(123-05-28) Commerce in the Square
Commerce in the Square
Summary: Camillo stops a boy from cutting a woman's purse; several minor transactions are engaged in; others are merely posited for the sake of discussion.
Date: 28/05/2016
Related: None?

Amongst the bustling, hawking, swindling, cheating habitués of Oldtown Square one small woman in a plain dark blue dress is moving at a different pace — and craning her neck to gaze about her with each slow and dreamy step, as though she at least can see wonders in this prosaic urban scene.

What she doesn't see, is the enterprising barefoot urchin sidling up behind her with the intention of parting her purse from her belt.

Camillo happens to be just concluding some business at a stall not far from where Ida stands. Whatever his purchase was, it is now safely tucked away inside the shapeless bag he often carries. His sharp eyes do not fail to miss an impending robbery. His solution to the situation is to take a few steps to close the gap between himself and the young cutpurse's pigeon, grab the back of the urchin's shirt, and give it a firm yank. It isn't violent and shouldn't alert the guard, but it is a warning, to seek another target or another time. The urchin's attention doubtless attracted, he holds out a coin. "Go and get me a roll from the baker's stall and keep the rest for yourself." The coin is worth at least two rolls. Then he lifts his gaze to the red haired woman. "Are you…new to this place?" he asks.

The street child's squawk of protest suffices to draw the woman's eyes away from the square's engrossing landscape of makeshift market stalls, and barrows and carts — the gritty end of commerce, where every copper is serious business — she turns, her full sleeves swaying, the simple pearl necklace at her throat gleaming in the morning sunshine. Her blue-green eyes travel between Camillo and the boy, the boy and Camillo; there's something here she doesn't yet grasp. The boy is away on his errand; "I am," the woman declares eagerly, in a thick but comprehensible Braavosi accent. "… Are you?" she adds, tilting her head.

Camillo shakes his head slowly. "No," he says simply in reply, eyes briefly following the boy off to get an idea of whether he's actually going to bring him back any bread or not. But he doesn't look deeply concerned. His gaze moves back to Ida. "You're foreign?" he asks.

Still short one real answer the woman gazes, faintly entranced, in search of it. "I'm from Braavos," she answers. And then she feels moved to hold out her hand to the man in the green shirt (for a shake rather than a kiss) and to elaborate upon her theme. "… I'm Ida," she explains softly.

Camillo seems to hesitate over what to do about handshakes from female foreigners, but after thinking for a moment, he clasps her hand. Briefly. "My name is Camillo. And you should…watch your purse in the market."

Ida's hand is as soft as a highborn lady's, but as inksmudged as a maester's. It hovers in the air a moment after Camillo lets go of it — and then, as her eyes widen, it flees down to clutch at her purse. "… Oh!" And she's laughing out loud, shoulders hunched, in a guiltily girlish way. "Did that boy—?" She casts a glance toward the roll negotiations ongoing nearby. "… Thank you, Camillo," she says sincerely. "I was thinking." She seems of the opinion that those three words explain any amount of inattention.

Camillo shakes his head slightly. "He didn't take anything," he assures the woman, ducking his head humbly at the thanks. "But he might be hungry. If you send him on another errand when he comes back with the bread, that will be another few minutes he won't spend thieving. And some food in him," he adds. "If he comes back."

"Well, there's not much to take," Ida points out just to be fair, with her hand again upon her purse, "but a bill of exchange in my name… I think he would be ve-ry surprised," this in conspiratorial tones, "by what would happen if he tried to redeem it." She presses her lips together in a mischievous little smile for Camillo. "Giving him a way to earn his coin instead; that is a fine idea. But I don't think I have any errands to be done. Perhaps you could think of one for me?" she asks, blinking inquisitively at him.

Camillo looks puzzled, or perhaps dubious. He's less ready to smile than she is. "You've not seen any goods in the market that pleased you?" he asks. "Is there something you'd like to eat or drink? Do you need to find lodging, or know when a certain ship comes in or goes out?"

The Braavosi woman makes a small sound in the international language of thoughtful consideration. Someone passing behind her jostles her slightly and she reacts by taking an abrupt little step nearer to Camillo. Her gown is finely-stitched for all its simplicity; she smells of a delicate herbal soap, and nothing else. "I know the shipping schedules," she says first of all, "and I have lodgings. I am not hungry or thirsty. I like to watch the buying and selling, but I think I have everything I need for myself," she says honestly. "Neither of my chests were lost on the voyage. Perhaps… Flowers, for my room? I haven't seen anyone selling flowers," she confides, "but I haven't walked through all the square yet. Do you think there might be a flower-seller somewhere? I could send him to find out," she decides, "if he comes back."

