"You saved her from Louddon's abuse when you took her with you," Gerald pointed out. "Adela told me a little about Madelyne's past."
Duncan nodded. He was weary of conflicts. Now that he'd discovered the joy of loving Madelyne, he wanted to spend every minute with her. He smiled when he realized he was mimicking Madelyne's imaginary hero, Odysseus. She had told him all about the warrior who was forced to endure one challenge after another, for ten long years, before he could return home to his beloved.
It would be another two weeks before he could hold her in his arms again. He sighed once more. He was beginning to act quite pathetic. "At least there will be time before we reach London—"
"Time for what?" Gerald asked.
Duncan hadn't realized he'd spoken his thought aloud until Gerald questioned him. "To marry Madelyne."
Gerald's eyes widened. Duncan turned and walked into the wilderness, leaving Gerald to wonder what in heaven's name he was talking about
Duncan's home underwent a few subtle changes while he was away. They were necessary precautions, and every one of them because of the baroness.
The courtyard was always deserted in the morning hours now. Though the heat should have beckoned the staff out into the upper bailey to do their daily chores of washing the linens and braiding fresh rushes, everyone preferred to work indoors. They waited until late afternoon to go outside and gain a few minutes of fresh, cooling air.
More specifically, they waited for Madelyne to finish her target practice.
Madelyne was determined to gain accuracy with her new bow and arrows, and toward this end she drove Anthony to distraction. He tutored her, yet couldn't understand why his mistress didn't get any better. Her determination was admirable. Her accuracy, however, was a different story. She was consistently three feet above her target Anthony kept commenting on that fact, but Madelyne didn't seem to be able to correct her aim.
Ned kept Madelyne supplied with new arrows. She'd gone through a good fifty of them before she corrected her aim enough to keep the arrows below the top of the wall. She was then able to retrieve her arrows to use again, arrows that had speared the trees, the huts, and hanging linens.
Anthony was patient with his mistress. He understood her goal. She wanted to learn to protect herself, true, but she also wanted to make her husband proud of her. The vassal wasn't guessing Madelyne's second motive. No, she told him her quest several times a day.
Anthony knew why she repeated herself. His baroness worried he'd get disgusted with her poor performance and stop tutoring her. The vassal wouldn't, of course, deny Madelyne anything.
A messenger from the King of England arrived at Wexton fortress late in the afternoon. Anthony received him in the hall, fully expecting to be given a verbal message. The king's servant handed Anthony a parchment scroll. The vassal called for Maude, directing her to give the soldier food and drink.
Madelyne walked into the room just as the soldier followed Maude into the buttery. She noticed the scroll immediately. "What news is there, Anthony? Does Duncan send us word?" she asked.
"The message comes from the king," Anthony said. He walked over to a small chest located against the wall opposite the buttery. An ornately carved wooden box sat on top of the chest. Madelyne had thought it was merely a decorative piece of work, until Anthony lifted the top and placed the scroll inside.
She was close enough to see other pieces of parchment inside. The box was obviously where Duncan kept his important papers. "You're not going to read it now?" she asked Anthony when he turned back to her.
"It will have to wait until Baron Wexton returns," Anthony announced.
Madelyne could tell from the look on his face that Anthony wasn't pleased about waiting. "I could send for one of the monks at—"
"I would read it for you," Madelyne interjected.
Anthony looked astonished by her remark. Madelyne felt her cheeks heat, knew she blushed. "It's true, I can read, though I would appreciate it, Anthony, if you didn't tell anyone. I've no wish to be the topic of ridicule," she added.
Anthony nodded. "Duncan has been gone over three weeks now," Madelyne reminded him. "And you told me he could be away another month. Do you dare wait that long to fetch a priest to read the message for you?"
"No, of course not," Anthony returned. He opened the box and handed the scroll to Madelyne. Then he leaned on the edge of the table, folded his arms in front of him, and listened to the message from his overlord.
The letter was written in Latin, the preferred language for
It didn't take Madelyne any time at all to translate the message. Her voice never quavered, but her hands trembled when she'd finished reading the missive.
The king gave no greeting to Baron Wexton. His anger was as evident as his breach in manners, Madelyne thought He demanded, from the first word to the last, that Madelyne appear before him.
