(123-06-11) Scrimshaw
Summary: One afternoon in her shop Esme entertains not a buyer but a seller, with an unusual but tempting offer at an angle to her usual sort of trade…
Date: 11/06/2016
Related: None

A tall apparition drifts into the shop, sea coloured eyes vague, his clothing like something out of moldering tapestry, centuries out of date and fur trimmed despite the heat, though he has opted not to wear hose, leaving his legs scandalously bare under his long tunic. He has with him a sturdy leather bag, slung over his shoulder for easy carrying. Though his clothes are ridiculously old fashioned they are sturdy and of good quality. He peers about in that unfocused sort of way he has and asks in an accent archaic as his dress, "Art thou the proprietress?"

The little woman in the green and orange striped dress, cheap and cheerful and of the present day (if one is so generous as to define 'the present day' as 'eight or nine years ago, when the cloth merchant, despairing of getting rid of the stuff, marked it down even further'), looks up from the shelf she's scrubbing clean when she hears the bell tinkle over her front door.

In the heat and the quiet of the early afternoon she is alone in the shop, having sent off the girls who work for her with fleas in their ears; she stands there surrounded by sundry small household items removed from the shelf to permit of its cleaning, her sleeves rolled up past her elbows and a scrubbing brush clasped in a small work-worn hand, and gives him a long, wondering, not unfriendly look… Her thin lips part upon a greeting, but then he speaks first; she answers in the accents of the city's smallfolk. "Aye, it's my shop right enough, ser, and a good afternoon to you, I'm sure. Was there anythin' in particular you were wantin'…?"

The redheaded sailor's accent is a strange thing, part First Men, part iron Isles, with rolled r's and archaic vowels. "I was wondering if thou might be interested in making some sort of deal." He pulls several objects from his satchel and displays them for her. All are intricately carved from whale bone: a box with dolphins and waves and knotwork, a knife hilt carved like a seal, a comb decorated with merrows twined in carnal embrace. "We have many such fine carvings and are looking for…things which are rare in the far islands against the coming of winter…. Might thou be interested in such?"

Esme glances between her visitor on the one hand and her scrubbing brush in the other, and drops the latter on her glistening-wet, soapy shelf with the instinctively reluctant mien of a woman who senses bargaining in her immediate future. She dries her hands on her apron as she steps across to her counter to examine the small masterpieces of scrimshaw set out to tempt her; she reaches, without hesitation, for whichever one the artist himself would judge his best. "Well, these are rather…" she ponders aloud, sounding uncertain. "I'm not sayin' they ain't fine; but they wouldn't go down round here, would they?" And she chuckles, turning over that intricately-carved comb in admiring hands. "I'd have to think on where to find buyers, wouldn't I?" she points out. "What sort of things were you needin', in… the Iron Islands, I s'pose…?"

Killian nods, "Though we are so far west and North, we don't show on most of thy maps, we do follow the Drowned God. Spices, and coin for grain and… things that keep but are wholesome. A man gets to craving a bit of fruit when the winds howl long and the storms cut us off years at a time in a bad winter. We've plenty of meat and fish and kelp and furs and the like, but other things like pickled vegetables are always shorter supply than we like and teeth fall out when the women whelp. I've a pretty young bride and would not see her marred so."

Still holding the merrow comb, her fingers laced about it as though something in its texture is pleasing, Esme looks up to meet the ironman's eyes as he speaks; when he speaks of such long isolation she draws in a breath between her teeth and murmurs "Years?" under her breath; she nods, and nods again. "Aye, ser, you must have a worse time of it than most, winterin' all the way out there," she agrees respectfully. "No wonder you're thinkin' of it so soon, as the northmen do, with the sun still so hot in the sky." Belatedly, she relinquishes the comb to explore the possibilities of the trinket box carved with dolphins. "I'd heard it said your folk weren't… much inclined to trade," she mentions, eyeing him sideways as she toys with the dainty little latch which secures the box's lid. Her touch is careful and considering.

