Business returned to normal in the canteen. The head cook, an enormous man whose width nearly matched his height,  approached the steward waving his ladle at the body on the floor.

“I’m not dealing with this mess sir. That’s the second body in as many weeks that has found its way on to my floor. I’m right in the middle of serving evening chow and cannot afford to have my men diverted to deal with a corpse.”

“It shall be dealt with.” Cyprus dismissed the cook with a curt gesture.

The cook had survived long enough in Lord Jordan’s army to know not to press the issue with the steward. He nodded, spun around and rushed back into the thick of his busy kitchen, barking orders as he went.

“Your father plans to lead a search party at first light.” Cyprus said as he watched the cook disappear into the maelstrom. He turned to look at Sweden. “I would appreciate it if you would accompany him.”

Sweden studied the old stewards face, he glanced down at the body sprawled out on the dirt beside them.

“You know you can’t kill me if I say no.” He stated, matter-of-factly. He was well aware that a request from Cyprus was equal to an order from his father.

“This is true,” The Steward acknowledged, “However that little execution was not for your benefit. You know damn well that I have more useful forms of leverage I can bring to bear upon you.”

“It makes me sad to think that I might have to resort to petty threats to motivate you. It is for your brothers sake after all.”

“You no more care for my brothers well-being than you do for the corpse of that man beside you. You are simply looking to have the issue resolved as quickly as possible and you know that I’m the only ranger here who has a hope of finding him.”

Cyprus said nothing.

“You know he’s probably dead don’t you?”

The cold reality of what he had just said took Sweden by surprise. His brother probably was dead, at best, or in the hands of the cavers at worst. The thought of what the cavers might be doing to a live captive instantly settled his appetite. He looked at the steward with tired eyes.

Mutant Beast

“My father is not a wise man, everyone knows it is you we have to thank for the progress we are making in this campaign. I would have gone anyway you old fool.”

“You are yet to show wisdom yourself young master Sweden. You have misjudged me. I had intended to request your assistance not insist upon it.”

“No matter, you ride at first light.”

It was settled.

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