Seven forty found Professor Hill,
dust free and sparkling in one of the few decent dresses (with real matching shoes) that she owned making her way down the long and gracefully curving staircase into the main hall of the Schloss.
She turned towards where she knew the double doors to the dining room to be and was rather surprised to find a whole gaggle of grey and black suited men and women,
all looking very business-like and, as one, all now looking towards her with growing interest.
Bodil set her face into steely eyed determination and moved purposely towards them... kind of like a bowling ball heading towards the pins.
A movement to her left and what could only be described as a 'significant' cough distracted her. Gregor was standing by an open door.
He held out an arm, silently indicating that she should be heading in this general direction rather than her current course.
Without missing a beat Bodil veered away from the wall of gentlemen's outfitting and, head held high, glided towards and then through the open doorway.
Inside, Bodil, from the decoration and smattering of instruments, guessed she was in the music room.
A piano and a couple of sofas had been moved to one side and in their place was a round dining table set for two. Opposite the vacant chair was Ellie in a clean white shirt and sunglasses.
She was reading something in a pink card folder, although how she was managing it through the almost opaque sunglasses Bodil couldn't fathom.
For a moment she thought it was perhaps a menu but there was only the one and it didn't have that 'menuish' look to it. It had more of a 'officialish' appearance.
Bodil slipped into the vacant seat and waited for Ellie to finish reading the whatever it was... household accounts... hopefully. She only had to wait a very few seconds.
Ellie made the folder disappear somewhere below the edge of the table and smiled at Bodil.
"I thought this would be more cosy." She nodded towards the door that Gregor had now softly closed. "In there is full of politics and planning and other stuffed-shirtery."
"But I understood I was having dinner with Miss Troy."
Bodil got the distinct impression that the sunglasses were hiding an expression of surprise. The accompanying pause certainly pointed that way too. Bodil attempted to clarify her words.
"The girl at the museum said as much?"
Understanding dawned on Ellie's eyebrows.
"Ahh. I see. Yes. Um well um... She couldn't make it. Alicia couldn't make it... The politics and... things."
It was lame. And Bodil could see that Ellie knew it was lame. Ellie sat there rubbing her forefinger up and down the pad of her thumb. Clearly discomforted.
As Bodil watched, mental gears began to move. Something... she wasn't sure what but ...something. Something about dancing.
Discomforted or not, Ellie recovered quickly.
"Well, anyway Professor. Much better in here than in there, even if you have to put up with little old me rather than Alicia. Would you like a drink?"
"I'm sorry? What? Oh, ehm yes, please. Wine would be.... Er, what are we...?"
"Oh, I'm sorry. Yes of course. We're having the same as the posh people so it's venison if that's ok with you. With all the trimmings.
Of course, it's not really posh because the park is full of them. Deer I mean and cows oh and there's pigs too but they really smell so they're not actually here, here. If you know what I mean.
Oh, and if you're a vegetarian then there this rather nice nutty thing that looks like a brick but is really rather... um... nice."
"Well, erm. Venison is fine so I guess we'll be having the red then."
Ellie rang a little glass bell and a liveried waiter entered quietly and took Ellie's whispered instruction down on a tiny notepad.
There followed a few seconds of awkward silence and then the waiter came back and filled Bodil's glass with a deep red wine.
He then produced a small bottle from nowhere and expertly poured a glass of frothy beer which he put down next to Ellie before disappearing, again with hardly a sound.
Ellie lifted her glass and quaffed, almost wiping the froth off on her sleeve before suddenly remembering the napkin. Bodil watched, amused and bemused in equal measure.
"So," Ellie said. "How's the research going?"
Bodil continued to look at Ellie for another couple of seconds. Somewhere in her unconscious mind, another gear tooth meshed. Beer.
Then the conscious side of her mind kicked in loudly and Bodil snapped back to attention.
The professor told of how she had narrowed down her research. Of how the dust was playing merry hell with her sinuses. How good the conservators were at their job. And Ellie listened avidly.
