Edmond nodded. He closed his mind to everything but his duty. Bracing himself against the screams he knew would start as soon as he touched her, he then began the cleaning.
She never made a sound. Sometime during the ordeal, Duncan sat down on the bed. Madelyne immediately turned her face into his side. She acted as though she were trying to squeeze underneath him. Her fingernails dug into his thigh, but he didn't think she was aware of what she was doing.
Madelyne didn't think she'd be able to bear the pain much longer. She was thankful Duncan was there, though she couldn't understand why she felt that way. She couldn't seem to think much at all now, only accepted that Duncan had become her anchor to hold on to for dear life. Without him her control would collapse.
Just when she was certain she was going to start screaming, she felt the needle pierce her skin. Sweet oblivion claimed her, and she felt nothing more.
Duncan knew the second Madelyne fainted. He slowly pried her hand away from his thigh and gently turned her cheek until her entire face was visible to him. Tears wet her cheeks and he slowly wiped them away.
"I think I would have preferred her yelling," Edmond muttered as he worked the ragged flesh together with his needle and thread.
"It wouldn't have made it any easier for you," Duncan answered. He stood when Edmond finished and watched his brother wrap a thick cotton strip around Madelyne's thigh.
"Hell, Duncan, she's probably going to get the fever and die anyway," Edmond predicted with a scowl.
His comment infuriated Duncan. "Nay! I'll not allow it, Edmond."
Edmond was shocked by Duncan's vehement statement. "You would care, brother?"
"I would care," Duncan admitted.
Edmond didn't know what to say. He stood with his mouth open and watched his brother walk out of the room.
With a weary sigh Edmond followed his brother.
Duncan had already left the castle and was making his way to the lake located behind the butcher's hut. The bitterness of the weather was welcomed, for it took his mind off the questions nagging him.
The ritualistic nightly swim was yet another demand Duncan made on his mind and his body. Aye, it was a challenge meant to toughen him against discomfort. He neither looked forward to the swim nor avoided it. And he never wavered from this ritual either, be it summer or winter.
Duncan stripped off his garments and made a clean dive into the frigid water, hoping the cold would be enough to put Madelyne out of his thoughts for just a few minutes.
A short time later Duncan ate his supper. Edmond and Gilard kept him company, an unusual occurrence to be sure, as Duncan was in the habit of taking all his meals in solitude. The two younger brothers talked of many things, but neither dared question Duncan about Lady Madelyne. Duncan's silence and perpetual scowl throughout the meal didn't lend itself to discussion of any issue.
Duncan couldn't remember what he'd eaten. He determined to get some rest, but when he finally took to his bed, the picture of Madelyne kept intruding. He told himself he'd become accustomed to having her near, and surely that was the only reason he couldn't sleep. An hour passed and then another, and still Duncan continued to toss and turn.
By the middle of the night Duncan gave up the battle. He cursed himself all the way up to the tower room, telling himself he wanted only to look in on Madelyne, to make certain she hadn't defied him by dying.
Duncan stood in the doorway a long while, until he heard Madelyne cry out in her sleep. The sound pulled him inside. He shut the door, added more logs to the fire, and then went to Madelyne.
She was sleeping on her good side with her gown bunched up around her thighs. Duncan tried, but couldn't get her clothing adjusted to his satisfaction. Frustrated, he used his dagger to slit the material. He didn't stop until he'd removed both her bliaut and chainse, telling himself she'd be far more comfortable without them.
She wore only her white chemise now. The scooped neck showed the swell of her breasts. There was a wide yoke of delicate embroidery around the neckline; threads of red and yellow and green had been meticulously worked into a border of springtime flowers. It was such a feminine accomplishment, and one that pleased Duncan, because he knew she'd spent long hours working on the task.
Madelyne was as exquisite and as feminine as the flowers on her chemise. What a gentle creature she was. Her skin was flawless, dappled now into a golden hue by the flickering light from the fire.
Lord, she was lovely. "Hell," he muttered to himself. Madelyne was a sight better than lovely without her gown obstructing his view.
When she started to shiver, Duncan got into bed beside her. The tension slowly ebbed from his shoulders. Aye, he was used to having her next to him, and surely that was the reason he now felt such contentment.
Duncan pulled the cover up over the two of them. He was about to put his arm around her waist and move her closer to him, but Madelyne was quicker. She scooted up against him, until her backside was snuggled up most intimately against the junction of his thighs.
