(123-03-05) Welcome To Religion Hour (We Have Pie)
Welcome To Religion Hour (We Have Pie)
Summary: What it says on the tin. Also, Camillo's exotic seeds from Essos have finally come in.
Date: 04-05/03/2016
Related: Previous logs with these two.

A note reaches Camillo at the Hightower, proving firstly that Mistress Esme from the butcher's shop knows how to palimpsest, secondly that she has very neat and even and legible handwriting, and thirdly that she is in possession of the uncommon seeds they discussed not long ago. He is invited to drop in to the shop whenever he pleases to let her know if he still wants them.

It's mid-morning and a second flight of delivery boys is being dispatched, each with his covered basket and his instructions, and one with a light smack to the back of his head in order to quell his cheekiness. It is this scene which Camillo interrupts, Esme noticing him more belatedly than usual for with the front door opening and shutting every few seconds and the bell in a constant state of tinkling, the arrival of a customer was not at once apparent to her. "Go on, off with you—!" she declares sternly, though with no real threat in her tone (in fact she always likes the cheeky ones best), and watching him go catches sight of a green linen shirt she knows well. "Oh, Master Camillo," she declares, smiling; "how long've you been standing there? Do forgive my manners, I'm that rushed when they all come back at once!"

It is Camillo's way to come when he is summoned and to stay out of the way when other tasks are at hand. So he hardly resents not being tended to while Esme is seeing to her own business, but he dips his head when he's acknowledged. "I'm not in a hurry," he replies. "I came in because of your message."

That seems to please her. Perhaps after the time they've spent together Camillo can tell that from the way she doesn't actually sound cross as she chides him: "Oh, now, you needn't have rushed on my account! You must hardly have got it before you set out…" She smooths the apron she's wearing over her red and blue and yellow dress, and looks up at him and sighs. "Now, I think I left your box upstairs, didn't I… came in yesterday, late, and I've hardly even had a moment to look into it. Shall we, or shall I just run up and fetch it for you? Are you sure you're not in a hurry, dearie?"

"No, I have time," Camillo assures Esme softly. "But I don't want to intrude, Mistress Esme. I'm thankful that you ordered the seeds for me."

Esme smiles at him. "Oh, now, it's not intrudin', if you always come round just when I fancy getting off my feet for a minute." She gathers him up with a glance and leads him through the butchery ("Katla, dearie, mind the shop!") and up her dark and narrow stairs ("Mind how you go!"), into the clean, bright, modest, pleasantly shabby, wholly convenient flat above the shop where she lives with her son Edmyn ("There, you're doing so well!").

She ushers him to his choice of the four chairs gathered neatly round the table near the big hearth, the chimney of which serves also the oven downstairs where meat is smoked; and steps through the hole-in-the-wall to where if his eyes follow her he'll glimpse in the well-lit corner overlooking both the Shambles and Beacon Boulevard several wooden crates with the lids prised off and leaning neatly against them. They contain straw, and parcels. Esme takes another step, out of sight, and then returns holding in both hands a smaller wooden box, plainly made but neatly fitted together.

A faint fragrance of bacon and eggs hangs in the air.

Camillo is hardly to be put off by narrow stairs or strangely-shaped spaces, so he's easily led and simply picks for himself the nearest chair to him. He sits while waiting for her to come back with the goods. "It's very nice up here," he says.

Placing the box ceremoniously in the middle of the table Esme looks up, raising her eyebrows in mild but pleased surprise. "Bless you for saying so, dearie. I don't really notice anything so much, it's all been the same so long. My son, you know. He has his troubles, a bit like Prince Dhraegon, so I make sure everything stays familiar for him. You understand, I'm sure." As she speaks she's turning away to the sideboard on the left of the hearth, producing a linen napkin from a lower cupboard and a knife and fork from a drawer. She shuts the cupboard with her foot and the drawer with her hip, after the manner of women in their own kitchens, reaching already for another cupboard and a pair of the well-handled wooden cups Camillo has seen before.

"Yes," Camillo says. "I know that Master Flox was very careful to arrange the room for Prince Dhraegon before he came to the Hightower." He looks up with some surprise when napkins and cutlery is produced. "Mistress Esme, you don't need to trouble with all that," he says.

"Oh, nonsense; it needs eating," insists Esme, arranging these things upon the table. As she fetches from another cupboard a heavy stone jug of apple cider, such as she served to him last time on the stairs, the Quill and Tankard's finest though some say it doesn't taste quite as good off the island, she looks back at him and adds absently, "Very sensible, doin' it beforehand, so he could get to know the place a bit at a time…" A story perhaps she has heard before. "I'm glad His Grace has settled so well," she says firmly, pouring; "but of course with Master Flox in charge it's only what I should expect."

"I'm glad, too," Camillo says, giving up on objecting to pie and cider without too much struggle. "He always seems to be kind to everyone, the Prince. And I think Master Flox is a good servant, though he has only been at the Hightower a short time. Of course he tends to most of the Prince's needs separate from the rest of the household. But he doesn't seem unkind."

