Eschewing the carriage and escort her new status required, Ursula rode to Hetzenberg alone. The journey took a week of moderately fast riding, through weather that grew increasingly warm as she progressed. In the capital she spared time to visit her foster-parents before heading for the State Archives. Luckily they were kept in a wing of the palace well away from the Ducal domestic quarters, where her presence would have been remarked upon, with all the loss of secrecy and freedom it entailed.
The Archivist had been surprised when Ursula requested a packet of secret intelligence documents. Such papers were off limits to all but the most senior staff, especially those documents pertaining to current affairs and operations. However, Ursula had the noble rank and determination to brush aside any restrictions. She spent a fruitful morning perusing a number of papers, both secret and mundane, before taking her leave of the archives and making a brief visit to the university. The next day she departed the capital and headed north, again alone and unescorted.
She rode into the spa town of Bolschen an hour before noon four days later. Wedding bells rang from a church as she passed by, and the wedding party emerged blinking and happy into the bright sunshine. The sight and sound brought fond memories of her recent nuptials with Horatio. Lehmangraz laid not three leagues from Bolschen. I’ll surprise Horatio there! She thought.
It didn’t take long for Ursula to find the address she sought, an auberge located in a quiet street off the main drag. The innkeeper took in the richness of her attire and with many an obsequious bow showed her up to the suite of rooms where Konrad and Liserl Beckenbaur resided. They were surprised to see her.
“Ursula!” Konrad exclaimed, rising from the day-bed in the bay window, where he’d been reading. Liserl dropped her embroidery, jumped to her feet and executed a deep curtsey.
“Good morning!” Ursula said, moving swiftly to embrace first Konrad then his wife. “Please, don’t stand on ceremony. Be comfortable, I beg you.”
“Not that we’re very pleased to see you, my dear girl,” Konrad said, sitting on the edge of the day bed with barely a wince of pain, “But what do you here?”
“I’ll tell all in a moment,” Ursula replied, looking closely at her old friend. “First, tell me how you do.”
“I’m getting better by the day,” he replied with a smile, and indeed she saw his color had improved markedly since she had seen him last in Kimmelsbrücke.
“And he grows more fractious by the day too!” his wife interposed, giving Konrad a look of fond exasperation.
“I grow tired of doing nothing but visiting the baths and walking the promenade.” He gestured to the book lying open on the bed. “I think I’ve read every book worth reading in this town, too.”
“You’re here to get better, my friend,” Ursula said. “From your appearance I’d say that day is not far off.”
“It’ll be good to return to work.” Konrad blinked and cast Liserl a guilty look. “Not that I haven’t enjoyed your company, my love!”
“As I enjoy yours.” Liserl folded her hands in her lap and shook her head with a sad little smile that hid a wealth of meaning. “It’s been rare enough we’ve had time together these last few years, Konrad, the good Lord knows. It’s a treat to have you with me for this long.” She sighed. “Even so, I know you long to be back in action. I won’t stand in your way.”
“I have a hunch that day may be sooner than either of us expected,” Konrad said softly, looking at Ursula with speculation.
She held up her hand. “This is a social call, first and foremost, Konrad. I wanted to know how you fare. Now I’ve happily seen you’re increasing in health, I will concede there is a minor matter of intelligence you may be able to help me with.”
“Name it,” he said, spreading his hands.
“Do you know the whereabouts of Paul Ehrgeiziger?”