For three long days and nights Madelyne fought the mythological monsters who appeared and try to snatch her away to Hades. Odysseus was always there, by her side, helping her ward off each attack when she demanded it.
At times the stubborn giant even conversed with her. He liked to question her about her past, and when she understood what he was asking, she'd immediately answer him. Odysseus seemed most interested in a specific time of her childhood. He wanted her to tell what it had been like after her mother had died and Louddon had taken over her guardianship.
She hated answering those questions. She wanted to talk only about her life with Father Berton. Yet she didn't want Odysseus to become angry and leave her either. For that reason, she suffered through his gentle interrogation. "I don't want to talk about him." Duncan was jarred awake by Madelyne's vehement outburst. He didn't know what she was ranting about now but quickly went to her bed. He sat down next to Madelyne and took her into his arms. "Hush now," he whispered. "Go back to sleep, Madelyne."
"When he made me come back from Father Berton's home, he was so horrible. He'd sneak into my room every night. He'd just stand there, at the foot of the bed. I could feel him staring at me. I thought that if I opened my eyes… I was very afraid."
"Don't think about Louddon now," Duncan said. He stretched out on the bed as soon as she began to cry and pulled her into his arms.
Though he was careful to hide his reaction, inside he was shaking with rage. He knew Madelyne didn't understand what she was telling him, but he understood well enough. Soothed by his touch, Madelyne fell asleep again. She didn't rest long, however, and awakened to find Odysseus was still there, keeping vigil. She wasn't afraid when he was by her side. Odysseus was the most wonderful warrior. He was strong, arrogant, though she didn't fault him for that flaw, and filled with a good heart.
He was full of mischief too. His favorite game was to change his appearance. It would happen so quickly, Madelyne didn't even have time to draw a breath of surprise. One minute he pretended to be Duncan and the next he was back to being Odysseus again. And once, during the dark hours of the night, when Madelyne was most afraid, he actually changed himself into Achilles, just to amuse her. He was sitting there, in a straight-back wooden chair that was entirely too little for his size and bulk, just looking at her in the most peculiar way.
Achilles wasn't wearing his boots. That worried her and she immediately cautioned him to protect his heels from injury. Achilles looked confused by her suggestion, forcing Madelyne to remind him that his mama had dipped him headfirst in the magical waters of Styx, making all of him invincible, save for the tiny bit of flesh on the backs of his heels, where she'd held on to him so he wouldn't be swept away by the swirling waters.
"The water didn't touch your heels, and that is where you are most vulnerable," she instructed him. "Do you understand my meaning?"
She decided he didn't understand at all. His puzzled look told her as much. Perhaps his mama hadn't taken the time to tell him the story. Madelyne sighed and gave him a sad, pitying look. She knew what was going to happen to Achilles, yet didn't have the heart to tell him to beware of stray arrows. She guessed he'd find out soon enough.
Madelyne started to weep over Achilles's future, when he suddenly stood up and walked over to her. But he wasn't Achilles now. Nay, it was Duncan taking her into his arms and soothing her. Odd, but his touch felt just like Odysseus's.
Madelyne nagged Duncan into getting into bed beside her, then immediately rolled on top of him. She propped her head on his chest so she could look into his eyes. "My hair is like a curtain," she told him, "hiding your face from everyone but me. What think you of that, Duncan?"
"So I am Duncan once again, am I?" he answered. "You don't know what you're saying, Madelyne. You burn with fever. That is what I think," he added.
"Are you going to call a priest?" Madelyne asked. Her question upset her and tears filled her eyes.
"Would you like that?" Duncan asked.
"Nay," Madelyne bellowed right into his face. "If a priest be called, I'll know I'm dying. I'm not ready to die yet, Duncan. There's too much to do."
"And what would you like to do?" Duncan asked, smiling over her ferocious expression.
Madelyne suddenly leaned down and rubbed her nose against Duncan's chin. "I think I would like to kiss you, Duncan. Does that make you angry?"
"Madelyne, you must rest," Duncan said. He tried to roll her to her side, but she proved to be as clinging as a vine. Duncan didn't force her, concerned he might accidentally hurt her. In truth, he liked her just where she was.