A covered dish of some sort wrapped in a linen cloth has been sitting all along upon the other sideboard, next to a basket of vegetables. Esme brings it across to the table and reveals it to be a half-full pie-tin. "Oh, he's a very kind man," she says firmly, glancing up into Camillo's face; "they both are." Her next trip results in a plate set in front of her guest, and a good sharp knife with which to cut the pie. It's beef and bacon this time, flavoured with intriguing secret spices; Camillo has not tried this one before, but is provided with a generous slice for his assessment. "Can't say it feels right calling a Prince by his first name, but His Grace looked so pleased when he'd asked me and I'd said it I don't s'pose I can stop now…" Her eyebrows knit together ruefully, smallfolk to smallfolk. She leaves the knife in the pie tin (what if he needs seconds? He looks as though he could do with fattening up) and wraps the cloth about it, and sits. "You don't have much to do with him, then? Master Flox, I mean. If he keeps separate from the rest." This hypothesised nonchalantly as she reaches for her cider.

"Do you know them well?" Camillo asks, sounding innocent enough about it. "I noticed that you said hello at the festival. To Flox, I mean." He nods his head at Esme's uncertainty with manners around Dhraegon. "He can be…informal?" he agrees. "Sometimes I hardly know what to do. But I know he doesn't mean it to be… To make anyone unsure." He smiles a little and shrugs, then finally makes time to take in the full glory of the pie. "This smells very fine indeed, Mistress Esme," he says. But then he goes back to Esme's question. "Oh, well. We've spoken a few times. I've been to him once or twice for advice because he seems so much to know what he is about. I don't mean to call him aloof. He's been kind."

Across from him, drawing the wooden box nearer to her now, Esme agrees, "Oh, he knows what he's about, I daresay…" A very small smile twitches at her lips. "I'd not have thought him aloof, though," she adds, to be fair, as she slides open the lid of the box, "not with those extravagant manners of his."

Camillo pauses just a little in reaching for the cider at that tone and that smile. But he obviously makes the decision not to draw excessive attention to it and resumes reaching for the cider, but also leans a little to look into the box. "I…must confess I have not seen him /extravagant/…"

The inside of the box is separated into two parts by a thin piece of the same pale wood. In one half are a dozen small parchment packets, in the other half four larger ones. "Haven't you?" she asks innocently. "Oh, well," her lips quirk again, in token of wry amusement, "I daresay we're all a bit different in our time off…" She plucks one small packet and displays it to him. "There's a drawing on the outside, see," she points out, sounding charmed, "of what the plant'll look like grown."

Camillo looks curiously at the packets, but then lifts his eyes to Esme. "I suppose we are," he agrees, bobbing his head once. "Then you are close?" he asks as politely as he knows how, before peeeering at the drawing on the packet. It makes him smile to see how convenient it is, and to see what a seed might become. "I've only ever taken cuttings and seeds from living plants," he says. "I've never sent away."

"And these are some of the leaves and flowers dried," Esme goes on, tapping the edge of the little packet held between her neat but work-worn fingertips against the topmost of the larger packets. "Now, I don't know which are which, but I daresay the drawings'll match. Shall we get them all out and see? I'll do it," she decides, making a start, "you eat your pie, dearie. Oh, look, he's written on the back of these ones what they're for," and once again she sounds delighted; "I did mention you were something of a healer, in your time off." She beams. Then, with the four larger packets set out on the table between her and Camillo, she begins to sort through the smaller ones, comparing drawings. "I don't know about 'close'," she adds, again with a faint little smile, "but he comes by now and again to see me and of course we've a lot in common, you know, between my son and his prince. You know how we're fixed." She looks up to meet her visitor's eyes, counting upon his understanding.

"I wouldn't call myself a /healer/," Camillo says, ducking his head slightly with what is probably modesty. "But I try to learn what plans could be used for help." He does pick up his fork, though, to tuck into that fine-smelling pie. He certainly seems to appreciate the flavor. "Is that bacon?" he finds himself asking before he gets round to responding to Esme with a nod and an, "Oh, yes."

"Aye, beef and bacon. Another favourite of my son's," explains Esme gravely, but with a light enough gaze. The spices will probably be surprising him right about now. Well, he's a nice young man, he deserves it. "Well, call it what you like, but I've heard tell you know a bit of how to help folk who need it, and that sounds like healin' to me," she insists kindly. "It's always going to be a useful and valuable talent, that. And I did mention it, so I s'pose the dried ones are to keep you goin' till you can grow your own."

She has by now got the packets in order, the little ones lined up in two rows of six, anchored at the four corners by the larger packets of dried herbs which correspond to the seeds nearest. Her spacing is very precise. Her everything is always very precise. "Oh, now, let me see if this is for you or for me!" she declares, amused, having unearthed a folded parchment letter in the very bottom of the box. She cracks the seal and begins to read.

"It's a very fine pie," Camillo says sincerely. "You know so many recipes." He's never eaten the same twice, after all. He looks a little puzzled. "It tastes very…" He doesn't have the words, but he sounds approving. "Are there spices?"

