Buck took a deep breath, and opened the door to Pires’s office.
“Oh. Hello, Erson,” he said.
Erson was sitting directly in front of Pires’s desk, exactly where Buck usually sat. The sunlight streamed in across the two of them, illuminating some paper on the desk. As Buck moved into the room he saw that there were already a couple of words and phrases jotted down, but he had to go grab an extra chair so he couldn’t immediately see what they were. Pires always kept a few less luxuriously cushioned chairs up against the far right wall of the room in case any allies were joining them for discussions. Usually Buck was there before the ally though, and sitting in his usual chair.
“Morning, Bucket,” Pires said as he drew the chair up to sit next to them. “Erson got here early, as you can imagine, he and Myal staying in the palace of course.”
“I – yes, that makes sense,” Buck said, sitting down on Erson’s left.
Erson turned to face him. “Good morning.”
Buck gulped and turned to Pires. “So, where have you got so far?”
Pires turned the paper around to face him. “Well, we’ve been given the name of the ambassador who’s coming to meet us. Seemingly it’s a rather small party being sent first – just the ambassador, a ship captain and a single deckhand. Then they’ll return home and discuss… essentially discuss whether I am more worth contact with than my father. They did not get on so well with my father.”
“I understand,” Erson said. He leaned in slightly, facing straight forward. “What exactly will they be looking for in you?”
“My father – and Buck’s for that matter – had a habit of taking what wasn’t theirs. I like to think that they would never have had tried to take those islands by force but if the forces had been weaker and they thought they could have taken them… I can’t speak for Buck’s father but I’m not confident mine would have stuck to diplomatic endeavours,” Pires said. Her eyes stuck to the notes, not meeting Erson’s. Buck had never really considered that; his father had never been the fighting type. But he’d been far too young to know Pires’s father. The only thing he really remembered was that his Royal Guard uniforms were less brightly coloured than Pires’s.
“You certainly have a handle on diplomacy,” Erson said. “I’m here, aren’t I?”
Buck chuckled for the briefest of moments before his conscious mind caught up with him.
“Essentially we just have to be courteous, on our best behaviour and not try to swindle, manoeuvre, or otherwise manipulate the ambassador,” Pires said.
Now Erson did look at Pires. He raised an eyebrow and said, “I didn’t think that was what you meant by diplomacy.”
Pires looked away from him and turned her notes back around, putting her quill to the page. But she didn’t write anything new yet. She cleared her throat. “We have a clean slate. We can do this.”
Buck glanced down as his eyes widened. He’d left Simone in the bucket at Victane’s with his mum. He hadn’t expected to run into Erson quite so soon, but he’d figured it would happen eventually. And when it did, he was hoping to avoid the mention of buckets or foolery, on either side. Of course, Pires had immediately cried out his name as he entered the room, so that was that for that plan. That was actually an oddly simple mistake for Pires to make, but maybe she was just as stomach-churningly nervous as him. In any case, he was glad he did not have Simone with her while they discussed theft from a foreign nation.
“So this nation,” Erson said, breaking the silence that had begun to stretch, “they are interested in scientific advancement? I heard there was some intrigue over a cooling device. Not that there’s much need for a cooling device where I come from, but it’s a fascinating idea – perpetual temperature regulation.”
Pires glanced at Buck, who shrugged. He was just glad Erson wasn’t burping in his face.
“Yes, it was an invention of Buck’s father’s, and he was taken into service to develop it for them, as essentially punishment,” Pires said. She stopped short of exactly what for. Buck wasn’t sure if she knew about Simone, in fact. Perhaps her father had told her.
“I won’t pry,” Erson said, looking at Buck for the first time since he’d come in. Then he turned back to Pires. “But tell me more about this ambassador. Have they gone on missions like this before? The arrangement sounds rather specific is all I’m thinking.”
“It didn’t say in the letter but, er, I think so,” Pires said. “They must have swift boats to be meeting us so fast. They sent a single messenger with the letter, and that’s not even to precede the main party, just the ambassador. I think it’s a safe bet that they’re sailing out to other places quite often. Why do you ask?”
“I’m just curious,” Erson said. “It would be nice to eventually meet more people from around the world, see how they live their lives. I don’t think anybody thinks this kingdom is perfect, and thanks to… what we’re doing… I will have the chance to make some changes one day. Perhaps I shall be able to see some other ways of building a society.”
Buck smiled despite everything. He remembered Erson saying something like that back in the Royal Valley. Perhaps one day all of this would be behind them and Erson would be busy changing the world. The conversation went on for a while with Erson asking more questions about the nation, though Pires ran out of answers soon. For being such a key part of the recent history of Resador, Buck for one had given very little thought to that nation off to the south. Pires had brought it up very rarely too. But now they had to face it, and their history, if for no other reason than to satisfy some of Erson’s burgeoning curiosity.