Back on the stage, Buck stretched his arms, lowered himself up and down on tip-toes a few times, and took a deep breath. Everyone was settling back down, including Erson on the couch beside Pires. Buck caught Pires's eye and she nodded, slowly, counting down from ten with her fingers. Briefly, Buck glanced at Erson, whose mouth was hanging slightly open, presumably in anticipation. The last finger Pires left up was her right index finger, which she pointed at Buck and mouthed the word "Go".
Buck's poem he'd written revolved mostly around the wonders of Resador and how Pires's father had been able to bring so many of flowing in by opening trade relationships with the South Eastern islands. It was supposed to be about various jewels and fabrics - though Buck had shoehorned in some gushing over a particular type of flute - many of which Erson seemed to have taken a liking to throughout the week. He was even wearing a turquoise Bleira jewel in a golden necklace that sat on top of his light blue tunic - not to mention the fact that he'd worn almost entirely grey for his first three days.
As Buck reached the end of this section, however, he slipped into song to tribute Resador city court. He began with a crowd-favourite, with some call and reply about how there was no place they'd rather be. The replies were slightly subdued at first, but once everyone woke up from their poet-induced slumber they were toasting Buck with flagons held high. Pires squinted at him, but she joined in too, as did Erson. In fact, Erson's arms were in the air and his foot was pounding out a rhythm on the carpet. He didn't seem to notice that his mother was glaring at him in wide-eyed mortification.
She sat back when Buck moved on to try out a few lines he'd written to the same air as the 'Lay of a Lost Father', a sort of solemn ode to a place that meant everything to him. Erson continued to smile, as did Pires, who touched her hand to her heart when he saluted her part in the foundation of the court.
Buck was glad he'd added in this section when he moved onto his poetical discussion of shepherds. Erson was sleepily laying back against his corner of the couch, while Pires glanced anxiously towards the Queen. This time, the Queen did not look round, nor did she make eye contact with any of the Resadorian citizens who snuck looks over their shoulder towards her. Rydone had explained to Buck that ever since the meeting he'd been in the rafters for, if someone in the city referred to 'shepherds' in the same sentence as the Queen, that could be roughly translated as 'the Queen's war is pointless, and she's a bigger fool than Bucket for engaging in it.' 'Bigger fool than Bucket' was a phrase Buck had often heard thrown around in drunken Resadorian arguments, but he'd never have imagined hearing it applied to a queen.
Luckily it was soon time to move on to his praise of Pires. While perhaps no less inflammatory to the Queen, at least he could do this in his sleep. He led into it by repeating how she'd built a court based on her father's trading networks, then described how the people loved her, then how Buck loved her for letting him let his creativity fly. This was where he was supposed to leave it: trade, people, Buck - rule of three. But hey, Erson had asked for song, and Pires had seemed okay with it last time.
Before Pires had explained that she intended subtlety for the event, Buck had got started on a simple but loud song about how she and Erson would be a perfect match.
And I think sometimes of love for her,
She's surrounded by loyalty.
As he gestured to himself and the adoring courtiers, he elongated the last syllable, making it distinctly an 'ee' sound. Then he looked up to the dais, eyes flicking between Pires and Erson as the courtiers twisted around to follow his gaze.
But I think we all want more for her,
Yes, she needs more than me.
A few courtiers whooped at that, though Buck hoped it was to enthusiastically signal wanting more for her, rather than a scathing indictment of himself.
There's a love we cannot give to her,
No romance comes from me.
Buck winced at how often he was rhyming 'me' with itself. 'Her' was repeated on purpose as a refrain but this was just clunky. Still, it wasn't like Erson was a connoisseur. He just had to get his point across and vaguely stick to metre. He focused on Erson as he sang his next two lines.
Perhaps there's someone near to her,
Whose kindness is plain to see.
Or at least, had been. As Buck finished the high note of 'see', he noticed Erson, who was snarling at him. His top lip had tugged upwards at the sides into an ugly grimace that would put even Misene off. The next words flew from Buck's mind, but Buck thought that was probably for the best, what with the way Erson's right hand was clenched around the arm of the sofa and his left was curled tightly up into a fist.
"Enough!" he shouted, though Buck had had no intentions whatsoever of continuing.
His gaze flicked over to Pires, who would be about ready to deploy the 'pay him no heed, he is but a fool line' that had extricated them from countless situations over the years, but she said nothing. She glared at Buck, her own jaw clenching like Erson's. Buck gulped. Well, at least they were on the same page.
"Your grace, I can only apologise," Pires said after a moment. She pointed at the door with a stiff, unwavering index finger. "Bucket, get out!"