Day 14 of the A to Z Challenge!
Today brings us to the latest chapter in my serialized dark fantasy story.
And for today, N is for Notorious.
For the first twelve scenes posted for the Weekend Writer's Retreat, we followed Scorpius as a seven-year-old, fetched from the nursery by a falconer to become his apprentice.
The next twelve scenes followed ten-year-old Scorpius as he discovered the dangers of serving the nobles he'd once imagined were family.
The third set of twelve scenes gave us a thirteen-year-old Scorpius, who discovered 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.
Lord Thibault’s stallion barely tolerated Scorpius’ efforts to hang onto the reins, and that was merely to lead him to Richolf on the field.
The guard who’d sprawled nearby had regained consciousness. He rolled the still-bleeding courtier face down and secured his hands behind his back as Scorpius helped his master into the saddle.
“We’ll secure the grounds,” the guard said, nodding at another guard who had already rounded up two courtiers farther along the field. “Bring his lordship to your cottage.”
“Aye, sir,” his master said, reaching down to grab hold of Scorpius’ forearm. The horse side-stepped in a circle, forcing Scorpius to hop on one leg until finally Richolf hauled him up. Perching on the thoroughbred’s bare haunches, he wrapped his arms around Richolf and hung on, grateful beyond measure that he didn’t need to ride this beast by himself.
This forest was Richolf’s before it was Scorpius’, so a brief description was all it took for his master to pick their way through the dense growth. Scorpius stayed on the alert for the two courtiers who’d chased Lord Thibault and himself into these woods, but the only sounds were birdsong and rustling from small, skittish creatures.
When they finally closed in on the rock ledge sheltering the noble, the horse’s ears pricked forward as it sniffed the air. Scorpius slid off and helped Richolf down, seeing the blood caked in his hair for the first time.
Crawling beneath the gnarled tree roots gripping the rock, Scorpius found Lord Thibault insensible but breathing. Between himself and his master, they eased the noble from his hiding place and onto the horse with silent signals and practiced understanding, but not before stuffing a neckcloth in the lord’s mouth to stop the moaning.
Picking their way as carefully and quickly as they could, Richolf supported Lord Thibault from his seat behind him on the horse as Scorpius managed the animal with greater assurance. There was no time for anything else.
When finally they made their way to the field, there was nothing but mashed grass to indicate that anything had even happened here. Scorpius and his master exchanged grim glances as they headed along the mews, forcing themselves to ignore the falcon perched on the roof of his hut, untended after the hunt.
Rounding the corner of the cottage, Scorpius saw four courtiers tied to the hitching posts, some faint with their wounds, some glaring in dark warning. One injured guard stood over them, his blade at the ready.
The other hurried to assist Lord Thibault into the cottage. Scorpius had to secure the horse, though he still didn’t know what he was doing. All he knew was that the animal responded better when Scorpius acted as if he knew what was what. So that’s what he did. He ignored the size and power and aggressive temperament and treated the stallion as though he were their hunting dog.
When he finally entered the kitchen, he found Lord Thibault laid upon his stomach on the table, the arrow still protruding from his shoulder. The guard deftly probed with his fingers, moving the shaft this way and that until he was satisfied as to the placement of the arrowhead. Richolf held the noble down and jerked his head for Scorpius to do the same.
The guard rummaged through his leather satchel for a few items, asked for water and some cloths and wiped the sweat from his brow. Scorpius scurried to collect what he required. By the time he returned, the guard had collected himself and readied the small knife and clamp with confidence.
“Hold him steady,” the guard said. Scorpius and his master leaned into the noble, pressing firmly as the guard made the first slice to enlarge the wound.
All Scorpius could think about were the men who had once held his master when he’d been put to the question. At least Lord Thibault’s writhing and muffled shrieks were to heal a wound and not create one.
But the torment was the same, wasn’t it, whether it was inflicted with notorious brutality deep below the estate’s splendor, or whether it happened here in their cozy falconer’s cottage.
© Julia Smith, 2011