Mattias Dosza moved down the stairs of his vast home like a phantom. His face wore the downturned scowl that many in town claimed he was born with, and his movements had the deliberate plod of one who has never never been happy. As he neared the bottom of the great expanse, the massive bronze door knocker sounded again.

“Just a minute! It takes me a while to get down the stairs.” His voice showed noticeable irritation, and he did not relish opening the door and letting even the smallest part of the blizzard into his home.

The hinges moaned like basset hounds howling from loneliness. As the great bound door creaked open, a gust of frigid air blew in. It dropped the temperature in the already cold room a few degrees and disturbed several cobwebs. Mattias barked at the man standing there, “What do you want?”

He was tall. His face was long and drawn, a contrast to the cheerful eyes and mouth set upon it. His peaked hat and slavic beard accentuated the long effect, while the ashen cloak he wore whipped in the wind. He carried a staff, and beside him sat a canvas knapsack.

“Greetings, Squire Dosza, I am known as Keth, Keth Temesvar. I was journeying across this mountain range, and barely made it through the pass at Inverna. I reached the bridge over the Dohl river, only to find that it had collapsed in the blizzard. I cannot make it back through the pass. I would ask to impose on your hospitality in exchange for a few gold coins. I shall only need to stay the night.”

Mattias stepped back. “Enter, quickly. I am short on wood, and we do not want to let too much of the cold in.” The gray clad stranger moved through the door quickly, grabbing the canvas sack in one smooth motion. As he passed the threshold, Mattias quickly pressed the massive door closed. With a wave of his hand, he motioned the visitor toward the kitchen. As they entered, it warmed up appreciably. A glowing fire danced joyously in the hearth, while a pot of  soup boiled softly in the cauldron suspended over it. Mattias’s visage lightened a bit– it had been almost three months since he had seen anyone else, and he would welcome a bit of company.

Mattias moved toward the cauldron. “Keth, have some soup. You will find none it’s equal.”

“Thank you. What makes it so special?”

“This is my family soup. The first ingredients for this soup were placed in this cauldron over twenty years ago by my mother. It is said that as long as we maintain this soup, we shall never go hungry. So every day I put a few vegetables in it, some water or snow, and an occasional piece of meat. It has served me well all of these years.”

Keth took a taste of the soup. “This is wonderful. And you say it’s been like this for twenty years?”

“Yes, At least. For as long as I can remember, this soup has boiled here in the cauldron. My father often said that it was an old family tradition of my mothers, and that she tended it religiously. Now, a question for you– how did you know my name?”

Keth smiled. “The townsfolk told me you live up here. They warned me away, saying that You wouldn’t open the door no matter how cold it was. I am very glad to see that they were wrong.”

Mattias scowled. The townsfolk were all idiots, bumpkins, and drunkards. They lived their life in ignorant bliss of the reality outside of their valley. And they could not comprehend his pain– the death of his wife, his trouble with pirates that eventually destroyed his shipping empire, and most seriously, the disappearance of his daughter, Nicole. Mattias put aside his feelings for the townsfolk and focused on his visitor.

“Yes, Keth, they often are. One of the reasons I go there so little. But what requires you to travel in such a foul time of the year?”

“Well, I was delayed in the court at Salzburg, and am now journeying to Budapest on an errand. I had planned to get there months ago, but some foolishness about someone’s wedding delayed all of the court business.  And now I must travel in the worst time of the year on an errand that must be done.”

Mattias looked off into the fire. “How is the court in Salzburg? I miss it so…”

“Subdued. The death of Emperor Maximillian has put a damper on the excesses of the court. It is a sad state of affairs when the most prominent figure in the court is Karl Vorlauf’s middle son, Josef.”

Mattias laughed for a moment, then cut himself short. Thinking of the somber Josef reminded him of Josef’s flamboyant brother Marcus, which reminded him of the missing Nicole. Nicole and Marcus were to be wed, but an indiscretion by Nicole had dashed that plan. Nicole, Nicole where are you? He fought for composure, but a single tear escaped and traveled slowly down his cheek.

Mattias looked up. Keth was watching him, and spoke as Mattias brushed away the errant drop. “I apologize– I did not mean to bring up bad memories.”

Mattias sighed. “It is a tale of many years ago. One that the name Vorlauf  brought to the surface. Josef’s oldest brother and my daughter were to be wed. And now I haven’t seen her in four years, since her ship departed Venice in the spring.”

