He kissed the frown away from her face while he slowly began to penetrate her.
Madelyne straddled his hips, moaning with contentment. Her last coherent thought was a revelation. She didn't have to be flat on her back.
"Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
new testament, luke, 12:34
Duncan had always believed himself to be a practical man. He knew he was stubborn, set in his ways, too, but didn't look at either of those as flaws in his character. He liked his days to follow the same rigid pattern, believing there was safety and comfort in predictability. As a leader of such vast numbers, it was imperative to maintain order and discipline. Why, without a well-constructed plan for each day, there'd be chaos.
Ha, chaos. The word reminded Duncan of his gentle little wife. Though he didn't voice his opinion, he thought Madelyne gave the word confusion new meaning. Lord only knew how chaotic, how unpredictable his life had become since he had made the decision to marry the woman. He admitted, but only to himself, of course, that his marriage was the first impractical thing he had ever done.
Duncan truly believed he'd be able to continue his routine without' interruption. He also thought he'd be able to ignore Madelyne just as thoroughly as he had before they had exchanged those binding vows. And he had been vastly mistaken in both beliefs.
Madelyne was far more stubborn than he had thought. It was the only excuse he could find to explain the blatant way she disregarded his position.
Duncan hated changes. In the back of his mind he thought Madelyne knew it. She gave him innocent looks when he demanded she cease her constant meddling and then blithely went on her way to change something else.
Oh, his pretty wife was still timid enough around him. At least she gave the appearance that she was. She blushed quite easily. Duncan only had to give her a good long stare to get her immediate reaction. He puzzled over it, yet didn't question her about her obvious embarrassment. But when he was not paying attention, she did anything she pleased.
The changes Madelyne instituted weren't even subtle. Most impressive and the least to complain about was the radical change in his hall. Without gaining permission, Madelyne had ordered the wobbly platform removed. The old scarred table was carried down to the soldiers' keep, and a new, unblemished, smaller table was built by a carpenter Madelyne had commissioned, again without asking his permission.
Madelyne drove the servants ragged over what they referred to as her cleaning fits. The servants probably thought Madelyne was demented, though none would openly declare such in front of their lord. Yet Duncan also noticed how each hurried to comply with Madelyne's orders, as though pleasing his mistress was a treasured goal. The floors had been scrubbed, the walls stained and decorated. New rushes, smelling suspiciously like roses, lined the floor. A gigantic banner, primarily the color of royal blue, with white stitching of Duncan's impressive crest, hung above the hearth now, and Madelyne had placed two tall-backed chairs right in front of the fireplace. The room mimicked the tower room in some ways. Madelyne had reduced the size of the hall by making several small sitting areas. Why anyone would want to sit in the hall was beyond Duncan's comprehension. Even though it looked inviting, the hall was just a place to eat a meal, and perhaps to stand before the roaring fire for a few minutes to gain warmth. No one was supposed to linger there. Yet his wife didn't seem capable of comprehending that simple fact and transformed his hall into a room that beckoned laziness.
Duncan also noticed that the soldiers made certain their boots were clean before walking into the hall. He didn't know if that pleased him or not. Why, even his men were bending to Madelyne's silent dictates.
The dogs had proven to be Madelyne's greatest challenge. She kept dragging them downstairs. The dogs kept coming back. Madelyne had gotten around that problem too. Once she had established which animal was the leader of the pack, she wooed him down the stairs by dangling a piece of mutton in front of his face to gain his compliance. She then had him barred from the stairwell until the pattern of feeding downstairs was firmly established.
No one threw their discarded bones over their shoulders anymore either. Gilard told Duncan how Madelyne stood at the head of the table and sweetly explained they were all going to eat like civilized men or not eat at all. The men didn't complain. They seemed as eager as the servants to please Madelyne.
Aye, she was more tigress than kitten now. If she thought any of the servants were being the least disrespectful to any Wexton, she lectured them into humiliation.
Now that he thought about it, Duncan realized she lectured him too. His wife was a little more subdued with him but she still spoke her mind often enough.
She constantly challenged his opinions. Duncan remembered an incident that had taken place the day before, when Madelyne was listening to a conversation he was having with Gilard about King William and his brothers, Robert and Henry. As soon as Gilard left the hall, Madelyne told Duncan she was worried about the king's brothers. She said in a voice that reeked with authority that neither brother had been given sufficient responsibility. In her mind, since the two men were so unappreciated, both would certainly become discontent and cause problems for their king.
