Suddenly the entire crowd was staring up at him. Or maybe it wasn't sudden, and he had blacked out for a moment. Buck's mind was bouncing around from panicked thought to thought, each of which were screamed at him inside his head. Finally, amidst desperately trying to deduce what he might have done, why Pires and Erson were looking at him like that, he managed to send a couple of thoughts down to his feet, which started to carry him off the stage.
He stumbled out one of the double doors and almost smacked straight into Victane, who was crouched over the keyhole of the other.
"Buck!" he hissed, taking a step back. "What's going on? Is the Duchess okay?"
Buck kept moving, sprinting down the stairs and out the main doors, through the courtyard where the cobblestones were still showing scrapes from when they'd set up the table for performer check-in. It had reached twilight outside and the sun was as good as gone, not even a pretty pink sky to comfort him. He shivered and wrapped his cloak around himself. Somewhere in the back of his mind there was an image of how he must have just looked - a boy running through the night with his sparkling green cloak billowing out behind him, but all he saw was what was right in front of him. A quiet, empty city, because everyone else was in the palace, with Pires.
He crouched against the wall of the palace, which didn't rise up all that high but on his haunches was more than enough to keep the wind off him. He thought about waiting to catch his breath then continuing to his treehouse to see Simone, but perhaps he should hang around. Pires would be out any moment. She'd made a mistake, thought he'd said something much worse than he had. All he'd said was they'd make a nice couple after all.
Sure enough, he soon heard footsteps, several sets in fact. But when their owners passed through the gate, Pires was not among them.
"I'm down here," he called.
Victane, Hilene, Rydone and Misene all pivoted and looked around for a moment, then spotted him. Rydone dropped to the ground and sat beside him in the grass, closely followed by Misene, who handed him his bucket. He was actually the more agile of the two, but he typically moved so slowly you'd think all his joints were ceased up. Victane and Hilene stayed standing; Victane actually was too old for extraneous crouching and Buck didn't think he'd ever seen Hilene crease his uniform.
"Hi, everyone," Buck said. "Did Pires send you? I'm happy to publicly apologise for whatever I did that was so terrible."
Misene put a hand on his shoulder as Rydone said, "I'm so, so sorry, Buck. It's worse than that. As soon as you were gone, she declared to the entire room that you'd be banished for this."
"For what?" Buck exclaimed, gripping tightly onto Misene's arm with one hand and gesturing wildly with the other.
"Well, mate, he did give direct orders against that..." Misene said.
"Against what?" Buck croaked. He hung his head and rested it against his knees.
"Against proposing marriage," Victane said. He scratched his head. "A friend of Hilene's was guarding the meeting. You know, the one with that argument about shepherds? Anyways, Hilene's friend says the last ten minutes or so of that meeting were Erson directly forbidding talk of marriage, especially concerning himself. I know that's when you normally slip out so nobody notices you afterward, but didn't Pires tell you?"
Buck looked up. His back felt exposed, as if instead of a wall behind him there was a thousand foot drop. "No. I guess, she said to be subtle..."
"I think you need to talk to Pires," Rydone said.
"Will she see me?" Buck asked, looking from her to Misene, then up to the two guards. They all shared worryingly uncertain frowns.
"We'll talk to her," Victane said eventually. "Won't we, Hilene?"
"Of course," Hilene said, his voice quiet and soft. "This is all wrong."
Buck tried to nod but his head just twitched. "Alright. Perhaps I should go home... to my treehouse, not north or anything. For now."
"We'll take you," Rydone said, holding her arm out.
Buck leaned on both her and Misene and rose to his feet. One of his knees kept jerking about, but he figured he could walk. Misene told the guards to meet them at the treehouse if it didn't work, then he and Rydone led Buck off through the city.
A/N: I am kind of terrified that the stakes are not believable here, but hopefully Buck is flummoxed enough to pull it off. All will become clear next chapter.