(123-05-24) Crow Club
Crow Club
Summary: Camillo pops round and finds a crow in Esme's kitchen.
Date: 24/05/123
Related: The Ghost of Cheeses Past

A question floats in the air between the two of them — the brother of the Night's Watch leaning all in black against one of Esme's kitchen sideboards, and she herself ensconced in her usual chair knitting a handsome grey sock. But the silence she has left him to fill is broken by footsteps upon the stairs.

Camillo has been sent up, as he usually is. Surely he didn't exactly ask to go up, but was invited by one of the shopgirls. And with the same mild air of surprise and trepidation as usual. He has a quiet tread on the stairs, but he knocks with his usual servant's knock at the door.

"And the Night's Watch, of course, gets a steady stream of men that they might not otherwise," Rayford answers, though the question was never spoken, "And my old friend—" He stops suddenly at the sound of feet on the stairs, his eyes flashing toward a baldric hung from a chair nearby, heavy with a sword in its scabbard. He doesn't start that way, it's more nervous reflex, and then his eyes are to the door, and back to Esme. It's clear he's taking her lead.

Esme's eyes don't follow the noise: they linger with Rafe, studying his reaction, whilst she at first makes none of her own. Then her right hand lifts away from her knitting to make a soothing palm-down gesture in the air.

"That you, Master Camillo?" she calls, sounding pleased. Much more pleased than she sounds when Rafe turns up to see her. "Come in, dearie, if you're not in a rush; I was just startin' to think of havin' a bite of somethin'."

Camillo lets himself in at the invitation. He has a way of coming through doors without opening them any wider than is necessary for him to fit through. So he's just about on the point of speaking before he gets round the door and sees another person in here. And not even one of the two men he might expect to see in this room. But someone else entirely. He goes still.

Rafe looks from Esme's calming gesture back to the door, mustering a grin for whomever 'Master Camillo' turns out to be, and a fine grin it is. Practiced. When Camillo freezes at the sight of him, though, grin spreads into a toothy smile. His eyebrows lift, he snorts a soft laugh, and his eyes are again on Esme.

A last few stitches whilst she was calling out to Camillo sufficed to get Esme across the current needle: she rises, tucking the knitting held in one hand into the green linen bag held in the other, and greets him with a warm, grandmotherly smile. "Come in, dearie," she repeats. "This here's Ser Rayford," she glances to the crow perched at the edge of her sideboard, and gives him a smaller smile and a nod, "from the Night's Watch. And this," she pulls shut her knitting bag's drawstring, and drops it on the edge of the table, "is a good friend of mine, Master Camillo. He's in service up at the Hightower. Funny the two of you comin' in to see me at the same time — I'm goin' to get spoiled," she chuckles, looking from one to the other, beaming with innocent pleasure.

Camillo makes an abbreviated bow in Rayford's direction, though it's obvious that he doesn't quite know how to respond to the other, grins and all. He doesn't smile, for his own part. His eyes flick back to Esme. "I don't mean to interrupt."

"A pleasure, Master Camillo," Rayford says, drawing himself up as he pushes away from the counter, "And I would have said the same — I don't mean to interrupt, if you have business with Mistress Esme." He grins broadly, as though he could make up for Camillo's sober look by smiling double, and looks between him and Esme. "Happy to excuse myself, if that's your pleasure, though I hope you'll do me the kindness of not announcing me at the Hightower until I've occasion to step through the doors? I'd hate to be wrongfooted when I make my entrance."

Neither of them, however, is destined to be let off the hook so easily. "Oh, there's no need for anybody to be runnin' along, I hope," declares Esme. "If you'll just pardon me, ser," she adds, inclining her head to Rafe as she steps past him to reach for the door of a cupboard. All at once she has in her hands the unmistakable shape of a pie-tin, swathed in a fresh linen cloth. She pauses just where she is, in charge of this tempting treat; her gaze wanders again between her visitors as though she's counting heads. Her attention then settles upon Rafe. "I often have a bit of somethin' to eat about this time," she confides, "to tide me over if we're havin' a late lunch, and I'm sure you're used to better," a respectful nod, what with him being a knight and carrying a sword about and all, "but Master Camillo kindly says my steak and kidney isn't bad at all, and there's plenty to go round if you'd like to stay and join us, ser. Once it's been baked it just needs eatin' up," she explains.

