He thundered up to the market and clambered up the hill beside the hollow, laying down on his belly in the freezing cold damp mud. He wriggled forward, peering over the edge of the back wall of the hollow. Below, Ikilyn was in the process of closing up the weekly market, until he noticed Raddig standing at the entrance. Ikilyn gave up his fight with a particularly stiff joint on a fold-down stall, and went over to greet him.
With a deep breath to calm his nerves, Buck settled down to watch what happened. Then he'd know if there was a pattern. He didn't want to confront Raddig yet, not tonight, but if he got confirmation of his suspicions then he was going to have to do so, and soon.
"Ikilyn, wait, I've got something," Raddig said, himself also slightly bent over to catch his breath.
"You're becoming my top supplier, you are. Where do you get these things?" Ikilyn asked.
Raddig lifted up the tunic to show him. "You ask all your customers where they get their wares from?"
Ikilyn chuckled, brushing his hand along the fabric. "What, ask Holyon which of his mother's wheels he made his pottery on?"
"Let's just say I have a contact," Raddig said.
Buck scrunched up some grass between his fingers and tried to hold in a frustrated growl. It made it out, but just as a small pained squeak. He held his breath, eyes pinned on Raddig and Ikilyn, but if he'd been heard, neither of them acknowledged it.
"Well this is beautiful," Ikilyn said, his voice so hushed Buck could only hear because of the echo of the hollow.
"How much, Ikilyn?" Raddig barked.
"I mean this is easily the most splendid thing you've brought me yet," Ikilyn said. "I'll give you double what I gave for the bracelet."
"Brilliant, thank you," Raddig said, with less harshness than before.
Ikilyn took the tunic and placed it in a large dresser on wheels, then reached into a pouch strapped over his shoulder and produced a large bag of coins, followed by a smaller one. He emptied a handful of small silver coins out of the large bag, and picked a few large gold ones out of the smaller. These he deposited into a sack Raddig was holding out.
"Getting there," Raddig said, smiling slightly.
Ikilyn seemed to have learned his lesson because he didn't ask Raddig what he meant. Instead he pulled the strings of his pouches tight, and slung them back over his shoulder.
"Well, is that you done then?" Ikilyn asked.
"For tonight, yes," Raddig said. "But I'm sure I'll be seeing you again next week. Don't think my supply is going to dry up any time soon."
Buck swore. Loudly. At Raddig. As Raddig and Ikilyn peered up in his direction, the tension that had been building in his fingers and toes caused his joints to seize up. He found himself unable to move. He couldn't even bring himself to shut his eyes in case the movement gave him away.
It turned out not to matter, however, because Ikilyn tilted his head to the side and said, "What in the great bowl are you doing up there, young man? You can come down and peruse my finest merchandise again if you like."
Buck wriggled into a kneeling position, racking his brain for something to say. “I, uh, I didn’t want to interrupt but I need to talk to-” Who was more plausible? – “Raddig. The queen needs something. Early tomorrow.”
Ikilyn shrugged and went back to moving his market stall out of the hollow. Raddig stood there staring at Buck, which Buck would have expected to seem weird to Ikilyn, but maybe Ikilyn just wanted to get home. When his stalls were all collapsed and lying flat on top of each other in a very big cart, he glanced once at each of them, then shrugged again and headed off.
“We should talk,” Raddig called up.
“Yes!” Buck shouted back. “Whatever you’re doing to you-know-who I think it’s really crappy!”
“I’m coming up there,” Raddig growled. “Or you down here. Whatever. But this is stupid.”
Buck stumbled down the hill, falling a few times and having to clutch the stones that ringed the top of the hollow. When he got to the bottom, he ran up to Raddig. He assumed he would think of something to say when he got there. He didn’t, but something came out anyway.
“Are you stringing him along? You know what he’s risking for you! How could you just toss off his tokens of love?” Buck’s arms flailed as the questions flew from his mouth.
Raddig folded his arms. “And how do you think you know from where I procure my wares?”
“Because I saw him give it to you!” Buck exclaimed.
“You’ve been watching me? Following me?”
“Yes, clearly! But I’ll stop if you explain yourself. Otherwise, I’ll tell Erson everything I saw tonight.” Buck grasped at the air for answers but this was the best he could come up with.
Raddig scoffed. “Like he’ll believe you. The idiot could see how little I cared for him with his own eyes if he wanted to. I learned a long time ago that I don’t even have to try.”
“Well, I’ll bother you in some other way,” Buck said, though his heart was busy breaking for Erson. “You don’t want to test me. I bet I can get you fired. I’ve gotten Lords de-landed, Dukes disgraced!”
“Oh my Gods, shut up!” Raddig snapped. “Fine. Whatever. Like I say, he wouldn’t believe you anyway. If the truth will shut you up, you can have it.”
Buck raised his chin. “Tell me.”
“You’re right. I don’t love him. I don’t even, y’know, love men. I told you when you first came here that men don’t dance with other men up here. What I love is the sea,” Raddig said.
Buck’s chin dropped and his hands stopped moving around in the air. “You what?”
“I have always wanted to sail beyond the reaches of this kingdom,” Raddig said, looking off towards the horizon even though it was pitch black. “North, east, west, south… I don’t care. I just want to sail uncountable leagues in any direction… The enormity of that? Of that travel, of the sea? That staggers me.”
The decrease in likelihood that Raddig was going to beat him up, combined with the oddly poetic flourish Raddig’s language had taken on, helped to calm Buck’s heart rate. He sighed as he realised what Raddig’s “getting there” had been about. “Ah, so you need money.”
“For a ship,” Raddig said. “A ship of my own.”
“So you’re selling Erson’s gifts. Wow, you’re an ass,” Buck said, more as a realisation than an insult. He’d known Raddig was rude, and somewhat cold. But this was a step way above that.
“And Erson’s a moron with more money than he knows what to do with. I do wish he was less of a bore though. Every moment with him grinds at my soul and makes me want to run away all the faster.”
Maybe it was all this talk of money, but Buck noticed very clearly something bumping against the outside of his thigh. He reached into his lower coat pocket and pulled out Pires’s gold.
Buck sighed. The bag felt heavier as it took on the solemnity of what he was about to do. “So, if you got a windfall now, you’d be out of here? You’d leave Erson alone?” he asked.
“Where in the world did you get that?” Raddig raised both eyebrows.
Buck glared at him. “Let’s just say I have a contact.”