"Love conquers all; let us too yield to love."
virgil, eclogues, x
After Madelyne had given proper instructions to Gerty for dinner arrangements, she went up to the tower room.
It had been two weeks since Duncan had torn the door down and a week since it had been rebuilt. The loops were missing from the new door, however, and Madelyne smiled over that change every time she noticed it. Duncan must have given the order as a precaution so that Madelyne couldn't lock him out again.
Madelyne went through all her gowns and finally chose a royal blue chainse. The new ankle-length gown fit snugly and made a pretty contrast to the off-white knee-length bliaut she added. They were Wexton colors and a deliberate choice on Madelyne's part. She was Duncan's wife, after all, and hostess to Baron Gerald. She wanted Duncan to be proud of her tonight.
She brushed her hair a long while, until it curled against the swell of her breasts. Since there was still ample time, she sat down on the bed and braided three long strips of blue ribbon into a pretty belt. She draped the braid around her waist but left it loose enough to fall against the tilt of her hips, as was the current fashion dictate, according to Adela, who knew far more on the subject of fashion than Madelyne did. She finished her dress by placing the small dagger she used for stabbing her meat inside the extra loop in the braid she had struggled to design.
Madelyne wished she had a mirror so that she could see how she looked, then decided it was vain of her to want such an unnecessary extravagance.
She was halfway down to Adela's room, when a sudden worry stopped her. Would Baron Gerald treat her as Duncan's wife or as Louddon's sister? God only knew he had sufficient reason to hate Louddon. Her brother had destroyed Gerald's future with Adela. Would Baron Gerald lash out at her because of his anger?
Madelyne pictured one horrible scene after another. When she pictured Baron Gerald grabbing hold of her throat, she forced herself to calm down. She was afraid, true, but that fear helped give her composure. Madelyne forced a serene expression.
She told herself she'd gotten through far more degrading encounters. That thought gave her strength. Besides, no matter how horrible Gerald treated her, Duncan wouldn't let him harm her.
Adela was ready when Madelyne finally knocked on her door. The little sister wore a rose-colored bliaut over a lighter-colored pink chainse. Her hair was braided into a coronet on top of her head. Madelyne thought she looked pretty. "Adela, dove, you look splendid."
Adela smiled. "You call me such funny names, as if I were younger than you are, when you know perfectly well I'm almost two years older."
"That is no way to acknowledge a compliment," Madelyne instructed, ignoring Adela's reminder of their age difference. After all, Adela might be older in years, but Madelyne felt far more worldly. She wasn't nearly as fragile as her friend, and she was a married woman.
"Thank You for telling me I look splendid," Adela said.
"Madelyne, you always look beautiful. Tonight you wear Duncan's colors. My brother won't be able to take his eyes off you."
"He probably won't even notice I'm in the room," Madelyne returned.
"Oh, he'll notice all right," Adela predicted with a smile. "Have you softened in your attitude toward your husband yet?"
Adela tried to sit down on the bed, as if she had all the time in the world for this discussion. Madelyne took hold of her hand and started tugging her toward the door. "I never know how to feel about your brother," she admitted once Adela was walking next to her. "One minute I pretend our marriage will work to both our satisfactions, and the next I'm certain Duncan would like to be rid of me. I'm no fool, Adela. I understand why your brother married me."
"To get even with your brother?" Adela asked, frowning.
"See? You've realized that fact too," Madelyne exclaimed.
Madelyne had ignored the fact that Adela asked the question and hadn't spoken a certainty. Adela thought to explain herself more fully because she really didn't think Duncan would go to such extreme measures to get even, but Madelyne started talking again, turning her concentration. "It would be a foolish hope to think Duncan would become accustomed to having me for his wife, and I know it will only be temporary anyway. The king is sure to demand that the church nullify our marriage."
Adela nodded. She'd also thought of that possibility. "I heard Gilard say that our king is in Normandy again, settling yet another rebellion."
"I've heard the same," Madelyne commented.
"Madelyne, what did you mean when you said you hoped Duncan would become accustomed?" Adela asked.
"Your brother has made a sacrifice when he married me. He gave up his Lady Eleanor. I just wish he wouldn't be unhappy…"
"You see yourself as a sacrifice?" Adela asked. "Don't you realize how important you've become to all of us?"
