Thank you, Nicholas

Thank you, Nicholas

It was a cold and clear night. The latter could be concluded from one mere glance at the sky, which was filled with an endless number of stars. Those stars were the only ones who kept me company that night.

I looked around the market place. My tiny stand, filled with various sweets, was surely one of its kind. Then again, I was the only one crazy enough to open my stand in this weather. Not one person was out on the streets... and why would they be? It was so cold you could see your breath and you had to watch out not to slip on the icy ground. Most people were spending their evenings at home, with a warm drink and blankets. Together with their family.

Considering all of this, you can imagine my surprise when I noticed an old man with a long white beard riding a white horse through town. When he came closer, I also noticed he didn't even have shoes on. He stopped by my stand and looked at me kindly, before getting down from his horse.

“Why are you out here on your own today?”

“Well, I'm selling sweets... but no-one besides you and me seems willing enough to endure the cold and say hi. Though I can't blame them. What are you doing out here on such a cold night, sir?”

“I'm a traveller, though the cold has made my trip a bit difficult lately.”

“I understand. You can take a break here, if you want to.”

“Oh! Well, if you won't mind, then I will.”

He sat down on one of the crates I used as chairs and chatted with me in the cold for some time. I learned his name was Nicholas and that he was travelling around to find a cure for his sick grandchild. The child's parents had died in an accident, so he and his wife were the only hope the child had. While his wife looked after the child, he would try to find a cure.

The old man spoke lovingly about his family, but I could tell he was feeling a little sad. Would he even make it in this weather? Weren't his feet freezing? I couldn't help but worry as I listened to his stories. Then, as we had almost forgotten about the annoying cold, I felt something cool land on the tip of my nose, a snowflake. Soon various other snowflakes appeared, falling from the dark sky.

“Ah, it's snowing. No matter the cold, I still find it quite the sight.”

The man stared up at the sky with a smile on his face. I couldn't see the snowflakes on his already snow-white beard, but his shoulders were slowly becoming more and more white as well. His horse made a sound of complaint in my place.

“Well then, I should move on.” He said, standing up from the crate.

Would he really travel on in this weather? Then again, he had nowhere else to go except onwards... until now. I stood up as well and grabbed his arm firmly.

“Yes, but let's change your direction a bit.”

“Oh?”

I quickly packed my things and tugged him along. It didn't take long until we reached one of the little houses in the street, which had the number thirteen.

“Are you inviting me over?” He asked me with surprise clear in his voice.

“Yes, at least stay until it's stopped snowing. Besides, isn't it much better to watch from inside, together with others and perhaps a cup of hot chocolate?”

He smiled back at me and nodded.

“That does sound nice, I'll accept your kind offer then... until the snow has stopped falling.”


Inside, we watched the snow fall from behind the window and drank our warm drinks in silence. When I was a little bit younger, my father used to come home earlier and made the two of us cups of hot chocolate. We would sit on the couch with a blanket, watching the snow falling down while chatting about things that didn't matter. But somehow, during those kind of evenings, these most useless conversations became very interesting. I always enjoyed them, so I figured I'd ask the old man some useless things.

“What kind of candy or treat do you like?”

He looked at me as though I were kidding, but I was dead serious. For some reason he laughed heartily at that and said “Well, when I was younger I used to like eating little pig shaped candy... what did they call it... marzipan?” He mused.

Wow pig shaped candy, I never heard of that before! It could look kind of cute. Nicholas continued by telling me about this visit he once paid to a shop and how they had invited him to make his own marzipan. The recipe he described didn't seem too hard, I thought I could probably make that myself in our kitchen. So... why not?

I stood up and walked straight into the kitchen.

“What are you doing?” The man asked, surprised at my sudden actions.

“I'm going to make you some marzipan.”

“What? You can do that?”

“My father taught me a lot of things when it comes to making candy and other treats. I'm a specialist at these things, trust me!” I cheerfully told him from the kitchen.

“Your father did?” He paused. “Where is he at the moment?”

Well, this topic had to surface sooner or later. Since I'm only fourteen years old, newcomers are always surprised when they see me selling things on my own.

“He's been sick for a while now, so he's still in bed. I'll prepare his dinner later tonight.”

