(123-05-09) Awkward Club
Awkward Club
Summary: Tybalt drops in to introduce Esme to some new bird friends. Then, Camillo happens to come round for candles. A happy coincidence. Pie warning.
Date: 09/05/2016
Related: Literati Club

The face the Shambles shows to customers is bloodthirsty enough, all meathooks and choice cuts. But regular suppliers of fresh venison, wild boar, and the occasional brace of pheasants — callers on the sack exchange programme, so to speak — are encouraged to come in the back way, through the warren of temporary animal pens and abattoirs and other outbuildings which the good housewives of Oldtown are encouraged not to dwell upon. Master Tybalt at any rate always gives the impression of having seen worse; and if his looming apparition unnerves the apprentices, well, Mistress Esme has no use for the faint-hearted, has she? It'll toughen 'em up. A nod here, a whisper there, and she comes bustling out into the butchery's back room to meet him, in a fresh white apron over a blue and white striped dress, smiling as though it's quite natural for a room to be hung about with so many versatile edged implements.

"What've you got for me today, dearie?" she asks, delighted.

Tybalt turns up, clothes as alarmingly grubby as usual, though a sharp eye might notice his braids are clean and that is the vaguely greenish and thu better of his two… shirts? Tunics? Whatever one wants to call the rather indeterminate garment that hides his torso from casual veiwing. His face and hands are clean too, though the garments being what they are and his scarred face being what it is… poor apprentices. He has a smaller sack and no blood is leaking from it, so odds are those lumps are birds. His nod and his tone are polite and he is trying his best to lessen the hiss to his sibilants. "Mistress Esme."

The little shopkeeper looks him over with benign and friendly interest. "I can always move birds," she sighs, not for the first time, smiling at the man, the sack, the fruitfulness of their commerce. "Let me have a look, eh?" she suggests, gesturing toward a well-scrubbed table where his sack might be deposited and its contents laid out for one of her typically thorough inspections. Not that she's ever turned down his pheasants. She just likes to take a couple of minutes to admire them. One of her pockets at least is jingling as she steps across to the table ahead of him.

It is a fine, though small selection of quail and pheasant, clearly taken from traps this morning and necks snapped for transport into the city. He is studying her unobtrusively, with those startling eyes like chips of tourquoise when the rest of him os mostly shades of drab.

Esme's small, strong, work-roughened hands take up each bird in turn, feeling its plumpness as she studies the sheen of its feathers, the glassy gleam of its dead eyes, the other little signs of its state of health at the time of its recent, so very recent, passing from this world. She can feel Tybalt's eyes. He's never quite beyond the range of hers. "Friend of yours came in t'other day," she mentions idly, one eye upon him and one upon a quail she's sniffing. "Said you might have a message to leave with me now and again."

Tybalt's words are still a touch slow, though not as slow as when he first arrived in Oldtown, being in the normal variation of speech these days, "A friend? Ah…oh. Yes." He fidgits, watching her in the sideways way he has. "Did he say ought else?"

"… Lovely," sighs Esme, as though eau de dead wildfowl were as sweet to her as sandalwood and myrrh; she turns further toward him and smiles, putting down the last of the birds and giving it a fond little pat. Then she wipes her hands absent-mindedly on her apron and begins fishing through the jinglier of the two pockets beneath her striped dress. "He said it was to arrange for the two of you to meet, so's he might teach you to read," she explains easily, dropping coins into the palm of her other hand and then delving again into her pocket — an inefficient arrangement, but she was in a hurry when she came through, "and I hope you won't think he was speakin' out of turn in sayin' so to me. He's by way of bein' a friend of mine, too, and we were sayin' what an advantage it can be, knowin' how to read and write," she confides, "and that people like us, we don't start out in life with that kind of advantage, and if we can pass it on between ourselves… So I hope you will leave word with me, eh?" she says gently. Her pocket is silent; her hand is bright with copper and silver. "Or one of the girls, if I'm not around. The boys ain't as reliable."

