Gerald and Anthony discussed the issues of numbers while Duncan stood up and walked over to stand in front of the fire. He happened to turn just in time to see Madelyne go around the corner. She was probably going to speak to Father Laurance now, he thought. The little boy, Willie, had hold of her skirt and was running to keep up.
Duncan dismissed his wife from his mind when Anthony and Gerald joined him again. A good ten minutes elapsed in heated debate over the defense of Wexton fortress Anthony and Gerald both pulled up chairs and Duncan also sat down in the chair Madelyne had declared belonged to him.
All of a sudden, Willie came running into the hall. The child skidded to a halt when he saw Duncan. Willie had a wild, terrified look in his eyes.
Duncan thought the boy looked as though he'd just seen the devil. He never took his gaze off the child. Willie timidly walked over to stand beside Duncan's chair.
"What is it, lad? Do you wish to speak to me?" Duncan asked. He kept his voice soft so the little one wouldn't become any more frightened.
Anthony started to ask Duncan a question, but his baron held up a hand for silence.
Duncan turned in his chair until he was facing the child. He leaned down and motioned Willie closer. Willie started whimpering, but he edged between Duncan's legs, sucking on his thumb while he stared up at his lord.
Duncan's patience was wearing thin. Suddenly Willie pulled his thumb out of his mouth and whispered, "He's hitting her."
Duncan bounded out of the chair, overturning it, and was halfway across the room before Gerald and Anthony knew what was happening.
"What's going on?" Gerald asked Anthony when the vassal started after his lord.
Gerald was the last to catch the fear. "Madelyne." Anthony shouted her name. Gerald jumped to his feet and chased after Anthony. His sword was drawn before he reached the steps.
Duncan reached the chapel first. The door was barred against him but he made quick work of ripping it apart. Rage gave him added strength.
The sound he made alerted Father Laurance. When Duncan rushed into the vestibule, the priest was using Madelyne as his shield. He held her in front of him and pointed a dagger against the side of her neck.
Duncan didn't look at Madelyne. He didn't dare. His rage would explode then. He kept his attention totally focused on the demented man challenging him.
"If you come any closer, I'll slit her throat," the priest screamed. He was slowly backing away, half dragging, half pulling his hostage.
Each step the priest took in retreat, Duncan measured with a step in advance.
The priest backed up against a small square table laden with burning candles. He dared a quick look behind him, obviously judging the distance around the obstacle to the side door, and that was the miscalculation Duncan was waiting for.
Duncan attacked. He wrenched the knife away from Madelyne's face, forcing the blunt side of the blade through the priest's neck in one swift, deadly motion. The priest was propelled backward just as Duncan jerked Madelyne free.
Father Laurance was dead before he hit the ground.
The table crashed against the far wall, overturning the candles. Flames immediately began to lick the dry wood.
Duncan ignored the fire. He gently lifted Madelyne into his arms. She sagged against his chest. "You took the longest time getting here," she whispered against his neck. Her voice was ragged and she was weeping softly.
Duncan took a deep, settling breath. He was trying to rid himself of his anger so that he could be gentle with her. "You are all right?" he finally managed, though his voice was as harsh as his fury.
"I've seen better moments," Madelyne whispered.
Her lighthearted answer calmed him. Then Madelyne looked up at him. When he saw the damage to her face, he was furious again. Her left eye was already swollen. The corner of her mouth was bloody and there were numerous scratches on her neck.
Duncan wanted to kill the priest all over again. Madelyne could feel the tremor that passed through her husband. His eyes mirrored his anger. She reached up, touched his cheek with her fingertips. "It is over, Duncan."
Gerald and Anthony rushed into the church. Gerald saw the fire and immediately ran back outside, shouting an order for aid to the gathering men.
Anthony stood next to his leader. When Duncan turned and started out the doorway, his vassal lifted one of the boards out of the way, the only remnant of the door Duncan hadn't destroyed.
Madelyne could see how worried Anthony was. He was frowning as ferociously as Duncan was. She tried to give him comfort to let him know she was still fit enough.
"Have you noticed, Anthony, how my husband likes to walk through doors?" she asked him.
Anthony looked startled for a moment, and then a slow grin settled on his face.
