I'm now 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, bringing Scorpius into the service of Lord Thibault's noble house.
We now continue with Scorpius at age nineteen.
You can follow the progress of this story arc by clicking on the Works in Progress link just under the blog header.
Scorpius and his master waded into the sea of expectant faces, all craning to have a good look at the noble with his head on the marriage block.
The dukessa’s reception was so well attended, it was now something of a crush. His heart rate accelerating, Scorpius kept one hand on the pommel of his sword. He’d never faced such a potential mob as Lord Thibault’s man. Anyone could lurk in this press of silk and velvet.
There was no way to stick close enough to his master in order to protect him while maintaining a respectful distance. As the other young nobles swarmed ahead to greet the guest of honor, Scorpius was forced to stand shoulder to shoulder with his master, something that would not have been tolerated at any other time.
Thanking the gods for his extra height in these circumstances, Scorpius kept his gaze roaming the crowd for anything out of the ordinary. Of course, the duke had dispatched the household guard, who were liberally sprinkled amongst the servants and slaves. Their assured presence felt like a calm hand upon his shoulder.
As young ladies exhibiting their finer charms made their way forward, Scorpius forced himself to stop sharing sideways glances with his master as they made silent comment on the various matrimonial candidates. Instead, he made eye contact from guard to guard, nodding as they indicated all was well.
It was a relief when Lord Thibault finally sat down to eat. Standing behind his master’s chair, Scorpius had a far greater vantage point from which to scan the hall. From here he could see which heads tilted together for private conversation, which ladies eyed his master with undisguised hunger and which drew back in disinterest.
It became clear, as they waited for the meal-tasting slaves to finish their portions, that a particular young lady held her gazes for a considerable time with Lord Thibault. Both the chancellor and the dukessa had noted the exchanges from their perch in the gallery overlooking the hall, if their whispered consultations meant what Scorpius thought they meant.
From the expression Lord Thibault’s mother displayed, Scorpius knew the lovely lady in question met with official approval. As for the chancellor, he was much too far away for Scorpius to read the subtleties.
Besides, something else had begun to pull his attention to the far corner of the hall.
Several of the guard had posted themselves near a small group of nobles who managed to stand out from the rest, even in this finely turned-out company. Three males and one female, as richly attired as anyone else, yet something about their demeanor felt at odds. Scorpius’ senses sharpened to a knife edge.
The nearest door was a dozen strides away.
His best choice was to push Lord Thibault beneath the solid banquet table and cover him with his body while the guard took action, as he knew they would. Now that he’d worked out a plan, he fanned his fingers over his sword pommel and stood poised to spring.
Still, the eating and conversation continued, laughter pealing up over the coiffures as though nothing simmered in the afternoon air.
Somehow the young woman from the little knot of suspicious nobles had caught his master’s eye. This time, it was impossible not to notice Lord Thibault’s interest in the exotic lady, even when he could not see his master’s face.
Wasn’t she a beauty? Her skin was a shade darker than most other ladies’, her eyes alight with tracery that brought out an irresistible wildness. Her hair was well-concealed beneath a scarf and hat arrangement that only served to make Scorpius long to tug at them both, to see her locks tumble free.
The far more eligible young lady continued to engage his master with glances and conversation. The dukessa continued to smile discretely upon her son from the gallery. However, the chancellor followed Scorpius’ focus upon the unknown nobles and the interest shown them by the guard.
Scorpius tried to read the chancellor’s signals, but the older man was too schooled in deception to give anything away. All he could do was be ready to draw his sword if it came to that. Even if that meant striking down the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.
© Julia Phillips Smith, 2011