(123-04-26) Crate Club
Crate Club
Summary: Camillo makes yet another tissue-thin excuse to drop in at Esme's shop, and finds himself helping to get the lids off crates of suspicious liquor from Essos.
Date: 26/04/2016
Related: The two cat logs the day before (Kitten Club, Seen and Unseen), and the two booze logs (The Pink and the Green, CHICKENPANTS).

In the little red and yellow grocery shop on the corner of Oldtown Square and the Shambles, the little green and orange shopkeeper is prising off the nailed-down lid of a wooden crate with a suitable tool with which this writer happens to be unacquainted. The crate is the first of a trio, each bearing the marks of a long passage over the sea to her, each inked also with mysterious numerals and a few words in Low Valyrian, and the destination 'Oldtown'.

She looks up at the tinkle of the bell over her front door (to a trained ear it's unlike the bell over the connecting door, or the butchery's own bell); "Master Camillo!" she exclaims. "Two days running; are they not feedin' you up there anymore, eh?" This is a teasing rather than a serious inquiry, as she eases another nail loose with, yes, the back of a hammer, that's it. They're alone in the shop, the sweltering middle of the day being Esme's least busy time; still, she lowers her voice to ask: "She get home all right, then…?"

Not that she means any slight upon Camillo's care for Lady Marsei; her attitude is of natural curiosity tinged with concern. It was all a bit irregular yesterday, wasn't it?

Camillo didn't even take food yesterday! "Oh," he says. "No, I wasn't… I wouldn't expect to…" He gestures at the crate she's working on. "Why don't you let me help you open that?" he asks. Only then does he consider the question. "Lady Marsei? Of course we got her back to the Hightower safely. Thank you for helping her with her troubles. It's kind of you."

That crate is stacked atop another, with the third next to them at an angle; Esme thus has been bending slightly to attack it. "Oh," she says, straightening, putting a hand to her lower back, "that'd be good of you, dearie, if you're sure it's no trouble…?" But she's already surrendering the hammer, lying it down on top of the crate and turning it till the handle points to him instead of to her. Her back cracks quietly. "I never was so startled in all my days as seein' her ladyship chasin' a kitten outside my shop," she sighs, with a rueful smile and a shake of her head; "I suppose they're not like us, are they…? I'm very glad you came along when you did; I'd sent a lad lookin' for her maid, but she might've been a while comin', and I didn't like to send her off by herself… you know what it's like round here. I'd not call it a bad part of the city but two wrong turnings and there you are."

"Of course it isn't," Camillo replies, and steps up to start prying in Esme's place, taking the hammer with a hand accustomed to tools. "Who isn't? Nobles?" Camillo asks, brows lofting. "No, of course they aren't," he agrees, then looks back to the surface of the box, carefully setting any removed nails aside for re-use. "And yes, I'm glad I was, too. I wouldn't like Lady Marsei to go wandering from here. Especially with something on her mind. The last thing anyone would want to see is her being hurt, when she's so generous to the people."

Relieved of her labours for the present Esme leans an elbow on the counter and watches Camillo at his. "Aye, she's a very good woman," she agrees, "and I'm sure most people know that and know her to look at, but there's always such thing as a fool… and she wasn't exactly showin' who she was, either," she adds slowly, "though I daresay that's none of my business. Would you do the other two, please, since you've made a start? Just came in a couple of minutes ago," she explains, smiling. "If you liked foreign drinks I'd say you should have first pick, though I daresay that's not up your alley, is it?"

"That's all true," Camillo admits, though surely he doesn't mean to include in that the idea that Marsei's cloaking is none of Esme's business?" He gets the lid off the first crate at last, and carefully sets it out of the way, then looks to Esme. "Well," he says, "I don't know anything much about foreign drinks… Are they for some occasion?"

Taking no offence at anything that may or may not be implied Esme gives another shake of her head. "Oh, I've had a bit more demand for this sort of thing, is all," she says. "I'd one customer with a very particular order, that was for an occasion, who said he'd also try anythin' else I could get hold of in that line; and another bought somethin' on chance just because he liked the colour and now he wants the same regular; and each of them told somebody else, or so it seems; and nobody else in Oldtown is really importin' anythin' of the same quality so I can make my own prices, and I always do like makin' my own prices," she concludes with a chuckle, reaching in amongst the straw to produce a cloth-swaddled bottle of… what? She begins to unwrap it.

"Is it an unusual color?" Camillo asks, taking the hammer to the next crate. "And is the taste of particular interest, for it to be so popular?"