Duncan bent down, guarding Madelyne's head as he walked through the opening. She rested her cheek against his shoulder. It wasn't until they'd reached the doors of the castle that she realized she was still crying. A leftover from the fright she'd just had, she thought with a shiver.
By the time they reached Duncan's room, Madelyne's teeth were chattering. Duncan wrapped her in blankets and held her on his lap while he tended to her bruised face.
He was sweating from the heat of the fire he'd started in the hearth for Madelyne. "Duncan? Did you see the crazed look in his eyes?" Madelyne shivered over the memory. "He was going to… Duncan? Would you still love me if he'd raped me?"
"Hush now, my love," Duncan soothed her. "I'll love you forever. That was a foolish question."
She was comforted by his gruff answer. Madelyne rested quietly against his chest for several minutes. There was much she needed to tell Duncan and she needed strength for the duty.
Duncan thought she might have fallen asleep, when she suddenly blurted out, "He was sent here to kill me."
Madelyne turned in his arms until she was facing him. The look in his eyes chilled her again. "He was sent?" His voice was soft. Madelyne thought he might be trying to keep his anger hidden. It wasn't working, but she didn't tell him that.
"I went to the church to tell Father Laurance he was invited to dinner. I caught him unawares because he wasn't dressed in his robes. He was dressed just like a peasant, but of course you must have noticed that too. Anyway, his hands weren't covered with bandages either."
"The rest," Duncan instructed when Madelyne stared at him so expectantly.
"There weren't any scars. The priest was supposed to have burned his hands, remember. He couldn't say mass because of his injuries. Only there weren't any scars."
Duncan nodded for her to continue. "I didn't say anything about his hands. I pretended I didn't even notice, but I
thought to remember to tell you. Anyway," she continued, "I told him we'd received a letter from his monastery and that after dinner you wanted to speak to him. That was my mistake, though at the time I didn't know why," she added. "The priest went into a rage then. He told me Louddon had had him sent here. His duty was to kill me if the king granted you his favor instead of Louddon. Duncan, how could a man of God have the soul of the devil? Father Laurance knew his game was up, I guess. He told me he was going to get away but not before he killed me."
Madelyne sagged against Duncan's chest again. "Were you frightened, Duncan?" Madelyne asked in a whisper.
"I am never frightened," Duncan snapped. He was so incensed over the priest's treachery, he could barely concentrate.
Madelyne smiled over her husband's statement. "I meant to ask you if you were concerned, not frightened," she amended.
"What?" Duncan asked. He shook his head, forcing his anger aside. Madelyne needed his comfort now. "Concerned? Hell, Madelyne, I was furious."
"I could tell you were," Madelyne answered. "You reminded me of my wolf when you were stalking my captor."
Duncan let her sit up so he could kiss her. He was very gentle, for her lips were too bruised to allow true passion.
Madelyne pushed herself off his lap. She took hold of his hand, tugging until he stood up and followed her across the room. She sat down on the bed and patted the space next to him.
Duncan took off his tunic. He was drenched from the heat in the room. He sat down beside his wife, put his arm around her shoulders, and pulled her against him. He wanted to hold her close and tell her how much he loved her. God's truth, he thought he needed to say the words more than she needed to hear them. "Madelyne, were you frightened?"
"A little," Madelyne replied. She would have shrugged, but the weight of his arm wouldn't allow the gesture. Her head was inclined and she was tracing circles around his thigh, trying to distract him, he supposed.
"Only a little?"
"Well, I knew you'd come for me, so I wasn't terribly frightened. Yet I was beginning to get a bit irritated when you didn't appear at the door right away. The man was tearing my gown…"
"He could have killed you," Duncan said. His voice was shaking with anger.
"Nay, you wouldn't have let him kill me," Madelyne told him.
Lord, she had such faith in him. Duncan was humbled by it.
The slow circles Madelyne was making with her fingertips were moving toward the junction of his legs. Duncan grabbed hold of her hand, settled it against his thigh. His wife was probably so distraught, she didn't realize what she was doing, or how it was beginning to affect him.
"Lord, it's gone warm in here," Madelyne whispered. "Why would you want to start a fire in this weather, Duncan?"