And as I had expected, the old man fell silent. Perhaps my story reminded him of his diseased son or daughter, but I couldn't ask about something like that. The best I could do was move on with the conversation.

“I've started selling candy and such to keep our finances up a bit, but that's all right! My father will definitely get better soon. He just needs to rest for a bit, that's what he said.”

“But wouldn't it be better to stay home when it's snowing?”

I carefully shaped the marzipan I made into little pigs. I was right, they were cute! It was surprisingly easy and once I finished them, I returned to the living room. He could take them along when he left.

“Nope! If I had stayed home today, you would have been freezing outside right now, so I'm glad I didn't.”

“But... you really didn't have to go through so much trouble, just for an old man.”

“Why not? It's not a problem, really. Plus, the evenings have been a bit boring lately, it's fun to have someone over now and then.”

The man smiled gratefully and stared at his cup. I looked outside, but it was still snowing heavily and even when it would stop... wouldn't his feet freeze when walking through the snow in his socks? I had asked wanderers who barely wore any shoes why they did this. Most of them told me that their old shoes had worn down so much they couldn't wear them anymore and they had no money to buy a new pair. I guess the answer was obvious, but I never had to experience that kind of poverty, since my father had saved up a bit of money before he got bedridden. I silently wondered how long this man could have been travelling to reach such a state, until he spoke up.

“Well, it seems like it won't stop snowing soon, so let me tell you another story.”

He told me about a group of children on the road. These children were orphans and helped each other out. Their clothes were handmade by themselves and they didn't wear any shoes. He heard from various people living in the area that they made a living by plundering travellers and merchants who came by. Of course, this was supposed to be a warning for him, but he wouldn't listen.

Inevitably, like those merchants before him, Nicholas got ambushed by these children. Yet when they met, instead of robbing him from his belongings... they invited him to dinner. The children took him to their hide-out and there he met their 'leader'; a tall young man of about 17 years old, who seemed to be taking care of a beautiful white horse just as they arrived.

Nicholas, confused as he was, asked why they treated him so kindly. The young man simply said he didn't look like he had anything on him he could go without either. He felt that the only right thing to do was to help out. In the end, Nicholas agreed to spending the night there and would leave in the morning.

When morning came, the children gathered to say goodbye and their leader told him to be more careful on the road from now on. Moved by their kindness, Nicholas took off his shoes and handed them to the young man to wear.

“This isn't the last time we meet, this is my promise that I'll return here. Once I do, I will bring shoes for all the other children to wear as well. So until that time comes, I want all of you to stay healthy as well.”

The children promised they would, but they couldn't accept his gift just like that. So without the chance to refuse, Nicholas was given the white horse.

“If you have no shoes to walk with, then let my horse take you where you want to go.” The young man told him, and the moment he had finished they left. Stunned and now with a horse of his own, Nicholas continued his journey... until he reached this town.


I could barely believe what he told me. Had he read my mind, or had I looked that worried at his feet to make him tell me this? Either way, it seemed I had been wrong. This man hadn't worn down his shoes, he had given them away. Were all old people this kind? Just as I was about to ask him, it had stopped snowing.

“Ah, it seems my time is up. I should leave now.”

He stood up and thanked me for the nice evening. As he wanted to leave, I stopped him once more.

“Wait, thank you for the company, it was really nice to listen to your stories! But, could you please wait a little longer? I want to give you the marzipan I just made for on the road.”

“Oh! I see, all right.”

“But, I can't just give them to you like this, they'll get ruined, so let me get something to put them in! I'll be right back!”

Before he could say another word, I rushed out of the house and hurried towards a store in town...


A little bit later, I returned home and sneaked into the kitchen without him noticing me. Fortunately the store owner had been kind enough to let me in and buy what I needed. I had the perfect package now, so I quickly took some carrots and the finished little marzipan pigs, wrapped the latter in some paper we had lying around and stuffed them into the package. There, that looked perfect!

I walked out of the kitchen and held the package in front of me, the man looked utterly stupefied at me.

“Here you go, some marzipan and carrots to take along with you on the road!”

“But... that's... I can't accept that.”

“What? It's just some marzipan and carrots for your horse. It's my way of saying thank you for the enjoyable evening!”

“That's fine, but you put them into a pair of shoes.”

“Oh? Well, that's just the package! You can do with it what you want afterwards, but a present always needs a package, didn't you know?”

