(123-03-08) Wheelbarrow Club
Wheelbarrow Club
Summary: Camillo pops into Esme's shop to see about oats, and they have as usual a more far-ranging discussion than most would suspect the taciturn Hightower servant capable of…
Date: 08-09/03/2016
Related: Everything with these characters ever; also, this from the previous day.

The morning sunshine has hardly got through the red and yellow shutters of the grocery shop on Oldtown Square; it has found there a distinct challenge in the form of the blue and orange striped dress worn by the proprietress, as she delivers to half a dozen boys in varying states of youth and cleanliness one of her standard lectures upon minding how they go and making haste, not speed. In the midst of this oration she looks up at the tinkling of her bell and interjects, "Good morning to you, Master Camillo," before giving one of her junior employees a small clout round the ear for making faces at her when he thought she wasn't looking. She was looking. She is always looking.

There is some business with covered baskets, and the repeating of directions back to her to be certain they're taking the correct parcels to the correct houses; she flings Camillo an apologetic look, and hurries them out as quickly as she can, and stands on her threshold for just a moment watching them scatter before coming back inside with a shake of her head and another tinkle of the bell as the door shuts behind her. "Oh, I don't know about that Jon," she observes, chuckling, "I really don't… I'm sorry to have kept you waiting, dearie; what can I do for you this morning?" she asks cheerfully.

Camillo bobs his head as Esme greets him and cuffs her delivery boy. He turns his head to watch the boys run out, then looks back to Esme. "Does he make more trouble than that?" he wonders, but then gets round to business: "We'll need an extra order of oats," he says. "What with the wedding and housing servants from all sorts of visitors, we've run out sooner than usual."

"Then oats you shall have," declares Esme, who appears to be in a fine mood; her step is light and even swifter than usual as she bustles back behind her counter where she always looks most at home. "If not by the end of the day — I can't swear to by the end of the day," she admits confidentially, "what with it being sooner, certainly bright and early tomorrow. Before they're up, I'd wager, so you needn't worry about breakfast." She doesn't make a note; she never does. "How are you, dearie, since I saw you last?" she adds then, tilting her orange-scarfed head and smiling up at him.

"Why don't I send a boy over in the morning," Camillo proposes. "We've got enough to last a few more days. We haven't cut it /too/ close." He lifts his eyebrows a little when she inquires after him. "Oh," he says. "All right. I haven't thought as much as I should about…what we talked about. The Seven."

"Punishment duty, eh, for one of yours?" asks Esme with another laugh. "I don't know if they told you," she confides, "the quantity of oats the Hightower usually orders at one time, but it's a lot for one boy to carry — I'd have sent two…" She tilts her head and veers back to an earlier topic. "Mine don't make much more trouble than that, no, or I'd not have 'em — but I do always choose the ones with a bit of cleverness and initiative in their heads, so of course they like to test me now and again… That Jon, he's new," there's a curious twinkle in her eye at the thought, "and I don't think he's had time yet to work out that not much gets by me. Not in my own shop, goodness knows. Well, if the oats aren't a rush job," she decides, taking his word for it, "but I wish you wouldn't make the gods into one instead. They ain't. They'll still be there when you can sit down and give Them time."

"He'd be all right with a wheelbarrow, I thought, but I'll send two if you think it's wise," Camillo agrees to Esme easily enough, seeming to value her counsel on practical matters as well as spiritual. He nods at the explanation of the boy. "But you like his spirit, I suppose," he observes. When it comes to the gods, he only nods at her wisdom.

"Aye, a wheelbarrow'll do the job nicely," the little shopkeeper agrees, "and I'll put in as much as I can of your next standing order just to make the trip worthwhile for him." With this settled she settles herself as well, on her high wooden stool, drawn up close to the counter where she can lean her elbows upon it. "I do," she admits ruefully; "the shy ones're more easily intimidated by street gangs, so if I stick to the cheeky ones I lose fewer baskets. Not that I lose many, mind you," she adds, "just once in a while."

"That would be excellent," Camillo says. "In that case, I'll be sure to send two just in case the load does get heavy." He nods thoughtfully at this news of street gang intimidation. "That's true, I can see where it would be wise to have plucky boys near the Undercity. Of course we have to try to get the most respectful boys we can at the Hightower. Though sometimes we take on the children of servants, or former servants and they…vary." In his expression is written the tiresomeness of having to keep the odd noisy boy in line around all the great nobility.

