SotF: Bilberry Soup

  • I

    Matthias shivered even as the fire roared before him. It was just the north he reminded himself where even in the Autumn, the breezes were colder than the howling winds of the south.


                It was two weeks since they had left the city of Riften. Modest as it may be, Matthias did miss the floorboards of the temple – at least they were inside and it was warm. Alas, the best they could do know was a camp in a dried-out creek in the mighty forests of the Rift.


                Matthias clasped his cloak harder, suppressing a sneeze and returning his attention to scouring his chainmail. Carcette sat next to him, playing with the fire not uttering a word for the two weeks since they departed.


                Not like she had much to say anyway, Carcette wasn’t much of a talker.


                Her hair grows fast, Matthias thought. The girl had shaved her head or rather Makram shaved her head at the temple. A necessary action, he had to contain the lice but it made his ward look even smaller than she was. Her worn boots, breeches, tunic, and oversized cloak didn’t help much.


                Carcette threw the rest of the twig into the fire and stood up.


                For a few moments, the girl was content with staring at him with her hazel eyes until she pointed at him.


                ‘This? Just cleaning the mail,’ Matthias said. ‘Listen, when I shake it around it sounds just like a box of coins. Have to do it every night lest-‘


                The girl shook her head and pointed at him again.


                ‘Me?’ He said, smiling. ‘I’m fine. Don’t worry about me,’ he continued, blowing the snot on a rag cloth.


                The girl placed her hands on her hips and cocked her head.


                ‘As I said: don’t worry about me. How about you get some sleep? It’s already late and we’ve still a long road ahead of us.’


                Carcette held onto the barrel and shook her head.


                Matthias raised an eyebrow.


                Carcette stopped for a moment and pointed at the ground before she held her hands against her cheek and closed her eyes.


                ‘So, you’re telling me to get some sleep?’ Matthias said, smirking.


                The girl nodded.


                ‘Hah! A brave Little Lion you are telling me what to do.’


                Carcette held her hands behind her back and dug her feet in the ground.


                ‘Oh, I suppose you are right,’ he said, pulling the barrel aside. ‘I can always do that in the morning and by the gods I am so sleepy that I dare to brashly yawn in front of a lady.’


                The girl nodded and smiled.


                Matthias laid by the fire, his cloak the only thing between him and the cold dirt. Carcette snuggled against his chest, her warmth a welcoming contrast to say the least.


                ‘Wake me when the sun rises. Poke me in the face with a stick if you have to and don’t poke my eye this time. Sleep well, Carcette and may Stendarr watch over your dreams.’



    Matthias woke up to the watchful eyes of proud sun. The campfire may of have burnt out but his shiver was gone and his breathing clear. Carcette was still sleeping an arm’s length away from him. The girl was snoring.


                Poor thing, Matthias thought, tearing off his cloak. She must’ve been more tired than she would admit.


                The Vigilant gently threw his cloak over his ward. Let her dream awhile longer.


                Matthias then began packing up the camp. First it was the pots and pans – there was still some grease from the night’s dinner. It was no matter; they were planning to take a rest stop by the Treva River in the evening. Second was the fire pit. Matthias salvaged what tinder he could and collected the potatoes they’ve been baking overnight. Could’ve done with some butter but food was food. Third was the barrel with his chainmail still inside it. Now where did he-


                He heard a cough and he ran to Carcette. The girl was still sleeping, soundly if he might add but that was unusual; She was always the morning bird, awakening him to the scent of boiling tea.


                ‘Carcette,’ he cooed, brushing a finger on her face – her skin was burning and shivering. The girl weakly opened her eyes and looked at him. Her lips were cracked and dry.


                His heart skipped a beat.


                ‘Carcette, wake up! Open your eyes, drink some water. I’ll get some medicine for you.’


                Matthias rushed to his pack and began rummaging. Pots and pans, the tinder, spare clothes so meticulously folded – all out. He didn’t care for them now; he could always get more later. Finally, near the bottom, he had found his prize: a medicine box gifted from Makram himself.


                The Vigilant opened the box and sorted through the draughts, poultices, and other vials until he found what he was looking for: A tonic of ginger and ginseng, excellent for balancing the humours.


                ‘Sit up little one and pinch your nose. The taste is strong but you must endure if you are to recover. Here, more water to wash it down.’


               Matthias packed the medicine box and drummed his fingers on the lid. Medicine wouldn’t be enough for Carcette to get better – the girl needed to be indoors. Somewhere warm and dry.


                The closest farm was about four miles from where they stood. By his estimate they could make it there by noon if they travelled post-haste but to do so they had to travel light. He looked at his belongings, strewn about the camp and the barrel, sitting by the pit.


                A necessary sacrifice, he decided as he carried Carcette on his back.


                Hold on Little Lion.



    The sun was at its highest when Matthias saw the farm ahead. Of wattle-and-daub, the farmhouse and the farm itself was rather modest – for one it wasn’t on any official maps and Matthias had only known of this place from passing merchants and caravans. Stranger still was that the farm was rather isolated, the closest village, yet another unnamed settlement was only a few hours away by foot.


