The door to the Ezov opened, and a young, blonde-haired man of about twenty-five years strode in. His light blue coat fluttered about as he confidently walked toward the center of the room, perfectly at ease amidst the crowd. Around him, several gasps of recognition ran through the crowd. Of course, I recognised this man as well. Marisa’s eyes met mine, noting my emergence from the upper floor. I nodded briefly and completed my descent down the stairs, walking to face the man. As the rest of the Ezov watched on in silence, I placed a hand on my chest and bowed respectfully.
“This is certainly a surprise, Chancellor Kronschild. If you had but informed us of your coming, we would have prepared a more fitting welcome.”
“Nay, this is an informal visit. No welcome is expected.”
High Chancellor Julio Kronschild smiled amiably, dismissing my concern.
“In that case, Chancellor, please follow me upstairs, that we might dine in peace.”
“One second, if you will.”
He turned back to the door and addressed the two lines of soldiers who stood at attention outside the entrance.
“Gentlemen, I thank you for your services. You may be at ease and enjoy yourselves in this establishment as you will, but mind your conduct as proud knights of the Imperial Guard.”
The soldiers saluted as one, then broke ranks and began to mingle. Kronschild turned back to me.
“Well then, please lead on.”
The mood of the Ezov had become a little subdued with the presence of such a personage. The guests murmured amongst each other, casting worried glances at him. I was about to say something to remedy the situation, but Marisa beat me to it.
“Well, it seems that even the good Chancellor’s heard of our fine establishment. Now, who’s up for another round of drinks, eh? Or are you going to say that something good enough for the Chancellor is not good enough for you?”
A bout of laughter rolled through the hall, and it became lively once more. Marisa looked at me and gave me a thumbs up. More confirmation that we had made the right decision.
I led Julio up the stairs to one of the private rooms, meant for us to meet with merchants and craftsmen to discuss business. Finally, I showed him to a table with two seats, indicating for him to take one. At the same time, I shut the door, sealing out unwanted listeners. Then I took my seat across from him.
“Well now, if I may be so bold, may I ask what brings the second-most powerful man in the Empire to this humble establishment?”
Julio Kronschild was the 2nd son of the previous Emperor and the younger brother of the current one. His story was a rather famous one amongst the people of this country. Five years younger than the current Emperor, Julio had demonstrated remarkable talent from his youth, proving himself to be his brother’s superior in combat, magic, intellect and charisma. When the people secretly derided the Emperor as incompetent or immature, they would often refer to Julio as their basis for comparison. Additionally, the previous Emperor had doted deeply on Julio, clearly showing him an alarming degree of favoritism when compared to the rest of his brothers. When the old Emperor passed, everyone expected Julio to take the throne based on merits alone, regardless of being the second-born. Unfortunately, Julio was an illegitimate child – his mother was an unknown whore who had died during childbirth. Some higher-ranking members of the nobility refused to accept an illegitimate child as an heir, and thus his brother – the firstborn of the Empress – was given the throne.
It was seen by many to be a cruel denial of what Julio deserved by virtue of his abilities, but the man in question had, reportedly, simply smiled and said ‘It is all that a whoreson like me deserves’ in self-derision. Perhaps it was a good thing that he had been so aware and accepting of his position, for when the Emperor put to death the majority of his brothers – at the suggestion of various noble houses – Julio alone was spared. The Emperor, like many others, adored Julio, and installed him as the High Chancellor, in charge of handling the day-to-day affairs of the country.
Put another way, the Emperor piled all his duties and responsibilities on to Julio while keeping his title. It was a rather sad fate. Julio spent his days cleaning up the messes that the Emperor made. It was also clear that the nobles looked upon him and his birth with disdain, and it was rumoured that many of them went out of their way to disrupt the policies he tried to implement. Throughout it all, it was said that he never complained, and could always be seen with a tired smile on his face. Because of his tireless efforts to improve the country and his amiable disposition, the people of the country often referred to him as “The Charitable Chancellor”.
A person of such esteem presently sat before me. Clearly, this was no pleasure visit – the entourage of soldiers was more than enough evidence to make that conclusion. Ergo, the obvious conclusion was that he had a matter of some import to discuss, in his official capacity as the Chancellor.
Julio laughed and answered.
“That’s refreshingly straightforward. You’re surprisingly capable, for a man of your youth.”
