Richard had searched the homes of Periville’s inhabitants thoroughly and methodically, each day visiting about thirty houses. Every townsman seemed to be willing to help him, meaning that Corinne had not been kidnapped by him. Richard grew more and more anxious as the time passed, frightened of the treatment Corinne might be receiving from her kidnapper. Everyone in the manor shared his anxiety except Keris. She seemed furious at him, as though it were his fault that the guards had fallen asleep and the manor had been left unprotected. How could he have foreseen a break-in by a warlock?! Still, she never spoke to him on the rare occasion when she saw him, refusing to respond when he assured her that he was doing all that he could.
On the third day, the fifth house he came to was that of Periville’s tailor. She, once again, was glad to let him search her home, in case Corinne might be hiding from fear of pursuit or had been placed there by the true kidnapper... even if she hadn’t noticed these things.
Richard was about to leave, once more unsuccessful when the tailor called out.
“Oh, wait! Lord Richard!”
He turned, curious.
“It may be nothing but ... well, a young man came to my store a few days ago. He was buying a dress for a woman. He gave me a piece of parchment on which all her measurements were written ... and ... the strange thing is... they exactly matched those the lady Corinne gave me to make the dress she wore upon her birthday.”
Richard was intrigued, as well as desperately hopeful that this was a clue.
“Oh really? You’re certain of this?”
The tailor nodded fervently.
“I even have the record of Corinne’s measurements to compare it to.”
“Could you show me?”
The woman frowned slightly.
“My lord, ... I ... I do not wish to disobey you but ... well, ... it is not proper to show you Miss Kingfisher’s measurements. Or, indeed, any other lady’s. I hope you understand. But I am certain the two sets are identical.”
Richard blushed deeply in embarrassment.
“Of course. Yes. Sorry.” He was about to leave, really feeling rather awkward now when he remembered that he needed to know who the young man was. He turned to face the tailor again. She was flushing slightly too. “Do you know the name of the young gentleman who was purchasing the dress?”
“Why, yes. I asked him so I could keep a record of the sale. Stag it was.”
Richard instantly recognised the name but it took him a few seconds to remember who the man was. When he did, he was confused. Eric Stag? Surely not. He had come to the manor to ask for a stall at the marketplace. He hadn’t seemed the type who enjoyed committing crimes. Still, this was more evidence than he’d had at any other point during the investigation.
Thanking the tailor, he returned to Dachshund Manor where he looked through his record of Periville’s townsfolk. He found the relevant entry.
Eric Stag - lives at Sylvanigh Cottage. Has a stall at the marketplace.
Richard shut the book. He ordered for his horse to be prepared and a few minutes later was setting off for the outskirts of Periville. As he rode, he remembered the time when Eric had come to his house and delivered a batch of roasted chestnuts. Richard really could not see him as the man who had kidnapped his beloved Corinne.
He arrived at the cottage before midday. He dismounted his horse and held his reins as he walked to the door. He was still dubious about Eric being the man he wanted. Still, he put on a severe expression so as not to seem improperly casual and knocked on the door. A moment later, Eric answered. He seemed startled by the lord’s visit.
“My lord,” he said, perhaps sounding a little on edge. He bowed his head. When he looked up again, he noticed the horse and said, “Would you like to use my stables?”
The lord nodded, though did not allow his expression to soften. Eric followed him as he led the black stallion to the stables and into the stall beside the one in which Eric’s grey mare was standing. The lord closed the stable door and Eric led him back into his house.
Richard spotted Corinne almost instantly - sitting upon a rug dressed in a green velvet dress - and was astounded by Eric’s daring.
His expression grew icy as Eric closed the door behind him.
“Would you care to explain the presence of my wife-to-be in your home?”