Sword for His Lady(2)

By: Mary Wine

The servants hustled to obey, and Richard winked at Ramon. “We’ll need a reason now to celebrate, my friend. Tonight we shall feast in honor of your coming wedding.”

Ramon ground his teeth. Richard laughed, tilting his head back and roaring at the ceiling.

“You should see the look on your face, Segrave! I swear you look like a beardless lad facing a bride who is old enough to be his mother…yet still eager for the consummation.”

“The look on my face is born of a man’s experience with marriage.” Ramon didn’t flinch in the face of the hard glare Richard sent him. That steadfastness gained him a grunt of approval from his monarch. “Forgive me, but I would keep my own counsel when it comes to choosing a bride. On that matter, I suggest you confine your opinions to who is in your bed.”

A servant looked up, her eyes wide with shock. The king slapped the tabletop with mirth.

“You know something, Segrave? I am going to miss having your honesty by my side. Too many of these knights are greedy bastards at heart. They fear to tell me anything that might upset my delicate disposition.”

Ramon’s lips twitched. “You haven’t a delicate bone in your body, Sire.”

Richard took a fresh round of bread and tore it in two. The king bowed his head and offered up a prayer of thanks. The scent drifted on the morning breeze, making his mouth water, but Ramon remained focused. The king was in a controlling mood; his own empty belly could wait. Once Richard made a decision, it was set in stone. Even ones he made while breaking bread.

“I would accompany Your Majesty on the Crusade as I have done for the last decade. To serve you is my greatest honor, and the only life I know.”

Richard bit off a chunk of bread and chewed it before answering. “Aye…aye, and that is exactly why I need you to remain here in England.” Another section of bread disappeared into the king’s mouth, so Ramon had to wait to hear the king’s reasoning. He didn’t care for the tension that knotted his neck.

“The Welsh persist in their rebellion against me, while my own brother covets my throne in this miserable country.” He stopped and pointed at Ramon. “I need you to stabilize the government here, which is why I elevated you to the station of baron. My dear brother John will have a barons’ council here to keep him in his place. You will be one of those men, Ramon. One I can rely on to rule justly and keep the law. You will be a member of the highest council in this kingdom.”

The king nodded and wiped his lips with a cloth lying on the table.

Ramon frowned. “I am a knight. I belong beside you.”

“Now, you are a baron,” Richard declared firmly. “A new duty with an even greater challenge. You will rule according to the law, not by drawing your sword.”

Ramon was forced to hold his tongue. Richard didn’t miss the effort it took to not argue.

“Make no mistake, living in England will be a battle worthy of a knight such as you. You won’t be sitting by the hearth and warming your backside.” The king chuckled ominously. “But to secure this country, you will need a property that is positioned just right.” Richard lifted his hand and snapped his fingers. His scribe was well accustomed to waiting for the king’s command, and quickly brought forward a rolled parchment. Richard pushed aside the dishes in front of him and spread out the paper.

“Here, along the Welsh border, is Thistle Keep. It is owned by a young widow.” The king turned his head and grinned at Ramon. “But she has no way to defend her land because her garrison owes me service. I sent for them three days ago.”

Ramon wanted to argue, but there was a look in his king’s eyes that he recognized too well. Richard was set on his plan to leave Ramon behind in England. The country was riddled with unrest and Ramon’s loyalty was unquestionable. It was a compliment, even if it was one he did not covet.

“If it is your will that I remain here to keep order, I shall, Your Majesty, but I do not require a wife to do so.”

“Are you truly afraid of one lone woman, Ramon?”

Richard chuckled at the deadly look Ramon gave him in response. He tapped the parchment with his index finger.

“Look closer.”

Ramon peered at the map, his irritation growing. “The lady has a great deal of marshland. It is little wonder she is unwed. That land is useless.” Hence, the widow was poor.

“But her people are fat and her taxes paid.”

Ramon frowned and Richard nodded. “That widow is clever. She’s managed to turn her marshes into a breeding ground for geese. I need those feathers for my archers, and I need the keep held against the Welsh.”

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