(123-06-23) Please Check Your Twaddle
Please Check Your Twaddle
Summary: Sure to become a condition of Rafe's visits to Esme.
Date: 23/06/2016
Related: None

By now the great Ser Rayford of the Night's Watch, and Esme's favourite delivery boy Jon, are old friends. When they meet in the shop it is natural for the time of day to be passed — and for a quantity of whatever sweets the good shopkeeper has in stock to change hands, too.

Jon is just relating, with his mouth full and copious hand gestures, the tale of a minor scuffle he got into with a lad from down the docks, described as being twice his size, or nearly, anyway, when the bell over the door to the butchery tinkles and his sixth sense warns him that this is no mere customer. Oh, no. He breaks off in mid-recitation of his exploits and swallows his treat as he whirls around to face his employer. She's not much taller than he is, these days, and incandescent in blue and yellow stripes.

"Mornin' Jon. And Ser Rayford again," she says pleasantly, looking up past her lad to the crow behind him. "This is an honour. What c'n I do for you, ser, or are you just… passin'?" she inquires, lifting an eyebrow. Far be it from her to discourage his interest in the boy, after all.

Ser Rayford, caught beaming at young Jon's tale, does not dim at Esme's arrival. Rather, he sketches a casual sort of bow at the matronly shopkeeper, only answering once he has straightened. "I was only in the neighborhood, Mistress, and thought to myself, 'Ser Rayford, if'n you don't stop and say hello to Mistress Esme, you'll not be able to sleep for thinkin' yourself a miscreant,' and so wishing to avoid a sleepless night…" Here he winks at Jon, without a pause, "I did stop in to tell you hello, and to check after your health, which I now see to be excellent." His long piece said (for Rafe is not a man who shies from the sound of his own voice), he leans once again against the counter, the thumb of his left hand hooked into the black leather baldric at his waist.

Esme regards him evenly. "A miscreant," she repeats, in a tone dubious but temporarily accepting, as though she inquired whatever would he think of next and this proved to be the answer. "… Well, we can't have that, can we?" she decides, rubbing her hands together. On the third finger of the left only a band of pale skin shows where she wore a wedding ring for nigh on thirty years, till a week or ten days past. "I s'pose you may as well step along with me and have a slice of what you've really come for. It needs eatin' up. Jon, you run along and see what Talia wants you to do — you've already had yours," she reminds him. "Go on!" And she flaps her apron at him.

The lad takes his leave with about as much ceremony as you'd expect, and Esme ushers the great Ser Rayford up her stairs — with another flap of her apron for him once they're behind closed doors, away from the apprentices' sight.

"A strong—" Rayford's appraisal of Jon is interrupted by a bout of laughter as he is hurried, skipping a stair, and then another, until he's out of Esme's reach. "A strong lad, your Jon." He finished the thought, this time, mindful of his pace on the stairs. Even so, nearing the top he slows to let Esme pass him if she wishes, though it would be awkward in the narrow space. "And clever enough, isn't he? Not long and you'll be needing to mind him 'round your girls, though, unless I miss my guess." A gentle shake of his head, any disapproval surely feigned, and he produces a small pouch that jingles as he holds it by the strings to offer it to Esme. "For the boy, before I forget, as we agreed."

Following at a more decorous pace with her hands smoothing her apron and her eyes lifted to Rafe's dark figure, Esme decides to pass in front of him as he has so graciously hinted she might. Four months ago she wouldn't have done. But now she turns sideways and, led by a thin shoulder, steps ahead of him into her sitting-room. She observes: "More interested in sweets just now, Seven keep him. With any luck he'll take his time movin' on to bigger things… I'll see that this ends up where it ought," she adds, hefting the pouch and then consigning it to one of the pockets beneath her dress.

Then, rather than ushering him to a chair, or fetching the pie which is allegedly so eager to be consumed, she stands a few paces inside with her hands on her hips and contemplates… nothing in particular?

Rayford contemplates as well, just a moment, which tack to take as he approaches an item that has caught his attention. Without ever looking directly at the newly bare skin of her ring finger, he rocks back onto his heels, then forward again onto flat feet. Thumbs now both hitched at his waist, he ventures, "Mistress Esme, I calculate a different air about you today than when last we spoke. Lighter, mayhaps?" He begins to pace, eyes drifting slowly about the room, never lighting anyplace for long, avoiding Esme's spare frame altogether.

"Unrelated to anything at all, I well know that you are not a forgetful woman, nor likely to mislay anything so… Well. Anything at all, if we're being honest, hm? And again unrelated to that small observation on your character, my heart of course soars to see you in such high spirits."

His hostess turns, open-mouthed, to give him a once-over with downright withering black eyes. "You do talk a right load of twaddle," she declares, the same enemy of sentiment she's always been; "and your heart's gone right off its head, s'far as I can see. Now, I was just tryin' to think if I had anythin' needed cleanin' — since you've been floatin' about on some cloud or another this mornin' I reckon you'd be best occupied doin' my floors," she decides firmly. "Nothin's so groundin' as doin' the floors."

