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.
It was difficult but not impossible to ride, considering the horse was as determined as Scorpius to leave the Sibiu behind. They’d left him the saddle, at least, which he grabbed with his bound hands wrenched fast behind his back. Leaning as far forward as he could without losing his grip, Scorpius hugged the horse with his legs, trusting it to pick its own way back out of the pass.
They raced against the lengthening shadows with the stink of scorched flesh clinging fast. Hoof beats drummed in time to Scorpius’ heart, filling his mind so that he strained to listen for the rhythmic flapping of leathery wings.
Fighting the panic that stole the breath from him, Scorpius stared straight ahead but saw nothing except the horrible memory of the Sibian herd in his mind’s eye, blooms of flame rolling forth from the shrieking mouth of the dragon. He and the horse were both intent on barreling past his master when he emerged at a run toward them.
“Whoa!” Lord Thibault said, waving his arms in broad circles.
The horse halted, sending Scorpius to slide abruptly forward. Tumbling onto the rocky ground, jagged pain greeted his landing. His master jogged to grab the horse’s mane, coaxing it to put aside its mindless flight for the time being.
Groaning, Scorpius struggled to his feet. Straining to see if the nightmare followed them, he scanned the horizon but found it to be made of only sunset hues. The mountain pass gaped black and still, like a lie.
“Did you bring the message?” Lord Thibault asked.
“No message,” Scorpius said, working to catch his breath.
The look of sickened disbelief that washed over his master reached into Scorpius’ heart, still numbed by fear. Taking a few steps to close the gap between them, Scorpius kept his voice low so as not to distress the horse any further.
“No scroll, I meant to say, my lord.”
“But there is news?”
“Did you not see?” Scorpius said, hearing the stricken edge to his own voice.
“Of course I saw,” Lord Thibault whispered.
Pulling himself as straight as he could, Scorpius fought to keep a normal tone to his voice. He grasped at this semblance of normalcy as though it could protect him like a charm.
He told of the Sibian’s reaction to the scroll’s suggestion, until Scorpius had offered his dragon ring in order to vouch for his master’s word. Lord Thibault grabbed hold of him then and spun him around.
Scorpius’ body jerked as his master sliced through the rope pinning his arms back.
“You gave them my mother’s ring?” said his master.
Turning to face Lord Thibault, Scorpius said, “I did, my lord.” He watched in fascination as his master flushed red.
“You shame me, Scorpius.”
“You forced their hand with that offer. I assume then that they refused my first one?”
“They did, my lord.”
“But the herd was cleansed.”
“The herd? The herd was burnt to a crisp!”
Stretching a hand out to clap it on Scorpius’ shoulder, Lord Thibault smiled grimly. “The herd was ill. A herd which they hide amongst our own in order to graze them. There was much at stake.”
Nodding, Scorpius gazed once more upon his master’s red face, at Lord Thibault’s dust-worn doublet, at the worn lines around his master’s eyes for such a young man. The news he craved hadn’t been passed to Scorpius in a scroll. A few words and Lord Thibault would have his answer.
“My lord,” Scorpius said. “My lord, there’s something you must know.”
© Julia Phillips Smith, 2012