(123-02-13) Total Uncertainty Club
Total Uncertainty Club
Summary: Esme feeds Camillo pie which is not at all poisoned, and they discuss various religious matters, such as how confusing it all is.
Date: 13-14/02/2016
Related: Cheese Club, Rhubarb Club, Strange Lives Club…

When Camillo presents himself at the red and yellow grocery shop in Oldtown Square, on an afternoon when for once the weather is merely overcast and not actively threatening to drown him where he stands, the girl Katla is behind the counter — and she considers him Mistress Esme's business.

"I think she's out back," she murmurs doubtfully, in an aside whilst weighing dried beans for another customer. "Shall I get her for you?"

She's still speaking when the bell over the connecting door tinkles; "No, she's not," calls Esme, who glimpsed him through the panes of glass set in the door and now stands poised upon the threshold between one shop and the other, in her orange and green striped frock with the sleeves rolled up over her sinewy forearms. She smells more strongly than usual of inexpensive soap and is holding at arm's length, by its clean white strings, a thoroughly bloodied blue and white striped apron. "Good day to you, Master Camillo — always good to see you again. Come through if you will," she suggests with a cheerful smile; "and if you've a few minutes to spare, I've got something for you."

Camillo is just about due to make a few more orders around this time, and he shows up as regularly as ever. "Thank you, Mistress Esme," he replies. The apron is noted, but it hardly horrifies Camillo, once a country boy. He looks up again. "We think people might be up later nights with the festival coming on, so we'll be needing a bundle of candles, Mistress Esme. Also some paper if you have it. And ten pounds ground meat. But I'll be sending a boy round to collect that, if you don't mind. Just before the festival, I've got to work them as much as possible so I can justify giving them time off in shifts when it /does/ come." He is perhaps talking a bit more than usual, but then he's also been getting more comfortable with Esme. "I have time if you like, Mistress Esme. What is it?"

"Of course, of course." Esme nods quickly to his shopping list and beckons him to come through the bustling butcher's shop with her, to a door past which he has not previously seen. She asks him a question or two about sizes and quantities and that's that. It's all tucked away in her memory and will transpire to be just what's wanted, just when it's wanted. There's never been a thing she couldn't get hold of in a hurry, for the Hightower.

Behind that door is a store-room packed floor to ceiling with crates and barrels and boxes, marked with numbers more often than letters; and another door which, when she opens it, reveals a flight of narrow and rickety wooden stairs. These are barely lit by the store-room's single high barred window, and whatever door was left open upstairs. "One of my girls is doing the floor right now," she explains, "so I shan't ask you up — we'd only be underfoot. But the stairs are clean enough if you want to sit down for a bit. I'll be right with you." And she disappears swiftly up them, bearing the apron before her. She hasn't said what she's kept him for — she was more interested, of course, in nailing down the details of paper and candles and meat.

Camillo steps cautiously as he follows, since sometimes there are things in danger of being knocked over in storerooms, and Camillo would hate to disturb the order of one of Esme's spaces. He has ready answers about the goods, but otherwise follows in apparent calm without being told where exactly he is following or why. He finds his way to the stairs and obediently occupies them once Esme's gotten past.

Esme's voice sounds from above, reassuring someone that she'll not be in the way long — another female voice, younger and softer, murmurs something or another — and then cupboards seem to be opening and shutting. A small metallic noise; a muted thump of something heavy being placed with care; the sound of liquid; and then her footsteps return. She comes down the stairs minus the apron, with two wooden cups held together in one hand and a plate in the other, a knife and fork (steel rather than silver, with wooden handles) held on the edge of the plate by her thumb, and another of her well-worn linen napkins folded beneath. "I made a rhubarb pie yesterday," she explains, "and the rest of it's gone, I don't know where, I've been feeding half Oldtown lately… Here you are." And she perches a couple of steps higher than him, and passes down the plate and a cup of cider.

Camillo looks surprised and uncertain about receiving the last piece of a pie. "Oh," he says softly, and then his brow furrows. "But if it's all that is left, shouldn't we eat it together?" he proposes, reaching up to take one cup from her first.

Once the pie plate is settled in his lap she loosens her hold upon the handles of the cups and lets him take whichever one he pleases, bringing up her other hand to support the one she's left with when her grip seems briefly uncertain. "Oh," she says unconcernedly, "I had a slice last night, don't you worry. And I'll be making the same pie again before long, I'd think — it's Edmyn's favourite. You go on. You'll see, it's sweeter than you thought."

Camillo still looks a little worried, but he nods, taking the fork. "It's kind of you to remember," he says, it not having escaped him that she has taken the trouble to recall that he said he didn't remember if he'd tasted it before." He cuts with the side of the fork and has a bite. He chews, expression curious but pleased by the taste, in his own reserved way.