When Madelyne didn't answer, Adela said, "Do you love my brother?"
"I'm not that foolish," Madelyne answered. "Everyone I've ever loved has been taken from me. Besides, I'm not about to give my love to a wolf. I only wanted to live peacefully together for the time we're united."
Adela smiled. "Duncan isn't a wolf, Madelyne. He's a man. And I think you're not telling the truth."
"I always tell the truth," Madelyne returned, appalled Adela could suggest such a thing.
"Well then, you're lying to yourself and don't know it," Adela answered. You might be trying to protect your heart against losing Duncan, but I think you're beginning to love him all the same, else you wouldn't look so upset by my question."
"I'm not the least upset," Madelyne snapped. She immediately regretted her angry outburst. "Oh, Adela, life isn't as simple as it should be. Why, I almost feel sorry for Duncan. He had to change his future just to satisfy his lust for revenge, and now he's saddled with me for a wife. I believe he regrets his rash action now. He's just too stubborn to admit it."
"Duncan has never done anything you could call rash in his life," Adela argued.
"There's always a first time," Madelyne answered, shrugging.
"Maude saw Duncan kissing you outside," Adela whispered.
"And she immediately told you, didn't she?"
"Of course," Adela returned, laughing. "Maude and Gerty compete with each other. Each wants to be the first in telling the latest gossip."
"It was the strangest thing, Adela. Duncan kissed me in front of everyone." Madelyne stopped to sigh. "I think he might be coming down with a chill."
They reached the bottom step outside the entrance to the hall. Adela paused. "Lord, I'm so frightened, Madelyne."
"I am too, Adela," Madelyne admitted.
"You? Why, you don't look frightened at all," Adela said, so surprised by her friend's confession, her own fear lessened. "Why are you frightened?"
"Because Baron Gerald surely hates me. I am Louddon's sister. Dinner will probably be a trial to get through."
"Duncan won't let Gerald offend you, Madelyne. You're my brother's wife now."
Madelyne nodded but she wasn't at all convinced. When Adela took hold of her hand and squeezed it, she smiled at her friend.
They stopped again when they reached the entrance. Adela's grip on Madelyne became painful.
The reason was obvious. Duncan and Gerald were standing together in front of the hearth. They were both staring at Madelyne and Adela. Odd, but Madelyne thought they both looked a bit stunned. And neither appeared to be angry.
Madelyne smiled at Baron Gerald and immediately glanced over to look at her husband. Duncan was staring quite intently at her. He wasn't smiling. His gaze made her blush. She recognized the look. Duncan always wore that expression after he kissed her.
It soon became awkward, what with the four of them staring at one another. Madelyne was the first to remember her manners. She made a small curtsy, nudged Adela into doing the same, and then slowly walked into the hall. Adela trailed behind her.
Her expression was serene. She gave the appearance of being most tranquil.
Madelyne walked with a haughty, dignified, ladylike stride, and Duncan immediately knew something was wrong. He met his wife in the center of the room. He stood so close to her, his tunic brushed her arm. "What are you afraid of?" he asked, leaning down until his face was a breath away from hers. His voice was so low, she had to rise up on tiptoe to hear what he said.
She was surprised he knew she was frightened. "Does Baron Gerald know I'm Louddon's sister, Duncan?" she asked. Fear sounded in her whisper.
Duncan understood then. He nodded, giving Madelyne answer to her question, and then put his arm around her shoulders. When she was settled against his side, he introduced her to the baron.
Gerald didn't appear to be the least offended with her. He smiled, a true warm smile it was, and bowed after their introduction.
He was a nice-looking man, but Madelyne wouldn't have called him handsome, not when he was standing so close to Duncan. Why, her husband was much better looking. In truth, he probably overshadowed every other man in England.
Madelyne looked up at Duncan. She was going to ask him to help Adela, in a whisper, of course, so Gerald wouldn't chance to overhear, yet standing so close to her husband addled her thoughts and she could only stare at him. She couldn't even manage a smile. His eyes were the most amazing color of gray, with such beautiful chips of silver.
"Why are you looking at me like that?" Duncan asked. His nose almost touched hers. He was close enough to kiss.
"How am I looking at you?" Madelyne asked.
