(123-02-29) Breakfast of (Tourney) Champions
Breakfast of (Tourney) Champions
Summary: Malcolm pops round to see a woman about a necklace.
Date: 07/03/2016
Related: The Dolphin Tournament of 123 AC; also, this, but definitely not this.
Players:
Malcolm..Esme..

The sun hasn't been up long (but Esme has been up longer) when she herself personally opens and hooks back the shutters (some red, some yellow) of her grocery shop on the corner of Oldtown Square. Most of the passersby at this hour are on four legs rather than two, cattle and sheep and pigs being herded from the stockyards across the square to the abattoirs tucked away behind the myriad butcheries of the Shambles; but she knows all the two-leggers driving them by name, and has a pleasant, friendly, wide-awake word for every single one. She's a morning person. Her anticipation of a good day ahead is plain in her bright smile, her cheery tone of voice, the delight with which she always stands back for a moment to regard her newly-opened establishment.

Malcolm is… right outside. He is fresh shaved and his hair was freshed dyed for the tourney, so the horizontal stripes are bright and crisp in his hair and the vertical ones in his beard are neatly dyed and braided. He is wearing the fine cloak and dagger, though his doublet is at least three years old from it's style, but well tended. His old boots are carefully mended and polished to the point it would take a sharp eye to spot their age. He has the usual Braavosi style sort on his hip and his head is down, half hidden in the cloak. Though he too is always up at this hour, he is not chipper on this occasion. He slinks in the moment the door is unbarred and stands shamefaced before her.

It's always the butchery opened first, of course, so the men can get straight to work; and then Esme pops out to see to the shutters and pops in again to make her last preparations in the grocery before ceremonially unbarring that portal too. Routine in all things. To her surprise she hasn't even time to get behind her counter before her first customer of the day, a fellow who was patently lying in wait, presents himself. She turns at the tinkling of the bell and looks the Bastard of Kellington up and down and says, mildly enough, smiling and quirking her eyebrows: "I suppose you've come for the necklace."

Malcolm pushes his hood back, shame faced, "I gave you the wrong one, but if you'll except an exchange?" He draws another from a pouch as he comes forward and sets it on the counter before her, identical, except that this one is clearly fresh made, and the other had a bit of tarnish to the silver. The stones are the same type and of equivalant quality. This one is clearly from the same mold as the other, just a year younger and barely handled. He stands before her, clearly embarrassed.

Stationed now behind her counter the little shopkeeper looks at the shining new dolphin necklace and then up at the knight offering it and shakes her head — not in refusal, but in obvious amusement. "I had a feeling there were a few of these floating around," she remarks, "but to see another one so soon… I didn't expect that this morning, Ser Malcolm, I truly didn't." As she speaks she picks it up and turns it over in her hands, verifying by touch as well as by sight his claim that it's identical. "They are the same," she declares, as though marveling. "Makes you wonder…" Her head in its bright red scarf tilts; her eyes lift to his face. "Why it could matter which is which," she ponders, innocently, shrugging her thin shoulders.

Malcolm studies her. He may be a big tall knight who gets his head bashed avbout on the regular, but he does seem to have a brain in his head, "They are both first prize necklaces, honestly earned, but this one doesn't have a story to it yet. The other does. Take pity on a man who meant no harm and do let me exchange this for the other and keep the secret of it? The telling of this part of the tale would distress more than one person, and I'd rather no harm be done the innocent."

That grandmotherly innocence shades into… grandmotherly knowingness, as Esme relents enough to nod along with his heartfelt words. "I know you meant no harm, dearie, don't worry about that. It was very generous of you to give it to me when you'd no obligation in the world to do so… Very generous," she repeats. "And you ain't told me a secret yet," she assures him virtuously; "at least not one I hadn't already found out since yesterday. Now, if you'd come to me then, straight away… The other one, I know it has a tale and it means somethin' to you; but since then it's come to mean somethin' to me too." Still she's holding the new necklace in both hands. Weighing it.

Malcolm's accent is very country this morning, instead of the attempt to sound a little less like a Stormcoast upper peasant turned hedge knight he generally makes in company, "That I gave you t'other instead of this is the secret. Again, if you breathe a word of it, it's not be you'd be hurting. This is worth the same as th'other. You can weigh it and see." He sighs, "I'm not a rich man. I've what I earn at tourney, plus maintenance from my Starks. What'll you have of me?"

Esme shakes her head again, this time in earnest. "Coin don't matter to me," she informs him gently, "nor the value of the silver; and I'd already begun to feel there'd been some kind of mistake… I don't say I won't part with the one you gave me yesterday, but I'd take it very kindly if you'd tell me why I should." She pauses. "Have you had your breakfast yet?" she asks suddenly. "I'll do you some bacon and eggs if you like and you can think over whether to tell me. I'll probably find out sooner or later anyway; I'm afraid I'm a very nosy person," she apologises. "I don't want the tale for telling, though. Only for knowing." Her eyes stay locked upon his; she radiates sincerity.

