“He won’t come back?”

Norway was perched on the edge of the cast iron bath in Lord Jordan’s tent. Cyprus, industriously scrubbing away the  accumulated filth and grime that caked her slight form, shook his head.

“No, I don’t think we will be seeing him again.” Cyprus replied, “I suspect your mother is keeping him occupied.”

“Good.” She said flatly, “I hope I never see him again.”

As she spoke a shiver ran through her causing her wings to unfurl slightly, knocking the scrubbing-brush from Cyprus’s hand.

“I think we’re going to have to find a way to control these unruly appendages of yours.” Cyprus said stretching one of the wings by the tip until it was fully extended. “In fact, it’s probably best if we keep them under wraps until we figure out a way to introduce your, ‘gift’ to the mark.”

He marveled at the apparent strength and vitality of the wing. He better than anyone knew the torment and suffering this girl had endured at the hands of  her father. She should be covered in bruises and scars but the smooth skin stretched taut by the extension of the wing was unbroken and blemish free.

“Remarkable.” He said softly.

Norway folded her wings curtly. She was hurtling through adolescence and Cyprus’s attention was beginning to make her uncomfortable. They had a unique relationship, the mutant girl and the elderly steward. Her existence  was a closely kept secret. Any person besides Cyprus who found out about her was swiftly silenced, invariably fatally. Cyprus had devoted himself completely to the care and fostering of the child and had to swallow his emotions when ever Jordan had taken his pleasure from her. He had rocked her to sleep, cradled in his arms countless times, soothing the torrent of pent-up emotion that spilled forth from her broken and battered soul. That she never once cried out in pain or anger at her treatment filled him with an immense sense of paternal pride. Now here she was, turning into a beautiful young woman before his eyes.

There was a loud commotion from outside the tent. One of the guards called out for Cyprus’s attention. Cyprus bustled Norway out of the bath, wrapping her in a towel and directing her back into her ante-chamber. When he was convinced she was out of sight he called back.

“What is the meaning of this interruption? My orders were clear.”

“My Lord, two of our scouts have returned with…I think you should see this for yourself.”

Cyprus tutted in annoyance, but pulled aside the heavy curtain at the entrance to the tent and strode out into the harsh daylight.

A strange silence had descended over the camp. Cyprus turned to the guard.

“Well?”

The guard pointed towards the northernmost end of the camp. Cyprus realised that everyone in the camp appeared to be looking in the same direction. Three riders were approaching. This in itself was not unusual. Mounted scouts came and went about their business with a mundane regularity. He stood for a moment contemplating the strangeness of what he saw. Antigua chose that moment to dig her heels into Argentum’s flanks, pushing him to rear up on his hind legs. The iron horse dwarfed the Poan scout horses, his steel flanks flaring dramatically as they caught the light from the sun. Cyprus held his breath in wonder. Who on earth could this be and what manner of steed was this?

“Cyprus you old leper, how do you like my ride?”

The words jolted him out of his reverie as the horses came thundering into the camp and pulled up in front of the tent. The four guards quickly formed a defensive line in front of Cyprus, shielding him with their pikes from the horse riders. Cyprus suddenly realised that there were in fact two riders upon the great iron beast. Their armour was completely alien to him, unusual colours, bright blues and brilliant whites the likes of which the best tanners in Poan could only ever dream of matching. One of the riders had the unmistakable curves of a woman. Her armour was clearly of higher quality than her companions, fitting her form perfectly. The companion jumped down from the massive horse and approached the open-mouthed steward. The four guards brought their pikes together forcing the strange rider to stop.

“Cyprus, it’s me!” The rider said incredulously.

He paused for a beat before realisation dawned on him. He pulled off the enviro-suit visor with a flourish.

“Sweden?” Cyprus was as incredulous. “Let him through you fools.”

The guards stepped back, allowing Sweden to continue. They kept their pikes lowered however, pointed at the huge horse that stood before them.

“You have no idea how good it is to see you boy.” Cyprus said as he embraced the young man. “We have a serious situation on our hands. Slovenia is on the attack and until this moment our armies have been fighting without a general.”

“My father has not returned?” Sweden asked, his eyes wide with worry.

Cyprus’s response was interrupted by the shrill bleating of horns. The camp burst into life, the horns were a call to arms. A scout had returned with news. Slovenia’s army was mustering in the plains three miles to the east of their position. A messenger rushed up to Cyprus.

“My Lord,” He said breathlessly, “the Countess has begun her manoeuvres.”

“Very good.” Cyprus replied, “So the queen bitch has played her hand. Let us call her bluff.”

He turned to the surprised young Lord.

“Sweden muster a cohort of cavalry. You’ve returned in the nick of time. You are needed on the field of battle.”

“My Lord, there’s more.” The messenger continued. He lowered his voice to a course whisper. “She has Lord Jordan. She is using him as her banner.”

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