Esme chuckles. "Oh, a fair few," she admits, shaking her head and looking down at the seeds. A fair few recipes, or possibly a fair few spices… "My late husband was very fond of foreign food," she explains kindly, looking up again as she reaches for her cider to have another sip, "and I got into the habit of cookin' it for him. I'm glad you like the pie. And it's kind of you to say. I do worry sometimes," she confides. "I made a strawberry and rhubarb pie for His Grace not long ago and I put in more sugar for him," she offers by way of an example, "because I doubt he'd've liked it so much my usual way."

"I've never eaten foreign food," Camillo admits, looking curiously down at the pie. Is /this/ foreign? Do they always eat so many spices far away? Then he looks back up. "Oh yes, Prince Dhraegon seems to have a liking for sweet things. It's very kind that you did that. I imagine he was delighted. In fact, I did hear something about that among the servants. That he was well pleased."

"… Heavens," sighs Esme, shaking her head again in quiet wonderment, "it feels strange, I s'pose I don't need to tell you, to think of a prince eatin' one of my pies… But to be truthful with you," she leans nearer, for this is in confidence, "Master Flox sent me round a basket of rhubarb and so many strawberries they'd have gone rotten if I'd just made one pie at a time and kept 'em to myself and Edmyn. I really had to give a couple of 'em away, and where I'd know they'd be eaten." She sits back again sipping her cider and sighing softly. Too many pies can be almost as big a worry as too few. "Haven't you, though?" she asks then. "Foreign's not always far away, of course. I think Dornish food can be pretty foreign sometimes and they're right over the border. Plenty of their dishes about in Oldtown, I always thought."

"Well, I think there is no worry that the prince wouldn't finish his," he says rather warmly, smiling a bit as he takes in another mouthful of the pie. But he looks uncertain when Esme questions him. "I don't know," he admits. "The cook at the Hightower certainly doesn't make Dornish food for the servants' meals. But perhaps I /have/ had something from a stall without knowing it was from Dorne."

That much is true. Esme nods her agreement with Camillo's estimate of the royal appetite, smiling slightly. "You may very well have done, or had something that was Dornish leftovers from the night before done up for the servants the next day," she suggests, knowing the ways of big kitchens. She places her hand upon the refolded letter now lying on her side of the table. "Now, it was for me," she mentions belatedly, "but he did say to tell you to mind you don't overwater this one." She taps the smaller seed packet on the top left. "It likes a very dry climate, apparently. I don't know what over-watering is, really, how you'd know you'd done it, but perhaps if you ask the gardeners at the Hightower they'll have some idea…?" She shrugs her thin shoulders, beneath that brightly-striped loose cotton dress.

Camillo looks at the picture to memorize the one he shouldn't over-water. "Sometimes I think the leaves turn colors if you over-water something," Camillo says. "I'll do my best," he promises further, seeming to consider that he has a certain responsibility to these exotic seeds. "But…I suppose I think of any food I know as Reach food."

A thoughtful nod from Esme. "I see what you mean," she agrees. "Still, not everything's always what you think it is, of course…" Apropos of nothing, and after another sip of her cider, she asks, "How are you getting on, then? How's your free time treating you?" Has he worked out what to do with it?

"I suppose so," Camillo answers, bobbing his head as he gets toward that last third of the pie. "Free time?" he echoes almost as if he'd forgotten what that was. "Oh. Well. It's been the festival. So I was enjoying that. Did you?"

Today Esme is wearing a blue headscarf. It's extraordinarily vivid in the soft morning light of her sitting-room, as she tilts her head in thought. "… I s'pose I must have done," she acknowledges at last. "Saw more of it than I've ever done before, thanks to you and Master Flox both encouragin' me to go out more. I even saw the dolphins come in, as you said I ought to…" She nods to him. "Beautiful sight," she sighs. "Surely the Mother was lookin' down on us these last weeks, with so many of Her creatures in our company."

Camillo seems pleased with that answer. "I'm sure she would be happy to think that a good mother like you enjoyed the festival," he says, and seems to mean it. "I'm glad you did."

Another compliment to be disclaimed. Esme is shaking her head before Camillo has finished speaking. "Oh, well," she says. "I'd have liked to take my son out more, but the crowds, you know… Not always the best thing for him. And it's difficult for us both to be away too much of the time. Things don't get done, in that case, and our regulars were keepin' us pretty busy with orders for private parties and the like. But I did take him to see the dolphins come in. He liked that very much," she admits, with a small sigh and an even smaller smile. "I'm thankful to you for the suggestion."

Camillo nods his understanding to all that. "The dolphins are the most special part, anyway," he opines. "There might be masques and contests at any festival, but I am sure he was glad to see those." Although their last meeting was rather strange and uncomfortable, Camillo seems more than happy now to dispense upbeat sentiments. Of course, the pie he's just finished doesn't hurt a bit. He hasn't even remembered to break it up much with sips of cider.

Esme is united with him in making no reference to their over-the-counter discussion of jewellery, interrupted perhaps fortuitously by Flox's neatly-combed and newly-scented arrival in their midst. "Aye, that's the special part," she agrees, "you were quite right… Oldtown's a wonderful place, when you think of it. The seat of the Faith, and so blessed by the Mother, and that great tower of yours… spending all your time in these little streets like the Shambles, you can end up forgettin' the rest. It's good to be reminded once in a while. I think if I'm honest I like it a sight better than the capital. It's much warmer, too," she explains sagely.