"Somewhere in Oldtown," Camillo seems confident. After all, the seasons for flowers are long and there are any number of potential customers from nobles to more ordinary people who want a flower or two to mask the city smells. "You can ask him for that." He looks over the person who jostled her to be sure it wasn't yet another attempt to get at that purse.

But that potential miscreant, at least, has passed on; there's only Ida, looking up interestedly into Camillo's eyes, her own displaying an expression of amiable curiosity just this side of enchantment. "Do you often save strange women from being robbed?" she asks. "Or…" Her eyes narrow. She's concentrating upon him even more deeply. "Do you often try to teach strange boys to work for their bread, instead of stealing it?"

Camillo looks back to Ida, squinting slightly at the question as if he were not certain why she might ask it. As unguarded as her expression may be, he doesn't seem to gain any enlightenment from it. "No," he answers. "Not very often. But this time I couldn't help seeing it." And at about this time, the urchin returns. He hasn't exactly been quick about it, and perhaps he even delayed, deciding whether to keep the bread for himself or not. But now he's giving it over to Camillo. Camillo takes the roll, then looks to Ida.

Her new habit of holding her purse, acquired in just the last several minutes, means at least that it is to hand: belatedly, for she was watching the delivery of the roll with some interest, Ida gasps "Oh!" and begins to fish through it. Keen eyes might indeed spot more paper than coin amongst her valuables. "Young man, will you please buy us some flowers?" she asks the boy, in her very good but occasionally quaint Common. "I don't know the names of the flowers in your city — but I would like the prettiest, the most colourful, a bunch… this big," she decides, holding her hands a certain distance apart. "We will sit on that bench," she gestures to it, silver flashing between her fingertips, "and wait for you to come back. If we like the flowers you bring you shall have another coin like this. Do you agree?" And she waits for a word from him before relinquishing the silver stag into his grubby paw.

Camillo is now committed to sitting on a bench with a foreigner. He watches the child carefully as he makes the easy choice to go on a run for flowers in return for the promise of the stag. The boy grabs the coin once he's agreed and this time runs off a little faster. He didn't get that much from Camillo. Camillo eyes the bench. "I don't know much about Braavos."

The foreigner committed to sitting on a bench with Camillo appears much more chipper regarding the situation. It was her idea, after all. "I don't know much about Westeros," she laughs. "I've read books; but the real experience of a place is… something different, isn't it?" As she speaks she steps across to the bench and smooths her skirts and sits down, and looks up at her annexed companion, expectant. "What would you like to know?" she asks easily.

Camillo tilts his head in regard to this question about real experiences of places. "I don't know," he admits, taking his own seat a respectful distance from the foreigner. "Is Braavos very far away?"

Sitting neatly next to him with her knees together and her hands clasped in her lap, her body turned in towards him and her face tilted slightly upwards, as wholly focused upon him as though they were the only two living creatures in Oldtown Square — a fine chance! — Ida supplies him with the exact distance, in several different units of measurement. When this doesn't seem to bring about instant enlightenment she blinks twice and tries a different approach: the local comparison. "The distance between Oldtown and Highgarden, almost seven times over," she explains. "I traveled by sea to King's Landing and then south along the Kingsroad. It takes longer by road," she sighs, "but it's safer than sailing through the Stepstones… My brother was worried about me," another sigh, a fond little roll of her eyes, "but really, he was more worried about the business he wanted me to do for him in King's Landing."

Camillo isn't much of one for eye-contact. His gaze repeatedly wanders to the market stalls. "It sounds long and dangerous," he allows. Then he glances Ida's way. "Are you a merchant?"

Ida's eyes, blue-green and bright with intelligence, the skin about them lightly creased by the passage of time, wait patiently each time for his gaze to return. She seems to have to think about the question before answering it. "Am I… No-o," she says tentatively. "I think I would define a merchant only as someone who trades in commodities. I work for the bank," she explains. "The Iron Bank," she adds then, because it's true there are others.

Camillo furrows his brow thoughtfully. "I suppose I have heard of it," he allows. "Does that make you a moneylender?" is what he wants to know next, judging the expression in her eyes before his gaze wnders again.

