(123-05-18) Venting Club
Venting Club
Summary: Camillo vents about his feelings and the people in his life who are driving him nuts. No, really.
Date: 18-19/05/2016
Related: Related Logs (Say None if there aren't any; don't leave blank. You have to use full URLs, like http://gobmush.wikidot.com/logtitle)

It's in the evening that Camillo shows up this time, though he's made so many visits lately in midday doing the shopping for the Hightower. Now, he may off work for the moment, as it's a very modest request he makes of the shopgirl for a pot of lamp oil, nothing like the tremendous volumes ordered for the noble house. He asks whether Esme is at hand round the shop or out on an errand, probably expecting the former rather than the latter.

With an open ledger and the small clay pot of lamp oil standing on the counter between them, side by side, the new shop girl in her grey dress and crisp white apron looks up from marking Camillo's purchase and nods to him. "Mistress Esme is upstairs, goodman," she confirms. "Katla told me you're a good friend of hers — of the mistress's, I mean," and she smiles, apologetic at that unintended ambiguity in her words. Her hazel eyes however remain reserved. "I'm sure she would be pleased if you went up to see her."

Camillo bobs his head at the new girl, giving her a little smile in return for how precisely and appropriately she puts all that. "Thank you," he says, digging coins out of his bag. "I'll leave payment with you if you'll keep this pot for me until I'm going. Thank you kindly." That said, and coins left behind, he heads for the stairs.

Those hazel eyes count the coins with a glance; looking up again, she reaches out to draw them across to her own side of the counter. "Of course, goodman."

His tread on the stairs draws forth from the other side of the closed door at the head of them a cheerful call of, "Who's there? I've got flour on my hands."

"Only Camillo," says that goodman, not loudly, but with enough sound to be heard. And his voice is unmistakeable. He lets himself in since Esme is apparently unable. "I'm sorry to barge in," he says. "Is it all right?"

"Oh! Of course. Come in, dearie," and Esme sounds a little surprised.

Her kitchen table is already occupied by a pie, one which has yet to be baked. She is standing before what looks to be a slab of blue-veined white marble with one slanted edge; she's weaving together a lattice of narrow strips of pastry with which to cover the rich, berry-red filling of the tin to her left. The marble and her hands and her bare forearms are dusted alike with flour, and so is the apron tied over her green and orange striped dress. Her grey bun is dotted with orange cloisonne hairpins, in view for only an instant before she turns to look at Camillo coming in. She's smiling. "What can I do for you, eh? Why don't you sit down?" she suggests, nodding to his usual chair.

Camillo goes and stands behind a chair, but before he sits, he asks, "Is there anything I can possibly do to help you?" He looks at all this work of baking before her. "Only you have been feeding me so often, lately, and then there was Tybalt as well." Which he apparently feels responsible for.

Esme makes a fond face at him. "Oh, you've a good heart, dearie," she observes, "but I'm practically finished with this one, and I've done the other already, see?" A nod over her shoulder to another tin, sitting on the sideboard, its pastry crust boasting air-vents in the outline of dolphins. "Now, if you'd like a cup of cider, you might as well fetch it for yourself," she confides, "since you know where it is, and I'm all over flour, but I don't reckon I need any help with my pie. And you feel silly, don't you," she wrinkles her nose, inviting his sympathy, "someone else tryin' to do for you what you could just as easily do by yourself…? I suppose some people are used to that, nobles and the like, but me, I just feel silly," she concludes.

Camillo goes to get the cider jug as requested, and brings it to the table with two cups. "But you know," he says, "That I'd cut vegetables for you, or carry something, anytime you'd like?" Despite this gentle persistence, he does sit down.

Two cups. Isn't he sweet. Esme gives him one of those grandmotherly smiles. "I'll remember that you've said, dearie," she promises, seeing that he won't be content with anything less; "but to tell the truth, I've got my own ways of doin' things, and if someone don't know my ways, it's easier to do it myself than try to show someone else how I like it done. Trainin' the new girl downstairs, that's turnin' into a job and a half," she confides, inclining her head towards him, "though she's willin' and she takes care, I'll say that much for her." Her small, deft, floury fingers finish their weaving; she slips both palms beneath the edges of the pastry lattice and transfers it tenderly to the pie, lowering it into place as she asks casually, "How's your friend, then?"

