Claire had a bad night.
Emma was still asleep with her head sunk in between her arms when Claire went outside. The small toilet at the end of the corridor was occupied. Waiting, she paled at the door. After washing a little bit, she staggered back to her compartment. Her friend had just woken up and was stretching her arms.
"You look as white as a sheet," Emma said.
It immediately occurred to her.
"You haven't eaten since yesterday!"
"Emma, please. There's nothing wrong with me!"
Before she could continue, her friend hurried out. Claire closed her eyes. Angry at her, she mumbled incomprehensibly to herself.
If I say I'm fine, I'm fine. Why should I lie to myself?
Are you really, all right? You'd rather get more attention. You want Emma to take care of you more.
But she is your little doll with whom you can do anything. You see, she came back after you exposed her like that.
Because of Léonard. Not because of me. Actually, she hates me from the bottom of her heart.
Emma had the train conductor with her.
"How is your well-being, young lady? Take a sip of water."
Mechanically, she accepted the carafe and the glass. The cool water froze her throat. She felt it rush down from her mouth to her stomach.
"Thank you," she replied meekly.
"Train journeys are arduous. I'll bring you an apple. It will make you fit again.”
"When did you eat last? Yesterday at noon?" Emma wanted to know after the man with glasses and moustache had left.
Claire did not speak.
She strictly refused help. Her eyes followed the distance. Trees lived between hills, pines on the mountains, fields in the foreground. The former border was behind them.
The man brought her and Emma an apple. The silent nod remained in her conscience. He had done nothing to her. Why did she act so cold? The dream returned. The vacuum grew and sucked up everything inside her. Hollow and surrounded by indestructible rock, she resembled a statue. Why her of all people?
Emma failed to put her in a better mood. Claire desperately rummaged for something in her suitcase and delved into its emptiness. The fruit was on the little table by the window.
The train reached Pfalzburg main station at 8.30 a.m.
The train attendant paced along the corridors and informed the passengers of their arrival. Claire showed that she was not completely made of stone. Carefully, she grasped it and took a big bite out of the apple.
"May I know what's going on?"
Tentatively, Emma felt her way towards her. More pieces were bitten off.
"Léonard can tell right away that something is wrong with you."
Emma smiled contentedly. At last, she heard the usual monotone voice. Her naïve behaviour delighted Claire.
"At Léonard´s place, you will sleep first of all."
The passengers left the carriages. Claire fled from the compartment.
"What are his friends' names again?" Emma threw after her.
"Karoline and Stephan."
She could best avoid direct eye contact in the narrow hallway. Since she had lied to her friend, she had more sleepless nights ahead of her. She lied to her all the time about how she was feeling.
She almost caught her dress on the door when a selfless conductor came to her rescue.
Embarrassed, she thanked him.
Actually, you're not such a pessimist. You see the world from your point of view. It's the experiences you're missing. Maybe it's better to sleep a little.
The sun's rays had blinded them.
"Where will Léonard be? And those two? Karoline and Stephan?" mumbled Emma when she had caught up with Claire. She wasn't listening.
After waking up, the world looks different. It's like a game. You could have slept for an hour or a week and everything would have changed except you.
"I know,” Claire said aloud.
The bustle of activity did not allow her to think.
A wide variety of people waited and lingered, waded and wandered across the platform towards the entrance hall.
"Do you see Léonard anywhere?"
Emma was worried. At the same time, Claire liked how helpless she sounded. The schadenfreude greeted her with a guilty conscience.
"Let's go to the hall!”
It had an incredibly high ceiling. Small shops fought for the big turnover. There was movement everywhere, whether it was people or animals. The WA with their navy-blue leather coats and shako chased the guests accompanied by their shepherd dogs.
Claire didn't manage to count them all as they suddenly picked out random people they didn't like from the crowd and asked for the papers. Then the colourful window mosaic caught her attention.
The sun's rays glued the sounds to the people and the ground. The oversized picture showed a town on the left, connected by a vermilion bridge to the mountains. A bell tower rose among houses and trees. The colours, as they sparkled in the glow and shone brighter and darker, had the effect of a theatre play on Claire. It was fragile and intoxicating, a vulnerable yet comfortable something that carried her away. The enchanting play caused a change in her mind. The artist stood beside her in her mind and felt honoured. He truly must have been a magician, a dishevelled old man with snow-white hair. Claire was under the spell of the glass ornament.
Emma, meanwhile, had disappeared.
Admiring the window in the centre of the room, travellers stumbled and pushed past her bag. She was not sorry to be an obstacle. Some approached her, others ignored her with a scowl.
