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Nature Abhors a Vacuum

of the cloth. Have you even been in a fight before? Have you killed a man?” Aiden and
Nellise exchanged an uncertain look, but Pacian didn‟t hesitate.
“Yep, more than one,” he boasted with quiet confidence.
“Sure you have, killer,” Colt growled, “and underneath this rugged exterior I‟m
actually a petite redhead.”
“I -”
“Save it, I‟m not impressed,” Colt interrupted. “I‟ve fought bandits in the King‟s
forests for five years and it‟s nothin‟ to joke about. Maybe you‟re tellin‟ the truth and
maybe you ain‟t, but your mate and Nellise are as green as they come. Don‟t get me
wrong, I hear you when you say the town‟s in strife, but even with my help we‟d be hard
pressed to clear them out. So no, I‟m not going along because that‟d just encourage you.”
“A potentially dangerous confrontation wouldn‟t be my first choice,” Nellise
answered delicately, “but somebody has to make it through to Culdeny and it seems to
me we‟re it. So I‟m going to try, which is more than I can say for you, sir.”
“Ouch,” Pacian chuckled as Colt‟s expression darkened.
“So you lot are lookin‟ to break the blockade?” Tom interjected. “I used to do
caravan escort work back in the day, but I‟m too old for that sort of thing now. I‟m glad
someone‟s thinking about steppin‟ up, but I don't think it‟s any place for a lady or a
couple of lads to go without someone of more experience helpin‟ out, Colt. You‟d be
doing the town a big favour if you went along, mate.”
“What, so I'm a babysitter now?”
“I'll clear your tab if you go,” Tom offered bluntly. Colt blinked in surprise and
appeared to be giving the offer some serious thought. When he abruptly left the table
Aiden thought he had rudely refused the offer, but then Colt reached down and
purposefully picked up a large sword and a longbow wrapped in oilcloth from a dark
corner next to the bar.
“I‟ll take that as a „yes‟,” Tom chuckled.
“Let‟s go,” Colt grunted, heading for the door without waiting to see if they‟d
follow. Aiden gave the innkeeper a grateful nod as he passed by, with Pacian and Nellise
joining him as he hurried to catch up.
“Not a mercenary, huh?” Pacian pointedly asked of Aiden as they headed outside.
A short walk through the muddy streets brought the small group to the mayor's
office, which appeared to be a converted two-storey house. After stepping through the
doorway, Aiden was impressed by the lavish furnishings within, including an elaborate
candelabrum perched on a small polished table. O n the wall above a comfortable looking
sofa hung a painting of a strange desert landscape, and colourful woven carpets covered
the floor.
Across the foyer, a pretty young lady with narrow lips and large brown eyes sat
behind an oak desk, busily sorting through a pile of papers before her. Although it was
unlikely she missed the entrance of the four people, she nevertheless remained focused on
the task before her.
“Pardon me, but we'd like to see the mayor, if he's available,” Nellise asked politely,
moving to stand before the desk.
“The mayor has only just risen for the day and isn't ready to see visitors yet,” she
informed them curtly. Although young, she had great potential to become the irritating,
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