A/N: For some reason I thought I'd already done three parts of chapter 9 so it was time for chapter 10 so I started a new day. Let me know if you think I should write the second chapter as a last part of chapter 9 and then have this start chapter 10 or be a 9.4 or something idk. I only added it in after writing the rest of the chapter when I realised I had a bit of a gap in events.
The cool breeze stung in Buck's eyes as he wandered home the next morning. His head didn't hurt too bad, but it was fuzzy, and he couldn't really feel his feet properly. All in all, not his worst hangover ever. He pressed the ball of his hand against his left eye as he crossed one of the little bridges across the stream and tried to stop it stinging. Somehow the insides of his nostrils seemed to smell of wine.
He wondered if Erson was any less hungover. Buck had ended up sleeping on a long soft sofa in Myal’s room, which was next to Erson’s at the back of that little dining room. It had been such a cosy night, just the three of them, then later just Buck and Myal. But he’d been woken by the door of the next room slamming closed, and presumably Erson stomping out to meet his mother. Buck wondered what in the world he and the queen were talking about now, but he had to get home. Besides, he hadn’t figured out the good hiding spots in the palace yet. So Myal had fixed him a little breakfast from the pantry, then given him a quick hug and sat down to wait on her brother.
To get back to his mother's cottage, he only had to get up the zig-zagging path, having emerged from a door on the same side of the palace. He blinked and tried to trace its way up the hill, but the zigging and zagging made him dizzy. Instead, he dropped his gaze to the ground, planted his feet on the soft earth - it had been raining - and started his way along. When he hit grass, he'd just turn around and follow the zig.
As he reached his first turn, he heard a call from somewhere out in front of him. Instinctively, he looked up at where it had come from, and spotted Raddig on his wall. Had he called out to him? He could do without an awkward conversation with him this morning, though perhaps all he wanted was a reassurance that Buck wouldn't let his secret slip.
But Raddig hopped over his wall and jogged down to meet someone else, a tall skinny man carrying an enormous rucksack. Buck briefly considered continuing along his way, but even hungover his curiosity took over him. He knelt down in the grass, unconvinced he'd stay upright if he tried to stand still, and watched Raddig talking to the man with the rucksack.
He handed him over something thin and blue - or maybe green, perhaps somewhere in between. Then the man gave him a little sack in return, patted him on the shoulder, then ambled away. As Raddig started glancing about, Buck faced down the hill with his head in his hands, so that if spotted he'd looked like he'd collapsed from his hangover. He risked a look back over in Raddig's direction, but he was walking away towards his farm.
Buck took a deep breath and ran his hand through his hair, then rubbed the back of his neck. He hadn't made it all that far up the hill, so it wasn't like he'd be losing much... He got shakily to his feet, and started following the skinny man along the streamside path.
He stopped where the path started to curve around to the left and moved off into a flat grassy space to the right. The hills rose steeply on all sides of the little area, as everywhere else had started to slope upwards by that far out from the path. This meant it was nice and sheltered. Buck had noticed the hollow on the way to the palace on his first night after arrival, but hadn't been sure what it was for. Now, as the man set down his rucksack and pulled a thick canvas sheet down off some wooden frames, Buck realised that it was a marketplace.
The man whistled as he set the stalls up, his eyes partly closed. Buck wondered if he too was still half asleep after last night's revelry, but just much, much better at dealing with hangovers than him.
"Hey, can I help you?" The man was crouched beside the bottom corner of a stall, looking around at Buck.
Buck's neck cracked as he made eye contact with the man. He was standing on the edge of the hollow, watching the man set up the market stalls.
"Uh, sorry, I'm..." The blurriness in his brain had dulled his reaction times, but he managed to pull something generic out. "I would like to see your wares."
The man clicked the leg of the stall into place, then stood up and pushed some shoulder length brown hair behind his ears and smoothed it down. "I'm not open yet... as you can see."
"I'm in a bit of a rush," Buck said. He didn't have much of a plan, but his instincts could manage an easy reaction like that. Now, why would it be urgent that he purchase something from a market stall at the crack of dawn, long before any reasonable human beings had any business being awake? After a few while he said, "I forgot my mum's birthday."
The man chuckled and stepped forward to shake Buck's hand. "Ah, the absent minds of the royal valley keep me in business, don't you know! Can I interest you in some jewelry? I just picked up the most intricate piece. The name's Ikilyn, by the way."
Something clicked in Buck's mind, but Buck's mind didn't think to tell the rest of Buck what it was. "Sure, I'd be interested in that."
Ikilyn loosened the string of his rucksack and pulled out a slim blue box. He handed it to Buck.
"Feel that fabric? You could use that as a pillow, if it was a bit bigger. Maybe if it held a necklace rather than a bracelet," Ikilyn said.
Buck stroked the soft blue fabrics. When he ran his finger one way, they stuck up dark and black, then when he flattened them again they shimmered a little. Perhaps he was still a little drunk, but if Ikilyn had tried to convince him the box itself was an intricate ware he would probably have believed it.
"A bracelet?" he asked, opening it up. Inside Buck saw a circle of silver set into a square of black foam. He pinched the sides of the bracelet and pulled it out of the foam. It was thicker than he'd expected, more like a cuff, with some beautiful blue stones inlaid in three rows. The lines of the stones were staggered, with the bottom of one line going a little past the top of the next before stopping. And the silver felt heavy, solid - real.
"It's actually meant for a man, I think. At least, it was a man that sold me it, just a moment ago. Raddig, you know, the shepherd boy turned court servant" Ikilyn said. "But I'm sure your mother would love it, you know."
"How much would you like for it?" Buck asked, with a thin laugh and a grin at one side of his mouth. Ikilyn grinned back.
"Guess," he said, crossing his arms.
"Don't want to give you any ideas," Buck said, setting it carefully back into the foam. "Whatever it is, I doubt I can afford it."
"To be honest, probably the only people in this valley who could afford it for what it's actually worth are the royal family, but why should they have all the fun? Ten gold pieces for it," Ikilyn said, raising his chin, though still smiling.
"Uh, let me think for a moment," Buck said. He had more than that in the pouch Pires had given him, which he kept in his cloak pocket at all times. But his brain was quietly suggesting that there might be a better use for it. Something about the blue box that Raddig had sold - the blue box he'd seen Raddig pocket as he headed off down that corridor! Unless Raddig had acquired more than one expensive jewelry box since the last market day... And out of the only other three people could have afforded it one of them was Erson... Had Raddig sold Erson's gift?
"Yeah. Yeah, I'll take it," Buck said, because there was no way Raddig was ever going to admit to this if he was playing the sort of long game Buck was now imagining as he rapidly sobered up. He was going to need to see his reaction.
"Brilliant! Fastest I've ever made a sale!" Ikilyn said, as they exchanged the money for the box.
Buck shook his hand and thanked him, then spun around on one heel and started to stride home, head getting clearer by the second. He was going to have to have a talk with Raddig.