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Ren walked onto stage, bringing him back to the old days, days where he still played his cello.

“You can borrow mine,” a cellist from the group voluntarily gave up his cello after hearing Nile’s instruction.

The other musicians had their eyes intently directed at Ren. Since there were only 5 cellists in the team, another cellist would be a good addition. If his skills could prove otherwise.

Adding to the anticipation was the Princess herself calling out to this tall, striking young man. One of them whispered to his peer about the weird apparatus placed between his nose. It was similar to a monocle, except it was for both sides of his eyes and had arms that hooked around his ear perfectly.

“Thank you. What piece do you want me to play?” Ren sat down with the cello whilst directing his sight at the Princess. A crowd formed around him.

He held the cello close to his chest, the side of it placed against his sternum, sloped at an angle. His left hand raised to press on the stiff strings, his right hand held the bow.

“He’s a cellist! Bless the heavens! Another addition to the cello players!”, one of them laughed exaggeratedly.

“Yeah, he’s definitely holding the cello using the proper technique,” another nodded. He too was a cellist.

“The way you hold a violin bow is similar to the cello but it isn’t the same?”

“He looks like a veteran from the way he’s holding his bow and the way he positions his fingers on the fingerboard.”

After organizing what looked to be her stand, the Princess came over with lights steps, in her hands were a few pages of music sheet. “This one,” arranging the papers on the stand in front of him, Ren noticed that she was a little flustered.

When he scanned the repertoire, he laughed.

“Y-you know this piece?” Juliet voiced her surprise.

“Certainly.”

This piece requested by the princess was one of his favourites. He had performed it countless times back in Elfian Kingdom, to the point where he had memorized the entire thing. Though, he was sure he had forgotten some sections by now. That being said, his muscle memory should help make up for it.

Which made him question, how was it possible for the music here to be exactly the same as in Elfian Dynasty?

“Princess, why this piece?”

“No reason,” she said that with a squeak, covering her tension with a smile.

“Can I assume Your Grace is a violinist?”

Juliet stuttered a little at his words, “V-violinist yes, but I know a little cello too.”

The crowd started talking among themselves, these two were flirting weren’t they?

Ren pressed down on the string. Calluses on his fingertips had already receded. A tingling pain could be felt, it was worse for the lower sections of the fingerboard. Ignoring the pain, Ren fiddled around with the cello, he could still play thumb position without too many issues, which was fortunate.

Playing C-major and G-minor scales, this cello had a deep heavy tone, unusually mellow in a sense but also broad. It was very different from the one he left at home.

“Do you have rosin?”

“Yes here,” the owner of the cello quickly passed it over.

Ren looked at the brand. Well, at least he had never seen it before.

Depending on the kind of rosin used, the quality of sound and produced would differ. Ren found that the rosin being used wasn’t as good as he expected, thus why he needed to scrub a little more on the bow. Was it just him or were the musicians here mediocre? Not that he should mind.

Glancing at the Princess for an affirmative, Ren pulling his bow to complete the first four bars to the slow opening.

Passacaglia was a duet piece, involving a cello and viola, but this one had been modified to complement a violin. The melody would alternate between the cello and violin, transitioning simply in multiple sections. The hurdle wasn’t just the coordination between the two instruments, the difficulty of the piece itself was an issue. Not that Ren had any problems.

Many places, where one had to play quadruple-stops and triple-stops over and over again, extreme shifts from the top to bottom of the fingerboard and the coordination to express concise emotions at each phrase of the piece. Ren could never get the feeling of the piece to his liking.

“Sheesh, you could hear his slips from miles away” Gerald sneered, sitting crossed legged with his cello placed horizontally to the side.

Ren was 5 minutes in when he made an abrupt pause.

The crowd held their breaths.

Ren raised his head and looked up at the tense atmosphere.

The crowd let out sighs of disappointment, Ren crooked a smile.

“Princess, may I know why exactly do you want me to play this piece?”

“That.. well, come closer a little.” She bent forward and whispered into Ren’s ear. The crowd held their breaths again, “I don't want to play the duet with the Earl over there...”

Ren raised an eyebrow, correcting a little distance to look at her face. She quickly turned away.

“I think you should consult him first,” sliding his fingers down the fingerboard, “I’ve gotten bad at this,” he muttered before continuing.

Rounding into the last section, his smooth despite crude execution of the quadruple-stops made the crowd gasp in amazement, for some reason. An applause was given at the end.

