavouring to do. This time, only about six people, in the crowd of more than fifty, showed any sign of having understood my meaning.
Without warning, the same large-built man who had interjected at the start of my explanation roared in indignation.
“How could she?! We were here, all worried for her, and that woman is just sitting around, flirting?! How can she do this to us – to the people who have supported her for so long?!”
Several people glanced at him with distaste, clearly angry at his insinuation – but some of the crowd were nodding their heads in assent. If I didn’t change the flow of the conversation quickly, this could go badly – but as an interested party, interjecting here would only serve to worsen to problem. I slightly tilted my head back, a sign for Marisa. Marisa didn’t give any outward sign of acknowledgement, but stepped forward.
“Sir, please understand. Rosalind is, in the end, a human, like us. She may be a renowned performer throughout the Empire, but apart from her profession, she is just an ordinary woman. Just as you or I are prisoners to the swaying of our heart, Rosalind too is helpless before its persuasion. If gaining the favour of the Emperor can grant Rosalind happiness and sway her heart, I implore you not to blame her for obeying it – I implore you not to deny her happiness.”
The man, whose expression throughout Marisa’s plea had gradually changed to one of chagrin, mumbled something inaudible and fell back in among the audience. Seeing this, one of the six who had understood my hidden message took the opportunity to speak up.
“The lady’s right. We’re fans of Rosalind, aren’t we? We swore to support her, didn’t we? If she’s infatuated with the Emperor, if she finds happiness in his attention, I think we should support it – we should support her. As fans, Rosalind’s happiness should be our greatest happiness. Rather than resent her for this, I think we should rather offer our congratulations, and our encouragement.”
Another of the six shouted his agreement, then another. Then another woman – not one of those who had understood me, joined in the affirmation of Rosalind’s choice. From there, the approbation spread, until the crowd’s murmurs were not tinted in the colour of apprehension, but of anticipation. I nodded my gratitude to the man who had spoken up, whereupon he tipped his hat slightly, and continued conversing with those next to him. The mood was generally positive, with several people beginning to speculate on whether the Emperor had any intention to propose to Rosalind, and if he did, what kind of congratulatory present would be best. It was a mood that brought a smile to my mouth, but it was quickly broken by a question, posed by the young girl who had earlier spoken up.
“Does this mean that Rosalind is going to stop singing?”
Almost instantly, the crowd froze, and turned to me for an answer. Thankfully, I had one prepared.
“At this point, we can’t be sure. We don’t know how the Emperor intends to proceed. But I assure you that if Rosalind has any say in the matter, she will stop at nothing to secure the privilege of once again singing for your listening pleasure – she is far too in love with her art, and far too appreciative of her audience, to keep away from either for long. It might take a while, but I promise you, you will hear Rosalind sing again.”
Cheering broke out from the crowd, as their deepest anxiety was dispersed. Riding on the wave of positivity, I decided to finish up this dialogue.
“In the interim, though, the Ezov will still be open, and functioning as per normal. I’m still recovering from my ordeal, so we won’t be opening our doors today, but starting from tomorrow, we’ll be open as per usual – I hope to see many of you there.”
“But if Rosalind’s not gonna be there, what’s the point?”
Though the question had the appearance of an antagonistic one, its speaker grinned as he posed it – clearly, he meant it in good humour
“Well, even though Rosalind herself might not be disposed to join us, we’ll still be selling our various lines of Rosalind-related merchandise, as well as the tea that we’ve become quite famous for. The job board will also, as usual, be open if there are any customers seeking employment. And, well, if you truly desire a song, I could be persuaded to sing for you, though I doubt my voice can hold a candle to Rosalind’s.”
“You, sing?! Now that’s a sight I’d pay to see!”
“Indeed? Remind me to send you a quote later.”
The crowd laughed and dispersed, the gloomy atmosphere from before completely gone. When the last of them had left the area in front of the shop, I sighed. Having dealt with that, I had just one more duty to perform today, before I could retire to some rest. I called out to the seemingly empty street.
“Are you going to come in, or did you really just come here to hide in an alley all day?”
For a moment, there was no response. Then, a familiar voice sounded out from the dark alleyway across the street.
“I’m impressed, Mister Glint. Not many can tell Alpha’s shadow apart from natural darkness.”
A spherical portion of the darkness in the alley stepped forward, dissolving to reveal Julio Kronschild and his fascinating servant.
“A lucky guess, is all. I figured you might want to speak with me soon.”
“Indeed. You did a magnificent job of handling that crowd, by the way.”
“It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call that my job. Please, come in.”
With that, I received Julio and Alpha into the Ezov, mentally steeling myself for what was likely to be the most strenuous negotiation of the day.