With a face that darkly tanned and his tendancy to find shadows to stand in, the blush isn't all that obvious, but sharp eyes might pick it out, "I… thought learning my letters might be of use. We didn't much use them at home and I was young when I… left. I… thank you." He holds his hand out in such away that she needn't touch his if she doesn't like to.

As she counts out coins onto the table next to the bird buffet Esme glances up to meet his eyes. She nods three or four times, sincere in her enthusiasm. "Oh, it'll be all kinds o' use to you," she agrees, pouring the remaining coins back into her pocket (not many) and taking Tybalt's hand in her own for a good friendly squeeze. "In ways you can't even imagine yet, most like. It opens doors," she insists. "… Mind, I pretended I'd never heard your name when he said it," she admits then in a chuckle. "Best we keep this," a jerk of her head in the direction of the treats he brought her, "just between ourselves, I reckon. So you're just another customer of mine, eh? And this time when you came in for somethin' or another, candles or twine or salt, you introduced yourself properly, and we had a talk for the first time. All right?" Her creased black eyes look up into his; she blinks innocently even as she invites him into this tiny conspiracy. She still has hold of his hand.

Tybalt shrugs, "We'll see. I… probably should have asked for figures instead." His eyes open in surprise at a neat little thing like her wanting to touch his hand, but he doesn't pull away, though he doesn't squeeze back, just staring at the hands, "It's all right. I said I knew who you were. I wasn't to specific though. It is… strange these Southron laws about meat. how can it not be mine if I killed it myself?" He looks genuinely baffled by this. "I might like a bit of sausage to be honest. What… style have you in your store?"

He invited the handshake; now it seems to be confusing him. Esme brings up her other hand and pats the back of his very gently before letting go. "Well, the law's the law; it ain't no good arguin' with it," she says philosophically, brushing her hands over her apron again and straightening it, and standing with her hands on her hips in the attitude of one quite pleased to be passing the time of day, "only learnin' how to work round it when need be. 'S far as I know you've broken no law and you'll never tell me otherwise, eh?" she reminds him with a quirk of her eyebrows. "Now, if you'll take sausages in kind," and her demeanour turns businesslike again, "so less coin changes hands, I can do you a deal on 'em, to be sure. Beef or pork, though I've done venison sausages a time or two lately," she winks, "and what kind… depends how spicy you like 'em, I s'pose. Round here people ain't got much use for flavour so we make most of 'em pitifully mild," there's an implied tsk-tsk in her tone, "but we do some a bit hotter, and others a bit hotter'n that, and then at t'other end of the scale those little ones," she eyes him, holding up the first fingers of both hands an indicative distance apart, "like they have in Dorne and in Essos. Very spicy," she concludes confidentially. "I had the recipe from— well, I s'pose I'd best not say… Yes, what is it?" This to an apprentice who, upon knocking, has gingerly extended his head around the door from the shop beyond.

"Master Camillo's come in the other shop," he explains.

"Oh!" And Esme looks from the apprentice to Tybalt; she beams at the latter, then declares to the former, "Send him upstairs, will you? Tell him I'll not be a moment…" When they're alone, "D'you want to come up and have a word with him yourself, if we've finished our business here?" Though they haven't quite, with the coins still gleaming on the table, the sausages still undecided.

He thinks over the offer, "Beef. Maybe… a half pound? If they are like to keep. Otherwise a quarter. The very little ones would be good with some rabbit, I think." He blinks in surprise at the announcement of the Hightower servant, "Would you rather I… come back later?" His expression suggests he assumes Camillo's business to be like to his own.

Esme looks up at him innocent of any guile. "Why should I want a thing like that?" she asks, her tone fondly chiding. "Makes sense you should see him since you're both here, doesn't it? My shop's turnin' out to be an even better place than we thought for messages," she chuckles; and, turning to the table again, she whisks away a couple of the coins she put out for him. Down into her pocket with the rest. "Now, there's your coin, and I'll find you half a pound of sausages — they'll keep well enough," she assures him, "and a clean sack, too, and we'll go up. Won't take but a moment. Come along, dearie."

