Sword for His Lady(5)

By: Mary Wine

“I am Baron Ramon de Segrave.”

He raised one hand into the air, with his palm flat and his fingers pointed skyward. The men riding with him responded quickly, the air filling with the sounds of them dismounting.

Isabel gasped, feeling control slipping from her grasp. “How may I assist you, Lord de Segrave?”

Her hope that the man might have a simple request died as he swung his leg over the back of the horse and lowered himself to the ground. Her belly twisted as she noted just how imposing a man he was once he was braced on his feet. He gave the stallion a firm pat but his eyes remained on her. Piercing and sharp, his gaze cut into her in spite of the distance between them. He was a hardened man, one built for war.

“His majesty has sent me to discover why you withhold your geese from him.”

Isabel stiffened. “His Grace does not need my geese, only their feathers, which have been sent each season as is required of me.”

The baron closed the distance between them. Isabel fought the urge to retreat because even though she stood on the top step, the man looked her straight in the eye.

Something strange fluttered through her belly.

Something completely misplaced.

Yet surprising, nonetheless. She felt as though her heart skipped a beat.

Which was, of course, ridiculous.

“His majesty requires more feathers for the archers he is preparing to march to the Holy Land.”

Isabel’s temper stirred. “There is not a goose for twenty miles beyond the borders of my land because the king had them slaughtered. My flock must not have the same fate. I need my geese alive to nest or there shall be no feathers next season.”

The number of men behind the baron drove home the fact that she could do very little against them if she failed to convince the baron that her geese should live to procreate. She swallowed her anger. Logic was her only weapon and she needed her wits to wield it.

“I see you and your men are set to join the king. There are some feathers in my storerooms for this year’s taxes. I shall fetch them.”

She didn’t wait for the man to answer, but hurried off toward the long storage buildings that ran alongside the keep. Mildred kept pace with her, muttering beneath her breath as they opened the door to the storerooms and heard one of the merlin falcons flutter its wings when the sunlight disturbed it.

Isabel reached for one bird without thinking, her fingers trailing over the smooth back of the animal in a familiar motion.

“Be at peace, Griffin.”

Her hand was suddenly grasped, the baron’s fingers closing all the way around her wrist. He lifted her arm away from the hawk in one swift motion.

“Even hooded, a raptor is dangerous, lady.” His voice was thick with reprimand and his eyes flashed with his displeasure. “Your father should have taught you better than to touch one.”

Isabel lost the battle to rein in her temper. “My father is the one who instructed me upon the art of falconry. I am every bit as confident with Griffin as any man might be.”

She reached out and stroked the hawk once again, keeping her rebellious gaze on the baron’s. His eyes narrowed.

“Then it is a good thing your father is dead, for I would have words with him about teaching a woman the art of falconry. Such is a duty for a man.”

His voice held all the arrogance she expected from a baron—well, from a man. Perhaps it was a sin, but she did not miss having to answer to a husband.

“Since the king requires all my men, the duty of running this land is mine and I see it done well. There are the feathers. God’s peace be with you.”

Ramon de Segrave didn’t turn. Instead, one of his dark eyebrows rose. He clearly didn’t care for her tone, but she had more important things to do than court his favor. He studied her with his dark gaze, and something shifted in the air between them. A gust of heat that had nothing to do with the changing season and everything to do with how close Ramon was to her. She shifted back, losing the battle to remain poised.

“Do you argue against your place, lady? Is that the reason you wheedled your way into being taught to handle a hawk?”

She drew in a harsh breath. “There was no wheedling involved, my lord. You are presumptuous to assume women only use sniveling to gain what we need.”

“Need, madam? Admit you only sought the status the hawk would bring you when it was perched on your arm.” Determination edged his words. His opinion shouldn’t have mattered, but her pride flared up.

“There are many here who look to me in these hard times. I have learned the tasks necessary to make sure my land feeds my people.”

He frowned at her. Isabel wasn’t sure if it was her tone or her words that displeased him, most likely both. He was a knight and a baron. The church preached that it was her place to be humble in his presence, but she could not seem to recall that as she was forced to suffer his arrogance.

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