Esme lets out a pained, sympathetic, "Oof." And then, "Yes, I see… If I come across any who are all right but too meek and quiet to get along down here, I'll send 'em your way, shall I?" she offers. "I always regret not bein' able to give work to everyone who'd like to find a bit of it."

"That would be nice, if they're hard workers," Camillo confirms. "There's no trouble in being quiet in a great house like that. Perhaps I should send you the ones I catch jumping up and down the steps, or trying to slide down them on things when they think no one's about. When I have the freedom to remove them, that is."

"Do that," chuckles Esme; "I'll give 'em a look at least. They might be a mite less troublesome with so much runnin' round the city to tire 'em out." She gives another amused shake of her head and then a quiet sigh. "Ah, well. There are worse things in the young than high spirits, and the world'll knock that out of 'em sooner or later, worse luck." She turns then from rueful prognostications to matters of urgent botanical interested. "Planted anythin' yet, or are you still mullin' over the possibilities?"

"I've planted just a few of each," Camillo says about the plants, nodding. "Hopefully in the right conditions. And we'll see if anything comes up. But most of the seeds are still saved back in case they don't turn out." Then his mind returns to the idea of high-spirited youth. "Don't any of them grow up as high-spirited men?"

"Wise, very wise," says Esme of his gardening strategy, which as it happens she suggested. Then at the other, her lips twitch with private amusement and she admits, "One or two do, one or two…" Her words trail away and when she speaks again it's with rather more sobriety. "But round here it ain't such a sure thing. A lot of 'em 'll grow up into hard and dull lives, and be old before their time; or into the more exciting kind only to see their time cut short."

Camillo nods faintly and seriously at the picture Camillo paints of the lives of average errand boys. "Maybe most lives are hard and dull," he says. "I always thought living my whole life in a stable wouldn't…be much."

"Aye, I daresay they are," sighs Esme. "Mine's been hard and interestin', I'm pleased to say, and I've no complaints on that score… Why in a stable, dearie?" she inquires with a slight narrowing of her black eyes.

Camillo blinks as he realizes Esme has no reason to know what on earth he's talking about. "Oh," he says. "That's… My family owned a stable. Just, you know, places to put horses and a few horses for rent, in a farm village."

As he enlightens her Esme nods again, and finds another smile. "Oh, I see," she says. "Up north of here, then?" Not that there's much terrain south of Oldtown suitable for horses more than seahorfes. "Do you go back and visit?"

"That's right," Camillo confirms. But he shakes his head at the question, looking solemn. "I never did go back, much. Only when my father died just after the wedding." Of course by 'the' wedding, he means Marsei and Dhraegon's.

Esme is capable of putting that much together; her expression shifts via surprise into sympathy. "Your father… and you never said a thing," she accuses gently. "Master Camillo, I'm right sorry for your loss. What a thing—! I'll be sure to remember you both in my prayers," she promises him.

Camillo puts a hand up to forestall Esme's sympathies. It is true that he wasn't around to make orders at the shop for a couple of weeks after the wedding. "We hadn't spoken for a long time," he says. "It's all right. But thank you. A prayer never goes amiss."

“… Ah, now,” sighs Esme, pressing her colourless lips together into a sad and crooked smile, “when you put it like that I feel all the more for you. That you hadn’t time to make up whatever it was, and neither of you could say what you’d not said to the other before. I think there’s always something unsaid, isn’t there? Even when you’ve said too much as well,” she clarifies gently.

"I don't know," Camillo admits, glancing toward one of the shop windows. "I was away for a long time. I don't remember clearly what we last said to one another. I don't know if he would've wanted to hear anything from me. I don't know if I would've had anything to say." He rubs the back of his neck. "Do you think animals are better off?" he asks next. "I mean…you said…how animals can't do bad. They just do what animals do. So do you think it would be better to be an animal?"

His mild and innocuous elderly friend absorbs these telling words like the sympathetic sponge she is, nodding slowly, her gaze resting upon him with an unobtrusive lightness. "Animals can't do good, either," she points out. "They can't displease the gods, but they can't please Them either."

Camillo tilts his head a little, looking back to Esme. "But…do you think many people please them?" he asks.

