(123-04-25) Kitten Club
Kitten Club
Summary: Esme's flat was so clean till the queen's sister showed up.
Date: 24/04/2016
Related: Related Logs (Say None if there aren't any; don't leave blank. You have to use full URLs, like http://gobmush.wikidot.com/logtitle)

The sun has risen high over Oldtown Square, oppressing somewhat the enthusiasm of the hawkers and peddlers who come and go so irregularly, selling 'fresh' vegetables out of barrows and funny-looking carpets from abroad and so on and so forth — and serving only to heighten the inevitable pungent fragrances of this open area sandwiched between the stockyards on one side, and the Shambles and its abattoirs on the other. By this hour of the day the constant one-way morning traffic of cows, pigs, sheep, and chickens has slowed, as it were, to a trickle, yet evidence of their passage remains here and there underfoot. Some of the 'ladies' of the Bawdy Bard are fanning themselves on a shaded balcony over the way, calling down to prospective customers. The life of the city passes through this square. More languidly in the heat, or else at speed.

On the corner of the square and the Shambles is a red and yellow grocery shop, bright and beckoning, open from the cool hours of the morning till after the sun has set, closed only on holy days of the Faith of the Seven. The owner is a devout woman, elderly, given to wearing dresses as garishly striped as her shopfront. Blue and green and yellow this afternoon, beneath a clean white apron, and a headscarf in a subtly different yellow which fails utterly to flatter her complexion. She has just opened her shop door (causing the bell over it to tinkle) and is standing on the threshold holding the door with her hip whilst she delivers a stern parting injunction to a delivery boy, who looks hardly big enough to be bearing such a grand covered basket.

"And mind you come back with somethin' on account from her at number twenty-three, and look where you're goin'—!" This last in the aggrieved tones common to mothers, grandmothers, and put-upon nursemaids the world over, as she rocks up onto her toes and peers after him, lips pursing.

Perhaps the delivery boy isn't the only one who ought to be chastised with that advice, for just then, a woman comes absolutely running through Oldtown Square, making a beeline for the dry grocery on the corner, weaving around every person of every distinction she encounters. The figure is clad in a grey hooded cloak — light in make, as the day is so warm — that could belong to anyone, at a glance; were anyone to get a closer look, they would be able to see that it's finely made, bearing stitching around the trim in the shape of interlocking towers. It's too large for the slight woman, even perhaps made for a man. However, it's rare that anyone claims such a glance, for she runs so determinedly, at such a pace, as though her life rather depends on it. Every so often, a flash of vivid pink fabric — a long gown — rustles from beneath the cloak.

She keeps the hood clutched tightly around her face, with milky pale hands, her head canted downward — to the point that as the delivery boy turns with his massive basket, she quite nearly collides with him. She immediately steadies the basket at the boy's shoulders both, offering apologies in a kindly, but hurried, and distinctly highborn inflection … perhaps familiar to the shopkeeper, who she doesn't even seem to take note of, despite the bright colours waving at her like a flag. "I'm so very sorry— ! Are you quite all right? Did anything fall?" The very instant she's certain everything is, in fact, fine with the boy, she sets in to a distracted line of questioning. "Have you seen— ? Did you see— will you— " But before she can make sense of her words, she seems to see something next-door, and takes off to look behind the front steps to the other establishment.

The boy's well enough and eager to be away about his business, especially given his suspicion that Mistress Esme's all-seeing eye may be still upon him; he glances back to the shop whence he came and sees her indeed squinting disapprovingly in his direction, rocking on her heels, hands on her hips. There'll be Words later. He disentangles himself from the cloaked lady with none of the cringing of a street urchin, but rather the brisk but kindly self-importance of a fellow who's got a job to do and can't hang about all day bantering with womenfolk, and exits the narrative and the square.

Meanwhile the grocery shop's bell sounds again, faintly enough beneath the ambient cacophony of the city; and stripes flash in the sunlight as Esme comes forward to peer round her neighbour's steps from the other side. One grey eyebrow initially raised soon becomes a matching pair.