“I’m sorry to bring up such a sad tale. You say that they were to be married?”

Yes, friend Keth. And it is a long story. Would you care to hear it?”

“Sure, friend Mattias. I am not tired, as your soup has energized me and washed the tiredness from my bones.”

“Then, you must have another bowl. I will get one for myself as well. Ahh, there. Now, it was almost ten years ago when Karl Vorlauf came to me about my daughter……..”

* * * * *

When Mattias woke, the manor didn’t seem quite as cold anymore. He rose and dressed, hastily, and then made his way down the great staircase to the main hall. He glanced at Keth’s staff sitting by the door, and then made his way to the kitchen. He added a few vegetables to the soup, threw in a cold piece of venison, and then added some more snow to bring the level back up.

He removed a couple of  bratwurst from the larder and put them on a fork over the fire. It had been good to talk to someone about Nicole, he reflected. It had been good to talk to someone, period. As he sliced some bread, he smiled. If the pass was clear, he would go into town. The bread was getting crusty, and it would be nice to have some pickles, some eggs, and maybe even a hen. As he happily checked the wurst on the fire, Keth entered the room.

“Mattias, you have been too good a host. First, you fill my stomach with your wondrous soup and my head with your rich tale, and now you fill my nose with fine smells of more food. No matter your shortage of wood, this is one of the warmest homes I have ever visited.”

“Enough words, friend Keth, the sausage is done. I wish only that I could offer you some fresh butter to go with your bread.”

“You are too kind.”

Keth sat and ate with Mattias, relishing every bite, and then, when he had finished, stood up.

“Mattias, you are too kind. Your warmth and hospitality proves that no one in town has the smallest clue about your true nature. Let me leave you with some coin for your trouble.”

Mattias shook his head. “No, don’t even try. Your company was enough. Just pass by on your return to Salzburg.”

They moved to wards the door. Keth responded, “Of course I will, although it may some time. I have many places to go. And now, I also have a mission. Wherever I travel, I will ask of your daughter and her ship.”

Mattias felt a lump rise in his throat. “You are too kind, Keth. Please make my home a stopping point whenever you travel.”

“That I will. Fare thee well, Mattias.” With this, he passed the threshold and out into the snow. The sun was melting the top surface of the sun, creating a thin crust that broke away beneath the boot. Mattias stood at his door, watching the gray clad figure moving away, and noticed that the view wasn’t quite as gloomy as he had remembered.



Mattias maneuvered his horse carefully through the snow, trying to keep to the path that was hidden beneath the white powder. His trip to town had been fruitful, and he now had eggs, butter, fresh bread, and even some roasting hens that he had gotten at a good price. As an added bonus, he had arranged for the woodchopper to come out in the spring and add to his woodpile, something he hadn’t done in several years.

It had been fun, going into town. He had put Keth’s words out of his mind and made an effort to smile to the townspeople. Their surprised reactions and surreptitious whispers only served to lighten his mood. “It’ll give them something to talk about for weeks,” he thought.

The pass had been hard. Both ways. However, the return had been far worse. The melting snow had caused an avalanche that he barely managed to clear before it closed the pass. Upon inspection, he realized that his trip had been well planned. He would be unable to return to town until the rocks and debris brought down by the snow were cleared.

Soon he was nearing the last bend before the manor house. As he moved down the path, he saw the remains of windblown footsteps. The prints were small enough that they had to be those of a woman, and they were erratic, as if she was lost. Mattias decided to follow them.

Then he saw her. She had long dark hair that framed her face, with delicate features. She was wearing a white fur coat with black spots, and under that, a pale blue and white gossamer gown. She seemed lost and disoriented, so he called to her. “Hello!”

She whirled, and then, seeing him, stumbled toward him. She reached his horse and embraced it in a sign of relief. Ice crystals on her face, possibly snow but more probably frozen tears, started to melt in the warm hair on the horse’s flank.

After a moment, she looked up. She opened her mouth, but no words came out. There as a long pause, as Mattias weighed the options, and then he offered her his hand, which she took. He reached down and lifted her up. She was light. Mattias turned to her and spoke.

“The pass is blocked. I will have to take you to my home. You will be safe there until the spring thaw.” She smiled. Mattias continued. “Do you remember how you got here?” Her head shook no. “Well then, lets get you warmed up and see if your memory and voice return.” She threw her arms around him in gratitude as they started to move back to the path. Within ten minutes, they were in view of the manor. as they rounded the bend, it came into view, and Mattias reflected that it had never looked quite so secure before. It’s strong walls seemed to be able to fight off the worst weather or threat. He was glad to be home…….