"Oh, I think so, dearie," Esme answers, with a speed and firmness she trusts is reassuring. "They want to be pleased with Their creations, and They always know, don't They, when someone's tryin' with a sincere heart?"

"I don't know," Camillo answers honestly. "I'm not sure what the gods know. But if that's what the sept says, then it must be right."

At which juncture the bell tinkles; Esme's expression shifts into apology for but an instant, and she makes the universally recognisable 'stay put' gesture with her hand palm down as she looks away to greet her next customer.

Some business ensues with dried beans, a pound of sausages brought through from the butchery, and two unusual spices extracted in very small quantities from the locked cabinet behind Esme's counter. She's efficient as ever and even whilst overseeing the transaction and marking down a sum on account she extracts considerable information regarding the state of the other woman's husband's business, the health of her children, when her brother's ship is expected in, and how she's getting on with the socks she's knitting.

Then, when the bell has sounded the woman's departure, the little shopkeeper turns again to Camillo and looks momentarily distracted and says slowly: "… I was going to ask you," her head tilts, "what do you believe?"

Camillo gets out of the way so that business can proceed, and he doesn't seem the least bit insulted by Esme attending to it. He pretends like he's looking at some shopwares rather than listening in. But he's not prepared for Esme's next question. "What do I believe?" he repeats. "Well, that's hard to answer. A lot of things, I suppose. I believe that the Seven are supreme and rule over heaven and earth and give us blessings and show us how to be. They reward the good and punish the bad and we are supposed to behave according to their principles."

"Aye," says Esme, and then, "yes." She nods agreeably. "And what are their principles?" she catechises with gentle persistence.

"Well," Camillo begins slowly, "The Father says we must be obedient and just. The Mother says we must be compassionate, and marry and be fruitful. The Warrior says we must be strong and brave. The Maiden says we must be virtuous and guard our honor. The Smith says we must be industrious and productive. The Crone says we must be wise and thoughtful. And the Stranger says… that… There are things we don't know," he concludes. In all this recitation, he looks very solemn.

Esme abandoned her high stool to serve her other customer; she stands just where she is, leaning on the counter from behind it an attitude of respectful attention, till Camillo has finished his list, and then she hooks the stool nearer with her foot and returns to her perch upon it. "That's right as far as it goes," she agrees; "but justice, virtue, wisdom, these all depend, don't they? And industry, that's another tricky one. You can be industrious in a bad cause as easily as a good one. And it's no good bein' obedient just for obedience's sake, when sometimes those who seem to have been set above you by the Father himself ain't all they've cracked up to be and you'd not be doin' the Seven's will by followin' 'em blindly." She pauses. "I suppose what I mean to say, dearie, is that those principles are all very well to start with, but it's not enough ever to keep to the letter of 'em and say, oh, I'm bein' obedient so I must stand right with the Seven. We've got to try to understand the spirit better as well. That's what I meant the other day when I was saying it's not wrong to want to know more of the gods, and to get nearer. A better understanding'll help us please Them more, and—" She gives him a whimsical kind of smile. "Puttin' in so much thought is always pleasin' to the Crone."

Camillo listens with thoughtful discomfort as usual. "But I don't understand how you can know them if they don't speak to you," he protests quietly.

"Through thinkin' about them," is Esme's prompt answer, "readin' the holy writings, and reasonin' through what you know must be true… And then, you might find you're better able to recognise Their hand when you see it. Their blessings, too. Open your mind and your eyes, and you never know what you might not end up seeing. It's not that They never speak, mind you, it's just that They don't always speak in a way we'd understand speakin'…"

Camillo bobs his head gently at that. "I only have one book," he mentions. Which, for a servant, isn't terribly bad. "But I'm not sure I'm very good at understanding holy writing or reasoning through any of it."

The Shambles shopkeeper appears duly impressed by the servant's possession of a book: not many smallfolk have cause to own such… "'The Seven-Pointed Star'?" she guesses, that being the obvious one. "Well, if you've not put a lot of time into it yet, it stands to reason you're not sure you're very good. P'raps you ought to talk to someone about the parts you're not sure of, or… read some of the commentaries, so you'll have a more detailed understandin'. I'm sure the Hightower must have quite a library — surely they wouldn't mind you borrowing a book now and again, if it's for religious reasons…?"

