The falcon stared at him from the gloom of the mews, its thin body painful to look upon. As Scorpius hurried past the red-tail, the gray and the king hawk, the expected tiny lilting of bells attached to their jesses never came. Instead, the birds stood unmoving upon their perches, following his passage with their burning golden eyes.
Scorpius called for the dog, listening hard for that telltale loping swoosh through the grass. Rounding the corner of the cottage, he broke into a run, needing to see Richolf. Hurling himself at the door, he yanked and rattled the latch but it wouldn’t open.
“Master!” he called.
Something grabbed his attention over the pounding of his heart – it was the dog, whining and crying from around the side of the cottage. “I’m coming!” he called, shoving past brush and tearing his fine new clothes.
He’d been certain the dog was just around the corner, but there was only the boarded-up window where Ingerith had once stolen into the cottage in order to save Lord Thibault’s life. Scorpius used his newly-honed strength gained from the sword training, but nothing would free the boards keeping him out of the cottage where he’d grown to young manhood.
The dog’s cries led him all around the cottage, where he tried every window with no success. His new doublet now in shreds, Scorpius winced as a thorny branch sliced through to the skin.
Stepping away from the stone wall, squeezing through more brush, he hissed in pain as his trouser leg ripped. His hand pressed on the torn fabric, slick with blood, while an irritating snap, snap, snap filled the air as he cleared the tangle of branches at last.
Scorpius turned to look for the dog. Instead, he found the red-tail, the gray and the king hawk strewn along the path he’d just taken. Their crushed bodies were smeared with blood.
Recoiling, Scorpius found every falcon dead, covering the clearing in front of the cottage.
“Master!” he screamed. “Master!”
Two hands gripped his arms. He tried to sit up, but twisted blankets held him fast.
“Scorpius!” Lord Thibault said. “I’m here. Hush, now – you’ll have the other servants running down here in a minute.”
“We have to get them out. They’re dying!”
“The hawks,” Scorpius said, his mouth so dry he could barely speak.
“The hawks,” his master repeated, slowly releasing him.
Scorpius peeled the blankets away, sitting up to run trembling hands through his hair. “They’re still tied to their perches, inside the mews. They can’t get out on their own. They’re starving. Why should they die because I’m here with you?”
The words were out of his mouth before he realized the tone he’d taken with his master. Scrambling to his knees among the strewn bedding, he bowed his head low.
Lord Thibault placed a steadying hand on Scorpius’ arm.
“Forgive me, lord,” Scorpius said.
“It’s forgotten.” Lord Thibault stood, heading for the door that separated their chambers. “Most of it, anyway.”
© Julia Phillips Smith, 2011