"Alright, alright. Just don't use it in your act," Pires said, raising her hands in surrender. "But anyways, if we have an agreement, I shall have to return to the palace before any gossips notice my absence." Pires took Buck's right hand in both of hers. "I trust you, Bucket. I know this will work. Until then, goodbye."
She held Buck's gaze so strongly that Buck's intention to play it cool - maybe even icy - was rattled. "I'll be back soon. Very soon, yeah."
Pires nodded and released his hands. With a small, clipped wave, she took her leave, turning to walk back toward the rise with the path through it.
"Does she realise we're walking the same way as her?" Rydone asked after a while, turning to face Buck.
The tension in Buck's stomach burst out as laughter. "Probably not. Well, come on. I guess I better go pick up my bucket."
They walked together back into the city, passing the dusty grass and the guard spot that went vacant tonight because everyone had been at the banquet. Nobody ever attacked Resador city anyway, and very few travelling bards rolled up in the middle of the night.
Buck sighed as they passed the tavern he usually spent time with Rydone and Misene in.
"You know you'll find friends in any tavern you perform in," Rydone said, her eyes glancing between Buck and the lights that had begun to flicker behind the windows of the tavern. People often drifted off to various establishments around town after the end of a banquet.
Misene put out a hand silently around Buck's shoulders and pulled him in close as they walked along. His wide frame was always like a warm, quiet wall against Buck's side and had got him through many a bout of stage fright. Buck bowed his head in case anyone looked out the window and spotted him.
"Not if I have to be boring," Buck said to Rydone, leaning forward slightly to see her past Misene.
"Not boring, relaxed. Chill. Sober," Rydone said, her voice getting louder as she thought of each new adjective. "Any of those an improvement?"
"If you think I'm getting through this sober you got another thing coming," Buck said.
Misene chuckled as Rydone grinned and offered Buck an exaggerated shrug. They continued in silence for the rest of the short journey to Buck's treehouse. When they got there, Rydone and Misene stayed outside as Buck climbed inside to pack up his belongings.
He still had a suitcase from when he first travelled down with his parents, but it was of course much too small. Buck put his hand over his mouth and frowned for a moment, glancing at the bucket and wondering if that would do. He rooted through the pile of clothes under his raised bed, he found a black cloak he almost never used, and a blue one with ugly lime green spots that he'd only bought because a seven-year-old fan wanted to sell it to him. With some quick haphazard stitches that he could redo later, he soon had them sewn together to make a bag, which he shoved all of his other clothes into.
Then he looked at the bucket again. "Good evening, Simone. So, how do you feel about a trip?"
"Yeah, same. But it doesn't look like we've got a choice." Buck reached into the bag of clothes and pulled out the pale blue cloak he wore whenever he was planning on cheering anyone up. “Here you go,” he said to Simone, picking her up for a moment so he could stuff it into the bucket beneath her. “If anyone comes up to us, hide in there okay?”
Simone squeaked quieter, and at a lower pitch.
“Thanks,” Buck said. He threw a few of her feeding pellets into the bag. Then he clutched the opening of the bag in one hand and scrunched it up, slinging the weight over his shoulder. “Yeah, I think that’ll work. Alright, time for us to get going.”
He ran his hand along the his bedding, wondering if the next time he went to sleep it would be in a lambskin lined sleeping bag beside the fire in a tavern somewhere. Not that he owned a lambskin sleeping bag, nor all that much money in the coin purse in his pocket. His pockets mostly contained sewing supplies, parchment and some emergency face paint.
“Look out below!” he called out the window as he dropped the bag of clothes down. He pushed the handle of the bucket up to the crook of his elbow as he gripped the rope and climbed down.
As he picked the bag back up, he noticed that Rydone was staring at the ground as her foot traced shapes in the grass. That meant she was anxious about something. Buck glanced at Misene, but he too was frowning, and had gone very still.
“Uh… folks?” Buck asked. “What’s going on?”
Rydone looked up and tapped her fingers loudly against her forehead. “Ah, Buck, we’re both really sorry but we can’t come with you.”
Buck started. “I… didn’t think you would… now that I think about it. But I hadn’t thought about it at all. I was so busy saying goodbye to the court, I guess.”
“Don’t get us wrong, buddy,” Misene said, his soft voice the oral equivalent of a hug. “But I’ve got Croline to think about, and we might be getting a kid-”
“Wait, what?” Rydone stopped fidgeting for a moment and looked round at him.
Misene smiled and rubbed the outside of his arm. “Yeah, one of the servers from Orsune’s is pregnant and she doesn’t have the money to feed a baby so…”
“That’s fantastic,” Buck said, with a slight twinge at the back of his throat. “You and him will make incredible parents.”
Misene nodded. “I hope so.”
“And my brother needs me too,” Rydone said after a moment.
“Oh, that reminds me,” Buck said, “Tell him he’s welcome to my face paint chest while I’m away. It’s back up in the tree house. Resador’s going to need livening up again once I’m gone.”
Rydone grinned. “He will love that. Thank you.”
“My pleasure,” Buck said. There was a moment of silence as they all glanced awkwardly between each other, then Buck rubbed his hands together and said, “Alright, well. I guess I better go then.”
“I can’t believe this,” Rydone said, stepping forward and wrapping him in a hug. Misene joined her, pressing the hug in tighter.
“We love you, mate,” Misene said.
Buck could barely speak, half from the knot in his stomach and half from the fact that his nose was squashed against Misene’s chest. He murmured that he loved them too, then had to step back in order to get a decent breath.
“I’ll see you soon.” Buck said, pursing his lips and trying to smile.
“Of course,” Rydone said. “Go match-make.”
Misene nodded. “We’ll be here.”
“Yeah.” Buck took a deep breath. “Okay, alright. I’m going. Goodbye.”
He turned and started the short walk back to the main gate. With every step he dragged his feet, bruising his toes on the cobbles through his thin slip-on shoes. He’d need some new shoes when he got up north. He was racking through his memories of his early childhood – which there were very few of before the move to Resador – when he reached the gate.
At either side of the gate stood a shadowy figure, one somewhat bigger and taller than the other. Buck frowned and jogged forward.
“Oh!” he exclaimed, recognising Victane’s bristly white moustache as he got level with the figures.
“Hi, Buck,” Victane said. “Pires forgot to give you this.”
Victane handed Buck a battered grey – but very heavy – coin purse.
Buck gasped. “Thank you! This should get me some new boots easy.”
“New boots?” Victane asked.
“Not important.” Buck waved it away. “I’m glad I get to say goodbye to you two as well.”
Victane looked round at Hilene, who stood on the other side of the gate, then back at Buck. “Actually, Pires decided to gift you some personal guards as well. Isn’t that right, Hilene?”
Hilene smiled slightly at Buck and nodded. “Well of course.”
The two guards flanked him as they walked away from the city towards the marketplace.
“Where are we going, Buck?” Victane asked after a while.
“I was just thinking about that actually, before I saw you two. I’m going somewhere that they don’t call me Buck,” Buck said, looking from Victane to Hilene and back. “My name is Buttane, and I am moving back in with my mother.”