| White crown mouldings and plaster confections transform ornate this Georgian building into a life-size gingerbread house. Serpentine moulding frosts ice blue walls at the joints and corners, slinking down in rippled lines dotted by gumdrop lamps and glossy hard candies. Glazed honey tiles suspiciously resemble peanut brittle, forming snowflake bursts where they lock together. Candycane columns hold up the domed ceiling tiled in gingerbread squares, mirroring the pinwheeled tables rooted in the front half of the shop.
Chalk menuboards display an everchanging array of handmade gourmet ice creams and gelato containing locally sourced ingredients. The microcreamery specializes in unusual and innovative flavours rather than standard fare: honey lavender, vodka-spiked Swedish fish, gorgonzola cheese with candied pecans and cherry sauce. Custom pints blend together herbs, flowers, nuts, and fruit with chocolates and sweets as often as alcohols. Glossy white freezers contain the weeks batches; behind them, shelves hold jars containing fresh ingredients from rosemary sprigs to ground saffron. A beaded curtain showers snowflakes and icicles down over the arched entrance to a reading room frequented by book clubs.
It is a blustery Sunday afternoon, not long after the lunch hour. Mother Cailleach's is just finishing with the post-lunch crowd, seeking dessert. It's still a few hours yet until the dinner crowd arrives. The shop is quiet, save for a couple of older women knitting in a corner. Behind the counter is Sage, a pale blue apron worn over top a knit sweater top and a heavy suede skirt. She's mixing ingredients into a large metal bowl covered in frost.
A large salon behind the ice cream shop contains the reading room. The ceiling been treated with Venetian plaster in frosty blues and whites like a coming storm, and the supporting square pillars are painted and carved in plaster to resemble Pictish stones. Ornate designs wind and twist across the surfaces, resembling fish, stags, and some creatures too odd to identify. Bookcases ring the walls.
The reading room at Mother Cailleach's contains shelves of books on occult subjects ranging from astral projection and crystal dousing to sacred plants. Herbalism fills more than a third of the shelves, with a special focus upon Scottish and Pictish practices. The open space in between is occupied by any number of tables and chairs, piles of cushions, and displays as takes the mood of the owners and visitors. Book clubs meeting here are strictly of an occult variety.
The door to the ice cream shop opens, the noise from the street tumbling Jackalope into the business like a tumbleweed on a windy day. He comes to rest not far from the new proprietress, his hair slightly disheveled and the collar of his sheepskin-lined denim jacket pulled up close to his ears. A toothpick rests in his mouth, bouncing as he fiddles with the end of it that rests inside his mouth, tongue flicking it this way and that.
"Afternoon, Miss," he greets in his strong Texas Drawl, tipping an imaginary hat at the woman whisking away.
Tucked into Sage's hair is a sprig of mistletoe. Her hair isn't long enough to braid or do anything fancy with, but she's got it pinned back with a few twists and into one is that green and red flora. The woman smiles as she glances over her shoulder. "Be with you in a moment." Though of clear Japanese descent, her own voice is British in accent.
"Sure, sure, no hurry," Jack replies, his voice deep, slow and thoughtful. His eyes are swiveling around the room while he waits. Each of the ice cream flavors on display gets a close examination and, once he's finished with those, he gives the knitting ladies the once over. One of them even gets a flirtatious wink. And then the reading room. He saunters over that way and places one arm on the door frame, resting his lanky body against it while he examines the spines of the books he can see.
Many of the spines are occult in nature. From things perhaps serious to the more ridiculous. It's quite the wide array and there's a small log for people to check books out. Sage gets the flavors mixed and the bowl loaded into a machine. She keys in some options and turns it on, a steady whirr filling the shop. She's drying off her hands as she approaches the counter. She waits for Jack to return.
It is not long before he returns, the Texan. Sauntering in true bow-legged style back to the counter, he places his hands on the countertop. They are not the rough hands of a working man, but delicate, elegant-fingered things. He regards them for a moment before looking up. "Howdy. Sorry to trouble you. M'name is Jack." And then, in lieu of passing her a business card, he does something equally informative, he works his Will. It is nothing vulgar, merely the sudden activity of Mage Sight, but the feeling for another mage is crystal clear.
There's a flicker of eyes, lashes brushing over cheeks. Only a brief falter in Sage's person as she senses that move of Will. The woman's hands pause on the counter's surface before she moves into action. Shuffling some papers - advertisement for the book club - to get them stacked neatly once more. "Welcome to Mother Cailleach's. What would you like, Jack?" Her smile is an easy one, but she is studying him.
"I mostly just wanted to say howdy," Jack replies easily, still sucking on that toothpick. "I'm new in town, from the Lone Star...state. In the U S of A. Don't know many folks, so I'm trying to meet all those I can." His eyes briefly leave hers to glance around the shop once more. "Nice place you got here. The reading room is particularly good."
"I'm new as well," Sage admits, tucking hands into some of the pockets on her apron. "Recently arrived from London. I just couldn't pass up the chance to own such a place. We have a lovely garden, also." She lifts her chin, eyes narrowing briefly perhaps. Examining the tall -- rather tall, to her -- man. "What brings you to Scotland, Jack?"