* * * * *

Since his visitor seemed so tired, he showed her to a room on the ground floor and lit a fire in the fireplace. He noticed that she wore no pouch and carried no bag. There were also no compartments in her coat. She was probably traveling with a group, and got lost. He turned to tell her “Sleep well,” but she was already dozing off.

Mattias returned to the kitchen to put away his purchases. He placed the butter and eggs in a cool corner of the pantry designed for such a purpose, placed the hens in the larder for preparation that evening, and then put the bread in it’s box. He checked the soup, added more water, stoked it’s fire a bit, and then brushed the cobwebs out of the corners. He laughed to himself– more guests in two days than he had had in the last two years. He started most  of the chickens smoking in the smokehouse, while the other roasted on a spit next to the soup. Then, he brought in some more wood from the woodshed and started the fire in the main hall.

After a few hours, he thought about his visitor, and decided to check on her and the fireplace in her room. He knocked on the door to alert her, then entered. The fire was in need of attention, just as he had suspected, but the woman did not wake as he entered. He quietly placed the log on the fire, poked it a bit so that it perked up, and then turned to look at his guest.

She was beautiful. She had that look of someone well cared for, a person totally unaccustomed to work. As she lay there on the bed, her gown glistened in the firelight. She was well muscled, with the look of someone who took pleasure in athletic events, but without the calluses of one who works at it very much. In the firelight, she was captivating. Mattias was sure that the rest of her party would be looking for her, and that soon they would knock on his door. Quietly, he left her to sleep.

When she woke the next morning, her voice and memory had not returned. She was, however, very hungry. She ate half a chicken, two bowls of  soup, and  a quarter of a loaf of bread. After she was done, she returned to her bedroom and napped for a couple of hours.

Near midday, one of Mattias’s suspicions was confirmed. He descended the grand staircase to find her running around the main hall and banquet table. She was quite fast, and her form seemed well suited to her athletic hobby. He watched, fascinated, as she ran her course for nearly half an hour, and then sat down beside him, breathing heavily.

He turned to her. “That was impressive.” She smiled. “Do you remember anything more?” Head shake. “Can you write or read?” Quizzical look. tentative head shake. “What shall I call you?” Smile. “Bianca?” Shake. “Griselda?” Shake. “Elsa, Katrina, Clara, Nicole or Anna?” Tentative shake. He thought of her movements. “I know, I’ll call you Grace, on account of the way you move.” Smile, pause, and then, a happy nod. “Grace. Grace.” She hugged him. He fell over on his back in shock. Surely, someone would come looking soon for such an exceptional woman…..

* * * * *

After two days, he started to worry. He put on his boots and coat, and went out to search the nearby valleys. Nothing. There were no signs of any others. The Dohl bridge was still out, as was the pass to Inverna. The valley was cut off from the outside world. Mattias was beginning to think that her group had been trapped on the other side of the pass. Then, he thought of Keth– How did he leave?

Mattias found footprints in the ice near the river. Keth’s errand must have been urgent, as only a desperate man would cross the surface of the Dohl while frozen over. The river had warm currents in it, and the ice was often thin in unpredictable ways. However, Mattias was sure Keth had made it safely, as he saw footprints that seemed to match Keth’s heavy boots in the mud on the other bank.

Grace seemed unbothered when he told her the news. She smiled her innocent smile, and placed her head on his arm. This soothed Mattias. She was pleasant to have around, and no real bother, except for her ravenous appetite. Mattias was glad he had bought chickens. But if she didn’t slow down, he would have to go hunting to supplement the larder. At least it was only a month and a half to two months until the April thaw, and soon after that, her traveling companions would be able to get through the pass or repair the Dohl river bridge. He figured the only thing he might run low on was wood. If need be, there were a couple of dead trees he could chop down, although he wasn’t used to the work. But the wood would need to be dried. As he reflected, he dropped an onion and some carrots into the soup and filled it once more with water.



Mattias looked out at the surrounding mountains. The sides were starting to show some of their dark faces beneath the melting snow. Behind him he could hear Grace running, just as she had done for the last month. Mattias had become accustomed to the young woman’s presence, even with her unusual activity and voracious appetite, and was secretly dreading the time that she would go. Though she could not speak, she listened, and listened well. Her expressions spoke worlds upon worlds, and he was getting very adept at reading her subtle facial clues.

