(123-05-14) Warrior vs Crone
Warrior vs Crone
Summary: A smallfolk woman finds herself in the way of the ever-charming Ser Laurent Tyrell, who takes an unexpected interest in her business.
Date: 14-15/05/2016
Related: Dolphin Tournament

A warm summer's morning in Oldtown, grey with the promise of rain to come; and after a night's quiet tended only by the most devout (rather than, say, the Most Devout) the Starry Sept is coming alive with the sounds and scents of worship. Septas and septons pass by upon holy errands. The choir is rehearsing a hymn in keeping with the time of the year. The altars before the seven great statues of the gods have been scraped clean of wax and scrubbed by the hands of novices: now they gleam again with little points of orange light, where the faithful coming early before their own labours begin, have stopped to light candles in prayer, seeking compassion, blessings, forgiveness.

The statue of the Stranger is neither male nor female in its form; carved from dragonglass it glitters in the shadows, lit from below at this hour by but a single candle, placed there by His (or Her) first devotee of the day. This little woman in a blue and red and yellow striped dress, her grey hair modestly covered with a blue kerchief (it doesn't match), keeps a shop on the corner of the Shambles and Oldtown Square. She calls upon all the gods in turn two or three times a month, when she can get away. Her kneeling figure is tiny, compact, unobtrusive despite the bright colours of her garb. She always takes her time. The habituees of the Sept are used to walking round her.

Her cheap tallow candle has burned down some distance when she unclasps her hands and smooths her skirts and lets out a quiet sigh, as though still distracted by some trouble on her mind. She straightens her head; her neck cracks. She plants her hands flat on the marble floor and begins, cautiously, to push herself up… The moment at which some overly solicitous young septon usually rushes up to help her, or embarrass her, or both.

When the door opens again, it admits Ser Laurent Tyrell, a tall and sour looking Tyrell knight. He is dressed for a day about town, in sturdy breaches and high black boots, a silk shirt worn beneath a tight-fitting jacket of fine green and gold brocade, his personal sigil worked into its breast. At his waist he wears a baldric, sword and knife belted there.

For his part, the Thorn of Highgarden makes his way straight for the statue dedicated to the Warrior, and no surprise. He has in hand a bag, large enough, and bulging into odd shapes. His steps are long and purposeful, and he kneels to place his burden on the floor before the statue. It settles with a metallic clatter, clearly not the jingling of coins, but his prayer is perfunctory - he is finished nearly before the noise of the bag's settling has finished. Rising to his feet, he turns toward the Sept's interior rather than the exit, and starts across the sanctuary.

It's dreadful, isn't it, the sort of riff-raff they let into the holy places. Why, what does it say about the mores of this society when a son of Highgarden can't so much as walk from one side of the Starry Sept to the other without a little old smallfolk woman in a garishly-striped dress stumbling backwards from the Stranger's altar right into his path, one hand clutching at her leg.

"Goodwife—! Are you hurt?" comes the anxious inquiry of the septon who got there too late, and who now is reduced to hovering, one hand extended as though to bestow a benediction, or at least to ward off further incident.

The little old woman, having blocked Ser Laurent's way and nearly careened into him, reaches for his arm with her other hand as though to steady herself — and then, upon looking up into his eyes, refrains from any such gesture and takes another startled and unsteady step backwards. Out of reach.

"Quite all right, dearie, thank you kindly," she insists with a chuckle, though it's another moment before she looks round at the anxious septon, and that just to nod to him. Then her eyes, small and black and clever, set in a plain long face well-creased by time and sunshine, turn again to the Tyrell knight. She still looks startled, downright apologetic, but not… afraid. "Beg pardon, Ser Laurent, I didn't know there was anyone behind me," she says sincerely.

"The Strangers bollocks, Woman, but mind your…" Ser Laurent curses, heedless of the surroundings. His left hand rests casually on the pommel of his sword while his right swings free; neither moves toward the off-kilter Esme, even when it seems they may collide. "I wasn't behind you," he snorts, "Except that 'behind you' came to be in front of me, when you stumbled." His tone is sour, his baritone voice a growl. "Damn your…"

His words trail off, and dark eyes narrow beneath a heavy brow. "How do you know me?" His head tilts, and suddenly he has the air of a man trying to decide whether or not he's being toyed with. His right hand curls into a fist, the leather of his new gloves creaking as it does. "Surely we've not…" That same hand unfolds to make a vague gesture between them, which will have to suffice as the end of his sentence.

