"This is my battle, Madelyne. Tell the truth and leave the rest to me."
Madelyne sighed. She knew he was right.
Duncan tried to lighten her mood. "I must shave before we leave for court," he announced.
Madelyne started to blush. "I would prefer that you never shave again. I have come to… appreciate your beard, milord."
Duncan fully appreciated his wife's honesty. His forceful kiss told her so.
Duncan and Madelyne arrived in London two days later. Gilard, Edmond, and Gerald met them at the gates. They all wore grim expressions.
After giving Madelyne a welcoming embrace, Edmond told Duncan the other barons had already settled in their chambers.
Gilard next embraced Madelyne. He took his time with the greeting, and when he turned to speak to Duncan, his arm was still circling Madelyne's waist. "Do you go to the king tonight?"
Duncan decided Gilard wasn't quite over his infatuation with Madelyne. He pulled his wife into his side before he answered his brother. "I go now."
"Louddon thinks Madelyne is with her uncle. He's probably hearing of her return right this minute, Duncan. I must remind you that Louddon knows you're not married," Gerald interjected.
"We are married now," Duncan said. "Father Berton officiated, with my vassals as witnesses to the act, Gerald."
Gerald couldn't help but smile over that news.
"The king's going to be angry," Edmond predicted with a scowl. "Marrying before this matter is righted will be taken as a personal insult."
Duncan was about to respond to Edmond's comments, when his attention was drawn to the king's soldiers. Led by William's brother, Henry, the men marched in union to stand directly in front of Duncan.
Henry motioned to the soldiers to wait and then said to Duncan, "My brother sends his guard to escort Lady Madelyne to her chambers."
"I'm going to William now to give him my accounting, Henry. I'm uneasy letting Madelyne go anywhere without me. She was mistreated when last under our king's protection," he added, his voice grim.
Henry didn't show any reaction to Duncan's harsh voice. " 'Tis doubtful the king even knew she was here, Duncan. Louddon…"
"I'll not have her placed in jeopardy again, Henry," Duncan argued.
"Then you wish this dear lady to be placed in the middle of your tug-of-war with her brother?" Henry inquired.
Before Duncan could answer, Henry said, "Come, walk with me. There is something I wish to say to you."
Out of deference to his position, Duncan immediately obeyed the order. He walked by Henry's side to a secluded area of the courtyard.
Henry did most of the talking. Madelyne had no idea what he was saying, but she could tell from the look on her husband's face that Duncan wasn't too pleased with the conversation.
As soon as Duncan and Henry returned to the waiting group, Duncan turned to his wife. "Madelyne, go with Henry. He'll see you settled."
"In your chambers, Duncan?" Madelyne asked, trying not to sound worried.
Henry answered her question. "You'll have your own rooms, my dear, under my guard. Until this matter is settled neither Louddon nor Duncan will be allowed near you. 'Tis a fact that my brother has a fierce temper. Let us not fire the timber just yet. Tonight will be soon enough."
Madelyne looked at Duncan. When she received his nod, she bowed to Henry. Duncan took her aside then, leaned down, and whispered into her ear.
Everyone became highly curious over this conversation, for when Madelyne turned back to Henry, she was looking quite radiant.
Gilard watched Madelyne take Henry's arm and walk toward the entrance. "What did you say to her, Duncan? One minute our Madelyne was looking ready to weep and the next she was smiling and looking most content."
"I merely reminded her of an ending to a certain story," Duncan said with a shrug.
It was all he was going to say on the matter. Edmond suggested he go refresh his appearance and even sleep for a few hours.
Though Duncan thought it ludicrous for Edmond to suggest sleep, he did follow his advice about changing his tunic.
"I believe I'll follow Madelyne," Edmond commented then. "Perhaps I'll find Anthony standing outside her door and stay with him until this evening."
Duncan nodded. "Don't let Henry think you doubt his guard," he warned.
With those parting words Duncan walked away.
Gilard turned to Baron Gerald then. "We've averted a battle. Duncan would have charged into the king's chambers and demanded immediate justice."
"A temporary condition," Gerald answered. "The battle is still to come. The other barons will call on Duncan this afternoon. He'll be kept busy enough. Henry interceded and deserves his due for it. One day Duncan will thank him."