Duncan smiled. Lady Madelyne had obviously become accustomed to having him near, too, and his arrogant grin was all because he knew she wasn't aware of it… yet.
"A soft answer turneth away wrath."
old testament, proverbs, 15:1
Madelyne slept almost twenty-four hours. When she finally opened her eyes, the room was cast in afternoon shadows with only a few streamers of sunlight filtering through the wooden shutters. Everything looked hazy to Madelyne, and she felt so disoriented that she couldn't remember where she was.
She tried to sit up in bed, grimaced against the sting that movement caused her, and remembered every bit of it then.
Lord, she felt awful. Every muscle in her body ached. Madelyne thought someone might have taken a stick to her backside, or glued a hot iron rod against the side of her leg. Her stomach grumbled, but she didn't want anything to eat. No, she was just terribly thirsty and blazing hot. All she wanted was to tear off her clothes and stand in front of an open window.
That idea seemed perfectly wonderful. She tried to get out of bed to open the shutters, yet was too weak even to kick the covers out of her way. She kept on trying until she realized she wasn't wearing her own clothes. Someone had removed them, and while that fact did offend her sense of modesty, it wasn't nearly as alarming as the realization that she had absolutely no memory of the deed.
Madelyne was now wearing a white cotton shirt of some kind, an indecent garment to be sure, for it barely covered her knees. The sleeves were too long though. When she tried to fold the fabric back to her wrists, she remembered where she'd seen such a garment before. Why, it was a man's shirt, and from its gigantic proportions around the shoulders, obviously belonged to Duncan. It was the same all right; Duncan had been wearing an identical shirt when he had slept beside her in the tent the night before… or was it two nights past now? Madelyne was too sleepy to remember. She decided to close her eyes for another minute to think about it
She had the most peaceful dream. Madelyne was eleven years old again and living with her dear uncle, Father Berton. Father Robert and Father Samuel had come to Grinsteade manor to visit her uncle and to pay their respects to old man Morton, lord of Grinsteade manor. Aside from the peasants who worked Baron Morton's small land holding, Madelyne was the only young person in residence. She was surrounded by gentle, kind men, and all old enough to be her grandfather. Both Father Robert and Father Samuel had come from the overcrowded Claremont monastery. Lord Morton offered them permanent quarters. The old man had taken quite a liking to Father Berton's friends. Both were excellent chess players, and both enjoyed listening to the baron recount his favorite stories of the past. Madelyne was surrounded by doting old men who believed her to be a most gifted child. They took turns teaching her how to read and write, and Madelyne's dream centered on one particularly peaceful evening. She sat at the table and read to her "uncles" from the writings she had transcribed. A fire blazed in the hearth and there was a warm, tranquil atmosphere in the room. Madelyne was retelling an unusual story, that of the adventures of her favorite hero, Odysseus. The mighty warrior kept her company during her smiling down at her as she recounted the wonderful events of his long journey.
The next time she awakened, and surely only a few minutes had passed since she had decided to rest for just a bit, Madelyne immediately realized that someone had actually tied her eyelids shut. "How dare I be treated this way?" She muttered the outrage aloud, to no one in particular.
The binding was wet too. Madelyne ripped the offending restraint off her with an expletive worthy of a bawdy peasant. Odd, but she thought she heard someone laugh then. She tried to concentrate on the sound, when her mind was turned again. Damn if another binding wasn't slapped against her forehead. That didn't make sense at all. Hadn't she just removed it? She shook her head over the confusion of it all.
Someone spoke to her, but she couldn't understand what he was saying. If he would stop whispering and quit garbling every word, it would make it so much easier. She thought whoever was speaking to her was being terribly rude and yelled just that opinion.
Madelyne suddenly remembered how hot she was, when another cover was weighed down on her shoulders. She knew she had to get to the window and breathe some of the healing cold air. It was the only thing that would save her from this heat. Why, if she hadn't known better, she would have thought she was in purgatory. But she was a good girl and that couldn't be true. No, she was going to heaven, damn if she wasn't.
Why couldn't she open her eyes? She felt someone tug on her shoulders and then a drink of cool water touched her parched lips. Madelyne tried to take a long gulp, but the water suddenly vanished after she had tasted only a small, puny portion. Someone was out to play a cruel trick on her, she decided, frowning as ferociously as she could manage under the circumstances.