She loved to be read to. Even though she could not read herself, she would sit for hours before the fire, listening to him as he told her tales from the Decameron, read classic plays, or discussed the parables from the Bible.

Did he love her? Mattias asked himself that question daily. He had thought himself incapable of love. His marriage to Bettina had been arranged, and they had always been of different minds. In fact, after Nicole’s indiscretion they had had an argument that resulted in a total cessation of all nonformal communication until the day she died. Bettina’s last words still sting. “Mattias, this is what you want. This is what I want. We are finally free of  each other.”

And then there was Nicole. Mattias had thought he loved her, but he wasn’t sure. He had always felt that her mother was raising and ill-mannered and willful child, and was often very distressed at her actions. Marcus’s revelation of Nicole’s infidelity had really not surprised him, and he hadn’t blamed Marcus one bit for taking that step– He had seen how she treated Marcus. And though he could not resist her requests, he felt more a sense of obligation than one of love as he carried them out. The question of love for his daughter was far to complex to figure out.

But Grace was different. She seemed to always be happy wherever she was. He didn’t need to buy her things, or flatter her, or give her any special attention. But was that love? He couldn’t know for sure. He knew this– if it was love, it was the love of a father for his daughter, not the dark and passionate romantic love. Such feelings would crush her, he was sure. Her open innocence proved that such feelings were not a part of her experience.

He went into the kitchen. The soup bubbled in the hearth, as it always had, with the occasional turnip or carrot rising to the surface. The soup had always been something constant in his life. It was always there, providing a stable underpinning to his reality. Bettina had reluctantly maintained it, although she admitted that it’s complex flavor was not matched by anything prepared in a day or two. Nicole had refused to eat it, stating that it was too crude for her refined tastes. Mattias placed a piece of smoked ham into the soup pot and stirred it a couple of times.

Grace came bounding into the kitchen, her gossamer gown seeming to float as she glided into the room, crackling with energy. She always seemed to pass through the house as if a ghost, never disturbing anything or effecting anything except himself. He could not ever remember a time where he was this happy, for this long. As he looked out of the window, at the peaks that were shedding their mantle of snow, he knew it would have to come to an end soon.

* * * * *

As the weeks passed, no rescuers appeared. Mattias watched as the workmen passed his home on their way to the river bridge. He paid the woodcutter for his services. The woodcutter had provided him with enough wood for 4 years, and he had in turn provided the woodcutter with money for many sumptuous meals. Tongues would be wagging back in town, he knew for sure, at this most recent generosity. A tinker passed through– it seemed the town was no longer warning people away from his home, and later a traveling cobbler, but neither knew anything of the mysterious girl. And so she ran and slept and ate and smiled and continued living in Mattias’s guest room.

By the time midsummer had arrived, Mattias had come to believe that she would remain forever in his home. And so he made some changes in the way he lived. He hired a housekeeper to keep the place clean and fix meals. He went into town more often to buy things and socialize. It was still strange to see some of them smile as he passed by, but he was getting used to it.

One day, in mid July, he went into town to buy some meat and some wine, and when he returned, a horse was grazing on his front lawn. As he entered the manor, the housekeeper ran up to greet him. “Mista Dosza, a man is here to see you. Says you knows him. He’s in tha Kitchen.”

Mattias removed his cape and hat. “Thank you, Gerta. Here, would you put these away?”

Mattias entered the kitchen to see the gray peaked hat sitting on Keth’s head. “Keth!”

Keth turned to face Mattias. He was smiling. “Mattias, it is good to see you. A warm hearth is always welcome. And we have things we must discuss. But first, could I trouble you for a bowl of your soup? It has haunted my dreams since I left this place.”

“It would be my pleasure. Here, enjoy, and this time, I have bread and butter to offer you.”

Keth smiled. “My friend, it seems you are doing well. The manor is much more cheerful than when I was last here, and you seem to have shed ten years.”

“Well, I owe it all to you. You see, after your visit, I got the urge to go into town, and on my way back I rescued a young woman lost in the snow. She has made the manor a much more cheerful place, and also helped me get back my perspective. Grace! would you join us for a minute?”

Grace bounded into the kitchen, all aglow and a glitter, and then stopped when she saw Keth. She paused for a moment, and then ran over to him and hugged him deeply.

Mattias’s heart sank. Now she would go away with Keth, as she obviously knew him well.

