Duncan saw the spark of anger ignite in her blue eyes. Such a mockery it was to the serene expression on her face, and so quickly gone, he was convinced he wouldn't have caught it if he hadn't been watching her so intently. She controlled herself with amazing skill for a mere woman.
"Answer me, Madelyne. Do you wish me to believe you've been living in this church?"
"I haven't been living there," Madelyne answered when she couldn't stand his intense stare a second longer. "I only hid my things so that I could make my escape in the morning."
Duncan frowned over her statement. Did she think him daft to believe such a fool's story? No woman would leave the comfort of her home to journey during these harsh months. And where would she have him believe she was going?
He made the swift decision to prove her story false, just to see her reaction when her lie was discovered. "You may get your things."
Madelyne wasn't about to argue over her good fortune. She believed that by giving his approval, Duncan was also agreeing to her own plan to leave the fortress. "Then I may leave this fortress?" She blurted out the assumption before she could stop herself. And Lord, how her voice shook.
"Aye, Madelyne, you will leave this fortress," Duncan agreed.
He actually smiled at her. Madelyne worried about the change in his disposition. She stared up at him, trying to read his mind. A futile undertaking, she quickly realized. Duncan masked his feelings very well, too well for her to decide if he was telling the truth or not.
Madelyne ducked under his arm and ran down the corridor into the back of the church. Duncan was right behind her.
The burlap satchel was just where she'd hidden it the day before. Madelyne lifted the bundle into her arms and then turned to look at Duncan. She was about to offer her gratitude, yet hesitated when she saw the look of surprise on his face again.
"You didn't believe me?" Madelyne asked. Her voice sounded as incredulous as he looked.
Duncan answered her with a scowl. He turned and walked out of the church. Madelyne followed him. Her hands were shaking now, almost violently. Madelyne decided that the horror of the battle she'd witnessed was just settling in. She'd seen so much blood, so many dead. Her stomach and her mind rebelled, and she could only pray she'd be able to maintain her composure until Duncan and his soldiers left.
The moment she cleared the structure, fiery torches were hurled inside. The flames were like hungry bears, devouring the building with savage intensity.
Madelyne watched the fire a good while, until she realized she was clinging to Duncan's hand. She immediately pulled away from him.
She turned and saw that the soldiers' horses had been led inside the inner bailey. Most of Duncan's men were already mounted and waiting for his order. In the center of the courtyard stood the most magnificent of beasts, a huge white stallion, nearly two hands taller than any of the other horses. The blond-haired squire stood directly in front of the animal, trying without much success to keep the reins in his hands. The fiesty animal no doubt belonged to Duncan, a fitting beast for the baron's stature and rank.
Duncan motioned her toward the stallion. Madelyne frowned over his order, yet instinctively started walking toward the big horse. The closer she got, the more frightened she became. In the corner of her confused mind a black thought crystallized.
Dear God, she wasn't going to be left behind.
Madelyne took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. She told herself she was just too distraught to think clearly. Of course the baron wasn't going to take her with him. Why, she wasn't significant enough to bother about.
She decided she still needed to hear his denial. "You don't think to take me with you, do you?" she blurted out. Her voice sounded strained; she knew she hadn't been able to keep the fear out of her voice.
Duncan walked over to Madelyne. He took hold of her satchel and threw it to his squire. She had her answer then. Madelyne stared up at Duncan, watched him swiftly mount, and then extend his hand down to her.
Madelyne began to back away. God help her, she was going to defy him. She knew if she tried to climb the distance to the top of his demon horse, she'd disgrace herself by fainting, or worse, screaming. In truth, she believed she preferred death to humiliation.
She was more frightened of the stallion than she was of the baron. Madelyne was sadly lacking in her education, and possessed none of the most basic riding skills. Memories of very young days, when Louddon had used those few riding lessons as a tool to inflict submission, still visited her on occasion. As a fully grown woman, she realized her fears were unreasonable, yet the fretful child inside her still rebelled with stubborn, illogical fright.
She took another step back. Then she slowly shook her head, denying Duncan's assistance. Her decision was made; she'd force him to kill her if that was his inclination, but she wasn't going to get on the stallion.