All of a sudden, everything became crystal-clear. Why, she was in Hades, not purgatory, and at the mercy of all the monsters and demons who tried to trick Odysseus. Now they tried to trick her. Well, she told herself, she was having none of it. The idea of these demons didn't upset Madelyne at all.
Quite the contrary. She became absolutely infuriated. Her uncles had lied to her. The stories of Odysseus weren't falsehoods or legends passed down from generation to generation. The monsters did exist. She could feel them surrounding her, just waiting for her to open her eyes.
And just where was Odysseus? she demanded to know. How dare he leave her alone to fight his demons? Didn't he understand what he was supposed to do? Hadn't anyone told him about his own triumphs?
Madelyne felt someone touch her thigh, interrupting her disgruntled thoughts. She knocked off the new binding scorching her eyes and turned her head just in time to see who was kneeling beside her bed. She screamed then, an instinctive reaction to the horrible one-eyed giant looking at her with such a smirk on his distorted face, and then she remembered she was angry, not frightened. It was one of the Cyclops all right, maybe even their leader, Polyphemus, the most despicable of them all, and out to get her if she'd allow it.
Madelyne made a fist and struck the giant a powerful blow. She aimed for his nose, missed it by an inch or two, but was just as satisfied. The action exhausted her and she fell back against the mattress, suddenly as weak as a kitten. There was a smug smile on her face, however, for she had heard Polyphemus let out a howl of distress.
Madelyne turned her head away from the Cyclops, determined to ignore the monster poking at her thigh. She looked over at the hearth. And then she saw him. Why, he was standing right in front of the fire, with light shining all around his magnificent body. He was much bigger than she had imagined him to be, and much more attractive. But then, he wasn't mortal, she tried to remind herself. She guessed that fact accounted for his giant proportions and the mystical light glowing all around him. "And just where have you been?" she demanded with a yell meant to gain his attention.
Madelyne wasn't sure if mythological warriors could converse with mere mortals, quickly surmised that this one didn't, or wouldn't, because he just continued to stand there and stare at her, and didn't offer a single word in answer to her demand.
She thought to try again, though she found it a terribly exasperating task. There was a Cyclops right beside her, for God's sake, and even if the warrior couldn't speak to her, he could see that there was work to be done. "Get on with it, Odysseus," Madelyne demanded, pointing her finger at the monster kneeling beside her.
Damn if he didn't just stand there and look confused. For all his size and might, he didn't appear to be overly intelligent. "Must I fight every battle on my own?" she demanded to know, raising her voice until the muscles in her neck began to ache from the strain. Tears of frustration clouded her vision, but she couldn't help that. Odysseus was trying to vanish into the light. How very rude of him, she thought.
She couldn't allow him to disappear. Dimwitted or not, he was all she had. Madelyne tried to placate him. "I promise to forgive you for all the times you let Louddon hurt me, but I'll not forgive you if you leave me alone now."
Odysseus didn't seem overly concerned with gaining her forgiveness. She could barely see him now, knew he'd soon be gone, and realized she'd have to increase her threats if she was going to get any help from him.
"If you leave me, Odysseus, I'll send someone after you to teach you some manners. Aye," she added, warming to her threat. "I'll send the most fearsome of all warriors. Just you leave and see what happens! If you don't get rid of him," she declared, pausing in her threat to point dramatically at the Cyclops a long moment, "I'll send Duncan after you."
Madelyne was so satisfied with herself that she closed her eyes with a sigh. She had surely put the fear of Zeus into the most magnificent of creatures, the powerful Odysseus, by pretending to send Duncan after him. She let out a rather inelegant snort over her cleverness.
She peeked a quick look back out of one eye to see how her threat was being taken, and smiled with victory. Odysseus looked worried. And that, Madelyne suddenly decided, wasn't good enough. If he was going to fight a Cyclops, he'd need to be good and angry. "Duncan is really a wolf, you understand, and he'll tear you to shreds if I tell him to," she boasted. "He'll do anything I ask," she added, "Just like that." Madelyne tried to snap her fingers together but couldn't quite manage the feat.
She closed her eyes again, feeling as though she'd just won an important battle. And all with gentle words, she reminded herself. She hadn't used any force at all. "I am ever a gentle maiden," she shouted. "Damn, if I'm not."