"If you kiss me just once, then I'll rest," she promised. She didn't give him time to respond but slapped her hands on both sides of his face and pressed her face against his. Lord, did she kiss him then. Her mouth was hot, open, and thoroughly arousing. It was such a lustful, passionate kiss, Duncan couldn't help but respond. His arms slowly slipped around her waist. When he felt warm skin, he realized her skirt had ridden up. His hands stroked her soft buttock and it wasn't long before he was caught up in a fever of his own.
Madelyne was wild and thoroughly undisciplined when she kissed him. Her mouth slanted over his, her tongue penetrated and stroked until she was breathless.
"When I kiss you, I don't want to stop. 'Tis sinful, isn't it?" she asked Duncan.
He noticed she didn't look particularly remorseful over her admission and assumed the fever had rid her of her inhibitions. "I have you flat on your back, Duncan. I could have my way with you if I wanted."
Duncan sighed in exasperation. The sigh turned into a groan, however, when Madelyne snatched his hand and boldly placed it over one of her breasts.
"Nay, Madelyne," Duncan muttered, though he didn't take his hand away. God, she felt so warm. The nipple hardened when his thumb instinctively rubbed against it. He groaned again. " 'Tis not the time for loving. You don't know what you're doing to me, do you?" he asked then. Lord, his voice sounded as harsh as the howling wind outside.
Madelyne immediately started to cry. "Duncan? Tell me that I matter to you. Even if it's a lie, tell me anyway."
"Aye, Madelyne, you matter to me," Duncan answered. He wrapped his arms around her waist and rolled her to his side. " 'Tis the truth."
He knew he had to put some distance between them, else lose this battle of sweet torture. Yet he couldn't help but kiss her once again.
The action seemed to placate her. Before Duncan could draw another shaky breath, Madelyne had fallen asleep.
The fever ruled Madelyne's mind and Duncan's life. He dared not leave her alone with Gilard or Edmond. When her passionate nature asserted itself, he didn't want either of his brothers to be the recipient of her kisses. No one was going to offer comfort to Madelyne in those uninhibited moments but him.
The demons finally left Madelyne during the third night On the morning of the fourth day she awakened feeling as wrung out as one of the damp cloths littering the floor. Duncan was sitting in the chair beside the fireplace. He looked exhausted. Madelyne wondered if he'd taken ill. She was about to ask him that question, when he suddenly noticed she was staring at him. He bounded to his feet with the quickness of a wolf and came to stand beside the bed. Odd, but she thought he looked relieved.
"You've had the fever," Duncan announced. His voice was gruff.
"So that is why my throat aches," Madelyne said. Lord, she barely recognized her own voice. It sounded hoarse, felt raw.
Madelyne looked around the room, took in the clutter surrounding her. She shook her head in confusion. Had a battle taken place here while she slept?
When she turned back to ask Duncan about the chaos, she caught his amused expression.
"Your throat is paining you?" he asked.
"You find it amusing my throat hurts?" Madelyne asked, disgruntled over his unkind reaction.
Duncan shook his head, denying her accusation. Madelyne wasn't at all convinced. He was still grinning.
Heavens, he did look fit this morning. Duncan was dressed in black, an austere color to be sure, yet when he smiled, those gray eyes didn't look cold or intimidating. He reminded her of someone, but she couldn't think who that would be. Madelyne was certain she'd remember meeting anyone who remotely resembled the Baron Wexton. Still, there was an elusive memory of someone else…
Duncan interrupted her concentration. "Now that you're awake, I'll send a servant to tend to you. You're not going to leave this room until you're healed, Madelyne."
"Was I very ill?" Madelyne asked.
"Aye, you were very ill," Duncan admitted. He turned and walked to the door.
Madelyne thought he was in quite a hurry to get away from her. She pushed a clump of hair out of her eyes and stared at Duncan's back. "Lord, I must look as messy as a mop," she muttered to herself. "Aye, you do," Duncan answered. She could hear the smile in his voice. She frowned over his rudeness and then called out, "Duncan? How long did I have the fever?"
"Over three days, Madelyne."
He turned back to catch her reaction. Madelyne looked astonished. "You don't recall any of it, do you?" he asked. Madelyne shook her head, totally bewildered now, because Duncan was smiling again. He was such a strange man, finding humor in the oddest things.
She caught the exasperation in his voice and bristled over it "Were you here all three days? In this room with me?"
