The generous man
It first began with the choosing.
In the darkness before dawn, Mrs Colesbury was wide awake, buttoning up her winter coat, putting on her boots, wearing her gloves before she tucked a small scrap of paper in her breastpocket.
"Whatever is the paper for Ma'am?"Josh held up an oil lamp, watching her scrurry to the door.
"Not now, Josh.Not now."She chided and left.
Odd...He shrugged and headed back to bed.
But a slender figure in her icy white nightgown surrendered an answer.
"She's going for the Choosing."
Josh cast the lamp over her oval face.
Nina Colesbury.Mrs Colesbury's daughter.
"What choosing, Miss?"Josh prompted.
"For Winston's logding."
"You're kidding--right?"Nina sighed like Josh missed an impossibly obvious answer right infront of him.
"Well, who is he, Miss?"He was feeling stupid.
"Forget it.You're leaving tomorrow anyways."She whirled away and climbed the stairs to her bedroom.
"I'm not, Miss."He sighs.
"I can't.The snow's too heavy, Miss."
Nina stopped in her tracks.She twirled with her dark brown hair, melted into the darkness.
"You're really staying?"Her grey eyes widened.
"Yes I am, Miss."Josh paused before reminding,"Now can tell me who's Winston? "
"Fine.Just stop calling me...'Miss'."Nina cringed at the word.
"Understood, Mis-I mean, Understood."
"Good,"She smiles, beckoning him,"you might want to have a seat for this."
It was from there, Josh learnt of Winston--the old man who came to town once a year.They called him "an angel from heaven" for his generosity and kindness.In return for these attributes, the town folk treated him hospitably, threw him a feast and gave him a place to stay(which was where the Choosing came in).
But there were still a hazy detail he didn't understand.
"I've a question."Josh frowned.
"Spill."Nina sipped her late-night cocoa.
"What makes Winston so great?"He paused to catch himself from saying 'Miss'.
"I get that he's legend for his virtuous personality, but...what did the man do?"
Nina shook her head.
"This part, I cannot tell you."Her silvery voice slipped into a whisper.
That wasn't part of the deal.
"It's bad omen, Josh.Speak of Winston's kindness before his arrival, and he'll have no generosity for you--for his whole visit."Nina told him slowly.
"That's an odd custom."He thought aloud.
"Odd but treasured."
Nina swallowed what remained of her hot cocoa and blew out the lamp as daylight had began to filter through the windows.
"Thanks...Nina."Josh dipped his head respectfully.
"Welcome.Do get some sleep, before my mother gets you up to do the chores."Nina yawned.
But Mrs Colesbury burst through the door.
"Good news!"Her announcement rang through the house, like a joyous melody.
"We'll be housing Winston!"
The Colesburys spent the rest of the week preparing.They spared no expense.
With the new guest on the way, Josh worked doubly hard, to rid the house of grime and dust.His old room was cleaned and rearranged.Nina helped him hang glossy gold streamers all over the room, so they dangled playfully over the ceiling.
Mrs Colesbury mopped the floors, polished, well, everything and scrubbed the fabrics spotless.Mr Colesbury borrowed planks, the Taleens' hammer and some old nails to fix the leak in the storeroom.
Josh was grateful Mr & Mrs Colesbury let him stay in the attic.They knew how he got nightmares sleeping in the alarmingly quiet storeroom with odd silhouettes that manifested as monsters in the night.
"Shall I add salt to the road, sir?"Josh volunteered when Winston's arrival drew near.
"Not yet."Mr Colesbury held up his hand."We need the salt for the food."
"We could borrow salt from the mayor's wife.She'd understand."Josh proposed.
"Yes, but that won't be nice, will it?"The mayor's secretary flashed a smile Josh could almost pass for wincing.
Indeed, it wasn't nice.The Colesburys were already borrowing meat, vegetables, fruits, milk and wine from the mayor's family.There was only so far diplomatic friendships could extend.