Camillo fills the cups to a reasonable level, looking up at Esme when she acknowledges that he's made this offer before. "She remembered me," he offers. "And I thought she did well. I'm sure you'll have her trained just right soon." He nods once, watching Esme move the pastry. Most cooks in a big house don't like to be watched, or have non-kitchen staff taking up space anywhere near them. "Oh, um…Tybalt?" He nods his head once. "I think…well," he says. "Started on spelling his name. Only…I wasn't sure how, exactly. Given that he doesn't know. He said it was from a story, but I don't know it. Do you think T-Y-B-A-L-T is right?"

The lattice is a near-perfect fit for the pie tin; still, Esme fusses with it, pinching here, adjusting there. She glances up and nods confirmation of Camillo's first question (yes, she means Tybalt) but to the second she reacts more slowly, giving it a bit of thought. "Tybalt," she repeats aloud. "Yes, I reckon that's how you'd spell it. It could be T - H - I - B - A - U - L - T, but simpler's better, people'll have less trouble rememberin' it." Then she straightens and dusts her hands on her apron and regards her pie, lips just slightly curved by pride. Another job well done… almost. A bowl of something; a dainty little brush; she whisks the latter along each strip of the lattice, leaving it a darker gold, and gleaming. "I like the 'Y'," she admits, "in a man's name. Gives it a nice shape writ down, don't you think?"

Camillo smiles just slightly, and nods, picking up his cup, even though his hostess isn't ready yet. "I thought it looked nicer," he admits. Then he makes a pained face. "Although reading is very difficult isn't it. When you think of it. I hadn't thought of it for a long time, but when someone asks you why a word should be read or spelled one way, and not another…it's not so easy. Like how C goes 'kuh' in 'Camillo' but then 'sih' in 'city.' I suppose it's to do with the I…"

"Ah, well, wouldn't it be nice if there were a 'why'," sighs Esme, flicking a rueful smile in Camillo's direction. "A nice little set of rules we could learn and understand like that." She snaps her fingers on the 'that'. "I suppose we just have to make our own way through and make our mistakes and learn from 'em, same as with everythin' else in life…" she muses. Her little brush dances over the pastry with the same efficiency she applies to every task in her kitchen (or out of it), not a stroke wasted. "It's very good of you to help him," she remarks, not for the first time. "And a blessin' to be in a position in which you can think so much of helpin' another."

"It is a blessing," Camillo agrees first and foremost. "I could easily have not known. My parents didn't teach me. I don't even know whether they knew or not." He rolls a shoulder. "Probably not. But…I'm happy to do it. Maybe…once he has all the letters, we should just start from words and sentences. Get him used to them. Simple to start. But I think once you repeat it all enough, you get a feel for it."

"Perhaps find somethin' he really wants to read," suggests Esme. "Then it won't matter how hard it is. He'll keep goin'." She sets aside the brush and wipes her hands again on her apron, and smiles at this second pie as she transports it to a place of honour next to the first one. "What I mean, I s'pose, is just that… it's a blessin' to have friends willin' to help you, but it's a different kind of blessin' when you've come to a place in your life where you're the one who has the help to give, and the time to give it. I think we all benefit from havin' someone to look after, stray cats needin' baths, or stray men needin' their letters. It's good for the soul to do for others."

Camillo looks thoughtful about that comment, eyes lifting to Esme's face, perhaps trying to understand if there's some other meaning in what she's saying. "Well…" he says after a moment or two of that fruitless search, "That…could be so."

Fruitless indeed, for Esme returns only that friendly, innocent, expectant look with which she so often awaits Camillo's next words. "Well, it's just a thought crosses my mind now and again," she adds, smiling at him again. She bends to remove the cover from a wooden bucket standing by her hearth and dip a cloth in the clean water there, and begins cleaning up after her pies, wiping down first of all that slab of marble which appears so unlikely a fixture in a smallfolk kitchen. "How are your plants gettin' on, dearie?" she asks. "Are you goin' to Dorne with the others? Got someone to water 'em while you're away?"

"They're getting bigger," Camillo says. "Some of them have little buds, so maybe they'll flower." But the matter of the trip to Dorne makes his brow furrow. "They asked me to choose," he says, shaking his head. "Which I don't understand. Why do they want to make me choose things? I tried to see what it was they wanted, but they…" He frowns. "Why should that make me feel like a bad servant? Isn't it better to try to do just what they want?"

Putting her kitchen to rights with a no-nonsense efficiency which all by itself would prove the truth of her hesitant admission that, once, she was in service herself, Esme meets Camillo's eyes with her hands still busy. "To choose… whether you'd go to Dorne, or stop here?" she inquires just to be sure. "Ah," she breathes out softly, giving a slow shake of her head as she picks up the marble in both hands and stows it away covertly between sideboard and wall — a place which, in her flat, is exquisitely clean. "They're uncommonly considerate people, His Grace and her ladyship, ain't they? Even when it comes to their servants. They don't only think of themselves, they think of others. So I reckon they really did want to know what you'd like best," she goes on slowly. "Thinkin' you might think as they do, and have the kind o' likes and dislikes they might have… but not thinkin' that what you might like best of all, in your place, would be to do what was most helpful to them."