The Braavosi woman inches nearer on the bench and lets out a thoughtful little sound. "I suppose I am," she decides, "or I might be, if I wished to be. After all, we'd be a funny sort of bank if we decided to stop lending money to people and governments who wished to borrow it," she giggles. "How else to grow the wealth of nations?"

Camillo shakes his head. "I don't know about the growth of nations," he admits. "But…" he says, glancing back at the woman, "Is that the aim of your bank? To make nations wealthier?"

And Ida tilts hers. "I think a bank, like a man, has many different aims," she concedes, a curious small smile still tugging at her lips; "but it is by such lending and borrowing and trading and investing, by the web of transactions which links merchants in Oldtown and Braavos and all the other great cities of the world, that the power of finance makes everyone wealthier and better off than they would be without it. On average," she amends.

Camillo looks deeply thoughtful about this news. Apparently, he had not turned his mind to the questions of world finance before. "But how is that?" he asks. "Where does the new wealth come from?"

"People create it with their own hands," explains Ida mysteriously. She points to the roll still in Camillo's hand. "A miller makes grain into flour; it is worth more as flour. A baker makes flour into bread; it is worth more as bread. What if a banker lends a baker coin to buy six new carts? Then there are woodsmen making trees into wood," she begins listing them on her fingers, "carpenters making wood into carts, wheelwrights making wood into wheels, millers making more flour than they did before, dairies making more milk into butter and finding that after all they can afford to pay to keep more cows, merchants importing more salt and finding that they can strike better bargains for larger quantities… The baker takes on an extra apprentice to help make bread to fill the new carts, and a girl to sell the bread from each cart; those seven people were out of work, and what do they do now they have work? They buy more food. They buy new shoes, from cobblers who have made leather into something worth more. Perhaps they rent new lodgings, from landlords who can then afford to buy fine new clothes from seamstresses who have made plain linen worth more. You see?" she asks him, her eyes shining with hope.

Camillo sits still and thoughtful for a long while. "But I don't understand why the bank should always have more money to pay for carts," Camillo says. "Unless he charges such interest that the baker scarcely sees the profit of his new carts…"

Ida's lips part as though to speak — then come together again. She considers Camillo another moment. "… Did you mean to say how?" she asks. "Or why? They're very different questions."

Camillo pauses to consider that seriously. "I suppose…" he says cautiously, "I mean 'how.'" He looks over at Ida with eyes slightly narrowed again. "I don't understand enough who the bank is to ask 'why.'"

"Oh," and Ida smiles, because he has chosen the easy one. "Of course it isn't because the interest is unfair," she hastens to assure him in her role as a highly unbiased party. "But the baker's business could not grow without the bank's help, and so isn't it only fair that the bank also should profit—? The baker pays interest on his one loan; the bank might be collecting the interest upon hundreds of other loans during that span of time, larger loans, on which the interest alone would be enough to pay for sixty carts. And then, the bank has other sources of income; and the bank has the use of the coin deposited in it. We don't keep all that coin sitting idle — we lend it to the baker, we collect the interest, and the depositor shares in the interest," she explains, smiling. Then she gives an example, replete with percentages.

Camillo furrows his brow at all this information, sitting quietly with it. He looks at the ground beneath their feet. "What happens if the six carts don't make the bread sell any better?" he asks.

"Then the baker must find another way to repay his debt," explains Ida. "Perhaps by selling the carts to other merchants—?" She tilts her head and seems on the point of adding more, when a burst of colour catches her eye and draws it irresistibly away from Camillo: the urchin has returned for the other silver piece, with his arms full of bright summer flowers. "… Oh!" she gasps, jumping up off the bench, arms open, alight with joy. "I couldn't grow better myself!" And her next words are in Low Valyrian, spoken more softly and just to herself, as she caresses favoured flower-petals with fingertips which hardly know where to go first and indeed undergo several abrupt changes of direction.

Camillo looks skeptical about the baker selling his carts. "But then he loses money and the bank still gains," he points out, then looking up at the appearance of the urchin. He lifts his eyebrows somewhat at the banker's enthusiasm, but he doesn't look disapproving. "That was well done," he tells the boy softly.

