(123-06-06) The Blue Banker at the Golden Maiden
The Blue Banker at the Golden Maiden
Summary: A man of the Night's Watch, a woman of the Iron Bank, and a platter of oysters. What could possibly go wrong? Just ask Jaqero.
Date: Mostly 21/06/2016.
Related: A Tolerance for Crows

In her answer to Ser Rayford's letter his new Braavosi acquaintance confesses that she's tired of dining with Jaqero every night; she invites him to take a meal with her at her inn, the Golden Maiden, a most respectable (and not to say lavish) establishment, on a certain day at a certain hour.

Whether he comes early or late he'll find Ida Imaldi sitting alone, her elbows propped upon a corner table, her chin cradled in her hands, reading the book laid out before her instead of a plate. She is dressed much as she was when they met at the Hightower, in a plain but well-made linen gown this time of a midnight blue so dark the common room's half-light turns it to black till one comes near, and her single strand of pearls. She doesn't look up at the opening of the door, nor at any of the talk round the other tables.

Ser Rayford himself arrives wearing something slightly more formal than at their last meeting, though again it is black from the high collar of his doublet to the toes of his polished leather boots. He is clean-shaven this time, his dark hair perhaps even trimmed. He lingers a moment in the doorway, looking from Ida — who stands out in the small room — to a member of the staff, and back. After only a moment's thought, however, he approaches his Braavosi acquaintance. His stride is slow, leisurely, giving her time to notice his approach. If she does not, however, he will draw near and then wait in silence a moment, reluctant to interrupt her reading.

Ida does not look up.

Her book is smallish, no more than eight inches high, copied in a hand so small and so neat (in those respects not unlike her own) that she has moved the candle from the middle of the table to cast a stronger light upon it — and been provided with two further candles by some solicitous servant. Her corner is the common-room's best-lit. After a while she turns the page.

Rayford waits into that uncomfortable space where it would be more awkward to interrupt than to wait further, though as time draws out it becomes increasingly obvious that he will be obliged to do something to draw Ida's attention. That realization prompts him to take a further, decisive step forward (intended perhaps to seem like the last of several steps), and speaks her name aloud. "Ida. I hope I haven't kept you waiting."

The little Braavosi woman starts. Her head lifts as part of a shudder which seems to run through her — she looks one way and then the other, wildly distracted, at least one hairpin beginning to slip — she finds Ser Rayford with the second turn of her gaze and then, straight away, she locates a smile as well. "Rayford! You came," she declares delightedly. "I'm reading The Watchers on the Wall," she adds, resting a hand upon the page before her, as nothing less than a caress; "is it true, what Archmaester Harmune writes—?" Her eyes search his, their blue-green deepened by the candlelight and the hue of her gown.

"Much of it is," Rayford returns, his brief laugh the sort that invites accompaniment. "Maester Harmune's is, I believe, the definitive work on the subject." A pause, his boots heavy as he steps up behind an empty chair, and he appends a question: "Did you doubt I would come?" His grin both wry and self-deprecating, he finishes, "My lady, I am an anointed knight! I should never break my word to a lady, when given, nor miss a chance at dinner in such lovely company."

Ida focuses intently upon the man and his words, and tackles them in order. "I did not doubt that you would come," she clarifies, "but I am still pleased that you did. I did not know you were anointed as well as a knight; what were you anointed with? I am not a lady, we have discussed that already; I do not think either that I am lovely, but," and she raises a finger, because this is a very firm and important point: "I am pleased," she repeats.

Besides the candles there is a bottle of white wine on the table; it is open and breathing, and two glasses have been poured. The beading of condensation upon them suggests the wine was chilled, a pleasant touch on a summer evening, and that neither it nor Ida have been waiting for him too long.

Rayford slides into the chair, waving an open hand at the wine glasses. "I am pleased that you are pleased, then," delivered as he settles in, weight forward with his forearms on the table, "And further pleased to see that the wine is chilled - I find I am still acclimating myself to the warmer weather." A lift and fall of his shoulders, and he raises one finger, recalling an earlier piece of the conversation (and brushing past other parts). "Do you question some particular claim of Maester Harmune, or the work as a whole? I am at your service, of course, if you're wanting further clarification."