He began to pull the door closed behind him. Madelyne didn't think he was going to answer her question until his voice rang out, firm and insistent.
"I was not."
The door slammed shut behind him.
Madelyne didn't think he was telling the truth. She couldn't remember what had happened, yet instinctively knew Duncan hadn't left her side.
Why had he denied it? "What a contrary man you are," Madelyne whispered. There was a smile in her voice.
"Prove all things, hold fast that which is good."
new testament, i thessalonians, 5:21
Madelyne sat on the side of her bed, willing strength back into her legs. A timid knock sounded at the door just a few minutes after Duncan had left. Madelyne called out and a servant entered the room. The woman was parchment-thin and haggard-looking, with stooped shoulders and lines of worry creasing her wide forehead. As the servant approached the bed, her steps became labored.
The servant looked ready to bolt, and it suddenly dawned on Madelyne that she might be afraid. The woman kept giving longing glances toward the door.
Madelyne smiled, trying to ease the servant's discomfort, though she was puzzled over her timid behavior.
The woman held something behind her back. She slowly made the satchel visible and then blurted out, "I've brung your baggage, milady."
"'Tis most kind of you." Madelyne answered.
She could tell her compliment pleased the woman. She didn't look as worried now, only a bit confused.
"I don't know why you are so afraid of me," Madelyne said, deciding to face the problem head on. "I'll not harm you, I can promise you that. What have the Wexton brothers told you to make you so frightened?"
Madelyne's bluntness eased the tension in the woman's posture. "They didn't tell me nothing, milady, but I ain't deaf. I could hear the yelling going on up here all the way down to the buttery, and you was doing the most of it."
"I was yelling?" Madelyne was horrified over such a suggestion. Surely the woman was mistaken.
"You was," the servant answered, nodding her head vigorously. "I knew you had the fever and couldn't help what you was doing. Gerty's bringing you food in a minute. I'm to help you change your clothes, if that be your want."
"I am hungry," Madelyne remarked. She flexed her legs, testing their strength. "I'm also as weak as an infant. By what name are you called?"
"Me name's Maude, after the queen," she announced. "The dead one, of course, since our King William ain't taken a wife yet."
Madelyne smiled. "Maude, do you think I might manage a bath? I feel so sticky."
"A bath, milady?" Maude looked horrified by the idea. "In the dead of winter?"
"I'm accustomed to taking a bath every day, Maude, and it does seem an eternity since I last—"
"A bath a day? Whatever for?"
"I just like to feel clean," Madelyne answered. She took a good long look at the servant and decided the kind woman would benefit from a bath of her own, though she didn't offer her comment lest she offend the kind woman. "Do you think your lord would permit me this vanity?"
Maude shrugged. "You're to have anything you want, so long as you stay in this room. The baron doesn't want you getting sick trying to overdo. I guess I could find a tub around here and have my man haul it up the steps."
"You have a family, Maude?"
"Aye, a good man and a lad nearly five summers now. The boy's a wild one." Maude helped Madelyne stand up and walked with her over to the chair by the hearth. "My boy's named William," she went on. "Named him after our dead king though, and not the one who's running things now."
The door opened during Maude's recitation. Another servant hurried inside, carrying a trencher of food. Maude called out, "Gerty, ain't no need to be nervous. She ain't daft like we supposed."
Gerty smiled. She was a bulky woman with a pure complexion and brown eyes. "I'm cook here," she informed Madelyne. "Heard you was pretty. Skinny though, much too skinny. Eat every bit of this food, else you'll blow away with the first good wind."
"She's wanting a bath, Gerty," Maude announced.
Gerty raised an eyebrow. "Guess she can have it then. Can't be blaming us if she gets chilled."
The two women continued to visit with each other as they cleaned Madelyne's room. They were obviously fast friends and Madelyne thoroughly enjoyed listening to their gossip.
They helped her with her bath too. By the time the tub was removed, Madelyne was exhausted. She'd washed her hair, but it was taking an eternity to dry. Madelyne sat on a soft animal skin in front of the hearth. She lifted strands of her long hair close to the heat so that it would dry faster, until her arms began to ache. With a loud, unladylike yawn, Madelyne stretched out on the furry skin, thinking she'd rest for just a minute or two. She wore only her chemise, yet didn't want to dress until her hair was dried and plaited.