Malcolm says, "I've not eaten. I generally don't for a few hours yet, though best it be told some where less public if it must be. Breakfast would be a sensible thing to talk about it over. You poking about it is apt to do more harm than me telling you out right." he locks her eyes right back, "I'll need your word on the secracy though.""

"You have it, of course," Esme promises him quietly.

In leading Ser Malcolm through the butchery and up the steep dark stairs to her private rooms, she dispatches her shop girl to take over in the grocery (morning rush in five, four, three…). She carries the newer of the dolphin necklaces away with her, in plain sight, and then spreads it out upon her kitchen table to glitter in the early morning sunshine. "Sit where you like," she suggests; and then as she takes down the smaller of her cast iron skillets from its hook, her first question is, "How do you like your eggs?"

Malcolm sits where he might talk to her with the least about of extreme angle neck craining. He folds his hands neatly and doesn't fidget at all. There is a calm stillness about him in repose that is almost light a Silent Sister's. "Are you scrambling ot frying?"

"Whichever you like, it's no trouble at all." The air in here is in fact already redolent of bacon, with certain eggy undertones. And with the skillet in place Esme tends to her lately-banked fire, stirring it up for a second shift, and then she bustles about between sideboard and table laying a place for one in front of her guest whilst it heats. "You really did very well yesterday," she mentions. "All those lances—! I had my heart in my throat once or twice, I don't mind telling you. And to win two years running — has anyone else done that before? I don't remember hearing of him if he did, but of course I've only been here about, oh, twenty-seven years."

Malcolm says, "A runny fried egg is just fine, and certainly less trouble." He shrugs, "The seriouas knights weren't there. Not Ser daevon nor Ser Maelys, for example. I'm rather sad about ser daevon not appearing. Sparrings not the same and wew've never jousted. I nearly got killed in last year's melee. That Iron Man ought to have won, but rights. As it was, I was a long time healing." He sighs, "I would love to see Ser Maelys go up against Lady Maera Mormont in the melee. That would be amazing…."

Esme always has bacon, and always has eggs; she is soon lining the skillet with strips of the former, whilst a pair of the latter wait in a small dish close to hand so they'll be convenient and not roll away. She has also put a plain earthenware plate on the hearth to warm. "Now, don't say you're not one of the serious knights, dearie," she insists — seriously. "You'd not win near so often as you do nor live through what you've live through if you weren't… I know it's human nature always to measure yourself against someone better, and there always is someone better — but I reckon quite a few have come to measure themselves against you." Then she confides over her shoulder, with a wry smile: "I always like to see the ladies in the melee. No reason you gentlemen ought to have it all your own way, eh?"

Malcolm says with a quiet certainty, "Oh, I'm going to be the best or die trying, but I'm a water dancer first. I do take my vows seriously as a Knight, but dancing was my first love. i've not a prayer up against the ones with valyrian steel though. It cuts armour like butter and there's only so much dodging a man can do in plate." A sharp eye might catch his face go blank at the mention of women in melee, but the eye would need to be sharp indeed as it's a flicker and then his easy going smile is back, "Aye. No reason a woman shouldn't learn to defend herself or those she loves if she's got the will and aptitude for it. To be good you must love it, you see. I've a cousin, ought to have been a knight in a just world, by my knighting her would do neither her nor me any good. The others wouldn't accept her if I did. To really change things would likely take a knight from a great house, and even then he shrugs, "There's men shy away from fighting them, but I lost on points to a woman was body guard to a Princess my first formal joust, and while some shy away from them in melee, I won't if they're armed proper. Seems to me an insult, not chivalry, to… not treat them as swordswomen, if that makes sense.

Perhaps the eye is that sharp. Perhaps it isn't. Esme nods along amiably, splitting her attention between her guest and his breakfast. The bacon is going nicely. "I agree," she says firmly; "if a woman who knows what it means makes a choice to play by men's rules, she's due respect for her choice. Respectin' women the right way means respectin' what they want, not what you think they ought to want. I think if it were me, though," and this tiny elderly woman in her garishly-striped cotton dress tilts her head as though giving the matter serious consideration, "I don't think I'd mind not bein' called a knight, as long as I knew I could hold my own as a knight, and live by the same code. The deeds will always matter more than the words. And the Seven could see into such a woman's heart just as easy as a man's, and see whether she was a true knight, don't you think? And it's They who matter the most. Chewy or crisp or in between?" she asks. "The bacon."