"There, you see?" declares Esme, beaming down upon him from two steps above. "Nothing wrong with that." She drinks a good draught of her apple cider (the Quill and Tankard's, actually) and lets out a sigh as she swallows. "I'm that glad to get off my feet for five minutes," she admits ruefully.

Camillo has another bite, then sets his fork down briefly. "It is very good," he agrees. Then he tries the cider. "Thank you for thinking of me. I don't suppose you'll let me repay you."

Esme knits her greyish brows together. "Oh, now," she insists, drawing away against the wall of her narrow little stairwell in mock disapproval, "the pie's not for sale. Just about the only thing round here that isn't," she chuckles. "It's only for people I'm fond of, and that's all there is to it. It's enough to have you own I was right about the rhubarb."

Camillo smiles in spite of himself and picks his fork back up. "Yes," he admits. "I like it better than I thought. But I expect you know what you're about with such things." He eats a little more. "I don't get pie very often, but it is nice. I'm looking forward to the breads they make for the Dolphin Festival, though."

His hostess nods her understanding. "My neighbours across the way at the bake house do so much trade during the festival, you'd hardly credit it!" she confides. "Mind you, they work for it — everything's got to be ready in advance, so their ovens needn't stop — I don't do so well because nobody who can help it is cooking and eating in their own homes," she shakes her head and sips her cider and sighs, "and I've friends who tell me I should just shut up and have a holiday and be done with it, but you know what it's like. I don't think I'd know what to do with myself without the shop to go to."

Camillo gives another gentle smile as he chews over more pie. "I know what you mean…but I do like the festivals," he admits. "I try to observe some part, even if I am busy."

Though they're quite alone, apart from the sounds of the girl cleaning upstairs, Esme looks over her shoulder before admitting: "… I do usually pop out and watch the tournament for a couple of hours. Not always, mind, but since everyone else in the city's like to be there too instead of beating a path to my counter." Rueful smile. "What do you make time for?"

"I like the tournaments, too," Camillo confesses, dipping his head a little. "Especially because here…I know some of the combatants. I like to see how people get on. And you can learn about their character from…how they fight and how they act. Some people are different in public, or when they're striving hard." He rolls a shoulder. "But I like to see the dolphins come in, too."

"Ahh," agrees Esme, "I imagine you would know 'em, working where you do… All my years in Oldtown, and I've never been to Battle Island nor seen the dolphins come in. Always been out of my way," she explains, "what with one thing and another… Dolphins don't observe shop hours."

"You should see them at least once," Camillo says. He doesn't usually give direct advice, but in this case… "It draws so many, you might be safe leaving the shop with a girl just for an hour."

"Maybe I will," but Esme sounds vaguely doubtful. "I always say to myself, there's always next year — but I don't have so many of those left anymore," she chuckles. Another sip of cider. "See how things are on the day, I suppose."

Camillo tilts his head at this claim that there are few years left for her, but he doesn't argue. "I hope you will," he affirms. "It is…special to see."

Her head tilted consideringly, Esme greets this advice with a slow nod. "I'll see if I can manage it, then. And if I don't, well, I hope you'll tell me about it after, eh? The next time there's anything you need." She pauses. "I asked a friend of mine about those uncommon seeds we talked about once… He's going to bring something or another over from Volantis on his next crossing. Now, don't say a word about trouble — I'll find someone to sell to if you've given up your idea of a garden, don't you worry about that."

Camillo dips his head. "Oh, yes," he says, "Of course I'll come and tell you if you like." He looks up as he eats and listens to the news about the seeds. "I'm sure I'll buy them when they come in," he replies.

"Bless you," says Esme, perhaps meaning the words more than some who ritually employ them; indeed, she looks pleased. "But not if you don't want them, eh? … He'll be back inside a week, I should think — perhaps as few as five days if the winds are in favour. So the next time you come in, we'll see about it. Of course, if you've thought of something else you'd rather try…?" she fishes. "By way of a pastime, I mean, dearie."

Camillo tilts his head slightly. "Not really," he admits. "Not so far. I suppose people start things as children." He finishes the pie and sets the plate beside him on the step. "That was very fine pie, Mistress Esme," he remembers to say, but then reaches inside a pocket of the bag he wears across his body. "Oh. This was given to me by Lady Marsei. As you're Faithful, perhaps you'd like to see it," he says, and draws out a wooden representation of the Seven, with seven different carved heads.

"Oh." And Esme reaches behind her to put down her cup of cider on a higher step, and takes the carving into two careful hands. Her fingertips explore the grain of the wood as she holds it up to find better light. There's not much of it, on her stairs. "Now, that's not badly done," she observes, with an odd little smile curving her colourless lips, "and a beautiful conception…" She smiles wistfully, her gaze traveling over each face in turn. "Seven faces…" She returns it to him with the same care, for it's a sacred object. "That's a very thoughtful gift," she observes. "From Lady Marsei Hightower, you said? She that married that dragon prince end of last year?"