"…In the absence of stalls," Rayford says, as though to finish Esme's sentence for her. He well knows where the bucket is, and the brushes, and so busies himself with gathering those as he goes on. "I was just sayin' to a friend, not but a few days past, how cleanin' stables might make a man appreciate his lot in life." The brushes sing and he rubs their bristles over one another, then clatter heavily into the bucket, one and two. If Rafe resents being put to work on the floors again, he makes no show of it, his spirits high and seemingly unassailable.

"Wouldn't they laugh in court, Mistress," and he laughs, himself, to speak the question, "To see me now? I told you I'm expected in the Hightower Court now, with a seat near Lord Ormund, ordained by himself, so's the other great lords might see me near him and come to look favorably on my efforts here by that association?"

Esme regards him with an unimpressed air, arms folded over her chest. "And you want to be praised, now, just for rememberin' where you came from?" she asks sourly. "As though it were great condescension and not merely the least you could do? I ain't in the mood, Rafe, I just ain't in the mood." And she unfolds her arms and reaches up to pinch the bridge of her nose; and she breathes out a sigh. "Give me that," she decides, relieving him of the bucket. For somebody is going to have to go downstairs and out the back to draw the water. "You start movin' the furniture. But quiet, like."

And she leaves him no time in which to answer her — or argue with her! — and shuts the door a mite harder than usual in her wake. But she isn't gone long, and she seems to have found a marginally better temper along with a bucketful of soapy water. Remarkable, the breadth of her stock…

Moving the furniture is not so much work that he can't have it largely finished by the time she returns, only to see him resettling the last of the chairs softly near the hearth. His thick black doublet is now atop the table, any wrinkles hastily smoothed, his baldric hung from the back of a chair that was adjacent before things were shifted, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, his grin tempered but still playing about his lips.

"Good, good." The knighted Crow claps his hands together as he crosses toward Esme, reaching out for the bucket. "Now to business, and then mayhaps we'll see about a slice of that pie you mentioned. You did mention pie?"

"If," Esme warns him on her way into her bedroom, "I'm happy with the floor."

She approves of the chests stacked on her tidy desk — and disapproves of the baskets forgotten under the bed, and fishes them out and puts them on top, with the end of her light summer quilt folded up by way of a hint — and collects her knitting in its blue linen bag. Her own occupation arranged she returns to sit in her usual chair, lined up in its new place along the wall, where she can keep an eye on her cleaning-man at his work. "… Now, what's this about Lord Ormund," she sighs, once she has her sock in her hands. There's something so calming about the knitting of a sock.

"There are a good many things as I do poorly, Mistress," Rayford is quick to concede, "But floors have never been one of them, have they?" With another generous chuckle for his own hard-earned skills, he selects a corner for his starting-place and settles the bucket nearby, first splashing just a bit of the soapy water onto the floor. He grunts as he begins the work, finding his rhythm before he speaks again, now over the sound of vigorous brushing.

"I met with Lord Hightower himself, not a week past," Rafe declares, "And found him sympathetic to the cause of the Night's Watch. Moreso," he adds with a grin over his shoulder, "Once I complimented him on his fine tower, and shouldn't I like to see the view from its top, and have a look about?" Eyes back on his work, he is quick to add, "The vanity of great lords is no less than that of smaller men, is it? And no surprise, I reckon."

Esme's tiny rosewood knitting needles move swiftly, ceaselessly in her work-worn hands. "He ain't Lord Hightower," she points out unsympathetically. "The father what's the Hand of the King, he's Lord Hightower. The son will be one day but he ain't yet. If you called him by the wrong name to his face I'm sure he'd've been too polite to say, but…" But he, Rafe, would still have sounded like a rube. Now there's a thought that's going to fester.

Rayford raises a hand to shake his brush, a gesture of agreement, underscored verbally with, "Quite right, of course, and I don't believe I did. But he does rule Oldtown, practically if not technically, and so is still a useful man to have tied myself to even tenuously." He good cheer holds for the moment, despite the rebuke, and if he is gnawing at his lip now Esme is in no place to see it. Silent for a moment, the young knight makes good time on the floors, scrubbing out from his corner and shifting the bucket with him as he works. "And do you know," he ventures at length, "That Lord Ormund mentioned your man Camillo by name, during our brief palaver?"

"That'd be because Master Camillo's his man," the little shopkeeper points out tartly, "and very well-respected at the Hightower, to be sure." She pauses. "What'd he have to say of him, then? If I might make so bold." Her tone is just fractionally gentler now that she's the one asking a question. The grey sock in her hands is growing slowly but steadily longer.

"Just as I'm a man of the Night's Watch," Rayford ripostes, the grin audible in his voice even if his back is to Esme, "And I've no doubt Lord Ormund relies upon good Camillo. You might make as bold as pleases you, Mistress, and Seven know I've done the same, haven't I?" His dark hair, usually so carefully careless in its presentation, has begun to suffer as the Crow sweats at his task, and he cuffs a stray lock out of his eyes with the back of his brushing hand. "Lord Ormund said that I ought to see Camillo should I require anything, and to advise him if my address changes, as the lord might wish to consult with me on other matters."

