Nature Abhors a Vacuum
“Good morning, Mister Wainwright,” she said, the strain evident in her raspy voice,
undoubtedly from shouting orders all night long. “I’m sorry the town is such a mess,
we’ve had a few problems crop up over the past twelve hours; about a hundred of them,
to be exact. But my men tell me you and your friends had a hand in taking the pressure
off our eastern flank?”
“We needed to get the princess back into town, and they were in the way,” Aiden
explained with a weak voice. Ariel blinked in surprise, and glanced around at the others
until she laid eyes upon Criosa, who smiled wanly back at the sergeant.
“Good God, is that you, Highness? I’m sorry, I didn’t recognise you looking so…”
“Tattered? It’s all right, Sergeant, I feel better than I look, thanks to Aiden and his
companions,” Criosa dismissed.
“Glad I was able to assist,” Aiden whispered modestly.
“And so self-effacing, too,” Criosa remarked with a tired smile. “I might have use for
you in Fairloch, if you’re interested.” Aiden’s tired brain didn’t quite grasp what she was
saying for a few seconds, but the implications were far-reaching.
“I’ll have to think about it,” he mumbled, somewhat dumbfounded.
“Aiden, the Princess just asked you to serve the crown,” Colt pointed out. “The
appropriate response is ‘yes, Your Highness, I would be honoured!’”
“I think he’s waiting to hear how much he’s going to get paid,” Pacian added,
earning a jab to his ribs from the big ranger.
“There’s something else of relevance I found,” Aiden interrupted, pulling out the
folded note he had retrieved from Bartlett’s body. “Ronald Bartlett had this on him when
he met an unfortunate end, and it’s something you should read.” Ariel took the proffered
note and read aloud from the elegant script upon it.
“It says, ‘Find Commander Black and convey my displeasure to him concerning the
handling of his duties thus far. I expect my money’s worth from this deal, and if he and
his band of half-wits are unable to perform as expected, I shall have them join the King in
his bloody campaign in the west.’ It is signed ‘Number One’. How cryptic.”
“Captain Marshald said that someone was making a move against the Crown, and
your kidnapping was probably the first step,” Aiden said to Criosa. “Bartlett was a big
name locally, but he was taking orders from someone else. Have you made any enemies
“Not that I’m aware of,” she replied, her eyes wide at the thought of a conspiracy
“The script is very elegant,” Ariel noted, handing it to Criosa. “Do you recognise the
“No, it doesn’t seem familiar, but that doesn’t really say much,” she mused after a
brief examination. “It does resemble the writing of a well educated individual, certainly.
Perhaps one of the lords hired the Steel Tigers to kidnap me, and used Bartlett as a
“It’d cost a hell of a lot of money to hire a mercenary army,” Colt grunted. “But none
of this explains why they attacked the town. And who in his right mind would bring in a
bloody dragon to help, anyway?”
“Maybe they got greedy, and wanted to loot the place on the way through,” Pacian