The hooded figure is not lacking suspiciousness, crouched next to the neighbouring building, reaching for who-knows-what in that small bit of shade. The sweet, coaxing voice that drifts upward, however, is at odds. "Come, now," she says ever-so-softly, obscured head leaning down, "you're all right, now, I won't hurt you, you're all right…" Marsei. Lady Marsei, slowly daring to kneel on the ground so near to the Shambles and stretching her arms out from the uncharacteristically plain and too-large cloak to reach for something behind the steps of a building she's never set foot in; she's unlikely to even know what it is. So it goes, until she slowly stands, cradling some manner of patchy creature in her arms, bundled up in her voluminous sleeves. Her head lifts.

She certainly doesn't know where she is, if the shocked face she meets Esme with is any indication, her seawater eyes going wide and her pink lips falling open as though she's forgotten how to speak to anyone but the bit of fluff in her arms. In one big rush, however, even faster than her tear through the Square, a pleasant warmth fills her face, filling the blank canvas with light and an easy, sincere joy. "Mistress Esme?" She blinks up — still feeling dumb-founded — looking from the woman in the striped dress to the brightly coloured grocery and putting two-and-two together.

Of course Esme was careful not to let her shadow fall where it would interrupt too soon this unprecedented scene, which she is regarding with all due curiosity. Her friendly, creased black eyes are waiting for Lady Marsei's when they lift to her — she doesn't curtsey, because that would be as much as to announce there's a noblewoman under that cloak, but she bobs her head. She's smiling. "I thought that might be you, milady," she confesses, leaning nearer, "when I saw the towers on your— mm," she nods to the cloak. "Are you all right? Have you got lost? Where's that girl of yours, eh?" She is all sincere concern, and no wonder — such an apparition in Oldtown Square…

"Oh, it's Gwayne's," Marsei breathes out with a self-conscious look down at her cloak, which explains not at all why she's wearing it. She stares another moment with rounded eyes and parted lips at Esme before blinking in the direction she ran from. "I sent her to find something in the stands, and I…" She hurries out from behind the step, approaching the grocery. She tucks a stray sliver of red hair behind her ear beneath the hood and gently adjusts the creature in her arms, and it, too, looks up to stare at the shopkeeper. It's a rather sad and ridiculous looking thing; a young kitten who seems to have been through a small war. It has short dark matted tortoiseshell fur, one ginger splotch over its left eye and only a crusty indentation where its right eye should be. "I saw this poor sweetheart startled by a cow leaving the Square. I think it kicked it. The— cat, I mean, the cow kicked the…" She trails off, likely safely assuming Esme understands her well-meaning but harried attempt at an explanation. "I just lost track of…" Everything else, evidently. She ventures, her voice small and polite, "May I— come in for a moment, if it's no bother— ?"

Esme eyes the kitten with mild dubiety. 'Poor sweetheart' isn't quite the term she'd have applied to it. But then she looks up into Lady Marsei's face and her own softens, the wrinkles of sixty years settling into that grandmotherly arrangement which has disarmed many an unsuspecting target of her curiosity. "I think you'd better, d— milady," she decides, reaching up to adjust the hood of Ser Gwayne Hightower's purloined cloak, putting his sister's beautiful face further into shadow. "You'll feel a mite better when you've sat down out of the sun, eh?" she suggests. Her gaze flicks down to the shivering kitten again; "The cow can't have kicked it too hard," she adds, "if it could still run from you as it did. They're very sturdy creatures, and they're quick, too. It may've been halfway out of the way before the cow even got there. We'll give it a saucer of somethin' and see if that helps, shall we?" And this is a little more the Esme who popped several times into the cabin on Eonn's boat, to be certain that milady — on that occasion also preoccupied with kittens — had all she required, and was feeling all right and not repining.

She leads the way, holding the door of her shop for her visitor.

As the hood is adjusted, the out-of-place Flower of Oldtown smiles appreciatively — with an added touch of embarrassment, a demureness that only serves to look prettier upon her face. "Thank you," she says with a look past Esme to the brightly coloured building, curious about it even before she's set foot inside, ready to follow its owner. "Oh, but you don't have to worry about me," she assures, looking down to the bundle in her arms, the source of her concern, fussing over the wayward kitten like it's a child. "I expect you're right. It's so quick, but I'd feel better if I were sure. When a person's injured and frightened, they can run and run to get away before they realize it hurts. It could be the same for animals, don't you think? I'm so glad to have run into you," she beams, " — and quite nearly the boy outside your door. I'm sorry about that."