Then she gathers him up with another of her firm, encouraging, altogether motherly smiles; and on the other side of a stop in the butchery and a bit of badinage with a familiar old customer during the wrapping-up of the promised sausages, she leads the way up the dark and rickety stairs and into the well-scrubbed warmth of her flat, where Camillo has been left all by himself for a disgraceful length of time. "Look what I've brought you, dearie," she calls as she opens the door; and then she steps aside, to display Tybalt and his parcel of sausages, framed in the doorway, just another customer. "He happened to come in just before you did, ain't that a coincidence?"

Tybalt makes the coin disappear into his cod where it's harder to pick than a pouch would be. He looks wary as he's lead up the stares and stands awkwardly in the doorway of the flat, head down, and not sure of what to do with his hands or sausage, let alone what to do next.

Camillo has been so bold as to seat himself at Esme's table, in the chair she often puts him in, but he stands up again when he hears Esme's voice, and he certainly doesn't seem to have been expecting her to come in leading Tybalt. But so she is. He looks at the sailor, then ducks his head in a nod. Then back to Esme. "Oh, so… Well, that's…good," Camillo concludes after some groping for the proper response. He never seems much good with surprises. "I came in for a few candles, we're…a bit low after Maiden Day, but… Hello, Tybalt," he thinks to say at last. "I suppose now we can find a time, if you've any to spare."

A hand still on the doorhandle Esme beams from one of her young men to the other. The one wrestling with the mysteries of the universe, and the other struggling to find somewhere to put his sausage. What a tableau. "Come in, dearie," she suggests to Tybalt, "and sit down for a minute, eh? As long as you're not in a hurry, of course," she hastens to add, "I'd not like to keep you if you're in a hurry." When she's managed to chivvy him into her den of rag rugs and copper pans and muslin curtains, she shuts the door and clasps her hands together and lets out a contented little sigh and immediately begins opening cupboards and drawers. She shuts them as often as not with a foot or a hip. She turns again and again to the table. Camillo of course will recognise her dance of table-setting and pie-offering. "Candles, eh?" she asks over her shoulder. "Well, we'll sort that out when you're on your way out, dearie. Don't you boys mind me," she insists, leaning over the table to set down a plain earthenware plate for each of them; "just pretend I ain't here."

Tybalt won't look up, "I thought to experiment with them." He waves his package around vaguely. "I… could do, only… won't it put Mistress Esme out?" Still, he takes hesitant steps in, head down and looking at neither of them, his rather strong scent of unwashed clothes and old blood big in a small space. There is something fundamentally feral in the way he moves and holds his head, a sense that he's a wild thing misliking the enclosed space. Still he sits across from camillo and places his sausage on the table. There is no chance of him ignoring the small force of nature moving about so busily. He llooks on the point of flight.

Camillo's brows loft and knit a little when Esme suggests they pay her no mind. He is not a man skilled in ignoring a hostess, it seems. He glances at Tybalt, then back to Esme, then back to Tybalt. "You're, um. Still wanting lessons, I suppose," he says, tone still slightly questioning. When might you…?"

The plates are followed by worn wooden cups and linen napkins, and steel knives and forks with wooden handles. Then a large stone jug of cider, the Quill and Tankard's finest, which is particularly easy to ignore as it thumps down upon the table. "It don't put me out at all," she puts in, helpfully, despite not being there. Then she pours the cider (that's for three, though there are only plates for two — really, she's not doing a bang-up job of being invisible), glancing interestedly between the men, not listening at all, oh no.

Tybalt nods, blushing uder the deep tan, "Yes and… figures too, if you know them." He won't look up. His fingers toy with the string of his package. But then there is cider in front f him, and not having much in the way of table manners, mumbles thanks and sets about gulping as much of his down as possible, lest she realise her mistake and take it away, eyeing her all the while with an expression suggesting a stray dog on the verge of stress biting.

Camillo nods slowly. "I know some figures," he confirms. "You're at liberty today? After I take the candles to the Hightower I could meet you." He doesn't look directly at Tybalt most of the time. Of course, he's never been known as a man who maintains much eye contact. "Thank you, Mistress Esme," he says when cider appears and plates seem imminent. "You're always very kind."