"I tried to tell them that," Camillo says. "But…I don't think they understood. But how am I to know if I want to go to Dorne in the first place?" he asks, brow furrowed. "I've never been there. I don't know what it is, there. I'd go if they needed me, but…what's the sense in going if they don't? They'll already have their personal servants with them…"

"You don't want to go, then? Beg pardon, but the table needs doin' — if you don't mind holdin' yours…?" And Esme, who has just shifted the stone jug of cider to the sideboard, transfers her own cup likewise and nods to Camillo's. "I've never been to Dorne either, but I wouldn't mind goin' someday," she admits conversationally; "I like seein' new places and new things. The only way to know if you want to go, is to go. Can't be sure otherwise."

Camillo takes the cup in both hands and sits back with it. "I don't know," he says. "I just told them 'no' because they didn't seem to like it if I didn't choose. It seems safer to stay than to go. And better not to take up the food and space on a journey if I'm not needed."

Esme pulls a sad face at him, then chuckles. "Well, if you don't want to go…" she muses, rolling up her sleeves. "But I reckon one servant more or less in their train, it ain't much of an expense to such people — and they'd find work for you if you did go," this with a wry roll of her eyes, "there's always plenty o' that to go around when you're away from home. Still. It ain't as though they haven't servants enough, is it?" she suggests reasonably, leaning over the table to attack its farthest reaches with soap and scrubbing-brush. "They'll manage, whether you stay or go…"

"But," Camillo contends, "When one group of servants has to mix with another, even if they're just from another /family/, the more there are, the more trouble it is. Different houses have different ways, and who knows the ways in Dorne." His brow knits. "Is it foolish not to go?"

"Well. I reckon the answer to that," says Esme slowly, looking up from her scrubbing, "depends on the character of the man makin' the choice. Me, I'd be foolish not to go if I could. But you and I ain't so very alike, are we? If you're content enough with your choice, and you don't reckon you'll regret it, it's probably the right one. Can't just always tell you to do what I'd do, can I? Or you'd wind up doin' some pretty funny things," she chuckles.

"But how do I know if I'm content with it?" Camillo asks, once again inadvertently testing the bounds of epistemology. He's not as casually jovial about the matter as Esme. "I've made a lifetime of wrong decisions."

"We've all made wrong decisions," agrees Esme, exchanging her scrubbing-brush for a clean cloth with which to wipe down the surface of the table, "but you shouldn't say as you've made 'em all wrong, all your life, because that ain't true. It's just as foolish and as unjust to give yourself too little credit as too much. What about takin' service with the Hightowers?" she demands. "What about the people you helped durin' all that poisonin' business a while back? Choosin' not to marry where you wouldn't have been content — choosin' to leave your village and make your way to a different life — I do believe that was right for you, too, even if the path did end up bein' longer an' twistier than you might've liked. It ain't all been wrong, Master Camillo. And havin' done somethin' wrong now an' again, that don't take away the value of what you've done right. Nothin' wipes out a good deed, not even a bad one. You can put your cup down again now," she informs him kindly, turning away again.

Camillo puts his cup down slowly with one hand, the other straying to his shoulder where he was badly cut in the poison house. "Did you hear about that from Flox?" he asks. Not that the event is a secret in the city. But at the time it happened, few took direct note of the name of the unimpressive and unemployed smallfolk man at the head of the back forces. "I don't know how the Hightowers turn out yet," he says. "I never think I'm wrong in the beginning…" He drinks from his cup. "I don't know if it was ever right to leave. Maybe I was too proud from the beginning. They say it is a sin not to marry." But they've already had that discussion. "She was a good girl, Alys. We got on all right."

The sight of a fresh, gleaming table brings a small smile to Esme's lips, much as did the pie a few minutes past. "Mm? No, no," she says vaguely, dismissing Flox as an informant with a lift of her hand; "I just happen to hear quite a lot about what goes on round the city, one way and another… you know how it is," she confides. She gives him a rueful look, as though to suggest she's not listening, but she can hardly help hearing, can she—? "… You know what I think about marryin'," she adds, leaning both hands on the edge of the table and regarding Camillo. Her plain gold wedding ring gleams softly in its usual place, marking her as a qualified commentator. "Not everybody's made for it, for starters — and then, there's findin' the right person. It can't rightly be pleasin' to the gods if two people make the wrong marriage and all they want six months later is to get away from each other. If you'd wed her — but I won't repeat myself, dearie, I'm sure you remember what I said, or if you don't, it's because it ain't worth rememberin'," she says firmly.

