Edmond laughed, remembered Madelyne was sleeping, and softened his voice.
"Don't worry about waking her, Edmond. She sleeps like a well-fed kitten."
"Your wife puts in a long day. The food at dinner was exceptional and all because Madelyne demands perfection from her staff. I ate four tarts," Edmond admitted. "And did you know it was Madelyne's own recipe given to Gerty?"
"Aye, they are loyal to Madelyne now."
"And you, Edmond? Are you loyal to Madelyne?"
"She's my sister now, Duncan. I would give my life to protect her," he added.
"I don't doubt you, Edmond," Duncan returned when he caught the defense in Edmond's voice.
"Then why did you ask?" Edmond said. He pulled up a chair and sat down, facing his brother. "Did Gerald bring news concerning Madelyne?"
Duncan started to nod but as soon as he moved his head, Madelyne took up the space under his chin. He smiled. "Gerald did bring news. Our king is still in Normandy, but Louddon is gathering his troops. Gerald lines with us, of course."
"I am bound to return to Baron Rhinehold in just three weeks," Edmond remarked. "Though he has my pledge of fealty, I'm vassal to our king first, you second, Rhinehold third. For that reason, Rhinehold would allow me to stay here as long as I'm needed."
"Rhinehold would also line up with Gerald and me against Louddon if it became necessary. Together we can muster over a thousand men."
"You forget your alliance with the Scots," Edmond reminded Duncan. "Catherine's husband could rally eight hundred, perhaps more."
"I haven't forgotten, yet I don't wish to bring Catherine's family into this feud," Duncan answered.
"And if the king sides with Louddon?"
"How can you be so certain?" Edmond asked.
"There are many misunderstandings about our king, Edmond. I've fought by his side many times. He's thought to have an uncontrollable temper. Yet, once in battle, one of his own men accidentally knocked our king to the ground. Soldiers surrounded William, each vowing to kill the careless vassal. The king laughed over the mishap, slapped the soldier on the shoulder who'd thrown him down, and then bade him to remount his horse and see to his defense."
Edmond mulled over the story. "It's said Louddon has an unusual hold over the king's mind."
"I doubt our king would let anyone rule his mind."
"I pray you're right, brother."
"There is another matter I wish to discuss with you, Edmond. The Falcon holding to be exact."
"What about it?" Edmond asked, frowning. The Falcon land was barren but thought to be rich fanning land, owned by Duncan. It consisted of the southernmost area of the Wexton holdings.
"I would like you to oversee that domain, Edmond. Build yourself a fortress there. I would deed the land over to you if it were possible. The king wouldn't allow it, unless a way was found to gain his pleasure."
Duncan paused while he considered the complexities of the problem.
Edmond was stunned by his brother's comments. " 'Tis unheard of, this plan you propose," he stammered. For the first time in his life, Edmond was actually rattled. And though it was highly improbable, a beacon of hope flamed in his heart. To own his own land, to rule as his own master, why, it was all too overwhelming to take in.
"Why would you want me to take over Falcon land?" Edmond asked.
"I don't understand."
"My wife listened to Gilard and me discussing the king's brothers. When Gilard left the hall, Madelyne pointed out how restless Robert and Henry were. She believes it's because neither was given sufficient responsibility."
"Good Lord, Robert was given Normandy," Edmond interjected.
"Aye," Duncan said, smiling. "But the king's youngest brother was given gold and a small, insignificant holding from his father and I can see the restlessness in him. He's a born leader, denied by birth the right to rule."
"If there is a parallel, I am eager to hear it," Edmond said.
"Madelyne did start me thinking. You're vassal to me and to Rhinehold, and those duties must remain intact, yet, if we could gain the king's grant, then you could take Falcon and make it profitable. You've a good head for turning one coin into ten, Edmond."
The brother smiled, pleased with the compliment. "If nought comes of our petition, you'll still build your home there and act as my overseer. The king will welcome the additional tithing and won't care which brother makes the contribution."
"I'm in agreement with your plan," Edmond announced, smiling now.
"Gilard will soon return to Baron Thormont to complete his forty days," Duncan interjected.
