A Midwinter Carroll : Money and other fortunes

Author's note Inspired by Charles Dickens' books and, more recently, the first five chapters of the Weiss Kreuz-fanfic Heaven in your arms by Swythangel. The wonderful world of Valdemar has been created by Mercedes Lackey.

Introduction It is the year of 897. People in all of Valdemar prepare to celebrate Midwinter. The severe weather has covered large parts of the lands in snow, but has also temporarily ended the hostilities in the Borderlands. Nevertheless a continuation of the war is to be expected as soon as the weather clears again. Thus Queen Marissa has to face an upcoming war, while the treasury is as good as empty due to the heavy costs of food-supplies ...


" Please sir, can you spare some coins ? "

A small hand was held out hopefully, only to be brushed aside rudely by one of the two brutes accompanying the wealthy merchant Tiran Sellsby. He himself didn't even notice the plea or the person speaking it. He was talking to one of his clerics, who was helding up a sheet of numbers and every now and then scratched something in the sideline.

" Sir, please ? "

At times you had to be a bit bold, a little persistent to get someone to give you something, Carlin knew. Then, if you were lucky, they would give you something just to be rid of you. And if you weren't well, than you had wasted a little time but nothing more.

" I am very hungry. "

The man definitely looked as someone who was going to enjoy a very extensive and posh Midwinter-feast. Carlin tried very hard not to think of the kind of things that would be served there. How long had it been ago that he had tasted actual fresh bread or hot chocolate ? His stomach grumbled. Carlin came a bit closer, as a pair of cityguards were headed his and the merchant's way. The bodyguards would not risk making trouble by pushing him away right now. The official guards loathed the presence of mercenary privates in 'their' city, but as most of them were in the employment of Haven's elite, all attempts at their permanent removal were doomed to failure aforehand. They could, however, arrest the mercs for disrupting the public order and frequently did so. The bodyguards did give him some dirty looks, but Carlin had gotten quite used to those. He shifted his attention to their employer. The man still seemed not to have noticed him. Instead he was talking to that fellow with the papers, about the sales of salted fish in the Northern Regions. Carlin directed a quick prayer to any listening god and tried once again.

" Sir, could you spare a little something for a hungry boy ? Please ? "

Still not the slightest reaction. Carlin might as well have been invisible. One of the bodyguards smirked at him. Probably the man had known from the beginning how his employer would react to Carlin's pleas. And apparently he was amused by the boy's doomed attempts.

Said boy found nothing amusing to the situation. Reason told him to go and look for someone else to move to charity. Even though the weather was foul, the streets of Haven were never empty of people. If the bodyguard hadn't smirked, he would have stalked off. By smirking however, the man had insulted his pride. Carlin considered himself rather skilled at getting people to be charitable (he adamantly refused to call it begging). Added to this were the facts that he was cold, wet and hungry, while the merchant was wrapped in a warm cloak, wore water-resistent boots and probably had an invitation to a Midwinter-banquet. The man had received all life's pretty gifts. And yet he refused to share anything of it with Carlin, would indeed not even acknowledge his existence.

Driven by anger, Carlin reached out and jerked at the man's gesturing arm. The bodyguards put their hands on their swords, ready to draw them. " Hey, I'm talking to you ! "

" ... and I think we should ask for a reduction to the usual rate, considering the - "

" HEY, I'm talking to you ! "

Tiran looked up, as someone jerked at his arm, annoyed by the interruption. He saw an angry face looking up at him. A street-boy. He frowned. Was there an urgent message that was too important to wait for a regular messenger ?

" What is it then ? "

Carlin felt triumphant. Finally the man had noticed him.

" I asked if you could spare some coins, sir. It's cold and I'm very hungry. "

It was admittedly not his best of speeches, but it would have to do. It was not a speech Tiran had expected to hear. What was it to him if this boy was cold or hungry ? He had troubles of his own. Taking care of Haven's poor was not his task.

" I don't see why I should give you anything. Now go and leave me alone. "

" But .... "

The cityguards were about to turn around a corner, where they would no longer be able to see anything that might happen to Carlin. The bodyguards drew a bit closer. Tiran turned his back to the boy, and started talking to his cleric again. After a slight hesitation and an almost apologetic look in Carlin's direction, the man continued his report. While Carlin stared after them, they walked away, leaving him with nothing but the snow and the cold.