Esme presses her lips together and looks up at him with mild grandmotherly reproof as Language succeeds Language — and beneath the great dome of the Starry Sept, too. It's the very look Ser Laurent is no doubt accustomed to receiving from his old nurse, if she remains among the living. She gives her left knee another tentative rub and then tests her weight upon that leg; another cracking sound, but she's steady enough. "We ain't met, ser," she explains calmly, her arms folded across her striped torso beneath her necklace of silver dolphins, gleaming blue sapphires, and a single small firegem; "but I've seen you fight often enough to know you, and my shops have been delivering meat and sundries to Little Bellhorn Holdfast three times a week since you set up house there. I do hope you've had nothin' to complain of in your dinners; as I always say to your man Osgrey, nothin' but the best cuts will do for a man with such a knack for carvin'." She nods to his sword.

That last draws a bark of laughter from the sour Tyrell knight, but it is not a pleasant sound. It rings in such a large open space, so that his expression is grim again by the time the echoes have passed. Grim fades to curious with a suddenness though, his heavy brow furrowing as the tall knight reaches a hand slowly toward the bauble at Esme's throat. "Here now, where did you come by this," he asks, voice just above a whisper. It's not suspicion in his tone, not exactly, but he won't be satisfied until he hears the tale. Talk of meats is the furthest thing from his mind, now that he has seen the prize that Esme wears.

And Esme's own hand, small and work-hardened with tiny, neat, very clean fingernails, rises swiftly between them to cover the dolphins at her throat. She holds Ser Laurent's gaze for another instant and then looks down at their feet, as though discovering humility at last; and she takes a step back, with any luck beyond the reach of his curious hand. "I'm sorry I got in your way, ser, when my knee gave out under me — that, I couldn't hardly help — but I don't know that my jewellery's your business, rightly speakin'," she suggests diffidently, and risks a quick look up into that un-Tyrell-like face.

If there is one thing that comes easily to Ser Laurent Tyrell, it is anger. He is suddenly red-faced, affronted, and his hand drops back to his side as he straightens, taking a half-step forward to keep the distance between them constant. "I am a lord of the Reach," he growls, "A son of House Tyrell, and I alone will determine what is and what is not my business." The hand that rested casually on his sword now grasps it, his other balled once again into a fist. If his prowess is well known, his black temper is moreso still, and it is clearly beginning to rise.

The septon who drifted away earlier, upon being reassured that Esme was all right, is eyeing her once more from a couple of yards away — and he has brought a friend. Not that she appears to be paying them any attention. She's looking steadily up into Ser Laurent's eyes. "What are you goin' to do," she asks softly — almost tenderly, "take a swing at me? Go on. It'll harm you more'n it'll harm me." And this time she doesn't step back. She just stands there, small and still in her striped dress and her bright blue kerchief, one hand clasping her dolphin necklace, the other loose by her side.

"I may," Laurent allows, and it's obvious he's thinking it over. "Or there's a pillory as still stands in the square, and it was built for a man as didn't know his station." A pause, a derisive curl of the lips, and he adds, "Though it will fit a spindly old woman just the same, won't it?" In the distance there is murmuring - the novices are unsure how to handle this. "Or," he seethes, voice low and dangerous, "You might tell me how you came by this necklace."

Still Esme gazes up into his eyes without flinching, without any perceptible shift in her calm and wrinkly expression. "You can do as you like with such as me, ser," she agrees easily; "I've done nothin' wrong here, nothin' at all but pray and beg your pardon, but that's the way of the world, ain't it? But since you're a customer of mine, and since I'd not like to see any customer of mine take a wrong turn — and over nothin' but a piece of gossip, at that — I'll beg leave to remind you that right now we're standin' in the gods' own house." She nods. "They're watchin' us, ser," she promises him with the absolute respectful deadly sincerity of the devout. "All Seven of 'em. I don't know about you, ser, but rememberin’ that often gives me pause for thought.”

"Gods bugger you for a thief," Laurent growls, "If you can't explain how you came by that prize." He's a stubborn man, by all accounts, and doesn't know when to leave well enough alone. Another half-step toward Esme draws a shocked gasp from a pair of novices who look on, paralyzed by the scene unfolding in the heart of the Starry Sept. "None of the Seven would bat an eye if I dragged you from their presence, figuring you to have stolen that fine bauble. It'd be the Father's own justice, I say."

The little shopkeeper's eyes widen at the Tyrell's latest blasphemy. A shiver runs through her shoulders as he comes nearer still and obliges her to crane her neck further back to keep looking at his face — her tiny striped figure seems poised at any instant for flight — but she holds onto her necklace and her ground. "Ser Laurent, I'm a respectable woman and you'll find none in this city to say I ain't," she maintains quietly. "I've broken no law, and I beg your pardon most humbly for gettin' in your way today. It wasn't never my intention. This necklace is mine, and even House Tyrell and all its might couldn't get rid of the witnesses I could name to prove it. For your house's good name as well as mine, ser, will you please let me be on my way?"

