When I was seven, I saw my first falcon. It soared over my head and swept over the mountains, beating its incredible wings, slicing through the air effortlessly. I watched that bird until it was retrieved by its owner and taken from my hungry eyes. I was obsessed. It was at that point that I realized I wanted to be a falconer. I wanted to train a bird of my own to glide and swoop through the air, hunting prey and flying free.
Although, however much I desire to become a falconer, I am in the Carter family. Our job is to cart and only that. As dull as that sounds, my family is still extremely proud of our name and what we do. I, on the other hand, am not. I believe that we have much more potential doing other jobs- like falconry, for example.
Unfortunately, years ago, when I merely mentioned owning a falcon to my father, he did not agree whatsoever.
“Father, do you see that? On that lady’s wrist? That’s a falcon, Papa!” I exclaimed, my eight-year-old fingers clutched at my father’s sleeve. I raised a finger to point when my father grasped my wrists and pulled them behind me.
“Do not point, Milo!” He snarled in my ear. I just laughed like children do and smiled up at my father.
“I want a falcon, Papa. One that can sit on my wrist! Can I have one, Father?”
At this, my father whipped me over the head.
“Milo! How dare you ask such a thing? We are Carters! Be proud of your family name.”
I never did ask him again. In addition, I never mentioned falcons or falconry again, for fear of more severe punishment. Trapped in this prison of fear of disownment, I attempted to forget falcons for several years. It did not work, to say the least.
After seven years of near-silence and pain, I decided to accept the fact that I will never forget these magnificent birds. Slipping into my former obsession, I constantly look for an opportunity to escape- and maybe, one day, find my own falcon.
“I want to become a falconer.” I say to Ceday, my carting partner. She replies with a sharp laugh and shifts the heavy bag of cardoons from one thin shoulder to the other. Ceday is pretty in a peasant-girl way; she has long chocolate hair and clear aqua eyes. As children, we were assigned as carting partners because she’s very realistic. She can keep my dreaminess at bay while we’re working. I adjust my own grip and continue to lumber down the worn path.
“Are you serious, Milo? You’re such a skamelar. Your family’s never going to forgive you. And we live in Piège. The poor village. You believe that you can actually become a falconer?” She punctuates her sentence with another short laugh.
“Ced, I know that it’s your job to keep me grounded, but I’m serious this time,” I argue, “And don’t call me a skamelar. I’m not a parasite.”
She raises her eyebrows at me. I shrug.
“Okay, maybe I am a parasite. But only because I want to be a falconer!”
Ceday shakes her head and stops before a grassy path to her delivery location. I continue, as my delivery is a few miles ahead. She salutes to me before turning down the rugged walkway.
“Forget about falcons, Milo,” she calls back to me, “You’re dreaming.”
I frown and start back down the dust road, squinting into the sun. If only I could forget about the falcons. They’ve caused me nothing but problems. But this passion that burns inside me for falconry; it’s never going to burn out. I’ve learned that the hard way. I will never forget the way that falcon, many years ago, soared over the snowy mountaintops, effortlessly defying gravity. As I lumber down the path I’ve traveled a million times, directed towards the Lord’s mansion, I imagine how it must feel to control such a powerful animal.
When I finally arrive at my destination, I blink the dust out of my eyes and swing the heavy bag of artichokes over my shoulder. In the movement, I slip one of the vegetables out of the burlap bag. I quickly hide it in my small messenger bag, my fingers trembling.
The massiveness of the Lord’s castle always surprises me. The grey, natural stone walls loom over me while the great wooden doors stand in their glory. The spires of the castle slice into the blue sky, pointing to the heavens. I approach the doors, reverently, as if not to disturb some resting creature. I don’t know what gives me this notion of apprehension, but I act carefully, heeding it.
Knocking on the dense doors, I check the status of the artichokes. Still fresh, they show a vibrant green. I nod, satisfied, when the heavy doors are painstakingly dragged open before me. A man in servant’s robes nods at me, silently, and leads me to the kitchen. As I set down my wares, I sigh, gazing at the chef. The chef smiles at me before returning to his work, wide-eyed. I grin at him, oblivious.
“Baxter, friend. My main man, Baxter. Man, I want to be a falconer. See, you achieved your dream of becoming a chef, but I’m just a churl. You know, a peasant. Falcons are way beyond my reach.”
“Excuse me, son?” says a low, soft voice from behind me.
I freeze, my heart racing. Have I been caught saying something illegal? Why would the authorities call me son? I turn around slowly, towards the voice, and brace myself.