Camillo nods to confirm that. "I don't know if there are better versions," he says. "Mine is very plain and written simply." He looks thoughtful. "Well…The Hightower has a library, but I don't know if servants are allowed to borrow. I suppose I could go there during my time off."

"The standard text is the standard text," says Esme kindly, "and it's meant to be simple, so anybody can read it and understand the first level of meanin'. The symbolism's a bit trickier, of course, that's why I said you might like to have a look at some of the more popular commentaries… You'll see there are things in there you didn't even notice, to begin with," she promises, "and perhaps then you'll begin to feel you see deeper. It's interestin' anyway." A smile tugs at her lips. "Well, I think it is," she corrects herself.

Camillo nods at that explanation. "Symbolism," he repeats, like maybe he's not /too/ terribly sure about what that means. "I'll try," he says. "But I'm not sure I can understand that kind of thing."

"Don't know till you try," is Esme's encouraging advice. "I think it's a wee bit more useful than wood-carvin', any road…" That having been an early hobby suggestion from another friend of his. She gives him another curious kind of smile. "Did you not like workin' with horses?"

Camillo lifts his eyebrows and shrugs. "They're all right," he says. "But…in that kind of life, nothing ever changes. Nothing new happens. Always the same stalls, always the same chores to be done, always the same people. Except when someone unexpected comes through. But that wasn't too often."

"Can't say that about Oldtown, can you," pronounces Esme. "There's always somethin' changin', don't you think? I don't suppose we hear even a tenth of it," she confides sagely, meaning of course that the machinations of great nobles are beyond the ken of mere smallfolk behind their shop counters, "not really; but even in the Shambles," she nods toward those of her windows which face that narrow street, rather than the breadth of Oldtown Square, "there's always somethin' different every day, always somethin' goin' on."

"That's right," Camillo agrees quietly. "Where I grew up was still more than goes on some places, but…there was the stable, and an inn. Houses. And a little market. That's all. At most, people stopped there on their way somewhere else."

"Places to come from," nods Esme understandingly, "not places to go to. Aye, I know. Not to insult where you come from, mind," she's quick to add, with a propitiating gesture of her hand, "that's just the way it is, isn't it? … I'm lucky I've lived mostly in cities; I think I'd go stir crazy in a place everything is always the same, without too many new faces. I like the feel of bein' in a neighbourhood, of course," she adds, her head adopting a considering sort of angle, "and knowin' who's who and who you can count on, as we do here," another nod to the Shambles, "but it's always good to have somethin' new. Keeps you from getting too settled in your ways."

Camillo doesn't look particularly insulted. He doesn't seem to have a strong sense of nostalgia for the place he came from. "Well, in a village like that, of course you know everyone," he says. "And everyone knows you. And everyone knows what everyone said or did or…" He shrugs. "Everyone's settled and knows what's going to happen tomorrow and for the rest of their lives, unless there's a sickness or a fire. Surprises are always bad."

"And everyone thinks they know all about you," guesses Esme, "and they take for granted what they think you are, and you feel you can't ever change because they won't let you go up against every single assumption they have about you. Or so," her eyes twinkle at him, "I've been told. In a city, though, you can be anybody you want to be, anybody you can be."

"I don't know what it's like to live your whole life there," Camillo admits. "I left when I was fifteen. But. Cities are certainly different. You can be to yourself, if you want to."

"Fifteen," marvels Esme, shaking her head at him. "And you've really not been back much? … Well, I daresay you've always had work to do, eh?"

Camillo bobs his head. "Of course," he says. "There's always work. I doubt you've taken much of a rest in your time, Mistress Esme."

He's got her there, and her rueful smile concedes as much. "Not so's you'd notice, dearie," she admits. "Even when the shops are shut I've got my son to see to, and my housework, and my cleaning women to look after."

"That sounds very busy," Camillo says, with a quiet hint of sympathy. "But you seem very strong."

"Well," again Esme's head finds that angle which always seems to indicate considered thought, "it ain't gettin' any easier, I'll tell you that. It ain't about bein' strong anyway, it's just you do what you have to do."

"That's true," Camillo admits. "We all do. But I hope it's not too hard on you."

