(123-06-19) What Is 'Let Down'?
What Is 'Let Down'?
Summary: Lord Lars Costayne seeks a Braavosi man who might hold the key to a little mystery. Instead he finds a Braavosi woman who incarnates any number.
Date: 19-22/06/2016
Related: None really.

The common-room of the Golden Maiden Inn is quiet and well-appointed, not overly large, a gathering place for the select few who can afford it; at this hour of the afternoon, between luncheon and dinner, it is tenanted not by the casual all-day drinkers who are decidedly unwelcome on the premises, but by a single redheaded woman in a plain dark blue linen dress, sitting cross-legged in the middle of the floor with an artist's sketchbook open in her lap.

At second glance the picture she presents (to say nothing of the picture she's drawing) becomes still more curious, for she is not young — and for all its simplicity, her garb is finely made, and (to a knowing eye) subtly foreign in its style. In her left hand is a stick of charcoal. She looks up towards the long bar of golden oak and the bottles arranged behind it — she looks down at her parchment — she looks up again, and down again — swiftly, with an air of absolute concentration, of urgency, of determination.

Slight figure only briefly blocking the sunlight from streaming in through the door before he shifts to one side, Lars takes a moment to let his eyes adjust to the darker atmosphere in the Inn - the candelabras won't be lit for another few hours yet, to save the cost of candles. The woman sat in the middle of the floor naturally draws absent curiosity, but it's not until he's more closely able to see the cut of her dress that his interest becomes more acute. Lars Costayne may be ignorant in any number of matters, but he's a man who knows clothes when he sees them, and that dark blue linen frock is hardly the usual fashion in these parts. Of course, his other great love is that of good food and drink, so it's little wonder that his attention is quickly drawn from the curious woman to the cheerful waitress who's keen to offer this new customer the choice of today's specials.

The woman remains oblivious to the interest sparked by the dark and daintily-stitched linen pooled about her seated figure. She just goes on looking up and down, as though she were a marionette and her string were being tugged at regular intervals, and making small or (occasionally) sweeping marks with charcoal upon parchment. The constant motion of her head is causing her knot of dark red hair to slip further and further down the back of it, hairpins of some dull dark metal coming loose. One of them is already lying on the carpet behind her. It's when her hair finally collapses and hangs down about her face, spoiling her view of her work, that she lets out a frustrated sigh and flings down the sketchbook and tosses the charcoal nowhere in particular (it vanishes in a shadow) and commences to search for her pins.

The waitress doesn't refer to her, but her tone turns apologetic.

With his order quietly given and the waitress reassured with soft words and a pleasant smile, Lars folds his hands on the tabletop, settling forward to observe this odd red-headed form of entertainment. On spying one loose pin not a million miles from his foot, he leans down to claim it, offering it out at arm's length. "I believe this may be yours, my dear. I shouldn't like it to get lost in the vast throng of customers trampling through here."

His voice is nearer than it was before; his hand is extended toward her… The woman starts, eyes widening as her head tilts to face him. She has rather pretty blue-green eyes, which straight away narrow in consideration. It is possible she had no idea he was present, till he spoke.

She gets up from the floor, shifting first onto her knees and then with her feet under her pushing herself up onto them, the recovered sketchbook clutched to her bosom with one hand and cast-iron pins (for that is what they're made of) sticking out of the other. Long loose strands of red hair frame her face and hang down almost to her waist. "Thank you," she declares with deep sincerity, gazing into his eyes, as though he has done her a far greater service. She pauses, not hesitating but studying him, and a tiny smile curves her lips before she takes a step forward to claim the pin for her collection. Her accent, like her gown, suggests the Free Cities.

"Most welcome," Lars assures her, giving that little disarming smile. "And can I say what a delightful dress that is. You must have a Braavosi tailor, am I right? Really, you must put me in touch, the style is so… so delicately exotic. My wife would be thrilled."

Whilst he's speaking the woman discovers that she's juggling a sketchbook and altogether too many hairpins; although she managed to take the lost one from Lars, she has no hope of restoring them to her hair unless she puts something down. She dithers a moment between his table and the one next to it, then finally, discreetly, with an air of careful deliberation, sets down her sketchbook away from him, and her handful of pins on top of it. And, her hands smudged with charcoal, and stained with ink in the same places as a scribe's, she begins combing her hair with her fingers and twisting it up again.

