Day 20 of the A to Z Challenge brings us to the latest chapter in my serialized dark fantasy story.
It also brings me to the one-year anniversary of delving into Scorpius' childhood backstory for this Weekend Writer's Retreat. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank those of you who have stuck with this story for a whole year.
T is for Trial
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.
The detachment of guards thundered around the bend, their horses just as fierce-looking as the men who dismounted to spread quickly across the clearing. The bound courtiers were made to regret their choices of loyalties, even with their trial some days away.
Richolf motioned for Scorpius to stick close as the commanding officer strode across the cottage’s stone floor. Scorpius’ gut twisted with dread for Lord Thibault, who lay on their table still drenched in sweat from his ordeal.
The commander poked and prodded the noble, who answered in moans. “Looks clean,” the officer said. “No poison.”
He carried himself like a prince, or at least what Scorpius imagined a prince might look like. If he ignored the scars and the uniform, Scorpius would have wondered if this wasn’t another royal sibling concealing his true purpose as Lord Nizhnii had done, years ago.
“Just the arrow, sir,” the guard who’d removed it said.
“Was there anyone with Lord Thibault when he was attacked?”
Scorpius’ heart stopped in mid-beat. Richolf stepped ever so slightly ahead of him.
Gesturing towards him, the guard said, “The falconer’s boy, sir.”
The officer glanced across the kitchen to hold Scorpius in his piercing gaze. Everything inside of Scorpius shriveled to nothing.
At first he took a step back as the officer walked towards him. But he forced himself to stand straight, reminding himself that he had in fact saved the young lord’s life. The sight of Richolf’s bowed head from the corner of his eye reminded him to do likewise, just in time.
“How did it happen?” the officer said.
Glancing up at Lord Thibault’s sprawled form and bloodied shoulder, Scorpius took a deep breath and explained how the hunting party had turned on itself, describing his flight with the noble into the forest and their concealment beneath the rock ledge. At the end, he dared to look up into the commander’s eyes.
The officer stepped even closer, nose to nose. Scorpius was forced to look down or be insubordinate.
For a long moment, the officer didn’t speak. He merely stood there, too close, his gaze raking Scorpius from top to bottom, delving beneath his skin like a cruel knife looking for arrowheads or poison.
Swallowing hard, Scorpius stood as still as he could, his mouth dry, his palms sweaty.
“How did you know to run?” the officer asked, finally.
With every part of his being, Scorpius wanted to leave his master out of this, just in case there might be more questions to make Richolf suffer. But Lord Thibault would tell his own version of the event, and the falconer was the one who’d alerted them to the danger. So that is what Scorpius told him.
Turning towards his master, the commander fired off a series of questions meant to trip up liars. But Richolf answered everything calmly and simply, with the right amount of deference and the dignity of having nothing to hide.
The officer signaled for the guard to follow him outside. Without another word, they were gone.
Scorpius and Richolf exchanged pale glances. But they were not as pale as the young lord, who at least moaned to reassure them he lived.
© Julia Smith, 2011