He's mid-step, reaching out for Esme, when something the old woman says stays his hand. Just for a moment, but long enough to put space between them if she wished. His breath, deep and ragged just a moment ago, stalls as he thinks. His jaw works, as though to speak, but clicks as he shuts his mouth again. His chest heaves, and he looses a shuddering breath, so that when he speaks again his voice is low and smoldering. "If you know me, Woman, you'll know that more than one sworn witness has been proven false 'neath the edge of my sword." That's his version of it, anyway. The less kind notion has him a liar who avoids justice through a combination of bloody-mindedness and skill at arms. Still, the fire in him is fading, and it isn't hard to see. His grip is suddenly looser on the hilt of his sword, his shoulders moving back toward their sullen slouch, his eyes less wild.

Esme's hand slowly lowers from her necklace, that single firegem glittering bright against skin creased by time, just below the hollow of her throat. She remains on edge, her weight on her toes; she can't afford to be less. "Half the city saw Ser Malcolm Storm put his prize into my hands when he won the Dolphin Tournament," she explains calmly, her point having been gained. "Half the city, and some of 'em named Hightower, and some named Targaryen. I reckon your brother was still there, too… Ser Loryn. Ser Malcolm had just broken half a dozen lances on him in the final bout," she adds. "No shortage of people who could tell you where I came by it. But it ain't your business, ser; not so long as no law's been broke. Good day to you, ser." She smooths her striped skirts and gathers handfuls of them and bobs a perfunctory curtsey.

Laurent nods heavily as Esme tells the tale, as though he had won the point. Contrary, the Thorn. His chin cocks slightly to one side at the list of names, though, eyes narrow as he tries to work out whether or not he's being baited deliberately. In the end, he snorts. Here is a man who can't resist a barb. "I've beaten a man named Targaryen into the mud," he says with an ugly flash of teeth that might be intended as a grin, "And had the better of a few men as wore Hightower arms, haven't I?" He presses on, the question rhetorical. "It ain't my business, once I'm satisfied as now law has been broken. And mayhaps now I am." His grin fades, blessedly, back to a more common sour expression before he adds, "And if I'm not, I'll know how to find you, won't I?"

As he boasts Esme nods, and takes a small step away from him. "I know you've had the better of all manner of battles, ser," she agrees, "and brought much honour to your house by such deeds — but where's the honour in pickin' on old women at their prayers?" she asks softly. Reasonably. "My business ain't yours; it ain't fittin' that it should be. I wish you the Warrior's blessin' the next time you go up against a fittin' enemy, ser; and I wish you the Father's own good judgment in seekin' out and correctin' the true injustices of this world." Sincere and gentle words, albeit delivered with another backward step.

"It could be as I've honor enough for my liking," Laurent says with a sudden and wolfish flash of his teeth. "It could be as now I'm interested in justice. And a man as has an eye toward a thing of that nature, he might not be a man I wanted to trifle with," he growls, "No matter how confident I had the right of things. Have a prayer for your own judgment, I say, in who you defy with words or with silence." His head tilts, and his tone is lighter as he finishes: "And I were to have shaken the life out of you, then it wouldn't matter so much how it went between me and your witnesses, would it?"

"Well, if you murdered even a smallfolk woman in broad daylight in the middle of the Starry Sept, in front of these witnesses," suggests Esme in a tone which matches his for lightness — and she gestures to the half a dozen grey-robed figures now gathered about them in fascination, though her eyes stay trained upon Ser Laurent's face, "and all over a pretty bauble half the city already knows is mine fair and square, I don't reckon gods or men would call that justice, ser. And that's why I said what I've said to you, to keep you from takin' a step I reckon you and your kin would come to regret. My life ain't so precious to me as you may suppose," she explains. "At my age I'm ready to meet the Stranger any day He may choose. It crossed my mind when I rose from prayin' at His altar and walked almost straight into you, lookin' as you do, that perhaps my time had come… If you've decided not to kill me, though," and there's nothing teasing or taunting in her tone, only quiet acceptance of whatever may follow, "I hope you'll give me leave to go, ser."

"One more regret in a life full of them," Laurent says dismissively, "Doesn't matter one louse off the Crone's dusty nethers, does it?" A shake of his head, as though to agree with himself, and his eyes travel from Esme to the door. "Leave to go? I should be glad to be rid of you." His tone is sour now, but a far cry from the bellicose tenor of a moment past. "I've business with Septa Leire," he's already calling to a some unfortunate novice as he brushes past Esme, his stride long and filled with purpose now. "I'll announce myself, damn your eyes," this as she hurries ahead of him toward the door. "I trust she's awake." His words become less clear as he steps through a doorway and starts down the hall, though further coarse language might be heard until the door finally closes on him.

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