"My seamstress's name is Elthira Orantis," she answers, smiling; "her rooms are above the Street of the Fishing Cat, on—" And she names one of the largest islands in the Braavosi lagoon. "I'm sure she would be delighted to have your wife's custom. I don't know if she has any customers in Westeros. Perhaps she has." A quick shrug. "I have not seen dresses like mine in Oldtown, but I think perhaps the taste here is different…?" The taste here, certainly, is rather brighter, showier, and less expensive.

Lars laughs quietly, shrugging a shoulder. "Ah, perhaps a little far for me to try to obtain, then. I was rather hoping you'd say you had a fellow here in Oldtown. The Free Cities are a little far for me to disappear off to, just to provide my wife with a little present. I always like to give her something a little different, you know? Perhaps next time you head home…" there's a slight inflection there to make 'home' into a question, but barely so, "you might be so good as to pass my details to this seamstress of yours?"

"Of course," the woman answers, nodding her head solemnly between the placement of one pin and the next. "If you give me your name and your direction, I will remember." She states this with quiet confidence. "But I do not know when I shall be in Braavos again. It may be some time."

"Always the way," Lars laments, throwing up one hand theatrically. "I was told there was a Braavosi here heading back that way very soon, and I had just assumed from your dress that it was you. My sincere apologies. Alas, my wife's present will have to be something a little closer to home."

His new acquaintance considers this. She lowers her inkstained hands, trusting her hair to stay put on its own — which, for a time at any rate, it does. "Nooooo," she says slowly, giving that single syllable more vowels than are its right and proper ration; "that could not be me, for if I do not know my own plans, how could they be known to others—?" Her brow furrows. "But who could have told you this, and what could they have meant by it?"

“Oh, good gracious, who even knows, the way gossip flies in this town,” Lars responds with an airy wave of one hand. “Probably some sort of misunderstanding, spread and inflated with every telling of the story. Knowing my luck, the original rumour is probably that some fellow called Brav went home for a new shirt. In which case I can only apologise for my assumption. Look, I’m having a bite to eat and a glass of wine, would you like to join me to make up for my wasting your time? At least if I am to waste your time, you ought to be well fed for your troubles.”

The little Braavosi woman — though she hardly looks Braavosi, does she, with that hair? — laughs heartily at Brav and his shirt, remarks upon how inexact people are in their speech, then appears torn. And so she is. She is not hungry or thirsty, but has she ever seen such beautiful eyelashes on a man? Her hands shift in the air before her, wavering between one alternative and the other; her gaze grows again more intent. At last her hands tighten into small, smudged fists and she almost bounces on the spot in announcing her decision. “I would like that!”

And she pulls out a chair for herself, opposite his, no ladylike helplessness here, and sits down. She rests her forearms against the edge of the table and recollects, “But you have not told me your name.”

To which the gentleman with the unfeasibly long eyelashes lifts a hand to an imaginary hat, doffing it with a flourish. “Oh, of course, I'm so sorry, where are my manners. Lord Lars Costayne, my dear, eternally at your service. A glass of the house white, or will you join me in my solemn duty to demolish a bottle of the red?”

His companion’s face lights up with pleasure. “… You’re the master of customs and excise!” she declares, with the innocent joy of a woman who not only knows herself to be on the right side of the applicable laws, but who has every right now to expect an intelligent conversation with a man who shares her interests, and into whose fine and gentle eyes it will be a privilege to gaze. “I've heard so much about you! I'm Ida Imaldi,” she explains sunnily, offering him her right hand over the table, for that is the one people usually like to shake. That it is also the one least covered in charcoal, will surely be an agreeable bonus for the fellow in question. “I would like the white, please,” she adds, still smiling.

Somewhat taken aback by this enthusiasm, nonetheless Lars squeezes the offered hand and dips his head. “Well… of all the responses I've ever had to my name, that has to be the least likely,” he admits, bemused. “I usually expect… oh, you know. Suspicion. Nervousness. Hostility. A glass of the white, please,” he adds aside, presumably to the waitress, not just adding wine to the responses he expects.

Ida gazes at him, perplexed. Her head tilts to a more acute angle: her attention is wholly for Lars, and the fascinating conundrum he poses, and his eyelashes, rather than the hovering waitress or the imminent glass of white wine. “But why?” she asks.