Better indeed that she ran into Esme rather than — almost anyone else in this part of the city. Or else the gossip, to say the least, would be unending. But this thought Esme keeps to herself. "My delivery boys are hooligans," she says firmly, "and they bounce. I've seen it again and again. So don't you worry your head, eh?" She leaves off the 'milady' as they step into the somewhat cooler, somewhat darker confines of her shop, presided over at present by a girl in blue whose attentions are divided between two customers she's trying to serve at once. In the same breath Esme solves a knotty mathematical problem for the woman on the left (weights and measures and percentages, you know), directs another wandering housewife to the kind of soap she's looking for and asks after her youngest child's sore throat (it's much better, what a relief), instructs her shop girl (Katla by name) to mind the place a while, she's just poppin' upstairs for a word with someone, and concludes to Lady Marsei, who has had a moment to look about her at the crowded shelves and the bins and the baskets and to breathe in all their scents, that: "It's this way."

Then, in a much softer voice as they approach the connecting door: "My son's through here but it's best you don't say hello, or anyone listenin' 'll know who you are." With this advice (and a care to keep the inevitable sights and scents of even a clean and well-run butcher's shop out of Lady Marsei's ken) she whisks her through the adjacent establishment and up a set of narrow, rickety wooden stairs, ill-lit from above. With the downstairs door shut behind them Esme urges: "Mind how you go, milady." En route she collected a stray basket and she carries it before her much as the other carries the kitten.

The flat over her shops, two rooms flowing into one another without benefit of a door, well-lit by sunshine coming in through blindingly white muslin curtains, is to a smallfolk eye cheerful and pleasantly shabby. What a Hightower eye must make of it, well. It's very, very clean.

Esme shuts the upstairs door too and comes forward to her kitchen table, to put down the basket. Straight away she unties the strings of her apron from around her waist, and by a couple of folds converts it into a kitten bed: "Come and put your friend in here, milady," she suggests, nodding to the basket.

The lady has been looking this way and that, as if the walls are covered in never-before-seen pieces of art she strives to understand. She does not hide the fact that she's intrigued by the shop, having never step foot in it or its like before this moment; nor is her gaze tainted by distaste for the smallfolk house. Her curiosity is as innocent as her devotion to the haggard kitten she just met. All the way, while she quite dutifully follows Esme — "Oh," she says in understanding about Edmyn, and is quiet — she looks over her shoulder as if she hadn't quite seen everything she just passed by. Her curiosity is markedly less through the butcher shop.

She faces no trouble on the stairs in the dim light, although, to be sure, they feel tremendously unsteady compared to the sturdy steps of the mighty Hightower. Inside, Marsei gingerly lays the kitten down in the makeshift bed. It immediately leaves a spot of blood on the pristine white apron, as it had on the sleeve of the Hightower cloak. It's suffered a scratch on its leg, typical stray cat fare, likely inflicted by claw rather than hoof, but the critter does tumble about rather awkwardly in the basket.

In the midst of worriedly watching and standing very still in Esme's abode, Marsei suddenly gives a soft little laugh under her breath. "Camillo will… " she pauses, smiling in a kindly way toward the servant she speaks of, "well, I suppose he won't laugh… he'll probably rather worry about me, if he hears. But he'll remember when I rushed home with an injured bird in a silly panic and he led me to his quarters to tend to it like this."

Already concocting a story she can drop into conversation later on, about who came to visit her this afternoon and why, Esme frowns down into the basket… She glances up and gives Lady Marsei a wry smile over the top of it. "Your dove, from the Maidenday Gardens. He told me about that, milady. So I can't say as I'm as surprised by you today as I suppose I ought to've been."

She shuts the lid of the basket with careful hands, silently. Her voice remains low, its pitch designed to soothe kitten and lady alike. "I think you understand sometimes too many sights and sounds and too much goin' on can distress a wounded creature," or a Targaryen prince, "so we'll just leave it in the quiet to calm down a bit, and then give it somethin' to eat in a minute, and when it's not so frightened I'll see if I can see if anything's broken. I'd as soon not get bitten," she confides, lifting the basket ever-so-gently into one of the chairs gathered round her table. "Do please sit down if you'd like, milady," she suggests. The only other object upon the table is her knitting: the leg of a sock in rather fine cornflower blue wool, the cables upon it growing steadily more elaborate. This she gathers up into a red linen bag, needles and all, to get it out of the way.

