Madelyne let go of Adela's hair then and helped her stand. Duncan's sister tried to pull away, but Madelyne wouldn't allow it. Her anger had given her the strength of Hercules. "You're taller than I am, but I'm stronger, and meaner right this minute than you could ever imagine, Adela. If I have to kick you all the way up to the tower, I'm more than up to the task." She pulled on Adela's arm, dragging her toward the entrance, muttering loud enough for all three brothers to hear. "And I'm smiling over the thought of kicking you, that's the truth of it."
Adela burst into tears. Madelyne was heartless. The sister wasn't going to get any more sympathy from her. Edmond and Gilard had given Adela too much of that already. Without realizing it, the brothers hurt their sister with their pity and their compassion. What was needed now was a firm hand. And Madelyne's were firm enough. Odd, but her head was not aching anymore.
"Cry all you want, Adela. It won't help your cause. You dared to call little Willie a brat, when the name belongs to you. Aye, you're the brat. That's all going to change now. I promise you that."
Madelyne kept up a constant chatter all the way to her room. She didn't have to kick Adela once.
By the time the wooden tubs were filled to spilling with steaming water, the fight had gone out of Adela. Gerty and Maude stayed to lend a hand getting Adela's clothes off her. "Burn these," Madelyne ordered after handing the offensive garments to Gerty.
When Adela was pushed into the first tub, Madelyne thought she tried to mimic Lot's wife. Duncan's sister sat like a sculptured piece of stone and stared off into the distance. The look in her eyes told another story, however. Aye, it was plain to see that Adela was seething with rage. "Why was there need for two tubs?" Maude asked. She wrung her hands with worry. Adela had suddenly changed tactics and had just grabbed hold of Lady Madelyne's hair. It looked as though she meant to rip Madelyne's pretty locks right out of her scalp.
In retaliation, the lady who Maude had come to view as a sweet, gentle woman, shoved Adela's face under the water. Did she think to drown the baron's sister?
"I don't think Lady Adela can breathe under there," Maude said.
"Aye, and she can't spit at me either," Madelyne answered, snapping out each word.
"Well, I never…" Gerty gasped the protest before turning. Maude watched her friend run out the doorway.
Gerty was always one for telling the news before anyone else had a chance, Maude knew. Next Baron Wexton would probably be wanting to know what was going on.
Maude wished she could chase after Gerty. Lady Madelyne frightened her now; she'd never seen such a ferocious temper. Still, she'd stood up for little Willie, Maude admitted, and for that reason she'd stay and lend a hand as long as Lady Madelyne demanded it.
"We need two tubs because Adela is so filthy, she'll need two baths."
Maude had difficulty hearing what Lady Madelyne was telling her. Adela had started kicking and scratching. Lord, there was water everywhere, most especially on Lady Madelyne.
"Hand me the soap, if you please," Madelyne ordered.
The next hour was an incredible ordeal worthy of retelling until next spring. Gerty kept poking her head in to check on the progress. She'd then hurry back downstairs to report to Edmond and Gilard.
When the commotion was over, Gerty was a bit disappointed. Lady Adela was sitting quietly in front of the fireplace while Lady Madelyne combed her hair. The fight had gone out of the baron's sister, and the excitement was over.
Maude and Gerty left the tower after the tubs had been emptied and carried away.
Neither Adela nor Madelyne had spoken a civil word to each other. Maude suddenly appeared in the doorway again and rushed out. "I've still to tell you my gratitude for helping my boy."
Madelyne was about to answer Maude, when the servant continued. "Mind you. I don't hold it against Lady Adela.
She can't help the way she is. But you went out of your way to comfort Willie and I'm grateful to you."
"I didn't mean to hit him."
The admission came from Adela. It was the first decent sentence she'd spoken. Maude and Madelyne shared a smile.
As soon as the door closed behind Maude, Madelyne pulled up a chair and sat down, facing Adela.
Adela refused to look at Madelyne. Her hands were folded together in her lap and she stared intently at them.
Madelyne was given plenty of time to study Duncan's sister. Adela was actually very pretty. She had large brown eyes, golden brown hair, a surprise that, but once the dirt had been removed, the strands of blond were most noticeable.
