TITLE: Siege of the Heart
GENRE: Historical Romance
This is the intro. I'm trying to convey a lot without slowing down the pace too much. What's not working?
England, December 1066
At least she now knew the truth.
But that was little comfort as Isabel Dumont watched the messenger ride out of the bailey. His mount took him beyond the palisade walls, along the road to Gloucester, a day's ride south. She let out a breath, a lacy cloud on the cold air. The messenger had declined her offer of hospitality, and she had not asked him to reconsider. Instead, she saw that his horse was watered and pressed a gold piece into his palm to ensure his silence.
The snow that had threatened all morning started to fall, but she did not move. She did not think she could. Her limbs felt waterlogged and heavy. 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, but her brother's message now had the same effect, leaving her shocked and winded and frozen in place.
Sir Thomas, her father's sergeant-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 stole through her veins. She twisted away from him and looked out past the gates. The graying countryside had swallowed all sign of the messenger. If only his words were as easy to erase.
"Your father--" Sir Thomas began again.
"Do not say it," she whispered, her hands fisting at her sides.
Sir Thomas shook his head out of the corner of her eye. "I must. Your father is not coming home. I know it was not the news you hoped for, but Julien's message... "
His hand came up to touch her. Isabel could not bear to be comforted right now. Nor could she stomach the sympathy that prompted such an uncharacteristic gesture from the stoic knight. She turned on her heel.
Sir Thomas - dutiful, loyal Sir Thomas - hastened after her. "Isabel, wait!"
She wrapped her woolen mantle more securely around her. She would not discuss it further. She could not. Not now, not when she could scarcely think.
"My lady, please-"
Her hand slipped to the hilt of her sword - one of her father's cast-offs - and the feel 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 crofters to the west?"
"Aye. 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."