It was a vastly different city than Sarice. No walls surrounded the settlement. It sprawled out of sight in all directions. Even the vacant land just outside that city had been portioned off for construction. The largest city in the world was growing with no signs of stopping.
Though he could see from a distance that there had been many changes since his last visit, Linvin was in no mood to take in the view. His mother’s house was on the far side of town. He circled the city rather than riding through its bustling streets.
At last, he was riding down his own street. Always an affluent part of town, it had transformed into the elite neighborhood of an elitist city. With his traveling clothes accessorized by the scars on his skin, Linvin drew attention from the local inhabitants as he rode down the street.
His goal came into view at the dead end of the road, but before he could take in the grandeur of his parent’s home, a pedestrian abruptly impacted his horse.
The lady was dressed in a fine yellow taffeta frock with lace trim. She fell in a somewhat amusing manner against the red-bricked road. Her large bustle cushioned the landing initially but then forced her torso to slide back from the force of the fall.
With great embarrassment, she rolled back to her feet. Deliberately pushing the horse’s head out of the way, she stamped by indignantly.
“Out of my way, ruffian!” she said, not looking at Linvin. “You would think a proper lady could walk these streets without being accosted by such vile vermin. Well, go beg for work elsewhere!”
Linvin laughed at the frumpy old woman. “Could I not even rake your yard for a slice of your cherry-berry pie?”
The woman stopped immediately. She turned her head and squinted as she looked at Linvin. “No,” she told herself, “This can’t be. Not…little Linvin Grithinshield, coming home at last?”
Linvin smiled widely. “I’m not so little anymore, Mrs. Harnbottom.”
“Well, just so you’re not too big to come down here and give an old woman a hug.”
Linvin dismounted and hugged the plump matriarch. “I have been called many things over the years, but I must say this is the first time I have ever received the title of ‘ruffian.’
Mrs. Harnbottom stroked his cheek and looked ashamed. “Dear sweet Linvin, I did not recognize you in these rags … and armor, no less.”
“Well, my road has been a long one and my appearance may indeed show it.”
“You were probably the wiser for not appearing of status these days. What with bandits on the roads and crime on every street, it’s hardly safe for a woman of status to travel anymore.”
“I do not recall Fraylic being so dangerous in my youth,” Linvin recalled.
Mrs. Harnbottom pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and wiped invisible tears from her eyes. “That was a long time ago. The city has more than doubled its size since you left. With the end of the war years ago, all the major trade routes began to travel through here. That’s the reason for all of the crime. With so much wealth passing through these streets, many unscrupulous characters want a piece of it. Robbers, swindlers, murderers…” She stopped in mid-sentence after realizing what she had said.
“Are you speaking of my father’s disappearance?” Linvin asked directly.