A/N: I've been told that my characters go back and forth emotionally so often that they sometimes seem like hormonal teenagers. When I've noticed this I've tried to make it believable, but I'd just keep an eye out for that.
Also, should I be explaining why Pires wants to put so much effort into getting Buck’s father back? There’s a couple more chunks of back story that would have to be dumped. Alternatively, how about in the next chapter Buck sings a song in a tavern or something that tells the tale of it all. I’d be willing to make it either rhyme or alliterate on request!
"You wouldn't use red?" Pires's voice raised in pitch slightly.
Buck shook his head. "Nah, especially not for a political marriage. Red's way, way too angry. You only use it if confrontation is unavoidable. For this I'd have used dark purple, sky blue and lilac. It's pretty, authoritative, calming."
"Hmm," Pires agreed. Or at least, Buck thought that was agreement. She'd slipped into unreadable mode. She said, "You haven't asked me why I wish to marry the Prince."
Buck shrugged. "Everybody else does."
"Exactly.” Pires’s eyes weren’t blinking. “When have I ever wanted to do what everyone else does?"
Buck chuckled. "Alright, fair enough. What's tempted you onto the beaten track in this case?"
Pires took a deep breath, her hands flat on the table and her fingertips pressing hard against the surface. Eventually, she seemed to relax and looked up with a smile. She said, "Your father."
Pires grinned. Suddenly she seemed perfectly comfortable with the conversation. Which is ironic, thought Buck, since his stomach had just dropped to the floor.
Buck opened his mouth to speak, then stopped. He reached out a hand, opened his mouth again, then stopped. "Um... I - um - right. Okay. Pardon?"
"You know we'll never be able to challenge the Borias by ourselves," Pires said, spreading her hands wide as if in defence, but still grinning. "And in the thirteen years since they demanded your father, have you seen any help offered?"
"No," Buck said, his jaw clenching slightly.
Pires stopped grinning. "Sorry. I know this is sensitive. Just, this is a good news conversation, okay? Just bear with me. So, I marry the prince, accelerate our case right up the prince's to-do list. We get your father back."
Buck frowned and traced the table with his fingers, getting spots of paint on the dark wood. Eventually he sighed and said, "Why now?"
Pires's grin sprang back onto her face. "Ah, now we're getting somewhere. Because I received word today of a truly delicious scandal, of a prince who seated his own mother at the very back of the dining hall during his birthday celebrations."
Buck gasped. "No!"
Pires laughed. "Yes!"
"Yes, she sat with the court's worst bores, sleazes, unbearable nobles fallen from the grace of the high table but not yet all the way from court." Pires's dark brown eyes were sparkling. "And in the other direction, unbearable nobles trying to claw their way to the high table."
"Isn't that us now?" Buck asked. "Well, you?"
"No, no, if I'm clawing my way up, you are too. You're the claws," Pires said.
Buck clutched his stomach as he curled forward in laughter. He put his hand on his forehead and his elbow on the table as he tried to calm down. At the back of his mind was also the more serious implication that the Queen had always been most resistant to Pires’s appeal for help, and that it sounded like the Prince may be looking for ways to undermine her.
He was still shaking with muted giggles when he heard the voice from behind.
Buck whirled around, smile dropping from his face. At that tone of voice, you never wanted to be caught enjoying yourself. When he saw the owner of the voice, he was glad he'd taken such precautions.
"Ah," Pires said, "Hello, Prince Erson."
The prince’s clothes were of a similar grey to Pires’s, but much tighter. He had to be sweltering in those full-length breeches and long-sleeved tunic. Besides, Pires’s robes were only grey to accentuate the stripes of yellow and blue that slashed across the back. Prince Erson’s tunic and breeches were just grey. They were also bulky, as if he was wearing something leather underneath. That did explain the red tinge to his pale white face. Buck wondered how close he was to leaning against the doorframe and panting like a dog.
“Hello, Pires. Hello… pardon me, but what in the world is your name?” Prince Erson stared at him, his gaze as rigid as his posture.
“My name shall remain obscured, as my face, if it please you, your Highness,” Buck said, in the deepest, richest voice he could muster. He stood from his chair and offered the Prince a deep bow. When he straightened up he said, “But they call me Bucket, or Buck for short.”
“I see…” Prince Erson said. “I presume that you are the fool I’ve heard so much about?”
Buck’s heart did a little flip. He considered trying to play it cool but knew he was better off going with his slightly accelerated pulse. “I’m famous? Oh, your Grace, did you hear that? All the land tells tales of Bucket!”
Prince Erson grimaced. “Yes. Well. I think perhaps your services shall not be necessary for this visit. Perhaps another time.”
Pires stepped forward so that she was a few paces closer to the prince than Buck, but didn’t stand in front of him. “Pardon me, your Highness, but we cannot have feasts without the entertainment of our chief fool. The court would riot.”
“Best we hold back on the feasts too, then. A simple dinner in my chambers for my retinue and I should suffice,” he said, rubbing his hands together. Buck thought that might have been the first he’d seen the man move a muscle since he’d set eyes on him.
“No feasts? No fool… Your Highness, are you sure? We had a dinner planned in your honour tonight,” Pires said. Her voice went tight and high-pitched again, as it had been when Buck had first arrived. He supposed this was a much higher stakes dance than any manoeuvre they’d tried to engineer before.
“Yes. I’m sure you can understand, Duchess, given the recent unpleasantness at my own court. My people are not currently eager for large, public events,” Prince Erson said, folding his arms. “And that is an end of it. Your feasts can resume in a week, once my party is moving on to the next stop of its tour.”
With that, he nodded once to each of them, then stepped out the door and yanked it shut behind him.
Buck looked up at Pires as she turned around. “He’s only here for a week?”
Pires had her hands on her hips, her jaw clenched. She made a clucking sound. “I had hoped to enamour him to stay longer.”
Buck pursed his lips. “I understand. Well, maybe we get into his favour, maybe he’ll want to stay later next time, we put the plan in place then?”
“Buck, no. Come on. We can do this,” Pires said. “We just need to get him into the dining hall.”
“In one week?” Buck raised an eyebrow.
“Well if one week is all we have…”
“Are you trying to get me to patter?”
“Fine…” Buck rolled his eyes, but smiled. “If one week is all we have-”
“Then one week is all we need."
JabberHut pointed out to me that there's no reason for the Prince to enter the room. I had meant for him to come in here in order to request private dinners in the first place, but I forgot and wrote the conversation wrong. I will fix this when I have time.