"Have you been to the capital?" Camillo asks, eyebrows lifting. "I have never seen it. But…Oldtown is good. Whatever troubles the city has…I am glad of the chance to live in it."

"Oh, I lived there a while with my late husband," explains Esme of the capital; "it was his city." Mild emphasis on the pronoun. "But we came here for a fresh start, and I'm very glad we did, too. I've come to like it here very much," she declares with quiet sincerity. "And you, too — that's nice."

"Oh," Camillo says. "Did you tell me that before? I don't think I knew. Or I didn't remember." He puts his fork down now that the plate is empty and sips his cider. "Thank you for the pie, it's very good. I can see why Edmyn likes it so."

Esme beams maternally over the table at him. "I'm glad you liked it," she says in the same sincere sort of tone. "You never look as though you're being fed enough," she confides then; "but I suppose some men do look like that no matter what you feed 'em… I don't know either if you knew that; you may not have done." She tilts her head. "It was all a long while ago now, of course, so I expect I never thought to say."

Camillo bobs his head. "I eat," he promises. "But then…it's a lot of steps the Hightower has." His syntax and diction seems to relax a little when he's around Esme, sometimes, different from the speech he uses for nobles at the Hightower. The effect is somewhat subtle, but there is a pattern of speech between smallfolk different to that used across classes. "I don't know what we should do at the tower without this shop."

In order to display her extreme gratification at this remark Esme ducks her head and says, "Oh, I don't know. If it wasn't my shop, it'd be someone else's."

"It is better that it's yours," Camillo concludes softly. Then he reaches for one of the seed packets. "I hope I can manage to make these grow," he says. "It will be a terrible waste if I kill them."

"I'm sure I'm very glad it's mine," agrees Esme, just as softly, "and the business is always very much appreciated, as I trust you know." Then, in a more normal and businesslike tone, she displays a concern equal unto his own for possible wastage. "… P'raps you might try just a few of them to start, and see how you get on — and if you don't, try doin' it differently? You're a clever man, I'm sure by watching closely you could work it out in a couple of tries, even if they're tricky to take care of," she theorises.

"I'm afraid I'm not clever, Mistress Esme," Camillo says, "But I'll do that, and try my best with them. Will you have some of the seeds, or shall I bring you my first cuttings?"

Esme draws away; "Oh," she chuckles, "I've nowhere to put 'em. I used to keep a few things in pots, to be fresh for cookin' with, but they kept dyin' instead, in here. Just you do your best with them and let me know how you get on… I shall be interested to hear how they turn out." She glances down at all the little packets, and their rather pretty, rather skillful drawings. "Why would you say you're not clever, though?" she asks, looking at him again.

Camillo bobs his head to indicate a promise to do just that while he looks at the illustration on the package he's holding. Then he glances up. "Oh," he says. "Well, I'm not, particularly. I don't know how to explain it. There are things everyone seems to understand that I don't. Or…I make a lot of bad mistakes." He shrugs and tucks the packet back into the box.

"P'raps you just think a bit differently," suggests Esme kindly. From her side of the table, which is more convenient, she assists with the packing up of the seeds. Her hands are assured and methodical. "What kind of mistakes, dearie? Or'd you rather I didn't ask?" she pursues, her eyes busy upon the present task and certainly not fixing him with any sort of curious stare.

Camillo looks doubtful about Esme's explanation. "Don't clever people think…cleverly?" he asks. Then he blinks thoughtfully about the next question. "It's hard to explain, he repeats. "I say the wrong thing or…not the thing that I think. And then…Well…Like when I went into service. I didn't think about it very carefully."

"There's more'n one way to be stupid," Esme opines, "so it stands to reason there's more'n one way to be clever. And not sayin' what you think can be a clever enough thing to do, to be sure." She pauses then, the seed packets all away, and folds her hands on the table and regards him.

"We all have to make decisions sometimes without time enough to think," she suggests, "or the knowledge enough to know what to think. We only learn later on in the doing what we'd've liked to have known before we began… at the time, well, all we can do is the best we can do with what we know in that moment. D'you see what I'm getting at? It don't mean you're not clever, just that you didn't have time to know it all and think through it all. Or maybe you didn't ask enough questions, or you didn't know the right questions to ask. You hadn't had the right experiences yet. Or maybe if you'd asked them and they'd been answered, you'd still not've had much of a choice. Oh, there are plenty of ways," she sighs, smiling faintly as she shakes her head.

"But all I seem to do now is ask questions," Camillo points out. "I never seem to find answers. I think…clever people must find solutions to things or know what to do sometimes."

Still Esme argues with him, albeit patiently. "You're clever enough to know you don't know everything, see? Only a fool thinks he has all the answers. The cleverest people I know ask a lot of questions, because they know they don't know and they want to find out." Not questions about necklaces, obviously, because we know nothing about any necklaces here. "There ain't always answers, of course, or they may come only in time… But to keep askin' the questions, I think that's very important. Knowledge don't come on its own."

Camillo looks, as he often does, puzzled by this bit of wisdom. "I still think…there are a lot of things people know that I don't know. Or…people know how to be, when I don't. And I give people…the wrong idea or… I just don't know how to talk to them well. Maybe that's not to do with being clever. I don't know."

