I'm 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.
The chancellor joined him as Scorpius leaned forward over the gallery railings, overlooking the guests already swirling in patterns to the music. While his master met privately with the duke and dukessa, now was as good a time as any to get the feel of the room.
Without drawing attention to himself by performing the crisp movements of a proper reverence, Scorpius straightened, nodding in an approximation of respectful greeting. Feeling the chancellor’s smile more than seeing it, Scorpius said, “My lord chancellor.”
“My lord’s man.” The chancellor stood silently beside him for a time before saying, “And what do you make of this night’s prospects?”
“All seems to be as it should. Which will only keep me looking more sharply for that which lies hidden.”
“You would make a good chancellor one day, Scorpius. Once your fighting days are past.” Turning to lean against the railing with his back to the guests, the chancellor imperceptibly positioned his arm to reveal a knotted scar running across his wrist.
“And how did my lord chancellor come to this service?” Scorpius asked, staring out at the dancers. “It’s not something to which one is apprenticed, surely. Not like a falconer who needs a boy.”
“We in this service need to find someone who can learn what is impossible to teach. Unlike your old master, we cannot simply get ourselves to the nursery and arrange for an unclaimed bastard to begin training.”
Scorpius’ mouth opened in shock before he could get hold of the pain erupting in his heart. He felt the loss of Richolf as though he’d only just ridden away from him in the blackness of the night woods. A breathtaking crush inside his gut slammed into him as he remembered the day Richolf had appeared at the nursery, not as a member of the family he’d never known, but as a master sporting marks warning of what lay in wait for a life lived amongst birds of prey.
Taking a calming breath, Scorpius moved back a pace, making eye contact with the chancellor. “Who taught you all that could not be taught?”
The chancellor seemed to look inward for a long moment. “A man who could have revealed something, but did not.” He gazed at Scorpius as the memory of that morning in the stables, when the chancellor had revealed his Sibian-patterned hair, passed between them.
“I promised you then that the young woman from the northern house was waiting upon her grandsire to fetch her back, or to make arrangements here if she was found suitable. Her family will be arriving at the soiree shortly.”
Scorpius’ heart beat erratically. Why was the chancellor telling him about that fair-haired beauty? It was all he could do to stand there when he wanted to run out of here, run and run until he was too out of breath to notice anything but his lungs burning for air.
Forcing himself to turn towards the chancellor, Scorpius was just in time to catch the silhouette of the duke’s minister nodding to Lord Thibault as he slipped into the crowd. A satisfied grin spread across his master’s face as he swept Scorpius along the gallery, heading for the stairs.
“It’s all set,” Lord Thibault said, boots clicking impatiently on the polished flagstone.
“Good news, then,” Scorpius said, keeping pace with his master, one hand gripping the pommel of his sword at his hip.
“The best. The very best.” As they neared the first corner, the privacy of the upper gallery gave way to guests who stopped and bowed to Lord Thibault. “And not only for me, though the gods only know why.” Again he shot Scorpius a grin.
It nearly made him catch his feet in a stumble. “My lord?” he asked.
“Tonight I am permitted to flirt to my heart’s content with the charming northern lady whom my family apparently have chosen for me. I am also permitted to flirt with Yashtii, whom I love. Isn’t that rich?”
They began to make their way down the stairs, pressing through the crowd. Scorpius forced himself to keep his gaze on possible dangers as his lord’s man must do.
“Tonight I am permitted to choose my bride. No matter that my heart is already given to my adored Sibian maiden, apparently I’m still to choose between Yashtii and the northerner. But do you know what this means, Scorpius?”
Lord Thibault stopped in his tracks. “It means that I have won a great battle. They have agreed to honor my choice.”
Tears glistened in his master’s eyes. “My choice is to unite my house with the Sibiu.”
Reaching forward, Lord Thibault grabbed Scorpius by the arms. “I haven’t forgotten what you said in the mountain pass, Scorpius. About choice. About never having been given a choice.”
Looking over his shoulder and down into the crowd below, Lord Thibault returned his gaze to Scorpius. “My choice tonight will only leave me wanting you beside me more than ever, Scorpius. But you have a choice of your own to make.”
The fear lurking behind his master’s joy made Scorpius’ stomach swirl with dread.