Robert – Kirsten Osbourne

Matilda looked around her nervously. It was her first day of work at the Lain Castle. She had grown up in the shadow of the castle, and her parents were serfs who worked the land owned by the Lain family. She had been chosen to be the new maid at the castle, which would be hard work but would be much easier than working the land as her parents and their parents had done. She walked toward the castle with her mother at her side. “Ignore anything odd you see. The family is known for their strange ways. Just keep out of trouble, do what you are told, and you will be fine.” Matilda nodded, overwhelmed by the sight of the castle so close. She was used to seeing it off in the distance. She had lived in the shadow of the castle her entire life. “I will be home on Sunday,” she said softly. “Aye, you will. You were promised you would have every Sunday off, and you will spend them with your parents as you should.” Her mother clutched her arm.

“And if anything bad happens, you come right home to me.” Matilda looked at her mother. “Bad? The Lains are known for their love of the serfs. They are not bad people.” “That is true, but they do still have a son living at home. If you catch his eye, he might be interested in you doing more than emptying his chamber pot. Do not let him do more. You are a pretty girl, Mattie. I do not want to think about you being hurt.” Matilda nodded.

“Aye, Mother.” She leaned down and hugged her mother tightly. She was the only one of eight children who had survived to be old enough to work for someone. She knew her mother would worry if she could not see her every day. “I will be there early Sunday morning. Or if they will let me, I will come back Saturday night when my chores are finished.” She hated the idea of her mother worrying about her, but their family needed the coins she would earn for working for the Lains. “You are a good girl, Mattie. I hope this job blesses you beyond your wildest dreams.” With those words, her mother turned away, leaving her to go to the big, bustling castle alone.

Matilda took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and walked the short distance left to the castle. When she reached the moat, she walked across the bridge that put her in the castle’s land. This was the area where the lord’s army practiced for war and where the family would always be. She kept walking and went to the back entrance, next to the kitchens. It was the servant’s entrance, and she felt like an interloper. Pounding on the door, she waited, and a woman came to the door, looking down at her. “You the new maid?” Matilda nodded. “Aye. I am to start today.” The older woman, who had gray hair and four black teeth, studied her for a moment.

“You are too pretty to be an upstairs maid. We will put you in charge of dusting the furniture and sweeping the downstairs. It is about time Mary was promoted to be the upstairs maid anyway.” She opened the door wider. “Come in! Come in! What are you waiting for?” Matilda stepped over the threshold, forcing herself not to make the sign of the cross over her chest. The stories of this family made her very nervous. “I brought an extra dress with me,” she said, holding up the bundle of clothes in her hand. “Mary!” the woman called. “I need you to take this girl to her room. She is going to be moving into Agnes’s old room.

” Mary nodded and took Matilda by the arm, taking her up a steep staircase behind the kitchen. “This is where all the castle help stays, up here in this hallway. Agnes just married one of the local serfs, so she moved to his home. What’s your name anyway?” Matilda noted that Mary was only a couple of years older than she was, but she had obviously been working in the castle for a while. At eighteen, Matilda had never even dreamed that she would be living in a castle. She felt a bit like a fairy princess. “I am Matilda, but my family calls me Mattie. Have you worked here long?” “Oh, aye. I have been here four years, and I know all the peculiarities of this family. You will learn them, too, but you cannot tell anything you see.

” Mary opened a door of a tiny room that had just enough space for a bed. There was a single window looking out over the courtyard where the soldiers trained. Matilda looked around, her eyes wide. She had not ever imagined she would live in such luxury. “You mean I do not have to share?” Never in her life had she not shared a room with her parents. Their entire home could have fit in two rooms this size. “Nah. Not here. The Lains take good care of those who work for them.” Mary grinned.

“Put your things away, and I will take you back down to Alice. She is the housekeeper, and she makes sure we all do what we are told and that the castle is always ready for guests.” “Do they have many guests?” Matilda asked, putting her extra dress into a chest at the foot of the bed. It was the only furniture in the room, but it was so much more than she had ever had before. She had been told servants usually slept in the great hall on rushes. Here . well, this was like living in a fantasy world. “Not too many. Mainly just their grown sons coming back for visits with their families. There is only one son left here at the house, and that is Robert.

