“Calm down, calm down. First off, whose reservation is that? Secondly, what’s a ‘concert’?”

Rosalind, flustered, tried to get me to slow down. I took several deep breaths to collect myself and regulate my heartrate. I forgot that the idea of a ‘concert’ was foreign to this world. Rosalind watched me, and after a few moments – presumably when she recognised that I had calmed down – she sat down next to her desk and spoke up.

“Now, explain.”

I scratched my chin, slightly embarrassed at being so excited, but then sat myself down on her bed and waved around the reservation slip.

“This is a reservation for a Mister Hager Bainel. You might recognise his name from the Bainel Trading Company – he’s the owner.”

Rosalind’s eyes widened as she heard the name. Not surprising – I had the same reaction. The Bainel Trading Company was one of the five merchant firms in the Kingdom which were allowed to do business with other countries. Necessarily, this also meant that it was one of the five richest merchant firms in the Kingdom. The owner, Hager Bainel, was known to have a fascination with the unusual, and had an eccentric habit of travelling around the country at a whim, looking for new business opportunities even in the obscure reaches of the Kingdom. In hindsight, I suppose it was inevitable that our paths would cross, given that we were exactly the sort of opportunity that he sought, but at the time, we recognised his reservation request as a great stroke of fortune – if we could somehow convince him to enter into a partnership with us, the possibilities for expansion were vast.

I watched as Rosalind’s expression evolved from surprise, to amazement, to joy, and finally settling on a calculating expression that betrayed her thoughts about how best to exploit the opportunity. It was an expression that she had only started wearing in recent times, an expression she had never shown when she was but a simple barmaid.

…Perhaps I had been a bad influence. I felt a mild twinge of guilt about turning this earnest girl into a calculating merchant, but I ignored it. I had plenty of things to be guilty about without adding more to the list. More importantly, we had to discuss our plans. Rosalind was the one who initiated the discussion.

“So, how are we going to do it?”

“Same way you always do it. You sing. If he likes it, we win. If he doesn’t, we lose. He’ll be on guard against us as well, so the plan is to dazzle him with your voice, let him stew on it for a day, then engage him. We want to avoid seeming desperate or impatient – that puts us in a weaker position. We need to convince him that he needs us, and that we don’t need him. Leave the actual terms to me. You just need to focus on the performance.”

“Well… if you say that then I’ll leave it to you.”

“Yep. You just think about the set list and which dress you’re going to wear.”

As I spoke, I turned my gaze to the rack tucked away at one side of the room. In addition to the blue dress Rosalind was currently wearing, we had further comissioned two other dresses, one a fiery, passionate red one-piece with a half-skirt, the other a subdued, quieter green dress adorned with shimmery sleeves. We tended to swap the dresses around to fit the mood of the setlist, but we had not had much occasion to use the red dress – Rosalind’s music was usually more soulful and relaxing than upbeat and passionate.

“Leave that to me. On another note… you mentioned something. A… ‘concert’? What’s that?”

Oh, right. I had intended to explain the idea to her. Naturally, in this world, where music was exclusively the domain of the rich and titled, the idea of a performance catered specifically to a large mass of people regardless of social standing was something unheard of. Thinking, I attempted to formulate an explanation in the simplest terms I could conceive.

“Well… Think of it as what you do normally, but in a bigger venue – and to a crowd of several hundred at once, but with no food or drinks provided.”

“…Eh? Then what’s the point? Isn’t the point of the singing to draw in crowds to buy our drinks? If we’re not selling the drinks, why sing?”

I stared at Rosalind, dumbfounded. Did she really not understand the idea? Her perplexed look stood testament to her incomprehension. Perhaps I had not corrupted her quite as much as I had assumed. I sighed and explained my reasoning.

“Come on, Rosalind. You know for a fact that our customers couldn’t care less about the drinks we serve, yes?”

“Yes, that’s plain as day. Most of them don’t even touch their cups.”

“Exactly. They’re all coming to listen to you sing. In fact, the drinks and food are basically just an excuse to come hear you sing. In that case, why not simply remove the need for these excuses?”

“So… you’re saying that, rather than charging for the food with my singing as an extra, we should charge them directly for the right to listen to my voice? Would people pay for that? Food and drink, at least, is something they can touch and taste…”

“What good is having food and drink that can be touched and tasted if none of our clients actually touches it? They would basically be paying for the same thing they’re paying for now, except without the flimsy pretense.”

“I don’t know… I’m a bit uneasy.”

Well, her unease was not misplaced; it would be a foreign concept for many of our clients – by no means rich nobles – to consciously pay for something intangible, even if they had already been doing so without recognising it. In that case, all we would need to do was to offer a tangible premise. At the same time, I wanted to divorce the idea of Rosalind as a singer from the food and beverage industry – being tied down by the expectation of a “singer in a café” would only hinder her continued growth as a performer. So we would need to provide some form of tangible incentive for purchasing a ticket that was unrelated to the food industry. There were several options available to us, but I would need to conduct more market research to settle on one. Furthermore, while the dream of a concert was finally within reach, it was not yet within our grasp. There was a large hurdle we had to circumvent before we could start thinking about how to maximise our concert revenue.

“Well, leave it to me. I have several ideas to make it work. In any case, we don’t have the funding to hold a concert right now – we need the support of the Bainel Trading Company for publicity, prestige and the venue funding. If we can secure that, I can almost guarantee you a successful concert. Of course, if the deal falls through, all of these ideas will come to naught, so to prevent that from happening, we’ll both need to do our best to negotiate.”

I looked into Rosalind’s eyes, holding her gaze.

“If we can pull this off, our lives will change. The intoxication of performance you’ve experienced these last 8 months – that was just a glimpse of the world I’ll bring you into. I’ll take you to greater heights, to new limits, if you’ll just believe in me and cooperate. Do you trust me?”

Rosalind locked eyes with me for several seconds, before she flashed me a confident smile.

“Well, it’s too late to start not trusting you, isn’t it? You’ve already turned my quiet life upside down. I’ll be in your care, my dear friend.”

She held out a hand, in a similar fashion to when we had first met. Silently, I grasped it with a firm grip, affirming our bond of friendship once more.