Fortunately, Peregrine wasn’t too hung over the next morning and we started our journey on time. Nekross only about a day’s ride from Westeria. If we didn’t delay too much, we’d arrive before nightfall and get to see a sight or two before starting a formal search in the morning. Peregrine sat tall on his roan charger, while I commanded my smaller, white Arabian. Stupid Wizard rule number five: Wizards can ONLY ride pure white or black horses. Someday I intended to find out exactly who made all these rules, why and how they got the Emperor to pass them. They seemed to be geared more toward fashion then wizarding.
“You are so lucky, Dorian.” Peregrine mused as we plodded along the dirt road.
“Why is that?” I asked absently, admiring the scenery before me. Peregrine slowed his charger so it road abreast with mine, ruining my view.
“The way Caterina dotes on you.” He said. “The most beautiful girl in the village thinks the sun rises and sets because you tell it to. Why in the world do you keep turning her away?”
“She isn’t my type.” I replied vaguely.
“What?” Peregrine was scandalized. “Pretty face, gorgeous blue eyes, a great figure, giant… heart. She’s got everything, what more do you want?”
Well-sculpted pecs, a nice tight butt…
“A brain constructed of something other then cotton candy.” I responded.
“I think you’re being too picky.” Peregrine scolded. I was about to tell him what he could go pick, when a female voice called to us from far behind. We both stopped and turned.
“Dorian, wait for me!” Caterina’s voice shrilled in the distance. She came bouncing toward us on her small pony, laden down with luggage.
“What are you doing here?” I demanded, when she finally caught up.
“I’m coming with you.” The girl announced. “You need somebody to look after you while you’re on the road.”
“Caterina,” I began, begging the gods to give me patience. “You cannot come with us. There may be kidnappers involved. It could be dangerous and you’ll get in the way.”
“But, I want to help.” She pleaded. “Please. I can stay out of the way at the inn. And if somebody gets hurt, I can help.”
I didn’t have to look at Peregrine to know which way his vote would swing, so no help there.
“You have to promise to stay at the village.” I told her sternly.
“I promise.” Caterina agreed enthusiastically. We turned and continued the journey. The babble started.
“I’ve never been to Nekross before. I hear they have a great market district. I’m so glad Papa told me I could go. He said I could use the vacation. I think I’m going to go shopping all day tomorrow and find a brand-new dress. Pink, with lots of lace. Oh, and some of that milk lotion that Nekross is famous for.” Ow, my brain.
“What’s the plan when we get there?” Peregrine asked, bringing the subject of conversation back on topic. Bless you Peregrine.
“We’ll get rooms at the Turtle Inn.” I informed them. “That’s where Luella was to stay the night before her last day’s journey. Tomorrow morning we canvass the town, and see if anybody has seen or heard anything unusual. But try not to be specific about whom we are looking for. Stick with basic descriptions. If she was kidnapped, we don’t want to alert or alarm the culprits.”
“What’s this Luella look like?” Peregrine asked. I passed him the portrait. He whistled and passed it onto Caterina. “I’m going to enjoy catching up with her.”
“Settle down Romeo.” I warned. “She belongs to your Lord, who you are bound to serve.”
“I wonder why such a pretty Lady would want to marry Lord Kovar.” Caterina reflected. “He’s so… unpleasant.” This was as bad as Caterina got when it came to insults, though you could hear the repulsion in her voice.
“I agree.” I said, understanding more than she could possibly know. “Which is why we’re not ruling out the possibility that she ran away to escape the marriage.”
“Escape from being married?” The very idea caused Caterina to be as scandalized as Peregrine was when I claimed to be uninterested in Caterina.
“Not everybody gets to choose their future spouse, Caterina.” I informed her, thankful that she was at least staying on topic. “Most nobles have marriages arranged for them.”
“Then, I’m glad I’m not a noble.” My stomach turned as Caterina grinned at me. I cleared my throat, took the portrait back and pressed on.