(123-04-29) Literati Club
Literati Club
Summary: Esme and Camillo discuss the benefits of being literate; also, what constitutes a pet; also, Dhraegon's poor little feelings. Pie warning.
Date: 30/04/2016
Related: Kitten Club and Mercy Bath and Crate Club. Oh, and Deer Me. All the livestock logs.

The advent of Camillo in the little red and yellow grocery shop on the corner of Oldtown Square, in the late hours of Friday afternoon, provokes hushed discussion through the connecting door to the butcher's shop between Esme's usual shop girl (her name is Katla) on the one side and her son Edmyn on the other, whilst a different girl (no more than two-and-twenty, quietly pretty and sober of mien, wearing a plain grey dress beneath her white apron) minds the counter and weighs flour and beans with hands doubly cautious for being less experienced. The girl Katla looks over her shoulder twice at Camillo. Master Edmyn, peering through, appears to be in the throes of the most serious dilemma of his young life. Nobody knows what to do with this customer.

Just as it seems Katla is going to gird herself to take charge of him, a small wrinkled hand appears on Master Edmyn's arm. "What's all this?" asks Esme, amused, peering through what gap her son's bulk has left in the doorway. "I put my head down for five minutes and you're all at sixes and sevens!" she chuckles, shaking her head at the subjects of her tiny Shambles queendom, who have the good grace to look bashful. "Master Camillo, what a lovely surprise. That my basket you've brought back?" she asks; and, in the same breath, after giving her son's arm a reassuring pat, she inquires what he was doing when he stopped to talk, praises his hard work, and steers him back towards it. For Katla she has a sharp look. For Camillo a cheerful, welcoming smile.

Of course, at all these confused looks, Camillo himself becomes very uncertain, and makes no helpful suggestions, himself, just shifting from one foot to the other until Esme mercifully appears. He didn't think to make good conversation to pass the time or put people at ease. So Esme's appearance is a relief. He does indeed have her basket, and a complement of healing scratches on his hands and forearms to boot. "Mistress Esme," he says, hefting the basket. "Yes."

"And my apron, too? Ah, Seven bless you," says Esme, beaming.

Having scattered her minions she comes forward to take the basket offered her; she peeks inside and appears genuinely delighted by the sight of her apron. Laundered, starched, folded. "Oh, now, that's lovely," she declares, looking up at him. "And your friend was most welcome to borrow them, I'm sure." She extracts the apron and admires it another moment, though it's true she's facing towards the counter and can also see both the girls at work together behind it; then she adds the basket to a small gathering of its fellows on the floor at the end of the counter with a hand which lifts to cover a rather noisy yawn. "Oh! Do excuse me. I've just," and, having flitted near Camillo again upon those words, she confides in a lower voice, "I've just woken up. D'you fancy a bite of something?" she suggests kindly. "I know I do."

Camillo bobs his head at Esme's gracious remarks about lending her basket and apron. "We're both grateful to you," he says. "The basket's been well cleaned of course." He hesitates at another kind ofer of food and companionship. "If you like," he says. "I'd happily just keep you company while you eat."

"I'm sure it was," agrees Esme, greeting that assurance of the basket's cleanliness with a serious nod; and then in a friendlier vein she adds, "Oh, come on, dearie, and you can tell me all about helpin' wash the cat." She raises an amused eyebrow at his battle wounds and gives a soft tch-tch and conducts him upstairs in a manner which won't take 'no' for an answer.

However he may hedge her ensuing bustle about her kitchen results in everything coming out of cupboards and drawers in pairs, and two places being laid in that familiar domestic dance of hers. "Her ladyship's still set on keepin' it, then?"

Camillo looks a bit bashfully at his scratches, following Esme to where she will. He never is much to resist being fed. "It seems that small cats do not like to be washed. At least not for the first time," he says. "Perhaps I should've washed it with a damp rag instead of trying to put it in water." He bobs his head. "Lady Marsei says it needs her care the more if it looks a little…worse for wear."

Esme's next revolution between sideboard and table results in the customary stone jug of cider from the Quill and Tankard being delivered to the latter. "Bigger cats like it even less," she chuckles, "or so I've been told! … Oh, I shouldn't laugh," and she draws in a sharp breath and shakes her head at herself, "it must have been no end of trouble for you, dearie. But, just think: if it gets used to havin' proper baths when it's such a wee thing, it might be easier if you have to do it again later on? If it gets into somethin'," she suggests vaguely, "and needs a wash…" Two cups, side by side. She cants her head thoughtfully as she pours. "Still, I suppose there're worse jobs in service even than washin' a cat, sometimes. And she's a very good lady."

