The road to the drawbridge curved like a serpent's belly up the rocky climb. Duncan nudged his mount forward when the last of his men had cleared the wooden planks spanning the moat. The stallion was eager to get to his destination, prancing a nervous sidestep that jarred Madelyne's thigh into aching again. She grimaced against the sting, unaware she was squeezing Duncan's arm.

He knew she was in pain. Duncan looked down at Madelyne, took in her exhausted expression, and scowled.


"You'll be able to rest soon, Madelyne. Hold on just a little longer," Duncan whispered, his voice ragged with concern.

Madelyne nodded and closed her eyes.

When they reached the courtyard, Duncan quickly dismounted and then lifted Madelyne into his arms. He held her firmly against his chest, and then turned and started walking toward his home.

Soldiers lined the way. Gilard was standing with two men in front of the castle doors. Madelyne opened her eyes and looked at Gilard. She thought he looked perplexed but couldn't reason why.

-- Advertisement --

It wasn't until they'd gotten closer that Madelyne realized Gilard wasn't looking at her. Why, his attention was drawn to her legs. Madelyne glanced down, saw then that her cloak wasn't hiding her injury any longer. The tattered gown trailed behind her like a shredded banner. Only blood covered her, flowing a stream down the length of her leg.

Gilard hurried to open the doors, a double entry that dwarfed the men. A rush of warm air greeted Madelyne when they reached the center of a small hallway.

The area around her was obviously the soldiers' keep. The entryway was narrow, the floor wooden, and the men's quarters located on the right. A circular stairway took up all of the left wall, curving wide steps that led to the housing above. There was something oddly disturbing about the structure, but Madelyne couldn't figure out what bothered her until Duncan had carried her halfway up the steps.

"The stairs are on the wrong side," Madelyne suddenly said.

"Nay, Madelyne. They are on the correct side," Duncan answered.

She thought he sounded amused. " 'Tis not on the correct side," she contradicted him. "The stairway is always built on the right side of the wall. Anyone knows that well enough," she added with great authority.

For some reason, Madelyne was infuriated that Duncan wouldn't admit the obvious flaw in his home.

"It's built on the right unless it is deliberately ordered built on the left," Duncan answered. Each word was carefully enunciated. Why, he acted as though he was instructing a dimwitted child.

Why Madelyne found this discussion so important was beyond her. She did though, and vowed to have the last word on the subject. "It's an ignorant deliberation then," she told him. Madelyne glared up at him and was sorry he wasn't looking down at her to see it.

"You're a stubborn man."

"You're a stubborn woman," Duncan countered. He smiled, pleased with his observation.

Gilard trailed behind his brother. He thought their conversation ridiculous. Yet he was too worried to smile over their foolish banter.

Gilard knew Edmond would be waiting for them. Aye, the middle brother would certainly be inside the hall. Adela might be there as well. Gilard realized he was concerned for Madelyne now. He didn't want her to have any unpleasant confrontations. And he hoped there'd be time to explain Madelyne's gentle nature to his brother Edmond.

Gilard's worry was temporarily put aside when Duncan reached the second level and didn't turn to enter the great hall. He took the opposite direction, climbed another stairway, and then entered the mouth of the tower. The steps were narrower and the procession slowed somewhat by the sharp curves.

The room at the top of the tower was freezing. There was a hearth built into the center of the circular wall. A large window had also been added, right next to the fireplace. The window was wide open, the wooden shutters flapping loudly against the stone walls.

There was a bed against the inside wall. Duncan tried to be gentle when he placed Madelyne on the covers. Gilard followed behind them and Duncan issued his orders to his brother as he bent to pile chunks of wood into the fireplace. "Send Gerty with a trencher of food for Madelyne, and tell Edmond to bring his medicines. He'll have to use his needle on her."

"He'll argue over it," Gilard commented.

"He'll do it all the same."

"Who is Edmond?"

The softly spoken question came from Madelyne. Both Duncan and Gilard turned to look at her. She was struggling to sit up, and frowning over the impossibility of the task. Her teeth started chattering from the cold and the strain, and she finally collapsed against the bed again.

"Edmond is middle brother to Duncan and me," Gilard explained.

