Cleaning Up

When we had recovered enough to move again, we set to cleaning up. Following Rosalind’s directions, I gathered up the dirtied crockery and tableware, stacking them neatly inside the sink. Following that, Rosalind and I each took up a broom and dustpan, and began sweeping up whatever had been left on the floor. We dumped all the refuse into a barrel, which we covered up and left outside the door, for collection and incineration later in the day. With that, all that was left was wiping the tables and washing the floor. I cast my gaze around for a tablecloth or a mop, but could only find the tablecloth. I briefly wondered how the floor was cleaned, but decided to focus on what I could do. I reached out for the tablecloth, but Rosalind’s hand caught my outstretched arm. She shook her head while laughing.

“No need for that!”

I tilted my head quizically, seeking an explanation. But instead, all she did was to step up to the center of the room. Then she began to hum a tune. Her voice had a soft, gentle feeling to it. Listening to it was like being enveloped in warm blankets. Hearing her sing was like lying on the shore of a beach, listening to the steady rhythm of the waves striking the shore and receding back. It was a voice filled with warmth, compassion, kindness – but above all, it was a voice that was filled with strength. The strength to carry on, the courage to start anew. Listening to her made me feel all those things. It made me feel strong, it made me feel secure, it made me feel like there was infinite hope in the world, that all bad things pass, that it was okay to keep going and to keep trying and to keep striving. It was that kind of song. It made me feel a sense of comfort and calm. Just listening to it made me feel like I was at peace.

Evidently, however, what was being cleansed was more than just my troubles. As Rosalind’s voice washed out over the tavern, the oil and grime which coated the floor and tables disappeared without a trace. Similarly, the plates, stacked in the basin, were completely wiped clean, returning to a shine that gave them the appearance of being brand new. This was why there was no need for mops in this establishment – Rosalind’s magic could clean the whole place at one go. Within seconds, the entire tavern had been restored to the state it had been yesterday afternoon, before we had opened. Rosalind stopped singing and looked around, then nodded, satisfied. When I began applauding, she started.

“Magnificent. You have a beautiful singing voice.”

“E-Eh? No, I’m just… slightly above average. Nothing special.”

I shook my head.

“No, no. You most certainly have uncommon talent.” Or rather, my impression was that it was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. But in this context, it would sound like flattery, so I held back. Regardless, there was something I was curious about.

“Why did you suddenly start singing, though? If you were singing while cleaning, I would understand, but isn’t magic something that requires concentration?”

“Well, ordinarily, that would be the case. But for me, I use singing as a catalyst for my magic. It’s a lot harder to use wide-area magic if I don’t sing while doing it.”

I nodded in understanding. However…

“But, you don’t sing when you use the magic to clean us up, right?”

In lieu of showers, we had been using Rosalind’s magic to clean up for some time due to my unwillingness to leave my assigned room. However, at those times, she had not sung. Rosalind giggled.

“Well, there were only two targets in that instance, so there was no need for my catalyst. It was more efficient to direct the magic manually. In this case, however, my target was ‘everything in this tavern’, and such a vague target requires me to perform my magic through a catalyst. Hence the singing.”

“Hmmm… Interesting.”

I knew from my studies in magic that a catalyst could be used to help a magic user channel their mana more easily and efficiently. Nobody quite knew why, but channeling one’s magic through an external action or item allowed one to amplify its effect. The best catalysts were those items and actions that were held close to the user’s heart. Of course, it was often hard to know what one truly held close to their heart – and most people were afraid of touching something that raw. As a result, most mages used some common catalysts that had been proven to be reasonably effective even with no actual emotional connection, catalysts such as incantations or magical items. For those who used personal catalysts, its form varied depending on the mage, with an absurd catalogue of forms that ranged from ancient magical artifacts to things as mundane as hand puppets. It seemed that in Rosalind’s case, singing was that catalyst. Either it meant that she really, truly enjoyed singing and enjoyed it more than anything in the world, or it meant that the act of song was in some other way significant to her. Naturally, I was curious as to which it was. I wondered if I should ask, but quickly decided to hold my tongue. It was not particularly important, and it had only been a single day since we had mutually revealed a part of our pasts. Better to take things slow. As such, I took a seat on one of the chairs by the bar and turned the conversation to the hectic night we had just weathered instead.

“That was some crowd, wasn’t it?”

Rosalind took up a chair next to me and nodded in agreement.

“The biggest I’ve ever had, I think. You were amazing!”

I placed one hand on my chest and bowed my head, using the tone I had adopted for most of the evening.

“I thank you for your praise, milady. But I dare say that milady is the truly impressive one for being able to keep up with all the orders.”

Rosalind laughed, leaning back in her chair.

“Yeah, that was rough. I don’t think my hands have worked that hard since… well, ever.”

“Didn’t you get tired? I don’t think I saw you take a break.”

“Umm… kind of? It was mentally exhausting, for sure.”