"Some people say I should send my family money," Camillo says, looking up from Esme's hand and her wedding ring to her face, to see what she makes of that.

When his eyes lift they find Esme's waiting; she meets his gaze and nods, considering, leaning on the table a moment longer. "If you can afford to, now," she pronounces, straightening, pressing a hand into the small of her back as she turns again to the sideboard to collect her cup (something cracks), "and if you can put it so's it wouldn't come as an insult, it would be a suitable thing for you to do. Specially since your mother's widowed now, ain't she…? I don't know how many brothers and sisters you might have, but if you're earnin' the most these days, well, a widow relies on her sons," she points out. Her lips quirk into a small smile. Everyone knows her Edmyn always puts in a good day's work in the butchery, whatever his other limitations.

Camillo doesn't look so pleased with that answer, now wrapping both hands around the cup even though it's resting on the table. "At the time I left, I'd two younger brothers and three younger sisters," he says. "Of course, they're all grown now. I don't know what they're earning."

Esme sips her cider and puts down her cup in the vicinity of her usual chair. "You didn't see any of 'em when you went back a few months past? … You ought to see if you can find out," she suggests, "and see if your mother might be needin' your help. She raised you," she points out, on behalf of mothers everywhere. "Took care of you when you couldn't take care of yourself, and that wasn't a payin' job neither. I don't know whether or not she was a good mother," this with an apologetic smile, for the world being what it is there's every chance she's championing an indifferent example, "but I'd be willin' to bet she tried her best, specially if you were her first."

Whilst she's speaking she nudges a different bucket over towards the table, and then collects from the far end of the sideboard (beyond the pies) and sets at her place a scarred wooden chopping board laden with an assortment of vegetables. These were scrubbed clean at the same time as the rhubarb for the pie, and have been dripping inoffensively meanwhile. She selects three knives from the prodigious collection ornamenting the other sideboard, draws out her chair at an angle, and drops herself unceremoniously into it.

Camillo listens to all of this rather stone-faced, which is perhaps somewhat unlike him. He usually looks thoughtful or conflicted or embarrassed about something. But he's probably listening, watching Esme. He doesn't even say whether his mother was good or not. At length he nods, picks up his cup, and drinks out of it. "I've given what I could afford to the Sept for a long time," he mentions after a long silence. "It would have to come out of that."

By now Esme has a knife in her hand and is peeling carrots into the scrap bucket, with lightning efficiency and nothing edible going to waste. But it's only natural, isn't it, that a butcher's widow, a butcher's mother, should handle a blade so expertly—? Her chair is oriented towards Camillo's; she has one eye on her work, and the other very much upon him.

"It might be there's no need, of course," she mentions a moment after he finally speaks. "I'm sure I've only said what everyone else has told you already when you've brought it up — that a son has a duty to his mother, that it's a sin not to honour your parents, that family's family whether you like it or not. The usual platitudes. Still. A family's made up of people, and people can be… mighty complicated, I know that for a fact," she muses. "I think you're a good man, Master Camillo, and a considering man, and I think you know the facts of the matter better'n anyone else. If you think your coin ought to keep goin' to the Sept, I'll not argue the point with you."

Camillo lifts the fingers of one hand in a small gesture to wave off her statements of compromise that follow on her advice. "They didn't do anything wrong," he states, a bit flatly. "So…you're right, that's what everyone says." He nods once. "Maybe it's time."

Carrot succeeds carrot. "It ain't so much about the kind of people they are, anyway," suggests Esme softly. "You'd do a thing like that, if you did it, because of the kind of man you are."

Camillo shrugs his shoulders in response to that. "Or I haven't until now for the same reason," he returnes, looking at the vegetables on the chopping board.

The carrots peeled to her liking Esme changes knives; and with a few quick snicks of what must be a remarkably sharp blade she removes the top of each carrot, to each of which a fragment of greenery still clings, and divides the length of it into three shorter pieces. These rapidly become not chunks of carrot but sticks, of remarkably uniform size and shape; then, three at a time, the sticks become barely irregular orange carrot-cubes, not one of which will cook any faster than another. "The kind of man you are, that can change over time," she points out. "It would be a funny thing if it didn't. What's alive can grow, and what can grow can grow different… We can all become better or worse than we are, though better, I hope," she stresses, as her assault upon the vegetables proceeds apace. "We've talked about this before, haven't we? Well, I still think it's true."