Killian nods "'Tis the price of freedom. No one from the Big islands bothers to sail so far out to bother us. It's how we like it, left to ourselves, but the price is we loose many when winter comes. I've a whole Spring and summer worth of carvings from the whole of the Far Islands except what we need ourselves. I need to be selling it where we can as they rather frown on reaving for flour these days. My father sent me South to gain supplies. I've been doing well chasing pirates off the Stepstones. If one hits when they are weak from a fight, one can get the gain of it without tangling with all these new fangled laws, but trade we must as there is only so much we can reave from the wildings, them being not much heavier than we and winter comes for them too." he assures her, "we keep the peace here assure as the Hightower and the women at the Bard can attest. My men have discipline."

Which is the explanation Esme was looking for, in sidling so daintily up to the subject of the iron price and why a fellow with such muscular legs isn't proposing to pay it. She listens without interrupting for as long as he cares to speak, nodding now and again to encourage him to go on. "I see, ser," she says then, and she does. She puts down the trinket box and gives the knife hilt a once-over of its own, and then lines up these interesting offerings neatly again in a row together. "I've not seen the like o' these in Oldtown," she concedes. "That's the advantage, ain't it, to your folk not goin' in much for trade. Somethin' people haven't seen before, it catches the eye more surely, and the purse follows the eye. It might be I could sell a few o' these," she admits candidly. "Trouble is, you know and I know what work o' this quality is worth," and again she meets his eyes, though she be smallfolk and he— some sort of noble, possibly; "and I have a few customers with that kind o' coin to throw about, I'm not sayin' I don't, but maybe not as many as you'd like. How many pieces are we talkin' about, and are they all…" Her hand hovers in the air over the comb. "Like these?"

Killian nods, "These represent a huge amount of time and skill for the ones carving them." He does meet her eyes, but with that same Otherworldly look he has generally, as if he's not so much seeing her face, but attempting to gaze further into her, as if he were here and not here all at once. "I have simpler ones, made by young people just learning if you think they would sell better." He fishes some out, simpler designs, the sort of six toothed combs one might use to hold a hair do together with sea birds carved in the part that would show and the like. "I thought I would show master works first so thou might better judge what we can do. I've fine cloth from Dorne and Essos, taken back from pirates off the Stepstones if thou think that would better suit. The cloth is too thin to be any use, but the designs are pretty. I saved a few pieces for my lady wife, but most is better turned to coin to by reacher grain. I've a warehouse full of the useless stuff."

For her part Esme looks back at Killian with respectful attention, as is her wont when dealing with persons of a certain birth — and she is here, definitely here, focused on the matters under discussion between them and giving no sign of considering any other. "Oh, now, that is pretty, ser," she says of the hair ornament, fingering it, though not as admiringly or for as long as she did the others. "Dolphins'll always do better in Oldtown than birds, though, because of the festival we have here. People here feel very particularly about dolphins," she explains. "And thin cloth, well, that has its uses too, I daresay," she adds cryptically. "I'm not sure why you've come to me, though, ser, and not to one o' the big merchants — them as could afford to take it all off your hands in one go if they'd an inclination…?" she hints. "It's true I sell the kind o' things you're lookin' for, but you could buy 'em just as easy with coin as in kind. I don't say I'm not interested — only, I wonder if there's somethin' I'm not understandin' yet…?"

Killian nods, "We do a lot of seals. It's what the Lonely Light is known for, but we've plenty of things with dolphins and orcas." He pulls out a selection of cloak pins, at various levels of intricacy to show her a range, the circular design working well with dolphin, orca, and fish motifs. "I've been shopping them around, here and there along the coast. No one wants the lot all and once and I've no idea what anyone would do with cloth so thin one can see one's hand through though the shimmer is sweet enough to gaze on. I'm trying to sell or trade what i can here and there. These Greenlanders know as little of quality carving as they do of good five year fermented fish paste."

"You should be sellin' to Essos," murmurs Esme absently, picking through the cloak pins, holding up one and then another to squint at them in the rays of feeble afternoon light spilling through her eastern windows. "The better pieces, certainly, and the cloth too." She sets down a fish pin next to another like it, having absent-mindedly sorted them from the least to the most fine, and concedes, "Happens I deal with a couple o' merchants over that way myself, now and again. 'S where my spices and so forth come from."

Killian's tone is rather put upon, "But it is already so ridiculously hot here. If Essos is hotter I'm surprised they don't all melt…." He eyes her, "What sort of commission for thou and thy friends?"