"The Seven have never given me more burdens than I can bear," and as she speaks Esme makes the sign of the Seven, "and I thank Them for havin' such a careful hand with me. I think They've a very nice judgment that way, you know. There's never a trouble but it enlarges your capacity for dealin' with trouble." Thus speaketh the widowed mother of a simple-minded son.

Camillo lowers his chin slightly. "Yes. Although…not everyone makes it through every challenge."

"No, that's true… but if you take it the right way, it'll still make you stronger for the next one," opines Esme firmly. "Nothin' in life is as bad as it seems, I don't think, if you take it the right way."

"Not if you die," Camillo says. "That makes it hard to get stronger."

That thought… entertains Esme, who gives a carefree chuckle and shakes her head over the counter at him. "Well, yes," she agrees, "but I was speakin' of the ones you live through, Seven willing. The ones that'll kill you, it ain't worth frettin' over. At my time of life at any rate. Every day I wake up, I know it's goin' to be a good day and I'll do all right with it."

Camillo nods vaguely at Esme's response. "That's good," he says. "I'm sure you always do." He looks up at some of the wares on the shelves.

"Somethin' on your mind?" asks Esme softly.

"Oh," Camillo says, gaze snapping back to Esme. He shakes his head. "No." He smiles. "I'm probably a bit underfoot, so I should get out of your way."

"Well, you see it's a bit slow this morning," admits Esme, "and it will be till my boys start comin' back in, so you're not in the way, you know. But don't let me keep you if you ought to be gettin' on. I'd not like to think it was my fault if your day got away from you, dearie," she says sincerely.

Camillo bobs his head. "It couldn't be," he assures her. "It's my responsibility to keep my own time. But you're always very kind. Good day, Mistress Esme." He turns to make his exit.

"Good day to you, Master Camillo," the little shopkeeper says very properly. But when he's halfway to the door she adds, "Oh, by the way — I did decide to keep that dolphin necklace — you remember, don't you, the one from the tourney…" She speaks nonchalantly, as though it's just popped into her head as an afterthought, really hardly anything worth mentioning except in passing.

Camillo turns back when Esme brings that up, and he nods a little. "That's… If it's what you want to do, then I'm glad," he says. "If it pleases you. But I hope I didn't…"

"Didn't do what?" Esme asks pleasantly.

"Um." Camillo looks for words on the floor, then brings his gaze back to Esme. "Pressure you or…make it seem strange."

Esme's face is all wide-open innocence. "Was there somethin' strange about it?" she inquires, lifting her eyebrows in question.

Camillo's eyebrows climb at that question. "Strange?" he echoes. "What do you mean by strange?"

"I don't mean anythin'," Esme reminds him, "it was you who said it might've seemed strange… What did you mean?" she nudges. "I really don't know."

"Oh," Camillo says, blinking once or twice as he regroups. "I mean, only…I told you what to do with it when it was none of my business and I hope it didn't make you feel…funny about it."

"No, no," she assures him mildly. "I thought it was interestin', what you said. Now, it didn't mean anythin' to me to begin with, that's why I wasn't sure what to do with it, but it's come to mean a bit more since then. You know how things can grow on you sometimes, don't you? With use and custom."

Camillo nods his head several times. "Yes," he agrees. "I'm…glad if it has. It should go to someone it means something to. It…" He pauses. "It's something precious made here in Oldtown."

"Aye, very precious," agrees Esme, nodding. "The silver's very pure, of course, and then the memories attached — that's what really makes a thing something, don't you think?" She tilts her head, rather supposing he does.

Camillo lifts his eyebrows again. "Well, it sounded like a very exciting tournament," he allows. "Maybe it can be a way to remind you of that."

"Mmm." Esme gives him another crooked and whimsical smile. "Yes, there's that too, of course. All those lances broken… I know I told you, didn't I? … Know much about jewellery, do you?" she asks offhandedly.

"Not very much," Camillo admits, "But a little." He nods. "You told me the story. It sounded like Ser Malcolm had to fight hard for it."

"That he did," says Esme with a more serious face, her chin lowered in a nod. "Still doesn't seem right, him givin' away a thing like that, of course, not when he'd fought so hard for it… Even if he did already have one from last year," she chuckles. "Ah, well. I don't reckon I'll wear it round the shop, o' course," and that thought reignites the laughter which has never this morning been long dormant in her, "but perhaps if there's a special occasion and it wouldn't be so out of the way. I don't know what, mind you—!"