Keth turned to Mattias. “Thank you my friend, for keeping her safe. I had feared her lost in the snow, as she was to have met me in Lupa, on the other side of the river. To know that she has been here, safe, is a blessing I cannot have hoped for. Mattias, you will always be one dear to my heart. You call her Grace?”

Mattias fought for composure. “Yes, on account of the way she moves. She seems to like the name.”

“Yes, she does. And now, I must give you some good news. Nicole is alive.”

A-alive? Where?”

“In the new world. She traveled there to enact revenge on Marcus, and is now in the service of  a noblewoman there. She sent this.”

Keth removed a letter from his pouch and handed it to Mattias. With hands shaking, he opened it’s seal.


I cannot say how much I have missed your face. I have been on a long journey, seen many things, and done things I have regretted. I have been in prison, in battle, and humiliated in court. But these are tales of another time.

Father, I miss you. I miss the house in Venice, I miss the manor in the country, where I hear you now reside, and I even miss your brutish soup. I have station here now, although not in a way that I ever imagined, and I also have peace. I guess that is the most important thing of all.

I will try to return to see you soon, as Marcus makes regular voyages back home, but I wanted to send this letter first. I have come to realize that I have treated you poorly, and that I owe you more than I can ever repay.

And Marcus- Marcus! the one I thought had damned me has been the one to save me. If he comes to see you, treat him well. He has great respect for you, and may have opportunities for you that could bring comfort to you for the remainder of your life.

Father I must go to mass, but I felt I had to write you before Marcus sailed again. Please remember that I love you, and that I miss you deeply. Be well, and try to forgive me for all I have done to you.

Love, Nicole.”

Mattias fought back the tears, but it was no use. He dropped the letter. As the tears started to flow, he felt Grace’s arms around him, hugging him as he cried. After many moments, his sobbing slowed and he was able to speak. “I forgive you, Nicole.”

* * * * *

Keth was sitting in the kitchen as Mattias returned. He had gone outside to get some air and clear his head. To hear back from Nicole was an answered prayer. To hear that she had gained maturity and humility was a miracle rivaling the parting of the Red Sea. He turned to Keth.

“My friend, you have brought my joy beyond imagining. And though I know that you will soon leave and take Grace with you, and that then the halls here will be a little bit darker, I still am happy to see you, and will do anything you desire.”

Keth smiled. “Three things. One, Another bowl of your wondrous soup. Second, A smile. You seemed incapable of them when I first visited. And third, If I may stay with you for a fortnight, we have things to discuss. I have managed to locate some opportunities, but transportation is a problem. If I could share in your expertise, it would in all likelihood make us both wealthy.”

Mattias smiled. “Of course. A debt I cannot repay so easily repaid is a thing of joy. And thank you.” Mattias got two bowls and ladled the soup into them. As he sat down to dine with his friend, grace came in. She smiled and sat down facing them. As they ate and talked, she smiled and watched them.



The time had been valuable, and it looked like Keth and Mattias had a partnership that would make them both very rich. Two weeks stretched out to three, then a month, and then it was time. Mattias spent the time he had alone adjusting to the fact that Grace would be leaving. Of course, Keth had stressed that he would be returning, and she with him. Also, some of Keth’s business was risky, and involved travel in war zones, so he would leave her with Mattias during those journeys.

Mattias and Keth were walking along the balcony above the great stair, preparing for the departure, when a strange thing happened. Keth turned, and whistled. Grace shot up the stairs, and crouched beside him, looking up at him with a pleased but attentive look, holding her hands close to her chest. It struck Mattias as odd, as it was unlikely behavior for either person. Keth looked at her, and said, “Let’s go. Get your coat .” Grace stood, and then dutifully retrieved her coat from the guest room. Keth met her at the door, and then everyone hugged their farewells. Mattias turned them, after a long group hug, and smiled. “I’ll miss you both. Come soon. The manor won’t be the same without you.”

Grace smiled. Keth also smiled. “Of course. I could not help but return to a place where the best soup in the Holy Roman Empire is served by my best friend in all the world.”

As Keth and Grace made their way down the path from the manor towards Inverna, Mattias felt a single tear run down his cheek. He turned to go inside, but then decided to go to the edge of a clearing and watch them leave.

As he approached, something didn’t look right. They had obviously moved rapidly. as Mattias searched the path leading up the path, he thought he saw them, but decided later that he was incorrect. Instead of two people, a man and a woman on horseback, the person on the path was a gray clad rider, looking much like Keth, and his dog, a beautiful dalmatian.