"Gilard has a way of leading others and will soon become first-in-command just as Anthony has became your first-in-command," Edmond said.
"Our brother will have to learn to control his temper first," Duncan commented.
Edmond nodded in agreement. "You've still to tell me what news Gerald brings us about Madelyne," he said then.
"Gerald is convinced that the king's brother, Henry, might be stirring up mischief. Gerald has been requested to speak with Henry."
"The Clares will have Henry as their guest. I don't know when the meeting will come about."
"Do you think Henry will ask Gerald's loyalty against our king?" Edmond asked. "And what of you? Are you also invited to this gathering?"
"Nay. He knows I'll stand beside my king," Duncan answered.
"You suggest Henry will turn against William then?"
"If I was convinced of that, I'd stand in front of our leader and give my life for him. I am honor bound to protect him."
Edmond nodded, satisfied. "Gerald said that the number of those becoming discontent is growing. There is more than one plot to kill him. That is not unusual. His father had just as many enemies."
When Duncan didn't comment, Edmond continued. "Gerald believes he's been invited to join this gathering because of his friendship to me. He thinks Henry wants to know if I'll honor him as king in the event of William's death."
"We wait to see what the outcome of this meeting brings?"
"Aye, we wait." Edmond frowned. "There is much to consider, brother."
"Tell me this, Edmond," Duncan asked, changing the topic, "does Gilard still believe himself in love with Madelyne?"
Edmond shrugged. "He was having a time of it, adjusting to your marriage," he admitted. "But he's over the infatuation now, I believe. He loves Madelyne, yet she keeps calling him brother, and that puts a damper on his ardor. I'm surprised though that you noticed Gilard's affliction."
"Gilard wears his thoughts on his face," Duncan remarked. "Did you see the way he reached for his sword during the marriage ceremony, when he thought I was forcing Madelyne?"
"You were forcing her," Edmond returned with a grin. "And yes, I did witness the act. Madelyne also saw his reaction. I think that is the only reason she suddenly agreed to take you for husband."
Duncan grinned. "A true observation, Edmond. Madelyne will always try to protect anyone she believes weaker. At that moment she feared I would retaliate."
Duncan began to caress his wife's back. Edmond watched the way his brother stroked Madelyne and thought to himself that he probably wasn't even aware of what he was doing. "Does Madelyne want us gone then?" Edmond asked.
"Nay, Edmond. I imagine she'll become upset and blame me," Duncan answered. "My wife doesn't understand that your loyalty extends to Rhinehold too."
Edmond nodded. "I think Madelyne worries I'll keep you and Gilard under my control for the rest of your lives and won't allow either of you to act on any thought of your own."
"Your wife has strange ideas," Edmond remarked. "Yet she has changed your life, hasn't she, Duncan? And ours as well. This is the first time we've ever had such a long discussion on any issue. I believe Madelyne has made us a stronger family."
Duncan didn't respond to that comment. Edmond stood up and started to walk toward the entrance. "It's a shame you know," he called over his shoulder.
"What's a shame?" Duncan asked.
"That I didn't capture her first."
Duncan smiled. "Nay, Edmond, it was a blessing. God's truth, I would have taken her from you."
Madelyne awakened just as Duncan made his comment. She struggled to sit up and smiled shyly at her husband. "What would you have taken away from your brother, Duncan?" she asked him in a husky voice. She patted her hair and Duncan dodged her elbows before answering.
"Nothing for you to concern yourself with, Madelyne."
"You should always share what you have with your brothers," Madelyne instructed Duncan.
Edmond obviously heard her remark. His laughter trailed behind him.
Just then, Adela came tearing into the hall. As soon as Duncan's little sister spotted Madelyne, she burst into tears. "Gerald still insists that the contract is valid, Madelyne. What am I going to do? The man still wants to marry me."
Madelyne jumped off Duncan's lap just as Adela threw herself into her arms.
Duncan stood up and sighed in exasperation over his sister's near hysteria.
"You should be asking me that question, Adela," he snapped. He took hold of Madelyne's arm, ignoring the fact that Adela was clinging to her like a wet gown, and started pulling Madelyne toward the entrance.