“I apologise, but hearing such praise from the man who was hailed as a child genius makes it sound false.”
“No, no. Truly, you are an impressive individual. You easily discerned that I had something to tell you in private without any real prompting on my part. Furthermore, you opened the negotiation by indicating your full awareness of my position and by indicating that you preferred me to state my business without any of the customary duel of words.”
“Indeed, and yet I find us engaging in it nonetheless. Again I ask, what need do you have of our humble establishment?”
“Well, I’m not sure if I’d call it ‘humble’ – the growth of your business in the past four years has been astonishing. When we first heard of Miss Rosalind, we thought it a novel idea, nothing more – a bard performing outside of a court was a curiosity, but just that. Not a matter of import. And now, only after a matter of years, she is now one of the most influential people in the land. There are even some who claim she commands greater loyalty than the Emperor himself.”
I narrowed my eyes. That was a threat. A thinly veiled one, at that. Julio was making it clear that at least some elements of the court saw Rosalind as a threat to the Emperor. Whatever his request was, we would have to accede to it, or risk being shut down by the court. Cold sweat collected on the back of my neck.
“No, no. I fear that rumours of Miss Rosalind’s influence are greatly exaggerated. She is merely a songstress, nothing more – nor does she desire to be anything more. Singing is her life’s work.”
“Yes, I have heard many tales about the beauty of her voice, though I have not had the pleasure of listening to it myself. Which, naturally, brings us to the purpose of my visit today.”
“You wish to attend her next concert?”
“Not quite. Rather, if my purpose were to procure a ticket for myself, I would have simply bought it from your shop like an ordinary customer, as befitting one of my low station. No, I come today on the behalf of one whose significance far outstrips mine.”
I gulped. If it was someone who was more important than the High Chancellor, then it could only be…
“As you’ve no doubt surmised, I come here today as an envoy for Emperor Lucius Kronschild of our Mercynth Empire. His Imperial Majesty would very much like to hear Miss Rosalind sing, and therefore has sent me to secure a ticket at her next concert.”
I felt my face threatening to contort into a frown, but forced myself to remain impassive. The Emperor wanted to come watch Rosalind. While this was a clear indicator of our success, it also brought with it a host of headaches.
On the one hand, being able to claim that our Rosalind had managed to catch the attention of even the Emperor would do wonders for our prestige – we would be able to double, maybe even triple the price of our tickets without backlash. Furthermore, this would allow us to break into the market of the nobility, the majority of which still boycotted Rosalind’s concerts on the grounds of it being music unfit for nobility. The attendance of the Emperor would quell those complaints, allowing us even greater profits. In truth, if we looked purely at profits, this development was an immense boon.
On the other hand, having the Emperor in attendance meant that we would need to have airtight security – any harm that befell the Emperor while he was in our concert venue would be seen as an oversight on our part, or perhaps even an act of treason. We would have to exercise vigilance, triple the security, do background checks on everyone in attendance. It would be an immense amount of additional work to add to our already overwhelming list of preparations that needed to be made.
The other problem was the Emperor’s personality. Emperor Lucius Kronschild was known to be a man beholden to his desires. He had taken no less than five concubines in the time since he had ascended to the throne, and it was not hard to imagine that his desire to attend the concert might be fueled by the intention to add a sixth.
Weighing the benefits against the detriments, the best option was clearly to refuse this situation, yet we couldn’t exactly refuse a direct request from the Emperor – that would be tantamount to treason. Our hands were tied. Still, I needed to get Elysium’s approval before I made a decision about this. I cleared my throat and addressed Julio.
“You honour us with your patronage. We are undeserving of such an eminent guest. I hope you’ll forgive my impudence, but I’d like to discuss this with Miss Rosalind – this is hardly an honour I can accept on her behalf.”
Julio gave me a sympathetic half-smile, as if he understood how troubling this offer was.
“Certainly, please do. I’ll come back in three days to hear your response – hopefully, it will be an agreeable one.”
With that, the two of us stood up, shook hands, and then headed back downstairs. His soldiers collected themselves in quick order and formed ranks outside the store. Then the whole group moved off in the direction of the palace.
Once the procession had moved out of sight, I let out a deep sigh and kneaded my brow, wondering how I was going to break this news to my employer.