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What would you relinquish for the gifts that I could give you? That which you cherish most, perhaps? Your job? Your wealth? Your relationship? Your offspring?
How about your life? Would you hold that out to me with both hands when I whisper in your ear all that I could do for you, all that I could offer you, and all that I would take from you?
You see, what I offer is worth more than all of those things. Yes, even family. You cannot put a price on it, because it's beyond all mortal values. And all that I ask in return is your trust, your faith, your love, and your obedience.
Will you give me that?
CHAPTER 1 ~ VALOIS
My birthplace is of little consequence, but since you ask I was spewed into this world in a small village some sixty miles as the crow flies from Champs Les Sims. It was a filthy hole of a place; all chickens and thatch and mud that clogged your boot heels in an attempt to prevent you from running away, but all the mud in the world couldn't stop me from leaving the moment my stepfather's back was turned and I was old enough to travel alone without arousing the suspicion of the Gendarmerie. Of course, back then they were not yet known by that name. To me, they were the Marechaussee.
Ah, you noticed the French accent? How observant of you! I trust, also, that the pronounciation of my name will not escape you. Permit me to hear it from your lips?
*tsk* Non, you have it wrong, as I supposed. It is said 'Val-wah' and not 'Val-oyz'. I will not have to correct it again, however, will I?
I travelled to Champs Les Sims, walking at a leisurely pace through the night only, and arriving some three days after I had escaped the mud and chickens. It was... not what I had expected. I had thought to see all of city life, and yet still candles guttered in windows and water was drawn from wells and pumps.
You cock your head like an inquisitive blackbird, my friend. What is it?
Ahh, we are here in this modern age and you wonder at candles and wells while looking at my youthful face and thinking... just how is this possible?
If only you knew, and you will know soon enough. I will not pause in my story, though I will be mercifully brief.
I apprenticed myself at the vineyard, spending the next ten years of my life learning the wiles of the grape; how to take it and turn it into the finest wine. My blends became renowned throughout the land, and even to this day a rare bottle will pop up at auction and be sold for many thousands of simoleons.
Champs Les Sims grew over the years, and - as you might guess - after several decades I had to move on. Those that were young when I arrived had grown old, and yet I still remained as I was. Awkward questions were being asked, and - that being still an age of ridiculous superstition - the church was involved. I was arrested and questioned by priests, of all people.
I believe there was mention of burning me at some point. *tsk* So bloodthirsty, those men of the cloth. Such a pity, the earth tremor that shook the church to the ground that night, and such luck that the distraction gave me a moment to remove myself from their tender mercies.
God moves in mysterious ways, does he not?
I sense your desire to move on in my story. Impatience is a terrible thing, my friend. You must learn to tame it, if you wish to take what I can give. It took him some time to accept it, but he did learn. Eventually.
Where was I? Ah yes, the march of progress. Steam ships and motor cars, gas lights giving way to electricity, and the wonders of the telegraph. I took myself across the English Channel and settled in Kensington, London for several years. It was there that I first gave my gift to someone, and I aimed high. He was a member of the Royal Family, no less. Not, though, one who was in line for the throne. Even I would baulk at giving my gift to one with such responsibility.
A lesser royal he may have been, but - if I may be permitted the jest - a loyal royal he was. It was with him that I honed my skill and discovered exactly what it was that I received in return for the simple gift that I could give, and... *sigh* ...I thought he would keep the gift for longer than he did.
He died at his own hand. Oh, it was hushed-up; the cover of a motoring accident, I believe was the excuse given to the clamouring press. But I could not understand why he had done it. I had loved him and taken every care from him, been everything to him, from lover to companion. Why had he taken that route away from me?
I could not stay in London, and so I booked myself on the first packet ship across the ocean to the Old Country. I lived in a small town there for some time, watching the townsfolk go about their daily business. I even learned to enjoy the quiet and solitude, after so much progress and change, but... ah yes, I see you sit forward in your seat. Yes, I watched one person more closely than all others.
He was still only a boy, of course. Serious and studious, but with a good head for numbers. He achieved top marks in his class for mathematics, and his father had him lined up for a career in business, apprenticing him early in his working life to the small bank that was the closest thing the town had to the financial world.
The boy grew into a young man, fell in love with and married a young woman, and then... ah, tragedy. Electricity is such a terribly dangerous thing, and he mourned her loss so deeply that I could almost smell his tears from my house across the street.
I have always loved the scent of salt water...
He moved away soon after, taking his few belongings in a valise and persuading some friends and other town members to join him in striking out to create a new home for themselves. I followed, of course. They called it Pleasantview, and indeed it was, but he was still restless and could not settle in the town that he founded.
Barely seven years later, and he moved on again. This time, he accepted the invitation of an old uncle to move to Sunset Valley, where his family's name had long resided in some form or another. The uncle gave him the keys to the old manor on the hill, just past the cemetery, and he moved in within a day. I took a modest home nearer to the town centre, as none was available close to the manor.
Out of the manor went everything electrical. The television, a newfangled enough object at the time. The radiogram on which the uncle had enjoyed playing his records. There was as yet no such thing as a computer, and even the electrical lights were stripped out, to be replaced by candles and oil lamps. Any entertainment was to be gleaned thenceforth from books, chess, painting, and suchlike. It quite intrigued me to see how he shied from the thing that had killed his love, as though it were the very devil himself.
Naturally, a wealthy man in that small town would not remain unwed for long. The daughter of another well-to-do family had her eye on him, and soon ensnared him. They had one child - a boy - and then...
Hrm. Shall we say that things were not quite the picture of wedded bliss? Yes, we shall. He was wedded to his job as he rose to the top of the business ladder, and she was devoted to her garden and easel. The child meandered through his young life as best he could, earning decent grades at school and making friends with someone who-- ah, I get ahead of myself sometimes. And I digress. We are not here to discuss the boy, after all.
We have reached the point at which your interest begins. I was, I trust, not too wordy in my introduction of myself? Ah, good. I consider myself a master of most things, and at spinning tales I do rather excel. I am glad that you were entertained.
For now, though, we shall move on and finally meet Gunther.