The bottle in its natural state proves to contain a green liquor. Esme hastily removes the rest before the crate is lifted out of the way for ease of access to the one below, and sets about unwrapping the rest of the dozen in turn. "Different colours," she temporises, "and different tastes. This green stuff's distilled from wormwood, it's my regular order because I've got a customer who always takes half a dozen. The rest I keep in the shop on the offchance. The other two crates, they're a mixture. Yellow, blue, pink…"

"Wormwood?" Camillo echoes. "Can that taste good?" He seems doubtful of the possibility. But then he's looking up from the new crate in astonishment at all those colors. "How do they make it blue?"

Esme pauses. "… I reckon it's an acquired taste," says she, her expression suggesting she's not quite sure how one goes about acquiring it. Another little shake of her head, eyes lifting gradually heavenwards. Her hands keep busy, separating bottle after bottle from straw and cheap sacking and softer cotton. "I don't know how it's made. From some plant or flower or another, I s'pose… maybe even one of the ones you're growin', eh?" She quirks an eyebrow at him.

Camillo pries some more nails loose, careful with the hardware as ever. He looks a little doubtful about distilling any exciting blue drinks from the plants he's nurturing. "I drank something pink once," he recalls.

Setting another bottle on the counter (and yes, it's blue), Esme eyes him sidelong. "Did you, dearie? … I'm sorry to hear that," and she sounds sincere, "I don't think it could've agreed with you much."

Camillo thinks about it more seriously when Esme says that. "I think it has a stronger effect than I had imagined, yes," he admits, bobbing his head once. "In…most cases I don't think I would have it again."

"But you might in some?" she asks easily, adding again to her pile of rags — next to his pile of nails — all of which are destined to be used again.

Camillo's brow furrows, but he can finally pry the second top off, and this too is set aside. "I don't know," he admits. "Do you find you usually know what you would do in most situations?"

"Most situations and all the likely ones, I reckon," says Esme after a moment. A yellow bottle joins the blue and the green. She's unconsciously placing them in neat, regimented ranks, colour by colour. "I'm old enough to know myself pretty well by now," she admits, almost apologetically, as though it were a boast she found unattractive in herself, "and to have plenty of experience to draw upon of what I did do. Of course, the unlikely ones, they take a wee bit of thought when they come along. But that's not so often, gods be thanked." She nods. She has spoken before of her taste for certainty.

"So I suppose you would never drink something like that?" Camillo asks next, reaching in to help unload the bottles as nearly to the way Esme had been doing it as he can manage.

Esme turns to him with widened eyes. "Knowin' what I know about it? Not in a month of Sundays, dearie," she chuckles. "I don't know if what you had was the same drink I think it must have been, the pink liquor they were servin' at that famous party of the Princess Visenya's last year, but I'd no more pour that kind o' poison into myself than I'd shave my hair off and run down Starry Street bald-headed. I ain't used to drink in any case," she admits, "and that's no kind of drink to be gettin' used to." She shakes her head — covered at present in a green scarf with tiny yellow dots, from which several grey strands have contrived an escape to float about her long, plain face.

Camillo doesn't look quite comfortable saying whether that was the occasion or not, which probably means that it was. "No, I can't imagine the kind of person who's used to that sort of drink," he is forced to agree.

That is indeed Esme's conclusion, her eyes upon him friendly and so very guileless. "I daresay it's all right now and again for people who can manage it," she admits, patting his arm, "but that ain't me. I have a glass of wine sometimes with Flox to be polite, but it's not really my taste. Let's get this one open, eh?" she suggests, nudging the final crate with the toe of her sandal, by which she means, 'why don't you open this one'.

Camillo crouches rather than lift the box up, and starts working on opening it up. "I'd never seen anything like it before. Where does it come from?" he asks.

"Volantis," explains Esme in a word, fetching a different kind of cloth from behind her counter and giving each bottle in turn a bit of a polish to remove dust and hand-prints. "They brew all sorts in Volantis, or so my friends tell me… I hear it's quite a grand city, plenty o' people with the leisure to drink, and plenty of others to think up new drinks to sell 'em. Maybe I'll start a new fashion in Oldtown," she muses. "Little things like this, and the special orders, they're the difference between the milk and the cream."

"Where is Volantis?" Camillo asks, perhaps not having heard of it much. Most of his duties, after all, do not involve distant geography. He pries more nails. "I'd like to see you with more money than you need," he says.

"… Oh!" And Esme laughs out loud, and pats his arm again. "Don't you worry about us, dearie, we do all right for ourselves here," she insists. "There's always money in meat, and butchers never go hungry." She gives him a serious nod. Then she bends over the last crate, her work-worn hands delving through the straw, uncovering the curve of a small wooden barrel which occupies most of the volume of the crate but searching still. "Now, I reckon there should be… Volantis is a way along the southern coast of Essos, my friend said in his letter," she mentions, "where the river Rhoyne opens into the Summer Sea… oh, here it is," she declares, looking pleased, as she pulls out a wooden box not unlike the one in which Camillo received his seeds, though smaller. "The weather's very hot, he said, doesn't even cool off at night." Whilst offering this useful piece of information she steps again behind her counter, and the small box is not seen again. She returns to take up her polishing.

