Isla, January 27th, 2018
The scent of lavender bit her nose, irritating more than it calmed her. Still, she fought to keep her breath steady, guiding big gulps of the flowery scented air into her lungs, convincing herself that this situation was not at all out of the ordinary. She was not hyperventilating in her seat; she was not digging her fingernails into the skin of her palms; and she was most certainly not imagining herself and a dozen burning airplane pieces sailing to the ground. This was no different to all the other flights she had taken throughout her life. If anything, it was much shorter than the half day she spent travelling every summer when she visited her family in South Africa – so surely, she would be fine. And she was. For the first time, she felt almost calm flying through the air, her hand clasped tightly in the big palm of the single most important person in her life. She was ready for this new adventure and overjoyed to have her brother with her. In fact, Isla had almost been more excited about sharing everything with Oliver himself than about the final prize that had waited in Mozart’s old piano. The last envelope had looked small and ordinary, no more than the standard white versions you would find a birthday card in. That night, however, Finn and Isla had used it to finish a paper chase through Salzburg, to complete a puzzle they had been working on for days. Now, this last discovery lay back over a month and Isla was not only reunited with her brother, but seated in a plane once again. A stewardess’ face had just appeared in front of hers, tapping her shoulder slightly to make her aware of the sinking plane: “Miss, we are landing shortly at Vienna International Airport, could I bother you to stow away the tray table? Thank you!”, Isla blinked at her – once, twice – comprehension sinking in slowly. She was almost there, almost able to cross of one of the highest standing items on her bucket list.
“Excited?”, she could hear the sparkle in Oliver’s eyes and grin on his face without having to look at her big brother. He had done well – and he knew it.
“Unspeakably”, she answered, having to grab his hand more tightly as the plane descended through a wall of clouds: “Thank you so, so much!”
“It was my pleasure, but if you would really like to show me some gratitude, I would appreciated it if I could still use my hand after this flight”, he laughed.
No more than half an hour later, Isla and Oliver where greeted at the arrival area by Finn and his grandfather. After both of them had heard what Isla’s final prize would be, Franz had pulled some strings with his contacts in Vienna and had secured one last minute ticket so Finn would be able to finish the paper chase he had become a part of all those days ago, when he had first plugged the envelope from an ivy heart in Salzburg – and Isla wouldn’t want to have it any other way. As a true Mozart fan Finn had been almost as excited as she had been herself and yet the prize they had found in the House for Mozart had been the absolute highlight for him, whereas Isla had fallen for the last one. She could still remember the light in his eyes, when he had first seen the small, bound book; the way he had talked to his grandfather in excited German and how he had finally turned to her to explain what this book – the first part of her final prize – was: “This is my Mozart story”, he had said over and over again: “Well, I thought it was a story my family had made up over the years – I never knew it even existed in other languages and cultures, but this is so cool!”, Isla had laughed then, asking him to tell her the story, once they had found the other clues and he had. Only then and in conjunction with the other prizes, did the story make sense to her, for Oliver had hidden the program leaflet and a ticket to see the Magic Flute on Mozart’s birthday in the Vienna State Opera House in the other two envelopes respectively.
“Listen, I did some research since you left, talking to some professors and historians in Salzburg and at the University of Vienna and they all said the same thing: apparently we can really, historically draw a line between the Mozart story and the Magic Flute. I mean, I don’t know in how far a Garden of Stars really existed – most Professors reckon he was just drunk – but there was a time in Mozart’s life where he disappeared almost completely, only to return with the Magic Flute fully written”, Finn told her the second he had introduced himself to her brother and had wrapped her up in a big hug. He had thanked Oliver almost as any times as Isla had done herself, telling him how much fun he had had helping her solve the riddles and how the revelation of the Mozart story had changed his life. As a history student at the University of Salzburg, he had pitched the topic as his master thesis and had already set up a couple of expert interviews with further historians and professors, while he was here in Vienna.
“Come on, let me show you the capital”, he smiled, taking Isla’s suitcase and leading them out of the Arrival Hall and – after a thirty minute drive – into the city of Vienna. Franz, whose extensive knowledge wasn’t limited to Salzburg alone, made an excellent tour guide and showed them everything from the St. Stephan’s Cathedral, to the Austrian Parliament and the City Hall and all the way out to Schönbrunn Castle. He even accompanied them to the doors of the opera house in the evening, cramming in some last minute information about the opera they were about to see, before leaving Isla, Oliver and Finn to enjoy a magical evening in a setting worthy of hosting the final prize in a paper chase through Austria. Little did he know that his grandson and his friends were heading into a fairytale of their own and would soon be facing challenges more demanding and gruelling than anything Oliver could have made up in his clues.