She didn't look much like Duncan, yet she certainly shared his stubborn streak. Madelyne forced herself to be patient.
At least an hour passed before Adela finally looked up at Madelyne. "What do you want from me?"
"I want you to tell me what happened to you."
Adela's face immediately turned red. "Do you want all the details, Madelyne? Will that give you pleasure?" Adela began to twist the cuff of the freshly laundered sleeping gown she wore.
"Nay, I won't gain pleasure," Madelyne answered. Her voice sounded sad. "But you've a need to tell it. There's poison inside of you, Adela, and you need to get rid of it. You'll feel better afterward, I promise you. And you won't have to keep up your childish act in front of your brothers anymore."
Adela's eyes widened. "How did you…" She suddenly realized what she was giving away.
Madelyne smiled. "It's obvious to the most simpleminded that you don't hate me. We've crossed paths each day and you never screamed at me then. Nay, Adela, you've been too deliberate in your hatred."
"I do hate you."
"You do not," Madelyne announced. "You've nothing to hate me for. I've done nothing to harm you. We are both innocent and both caught in this war between our brothers. Aye, we are both innocent."
"I'm no longer innocent," Adela answered. "And Duncan has gone to your bed every night, so I doubt that you're innocent either."
Madelyne was astonished by Adela's words. Why did she think that Duncan had spent his nights with her? She was mistaken, of course, but Madelyne forced herself to concentrate on Adela's problem now. She could protest her own innocence later.
"I would kill your brother if I had a chance," Adela announced. "Why don't you just leave me alone? I want to die in peace."
"Don't speak such sinful thoughts," Madelyne returned. "Adela, how can I help you if you…"
"Why? Why would you want to help me? You're Louddon's sister."
"I've no loyalty toward my brother. He destroyed that long ago. When did you meet Louddon?" she asked most casually then, as if it really held no importance.
"In London," Adela answered. "And that is all I'm going to tell you."
"We are going to speak of this, no matter how painful it is. We've only each other, Adela. I'll keep your secrets safe."
"Secrets? There are no secrets, Madelyne. Everyone knows what happened to me."
"I will hear the truth from you," Madelyne announced. "If we have to sit here and stare at each other all night, I'm more than willing."
Adela looked at Madelyne a long while, obviously trying to make up her mind. She felt ready to burst into a thousand fragments. God, she was so tired of the deception, and so very lonely. "And will you tell Louddon every word when you return to him?" she asked, though her voice was a hoarse whisper now.
"I'm never going back to Louddon," Madelyne said. Her voice sounded her anger. "I've a plan to go and live with my cousin. I don't know the way of it yet, but I'll get to Scotland even if I have to walk."
"I believe you, you'll not tell Louddon. But what about Duncan? Will you tell him?"
"I'll tell no one unless you give me permission," Madelyne answered.
"I met your brother when I was at court," Adela whispered. "He is a handsome man," she added. "He told me he loved me, pledged himself to me."
Adela started to cry, and several minutes elapsed before she could regain control.
"I was already betrothed to Baron Gerald. The arrangement was made when I was ten years old. I was content until I met Louddon. I haven't seen Gerald since I was a little girl. God's truth, I'm not even sure I'd recognize him now. Duncan gave permission for me to go with Edmond and Gilard to court. Gerald was supposed to be there, and since the marriage vows were to be exchanged next summer, my brothers thought it a good idea for me to get to know my future husband. Duncan believed that Louddon was in Normandy with the king, you see. Else he'd never allow me near the court."
Adela took a deep breath and then continued. "Gerald wasn't there. He had reason enough," she added, "one of his vassals' homes had been attacked and he had to retaliate. Still, I was angry and disappointed."
She shrugged then. Madelyne reached out and clasped her hands. "I would have been disappointed too," she offered. "Everything happened so quickly, Madelyne. We were in London only two weeks. I knew how much Duncan disliked Louddon, but I didn't know why. We kept our meetings secret. He was always kind and considerate to me. I liked the attention. The meetings were easy to arrange, too, because Duncan wasn't there."
"Louddon would have found a way," Madelyne said. "I think he used you to hurt your brother. You're very pretty, but I don't think Louddon loved you. He's not capable of loving anyone but himself. I know that now."