"It's too bad it doesn't have a mother," Camillo says, taking a seat without excessive prompting. "The mothers do that sort of thing, don't they? Wash them?" He seems hazy on cat details. He looks down at his scratches again. "I didn't mind doing it. I think it was a little distressing for Lady Marsei. The creature wasn't happy with the bath, and…then she could see the bugs come off it. I don't think her ladyship has ever been troubled by…"

"… Aye," agrees Esme in a dry undertone. "I could see 'em right enough, when it was sittin' on my apron in the basket, but you and I, we know what we're lookin' for." She quirks her eyebrows and turns away to find a pie-tin: it's steak and kidney today, a generous slice soon cut for Camillo with her usual battered but well-honed pie-knife, and then a more modest portion for herself. She covers the dish and sits down across from him in her usual place, to which this morning her blue cushion and her white were restored, fresh from the laundress who had charge of them after the visitation of the queen's sister. Camillo's cushion is green, but we do not suggest he chose that chair on purpose to match his shirt. It's just that that was the nearest one.

It's rare that Esme herself eats with any of the lucky men she lures into her flat and foists pie upon; Camillo has thus not heard before the short prayer of thanks to the Seven which she recites before taking up her fork.

Camillo is glad enough to have any cushion at all. There are not so many of those in servants' quarters. He bows his head respectfully for Esme's prayer. Then he picks up his own fork. "Lady Marsei is… She is one of the kindest of them all. I'd do anything to please her. I think…she is favored by the Seven, the Maiden especially, and I think it makes her merciful to animals and I cannot count that as anything other than…admirable. But…it is strange. To pick a flea-ridden one-eyed cat from the street and install it in one's chamber. I don't think many noblewomen do so."

"Well, it ain't flea-ridden anymore, thanks to you," nods Esme, between quietly appreciative mouthfuls of her steak and kidney, "and for the rest… it's what she says, isn't it? A cat like that needs her care more'n a cat who's grown up with silk pillows to sit on. And findin' a cat by herself like that, rescuin' it so to speak, must make it more special to her than just bein' given someone's spare kitten or what not. Besides," she concludes, "people like the company. And havin' somethin' small to look after." She makes an amused noise, and looks as though she might be biting her tongue upon another remark.

"I hope not," Camillo says of the cat's parasite status. "I hope I got them all." He listens to Esme's reasoning, nodding faintly. "I suppose that's true," he says. "But I don't know about… I suppose a noble can manage. Having an animal that way. For no purpose. That needs help."

Esme presses her lips together and then says it. "I've always thought any woman with a husband had enough pets to be goin' on with," she confides, her lips finally settling upon a wry smile to twitch into. "But, some people like 'em. Some women especially." She hesitates. "Young girls especially, or mothers whose children've grown and left 'em… It's an instinct in most women, to care for creatures who need care. Some have more of that instinct than others, and if they've not enough creatures to care for, well, then, they look around for more. I reckon it's from the Mother more than the Maiden."

Camillo nods thoughtfully when Esme reveals that this is perhaps a woman-thing. He seems content to accept that as a mystery. "Maybe this time it is," he says of the theological implications. "The first time, it was a white dove at the feet of the Maiden statue. So that seems clear. But now she is married, it may be the Mother guiding her." Ignoring, of course, that she had been married before.

That time didn't count. Obviously.

Considering both the matter and her slice of pie, from all appropriate angles, Esme ventures: "Me, I'd think of the dove as bein' more a symbol than a pet. Stands to reason the one came from the Maiden and the other from the Mother. You were sayin' it was a shame the cat had no mother; I said to her ladyship the other day, when she was sittin' right where you are now, that that cat had two mothers. The one who bore it, and the One who sent her chasin' after it…" She meets his eyes and shrugs. You can't argue with a sign like that, can you? "Anyway if it makes her happy to take care of it, then that's all that needs to be said, isn't it? It won't do much harm on the other side of the scale, I shouldn't think — at least now the bath's out of the way." She glances down at Camillo's scratches and gives him a rueful smile.

Camillo almost always shows a healthy appetite for his size. "What makes a thing a pet?" Camillo asks. "She keeps the dove in her chamber, now." Doesn't having it in the house making a pet? If one doesn't eat it? "But…yes. If Lady Marsei is happy, then all is well. She'll care for it. Any other noblewoman…I admit I'd be afraid of them growing bored of it and letting it go."