"It seems…he's having rings made," Camillo decides to volunteer. "To…match the other one." He then nods a little. "I think…it's nice for a woman to have something she could wear for a special occasion. I don't…think my mother had any jewelry, but there weren't really occasions in my village that anyone could wear jewelry to. In Oldtown, there are."

"Not a woman like me," chuckles Esme, glancing down at her skinny figure and her bright, plainly-cut cotton dress, "but I might wear it to the Starry Sept, perhaps, if I should happen to go to any of the big services… it'd look right at home there," she decides. Then: "Rings?" she murmurs thoughtfully. "Now, that's a nice thought… somethin' to match it."

"I suppose it would," Camillo agrees, nodding once. "I don't know who they're for," he says in regard to the rings. "I don't…think Ser Malcolm has an intended, but of course I don't know. And it isn't my business."

"No, no. Not our business," Esme agrees wistfully. "… Don't make it any less interestin', though," she points out with a wink across the counter. "I have a soft spot for that young man, I must say. He's very gracious."

"Yes," Camillo says. "He's always very good to the smallfolk." He's said something like that before.

"Just as a knight should be," nods Esme, "and few enough are… He's a young man of principle, I think, and I'm sure he must be a very good friend."

"He must be," Camillo agrees. "I think he is very loyal to those in his circle. To the Starks and such."

Esme's eyebrows rise fractionally. "… I was thinkin' of a good friend to you, too," she mentions, "since you fought together, and you know him well enough to talk about his jewellery 'n such."

"Oh," Camillo says, and makes a vague gesture with one hand. "No, I only…stumbled across him while I was about my errands. He didn't…seek me out for advice or anything on that order. He's been…kind to me. But…I'm not on… I'm not… He's a knight, and that is still very different to me."

To this also Esme nods her understanding. "Ah, I see… They are a bit different from the likes of us," she agrees. "But that's all to the good, if they're like him… he's a true knight, and I don't mean how many lances he breaks, either." She leans her forearms on the counter and admits, "I made him breakfast one day last week and he was very polite. Liked the eggs."

"That's true," Camillo agrees firmly, on the subject of Malcolm's true embodiment of knighthood regardless of his performance in the ring. "I'm sure they were very good," he says. "It's nice of you to make things for so many people. I'm sure he appreciated it."

"Oh, well," says Esme, "it was early in the mornin' and when I asked him he said he hadn't had anythin' yet. It was the least I could do, after he'd given me that necklace." Another shake of her head. "I asked him why he'd done it and he said it was because it was the right thing. A knight should be generous. What d'you think of that?" she asks, almost rhetorically.

Camillo bobs his head. "I think he believes it," he says firmly. "He did the same last year, after all." He hesitates, then adds, "And…he doesn't have a betrothed. So a necklace…"

Esme lets out a soft sigh. "No, I suppose he doesn't," she agrees. "Sad, really, when he's such a nice fellow. But I suppose he's— you know, too high to marry a smallfolk girl, and too low for a grand lady."

Camillo nods slightly. "It's a difficult position," he says. "He is a Storm, which means…he is not…unconnected to nobility. But." He shrugs.

"Aye, I know. There's nobility and nobility. A lot more degrees than we have," she says, meaning smallfolk, "and a lot more careful of them too… I can't say it appeals much to me." She gives a philosophical shrug of one shoulder. "I'd not like to have to be thinkin' always like that."

Camillo nods again. "But…he doesn't have the choice," he points out. "Not to think about it."

Esme wrinkles her nose. "I suppose there might be some bastards who'd go the other way, just to avoid the fuss and have a simpler life… not many though, eh?" she chuckles. "And not Ser Malcolm. He's made for better things, isn't he. And I hope he shall have them all. Such a nice young man," she repeats.

"I suppose so," Camillo agrees softly. "But…he's a true knight. He belongs somewhere he can be seen for his skills and talents." He looks back towards the door he's almost touching. "I…should probably go."

"Things to do." Esme nods. "Goodness, I've kept you a while — my boys'll be comin' in again soon, I shouldn't wonder. Well. It was nice to see you, dearie, and I shall look out for your boys and their wheelbarrow!"

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