That too pleases the little Braavosi woman, to judge by the radiant smile with which she regards her new, voluntary, walking encyclopaedia; and the next several minutes are passed in a swift and increasingly heated debate over the Archmaester's most bizarre assertions regarding snow, and ice, and giants, and wargs… Ida has no difficulty in quoting word for word, including page numbers and her own supporting or conflicting cross-references, without so much as another glance down at the book lying open before her; she's effortlessly learned, suspiciously sceptical, now and again downright incredulous, but the more she asks "Are you certain?" and the more the qualified expert insists that he is, the more she begins, reluctantly, with many a troubled sigh or narrowing of her eyes, to believe…

The serving-woman has no luck at all getting her attention.

For his part, this errant brother of the Night's Watch is more than pleased to play the dual parts of tutor and dinner companion, sipping at the chilled wine as he answers, is challenged, supports, and debates. He is quickly impressed with her acumen - enough so that any inclination toward embellishment is put aside in favor of direct and honest answers, and even a rare admission that he doesn't know. It is immediately apparent that he is not nearly so learned as her, though he has made himself familiar with the work between them. Nor is he familiar with the other works she references, nor is he particularly well read in a general sense. Nevertheless, his pleasure in the conversation is genuine, and it is with a good-natured chuckle that he lets his attention be taken by the hovering serving woman. "…forced to tunnel through it, you see, and leave their mounts behind. Otherwise they," he pauses, clears his throat, and nods at the patient maid. "Ah, but here, we've new business, don't we?"

Called back into the Oldtown evening and the Golden Maiden Inn, Ida at first evinces puzzlement, her brow gently furrowing and her lips parting upon another question — but then she recollects where they are and the ostensible purpose of their meeting, and notices the serving-woman for the first time. "Hello, Mayra," she says brightly, smiling up. "I think we are ready to eat, are we not?" And, having leaned forward over the table in her vehemence and her curiosity, she sits back again in her chair; and her inkstained hands, which have been so busy in the air, settle in her lap. She has the air of one who has done all that is expected of her for the time being.

The maid meanwhile steps away; belatedly, Ida explains, "I do not know Westerosi food and so I ask them only to surprise me, and then I say what I like and what I did not like. But I always have oysters," she adds, by way of a reassurance, because oysters make everything all right.

"I know a bit of Westerosi food," Rayford nods, then looks up to Mayra, "And I do enjoy a surprise." With that assertion, he points emphatically toward Ida, a vigorous endorsement of her practice. "And if it should prove an unpleasant surprise, then we will at the least have oysters to fall back on. Not at all unpleasant, to my way of thinking." His dark eyes then pulled from Mayra to revisit Ida, across from him, the Crow has a question of his own: "Is the food here very different from that in Braavos, then? I suppose much is different, and strange, hm? Though surely there are similarities, as well."

And here Rafe has unwittingly struck a nerve. "There is much less flavour," she sighs, wilting, "in most dishes… but here they have learned my taste and they do not serve me anything too— bland," she says carefully, as though she might have been reaching for a less diplomatic word for it. "The bread tastes strange to me and some of the fish are too muddy. Not all, though." Which thought makes her smile again. "What appears the same, is often different after all," she confides finally, "as oysters are alike — whilst each tastes of the sea which is its home, and none other…"

Rayford listens, creases forming between his brows, his head cocked slightly to one side. "I should like to try Braavosi fare, then," he imagines aloud. "Though I daresay I've a taste for muddy fish, learned from days living rough." A casual laugh, and he raises his wine as though in a half-hearted toast. "There were days in my youth where we might've eaten mud, had we a pinch of salt to put with it, I fear. But those days are past, thank the Seven, aren't they? And here we are in a fine inn, dinner on its way, and with fine company besides."

Ida is slightly taken aback by the talk of mud for dinner; she looks earnestly at Rafe, her brow furrowing, as though she's thinking of another question.

The serving-woman returns with a pair of plates, and a strong young man at her heels carrying a heavy platter. This he sets down in the middle of the table, revealing three dozen oysters on the half-shell, nestled into a bed of melting ice. In the middle of the platter is a shallow bowl of a red wine sauce taught to the cook, in fact, by Ida's clerk Jaqero Orlassi — but more of that inestimable young fellow anon. Two tiny spoons complete the accoutrements.

On Ida's side of the table shuffling ensues with her plate and her book and her candles. The candles are disposed more conveniently about the edge of the table nearest the wall; the book, her place near the end marked with a ribbon, is entrusted to the servant to be taken up to her room; the plate, she positions just where she wants it, with her own hands; and then she reaches eagerly for her first oyster and anoints it with a few droplets of the sauce.