She wasn't as upset over that command as she was over the announcement that King William was sending his own troops to fetch her.
"So our king sends soldiers to take you," Anthony said when she finished reading. His voice shook.
Anthony was caught in the middle, Madelyne thought. His loyalty belonged to Duncan. Aye, he'd pledged fealty to him. Yet Anthony and Duncan were both vassals to the King of England. William's command would have to take precedence over all others.
"Was there anything else, Madelyne?" Anthony asked.
She slowly nodded. And then she braved a smile for him. "I was hoping you wouldn't ask," she whispered. "It would seem, Anthony, in our king's mind, there are two sisters, two barons. William wants the feud ended, suggesting that perhaps… aye, he uses just that word, perhaps each sister be returned to the rightful brother."
Madelyne's eyes brimmed with tears. "The other alternative is for Duncan to wed me," she whispered.
"The king obviously doesn't know you're already wed," Anthony interjected. His frown intensified, for he knew Madelyne wasn't aware of the fact she really wasn't married to Duncan yet.
"And if Duncan weds me, then Adela will become Louddon's bride."
"God help us," Anthony muttered with disgust.
"Adela mustn't know about this, Anthony," Madelyne rushed out "I will tell her only the king demands my presence."
Anthony nodded. "Can you write as well as read, Madelyne?" he suddenly asked.
When Madelyne nodded, he said, "Then perhaps, if the king hasn't already dispatched his troops, we might gain a little time."
"Time for your husband to return to you," Anthony told her.
The vassal hurried over to the chest, picked up the oblong wooden box, and carried it over to Madelyne. "There is parchment and dye inside," he told Madelyne.
Madelyne sat down and quickly prepared for the task ahead. Anthony turned his back on her. He began to pace while he decided what he'd tell his king.
Madelyne noticed the rolled missive on the table then, next to the jar of flowers. The torn seal was from Roanne monastery. Out of curiousity, she took the time to read the letter from Father Laurance's superiors.
Anthony turned back to Madelyne just as she was finishing the missive. He recognized the seal, knew then the pretense was over. "He didn't want you to worry," Anthony said to Madelyne. He put his hand on her shoulder, offering her comfort.
Madelyne didn't make any comment. She tilted her head up to look at him. Anthony was stunned by the amazing change in his mistress. She looked very serene. He knew then how terrified she really was. Aye, it was the same expression she wore those first few weeks she'd been Duncan's captive.
He didn't know how to help her. If he tried to explain that Duncan meant to marry her as soon as he returned, he might just make the situation worse. They both knew the baron had lied to Madelyne. "Madelyne, your husband loves you," he said, sorry he couldn't keep the harshness out of his voice.
"He isn't my husband, is he, Anthony?"
She didn't give him time to answer but turned her back on him. "What is it you wish me to say to our king?" she asked. Her voice was mild, almost pleasant.
Anthony admitted defeat. He'd have to leave the explanation to Duncan, he decided. He turned his attention to his dictation.
In the end, it was a simple message, giving only the notification that Baron Wexton hadn't returned to his fortress, and therefore had no knowledge of the king's demand.
Anthony made Madelyne read the message twice. When he was satisfied, she fanned the parchment dry, then oiled the back until it was pliable enough to roll into a scroll.
Anthony gave the message to the king's soldier and commanded him to make haste returning to his king.
Madelyne went to her room to pack her gowns. It was a precaution, for Madelyne knew the king's soldiers could arrive at any moment.
She went and explained to Adela what had happened, using most of the afternoon to visit with her friend. She didn't tell Adela the exact wording of the king's message. Nay, Madelyne deliberately left out any mention about Adela possibly going to Louddon.
Madelyne wouldn't ever let that happen. Nor would she put Duncan in the position of having to choose.
She didn't eat dinner that night but went up to the tower room instead. Madelyne stood in front of the window for over an hour, letting her emotions control her mind.
Laurance really should have been found out sooner. Madelyne blamed herself for being too preoccupied to notice all the little oddities. Then she blamed Duncan. If he hadn't frightened her so much during that wedding ceremony, she'd have caught on to Laurence's deception.
