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Nature Abhors a Vacuum

“I shall be discreet when explaining recent events,” she assured him in a hushed
voice. “It isn‟t in my best interest to be as open and forthcoming as I‟d like.” Pacian
seemed satisfied with this answer, and Aiden felt a sense of relief that their dark secret
would remain so. Before long, one of the guards caught their attention to report that the
merchant had arrived at the gates. They gathered up their gear and stepped outside to
meet the man.
Brilliant sunshine bathed them in a cold light as they stood in the outer bailey of Fort
Highmarch. Even though it was still below freezing, for Aiden and his companions the
clear skies were a welcome relief from the unrelenting rain of the past weeks.
Parked before the gate was a large, four-wheeled wagon, with two massive draft
horses hitched to it, their breath misting in the frigid conditions. A lean, middle-aged man
wearing heavy clothing and a sour disposition stood beside the wagon having a
discussion of some sort with Captain Marshald.
“Nothing has passed through that road in nearly a month, captain,” the merchant was
saying, clearly unhappy. “You've kicked out all the caravan guards and mercenaries from
the fort, so I demand that you provide three men for protection through to Bracksford. I
will of course pay standard rates.”
“You do not get to make demands of me, sir,” Marshald replied crisply. “But fear not
Mister Samuels, you will not make the journey without protection.” He looked over to
where Aiden and the others were approaching. “Here come your guards now, actually.”
The merchant looked over to see what he was referring to. The expression on his face
was not encouraging.
He frowned when he looked at Sayana, but seemed to approve of Colt. That opinion
would probably change as soon as the big ranger opened his mouth, something Aiden
would take extra care to prevent happening.
“Adequate… barely,” Samuels muttered after examining them briefly. “Climb
aboard then, and we'll leave immediately.”
“I'll sit up front and keep an eye out for troub le,” Colt volunteered quickly. Nellise
and Sayana walked in the opposite direction to the back of the wagon and prepared to
climb aboard. Captain Marshald stopped Aiden just before he was about to follow them.
“I've written out a message that I want you to pass on to O laf,” he said, passing the
young man a folded piece of paper. “O nce again, I'm very sorry I can't offer Bracksford
any further military assistance. He'll have to make do with the local militia.”
“I'm not sure it'll be enough, captain,” Aiden replied soberly. “It seems the King
must have taken a lot of the experienced men from town as well, for I don't recall seeing
any guards older than I am. Why did he do that anyway? Who exactly are we at war
with?”
“I really can't tell a civilian anything specific,” Marshald said, “but rest assured the
security of the K ingdom is involved, and His Majesty knows what he's doing. Fortune
favour you, Aiden,” he added, then turned and strode off toward the inner gate.
Aiden pulled his longcoat around him to ward off the chill wind and moved towards
the wagon. Nellise and Sayana were already sitting in the back, and there was very little
room left. Aiden gave them a quick smile as he managed to squeeze between the two
young women, and while it wasn't the most comfortable position, he would somehow
find the strength to endure.
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