Malcolm nods, "Lady Maera Mormont? She's northern and proud of not being a Knight. was a time we shared a greivance with a knight and there was talk of dueling, but she said she didn't need a formal duel to split a man's head open. If she wasn't a knight she neededn't play by a knight's rules, but the whole thing was settled without bloodshed in the end." Though from the look in his eye, there's a head he'd still like to break open. He shakes it off though. "There's that hightower Lady in City Watch, and there was a Princess I've crossed lance and sword with. That last… was more like Ser Daevon than his own twin. She, I think, would have taken the vows and relished them." He spreads his fingers, "The vows matter more to some than others, knighted or not, I find." He flashes her one of his crooked smiles, "Crispy, thank you."

Esme makes appropriately impressed faces and solemn nods as her visitor speaks of Lady Maera, and others of her ilk. "Crispy," she agrees then, from next to the hearth, where she's turning over the bacon with quick movements of a spatula held in her left hand. "Now, a woman can take a vow and keep it if that's what matters to her — what's between her and her gods, she don't need anybody else to take a part in…" She eyes the contents of her skillet and then steps across to a cupboard in which Ser Malcolm may glimpse jars of spices the contents of which are worth more than anything in sight, barring the necklace spread out upon the table. She chooses two jars and shuts the cupboard and returns to her post, adding, "What matters, really, the skill and the faith, that's always within reach of a woman who wants it bad enough. Most things are, in this world. The trick of it is being willing to pay the price… that'll tend to be higher for a woman." She judges it the right moment and cracks the eggs into the skillet, one-handed, nonchalantly; and then anoints each frying egg with a sprinkle from each of the jars. "Feelin' confidential yet, dearie?" she wonders aloud, glancing at him sidelong.

Malcolm nods, solemn enough, "No difference between a woman's vows kept or a man's I figure, not to Them." He makes the sign of the Seven. "I'm training Eonn of the Rills' Daughter to Dance. Whether she'll stick with it when she's grown I can't tell, but she's a good student and I think the discipline and lessons in ethics of who to stab and who not to stab are good for her." he sighs, "The price is always higher for women. My mother's people never held me against her and treated her well, but I'm incredibly lucky as was she. I'm well enough aware how many aren't." He sighs again and starts in, "You've likely guessed it, I imagine. You've quick eyes. I am knighted proper, and was a squire a year to Ser Corbin of Amberley, but I'm a bastard of a House is barely noble anymore, though our history is proud enough. We look after our people, but we've more rocks and kin than fish and grain these days, you ken?" He smiles a little sadly, "A Lady of high birth would be… besmirched by an obvious interest from the likes of me. It's why the Dolphin Tourney's complicated for me. I need to make a choice won't offend the great Folk in either direction. Show open favour to some high born girl I might ruin her marriage prospects, but don't pick a lady from a Great House, then I offend them, see? If I'd a lick of sense, I'd not compete in the Dolphin tourney at all, but I do like… measuring my skill against others, seeing how they fight. Normally, I like to pick someone to beg my favour from for whom it's a pleasure. I become a fine story to tell to friends and neighbors, a warm memory to carry on a Winter's day. And someone ought to fight for the Small folk. That's how I was raised back home. We fight for them and look after them when the storms come and they look after us. It's mutual, like? We all need each other and look after each other and if they go hungry we do to. it's why I swore to starks in the end. They're a Great House, but they understand duty the way we do back home only they look after the whole North instead of a handful of villages and farms…. So the thing is, normally, my picking a nice woman like yourself who's kin will be thrilled rather than objecting lest I come debauch their daughter later, which I wouldn't do. I can't afford Flowers and I'd not leave a woman struggling on her own to raise a child. I know about moon tea now, but i didn't when I came here…." He trails off blushing.

This explanation, which Esme listens to with obvious interest, lasts through till she has turned to the table and set the warmed plate before her guest, and returned to the hearth with a folded cloth to take the skillet off the fire. She encourages Ser Malcolm's breakfast out of that and onto his plate with a spatula, nodding. Showing no embarrassment despite his. "That tea makes some girls sick as dogs for a couple of days," she comments; "better on the whole not to get into that sort of position… It's very much to your credit, Ser Malcolm, what you say. I reckon any lady of any birth would be lucky to know such a nice young man; but that ain't the way it works, is it?" she sighs. Once more to the hearth, to set skillet and spatula aside to be dealt with later, and to bank the fire before it can contribute any further to the heating of a room already beginning to feel the warmth of the summer sun. "I'm sure if I had kin," she offers, "they'd have been thrilled as you say. There's only my son, though, and he thought the necklace was very pretty, of course… To tell you the truth I've not been at all sure what to do with it."

Bringing the subject back to that storied bauble and its offered replacement, Esme picks up her own cup of water from the sideboard (Ser Malcolm was provided with one during the setting of the table) and at last sits down, across from him, with her apron still on and an air of quiet expectancy.

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