"It must be difficult to get any work done if it is always so hot," Camillo says. "Does the heat make the crops grow well? The…wormwood, anyway?" He doesn't ask about the small bocks that Esme tucks away so efficiently.

"I don't know what they grow there," shrugs Esme, "but I expect it does well enough in its own place… and the people do well enough in theirs, too. You get used to where you live, don't you? Northerners reckon it's too hot down here, and we'd suffer more than they do in their winters," she says reasonably. "I reckon people in Volantis must know how to manage in their weather as we do in ours here… Thank you for helpin' with the crates, dearie, it'd've taken me a sight longer," she sighs, smiling as she sets down another gleaming bottle. "I didn't even ask, did I, what I can do for you today—? Any changes in the tower order, or did you come for somethin' for yourself?" She tilts her head inquisitively, already at work on the next bottle.

"I don't think I'd like to see a Northern winter," Camillo says, perhaps missing the point of what Esme is trying to communicate. "They sound awfully harsh." He straightens up and sets the hammer someplace that looks all right for a hammer to sit. "You wouldn't happen to sell a bucket or a basin, would you?" he asks. "Lady Marsei wants the cat bathed today."

The counter. The counter looks all right for a hammer.

"Been tryin' to put it off, eh?" guesses Esme with another chuckle. She's finished polishing her two dozen bottles of assorted esoteric plonk; she begins ferrying them across to the shelf where such things repose, two at a time, holding their necks high between finger and thumb so as not to leave any marks upon their otherwise pristine surfaces. (It's a high shelf. Wouldn't want the children taking an interest.) "No, that ain't really in my line," she concedes, over her shoulder to him, "though I can imagine you not wantin' to borrow somethin' from the kitchens for the purpose — between the blood and the fleas…" She wriggles her shoulders in a mock shiver. "Poor wee mite. Don't seem like much of a pet for a fine lady, but I suppose she has the kind of heart that reaches out for lost and broken creatures. Some do," she observes.

"I thought maybe we should let it rest first," Camillo says uncertainly. "And let the wound scab before we put it in water." He bobs his head when she guesses his reason for not using good household things to bathe a fleabitten stray. "I suppose she has," Camillo agrees. "But I worry. Street animals are sick sometimes and there's no curing them. And they can carry all kinds of disease. A great lady might do better to get a pet from the issue of a friend's. But…Lady Marsei is too kind."

"For that matter anyone might do better to get a pet from the issue of a friend's," agrees Esme wryly, crossing and recrossing from counter to shelf; "but I take your meanin'. Still, I expect her ladyship's the sort accustomed to havin' what she wants, and if what she wants is to tend to that kitten… You might have the Hightower's maester look at it? See if it's showin' symptoms of anythin' in particular? The eye it has looked clear enough to me, and there was nothin' but blood comin' from the wound, but I don't know enough about healin' or enough about cats," she sounds regretful, "to be sure of anythin' but that it was hungry and it had fleas all over. I had two of my girls in yesterday evenin' to give my flat an extra goin'-over," she explains with a brief pursing of her lips, "and we're sittin' on plain wood till my cushions come back from bein' laundered. I really can't be havin' with fleas."

"If she really means to keep it, I suppose I had better," Camillo agrees. "I wouldn't like it giving anything to Lady Marsei, but all the more I'd hate to see her heartbroken in caring for a thing if it's only going to die."

"Ah, well," sighs Esme, "if it's goin' to give her anythin', it already will've done, the way she was cuddlin' it yesterday." She gives him a crooked smile as though to say, what can you do? "I hope it'll all turn out for the best. Seems to me things have a way of doing that, for ladies like her — or they ought to, anyway. The creature may even look a bit more respectable when it's had a wash," she suggests, with as much optimism as she can muster, having met it. "People do, sometimes. Why not cats?"

The last six green bottles she transports to her back room, all at once, four tucked between her arm and her body and two in her left hand, with her right hand free to open the door. She doesn't quite step out of sight; she merely reaches out of sight to put them down. "And how are you? I don't think I asked yesterday, we were all so worried about the cat and her ladyship."

"I think Lady Marsei has a fair bit of good fortune," Camillo allows, nodding a little. "But…because of that I hate to see her face any hardship." He rolls a shoulder, not intervening to help with any of the bottles, as Esme seems to have particular ways of carrying them, and they are surely expensive. "Me? I suppose I'm fine, thank you. Are you well?"

