(123-09-26) Don't Take Any Wooden Dragons
Don't Take Any Wooden Dragons
Summary: The first time on record Esme has given back a coin.
Date: 26/09/2016
Related: None

The facade of the red and yellow grocery shop on the corner where Oldtown Square meets the Shambles has been enlivened (you'd hardly have thought it possible) by a pair of striking striped windowboxes on the second floor. The wider stripes are blue and orange. The narrower stripes have undertaken to fill in most of the rest of the rainbow, except pink and purple.

In consequence the proprietress and her new husband have lately oft been seen framed in those east-facing windows, separately and together, parting the blindingly white muslin curtains to fuss with their healthy young crop of sage, rosemary, basil, and lavender — looking out over the comings and goings in the square — drawing one another's attention to interesting passersby, or laughing at a shared joke, or simply watching the sun rise over Oldtown's rooftops.

It's nearly lunchtime when Esme, rushed off her feet all the morning, makes a solo appearance on slug patrol. She begins methodically on the far left of the leftmost windowbox, peeking beneath leaves, touching the soil with cautious fingertips to guess what's going to want watering and when. She has one eye on the square below, of course — until it happens that it merits both…

Interesting passersby are not uncommon, but there's a certain routine to the flow of traffic in front of the dry grocery, filled with many of the same faces that go by every day, on the same errands, going to the same places to and from the Square. The figure that interrupts the norm this afternoon is neither routine nor a passerby.

She's made her way to the grocery by what must have been some circuitous route that didn't involve the common cut across the Square or simple stroll down the street and now, without regard or otherwise ignorant of Esme on high, she's crouching at the outskirts of the grocery, doing what can only be described as pawing on the ground, moving a few squatting steps, cursing - the muttering under her breath might not be audible, but the way she spits out the words with a harshly furrowed brow can only mean cursing — and repeats the process.

The woman kicking around down there is not a customer; in fact, she's a stranger to the shopkeeper. Dark-haired, light-skinned, the farthest-reaching estimation of her age would put her in her thirtieth year; most of them hard years, if her worn-out clothing is any estimation. The leather shirt, sleeves long gone, styled like a men's gambeson; The thinning undershirt with its yellowing neck billowy sleeves wild with every attempt of whatever she's doing down there; the blue skirt is in fair condition but was never anything fine to begin with, and the trousers and scuffed boots counteract the cleanliness which is really and truly an illusion due to the dark blue colour, at any rate.

She has the look of the slums about her, right at home on the edge of the Shambles. Except she's a new face around these parts, at least to those who take care to even notice the frequent comings and goings in a port city such as Oldtown; even many with a keen eye have been like to pass her by at a glance. She has one of those faces that, combined with her dull and common attire, don't stand out from a crowd until you focus. Those who do recognize her know her as the juggler who's been trying to entertain folks in the Square for a spare coin or two on and off for the past month or so. One of the vegetable merchants has complained about her loitering near his stand more than once.

In fact that young (from Esme's lofty point of view) woman looks anything but at home in the Shambles, which is the abode of RESPECTABLE TRADESPEOPLE.

She may not be a slug, but right now her presence all too close to the door of the grocery shop is just as prejudicial to passing trade as a slug to the health of Esme's new herbs. Thus the little shopkeeper gives her till the other end of the windowbox and then, when the shuffling and muttering and door-blocking hasn't ceased, she pops quick as a flash down the stairs.

As she reappears in the downstairs doorway Esme smooths her clean white apron (worn over her blue and white striped dress) with both hands, and then folds her arms and just watches for a moment. Squinting into the sunshine, with a dubious though utterly unthreatening air. (Hah.) Her head in its lime-green scarf with white polka-dots tilts in Sal's direction.

"… Anythin' I might help you with, goodwoman?" she asks at last.

"Sh— " Sal jumps up — sharp reflexes, quick muscles — and stares at Esme, wiping her hands on the front of her own apron-like skirt and leaving smeared dusty palm-prints (some of said dust likely having been accumulated before reaching Esme's tidy storefront). Her eyes go wide, but don't exactly flood with guilt. It's not fear, either. It's the startle that comes with surprise and imposition, annoyed at being interrupted and now being put in the unfortunate circumstance of having to explain oneself. Or she could bolt. That's an option. Her eyes rove sideways, considering it. "Nah," she ultimately dismisses, as if Esme can carry on her way never-minding her now. When that doesn't immediately happen, she squints back, looking her up and down to get a full summary, polka dots and all. "Maybe," she says curtly, jerking her chin up and down. Her accent is slums all over, but carries a lilt not from around here; not something she was born with, but picked up along the way once upon a long time ago and made all her own. "I lost somethin've mine."