“Do you know, I think it’s the office,” Lars insists after a moment’s thought. “All the paperwork, it can get so very confusing, so when somebody hears I’ve come to see them they immediately assume that they must have done something terribly wrong. Of course, it’s almost always just a misunderstanding, but there’s that initial heart in mouth feeling when the dreaded customs fellow comes to call, do you see? Ah, thank you,” he adds as the wine arrives, followed by a gesture of one slender finger to indicate that yes, he would like it poured, and a pleasant smile. “I’m sure it can’t be me personally. It would be absurd to be scared of me as a fellow. Honestly, a strong wind and I’ll blow away!”

When he speaks Ida hangs upon every word, blue-green eyes slightly narrowed in concentration upon him; she nods slowly when he mentions misunderstandings, and again to indicate that she does see. “I believe some people do find paperwork confusing,” she agrees, her tone suggesting that she can’t quite see their point of view, personally. “Though one who has done nothing wrong, surely has no reason to fear.” With which charming display of naïveté, she nods again and smiles brightly and turns to pick up her glass of wine. She breathes it in, and then declares, gazing delightedly up at the waitress: “You remembered my favourite!”

“They are awfully good here, aren’t they… my dear, might we have some olives and some bread, please?” Lars adds to the waitress with a winning smile before lifting his glass towards Ida. “And I think you’d be in the minority if you can understand some of the forms we deal with. I can’t make head nor tail of half of them myself, even. I have some jolly good clerks who interpret them for me.”

This seems a bit off to Ida, who with her glass of wine still at her lips leans nearer, sipping, studying her companion as though he were the greatest of curiosities. “… But how is it that you are the master, and they your clerks, if they understand the work and you do not? Why would the head of your office not be promoted from within it? How can you be sure if they are doing the work correctly, if your own understanding is incomplete?” she asks, apparently unconcerned by the possibility of causing offense. A strong wind, after all, and he’d blow away.

Lars just laughs, the lines at the corner of his long-lashed eyes deepening. “Oh, make no mistake, I’m the titled figurehead, there to turn dry statistics and figures into arguments the general public can understand. I’m the chap they send round to keep things running smoothly, not the chap who does the work. Oh no, that’s the fellows in my office, excellent fellows, every one of them.” He pauses for a sip of his wine. “I’m the chap with enough noble clout to be able to bring discrepancies up with the noble houses and try to understand where the mistake has been made, not the chap who finds the mistakes in the first place.”

The curve of the wine glass bears now a faint film of charcoal dust, courtesy of the fingers of Ida’s left hand. She sets it down but holds the base of it, as though her hand has just slipped down a few inches and been forgotten. “I see,” she says softly. “You must place a great deal of trust in your clerks. I hope you shall always find that it is rewarded. Oh, olives,” and she forgets wine and eyelashes all at once, turning with naked delight to the bowl set within her reach. Her thumb and forefinger hover, poised, over one specimen and then another, as she studies them in search of the best — which she then seizes upon and eats in triumph.

“They’re really wonderfully diligent chaps,” Lars agrees amiably, claiming a lesser olive for himself once she’s chosen. “Salt of the earth. And you, you’re an artist?” A nod towards the sketchpad.

Ida’s eyes widen. “I would like to be an artist,” she sighs, regretfully, “but when I try to draw what is there, it does not come out as it should. The lines go all the wrong ways. I am bad at shadows, too.” And she swivels in her chair to reach behind her and collect her sketchbook from the adjacent table. She holds it up for Lars to see, pulling a face as she does so.

Her drawing of the bar, the bottles, the candelabra in the corner, is indeed subtly… off.

“Well, it’s good to have a hobby,” Lars decides loyally, giving the sketch an appraising nod. “And I don’t think art is necessarily about drawing everything as it is, but more as it appears to one, don’t you agree?”

At that, the Braavosi woman’s shoulders sag beneath her fine blue linen gown. “This is not how the bar appears to me,” she says mournfully, peering down at her drawing from above. “But it was a study, only. For passing the time.” She turns the sketchbook toward her and turns over a few pages, lips pressed together in thought. “This is better,” she allows, sounding less than perfectly certain of herself. She shows him then another page: an intricate and abstract drawing, in charcoal smudged here and there with soft, earthy colours, its lines and curves asymmetrical and yet tending toward an overall harmony. The turning of that last page, to reveal it, sends a spicy fragrance wafting through the air… That isn’t paint; it’s anise, coriander, cloves and cardamom, and half a dozen other ground spices, rarer still, anointing the parchment.