"Well, perhaps you're a wee bit foolish about that," allows Esme, charitably. "Let me tell you, most of those people you think know it all and are so certain of what to do, they're just as confused as you are, if not more. They're only doing the best they can, same as you. If their best looks better to you, it might be yours sometimes looks better to them. … And it might be, of course," she leans a little nearer, "that they don't know how to talk to you. You think about that next time, eh?"

Camillo rubs the back ov his neck, narrowing his eyes thoughtfully. "I don't know," he says. "Sometimes…" he pauses again for thought. "Well, at any rate," he says, "I am whatever I am, whether it is clever or not clever."

"There's nothin' wrong with that." Esme's gaze suggests she will not be swayed from that point. In fact she once hoped aloud he would not allow other people to tell him he ought to be different… "And you don't have too much trouble talkin' to me, at least not so's I've noticed," which is charitable, "and I think you're clever enough. So unless you're going to sit there and eat my pie and tell me I'm a fool…" A quirk of a dark grey eyebrow.

Camillo looks highly doubtful when Esme claims he talks well to her. But he smiles a little at her last rhetorical move and dips his head. "Of course not," he says. "But…I'm sorry about… I think I talked strangely to you before. I didn't mean to."

Esme gives him an approving small smile as he is obliged to concede her point. "I daresay you may've felt something and not had the words for it," is her kindly interpretation, "but that's normal enough. Especially if you should happen to feel a thing other people might not… If once in a while we feel things, or we desire things, that ain't quite of this world as we know it, that's surely just proof the gods made us for a different world."

Camillo draws his brows down at that reply, either because he is trying hard to understand the abstractness of it, or because it hits too close to home. Or both. "Well, I don't… You've been very good to me, Mistress Esme. I wouldn't like to make anything unpleasant for you."

"Well, you haven't," Esme maintains, "so that's all right, ain't it? … I do think you're clever enough," she repeats softly, "but perhaps a mite more sensitive than other folk, which isn't an easy thing to be in this world. Especially if you're not born with much and you've got your way to make. And I think you always want to do what's right, but it can be hard to know, can't it?" She presses her lips together in a slightly sad, wholly sympathetic smile. "It's hard for anyone to know… Best if we pray for guidance, and keep our eyes and ears open to know it when They may offer it."

Camillo tilts his head a little. "It's very hard to know," he says, at least admitting to that part of her reading. "Sometimes you don't know until after or…you never know at all. And it's hard to know the right guidance, too. It's… Everyone says something different. But…I like the things that you say. Even though…they're very different from things that other people say. I mean… I don't mean they're strange. But different."

Again Esme looks pleased, and looks away. It's her way. "I think I understand what you mean… I'm glad if I've said something that means something to you," she murmurs, and gives him another tentative but warm smile. "I do know. Sometimes there only seem to be different kinds of wrong things, and it's your job to choose the one that's the least wrong for the fewest people… And how can you ever really be sure? You can't look into their hearts to know it — only the gods have that power! — and bein' sure you know best is so often a route to bein' dead wrong." This too she has said to him before. "And then, listenin' to and trustin' the wrong people can get a body into all manner of trouble, I’ve known it time and again. So much of the trouble in all the world seems to start there… The wrong people can sound so much like the right people until you're further along and you see the results of their words and their
ways. So I hope you'll always question whatever I say to you, dearie," she insists, "and hold it up to all the rest, and see if you think it'll be right for you. Only not about whether or not you're clever, because I do think I'm right

about that." Her smile turns rueful as she adds the last, acknowledging the contradictory nature of her advice. Well, life can be pretty contradictory, can't it—?

Camillo looks, as he often does, puzzled, but he nods faintly. “I don't think I know what to say,” he admits apologetically.

Esme reaches over the table and gives his nearer hand a gentle pat. "Oh, never mind that," she tells him as she withdraws her own hand again, to clasp it with its opposite number. "I know I run on too much sometimes. Say whatever's in my head." A likely story. "It's just, you know I'm fond of you and I don't like to hear you down on yourself so much. I don't think it's fair."

Camillo gets a vaguely uncomfortable look on his face, but he nods faintly. “I don't mean to be…gloomy,” he says. “You're always kind to me when I haven't done anything for you. But if that's how you feel, then…I’m glad of it. You're a very good lady and I'm glad Prince Dhraegon knows you, now. I think he will be good to you and you to him.”

The word 'lady' brings a new expression to Esme's face too, something best defined as 'oh, no no no' and accompanied by an amused shake of her head. She insists, "I'm not sure I'm any of those things, dearie… And don't you say you've not done anything for me, either. My
son's very dear to me, of course, and all the girls who work for me are good workers and good souls, but I like having someone else to talk to once in a while," she confides, quirking her eyebrows by way of light-hearted emphasis. “And you’ve been a loyal customer, too, and that means a great deal to a small shopkeeper. It means you trust my business.”

“I do, of course,” Camillo says readily. “But… I don't know that I'm a very good talker. Do you know Ser Desmond, that very big fellow knighted not long ago? You ought to talk to him, too. I think he's a very fine talker.”