Marsei's face alights with surprise to hear that Esme has heard the story of the dove, curious all over again to wonder how it ever came up. Smiling in understanding from Esme to the basket, she slowly takes a seat, nodding in gracious thanks; this is Esme's home, after all, and Marsei is the unlikely guest here. She lowers her hood behind her for the time, revealing her hair elegantly wound and loosely braided upon her head. Loosening the hood frees the cloak's ill-fitted collar, as well, and the sunlight catches on hints of pearl-and-gem beaded embroidery beneath. "What a lovely colour of yarn," she remarks admiringly as the knitting disappears. "Do you know Camillo well? I know he went in this direction for supplies…" And there ends her knowledge of the process, up until now. Before she gains an answer, she says gently, seeking, "Are you sure this is all right — I-I shouldn't like to take up your time, Mistress Esme, I'm sure you have work to do…"

The knitting in its bag ends up on the far end of a sideboard. "No, no, milady," says Esme blandly, turning back long enough to smile, "it ain't my busy time of day, by any means." She bends to open one of the lower cupboards and draw out a tablecloth of good white linen, edged with a simple embroidered pattern of red and blue flowers and green leaves; this she shakes out and disposes upon the table before Marsei, twitching it neatly into alignment. "I often step up for a few minutes durin' the day to have a word with people who drop in to see me," she mentions, "your Master Camillo for one. He's been a customer of mine longer'n he's been a servant of yours, milady, though we didn't really get to know each other, as you might say, till quite lately." In the same cupboard she finds one of her good napkins; she shuts it, and opens a drawer; and with a knife and fork besides (steel rather than silver, with wooden handles polished by custom) she returns to the table to set a place in front of her visitor. Who is, like the kitten, in line for feeding.

The next object to arrive upon the table is a pie tin, half-empty but also by the same calculation half-full, wrapped in a fine linen cloth. "Now, if you'll tell me where you sent your maid, I'll send a lad along to find her and make sure she ain't worryin', eh?" Esme suggests softly, cutting a slice with a knife as finely-honed as its handle is worn. It's strawberry and rhubarb.

Hands folded neatly upon her lap, Marsei watches Esme set the table with a mixture of interest and the slight apprehension of not knowing what it's for, until pie factors in, bringing about another smile. "Oh, that's very kind of you," she says in her sincere way, "For your pie, and to find someone to fetch Siva. I sent her to— well, to be honest, I'm … not certain. We were searching for a shop that sells parchment," she explains. "I have a friend who used to use parchment that was pressed with flowers and I should like some like that for something special, but I'm afraid I didn't know where to look."

The pie arrives upon Lady Marsei's plate; Esme nods, interested. "Oh, you mean with— dried flowers in the parchment?" She places the knife in the dish and covers it with the cloth and restores it to the sideboard temporarily, and comes back with two glass goblets. Real glass! Though they're plain by the Hightower's standards, assuredly. "You're most welcome, milady; anyway that pie needs eatin' up, I'm makin' another one for tomorrow. I don't know of any shop that sells such ready-made but I don't reckon it would be difficult to have it run up for you, with whatever flowers you liked. I know a parchment-maker in—" She names a street. "Old customer of mine, does very nice work. I've seen what he used to make for a Lannister lady who passed on with one or two debts unsettled in this city, if you can imagine it," she chuckles, "and that was single petals, mind, not whole flowers, but I'm sure it's similar enough. I've apple cider from the Quill and Tankard, or would you rather have water?"

