At a quarter past nine, Rob drove Aoife, Daniel, Delia, Blaise and gallant Apollo out to the traditional chalet on the alms, the Alpengasthaus Falzthurn, and they watched the car vanish into the pine woods a mile or so back towards the green Feilkopf, which is a baby mountain by sunlight, and an vastly impressive giant when its nearby larger relations are shrouded in fog.
Then they set out along the beaten path, complete with the hiking boots bought for a brief visit to the English Lake District last year. Aoife, recalling that particular jaunt, was thinking how big were the awesome Alps compared with their puny English efforts. And how beautiful were they! She resolved to buy paints and canvas the next time she went shopping. She had come to realise that painting was, to her, a necessity – and art, to its artist, is a call that must be satisfied, or it contorts into a tornado of raging insanity. Aoife knew she could not survive if she were deprived of her art till September – the hunger, even after a mere number of hours, was as intense as the black pit of a deep stone well.
“They’re marvellous,” Delia piped up, the words sounding silly in the childish clarity of her small voice. Obviously she had been thinking along the same lines as her cousin.
“Yes. Look at the Sonnjoch now, Dee. Isn’t it huge?”
Indeed it was. A grey cloud had just loomed up behind the great leaning triangle, and now, with its middle strip invisible, and the grey pointy top emerging from the thick mist, it was remarkably striking.
“It’s quite scary,” Blaise said, following their eyes. “I wouldn’t like to be alone after dark with that thing to look at.”
“If it was dark, I doubt that you’d be able to see it,” Daniel said, breaking her imaginative dream. Daniel had a habit of ruining Blaise’s thoughts with his unquestionable logic.
“What if it was lit up by a massive searchlight?” Blaise rejoined.
“Whatever,” Daniel replied.
“The classic teenager comeback,” Aoife said.
“You’re a teenager yourself,” Daniel retorted, unperturbed as usual.
Aoife opened her mouth to respond, and grinned suddenly. “You win,” she said simply.
They walked for an hour, not seeming to get any closer to the mighty Sonnjoch. Rather, they had passed it, and were now walking away from it. Aoife insisted on taking the path, though, for a reason Blaise could not possibly understand, to quote Daniel – of course, the youngest sister was an adventurer at heart, and felt a longing to lose herself in the wilderness of the pines on the mountain slopes.
When they reached the Gasthaus halfway to the foot of the mountain, they were hot, tired and hungry. These things were eliminated by simple means of a cold drink and rest at the Gasthaus, with a saucer of rich cream for Apollo, and then they set off again, following the path, feet aching from the unwise rest, but resolve refurbished with a new vigour.
Soon there was a fork, and a yellow signpost. One yellow arrow pointed towards the Sonnjoch again, and it read, ‘Sonnjoch, 8h.’ There was depicted a solid black circle.
“Eight hours!” repeated Blaise, disappointment filling her voice. “But it’s just there! We’re practically underneath it, although it looks weirdly further away than it seemed back at the Alpengasthaus.”
“Don’t be an idiot,” Daniel said bracingly. “It means eight hours to the top of it.”
“I can’t see a path. How do you know you can actually get to the top of it?”
“Of course you can, little child.”
“Don’t call me ‘little child’!”
“What am I meant to call you? Aren’t you a child?”
“Daniel’s probably right,” Aoife intervened. “But I think we won’t go any further now. We have to get back so we can eat, and I don’t know about you, but I could do with some Kaiserschmarr’n, if I’m allowed any.”
“What’s that?” Delia asked quietly before Blaise could chip in. Perhaps she, like her cousin, was wearied by Blaise’s enthusiastic arguing talents and love for a good debate. Weak herself in that area, it tired her to think that another could be so energetic and adept in the art of eloquent manipulation and spontaneous persuasion.
“Delicious Austrian pancakes sprinkled with icing sugar. It’s the most delectable thing you could possibly eat.”
“Sounds good,” Daniel commented, patting his belly with unconscious instinct – and genius comedy.
“Sickly, more like,” Blaise said, wrinkling up her nose.
“No, really, Blaise; you’ll love it,” Aoife said. “Right, let’s go a bit further, and then turn back.”
“What did the black dot on the signpost thing mean?” Blaise inquired.
“That means it’s one of the most difficult paths – and dangerous, too, I should think.” Aoife glanced up at the looming shape of the mountain above. “Blue means moderate, and red is easy.” She frowned as Apollo began to strain on the lead, begging to be led back to the Gasthaus. And what had she just seen in the corner of her vision, but ignored quite easily in her fascination for the mighty mountain?
She looked up again, just to ascertain that she was not going mad, and let out a short hoarse gasp.