We stopped for lunch at midday. Peregrine and I were originally planning on basic travel rations, but Caterina insisted on cooking. Three hours and one ten course meal later, we were back on the road. The meal was delicious, but it put us so off schedule that we didn’t arrive at the inn until late that evening. We checked in, but the kitchen had been closed except for the soup pot kept for late travelers. It all evened out in the end, since the lunch had kept us stuffed all day. We decided to unpack, then have some ale and soup before bed.
I had more to unload than the others. When out on assignment, I always bring a full accompaniment of magical paraphernalia. Never knew what you might need, especially on the road. This, of course, brought my traveling companions in search of me when they got bored waiting.
“What’s this?” Caterina asked, pulling out a familiar looking bottle and lifting the cap off. She blinked and her face turned green from the smell. I grimaced.
“That is a beard growing potion Uncle Alvar gave me.” I said, not thinking. I took the bottle away and stowed it back into the bottom of my bag. “He probably slipped it in before I left.”
Peregrine chuckled. “What’s the matter, can’t you grow whiskers fast enough for the old man?”
I grinned, keeping my eyes focused down at my bag. “You could say that.”
“But I like you without a beard. It’s nice not to get scratched.” Caterina declared, hugging me and rubbing her cheek against mine.
“You’re young. It’ll come when you’re ready.” Peregrine reassured me. Then he leaned in close to examine my face. “In fact…” he reached out and made a plucking motion from my chin. “Ah ha. Got it.” He held up the imaginary whisker for my review before tossing it on the floor. “Don’t want you leaving us too soon.” Peregrine strode from the room, amused and ready for ale. Caterina followed declaring how she didn’t want me to go anywhere. I did a quick check in the mirror before joining them. Just in case.
Note to me: Remember not to leave my food unattended with Uncle Alvar around.
By lunch the next day, we had searched the entire town and talked to over half the people there. All with same answer. No woman matching Luella’s description had come through town. Her entourage, a sizable escort, was nowhere to be seen. The best we could glean is that a group matching their description came, stayed a few weeks and then left about three days ago. They didn’t have the woman we described with them.
“Nothing.” I said both discouraged and pleased at the same time. While I would have liked to delay going home as long as possible, I would hate not to complete my task. “Nobody’s seen anybody of her description anywhere.”
“The only thing they were interested in talking about was a rumor about monsters that live in some nearby caves.” Peregrine reported grimly. “I was asked by several citizens to go and solve the problem.”
I had heard a similar rumor, but nobody had asked me to do anything. I guess they had a small opinion of apprentice wizards in this town. Going to have to do something about that.
“The grocer said that the monsters had been destroying all the orchard crops for miles around.” Caterina said, her voice laced with concern. “They’ve had to start importing produce from Westeria.”
“Really?” I asked as the innkeeper’s wife placed another round of ale on the table.
“The Rainbow Caves.” The young goodwife confirmed sounding sad. Innkeeper wives are known for being snoops. “I heard that a girl had even been taken by one of them. It just flew in and plucked her away.”
“A girl?” I asked. “What girl?”
“I don’t know.” She responded. “I think she was from another town. Hervan said he saw it flying over his fields from the North Road last week. It was a big blue creature with wings carrying a brown haired girl.” Luella was to come into Nekross by the North Road. I looked at Peregrine.
“Right,” I said to him. “Tomorrow we’re going to the Rainbow Caves.”