Esme displays no sign of recognition; she gives a slow shake of her head. "No, I don't think I sell to a Ser Desmond," she says doubtfully. "What sorts of things do you talk about with him, then? D'you fancy another slice of pie?" A nod to the pie-tin, left upon the table for convenience.

“Oh, one is plenty, Mistress Esme,” says Camillo. “Thank you.” He sits back a little. “With Ser Desmond?” he asks. “Well, I’ve not seen him for a while but he's a Northern man yet thinking of taking up the faith. And he had some troubles. But he was also kind and would listen to mine.”

"If you're sure," says Esme amiably. Then, listening, she furrows her brows very slightly. "It's good that he's thinkin' of it, of course," she says, in a lower and more serious tone, "but if he ain't done it already… how is it that he was knighted? … I'm sure it's not my business," she adds, "it just strikes me as curious. To make those vows and not…” She makes a speculative noise.

Camillo shakes his head at that question. “It's very complicated and I am not the man to explain,” he says. “Ser Malcolm or Ser Daevon could tell you the why of it.”

"… Could they indeed," muses Esme. Another slow shake of her blue-scarfed head. "Well, I'm sure they must know what they're doin'. I'd not dream of inquiring, of course," she reassures him, eyes slightly widened by a smallfolk woman's anxiety not to appear she's judging her betters upon their own affairs; "I'd not know anything about bein' a knight, I only know a little of the religious side of it. The vigil, and the anointing with the seven oils. It's only that it seems an odd thing for one to do who ain't followin' the Faith yet. But I'm sure his heart is right, of course. The gods will know about that, and they'll see that it all comes out as it should."

Camillo tilts his head. “I can't say about knightly matters,” he says, lips quirking slightly toward a frown. “But…As I think he explained it, he believed in the Seven but yet kept his own gods.” He shrugs. “I don't know if that's allowed. But I am sure he's a good man.”

"Well, I mean…" Esme peers into her cup and elects on the spot to pour another round of cider, for both of them. Talking does make you thirsty, doesn't it. "Of course when we speak of Seven we speak of One, and the same One Who's worshipped under other names in other parts o' the world, especially in the Axe and thereabouts. The ritual's different dependin' where you go, but the belief beneath it is the same enough — and the One always knows how to see true belief beneath trappings.” A firm nod. How could it be otherwise? “I don't know about these Old Gods, though," she goes on with a sigh, replacing the stopper in the stone jug of cider and lifting her own cup to her lips without further ado; "from the little I know it seems they're rather unlike. Still, if his heart is open in the right direction, and if he's a good man as you say," she nods to Camillo, in apparent trust of his judgment, "it'll turn out for the good. Because he’ll be drawn toward the good; and the source of all good is the One."

Camillo drinks while he listens and gives it all some thought. “Well,” he concludes, I don't know about any of it. What the Seven are or what they want or what he believes in his heart or any of it. Only I think the world will be better with him as a knight than without.”

“Now, that’s a good reason,” Esme declares with more feeling, and since she has her cup still in her hand she lifts it before taking another sip. “And I’m sure you’re right. Fulfillin’ the rituals and the forms in the sept is very proper if you can do it, like usin’ your best manners when you’re a visitor in someone else’s house; but I think what pleases the gods most must be an honest and thoughtful effort to reach for goodness. At least,” she sighs, “I do hope so… And that’s something we can do every day, wherever we are, no matter what.”

Camillo seems more satisfied that Esme agrees to the rightness of having a good man in such a position, though the rest of her remarks give him more cause for thought. He looks down as he sips from his cup. "I hope so."

A pause. "… There, you see? I do run on too much," chuckles Esme, and ducking her head again as her mirth becomes a sigh. "Well, take what's interesting and leave the rest on your plate when you go, and I'll throw it away with the rest of the scraps." She does sound amused. "And I'm sure you've better things on your mind than my chatter, when you're in charge of so much up at the tower these days… They're lucky to have men as good as you and Master Flox seeing to things; I trust they know it, too."

Camillo lifts his eyebrows slowly. "I don't mean to… Only I don't know what I think of everything you say, or what to say to it," Camillo says in a quietly apologetic tone. "Whenever I try to understand the gods, they seem farther away than ever," he confesses, then rolls a shoulder. "Compared to that, the tower isn't see complicated."

"I think we'll never really understand them," suggests Esme, "because from down here we can't have such perfect knowledge nor know what it's like…" She gives Camillo a slow, wry smile. "It's interestin' to try, though. And I like to think they might appreciate the effort, when it's honestly made."

Camillo nods a little. "But…is it right to?" he wonders. "Of course we have to understand what is…required of us, but could we ever at all understand /them/?" he wants to know, although he isn't so intent that he fails to drink more of the excellent cider.

Esme considers this. "I don't think it's wrong to try," she says after a moment. "With the right humility, of course, not assumin' we have some special insight that means we know better than everyone else… No," she shakes her head, "I shouldn't think we could truly understand Them — but a respectful and humble inquiry from our own lesser point of view — a desire to understand better, through knowing Their nature, what is expected of us — especially at those times when it doesn't seem so clear-cut, when we're torn two or three ways by a matter which isn't in the holy books… I think that's right enough. And wanting to be nearer the One, that's only natural."