She sounded out of breath, and she was blushing enough for Duncan to surmise her thoughts. He suddenly wanted to carry her upstairs. Aye, he wanted to make love to her until tomorrow.
The tranquil expression was gone from his wife's face now. Duncan grinned with pleasure.
Edmond walked into the hall just as Duncan was about to kiss his wife. Adela was staring at the floor, Gerald was staring at Adela, and Madelyne seemed mesmerized by her husband.
"Good eve," Edmond bellowed out into the silent hall.
Everyone moved at the same time. Madelyne jumped, knocking Duncan's nose. Her husband took a step back, then hurried to grab hold of Madelyne before she fell to her knees. Adela turned, forcing a smile for Edmond. Baron Gerald nodded his greeting.
"'Tis a fine evening, isn't it, Duncan? Gerald, my God, you've aged to an ugly old man since I last saw you," Edmond stated in a loud, cheerful voice.
Duncan's head cleared. He still wanted to pick up his wife and leave the hall, but he found enough discipline to see dinner through first. "It's time for supper," he announced. Duncan grabbed hold of Madelyne's arm and guided her toward the table.
Madelyne couldn't understand his hurry. She'd thought they'd have a bit of conversation before dining. But the look in her husband's eyes decided her against arguing the matter.
Duncan sat at the head of the table, with Madelyne seated on his left. He showed his surprise when Ansel appeared at his other side and began to serve him. Though it was the custom for the squires to learn all about the duties required to serve their lord, Duncan had instructed the boy only in defense.
Another change instituted by Madelyne, of course, and without gaining his permission. He shook his head over her breach, nodded to Ansel, and then glared at his wife.
She had the audacity to smile at him. "Did you know, Duncan, this is the first meal we've shared together?" she whispered, trying to take his mind off the squire.
Duncan didn't seem inclined to answer her comment. In fact, he barely spoke during dinner. Gilard was late in arriving, which made Duncan frown. Madelyne was thankful though that Duncan didn't chastise his brother in front of their guest.
Father Laurance didn't come for dinner at all. Madelyne was the only one who wasn't surprised by his absence. She didn't believe he'd taken ill either, although Edmond had given that story. Madelyne thought the true reason was that the priest was frightened of Duncan. She couldn't blame the man. He was terribly young for the duty of advising Duncan on matters of God and church.
Edmond and Gilard kept up a constant chatter through dinner, taking turns questioning Gerald about his past year, for it had been that long since any of them had seen one another.
Madelyne listened to their conversation, fascinated by the easy way they badgered one another. They were insulting one another's looks, ability, too, but it didn't take Madelyne long to realize it was just their way of showing affection. She thought it a most interesting observation.
Baron Gerald was obviously a good friend of the Wexton brothers. He had a nice laugh. When Edmond called him a weakling and repeated a story of how Gerald had misplaced his sword during an important battle, Gerald shouted with laughter and then came up with a story of his own to prove Edmond's worthlessness.
Adela sat across from Madelyne. She stared at the tabletop, yet Madelyne noticed there were a few instances when she smiled over the ridiculous remarks flying across the table. Gerald didn't speak directly to Adela until dinner was nearly finished. Edmond sat between the two. Madelyne was certain Gerald was going to have a permanent crick in his neck from tilting his head around Edmond in order to look at Adela.
Edmond finally took mercy on Adela's would-be suitor. He stood up and casually walked around the table, pretending to be fetching a jug of ale. No one was fooled by the ploy, least of all Adela. There was another jug right in front of Edmond's trencher.
"And how are you, Adela?" Gerald politely inquired. "I was sorry I missed you when you were…"
Gerald's face turned red, though not as red as poor Adela's. The baron had inadvertently mentioned the incident.
An awkward silence fell over the group. Duncan sighed and then said, "Adela was sorry she missed you in London, Gerald. Adela? The baron asked you how you were feeling," he reminded his sister.
Duncan's voice was tender, filled with understanding as he spoke to his sister. Lord, he was becoming an easy man to love. Too easy. Was she in love with her husband and just too stubborn to admit it?
Madelyne immediately began to worry. She sighed as well, a loud, unladylike sound she immediately regretted. Duncan turned and grinned at her. He surprised the worry right out of her when he gifted her with a slow, teasing wink.
"I am very well, Gerald," Adela said.
"You look well."
"I feel well, thank you."