(123-02-18) Good Business and Bad Ankles
Good Business and Bad Ankles
Summary: It's a busy time of year for Audra and Terris's bakery; and with a wee bit of help from her neighbour across the way Audra intends to make it busier still…
Date: 18/02/2016
Related: None really.

The summer sun hides behind grey and dismal clouds as a hot trickle decends from the heavens. The stifling weather drives people indoors and drives business down as no-one wants to be out in the vulgar rain. The Dry-Goods is fairly quiet save the occasional liveried servant buying essentials for their masters, so when the baker's wife strolls in she's easily seen. She sports a bright crimson skirt and blouse under her grey kirtle - the color lending to her Westermaid coloration of gold and green. It's more vibrant than her usual greens and bronzes. She fans herself with her hand as she steps in out of the hot drizzle and enjoys the cooler indoor air a moment before looking for the aged goodwife.

The weary and overly warm shop girl stationed behind the counter with very little to do and her mind upon even less, nods a greeting to Mistress Audra and — being obliged to keep in mind a complete roster of persons who receive her employer's personal attention — explains at once when their eyes meet across an expanse of depressingly unbustling retail square footage that: "She's next door, mistress, shall I call her?"

Audra hrms at the question. "Oh yes, or I can pop over. Whatever works," she replies to the girl with a similar flat smile. It is very warm and the air stifling even indoors with windows attempting to create breezes. "I have a bit of news to cheer her, if she's receptive."

"I'm sure she'd like that, mistress," the shop girl Katla agrees dutifully. "She's been a bit.." But loyalty closes her mouth, just in time, for the bell over the connecting door is tinkling to announce Esme's return.

With her comes a waft of even warmer air, and the scent of smoking bacon overlaid with a sharp whiff of soap. "I thought I saw you, Mistress Audra," she remarks pleasantly, poised between one shop and the other, striped in red and blue and gold and holding the door with her hip as she rolls down her sleeves over freshly-scrubbed forearms. "What can we do for you, eh?"

"Have you a moment to chat, my dear friend?" The baker strolls over, grinning like a cat with a bowl of cream. "I may be upping our orders from the shop soon, if the Gods are good and the festival-goers hungry," she says with a wriggle of her eyebrows.

That grin proves curiously contagious. As she buttons her cuffs Esme's own thin colourless lips curve into a gratified and curious expression; "You've got my attention," she allows, folding her arms over her chest. "Do you want to come up for a minute? I've got a breeze going right through…" she offers, temptingly, though it must be admitted she herself doesn't look hot.

Audra says, "Certainly kind of you, neighbor." She nods to Katl and goes to follow. "If you have a minute or two to spare, I'd be happy to fill you in on the details." She swishes her skirts as she lightly steps through the grocery, in a fine mood despite the oppressive weather. "I shan't keep you lng."

"Oh, there's nothing to be kept from," allows Esme wryly, ushering her visitor through the sweltering butcher's shop (her gaze flits of course to her son, just to be sure of how he's getting on) and through the store-room and up the stairs. "I've not got a busy time ahead, as you have — people don't cook at home during the festival; why would they, when they could be eating your dolphin bread and your dolphin cakes and your dolphin pastries?"

Her home upstairs is as plain and clean (and as colourful in spots) as her neighbour must surely recall: and the promised breeze is indeed blowing through windows left wide open, ruffling the bright whiteness of the muslin curtains and the edges of a few papers left on the table beneath a book. These Esme is quick to tidy away, stepping round the corner into the flat's eastern arm which Audra has seen before only closed off by the striped curtain which today is drawn back to permit the free flow of fresh (ish) air.

"Sit, sit," she insists; "will you have a drop of cider?"

Audra settles her hand over her messy golden bun as she takes a seat, closing her eyes a moment at the relative coolness of the breeze. "I'll never turn down a dram of cider, Mistress Esme," she replies with a lazy smile, "Thank you kindly. I've been dolphin'd out for a few hours. After a while you stare at the little shapes and they all look maddeningly strange. Terris shoo'd me out to come and talk to you."

The stripey little shopkeeper whose sole concession to the weather seems to be the lack of a headscarf to restrain the flyaways from her own iron-grey bun bustles back again, to withdraw the usual stone jug of cider from the dark cupboard where it stays tolerably cool, and the usual plain wooden cups.

"Dolphin this, dolphin that — all anyone's been speaking of," Esme remarks, standing next to the table as she pours. "To tell you the truth I think I might be a little fed up with 'em too by the time they come… For you at least every dolphin's coin in your pocket, eh?" She fits the stopper back into the jug and sits, pushing a cup across to Audra. "Now, what's got you in such a fine mood, dearie, and looking so pretty with it too," she nudges.