"I don't know," Camillo answers. His mood is perhaps still subdued, but his expression seems to be thawing at lesat a little. "The same thing sounds different sometimes at a different time. Like how the same chair looks different in a great hall or a bedchamber or a corridor."

"The chair itself don't change," says Esme. She uses the blade of her knife to tidy her pile of carrot-cubes and moves on to the greens, changing again to the knife she had at first. "It's still good for sittin' on to ease your feet. But it looks more valuable or less, dependin' on the rest of the furnishings you're comparin' it with… Were you thinkin' of somethin' particular, dearie?" she asks softly, inoffensively, her kitchen knife flickering bright.

Camillo lifts his eyebrows at that question, either not knowing what it means or pretending not to. "I don't think so," he replies. "Just, what type of man a person is, maybe he never knows."

"I think it's better to try to find out, even if it ain't always the comfortable kind of knowledge," is Esme's quiet opinion, delivered as green cubes begin to join the orange ones. She is very serious about evenly-cooked vegetables. "And even if there's always goin' to be room for surprises… A man walkin' round not knowin' himself, what he's capable of, or what he might not do when push came to shove, well, some of the surprises he'd get might be downright inconvenient ones. Why, somebody else with sharper eyes might come to know him better than he knew himself — and that might be troublesome for him, too, or embarrassing. Better to know," she repeats; "anyway to try to know."

Camillo tilts his head slightly. "I know what I do," he says, voice soft. "It's only the meanings of things I don't understand."

"… I want to help you," admits Esme, "but I don't always know how, dearie, and that's a fact." She lifts her eyebrows at him. "You're an uncommon one, and I s'pose that's why I like you. I just wish I'd got hold of you a few years sooner, that's all. Few decades, maybe," she chuckles.

Camillo's first instinct is probably to take that comment poorly, but then he smiles a little and bobs his head in a nod. "I'm set in my ways now," he agrees in a mildly good-humored tone. "Not sure I can help it any more than anyone else."

Esme sets down her knife and picks up her cup, and drinks a little of the cider for which she has found scant time since her visitor poured it. "It ain't necessarily helpin' it I mean," she says, "but understandin' it. Since that's what you seem so often to be reachin' toward, but not graspin' it yet. I just wish I'd had longer to think about you, is all. I might've come up with somethin' that might be useful to you. I might've… been able to save you some trouble, perhaps. Well." She shrugs her thin shoulders and sips again and exchanges cider for knife. "I'm preenin' myself too much, I'm sure, I shouldn't think it would've made all that much difference, would it?" she asks him rhetorically. "And if we know each other now, this must be when we're meant to. I do believe the gods send people into each other's lives at the right time more often than not. Not before time, and not after it."

Camillo nods vaguely. "Maybe so," he says, always ready to agree with statements about the wisdom of the gods. "And maybe…I think sometimes some people would want to save me from the trouble of the things I wanted the way they were, and to keep me in the places they'd think would be best for me, but that…/I/ didn't want." He smiles and shrugs. "Maybe I'm just backward altogether," he says, drinking down more cider.

"I don't see how that follows," says Esme frankly. "Knowin' what you want ain't backward; if anythin' it's forward… I'd only want to spare you the trouble you thought was trouble. Otherwise there'd be no point, would there? You wouldn't need it." She eyes the contents of her chopping board. "Now, d'you have to get back," she asks, "or do you fancy stayin' for dinner? It's only goin' to be a beef stew, but I reckon I've got too much for two."

"Oh," Camillo says, looking at the vegetable. "My day's ended but…I'm afraid I take too much food off you." He punctuates this with a nod, no matter how many times they've been over this ground. "But…tell me, do we talk of me and my problems because you don't like to talk of your own, or because I don't ask you?"

"We're butchers, dearie," his hostess points out patiently, for this too is a part of the ground which must be covered. "We've always got meat goin' beggin' at the end of the day — and these," a graceful gesture of her knife towards her vegetables, "I bought yesterday mornin' and I shan't like the look of 'em tomorrow. I can't bear waste, you know I can't bear waste," she reminds him. Then she breathes out a contemplative sigh. "… The other thing, well, I don't know," she admits. "I suppose if I had troubles I'd try not to grumble, but the truth is I don't think I've any worth grumblin' about. The shops do all right. My son does all right. We put a little somethin' by each week. There's many in this city, right under our noses, who can't say so much as that for themselves." She nods. "So I s'pose it's a bit of both, and neither."