"You were shaking," Duncan reminded her.
"I'm better now."
"Then I'll go downstairs and get this letter from the monastery. I am curious to learn what his superiors have to tell us," Duncan announced.
"I don't want you to go downstairs just yet," Madelyne said.
Duncan was immediately solicitous. "You must rest for an hour or so," he told her.
"I don't want to rest," Madelyne answered. "Will you help me out of these clothes?" she asked her husband in such an innocent voice, Duncan was immediately suspicious.
Madelyne stood between her husband's legs and didn't help at all while her husband pulled her clothes off her. "What made you come to the church when you did?" she suddenly thought to ask him.
"Maude's boy saw the bastard hit you. He came to tell me," Duncan answered.
"I didn't know Willie followed me into the church. He must have run back out before the priest barred the door. Willie must have been terrified. He's only five summers. And you must reward him for coming to fetch you."
"Damn, this is all my fault," Duncan stated. "I should have seen to my household as thoroughly as I see to my men's training."
Madelyne put her hands on Duncan's shoulders. " 'Tis my duty to see to your home. Though, now that I think about it, none of this would have happened if—"
His sigh stopped her. "I know, none of this would have happened if I'd been there to protect you," he interjected.
His voice was filled with anguish. Madelyne shook her head. "I wasn't going to say that," she told him. "You mustn't jump to conclusions, Duncan. It's a sorry trait. Besides, you have more important matters to attend to."
"You come before everyone and everything else," Duncan stated quite emphatically.
"Well, I was only going to tell you that this wouldn't have happened if I'd known how to protect myself."
"What are you suggesting?" Duncan asked. He really didn't have a clue as to what was going on inside her mind. He smiled then, for he had just realized he rarely did know what she was thinking.
"Father Laurance wasn't much bigger than I am," she said. "Ansel is just my height."
"How did my squire get into this conversation?" Duncan asked.
"Ansel is learning about defense," Madelyne announced. "Therefore, you must instruct me in the ways of defending myself also. You see the way of it, don't you?"
He didn't, but decided not to argue with her. "We'll speak of this later," Duncan announced.
Madelyne nodded. "Then you must now see to my needs, Duncan. I order it."
Duncan reacted to the teasing tone in her voice. "And what is this order you dare give your husband?" he asked.
Madelyne explained by slowly pulling the ribbon free that kept her chemise in place. The garment edged off her shoulders. Duncan shook his head, trying to deny her. "You're too bruised to think of—"
"You'll think of a way," Madelyne interrupted. "I know I don't look very pretty now. I do look a fright, don't I?"
"You're bruised, as ugly as one of your Cyclops, and I can barely stand to look at you."
His words made her laugh. She knew he was teasing because he was trying to pull her down on top of him and take her chemise off at the same time.
"Then you'll have to close your eyes when you make love to me," Madelyne instructed Duncan.
"I'll suffer through it," he promised.
"I can still feel his touch," Madelyne whispered. Her voice had a tremor in it now. "I need you to touch me now. You'll make me forget. I'll feel clean again, Duncan. Do you understand?"
Duncan answered her by kissing her. Madelyne soon forgot everything but kissing him back. Within moments only the two of them mattered.
And she was cleansed in body and heart.
"Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
new testament, john, 8:38
Though it was ironic, the attack Madelyne suffered helped to reconcile Gerald and Adela.
Madelyne had insisted on eating dinner with the family and their guest. When she and Duncan walked into the hall, Adela was already seated at the table. Gerald was pacing in front of the fireplace, looking lost in thought.
Duncan sighed, letting Madelyne know he wasn't in any mood for another one of Adela's scenes. Madelyne started to tell him to please be patient and then decided against it. She wasn't in the mood for dissension either.
When Adela saw Madelyne, she let out a loud gasp. She completely forgot Gerald. "What has happened to you? Did Silenus finally unseat you?" she asked.
Madelyne turned to frown at Duncan. "Just before we left our room, I specifically remember you telling me I looked all right" she whispered to him.
"I lied," Duncan answered, grinning.
"I should have looked in Adela's mirror," Madelyne returned. "Adela looks like she's going to be sick. Will I ruin everyone's appetite, do you suppose?"