"Louddon didn't touch me."
The statement fell between them. Madelyne was stunned. She forced herself to keep her expression contained and then said, "Please go on."
"We agreed to meet in a chamber Louddon had found vacant the day before. It was well away from the rest of the guests, quite isolated. I knew what I was doing, Madelyne. I agreed to this meeting. I thought I loved your brother. I knew it was wrong, but I couldn't help how I felt. Lord, he was so handsome. Dear God, Duncan would kill me if he knew the truth."
"Don't torment yourself, Adela. He won't know anything unless you tell him."
"Louddon came to meet me," Adela said. "But he wasn't alone. His friend was with him and he was the one who… violated me."
All of Madelyne's training in hiding her feelings saved her now. She showed no outward sign at Adela's shocking admission.
Duncan's sister watched Madelyne. She waited to see repulsion. "This doesn't make you—"
"Finish it," Madelyne whispered.
The full sordid story poured out, haltingly at first and then with increased speed, and when Adela was finished, Madelyne gave her a few minutes to calm herself.
"Who was this man with Louddon? Give me his name."
"I know the bastard," Madelyne answered, unable to keep the rage out of her voice. Adela looked frightened by the outburst. Madelyne tried to push her anger aside. "Why didn't you tell Duncan all of this? Not the part about making the choice to meet Louddon, of course, but about Morcar's involvement?"
"I couldn't," Adela answered. "I was so ashamed. And I was so badly beaten, I truly thought I was going to die. Louddon was as responsible as Morcar was… Oh, I don't know, but once I'd said Louddon's name to Gilard and Edmond, they didn't want to hear any more."
Adela started weeping, but Madelyne quickly stopped her. "All right then," she said most matter-of-factly. "You're to listen to me now. Your only sin was falling in love with the wrong man. I wish you could tell Duncan about Morcar, but that decision is yours to make, not mine. For as long as you bind me, I vow I'll keep your secret."
"I trust you," Adela answered. "I've been watching you all week. You're nothing like your brother. You don't even look like him."
"Thank God for that," Madelyne muttered with such gusto in her voice, Adela smiled.
"One more question, Adela, if you please," Madelyne said. "Why have you been acting so crazed? Was it all for your brothers' benefit?"
Adela nodded "Why?" Madelyne asked, confused.
"When I came home, I realized I wasn't going to die. And then I began to worry that I might be carrying Morcar's child. Duncan would force a marriage, and—"
"You can't believe Duncan would bind you to Louddon?" Madelyne interrupted.
"No, no," Adela said. "But he'd find someone. His only concern would be to help me."
"And are you with child?" Madelyne asked. She felt her stomach lurch over the possibility.
"I don't know. I've missed my monthly but I don't feel any different and they've never been orderly fluxes." Adela blushed after making her confession.
"Perhaps it is too soon to tell," Madelyne advised. "But if you are, how did you think to keep it from Duncan? He may be stubborn, Adela, but he certainly isn't blind."
"I thought I'd keep to my room until it was too late, I guess. It sounds so foolish now. I haven't been thinking too clearly. I just know I'll kill myself before I am forced to marry anyone."
"What about Baron Gerald?" Madelyne asked. "The contract is broken now," Adela said. "I'm no longer a virgin."
Madelyne sighed. "Did the baron announce this?"
"Nay, but Duncan says he'll not have to honor it now," Adela said.
Madelyne nodded. "Is your main worry that Duncan will force a marriage?"
"Then let us face this worry first. We'll form a plan to rid you of that concern."
Madelyne heard the eagerness in Adela's voice, saw the spark of hope in her eyes too. That made her all the more determined. Unable to sit still a moment longer, Madelyne bounded to her feet and began to pace a slow circle around the chairs. "I don't believe for one minute that your brother would be so heartless as to demand that you marry anyone." She raised her hand when Adela looked as if she were going to interrupt, and then continued. "However, what I believe isn't important. What if I gained a promise from Duncan that you could live here for as long as you wanted to, no matter what the circumstances? Would that ease your fear, Adela?"
"Would you have to tell him I might be carrying a child?"