"You may not."
"Duncan, Adela wanted to rearrange her room to look more like…" Lord, she was about to tell him Adela wanted her room to be as cozy as the tower room. He'd find out what she'd done then, and probably pitch a fit.
Madelyne glanced over to look at Adela. The poor girl was clutching her hands together and staring at the floor. "Adela, you have forgotten to give your brother a proper greeting," she instructed her.
"Good day, milord," Adela whispered immediately. She didn't look up at Duncan.
"His name is Duncan. Lord or not, he is your brother." Madelyne turned to Duncan then and glared at him. He'd better not snap at his sister.
Duncan raised an eyebrow when Madelyne frowned at him. When she motioned with a vigorous tilt of her head toward Adela, he shrugged. He didn't have the faintest idea what she was trying to tell him. "Well? Aren't you going to give your sister a greeting, Duncan?" she demanded.
His sigh bounced off the walls. "Are you instructing me?" he asked.
He looked irritated. Madelyne shrugged. "I'll not have you frightening your sister," she said before she could stop herself.
Duncan felt like laughing. It was true then, just as Gilard had praised and Edmond had protested. Timid Madelyne had become Adela's protector. One kitten trying to protect another, except that Madelyne was acting more like a tigress now, he decided. There was blue fire in her eyes, and oh, how she tried to keep her anger hidden from him.
Duncan gave Madelyne a look that told her what he thought of her dictate. Then he turned to his sister and said, "Good morning, Adela. Are you feeling well today?"
Adela nodded and then looked up at her brother and smiled. Duncan nodded, surprised that such a simple greeting could change his sister's manner.
He turned to leave then, determined to get as far away from his fragile little sister as possible before letting Madelyne have a piece of his mind. "Couldn't Madelyne stay here and—"
"Adela, please don't challenge your brother's order," Madelyne interrupted, fearing that Duncan's patience was near the shouting point. "It wouldn't be honorable," she added with a smile of encouragement.
Madelyne picked up her skirt and hurried after Duncan, calling over her shoulder, "I'm certain he has good reason for his order."
She had to run to catch up with him. "Why do I have to return to the tower?" she asked when she was certain Adela couldn't hear her.
They'd reached the landing when Duncan turned to her. He wanted to shake her teeth loose, but the smear of dirt on the bridge of her nose drew his attention. He used his thumb to wipe the dirt away.
"Your face is covered with dirt, Madelyne. Aye, you're flawed now. Should I throw you out a convenient window, do you suppose?"
It took Madelyne a moment to understand what Duncan was talking about. "The Spartans didn't throw their captives out windows," she answered. "Only ill-formed babies. They were mighty warriors with mean hearts," she added. "They ruled with complete control," Duncan said. His thumb slowly moved to her lower lip. He couldn't stop himself from rubbing his thumb against her mouth. "Without compassion."
Madelyne couldn't seem to move away. She stared up into Duncan's eyes while she tried to follow their conversation. "Without compassion?"
"Aye,'tis the way a leader should rule."
"It isn't," Madelyne whispered.
Duncan nodded. "The Spartans were invincible."
"See you any Spartans now, Duncan?" Madelyne asked. He shrugged, though he couldn't help but smile over her ridiculous question. "They might have been invincible, but they're all dead now."
Lord, her voice shook. She knew the reason well enough. Duncan was looking at her so intently and pulling her toward him ever so slowly.
He didn't kiss her. It was a disappointment.
"Madelyne, I'll not deny myself much longer," Duncan whispered. His head was bent, his mouth bare inches away from her own.
"You'll not?" Madelyne asked, sounding breathless again.
"Nay, I'll not," Duncan muttered. He sounded angry now. Madelyne shook her head in confusion.
"Duncan, I would allow you to kiss me now," she told him. "There's no need to deny yourself."
His answer to her honest admission was to grab hold of her hand and drag her up the stairs to the tower.
"You'll not be captive here much longer," Duncan announced.
"Then you admit it was a mistake bringing me here?" she asked.
He could hear the fear in her voice. "I never make mistakes, Madelyne."
He hadn't bothered to turn around and look at her, and he didn't speak again until they reached the door to her room. When Duncan reached for the handle, Madelyne blocked the door by leaning against it. "I can open my own door," she said, "and you most certainly do make mistakes. I was your biggest mistake of all."
