Peregrine’s Call – Elizabeth Cole

TAKE HEART AND BE STRONG, Robin thought to herself. She straightened her back and took a deep breath. Through the window, she looked out over the gold-touched autumn landscape. Beyond the walls of the manor of Cleobury, the remaining leaves had turned amber and red, but most of the trees displayed bare branches. Winter would creep into the forest soon, and Cleobury would provide shelter not just to the de Vere family, but a whole host of servants and residents who called the place home. Robin was one of those people. Rainald de Vere had taken her in years ago when she was a homeless orphan and he was a homeless lord in exile. So when de Vere was able to return to his estate of Cleobury, Robin accompanied him, and became his ward. His daughter, Cecily, along with her husband, Alric, raised Robin…or at least they tried. Robin feared she wasn’t ever meant to be a lady. She’d been born too poor, and lived too hard and wild a life as a child, to ever be a retiring and gentle creature who was happy to sew by the fireplace. But that was the role of a lady, and the de Veres wanted Robin to become a lady. So she did her best to fulfill the wishes of the people she loved. Now she’s shaking with nerves, wondering if she could look like a lady even when she didn’t feel like one. You can endure this.

You can endure anything. She raised her chin, picked up the hem of her gown, and descended the massive stone staircase to the hall below, where her judges awaited. There they stood, silent and watchful, like the carved statues of saints in the church. But these were flesh and blood women. Agnes, a longtime servant and occasional tyrant, spoke first. “Faster, girl, or do you think you’ll trip on that gown? If you didn’t run about dressed as a lad for so many years, you’d know how to walk in a lady’s clothing.” “Oh, hush, Agnes. She’s doing her best,” said Pavia, who stood nearby. Pavia was well-born, and the maid fell silent at the command. “Keep on, my dear.

We need to see you in the light.” Robin hurried the rest of the way, stopping when she reached the long, angled patch of sunlight coming in through the narrow windows. “My ladies,” she said, curtseying as she’d been taught. The third woman’s eyes lit up, and she clapped her hands together once. “Lady Robin!” Cecily proclaimed. “What a picture you make!” “Are you certain?” Robin let out a breath. The dress she wore was the result of many painful hours of measuring, cutting, and stitching…and much assistance from the other three women. The green silk was the finest fabric Robin had ever worn, and she’d chosen it because the color reminded her of the forest in summer. But oh, the challenge of making a bolt of fabric into a gown! Robin nearly despaired. But at last it was done.

And perhaps, to judge by the women’s delighted faces, it was worth it. The women circled her, their hands out to inspect the lines of the gown, Robin’s silk headdress and the unbound hair cascading below it, and even the tips of her new leather shoes. Pavia, an older woman who nevertheless radiated youthful vigor, reached out to straighten the pendant at Robin’s throat. It was a tiny cross of gold with a single, round-topped crystal in the center. Robin treasured it above all her other possessions. “Now you look every inch the lady,” Pavia said. “I am so proud of your efforts, Robin.” “Praise all the saints for such a miracle,” said Agnes, and in a lower tone, “To think that such a tatterdemalion could ever bloom into a rose.” “She’s not a flower,” Cecily interjected, “she’s a bird. And she just needed a bit of a boost to spread her wings.

” The blonde woman took Robin’s hands in her own. Cecily’s smile was as warm as the summer sun. “Alas that tonight can’t be a feast—a gown like this deserves to be seen by all.” “Seen by men,” Pavia translated. “And in specific, by Geoffrey Ballard.” The son of a neighboring baron, Geoffrey Ballard was good-looking, tall, and well built with thick, sandy hair that usually caught women’s eyes. When he was in a good humor, which was often, he had a ready smile and a jesting, teasing way about him that Robin did enjoy. If his mouth was a little thin, and tended to press into a line when something displeased him…well, why should everything about him make Robin swoon? To be honest, nothing about Ballard made her swoon. She liked him well enough. He shared some interests with her—hunting and hawking, and to a lesser extent, the countryside they both knew well.