She hadn't known what she was talking about, of course. How could a woman understand politics? Duncan had patiently taken time to point out to her that the oldest brother. Robert, had been given Normandy, for God's sake, a far greater treasure than England, and had already shown his lack of responsibility by bonding the land to his brother for enough coins to go crusading.
Madelyne ignored his logical argument, insisting that he himself acted just like King William because he kept his own brothers under his wing and wouldn't allow either of them to make any decisions. She was lecturing him then, explaining her worry that both Edmond and Gilard would soon feel as restless as the king's two brothers.
Duncan had finally grabbed her and kissed her. It was the only way he could find to take her mind off the subject. It was also a very satisfying method.
Duncan told himself at least ten times a day that he couldn't be bothered with the mundane problems of his household. He had greater, far more important work to do. Aye, it was his duty to turn ordinary men into mighty warriors.
For that reason he tried to maintain a distance from his brothers, his sister, and most especially, his stubborn, undisciplined wife.
Yet while he could remove himself from the workings of his household, he couldn't seem to separate himself from the problem of Madelyne. He was too busy protecting her. In truth, all his men took a turn saving Madelyne's life. She never offered a word of appreciation to any of them, yet Duncan knew it wasn't because his wife was a discourteous woman. Nay, the truth was far worse. Madelyne simply didn't realize how her own impulsiveness put her into constant jeopardy.
Madelyne was in such a hurry to get to the stables one afternoon, she ran right in front of a line of soldiers practicing with their bows and arrows. An arrow just missed the back of her head. The poor soldier who had shot the arrow immediately fell to his knees. He couldn't find his target the rest of the day, thanks to his brief encounter with Duncan's wife. Madelyne hadn't even realized the danger. She had hurried on, oblivious to the chaos she had created. The incidents involving near tragedy were too many for Duncan to recount. He was fast approaching the point where he dreaded the evening report given to him by Anthony. His faithful vassal looked haggard from his duty. Though he never complained. Duncan was certain the vassal would have preferred a good battle to the death instead of trailing behind his leader's wife.
It had taken him time, but Duncan finally understood why Madelyne had become so carefree, so uninhibited. It was such a simple reason too. And it pleased him immensely. Madelyne felt safe. When the fever ruled her mind, Duncan had learned all about her childhood. She was a quiet child who tried to be as inconspicuous as possible. Madelyne's mother had sheltered her daughter from her father and her brother, but the two years Madelyne lived alone with Louddon after her mother's death had been cruel, painful years indeed. Madelyne had quickly learned not to laugh or to cry, or show spirit or anger, for to do so would have drawn attention to herself.
Though the years she spent with her uncle Berton were blessed years, Duncan doubted Madelyne acted like a normal little girl even then. Living with a priest would have taught her additional restraint. Duncan didn't believe she'd been mischievous when she had to answer to a fragile old man who probably depended on her more than she depended on him.
Madelyne had learned control from her uncle. Duncan knew the priest was trying only to help Madelyne survive. The uncle taught her how to hide her emotions from her brother, assuming she'd be returning to him soon. Neither Madelyne nor her uncle expected the visit to stretch into years. For that reason Madelyne lived in constant fear that Louddon would appear on her uncle's doorstep at any moment and take her back home.
With fear came caution. Now that Madelyne felt safe, she let go of all restraint.
Duncan understood Madelyne better than she understood herself. She appeared clumsy, but the simple truth was that she was in such a hurry to catch up with life, to savor each experience, she didn't have time for caution. That duty fell to her husband. Madelyne was like a young filly just testing her legs. She was a joy to watch, a nightmare to protect.
What Duncan didn't understand was his own feelings for his wife. He'd gone to Louddon's fortress to take Madelyne captive. His plan was revenge; an eye for an eye. And that had been reason enough.
Until she'd warmed his feet.
Everything had changed at that moment. Duncan had known with a certainty he couldn't deny that they were henceforth bound together. He could never let her go.
And then he'd married her.
The following morning, Louddon's army left Wexton land.
Each day Duncan would find a new reason for having made his impractical decision to marry her. Aye, he wanted to use his most logical mind to give reason to the feelings inside his heart.
