Isla, December 6th, 2017

For a couple of moments they just stood there, her looking at him and him, in turn, looking down on the piece of paper in his hand. Every now and again, Isla could swear she heard him giggle, as his eyes kept moving over the lines Oliver had created. Then – much sooner than she had expected – he looked up again and handed back her clue: “Your brother is a funny man”, he said, walking over to a nearby park bank and sitting down. Isla waited a second longer until she joined him, looking out over the river she had crossed in order to find the ivy heart. After she had found the envelope sticking to her suitcase in the airport, she had decided to find the AirBnB first. She had wanted to drop off her luggage and rest for a moment – a moment that had swiftly turned into an entire night of uninterrupted sleep – before heading out again. Hours later, she had found the sun slowly rising over a suddenly snowy Salzburg and had decided to solve the clue over breakfast. From there it hadn’t taken long for her to find the Mozartsteg and was pleased to see the distinct heart shape right in front of her, as Oliver had promised. By far the hardest part had been to reach the envelope itself and – thanks to Finn – she had managed even that. Now, she was keen on knowing if he could help her with the clue’s content as well.

“As I see it, there is good news and bad news”, he started, clearly enjoying keeping her at the edge of her seat: “The good news is that I think I know what he is going on about, even though it was kind of schwer to figure out”, Finn laughed, using the foreign word from the poem. Isla still didn’t know what it meant, but she was too excited to ask him now. Instead, she looked at him expectantly, willing him to tell her what the clue was all about: “The bad news is that I am not going to tell you”, he shrugged, leaning back on the bank. Isla starred at him. Was he for real? Why had he offered to help her in the first place, if he had never actually planned on going through with it? She was about to pocket the clue and jump up from where they were sitting, when his posture changed and he started speaking once again: “I mean, your brother organized this whole thing for you, I don’t think he would appreciate me telling you all the answers. But, if you want, I can help you solve the clues ‘by yourself’”, he suggested, appeasing her enough to stay seated, contemplating his idea.

“But, how exactly are you planning on doing that?”, there was now a slight edge to her voice, the stuttering and shyness from before all but forgotten. She wasn’t exactly mad about the way he had phrased his answer, but something in her still felt odd about having brought a stranger in on her quest. How was he going to make her solve the clue ‘by herself’ – she had noticed the air quotes he had made, when he had said it – when she didn’t even know where to start looking?

“Maybe you could tell me what you think the clue means”, Finn suggested, once again leaning back on the bank, looking out on the Salzach. They were still fairly close to the ivy heart that had held the envelope only a couple of minutes before. Isla let her eyes sink down onto the words once again, reading the lines extra carefully, trying not to miss a single thing.

“First he is talking about how there are not going to be too many more clues, which is why he is making them harder now”, she started: “That’s the simple part. But then he wants me to find some kind of sweet, of which many different versions exist?”, towards the end her voice had risen in tone, laying her uncertainty out for Finn to see: “And what does ‘sehr schwer’ mean?”, she added, almost as an afterthought, having trouble to pronounce the words correctly.

“Directly translated it means ‘very difficult’. So, yes, you were right in thinking that the clues would be getting harder from here on out”, he explained, before breaking into another one of his trademark grins. Isla nodded. She couldn’t believe that Oliver had managed to rhyme in German as well as in English. Hack, she hadn’t even known he spoke any German at all. But then, Oliver had always been good for a surprise – this entire paper chase being a clear case in point.

“Okay, so right behind us, we have the Salzburger Christkindlmarkt – our Christmas market – and I am sure we are going to find something that can help with your quest. Shall we?”, Finn had spoken again, indicating the general direction of the market with a sweeping gesture. Again, Isla nodded, following soundlessly. She still wasn’t over the fact that Oliver had started rhyming multilingual now. Wasn’t he supposed to be busy studying marine biology in South Africa, instead of chasing her around Europe? It was not the first time Isla felt awed thinking about her big brother’s many accomplishments. This time, however, she found she didn’t have much time to dwell on it, for she was greeted by an almost magical view, as the square opened up in front of her. She simply didn’t know where to look first. There was an ice skating rink closer to her, with a statue overlooking the colourful spectacle. Closer still, she saw a little hut, with guests circled around fire pits or seated in enormous outdoor sofas, chatting and drinking from paper cups. Finn led her past this stall, towards what looked like an entire village of decorated houses. It was beautiful and unlike anything she had ever experienced in her entire life, even though she had been to plenty of Christmas markets in the UK and even in South Africa. This place, however, was more magical than all of those combined, sparkling in golden tones against the grey sky. There were people everywhere, eating and drinking delicious smelling treats and vendors selling everything from Christmas ornaments to soaps or wooden toys.

“What exactly am I looking for?”, Isla asked, as she forced her eyes away from a display of adorable stuffed animals. She had to remember to bring one home for her little sister as a Christmas present.

“We have already established that we are looking for a sweet treat, which Salzburg is pretty famous for, right? So, I suggest we just walk around for a while and you can look and see if you find something that fits? In the meantime, Punsch?”, he grinned at her again and to Isla’s surprise she found herself grinning right back at him. It was amazing how much fun he seemed to have on her little quest, which made it even more exciting to Isla herself. And, who knew, maybe finding her a new friend had been part of Oliver’s grand plan from the start: “Sounds great!”

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