“Are you ready for this, Rosalind?”

We were in a dressing room in an annex to the Imperial Palace, with Rosalind donning a pure white wedding dress. I had already checked the room for signs of magical eavesdropping, and ascertained that within this room, we were safe to speak at our leisure, so Rosalind was finally able to speak with me honestly. She smiled sheepishly at me.

“Honestly? No. I never thought I’d get married, and certainly not to a man for whom I feel no affection.”

“Well, this is where circumstances have led us. I must say, I wasn’t expecting that man to make the offer quite so soon.”

“Well, I suppose that saving his life must have elevated the two of us rather highly in his regard.”

It had been three months since the day of Elysium’s escape. None of the soldiers dispatched had been able to find her – it seemed as though she had just vanished into thin air. Not a trace was found of her presence. From what I had heard, the soldiers had followed the blood from her wounds, but the trail had led to an abrupt dead end, with nothing to give away where she might have gone. It was as if she had sprouted wings and taken flight – which, knowing the woman, was entirely possible.

She was still wanted all across the country, but she had somehow eluded authorities for three months. It was entirely possible that some fans who sympathised with her were sheltering her, but it was far more likely that she had since fled the country. The next stage of the plan hadn’t actually been set in stone, so we were currently operating based on vague intentions and broad goals. If all went well, Elysium and Rosalind would have a chance to meet again. Until that happened, it fell to each of them to carry out their respective roles, and it fell to me to support Rosalind in hers.

Shortly after the incident, the Emperor had awarded me a commendation and a title as a reward for my swift action. I was now officially the “Protector to the Rose”. In this capacity, I was to continue serving as Rosalind’s attendant, but the title gave me the social standing of a noble, which would let me stay at Rosalind’s side more often. I had also been allocated a room in Rosalind’s mansion, which I had turned into an office of sorts for handling the affairs of the Ezov. The thought of having to move all my documents to the Palace was daunting, but I didn’t have much of a choice.

A few days after my commendation, the Emperor announced his intention to marry Rosalind. Naturally, this caused a massive uproar. Rosalind was, after all, a commoner, a barmaid who was born to mercenaries. She had no titles, no land, no nobility to her name. It was absurd that the Emperor would debase himself by choosing such a woman as his wife. Many members of the nobility submitted petitions against it, but the Emperor categorically ignored them. The task of smoothing relations over was left to Julio, who reasoned that Rosalind’s popularity with the people meant that marrying her would be instrumental in keeping the citizenry under control. Through his efforts and persuasion, along with several personal visits from Rosalind to appeal to the more stubborn objectors, the nobles gave in and accepted that the Emperor was going to marry Rosalind.

Another somewhat surprising – but not entirely unexpected – wave of resistance came from Rosalind’s fans. Immediately following the announcement, the Ezov started to receive numerous letters addressed to Rosalind. About half of these were congratulating her on the engagement and well wishes, but the other half were angry letters about how Rosalind had “betrayed” her fans by marrying. In response to this, Rosalind had given a public address, where she pleaded for her fans to forgive her for “following her heart” and begged for them to “understand her position as a maiden in love.” She further reassured them that regardless of her position as Empress-to-be, she held each of her fans to be important, and promised that she would schedule another tour to sing for her fans around the country. We had that speech broadcasted from all the Resound Jewels across the country, and the number of angry letters soon dwindled to a negligible amount, replaced by letters wishing for her happiness.

With those obstacles out of the way, the wedding preparations had proceeded at an incredible pace, with the Emperor mostly leaving the paperwork necessary to Julio. Although Julio was ultimately the man our plan was intended to ruin, seeing him with dark bags from numerous nights of deskwork made it hard not to sympathise with him, especially since I had, myself, worked sleepless nights before. Nonetheless, my indignation at his attempting to use us for his own ends, and for what he did to Rosalind and Elysium, far outweighed any sympathy that such shared experiences might have engendered.

