A/N: Does this ending work? I feel like too much may be going on but I'm trying to build a thematic thing.
This time, the path brought them down towards the front entrance of the palace. The tall, arched double doors were lying wide open. And out of them streamed a long, straggly queue that spread out into a crowd, who were milling around in the courtyard. As Buck clambered down from Victane's back, he wondered if perhaps he'd got the wrong day and Myal hadn't wanted to see him until tomorrow. But as soon as he stepped past the low stone wall, into the courtyard, several people turned around and cheerily waved him over.
Buck walked up the man who had brought them the note. He was just to the side of the door, chatting to someone in the queue. He tucked a wisp of light brown hair behind his ear as Buck approached.
“Ah, hello,” he said. “Glad you could make it so soon. The name’s Holyon, by the way. I’m a steward for Princess Myal.”
“I… okay,” Buck said. He blinked, trying to put together what was going on. “I thought I was meant to be meeting her?”
Holyon nodded. “Indeed, indeed. Come this way.”
Buck stuttered but luckily Victane stepped in and said, “The Princess isn’t occupied with whatever’s going on here?”
Holyon looked around for a moment, then gasped and said, “Oh, I see! You don’t recognise your own audience, eh? Come along, Myal will explain all.”
He turned around and tapped the shoulder of the person in the queue level with the door. This person moved aside, then let all three of them through with a smile. Buck hadn’t got famous this quickly even in Resador City.
There was a sharp draft at Buck’s neck height just as he passed through the entrance, but this was soon overwhelmed by the sheer body heat of so many people crammed into the lobby. Chatter bounced around off the stone walls and light streamed in through the thick glass windows. Holyon shoved through the crowd for them, though most of the people seemed to step out of the way once they recognised him. Several clapped Buck on the shoulder as he passed too.
When they reached the main hall, Myal was once again sitting on the stage. However, her throne was pulled up much closer to the stage’s edge this time, and she was leaning over to talk to the people at the front of the queue. For the queue had gone through the lobby, wound along a corridor, and now stretched the entire length of the hall, right down the middle.
Holyon led Buck and Victane up onto the stage and tapped Myal on the shoulder. Buck glanced at Victane as Myal turned around to talk to Holyon. Victane smiled, putting a hand on Buck’s shoulder. Buck nodded, turning back to face the long, long line.
“What exactly is going on, your Highness?” Buck asked. “I got your note saying you wanted to see me but you seem, er, occupied.”
Myal waved a hand and pushed Holyon out of the way. Buck worried slightly for his dignity, but he just laughed and hopped down off the stage, immediately beginning a conversation with the nearest citizens.
“Oh, you know how news spreads,” Myal said. She stood up and ushered Buck towards the back of the stage. “I did, in truth, intend to approach you first about a permanent position as my first official court singer, but, well, I made the mistake of telling Holyon. I really should have just told Raddig – he always does what he’s told with not a grunt more than is necessary. They really are the oddest pasture partners.”
“Huh?” Buck asked, unsure how the conversation had once again found its way back to Raddig.
“Oh, they share a pasture, and both work for me in the palace. They take turns doing each – gives my court a greater range of characters, you know?” Myal smiled at him and took his hand in both of hers. “How would you like to expand it a little more?”
“I – of course,” Buck mumbled, hoping he wasn’t stumbling into a role too similar to his role at Pires’s court. He still needed for Erson not to recognise him.
“Wonderful,” Myal said, leading him back to the front of the stage. She gestured towards him and gazed down on the citizens below. “Welcome, everyone, to the preparations for the first concert performed here since… well, since before I was born. You all know Buttane now – make sure you do your best for him. Let the auditions commence!”
Buck gaped at Victane, but Victane only shrugged and spread his hands wide. Buck figured this was what he’d signed up for after all, even if it had only been thirty seconds ago. He turned back to Myal with a smile.
He rubbed his hands together. “Let’s get started, shall we?”
They made it through the first ten auditions before stopping for lunch. As Buck took some bread and meat from a platter at the back of the room, he winced at how many audition slots he still had to get through. The queue itself had dispersed, as people had been given scraps of cloth with numbers etched onto them, but the room still felt full as people drifted around. Still, at least this might mean there was some hope yet, for the first ten auditions had not gone well.
“So what do you think?” Buck said to Victane, leaning against the side wall near the back of the room.
Victane scratched his ear. “I don’t know, Buttane. They seem different, somehow, from last night.”
“I know how,” Buck said, watching as the next singer got set up on stage.
“We were drunk,” Buck said, “Now we’re just hungover.”
Victane chuckled. “There’ll be alcohol at the concert, no?”
“Sure, sure,” Buck said, “But I’d need the princess to show up wrecked from the start.”
Buck sighed and pushed himself up off the wall. He swallowed the last of his lunch, then headed back towards the stage. At least this musician, a broad-shouldered woman with rough red cheeks, seemed to know what she was doing as she tuned up her fiddle.
It was only as Buck clambered back up onto the stage that he remembered he’d been supposed to have lunch with his mum. He felt a sudden itching urge to go apologise, but just at that moment the singer began to play. Buck found that finally, he’d come across someone with such talent that he couldn’t draw himself away.