Start of a Journey
“Is that everything?”
I sat on the driver’s seat of the cart, idly holding the reins of the horses in hand. The individual I had addressed was, naturally, Rosalind. She peeked out from behind the back of the loaded cart, her body obscured by the many items we had loaded onto it – supplies, clothes, Rosalind’s dresses, several drawers’ worth of cosmetics, navigational tools, bedding, and numerous other items – the list was extensive. It was, in short, everything we would need to live on the move, without much of a place to call home. From here on out, we would be travelling a lot, going to a lot of different places, living in various inns as we moved from one city to the next, to spread Rosalind’s name. If it were up to me, I would have gotten a more well-equipped cart, complete with kitchen, bedroom and other facilities, such that we would never need to worry about finding space in an inn and could instead sleep comfortably in the cart. Unfortunately, that was nothing but fantasy – no such cart existed, and even if it did, the amount of horsepower needed to move it would be unreasonable.
I was shaken from my vehicular fantasies by the distinctive thump of something heavy, large and presumably hardcover upon the wood of the cart. I looked back and sighed in exasperation as I spotted Rosalind loading her books on to the cart.
“Ros, what are you doing?”
“You said you were okay with me bringing a couple of books along.”
“Yes. ‘A couple’. Seventeen is not ‘a couple'”.
“Well, you should have specified.”
Rosalind matched my annoyed tone with one of her own. I sighed again. I knew how much Rosalind enjoyed reading and learning, so I figured we could take along one or two of her favorites to pass the time on the road and in our inns, but I had cautioned her against the dangers of bringing too many of them. The weight and possibility of damage due to the environment aside, many of her books were extremely valuable, academic texts. They were worth a lot of money, and worst of all, they weren’t insured. We had taken an insurance policy out on the cart when we purchased it, but due to the ease of incurring damage, nobody was willing to insure books. If we lost or damaged the books on the road, there would be no way to salvage some sort of gain from the situation. That was precisely the reason why I was hesitant to bring along that many books, because the nature of such things was that higher quantities were harder to manage.
That said, Rosalind did not appear likely in any way to back down. Well, if she was that insistent, I could not stop her. We would just have to do our best to protect the tomes.
“Fine. Wait here.”
I jumped off the cart and headed back into the Ezov, where Bainel was discussing refurbishing prices with a designer he had brought in from Kroenlig. He gave me a cursory tip of the hat as I entered, without breaking his conversation with the designer. I had taken a look at the proposed design the previous night, alongside Rosalind, and we had both given our approval – it maintained the aesthetic feel of the Ezov while allowing it to be more well-lit and spacious. There was no cause for complaint.
I headed past the stage area and walked past the large, smooth, oval Resound Jewel that was installed in the middle of the stage. From what Bainel had told me, the unveiling was a success, with many of the dejected people who had been unable to afford tickets to the concert being pleasantly surprised by the fact that they could listen to Rosalind sing even when they were not physically at the concert. He had, however, informed me that the sound quality was rather soft, probably owing to the fact that Rosalind was unused to the Resound Jewel microphone I had prepared for her – she probably held it too far away. It was something we could remedy with practice, but even then, holding a microphone would be problematic for whenever she started to incorporate a dance – which I still planned to manipulate her into doing eventually. I had several ideas, but none of them could be immediately put into practice, so I had focused on the other, more immediately pressing issues instead – such as packing.
I climbed the stairs and entered the storeroom, locating and extracting a single wooden chest. I quickly inspected it, the same way I once inspected the hulls of warships, concluding that it was reasonably waterproof and relatively sturdy. I lifted the thing in one hand and strode back down, heading toward the door, but was stopped by Bainel calling out to me, having finished his business with the designer.
“Miss Elysium, a moment, if you would.”
I turned towards him and tilted my head, questioning. He started to walk toward me, but froze and blinked at me when he saw the large, heavy chest that I was carrying over my shoulder. He shook his head and walked up to me.
“Manners compel me to offer my aid, but I am reasonably certain that lifting such a chest is beyond my abilities – and therefore, I shall refrain.”
“Well, I’ve never been much for manners, but I appreciate the sentiment. Putting that aside, is something the matter?”
Bainel coughed and straightened his coat.
“Ah, not quite. I had simply thought to wish you a pleasant journey ahead, and to give you this.”
He reached into the recesses of his coat and pulled out a pouch, clearly filled with money. I gratefully received it and opened it up to take a quick peek at the contents. There were easily 200 Miry coins in the bag. I quickly tied it up and tied it around my waist, then returned my attention to Bainel.
“And this is…?”
“Your share of the profits. And a bit extra, for travel expenses.”
“The profits? But we already took our cut of the ticket sales.”
In any other circumstance, I might have kept quiet about the mistake and taken the money, but I intended to form a longstanding partnership with Bainel – as such, it was important to be honest. On occasion, at least.
Bainel shook his head and smiled.
“No, it’s the profits from the merchandise sales.”
“Oh? We’ve sold this much already?”
“Yes – it seems that many of the guests who attended the concert ordered numerous copies of the carvings – especially those from other cities. One of the Kroenlig guests actually ordered seventy copies. I’ve already filed additional orders with the craftsmen, but it seems the response was even greater than we anticipated.”
“Indeed. I thought something like this would happen eventually, but for her to be so popular after just her first concert…”
Rosalind was exceeding all my expectations for her. I felt a swell of pride, but I quashed it. I had nothing to be proud of. This was not my achievement, it was hers.
“I also wished to give you this…”
Bainel produced an expensive-looking jewellery case. I took it and asked him, jokingly.