"I'm sorry, sir."Josh dipped his head.
Mr Colesbury waved it away,"It's alright, lad."
The man gazed towards the snow covered path in a great depth of renewed hope.
"Winston's coming soon."
Finally, Josh got to see 'Winston the Generous'.
But he was nothing the boy expected.
He had no gold robe, no mighty steed or parade of riches.Not even valued gems or stones hanging in earrings, necklaces and bracelets and his silvery beard.
He was quite the opposite.
This Winston was a skinny old man in mud brown clothes.His eyes were crescents over his rosy, toothless grin as he ambled slowly to the Colesburys' home.
He was panting from exhaustion.Yet, this frail man managed to raise a bony limb to wave eagerly at the cheering and clapping townsfolk.
"Hello dear people of Gaderian!"Winston announced in a shaky voice.
Everybody fell silent, listening intently to the old man.
"It's great to see all of you again!"
The townspeople whistled and applauded.
Nina wove through the crowd to stand beside Josh.She whispered to him.
"He always says this speech.Every year.I wish he'd at least find a new way to say it."
Josh shushed her.
"...wonderful as ever.I'm so glad all of you are still prospering as a town and helping one another.In return, I shall grant you all one thing you desire as I have for the fifty years since the riot."
The crowd burst into shouts and claps.Someone played music, drowning out the 'thank you's exchanged.People formed a dancing train and lined up along the Colesburys' lawn, swaying to the rhythm in their fluffy winterwear.
When all the preliminary celebrations died away, the Colesburys and Josh proudly ushered Winston into their beautifully decorated house.
The cottage floor sparkled.The new lights glowed.The aroma of Mrs Colesbury's feast wafted down the corridor and lured them into the dining room, where a generous spread waited for them.
"Hold it, let Winston take his portion first."Mrs Colesbury instructed.
All of them stared longingly as her hands hovered over a golden turkey, fragrant bread rolls, chicken pot pie with filling oozing from its lattice, corn with coats of glistening butter...
"Oh, you're too kind Mrs Colesbury.There's no need for that."The cheery old man waved away her hospitable gesture."All of you must be starving too."
"Really, sir, its fine.You've had a long journey."She shot them a warning look.
"Alrighty then."Winston shrugs.He plucked a few rolls and distributed them among everyone--including himself--before insisting they sat down with him to enjoy the food.
Josh sat at the Colesburys' table between Nina and Winston--another reason he liked working for this family.He thanked Winston, along with the Colesburys and wolfed down the fluffy roll in a single mouthful.
"Oh my,"Winston looked at him and gave a good-natured chuckle."Your roll must be especially delicious."
Josh could only nod and try for a smile.
"Well, relax Josh.You look like a chipmunk."Nina commented.
"Fuit orself,"He gestured at the turkey bone on her plate.
"Manners, lad."Mr Colesbury tapped his mouth.
The rest of the conversations went about in the same airy manner, until the mayor dropped by.He wedged himself between Josh and Winston for Mrs Colesbury's "famous chicken pot pie" and to fill the old guest in on the events of that year.
Josh--squashed between a meaty diplomant and Nina's elegant frame--felt uncomfortable listening to the mid-year drought and trade exchanges.
He peered over to glance at Winston.His amber eyes flickered between weariness and interest.
Then, Winston winked at Josh.
It was so subtle even the mayor didn't notice.
Josh couldn't really sleep that night.Maybe because he gobbled too much of Mrs Colesbury's rich pudding.Or the strange new environment.Or that this was the first December he wasn't going to spend with his family.
Whatever it was, it was making him tingly and itchy.He wormed out of bed and reached for his nightlight--a candle the Colesburys let him keep in the storeroom.Josh made his way out of the room to pace about the house, gazing idly as the honey glow from the candle mingled in the blue black night.
"Well, hello there."A mellow voice greeted him."Figured I'd find you here."
This was followed by a series of shuffling as Winston stepped into golden candlelight with his signature smile.
