My Scorpius serial is now joining The Serialists which moves my serialized fiction series to Wednesdays.
To recap this dark fantasy story so far:
As a small boy of seven, Scorpius was fetched from the nursery where he'd been raised to live among the nobility - fetched not by his family, but by a falconer to serve as his apprentice.
Scorpius soon learned that a close encounter with a dragon was preferable to the cruelties of the nobles he'd once hoped were family. His master did whatever he could to shield Scorpius from the world outside their cottage, but the falconer was merely a servant, when all was said and done.
An attempt on the life of a young noble while on a hunt sent the falconer and his apprentice on abruptly different paths.
We continue with Scorpius at age sixteen as he enters the service of Lord Thibault.
You can follow the progress of this story arc by clicking on the Works in Progress link just under the blog header.
“How did my nephew come to overpower such a foe?” the noble asked, as though Lord Thibault wouldn’t be capable of such a thing under normal circumstances.
The smooth back which Richolf had safeguarded for him made Scorpius appear to be one of the blood. His former master could have wielded cruel lessons during his apprenticeship, but had never done so. There was no way to hide the tears of gratitude which he tried to blink away.
“You think he could best me in a fight?” Scorpius said with disdain.
“No. I am certain he could not,” the noble said.
Scorpius tried to ignore the flutter of pride that rose inside of him at those words. How he hated the feeling of those hot tears spilling down his cheeks. He must think of a reason for them.
“He made you his prisoner somehow,” the guard captain said.
Once again ignoring the captain as though it were beneath Scorpius to address him, he said, “Does it matter how he put me here? I shall be delivered to the duke soon enough.”
Both men laughed a second time, a chilling sound that raised the bumps on Scorpius’ skin. “A distressing prospect, to be certain,” the noble said.
Scorpius thought of his new master, how they had laughed together, suffered together. He thought of how generous Lord Thibault had been to Richolf, who meant more to Scorpius than anyone in the world. How could Lord Thibault’s father carry a reputation that filled men with such dread?
“Other men would be trying to forge a deal about now, would they not, my lord?” the captain said.
“Men with families and masters, you mean?” Scorpius said, looking off into the shadows.
“Perhaps I could offer you one or the other.” The noble leaned forward and took Scorpius’ chin in one hand.
Scorpius did not meet his gaze. He tried to free himself from the lord’s grasp, but it only made the noble squeeze painfully.
“Perhaps it’s time for you to stop roaming. Start giving allegiance to one house. One family.”
Wishing the lord’s words didn’t cut so close to the bone, Scorpius asked, “Why should you want me?” He was surprised to see an answering desperation in the noble’s eyes.
“The winds of discontent blow across this kingdom. And yet, only the first droplets of blood have been shed. It’s not every day an unclaimed man of your stature arrives at my door. I offer position, weapons and an income.”
Scorpius noticed the captain had circled around so that both men stared at him. The captain’s gaze roamed as though already fitting Scorpius out with a uniform and a blade.
“If you agree, I could send my nephew home without you. There would be no reason to discuss anything at all with the duke.”
What was going on? Scorpius suddenly felt like a game hen thrown down before the hunting dogs. “I shall take my chances,” he said, looking away.
The lord and the captain looked at one another in disbelief.
“I’m offering you an opportunity to stay here in one piece,” the noble said.
“Yes, and of course that is very kind of you,” Scorpius said.
The captain darted forward, once again grabbing Scorpius by a handful of hair. Forced to stare into the guard’s face, Scorpius got the eerie sensation that this man was somehow looking through him.
“You’re hiding something,” the captain said.
“You can ask the duke what it was when he’s done with me,” Scorpius said.
The guard released him and stepped back, just as the noble took a few steps forward. “If you share this information with me rather than with the duke, I could arrange for you to have more than a position. I could arrange a title for you.”
Scorpius' heart seized up inside his chest. What kind of torment was this? Offering his every heart’s desire instead of slicking the stone floor with his blood? What sort of information did they think he possessed?
It was madness. He felt dizzy and nauseous.
The terrible images of his childhood rushed forward just then, filled with lords stabbing one another on the falconer’s doorstep, with a pale body dragged off for the dragon to destroy the evidence.
Perhaps he did know something after all. He looked across the cell at the noble and the guard captain. Just as he’d sensed in the market square when he’d bartered for Richolf’s pelts, he felt the tide turn here in this clammy cell.
The shackles still dug into his wrists, his shoulders and legs still ached from his day of forced standing. He was in a stone cell beneath the noble’s estate. But he felt suddenly as though he sat high upon Lord Thibault’s stallion.
Strange, how his mind worked so hard to break him out of this gloom. But in this landscape, his mind was his most important weapon. A stout heart could languish here for months. A sharp mind could defend him when his height and strength were bound and useless.
Scorpius looked away from his tormentors, dismissing them as he had been dismissed so many times after the hunt. He felt the ripple of their frustration in the close confines of the cell. A smile wanted to tug at his lips, but he knew he could not pull off something so daring. It was enough to feel the smile lighting his courage.
© Julia Smith, 2011