He will be the one to inherit someday.” Matilda frowned, standing up to follow Mary back out of the room. “I thought Robert was the youngest son. Do not the oldest sons always inherit?” That was what she had always thought the nobility did. Had she been wrong? “Not in this family. There is always something special about the seventh son, so he will be the one to inherit. I am not sure I quite understand it myself, but this place is different than any other in all of England. All of the world!” As she followed to the bottom of the stairs and back to the kitchen, Matilda thought about Mary’s words. The family was different. That could be good or bad.

She just hoped it ended up being a good thing. When she got to the bottom of the stairs, the woman Mary had called Alice was waiting for her. “For today, I want you to follow Mary around, and she will show you exactly what needs to be done.” Matilda nodded. “Aye.” Mary led the way out of the kitchen to the main floor of the house. “The work is simple and not too hard. You will need to dust and sweep and mop the downstairs every day. If there is something special Lady Lina wants, she will let you know, and you will do it. Very easy.

” Mary handed Matilda a rag, and the two of them set to work dusting the main sitting room there on the first floor. Matilda could not help but notice what a nice space it was with solid oak furniture. She spotted a book and ran her hand over the cover. She had been taught to read by her local priest, who was something of a rebel. He believed women should be allowed to read the same as men were. “You may read it if you would like,” a soft voice said from the doorway. Matilda jumped and shook her head. “Oh no, it would not be right!” “I do not know why not.” The woman who belonged to the voice stepped into the room. She had blond hair, and her smile was sweet.

“I am Lady Lina. And you are?” “Matilda, milady.” Matilda looked down, afraid she would offend the lady of the castle by meeting her eyes. “It is her first day,” Mary said from across the room. “She is a little nervous.” Lady Lina shook her head. “No need to be nervous. I am sure you will do a wonderful job, and I would like for you to read the book. I could see by the look in your eyes that you wanted to.” “It does not bother you that I can read?” Matilda asked, surprised.

“Not at all. I read as well.” It was a skill uncommon of women in the year of 1135, but the lady of the house was obviously not ashamed of being able to do it. “You do?” “Aye, my mother taught me when I was a young girl. In this castle, we encourage women to learn every skill they can, so they can be just as strong as men, though in different ways.” Matilda smiled, feeling as if a warmth had spread through her from her toes. “I would be proud to borrow it then, milady.” “Wonderful! Welcome to the family, Matilda.” Lady Lina swept out of the room, obviously intent on making someone else happy. Matilda turned and looked at Mary.

“She is so nice. Surely she is not the mistress here.” “Oh, but she is. And she is the family member we will have the most contact with here in the castle. Lady Lina treats everyone as if she is a family member, and she even has skills with herbs and potions to heal people.” Mary shrugged. “Many people are afraid of the family, but I promise you there is not a better family to be found in all of England. If she had thought you could not read and wanted to, why she would have taught you herself.” “Really? How does her lord feel about this?” Matilda was truly surprised to hear that a woman of the nobility was so kind to others. “Really.

He lets her do what she wishes for the most part. He is obviously a man who knows that women need to be able to exercise their own wills. Lord Alex is a wonderful man.” Mary went back to dusting a chest in one corner of the room. “I heard there was a son left at home, and he was well . odd.” Matilda knew she should not bring it up, but she would be nervous until she understood exactly what she was dealing with. “And how exactly am I odd?” a voice asked from the doorway. Matilda closed her eyes, knowing this was the exact moment she would be sacked, and her good job would be gone. She would be back in the fields with her parents, toiling over land that may or may not produce a crop to the lord’s satisfaction.

“Excuse me?” If she played stupid, perhaps he would be lenient. “You said the son left at home was odd. I am that son, and I would like to know just exactly how I am odd. I find myself very normal.” Robert grinned at the new girl working for his parents. Aye, he was odd. Who else could make objects fly through the air at will? “I am so sorry, milord. I did not see you there.” Matilda waited for the ax to fall, wondering if it would be the proverbial ax or a real one. He was certainly in his rights to have her executed for saying something so rude.

