(123-05-26) A Tolerance for Crows
A Tolerance for Crows
Date: 27/05/2016
Related: None

Turned away. The ignominy. A man of the Night's Watch, dressed in black silk and brocade more suited to the summery clime of the Reach than to the bitter north from whence he no doubt hails, stands rebuffed by guards in Hightower livery. "No, Ser," for the man is a knight — see his spurs, the sword at his hip — and not to be dismissed rudely, "And I'm sorry, but I can't let you through at all. No, Ser. Not unless you're called for, or expected. Or there's an emergency." They've been explaining to the black-clad knight for some time now, so it's with a note of hope in his voice that the Sergeant adds, "It ain't an emergency is it, Ser?"

"Ah, no," Rayford answers, his grin game as it was at the start of the conversation. "No, not an emergency, as I've mentioned." He had not, but the guard nods his agreement. "I was simply calling, Sergeant…" He lets it trail off until it becomes a question, and the guard supplies a name. "Gavin! Yes. And I thank you for announcing my presence in the city to Lord Hightower, then. Indeed, the Night's Watch thanks you, and I shall await Lord Hightower's leisure. My rooms are at the sign of The Lion Rampant; you'll know the one, I've the balcony that looks out on the waterfront."

His business concluded then, he claps Gavin on the shoulder and turns on his heel. Thumbs now tucked into his baldric, Rafe whistles tunelessly as he steps away from the gate.

From a few steps away a voice comments comments, "They wouldn't let me in either." The voice is feminine; it has a foreign lilt to it; it is made plangent by the regret in which it invites Ser Rayford to share.

It belongs to a small woman whose plain but finely-stitched gown of dark purple linen shows already the creases of a busy day. The lines around her blue-green eyes suggest middle age, but her red hair is innocent of silver or white… guilty, perhaps, of being coloured with some sort of powder? She might be pretty enough if the corners of her mouth were turned up instead of down.

She is leaning against a railing, inclined towards the Hightower's white marble splendour as though she were the figurehead of a ship. Her gaze drifts away from Rafe, up to the beacon. "… I did so want to see what the city would look like," she sighs, "from all the way up there. Did you, too?"

"Did I…" Rayford's eyes are drawn to the voice, and eyes nearly as black as his garb take Ida in at a glance. "It would be a sight, wouldn't it," he asks, with a wistful glance up toward the beacon. "But no, I have business." His tone shifts at that, dismissive of the tedium, and he puts his stroll on hold for a moment. "But now that you mention it, I should like to see the sights, I think. Compare the view to that from the Wall, I think." The grin that accompanies those last few words is humble, perhaps even a bit embarrassed, and softened further by a casual shrug.

The small woman in the purple dress turns round properly at that, her attention suddenly, wholly for Ser Rayford. She doesn't look sad anymore. "The Wall—? The wall in the far north? Have you seen it? How high is it really?" A hint of hope, there, as though she would like to be told that it lives up to the tales. "What can you see from the top of it? What do people look like? What kind of patterns do you see in the arrangement of the trees?"

Rayford turns to regard the Hightower, leaning backward just a bit, arching his back. "High as that tower, I reckon," he finally guesses, nodding as though to agree with himself. "Seen it? My lady, I am a man of the Night's Watch," and now, where humility reigned, braggadocio begins to creep in. "I have lived days in their entirety atop the wall." He shifts his stance again to face Ida, his back to the Hightower, brows lifted. "You can see for leagues from atop it, when the weather's right, and men seem no bigger than ants. Smaller, even. At night you might see the cities and keeps of the North, if it's clear, and even a Wildling camp if you've a good eye."

His grand tale seems to lure the foreign woman nearer, step by step, her red head tilted at a quizzical angle. "That must be… captivating," she decides. "I've heard it said that one can see over a longer distance when the air is cold," she agrees eagerly; "but I've never visited such a cold place to try it. I suppose I wouldn't be allowed to visit the Wall either, would I? Women aren't allowed… Should you be speaking to me?" she laughs.

"My vows allow me to speak to you," Rayford says with a flash of his teeth, "Though not to court you, and more's the pity." It's clearly said in jest, and the laugh that follows invites her to join in. "Ser Rayford," he finally introduces himself with a well-executed bow, one hand going briefly to thie pommel of his sword to keep it from fouling as he bends and straightens, "Of someplace far off and cold. And not someplace I'd recommend visiting, allowed or no. The wind there bites like an animal, some days."

At that jest the woman's hand rises to shield her mouth; she lets out a little "Oh!" and regards him with merrily startled eyes over the curve of her fingers. She lowers her hand and offers it to him, for a shake rather than a kiss. She's smiling, having taken his words for a piece of agreeable nonsense. She leans nearer: "Well, we won't do that, then," she agrees, in a whisper so serious it may be a mockery of her own. Then she straightens. "I'm Ida Imaldi. … Of Braavos." The latter fact being supplied as an afterthought.