" Thought you could get something from him, laddie ? "

An old beggarwoman Carlin hadn't even noticed before spoke to him from under the improvised roof she had built out of some boards and stones.

" He seemed rich enough to be able to spare something. " he replied.

She laughed. Her laugh was soon reduced to a coughing fit. She did not sound very healthy. " Tiran Sellsby doesn't have a charitable bone in his body. That man has a heart made of stone. It would take a miracle to change that. "

Carlin felt a little better at knowing that at least he wasn't alone in being disappointed.

" Then I will ask all gods I know to perform that miracle and make him give me a meal. " he said rashly. His goal was set now, even if it was a stupid, irrealistic goal.

" I wish you good luck then. You will need it. "


Tiran pointedly ignored the pleading and even slightly accusing look his cleric threw at him. As the man kept looking at him, Tiran, as if he had done something wrong in turning the boy's idiotic request down, he stopped walking and asked what he had expected Tiran to do.

The cleric looked uneasy. " Well, sir, it is nearly Midwinter after all. "

What did that have to do with anything ? " So ? "

More unease. " And it is very cold. "

He still didn't see the point. " It's winter. Of course it's cold. "

" You are very rich. "

The man seemed to have a talent for stating the obvious. Tiran waited for a further explanation.

" You could have given him some money to help him. Midwinter is a feast of charity also. "

He sighed. " I pay taxes for the good of Valdemar and on top of that I donate regularly to the Church of Brann. I simply can't go giving money to everyone who asks me for it ; we'd be broke in a few weeks. I have a business to lead. "

" Yes, sir. I understand. "

But you still don't approve, Tiran thought. Then he shrugged it off.

The next morning there was a message from the city-guard, reporting that his two bodyguards had been arrested for 'improper behavior' in a certain tavern. Tiran wondered what that meant exactly, but decided it was hardly worth the time trying to get some more detailed information from the Guard. The most important thing was that he would have to go to the prison in six days and pay a small fee to get them back. He could get them out sooner, but then the fee would be much higher. And it wasn't as if he really needed them anyway.

A second message contained much graver news : Alvin, his second man and most important administrator had caught a cold and was resigned to bed. This meant he would have to do a lot of things by himself. He foresaw no things he wouldn't be able to handle by himself, for his administrative skills were at least equal to Alvin's but even he would be liable to mistakes if something unexpected would come on top of the mass of things he had to deal with now. As soon as he had finished breakfast, Tiran grabbed his cloak and left for his first appointment that day. It was still snowing. The world was covered in a white cloak.

It was still early and he hardly met anyone on his way. The weather was foul enough to make anyone think twice before leaving his house. And yet Tiran had the unsettling feeling someone was following him, looking at every move he made. He looked around repeatedly, but saw no one. He told himself he was being sily, imagining things. It helped little to ease his unrest. He was relieved when he finally reached the Hall of the Weaver's Guild ; his destination. A nice, warm fire burned in the hall and he gratefully warmed his hands. He would need them to be supple after all if he was going to sign another year's contract.


Two hours later a well-satisfied Tiran left the Weaver's Hall. The guildmaster had been much more round-coming than he had expected. Next year would bring high gains for both Tiran and the Guild, he thought. For though he had gotten the better part of the bargain, this meant by no means the Guild would loose on it. The contract would allow him to sell the Guild's wares for much lower prices, which in effect would raise the sales. Walking out of the Hall he turned left. Snow was falling heavily and so he only saw the Companion when he had nearly bumped into her (how he knew it was female he could not explain). She wore no plaid or saddle and the only thing he could see clearly were her blue eyes. He wondered where her Herald had gone. It had to be a very irresponsible person to leave her outside in this weather. Someone like that didn't deserve to be Chosen ...

Her eyes were really very blue. He found it hard to keep from looking into them. Found it even harder to turn away from her and continue on his way. So he didn't. Tiran stood silently, looking at the Companion. He cared nothing for the cold, wet snow that gathered on his cloak and invaded his boots. She was beautiful.

: Tiran. :

He had heard Companions could speak in people's heads. He had not expected it to feel as natural as this. Her voice was as beautiful as the rest of her.

