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Nature Abhors a Vacuum

“Hang on, you can't even spare half a dozen soldiers to help keep the peace?” Colt
barked, rising from bed, still wearing his leathers from the previous night.
“I take it from that thoughtless statement that you're unaware His Majesty swept
through here a month ago on his way north, and took just about every able-bodied man
with him,” Marshald explained evenly. “All we've got left are a few veterans and a few
dozen blokes straight out of training, and they're a bunch of squealing little girls.” The
guardsmen around him looked at the captain uncomfortably, but said nothing.
“So, I'm afraid we have to send you back north with only your own selves to protect
the merchant. He's in the keep, collecting supplies for the tr ip and you can meet up with
him here at the gate when he's ready. Until then, rest up and have some more food. You
have my apologies for the limited aid. I know you risked much to get here.”
“I knew times were tough, I just didn't realise how widespread it was,” Aiden replied
soberly. “Again, thanks for all your help, we'll figure something out.”
“I wish you all good fortune. Farewell.” After he had left the guardhouse and closed
the heavy door, Colt swore under his breath.
“I just figured out what happened to all the wildlife on the mountainside,” he
muttered quietly. “That army needed to be fed, and as he said, they don't store huge
amounts of food here. Hey, how big was that army?” Colt addressed this to one of the
nearby guardsmen.
“Nearly two thousand men,” he replied promptly. “This place is like a ghost town
now.”
“There you have it then. They would have sent hunters ahead to make sure they had
something to eat. God I hate this country sometimes.” Colt was fuming, and Aiden
expected an angry outburst, but instead the big man grabbed some food from the table
and went outside to eat. Aiden shook his head in disbelief – all of the danger they had
gone through over the past two days had been caused by that army passing through the
region, leaving nothing for the predators to eat.
The guardsmen at the table were looking past Aiden with more than passing
curiosity. Turning to see what they were looking at, he saw Nellise still lying in bed with
her blanket pulled right up to her neck.
“I seem to be surrounded by burly men,” she remarked, slightly distressed. Aiden
was confused as to the problem until he looked down beside the bed and saw her robe
laying on the floor. Now he understood why she had remained quiet during their
impromptu meeting. The guardsmen grinned unashamedly, obviously unused to a
beautiful woman sleeping in their simple guardhouse.
“Alright lads, take it outside, give the lady some space,” Pacian said with surprising
authority. Aiden hedged, wondering if the soldiers would listen to the brash young man
but to his surprise, they took their meal outside.
Aiden decided to follow them so he could have a quick word with Colt. Grabbing
half a loaf of bread, he stepped outside into the chilling cold.
“You okay?” Aiden asked of the ranger.
“Yeah,” Colt grunted laconically. “The attitude of people really gets to me. I bet the
hunters in that army didn't even consider the effects of taking down so much game. We
nearly died because of that, not to mention the others O laf sent before us. Really stupid.”
He chewed thoughtfully on some bread.
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