My Scorpius serial now posts on Tuesdays for Tuesday Serial.
I'm also posting with The Serialists which appears on 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 who must obey his own masters.
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.
“My father has asked for you,” Lord Thibault said in an offhanded way, dismounting from his horse.
A groom moved forward, taking hold of the reins as Scorpius slid smoothly out of the saddle. He dropped to his feet, trying to catch his master’s eye.
“Yes, my lord,” Scorpius said, following behind, dread rolling heavily through his guts. They left the sunshine and the carefree afternoon behind, heading into the cool stone passageway at a brisk pace.
His master led Scorpius to his own room, where a new set of clothes had been laid out on his bed and a basin of fresh water awaited. Lord Thibault supervised every aspect of Scorpius’ preparations, fussing over him like a valet over a bridegroom.
“You mustn’t worry,” Lord Thibault said, tying his sleeves into place with care.
“I won’t, my lord.”
“I have already informed my father that you will serve as my man.” He grabbed Scorpius by the shoulders and turned him toward the door. “The duke must accept you as my acquisition.”
Scorpius nodded, heart leaping as his master nudged him forward. Only when they were both out in the corridor did Lord Thibault take his habitual lead.
“My brother, the markiisi chose his own man, and I am now of an age to do the same.”
“The duke will not be pleased, I take it, my lord.” Scorpius recalled the dark chuckles of his master’s uncle and the guard captain at mention of Lord Thibault's father. As they rounded a corner and the gallery widened to a polished grandeur, Scorpius fought to still his fear.
“He means to assess the damage, so to speak. You see what faith he has in me.”
Scorpius recognized the double doors from their first meeting with the duke. Servants pulled with practiced ease at the golden handles, stepping back as the doors swung open. It was all happening too fast. Scorpius and his master stood before the duke and there was nothing for it but to bow deeply and sweep his arm to his chest.
He straightened only to catch a glimpse of Lord Thibault backing away and striding out through the doors, which closed with a smart click behind him. Like a flash freeze, Scorpius’ blood seemed to stop in its tracks.
Scorpius forced himself to move, crossing the carpet which was soft as flower petals. He got as near to the duke as he dared, his gaze solidly averted.
“Where did he find you?”
“Your son arrived at my master’s – my former master’s cottage for a hunt. I served a falconer, Your Grace,” he said, voice breaking just then. He felt his face flush hot.
From the corner of his eye, he saw the chancellor standing once again at a respectful distance.
“So there are none to recommend you.” The satisfaction at this glaring lack made Scorpius shrivel inside.
“Could we not pay this falconer a visit, Your Grace?” the chancellor said.
Was Scorpius prohibited from speaking without first having been spoken to? Why didn’t Lord Thibault take as great care with these few simple rules as he’d done with this jerkin?
“To which estate were you attached?” the duke asked.
“Lord Dirske’s, Your Grace. But you will not find my master – you will not find the falconer there. Lord Thibault sent him away.”
“Did he?” The duke strode forward. Scorpius had grown accustomed to being the tallest person in any room, but Lord Thibault’s father matched him and more. Everything inside Scorpius cried out to back away, but he recalled his master’s words: The duke must accept you as my acquisition.
He remembered the shrieks of that poor young guard, flogged by Lord Dirske during the nightmare hunt. He glanced quickly at the duke and his chancellor, but neither appeared to wield anything that could repeat such a scene.
The guard captain had fully expected to find the scars of similar floggings across Scorpius’ back. That must speak highly of Richolf, surely. Of Scorpius' own level of service. Forcing himself to hold his ground as the duke looked him over, Scorpius bit back the words that wanted to tumble in explanation from his lips.
“You saved his life,” said Lord Thibault’s father. “But who put him in jeopardy? No one to speak for you. No one but the grateful lord you now serve.”
No one but Ingerith, his former master’s lover, whose identity must remain secret.
Scorpius swallowed hard, glancing up to see the chancellor staring intently at him. “Your son showed great mercy to my master, Your Grace,” Scorpius said, his mouth dry with fear. “As my master showed always to me.”
“Thank the gods that Thibault is only a second son.” The duke turned away, heading for the doors. Scorpius’ face grew hot once more, bearing the insult to his new master as if it were his own.
“I shall leave you to it,” the duke said, striding out into the gallery.
Scorpius straightened from his bow to meet the appraising glance of the chancellor, whose gaze took in everything, whose expression gave away nothing.
© Julia Phillips Smith, 2011