On Monday he told himself he married her because he wanted her to have a safe haven, a place to live without being afraid. Her unselfish act of kindness in trying to rescue him merited such a reward.
On Tuesday he told himself he married her because he wanted to bed her. Aye, lust was a good enough reason.
Wednesday he changed his mind, deciding that he'd pledged himself to her because she was weak and he was strong. All his training conditioned him for such a response. Madelyne was just like a vassal, and though she hadn't knelt on the ground and given him her pledge, it was still his duty to protect her. And so, compassion was the true reason after all.
Thursday arrived and with it came another realization. Why, he'd married Madelyne not only to protect her but to show her how valuable she really was. The early years spent with Louddon had been cruel years indeed. His gentle wife had been taught she was unworthy. She didn't believe she had value. Louddon had abused her sorely for two years, then sent her to her uncle Berton for a visit. It was obvious, even to Duncan, that Louddon had forgotten her existence. It was the only reason he could find for Madelyne living with the old priest for nearly ten years.
When he gave Madelyne his name, Duncan was actually showing her just how worthy she really was.
It was unfortunate, but that reason didn't even make it through the day.
He stubbornly ignored the truth. Duncan actually believed he'd be able to make passionate love to Madelyne every night and then ignore her during the day. It sounded reasonable enough to him. After all, he'd been most successful in separating himself from his family. He was lord and he was brother. Neither duty conflicted with the other. Aye, it sounded easy enough. Madelyne had worked herself into his heart, but that didn't mean she was going to affect his way of life.
The truth nagged him all week long, as irritating as the first whispering sounds of thunder. On Friday afternoon, just two weeks to the day after he'd married Madelyne, the storm erupted. Violently.
Duncan had just returned to the upper bailey when Edmond's shout drew his attention. He turned, just in time to see Madelyne strolling toward the stables. The doors to the barn were wide open. Silenus had gotten free. The animal was galloping toward Madelyne, his head down, his hooves thundering. The huge stallion was about to trample her to death.
The stablemaster chased after the horse, holding a bridle in his hands. Anthony was right behind him. Both were shouting warnings to Madelyne, but Duncan decided the noise from the stallion's pace must have blocked out the sound, for his wife never even looked around her.
He was certain she was going to die.
"No!" The bellow came from the depths of his soul. Duncan's heart felt as though it were being ripped out of his chest. All he could think of was getting to Madelyne and protecting her.
Everyone was running toward Madelyne, trying to save her.
And there wasn't even need.
Madelyne was oblivious to the chaos surrounding her. She kept her attention directed on Silenus. She carried his treat in her hand and was on her way to visit him when he lurched out of the stables and headed for her. She assumed the animal was eager to meet her halfway.
Silenus came within a breath of killing her. Dust flew around Madelyne's face when the stallion stopped so abruptly a scant inch or two in front of her. She waved her hand in front of her face to clear the air. Silenus immediately nudged her hand. The animal was looking for his clump of sugar, Madelyne guessed.
Everyone was too stunned to move. They watched the great stallion paw the ground and nudge Madelyne again. She laughed, delighted with his show of affection, finally holding her hand out for him to lick the sugar from her palm.
When the stallion was finished with his treat, Madelyne patted him. She noticed James and Anthony standing a short distance behind the animal then. Anthony was leaning against James for support.
Madelyne smiled at the men. "Is your injury bothering you, Anthony? You look a little pale to me," she said.
Anthony shook his head quite vigorously. Madelyne turned to James, took in his glassy-eyed stare. "Did my lamb finally tear the door down? He's been trying for the longest time."
When James didn't answer her, Madelyne decided Silenus must have given him a fright. "Come, Silenus, I believe you've upset James," she said. She slowly walked around the animal and headed for the stables. Silenus turned, quite docile now as he danced back toward his home. Her voice, crooning a soft melody, kept the beast trailing meekly behind her.
Duncan wanted to go after Madelyne. He was going to kill her for trying to scare him to death. But he'd have to wait, he knew, until his legs would let him walk again.
God's truth, he had to lean against the wall. His strength had deserted him. He felt like an old man with a weak heart. Duncan noticed Edmond was in much the same condition. His brother was kneeling on the ground. Duncan knew it wasn't by choice.