The Lord sits in an elegant wooden chair, chewing on his meal, knife in hand. His dark blue eyes regard me carefully. My eyes drop down to his meal- a thick cut of meat, some fluffy bread -before returning my gaze to his elaborately dressed chest. I avoid looking into his eyes out of respect- and fear. I see him set the knife down before locking his fingers and leaning back in his chair.
“You are indeed the carter, correct?” He says softly.
I nod. “Yes, my Lord.”
“And you dream to be a falconer?”
I nod again. “Yes, my Lord.”
The Lord nods slowly and watches me. “Yes, indeed. Well, boy, what did you bring me today?”
I frown at the question, but reply, “A large bag of cardoons, my Lord.” I realize my voice is shaking.
“And, if one counts the artichokes in that bag, will they find the same number as it left with?”
I look down, ashamed. I knew I shouldn’t have stolen the cardoon, but I was starving. I’ve successfully stolen apples before, the same way, but I was ignorant to believe I could steal a cardoon.
“No, my Lord.” My voice sounds small and weak. As I gaze at the floor, I see that the snap of my bag is wide open, revealing the green of the cardoon. I wait for my punishment.
The Lord exhales slowly, frowning. “Son, I apologize for the lack of food in your village. I promise to do better in providing more for the carters. The amount of work the carters do is much greater than some others.”
I hesitate. Why was the Lord apologizing? It was my blunder. In my confusion, I do not respond. The Lord stands and holds his hand out.
“Let us make a deal. If you return the artichoke to me now, I will let you fly my falcon. And, provided you agree, there will be no punishment for your thievery.”
I forget my apprehension for a moment and look into his eyes. I nod eagerly. Shaking, I fumble with my bag, untangling the artichoke from the clutter and finally draw it from my sack. I place it into his soft hand and smile carefully.
“Thank you, my Lord, thank you,” I reply, my voice shaking for an entirely different reason. I cannot believe this windfall. My God must be with me today to bless me with this treasure. The Lord smiles, slightly, but enough for me to see. I return the smile. He puts his napkin on his plate and stands.
“Shall we go?”
When we arrive outside of the back gates, the Lord heaves a great sigh and spreads his arms out. I assume that it’s an indication to me to relax in his presence. As we tread out to the mews, the Lord gives me the basics of handling falcons. I listen attentively to the Lord, eagerly absorbing all that he’s saying. I’m overflowing with bubbling excitement, grinning like a mad man and humming. If the Lord notices, he doesn’t show it. I don’t mind; I am preoccupied with the idea of finally flying a falcon. My family cannot do anything now; I am at work. My employer is providing me with the opportunity. This is my dream come true.
Finally arriving at the mews, the Lord leads me to the first large nest in the building.
“Now, this gorgeous bird is my personal favorite. She’s kind, adaptable, and just magnificent in flight. This is Rhoslyn, a Peregrine.”
My jaw drops and I let out a sound of disbelief. “A Peregrine? But those are so rare!”
The Lord nods proudly, grinning. “She’s my most prized possession.” He looks around cautiously. “Don’t let the Vikings hear that.”
We both share a laugh at the grim joke. Smiling, the Lord takes a spare set of gloves from a hook on the wall. Handing them to me, he instructs me how to wear them. Finally, he reaches into the nest and retrieves Rhoslyn. He turns to face me with Rhoslyn on his wrist. I’m giddy with excitement.
“Alright, here she is. Be careful, now.” Carefully leading her onto my wrist, Rhoslyn transfers her weight from him to me. I beam and look into Rhoslyn’s intelligent amber eyes. She seems to regard me carefully before leaning down to peck my finger gently.
The Lord nods and comments quietly, “That means she likes you.”
I smile wider as I gaze at Rhoslyn and the Lord moves to tie her to my wrist. While he knots the rope around my wrist, she looks at me, her eyes almost showing approval.
When we finish preparing and head outside, Rhoslyn stretches her wings out carefully. I stand on crest of a hill, looming over a thick wood. Set, the Lord smiles.
“Whenever you’d like to begin.”
I nod, and, taking a deep breath, give Rhoslyn the nudge to take off. She launches into the sky, using my wrist to catapult powerfully. I let out a gasp as she glides through the sky, easily defying wind patterns and gravity. My heart skips a beat. This is what I have been waiting for my entire life. She swoops high and low, and I watch her, noticing the gentle pull of the rope on my wrist. I love every bit of this. Barely breathing, my eyes widen as she shoots down to the ground, hunting no doubt, and soars back up with a small brown field mouse clutched in her talons. In my wonderment, I almost miss the Lord’s instruction to call her back. Slightly forlorn at taking her from the sky, I gently tug on her rope and she swoops down, mouse clenched in her powerful beak, and lands, ever so gently, on my wrist. I let out a breath and gaze at her, grinning.
