Rosalind and the Emperor
The servants of the mansion were lined up in two rows, on either side of the central staircase, with Rosalind standing at the foot of the stairs. I stood several steps behind her, indicating my position as her personal attendant. The fluid ease with which the staff assumed their positions was testament to their familiarity with the proceedings. In contrast, I had crammed all the necessary etiquette rules into my memory in the span of ten minutes, and so I was deathly nervous about screwing something up. I kept a handle on my nerves, however, and focused on keeping a calm exterior.
After several minutes of waiting in these positions, the maid positioned by the window clapped her hands. All of us did any final adjustments and corrected our postures. Shortly afterward, the two maids positioned by the doors opened them, at the exact moment that the Emperor reached the foot of our porch. Once he crossed the threshold into the mansion, the two lines of servants bowed in unison, as well as myself, bowed in unison. Rosalind dipped herself into a curtsey.
“Welcome, my Lord.”
“It is a pleasure to dine with you today, Rosalind.”
The Emperor walked up to Rosalind and took her hand, raising it to his lips to kiss it. At once, we resumed our ordinary standing positions. It all looked like a large performance, which, in a sense, it was. The rules of Imperial visits to Consorts were well-defined, and the rituals which coded the power hierarchy were largely set in stone. Over time, all the bowing and curtseying had become established enough to be written in a pocketbook of instructions – a book which, incidentally, was nested in my back trouser pocket.
With the greeting rituals concluded, the servants dispersed to return to their posts. I alone remained, staying silently behind Rosalind. Hand in hand, the two made their way to the dining hall, while I trailed behind. The Emperor didn’t so much as glance in my direction – but at the same time, he didn’t seem to be making an effort to avoid me. This, too, had been written in the pocketbook – it was unbecoming for the Emperor to notice a lowly servant until that servant’s services were imminently necessary. At the same time, he couldn’t be seen as consciously avoiding a servant, as that would imply he was in fact paying attention to the servant’s presence. As such, he had to consciously ignore me while appearing to be acting naturally. No easy feat, though I suppose that such a paradoxical interested indifference towards my presence was, to him, a state as natural as breathing.
Once they had seated at the long table, the maids began to serve the meal. I stood in the corner, quietly waiting to be called upon. The Emperor engaged in casual conversation with Rosalind, showering her with compliments and promises. The whole while, he didn’t even acknowledge my presence, which was fine by me. The way he was acting toward Rosalind made me want to punch him in the face, but I held myself back. I had a job to do, and I wasn’t going to let emotion hinder me from carrying it out.
After some time, he finally called on me.
“You there. Tell me what dish this is.”
Immediately, I stepped forward out of my corner.
“Your Imperial Majesty, the current course is a side of beef drizzled with lemon sauce and garnished with radish. The beef is from Kerswige, an area well-known for raising cows on high-quality feed. While the meat is slightly tougher than most other styles of beef, the flavour packed into it is far beyond other cuts of beef. It has been cooked slightly, leaving it rare, to pack in a more potent flavour. The tang of the lemon is intended to balance out the strong taste.”
“Hoh?” The Emperor turned to Rosalind. “My love, I suppose this is the attendant you spoke of?”
Rosalind smiled and nodded.
“Yes, my Lord. This is Glint – my close friend and attendant. He is something of a son to me.”
“A son? That is an unusual way to describe a friend.”
“Yes, I picked him up off the streets several years ago, and have been working to teach him writing and reading, as well as the art of management.”
“You truly are a kind soul, my love.” The Emperor turned to me and gave me a visual inspection. Then he laughed. “Glint, was it? My brother spoke highly of your abilities, and I see that he was not mistaken. You carry yourself with the poise of a fighter. I’m rather tempted to spar with you.”
I bowed deeply.
“The praise of the Emperor and the High Chancellor are wasted on one such as I. I greatly doubt that I would serve as a suitable opponent for Your Imperial Majesty, but I am your servant – let it be as you will.”
“I like you. Raise your head, Glint.”
I obediently did as I was told. The fact that he had called me by my name was a sign that he held a high opinion of me. He turned to Rosalind.
“Very well, my love. I approve of your choice. Speak to my brother about the necessary paperwork to have Glint here formally invested as your attendant.”
Rosalind bowed her head. “Your generosity knows no bounds, my Lord.”
The Emperor reached out and took hold of her chin, turning her head to face him.
“Anything for you, my love.”
He took her hand and kissed it again. Rosalind’s face showed pleasant surprise and embarrassment, but I saw her other hand clutching the folds of her dress under the table. I couldn’t imagine what she was going through.
As they continued eating, the conversation moved through various different topics. Rosalind consistently showed interest in learning about the workings of the court, which the Emperor was more than willing to teach her, though he personally seemed rather uninterested in the topic. Occasionally, he would speak to me in the midst of the conversation, calling upon me to offer some opinion. In this manner, the meal continued for some time, before we finally reached the topic of Elysium.
“My love, about your friend…”
Rosalind jolted and bit her lip.
“That woman’s execution date has been set. She will be executed next week, on the fifth day, at noon.”
“My Lord, is there no other way…?”
The Emperor shook his head firmly.
“No. There is none. We cannot show mercy to traitors. She has turned against the crown, and for that she must die. She is unrepentant, you saw that for yourself.”
“Ah, Glint. You were travelling with these two, so you should know this as well – I brought my love to visit her friend in prison. I was going to lighten her sentence if she seemed remorseful. But you know what she did?”
In fact, I did. It was part of the plan, after all. But I shook my head.
“She started hurling abuse at my love – this sweet girl who had pleaded for clemency on her friend’s behalf. That woman called Rosalind here a ‘whore’ and a ‘harlot’ – words that could not possibly be used to describe a creature of such purity.”
As if on cue, Rosalind burst into tears and buried her face in her hands. The Emperor stood up and hugged her close, kissing her on the forehead.
“What a trial that must have been, my love. I’m sorry you had to suffer through it. But as you’ve seen, that woman is wholly unrepentant. Execution is the only punishment.”
Rosalind remained silent, sobbing into his chest.
“You stay in the mansion. I’ll come here immediately after the execution is concluded.”
Rosalind moved away and shook her head.
“No, my Lord. Allow me to attend. Please.”
“Are you sure? A delicate, kind soul such as yourself should not be forced to watch the execution of your friend – it would be cruel.”
“Yes. I must witness the moment precisely because she is my friend. Even if she hates me now, or was only using me, I considered her a true friend – and so it is my duty to her to watch over her end, to watch her suffer the consequences of her choices. It is the only thing left that I can do for her.”
The Emperor turned Rosalind’s face upwards, gazing into her eyes.
“You’re a strong woman, Rosalind. Very well. I’ll arrange for you to be seated with me at the execution. Of course, your attendant may attend us as well.”
I bowed deeply.
“I humbly thank Your Majesty for your consideration.”
The Emperor laughed and seated himself once more.
“Enough talk of saddening events. It ruins the appetite. Let us move on to the next course, and to happier topics.”
Rosalind smiled sweetly and nodded.
“As you desire, my Lord.”
As they continued to eat and converse, I fought hard to keep a grin off my face. We had secured a seat at Elysium’s supposed execution, and moreover, we would be seated with the Emperor himself. With this, the final preparations were complete, and we could begin the next performance.