Rayford takes her hand just the way it's offered, shaking once, and then letting it go with a reluctance that doesn't seem altogether feigned. "I thought I sensed a fellow traveller in you, Lady…" His eyes shift to the side, his lips purse, and he offers his elbow as he turns again to face down the street. "I confess, I've never met a soul from Braavos. Lady Imaldi? Lady Ida? I'm not sure what's polite, and embarrassed to say so."

Ida meanwhile is looking into his eyes with unabashed curiosity and seems to have forgotten that she has a hand. "In Braavos there are no lords," she explains, "and no ladies either. They call me Mistress Imaldi at the inn — but really, I'm just Ida." She shrugs, which movement dislodges a strand of long, thick red hair from the knot at the back of her head. Then of course she remembers that she has hands, and puts both of them to use.

"No lords, mayhaps," Rayford says, tucking his elbow back in at his side, "But you're a lady if ever I've seen one, Ida. Though, allowing as you prefer it, I'd simply call you Ida." His eyes are drawn to her fingers as they work at her loose hair, but suddenly conscious of them, he turns them down the street instead. "Ida, it may be that this city has other sights to offer, aside from that tower. I wonder if you might join me in searching them out?"

Ida's hairpin is dull and dark in her inksmudged white hand; she replaces it with an expression of absolute focus, and then brightens visibly. "Oh," she says, as though presented with an oddly beguiling idea, "I suppose neither of us has anything else to do…" And she rolls her eyes at the guards posted at the end of the bridge, who have been studiously ignoring all this. She means them to see but they don't even look, the swine. "You can tell me how to recognise a lady just by looking," she suggests, amused, "and why you say it as though it's the greatest compliment you could pay a woman."

Rafe takes a step off down the street, setting a leisurely pace, and chuckles companionably "I do my best never to have anything to do," he agrees. "I suppose 'lady' being a compliment is a matter of culture, isn't it, and I apologize if I've offended you," though his lopsided grin suggests that he suspects he has not. "Recognizing one is as simple as having an eye for grace, I suppose, and you've an air of that about you." In a lower register and a tone less weighty he adds a second quality to look for: "Fine clothes will often mark a lady as well, of course."

Next to him Ida is not notably graceful, but her small, quick steps easily keep up with Ser Rayford's slower but longer stride. "You've given no offense," she promises him at once, her crooked smile holding up a mirror to his grin. "I just think it's silly and…" She considers. "Yes, silly and and rather sweet, what you Westerosi choose to care about. You put so much faith in the little titles you give to some women merely for being born the children of their parents. Then you make them into compliments; you say: well done for being born!" she declares stoutly, and she wrinkles her nose and laughs. "As though nothing a woman does after that could be worthy of more note… Well, I can't say in Braavos none of our titles pass by heredity rather than election," she concedes, deflating to a degree, determined to be just, "but I think we are more sensible about what they are worth in themselves. We know that not all keyholders," she uses the Low Valyrian word, "are equal. It is one thing to inherit a key; it is another to put it to use."

"I…" Rayford raises a hand to rub at his chin, and after a second's consideration laughs — a long and clear laugh, of dawning realization as much as amusement. "You're right, of course. It is foolish, now that you say it that way." A few paces in silence, quietly entertained at his own expense, and he begins again. "It's true enough of men too, here, you know? There's little a man grown can do to equal the good fortune of a man who chanced to be born a Lannister. Shiny spurs," not unlike his own, which he jingles purposefully now for effect, "Might lift the occasional lad out of the gutter, but they'll not make him rich."

Ida duly looks down to inspect the jingly spurs. "Shiny!" she agrees, looking up as though to meet his eyes but being only too distracted by another knight, passing along Lower Hightower Street on the back of a colourfully-caparisoned horse, surrounded by his retinue. An apt enough illustration.

"Do you suppose he's rich?" she inquires, nodding to the rider. "I don't see how any knight could accumulate a substantial fortune," she admits, "between the endless expense of horseflesh, the need so often to replace the highly-trained mounts he must lose in battle or in accidents, the price of steel always rising," she mentions specific figures drawn from several leading steel-producing regions in Essos and Westeros, absent-mindedly enough but without once stumbling over dates or numbers or where to put a decimal point, "the armourer's time and skill, the cost of keeping squires, grooms, servants…" She turns, deep in thought, walking backwards next to Ser Rayford with her eyes following that gaudily-dressed horse cutting a swathe through the passersby. "If he works for one of your noble houses I can only imagine the lord defrays his expenses in return for his service; but still, even if he were to come by a capital sum, what could he invest it in besides his own equipment? His own life depends upon that equipment. No, I don't think he could be rich," she decides, rather sadly, and if her companion isn't looking out for her she'll have ploughed straight backwards into somebody by now. "To grow small sums into large ones would surely take more free time than he'd have."