She really hadn't meant to phrase her statement that way. Lord, she had actually insulted herself.
Duncan smiled. He'd obviously caught her blunder. Then he pulled her out of the way and opened the bedroom door. Madelyne rushed inside and tried to slam the door shut behind her.
Duncan wouldn't let her. The fat's in the fire now, Madelyne thought, bracing herself for his reaction to the changes she'd made.
He couldn't believe what he was seeing. Madelyne had changed the stark cell into an inviting retreat. The walls had been washed and a large beige-colored tapestry was centered on the wall facing him. The hanging told the story of the final battle of William's invasion; the colors were vivid, the figures of the soldiers stitched in red and blue. It was a simple design, but pleasing too.
The bed was covered with a blue quilt. Across the room were two large chairs, both covered with red cushions. They were set at an angle to the hearth. There were footstools in front of each chair. Duncan noticed an unfinished tapestry propped up against one of the chairs. Brown threads dangled to the floor. The outline of the design was sufficiently stitched for him to recognize what it was going to be. It was the design of Madelyne's imaginary wolf.
The muscle in the side of his jaw flinched. Twice. Madelyne wasn't sure what that meant. She waited, her temper gaining timber for a blazing retort when he started yelling at her.
Duncan never said a word. He turned and pulled the door closed behind him.
The scent of roses followed him down the stairs. He held his temper until he reached the entrance to the hall. Gilard spotted him and immediately rushed over to speak to him. His voice was filled with youthful eagerness when he asked, "Is Lady Madelyne receiving visitors yet this morning?"
Duncan's bellow could be heard all the way up in the tower.
Gilard's eyes widened. He'd never heard Duncan yell like that. Edmond strolled into the hallway just in time to watch Duncan leave.
"What's got him so riled?" Gilard asked.
"Not what, Gilard, but who," Edmond remarked.
"I don't understand."
Edmond smiled and then whacked his brother on the shoulder. "Neither does Duncan, but I wager he will soon enough."
"The race is not to the swift nor the buttle to the strong…"
old testament, ecclesiastes, 4:2
Madelyne worked on her tapestry. Her mind wasn't on the task, however; she kept repeating Duncan's remarks. What had he meant when he told her she wasn't going to be his captive much longer?
She knew she'd have to confront him soon. She'd been acting like such a coward and was honest enough to admit the truth. She was frightened of hearing his answers.
The door suddenly flew open. Adela rushed into the room. Duncan's little sister was terribly distressed. She looked close to weeping.
Madelyne jumped to her feet. "Who has upset you so?" she demanded to know, already jumping to the conclusion that Duncan was responsible.
Adela burst into tears. Madelyne hurried to close the door. She put her arm around Adela then and led her over to one of the chairs. "Sit down and calm yourself. Why, it can't possibly be as terrible as you're carrying on," she soothed her.
Madelyne prayed she was right. "Tell me what has caused such tears and I'll make it right again."
Adela nodded, but once she looked up at Madelyne, she started crying again. Madelyne sat down on the stool facing Adela and patiently waited.
"Your brother has sent men to fetch you, Madelyne. Duncan allowed the messenger inside. That's why you've been ordered back to your room. Duncan didn't want the soldier to see you."
"Why? Everyone knows I'm captive here. Louddon—"
"You misunderstand," Adela interrupted. "Edmond told Gilard he thought Duncan didn't want the messenger to see that you're being treated well." She paused to dab at the corners of her eyes with the cuff of her gown. "You do think you've been treated well, don't you, Madelyne?"
"Good God, is that why you're crying?" Madelyne asked. "Of course I've been treated well. Just look around you, Adela," she added with a little smile. "Doesn't my room look comfortable enough?"
"I shouldn't have listened to what the messenger was telling Duncan, but I did. Gilard and Edmond were there and they heard every word too. Duncan didn't make them leave. And no one noticed me, Madelyne. I'm certain of it."
"Was the messenger from the king or from my brother?" Madelyne asked. She was so frightened inside now, yet knew she'd have to hide her fear from Adela. Aye, the sister depended on Madelyne's strength, and she couldn't fail her now.
"I don't know who the message came from. I didn't hear the beginning of what he was saying."