It is clear by now that Camillo has noticed the sword belt draped over the chair. He glances at it in the process of looking toward Esme. "It's very fine," he confirms about the pie. He seems a soft-spoken sort, but of course boisterous servants are rarely in demand.

Rayford raises a hand, palm out, and dips his chin deferentially. "Not so, Mistress, if you'll allow," he counters gently. "I'm a humble brother of the Night's Watch, and your pie looks a sight better than the fare at castle black." With a sidelong glance to Camillo, and a conspiratorial tone, he adds, "Mostly hard biscuits and meal, there, and sometimes sawdust to stretch it for so many brothers." He brightens to boisterous though, as that comes to a close, and declares, "If your invitation is a politeness, then I'll understand, and politely decline. But if it's genuine, then I confess as I'm genuinely famished, and that pie is a welcome sight."

Setting the pie-tin down upon the table, turning again to the sideboard to fetch knives and forks (steel, with wooden handles) and napkins (her better linen), all in threes, Esme tsk-tsks fondly at Ser Rayford's description of the fare to be had at the Wall. "Oh, I'm sure I don't know when you're jokin' or not, ser," she chides, her tone and her flicked smile in his direction striking a careful balance between respect for the rank and perhaps growing familiarity with the man who bears it; "but sit down again, if you please, there's plenty to go round," she insists again, firmly. Then, laying their places with all the swiftness and precision of a woman in her own kitchen, she looks up at Camillo and gives him an encouraging smile. "You look well," she observes.

Camillo finds himself to a chair that doesn't have a sword in it, and sits down as bidden, nodding vaguely at Esme. "I've no cause for complaint, Mistress Esme. Are you well?"

Rayford starts for the chair, pausing awkwardly for only a moment, as though he meant to help Esme, but pushes through to right the chair (with sword) and settle into it. "You'll have a keen ear for my humor soon enough," Rayford says with a chuckle, slapping his palms on the table in a short burst of rhythm, "I've every faith." He grins at the news of Camillo's good health as though the two were old friends, long-parted, recently come together again. "Good, good," he says, but not so softly as to drown out Esme's response, should she make one.

"I'm very well," is Esme's firm answer to Camillo; "not as young as I used to be, that's true enough, but always the better for seein' you, dearie." Again she turns away, a blur of orange and green stripes, bareheaded with her rather fine orange cloisonne hairpins gleaming against her neat grey bun, to fetch three plain earthenware plates. These she distributes round the table, drawing the third one back from Rafe's impromptu percussion session and giving him an uncertain but amiable look as his hands retreat to make way for it. "It's fine weather we've been havin', isn't it? Must be such a change for you, Ser Rayford."

Camillo nods once at Esme, then looks at Rayford, perhaps a bit curiously. It's unlikely that the servant meets many men of the Watch.

Rayford musters chagrin for his drumming hands, balling them into fists and forcing them into his lap with a laugh. A shake of his head follows, and he leans back into the chair. "It is a change," he says gladly, "And a welcome one. To the North, there are days where the sky spits balls of ice as might bruise a man if he were caught outside, did you know?" His shiver isn't completely for show as he recalls the weather at the Wall.

Esme's small, work-roughened hands fold the linen cloth back from the tin, revealing two-thirds of a very fine steak and kidney. She turns again to the sideboard behind her and turns back holding a knife, worn of handle and deadly of blade, with which she cuts off two generous slices and one rather smaller. "Goodness," she marvels, at Rafe's tale. "I'd not care to live in the north," she gives a theatrical little shudder of her own, "though I s'pose when it's your duty," a serious nod, as she serves Rafe first in deference to his higher rank (and his novelty value), "it's your duty, isn't it? We're all where the gods placed us, and They have Their reasons, right enough." Then the second slice to Camillo, and then the meagre one arrives upon her own plate.