"How did you come to be a knight?" she asks her companion then. Meaning, of course, how did he exchange one mode of life for another which seems vastly to be preferred. She lifts the oyster to her lips and slurps it into her mouth and chews happily, dropping the shell onto her plate with an air of satisfaction at a job well done. Her hand is already hovering again over the platter, trying to choose her next treat. But to eat one of them is, in that moment, not to eat all the rest; and that thought can hardly be borne.

Rayford takes his time in selecting his first oyster, though a very perceptive observer might note that that time is spent watching Ida, rather than noting the comparative merits of the shellfish on offer. So as she is about to choose her second, he is making a passable mimicry of her effort at the first. Only when the shell has clinked softly against the plate does he offer an answer, "There was a poor knight, some time ago, who could hardly afford a squire, but had no appetite for doing his own chores." Even this tale must come with a hint, at least, of good humor, "And so good Ser Otto found himself in need of a lad who was tall, and strong, and handy with a blade, and who didn't mind a meager living." His dark eyes drift about the plate in search of his next victim as he speaks, but look up to Ida as though to punctuate his punchline. "But he found himself willing to settle for the latter two, and I found myself the lucky beneficiary of his willingness to compromise."

By now Ida knows him well enough to know there is a punchline coming — and so she doesn't interrupt, she only waits, poised. Then her lips part again and she laughs, as though he's made a very fine joke rather than a feeble one, as though her pleasure in his company tonight is quite genuine despite his muddied past. She seizes upon her next oyster and eats it still shaking her head at his wit, with another dash of that tart, sweet sauce which cuts through the brine and leaves a spicy aftertaste upon the tongue.

She swallows; she declares, very gravely, "I see. Your… Ser Otto," she gets the name right but her accent turns it unexpectedly exotic, a shock to all who knew the man; "must have seen much in you, to take you as his apprentice. I am glad, Rayford, that even in Westeros a man may sometimes rise in the world by his skill and his readiness to work… It seems to be harder, here," she admits, "than it would be in Braavos." She ponders. "Or perhaps it is just as hard in Braavos, and I am mistaken about the differences I see."

"If it seems to you nigh impossible, here," Rayford rejoins, his second oyster poised now for the eating, but on pause, "Then you've a good sense of it. I've ever been fortunate, Mistress, in my friends and acquaintances. Good fortune, and perhaps an eye for opportunity, or I might never have lived beyond boyhood." A moment's pause as he takes the oyster, which draws out until the shell is added to the one already on his plate, and he speculates: "Braavos must be a fine place indeed, and you don't mind my saying so? It's a rare man indeed who can change his station, here in Westeros; of all the men I know, I'm the only one as managed it."

Another two oysters vanish down Ida's throat as she contemplates her companion's words, mulling over perhaps those differences she mentioned and whether they are so acute as, in moments, they seem. "… I think in Braavos it must be easier," she says at last, "for I could name eleven men and women of my acquaintance who have risen from poverty to a measure of prosperity. Or," she considers, "more. And there may be others, who have not told me their stories. Six of the greatest families in Braavos trace their origins to a single gifted ancestor within the last century — that number I am certain of, for their stories are well-known whether they wish it or not. The Qartheen say that theirs is the greatest city there ever was or will be, but I think it must surely be Braavos — our greatness is in our people, and their freedom."

Rayford waves off the claims of the Qartheen casually, Scoffing as he shakes his head. "Pay no mind to the Qartheen; the Dornish will tell you that Sunspear is the greatest place in all the world, and the Tyrells Highgarden. Good Lord Hightower might claim it's Oldtown, even." He takes a momentary break from his attack on the oysters to sip again from his wineglass, which leaves a smile once again on his face. "I reckon, Ida, if you know eleven men and women as were born to dirt floors and now have stone walls, then Braavos just might be the finest city under the sun."

Even chewing another oyster Ida's lips manage to form a smile of quiet pride in the place of her birth. She swallows; she sips her wine; she ventures, "I have visited seven other great cities, but I think Braavos would be my favourite even if it were not my home. I wouldn't like to walk to work each day, and walk home each night, but it is amusing to go along the canals in my little gondola and feel the ebb and the flow of the lagoon beneath… And the people I pass look different, and hold their heads differently, because they are not slaves. In Volantis one sees a dozen slaves with tattoo'd faces," she lifts a hand, wiggling her fingertip beneath one eye, then along the line of her cheekbone, "for each free man. It is wicked," she says earnestly, "for one man to claim as his own the profits of another man's labour."

