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Nature Abhors a Vacuum

“We're buying herbs, and small pieces of rolled-up cloth, that's hardly blasphemous,”
he pointed out. “If you're that uncomfortable though, let me do the talking. Just point out
what you want me to buy, okay?”
By now, they had left the sodden roads and were squelching through a field over
towards the eastern wall of the town, where Harlin the druid made his home. They were
heading towards a large tree stump, probably from some massive oak that had been cut
down years ago. A door had been carved into the side of the stump, and a small spout
poked out from the top with smoke drifting from it. Despite its odd appearance, the house
seemed quite warm and inviting.
Aiden knocked on the door, and within moments, a weathered- looking middle-aged
man with an unshaven jaw and piercing green eyes emerged. He wore a simple brown
robe with the hood pulled up.
“Hello there,” he greeted them with a wide smile. “Nice weather we're having lately,
yes?” Water dripped off Aiden's nose as he looked blankly at the man.
“You do realise it's been raining almost non-stop for weeks now, right?”
“Bah, nature is merely restoring the balance after a long drought,” Harlin said,
waving his hand dismissively. “All is as it should be. Was there something you wanted?
I'm a little busy at the moment.”
“Yes, I heard that you sell medicinal herbs? My friend and I need to purchase some.”
The robed man peered around the edge of his door a bit further so he could see who
Aiden was referring to. His smile faded almost imperceptibly as he laid eyes on Nellise,
who returned the look with a similar lack of enthusiasm. Clearly Harlin recognised her as
a cleric of the Church of Aielund, and his opinion of her religion probably reflected what
she felt about his.
“You must be soaking wet, come in, come in,” Harlin said, expertly covering any
discomfort he felt. Aiden stepped in after him, making a point to go in first to stay
between the two of them.
The inside of the tree stump was surprisingly well appointed - a small table, bed, and
a large desk were arranged around a small stove. Lying in front of the stove was a huge
tawny coloured cat, with a white underbelly. It growled deeply as soon as it sensed
Aiden, startling the young man for it wasn't a giant house cat as he had first thought, but a
cougar.
“Oh don't mind Sebastian, he's just an oversized kitten really,” advised Harlin, giving
the great cat a scratch behind the ears as he went past. “Just ignore him, the heat from the
fire is making him sleepy. Now, which herbs did you require?” Aiden didn't take his eyes
off the cat, despite Harlin's assurances. Sebastian gave him an appraising sniff then lay
his head back down on the wooden floor, content to bask in the stove's warmth.
“Ah yes, the items in question,” Aiden replied, glancing at Nellise. Unexpectedly,
she leaned forward to speak.
“Wormwood, Astragalus, and Heathmend,” she said rather quickly. “And some
bandages if you have them, I think four yards should suffice.” Harlin nodded and fetched
some bundles off the desk. Nellise flicked Aiden a telling glance – she obviously wanted
to be gone quickly, but he just had to know more.
“So Harlin,” he began, drawing a 'what are you doing?' look from Nellise. “I don't
recall hearing of many druids living in these parts, and yet here you are, residing in a
small town.”
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