"We can't just leave your sister in such a condition," Madelyne protested. Lord, she felt like she were in the middle of a tug-of-war. "Duncan, you're pulling my arm off."
Baron Gerald came rushing into the hall then, disrupting Duncan's bid to take Madelyne upstairs and deal with Adela's problem in the morning. Duncan wasn't in the mood for a long discussion and determined to resolve the matter immediately.
Before Gerald could say a word, Duncan asked, "Do you still want to marry Adela?"
"I do," Gerald answered. His voice challenged, as did his stance. "She will be my wife."
"I've given Adela my word she can stay here for as long as she wishes, Gerald."
Gerald's face showed his anger. Duncan felt like growling. "I was wrong to give her such a promise," he said, admitting the error in front of Edmond, Madelyne, Adela, and Gerald. It was an amazing confession coming from a man who never admitted any mistake. Duncan smiled over the way his confession stunned everyone.
He turned to Madelyne and whispered, "Your obsession with telling the truth has affected me, wife. Now, close your mouth, love. All will be well."
Madelyne slowly nodded. She gave her husband a smile, letting him know she trusted him. He was so pleased that when he turned back to confront Gerald, he was still smiling. Gerald knew Duncan well enough to wait until he was given a full explanation before openly challenging him. Duncan had always been a man of his word in the past.
"Adela," Duncan demanded, "quit screeching like a hen and tell Baron Gerald my exact promise to you."
His tone of voice didn't suggest argument. Adela straightened away from Madelyne and said, "You said I could live here until I died if that was my wish."
Gerald took a step toward Adela then, but Duncan's stare stopped him.
"Now then, Gerald? What promise did I give to you?"
Duncan's voice was mild, giving the impression he was bored with the conversation. Madelyne clutched his hand.
Gerald answered Duncan with a shout. "With the king's blessing, you agreed Adela would become my wife."
Edmond couldn't keep silent any longer. "How in God's name are you going to honor both pledges?" he asked Duncan.
"Gerald," Duncan said, ignoring Edmond, "my word to Adela is dependent upon her wish to remain here. I believe it is up to you to change her mind."
"Do you suggest…"
"You're a welcome guest in my home for as long as it takes," Duncan said.
Gerald looked startled, then a most arrogant grin transformed his face. He turned to Adela and smiled at her. "Adela, since you won't leave, then I shall stay here with you."
Adela was back to screeching, yet Madelyne couldn't see fear in her eves, only disbelief and anger.
"As your brother said, for as long as it takes me, Adela, to make you realize I mean to marry you," Gerald said. "Do you hear me?"
Of course she heard him. Madelyne thought the south watchman must have heard Gerald. He shouted his announcement loud enough.
Madelyne took a step toward Adela, fully intending to protect her from Gerald's anger, but Duncan suddenly took hold of her hand again. He jerked her up against his side, and when she opened her mouth to protest, his grip intensified, and Madelyne decided to save her protest for later.
Adela was too enraged to speak. She picked up her skirts and rushed over to Gerald. "You'll be old and gray and withered, too, before I change my mind, Gerald."
Gerald smiled at Adela. "You underestimate my abilities, Adela," he told her.
"You're the most stubborn man alive," Adela blurted out. "You… you plebeian." She turned her back on him then and left the hall.
It was all going to be all right. Madelyne felt it in her heart. Adela was furious, but she wasn't terrified.
"What's a plebeian?" Gerald asked Edmond.
Edmond shrugged and looked over at Madelyne. "Another one of your words?" he asked.
"Aye," Madelyne admitted.
"Is it as distasteful as Polyphemus?" Edmond asked.
Madelyne shook her head.
"At least Adela places higher value on you, Gerald, than Madelyne placed on me when we first met," Edmond said with a grin.
Madelyne didn't know what Edmond was talking about. Duncan bade everyone a good night and dragged Madelyne out of the hall before she could question Edmond.
Neither husband nor wife said a word to each other until they reached Duncan's bedroom. When he opened the door for her, Madelyne was waylaid from asking him about Adela or Edmond. The bedroom drew her attention first. Duncan had moved her possessions from the tower to his chambers. The two chairs now flanked his hearth, the cover now lined his huge bed, and her tapestry was hanging above his hearth.