Engaged with the oysters, Rayford's eyes widen at Ida's talk of gondola and lagoons, of men and women who are not slaves. Volantis, though, sees him pause mid-bite, if only for a single beat. He swallows, he follows it with wine, and only then does he agree. "I'll admit to a touch of bias, but you've no need to worry for my disagreement. A man ought never to own another man. It is wicked." The humor is gone from his face, from his voice, from his eyes, even if it is only for a moment. "At the least, a man ought to be able to own his own failures, and what few successes he might see."

"In a time when the Freehold of Valyria reigned from the Red Wastes to the Narrow Sea, when whole villages of people might be taken and fed into their mines, to labour and die under the earth, only the city of Braavos was founded upon the principle that no man might own another," Ida reminds him, equally though more openly serious now, with the turn their talk has taken. "Anywhere in the world, people are the same people, and there is no such thing, I think as a truly just society. But we, at least, believe there ought to be."

Rayford busies himself with the wine again, to follow another oyster, though even so it is obvious that he is hearing some of this for the first time. "That's noble as the Wall is long, Mistress," he offers earnestly in the wake of Ida's contention, "And you've a stirring way with words, besides. It sounds a fine place, your Braavos, and I reckon I should have liked to see it if life were different." It's a rare moment that finds Ser Rayford contemplative, but he is, and a touch wistful as well.

Again there's that instant's delay between the parting of Ida's lips, and the words which come out of them. "… Of course," she declares, answering her own question as she chooses another oyster, "you have sworn vows. It is all right for you to look for men for your Night's Watch in Oldtown, but I do not think you could claim to be seeking them in Braavos. They would only laugh, I think," and she sounds just a little bit apologetic, because although it would be funny, it isn't nice to laugh at people who are doing their best. "I am sorry you won't see Braavos, Rayford. Can you swim?"

"Precisely," Rayford agrees, "And why shouldn't they? Hardly their problem, is it? And I've no doubt they've problems of their own. That's the one constant, no matter where you are, I suppose - folk have trouble enough." The Crow's eyes narrow as he considers another oyster, but for the moment he does not add another shell to his mounting pile. "No, I'll send a steady stream of men to the North from here, I think, but I shouldn't have a single one from Braavos." Surprised by what appears to be a sudden change in the topic, Rafe lets loose a soft laugh, and it leaves a bit of his habitual mirth in his eyes. "I can, a bit, yes. Why do you ask?"

Ida looks at him as though he's very silly, but sweet enough with it. "Because it's a lagoon," she explains patiently. "The canals are not very deep in most places, and of course—" She makes a face. "They are not always very clean, so you would not want to swim in them, except in the places where the water is freshest. But every Braavosi child learns to swim, very young, in case he should fall in; and I like swimming." She beams. "That is why I asked." Another oyster meets its doom, by way of punctuation.

The look of comprehension in Rayford's eyes may be laughable, so clear is it. "Ah, yes," he affirms with a nod, pointing his finger once again. "I've met men as couldn't swim, and mayhaps more than could," he says, his tone thoughtful. "I learned a bit as a boy, but never learned to enjoy it until I was older. Boating, though…" He trails off, shaking his head throughout his pause, his mouth briefly occupied with another oyster. Once it is finished, its shell deposited on his plate, he resumes. "…Boating is a skill I never learned, nor sailing."

"I can manage a gondola, or a sailboat," explains Ida. "A small sailboat. My brother and I used to go sailing together when we were young," she recollects, tilting her head, smiling at something she seems to see in her mind's eye just past Rafe's left ear. "I do not own the boat anymore, though. We gave it to our eldest nephew, for his thirteenth birthday, and I suppose I have been too busy to want another… I like to be on the water," and this she confides more softly, leaning forward in her chair: another of her secrets that don't seem so very secret, "but it is… too rare a pleasure."

"A swimmer, a sailor, you are a surprising woman, Ida," Rayford opines. "No doubt a woman of your standing might be loaned the use of a pleasure craft for an afternoon, if it pleased you. I might ask about for you, if you like - it would be no trouble at all." He takes up another oyster, but postpones it to hurriedly put in, "If you've time, of course, and no pressing engagements. I'm quite certain you're a woman of very little leisure time."

