Sword for His Lady(8)

By: Mary Wine



Both were sound reasons to consider wedding her. He scanned the keep and storerooms, frowning at the way they stood wide open to attack. There weren’t even wooden walls to help fend off invaders by closing a gate. Only the keep and the outer buildings. Her father had clearly been a trusting fool, for the Welsh had a king who would happily take whatever he might while Richard was off on the Crusade. They were fortunate Richard was intent on crusading, or the Welsh would find themselves conquered in short order.

Much like Isabel of Camoys. It had taken only a ride up to the steps of her keep to secure her. She had looked back at him, her eyes narrowing. Something stirred in him, tightening inside him as he contemplated the stance she’d taken up on the steps of her keep. She’d taken the high ground, and the look on her face told him she intended to try and hold it.

He liked that trait. It spoke of courage.

Heat stirred in his loins.

A very unexpected reaction. She was no great beauty and wore no gown worthy of a poet’s quill. Yet there was fire in her gaze; in truth, he would have sworn he felt the heat radiating off those flames. No meekly lowered lashes for Isabel of Camoys. She fully intended to hold her ground.

Yet she had no hope of evicting his men without his agreement. She was defeated, yet stubbornly standing in the doorway to bar the way.

The facts should have put him in a better humor. But he found himself dissatisfied and on edge. The source of his discontent was simple to identify. Isabel of Camoys challenged him, and he found her a worthy opponent.

His fatal weakness…

* * *

London

Jacques Raeburn was irritated.

It wasn’t the fact that his king wouldn’t grant him a private audience that agitated him. It was the smirks on the lips of the other men surrounding Richard the Lionhearted, because they knew what Richard was doing.

Jacques took a drinking bowl from his squire and drew off a slow sip before handing it back.

Patience.

It would not be the first time he needed persistence to gain what he wanted. Jacques remained with the king, making sure his monarch noticed him watching, because there was one thing that Richard truly was at heart, and that was arrogant. Richard believed himself worthy of Divine approval and, therefore, the devotion of men. The truth was, he enjoyed power as much as the next man. Stroking his ego would win Jacques what he wanted in the end. Finally, Richard lifted his hand and waved him forward, past the other knights and nobles trying to gain the king’s attention.

“I wish to speak of Isabel of Camoys, Sire.”

“I did not expect you to be pleased by the elevation of Ramon de Segrave, but I will not placate you by giving you the same reward,” Richard informed him the moment they were closed behind thick oak doors.

“You mistake the cause of my reason for seeking you out, Your Majesty.”

Richard looked unsure. “Then tell me what put that frown on your face.”

Jacques hooked his hands into his belt. “Isabel of Camoys was wed to my kin.”

The king frowned. “I did not know such.”

“Her late husband was a bastard son of my father’s, but blood nonetheless.” Jacques watched the king absorb the implications of his statement. “My father has charged me with wedding her and recovering the land she gained through her marriage. I seek your permission to do such.”

Richard grunted. “You’ve explained your dark brooding, Raeburn, but I will not take back what I have given to Ramon.”

“Did you order the lady to wed him?”

The king took a long swallow from his drinking vessel before answering. “No, I did not. As a widow, she has the right to choose.”

Jacques felt his mood lightening. “May I offer Ramon competition for the lady?”

The king chuckled and sat back in his chair. “So long as it is fairly done and without bloodshed. I need Ramon to keep this country loyal while I am in the Holy Land.”

“I would need to be on equal footing to make it an even match.”

The king pressed his lips together. “An agreement could be reached.”

There was a glint in the king’s eyes Jacques recognized too well. Richard was focused on his Crusade and England was a poor country. The king was determined to wring every piece of gold out of its inhabitants. If Jacques wanted to please his father, he’d have to buy his noble title from his king, since Richard knew he wanted it now.

He resented that.

Jacques felt anger burn through him for the slight Richard was dealing him. Ramon wasn’t the only one who had ridden beside his king for years, yet Richard denied Jacques the same reward.

But did it truly matter? Jacques lowered himself in submission to his king, shifting his focus onto what mattered.

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