Sword for His LadyBy: Mary Wine
London, July 1189
Ramon de Segrave ignored his growling belly. The dawn was just beginning to break, the horizon turning pink as fingers of light stretched across the land, chasing off the shadow of darkness. The mosaic glass window in the front of the sanctuary began to glow with the light stretching across the pews and himself, driving away the chill of night.
A firm hand landed on Ramon’s shoulder, gripping it with increasing strength until Ramon abandoned his focus and looked up.
“You’ve done your duty, my friend. Let us go tend to the more mundane chores of life. Such as breaking our fast.”
Because he was still on his knees, Ramon turned his head and ducked his chin to offer deference to his king. Richard the Lionheart chuckled and slapped him on the back.
“Come, Ramon, enough piety for one night,” the king insisted. “You and I are the only ones still here.”
There was a note of disappointment in Richard’s voice, but Ramon was more interested in the flicker of approval in his king’s eyes. It was hard enough to come by, which left no room for Ramon to pity those who didn’t earn it. Richard was not a man easily impressed—it was a quality Ramon admired about his king.
Ramon stood, his knees protesting with shooting pains because he’d been on them all night. It was a small discomfort compared with the surge of achievement moving through him.
Ramon looked at the window again. “It is just now dawn, Sire.”
“And you are ever a man to be just, even when those who wish to share the same honor I bestow upon you do only the minimum required of them.” The king nodded, dark circles ringing his eyes belying the fact that he had also spent the night in the sanctuary. The cross he wore over his robe was something the king held sacred. Richard had earned the right to wear it, just as any other knight under his command, by performing the required nights of devotion on his knees and lending his sword arm to the Crusade.
The king grinned as they walked through the doorway and left their duty completed behind them.
“So, my new baron, now that you have taken your noble title with humility, what is next?”
Ramon lifted one eyebrow in response. “One night of prayer is hardly something I would call humility. I did not expect you to bestow such an honor upon me, Sire.”
“Which is why I did it.” Richard made a slashing motion with his hand. “You have earned the honor. I wish half the men who serve me understood as well as you what nobility truly means. They plead with me for honors and station, yet cry their excuses when it is time to follow me into battle.”
“Aye, Sire…honor is earned.”
“That it is, my friend.”
Richard spoke loudly, his voice echoing off the stone that made up the hallways. Servants lowered themselves the moment they heard the king coming, most dropping their gazes in reverence. For this was the king. The man so often talked about but rarely seen inside his own realm. Ramon kept pace with his king, accustomed to the bold way Richard continued talking to him, without a care for who might be listening. Such was the nature of the king. He often led charges himself and was known for walking among his soldiers to hear what they had to say when they felt at ease. He was a man who craved being immersed in life.
And craved controlling it.
Richard clapped his hands, the sound echoing between the walls. “It is time to discuss what I need of you.”
Ramon held back a frown. They entered the main hall and several servants dropped their plates in surprise. The king strode determinedly toward the dais that held his table and chair while his personal servants hurried to attend him. There was always a crowd of men waiting for the king to notice them. The king’s scribe followed them on silent steps with his assistants holding rolled parchments.
Ramon waited until they seated the king. It wasn’t an easy task, controlling the urge to ask the question that was gnawing at him. The king glanced at his scribe, but summoned Ramon forward instead. Ramon took the seat next to the king.
“There is no question of what I am going to be doing, Sire. I shall accompany you on the Crusade.”
Richard was back in England only long enough to call up a new army, which he planned to march on Jerusalem.
“This Crusade is necessary to wipe my past sins away, but I must strip every resource out of this country to outfit my army.”
Servants began to place the first meal of the day in front of them. Bowls of steaming porridge were set down and, since it was the king’s table, there were also bowls of fresh summer fruit, a small pitcher of cream, and even costly lumps of sugar. The king frowned.
“Take the luxuries away.” He flattened his hand against the tabletop. “We have come from praying the night through and will greet the morning with a meal befitting the humility every Christian soul should observe while our holy city is held captive by the Moors.”