" Where is your Herald ? "

: I have no Herald. :

His heart twisted. At the sadness in her voice. At the hope (what was he hoping for then ?) that sprung from the meaning of her words.

" Why have you left the Collegium then ? "

: To find my Chosen. :

Tiran felt a sudden anger at this unknown person. How dared he or she stay inside while this Companion waited for him ? Didn't he know how honored he should be ?

: And I have found him. :

" Who - where is he then ? Do you want me to get him for you ? " It was not like him at all, to offer help like this, he thought, but not to offer would have been unthinkable.

: I Chose you Tiran. :

He was 28. Too old to consider being Chosen as a future option anymore ; twice the usual age. And even as a youth he had known what he wanted to become. Unlike some of the other boys his age, he had never dreamt of wearing the Whites. Young Tiran had dreamt of numbers and riches. Most of his colleagues considered him young still. Too young to be as wealthy as he had become in the past twelve years. In his face they complimented him on being a brilliant businessman. Behind his back there were whispers of corruption, cheating and dark deals. No one would call him brave, compassionate or patient, yet those were the required chatacteristics for Heralds. He had to have misheard her. She could not mean to Choose him.

: Yes, I do. You are my Chosen. :

A cold lump of snow glided down his neck. It reminded him of where he was. He felt as if he had been under a magic spell. A spell that had blocked out cold as well as reason. And now that it was broken he felt the cold again and was able to think clearly.

" You can't Choose me. I am a man of commerce and I am busy. I have no time to run around and play hero. Choose someone else. I have an appointment and I'm late. "

Tiran turned away from her. It surprised him he could, though his face showed nothing of this. Nor did it show the short moment of pain and guilt that he felt at denying her. He started walking, determined to get this over with and leave this Companion and her dangerous magic behind him. He dared not look behind .....................

As he reached the Potter's Guild Hall, Tiran realized he no longer felt the presence at his back. The Companion hadn't followed him (had it been her then ?) so he supposed his refusal had been accepted (if it hadn't been a misunderstanding all along, which was very well possible). Now, let's see if he could get a good contract out of this as well.

Alvin was still ill the next day, and according to the Healer he would have to spend the coming five days in bed to fully recover. Tiran had squeezed in a quick visit between two appointments and was now sitting at his second man's bedside. He told Alvin of the deals he had made the day before, his impressions of the GuildMasters and the concessions he had acquired. He said nothing of his encounter with the Companion. After a good night's sleep he wasn't even sure if he hadn't dreamt the whole thing.

" Well, it's time I should be going again. " he said and rose.

" Yeah. Good luck at the negotiations today. Thank you for dropping by."

" No problem. You'd do the same for me. "

He left and Alvin stared at the now closed door. With a sigh he let himself fall back in the cushions, causing his wife to cast a worried look in his direction.

" Are you all right ? Did that man tire you too much ? " She had never liked Tiran much.

" I'm fine. Just a bit tired. And it's really not his fault. If the situation was reversed, he'd want to hear all those things he told me just now. "

" You're not like him. " And that's a good thing too. " Not at all. "

" He meant well. It's the intention that counts. "

His wife did not dignify that remark with an answer. Just as well, considering his weariness. *** As Tiran walked home that evening, he had that unsettling sensation of being watched again. It came very suddenly; one moment he felt completely at ease, the next he felt ... uneasy to say the least. He spun around wildly, almost expecting someone standing right behind him. But the street behind him was empty. It was no longer snowing and he could see a fair stretch. Though there were indeed thieves and robbers operating even in Haven, the city harboring the Collegia and the royal guard, Tiran had never felt insecure while walking on the street. As long as you stayed out of certain quarters and the time was decent, the risk of falling victim to anything more serious than a pick-pocket was very small. He sped up his pace a little, refusing to admit a feeling could influence him as much as it did. Yesterday he had wondered if the eyes had belonged to the Companion that had spoken to him later on at the Weaver's Hall. Now he was sure his guess had been completely off. A Companion watching him would never cause the kind of feeling he experienced at the moment.

Instinct screamed at him to run for his life, now, quickly, before ....

As he was only a few streets away from his home, he gave in to the feeling and started running. Panting slightly, more from anxiety than exhaustion, he closed the door behind him. It felt reassuring to lean against it and he did so for some time, until he noticed the odd look with which his housekeeper was looking at him. She didn't say anything about his state though, merely informed him dinner would be ready soon. Tiran nodded curtly, trying to sort out why he had panicked as much as he had.