Then the food arrived and the conversation stopped while they both sat back and let the professional food movers pile their plates up. Just as the roasted potatoes were going on Bodil looked up.
"Oh yes. Who was Miss Brown?"
Waiters are very good at not hearing anything. They just carry on doing what they do even though you and your companions might be talking in great detail about the most intimate things.
Waiters are the magical pixies that make your food appear. They are a smile on legs, but they have no ears.
Even so, Ellie waited until they had left before responding.
"You've found Miss Brown already? Well done you." The smile this time was fixed, the sunglasses revealed nothing. Her composure had returned.
Ellie picked up her knife and fork and set about slicing up the venison steak, giving the task her full attention.
Professor Hill watched her for a few moments from across the table. Then she too turned her attention to the food on her plate.
Some seconds later she was actually in the process of transferring a forked piece of the succulent meat to her mouth when Ellie chose that moment to reply.
"Miss Brown is..."
Bodil lowered the fork and looked across the table to her host. Ellie held her own fork in her right hand, the knife left on the plate.
She looked at a point above the professor's head while she seemed to arrange her thoughts. Bodil waited. Ellie's empty fork described slow circles in the air.
"... Miss Brown is, a thread that runs through the stories of so many people." Unseen behind the blackness of the sunglasses, Ellie's eyes lowered until she was looking into Bodil's own.
"My advice to you, Professor, would be to not chase that particular thread. It twines in and out of the tapestry and is easily mistaken.
Instead, concentrate on those whose lives she touched and then Miss Brown's thread will make itself plain."
Ellie returned her attention to her own plate.
Bodil thought for a moment, frowning. She leaned forward.
"Then who...? Joe Spivey is the only other name I've found so far.
Ellie transferred her fork to her mouth and chewed half a dozen times before swallowing and then nodding.
"Yes. Joe is probably the single best person to start with." She made herself busy re-loading her fork.
Across the table, Bodil chewed thoughtfully.
"What about Lost Bride? I made a call to..."
"Yes, I know..."
"You know?" Bodil's eyebrows were raised, but not in surprise. There was a hardness in the stare she levelled on Ellie.
Ellie took a swig of beer and swilled it around in her mouth before swallowing. As an afterthought, she dabbed her lips on a napkin.
She replaced the napkin, smiling at the Professor's indignation.
"Sure. You, erm, might have noticed." Ellie waved her fork at the door. "We have a lot of guests just now. All 'powerful people', or so they tell me.
So yes, all transmissions in the area are monitored for security."
Almost reluctantly Professor Hill's expression softened, then turned into a look of puzzlement.
"Why ARE they here...? If you don't mind me asking?"
Ellie's grin turned into an enigmatic smile.
"Oh, just some political mumbo jumbo. It's part of why Alicia invited you here. You'll find out tomorrow." She took a long swallow of her beer.
Immediately, a hundred questions filled Bodil's mind but the 'You'll find out tomorrow.' Suggested that answers would not be forthcoming.
"Anyway." Ellie was saying. "You and your Lost Bride thing reminded me. From tonight there will be one of the house security people keeping an eye on you."
This time, Bodil's reaction was one hundred percent, pure, unadulterated surprise.
Ellie put her fork down next to her knife and pushed the plate away. She shifted on her seat, leaning forward so that she could fold her arms on top of the white linen table cloth.
"Seven hundred odd years ago, in one small part of the north American continent humanity was holding on by the skin of its teeth... and it was losing."
Bodil leaned back into her chair. Was this young woman trying to give her a lesson in her own field of expertise? A wry smile lifted one corner of her mouth.
"You don't say?"
Ellie smiled back.
"Professor, I'm not trying to... what is it?" She clicked her fingers, looking for inspiration. "The egg thing..."
"That's the one. I'm not trying to teach you to suck eggs. Just bear with me... please?"
Bodil reached out and took her glass. She raised it towards Ellie like a salute.
"The reason," Ellie continued. "Was the never-ending conflict between the six warring factions."