"Oh, I'll have— just the pie, thank you," Marsei settles a bit more toward the table and cuts neatly into the slice of pie with the side of her fork. "One does tire of everything tasting of apples after living with the Fossoways," she explains, spoken more as a gentle jest than any true complaint. "I shouldn't like anything to overpower your beautiful strawberry-rhubarb." And who drinks water. "That parchment would be perfect, I expect. Thank you." The lady is certainly saying thank you a great deal, and every time as sincere as the last. She tucks into her pie, which seems immediately to heighten her mood, not that it had been low to begin with. "I'm planning an event for the Maiden Day festivities, in which young girls can write their prayers to the Maiden on parchment flowers or boats and send them off the coast, and I thought it would be even more special for them with flowered parchment."

Esme greets the Fossoway conundrum with a rueful smile. "Didn't think o' that, milady," she apologises, "and I'm afraid I've only got wine when Flox brings a bottle round." The glasses disappear whence they came and from another cupboard she removes a pair of small shallow dishes. The kind of plain pottery which can rarely if ever come to the attention of a Lady Marsei Hightower. "I think that's a lovely idea," she says of the parchment; "though if you'll pardon me, I'll just pop downstairs for a minute. I won't be long, milady."

Marsei dips her head, smiling a bit apologetically for inadvertently making Esme take out and then put away the goblets. "Certainly," she replies, carrying on with the neat but enthusiastic enjoyment of her pie. Out of concern — but in action, like an unsupervised child — she can't help, after a few moments, to lift the cover of the basket just an inch to peek inside at the little cat.

When Esme returns a couple of minutes later (her footfalls are so soft upon the otherwise creaky stairs that her advent may come as a surprise) the dish she took away with her contains shredded, bloody, juicy meat, sure to tempt the appetite of any half-starved street moggy. "Sorry to have taken so long, milady. I've a lad goin' round parchment-makers," she explains, opening a drawer and seeking something within, "and leavin' word for a girl who matches your maid's description that she can find her friend at my shop. No names." She turns a confidential smile upon Lady Marsei. "I wrote out a message for the one I mentioned, tellin' him what you had in mind and askin' if he'd send you some samples in the next day or two. Another lad's gone to the Hightower in case your girl asks after you there." Whatever she's up to in that drawer results in some powdered herb being sprinkled into the cat's meat — sparingly, given the creature's size. She removes the cover from a bucket and with a shiny tin dipper fills the second of the small dishes with fresh water.

By that time, the pie is already long gone and the plate set aside with cutlery on top and not a single crumb upon the cloth. Marsei is once again peeking in the basket when Esme enters, and she smiles over her shoulder to greet the woman once more. "Oh! Good," she beams, "You've accomplished more than I ever could have looking on my own." Her smile nearly falters when she looks down at the grey cloak, as if she might mean to explain why she's dressed unlike herself, but returns quickly to form instead, stretching her slender neck to keep that curious watch on what Esme is doing. The little kitten follows suit not a second later, poking its scruffy, one-eyed head out of the tellingly ajar basket. "It slept, I think," she says optimistically. "Look, I think it's hungry."

"Oh, well, I've lived here a long time, milady, and I've always been in trade; stands to reason I know who sells what," explains Esme, shrugging off the praise with a small smile, almost apologetic at her own efficiency. "It looks hungry," she agrees pragmatically, bringing the dishes nearer. She sets them on the edge of the table and takes charge of the basket, shutting the side of it into which she placed her folded apron (kitten head or no) and opening the other side to lower first the meat and then the water into that end of it, on the reckoning that if the water went first the meat might then be so exciting it would get spilled, whereas the meat provides a suitable distraction for the placement of the water beside it. "It's got fleas," she observes with a resigned sigh, having glimpsed a black particle swift in motion upon her apron.

Marsei happily watches the kitten clamber for the meat. The awkward little thing essentially smashes its face inside the food bowl. "Oh," the lady says regretfully, looking immediately guilty for having rushed a flea-ridden animal into Esme's home and shop without a second thought. "I suppose it would… are they hard to get rid of?" It goes without saying that in any instance that the highborn lady encounters fleas, someone else is the one who takes care of their hasty departure. "I wonder if it has a mother," she wonders, saddened by the thought that it doesn't and is now hurt and one-eyed and has fleas (as if it would not have before).

