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To participate, I’m sharing the beginning of my medieval romance Siege of the Heart. Enjoy, and be sure to stop by the other participants.
At least she now knew the truth.
It was little comfort though, as Isabel Dumont watched the messenger ride out of the bailey. She let out a breath, a feathery cloud on the cold air. The messenger had declined her offer of hospitality, and she did not ask him to reconsider. Instead, she had seen to it his horse was watered and had pressed a gold piece into his palm to ensure his silence.
Snow had threatened all morning. Now it fell around her in fat flakes, but she did not move. She did not think she could. Her limbs felt heavy, almost waterlogged. Like the time Julien had knocked her headfirst into the river in a moment’s foolishness. And then pulled her back to shore.
That had been ages ago. Her brother’s message now had the same effect, leaving her winded and frozen in place.
Captain Thomas, who handled the training of Father’s men-at-arms, stamped his feet beside her. “My lady, if you wish it, I will make the announcement—”
“No!” The word ripped through her chest and rang in her ears. “No. You will say nothing. To anyone.”
His eyes widened. “But this cannot be kept secret.”
His disapproving tone cut through the numbness that suddenly filled her. She twisted away from him and looked out past the gates. The graying countryside swallowed all sign of the messenger. If only his words were as easy to erase.
“Your father—” Captain Thomas began.
She balled her hands into fists. “Do not say it,” she whispered.
Captain Thomas shook his head. “I must. Your father is not coming home. I know it was not the news you hoped for, but Julien’s message…”
He lifted a hand toward her shoulder, and she gave him a sharp look. He stopped mid-motion, his fingers dangling awkwardly, before resting his hand on his belt. She turned on her heel.
Captain Thomas hastened after her. “Wait!”
She wrapped her woolen mantle more securely around herself. She would not discuss it further. She could not. Not when she could scarcely think.
“My lady, please—”
She slipped her hand to the hilt of her sword—one of her father’s cast-offs—and the brush of the leather-wrapped handle against her palm made it easier to rein in her breathing. “You said there were reports of the Welsh attacking tenant farms to the west?”
“Yes. I was going to have Kendrick and some of the other men scout the area, but—”
“Good. I will join them. Tell the men to make ready.”
Captain Thomas’s mouth tightened. For a moment she thought he would disobey her, but he slowly turned toward the castle to do as she bade. Lord Bernard Dumont, thane to the king, had fallen. Now it fell to her to ensure the safety of the Dumont lands. Captain Thomas, of all people, should know what that meant.
Isabel thrust a bow and quiver of arrows from the armory over her shoulder and ducked into the stables, waving off the groom before he assisted her. She led her mount outside and fastened the leather saddle straps. Hardwin flinched when she drew them too tight and kicked his hind leg out in protest.
“Shh. I am sorry, boy.” She ran her hands over his sleek flanks. “I was careless.”
Kendrick and four more trusted men-at-arms filed out of the stables. Strong, steadfast men who should have been fighting by her father’s side in York. Not ordered behind to protect her.
Isabel took a deep breath and pulled herself into the saddle. Captain Thomas’s gray head appeared next to Hardwin.
He tugged on her stirrup. “My lady, I must protest.” He threw a glance at the other men and kept his voice low, his lips barely moving as he glared up at her. “I am responsible for your welfare.”
She squeezed her eyes shut. Her welfare was the least of her concerns. She turned to the fair-haired Kendrick. “Ready?”
He nodded. If he observed her exchange with Captain Thomas, he gave no sign of it as he ordered the other riders ahead.
She pressed her heels into Hardwin’s sides. Captain Thomas trotted along with them, the stubborn man still clinging to the leather stirrup. She grimaced but kept her horse’s speed in check.
Before Captain Thomas had the chance to chastise her again, she leaned down as far as she could without losing her seat. “I need this,” she said through her teeth. “Can you not understand?”
His hand dropped away. She spurred her horse and did not look back.
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