"Well, figures ain't much trouble," claims Esme, who can do long division in her head whilst gossiping over her counter. She turns once more to the table with a pie tin in both hands, and unfolds the unbleached linen cloth wrapped round it to let loose the aromas of beef and bacon and the exotic spices integral to her cooking. "It's the letters that put a body to a bit of work at first," is her opinion, of which she delivers herself whilst cutting a generous slice first for Tybalt, because he's new, and then another for Camillo in turn. These she transfers to their plates with practiced care. "Mind you, doin' both, I expect if you were to get tired of one you could try the other for a while, just for a change…?" she suggests, leaving the knife in the tin and the tin on the table but draping the cover over it again. Tybalt's cup of cider she refills without a word. The poor man seems to have a terrible thirst.

Tybalt nods, "I'm… not in a rush. I was just going to try the sausage in some stew. I can do that later." His eyes flick between them as if expecting sudden attack, watching necks and hands, but never directly making eye contact. He says efensively, "I'm not stupid. I can count my fingers and coins." He manages not to start at the pie arriving in front of him. He moves his sasage to the left and murmurs anouther, "Thank you Ma'am," in his gravelly voice. He murmurs another thanks at the tankard filling, then scoops up the slice and starts eating with that same starving dog trying to get the food down before it's snatched away way he has, eyeing her the whole time on the assumption that if anyone is apt to snatch back food it's the owner of it. He is not a pretty eater and he does all his chewing on the undamaged side of his mouth.

Camillo nods at Tybalt's defense, drinking from his cider. "Yes, but. A ship's books need keeping, to. And no one learns that out of the air. It could be of use to you," he says, glancing to Tybalt's face. "We can start wherever you wish." He looks up to Esme while Tybalt starts in on the food. "That's true," he says. "It's good to have two subjects." He only picks up his fork then. "You're good to feed us," he adds.

It's been a while since Esme's seen manners like that at her table. Still, she pretends not to notice anything, and just beams at them. "You're welcome, dearie," she says — to Tybalt. Then she adds, "You both are. It does me good to see such healthy appetites." Yes, that's how to play it. She nods firmly and draws out her own chair, with its blue and white cushions which match (gasp) today's dress, and sits down and picks up her own cup to drink (by the standards of present company) a very dainty sip. "My late husband was a ship's captain," she mentions absently to Tybalt, who presumably has no way of knowing this. "The job does take a fair amount of figurin', as I recall. Keepin' track of cargoes, and buyin' at one rate and sellin' at another — provisions too, of course. Middle of the Summer Sea's a rough place to find out you've not got enough fresh water on board to last your men the rest of the way to port," she muses. "Some can keep it in their heads well enough, I do that myself, but havin' it all on parchment, too, that's often the best way."

Tybalt nods, eyes almost, but not quite meeting Camillo's eyes, "That's what I thought. Book keeping and the like." The eyes slide away again, Mouth full he mumbles, "Yes. It's incredibly kind." He eyes her with deep suspicion, "What sort of cargo? I… mostly worked rigging myself, but I need… to do better."

Camillo glances up at Esme. He's a little cautious in his manner and movements, possibly because Tybalt seems so on edge. But he does eat, not interrupting the conversation on ship's cargo.

Esme looks mildly surprised to be asked. "Oh, a bit of this, a bit of that," she says. "Hard to remember now. Nothin' too valuable, just enough to keep sailin'. It was a long while ago… Most of the time I knew him, he was the butcher here, just as our son is now. Another slice?" she offers softly, nodding to the pie tin, which is at her place in lieu of a plate.

Tybalt says, "Did he… Sail to Essos much? What part?" He looks to camillo at the offer of more pie as if for a cue, "It's very good. Better'n anything i've et in over a year…."

Camillo smiles a little at Tybalt. "It's enough for me, but I'm sure Mistress Esme wouldn't mind serving another if you want it," he says softly. "She does make awfully good food, does she not?"