Camillo watches for any sign of insincerity on Esme's part as regards frequent invitations to meals, but perhaps he's willing to be won over as he doesn't object strenuously, but focuses on the other part of her statement. "I would listen," he says, voice quiet but sincere.

Esme's voice softens. "I'm sure you would, dearie," she agrees. "But." A gentle tap-tap of knife-hilt against chopping-board as she considers. "What's mostly occupyin' my mind these days, ain't necessarily the kind o' things a woman would talk about to a man, even if he happened to be quite a good friend of hers," she explains delicately. "If you take my meanin'."

Camillo lifts his eyebrows a little at that, not having expected to heat that. And perhaps not /exactly/ sure he does take the meaning. A faint blush suggests that he has a certain guess, however, and he nods. "Well, I… Of course I'm not nosy," he says.

Nudging the scrap bucket out of the way with her foot Esme gets up, laughing softly, to fetch a covered plateful of raw beef from the sideboard. "Didn't mean to embarrass you, dearie," she apologises with brisk good humour; "that was rather the point." The third knife, as yet untouched, is put to work on the beef with all the dexterity one might expect. "And anyway you've got to see him at work so it wouldn't do any good for you to be hearin' all sorts of things about him from me — or," and she turns as she adds this salient point, "for him to be hearin' all sorts of things about you from me. See? So I've all kinds of reasons for… not sayin' as much as I might."

(a delicate veil is thrown over this portion of the conversation)

"… I hope you know I will always listen, when you've somethin' to think through. Whatever it may be," she assures him placidly. "I daresay I know a bit more of the world than most, one way and another."

"You've…always been kind," Camillo says, gaze skipping away once but coming right back. "And helpful. I'm grateful. I don't usually…run my mouth," he says. "I usually keep myself to myself. But…you don't make it difficult."

Ah, the kindliness with which Esme studies his suddenly skittish gaze. "I reckon we neither of us run our mouths with most people, do we?" she agrees. "But, once in a while, knowin' it'll go no further…" She rises, leaving her knitting on the table, and lifts the lid of the pot and stirs her beef stew. A warm, meaty, spicy aroma is beginning to permeate the air. "I know you think a lot about things," she adds, "and sometimes thinkin' out loud does help. If it ain't difficult with me, well, I'm glad of that." She replaces the lid and sits down, already reaching for her knitting, unwinding another couple of yards of fine grey wool from the attached ball of it. She eyes Camillo, and smiles.

Camillo bobs his head gratefully. He's quiet a moment, and then asks, apparently out of the blue: "Does Tellur Snow ever come in here? He works for the Starks."

"… Their master of beasts, ain't he? I reckon I've seen him in the shop, yes," concedes Esme, "with Ser Malcolm. He a friend of yours too?"

Camillo looks at the top of the table. "Not exactly," he admits with some sense of sheepishness. "I… I think he might…want to be for reasons I don't fully…" He trails off and chews on his lip briefly before continuing, looking back up at Esme. "He's strange. He always says the wrong thing. People say we are alike."

Esme studies Camillo, more intently. "No," she decides, "I wouldn't say you're alike. O' course, I don't really know him," she disclaims, keen to be fair, "but from what I do know I wouldn't say so. Who says you are? Why, d'you know? Am I missin' somethin'?" she asks him, not for the first time today.

"Ser Malcolm says it, Tybalt…maybe thinks so," Camillo replies. Which doesn't particularly seem to please him. "They both know him better than I do." He shrugs. "Because…generally…I'm not so good at talking or…being with people and he…has problems with that. Because…Tellur says he is a servant. Although…I think we're different, there. He may pretend to be ordinary, but he still has noble blood. They say it doesn't matter in the North, but… I don't think…they treat him at the Weirwood Manse like any employer has ever treated me."

"If he's called Snow, must be he has noble blood," says Esme reasonably, "or his mother jumped into the right bed at the right time at any rate. And that'll always make things different for him, won't it? North or south, they're different with their own… Sounds to me like people see you're uncommon, and they see Master Snow is uncommon, and they reckon the two of you must be uncommon in the same way. Not knowin' how many kinds of uncommon there really are in the world, or takin' the trouble to compare the two. That'd be my guess, though as I say, I don't know him, just enough to nod to." And she nods.