"It has two mothers, milady," points out Esme, "same as all the rest of us. The one who bore it, and the One who sent you after it." She quirks her eyebrows at Lady Marsei and leaves her to her kitten admiration, clearing the table again meanwhile. "How bad fleas are depends how bad you let 'em get. I won't have it out of the basket, thank you," she nods to her visitor, laying down the law but quite courteously, "and I'll see the place gets a thorough goin'-over later in the day with vinegar and water and a bit o' lemon. And there're plenty of things fleas don't like the smell of," she adds, warming to her topic. "Lavender. Cedar oil. That's why all your clothes are kept in cedar chests — ain't they?" she guesses. "It's not only good against moth."

"Oh… oh, of course," the lady agrees, ducking her red head down a bit, slightly humbled to learn what suddenly seems to her like it ought to be basic knowledge. "Dhraegon has plenty of lavender to lend to the cause," she says, again optimistic, confirming her plan to bring the little creature into the Hightower. "I shan't keep the poor soul here long," she assures, waiting for the kitten to lap up its fill of food and water. It's currently stepping in the latter. For being so fast on its paws when it's running, it's a clumsy thing. Marsei slowly begins to stand, brushing the front of her cloak clean of non-existent wrinkles out of habit, as though she were wearing only her gown. "You have been more than generous." A pause, and she seeks the woman's eyes. "May I say, Mistress Esme, I am glad you met Flox. He seems the better for it, inasmuch as Master Flox… shows it," she finishes with a smile.

Esme lowers her gaze and looks quietly pleased, and smooths her skirts as she comes nearer again to stand across the basket from Lady Marsei; and then she lifts the other side of the lid and reaches inside to touch the kitten.

Her small, work-worn hands move over its skinny body cautiously, in tandem, avoiding obvious wounds. "There are different kinds o' fleas for people and for cats," she adds absently, "and the kind for cats don't stick round long after the cat's gone, but just in case there are a few of the other kind on it, I'd as soon be careful. You never do know. I can't feel anythin' broken," she mentions, "it's still bleedin' a bit, not too badly. A person I could stitch up well enough, but a kitten—" She draws in a breath through her teeth and retracts her hands, shutting that side of the basket. "It'd not do well with the pain of it. And I wouldn't like to give it somethin' to make it sleepy; a thing that size, it might never wake up. They don't like bandages on their legs, either, it makes 'em walk funny… I reckon it'll heal on its own, but more slowly. A bath will help just to make everythin' clean, and good food, and Master Camillo might be able to advise you on what else to do for the best. He helped with the dove, didn't he?" she inquires rhetorically.

"… I'm glad I was there to help you, milady, but I'd as soon you sat down again, if you don't mind waiting here a bit longer. I'd not like to send you off all by yourself, before anyone's come to escort you," she admits. "If anythin' were to happen I'd feel it was my fault, and I'd not be able to look His Grace in the face again, now would I? Or Master Flox," she puts in gently, lowering her chin, "who thinks very highly of you, you know."

Marsei listens intently to every word Esme says, blanching ever-so-slightly at every mishap that could befall the kitten as described by the elder woman's wisdom but, ultimately, relieved to know that it should make a recovery. She sits back down as slowly as she had stood, hands once again folding in her lap. "Flox is a blessing for Dhraegon, and loyal," she remarks, carrying respect for the man. "I'm honoured to pass his measure. Dhraegon thinks highly of you — and, I think, not only because of your pie," she says with a sparkle in her eye. "You have been kind to him."

For the first time Esme draws out a chair of her own and sits down, slowly, with caution though it's her own home and the queen's sister but a guest therein. "He's a good man," she says softly to Lady Marsei, over the clean expanse of her best tablecloth and her hands clasped upon it; "Flox, I mean," she elaborates with a reserved, crooked little smile, "though both of them, that much is true." She inclines her head politely toward Prince Dhraegon's wife. "I know well enough that… servants don't generally introduce their friends to their masters," a quiet clearing of her throat, "but it's different with the two of them, after so long, and I thank you for understandin' that, milady, as well as I hear you understand all the rest. It's been an honour for me, milady, and no small pleasure for my son to have such a friend."

Even though Marsei had not previously seemed tense, something about her manner has relaxed further now that Esme has taken a seat in her own home. "Dhraegon and Flox … they are as Siva and I, in some ways; she has been at my side for so long … it is only natural Dhraegon would know those Flox holds dear. Though my prince would be friends with everyone, if he could. His heart is so big." She smiles wider to think of it, true and fond.