Audra's smile brightens over the cup as she takes a sip. "Have you ever been down to the Whimsy Theater before? All those mummers and actors up on the stage prancing about and giving speeches?"

Esme's usual chair is the only one which has, in deference to her age and infirmity(?), two cushions instead of one: she reaches behind her to reposition the second. "I haven't been," she admits, "but I know of it, aye. Once in a while I see some of the theatre people downstairs. It's always something funny," she explains drily, "and always in a hurry…"

Audra says, "So Ser Loryn Tyrell's the one running it now - and he caught up with me in the Quill the other night wanting to talk shop. Seems folk aren't too impressed with his current supplier of edibles and he's looking to try something new." Her grin widens, if such was possible. "So I prepared him a plate of things and we're going to try a cart and some smaller nibbles in the nob boxes for the festival showcases!""

And with an appreciative 'ahhh', for she can see the direction in which this is going, Esme sits back in her chair and looks pleased. "And you'll need none but the best ingredients," she deduces. "Well, say no more, dearie. Whatever you need. I daresay you could do it a bit cheaper by cutting me out," she's honest about that, "but you know I always know how to put my hand on the best," which is just as true. "Not always what's needed for my shop, of course, but I'm taking special orders these days for half the greatest houses in Westeros… had some House Stark men in too the other day," she comments. Somehow it's not quite boasting: Esme, who shies away from every compliment offered her, only wishes to reassure Audra she's in the right place.

Audra's rightfully impressed by that. Northerners are a hard lot. She nods in slow appreciation. "Exactly so. Wouldn't speak to anyone but you - rising tides lift all the ships in the harbor, after all. I told the Tyrell it won't run cheaply but it wil be quality goods and the taste will prove positive. Folk like to spend coin at the theater and be SEEN spending coin, makes 'em look fancy or well-off."

"That they do. And I always think, if they're so ready to throw about coin, I'm just as ready to catch it. We can both do well out of this," agrees Esme seriously, "and I thank you for coming to me." She nods two or three times, her eyes fixed on Audra's face and yet some part of her mind already miles away considering her private catalogue of suppliers. "It's always one of my slow periods, as I said, the Dolphin Festival. Anything you need," she repeats, "to make a splash… How soon are you thinking?"

Audra groans softly at 'splash' in relation to dolphins. "We got… one-two weeks aye? This is just a trial run to see if it catches anyone's fancy. We can use what's on hand to start and then when we get a volume idea make better plans. I'm going to watch a few shows to get an idea for the ebb and flow of the crowds." She taps her fingers alongside her cup. "Why don't we do half-again what we usually get, so we can prepare the regular batches and a touch to send down that way?"

Esme raises her eyebrow at the groan. "Sorry, dearie," she admits; "it slipped out… Half again, then," and she nods firmly. "Just you let me know what day to start sending over the extra, when you've decided definitely. And if you want anything a bit out of the way, of course… it's a different sort of palate to cater to, isn't it?" Sympathetic nod. "I've always got those little sausages I make with the Essosi spices, I don't think there's anywhere else in Oldtown has 'em regular — and I've often got a few other bits and pieces you won't find elsewhere. From my captains. I'm right out of Volantene liquor," she concedes, "one of my Dornish customers took the lot; but I've more coming in soon…" Foreign food is quite an interest of Esme's, as Audra who has seen inside her personal spice cabinet whilst making pies could attest.

Audra says, "We can always try a lamb and red-peppers. Bit of onion and a little dash of salt." She grins at the Dornish dish and takes a sip from the cider. "Perhaps the sausages in a nice fresh roll- folk can eat them easily that way and the juices drip nicely into the bread like a trencher. I was thinking beef and bacon with a touch of sharp white cheese, a mushroom gravy pie, and mahap one more for the outer-cart. Inside it'll be nibblies, pastries and tarts and maybe some wee pies."

"Finger food, aye… Though when you've made a good start with what they expect to be eatng," suggests Esme, a glint in her black eyes, "and that you will, I'm downright certain of it; you might want to give 'em a surprise now and again. Show folk who wouldn't normally eat a sausage in a bun how good a sausage in a bun can be, that style of thing. Novelty."

Audra laughs and says, "Miniature sausages. Something bitty to nibble on. Oh Sweet Mother above, spare me the bad jokes that will cause," she says with a warm laugh. "So the pies and the sausages for the forecourt cart, and then the lassies with the trays of sweeter and more refined fare for the nobs and fat bankers and their wives in the top boxes."

A wry look for the would-be humourists of the world. "Fine idea of yours, though," her neighbour comments judiciously, "using the girls to sell the goods. It'll always be the men what pays, after all."

Audra flushes a little, "Doubt Ser Loryn knows me from… before, but he wanted me to be sure nothing untoward happened at the theater-house. I assured him I wasn't in that kind of a procurement business and the girls will be on the up and up."

