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Nature Abhors a Vacuum

“It is a pleasure to meet you all,” Criosa replied warmly, “and you have my deepest
gratitude for your timely intervention.”
“Timely?” Colt asked politely, having glared at Aiden since his taboo first name had
been mentioned.
“Yes, later today, they were going to move me to Culdeny after seizing control of the
port. Heaven knows what they had planned for me.”
“It's a shame I had to let Bartlett go,” Aiden mused, feeling more relaxed as the
healing energies did their work, filling the air with a pleasant summer breeze. “He
probably could have told us everything we needed to know. What happened out in the
main room anyway?” he asked of Colt.
“We won,” he shrugged in reply. “The ones we locked outside ran around the back,
but they never came in. Not sure what happened there, but I'm guessing they probably ran
off with Bartlett. Faolan showed up, so I've put him on guard duty in case I'm wrong. If
you hear him tearing someone's hand off, you can probably assume we've got trouble.”
“We already do,” Criosa said ominously. “I overheard the cads who kidnapped me,
who are even now heading to Culdeny with the intention of laying siege to the town.”
“I appreciate your concern,” Aiden replied tiredly. “But what do you expect us to do
about it? They've got a full company of a hundred men or more, and we're just five
people.”
“Six, for I would be accompanying you,” Criosa corrected.
“You?” Aiden exclaimed, suddenly fully awake. “We just went to a great deal of
trouble to get you out of harm's way, and you want to head straight back into it?”
“Given the choice, I would, of course, prefer to remain some place safe,” she
explained, “but I will not sit idly by while treasonous men like Ronald Bartlett plot to
take my father's K ingdom away from him!”
“I like her,” Sayana remarked. “You have spirit, but can you fight?”
“I'd certainly be dead without her help,” Aiden commented. “And I'll never look at
cutlery in quite the same way again.” Criosa beamed at him, buoyed by his support for
her position.
“I have been trained by experts in swordsmanship, magic, and a few other skills for
most of my life, so I assure you, I can hold my own,” Criosa said.
“Good, then you should be escorted back to Bracksford where you will be safe,”
Sayana told her firmly. “I have seen more than my share of battle in these last few weeks,
and I would not wish it upon anyo ne, especially for someone so young.”
“I'm nearly eighteen!” Criosa protested, managing to sound a little like a spoilt
twelve year-old in the process. “That is precisely the attitude my father had, leaving me at
Fort Highmarch for months while he went off to wage war.”
“And look what happened when you decided to leave,” Colt grunted. “At the first
opportunity, you get kidnapped by an enemy of the Crown. N ice work there, I'd love to
have you on the front line with us.”
“Sarcasm is the refuge of the simp le mind,” Criosa archly replied. “Now, I need you
to come with me to Culdeny. If they haven't been attacked already, then they soon will
be. They don't have the manpower or the defences to withstand a concerted assault.”
“Funny, neither do we,” Pacian mumbled tiredly.
“All we need to do is remove their leadership,” Criosa persisted. “They are
mercenaries - without their command structure, the attack will surely falter.”
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