“That was amazing.” I say.
It almost seems as though she nods in response.
I walk out in a dream-like state. I am lightheaded, in awe, and in need of a falcon more than ever. I barely notice when Ceday joins my side and says something. Only when she grabs my shoulder and turns me to face her is when I really become aware. I take a deep breath.
“Ced. You would not believe what happened when I was at the Lord’s mansion-“
“Did you give someone a green gown?” She interrupts, crossing her arms.
I blink. “What? No. Ced, I flew a falcon.”
She applauses sarcastically. “Wow! Great! Do I need to whistersnefet you again?”
“No, you do not need to hit me. Again.” I shake my head, exasperated. “Don’t you get it? My dream came true!”
“You sound like a Disney movie.”
“What’s a ‘Disney movie’?”
She shakes her head. “Not the point. Listen, I love hearing your daydreams, really, but you need to wake up, kid. You’re a carter. Literally. Milo Simon Carter. That’s all you’ll ever be. All you can be, honestly. Sorry ‘bout it, but it’s high time for you to hear the truth.”
At this she stalks off ahead of me, her messenger bag jingling on her hip. I frown. Why didn’t she believe me? Am I really that much of a dreamer that my only friend doesn’t believe what I tell? I shake off the confusion and, walking slowly back to the village, return to the memory of the Rhoslyn’s magnificent flight.
Arriving to the village slightly before twilight, I tread to my front gate and enter silently. Officially, I should have finished my delivery by evening- back in time for supper. I tediously make my way up the front path when-
“MILO! Get in here this instant, boy!” My mother cries out the front window. I hurry up to the door, pull it open, and brace for impact. My mother stomps up to me and grabs the collar of my shirt, drawing me close.
“You acclumsed hoddypeak! You oksell mumper! I oughta throw you out with your bedswerving father, might I add! In your spuddle, I cooked supper for a son who would not even show up to PINGLE! Mind you, if your father knew about this, he’d suggill you ‘till you couldn’t walk anymore!” My mother huffs and scoffs for a moment. “You teenful, pitchkettled trundle-tail. You’re kissing the hare’s foot, yes you are. No warm food for you tonight, no sir. Only scraps, sloomy boy.” She releases my shirt, and, straightening it, kisses my cheek and pads off to her chamber. I smile a little at her retreating figure. Count on Mother to create such colorful insults.
Before I pad down to my own chamber, I grab the promised table scraps from the pantry and nibble some. I glance out the window as I head to my bedchamber and see my father quickly approaching. Wary of what he might say about me being up past twilight, I hurry off to my chamber and, quietly as I can, shut my wooden door.
Laying back on my bed, I relive the feeling of letting Rhoslyn launch off my wrist and catapult into the sky. I fall asleep, slowly, recollecting.
As I go into the kitchen into the morning, I hear my father’s normal scuffle. He nods at me as I enter, acknowledging me carefully. I raise my chin. As I woke up, I formed a plan in my head to escape- with someone special in tow.
“Father, I am moving out.”
“No, you’re not.”
I nod. “Yes, sir, I believe I am. Yesterday, while I was working, the Lord provided me with a chance to fly his falcon. I did, and now I cannot stay here any longer.”
My father shakes his head disapprovingly. “Falcons again, Milo? When are you going to grow up, boy? Time after time you disappoint us, with this dreamy talk of falcons and flying, and, quite frankly, we’re sick of it.”
“Father, I’m serious-“
“No, Milo, I’m serious. Grow up. You can’t have everything you want in life, so you better deal with the card you’re dealt, and get to work. Today’s a heavy workday and I can’t have even the most useless carter being absent. So why don’t you open your eyes for once and realize that it’s never going to happen?”
Setting my face, I reply, “You’re right, Father, it’s never going to happen.”
He blinks, surprised. “What?”
“Me working for you. The most useless carter being absent.” With this, I stride out of the house. Once I clear the garden, I begin to run. Past the church; past Ceday’s house; past the blacksmith’s. I don’t stop running until I am at the Lord’s manor. I quickly walk to the mews, avoiding the patrolling guards, and stride up to Rhoslyn’s nest. Quietly fitting my glove, I remove her from her nest, and, carefully place her on my wrist. She looks at me, trusting. I’m glad she trusts me, because she’s never coming back here again. As I stand before the open plains, Rhoslyn perching on my wrist, I take a deep breath of the clear air and begin to walk.
This is my escape from Piège. This is my escape from my family, my work. This is my escape to a better life, to a place with Rhoslyn. I will never come back, and that makes me happier than anything else.
Except for falconry, of course.