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Nature Abhors a Vacuum

“I‟m sorry I disobeyed your orders, Commander,” Nellise offered as the hunters
were taken away by the assembled rangers, “but my conscience wouldn‟t allow another
pointless slaughter to take place while I sat and watched.”
“The simple fact that you were willing to stake your life on the possibility you‟d be
listened to astounds me. I‟d watch out for this one, Aiden. She‟s going to be a real
“Don‟t I know it,” Aiden replied, giving the cleric a look of unabashed admiration.
The rangers went about shackling the hunters while Aiden and the others kept watch.
After a few minutes, Armin returned after conferring with his people.
“If you ask me, you're all damned lucky to be alive. In my professional opinion, this
was a narrowly averted catastrophe, and it was only the raw talent and courage of your
young acolyte that prevented the hunters from slaughtering you all. Tell me, how did you
end up being so far out of position?”
“I guess we're just not used to moving around at night,” Aiden replied in the form of
a half- truth. “We fell behind and lost sight of Dunca n, and rather than call to him and
possibly give away both our position and the plan, we pressed on as best we could in
order to make sure you had support on your eastern flank. Clearly we misjudged the
direction we were heading in, and moved into the comb at area far sooner than we should
“It seems to me,” Armin mused, “that a competent ranger should have picked up on
that. A pity you didn't have such an individual with you.”
“Don‟t go too hard on him,” Aiden protested. “We had to make a decision abo ut
which direction to go, and I made the call. If you want to blame someone for this, the
man you want is sitting before you.” Armin gazed over at Colt for a moment, then
reached into a pouch and produced a pipe.
“I see. Clearly your inexperience in such conditions was an obstacle. Nevertheless,
the situation has been resolved to my satisfaction, if not through a method I would have
chosen. The conduct of you and your people bought you enough time to allow us to find
you. Still, if I were you, I wouldn't be seeking employment with the rangers anytime
“Rest assured, my ambitions lie elsewhere,” Aiden said, unoffended by the frank
assessment. He wasn't fully comfortable taking the blame for Colt's actions, but he knew
if Armin discovered the big man was responsible for losing their way, he'd never get back
into the rangers.
“I have a question, if you don't mind,” Aiden continued. Armin nodded his assent as
he lit his pipe and took a few puffs. “As he was talking to Nellise, Lord Thomas
mentioned a few things I found interesting. Namely, that he was the legitimate
claimholder to these lands.”
“He's wrong, I assure you. His family did name Calespur as one of their holdings
over a century ago, but they ran it so poorly the K ing at the time – Alaric the second –
seized control and created the Royal Rangers to oversee the proper governance of the
forest. Fairchild believed he could seize it back from us just because the K ing is out of
the country.”
“Yes, Nellise informed him of his error just before the end,” Aiden remarked. “What
was of particular interest to me was when he mentioned that you had a communication
with the man a week ago.”