To the special relationship which can arise between a noble and a body servant, Esme nods her understanding; then her expression softens into another smile. "Aye, milady, he has a very open heart. I think that must be quite a worry sometimes for the people lookin' after him… I'd never have thought," she confides, "that there could be a man who could do the job I do; but then, there's a lot more to Flox than meets the eye, as I'm sure you've gathered." She nods respectfully, unaware of how recent a discovery it was for Lady Marsei that Flox is a person, rather than merely the most essential of the goods and chattels Prince Dhraegon brought to their marriage.

Camillo has either a highly faulty or a particularly precise sense of timing, as it's just now that he finds himself somewhat reluctantly ascending the stairs after being told to do so by the shop girl. With her watching, it would be strange to just turn around and leave, wouldn't it? So he comes up and knocks a gentle servant's knock on the top door. It's the perfect volume to be heard in most situations without being obtrusive.

Marsei is, as she has been at every turn, curious, this time as she hears how Esme talks of Flox. "Yes," she concurs simply, thoughtful; that Flox is multi-faceted may be news to her, but multi-talented is another matter. Her head tilts to one side, then, a frown threatening the corners of her lips. "It saddens me to think your Edmyn would be alarmed to learn the title his friend carries; he was so happy on the boat. Do you think the— " Her soft voice cuts her thought short when she realizes someone has knocked. She draws the hood of the plain cloak up over her head once more, just in-case.

At the knock Esme's expression grows thoughtful. She holds up a finger to Lady Marsei to advise continuing silence; and rises to answer the door, opening it just a fraction, blocking the gap with her body and peering through.

Then, in tones of unmistakable delight, she exclaims: "Well, look who's here! Did you see the note I sent along to the Hightower, or is this chance, eh? … Lady Marsei's got separated from her maid, and we were just thinkin' she ought to have someone suitable to escort her home." She opens the door wide, standing back to admit Camillo to her flat. The lady thus named is sitting at the table. Another chair is occupied by one of the covered baskets so essential to the running of Esme's business empire. It has a kitten head sticking out.

Camillo stands still for a moment to come to grips with the situation. Lady Marsei is here. Why is Lady Marsei here? Note? Separated? Ill-fitting cloak? Is that a…? His eyes move from detail to detail. "Um. I was just… I'd be happy to…walk you back, my lady," he volunteers with a quick half-bow.

Another detail is the pie-tin left out on the sideboard, next to a plate of pie-residue with a knife and fork and a folded napkin on top of it. Looks as though it was something with a red fruity filling. There are no crumbs upon Esme's best tablecloth, good white linen with a simple embroidered border of red and blue flowers and green leaves.

"Oh!" Marsei stands from her seat at the table, away from Esme's nicest tablecloth, all sunny smiles when she lays eyes on the visitor. "Camillo!" She brings a set of knuckles lightly to her face, realizing how unlikely this entire scene must be to him — as it is for her, at least the part where she's in the room above the dry grocery. The voluminous sleeve of the cloak sways, and it bears a small smear of blood. "Look! I've found a kitten," she announces buoyantly as if this explains everything, "Is he not precious?" A rhetorical question to ask of Camillo, surely, and the creature is, besides, an odd-looking thing with dark tortoiseshell fur, a ginger splotch over one eye and no eye on the other side. It's also wet, having drank and spilled equal parts of its water dish. "May I borrow your basket, Mistress Esme? I will have it cleaned and sent back," she assures.

Technically the Flower of Oldtown is in the room above the butchery.

Lest anyone be listening downstairs Esme shuts the door discreetly behind Camillo. Then with her hands on her hips she surveys the pair from the Hightower and smiles from one to the other. "Well, that worked out, didn't it?" she says to them both, sounding rather pleased. And, to Lady Marsei, "Of course, milady, I always intended you'd have the basket to take it away in. Easier for you to carry and not so overwhelmin' for it either, eh?" She nods firmly. "And if you're not goin' to touch it again for the time bein', would you like to wash your hands—?" she suggests. "Poor thing does need a bath, don't it? … Though I daresay it's already made a start," she chuckles, shaking her head at the damp and bedraggled state of its fur.

