“As with all things, Linvin, I can only tell you what I know. Dirk made all the deals with all our suppliers, and the whole business was too complicated for me. For that reason, I never really paid much attention to his dealings. Then, right about the time he sent you away, I noticed a change in him. He had the same passion for the business that had made it successful, but he began to have meetings with parties who were…well…of questionable character. The meetings were always private and often involved him taking a trip. It seemed like he was looking for something specific. I really thought little of it at the time, but now it gives me reason to wonder about the nature of the meetings and the trips.”
“One day, he emerged from one of those unusual meetings almost giddy. He acted as though he had just received a birthday present. I will never forget what he said to me. He shook me by the shoulder and said, ‘My good friend, this is it! I must go to Ravensburg with all due haste on a trading mission, and when it is all over, then my son can come home!’ He gathered some supplies and left. That was the last time I saw my old friend.”
“Father was headed to Ravensburg? Mother mentioned that in her letter. He must have traveled through the Unclaimed Territory,” Linvin said with horror.
“He did not seem to want to waste time, and that is easily the fastest route,” Gradon stated.
“But since the war, has that area not become unsafe?” asked Linvin.
“It has indeed,” Gradon answered. “It is overrun with bandits and exiles. That is the reason the trade routes all moved south to travel through Sartan.”
Linvin sipped his tea. “So he went with a trading caravan, I suppose?”
“Surprisingly, he went alone,” sighed Gradon.
“That is absurd!” Linvin swore while putting down his cup. “What was he thinking? Even in the best parts of the world, traders move in caravans to ward off thieves. How could he go alone into such an area? He was smarter than that.”
“It would seem,” Gradon surmised, “that he did not want anyone to know what he was doing. Forgive me for saying this, Linvin, I hate to even think it, but given the nature of the people he was dealing with, it is not implausible that his intentions were not…honorable.”
Linvin’s eyes widened and his nostrils flared as he leaned forward. “Are you implying that my father was involved in some unsavory, illegal activity?”
“Certainly I don’t believe that,” retreated Gradon. “However, many in town have whispered such things in the darkest of places, and those words have spread throughout the city. I would rather that you heard it from me first, rather than coming upon it from someone else.”
Linvin tried to contain his fury. “Is this why the societal crowd shunned my mother before last night?”
“Such people are fickle, Linvin, and are really of no consequence to you and yours.”
“No?” Linvin demanded.
Gradon sipped his tea with a quivering