Saturday, February 5, 2011

Weekend Writer's Retreat - 41

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.

Scene 41

“Five hundred?” the young trader said, laughing and turning away. “Get yourself another mug of ale. You’re drunk.”

Scorpius’ face flushed hot, heart thudding with the desire to haul off and clobber the man. It didn’t help that the pretty market girl watched from across the courtyard.

With the older trader absent, he had no idea whether this one knew his master or not. His mind scrambled to come up with something that would give him leverage. Glancing down at the pelt bundle, he heard Richolf’s assessment that this lot would command a price of five hundred.

So five hundred it would have to be.

Scorpius forged ahead with the dance of offer-counter-offer. The trader’s mood rose and fell like gusts of wind. Scorpius had never seen anything quite like it. In the end he played upon the trader’s quick temper. Like the red-tail swooping in for the kill, Scorpius saw his moment and dug his talons into the trader’s latest offer.

The older trader would have been able to hold his decisions behind a mask, but this young trader had begun to sweat slightly. Scorpius knew he had him.

Thrusting his hand towards Scorpius, the trader said, “Four fifty.”

Almost clasping his hand, Scorpius held back just in time. “No deal.”

“You’re a lunatic if you think that’s worth more than four!”

“I know what I’ve got here, if you’re too full of yourself to admit it. The price for it is five. Take it or leave it.”

The trader turned away, rubbing a hand over his face. Scorpius darted a glance over at the market stall. She was watching it all.

Standing straighter, Scorpius realized as if for the first time that he towered over the young man. He set his face into an expression which he hoped looked grim enough, in time to meet the trader’s gaze.

There was real distress in the other man’s eyes. “I’ll give you four eighty. If you won’t take that, I can’t help you.”

Scorpius hesitated. Five hundred, his master had said. Twenty was far more than the price of the stolen bells he’d spent without permission, and look what sort of reception that had received.

But this trader was done. He had the same look of defeat that the game hens had in the clutches of the hawks. Extending his hand, Scorpius shook on the deal that soured both him and the trader. They exchanged goods for coin and parted without another word.

Trudging over to the market stall, he nearly forgot that the mere sight of the girl could mend things inside him so quickly. She turned and locked gazes with him. That was all it took.

Scorpius spent the afternoon standing beside her as she sold wares for her mother, who still wasn’t well. He wasn’t a great one for talking, but he listened as she told him all manner of things. The more she spoke, the more she giggled, and the bigger his heart seemed to swell in his chest. So strange.

He took a few bites of the food she’d brought with her, but only because she insisted that he had to eat something before his journey back to the cottage. Scorpius wasn’t hungry at all for anything but the moments that flew by.

Finally, it was time to pack up the market stall. He insisted on helping her, though she protested she could do it and that he should go before he had to walk in the dark. When it was clear that she would only work herself into a knot if he didn’t go on his way, Scorpius began walking toward the gates that led from the estate.

Turning, he said, “You know, I don’t think you’ve told me your name.”

She bit her lip but couldn’t prevent a delightful smile from spreading over her face. “I’m Alegreza.”

“Alegreza,” he said, returning her grin. “I’m Scorpius.”

“Scorpius,” she said, with the same tone of wonder he’d used.

“Give my best to your ma,” he said.

“Good luck with your master,” she said.

He nodded, a little worm of dread squirming through his gut. Scorpius forced himself to walk through the estate entrance and head for the cottage as the sun dipped below the horizon and shadows cooled the road.

When he finally opened the door and came in from the chilly evening, he took a deep breath to ready himself. Richolf would surely have something to say about the price he’d failed to get for the pelts.

His master looked up from where he sat at the table, eating his dinner. “I was starting to wonder whether you’d be back tonight.”

“The time got away from me,” Scorpius said.

“Well don’t just stand there. Fix yourself something to eat.” Richolf bit into his bread.

Scorpius still wasn’t hungry. His stomach twisted as he worried about the money he hadn’t secured. Filling his plate anyway, he sat and looked at the food, not eating, not speaking.

“Scorpius,” his master said finally.

“Sir?” he said, not looking up.

“Is there something you want to tell me?”

Reaching down for the leather bag heavy with coins, Scorpius handed it over to his master. Richolf hefted the weight of it.

“How much did you get for it?”

Forcing himself to answer, his hands icy, his mouth dry, Scorpius said, “Four eighty.”

Placing the bag on the table, Richolf continued to eat. Scorpius stared at his master, his heart still beating hard in readiness for harsh words. But none came.

Picking up his fork, Scorpius stabbed and missed at a piece of meat. They ate in silence for a few moments, but the dog’s eyebrows furrowed with the unspoken tension in the air.

“Couldn’t get five hundred for it,” Richolf finally said.

“No sir.” Here it comes, Scorpius thought.

“Not surprised,” his master said.

“I tried my best, sir.” Scorpius’ heart squeezed painfully.

“And you did well.” Richolf’s eyes sparkled with a private joke.

“I did?”

Richolf took a long swig from his tankard. “Those pelts were only worth four hundred.”

© Julia Smith, 2011


Melissa Bradley said...

Wow, I am absolutely hooked on Scorpius' story. This is fantastic, I didn't want the excerpt to end.

Khaalidah said...

It has been a while since I read Scorpius, but it is still a lovely read. He is truly growing up, isn't he? Young love...hope his heart doesn't get broken, or her's for that matter.
I love the end, the tension and fear and then the let down when his master told him that he had done well in getting 480 for pelts not worth as much. I could almost feel the relief.

Travis Cody said...

Ahhh...the lesson of relative value. A think is worth what you can get someone to pay for it.

But more importantly, Scorpius learned that a goal should be set, but one should always recognize the point at which coming up short of the goal is the reasonable, rational, and correct thing to do.

Alice Audrey said...

LOL! Oh, that was just mean.

Shelley Munro said...

I remember reading other Scorpius excerpts and enjoyed this new addition. I love the new look of your blog, Julia.

Grandma's Goulash said...

I feared that Scorpius would hold out for 500, since the girl was watching him. Obviously a wise young man.

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