If this programme of events proves agreeable she'll lead the lady through the opening from which the faded blue and orange striped curtain is at present drawn back, into her bedroom over the grocery. Her washstand is on the near side of the hearth. There's water in a pitcher, and plain soap; she fetches out a clean towel and sets it within reach, and returns to Camillo. "Now, what was it you came about?" she wonders in a low, businesslike voice.

Camillo notes the blood, but is it from meat or the creature? "Is it injured?" Camillo asks, looking at the pitiful little damp thing. He does look a bit worried over the creature's welfare, but his gaze returns to Marsei. Only to be distracted again by Esme. "Oh. Er. A small increase to the corn meal order. An extra cup each month for the next two months, the cook asks." Which he probably didn't need to come all the way down to inform Esme about, but perhaps he enjoys the excuse for conversation.

"Cornmeal," echoes Esme, nodding. She glances over to the basket. "A cut on the leg, not too bad," she concedes softly, "and I gave it somethin' against infection, mixed in with the meat… She thought she saw it kicked by a cow comin' over from the stockyards, but I couldn't feel anythin' broken." She lifts her eyebrows at him and shrugs her thin shoulders as though to say that doesn't mean much, given the tiny size of a kitten's bones, and her unfamiliarity with feline anatomy in general. "I didn't want to poke and pry too much; cats can be pretty vicious when they're frightened. I think it'll probably do all right if it's fed well and kept quiet. I hear that Master Eonn knows a lot about cats," she says casually, "perhaps he could help."

Marsei reappears just then, slipping slender arms back through sleeves that had proved cumbersome over a basin — a robe, more than a cloak, though it looks like nothing but an amorphous layer of fabric on the lady. Its plainness devours the brief glimpse of her more characteristic white-and-pink embellished gown. Catching the last bits of the conversation, she's smiling in agreement. "I had run all over creation," at least over all of Oldtown Square, "chasing the poor thing. I hadn't even realized I where I wound up." She returns to the table, intent on taking the basket, but not before fussing over the awkward little animal for a moment. "Esme was kind enough to help me with it — and feed us both."

"That sounds dangerous, my lady," Camillo says with evident concern. "It is best not to be alone and unaware of one's surroundings…" But he's careful with his tone not to make that sound too much like a chastisement. "Is the cat tame, or feral?"

When Lady Marsei comes in from the other room Esme turns toward her again, welcoming her with a small smile. "Oh, it was a pleasure to see you again, milady… We've neither of us been bit yet," she remarks to Camillo, reaching into the basket to withdraw one dish variously emptied of water, and another licked almost perfectly clean of meat and powdered herbs alike, "so I reckon it can't be too feral. It can't be more'n three months old at the most, though it looks as though it lost that eye at least a couple of weeks past… I wonder whether its mother may not have been someone's pet, but they didn't want to keep all the kittens, and once they started bein' troublesome…" She trails off into a shrug, pursing her lips as she turns away to add the kitten's dishes to Lady Marsei's. People are not always good to kittens.

"I was with Siva, but I … it is my fault that I got separated. I ran when she was looking at the vendors," Marsei explains, her tone reassuring despite the rather opposing nature of the information she gives. The lady is normally so careful about not being unaccompanied in such areas, but… "Oh, but just look at it," she impresses, clearly both infatuated with and worried for the one-eyed animal. She runs the back of one finger over the kitten's head, regardless of fleas, frowning. "It's been through so much for something so young…" She holds tight to the basket, tucking it closed. The kitten makes a pitiful mewl and Marsei briefly looks like she may do the same. "I should get out of your way, Mistress Esme, and explain myself to Siva," she says, shining her smile directly on the shopkeeper. "Thank you again. You've been a blessing. And you, Camillo, as ever with your timing."

Camillo looks thoughtfully at the cat. "It doesn't seem right to have left it to wander." He looks up to Marsei. "But, my lady, are you certain you want to…keep it?"

Poised and ready to escort her visitors away again down her narrow stairs, Esme promises, "And if she comes on here lookin' for you from the parchment-makers, I'll be sure to tell her you've got away home safely, milady. Seven blessings to you, and I hope you'll give my regards to His Grace."

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