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Nature Abhors a Vacuum
Stephen L. Nowland
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Olaf would probably do just about anything to keep his public image squeaky clean, and
there was a good chance he would have put the blame on the four of them if things had
Still, it was never a pleasant thing to see people die right before one’s eyes, and he
dwelled on this somber thought for some time. A quick glance at Nellise hinted she was
dwelling on the same grim topic.
The flat terrain of Bracksfordshire slowly began to undulate as they continued along
the road, with small hills appearing over the horizon around them. The number of pine
trees dotting the landscape was starting to increase too, though it could hardly be called
forest. Aiden could just manage to perceive the outlines of the Highmarch Mountains to
the south through the moisture-laden air.
Given the reduced visibility, they weren't really all that far away from the mountains,
but in this weather it was still going to be three days before they arrived at Fort
Aiden judged it to be midday, and felt it was a good time to stop for food. He spied a
small rise dotted with pine trees that would provide at least a little shelter, as well as
being above the waterline. As he led the others to the relatively dry area and crouched
down on the ground to rest, he idly wondered just how much longer it could possibly
“Well, I guess we won't be lighting a fire and cooking any food here,” Pacian
grumbled, leaning against a tree trunk to gain as much shelter as possible. “You'll be glad
to hear I planned for this when purchasing our provisions.”
“Let me guess,” Nellise wondered, sounding like she already knew the answer.
“Mouldy cheese and bread, and perhaps some dried beef.”
“It’s like you can read minds, or something,” Aiden groaned as he pulled out exactly
what Nellise had described from his pack. “I guess it'll keep us going, at least. If it helps,
just imagine the proper meals we'll be able to buy once we reach the fort.”
They each took a share of the meagre rations. Aiden tried to imagine he was eating
freshly baked bread and sizzling roast beef, but his sense of taste insisted on telling him
only the absolute truth about what was in his mouth. To take his mind off the ordinary
food, he decided to engage Nellise in conversation.
“So, Nellise” he began to say between bites of food. Having something to do with his
hands was helping to cover his nervousness about talking with the beautiful young
woman. “So, I couldn't help but notice your unusual eyes, and I was wondering why
they're like that?” The question sounded stupid even as he was saying it. Aiden wasn't
normally one to ask such personal inquiries of lovely ladies, but one had to start
sometime. Pacian started paying closer attention to the conversation, but he still kept food
as his primary object of interest.
“Well, there's a little bit of a mystery about that actually,” Nellise began. “Gold is
not a normal colour for people of any race, and my mother certainly didn't have golden
“What of your father?”
“I never knew my father,” she replied wistfully. “I asked my mother about him when
I was younger, but she would suddenly become sad, and quiet. Yet... even as a tear ran
down her cheek, she would smile, too. I didn't understand of course, but it confused me
and I never asked her again.”