Sword for His Lady(3)

By: Mary Wine

“Two things that can be accomplished without marriage.”

The king flattened his hand on the parchment. “You are the bravest man I know, but I swear at this moment, you tempt me to call you a coward.”

Ramon stiffened, but the king waved his hand in the air between them. “Fine then, I am not ordering you to wed the widow, but I need that land secured. She has no knights, they are marching with me. Her land is coveted by her Welsh neighbor, so I am sending you to fortify Thistle Keep with your men. What you do with her personally is your choice. Yet if it were me, I would want to know more about a woman who can manage her estate so well on her own. She is no timid miss, you may be certain of that.” Richard looked at the map once more and stabbed a finger at a section of land bordering the widow’s. “This land belongs to the crown. It will be yours.”

The king’s tone told Ramon that the matter was decided.

“Thank you, Your Majesty.”

“I know you are not pleased. Give it time. Go and meet the widow, see if she raises your…interest.”

Richard chuckled. Ramon tilted his head and grinned at his king. “A pleasant enough task.”

The king nodded.

“The land I’ve bestowed on you is good crop land, but there is no keep and no timber or stone to build one. Yet it will farm well and be an excellent addition to Thistle Keep if you see the logic in wedding the widow.”

“A good suggestion.”

His words were given grudgingly, carrying a little too much relief for his own taste. Richard didn’t miss either emotion. The king sighed.

“Think ill of me if you like, Ramon de Segrave, but my own position would be more secure if I had sons. It is time for both of us to trust enough in a woman to beget a few heirs. There’s something for you to dwell upon on your march to the borderland. Besides, that widow has geese, and I need more feathers. Her flock is the only one for twenty miles. I don’t know how she managed to send me so many feathers and still keep her geese. See if you can discover her secret.”

Ramon stood up and bowed. “As you command.” He meant it sincerely. Serving his monarch had always been his primary goal. He turned and struggled to mask the distaste for his king’s order.

Women were not to be trusted.

He’d learned that lesson through bitter betrayal. He was not interested in wedding again so another wife might place the horns of a cuckold on his head. Being disgraced once was enough.

Yet such an opinion left him without a true direction for the first time in his life. He had always been a knight, always looked forward to riding for the Crusade. In truth, he had spent little time in his wife’s company. It was simply the way life was.

But not anymore. Which left him looking toward the future in wonder.

His captain raised an eyebrow when Ramon joined him at the edge of the high ground, where Ambrose had been forced to wait by the king’s personal guard. Together, they descended the steps of the high ground and left the king and his court behind.

“Pleased, are you?”

Ramon shrugged. “In truth, I am not certain.”

Ambrose St. Martin cut him a questioning glance.

“It appears we will be riding for the bordering land, to meet the widow residing at Thistle Keep. Richard is leaving me here to keep the peace and hold the border against the Welsh.”

“And wed.”

Ramon shrugged. “That part was not a command.”

Ambrose chuckled softly. “With Richard, suggestions are best minded.”

Ramon felt his temper strain. “Aye.”

It was a solid truth and he’d be wise to remember it. There was also truth in the fact that his land had no keep, which meant his men would be exposed.

Yet…a wife?

He might wed her and secure the land as his own. Such was the common practice for a knight such as himself, having spent so many years in the service of his king. There were plenty of knights who had pillaged their way through the same service, but he was not one of them. The Code of Chivalry forbade it, and his honor was the only thing that meant something to him.

Marriage was one thing he might consider to increase his holdings without tarnishing his honor. Richard was correct in saying it was time to consider having sons, and the widow, Isabel of Camoys, would be a good match. United, they would have an estate that might provide everything they needed, but only if he decided to risk marrying the woman. The men that were needed to secure her land might also be the means for her to shame him with when she took a lover from among his ranks. Everything he had earned over the last ten years would crumble because his men would see him as too weak to control his wife.

He ground his teeth and chided himself. It was unjust to think badly of the lady. There was dishonor in that.

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