“I’m afraid I’m hardly an art critic,” Lars confesses, taking another sip of his wine. “I can appreciate the form, however. And… what is that wonderful smell?” Of course it’s the idea of food and drink that, after fashion, is most important to him, so it only makes sense that a waft of spices would have his interest.

“Well,” explains Ida patiently, “it is the spice trade through Oldtown. From…” With one careful pointing finger she indicates the busiest area of the parchment, working her way in towards the center: “Qarth, Volantis, Dorne… and here Tyrosh and Myr… and the salt that comes south… you see?” And she traces the paths taken by the various fragrant commodities; and under her guidance the drawing becomes, in fact, a diagram. Albeit an impressionistic one.

“I think I ought to be awfully pleased that it’s not a diagram of the tanning trade,” Lars notes with quiet amusement, studying the parchment more carefully now it’s been explained.

Ida looks up; her hand lifts to cover her mouth, the back of it towards her and her fingers curling in against her palm. Behind this rather feline shield she giggles. “I could draw the tanning trade,” she confesses, “if I were to study it; but I would not… I thought the spices would be pretty.” She gives a little shrug. Pretty, yes, and fragrant; though it’s the accuracy of the information thus rendered which matters to her, of course. She’s quite correct as to locations, distances, even quantities, as a man in Lars Costayne’s position might well gather.

“You're involved with the trade, or merely study it for art?” Lars queries, popping another olive into his mouth, then politely putting a fist to his lips as he disposes of the stone.

The plate Ida has been given has by now several such stones lined up together round the curve of it. She adds another, and smiles. “I am on holiday,” she reveals, as though it’s an exciting little secret just between the two of them, “and I like to learn about the places I visit.” Though it would appear her interests don’t stop at the weather, the population, and the local architecture.

“And have you been here long?” Lars asks with polite interest, reaching to claim another olive from the bowl. “I’m sure I would have noticed such an interesting lady, but perhaps my head has been buried in too many books and not enough wine?”

Ida’s head moves in a slow quarter-turn as she eyes him, uncertain of the compliment: “Twenty-seven days,” she answers, very precisely, “and nine hours… But I think I am the one whose head has been buried,” and she can’t help but laugh at the phrase, “in books. There are so many here I have not read before… I like to take a book to your Maidenday Gardens and read it among the flowers, in the morning when it is still cool enough to enjoy being outside.”

Lars sets another olive stone aside, then leans back, gesturing towards Ida with the flat of his hand. “You see! I ought to spend less time with paperwork, and more time enjoying the gardens of the city, if only in order to meet delightful, interesting ladies like you.”

Ida lowers her chin and looks up at him through her eyelashes, which aren’t quite so fine as his, but they’re doing their best. “I think,” she says solemnly, “you should keep on with your paperwork until you understand it properly, Lars.”

To which the gentleman can only laugh, lines at the corners of his eyes showing deeply once again - he’s no stranger to laughter and his skin bears the scars. “I cannot fault your logic, my dear, and that is certainly one of the nicer ways I’ve ever been let down.”

But that is an idiom; and Ida’s expression remains expectant, curious. “What is ‘let down’?” she asks him, placing the words within quotation marks he can surely hear. “You are not under the table by any means,” she points out, glancing at the floor.

Lars looks at her for a long moment, before his natural courtesy nudges him and informs him that he’s staring and that’s really very rude and he ought to look away. Look! Olives! He takes one to munch to give him a moment to think. Swallowing, he glances back to her and flashes a smile. “I’d meant,” he replies in a somewhat kindly fashion, “that you’d come up with good reason that I shouldn’t seek you out.”

Still somehow she doesn’t quite look as though she’s getting it; there’s nothing of the flirt about her as she considers what he has said, nibbles another olive of her own, and with one hand held over her mouth secretively extracts the pit by means of the other. “… But I don’t think that follows,” she says slowly, adding the pit to her collection; she has got almost halfway round the outside of her plate by now. “You must do your work; I would not say that you should work less, if you do not understand it well yet; but it is not good for the health, to work always. I do not know why you would seek me out, but to sit in a garden is a very fine thing, sometimes.”

Again Lars has to resist the urge to just stare, but there’s wine and olives and those are good enough to claim his attention. “Ah, well, perhaps when I have learned more about the various forms and signatures we’re always dealing with, then I shall spend more time in gardens. Yes. Quite.”

