My heartfelt thanks to all who have followed this tale along the way.
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 Serialists - hosted by Alice Audrey - appears on Wednesdays.
“He’ll provide escort to your retinue as you depart the duke’s estate, Your Grace,” the chancellor said.
Both Pruzhnino and the chancellor looked at Scorpius. The unspoken questions hung in the air like an arrow sprung from its bow but not yet landed. Would Scorpius reveal himself? Would Razhlava claim a bastard grandson whose dark coloring spoke of scandal successfully hushed up for almost two decades?
Razlava bowed his head in acknowledgement of their dismissal. He stretched out his hand for his granddaughter’s.
This was it. Scorpius must choose.
Somehow this moment felt like all the others, those blinks of an eye where everything in Scorpius’ world had turned upside down. Why had he supposed that being given a choice would make any of it easier?
Turning swiftly to the chancellor, Scorpius knocked the advisor’s hat to the side as he made his reverence. For one terrible moment the close-cropped Sibian hair revealed itself before the chancellor replaced the hat with shaking hands.
Scorpius bowed low before the chancellor, raising his head to lock gazes with the shaken man. Turning elegantly to direct his bow to Pruzhnino, he likewise gazed up at the duke to see something even more out of character than the sweet nothings he’d been saying to Lady Aerthrudha—fear.
Well, he’d seen fear—real fear—on the faces of those slaves chased and brought down upon the hunting field by this noble, who had never claimed his own daughter’s child at the nursery all those years ago.
If Scorpius was really free to choose, how could he reach for a life that brought him into arms’ length of this man? How could Pruzhnino and the chancellor ask him to do it?
“With respect, Your Grace, my Lord Chancellor--duty calls. In fact I am sworn to protect my Lord Thibault, your son,” he said, sweeping an arm towards Pruzhnino. “I shall find another of the duke’s men to escort Your Grace and Lady Aerthrudha from the estate. One man is as good as the next, I’m sure you will find.”
The chancellor found his voice. “Send the guard down to the stables. No need to keep His Grace and the lady waiting.”
Bowing crisply, Scorpius said, “Certainly, my Lord Chancellor. Your Grace. Your Grace. My lady.”
Striding from the drawing room, Scorpius took only a few steps before he broke into a run, taking stairs three at a time until he regained the ballroom. It only took a glance and he knew his master was not there.
Looking left and right, Scorpius forced himself to stillness, listening for Lord Thibault’s telltale laugh. Wandering back to the staircase, he recalled his promise to send another in his place and dispatched a slave to the stables.
Suddenly he heard it. His master’s unbridled delight in his Sibian bride-to-be carried down the corridor and over the gallery railings. Scorpius followed the sound until it brought him before the dukessa’s door.
Lord Thibault turned and stared, his grin half-frozen on his face. Scorpius’ heart chilled even in the warmth of the dukessa’s drawing room at the thought of never seeing his master again.
Crossing the floor towards one another, Scorpius and Lord Thibault collided in the center of the room in a back-slapping embrace. When they released their hold, his master grabbed Scorpius by the face and kissed his forehead.
Scorpius fell to one knee and kissed Lord Thibault’s hand. “I believe in you,” he said. “In what you’re doing. And I shall serve you, my lord.”
Yashtii joined them, kneeling beside Scorpius to embrace him. The dukessa swept close and stood beside her son.
Then a member of Yashtii’s kinsmen fell to his knees between Scorpius and his master’s intended. Retrieving something from inside his tunic, he took Scorpius’ hand and dropped the dukessa’s dragon ring into his palm.
All the Sibiu gathered there drew around in a circle and began humming a mournful tune. Looking up into Yashtii’s face, Scorpius watched her nod solemnly, a tiny hint of a smile tugging at one side of her mouth.
Offering it back to the dukessa, Scorpius knelt there with the hair on his neck stirring as though the breath of the dragon blew through the drawing room. Lord Thibault’s mother took Scorpius’ hand in hers, lifted the ring with delicate fingers and placed the ring back upon Scorpius’ hand.
The Sibiu finished their song. His master bid him rise and join him as they waited for his father the duke to arrive to hammer out the marriage bargain.
Scorpius wished Lady Aerthrudha all the happiness in the world, truly.
Looking down upon the dragon ring, all at once the spectre of dragon’s fire which had haunted him all of his life blackened and shriveled, floating away like so many embers. He placed his ringed hand on the pommel of his sword, gazing upon it, knowing for the first time what it truly meant to belong.