Esme has already long since acquainted herself with every detail of Sal's face, her garb, and her posture, not to mention estimated how long it's been since she's had a proper wash; her gaze flicks down again to take in the handprints, and she reacts with just the faintest wince of a good housekeeper affronted. She lifts an eyebrow at the 'Nah' and the other one too at the 'Maybe', then she rocks back on her heels once, thinking, then on the point of speaking she lifts her gaze to a woman passing by, dressed plainly but neatly, an upper servant with a heavy basket on her arm: "Good mornin' to you, Mistress Dania," she calls; "fine weather we're havin', ain't it?" She smiles reassuringly, to make sure everyone knows that all is well here and the madwoman in the leather gambeson is nothing to worry about: her customer nods to her, calls back a friendly greeting, but passes by on another errand.

She looks back to Sal, still smiling. "And what would it be you'd've happened to've lost?" she inquires lightly. "You sure it was round here?"

Sal turns her head fully away from Mistress Dania, waiting for her to pass and the shopkeeper's query to come. Contemplating, she shifts her jaw inelegantly from side to side; like a cow chewing cud, mothers everywhere would say. "A pendant," she answers quickly, as though it pains her to do so. "Shaped like a gold coin, but made a' wood. It had to be 'round here," she insists. Her eyes are naturally narrow, and her squinting suspiciously at Esme makes them just about disappear, an asymmetrical furrow cutting between her eyebrows.

Coincidentally, the shopkeeper's eyes are on the narrow side too. They're small, at any rate — dwarfed by the wrinkles which radiate out from their corners — and very dark, a brown that's as good as black. There's nothing to be read in them but amiable curiosity as their owner regards Sal and listens, and nods slowly as she dwells upon the stranger's reluctant words.

"That's too bad, dearie," she says sympathetically. "Sounds like it were a keepsake of yours, weren't it?" She cocks her head again. "This gold coin that ain't a gold coin. Did it have anythin' engraved on it?"

Esme's amiable sympathy does little to ease the woman's instinctual suspicion. Casual kindness is not likely to have been something she's received much of in her life. "Ain't you never seen a gold coin before?" She crosses her arms testily, impatient to find out whether her keepsake is safe or not, but obliges slightly more calmly, "A three-headed dragon like it were a real coin, 'cept there ain't no king's face on the back. Says 'Westeros' but it's half rubbed off past the T."

That was what Esme, in her patient and kindly manner, was waiting to hear.

"Don't see too many of those round here, I'll tell you that for nothin'," she chuckles as she unfolds her arms. "Still, seems to me you know a thing or two about it," and she holds up a finger to bid the young woman to wait, and retreats into her shop, her apron a white blur in its comparative dimness.

The shop is a sort of treasure cave of comestibles, redolent of onions and garlic and foreign spices, with a distinct underlying aroma of root vegetables. It is very clean and very tidy, Esme being particular about the arrangement of her wares — overworked shop girls have been known to accuse her behind her back of sneaking down at night to arrange grains of salt in order of size — and there is a counter, behind which a girl in a grey dress and an identical white apron is making way for Esme to step past her and start ferreting about.

It's with a warring mix of reluctance and desperate eagerness to recover her lost pendant that Sal hurries after Esme despite being gestured to wait. Smacking one hand onto the outer door-frame, shoves her head inside, initially to watch the shopkeeper — but the sights and smells of the grocery distract her from her oh-so-important quest, her gaze jumping from barrels of onions to neat shelves of cheese and spices. Her stomach doesn't audibly growl, but hunger has a kind of expression in these parts, a gaunt longing across her face.

Behind her counter Esme pauses to glance up at the noise. That's no way to treat a nice, freshly-painted doorframe, is it? A moment later she straightens and comes round the corner again, giving her shop girl's arm a quick pat in passing: her other hand, small and wrinkled and work-worn, opens to display a gold coin which isn't a gold coin, and the two trailing ends of a string which frayed just a wee bit too far. "You might want to put it on a bit of leather cord," she advises kindly; "that string was just waitin' to break."