Only when approached by a brown-haired young man did she respond.
"Excuse me, are you Claire Silberlilie?"
She turned to him. A dull thud and both cried out a loud ouch at the same time.
"This only happens to you! Fool!"
A woman ran to them. She looked older than him.
"Forgive me, I don't know how this could have happened..." he apologised.
"I'm Claire." she introduced herself, her hands continuing to rest on her forehead.
"We have found you!" he cheered. ”My name is Stephan du Murnaux. She is my sister, Karoline."
"Where is your friend?" she asked kindly.
Claire looked around. She inspected the siblings from top to bottom.
Karoline had peanut-brown, long hair. It was pretty and well-groomed, complementing the narrow-oval face that hung on the long neck. The eyes remained subtle, mingling with the few freckles she had from her grandfather. She was of medium height, she appeared smaller as she was a little fuller.
Her younger brother, Stephan, on the other hand, had wispy brown hair. His freckles were a great garden on his circular, plump head. His gaze betrayed excitement and nervousness. He looked like an oversized child with protruding ears and a long neck. He had chubby limbs and a small burn on his right hand that reminded him of a lifetime spent playing with fire.
These are friends of Léonard?
"I don't know."
"Isn't she that?"
Emma came running to them.
"Claire where have you been? I was standing outside, and you were gone! I almost got stopped by one of the WA! “
"I'm here, all right," she grumbled.
"What's wrong?" Emma asked.
"I rammed her head," Stephan introduced himself, "I'm sorry for that..."
Dumbfounded, Emma gaped at the siblings. On tiptoe, she searched for Léonard while they introduced themselves one more time.
"Is Léonard waiting in the car?"
"I'm afraid he's indisposed," Karoline confessed tersely.
"He received a telegram. He won't be gone long, he promised."
Emma was disappointed. Karoline understood her longing and knew immediately that he had given her false illusions.
"Shall we get going? It's a short distance to Weymouth."
"I'll take the luggage," Stephan volunteered.
"I'll be fine," Claire said, clasping her hands tightly around the handle.
"She could do with something to eat."
"Emma, not now!"
"And sleep. You look better than before, but I can tell you're tired."
"It's a violet," she whispered.
"I think I hit your forehead," Stephan reported.
"Everything is prepared in our house," the eldest interrupted the discussion.
Together they left the station. Claire took one last look at the window before following the three of them with a queasy stomach.
The journey to Weymouth remained uneventful.
Claire's thoughts continued to circle around the mosaic. It had not been built for her; she knew that. But she felt very much addressed by it. It was something that attracted her. Just as bees were attracted to flowers by the smell of pollen, it was the same with Claire. She felt a deep connection that she couldn't back up, that seemed to make her feel uniquely level-headed. She would have loved to talk to everyone about it and share her cagey euphoria for the window. But she held back into smiling silence.
It took twenty minutes for Pfalzburg to hide behind the hills. The area was shaped by agriculture. Farmers and cattle frequented the many fields and pastures. Scattered barns and farms rose among the flat land. Behind them, trees emerged. With their lush green leaves and the brisk wind, the hills around this valley grew like a gigantic creature sleeping over the land, like turtles that had come to their stop. The rustling of the leaves could be heard from almost everywhere in the valley.
"You come from Sehlingen? Where is that?" Karoline inquired.
"Not far from Lödingen. My father comes from Sehlingen, my mother from Regenschloss. During the holidays I move in with my grandpa - dad died in the war. I am an illegitimate child."
Stephan was momentarily thrown off. Claire just wondered why Emma answered like that. Was it to spite Claire since she was the only one with a Sagauvelian passport?
"You don't hear that very often," he said in response.
"It's not so bad," smiled Emma, her cheeks flushed, "I see my mum and grandpa regularly."
“Well…” murmured Karoline.
"What about you, Claire?”
Stephan asked the question.
She listened and smiled. With meticulously chosen words, she answered the question within one sentence. Stephan continued to speak and bombarded her with enquiries. Hoping to end the conversation as quickly as possible, Claire did not succeed. Emma helped out by asking about Léonard and the journey became more centred again, leaving Claire to return to her mosaic.
The estate was already in sight when they drove past the playground. Stephan kept a watchful eye on the frolicking children on the street.
"Léonard is coming tomorrow, isn't he?" repeated Emma.
The automobile stopped. They got out and admired the dead-looking property.
"We don't know. He either calls us or Albert," Stephan explained.
"Albert Reck is our guardian. He is the headmaster of the big school where we drove by."
The large house was in partial shade. The interior was gloomy and cool. A chest of drawers made of pear wood was the only thing in the entrance area.