Esme leans an elbow on her counter, placed carefully amongst the scrimshaw; "I take ten percent of the price of anythin' I bring over special from Essos for my customers," she explains frankly, looking up at Killian, "and I reckon the same would be fair enough sendin' things the other way. What my friends might want, that'll depend whether they make you an offer themselves or find another buyer. Mind, I'm talkin' of fair recompense for that kind o' work," and she nods to the merrow comb, the dolphin box, and the knife hilt in the likeness of a seal, around which the lesser examples have been deferentially arranged; "and they'd be curiosities from t'other side of the world, besides. That always adds somethin'. And if all your profits are to go into provisions for the winter, and I'm to supply them, keepin' it all under the same roof as it were, then havin' made somethin' on one side of the deal I reckon I could be a little more generous on the other. Leastways, more'n if you turned round and took your coin elsewhere. The cloth, though — I don't know about the cloth. Have you got any with you?" she asks, narrowing her eyes in thought.

Killian pulls a folded bit of ordinary fabric from the bottom of the bag. He unfolds it to show what it was protecting: about ten feet of the finest woven silk gauze with a delicate butterfly pattern woven into it. It's been folded small, and being so thin takes up significantly less space than a Westerosi would suspect generally. He gazes at it with perplexity.

For a long minute Esme just looks at that butterfly cloth.

"I'm not even goin' to touch that," she says at last, in a tone almost reproving, "with hands as rough as mine." She smooths her damp cotton apron with them, by way of demonstrating which sort of fabric is most suitable for smallfolk shopkeepers. "I don't know what's been goin' wrong for you, ser, but if I'd a sackful o' that I'd be a rich woman by dinnertime," she explains. "It ain't what I usually deal in, to be sure, not round here," she reiterates, shaking her head in her yellow-spotted green kerchief, "but I know what it's worth, and if you're sure you don't want to take it elsewhere," a slower, quietly wondering shake of her head, "I'd be right glad to help you turn it into as many spices and pickles and preserves and whatnot as your people could eat in a winter that went on twenty years, Seven forfend."

Killian looks at her sharply, really focusing for the first time, "Why would someone put so much work into a thing that can't be used?" He shrugs, "We took a hold full of them. Sea water got half before we could pull them all up, but the rest is sound, and if thou knowest them that would buy it…" He wrinkles his nose, "My people are not fond of bargaining and have no skill at it. what we could use, I've sent home to the far Islands. The rest of our cargoes are in a warehouse guarded by my crew along with the carvings. If thee and thy friends would like a look? I'd much rather have things we can eat or use than fripperies we can't."

Esme looks back at him all grandmotherly innocence, and still doesn't explain. "Why don't you leave the bargainin' to me, then?" she suggests. "There ain't no reason in all the wide world why you should trust me," nor is there any harm in saying what they both know, "but so far as this goes, you can. I wouldn't want to cheat you. I certainly wouldn't want you goin' round sayin' to people in the place where I live, that I've been cheatin' you," she points out. "I've been makin' a comfortable little profit on feedin' the people round here for nigh on thirty years now; no reason I shouldn't make the same on feedin' yours, even if they are a mite farther away. And if I'm gettin' ten percent, you know my ten percent gets bigger when your ninety percent gets bigger, don't it? It only stands to reason. I like this kind o' work, ser, now you've shown it to me," and she touches the merrow comb again, before her hand wanders to the lid of the trinket box to trace the curved body of a dolphin, "and I think it's a right shame your people can do somethin' so fine and not be able to sell it for what they need to eat…" She tsk-tsks softly at the unappreciative populace he has met with thus far. "I'd be glad to come down to your warehouse and have a look over what you've got, and write a few letters to them I know across the sea. You…" Her eyes narrow; she peers up at him. "What'd you say your name was, ser?"

Killian nods, "That's why I offered thee a commission up front. If this goes well, we might bring thee further cargoes. I hight Captain Killian Farwynd, heir to the Lonely Light. My ship is the Seal Prince, and we dwell here in town at Beakhead House. That is the one made from the bones of a dead ship across from the temple of the Red Demon in sight of the Harbour. What was thy name, Mistress…?"

"Oh, I know that house," the little shopkeeper says at once, and she sounds pleased. She scrubs her hands on her apron again and offers him one, to seal at least the prospect of a deal: "I'm called Esme," she explains, beaming.

Killian shakes her hand firmly, looking her in the eyes and not at all too high and mighty for an oddly shy and youthful smile.

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