"He has," Camillo says certainly. "They say he didn't grow up like it but…" He nods slowly. "He has the blood, he has the name, it's different." He does seem insistent on that part. "And he comes to me always saying that he's the same as me but I don't think he knows what it is. I don't think he really knows. I don't eat at tables with knights." Except that one time he did. "People don't… It's different," he concludes. "But…at the same time, I thought…maybe I've been cold to him when he can't understand it. So. I'm keeping an eye out for him. I thought…I should explain, anyway."

All this has Esme nodding. "It's different," she says again. "A Snow, or a Flowers, he'll always have a place above somebody with no name at all; and he don't know the size of the gap in between, any more'n Lady Marsei would. We all have a better view of what's above than what's below, just because we have to keep an eye out, don't we? Above is where the trouble comes from," she points out sagely. "Above needs consideration. Below, can safely be ignored most o' the time — the more that's below, the more you can ignore it."

Camillo nods several times, looking grateful that Esme acknowledges the existence of this gap that others have so stubbornly denied. "I've just…I've only so much patience for people telling me that they are on my level when they don't /know/," he says. "I don't doubt that…he's had a hard life. But a hard life with a name is a different hard life."

This admission that even Camillo's patience only goes so far makes Esme sit up straighter in her chair. She nods too. "Havin' somethin' to stand on," she agrees. "It changes the view, but them as are standin' on it can't see the difference — only those of us as rely for support on our own two feet. I don't say I've not been fortunate in where I've come to rest," and she glances about her flat with a quiet satisfaction which encompasses her scrubbed table and her neat curtains and her fragrant stew, "but… it is different. And it's never as secure without a name, no matter the sweat and the tears go into it."

Camillo dips his head. "And I would never be treated like… Even though he seems to act halfway like an animal, they… People look out for him. They want to lift him up. Automatically. And he belongs to them. Their circle. As a Snow. Yet he… He acts as if he is alone and no one has ever helped him. I caught him in a fight at a wine sink," Camillo says. "And I asked him if Ser Malcolm and Lord Carolis wouldn't be upset if he were hurt. And he said he didn't think so, as if he were alone. But that's foolishness," the servant insists.

Up on her feet again, between one round and the next of the grey sock, Esme stirs the stew and confirms, "To them as has, more will always be given… They don't notice it happenin', they're used to it. And you, you look nervous every time I put a slice of pie in front of you — and your friend Master Tybalt," she sucks in a breath, "he hardly knew what to do with it, did he?"

Camillo smiles a little at that and admits, "No," bobbing his head in a nod. "He…I don't think Tybalt's been given many things for free in his life. Without some obligation. He was worried he'd owe you something," Camillo explains. "I don't think he's even much used to being fully indoors. Ships are different…" His gaze drifts over toward the window. Then it comes back. "But I think he was very glad of it. I don't know if he always has enough to eat."

Esme makes a sympathetic 'mmm' noise as she sits down again. "I don't like owin' anybody anythin'," she concedes, "I don't think it's a comfortable way to live, carryin' debts about with you. So if I give somethin' and I expect a return for it, I try to make that clear enough at the time so we all understand each other… either that or I just don't look for a return," she explains, smiling. "Lookin' for it but the other person not knowin' to give it, that's the worst of all worlds for everyone, ain't it?" she suggests.

On which note light footsteps sound upon the stairs; "That'll be (name tbd) comin' up for the pies," observes Esme, and so it is. The new shop girl, knocking, apologising for coming in even though she's expected. Again Esme puts down her knitting to supervise the swathing of her pie-tins in clean linen cloths, and the loading of her minion; and she holds the door for her departure, calling down anxiously, "Mind how you go, dearie, and you'll give my regards to Mistress Audra, won't you? Or Master Terris if he's in." She lingers in the doorway till the pies and the girl carrying them have passed out of sight into the butchery, then turns back to Camillo with a distracted air.

Camillo bobs his head once. He's quiet and still while the girl comes through so he won't disturb her at her new work. Then he looks to Esme. "I think you're right," he says softly. "But Tybalt doesn't know the ways around here, either. He's a sailor, and foreign. I told him you were kind."

And Esme makes a face — a kindly, grandmotherly, chiding sort of face — and looks away, using the stew as an excuse. "Bless you, dearie, and I hope I am. I know I'm not always as kind as I ought to be, but I try," she maintains virtuously. "… That one," she observes, "Master Tybalt — he really has had a hard life. I hope Master Snow ain't goin' to make comparisons with him, it really wouldn't be fittin', would it? Not for a noble bastard and a favourite of a great house." She makes a little tsk-tsk noise, shaking her head. Her hairpins gleam cheerfully orange against her plain grey bun.