"How do you know something's nature?" Camillo wonders, squinting down at his plate as though trying to see through thick smoke.

His hostess exhales something not far off a laugh. "Oh, I don't know… I've heard it said that it's the nature of all things to seek the One, though." She lifts her eyebrows as she adds, "Even northmen, it seems."

Camillo looks up at Esme's chuckle and her clever comment, but he shakes his head. "Maybe so. But I'm not sure I know what that means, really. This is the kind of thing that people say, but…I don't know what natures or seeking really look like."

Esme puts down her cup and folds her hands on the table and with a slight furrow of her brow gives it a go. "Well, you might say, for instance… If you've accepted the premises that the One is the source of all goodness," the tiniest pause whilst she awaits a nod, "and then that the One made all things," the same agan, "well, of course the One can't have made anything bad — it wouldn't be in His own nature — so it stands to reason that all things are made to be good, and to seek goodness, and in seeking goodness seek the One. Their nature is to be the best examples they can be, of whatever they are. And that'll mean one thing for a plant, and another for a beast, and another for a man. What's good, now, opinions'll vary. Great theological debates, I shouldn't wonder. I'm not the right person to speak on any of that," she concludes with a soft chuckle; "certainly not off the top of my head. I ain't had that kind of education."

Camillo looks like he's uncertain about things like /premises/, but he nods doubtfully. "But why can something that's the source of all goodness not be a source of badness?" he asks. "You think nothing in the world is bad?"

"The One is absolute goodness. Absolute goodness has no room in it for anythin' bad," explains Esme patiently. "It's good, pure and simple. Absolute goodness cannot do evil — and as that absolute goodness made all things, none of them can by its own nature be evil. Think of the seasons and the tides and the movements of the stars, all going on just as they should, just as the One ordained. Think of the plants and the beasts — there's no harm in them on their own, is there? They're just tryin' to be the best plants and beasts they can, only sometimes we interfere… Now, men and women, we were made by the One too, but because we're thinkin' creatures we have the power of choosin' as well. It's our nature to be good, just as everythin' else the One made, but we can choose otherwise… very foolishly, of course," she's careful to point out, "but we can. We have it in us to seek the One, to come nearer to Him, but we have it in us too to turn away. Does that make better sense to you?"

"But…I don't understand," Camillo says. "If a man can choose bad and the Seven gave man the power to choose bad then didn't the Seven create bad?" he wants to know, brow deeply furrowed.

"No… not like that. It depends," Esme attempts, "how we define and understand 'badness'… Not a separate thing in itself — it don't deserve that dignity! — but, just for speakin' about, a turning however mistaken away from 'goodness'. It's futile in the end to try that, of course, because all things by their nature begin in good and are drawn back to good… It just takes some people a while. Some people have got to, oh," she smiles crookedly, "flounder about and make mistakes and do wrong things and be tested and refined… for them, that's the path to the One. It's a hard one, but it leads to the same place. I do believe," and she gives him a reassuring, grandmotherly smile, "that's where we'll all end up, dearie. God will catch up with each and every one of us, someday, or we'll catch up with Him."

Camillo looks more and more doubtful. "But what about the people who die in the midst of doing bad things?" he asks. "Who didn't do good things?"

"Even they're in the One's hands, dearie," Esme assures him. "We all are. We ain't bein' set up to fail before our test is done. And it may be what's in such people's hearts ain't so black or so irredeemable as others may think, lookin' on. We none of us have that perfect knowledge, remember? We can know as much as we can, we can think and we can choose, because we're made just a bit in the gods' own image… it's that little bit of the divine that lifts us above the birds and the beasts and makes us want to come closer to the gods. It's a powerful force, too powerful for our souls to resist forever. Some may die before they've turned the right way, but gods'll turn 'em round sooner or later and see 'em feasting in the Father's golden hall… I do believe it, Master Camillo," she says sincerely, her clever black eyes locked with his, "that the mercy and the forgiveness of the gods is great enough to encompass all of us, even if we take our time in earnin' it."

Camillo seems uncomfortable and uncertain about all this, but he listens quietly, looking at the table. "So you think people that spend their lives hurting others get the same rewards as people who don't?" he asks.

"Oh, such people are punished for what they've done," disagrees Esme, "as is only just. What is good is just; and perfect knowledge, perfect goodness, allows of perfect justice… Some of that punishment is in what they do to themselves at the same time as they're doin' to others — the wicked can never be truly happy, or satisfied with what they've got in their lives, can they? — and some of it'll come later. But when they've come to the gods, by however long and difficult and painful a path… They'll be welcome."

Camillo rubs the back of his neck. He still looks rather confused, but he says, "You know an awful lot about these things."

"… Do I?" Esme gives him a mildly doubtful look, and shrugs her shoulders. "Well, no more'n anyone who's been goin' to the sept and thinkin' about it as long as I have… I was wondering the other day," she says gently, "if p'raps you've come fairly recently to the gods yourself. Maybe in the last few years. But I don't know if that's the sort of question I ought to ask."