"Why would Henry be concerned over this matter?" Gilard asked.
"He wants Duncan's loyalty," Gerald answered. "Come, Gilard, find me a cool drink and toast my coming marriage to your sister."
Gilard looked pleased. "She has agreed then?"
"She has. I'm going to marry her before she changes her mind."
Gilard laughed over Gerald's announcement. Gerald smiled. He was pleased because he'd successfully turned Gilard's attention away from Henry's motives. Gerald didn't feel Gilard needed to be privy to the secret meeting he'd attended, nor Henry's odd questions about Duncan's loyalty. His reasons were easy enough to understand. Gilard might ask questions of the wrong barons, inadvertently causing trouble that wasn't needed now. Aye, the Wexton brothers had enough problems to solve.
"After we've toasted your marriage, I believe I'll go and stand with Edmond."
"It's going to be crowded in the corridor outside Madelyne's rooms," Gerald commented. "I wonder what Louddon will do, Gilard, when he learns his sister is back."
The baron under question had gone hunting in the king's forest. Louddon didn't return to the castle grounds until late that afternoon. He was immediately informed of Madelyne's return.
Louddon was, of course, furious. He went to claim his sister.
Anthony stood alone outside Madelyne's door now. Both Edmond and Gilard had gone to change for the coming dinner and confrontation.
When the vassal saw Louddon approaching, he lounged against the wall and gave Madelyne's brother a look of disgust.
Louddon ignored the vassal. He pounded on the door, shouting for entrance.
Henry opened the door. He greeted Louddon politely and then announced that no one was allowed to speak to Madelyne.
Before Louddon could argue, the door slammed shut in his face.
Madelyne watched the scene with bewilderment. She didn't know what to think of Henry's behavior. The king's brother hadn't left her side for more than a few minutes when she'd gone into the sleeping chamber to change her dress for her meeting with the king.
"Your brother's face is as red as my brother's," Henry announced after closing the door against Louddon. He walked over, took hold of Madelyne's hand, and led her over to the window, a considerable distance from the door.
"The walls have ears," he whispered. His voice, Madelyne noticed, was very kind.
She decided then and there to discard the rumors about Henry. He wasn't a very handsome man, small in size when compared to Duncan. It was said that Henry was greedy for power, a manipulator as well. He was known to have a lusty appetite, too, having fathered over fifteen bastard children.
Because he was being so kind to her, Madelyne decided she wasn't going to judge him.
"I thank you again for aiding my husband this day," Madelyne said when Henry continued to look at her so expectantly.
"Something has been prickling my curiosity all afternoon," Henry confessed. "If it not be a private matter, I would like you to tell me what Duncan said to you before you left him. You seemed very pleased."
"He told me to remember that Odysseus is home."
When she didn't continue the explanation, Henry commanded her to give him the full story.
It sounded like an arrogant demand, yet Madelyne wasn't bothered by it. "I told my husband a story about a warrior named Odysseus. He was away from his wife a long time, and when he finally returned, he found his home infested with evil men who were trying to harm his wife and rob him of his treasury. Odysseus sent his wife the message that he was home. He cleaned his house of these terrible infidels too. Duncan is reminding me that he'll take care of Louddon."
"Your husband and I are alike in character then," Henry announced. "Aye, the time for cleaning this house has arrived."
Madelyne didn't understand. "I worry Duncan will do something to anger our king," she whispered. "You have said how fierce the king's temper is."
"I've another matter to take up with you," Henry suddenly said. His voice had gone hard.
Madelyne tried not to look startled. "Are you my husband's friend as well as his ally?" she asked.
Henry nodded. "Then I will do anything I can to help you," Madelyne said.
"You're as loyal as Duncan," Henry remarked. He seem pleased with his observation. "If I intercede on your behalf with the king, will you do whatever is decided. Even if it means your exile?"
Madelyne didn't know how to answer. "You could be saving your husband's life," Henry said.
"I will do whatever is necessary."
"You'll have to trust me as much as you trust your husband," Henry warned.
Madelyne nodded. "My husband believes you're the most clever of the three—" She gasped when she realized what she'd just said.