Without a thought as to where she was going, Madelyne turned and walked away. She was trembling so much, she stumbled several times. Panic was building inside until she was almost blinded by it, yet she kept her gaze directed on the ground and continued on, one determined step at a time.
She stopped when she came to the mutilated body of one of Louddon's soldiers. The man's face was horribly disfigured. The sight proved to be Madelyne's breaking point She stood there, in the center of the carnage, staring at the dead soldier, until she heard a tortured scream echo in the distance. The sound was soul-wrenching. Madelyne put her hands over her ears to try to block out the noise but the action didn't help. The horrible sound went on and on.
Duncan spurred his horse forward the moment Madelyne started screaming. He reached her side, leaned down, and effortlessly lifted her up into his arms.
She stopped screaming when he touched her. Duncan adjusted his heavy cloak until his captive was completely covered. Her face rested against the steel links of his hauberk, yet he took time and attention to pull some of her own cloak forward so that the side of her cheek was cushioned against the soft sheepskin lining.
He didn't question his desire to be gentle with her. The picture flashed before him of Madelyne kneeling in front of him, taking his near-frozen feet under her own gown to give them warmth. It had been an act of kindness, that. He could do no less for her now. After all, he was the one solely responsible for causing Madelyne such pain in the first place.
Duncan let out a long sigh. It couldn't be undone. Hell, it had started out as such an easy plan too. Leave it to a woman to confuse it.
There was much to reevaluate now. Though he knew Madelyne wasn't aware of it, she had certainly complicated the issues. He'd have to sort it all out, he told himself. The plan was changed now, whether he liked it or not, for he knew with a certainty that both amazed and infuriated him, that he'd never let Madelyne go.
Duncan tightened his hold on his captive and finally gave the signal to ride. He remained behind to form the end of the long procession. When the last of his soldiers had cleared the area, and only Gilard and the young squire flanked his side, Duncan took precious minutes to stare at the destruction.
Madelyne tilted her head back so that she could see Duncan's face clearly. He must have felt her looking up at him, for he slowly lowered his gaze until he was staring directly into her eyes.
"An eye for an eye, Madelyne."
She waited for him to tell her more, to explain what her brother had done to cause such a retaliation, but Duncan just continued to stare at her, as if willing her to comprehend. He wasn't going to make any excuses for his ruthlessness. Madelyne understood that now. The victorious didn't need to justify.
Madelyne turned to look at the ruins. She remembered one of the stories told to her by her uncle, Father Berton, about the Punic Wars of ancient times. There were many tales handed down, most of them frowned upon by the holy church, but Father Berton had repeated them to Madelyne all the same, educating her in the most unacceptable fashion, punishable in fact by severe discipline if the church leaders had any inkling as to what the priest was doing.
The carnage she'd witnessed now reminded her of the story of Carthage. During the third and final war between two mighty powers, the victorious had thoroughly destroyed the city once Carthage had fallen. What had not burned to ashes had been buried beneath the fertile ground. Not a stone was allowed to top another. As a final measure, the fields were covered with salt so that nothing would grow there in the future.
History was being repeated this night; Louddon and all that belonged to him was now being desecrated.
"Delenda est Carthago," Madelyne whispered to herself, repeating the vow made so long ago by Cato, an elder of ancient times.
Duncan was surprised by Madelyne's remark. He wondered how she'd ever come by such knowledge. "Aye, Madelyne. Like Carthage, your brother must be destroyed."
"And do I belong to Loud… to Carthage as well?" Madelyne asked, refusing to speak her brother's name.
"Nay, Madelyne, you don't belong to Carthage."
Madelyne nodded and then closed her eyes. She sagged against Duncan's chest.
Duncan used his hand to push her chin up, forcing her to look at him again.
"You don't belong to Louddon, Madelyne. From this moment on, you belong to me. Do you understand?"
Madelyne nodded her head.
Duncan released his hold on her when he saw how frightened he was making her. He watched her a moment longer and then slowly, aye, gently, pulled the cloak up over her face.
From her warm hiding place against him, Madelyne whispered, "I think I would rather belong to no man."
Duncan heard her. A slow smile crossed his face. What Lady Madelyne wanted wasn't the least significant to him. Aye, she belonged to him now, whether she wished it or not.
Lady Madelyne had sealed her own fate.