Her regular customer's order set aside, Esme flits back again, as ever swift and efficient in motion; "Yes," she says decisively, nodding up at Camillo as she crouches to reach into the third crate for the barrel, "I'm well enough… oh, that is heavy," she sighs, straightening again empty-handed. "I don't s'pose you'd—?" She tilts her head, giving him that faintly hopeful look men in their prime so often receive from women in possession of weighty objects.

"Of course," Camillo says, really as if it were the most natural thing in the world for him to carry a barrel for Esme, after all the meals she's fed him. He squats down to get it loose. "Where will I take it?" he asks, hefting it between both arms.

Esme beams at him. It isn't a big barrel; but certainly it's more in his weight class than hers, scrawny creature that she is. "Bless you," she sighs fondly. "Just in the back," she points, to where she left the door open; "there's a little table to the left and it'll go underneath very nicely. Not too far to carry it out again either when my customer comes for it. Lucky for me you're here; I daresay I could've got my son in, but I don't like to interrupt his routine, it's hard for him to settle again, sometimes."

Camillo goes back where he's told and finds the tables and squats down to gently place the barrel underneath. It probably gets better handling from Camillo than any horse cart or ship it's ridden on. He comes back out and says, "No trouble, Mistress Esme. I'm glad to be able to do something for you when you're so often kind to me."

No doubt. The rags meanwhile have been got out of sight, unattractive as they are; the hammer and nails Esme leaves for the time being, intending to run out to the other back room with them when her shop girl returns from an errand of a different kind. She herself is once again installed behind her counter, perched upon her high wooden stool, her sandaled feet primly together upon its crosspiece. "Oh, nonsense," she insists stoutly. "Especially since I'll not be givin' you any pie to eat today; I'm on my own just now, the girl's popped out for her lunch, and I don't like to leave the shop even at this hour… you see what a brisk trade I do this time of day," she raises her eyebrows and chuckles at her empty premises. "Still, you never know who might come in. I'd not like to have missed you, for instance," she points out chattily.

"I've had more than enough from you, Mistress Esme, that I would be happy to lend a hand more than once," Camillo returns. "But I won't stay /too/ much longer as I know you are busy." And that cat /does/ need a wash.

"Busy," echoes Esme, still chuckling softly. She gives the word its opposite meaning. "And that's very kind of you, dearie, but you know it ain't why I do it, I hope." She eyes him over her counter and cants her head again, scarf luridly green even where she's sitting in shadow. "You sure there ain't anythin' else, though, while you're here…?" she nudges.

Camillo shakes his head lightly. "No, Mistress Esme," he says. "But I did want to thank you for being so kind to Lady Marsei."

And Esme breathes out a soft 'ah' as though that explains it all. "No thanks necessary for that, dearie," she says firmly. "Especially not when she's been so kind as she has been to my son. That's the mark of a lady, ain't it? I don't mean just one as has the title," she explains. "A real lady."

Camillo looks pleased to hear that. "Yes," he agrees. "I'm not surprised that she would be kind but it is…good to hear it. I'm glad that…" he pauses to choose his wording carefully, "You could have the opportunity to meet Prince Dhraegon and Lady Marsei. And that they could meet you and your son as well."

Esme has the good grace to look bashful. Her gaze flutters down into the mysterious recesses behind her counter; "Oh, well," she murmurs, smiling faintly as she is apt to when the shadow of a certain grey gentleman falls across the conversation, "that's one of those unlikely situations we were talkin' about, ain't it? I never would've thought…" She straightens something, affecting to have been looking down for that purpose, and then looks up to meet Camillo's eyes. "Never," she chuckles softly. "But here we are, eh?"

Camillo smiles lightly. He seems to be pleased about it, at any rate, Esme's shyness notwithstanding. "The sort of thing that makes it easier to trust in the gods," he pronounces it. Then he lifts a hand. "I should be on my way, now. I'll need to find something to put that poor creature in for a wash."

A reason to trust in the gods? … Esme looks away again, but she's nodding.

The return to practical considerations proves steadying for her. She admits, "I don't envy you that task," and adds a small 'hmm'. "If I were you," she suggests, meeting his gaze with all seriousness and making his thorniest problems as ever her own, "I might try a bucket with very high sides so the kitten can't climb out… put it in first, and then the water, gradually. That way you'll know how much isn't too much. Test the heat of it with your elbow, not your fingers," she recommends, "that's what you do for a baby's bath. Stands to reason a kitten'd be sensitive too. Should be just warm enough to feel warm, not hot. Wouldn't want to give it a shock." She nods — with more than a trace of amusement. “Good luck, dearie, and Seven bless you.”

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