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.
"Why would your master suggest such a thing?" asked the leader of this group of Sibiu. He gave no hint as to his own feelings about the contents of the scroll. He merely held it before him, glancing from Scorpius to the message and back again.
Scorpius remembered what Lord Thibault had instructed before sending him to this rendezvous.
"Whatever they say or do, you must not leave until he has given you an answer. Are we clear?"
Scorpius fought to contain the dark chuckle that rose inside him.
"If you suppose my master would tell me what is meant for your eyes only, you don't understand the House of Pruzhnino," Scorpius said.
To his relief, the lead Sibian nodded to one of the others who joined him for a measured conversation in their language. Taking care not to fidget as his heightened state demanded, Scorpius instead stood unmoving, hoping to appear unfazed though he was surrounded by fierce fighting men.
Since his hands were behind his back and out of sight, he allowed himself the luxury of twisting the dukessa's dragon ring back and forth on his finger. It kept him focused, and the connection to the estate gave him the courage he needed.
It was nearly impossible to stop himself from backing up a step as the leader approached with a menacing stride. He met the man's gaze and hoped his rising alarm stayed hidden in the recesses of his pounding heart.
"Your master insults us with his suggestion," the Sibian said, spitting at Scorpius' feet.
His stomach felt like a great weight dropped from a bridge. Drawing himself as tall as he could, he said, "My master honors you with an offer. At considerable risk to his noble house. If my hands were not tied, I would call you out."
A little gleam of respect flickered through the older man's gaze, though his daunting expression remained. "You think you are a match for me?" the Sibian said, and the men laughed. "And after me, all of them?" He stepped back, gesturing to the band of men, all of whom sported scars.
"My master sent me, didn't he?" Scorpius said, shrugging as though taking on six men would be merely a training exercise. In order to gauge his chances if this escalated, Scorpius silently planned which ones he would take down first if it came to that.
To Scorpius' shock, the Sibian leader's posture deflated slightly. Exchanging glances with the man with whom he'd discussed the contents of the scroll, the leader raised the message and said, "We have our own ways of dealing with this, as we have done since before the stories were passed down. Why should your master, or any of you, care about our herd so suddenly?"
Scorpius blinked. Herd? What herd?
These people who lived everywhere and nowhere obviously had herds of some sort. The duke's estate--and every estate Scorpius had visited--displayed sweeping herds that enriched their holdings.
Once again Scorpius had to fight to hold back a laugh. If he had to take on six fighters over sheep, his master would live to regret it.
© Julia Phillips Smith, 2012