Esme sighs and utters a single tsk, shaking her head. "Girls are always a bother, there's no denying it. But pay 'em a fair wage for fair work and they've less reason to add to it with the other… and more reason to keep to your rules and try to hold on to an honest job they can tell their mothers about. But you'll pardon me, I hope, for telling you your business… bad habit of mine, always has been," she admits, smiling crookedly.

Audra nods sedately. "I know there's a difference between a girl tripping up a lord and a lord tripping up a girl. So does he. As long as the girls I hire do too, shouldn't be a problem." She sighs and shakes her head to herself. "I'll be working a bit of the run myself to see how it all moves along."

"Probably wise," agrees Esme, sipping the cider she forgot about in the first flush of commerce. "The early days are always the tricky ones, you'll want to have your own eye on what's going on and look for troubles to iron out. It's your reputation, after all, yours and your husband's."

"Exactly," Audra agrees with a nod. "And it'll help smooth out inventory - know what sells and what don't, and I'll be there to field questions or make change if needed." She leans back in her chair and sighs. "I hope this will do well by us. It's a huge opportunity. Terris is promising to buy me a whole new dress when the festival is done if we can bring in enough coin."

It must be said Esme has an ample supply of dresses, but they're plain enough but for their colouring — and worn about the elbows and the hems. "Oh, now, that's something to help you get along better with your dolphins," she theorises, nodding, "and fair enough for your hard work, your first time doing it. It must be such a help to Terris to have you, this time of year."

Audra curls her fingers and flexes them. "He's got the boys doing the baking and me doing the shaping and he's overseeing the lot of it - less prep-work for him means he can get the details right. It's taxing and my feet hurt every night, but he's so proud." She smiles fondly at that.

"Ah, you'll get used to that," says Esme, with sympathetic regard for the foot situation; "I've some salts that do very well in a basin of hot water if your ankles're swelling, and then, if you sleep with 'em up on a pillow…"

Audra pulls back her underskirts to look at her ankle-boots and nods. "I'm sure you know the best way t'handle that kind of thing. The hot water sounds lovely. Wouldn't be hard to put a pot in one of the ovens for a few minutes to take the chill off the water."

"I boil a kettleful," admits her neighbour, "and put just enough cold in the basin so's I can bear it… I'll see there's a jar of those salts in your next order, eh? They'll do you good during the festival, for starters." Though, of course, with Audra's waistline so much a matter of concern up and down the Shambles, it's possible Esme is thinking also of the future.

Audra's still whip-thin and lean though not from lack of trying if the occasional blushed mumbing of her dear husband can be believed. "I'm looking forward to the festivities, what I can catch. The parades will be grand and plenty to peddle on the routes. I'm sure I'll need those every night when I trudge home."

"… I usually pop out to the tournament for a couple of hours," Esme confesses, leaning nearer over the table, her cup held in both hands. "Everyone else in the city'll be there too, of course." And not in her shop.

Audra smiles at that. "Oh? I've not seen much of the tourneys. All those handsome knights trying to smash into one another. Might be another good event to take a tray to as well. See the games -and- get some extra coin."

"Were you always this enterprising? … Must've been," comments Esme, not unkindly, for not many a girl of the streets manages to put herself in Audra's position. "You'd not lack for customers, certainly. I'd take a few trays."

Audra flushes with modest pride. "I was born too clever to be…" Just a whore comes to her mind but not her voice. "Stuck in the same place all my days. They say Lannisters are right clever and my mum claimed I've got their line in my blood."

"Did she," murmurs Esme with polite interest, not saying a word about such mothers and what they might like to believe. "Well, you've all that golden hair, and a dose of Lann the Clever's ambition — and good on you for it. I always say there's no limit to what a clever woman can achieve in this world, no matter how much of the pie the men like to keep for themselves." She winks.

Audra says, "My sweet man isn't thinking beyond what his Da did before him and his Da before that." Knowing Esme likely knew both generations afore. "He's comfortable and knows what he knows. But I know he can do more if he lets me push him to it. Helping the whole way.""

"There's always room to improve a business, no matter how good and steady it may always have been. Not too much laid out ahead of time, of course," ponders the gaudy little shopkeeper across the table from her, "but one step at a time… your carts, and then onward to the theatre. I wonder where you'll go from there, eh? I think I'll be interested to see," she muses.

Audra sips her cider with a cool smile. "Sounds like plenty of business to me. Gods willing I'll have to take a few steps back to when it's all set up to tend to little Terris or whatever we'll call him when he comes."

"Ah, well, you'll manage. Even if the timing's not quite what you might like it to be." And Esme lifts her cup and suggests, "To good business."

Audra raises her cup and echoes the toast. She downs the last of her cider with a sigh. "Well then, Mistress Esme- I have a sea of dolphins to bake. Gods be with you."

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