Camillo tilts his head slightly. "I think…Tybalt loks after Tellur Snow a bit," Camillo replies. "So maybe they do think themselves close."

"… Startin' to sound like everybody looks after Tellur Snow," observes Esme, though without rancour. "Some people, they just lead lives like that, don't they?" She lets out a wondering sigh as she comes back to her chair; she sips her cider and goes on, with her knitting and her musing both. "You or I, if we went about so much in need of other people's care, we'd have found ourselves in a sorry state before now, wouldn't we?" she chuckles.

Camillo nods faintly, cautiously, when Esme makes her comment about Tellur. "That's right," he says softly. "And as you say, he'll never see it. So I'm trying to be… I'm trying to be more kind."

"In its own way it's an advantage for us — and one I prefer, in the long run," remarks Esme. Coming to the end of one needle she pauses for a sip of cider, the needle she hasn't any stitches on at present held between the fingers of the hand lifting her cup until with a deft flick she has it at work again. "We can see a bit clearer, and we can do for ourselves a bit better when need be." But then she hesitates before adding more delicately, "Though I hope you don't mind my sayin' 'we', Master Camillo. I know there's a world of difference too between bein' a servant in somebody else's house, however grand it may be, and havin' a place of your own as I do. But I remember other times," she explains softly, "and other places, and I try not to take what I have for granted, eh?"

Camillo shrugs his shoulders gently. "I suppose you came up about the same as me, Mistress Esme," he says. "So whatever you've gotten, you got from the same start. But…" He looks into his cider. "Anyway, whether it's an advantage or not, there's no choosing."

Esme considers his words. "I don't know if I'd call it the same. I do know I've had nothin' but the clothes on my back more'n once in my life, and I reckon that's about what you brought to Oldtown, ain't it? … We don't choose where our feet are planted in the beginnin', but we choose which direction we walk in from there." She nods firmly at him over her knitting. "Hard work has a way of payin' off. Takes a while, but it'll get you there in the end."

Camillo bows his head in deference to the fact that he doesn't know very much about Esme's origins. "My last master was put in prison," he ventures to say. "So when I left that house I did have the wages they sent me away with. Which don't sound as if they amounted to much. "I don't know if hard work pays off for everyone. But there aren't many alternatives. Laziness doesn't pay off."

At the mention of prison Esme's lips part — and then come together again. It appears her curiosity has been piqued, but she's too polite to ask, just as Camillo is too polite to go digging into her origins. The utility of hard work is a much safer subject for all concerned. "That's true enough," she agrees. "Hard work gives you the best chance to get and to keep somethin' worth havin' — and if it don't happen, or if it's slow in comin', at least in the meantime you know you've done your best, too. Laze about and you've nobody to blame but yourself when you don't get anywhere… and, you know, I have a lot of young people workin' for me one way and another, the boys who run meat and groceries about the city for me and the girls who clean, and whenever I'm in a position to do somethin' particular for one of 'em, I always look to the ones who work hardest to better themselves," she confides. "I reckon I can't be the only one thinks that way. Once in a while I place a girl as a proper maid, and she can work her way up through the household, as you've done — I've even introduced a few hedge knights to their new squires, over the years. But there's no sense offerin' an opportunity like that to one who won't work hard and take it as far as he can, is there? It'd just be wasted otherwise."

"Of course not everyone is like you," Camillo points out softly. "When looking for someone to promote." Of course, he can't be speaking from too much bitterness, given that he has a fairly good position amongst the other servants.

A nod. "Some just look for the pretty ones." And Esme, who never was one of those herself — it is, as it were, plainly obvious — quirks her eyebrows.

Camillo bobs his head to acknowledge that. "Or the ones who make them laugh or who have the best gossip, or any number of things," he says. "People get ahead so many ways."

"I just think of the work," says Esme simply. "The better the work's done, the better things'll look to those higher up, the better it'll reflect upon me if my name's brought into it as havin' recommended someone. O' course, I include bein' clean and neat and sober and respectful as part of the work, part of what a servant's paid to do and to be. Can't keep yourself neat, who's goin' to trust you to keep anythin' else neat?" she asks rhetorically.

Camillo inclines his head. "That's the only thing to do," he agrees. "To find some satisfaction in the work. I've always done mine the best I know how. Even when things are tough."

"And I'm sure that's why you've been promoted, and why I'd've promoted you too if it'd been up to me. Oh, that'll be Edmyn," declares his mother, hearing an altogether different tread coming upstairs. She knits faster, to get to the end of her round before he can get to the head of the stairs. "I'm sure he'll be as glad as I am to have company for dinner. Another drop of cider?"

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