Camillo nods his thanks for the slice of pie, then looks back over to Rayford. "You…have business bringing you away from there, Ser Rayford?" he asks, tone and phrasing somewhat cautious.

"Thankfully I do, Master Camillo." Rayford nods once, and lifts one hand to point a finger at the other man. "Though I'll thank you again not to make it known prematurely?" His next words have the sound of an apology, as he realizes how he must have come across. "Of course I can count on your discretion. It's only that I'd hate to have to explain my purpose to men as already half-understood it, you see."

Leaving the knife resting in the edge of the tin and the tin on the edge of the table Esme covers it again, and fetches three plain wooden cups, two in one hand and one in the other. These she disposes appropriately, whilst assuring Ser Rayford that: "Master Camillo ain't one to talk of other folk's business, ser, any more'n I am, if you'll forgive my sayin' so. I'm sure we'd both be interested to know what brings you south, though if you'd as soon not say, we'll just keep our curiosity to ourselves, won't we?" She nods to Camillo, as though inviting his agreement, then fetches a heavy stone jug of apple cider such as might have been found in that place in that cupboard at any time in the last twenty-odd years. The Quill and Tankard's finest, though some say it lacks the same savour when it's imbibed off the island.

Camillo lifts his eyebrows slightly, but bobs his head. "Very well," he agrees. He looks to Esme, seeming very much in agreement about both her remarks on his behalf: that he doesn't speak out of turn and that he would like to know what brings Rayford south. Though most of his feelings in this conference are communicated by nods, over time, the distinctions between the various sorts of that gesture are becoming clear.

"It will be no secret," Rayford says, encouraging. "I'm here to bring men to the banner of the Night's Watch, in whatever way I might. Mostly," he confides, leaning in over his pie, "That means snatchin' them from the gallows, doesn't it? But we'll take men as aren't criminals too, if you know of any that are of a mind." His raised eyebrow, though, suggest that'd be a foolish thing. But now, so leaned forward, he sniffs the pie. Then a second sniff, longer and with purpose. "Now this, Mistress Esme, will be a fine meal. The finest I've had in some time, I think, and I thank you for it."

"Don't seem to me like it's much of a life for them as have a choice in the matter," admits Esme, thoughtfully eyeing the crow at her table; "I s'pose in the north they've more of a tradition of it, but down here…?" She fills their cups in the same order in which she filled their plates, and replaces the stopper in the jug before sitting down to her own slice of pie. Just like any other smallfolk housewife in the Seven Kingdoms, she sees the men fed first. "Still, I'm sure you know your own business, ser," she adds respectfully.

Camillo looks down at this plate at this talk of taking men doomed to die and leading them up north toward the bruising hail. He picks up his fork to dig in. His appetite seems a little less shy than the rest of him.

Rayford shrugs, as though to allow that he may not in fact know his business. "If you'll pardon my saying at the dinner table," and he pauses here to look from Esme to Camillo before he finishes, "But it's a rare man as would rather hang than serve, isn't it? Sure and Wildlings are a bother, and might even kill a man, but dancing at the end of a rope ain't comfortable, and in my experience the rope don't miss so often as a Wildling with a spear." He looks almost apologetic as he makes his case, then casts his eyes down to the pie, prodding it with his fork before cutting a piece away.

Esme listens quite as though this is something she hasn't thought of. "… Aye, well," she murmurs, "I'm sure you're right about that, ser. You'd know more of wildlings than the likes of us would." Another nod, deferring to his vast experience of such men. "And a fresh start, even if it's a chilly one, might look better'n a rope, I daresay. But I was thinkin' of… well, you said as you'd take fellows who weren't criminals, and I didn't reckon you'd be gettin' many of those, unless there's somethin' I'm not countin' on. But, as I say, you'll know your business better'n I could," she chuckles, and seeing her visitors tucking into their respective slices of pie she essays at last her own.