She never considered the possibility that Duncan knew all along. No, she was certain he thought Laurance had truly married them. She was still angry. He had blatantly lied to her about the contents of the letter from the Roanne monastery. Duncan knew how much she valued the truth. She never lied to him. "Just you wait until I get my hands on you," she muttered. "Adela isn't the only one who knows how to scream."
Her burst of anger didn't help her mood much. She started to cry again.
By midnight she had exhausted herself. She leaned against the window. The moon was bright. Madelyne wondered if it was shining down on Duncan now. Did he sleep outdoors tonight or in one of the king's chambers?
Madelyne's attention turned to the crest of the hill outside the wall. A movement had caught her eye, and she looked just in time to see her wolf climb the ridge.
It really was a wolf, wasn't it? Maybe even the same one she'd seen months before. The animal looked large enough.
She wished Duncan were here, standing beside her, so she could prove to him that her wolf did exist. She watched the animal lift the meaty bone she'd left there for him, turn, and disappear down the other side of the hill.
Madelyne was so exhausted, she decided she was getting fanciful again. It was probably just another wild dog after all, and not even the one she'd seen before.
Duncan was her wolf. He loved her. Madelyne never doubted him on that issue. Aye, he lied to her about the letter, yet she instinctively knew he'd never lie to her about his love for her.
It was a comforting admission. Duncan was too honorable to deceive her in such a manner.
She tried to sleep. Fear made it impossible though. How content she'd been to let Duncan take care of the future. She felt so safe because she carried his name. Aye, she was bound to him.
Now she was terrified again. The king demanded her attendance in court. She was going back to Louddon.
Madelyne began to pray. She pleaded with God to keep Duncan safe. She asked favor for Adela's future, Gerald's, too, and even prayed for Edmond and Gilard.
And then she whispered a prayer for herself. She begged for courage.
Courage to face the devil.
"Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit."
old testament, proverbs, 26:5
Duncan knew something was wrong the minute he rode into the lower bailey. Anthony wasn't there to greet him, and neither was Madelyne.
A feeling of dread settled around his heart. He goaded his stallion forward, galloped over the bridge and into the courtyard.
Adela came rushing out of the castle just as he and Gerald dismounted. She hesitated a short distance away from the two men, finally seemed to make up her mind, and then ran and threw herself into Gerald's arms. When she embraced him, she started to cry.
It took patience and several long minutes to gain any information from Adela.
Duncan's second-in-command, a large but soft-spoken man by the name of Robert, came running up to give his accounting. While Gerald sought to hush Adela, Robert explained that the king's soldiers had come for Madelyne.
"Was the king's seal on this missive?" Duncan asked.
Robert frowned over the question. "I do not know, Baron. I didn't see the summons. And your wife insisted that she take the letter with her." Robert lowered his voice to a whisper when he added, "She didn't want anyone to read the contents of the summons to your sister."
Duncan wasn't sure what to make of his wife's action. He concluded the directive must have included some sort of threat toward Adela and that Madelyne was trying to protect his sister from worry.
The king wouldn't have threatened. Nay, William wouldn't treat his loyal barons in such a way. Duncan had sufficient faith in his leader to believe his king would wait to hear all the explanations.
Louddon's hand was in this treachery. Duncan would stake his life on it.
He immediately shouted the order to prepare to ride again. Duncan was so angry, he could barely think logically. The only calming thought was the fact that Anthony had gone with Madelyne. His loyal vassal had taken a small contingent of Duncan's fittest warriors with him. Robert explained that Anthony dared not take too many soldiers, lest the king think he was being distrustful.
"Then Anthony believes the summons came directly from our king?" Duncan asked.
"I was not privy to his thoughts," Robert answered.
Duncan called for a fresh mount. When the stablemaster led Silenus to him, Duncan asked why Madelyne hadn't chosen his stallion to carry her to court.
James, unaccustomed to speaking directly to his lord, stammered out his reply. "She worried her brother would abuse the horse if he found out Silenus belonged to you, milord. Those were her true words."
Duncan nodded, accepting the explanation. How like his gentle wife to be concerned about the horse. "She demanded one of the king's horses," James added.