“That's amazing.”

“Articulations were crude but the expression is there.”

“Anyone notice his extended thumb position?”

And a bunch of other compliments that flowed from the mouths of everyone.

“Excuse me, Ren, how long have you been playing the cello?” Juliet asked.

“How long..” he recalled that he wasn’t a human, he was an elf. So saying something like 40 years would be too weird right? “19 years?”

“19 years? That’s rather.. long,” Juliet clasped her violin under her chin, and with a smile that looked like the loveliest flower she requested, “Play again?”

“Duet? Sure.” Ren shifted his chair a little to give her some space.

The crowd split again.

“Excuse me, Ren?” Nile interjected. “Would you be interested in joining the orchestra? I know it sounds a little late but I have a feeling you can easily make up for it with a few days of practice.”

“I’d like to but, I don’t have my cello.” Ren laughed. Surely, he would be happy when someone found a need for his music right? “Which reminds me. I’m sorry for borrowing your cello for so long,” Ren quickly returned it to the owner of the cello. “It’s an amazing cello, really.”

“You aren’t going to play anymore?” Juliet’s eyes went blank.

“Princess, can I ask what you have in mind? For the duet performance, it has been decided that it would be Your Grace together with His Eminence Earl Gerald. Is there something I’m not understanding here?” Nile flashed an expression of shock when he suddenly heard passacaglia being played in an entirely different expression. When he came to, he realized that the person playing the piece was Ren.

“I want to switch out the Earl,” Juliet said blatantly with a soft voice. “He doesn't care to match with my pace and we don’t get along well at all..”

“I see…” Nile nodded, looking a little troubled.

“Hey, Your Grace. What do you mean by we don't get along well?!” Everyone directed their gaze towards the Persian in question, Gerald who yelled.

“I-I said. I don’t want to pair with you,” Juliet hesitated with her word.

“You think it’s even possible to switch now? The performance is in a week,” Gerald harrumphed.

“You should think about fixing parts you can’t even play properly!” She retorted.

“There’s one week left to go! I can definitely fix it..” he rolled his hands into a fist.

“I’m sorry princess, this arrangement is something I do not have the power to decide on,” Nile said disappointingly.

“I understand. Leave it to me, I’ll do something about it,” Juliet was obviously acting tough.

“Is that so?” Nile was secretly relieved in his heart. In fact, he thought that Gerald wasn't suitable to play Passacaglia to begin with. The only reason it happened was because of his father, the duke’s power.

“Don’t think you can do whatever you want Ren,” Gerald glared.

“This situation is really confusing,” Ren shook his head as he stood up. Though, he was a little surprised the Earl grasped his name so well.

“Ren? Wait, where are you going?” Juliet pulled at his clothing.

“I'm not here intending to spark trouble, I apologize,” Ren spoke.

“Good, you know your place,” Gerald hissed.

“But, but… fine. I’ll deal with this. Until then, please prepare yourself for the duet,” Juliet plead. “P-please?”

“Why me? You heard my playing yourself, don’t you think it’s quite rusty?” Ren was thinking of backing out from Nile’s request to join the orchestra too. His main priority now was to build relationships but to not create troubles among the people in Heaven’s Dynasty. Or perhaps..

“Have some confidence in yourself will you!” she yelled.

The stage fell silent.

“Ah wait, no I didn’t mean... that..” her voice shrunk.

“I understand.” He grabbed her hand.

“Eh?”

“Sir Nile, do you have an extra cello around?”

“Sir Nile, I oppose the decision.” Gerald voiced his opinion.

“I’m sorry Your Eminence, this is the princess’ request,” Nile said that in a not-so apologetic manner.

“... “ his face darkened.

“Ren, we have a few spares in the practice room. You will have to choose one from there. Please come here again later this evening, after the practice is over, 160 day.”

“Understood.”

“With this, I can add you to the team, correct?” Nile made a wryly smile.

“Yes, I’ll be playing together in the orchestra.” Ren corrected his choice.

“Wait Ren, how about our performance, you don’t intend to practise the entire orchestra repertoire and passacaglia at the same...”

“I do,” he smiled at her, “Don’t worry, I’ve performed passacaglia many times before, I know my limit. And,” he paused, “thank you for that nudge earlier.”

Juliet nodded. Though Ren was unsure if she noticed how red her face was.

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