"Anything would look better than a rope," Camillo opines, with most of his attention reserved for the pie. "But a man there voluntarily might be more desirable."

"Just so," Rayford says, raising his bite of pie to point it at Esme before he puts it into his mouth. He takes a long moment to check and make a satisfied sound, then adds, "And I must have turned myself about, Mistress Esme, as I'm wont to do from time to time. And isn't this a fine pie?" He shifts the conversation to the food, then back, the question perhaps rhetorical. More compliment than question, really, and then a laughing retort to Camillo's suggestion. "I wouldn't know, Master Camillo, as I'm not at all sure I've met one!" From the look he offers, and the drawn out chuckling, it's clear that this is an old and cherished jest.

The compliment to her cooking has Esme ducking her head, but only for an instant — then she meets Ser Rayford's eyes, looking pleased as any good cook looks pleased when she has such healthy and appreciative appetites gathered round her table. "Well, I'm right flattered to hear you say so, ser," she chuckles, "though it's only a pie, ain't it? … I s'pose good men are even harder to come by for the Wall than for anythin' else," she muses. "Can't always be the most congenial company up there, can it?" Of course she delicately forbears inquire how Ser Rayford himself came to take the black.

Camillo eats quietly with the odd glance at Esme or Rayford. "If there have never been willing recruits," he speaks up with after a silence, "Why are you seeking them now?"

"It's an…" Rayford has another chuckle, and shakes his head. "No, no. It's a tired joke passed about among old crows, and I apologize if I were too entertained by it." And he was — one hand comes up to wipe away what was about to be a tear with a knuckle. "But yes, indeed, good men are difficult to find anywhere, I suppose. Though there's a good few who become good men, I daresay, once they're pressed into service."

This has Esme nodding. "I remember sayin' to you once, Master Camillo," she remarks, one of the nods going in his direction, "that I believe we each of us have our right place in the world, in givin' the gods the kind of service They'd have of us — and it might be some fellows find their right places when they're put so firmly onto a more honourable path, and not allowed off it… We're made for good, though we've the choice to do worse. Doin' some good, p'raps it grows on a fellow." She gives a speculative little shrug. "You'd say that happens sometimes, then, Ser Rayford?" she asks innocently.

Unlikely as it seems, Camillo becomes the one to ask the question, though he looks at the pie while asking it. "And did you volunteer out of a sense of duty, Ser Rayford?"

"Precisely, Mistress Esme, and I see your insight is as fine as your cooking." For whatever reason, though, a touch of color rises to Rafe's cheeks as he answers. "Some men, and by no means all, but some seem to find their purpose there. A few." At Camillo's question, his eyes widen, and he grins. Oh, but he's putting a bite of pie into his mouth, and there's a pause as he chews. And thinks. Finally, after a dutiful swallow, he nods his head and says simply, "No."

The question catches Esme with her mouth full of steak and kidney. She chews and swallows in haste, sips her cider, and says gently, "… But that was a while back, weren't you sayin, Ser Rayford? Ten year ago or more. I reckon," she ponders aloud, "if we were to look back ten, twenty years in the life of any man who's had to shift for himself in uncertain times, we'll find a misstep somewhere and a story he might not be so keen to tell everyone he meets. I reckon a man who's learned a thing or two from his missteps, who's found a better path for himself, has the right to be judged as the man he is now, not the man he was then. Don't you think, Master Camillo?"

Camillo cuts another piece of pie off and glances up at Esme when she addresses him directly. "Yes, Mistress Esme," he says as mildly as ever.

Rayford nods along with Esme's question and answer, his mouth finding itself full of another bite of pie just at the moment, but he gestures with his fork toward the wise woman. Once he's swallowed, and followed that swallow with a drink of cider, he follows on with, "Exactly, and I've said so myself before, of other men. As to myself, my own story is nothing so dramatic as you might imagine. I like to say it was an excellent sense for timing that prompted me to join the Night's Watch."

