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Nature Abhors a Vacuum

Despite her fatigued state, Nellise took out her crystal and began whispering her healing
prayers.
Sayana remained a source of troubling thoughts for Aiden. She was obviously
keeping her distance from him, leaving him to ponder her earlier words as they travelled.
Was she correct in assuming the dragon had turned him into some kind of puppet? It
had mentioned there was some kind of important task to be done, and that Aiden would
have to do it alone.
Once they set out, it wasn‟t long before the terrain around them gradually
transformed from the snow-covered hills of the south, to the open plains of
Bracksfordshire's farmlands. The sky remained clear for the rest of the day, and having
the cool winter sun shining down on them made it the most enjoyable journey he‟d taken
in recent weeks.
Bracksfordshire was renowned for remaining clear of snow, even in the depths of
winter, while the surrounding lands were covered in a thick, white blanket. A quirk of the
weather patterns kept the farms producing food all year round, making it one of the most
important regions in the kingdom – 'Aielund's breadbasket', as it was referred to.
It was just as the sun was beginning to sink below the horizon when, under the wary
eyes of the local militia, they arrived at Bracksford's eastern gate. Clearly, Aiden and his
companions had been recognised as they approached, for the gate swung wide before
they reached it, and Tara, accompanied by several of her men, waited within.
“Glad to see you made it back in one piece,” she welcomed them. “Some of the lads
thought you might be a pack of raiders looking for prey and were of half a mind to shoot
you.”
“I‟m glad they didn‟t,” Aiden replied dryly, stifling a yawn. “You won't be having
any further trouble with raiders. Erag Black-Tiger is dead, and Morik Far-Eagle is
attempting to reclaim power. But even if he fails, they'll be so disorganised I doubt they'll
be any further trouble. Also, I stole their battle plans, which might hamper them a bit.”
He pulled out the rolled up sheet of parchment and handed it over to the sergeant.
“This is incredible, Aiden,” she breathed, not so much at the map, but the overall
scale of their accomplishment. “Did you find Duncan and the other ranger well enough?”
Aiden didn't answer, instead looking to Colt to tackle this one.
“The bastards got 'em before we reached them,” he grated, still angry at the loss of
one of his few friends, or at least the closest thing to a friend he had. “Couldn't bring the
bodies back, but I aim to return there in the near future to see they got a proper burial.”
“I'm sorry for your loss,” Tara replied soberly, diverting her attention to the map in
her hands. “This seems fairly straight forward,” she mused after examining the plans for a
moment. “Plunder, rape and pillage. It looks like they wanted to move in instead of
destroying the town itself. Fair enough I suppose, must be hard living down there in the
mountains all year 'round. It also says something here about another group supposed to
come in from the north?”
“I noticed that too,” Colt added. “Damn generous of them to write it down in Aielish.
I think they were going to try a flanking manoeuvre, but since they've lost their
leadership, I doubt that's going to happen now.”
“I'll have my people keep an eagle eye out anyway,” she replied, her sharp eyes
inspecting each of them closely. “God, you all look like you've been through hell.”
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