"Yes," Camillo replies. "She is a very faithful lady. Last year, in the Maidenday Garden, the Maiden sent her an injured dove and she nurtured it back to health," he reports with some reverence, taking the totem back and carefully tucking it away again. "That is when I knew her faith was truly deep."

"And we've had a run on pork so I've been butchering pigs all morning," sighs Esme ruefully. She lives a long way from the Maidenday Gardens, the Hightower, and the constant tender nurturing of wounded creatures. "We all do as we're called to do by the gods, or at any rate I hope we try…" She smooths her striped skirts with a quick hand which journeys onward to collect her cup from that higher step and bring it again to her lips.

Camillo smiles slightly, looking down at his hands. "I think the Maiden would not send you a pig, Mistress Esme," he says, then glances back up and drinks some cider, himself. Then he looks more serious. "Some of us have thornier paths than others. But…as you say. It does not mean we cannot be faithful in our own way. For some, just to survive is praiseworthy, I think."

"No, it's the Mother who looks after pigs," observes Esme, with an amused twist of her lips; "or I trust She does. A sow might drop as many as ten or a dozen piglets in one litter…" Having wandered from the point she shakes her head once to clear away the cobwebs. "There's no one path through life, nor one path to God's favour…" she agrees. "Seven, so none of us need feel we're left behind or we're unwelcome or our troubles won't fall on understanding ears or we won't be forgiven when we need it. And for some, aye, I see how preserving the life They gave us might be a tribute."

Camillo lowers his chin thoughtfully. "I heard a rumor. That there's going to be an Absolution soon," he says in reply to that.

"During the Festival? Yes… I heard something said of it," admits Esme. "I don't feel right making a show of my faith in public, though. I don't like to put myself forward." She puts her cider down again and picks at one of her cuffs, unrolling her sleeve down over a forearm long since dry after its scrubbing with hot water and soap. "Never did feel right."

Camillo nods thoughtfully, brow furrowing as though he had not considered that potential drawback to the rites. "Do you think…they would do something privately? If someone asked?"

Esme ponders this. "They might," she ventures, "but I don't know that I'd like to ask, either… Perhaps if there's a septon you know yourself? From the Hightower, or some such. You might take it up with him."

Camillo bobs his head once more, solemn. "I would like to ask a lot about it anyway. Can it wash all sins clean?"

"I think it must do," suggests Esme softly. "… I hope you've not got such a weight on your soul," and her silhouette above him between the dim store-room and the light upstairs takes on a pensive, sympathetic, listening sort of outline, "but if you have — perhaps this is the time?"

Camillo is quiet a little while. "I suppose all people sin," he answers. "Even very good people." He looks up at Esme. "I imagine knights are sometimes caught between the Warrior and the Mother. It is hard to live in this world."

"Well, if it were easy…" the little shopkeeper drawls, shaking her head. "We wouldn't learn near so much from it, would we? And we'd all be so good all our days, we'd have nothing to prove, and so we couldn't please Them," the word is obviously capitalised, "in the proving of it."

Camillo listens to every word, obviously, and spends a few long moments thinking. At last he asks, "Do you feel sure of all the choices you've made?" Which might be a strange question to pose to a shopkeeper.

The idea seems to strike Esme as downright hilarious. She leans back, letting out a sudden cackle of a laugh which sounds unnaturally loud boxed in as they are by the staircase; it fades into a sigh, and she sips her cider.

"No, no no no," she scoffs, "goodness no. I've made as many mistakes as anyone, I daresay. And I've been dead sure and then got it all wrong anyway." Issues of supplies and demand, presumably; how many neeps Oldtown will require in any given calendar month. "Bein' sure is the surest route, I think, to bein' wrong," she muses, her accent slipping as it sometimes does into something nearer the street. "Don't be too sure, dearie — always consider you may have it all backwards. You'll be a kinder man for it."

Camillo can't help a small smile at that. "I am never sure," he reports. "There is that, at least. The older I get, the less sure I ever am." He finishes off his cider. "But I have kept you very long over your kindness to me, Mistress Esme."

"That's so," she agrees, on the subject of age and unsurety; "righteous certainty is the province of youth. Just you think how confused I must be by now," she points out in a manner almost teasing. Then she insists, "And you haven't kept me too long, I was ready to sit a while. But I mustn't keep you, now must I?" Another swallow of cider empties her cup, and she sets it aside against the wall of the stairs and reaches to relieve him of his plate of pie crumbs.

"It's true, I should return," Camillo admits, turning over the plate and mug. "I'll be back soon. About the seeds and about the dolphins."

Esme lines up his cup next to her own, and deposits the plate on the next step up, similarly tucked against the wall in case the girl cleaning upstairs (a quiet screech of wood upon wood suggests furniture being moved out of the way to get into the corners, a procedure of which she devoutly approves) should come down before she goes up. "I'll look forward to it, then," she declares. "Let me show you out."

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