The appearance of the coin pendant transforms the woman's character: she makes the leap from stand-offish grouch to someone entirely more full of verve, cracking a wide smile that reveals teeth still in relatively decent shape, a surge of merriment behind her eyes instead of suspicion. "There he is!" She gives the door-frame a celebratory slap and stands up straight, which takes her a step inside. "It was pinned inside my shirt though," she explains without exactly explaining. "I know it's worth shit, but I really didn't want to lose it. Good on you, eh?" She zealously reaches for the prize.

Esme's grey eyebrows veer in toward each other as she offers up the pendant. "Now, now," she says, gently but firmly, "there's no need for that kind of language in my shop, dearie." Then, to show there are no hard feelings after a mere first offense, she inquires, "How's the jugglin', then? Takin' in much? Afraid folk round here don't have much to spare, generally," she apologises.

Sal's narrow-eyed squint returns, this time employed while she tries to figure out what language Esme was talking about, as she was pretty certain she was speaking Common. It takes her a moment, resolved with an incredulous widening of her eyes — really? — but she gives a quick smile and a wink of, probably, acknowledgment. "Nah but," she interrupts herself to casually shove her fist, clamped over the pendant, behind the front of her leather shirt down to … somewhere. It's gone when her hand emerges, at any rate. "Might try my hand somewhere else 'round the city. Somewhere the pockets're deeper."

To Sal's brief confusion Esme adds nothing but the inquiring gaze of a woman wondering what there is to be puzzled about. Then, arms folded once more, she nods her understanding of at least one conundrum. "… But where the pockets are deeper, the watch's like to move you along all the faster," she muses, sounding regretful. "Might try round some o' the harbourside inns. Sailors do well enough out of a port as rich as Oldtown — they come ashore lookin' to spend what they have — they're less finicky about their entertainment, too." She draws in a breath through her teeth, contemplates adding something else, then shakes her head. Never mind.

Harbourside, sailors: by the time Esme has finished putting forth this suggestion, Sal is adamant that it's the wrong one. She doesn't say so, not in so many words, but there's a quick flare in her gaze that just about says she'd rather starve than entertain sailors. She eyes the shopkeeper, inquisitive, seeing that bit of contemplation come and gone. "I got an offer some place else," she explains, rolling her shoulders about importantly, although the posture of arrogance is just that; it doesn't quite reach her face. "Do many sailors go through the theater? The Whimsy or whatever it's called? Do you know if it gets a lot of lords 'n' ladies from far off?"

Esme observes that reluctance, blinks once, and drops whatever else she had to say. She sniffs thoughtfully and lets out a little 'mm' whilst Sal is still speaking. "Don't know about far off," she says then, "but some o' the near ones go, all right. Neighbour of mine sees to makin' fancy bits o' food for 'em to eat between the acts — she and I've both done nicely out of it," she concedes judiciously. "The man in charge there, that's Ser Loryn Tyrell — he's an honest man, happily married," an important point for prospective female employees, "and he does very well fightin' in the tournaments on feast days and whatnot. If you've a chance to work for him," and she very kindly doesn't look Sal up and down too dubiously, "you'd do well to take it, to be sure."

Esme's estimation of Loryn Tyrell is met with an incredulous scrunch of Sal's face, but it's in humour. "Good to know the fella's not all talk then! 'Preciate it, miss. Thought he might be pullin' his own chain, talkin' about how good his place was. But it does it look like a proper theater," she says. "I'd only— I wouldn't be workin' for him," she grimaces, "just outside, like. Anyway— " A bit overeager to move on from the details of her panhandling, she jabs her thumb over her shoulder. "The front a' your store is fuc— " The struggle to reroute her dirty language is evident. A great war. A painful injustice. She will never get over it. ( She gets over it after spending a few seconds agape.) "It's bloody bright." A nod to Esme, maybe to indicate that she, too, is bloody bright. So, despite the seductive call of the food in stock, what she asks is, "D'you sell paint?"

"Aye, no, not all talk," chuckles Esme, "though a fair bit o' that, or so I hear…" And then she hears the word struggling to break free of the younger woman's lips: she gives her a tiny frown, waits patiently to see what happens, and ends up just shaking her head and tsk-tsking quietly to herself.