Rayford, though, is looking out for her. There are things spurs and a sword will do for a man, and one of those is let him clear a path with a gesture or a hard look. A wave of his hand, a protective reach toward (but not to) the small of Ida's back, these are enough to see folk out of her way. He listens as she expounds upon the plight of the knight, and at various points his jaw begins to work as though he might speak, but each time he's left only to nod. What he understands, he does agree with. "A poorer knight," he puts in needlessly, "Might avoid some of these expenses. Not keeping a squire, not investing in cloth of gaudy colors, avoiding tourneys as though they were a bear-trap, but even so…" His bemused look acknowledges that he has nothing of worth to add to the conversation. "And yet, yes, I do think that he is likely rich. Perhaps he is both a lord and a knight; some men are."

Oblivious to the small knightly services being performed on her behalf Ida turns again, with another couple of steps, to face the same way as her escort again. And now that he has spoken, she looks thoughtful. "There are… seventy-one lords in the Reach," she declares, with another glance over her shoulder to see if she can see the knight riding towards — it's apparent now — the Hightower, "and Lord Hightower is in King's Landing, so that's seventy, and Lord Tyrell is in Highgarden, so that's sixty-nine. I suppose he could be one of the sixty-nine," she agrees, "quite easily… Why would a poorer knight avoid tourneys? Why are they like bear-traps? I've heard about tourneys; but nothing about bears… I hoped I might see one whilst I was here."

"Lesser lords," Rayford puts in gently, "Sons of great lords. Cousins, brothers, and the like. We call them lords too, though some are hardly more than smallfolk with a sturdier roof." She has put him in an uncommonly thoughtful mood, and he grins absently as they walk and talk. "A poorer knight might avoid tourneys because they sometimes see him lose a horse, or leave him wanting repairs to his kit, and none the richer for having planted his standard at the tourney. No, it seems to me a poor knight's best path to comfort is finding service in a rich household. Don't you think?"

It's Ida's turn to look baffled by almost that entire speech. "One should never, ever risk what one cannot afford to lose," she agrees seriously. "Far better to accept a smaller rate of return over time, than to risk all and be left with empty hands… But could a knight, even if he was poor, live so comfortably on another's bounty? Knowing that if he lacked in obedience he might at any time lose his place, and all his comfort with it? Are knights in practice no more than servants of lords? So much is written and spoken of Westerosi knights; from afar it is difficult to be certain of your true nature… And isn't it the same for the sons and brothers of your great lords?" she asks tentatively. "Families such as the Hightowers and the Tyrells don't divide their holdings equally in each generation, do they?" She can't help but smile at the very idea of allowing such fortunes to break apart into fragments. "The younger sons have only what they are given… Generous stipends, perhaps, but I don't think," she does indeed look as though she's thinking, "we ought to call it 'wealth' unless it is their own to hold."

It's not enough to listen to Ida speak. Rayford must watch her, turning his head slightly to keep her in his view. His eyes flit away often enough to be mindful of their path, but always return to her. "You've a fine mind for this," he says, admiration warming his tone. "And I see as you may understand it better than I already. But no, I don't suppose they do split their fortunes. And no, mayhaps a poor knight could not settle into comfort knowing that he may find himself outcast and penniless any day." His thumbs find his baldric once again, and Rayford seems more than content, now. Ida's company is a fine thing, and he ought to see more days like this one. The nature of wealth is clearly a topic that has his attention, and Rayford is enraptured.

It's the questions and the answers which enrapture Ida; the point of view of a real local knight, living within this quaint and backward Westerosi system and trying to do the best he can. If the light in her blue-green eyes passes for more personal curiosity, she's oblivious to any such thing. "I would define true wealth not by the sums concerned — as long as one's needs are met — but by the number of sources from which those sums are derived," she opines, as they stroll on through the city. "If one source is lost to you, the others see you through until it can be replaced. To depend upon a single income, especially an income given or lost at one man's whim, sounds precarious to me," she says, rather apologetically. "It's… putting all the eggs in one basket," she declares, looking rather proud of herself for knowing the appropriate Westerosi idiom to tote out. Though, of course, with a memory like hers…

"Reckon I'd never thought of it that way," Rayford muses softly, nodding as she elucidates for him the nature of true wealth. "My needs, small as they are, are seen to by The Night's Watch," though he assumes she had worked that out, "Though just now you have me feeling I ought to…" His open hand describes circles in the air in front of him as he searches for the word. "Work out another source of income, as it were. Or more than one, and as quick as I might, I reckon. To be safe."

