Here's the latest installment of Scorpius' boyhood back story, a character from my dark fantasy work in progress. For the first twelve scenes I've posted for the Weekend Writer's Retreat, we've followed him as a seven-year-old, when he outgrew the nursery where he'd been brought up with the other children of the blood.
But when no one from his family came to claim him, Scorpius was released to serve a falcon master as an apprentice. We rejoin him at age ten.
An incident that took place at the falconer's cottage three years ago has political repercussions that now haunt Scorpius and his master, Richolf.
You can follow the progress of this story arc by clicking on the Works in Progress link just under the blog header.
At first all he could make out was a heap of rags in the gloom.
Scorpius moved forward to kneel beside his master huddled insensible beneath tattered blankets. "Sir. Sir," he said, but nothing got past Richolf's chattering teeth.
Looking back at the grim guard standing in the doorway, Scorpius' plea for help shrivelled on his tongue. His master would not suffer any further indignities, including an apprentice that begged.
Scorpius rose to his feet and informed the guard he would return, using his most authoritative tone of voice. His heart swelled with pride when the man nodded and backed out of the way.
Striding purposefully though he didn't know where he should start looking, nor for what, Scorpius made his way back to the courtyard and stood adrift, his heart heavy in his chest. Who had reduced his master to this state? What did they want from a falconer that was worth such suffering?
There would be no hope of securing a horse. Scorpius must locate some other form of transport - but what? Keeping track of all the deliveries back and forth through the estate yard gates, he narrowed down his options until he was haggling with the owner of a dog cart.
With all the bluster he could manage, Scorpius prodded the unsympathetic guard to help load the falconer into the cart, whose feet dangled disgracefully over the sides. Using the same signals his master used with their hunting dog, Scorpius could have kissed the sturdy animal hitched to the cart when it followed his command. Before long, they were away from the estate and on the road for the falconer's cottage.
When they were far enough away from prying eyes, Scorpius stopped the cart to bend low over his master. In the sunlight, the reality of the swelling mess of Richolf's face clawed at the breath in Scorpius' chest. It wasn't simply a fever that kept his master from recognizing his apprentice.
"You'll be home soon, sir," Scorpius said, more for his own benefit than anything else. He coaxed the dog to carry on, and they trundled their way slowly over the road, Richolf moaning whenever the cart lurched.
The sun was already tucked well below the horizon when they finally arrived at the falconer's cottage. As Scorpius tried to work out how he was going to get his master out of the cart and onto his bed, their hunting dog snarled and barked at the intruder on his turf. The cart dog stopped in his tracks and set up an answering clamor.
Shouting at both animals to quiet down, Scorpius discovered Richolf had regained consciousness.
A pain-singed gaze settled on Scorpius. "We're home, sir," he said.
"Dragon. Took him off."
"Pardon, sir?" A worm of dread pierced Scorpius' heart at the mention of the murdered noble those three years past.
"Dragon. Swear it."
"Dragon, sir," Scorpius repeated. "The dragon took him off."
His master drifted into oblivion, leaving Scorpius with the barking dogs, disturbing wounds to dress and the unwelcome answer to his question from that long ago Night of the Cupboard. He would never again wonder why those guards had been relieved to chase down a dragon, when the alternative made him long to look away.
He would be grateful that it had been Richolf to fetch him away from the nursery, and stop wondering what it might be like to serve at the estate, with all its fine lords and ladies, with fatal hunting trips and secrets so dark his own master now fought back its shadows.
© Julia Smith 2010