Here's the latest installment of Scorpius' boyhood back story.
Scorpius is a character from my dark fantasy work in progress. For the first twelve scenes posted for the Weekend Writer's Retreat, we follow him as a seven-year-old, fetched from the nursery by a falconer to become his apprentice.
The next twelve scenes follow ten-year-old Scorpius as he discovers the dangers of serving the nobles he'd once imagined were family.
The third set of twelve scenes give us a thirteen-year-old Scorpius, who discovers the true extent of his master's attempts to shield him from the cruelties of life outside their falconer's cottage.
We rejoin him at age sixteen.
You can follow the progress of this story arc by clicking on the Works in Progress link just under the blog header.
The girl stretched across the crowded market stall to take up a little covered woven basket. Enjoying the sight as she reached, Scorpius nearly missed his cue to look away in time.
The muffled sound of tiny bells beckoned from the container held in her palm. “Ma told me someone would stop by for these,” she said, her eyes gleaming with mischief. “But you don’t look anything like the man she described.”
“Well, if I may say so,” Scorpius said, waves of relief rolling through him at what he’d nearly said about the old woman before he knew it was her mother, “I nearly passed by this stall, as I was looking for someone other than yourself.”
She grinned and dipped her head down in the most adorable manner. “You’ll be wanting these, then?” Lifting the basket lid, she revealed several assortments of miniature bells held together by twine.
Scorpius leaned forward to peer inside just as the girl did likewise. They knocked heads.
“Ow!” she cried as the basket flew from her hand, bells scattering over the ground. Scorpius chuckled and bent to retrieve them when a grimy little boy darted from out of nowhere and scooped up a handful.
“Hey!” the girl shouted, shoving at Scorpius and reaching for the boy. But he was quick and disappeared before Scorpius could blink.
One glance at the girl told him how great was her distress at the loss of her mother’s wares. Scorpius bolted after the boy, scrambling to keep him in sight, darting and weaving between stalls and market goers.
It took a great deal of trouble, but Scorpius finally grabbed a handful of the boy’s tunic. It nearly ripped in his hands, it was so threadbare. The feeling in his gut when the market girl had looked at him in despair was nothing compared to the chill in his heart when the beggar boy gazed into his eyes.
What a hard little person it was staring back at him, covered in grime and old scars, smelling to the heavens. No one to take him on as an apprentice, no one to care for him, no one but those he could steal from before they could give him a blow and a curse.
Still, these bells weren’t his. He threw the boy down on the ground, pried his fingers open and retrieved the bells.
As he rose, panting, Scorpius noticed the boy hadn’t run off as he’d supposed he might. Taking a moment to adjust his own tunic, he noticed the silent tears as the boy regained his feet. He also noticed how bony the boy’s ankles were beneath ragged trousers.
Grabbing the boy by the shoulder, Scorpius saw the boy’s instinctive flinch. His heart squeezed inside, but he forced himself to remain gruff as he picked several bells from the retrieved loot and offered them back to the little thief.
Gazing suspiciously at him for a brief moment, the boy didn’t give Scorpius time to change his mind. He scooped up the bells and took off, disappearing into the crowd.
Hardly anyone in the market had bothered to stop and look. Two boys fighting were hardly a matter for concern, especially when one was clearly a beggar. Scorpius made his way back to the girl’s market stall, his heart soaring when he found her craning for a look at him.
He basked in her relief as he rejoined her, holding out the bells and dropping them back into her palm.
“Oh thank you!” she said, a catch in her voice. “Thank you!”
Scorpius shrugged as if all the running and jumping, the grabbing and sorting things out had been nothing at all.
“This is just the sort of thing Ma was saying would happen. She didn’t want me to run the stall for her today, but she isn’t well.” Her voice thickened and she turned away.
So many tears today. Scorpius closed the space between them and said, “My master said the same thing. It’s all turning out pretty much as he’d warned me.”
She laughed and turned to smile up at him. Why did she look even prettier in the midst of her dismay? Was it the way she seemed to need him just now?
“I wish we didn’t have to tell them they were right. Don’t you?” she said, wiping her face.
“You won’t have to tell your ma anything. I’ll buy the bells he made off with, as well as the ones I got back for you.”
She shoved at him, but her face softened with hope. “Don’t be silly.”
“I’m not being anything except a terrible deal maker, just as my master predicted.”
She swallowed and turned to someone stopping at her stall to make a purchase. When they’d finished their exchange, Scorpius moved to take his place, offering the money he would have paid for all of the bells in that design.
“I can’t,” she said, shaking her head and smiling a warm and beautiful smile. She gasped as he took her hand and pressed the money upon her. “But your master won’t let you near the market again if you’re such a dreadful dealer.”
“What would be the point of coming back, if your ma didn’t let you run her stall for her?”
She laughed, a delightful sound that made him feel as though he’d performed the spirals and dives of a courting falcon.
© Julia Smith, 2011