                Matthias banged the door.


                No answer.


                He banged the door again, this time harder.


                A man finally opened the door with a face contorted in an annoyed scowl. He was grey of hair and gaunt and wore simple tunic and trousers of roughspun make. In his hand was a worn hand axe.


                ‘What do ye want?’ the farmer said. ‘Speak ye words and get off me land.’


                ‘Dear sir,’ Matthias said. ‘We are in need of shelter and we hope-‘


                ‘Begone!’ the farmer said. ‘I nary a love for ye adventurers, even more so with ye Southerner types. Bunch of self-righteous vagabonds ye be.’


                ‘I have coin,’ Matthias said raising his pouch.


                ‘Typical Imperial!’ The farmer spat. ‘I be no Southerner who can be bought – I be a Nord and I nay sully me honour consortin’ with ye. Ye may be deaf so ye be reading me lips: Begone!’


                The farmer was about to slam the door before Matthias dropped on his knees.


                ‘Please good sir,’ Matthias said. ‘My daughter, she’s very sick. She needs somewhere warm to rest. I’ll give you all my money, I’ll work your fields, chop wood – Anything, just name your price but please take her in, away from the cold.’


                The farmer said nothing.


                ‘Please. I don’t know what I’ll do if I lost her,’ he continued, hanging his head low.


                The farmer sighed and softened his expression. ‘I told ye, I care little for strangers... What they calling ye?’


                The Vigilant looked up. ‘Matthias of Bravil.’


                ‘They call me Bori, Son of Mori. Now we be acquainted – get ye lass inside. I be startin’ a fire for ‘er’.



    Matthias had tucked Carcette in and placed a wet towel on her forehead. Her skin still burned hot but at least she was inside. The farmhouse was seemed bigger on the inside than out, Matthias admitted as he closed the door behind him.


                Lit only by the fireplace and small apertures of light peering through the thatched roof, Matthias found the main hall rather dim. More than one occasions he found himself tripping or bumping his shin on boxes and stools as he made his way to the table.


                Bori was having his lunch: a serving of barley bread, pottage beets, onions and a side of homebrewed ale. It had become apparent to Matthias that he bothered the man who was in the middle of preparing his meal – the beets were overcooked as were the onions. More so that as required by the ancient laws, the host was required to see that his guest were fed although Matthias only negotiated a handful of bread.


                ‘Who are ye, stranger?’ Bori said, cutting his onion. ‘Ye clothes tells me ye a priest but ye carry arms and other odd trinkets I nay seen the like.’


                ‘Me? I am a Vigilant of Stendarr, we’re an order of Daedra hunters and other horrible creatures.’


                Bori nodded, mixing the beets with his bread.


                ‘And what brings ye here to these parts?’


                Matthias smiled. ‘Not Daedra trouble, so don’t worry yourself. Although truthfully, the Vigil does more than fight Daedra: we help the innocents where we can and punish the evils of mortals.’ He raised a hand. ‘Within the confines of the local laws of course.’


                Bori sipped his ale.


                ‘How be ye lass?’


                ‘Carcette will be fine thanks to you.’ Matthias flattened his palm on his chest and bowed his head. ‘And even if I thank you a thousand more times, it would be but a token of my gratitude to you but I thank you again nonetheless.’


                ‘Oh fuss not, Vigilant,’ Bori said, waving his hand. ‘Fuss not. I too was a father.’


                Matthias scratched his beard. ‘Was?’


                ‘Aye. Me lass, Val… The Old Knocker took ‘er from me almost ten winters ago.’


                ‘Oh, my deepest condolences.’


                ‘It be fine, I made my peace ‘ears ago.’


                For a time, the two didn’t say a word to each other. Bori continued with his interrupted lunch and Matthias counted the strands of thatch above him. Curiosity did grow in the Vigilant but he knew better than to ask – Arkay too did take his own before his time.


                Bori licked his spoon clean and dropped it onto the empty plate.


                ‘Oh, Val.’ Bori finally sighed. ‘She be the apple in ‘er da’s eye. She was smart – she could even read that one. She could write and sing too. Even draw! Look ‘ere, see these foxgloves? She drew ‘em ‘erself when she was wee lass and she taught ‘erself all of it too! ‘er da nay did much to help ‘er’


                Matthias smiled sadly. ‘Sounds like a great kid.’


                ‘Aye, she was. Too good for ‘er own good though.’


                Bori sipped his ale and frowned.


                ‘I always told ‘er to go to the cities. Seek ‘her fortune elsewhere. Be a skald’s apprentice, a merchant, whatever truly but ye know what she did?’


                The farmer leaned closer.


                ‘She chose to stay with ‘er da. Wasted potential I told ‘er but she nay listened! Then one ‘ear I told ‘er, “Val, ye will be leavin’ the farm and I make ye if ye donnit yeself,” and ye know what, she agreed but a clause.’


