The next morning, I informed Peregrine and Caterina that we would be leaving down the North Road as planned.
“Why?” asked Caterina.
“Because we are looking for Luella.” I told my companions, holding up the false image of Luella. “We haven’t found her yet.”
“Yes we have. She married the innkeeper here.” Caterina protested.
“No,” I corrected. “We found Luella, the innkeeper’s wife. Not the woman in this portrait. WE were sent to find the Luella in this portrait.”
“Ah, I see.” Peregrine grinned wickedly.
“I don’t get it.” Caterina said blankly.
I promised to explain it on the road. Right before we left, Luella asked if we could return the little girl home to the next village down the road. Since we were going that way, it would be most kind. It was only a few hours ride and Caterina said she would look after the waif. We agreed.
The child’s parents were quite happy to have her back, and fed us a huge lunch. On parting, I decided to give them a brief lecture on the importance of children knowing where they live in case they got lost and needed help. I wound down in time for dinner and we decided to put up at the inn. The rest of the trip went leisurely and uneventful. We followed the North Road all the way to Maprolous, stopping at all the major villages along the way, making enquiries and seeing the sights. It was like being on vacation. At Maprolous we questioned the guards about Luella of the portrait. Nobody knew anything about her. This wasn’t their Luella. They had no idea who the woman in the portrait was. We returned home to deliver Kovar his news.
“I am sorry, Lord Kovar.” I told him. “But nobody, from here to Maprolous, has seen your Luella. Not even the guards and citizens of her own city.”
“WHAT?” Kovar demanded, outraged.
“It appears that the lady in this portrait does not exist.” I informed him calmly. “I would contact Lady Josephine and demand an explanation if I were you. It looks like she sent a nonexistent bride.”
Kovar stormed off to write to Josephine, probably to demand back the bridal money he sent. I returned to Sandar’s tower. Uncle Alvar had not left yet. Or he had returned which was not much different, the point being that he was still hanging around, waiting for me.
“Welcome back, boy.” He greeted me, handing me a wine goblet. It reeked. “Let us drink a toast to your return.”
I tossed the drink out the nearest window.
“Let’s not and say we did.”