Her gaze having wandered off over her squeaky-clean floor (compliments must be evaded at all costs), it reverts to Sal's face when she shows signs, finally, of turning into a customer. "Not to speak of, no," she allows with due caution, "but if it's paint you're after, I daresay I could get hold of what you needed — I usually can," she concedes modestly, "get hold of what people need. It's… kind of you to say, dearie," she adds, smoothing her hands over her apron again and nodding in the same direction marked a moment ago by Sal's thumb. "Not everyone's taste, but I like it." She smiles. "It's cheerful."

Sal catches up, only after she said it herself, to the fact that 'bright' is a compliment; she certainly didn't mean it as an insult, more as an undeniable fact. She smiles, too, giving a quiet bark of a laugh, warm despite the blunt sound. "The stripes on the window things remind me of a curtain I saw once on a mummer's stage. Ser Loryn better watch out, ya could give the Whimsy a run for its money, eh?" But down to business: "How much do you reckon a little pot of paint might be?" She scratches her the back of her head while she asks the question. No mention of colour. Maybe it doesn't matter, for a cheap price.

Esme chuckles good-naturedly at most of that, whilst recalling the cost of the paint involved in her own recent retouching, subtracting the discount she happened to bargain her way into, dividing it by an appropriate number, and adding ten percent. "Oh, well, I don't rightly know till I have it," she admits, "but I'd say, for this much…" Her hands form in turn the sizes and shapes of several different pots, waiting till Sal's reaction suggests she has it right. "Between—" And she names two sums, neither of them very grand, though it must be said coloured paint for buildings is a luxury quantity in Westeros's cities of brick and stone and whitewash.

The performer picked the smallest option in the imaginary line-up of pots, and even then, she winces with abject displeasure at the sum provided. "I don't want to paint a bloody wall," she says, lifting her hands up, fingers straight, to roughly frame her face this way and that. "Just somethin' this big." She shrugs and waves one hand, letting the gestures drop. "It's all right," she winds up dismissing good-naturedly; but she's not done with the shopkeeper just yet. Her eyes are pointed directly at the cheese, but just to be clear, she nods her head toward the proper spot. "How much for the smallest?" Much like the paint, the kind doesn't matter.

The best cheeses live of course in the back room, that the smell might not upset casual customers; the array of cheesecloth-wrapped bundles presently inhabiting a cool dark shelf away from the windows is but a meagre overflow. "Cheapest ain't the smallest," Esme remarks, half-turning, her eyes following Sal's. "It's—" She quotes a number. Cheese is less dear than paint, it would seem. She looks again to Sal's face: "Or half that for half of it."

"I'll take the whole thing," Sal announces. In another way, cheese is apparently more dear than paint. She strides toward the counter with big steps, now that she's about to be a customer, looking quite pleased about her impending cheese ownership. She fishes a small leather pouch from the same depths the pendant disappeared to; it's a smaller incarnation of the one at her hip, which she seems to keep little more than juggling balls in. No tricks in this one - or wooden coins, for that matter, only the right amount in real currency, counted carefully. There's not much left over.

Esme meanwhile fetches the cheese in question from the shelf — true to her words, it isn't the absolute smallest — and repairs to the far side of the counter, behind which her shopgirl has all along been making notes in a ledger, affecting unawareness of pendants, panhandlers, and new cheese customers. It's a well-known fact hereabouts that Esme deals with cheese personally.

She places the cheese in its neat, clean wrapping on the edge of her side of the counter whilst Sal is getting to grips with the essentials. Her eyes count the coins as they appear and find the total good; she sweeps them away over the counter and into the palm of her hand, never to be seen again.

Then she pushes the cheese across in exchange. "Mind how you go, then, dearie," she says kindly, "and I hope you'll enjoy your cheese."

Sal doesn't even haggle or lament the disappearance of her arduously-earned coins; she has cheese. She tucks it under her arm, against her, against cheese thieves, and turns to go. "Not nearly enough!" she answers inexplicably as she waves, giving the cheese-handling shopkeeper one of her wide grins. "Thanks, yeah?" And she disappears much more amiably than she appeared.

Esme watches her go with one eye as she walks across to the door to her miniscule back room. She fetches a clean rag, dips it in a bucket of water which stands ready for just such moments, wrings it out, and wanders over to open front door to clean those dusty handprints off her doorframe. She hums softly.

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