Esme's eyes widen. "She's keepin'… the dove, and the cat… in her chamber?" she inquires doubtfully. "The both of them?"

Camillo shrugs his shoulders. "I don't know exactly where each will be put," he says. "But I will be sure to ask of it. Surely her ladyship knows that a cat will eat a bird whenever it can." …Doesn't she?

Her gaze meets his with a healthy dollop of the same uncertainty contained therein. "You might want to… have a word, just in case." She sips her cider, thinking. "You can put it carefully, I'm sure, so it don't sound as though you're tellin' her somethin' you think she don't know, and then… well, better an awkward talk than an accident. That'd upset her and His Grace both… She didn't know much about fleas, after all," she points out, shaking her head.

Camillo nods faintly, looking vaguely worried now that she's brought that up. "I'll make sure of things," he promises. "But I worry. If the cat turns out to be sick from the streets, it might not last long. I hope we make sure of it before Prince Dhraegon learns of it. I think he would be very sad to see a little thing die."

"If you haven't noticed anythin' the matter with it so far," apart from the missing eye, the wounded leg, and the fleas, "it's probably not goin' to fall down dead in the next week or two," suggests Esme, not very sentimentally. "I suppose there's not much use worryin' over what may be, though. I always think we've enough to do with worryin' over what is." She yawns again, covers her mouth almost too late, and laughs. "Oh, excuse me. I didn't sleep well last night, I don't know why — I thought I'd have a bit of a rest while I had both my girls downstairs to look after things for me, but now I can hardly wake up again. I've got old, that's the trouble," she deduces.

"Sometimes at the stable a kitten would just drop dead," Camillo admits. "I never knew why. But." He looks at Esme. "I'm sorry if you're tired. Did I disturb you by coming in?"

"No, no," insists Esme, brows raised in surprise that Camillo should ever, ever think such a thing. "I'd just got up again when you came — I thought I'd go down and see how they were gettin' on without me, before I did anythin' else." She nods to her plate and what's left of the slice of steak and kidney upon it. "Didn't think I'd find 'em all standin' round bleatin' like sheep when the shepherd's away," she chuckles. "Tryin' to decide which of my orders most needed obeyin'. I hope they didn't have you standin' there too long yourself."

Camillo keeps eating at his own steady pace. "I should've…thought of what to say to them," he admits. "I meant to ask your son about his time on the boat."

Esme shakes her head again but there's no disguising the fond expression which flits across her features. "Oh, if you'd asked him about that, you really would still be standin' there," she chuckles. "… He's a good lad, but he doesn't quite understand that other people ain't necessarily so interested in the things that interest him. He doesn't know when to stop," she admits. "Tryin' to keep him from explainin' how sausages are made, that's a tricky one. He'd drive away half our business like that if I let him run on."

Camillo chuckles quietly. "But I would like to hear his feelings if he was made happy. Perhaps I should ask on my way out. I would like to hear about the dolphins," he says, with a last bite of his pie and a sip of cider to wash it down.

The prospect of such a confabulation seems to please Edmyn's mother. "… Ask him, then. He'd be that happy to tell you," she sighs fondly. "If the shop ain't too busy, though. We'll see. I'll come down with you and do what needs doin' so he can stop and talk, eh?" With which happy compromise in mind, she adds, "I didn't see as much of the dolphins, I was sittin' down the first time and then I was tidyin' up the second time, and then I looked the wrong way when somebody called out. I did see them," she adds hastily, "but my son could tell you much more, and I'm sure he will." She pauses. "There were kittens on the boat, and her ladyship liked playin' with 'em when she wasn't feelin' too well out on the water. I daresay that began to put her in mind of how much she might like one of her own. Then, well, someone like her, seein' one that was injured, how could she have done otherwise? … It'll grow up, of course, and not be a kitten any more, but havin' seen it grow up, that's different."

"If you don't mind," Camillo says, bobbing his head. "I've never seen them from a boat so he's seen something I've never seen." He nods gravely at this talk of Marsei and kitens and her kind nature. Then he looks thoughtful, sipping his cider. "Mistress Esme… There is…I have a friend who is a sailor and he has no letters. And he asked me if I would teach him letters. I said I would. But I thought he might have trouble getting word into the Hightower. Sometimes guards or servants might not be good with a message from some unknown person. I thought he might tell you, sometimes, if he wants a lesson but can't get word in. And you could tell me. As I'm sure to see you."