I quickly stuffed them into his bag and walked outside to where his horse was waiting. Though the man protested a lot, I managed to make him accept the marzipan and carrots... along with their package! I was very satisfied. At least this way, his feet wouldn't freeze... right dad?


It's been exactly a year since then. I haven't seen the man since that night, but I hope he's doing well and has returned home with a cure by now. Like that day, I'm the only stand on the market place and it's very cold once more. Perhaps it will even snow again, but like last year I'll stay here as long as I need to. Since I could, I made this a day where I only sell marzipan. Who knows? An old man without shoes may be in need of some again...

However, to my surprise, it isn't an old man this time. In fact, I know this person, it's the shoemaker I went to last year.

“I want another one of these!”

“Oh? All right then...”

He pays me and I pack the marzipan for him and hand them over. Still, I can't help but wonder why he would want some, on today of all days. Like I told you, today is a very cold and unpleasant day to be outside, most people want to stay indoors when snow is about to fall. But that's not the only problem here. The biggest problem of all is that he bought some marzipan yesterday! I can't imagine he liked it so much that he's already asking for more.

“Sir, may I ask why you're buying marzipan again today? Didn't you buy some yesterday?”

“Why yes, I did! But the most wonderful thing happened to me this morning!”

The... most wonderful thing? Wonderful things can happen when you have marzipan? I give him a questioning look.

“I was going to eat some while working last night, but once again I got caught up in work and fell asleep in the middle of it. I remember having the some marzipan with me on the counter, but once I woke up it was gone!”

“...Gone, you say?”

“Yes! Instead of marzipan, I found a ring there, a golden ring! I've wanted to buy one for ages, so I could propose to my girlfriend!”

“You're... you think the marzipan will turn into a gift? Wasn't it just a gift from your friends?”

“No way, they couldn't afford something like this! I want to test it out tonight, I'll make one of my friends put the marzipan on the table or something and we'll see if it works in the morning!” He tells me excitedly and dashes off. Huh, how weird. I still think it's a prank though.

But soon, I discover I might have been wrong. Before I know it, three people are at my stand with various similar stories. They all bought some marzipan from me some time ago and now they're telling me about it being exchanged into gifts they really liked. What on earth?...


Amazingly, the marzipan story spread quickly and everyone came to buy some from me. I could have never imagined that on today of all days, I'd be sold out of my stock! So here I am, home early!

Cheerfully, I swing the door open, but it comes to a stop halfway there with a dull 'thud'.

“Mh?”

When I look behind it, I see my dad looking up at me surprised while putting his shoes on.

“Oh! You're home early! I was just about to go and look for you.”

“W-What are you doing up!? You're sick!”

“Haha, I WAS sick! But your old man is back in the picture! I won't let you do the work all on your own, let me have some as well!” He laughs and pulls me over into a hug.

This doesn't make sense! My father was sick, I'm sure of it, where did he get all this energy from?

“Oh, by the way, an old man with a white horse dropped by. He was looking for you too, do you know him from somewhere?”

This question comes as a big surprise to me. That old man... was he behind all of this?

“Dad! Where is he? Where did he go!?”

“Oh, um, I think he went to the northern gate of our town. If you hurry, you might still catch him.”

Nothing else needs to motivate me, I shut the door and run as fast as I can. I'm a young girl, I can make this! Don't leave town without greeting me properly, Nicholas!

Fortunately, I make it to the gate within a few minutes. The town guard stops me from going any further, but from behind him I can see a white horse, bravely moving on through the snow with its owner. I can't reach him anymore, the guard would never let me go out on my own... but...

I take a deep breath... and yell. “Old man! Nicholas! Nicholas!”

The horse stops hesitatingly and I yell on, until finally the man turns around and notices me. He waves and I wave back. That's good enough, there were just two words I wanted to say to him anyway.

“Nicholas! Thank you!”


In the night, through the snow, the horse and Nicholas moved on until I couldn't see them anymore... my smile, however, remained for days afterwards.


From that moment on, each year on that very day, people bought marzipan and carrots from the girl at the market place. In the evening they would put these items into one of their shoes, because that's where someone will be looking for them, or so she said.


And this year as well, in the little town where the first snow is falling, people are thanking a man named Nicholas.