"Tell me what you did hear," Madelyne suggested. "You're to be taken to the king's court immediately. The messenger said that even though you've been… soiled…" Adela's voice cracked then and she paused to compose herself. Madelyne bit on her lower lip until it numbed. She fought the urge to grab Adela by her shoulders and shake the rest of the story out of her.
"You're to be married as soon as you reach London."
"I see." Madelyne whispered. "We knew it was coming, Adela. We knew Louddon would do something. Did you catch the name of the man I'm to wed?" Adela nodded. "Morcar."
The sister covered her face with her hands, weeping uncontrollably now. Madelyne didn't have to hide her expression now. She thought she was going to be sick. "What about Duncan, Adela?" she managed to ask. "What did he say to this messenger? Was he in agreement?"
"He didn't say a word. The soldier recited his message and then returned to the others waiting outside the walls."
"How many soldiers did Louddon send?"
"I don't know," Adela whispered. "Edmond and Gilard were shouting at each other once the soldier had left. Duncan didn't say anything. He just stood there in front of the fire with his hands clasped behind his back."
"He separates himself," Madelyne said. "I don't understand."
"Your brother must assume two positions in his household, Adela. He is lord and he is brother. I can imagine what Edmond and Gilard were arguing about. Edmond would want me given over to Louddon as soon as possible, while Gilard would argue in favor of a battle to keep me here." Adela was shaking her head before Madelyne finished her suppositions. "Nay, Edmond doesn't want you handed over to Louddon's men," she said. "Edmond championed my cause?"
"He did," Adela said. "And he suggested that I be sent to my sister, Catherine, for a brief visit. He's worried that all of this will be too much for me. I don't want to go anywhere. Catherine's so much older than I am, and her husband is most unusual…"
Madelyne stood up and slowly walked over to the window. She opened the shutters and stared out into the wilderness. She knew she needed to gain control of the seething anger building inside her. "Did you know, Adela, that a Spartan child was taken from his mother at a very early age and sent to live with the soldiers? The little boys were taught to steal. It was considered cunning to be a good thief."
"Madelyne, what are you talking about? How can you tell me stories now?" Madelyne turned around, letting Adela see the tears streaming down her cheeks. Adela had never seen Madelyne cry before.
"I find comfort in the old stories, Adela. They're familiar to me. Once I've calmed my mind, I'll be able to think clearly. Then I can decide what's to be done."
Adela, stunned into submission by the pain she saw in her friend's eyes, quickly nodded.
Madelyne turned back to look out the window. She stared at the lower crest. And who will feed my wolf when I'm gone, she asked herself. Odd, but the picture of Duncan came into her mind. She confused him with her wolf, realized then that he needed as much taking care of as her wild beast. Probably more.
It didn't make sense to her, this need to straighten out Duncan's bleak life until she was satisfied with it.
"My uncle and I would sit before the fire every evening. I learned to play the psaltery. Uncle would join in with his viele some evenings when he wasn't too tired. It was a most peaceful time, Adela."
"Weren't there any young people there, Madelyne? Every time you tell a story, you speak of such old, frail people."
"Uncle Berton lived at the Grinsteade holding. Baron Morton was very old. And then Fathers Robert and Samuel came to stay with us as well. They all got along but I was the only one who'd play chess with Baron Morton. He cheated something fierce. Uncle said it wasn't a sin, just cantankerous, ornery behavior because he was so old."
Madelyne didn't speak again for a long while. Adela stared into the fire while Madelyne stared out into the night.
It wasn't working this time. Madelyne's bid to gain control wasn't going to happen. She could feel her composure cracking. Fury was building inside her.
"We must find someone to protect you," Adela whispered.
"If I am forced to return to Louddon, all my plans will be ruined. I was going to go to Scotland. Edwythe would have welcomed me into her home."
"Madelyne, Scotland is where—" Adela was about to explain that Catherine lived in Scotland and was married to a cousin of Scotland's king.
She wasn't given a chance to explain. "Why in God's name am I worrying about my plans being ruined? Louddon will kill me or give me to Morcar. Then Morcar will kill me." Madelyne let out a harsh laugh, sending a shiver down Adela's legs. "I still can't believe Louddon is bothering with me. When he chased after Duncan after his fortress was destroyed, I thought he wanted to kill only Duncan. Yet now he has sent men for me." Madelyne paused, shaking her head. "I don't understand any of this."