Having won her point — or so it appears? — Esme lets the past rest in the past, and takes another bite from her own modest slice of pie. "… Oldtown does draw all sorts, don't it?" she observes mildly. "On all sorts of business. Even more'n the capital, I think. Always new faces, always somethin' goin' on. Livin' here doesn't ever get borin', does it, Master Camillo?"

Camillo shakes his head lightly. "I couldn't say that it ever does, Mistress Esme," he replies. "I have never lived in a busier city." Of course, he's never lived in much of any other city at all.

"I've seen a fair few cities," Rayford says, nodding his agreement, "And Oldtown does seem singular in that regard. There's nothing like it in the North, nor the Riverlands. King's Landing, of course, but…" He shakes his head, gesturing toward Esme with his empty fork, in accord once again. "And Casterly Rock hardly compares, does it? I think not. No, Oldtown is her own creature."

"Indeed she is, and I'd not live anywhere else," declares Esme, her gaze lifting to her windows overlooking the Shambles, by extension to the city itself. She seems almost to be drifting into thought till she recalls herself, and glances round the table at the men's plates. "Will you have another slice, Master Camillo?" she offers gently, for he seems to be nearly finished. "You know I always think you look as though they're not feedin' you up there," she reminds him, "though I know they must be."

Camillo shakes his head slightly. "Just the one is more than enough," he answers, adding, "And I thank you kindly for it. I suppose you save the cook the trouble of feeding me, many a day." He punctuates with a sip of cider.

"It's a rare cook as wouldn't leave you missing Mistress Esme's pie," Rayford opines with a wink to Camillo of the sort that might pass between friends at a shared truth. "Though I don't suppose a man goes hungry, living at the Hightower, does he?"

"Well, if you're sure," says Esme to Camillo, nodding. "You can always change your mind, dearie," she promises him. Though no word has been said of a second slice of steak and kidney for Ser Rayford of the Night's Watch, to whom she turns with a different kind of inquiry. "Now, was there anythin' you were wantin' from the shop today, ser? I plain forgot to ask you."

Camillo nods vaguely at Rayford, his manner far from comfortable and collegial, but civil at least. "We're all fed," he confirms. "We fit our meals round the meals for the nobles, we all eat the same. Sometimes bits left over from their food, sometimes other things. They take care of us well, I'd not complain."

"Good, good," Rayford says — a repeat from earlier — though he does sound pleased at Camillo's answer. "And no, Mistress," this to Esme, "I'll send my man around to speak to Katla. No need to trouble yourself over my paltry needs, is there? I'll see myself into candles and linen soon enough, and no bothering you for it."

"Nonsense. You tell your man to see me," Esme insists; "I may like lazin' about havin' a bite to eat with friends but I'm never too grand to see to my own customers, dearie," she chuckles, shaking her head as she reaches again for her cup of cider. "Nothin' goes on in my shop I don't know about it; anythin' the matter's my fault, not anybody else's." And she remembers herself: "Oh, but you don't want to hear about my little shop, do you, ser? I only stay in the same place, day in and day out, and you've been all over." She nods.

Camillo drinks again from the cup of cider, looking between Esme and Rayford. "I've never had any problem in this shop no matter who was serving me," he puts in.

Rayford pushes back from the table, but pauses to drain the cider from his cup, then makes a refreshed 'Ah' sound before he speaks. "In point of fact, I ought to be going," Rayford says, and seems sad for saying so. "I've much to do, settling in, after all." Coming to his feet, he offers Camillo a nod. "It has been a pleasure to meet you, Master Camillo." And then to Esme, "And I thank you for the pie, Mistress, and the fine company." With that the feet of his chair scuff on the floor again, and he's on his feet and headed toward the door with naught more but polite farewells.

Ah, he's taken the hint. "Oh, I'm sure. It was so nice to see you again, ser," says Esme pleasantly, rising as well, up to her full height of not much beyond five feet; "but you mustn't let me keep you, eh?" And she follows Ser Rayford to the door and holds it for him, returning his farewells with her own, and anxiously hoping he'll mind how he goes on her stairs.

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