"Pity then you didn't make a better impression when you had the chance," murmurs Esme, almost to herself, quirking her eyebrows at his back. "Well, that sounds fair enough," she says in a more normal voice. "But I wonder what all this courtin' and meetin' adds up to in recruits so far, eh?"

Rayford nods his head through one comment, and into the next. "I'm confident it adds up to a steady stream of recruits, pending," he claims, leaning in comically close to his brush to eye a spot that's giving him trouble. "Layin' the groundwork, ain't I? And I'm sure I'll have another chance with Master Camillo, soon as you like, so no need worryin' on my account." Not that he mistook her tone for worry, did he? But the optimism is relentless.

Esme sucks in a noisy breath through her teeth. "None yet, then," she deduces, correctly. "You're lucky them in the north are so far away they don't expect to hear from you too often, either way. Runnin' round the city week in and week out talkin' twaddle — well, if you don't tell 'em, I won't," she remarks darkly, pulling another few yards of grey yarn loose from the ball.

"They're aware of my… progress," Rayford calls it, generously, "And my leanin' toward twaddle," he adds with a laugh. "I sent word after I met with Lord Ormund, and no doubt I'll send men soon enough. Confident, I am," though that doesn't necessarily speak well of the endeavor; some of Rafe's greatest mistakes have been made with confidence. "I reckon after the next court, or the one after, I ought to start meeting with the other houses as are near, too. That'll move things along, I should think."

There's something deeply, exasperatedly maternal in Esme's expression as she regards that confident man getting to grips with her scrubbing brushes. "I'll believe it when I see it," she remarks caustically. "… That other twaddle," she adds, "that you were talkin' to me, before." A pause.

In a rare fit of prudence, Rayford holds his tongue. He comes up to his knees, back still to Esme, nodding his head in invitation as he shifts the bucket and scoots across the floor to an untouched portion of the floor. Then, still without a word, he leans into the brush and resumes scrubbing.

His silence is appreciated almost as much as his attention to duty. Esme reflects upon the matter in a quiet of her own, and then ventures, diffidently, "I reckon I do know what you were on about; and it's true enough, I ain't given to misplacin' things." Another pause. The pace of her knitting never slackens. "I'm sayin' what I'm sayin' only to make sure you won't speak out of turn, in that reckless way you have, in front of my son — so far as he knows I've put it away against a day when he might wish to marry. He don't know yet about the rest and I don't want some fool tellin' him."

Rayford pauses in his work to come to one knee, resting a wrist on the other knee, and look over his shoulder at Esme, his dark eyes perhaps adding a hint of gravity to his words. "Mistress, I should never like to cause your son any pain. If that's what he knows, then that'll be the Father's own truth, and it won't be this particular fool as ever says any different. I've a casual way with words, sure enough, but I've a mind for secrets too, and a I know one when I see it."

The caustic, carping Esme of their recent discussion has been replaced by a still and silent little woman who looks deeply into his eyes with her own slightly narrowed, and then… nods. She doesn't quite go so far as to look pleased. But she doesn't look displeased, either. "There we are, then," she agrees softly. "… He has met the man in question — known him four months, all told — but that ain't a talk that's easy for any son, still less one like my Edmyn, and you know how keen I am to do what's best for him."

"A mother knows what's best for her son," Rayford agrees, bending back to his task, "And you won't find me pretendin' to have any advice on that, never havin' known a mother by blood, or been a son." He snorts a laugh at that, clever in his own mind, though it's a soft one. "But I'm sure he's a fine man, and if not then I'm sure as sure that he'll regret ever seemin' to be one, won't he?" A low whistle conveys his pity for any man who might, for a short time, deceive Esme. "But no, I should think you'd have his measure, and be certain of him, hm?"

Before the low whistle dies away it's joined by a chuckle from Esme, who must concede the point. "Absolutely certain," she informs Rafe, and she looks it too. "But bein' certain or not, that ain't the point. There's just no need right now to go upsettin' my son with any o' that kind o' talk, and so I don't intend to, see? I don't like lyin' to him, but sometimes it's for his own good. Lets him think the world's a nicer and more innocent place than it is."

Rayford shuffles backwards, still on his knees, dragging the bucket with him. He has finished a stripe from one corner to the other, and now means to start back across the room. "Nice enough for him, inside your walls, an' your Edmyn won't hear different from me. I'll spare you the 'on my honor' if'n it's all the same, but know as I mean it." His shoulders rise and fall in a 'take it or leave it' shrug, and the brush resumes its rhythm.

Esme sniffs. But she admits quietly, "I believe you," and lets the matter lie. Perhaps it's the sight of her floor glistening with cleanliness that's putting her into a better mood. Perhaps, after all, Rafe shall have his pie.

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