What's wrong with me ? Have I caught a fever or something ? Did I really just run in public because of a feeling ? Am I overworked and are my nerves cracking now ?

He hardly tasted dinner that evening and ate little. As he never said much about food anyway, no one of his household thought his behavior odd. They were used to serving an unresponsive person, maybe even grateful for his even temper.

Three days before Midwinter, and eight Guildmasters to see.

Tiran was quite satisfied with his work so far. Alvin's absence had proved to be less of a hinder than he had at first expected it to be. Only in the last few days he had realized how he had missed doing the actual negotiations instead of the just the paperwork that came afterwards. Tiran had never been very sociable and after Alvin's appointment as his second man he had been more than happy to leave meetings to him and limit himself to the writing of letters and the keeping of account-books. As he turned around a corner he came face to face with a familiar person. Before he could look away, two skyblue eyes had locked with his. So it wasn't a dream after all...

: Tiran. :

He felt his mind slip away again, fighting to keep his thoughts clear and his head cool. No, no ! I won't let it happen again. I'm not going to be a Herald. You can't -

: You are my Chosen. :

He could feel the blood running through his veins turn hot like fire, and cold like ice at the same time. It felt like a fever only he knew it wasn't. This feeling he got was terribly wrong, but undeniably right too. He felt his knees grow weak.

: Stop fighting it, Tiran. Stop denying my Choice. It is the right one. :

" Your Choice ? What about my Choice ? What if I choose not to be Chosen ? What gives you the right to just decide for me that I should be a Herald ? "

He swayed on his legs. His cheeks were flushed with anger.

: You want to be a Herald. You just won't admit it to yourself. : " O yeah ? I never heard greater nonsense ! Now get out of my way ! Leave me alone ! "

: I will never leave you. : She sounded sad and hurt again.

As he broke the eye-contact, he became conscious of his surroundings once again.

I just stood here screaming like some drunk idiot ... against a Companion !

His reputation as a calm and reasonable person would be ruined for sure ... if someone had been there to see him that was. There was no one. Somehow this particular part of the street was completely deserted on the middle of the day. It was very odd. This time as he continued his way, he heard the soft sound of bells following him.

The Companion followed him around Haven for the rest of the day. He wasn't bothered by the unknown presence again, which he tried to convince himself proved absolutely nothing. As he walked home, he expected her to turn around and go back to wherever she came from, the Collegia he supposed. She didn't, however.

This time too, no one of his householding staff asked any questions. They simply presented her with a plate of fruit and vegetables as she made herself comfortable in the stables. As Tiran came to see if she was still there after having eaten his own dinner, one of the stablehands was brushing her manes. She looked at him serenely, with a hint of amusement maybe, but without invoking the overwhelming power that had been in her eyes before.

The final two days before Midwinter passed, in which Tiran went to see the remaining Guildmasters of Haven. The Companion would follow him around town and patiently wait outside for his return. Her constant presence - for even when she was waiting for him outside, he could feel her being near - put a strain on his temper. He felt like he was fighting a lost battle.

It's only been two days, well five since I met her actually. Still, how can I loose it all so fast ? Everything I always believed in seems to become insignificant and void in comparison to her.

With a shock, Tiran examined that last part of his thoughts.

... void in comparison to her ... What ..... ?

Someone bumped into him, reminding him he was standing on a public and quite busy road. Mumbling apologies he continued walking, still half lost in thought.

: Watch where you're going ! :

He blinked and barely kept from walking into a shop-sign.

" This is all your fault, you know. " he said aloud.

Some people looked at him strangely, but most of them were too caught up in their own business to notice a man talking to an invisible presence. Of course the Companion wasn't exactly invisible, but as Tiran's clothing marked him as a non-Herald, no one would suppose he was talking to her. Companions, even the ones without Heralds were not that unusual in Haven's street-traffic.

To be continued ???

All right, I wanted to write a nice, short story in which a cold, wealthy merchant would be Chosen and prove to the people that he wasn't as bad as they always thought he was. Instead I wrote this. Somehow the story ran away from me, I guess. Should I continue the story or is next Midwinter early enough for that ?