"Well, a man joins the Night's Watch for all his life, doesn't he? I'm sure you need not worry for your future," declares Ida, smiling. "I'm sorry if I— it was a theoretical discussion," she explains, as though that settles everything, excuses everything. "I'm curious about… what it's like to live in Westeros."

Rafe raises a finger to point ahead of them briskly, the gesture somehow meant to indicate agreement, and he adds to it: "He does, he does, and it's a good enough life, isn't it?" He frowns thoughtfully, nodding. "It is indeed. But your theoreticals, as you say, raise interesting points. And what use is a conversation on philosophy that doesn't set a man to thinking about himself, and what he ought to do?" Rhetorical, says another shake of the head. "We're well met, Ida. As it happens, I've seen a good deal of Westeros, and done a fair bit of living as I saw it. And I reckon," he adds, sotto voce, "I may yet get us to the top of that tower, if you've a patient disposition and a tolerance for my company."

"Is it?" asks Ida softly, a moment after his 'Isn't it?' But he's already moving on; she moves with him, literally and figuratively, her hands clasped now behind her back as she walks, her attention much more upon what he has to say than the street ahead and its perils. "… I would like to get to the top," she admits, her gaze veering away toward nothing in particular, her smile turning distant and wistful and just the least little bit mischievous. "What's your plan? Or would you not like to tell me, yet?"

"Nothing grand," Rayford says, waving Ida's concerns away with another open-handed gesture. "Nothing secretive. I expect that, in time, I will receive a summons to the Hightower; they can hardly refuse. I will make my case to Lord Ormund, and it is my hope that I shall secure a standing invitation into the Hightower itself. In time, I think I shall come and go as I please — not to a certainy, mind, but I intend to arrange just such a thing. And so, as a guest of the Hightower, I shall of course be obliged to tour it." A shrug, and almost as an afterthought he adds, "And were we to remain in touch, as acquaintances or even perhaps you as my occasional advisor in matters of finance? I've no doubt that I could see a similar courtesy extended to you."

Ida listens respectfully. "It's a good plan," she agrees, "if as you say you possess the initial requirements — through your connections in the Night's Watch…? And each stage builds logically upon the stage before." She nods her approval. "And it's very kind of you to think of inviting me! I'm staying at a place called the Golden Maiden Inn, and I'm sure if you left me a message there…?" She tilts her head inquisitively. "We could meet again and discuss financial matters. I would be so interested in hearing more about the particular difficulties of accumulating capital in Westeros."

"The Golden Maiden Inn," Rayford repeats, committing it to memory. "I'm not so far away, at the Lion Rampant. I've the balcony overlooking the waterfront." He seems pleased with that, but then he's a generally pleased sort of fellow. "And if you don't mind my being immodest, I'm a bit of an expert on having a difficult time accumulating wealth. Any time that you find you are curious, only send word, and I'll call on you for a meal."

The Braavosi woman laughs out loud, always a promising sign in a new acquaintance of the feminine persuasion. "I shall do that," she decides, "if you don't mind if I ask you a great many questions…? I don't know how long I will stay in Oldtown — but long enough, I hope, to answer them all."

Rayford tucks his thumbs back into his belt, eyes flitting across the scenery as the pair strolls. "It would be my pleasure to answer your great many questions," he replies, "And to enjoy your company for so long as you are in Oldtown, be that days or months." With a self-deprecating grin he appends to that, "Or for so long as my company is tolerable to you."

"… Do people often find your company intolerable?" is Ida's next question, delivered with a narrowing of her eyes and a quizzical sort of smile. "That's twice now you've suggested I might require tolerance to see you again."

"It happens more than I'd like," Rayford says, though it doesn't have the ring of truth. "My brothers of the Night's Watch have sent me all the way to the Reach, so they must have found me disagreeable. I expect I'm not dour enough for their liking; they're all very grim." And Ser Rayford is quite the opposite. "In truth, I joke at my own expense. Not an endearing habit, perhaps, but difficult to break."

Ida regards him with fascinated eyes and slightly parted lips, listening for words and tone and undertone and putting them all together visibly before bursting into sudden laughter. "You are funny," she informs him, between one breathless giggle and the next. "… But my inn is around this next corner, and I think I shall go in. In… the inn." Giggle.

Rayford is never far from a grin, and Ida's sees one spreading into a toothy smile. "Good," he remarks. "Then, having seen you safely back to it, I shall take my leave." Another bow, this one every bit as practiced and formal as the first, and he straightens to watch Ida leave.

With hands clasped behind her back Ida studies his bowing technique as though it were of great interest, this Westerosi bowing. Not like the Braavosi kind at all.

Then she takes a step backward — and then another — her weight balanced on the balls of her feet as though she might at any instant break into a run. “And I’ll… take my leave,” she decides. One more step. A friendly little wave, at waist level. “See you again?” And her next step takes her neatly backward round the corner. Out of sight, well within mind.

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