Sword for His Lady(9)

By: Mary Wine



A knight owed his allegiance to his blood kin. He’d please his father, as a son was bound to do by God’s command. Isabel of Camoys, by the will of fate, had land that belonged to his family.

He vowed to gain it back.

* * *

“My lady, they are making camp.”

Alyse ran into the keep with her eyes wide. She pointed toward the doorway behind her. “Wagons have come, an entire line that is still arriving, and they are putting up tents.”

The other women gasped, several of them muttering prayers. But Isabel knew it was going to take more than heaven’s mercy to be rid of Ramon de Segrave. Men rarely changed their agendas to please a woman. But the tension in her shoulders was eased by the fact that the army in front of her keep would surely be a deterrent to any invaders eyeing her storerooms.

Marriage to the baron was too heavy a price to keep the security his men might provide. Let him stay. The Welsh wouldn’t need to know his reason, only see that his army was present.

There. She had found the blessing in the day at last. But she felt less than satisfied.

“The baron claims he is planning to remain.” There was no hiding her irritation and Alyse drew her hands up in front of her mouth.

Isabel pressed too hard on the herbs she was grinding and they scattered across the tabletop, some of them even rolling onto the floor. She made a soft sound beneath her breath that wasn’t very polite. The others stared at her and she felt guilt color her cheeks for her lack of discipline. Allowing her temper to ruin anything was unacceptable.

She drew in a stiff breath. “He claims the king has recommended me to him for marriage.”

Just saying the words enraged her further. With a huff, she left the table. That gained her more shocked looks from her maids, but she couldn’t seem to remain still. Her blood felt as though it were rushing through her body too quickly, and her heart was beating as though she had been running.

Such was all she needed. A man who unsettled her.

“You cannot refuse the king’s will, my lamb.”

Isabel turned on Mildred so quickly her robes flared away from her ankles. “The man wants to wed me because the king gave him the land on our southern border. He is only looking to increase the size of his holding and secure it with my keep,” she muttered with a wave of her hand. “He’ll soon tire of waiting on me to accept him. A baron will want a biddable wife.”

“Maybe you should be the one getting tired of being alone. You’re young enough yet to have children of your own.”

Isabel felt her eyes widen.

Children.

Fate had truly dealt her an unkind blow in making it so none of her husband’s efforts in their bed resulted in children. A babe would have made his callous touch far easier to bear.

“Aye, young enough…still,” Mildred tempted her.

“Shall I simply trust Ramon de Segrave’s word about what the king has said? It’s possible he is naught more than another rogue baron intent on pillaging us while the king is focused on his Crusade. I have only his word that he owns the estate south of us.” She would be wise to doubt the man. Many an heiress discovered herself wed to a man who wanted her property and had nothing of his own. “For all we know, his men have not been paid and he’ll be wanting my silver too.”

“The baron has an army with him to enforce his will upon us.” Mildred reached out and stroked Isabel’s arm. “There is naught to do but bend to his demands. Better to bend than to be broken.”

Isabel scoffed at the woman who had raised her. “I detest marriage.”

Mildred made a low sound of warning. “Methinks you shall like being the man’s leman even less, and with his men here, there is no one to force him to wed you, should he decide to take anything he desires.” There was a note of harsh reality in Mildred’s tone.

But experience had left a bitter taste in Isabel’s mouth. Loathe was too kind a word for how she felt about being beneath a man. “He shall not have my inheritance if he does not make me his wife.”

Mildred laughed but it was not a cheerful sound. “He occupies Thistle Hill, and with the king leaving for the Crusade, no one shall be here to force him to relinquish it, except perhaps invaders from Wales. I believe we will fare no better under their rule.” Mildred’s expression turned solemn. “You are still young enough to conceive. He can breed a bastard on you and inherit through his child when he acknowledges it. You know it happens, just as I do. There is no king to run to for mercy, only the barons’ council.”

“Which he sits on.” Her mouth went dry.

Isabel discovered her attention drifting toward the doorway. The double doors were open, to let the fresh spring air into the keep. She moved forward and scanned the activity filling the yard. The baron’s men weren’t wasting time. Wagons pulled up and were immediately emptied. Large canvas pavilions were being raised, and she could see the blacksmith setting up a makeshift shop.

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