Winter's Harvest: That Virtue, Generosity

Winter's Harvest: That Virtue, Generosity

Postby Niabh » Sat Jan 07, 2017 1:58 pm

"...well, it's not as if we can't use it." Mags, the nervous grey woman whose usual daily business included inventory and requisitions, trotted at her master's heels. "It's just that I'd rather like to know where it all came from. I shouldn't like us to be the recipients of stolen goods as if we were a...a fence, or a pawn shop." Mags's life had been one of such well-enforced virtue that it felt daring to say "fence," as if she were proving to herself that she was still savvy with street lingo.

"Hm." Already he was growing tired of her sheep's bleating. "I am more suspicious of ill-intent, myself."

"Ill-intent, sir?"

"I wouldn't put it past someone to think they were performing a public service by ridding Myrken of its orphans." He flapped his hand at the hovering woman. "Test it. Sift those sacks to make sure they're not full of weevils or ground glass or...I don't know, strychnine."

"Strychnine?" Her face went from grey to salt-white. "How am I supposed to--"

But he had already left her alone to sort out the details.

Mags and one of the senior orphans--a gawkish, straw-haired girl who had dwelled in the Orphanage long enough to pass without fanfare from "ward" to "employee"--uncrated the lot. The bounty totalled six bags of flour, various quantities of oatmeal, peas, beans, and potatoes, an amazing ransom in brown sugar, a hoop of Fitchton sealed in red wax, a goodly portion of lard, and a barrel packed what turned out to be not horsemeat, as they had suspected, but cured beef. Some of the children had never had beef in the whole of their short lives. Most astonishing of all, at the very bottom of the crate was a flat square box of sweets: dense slabs of gingerbread, sugared almonds in pink and green, chewy nibs of black liquorice, fingers of horehound, and four dozen tiny painted marzipan piglets.

Mags stared down at the towering heap on the kitchen worktable. Her fingers worried at her mouth. "Oh dear." Test it? And he hadn't said what to do if there was something wrong with it all. Call the guard? Burn it at once? Such a waste, such a waste.

It was the senior orphan who made the clever suggestion of rounding up some of the dogs that had been raiding kitchen scraps ever since the weather turned cold. The strays were lured through the gate by a smiling, coaxing girl who led them out of the wet and into a warm dry place full of friendly hands and savory smells, where they stared around in disbelief and fawning gratitude like a pair of weary sinners who have somehow made it to Paradise. Mags and the young girl spent the morning feeding them tidbits. Mags grew frightened once more when one of the test subjects started puking, its poor slatted sides heaving pitifully...but as soon as the excess stained the flagstones, it was up and about, tail frisking, begging for more. It was, after all, well past noon by that point, and perhaps marzipan wasn't meant for dogs.

"I do wonder," said Mags, "if this wasn't meant to come on Midwinter's? To be the holiday treat, you know. And somewhere along the line it must've been delayed."

The senior orphan, who had spent the whole experiment swallowing back saliva and looking longingly at the stack of gilded gingerbread, nodded and assured her that this must be the case.

In the end, that was the explanation everyone accepted. The donation, which was eventually written up as "anonymous benefactor", fed the Myrken Wood Orphanage for better than a week. Sugared almonds became a combination black-market currency/gaming token among the children until the sweets were outlawed and locked up. Nothing worse than a bellyache from too much rich food was ever reported.

The really surprising thing was when it happened again next week.
"We don't have a dungeon. We have a cold cellar and a cheeseroom. No one ever orders the prisoner cast into their darkest cheeseroom."
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