"I'm an exchange student." Before Sage can register any surprise, whether she is or not, he quickly laughs. "Old for one, I know. I told him dogs my age don't learn tricks, but They insisted I come out anyway." Something in the way he uses the pronoun suggests a capital letter. "So. Here I am. No one has presented me with much to do, aside from my lessons, so I'm taking matters into my own hands. I thought this place, and its owner would be good things to know."
There's a soft laugh from Sage, as if it's something she knows well. She steps away from the counter, heading down the display of ice cream. She's humming softly to herself as she does so, before pausing at one case to open it. "This can be a good place to know. Quiet, out of the way, and it's a much better option than some chain." She pulls out a small scoop of ice cream, presenting it to Jack in a sample bowl. "Rosemary and mint," over vanilla, clearly by the label nearby. "For the knowledge you seek and to keep you safe in your travels."
"I'm honored and touched," Jack says, once more touching the imaginary brim of his hat before accepting the ice cream. He takes a sip, some of the creamy deliciousness remaining on his upper lip even after he's finished. He stares for a moment at his cone before looking with some embarrassment back to Sage. "I'm ashamed to say there's an ulterior motive in my visit as well. I'm a spook."
Sage has to duck her head to try to hide the laughter that threatens to bubble forth. She does hide it behind a closed fist, but when she looks up there's quite the mirth in her gaze. "I see," she muses at length. "Would you like to sit?"
"You are supposed to tremble with fear and paranoia, young lady," Jack declares with mock outrage, though there is a twinkle in his eye. In fact, soon after said declaration, he deflates like a balloon. "I'd love a seat. My dogs are killin' me."
"You flatter me, sir," Sage says with a big smile. She steps out around the counter, sliding out of the apron. She picks up a large cup branded with the establishment's logo, stirring it to the sound of ice. The woman takes a sip and tips her head towards a table off to the side. Opposite the only other patrons -- the knitters -- and close to the counter, should she needs to get up.
"I won't keep you long," Jack says, half-apologizing for his decision to stay. He saunters to the seat and sinks down with a sigh. "It's just that these places, y'know /ice cream shops/," and here he gives a playful wink, "attract a certain type of customer. And sometimes those customers know a bit much about the business model. When that happens, I like to know about it."
"Ice cream is not so popular this time of year," Sage says with a glance cast for the door. And the cold winds that likely persist outside, affecting the landscape. "So I doubt I'll have much of a rush." She settles into a chair, watching Jack with a level gaze. "Is that part of your exchange?"
"No," Jack shakes his head. "At least, not yet. The Spooks in the land of the Scots ain't sayin' much, so I figured I don't need em to tell me why I joined the order or what it's about, so I decided to take matters into my own hands." He hefts his ice cream. "So to speak." Another bite is taken and savored. "Between you and me, I'm not asking you to rat anyone out. I just know that sometimes folk stumble on things bigger than they are before they're ready for 'em. Particularly folk who can make trouble for us. And if you find someone here making you feel dodgy, I wanted you know there's a face out there ready to help out."
There's a small smile from Sage as she folds her hands in her lap. The smile is directed towards the table. "That is much the reason the place was bought," she says, voice kept low. "That and the gardens and location, but... the people and the library, that too." She lifts her chin, studying Jack for a moment. "You can call me Sage, if you'd like."
"Thank you, Sage." Jack says with a lopsided grin, "I'll do that. Makes me think of home. We got a lotta sage there." After that, he just nods in silence for a little bit. "Anyway, I'm gonna start sounding like a jackass if I continue, tellin' you to keep an eye on folk here, when you already know to do it. So...just ignore me and keep on keepin' on."
"If you ever need anything..." Sage tips her head towards the reading room. Eyes shift back to the older man. "Please feel free to come by and peruse. I may be able to get more obscure texts, also." Her slim shoulders rise and fall in a shrug. "It is nice to see someone else who has been around the sun a few more times. I do get a lot of... sleepy teens in here."
/That/ makes Jack laugh, his head tilted back and a free and clear sound of mirth escaping from his throat into the air of the ice cream shop, loud enough to startle the old ladies. "I bet. And thank you." He rises. "I change my phone up ever week, but you can always reach me at the clinic if you need me. And I'm sure you'll be seeing me around." He gives a little salute, then rises, licking the side of his cone to prevent a bit of melted ice cream from reaching his hand. "Oh. One thing. Just a side project if you find yourself with some time. I'm looking for information about a spirit here in the city that looks like a decrepit crow. It has ban, forcing it to avoid people of true faith. If you find anything, let an old cowboy know, will you?"
The ladies do just chuckle to one another, making some lewd comments before their needles go click-clack again. Sage glances to them, but her gaze soon returns to the American. "The clinic? If you need any herbal remedies, please let me know. Sometimes the modern medicine path fails." His inquiry brings about raised eyebrows and the woman's lips part slightly. "Goodness. I will let you know if I hear anything, yes."
"Don't I know it," Jack says about the failure of traditional medicine. "You and I," he continues, pointing from his eyes to hers and then back, "are gonna get along just fine." Pushing his chair in under the table, he offers a final "Thank you, Sage," before turning and heading for the door."