It was turning out to be a fine day with only a few white clouds in the sky with a pleasant breeze to go along with them. A young woman sat in an embrasure on one of the highest parapets overlooking the moat of the castle. Barefoot and with hair undone, the young woman looked perfectly picturesque as she watched the activities of those working outside of the walls. Iseult was young enough to still have a playful enough spirit to still perch on the battlements, yet she was old enough to realize she should be putting her time into something more useful. At the considerable age of nineteen any normal woman would have been married and the mistress of her own home, but Godwyn of Chester had been in no hurry to barter off his daughter and only heir. With his beloved wife having died when the child was four, Godwyn had been thoroughly protective of his only child.

Iseult, for her part, had considerable say in the matter of whom she would or wouldn't marry. She was fortunate, she knew. Her father was a good man and liege lord. His men loved him and his lands prospered. Godwyn was now caught in the rather precarious position of choosing a suitable husband for his pride and joy. He was torn between making an alliance for more land or for fighting prowess. With his lands dangerously close to the border of Wales, Godwyn had concerned himself with protecting what lands he had with more than the normal zeal.

Iseult herself had never been able to understand her father's preoccupation with his defenses. Maddock, Godwyn's defense leader and general right hand man, had always been more than proficient in his job. Being full blooded Welsh; Maddock had had to walk a fine line between his ancestry and his pledged lord and had done a more than admirable job for years.

Maddock had always been a personal favorite with Iseult. At the age of twenty-seven, Maddock had more than proven himself as a warrior and exceptional military leader. He was also an especial favorite with the ladies with his dark brown eyes, curly jet-black hair and angular good looks. He was also arrogant and rather cocky, two traits that Iseult could have done without in the make up of a man who has around her almost as much as her father. Fortunately, Maddock normally made a point of ignoring the mistress of the castle. Iseult still had great respect of the warrior, even if he did consider her little more than a breathing piece of furniture.

Gazing out over the land about the castle, Iseult suddenly felt the urge to take advantage of the beautiful weather and go riding on one of her father's horses. While her father had been rather wary of letting his daughter go riding without an escort, he very rarely stopped her from riding around the grounds. Godwyn understood the delicate nature of Iseult's situation even if Iseult herself didn't. As the only heir to a considerable amount of land, the young woman was considered the most desirable find in the area for most of the surrounding unmarried lords, and those that were married always had sons. Not only well set with land, Iseult was also considered rather pretty, with her pale skin, curly mahogany hair and large blue eyes. The compounded enticement of land and beauty made Iseult dangerously desirable to the surrounding neighbors.

Iseult quickly made her way to the stables and looked on as one of the calm mares was saddled. She truly loved riding and congratulated herself on this pleasurable way to spend the day. As she turned around, Iseult caught the eye of Maddock who had suddenly materialized at the end of the stable.

"You shouldn't go out alone, Isis," Maddock said in his low and melodically Welsh voice, using the familiar name he'd called the young heiress for as long has he'd known her. While he might have always looked at the young woman with the rather contemptuous eye of one who felt his liege lord was too indulgent and his mistress altogether too open with her opinions for one so young, Maddock was still fond of Iseult.

"I've gone out alone plenty of times, Maddy," Iseult retorted with a wink, reverting to the butchering of his name that she had used for the majority of her younger years. She knew he hated it now, but she felt like goading him for trying to tell her what she shouldn't do.

Maddock rolled his dark eyes and proceeded to stroll over to Iseult's mount.

"I mean it, Isis," he said, "you take the threat of our neighbors far too lightly. They've become impatient with your father not choosing one of them for you. They could well decide to take things into their own greedy hands."

He stroked neck of the white mare being saddled.

"I hate that you're in the middle of a land feud, Isis, but you and your father will be in this situation until you're wed."

Iseult glared at Maddock contemptuously.

"So if you had a daughter you'd be quite willing to barter her off for your own safety?"

Maddock let out a snort of derision.

"I simply wouldn't take as much time finding a suitable mate and angering my neighbors," Maddock said, "and as you can see, I have no children at all and do not plan to have any in the near future."

"I pity the woman ever forced to marry you," Iseult said with a scathing look, "you might look well, but your manners are hopeless."

"At least I have them," Maddock said with a pointed look and raised eyebrow.

Iseult's eyes flashed and with one quick motion had gathered her skirts and mounted her horse, wheeling the mare around and thundering out of the stable at a faster pace than was prudent.

"Pity the man who ends up with you in the bargain as well, Isis," Maddock said quietly to himself, "he'll end up with a little girl who knows nothing about anything."