                ‘She says to me, “Alright da but only after the ‘arvest. I be pickin’ the beets and the greens with ye and we be sellin’ ‘em in the village. Then I hope on one of ‘em caravans and I be seeing the world.” Clever lass.’


                Bori sighed again.


                ‘That ‘arvest was cold. Mighty cold and me Val, she caught the creeping cough that ‘ever ends. She ‘ever made it to the village.’


                Bori squeezed his cup and looked at Matthias.


                ‘You better do ye lass right. Give ‘er that future me Val nary get.’ Bori shook his head. ‘I know what it be like to lose me own and I nary wish that even on me worst enemy.’


                And neither do I.


                ‘Master Bori,’ Matthias said. ‘I thank you again for your hospitality and pray for your forgiveness.’


                ‘Oh? What for?’


                ‘I… have not been honest with you.’ The Vigilant shook his head. ‘That girl, Carcette… in truth I am not her father. In fact, I’ve only met her a few weeks ago in Riften.’


                ‘I see,’ Bori raised an eyebrow. ‘And why would that not make you ‘er da?’


                ‘I’m sorry but I don’t follow.’


                ‘Come now, you be the one who reads and here I thought ye be clever one! Need I spell it out for ye? You know what ye did? When ye be ‘fraid for ye lass ‘ver a wee cough?’


                Matthias shrugged.


                Bori leaned in and whispered, ‘What ‘very father should be: protecting ‘is child.’


                Matthias could feel his cheeks turning red. ‘So, what can I do to repay your kindness?’


                ‘Raise ‘er right.’


                ‘No, I meant for you. Please do not mock my honour as a Southerner, Master Bori. You have so generously given us your bed, your bread, your roof, and your hearth so allow me to repay you. If it’s not coin you want then how can I, Vigilant Matthias of Bravil be of service?’


                Bori nodded his head slowly. ‘If ye insist. Ye seem to be a ‘earty lad with a strong back. I tell ye what, me old bones are wont for choppin’ wood in the forest and I be running low.’


                ‘As you wish.’ Matthias bowed his head. ‘Is there anything else?’


                Bori smirked. ‘The autumn ‘arvest be comin’ soon. If ye and ye lass are still ‘ere, I could always use more ‘ands.’



    Matthias stood vigil over Carcette whenever he could. For the first two days, Carcette’s fever burned hot and the girl suffered the sweats and the nightmares. By the third, Carcette’s body had cooled down where she was able to stay conscious for an extended period of time.


                As Bori had suggested, Matthias prepared a bowl of bilberry soup for the girl to recover her strength. A strange Northern delicacy, Matthias noted. Bori had told him that in the rift, bilberry soup was a local favourite for the sick and the troubled. Matthias would’ve preferred chicken broth himself but he wasn’t the one sick this day.


                Matthias served the soup in a wooden bowl using the recipe and ingredients Bori had given him. He was surprised it didn’t turn grey – almost everything he cooked turned a shade of grey.


                Carcette sat up, still tucked in the bed.


                ‘Have you taken your medicine yet?’ Matthias said.


                The girl shook her head.


                ‘You have to eat medicine if you want to get better. Chickens are no simple business, if you don’t have the strength to stand up then you don’t have the strength to chase Master Bori’s chickens back into the coop. Don’t give me that look – just pinch your nose and we’ll be done with it. There you go.’


                Carcette’s face contorted in disgust before ending with a cough.


                To the last drop indeed.


                ‘Time for breakfast!’


                Matthias served the bowl on Carcette’s lap and gave her the spoon. The girl looked at the strange bowl of blue and tilted her head.


                ‘It’s bilberry soup. It’s apparently quite popular up here. It’s not hot so don’t worry. Me? I’ve never tasted it, have you?’


                Carcette shook her head.


                ‘Well, I’m sure it’ll taste better than the tonic.’


                The girl frowned and pinched her nose. She squeezed her eyes shut as she took her first spoonful and then… she took another than then another. Soon she was lifted the whole bowl to her face.


                Girl has a sweet tooth; I’ll give her that.


                ‘Stop that,’ Matthias said. ‘You’ll spill some on Master Bori’s bed and that’s no way to be a guest. Look at your face! If you had a mirror, you’ll laugh at how ridiculous you look. Hold still.’


                Matthias bent a knee and wiped her face with his sleeve.


                ‘And there.’


                Carcette look at her bowl then at Matthias, tilting her head. She then held up a spoonful of the soup and shoved it at his face.


                ‘That’s for you, not for me,’ he said, gently pushing the spoon away. ‘You’re the one who’s sick, remember?’


                Carcette frowned and faked a sneeze and wiped her face with her sleeve.


                Matthias smirked.


                She is not my daughter. She isn’t Rohn. Never forget that, Matthias. Never let yourself forget that.


                ‘Fine just one bite. Hmm. Not bad, not bad at all.’


    Author's Note(s): Happy Belated Father's Day