Sword for His Lady(10)By: Mary Wine
All of it was done with an ease that spoke of numerous repetitions. She stared at the anvil the blacksmith was leveling on top of thick wooden blocks. Ramon de Segrave had come to stay, bringing everything his army needed to sustain it. A blacksmith was as essential as water to knights.
She spotted the baron and felt a shiver go down her back. A page removed Ramon’s chest armor and he stood up, rotating his arms in large motions once he was free of the protective breast plate. He was a full head taller than most of his men, and his shoulders were packed with thick muscle.
She contemplated him, debating the sensation swirling through her belly. Did she find him pleasing?
“You cannot go your entire life dreading a man’s touch simply because your husband was a harsh man,” Mildred said.
“He was a brutal man, Mildred, and speaking kindly of him only makes me distrust your words, for you knew it full well.” Mildred inhaled sharply. Isabel felt a stab of guilt for her harshness; life was difficult enough without bitter words. Still, she could not lie. “I am no longer a child who needs to be sheltered from life’s unpleasant realities. Ramon de Segrave is a man of war. I have no reason to be happy to wed him. Besides, shunning men works very well for nuns. And every married man who has left for the king’s Crusade has left a wife alone.”
Mildred made a low sound of disapproval that drew Isabel’s gaze to her. “Forgive me, Mildred, I speak harshly today.” Or at least in a tone that wasn’t respectful. That was shameful and stoked her temper. She didn’t want any man to needle her so greatly that she forgot how to be kind to those she considered family.
“Your husband was a harsh man, but I’ve warned you time and again not to let that make you bitter.” Mildred shook her head. “Some men are mean-hearted, but you have been blessed by his passing, so do not dwell on it.”
“You speak wisely.” It was a polite, polished response. One that left her feeling hollow.
Mildred grunted. “Don’t be thinking I am impressed by that meek response.”
Isabel couldn’t resist the urge to smile. “Why? Because you were the one who taught me how to use such bland courtesies?”
Isabel’s smile grew larger. Mildred shook her head.
“I warned your father that Bechard was a poor choice of groom for you and that you were too young for the marriage celebration. You fear the duties of a wife now, as I warned your father would happen.”
Isabel pressed her lips back into a hard line. Even the memory of her husband was enough to sour her disposition. “As you said, let us not dwell on him. My father wanted the alliance and it was a good one.” She looked at Mildred. “That is not the reason I will refuse to wed Lord de Segrave.”
“Then what is, Lady Isabel?” Ramon said.
Isabel gasped and jerked her attention toward the baron. He was still ten paces from her and yet his expression told her he had heard her very clearly. “For I am most curious to discover the root of your discontent.”
The gravel beneath his feet crunched with every step he took. He lifted one hand and pointed at Mildred. “Leave us.”
There was solid authority in his voice, and Mildred lowered herself immediately and left. Isabel had to fight the urge to offer the man the same courtesy because such manners had been drilled into her since childhood.
Indeed, her husband had enjoyed every meek and humble display she had offered him. Mean-hearted was not a harsh enough term for the man who had so often taken delight in humiliating her.
Ramon de Segrave stopped in front of her, his gaze sharp and seeking the answer to his question. Isabel raised her chin. Honesty was something men valued. She would be direct.
“I do not care for the marriage bed,” Isabel said.
Her words shocked him. She saw it in his eyes. She watched the dark orbs, feeling the weight lift from her shoulders until something new flickered in the dark depths of his eyes.
Something unmistakably sinful, yet strangely enticing.
“Your husband’s failing. I promise to prove more attentive to your…desires.”
Her mouth dropped open. She snapped it shut and felt her cheeks burn. “Stop your boasting.”
No man had ever spoken so brazenly to her. She gave him a reprimanding glare but only received a soft smirk in response. Or was it a smirk? She peered more intently at his mouth, trying to decipher his expression.
Why had she never noticed how soft a man’s lips seemed? Her own tingled with anticipation.
“It would be best for you to take the feathers to the king and ask him for another bride. I am not a virgin.”
“Neither am I.” There was a hint of arrogance in his tone.