Strange phrasing. It implied that the work was not physically tiring. A girl who ran a tavern, could see magic, could tell distances by sight and who didn’t get tired. The number of mysteries surrounding Rosalind kept increasing. I decided to ignore it for now.

“Still, I guess it’s a day of rest, then we’ll have to do that all over again.”

“Oh, uh. Actually…”

Rosalind made a worried face. I sent her a probing glance, inviting her to continue.

“…We won’t be able to open tonight. We’re out of food.”

“…huh. Won’t that be a problem for profits?”

She shook her head.

“Nah. The amount we made in the last night alone is about the same as three weeks’ worth of my usual clientele.”

“As expected, that amount of people was unusual, then. I was wondering about it, since you mentioned you enjoyed stories, and it didn’t exactly seem like you could hear many stories in an environment like that.”

“Well, the tavern’s usually only about quarter-full. On good nights, maybe five of the six tables would be occupied. It’s usually more relaxed and much slower-paced. Last night was an anomaly. What kind of magic did you use? And what was with the polite tone? I thought you believed the outfit to be out of place in a tavern.”

I grinned.

“The magic of novelty. My appearance was already at odds with the setting, so I took it the whole way. Naturally, customers would be curious and want to find out more about this strange gentlemanly lady who suddenly appeared at their bar, so they would be more likely to order food to have the chance to talk to me. In doing so, I had the opportunity to charm them and entertain them, giving them an entertaining story to share with their friends and family when they arrived home – friends and family who, having heard this story, would want to see me with their own eyes. Then those who passed by on the street and noticed non-regulars coming to this place in reasonably large numbers would naturally enter as well to sate their curiosity. A three-step plan to increase consumer traffic via word of mouth and value-added service. Well, the objective was to do it over several days, anyway. The fact that it worked so fast was rather surprising.”

Rosalind stared at me, mouth agape.

“So… this was the result of a plan?”

“Not so much a plan, more of a…strategy? Well anyway, it’s not going to last. Novelty wears off fast, so within the month we should be back to your original clientele size – though perhaps with a few more regulars. You can go back to hearing stories at your leisure, then.”

Rosalind was still staring at me with a shocked expression.

“Were you a merchant? In your own world?”

“…Not really, but I won’t say I was entirely isolated from that industry, either. I didn’t buy or sell anything, but my job was to get more people to buy the things my clients sold.”

“But… how do you make money, then?”

“My clients pay me to convince other, unrelated people to buy their products.”

“Wouldn’t they be losing money? Why not do it themselves?”

Rosalind tilted her head, confused. It seemed that the idea of outsourcing had yet to propagate in this world. Understandable, I suppose, as markets were not big enough in this world to justify outsourcing. Most merchants operated within a region, or otherwise focused on a specific type of good. I doubt a diversification of portfolio was a priority in the minds of most merchants. I decided to handwave the details away.

“Well, my world had different circumstances. Suffice to say, my job made sense in the economy of my world, but not of this one. If you hadn’t hired me, I’m not sure what I would have done. The skills I acquired from that job aren’t very transferable to jobs in this world’s economy.”

“I’m sure you would have found your way anyway. Maybe gone on to be a successful merchant. Possibly a bodyguard. Maybe a mercenary? Whatever the case, I’m sure you would have been immensely successful. So, in celebration of my snatching you up before you could run away and become famous…”

Without warning, she vaulted over the bar and landed on the other side, skillfully retrieving two glasses and placing them on the bar. While I watched, she opened the lower cupboard with her foot, using the same foot to hook and retrieve one of the bottles stored there, tossing it into the air while her right hand opened a drawer and retrieved a lever-like device meant for popping corks. She caught the bottle mid-descent and behind her back with her free hand, rapidly popped the cork with the device in her right hand, then poured out part of the blood-red contents into the two glasses. All this happened in the span of about seven to ten seconds. I was thoroughly impressed.

Winking when she noticed my expression – likely one of slack-jawed amazement – she quickly recorked the bottle and rested it neatly on the table next to the glasses. I could tell from the bottle that this wasn’t one of our regular beers – it was one of the wines we saved for special occasions. Rosalind continued speaking, playing the part of the classy bartender.

“Sacramental Rose, the perfect wine for celebrating new employment. The spicy kick with a sweet aftertaste brings to mind the turbulence of a new beginning, but also reminds you of the good that will no doubt arise from the endeavour. The best batch of this is the 493 vintage, but unfortunately, we lack the funds for an expensive wine like that. This is the 508 batch, but hopefully it will suffice.”

I laughed at the tone of voice Rosalind was using – it was way too different from her usual voice. She joined me in laughing.

“See? I can do a posh accent too!”

Still laughing, I picked up the glass and raised it high. She followed suit, tapping the drink against mine.

“To the continued success of The Serene Ezov.”

“To a fruitful partnership.”