But she was terribly conscious of the need to please him, to pretend to be a lady, and to forgo any actions that might make her seem too willful to be a good bride. Robin said, “Geoffrey has seen me before. A new gown won’t change his opinion of me.” “Oh, it may,” said Pavia. “Nineteen is an age to secure a husband, and if another man sees you before Lord Geoffrey makes his formal declaration, he may be too late. Has he asked you to join him for his next hunt?” “He has.” Robin bit her lip, not entirely pleased at the reminder. She loved hunting. Lord Geoffrey owned superb hounds and hawks, and Robin had enjoyed going on hunts organized by him previously. But she shook her head.

“I’m not sure it means anything. A hunt is not a marriage proposal. An orphan girl with no name and no dowry is not a prize.” Though Geoffrey certainly expressed interest in her, Robin couldn’t imagine a noble family approving of her for a bride. A part of her was always aware of her lacks. “He’s all but spoken the words,” Cecily told her. “If Geoffrey’s mother had not been so ill, the marriage would have taken place already.” Robin frowned. She was not looking forward to a wedding. “What’s wrong?” Cecily asked.

“Not a thing, my lady,” Robin said, trying to believe it herself. “I pray my learning to sew will not be in vain, and that I’ll be able to take my skills to the Ballard estates.” “How well said.” Cecily smiled. Robin grinned back. She did have some skills. She was an excellent rider, and she could hunt with a falcon or with hounds. She’d learned proper modes of address for nobility, and she also knew how to read and write quite ably in French—the most necessary language for a lady. Just then, the door to the courtyard swung open, pushed by a guard. He saw Cecily and huffed out a greeting.

“My lady. Ladies,” the guard said, somewhat out of breath. “We just got word that Sir Octavian is approaching the manor. He’ll be here within the hour. Perhaps sooner.” At the mention of the name, Robin’s breath caught in her throat. “Octavian is coming here? At this moment?” she gasped. Oh, Lord, if he saw her in such a gown, he’d laugh. Little, scruffy Robin dressed as a lady! “I had no notion of this,” Cecily said. “Was there more to the message?” she asked the guard.

The man shook his head. “Nay, my lady.” “I’ll see that everything is prepared for a guest,” Cecily said, already turning to the task at hand. “No, wait. I must finish brewing the remedy for the tenants who are sick. Robin, you shall see that a chamber is made ready, and that Octavian has what he needs for his stay.” “I should change,” Robin protested. “This gown is ridiculous. I must get my own outfit back on….” “Nonsense,” Cecily said firmly.

“If we wish to know what effect it will have, how better to test it than by displaying it? Tav is always honest.” Cecily used Octavian’s nickname with easy affection. Robin herself never dared to be so familiar with the knight, who was five years older than she was, and a close companion to Sir Alric. To her, Octavian had always seemed a paragon. The first time she’d ever met him, she was only fourteen and certain she knew everything about how the world worked. Then she saw him. Octavian wasn’t anything like other knights she’d encountered. First, most fighters, even knights, tended to be rough men who relied on their strength and swords rather than words to make their way in the world. He was built as a fighter, of course—tall, with strong shoulders and chest after years of training. And more so than many knights, Octavian was excellently educated because he’d been raised in a strict, religious environment by monks who seemed to know everything, and then passed it on to Octavian.

His familiarity with many languages helped him travel from the Holy Land, where he’d been born, through Europe and finally to England. In England, he was unusual. The son of black Africans living in Aleppo, his skin was many shades darker than Robin had ever seen. And though his parents died when he was just a baby—hence his childhood in a monastery—Robin assumed they must have been beautiful to have given their child such a face. Octavian had warm brown eyes and a mouth that eased into a smile whenever he greeted her. Unlike a lot of the men she’d grown up around, Octavian shaved routinely and kept his hair cropped so short his scalp was visible, which just made his high cheekbones stand out. She thought he looked more like a prince than a soldier. He’d always been kind to her, and treated her with none of the condescension so many other men did—which made her admire him all the more. But admiring was one thing. Speaking to him as an equal was quite another, and she certainly couldn’t imagine saying Tav in such a comfortable manner.

It hadn’t always been that way. When she was young, she spoke to Octavian—and indeed everyone—with the boldness of a child who feared nothing. But that was before she learned proper behavior, and how to speak to her betters with respect. Over the past few years, she found herself more and more…flustered…around Octavian, despite how much she looked forward to his infrequent visits. The women separated, and Robin moved toward the guest room, determined that all should be perfect. That was the task of a lady, and wasn’t that what Robin wanted to be?


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