Henry laughed. "So he knows my value, does he?"
Madelyne blushed. "He does," she said. "I'll do anything to keep my husband safe. If it means my own death, so be it."
"So you think to sacrifice yourself?" Henry asked. His voice was kind now. He smiled, too, confusing Madelyne. "I don't imagine Duncan will go along with your plan."
"This matter is most complicated," Madelyne whispered.
"You've told me you trust me. I will aid your cause, my dear."
Madelyne nodded. She started to curtsy and then decided to kneel. "I thank you for your help."
"Stand, Madelyne. I am not your king."
"I wish that you were," Madelyne confessed. Her head was bowed but she let Henry help her to her feet.
Henry didn't respond to her traitorous remark. He walked over to the door. Before he opened it, he turned back to Madelyne. "Wishes do come true, Madelyne."
Madelyne frowned over Henry's odd comment. "Show loyalty to neither side when we walk into the hall, Madelyne. Let everyone speculate until you're called to speak. I'll stay by your side."
With those words Henry left.
Two hours passed before the king's brother came back to fetch her. She walked next to him, her hands down at her sides, her back stiff. She prayed she gave a serene appearance. And she thought she'd die if she didn't see Duncan soon. She needed to know he was near.
When she and Henry walked into the main hall, she realized they were late. Most of the guests had already eaten and servants were clearing the tables.
She could feel everyone staring at her. Madelyne met their curious gazes with a tranquil expression. It was the most difficult pretense, and all because she'd slowly looked around the room and couldn't find Duncan in the crowd.
Her husband stood against the far wall. Gilard and Edmond stood by his side. Duncan watched his wife walk into the hall. She looked composed, and very, very beautiful. She was wearing the gown she'd been married in. The memory of that blessed event saved Duncan from charging after her.
"She holds herself like a queen," Gilard whispered.
"She isn't awkward now," Edmond lamented.
Duncan made that announcement as he started forward. Gilard and Edmond immediately blocked his path. "She'll come to you, Duncan. Give Henry time."
Louddon was speaking to Madelyne now. Henry had turned to speak with an old acquaintance.
"I'll thrust my blade into your back if you take one step toward Baron Wexton," Louddon threatened. "And give the order to kill your precious priest as well."
"Tell me this," she asked, surprising her brother with the anger in her voice. "Will you also kill Duncan and his brothers, and all his allies too?"
Louddon couldn't restrain himself. He grabbed hold of Madelyne's arm. "Don't test me, Madelyne. I've more power than any other man in England."
"More power than our king?" said Henry.
Louddon jumped visibly. He turned to confront Henry, twisting Madelyne's arm in the process. "I'm your brother's humble advisor, nothing more, nothing less."
Henry showed his displeasure over Louddon's remark. He took hold of Madelyne's hand, knocking Louddon's own away. Henry then stared at the red marks on Madelyne's arm a long, silent minute. When he looked back at Louddon, his eyes seemed to mirror his disgust. "I'm going to introduce your sister to a few of our loyal friends."
His voice was hard, challenging. Louddon backed away. He gave his sister another threatening glare and then nodded to Henry.
"What did he say to you?" Henry demanded.
"He promises to kill my uncle Berton if I take one step toward Duncan."
"He bluffs, Madelyne. He can't do anything now, not in front of his peers. And tomorrow it will be too late. You'll have to trust me to know what I'm talking about."
Clarissa had obviously seen Louddon dismissed by Henry. She strolled over to greet Madelyne.
"I was going to show Madelyne my brother's impressive gardens," Henry told her.
"Oh, I'd love to see the garden as well," Clarissa announced.
Her plan to stay by Madelyne's side was easily seen through. Henry immediately foiled her. "Another time, perhaps?" he said.
Clarissa wasn't able to hide the hatred from her gaze. She turned without saying another word and walked away.
Madelyne walked by Henry's side toward the doors leading onto the terrace. "Who is that man speaking to Edmond?" she asked then. "The one with the bright hair. He has the most unsettled look on his face."
Henry quickly located the man. "He is Baron Rhinehold."
"Is he married? Does he have a family?" Madelyne asked, trying not to sound too curious.