The idea straightens Ida's posture and turns her head, quite literally, sending her gaze veering deeper into the corner of the common-room. Then her eyes snap back to his and she smiles brightly. "… But I have nothing but leisure time: I am on holiday," she reminds him. "I would like that very much. But you must not trouble yourself, Rayford: I will send Jaqero to inquire." With his happy thought, she nods. "I do not know the waters here, but perhaps the owner of the boat will come with me and explain."

Rayford breathes a soft laugh, shaking his head. "You seem a woman who stays busy, even when you are at leisure," he protests, but in good humor. "It would be no trouble at all, though no doubt your Jaqero is very capable. He knows the city, I assume? And I am so recently returned to Oldtown, of course." He may perhaps stumble over the unfamiliar name, though not terribly. It all seems very reasonable, of course. A woman so very well prepared would no doubt take on a man well-versed in Oldtown while she took a holiday here. "And I've no doubt that he could secure a local guide, as well. A fisherman, mayhaps, or as you said, the owner of the craft he secures."

"What, Jaqero?" And Ida has to laugh at that, even at the risk of her mirth delaying her assault upon that platter still crowded with oysters. "He knows the city even less than I do, because of his shoes," she explains, "and his seasickness. I went out exploring by myself often, in our first days here, because his stomach was upset or his feet pained him. It was such a treat — I am not allowed to go out by myself in Braavos, I must always have guards," she sighs. "But I am on holiday, and I can do all kinds of things on holiday. Anyway Jaqero is feeling better now and I have given him two new pairs of boots, so there is no reason he cannot find me a boat," she declares.

"His… Shoes?" Whatever Rayford was expecting, this is not it. "Sore feet made it impossible for your man to… I see." Quick to recover, and no stranger to sore feet, Rayford empathizes. "I've had the same problem myself, of course. I've walked enough of the North, miles a day for days, and more than enough of the Southern kingdoms from time to time. Your man has my sympathy, and should those boots not suit him, I might recommend someone as I know makes a fine pair at a reasonable price." Leaning in, he winks as he confides, "I've a new pair of boots myself, just this past week."

"I think he will be all right now that he has boots the right size. He wears his shoes too tight, so his feet will look small," explains Ida, rolling her eyes; again she has about her that air of patience which suggests she's willing to elucidate, but she doesn't quite understand the necessity of it. "And that is very well in an office, but going about the city he could not keep up with me, and his feet became too sore very quickly. He does not like his boots, but as long as nobody he knows can see him, he doesn't complain too much. I think he would have liked to be a bravo, instead of a bank clerk."

"Marvelous," Rayford finally manages, his dark eyes wide at the thought of the Jaqero of his imagination wobbling in too-small shoes. "Well, we are some of us bravos, and some of us bank clerks, I suppose. And while one may be a more romantic notion than the other…" His grin turns wry in the pause, and he changes tacks abruptly. "I had a friend who was a Builder, once, and wished he was a Ranger, you see? And so one fine afternoon I'm headed toward the stable, and he's coming out, and he reeks, if you'll pardon my saying so?" His eyes sparkle as he recounts the tale, animated, talking now with his hands. "Filth, and sweat, and I say to him, 'Have you been mucking out the stalls?' And my friend says to me," he laughs as he approaches the tale's end, "He says, 'I have, and I find now I'm grateful to be a Builder and not a stablehand.' So if it might help, I know a stable as might pay him for an afternoon's work." Now one eyes closes in a conspiratorial wink, the facetious offer prompting a fresh bout of laughter.

The terms 'Builder' and 'Ranger' being old hat to Ida, now that she's on such terms with Archmaester Harmune, she hangs upon his story only with nods, and none of her usual questions. And again she answers the tale with a tad more laughter than it really deserves; one might blame the wine, except that she'd hardly touched her glass the first time he got her into such a fit of the giggles. "… My Jaqero, my clerk, in a stable! Oh! I will never get him within a mile of it; but I can imagine," she sighs dreamily. "That is what I will threaten him with, the next time he argues with me. He does argue with me sometimes, though he is the clerk and I am the—" She thinks. "I am something else. Thank you, Rayford, for telling me such amusing stories. Won't you have another glass of wine?" For his is almost empty, and that seems wrong.