'It's very good' is near enough to 'yes, please' that Esme stands up whilst Tybalt is still speaking, and gives him another friendly smile as she uncovers the pie tin and the crumby knife lying still inside it. She cuts off another slice of steak and kidney as big as the first and nudges the tin nearer his plate before ferrying it across with a proud flourish. She doesn't object to compliments upon her cooking. Oh, no. "Course I don't mind," she insists; "once it's made it needs eatin' up, and I make three or four o' these a week, I have so many visitors in and out. Sometimes more," she confides, sitting back down again. "My husband did sail to Essos," she admits then. "To Pentos, Tyrosh, and Myr. Not through the Stepstones, though, not as a rule. He did get to likin' foreign food," she adds, "of one kind or another, so that's why I ended up learnin' to cook it, from foreign people we knew in King's Landing. I like spicy things too. You've…" She pauses, and frames the question as nonchalantly as ever she can. "Been in Essos much yourself, then?" For there's not much other reason for him to be so curious. And then there's the accent.

Tybalt looks between them, torn, but her pie is incredibly good and something he didn't have to cook himself, "Yes, please? If…" And there it is. "Thank you." He eats slower this time at least, washing it down with more cider. He mouths Pentos, Tyrosh, and Myr, nodding to himself. At her question his shoulders sag, and he doesn't look up from his plate. "Meereen. I didn't like it. The… food was all right though. The little spiced bug things were tasty, but hard to chew. Can't find them here even if the chewing weren't harder than it was…"

Camillo doesn't look like he much trusts talk of eating spiced bug anything. Nor does he have much of anything to share about far places, but he seems quite content to be quiet and drink a little more cider.

Sipping her cider Esme listens to Tybalt with a curiosity which softens into sympathy, as though she might just know a thing or two about the manners and customs of Meereen. Either that or she can read the line of a man's shoulders. "I don't know anythin' about Meereenese food," she concedes, and as she repeats in an undertone the phrase, "spiced bug things," she gives an authentic little shudder, "but I daresay some of the spices might be the same as I have in my shop, if you ever feel nostalgic for the taste. They'll all have come from further east," she explains, "from Qarth, and the lands beyond… I import spices myself mostly so's I can cook with 'em without havin' to pay the ruinous prices other people charge, but they do sell, once people get a taste for 'em." She looks again at Camillo. "How'd the two of you meet, eh?" she asks him. Since Tybalt has his mouth distinctly full at the moment.

Tybalt shrugs, "Wouldn't know how to make 'em right. I like spices."

Camillo lifts his eyebrows a little at Esme. "Tavern, I suppose," he admits. "As I recall, there was… Well. Anyway, someone started unpleasant business, that's all. For no good reason. That was a little while ago. I hear that man's since fled. Trouble he started with still other people." He seems to consider that some kind of explanation of how he and Tybalt met, even though Tybalt's name isn't actually in the story.

Esme studies Camillo as he speaks. "… I see," she says doubtfully. She looks from him to Tybalt and what's left of the pie, and bestows another smile sympathetic verging upon fond. "It's good to make a new friend unexpectedly, ain't it? Particularly when you're not so young anymore, and it don't come so easily. I'm right glad for you two, and I hope I'll see you both again, eh? You'll have to let me know how you're gettin' on," she insinuates to Tybalt, "with your letters and your figures. I'm sure Master Camillo will be a very good teacher. He's very kind and very patient, and it's always patience," she informs them both sagely, "that makes for the best teachers."

Tybalt looks up horrified, "Wasn't me!" Causing the trouble one assumes.

"No, the one that started trouble's gone now, I hear," Camillo confirms mildly with a glance at Tybalt. Then he looks to Esme, completely unsure about what he ought to do when someone's calling him patient and kinds. "I…only hope I can be some use," he decides on. "But…yes. It's good. I'm not… I don't go up to people on a whim, usually. But. When there's a chance. It's good."

"No, no, of course not," Esme says reassuringly to Tybalt; then, turning again to Camillo, she looks for a moment as though she's biting down upon a question. "Well," she agrees, "that is good. Another drop of cider—?"