Claire felt as if this place had been abandoned for many years. Even through her ankle boots, she felt the cold of the floor.
"You have your guest rooms upstairs," Karoline enlightened the two, "I'll show you."
Claire eventually woke up on her own. She felt hungry and crept downstairs at a very slow pace when she suddenly heard a voice she didn't recognise. It had to be that Albert Reck the siblings had been talking about. With her stomach rumbling, she heard Emma laughing and Claire made her way back to her room. With frustrated thoughts, she lay down under the covers and asked herself why she hadn't just gone to the others.
The living room had a wooden-framed door with very thin glass. It shook with every breath of wind from outside. The historian Albert Reck was sitting in front of the old, period oak table. Parchments lay before him. It was one of the few rooms with some life. A mighty cupboard took up the entire wall and was filled with figurines, books, relics, empty picture frames and fine cutlery. After washing up, Karoline and Stephan came in and disturbed the candlelight with a breeze.
"Miss Silberlilie and Miss Malven have arrived," the historian reported liberated, "I hope they have settled in quickly."
"You could see Emma's disappointment because Léonard is not present," Karoline added to her guardian.
"Léonard will be back the day after tomorrow at the latest. He promised me."
"Really? Where did he disappear to?"
"He has his reasons for not talking about the trip," the old man sighed.
Stephan sat next to his sister and yawned. Too tired to talk much, he ignored the discussion. Curiosity had long since ceased to keep him awake.
"Does it have something to do with the nameless people?"
Albert Reck looked up. His old eyes seemed dull. Blurredly, he perceived his counterpart. He didn't have to think long before he understood how she knew.
"Did Léonard tell you more about it?"
"I overheard you. Four years ago. That conversation was probably the most exciting thing I've experienced in my life. Who are they?" she evaded.
"They are the reason why Léonard is travelling. That's all I can say. It's already late-"
"I may have seen one of those people," she interrupted, "One person was watching us yesterday. After the telegram arrived."
Albert Reck put the pages back into the mighty cupboard.
"It may be..." he reflected, "It may be that he has not become more experienced."
He turned to her.
"You know more than just that term, don't you? You want to know more."
"They call themselves Mönchsberg Abbey," she nodded distinguishably, "I heard Julius talking about it all the time as if it were... as if it were a woman he liked very much. So full of passion. “
Shivering with awe, he trembled. As a historian, he was no stranger to the abbey.
"You don't know the circumstances under which I met Léonard and Julius," he murmured, "Mönchsberg Abbey is full of cruel people. Leave them alone. I do not want you to put yourselves in danger. The two were young and did not believe in miracles or fairy tales. Death brought them back to reality. Whoever messes with the abbey will regret it."
"About Julius' sister…" Karoline was startled.
"The murder was just another proof. The victims are the ignorant ones."
She was on the verge of tears.
"That means... they put her at risk? Did they know it from the start? “
Reck stood next to the table. How he wished he weren’t here.
"He suffers a lot since her death. It was through her death that Julius came to understand Léonard better."
"And yet he is so stupid as to stay with him? He sacrifices..."
"Julius knows more about him than we do. He's the only one Léonard has to make him see reason."
"What has Kapellengarten got to do with it? Isn't it a coincidence that he, of all people, received an invitation? And now he's throwing Claire and Emma into the pot?” Karoline said in shock. "Surely he doesn't want to sacrifice them too?"
"No. Certainly not," lied the historian, "I could tell you more if I knew what is going on in his head.”
"Those two know nothing! Why did they accept Léonard's offer?" Stephan interfered.
"Léonard beguiled her."
"What? That's impossible!” her brother interjected.
"Karoline is right. He put wrong things in their heads."
A pause arose. The old man began to get nervous. The candles flickered back and forth. Outside, darkness was at home. Dimly he recognised the beech trees in the garden, blowing about in the wind. In the distance, lights stared at him like menacing eyes.
"Léonard is sure of himself," she said worriedly.
Her guardian smiled at her sheepishly.
"After Kapellengarten he will have to tell us all the truth," Stephan interjected.
Albert Reck stepped to the door.
"There's nothing else you want to talk about, is there?"
"Yes... no, it's all right," Karoline returned sheepishly.
"Please remember to extinguish the candles when you go to sleep. Pleasant rest."
He moved into his bedroom.
Claire had been lucky not to have been caught when Albert stepped out of the salon. She had been lurking on the steps and so could hear everything. Actually, she was on her way to the bathroom. Now she had heard what she wanted to hear. She had confirmation that Léonard intended more than a little celebration with his invitation. Had they now been so stupid as to trust a stranger?