Rayford reaches out to pour at her Ida's cue, offering an abashed grin at her laughter. "I might indeed, if you will join me," he asks, ready to top off his companion's glass as well. "You've a taste for good wine, Ida. This is as fine as any I've had in some time." His own glass refilled, and perhaps hers as well, he takes another sip of the chilled white, and chases that with a soft, appreciative sigh. "You are something else, aren't you," he asks rhetorically. "Something rare, I think." He's speaking generally though, not specifically, idly admiring her intellect and insight. "I reckon your Jaqero ought to be careful, arguing with you. It doesn't seem as a man might win many of those arguments."

And Ida colours at the praise — and gives a very small, very quick shake of her head — and busies herself with her wine and her oysters.

The next course of their dinner is a finely blackened fish apiece, accompanied by seasonal vegetables and a delicate white wine sauce; dainty fare, making the best of the wines which are the Golden Maiden's pride. It arrives just as Ida is lamenting having run out of oysters, and quite distracts her.

"… Oh! This is much better than last night's," is her immediate and not so very diplomatic exclamation, uttered within the servant's hearing. The look on the woman's face in that moment suggests that Ida has proved a trying patron. Ida of course is too busy listing every single spice she can taste to notice.

If Rayford notices the serving woman's well-controlled vexation, he makes no show of it, focusing studiously on the meal. And after all, it is easy to lose oneself in, at least if one is used to taking one's meals in an establishment of a lesser caliber. "Well presented, as well, and my compliments to the kitchen staff." His first bite is followed immediately by a nod of agreement and a soft sound of satisfaction. "Delicious," and then, "Yes, precisely," when he recoginizes a spice from Ida's list. Nor does the Crow ignore his vegetables, the joy he takes in those just as apparent. "You have my gratitude for the invitation, Ida. Had I known the quality on offer here…"

"Now you do know," declares Ida with a smile. "It is not bad at all, is it? Not muddy tonight," she clarifies. "Inigo said I should bring my cook with me," she mentions, wrinkling her nose, "but Inigo always says things like that. He would keep me shut up with cooks and clerks and guards always, if he could." And again she rolls her eyes, a typical response to the men in her life and their concerns. "I was sure it would be all right, and it is."

"I do know," Rafe agrees, though he goes no further down that path. Instead, Inigo. "Inigo is your brother, no? Worry seems the province of brothers," he supposes with a shrug, "Of brothers and of wives. But you seem a very capable woman, and the streets of Oldtown are safe enough, so long as one knows which areas must be avoided." Another bite of the fish, and his brows furrow as he stares at his plate, quite taken with the main course. "You don't seem the sort to be dissuaded, once you're sure of a thing, if you'll allow my saying so."

Yes, Inigo is Ida's brother; she nods to Rafe's guess. "If I am right, then there is no reason to be dissuaded, is there? … And of course the bank does not pay ransoms; but perhaps," she thinks about it, "perhaps people in Westeros do not know that that as well as people in Braavos. Did you know?" she asks, blinking at him as she takes another bite of delicate, flaky white fish.

Rayford shakes his head, agreeing by way of the negative. "There is not." His eyes widen slightly at the mention of ransoms - at the direction of the conversation rather than at the propriety of the subject matter - but he's quick to answer. "I had no idea at all, no. I suppose, though, that the sort of man as might take you hostage against a ransom ought to be the sort of man as would know his business with bounties and ransoms and such."

"Just so," agrees Ida, nodding. "There is no profit in me as a hostage, and I don't care who knows it!" she laughs, delighted by the thought.

As though summoned by such portentous talk a tall young man weaves his way between the common-room's handful of tables, and arrives behind Ida's chair. He is olive-skinned, not bad-looking if you like them long and lean and narrow-faced and slightly stooped; his plain, well-made garments of black and brown linen and leather are as subtly foreign as Ida's blue gown, but his fine new pair of boots are local in origin. He clears his throat; he leans down to murmur a few words to his superior, in their own tongue.

Ida's eyes widen and she puts her hand over her mouth, the back of it towards her, her curled fingers visible to Rafe across the table.

"Rayford, I must go," she says simply. "I am very sorry. I hope you will eat whatever you wish!" And she picks up her glass of wine, still almost full, and gets up from her chair in unhesitating answer to her clerk's summons.

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