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Nature Abhors a Vacuum

lost a lot of weight. “There are bandits to the north sir, and word has reached me here that
savage tribesmen are gathering to the east. With our local garrison depleted, I dare not
allow anyone to travel outside the gates until we have received reinforcements.”
“Olaf, why didn't you mention things were this dire before?” she quietly asked.
“To be blunt, my dear Nellise, this was none of your concern,” Olaf explained.
“When His Majesty swept through here months ago, I protested at the quantity of soldiers
he requested, but my words fell on deaf ears. I‟ve had to cut back on patrolling the
highway, and the result was predictable – lawlessness and brigandry.”
“Why did he take all the guards with him?” Pacian asked.
“There‟s a war on, or have you had your head in the dirt for the past two months?”
Colt grunted. “Olaf, have you tried sending someone to Fort Highmarch?”
“I have sent several messengers, and two of the remaining town guards over the past
ten days. Upon their return they informed me that the fort is shuttered to all traffic and
did not permit them entry.” Olaf paused and looked around at his guests. “Perhaps now
you understand our predicament a little better?”
“You said that you refused to people wander about because of the danger,” Pacian
observed, “but that‟s our choice to make. If something happens to us, you‟re not
responsible.”
“Simple clothes, sparse equipment,” Olaf mumbled as he inspected each of them.
“You hardly seem capable of dealing with any of the threats to this town, and I wouldn't
wish to endanger your lives.”
“It‟s come to the point that we're being endangered just sitting around town, slowly
starving to death,” Aiden retorted. “Culdeny is nearly three days‟ travel from here, so the
sooner we leave, the sooner supplies and reinforcements can make their way here.” Olaf
seemed to consider this, and then his expression took on a more considered look.
“I have my doubts as to your intentions, so I'll tell you what,” he offered. “I'll give
you a little task and if you can get it done, you'll have convinced me of your
resourcefulness and genuine desire to help the town.”
“You‟re paying us, right?” Pacian hinted with a distinct lack of subtlety.
“Of course.”
“I suppose that's fair,” Aiden hedged, disliking the direction of this conversation but
having little choice but to carry on. “What's the task?”
“A former associate of mine is seeking to discredit my name and oust me from my
position as mayor,” he explained. “She wants five gold sovereigns to keep her silent.”
Aiden's eyes inadvertently widened in surprise – it was a small fortune by anyone's
measure.
“I've tried reasoning with this individual but she simply won't co-operate. I'm not one
to employ 'strong-arm' tactics myself, but if you were to... persuade her to see reason and
return the documents she is attempting to blackmail me with, you will have proven your
worth.”
“Do you expect trouble from this person?” Nellise inquired. “I doubt she will simply
hand over something quite so valuable simply because we ask her to.”
“I can be very persuasive,” Pacian offered, smiling coldly.
“Violence shouldn‟t be necessary,” Olaf replied, dismissing the thought with a wave
of his hand. “By all means, talk with her but do not underestimate her. If she still refuses,
feel free to use whatever means you deem necessary to change her mind.”
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