Camillo tilts his head disbelievingly. "I think not everyone thinks as well as you do, Mistress Esme," he points out gently. He looks a bit embarrassed when she thinks that he's only come to religion recently. "I've always known the Seven, but…I can't say I always understand things well."

To cover his embarrassment Esme occupies herself pouring just another drop of the Quill and Tankard's fine apple cider. "There's always more to do in a day," she suggests then, "than sittin' round thinkin'… I know, dearie." She looks back to him then, openly, curiously. "And it ain't necessary to go into the detail, is it, when we've the guidance of septons. But it strikes me all of a sudden that, since you have more free time now and you're not sure what best to do with it… Perhaps this is the right time for you to be questioning."

Camillo bows his head a little at that suggestion. "You're right," he says. "I should think more seriously about these things. I find them hard to understand and…sometimes septons say different things from one another. And I don't know what to make of it. But it is what I should spend my time on."

"You'd never have to fear you weren't spending your time well," adds Esme, "and that's something. And Oldtown must surely be the right place, with the Starry Sept and the Citadel right here. There must be a great many knowledgeable people for you to talk to, and books for you to read."

Camillo nods softly. "It's only…sometimes it feels…tiring. Because it's hard to understand," he ventures to bring up, glancing at Esme.

Her eyes are waiting for his; she nods sympathetically. "Well, there's not a hurry," she opines. "In your own time'll be soon enough… It's better to take the time to be sure you understand one thing, than to rush ahead to the next before the last one's had time to settle."

Camillo makes a small nod. "Do you think my understanding is very bad?" he asks. "I've tried to always go to Sept since I was young but… As I tried to tell you, I don't understand the things that other people do."

Good or bad, Esme doesn't say. "Did you ask questions before, when you didn't understand?" she nudges, privately having a guess or two about the answer.

Camillo looks confused by that question. "I don't know," he says. "Sometimes. There's not always a good time to ask a question, or a good person to ask. Not all septons like questions," he points out.

"Aye," sighs Esme, shaking her head, "that's true enough. Some of 'em like a quiet congregation that sits still and chants the answers and never speaks another word…" Her undistinguished features shift into an arrangement suggestive of resigned disapproval. "But if you didn't ask so many questions as were in your mind then, well, perhaps it was because it wasn't time for you yet. Perhaps now's the right time. Now when you're wondering more, and living in Oldtown, and you've advanced yourself in service far enough that you've the leisure for your own pursuits. Havin' someone else do all the thinkin', so you only need to do as you're told, that can be a relief for them as want to be right with the gods but haven't the time and the strength left in the day to go into it all a bit more… But if you've time now, it would be an honourable pastime for you, and interestin' too I should think."

Camillo dips his head. "I think you may overestimate most of us, Mistress Esme," he says. "But I'll try. Only sometimes it is hard," he says, repeating his earlier sentiment.

The sun is brighter now, closer to its zenith, shining through the windows behind Esme and leaving her face in shadow. Still, she's smiling. "Oh, many a hard thing is worth doing… I don't know what I overestimate, though. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, I suppose, till they've proven themselves one way or another."

Camillo nods, finding not much path for argument. "Sometimes, though," he mentions, "It's a hard thing when you spend a long time at something only to prove you can't do it."

"No reason not to try," Esme fires back firmly. "Don't defeat yourself even before you've begun. The world'll defeat you sometimes, but that's no reason you ought to help it along."

Camillo shifts a shoulder slightly, not arguing further. He glances to the window. "I think it may be time for me to be getting back, Mistress Esme," he says. "What do I owe you for the seeds?"

Esme has almost forgotten the seeds. She glances down and finds the box and says, "Oh, well, we'll call it—" And she names a figure by no means tiny and frivolous, but within the range of the customer's purse. "My cost and ten percent," she explains. "The usual from Essos. I'm fond of you, but I don't run the business on fondness. You know how it is." A frank, apologetic smile.

Camillo roots for his purse and comes up with it, but pauses to look at Esme, blinking. "Well, of course," he says. "I never thought to pay anything but the usual price, Mistress Esme. You've already made me three meals that you won't let me pay for."

"A slice of pie ain't a meal," is Esme's first argument, delivered crisply; but then her face softens. "I suppose I knew you'd not be asking me for favours. I'm the same way. I like to work for what I get, and incur no debts if I can help it… You sit better with yourself that way."

Camillo pays up the money Esme's quoted and reaches for the box. He bobs his head. "Well. I'm grateful for everything just the same," he says.

The coins are counted off the table into Esme's other hand by her quick and sure fingertips, just as they would be off the counter in the shop; she tucks them away in a hidden pocket beneath her striped dress. "You're most welcome, dearie," she informs him. "I hope you'll get on, with everything." She nods to the wooden box now in his hands, but her encouraging smile really has more to do with inquiries into the nature of being and goodness.

Camillo bobs his head, looking a bit shy or perhaps cowed, and gets up, tucking the box carefully under one arm. "I'll see myself out," he tells Esme.

"Oh, I'll come down with you," insists Esme at once, having another quick sip of her cider as she stands and then sweeping the letter she found in the bottom of the seed box off the table and into another pocket. And she does.

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