For Ida there is still some slight mystery about this man and his meaning, which is less in any one word he has spoken than in the way all of them fit together. She smiles faintly; she ventures, “Perhaps that would be a good idea. And perhaps then I shall go to sit in a garden with a book and find you are already there with a book of your own.” She lifts her glass, sips, and looks amused. “I know few people in Oldtown; I always hope I shall see again those I like when I meet them, but the city is of such a size that it probably could not happen that way, could it? There are too many gardens, and some quite large.”

“There are many gardens, but fewer inns,” Lars notes. “And this is a rather nice one. I ought to spend more time here, I think. Are you here often?” He pauses for a sip of his wine, glancing once more over the inn in its entirety. “It seems like a likely spot for the Braavosi.”

“For twenty-seven days,” Ida reminds him obligingly, “and nine hours; and two more days until my manse is ready — I am to rent a manse,” she explains, inclining her head nearer. “… Is it so likely? What makes it so, do you think? I think I am the only Braavosi here — well, except for Jaqero,” and her tone implies that Jaqero doesn't really count. “It was recommended to me, but I suppose it must be recommended in many other places besides Braavos.”

“Jaqero?” comes the immediate question, olive pausing half way to Lars’s lips. “A friend of yours, or..?”

A different smile; a shake of Ida’s red head as she adds another olive pit to the circle of them she has almost closed. The possibility is thus disclaimed, but modestly. “Jaqero is my clerk,” she explains.

It’s not impossible that this is the chap Lars is seeking, but it seems less and less likely. His shoulders relax and he leans back again, nodding simply. “I should have guessed. For your… study?” He lifts his glass towards the waitress, then nods towards Ida’s, as it’s nearing empty.

By now the customs man may have concluded that Ida's ‘clerk’ is her ‘minder’; he is not altogether wrong. But she, with a mouthful of cool white wine, shakes her head and makes a negative sort of noise as she puts down her glass. “For his study,” she corrects gently. “He copies my letters and so on.”

“I heartily approve of educating the masses,” Lars agrees, draining his glass and moving to top it up from the bottle. “It’s good for them. Keeps them out of mischief.” For mischief read riots, revolutions, and criminal activity.

Again however Ida spends a moment in thought, and concludes that it just doesn't follow. “Any man who wishes to learn, should be made able — I agree. But if you think chiefly of preventing mischief, I think that is not what you should do. Surely an educated man can find more mischief, and bigger mischief, than an ignorant man…?” She studies him with her head tilted and her hair beginning once again to slip from its iron pins; she evinces no sign of partiality in the matter, only a wariness of such loose speech.

“An educated chap is one step closer to being a civilised chap,” comes the argument, interspersed with olives and wine, and generally amiable in nature. “And a civilised chap strives to improve not only himself but all mankind. That, my dear,” and Lars jabs an olive towards her for emphasis, “can only prevent mischief. Teach the fellows to be better men, I say. It's the ignorant who know no better who turn to crime and other such nonsense.”

Ida gives this fair consideration, for the remaining span of her next olive’s lifetime. “It depends, then, what you mean by mischief — and what you mean by… civilisation,” she muses. “I have not seen so very much of it, here, so far.” She sounds regretful.

“I am forever an optimist, my dear,” Lars insists. “And, some would say, an idealist, but that shouldn’t stop any of us pushing towards those ideals, should it?”

“No… no, it shouldn’t.” And Ida beams at him, and places one last olive pit in line with its fellows: closing the circle, completing her decoration of her plate.

She wipes her fingers upon the napkin provided for the purpose and picks up her sketchbook, holding it in both hands, as she rises from her chair. “I am very pleased to have met you, Lord Lars Costayne,” she says very cordially. “And I hope you find a gift for your wife, even if it is not what you intended. Sometimes the best thing comes as a surprise!”

Lars rises as she does, dipping his head and offering a sunny smile. “Thank you so much for your company, Miss Imaldi. I shall keep looking, and perhaps I might see you again. In the gardens? With a book?”

Ida beams. “Perhaps!” she whispers, leaning nearer… and then, in a rush, she’s gone.

The serving-woman reappears in the doorway through which Ida has just passed in a waft of dark blue linen; she’s craning her neck to follow the woman’s departure, perhaps just to make sure she’s really leaving. She comes into the common-room, then, and searches the corner for the piece of charcoal Ida tossed away when her drawing so displeased her.

Carrying it disdainfully held between finger and thumb she crosses to Lars’s table and confides: “I’m very sorry, milord. Those Iron Bank people, they think they can do just as they please.” She sniffs. “Would you care for anything more to eat, milord?”

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