Esme looks curious at first, but swiftly catches on and begins to nod. "… And he couldn't hardly write down a message for you, could he?" she agrees. "Not havin' had your lessons yet. I think that's very good of you," she says firmly, "to teach one who wants to learn but hasn't been put in the way of it yet. It ain't always easy for a sailor to learn anythin' but sailorin', not unless there's someone else in the same crew willin' to teach," she points out sagely, being familiar with the profession. "Your friend would be most welcome to leave word with me, or if I'm not in one of the girls could write it down. I trust my memory more'n theirs," she confides. "Though my new girl, she seems to be sharp enough. Doesn't need tellin' twice, gods be thanked."

Camillo nods solemnly. "I told him to see you directly if he could. He says he knows you, at least a little," Camillo says. "So maybe he will." He smiles only a little. "I only ever learned letters because someone took it on to teach me. But I've been grateful of it. It's helped me in ways I didn't expect. So, if I can help…"

"Does he indeed." Esme registers mild surprise. Only mild, however. See above re: familiarity with the profession. "Well, for people like us, it ain't a matter of course, is it? It's an advantage we don't start out in the world havin', but we can pass it on to each other, now and then…" She nods seriously. "What's your friend's name? Did he say how he knows me?"

"He is called Tybalt," Camillo says. "I don't know how he's met you, but perhaps he's come in the shop." He doesn't mention any possible suspicion that Tybalt might have sold Esme a poached kill or something of that nature. "I don't know how long he has been in this port."

Recognition fails to stir Esme's placid features. "Tybalt?" she echoes. "Can't say I know the name, but then, if somebody pays on the nail I don't ask," she points out, very reasonably, shrugging. "He may've come in for something or another. Between the two shops we do have a lot of passin' trade… I was right keen on havin' the corner on the square, when we moved here; we had trouble affordin' it in those days but I knew it'd pay off in the long run." This has the flavour of an oft-repeated recitation. "More people go through the square than go down the Shambles any day of the week. And if I can get 'em to come in for the odds and ends, sooner or later they end up buyin' their meat from us as well, and that's the regular trade. It's convenient-like."

Camillo nods once. "That's why I thought he might know of you," he says. "Or the shop, anyway. And it seems he does. So you may see him, and then you can help pass on the message. I don't suppose sailors can keep to regular hours."

"Our shop hours are regular but they're long enough," says Esme ruefully. "We're up and about in the butchery by half past five, and you know how late we close in the summer, when the days are so long. I daresay there'll be someone about whenever your friend comes by, and I'll not forget to give you his messages," she promises, nodding again. "… Now, that's another good thing for you to do with your free time, ain't it? Helpin' others, to pass on the kind of help other people have given you." She gives him an admiring look across the table. "I do wish there were more like you in the world, dearie."

Camillo seems more certain about the goodness of teaching someone to read. He bobs his head, but his expression is solemn. "I hope it is good. I think it is good. It is… Reading makes…possibilities, in a way. Doesn't it?"

Esme is quick to reinforce this. "Oh, without a doubt. There are all manner of jobs open to a man who has his letters… and jobs in which a man with letters can rise higher. The job you're doin' now, for instance — you need readin' and writin' for that, I'm sure." She nods. "Even my shop girls need to read well enough and write a neat hand, because we have orders come in in writing and ledgers to be kept up. And then, it's a priceless gift to be able to read the holy books whenever you please, not needin' a septon to explain things."

"Yes," Camillo says. "You can do basic work in a house without letters, but to serve a noble personally, or to be a senior who arranges the others and who must manage some books, you need letters. I expect even a real ship's captain needs letters to best know a chart or to deal with merchants and harbormasters without being taken advantage of." He bobs his head. "And the holy books. That's meant a lot to me, to read the words there."

"All the captains I've known were lettered men," confirms Esme, nodding, "my late husband and his friends. It opens doors as well as books. It did for me, too, once upon a time." The rare, hesitant reference to her distant past, the years before Oldtown and the red and yellow shop. "I'm sure it'll do your friend no end of good as well. And," she rolls her eyes and lets out a low chuckle directed at herself, "I hope you'll always feel free to direct people to my shop, dearie, for any reason. Just gettin' 'em in the door helps."

Camillo smiles a little. "I can't say if he will buy anything, Mistress Esme. He is not a rich man. But you are very kind to do this. If there is anything I can do in return, I will. I know it will take a bit of your time and attention."

"Ain't there a sayin'? If you want somethin' done, ask a busy person. It's not out of our way," Esme assures him kindly. "Another drop of cider?"

Camillo ducks his head as a kind of request and thanks all together. "You are always kind and understanding," he says. "Thank you." And he does sound very sincerely grateful, though the matter may not be as big as all that.

