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Author's Chapter Notes:


It took a long time – and a lot of glaring from John, who certainly resented his place as Poppy's knight in shining armour being taken – to reassure her that Auntie Hilda would be fine, they would just need to find her, and with everyone looking so hard it wouldn't take that long. In the end, she was convinced that everything would be just fine with a promise that, come the morning, if they still hadn't found her, Poppy could join the search party and help them look. In the meantime, Charles declared, having finished his meal, the rest of them had better sort out what was happening.

“You'd better go back to Freudesheim with the younger children and get them to bed,” he said, turning directly to his wife. When she looked like protesting, he added fondly, “I don't want you out climbing mountains in the dark in your condition, you'll be busy enough soon, and someone has to stay at Freudesheim all the time in case she turns up; and what else do you propose to do with the kids.”

“I thought that we weren't going to mention that,” replied Charlie mildly, over the sound of Millie in great disgust declaring,

“Dad! You're getting as bad as Nana used to be.”

“What's wrong?” asked Ashley quickly, trying to hide her uncertainty.

“Mum's pregnant again,” said Millie, with all the composure of someone not dropping a very personal bombshell in the middle of someone else's house and at a very inappropriate moment. Whatever else she'd inherited from her father, she'd certainly got the ability to handle intrigue and scandal in a fitting manner. “Grief only knows why or when it's due, but none of that helps us find Hilda at this moment. I'm sure she'll tell you all about it at the house.” And, having successfully rendered her mother silent, for once in her life, she turned to Charles with a simple, “I'll pair up with you, and we can go upwards and see what we find.”

“We'll go together,” said David, taking in Augusta with a glance. There was a sigh of relief unspoken around the table; any adventures that the pair might bring on themselves, they could at least keep out of the main search if they were alone together.

“I'll go out along the Platz with John,” added Sphinx, thinking vaguely that it might be good for the pair to have some time alone together, so he could reassure John that he never intended to be a rival in Poppy's affections and try and at least limit the damage between them. That left Phoebe and Amy, who looked at each other and shrugged.

Once that was sorted, those of the adults going out to search went to change into outdoor clothes, each of them detailing the exact route that they would take so that should they need help they could be found easily enough. It was agreed that the rest would spend the night at Freudesheim – there were, after all, ample bedrooms for them – and though Constance Rose and Will moaned long and loud about not being included, they were told quite firmly that they weren't old enough, and that they would all be going out in the morning anyway. It was agreed that the adults would be back by midnight, as this gave them a clear three hours still to search and still meant that they could be up early enough the next morning to start again.

Charlie was as annoyed as her son at being left out of all the excitement, especially as not long ago Charles wouldn't have dared to go without her, but she could see how worried he was, and so she merely kissed him softly, promised revenge for letting out her news in so sudden a whirlwind, and then stepped back and watched them walk away, Charles leading them with his eldest daughter on his arm. Her heart swelled with pride, but all that showed was a small twinkle in her eyes as she marshalled the rest of the children into some sort of order and started to walk them back to Freudesheim.

Meanwhile, David and Augusta were going the opposite way to the rest, and so they were the first to peel away from the main group. Phoebe and Amy left them next, and then Charles and Millie saw the path upwards that they were to take, and bid farewell to the two boys. These were the unlikeliest of companions, and at first they wandered along in silence, not wholly sure what they were supposed to be searching for anyway in the dark but going along with the general move for the sake of peace.

“Poppy's a good kid,” said Sphinx at last, breaking the silence. The echoes seemed to reverberate through the valley, shattering the calm of the surrounding peaks, the whole world open before them and the heavens sparkling above. “And it's clear she thinks the world of you.”

“Sometimes,” grunted John, begrudging his 'enemy' the chance to wax so lyrical. There was plenty that he wanted to say, but he could hardly launch into a tirade without looking annoyingly jealous and possessive. Instead he contented himself with a sudden cry, bounding forwards and grasping something from the branch of a tree they were passing. “Look, it's Hilda's jacket!”

Sphinx was saved from answering by the sudden heavy weight that crashed into him from behind at that moment, knocking him to the ground and pinning his arms behind him, so that he was effectively trapped.

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