"… But it is the baker's own choice, if he believes in the quality of his bread, if he is willing to work hard to sell it, to risk such a debt," Ida goes on, running her fingertip over one last primrose and then reaching again for her purse. "He came to the bank, did he not? He undertook the obligation willingly; he asked for the bank's trust. Of course he must repay that trust."

The boy hasn't a hand free to take the coin; he and Ida shuffle the flowers awkwardly between them until the exchange is complete, the Braavosi woman laughing and almost losing hold of one of the bundles of tied-together stalks.

Camillo nods at Ida, but he doesn't say anything on that score. Which doesn't mean he isn't thinking anything. He stands up to offer a hand in case the flower bundles are too much for the boy and the banker to contain.

Somehow all the flowers end up in Ida's arms, and the coin in the urchin's hand; she turns breathless and beaming to regard Camillo over the top of her fragrant prizes. "I must put them in water," she exclaims, as though this necessity has only just occurred to her. "… Shall I see you again, Camillo? Do you work near here?" She blinks at him inquiringly.

"I work at the Hightower," Camillo replies, expression vaguely puzzled as it has been almost all the time he has interacted with this woman. "I do not leave the city much." He bobs his head at the blooms. "I hope you enjoy your flowers."

"Oh," and Ida swings around, unerringly, to gaze up at the white marble bulk of the Hightower, visible here as it is in most parts of Oldtown. She lets out a wistful sigh. "I tried to visit the Hightower," she admits, tearing her eyes away again and looking about for Camillo, and having to turn the rest of the way round in a circle to find him, "to call on our clients who live there — and to see what the city looked like from such a height!" She lets out a quick breath of half-laughter. "—But the guards wouldn't let me across the bridge," she explains, pulling a rueful face and hugging her flowers. "They were turning away all kinds of other people too. It does seem strange to me, that the seat of government here is closed to so many. Do you know why?"

Camillo hasn't moved very much. He smiles apologetically at Ida. "It isn't safe to the people there," he says, "For just anyone to have access to their rooms and their homes. But I can take a message in to them if you like."

Once again Ida's attention swings round to the Hightower itself. "It can't all be a private home," she declares, craning her neck to look up, and up… "And they can't have too few guards to separate the private places from the places where business is done, and to escort visitors. Well, you don't have to tell me the real reason," she says, smiling and wrinkling her nose at Camillo, "I'm sure it must be a good one…" Then she thinks for a moment. "It's kind of you to offer, but I don't think I have a particular message for anyone there. I was only trying to be courteous. But if nobody here knows who I am anyway, they won't mind if I don't visit, will they?" she says reasonably.

"Can it not?" Camillo replies, lifting his eyebrows. He inclines his head. "I have not heard your name among them, so I do not think they are looking for you."

"There, you see?" agrees Ida. But then she bites her lip. "… But I don't see how it can," she maintains. She then proceeds to tell him the height and the circumference of the Hightower, how many storeys it could contain with each of several different average ceiling heights (one of which happens to be the correct height of most of the lower floors), how many twenty by twenty foot rooms could in theory exist upon each such storey, and how many living members there are of House Hightower. "They'd never see each other," she concludes, "especially since some of them live in King's Landing. Of course they must have guests," and she speculates upon a few more rough calculations, pausing only to sniff her flowers, "but even so, surely large areas of the tower are closed off…? What I mean is, they could not all be in use by the family or their guests. There must also be substantial public rooms and administrative offices… the places one would expect to be open to visitors and petitioners and anyone who has business with those running the city. A court is a place of work, as well as a place of entertainment and repose. At least… other courts," she laughs, "I have visited. In many such places it is enough to be decently dressed; if one is a man, to carry a sword. But I must put them in water." She takes a little step backward, and then another. "My thanks to you again, for the purse — and for the exchange of ideas!" The idea she's crediting him with being the flowers, which she lifts in salute.

"You must not forget the rest of us who live there," Camillo points out softly. "And the kitchens and the larders, the storage of armor, of family treasures, of tablewares, of linens, of furniture…" He doesn't go on much further. "If you do not like the way they have it, perhaps you should make a petition to Lord Ormund Hightower," he proposes, perhaps not altogether seriously. "Good day," he bids the woman upon her retreating steps, still somewhat puzzled altogether.

Ida gives him an astonished look. "… But I don't know how they have it," she calls out, laughing, with another step back; "that's what I was trying to decipher!" She shakes her head at him, puzzled by his puzzlement, and buries her face once in her flowers before striking out across the square.

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