“Is this a proposal?”
“Unfortunately, charming as you are, Miss Elysium, I am irrevocably married to profit.”
I gave him a grin and opened the case. Resting in it, carefully held in place by folds of soft velvet, was the device I had asked Bainel to procure for me. An elegant, thin, metal frame consisting of a thin, flexible rod supported two small Resound Jewels, one on either side of the rod. It was a simple hands-free microphone, whereby both the microphone and speaker were replaced with Resound Jewels. The frame additionally included a hook-like portion, to secure it to the user’s ear. There were two of these headsets within the case, as per my specifications. The frames were a different color – one was red, one was black.
“I presume the black one is mine.”
“Indeed. Fitting, is it not?”
I decided to take his words as referring to my hair colour, rather than as any sort of comment about my moral integrity.
“Are they already tuned?”
“Indeed. As you requested, the Jewel in your mouthpiece is paired to that in Rosalind’s earpiece, and I have already had Rosalind’s mouthpiece paired to the Jewel in this shop.”
“Excellent. Still, you got this ready a lot faster than I expected.”
“The credit for this achievement must go to the craftsmen. They were inordinately excited when I told them of your request – for good reason, I should think. This is certainly the first device of its kind.”
“It must have been expensive.”
“Oh, painfully so. I very nearly collapsed when I heard the price.”
“And yet you paid for it.”
“Please don’t remind me. Ah, yes. One last gift for you.”
He handed me a rolled-up parchment, with a seal. I looked at him in surprise. I had some idea of what it was, but I was not expecting him to give it so readily. I took it, but voiced my uncertainty.
“A letter of introduction. It reads that you are a business partner of mine, and grants you permission to use my assets in the various cities for the stated purposes of opening branches of the Ezov, securing lodgings, and funding concerts. With this, my associates will not require a response from me before lending you their aid – which should significantly assist you on your travels.
“It certainly will. You’re just letting me have this on faith? I haven’t produced anywhere near enough profit to warrant this much assistance.”
“Indeed. That is how much faith I put in our enterprise. I hope you shall live up to my expectations – though I doubt I have cause to worry, on that front.”
I grinned and held up a hand, which Bainel took with a firm grasp.
“Thank you for your assistance. Let’s make this venture work.”
“Indeed. I wish you all the best on your travels – for my sake as much as yours.”
With that, I left him behind – the handover process for the Ezov was long since complete, and so there was no need for farewells. As long as our fortunes were intertwined as they were, we would doubtlessly cross paths again.
I toted the wooden chest I had been carrying and threw it on the back of the cart. Rosalind looked at me questioningly.
“What took you so long?”
“Had some business to settle with Bainel.” I pointed to the pouch of coins at my side. “He’s seen fit to give us even more help.”
“Really? Wow. I didn’t think he was such a nice guy.”
“Nice? No. He just knows an opportunity when he sees one. Anyway, we’ll use this chest to keep your books safe from the weather.”
“Ah, I see. That does make sense.”
I jumped atop the cart and motioned for Rosalind to hand her books to me. She passed them to me one at a time, and I neatly arranged them in the chest, stacking them neatly atop each other. When I had finished, I realised that there was still a good amount of space left in the side. I briefly wondered what I could fill it with, but then an idea came to me.
“Hey, Ros, do me a favour and go grab me a couple of rolls of blank parchment from my room. Oh, and some ink and pens.”
“I’m thinking of doing a little writing.”
“I doubt you’ll have the time to write while we’re on the road.”
“And you’ll have the time to read?”
Rosalind coloured, evidently cornered by my words. Then she burst into laughter.
“Oh, that was good. Alright. Your room, was it?”
She hurried into the Ezov as I began to arrange the items on the cart, distributing the weight evenly. When she had returned, I carefully placed the parchment in the chest, alongside the books, and shut the chest tightly. As for the inkbottles, there was a fear of leakage – so I used one of my shirts to form a makeshift pouch, and placed the inkbottles in that, before stowing it in another chest – one that held my cosmetics.
I leapt off the cart and spread a large cloth over it, completely covering everything that was loaded onto the cart. This cloth I then fastened with ropes, both to secure the items to the cart during travel and to dissuade theft.
By the time I returned to the driver’s seat, Rosalind was already there, waiting for me. I jumped up to the seat, and saw that she was holding the reins.
“Give them here.”
“Why? I want to drive.”
“Sure, you can drive later, but for now, give them to me.”
I sighed. I had hoped for it to be a surprise, but if she was going to be this stubborn, I had no choice.
“Your fans are waiting to see you off at the gates to the town. You’re going to need both hands to wave at them.”
Rosalind’s eyes widened. She smiled, then frowned, then smiled again. Then, seemingly conflicted, she relented and passed the reins to me.
“Fine. But after we get about halfway to Kroenlig, you’re letting me drive.”
I laughed. Since I had been reborn into a younger body, Rosalind was technically older than me – but sometimes she behaved like a child. It was endearing in its own way, so I simply chalked it up to the difference in mental age. I settled myself more comfortably into my seat, then gripped the reins firmly.
“Well then, Ros, are you ready to go see the world?”
“Are you sure? It’s going to be tiring. Tiring, occasionally painful, often boring. It might not be all you’ve imagined it to be.”
Rosalind moved herself closer to me, until our arms were touching. Then she laid her head on my shoulder.
“Eh, I think it’ll be fine. As long as you’re with me, Ely, I highly doubt anything can be boring. Miss Stranger from Another World.”
I allowed myself a wry smile. I cracked the reins, and the pair of horses began to trot, pulling us towards our future.