"How many Wextons are there?" Madelyne asked, frowning. "Five in all," Gilard answered. "Catherine is oldest sister, then Duncan, then Edmond, then Adela, and lastly me," he added with a smile. "Edmond will care for your injury, Madelyne. He knows the ways of healing, and before you know it, you'll be as fit as ever."


Gilard frowned. "Why what?"

"Why would you want me fit as ever?" Madelyne asked, clearly puzzled.

Gilard didn't know how to answer her. He turned back to look at Duncan, hoping he'd give Madelyne answer. Duncan had started the fire and was now closing the shutters. Without turning around, he commanded, "Gilard, do as I've instructed."

His voice didn't suggest argument. Gilard was wise enough to obey. He made it to the door before Madelyne's voice caught up with him. "Don't bring your brother. I can take care of my injury without his aid."

"Now, Gilard."

The door slammed.

Duncan turned to Madelyne then. "For as long as you are here, you'll not contradict any of my orders. Is that understood?"

He was advancing upon the bed with a slow, measured stride.

"How can I understand anything, milord?" Madelyne whispered. "I am but a pawn, isn't that the way of it?"

Before he could frighten her, Madelyne closed her eyes. She folded her arms across her chest, an action meant to ward off the chill in the room.

"Let me die in peace," she whispered quite dramatically. Lord, how she wished she had the strength and the courage to yell at him. She was so miserable now. There'd be more pain coming if Duncan's brother touched her too. "I do not have the stamina for your brother's ministrations."

"Yes, you do, Madelyne."

His voice had sounded gentle, but Madelyne was too angry to care. "Why must you contradict everything I say to you? 'Tis a terrible flaw, that," Madelyne muttered.

A knock sounded at the door. Duncan yelled out as he walked back across the room. He leaned one shoulder against the mantel above the hearth, his gaze directed on Madelyne.

Madelyne was too curious to keep her eyes closed. The door protested with a squeak as it was opened and an elderly woman appeared. She carried a trencher in one hand and a jug in the other. There were two animal skins tucked under her arm. The servant was a plump woman with worried brown eyes. She darted a hasty look at Madelyne and then turned to curtsy awkwardly to her lord.

Madelyne decided the servant was afraid of Duncan. She watched the poor woman, feeling great compassion for her as she tried to balance the items in her hands and genuflect.

Duncan wasn't making it any easier on the woman either. He gave her a curt nod and then motioned her to Madelyne's side. Not a word of encouragement or kindness did he utter.

The servant proved to be quick on her feet, because as soon as Duncan commanded the task, she all but ran to the bed, stumbling twice before she was there.

She placed the trencher of food next to Madelyne and offered her the jug. "By what name are you called?" Madelyne asked the woman. She kept her voice low so Duncan wouldn't overhear.

"Gerty," the woman answered.

The woman remembered the covers she held under her arm then and quickly moved the trencher to the wooden chest next to the bed. She covered Madelyne with the blanket.

Madelyne smiled her appreciation and that encouraged Gerty to tuck the sides of the animal skins against Madelyne's legs. "I can see you're shivering to death," she whispered.

Gerty had no knowledge of Madelyne's injury. When she pushed the fur against her injured thigh, Madelyne squeezed her eyes shut against the excruciating insult and didn't say a word.

Duncan saw what had happened, thought to yell a rebuke to the servant, but the deed was already done. Gerty was handing Madelyne her food now.

"Thank you for your kindness, Gerty."

Madelyne's approval amazed Duncan. He stared at his captive, took in her tranquil expression, and found himself shaking his head. Instead of lashing out at the servant, Lady Madelyne had given her praise.

The door suddenly flew open. Madelyne turned, her eyes wide with fright. The door bounced against the wall twice before settling. A giant of a man stood in the doorway, his hands resting on his h*ps and a fierce scowl drawn across his face. Madelyne concluded with a weary sigh that this, then, was Edmond.

Gerty scooted around the big man and hurried out the doorway just as Edmond advanced into the room. A trail of servants followed, carrying bowls of water and an assortment of trays with odd-shaped jars on them. The servants placed their trays on the floor next to the bed and then turned, bowed to Duncan, and left. They all acted like scared rabbits. And why wouldn't they? Madelyne asked herself. After all, there were two wolves in the room with her and wasn't that enough to scare anyone?

Edmond still hadn't said a word to his brother. Duncan didn't want a confrontation in front of Madelyne. He knew he'd become angry, and that would frighten Madelyne. Yet, he wasn't about to back down either.