Esme's chair creaks as she stands up to pour out the cider, holding the heavy stone jug in both hands. Just for Camillo, mind you, her own cup is well enough as it is. "I think," she ponders aloud as she sits down again, "why I said a cat is more a pet than a dove, is that a cat's more a creature you can… play with, and talk to, and cuddle," she suggests, with the air of an anthropologist who has observed these behaviours in the natives amongst whom she researched her dissertation. "A bird, well. I don't reckon you get much affection back from a bird, do you? Or maybe you do, and I just don't know much about birds," she chuckles. "It might be her ladyship's dove is special."

Camillo looks thoughtful. "I don't know much about signs or pets," he says. "I've never tried much putting my hands on birds or cats. We let some cats live in the stable to eat the mice that try to eat the feed. But we didn't keep them in the house."

"I used to live somewhere there were a couple of cats," admits Esme, "and I kept feedin' 'em, and they stayed on, but I didn't really think of 'em as pets — I didn't really think of 'em as mine… they just happened to live there too. They had a pretty way of movin', though, I liked that." She nods. "And no mice, o' course. I tried havin' a cat here once, for mice, but it went out one night and never came back and Edmyn was upset for months. I'd as soon not go through that again. Stoppin' up all the places they can get in, that's a help."

Camillo nods softly. "I think…I'm afraid that could happen with Prince Dhraegon and a, a pet," he says, brow furrowing a little. "That he might not understand about death or the way animals sometimes have to leave."

To that Esme has nothing to say at first. Though it's been on her mind.

She finishes off her slice of pie and then gets up from the table, clearing her place. "He's had people die before," she points out from the sideboard. "People close. So I'd not say he wouldn't understand," she glances back, "but then, I'd not say past experience would make it one jot easier… You know, he ain't all that much younger'n I am, I don't think. Easy to forget that, when he's so youthful in his ways, isn't it?"

Camillo nods softly. "Yes. It's true. He isn't young. Or a stranger to death. But his feelings are…maybe…they're…" He frowns, groping for the words. "They're sensitive. Not…delicate, exactly."

"Too sensitive," sighs Esme. "And ain't it a blessing he's wed to the gentlest lady in Oldtown…?" She sits down and folds her hands on the edge of the table and flashes Camillo an apologetic, grandmotherly smile. "You must think I'm awful, talkin' about them so much. I wouldn't to anybody else, but that's because I reckon you wouldn't either… so please don't think I go round all the time with my mouth flappin' open like this," she assures him earnestly, "because I don't, I really don't. I daresay I like a gossip as much as the next woman, but not about people who ain't got enough privacy as it is."

Camillo shakes his head. "I would never think that… I think it's all right. You know them personally. They've invited you to. I don't imagine that you talk to anyone of them." He dips his head. "Well, now I've…returned your things and asked your help and…all? I suppose I should go."

Esme's hands lift from the table in vague gestures disclaiming at least some of Camillo's words. "That's as may be, but— there's no pretendin' it ain't an irregular arrangement," she insists, "though I know it's done my son good to have a friend he has those things in common with, and Flox has said the same of His Grace, and so I think we must've done the right thing in bringin' 'em together. Still, it ain't quite usual, is it? … I'm not one to hurry you away," though she's on her feet again, stowing away the big stone jug of cider, clearing Camillo's place and putting his dishes with her own, "but if you did want to have a word with my son about the dolphins, I reckon now would be a good time, wouldn't it? I'll tell you what; I'll go down and send him up to you, and then he can rattle on as long as he likes, and nobody'll turn a hair in the shop if they recognise the names he's throwin' about as though they were nothin'." She meets his eyes, shaking her head and half-laughing at the absurdity of the one man in Oldtown who knew not its Flower.

"No, but…it is not usual that Lady Marsei or Prince Dhraegon will sometimes ask after my well-being as though I were just like them," he says. "They are people who do unusual things. They have unusual kindness. But…that is good. I think." He smiles when Esme promises to send Edmyn up and nods. "Well. I should like to see him, so it is kind of you," he says.

"Better that than a lack of it, eh?" asks Esme rhetorically. "Just you wait there, then, and I'll send him right up. He knows he ain't allowed any cider, mind, so don't you let him tell you otherwise." A firm maternal nod.

Soon thereafter Camillo is treated to a longer and more informative lecture upon dolphins, boats, and the viewing of dolphins from boats, than he could possibly have been anticipating. In attention to detail Edmyn is perhaps a man after his own heart; in attention to dolphins, most assuredly!

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