Rosalind adjusted her veil, making minor adjustments until it stood perfectly centered on her head. She’d always had an eye for detail – even the way she wrote was neat and systematic, each letter perfectly spaced from the next. Rosalind had an inhuman ability to notice even the smallest imperfection in something. She never really imposed it on us beyond what she thought possible, but she was unforgiving on herself – she always took the longest to get dressed prior to a performance, partly because her dresses were the most elaborate, but also because she always took time to make minor adjustments to ensure that she wore it perfectly.

When she was satisfied with her appearance, she sat down next to me and touched my hand. I squeezed it.

“Thank you for being here, Glint.”

“Don’t worry about it. I made a promise – to both of you. I’m going to see this through to the end, then we’ll meet Elysium again, and everything will be as it was.”

“Well, not everything. I’ll be an Empress now, for one.”

“Ah, please forgive my rudeness, Your Highness.”

“Stop that.”

“Heh. So you’ll have a title. So what? All that matters is that it’ll be the three of us again, working together. You’ll be performing, Elysium and I will be supporting you and marketing you. The stage will just have gotten bigger – and the audience a little more critical. Nothing we can’t handle, no?”

Rosalind giggled.

“You’re right. Empress, performer, what’s the difference, right? It’s just another role to play.”

“Exactly. And we both know how good you are at showmanship.”

“I have Elysium to thank for that. She taught me the art.”

“So let’s make sure to use what she taught us well, so that we can see her again when we win.”

A soft sound of footsteps caused me to prick me ears. I held a finger to my lips. Rosalind nodded, and we both stood up. She stood in front of the mirror, making a show of doing final checks on her appearance, while I stood beside her, bearing a stoic face, my hand on the sword that the Emperor had gifted me to represent my office. Shortly afterward, a knock resounded on the door. Rosalind answered it in a soft voice.

“Yes, please come in.”

A maid opened the door to the dressing room and bowed deeply.

“Lady Rosalind, Lord Glint. The Emperor awaits.”

“Very well. Let us go.”

I picked up her bridal train as we walked down the corridor, into the ceremonial hall that formed the majority of the annex. It was a large hall with no seating area, and a large, carpeted central area. Numerous men and women in formal dress stood along the sides of the central area, each one a noble. Soldiers in dress uniforms flanked the central area, facing the middle of the hall with expressionless faces. At the other end of the carpeted area was the Emperor, dressed in a ceremonial battle uniform. Standing slightly behind him to his left was Julio, who was similarly adorned. When he lay eyes upon the veiled Rosalind, the Emperor’s face lit up in a smile. Once Rosalind set foot on the carpet, I let go of her train and stepped back – I was not permitted to approach any closer. Glancing around, I saw Alpha standing by the edge of the carpet, near to my position. She was not wearing her maid uniform, but was instead dressed in a formal dress much like the other ladies of the court. I followed the carpet’s edge and stood next to her. She paid me no notice, not even so much as glancing in my direction. Her entire attention was focused on the ceremony, her eyes showing alertness for any possible threats to security.

I smiled. Truly, an intruiging girl.

I turned my attention back to the ceremony. This was not merely a wedding ceremony – it was also a coronation ceremony for Rosalind. Julio was to serve as the witness and official, and so he first began by reciting the customary wedding rites. After a long recitation of various platitudes about marriage and the sanctity of royal marriage, Julio finally asked Rosalind if she would take Emperor Lucius Kronschild to be her husband. The moment she agreed, the Emperor tore away her veil and kissed her. She seemed taken aback at first, but then placed her arms around him and returned it gently. I felt my grip on my sword hilt tighten slightly. I fought hard to keep my instinctive response to attack the man under control. It would not do to lose control now. Not yet.

With the wedding ceremony complete, Julio began the coronation. He brought forth the Imperial Tiara of the Empress and spoke several lines about the importance of the item. He spoke of the responsibilities that came with the Tiara, and of the importance of the Empress’ role in supporting her husband. Then he handed the Tiara to the Emperor. Rosalind knelt down before the Emperor. At once, everyone else in the hall, myself included, knelt down on one knee and bent our heads forward. Although I was not able to see it, I knew that the Emperor was placing the Tiara on Rosalind’s head. Finally, Julio’s voice rang out through the hall.

“Hail Rosalind Kronschild, 61st Empress of the Mercynth Empire!”