"Have you no greeting for your brother, Edmond?" Duncan asked.

The ploy worked. Edmond looked surprised by the question. His face lost some of its anger. "Why wasn't I informed of your plan to bring Louddon's sister back with you? I have only just learned that Gilard understood the way of it from the beginning."

"I suppose he boasted of it too," Duncan said, shaking his head.

"He did."

"Gilard exaggerates, Edmond. He had no knowledge of my intentions."

"And your reason for keeping this plan secret, Duncan?" Edmond asked.

"You would have argued over it," Duncan remarked. He smiled over his own admission, as if he would have found pleasure in the fight.

Madelyne observed the change in Duncan's manner. She was truly amazed. Why, he looked so ruggedly handsome when he smiled. Aye, she thought, he looked human. And that, she scolded herself, was all she would allow herself to think about his appearance.

"When have you ever turned your back on an argument?" Edmond shouted at his brother.

The walls surely rocked from the noise. Madelyne wondered if both Edmond and Gilard suffered from a hearing problem of some sort.

Edmond wasn't as tall as Duncan, not when they stood so close together. He looked more like Duncan than Gilard did though. He was just as mean-looking when he scowled. The facial features were almost identical, down to their frowns. Edmond's hair wasn't black though; it was as brown as a newly plowed field and just as rich in thickness. And when he turned to look at her, Madelyne thought she saw a smile light those dark brown eyes before they turned as cold as stone.

"If you think to yell at me, Edmond, I must tell you I'm not up to listening," Madelyne said.

Edmond didn't reply. He folded his arms across his chest and stared at her, long and hard, until Duncan told him to see to her injury.

When the middle brother walked over to the bed, Madelyne began to get frightened again. "I would prefer that you leave me alone," she said, trying to keep her voice from shaking.

"Your preferences do not concern me," Edmond remarked. His voice was now as soft as hers had been.

She admitted defeat when Edmond motioned for her to show him which leg he was to tend. He was large enough to force her, and Madelyne needed to keep her strength for the ordeal ahead of her.

Edmond's expression didn't change when she lifted the covering. Madelyne was careful to shield the rest of her body from his view. She was a modest lady, after all, and it was best that Edmond understand that from the beginning. Duncan walked over to the other side of the bed. He frowned when Edmond touched Madelyne's leg, and she grimaced in pain.

"You'd best hold her down, Duncan," Edmond remarked. His voice was mild now, his concentration obviously centered on the task ahead of him.

"Nay! Duncan?"

She couldn't keep the frantic look from her eyes.

"There isn't any need," Duncan instructed his brother. He looked at Madelyne and added, "I'll hold her down if it becomes necessary."

Madelyne's shoulders sagged against the bed again. She nodded and a look of calm settled on her face.

Duncan was certain he'd have to restrain her, else Edmond wouldn't be able to complete the task of cleaning the wound and sewing her flesh back together. There'd be pain, intense but necessary, and it would be no disgrace for a woman to scream during the ordeal.

Edmond lined up his supplies and was finally ready to begin. He looked at his brother, received his nod, and turned to look at Madelyne. What he saw surprised him into stillness. There was trust in those magnificent blue eyes, and not a trace of fear in evidence. She was quite beautiful, Edmond admitted, just as Gilard had claimed.

"You may begin, Edmond," Madelyne whispered then, interrupting Edmond's thoughts.

Edmond watched Madelyne wave her hand in a regal gesture indicating she was waiting. He almost smiled over her show of authority. Her husky voice surprised him too. "Would it be easier if you just used a hot knife to seal the wound?"

Before Edmond could answer her, Madelyne hastened on. "I do not mean to tell you the way of it," she said. "Please don't take offense, but it does seem barbaric of you to use a needle and thread."


Edmond looked as if he were having trouble following the conversation.

Madelyne sighed. She decided she was too exhausted to try to make him understand. "You may begin, Edmond," she repeated. "I'm ready."

"I may?" Edmond asked, looking up at Duncan to catch his reaction.

Duncan was too worried to smile over Madelyne's conversation. He looked grim.

"You're a bossy bit of goods," Edmond told Madelyne. The rebuke was softened by his smile.

"Get on with it," Duncan muttered. "The waiting is worse than the deed."

-- Advertisement --