(123-08-06) Being Useful
Being Useful
Summary: Esme and Camillo agree that this is a good thing. Also, congratulations are (very tentatively) offered upon a piece of news which was news at the time…
Date: Not sure, it kind of got lost in the shuffle…
Related: A Wedding in the Shambles

There has surely been quite a lot to attend to at the Hightower with the return of Prince Dhraegon and Princess Marsei, but Camillo has at last found another moment to steal away, perhaps with an excuse. After all, there are always goods that need fetching. He chooses to stop by just after the evening rush, not long before the shop would ordinarily close, and there he appears in the doorway, edging his way into the shop.

He finds Esme leaning her elbows on the customers' side of the counter, with her chin in her hands, listening to a bookkeeping anecdote being recounted from the business side of it. Her shop girl, the one called Katla who has worked for her the longest, is beginning to stutter and repeat herself in her efforts to justify the irregularity. Esme's own attitude is wearily forbearing — visions of two weeks' notices dance behind her eyes — at least until the bell tinkles and in the name of good business she is obliged to straighten her posture, paste on a smile, and turn around to greet her customer.

The smile turns genuine, because it's Camillo. "Evenin', dearie," she says, looking tired but sounding pleased. "What can we do for the Hightower today?

"Hello, Mistress Esme. They're needing an extra order of millet, flour, and sausage, owing to all the traveling." Camillo ducks his head and smiles a bit at Joyeuse, then nods to Katla.

Esme turns again, resting a hand on her counter. "Hear that," she inquires pleasantly of Katla, "or have you still got cloth in your ears…?"

"Yes, mistress," murmurs Katla, already moving to make a note in the appropriate ledger. "Millet, flour, sausage," she repeats, without looking at either of them in case this blessed distraction should fail her.

"And an extra order of pie for you, eh?" Esme inquires of Camillo, in a teasing sort of voice which suggests she wouldn't mind in the least.

Camillo ducks his head gratefully. "If you've the time," he allows, "I wouldn't mind. I hope…all's well here?"

"Oh, very well," Esme insists at once, smiling more broadly for the effect of it; "and I've plenty of time, so don't you worry." She pats the counter again. "Katla's just goin' to do my windows, aren't you, dearie? … Come along," she says pleasantly to Camillo, shooing him in front of her with her apron.

Presented with their backs Katla indulges in a facial expression which would get her fired on the spot, if she weren't so careful.

The flat upstairs is soon filled with the familiar, homey sounds of Esme bustling about between sideboard, table, and hearth, serving pie and heating water and wondering aloud after Camillo's precious plants. "I clean forgot to ask, didn't I, the last time you came to see me? How did they get on while you were in Dorne?" she asks interestedly.

Camillo doesn't dare make any signs of sympathy to Katla in front of Esme, so he just proceeds directly upstairs. "The plants, they're all right. I had a boy do the watering for me. How did who get on?" he adds.

Esme blinks at her literal-minded visitor. "… How did the plants get on," she clarifies; "that was all I meant, dearie." She reaches past him to place his knife and his fork, in perfect alignment, then pats his shoulder in retreat. "I'm glad they did well — I hope we was careful not to over-water," she chuckles, recalling a previous talk of theirs on the nature of over-watering. And then she's turning back to the table with pie-tin and plate. "It's beef and bacon today — hope you're not tired of that one. Though, now I come to think of it, you've not had it in more'n a month, have you? So that's all right," she concludes, serving him a slice so generous it almost qualifies as two helpings all by itself. An extra order of pie, indeed.

"Oh," Camillo replies softly, nodding once. "Right." He moves toward the seat. "It's just, there were a lot of people there." He tilts his head. "I don't know how he did, but they aren't dead, anyway." He smiles a little. "Of course I always like your beef and bacon pie, Mistress Esme."

Esme beams at him. "Bless you," she says sincerely, and then covers the almost-empty pie-tin with two flicks of its protective linen cloth and busies herself providing them both with cool, fresh apple cider. "… Seen much of Flox lately?" she wonders aloud. Very casual. Just making conversation.

Camillo bobs his head once. "Well, um, I did see him, yes," he replies, picking up a fork to hold on to. "He said there might be… Well, possibly I should offer congratulations, but I don't want to…"

The lad is begging to be teased.

Thus Esme, holding the stone jug of cider, poised to pour, lowers it to the table with Camillo's poor cup still empty. Her expression sobers. "I see," she murmurs levelly. "You don't want to congratulate us."

Camillo blushes and ducks his head. "Of course I don't," he says, then realizes how /that/ sounds and continues, "That is, don't…don't think that, I just don't want to…put my nose where it doesn't belong."

Esme relents, chuckles, and pours Camillo's cider so the poor man will have something else to do with his hands. "It's all right," she says soothingly. "Puttin' your nose in, why, that'd be askin' us what in the Seven Hells we thought we were doin', or askin' us what about His Grace, or askin' have we really known each other long enough to be decidin' somethin' like that, or sayin' there's no fool like an old fool. Congratulations, now, those are nice — very suitable, too, even if we weren't such good friends as we are."

Camillo smiles slowly at Esme and shakes his head. "I don't find it so very strange, you know. And… Flox suggested I might witness for you." He does indeed reach for that cider now. "Congratulations," he toasts softly.

Esme beams proudly down at him — another successful navigation of a social conundrum! — and having half-filled her own cup with delicious bubbling cider she picks it up just to touch it to his and have a quick sip. "Thank you, dearie," she says sincerely. "And I'm sure we'll both be very pleased to have you there on the day. It won't be too long, I reckon," she squints thoughtfully into the middle distance as she sits down, "but there're a few things we'll have to see to first… I've a lot of sewin' ahead of me." She makes a face.