She'd warmed his feet.
"To do injustice is more disgraceful than to suffer it."
They journeyed into the north, riding hard and fast through the remainder of the night and most of the next day, pausing only twice to give their horses respite from the furious pace the baron set. Madelyne was allowed a few moments privacy, but her legs could barely hold her weight, making the task of seeing to her personal needs an excruciating ordeal, and before she had a chance to stretch her protesting muscles, she was lifted onto Duncan's steed again.
Because there was safety in their large number, Duncan decided to follow the main road. It was a sorry broken path at best, with overgrown thicket and na*ed branches making the way a continual challenge to the most fit of knights. The men's shields were up most of the time. Madelyne, however, was well protected, safely embraced beneath Duncan's cloak and armor.
The soldiers were well served by their heavy equipment, save for those who wore the open-faced conicals and rode with bare hands, and the wilderness had little effect on them other than to slow down their progress somewhat.
The torturous ride didn't let up for almost two days. By the time Duncan announced that they would spend the night in a secluded glen he had spotted, Madelyne was firmly convinced he wasn't human. She had heard the men refer to their leader as a wolf and understood the odious parallel well enough; Duncan wore the outline of that terrible beast of prey in his blue and white crest. She fantasized now that her captor's mother must have been a demon from hell and his father a great, ugly wolf, and that was the only reason he could keep up such a grueling, inhuman pace.
By the time they stopped for the night, Madelyne was sick with hunger. She sat on a boulder and watched the soldiers care for their horses. A noble's first concern, Madelyne decided, knowing that without his steed, the knight would be completely ineffective. Aye, the horses came first.
Small fires were started next, with eight to ten men surrounding each, and when all the fires had been ignited, there were at least thirty separate flames, all outlining the weary shoulders of men ready for rest. Last came the food, a meager offering consisting of crusty bread and yellowed cheese. Horns filled with salty-tasting ale were also passed around. Madelyne noticed the soldiers only drank a sparse portion, though. She thought caution might have overridden their desire to indulge, for they would surely need their wits about them this night, camped as they were in a vulnerable position.
There was the ever-present danger of roving bands of men, displaced misfits who had turned into vultures waiting to pounce on anyone weaker than they, and there were wild animals roaming the wilderness, too, with much the same intent.
Duncan's squire was ordered to see to Madelyne's needs. His name was Ansel, and Madelyne could tell from the frown on his face that he had little liking for his assignment.
Madelyne consoled herself with the knowledge that each mile north was a mile closer to her own secret destination. Before Baron Wexton interfered with her plans, Madelyne had been planning for her own escape. She was going to journey into Scotland to her cousin Edwythe's home. She realized she'd been naive to think she was capable of such an undertaking. Aye, she realized her folly now, even admitted that she wouldn't have lasted more than a day or so on her own, riding the only mare in Louddon's stable that wouldn't unseat her. The mare, swaybacked and quite old, wouldn't have had the stamina for such a journey. Without a strong horse and suitable clothing, the escape would have been a form of suicide. And the hastily drawn map from Simon's faulty memory would have led her in circles.
Though she admitted it was a fool's dream, she decided she'd have to hold on to it. Madelyne grasped at the glimmer of hope simply because it was all she had. Duncan surely lived within shouting distance of Scotland's border. How much farther could it be to her cousin's new home? Perhaps she could even walk there.
The obstacles would overwhelm her if she allowed them leverage. Madelyne pushed reason aside and concentrated instead on the list of what she'd need. A capable horse came first, provisions second, and God's blessing last. Madelyne decided she had the order of importance twisted, put God first and horse last, when she caught sight of Duncan moving to the center of the camp. Lord, wasn't he the biggest obstacle of all? Aye, Duncan, part man, part wolf, would be the most difficult obstacle to get around.
Duncan hadn't said one word to her since they'd left Louddon's fortress. Madelyne had worried herself sick over his fiercely made statement that she now belonged to him. And just what was that supposed to mean? She wished she had the courage to demand an explanation. Yet the baron was so cold, so remote now, and much too frightening for her to approach.
Lord, she was exhausted. She couldn't worry about him now. When she was rested, she'd find a way to escape. It was the duty of a captive, wasn't it?