"Hi,"Josh returned response.
"Is there room for another?"
Winston nestled himself on the last few steps of the staircase landing.
"I believe you're enjoying your time here?"Winston inquired politely.
"What's your name?"
"Ah."Winston's eyes sparkled in the light."Beautiful name."
"Thanks, I guess."No one ever told Josh that before.
"Now, I suppose you must be wondering what a funny man I am, in funny clothes celebrated in funny tradition no one would tell you much about?"
"More or less."Josh shrugged."Where are you from anyway?I've never heard your accent before."
A shadow swept over his face, pursing his lips grimly, before Winston reverted to his radiant smile.
"That's a difficult question.I was never really from anywhere.I didn't have parents or family, though, having one seems wonderful.When I was, I simply knew this was what I was meant to do."
Then Winston added with a hollow laugh,"Believe it or not."
"It sounds whimsical but...I believe you."Josh smiled.
Winston looked gratefully into the eyes of this innocent boy.
"Thank you, Josh."
"Couldn't sleep?"Nina asked, arranging her baked beans in a weird curly line.
"By the way, why'd he wink?"
"Who winked?"Josh yawned.
"Well Winston, silly! He winked at you last night over dinner."
"Oh...Honestly, I'm not sure, Mi-"He cut himself off in time."What do you think?"
"Josh, Winston winked at you and you're asking me?"
"Aren't you the expert?"
"Uh-no.I'm just the person who fills you in.And if you two weren't talking about the winking, what were you both chatting about last night?"
"Mysterious stuff."Josh bit into the plump sausage, oozing with grease.
"Good morning everyone!"Winston smiled."Have I mentioned?You have such a cosy house."
"You have."Nina reminded.
Mrs Colesbury elbowed her.
"I mean--thank you, Sir."
Mr Colesbury smiled at Winston,"Would you like some breakfast before you go?"
"Why, how kind of you."The man beamed."But, I should begin my rounds.Speaking of which, I might as well begin with all of you."
"Begin what?"Josh asked everyone when the Colesburys started grinning like children on Christmas morning.
"Watch."Mr Colesbury told him.
All eyes were on Winston as the man snapped his fingers.A loaf-sized drawstring bag blinked in view, hovering in thin air.
With another snap, it plopped softly on Winston's hands.
"Gather round, Colesburys."He set the bag in the table and opened it.Light sprang from the bag in streaks of gold.
Mrs Colesbury went first.She slipped a hand into the leather bag, rifling through its contents.Until, she found something.When she pulled her hand back out, Mrs Colesbury was holding a skinny pair of knitting needles.
"Why, I couldn't find these since March after I traded them away for flour.Thank you, Winston."She held fast to their beige shafts.
Mr Colesbury was next.From Winston's bag he drew a curious amethyst gem, twinkling in the morning sun.
"Mr Colesbury, you and your lovely wife must truly care about your family."Winston commended the two of them."This crystal is a talisman.It will keep your family from going hungry."
Mr Colesbury seemed to relax.
"I cannot thank enough, Winston."He clasped the old man's hands."This means the world to me."
Winston smiled and nodded,"Always the pleasure Mr Colesbury."
And last was Nina, who pulled out a huge broom from the impossibly small bag.
"Yes!I knew it.Thank you so much Winston."Nina brandished her new broom like a magical staff.
"What is that, dear?"Mrs Colesbury tilted her head to find anything extraordinary.
"It's a broom that can sweep on its own."She said proudly.
"Why?"Mrs Colesbury sighed.
"Because you, me and Josh spend way too much time sweeping.It's boring."
Then everyone stared at Josh.
"Well go on, lad,"Mr Colesbury urged.
"Yes, you."Nina folded her arms.
Josh reached his hand into Winston's bag.
There was only one thing in it so Josh took the smooth, flat object out.
Everyone leaned in to see him pull out a golden panel.
On it were the words,
WILL YOU BE MY APPRENTICE?