Tybalt looks between them with that on the verge of a stress biting expression again, clearly unsure as to what he is expected to do. There is some sort of question in Tybalt's eyes for Camillo, and he actually attepts eye contact briefly to ask it.

Camillo just returns Tybalt a steady look. "Just a small bit more," he says. "And then I must get to the Hightower with the candles, sorry to trouble you, Mistress Esme."

"Of course, of course. Shall I pop down and have 'em wrapped up for you now?" suggests Esme, who has already alighted from her chair to unstopper the jug and pour fresh fizzy apple cider for Camillo and then Tybalt. Just a nice little old shopkeeper in a striped dress, tending assiduously to the needs of her guests, paying no heed whatsoever to looks, or undercurrents.

Tybalt opens his mouth to ask something then changes his mind and says simply, "Thank you for the food and hospitality Goodwife Esme."

"That would be very kind of you," Camillo tells Esme. He pauses, then adds, "Glad as always to do business here, where you make it so pleasant." Which, for him, is pretty smooth.

Esme doesn't sit again. "Oh, you're very welcome," she insists, turning her smile sunnily from one to the other as she restores the stopper to the jug. "And you know what an honour it is to have the Hightower's business," she adds to Camillo, her tone and her expression turned a mite more serious. "I won't be two ticks, and then the candles'll be ready for you when you go." Another nod reassures Camillo on this point; her striped skirts swirl in retreat.

Tybalt nods a bit too enthusiastically in agreement with Camillo. He listens carefully for her steps on the stairs to make sure she's really gone, "What… will she want in exchange? Are we meant to do the lesson here?"

Camillo looks to Tybalt when Esme's out of the room. "Nothing in particular," he says, keeping his voice low. "She wants my business and the friendship of my employers. And she is kind. So she treats me well. But she asks nothing more. Her good manners win good business and reputation. It matters, if she wants this shop to go on all her life and her son's too." He squints a little. "You all right? Where shall we meet? Your choice."

Tybalt looks scepticle that she'd just feed them like that and not want something of them, but he let's it drop, "It was the best food I've had since just before the spear." He touches his cheek scar. "Would the beach be good for letters? Cheaper than ink? And less… confining."

Camillo nods softly. "The beach, then," he agrees. "In a little while, but while there's still light. All right? If you can, try to…practice the ones we learned before." He has a last gulp of cider and then stands. "She's a good cook. I hope it didn't make you nervous. I think she means well."

Esme's step coming up the stairs again is light and quick and steady. One foot in front of the other and so on till she's at the top. She goes up at least as often as she comes down; and it simply has to be managed.

"There, all sorted out," she declares to Camillo as she comes in again, "so don't let me keep you boys if you want to be about your lesson. I know free time don't grow on trees, and I don't sell it neither," she chuckles.

Tybalt mimics Camillo on the grounds he's so much better at all this social stuff, gulping cider and standing, "I… have been. I have rabbit for later. If you want." He clams up at her approach. After some thought he dredges up, "thank you for having us. Your pie was amazing. The bug things were called…." He says the name of the dish in Meereenese. "I'll be back in a few days to… tell you how the sausages were." He looks hopeful. That all sounded normal right? Nothing peculiar here!

Camillo smiles at Esme, and bobs his head. "You're too kind, always, Mistress Esme. I hope you'll have good business today." He looks pleased that Tybalt manages thanks, but very quietly so. Then he bobs his head. "Good day," he bids as he heads for the stairs.

Tybalt watches Camillo and imitates his head bob, a second or so after his friend. Then he's off.

Nodding her enthusiastic receipt of their thanks, Esme mispronounces the Meereenese word, tries it again, chuckles, and shakes her head. "Oh, you're very welcome," she repeats; "thank you both for the kind words. Mind how you go down the stairs," she adds anxiously, stepping out of the doorway so as not to block the light with her tiny aproned figure, calling another farewell after them which echoes in her narrow stairway.

Then she turns to the dishes.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License