Camillo squints thoughtfully. "I'm a slow hand with a needle and my work is none too neat," he says. "So I'm afraid I can't help. But perhaps someone could be found who does piece work to help the trousseau along."

The bride-to-be looks thoughtful, and sucks in a breath as a precursor to shaking her head. "I s'pose that's the word for it, isn't it… still, I never thought I'd need one o' those again at my time o' life," she confides, caught between pleasure, pride, embarrassment, and too rich an awareness of how many nights in the coming weeks she'll spend stitching by lamplight with a crick in her neck. In fact her hand comes up to rub the back of her neck in anticipation. "I know a woman does very nice work," she admits, "and I reckon I might have her do a few o' the things we'll want, but I wouldn't feel right not doin' the sheets myself… Besides, it's good luck," she explains.

Camillo smiles a little at the idea of sheets auspiciously stitched by Esme's own hand. "I'm sure that Flox will be touched each time he sees them."

Esme ducks her head and then makes of the kettle an excuse to get up, and of getting up an excuse to hide her small but recurring smile. "Well, he does appreciate the work that goes in, I'll say that for him," she says for him, lifting the kettle off its hook; "there's plenty that don't. I know some men who think linen stitches itself and new shirts just grow on trees."

"I suppose many do," Camillo allows, "And that it cleans itself besides. If they've never had to see to the making of anything."

Stepping into her bedroom, Esme pauses to catch Camillo's eye and shake her head darkly at those naive thoughts. "I do send my laundry out," she admits, coming back with the basin from her washstand (it doesn't match the pitcher), "because I couldn't keep up with it and run three businesses and put three meals on the table every day and give my son the attention he needs; but when I wasn't workin' so much, back in King's Landing, I did do my own." She sighs. "Worst job in any house," she opines; "I'd rather be scrubbin' floors." And the basin ends up under the table, on her side, and she crouches down a second time to pour hot water into it from the kettle. Tendrils of steam rise and dissipate. "Ignore me," Esme instructs Camillo from floor level.

Camillo nods gently at instructions to ignore Esme. Or perhaps it's at what she says, instead. "The balance of care and effectiveness is difficult to strike," he agrees. "I've washed many things in my time."

"Aye, well. I wager you'n I have both had some pretty awful jobs," chuckles Esme — because she can, now that they've both got nice ones. She restores kettle to hearth and fetches an unmarked jar from the same cupboard where the cider lives; she adds a couple of handfuls of some kind of salt-like substance to the basin under the table, and another remark or two to the conversation. "I'm just glad that these days I can afford to pay other people to do the one or two chores I really can't get on with… I end up doin' everythin' else, of course, but I don't mind that. I don't reckon I'd like to be doin' one thing the same day in and day out," she observes, finding her way at last to her chair and kicking her sandals off under the table. "What d'you think?"

And a fleeting expression of bliss crosses her features as, after a long day on her feet, she lowers them into that basin of hot water…

Camillo smiles as if to confirm Esme's suspicion. But then he lifts his eyebrows. "What do I think?" he repeats. "Well, I suppose it is more varied than some, a servant's life. I like it better than stable work, even if it was different from my imagination."

Now that interests Esme, connoisseuse that she is of Camillo's mind. She leans her forearms on the table and asks softly, "What did you imagine it'd be like?"

Camillo furrows his brow at that question, as though he hadn't ever expected to be asked it, however natural it is. "Well…not as difficult," he decides. "And more… I thought there would be something different about being near to great people."

Esme smiles, and sits back nodding her understanding. "The way they look at the world's a bit different," she concedes, looking away the better to fetch her knitting bag out of an adjacent chair, "but people are always people. Havin’ plenty o’ coin, or knowin’ who your ancestors were goin’ back five hundred years, or rulin’ over the land as far as the eye can see, don't make a body stop longin' for love, or fearin' death, or catchin' cold…” She unwinds a few yards of startlingly blue wool from a two-ounce ball of it, unwraps it from the needle it has managed to get tangled about in the bag, and is soon industriously knitting, purling, and dropping stitches apurpose only to pick them up again in a different order; she adds, “If it did, maybe it would be easier.” A slight quirk of the corners of her mouth. Not quite a smile.

Camillo tilts his head, looks thoughtful as ever. "I don't know if that's what I thought," he says. "That it would be different in those ways. I don't remember. I think I thought it would be…more significant, in some way. Or that I would be. I don't know if that's true or not."

"Well," says Esme quietly, looking up from her knitting and into Camillo's eyes, "I understand what you mean by the word. I think doin' that kind o' work for others is significant, and it does make you significant in that way, if you're doin' it for people you love. 'S why plenty of women would rather keep house for themselves and their kin than do the same chores under someone else's roof… and why, for a servant, havin' masters and mistresses you can be fond of as well as respect, is such a blessin'. I know you feel somethin' special for the Hightowers, dearie," she points out, in her most gentle and grandmotherly way, "and I reckon maybe that comes through in your service, and that's why they take such an interest in you, too."

Camillo listens to Esme speak with a quietly uncertain expression, but that is a look he wears often enough. "I'm glad of the chance to be useful to them." That he doesn't sound uncertain about.

The blue sock-to-be makes another quarter-turn in Esme's expert hands; with a glance about her clean and tidy flat, which will soon be home to both the men who matter in her life, she admits: "So'm I, dearie. So'm I."

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