“Apparently not.” Robert shook his head. “Mayhap you should be more careful when you are talking about people . make sure they are not standing close by.” Robert stepped into the room, fascinated by how pretty the girl was. Her skin looked so soft and perfect. He wanted to touch her. “I will in future, sir.” Matilda was not sure if she should curtsy or just throw herself on the floor at his feet, begging for his mercy. “You know you will need to be punished for your bad behavior, do not you?” he asked.

Matilda heard Mary giggle behind her and wondered what had happened to the girl. Why would she be laughing at such a thing? She had thought they were building a friendship. “Aye, sir.” Robert smiled at her. “Now what should that punishment be?” He stroked his chin as if contemplating a great mystery. “Mayhap you should have to eat your noon meal with me.” Matilda blinked at him. “Eat my meal with you?” How was that a punishment? “Aye, you have to accompany me for lunch. I think that is a fitting punishment. If you are going to be talking about me, you have every right to learn more about me, so you can speak truth.

” Robert winked at Mary, who was still laughing. “I will come to find you just before the meal. Be ready to sit with the family.” With those words, he was gone, stopping just out of view and sitting down. “Robert?” his mother asked from behind him. “Is something wrong?” Robert shook his head, laughing. “Not in the way you mean, Mother.” “Then what is it? Why are you not outside training with your men?” “Would you believe I just met the woman I am going to marry?” he asked. She grinned at him. “The new maid? She reads, you know.

” Her face told him how much she approved of his choice. “I am not surprised. She is eating lunch with the family today as my guest.” Robert got to his feet. “It is too bad Grandmother is not here. Her powers may be able to calm my rapidly beating heart.” His mother stood on tiptoe and kissed his cheek. “You do not have a need of being healed, son. Falling in love is one of the most natural things in the whole world.” She patted his arm.

“Now go and train. You should speak to your father.” He frowned for a moment. “Is not this the day we were to ride so you could let Aunt Christiana know all is well and get the news from home?” He had never met his aunt, but he had heard stories of her his entire life. His grandmother had visited for a month at least once a year, but his aunts had not. He knew his aunt Christiana, his grandmother’s sister, had the power to speak to people in their minds. His aunt Eva, his grandmother’s other sister, had the power to make illusions appear before people they believed were real. She frowned at him. “It is the day we are supposed to ride. Let me take your father with me today instead.

We will pack a picnic lunch.” He grinned. “Trying to leave me alone with the new maid, Mother?” “Me? I have never been known as a matchmaker.” “Not to anyone but your children.” He leaned down and hugged her. “Stay safe on your journey and thank you for the opportunity to be alone with her. I just wish I knew her name . ” “Matilda. Her name is Matilda, and she has my permission to borrow any book that interests her.” His mother strode out of the castle then, and he knew she was off to tell his father she wanted him to ride with her to speak to her aunt.

Robert was left alone in the great hall of the castle, a smile upon his face. MATİLDA LOOKED OVER AT MARY, her eyes still wide. “Why did you not help me? You just stood there laughing!” Mary grinned. “Because I know this family. When he said he would have to punish you, I could do nothing but laugh. I knew that was not what would happen. Robert is a good man.” “But . he said he is punishing me by making me eat the noon meal with him. What will he do?” Matilda had heard stories about lords who took advantage of their female staff.

“He will have a meal with you, and you will get to eat the meal meant for the family, not for the staff. I am sure it will be a lovely, enjoyable meal, and you will get to know the people who employ us. I wish I was invited!” Mary grinned at her, getting back to her work. “There is nothing to worry about. His parents will be right there.” “But . the stories about him . ” “Aye, he is odd. He treats servants as equals. I have never seen anything odder than that, have you?” Matilda did not respond, her mind on the face of the man whom she had met a short while before.

Her mother had warned her against falling for one of the members of the family she worked for, but how could she help it? He had a strong, handsome face, and he had shown her attention. She closed her eyes, saying a prayer that she would be able to hold out until she went home on Sunday. Falling at the feel of her employer’s youngest son would not be the way to keep her job.

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