"He never took a wife," Henry said. "Why do you take this interest in Rhinehold?"

"He knew my mother," Madelyne answered. She continued to look at Baron Rhinehold, waiting for him to glance her way. When he finally looked at her, Madelyne gave him a smile.


Though she knew it wasn't possible, she wished she could spend a few minutes alone with the baron. According to Clarissa, Rhinehold was Madelyne's father, and the reason Rachael's husband hated her.

Madelyne was a bastard. The truth didn't shame her. No one would ever know the truth, except Duncan, of course, and… dear God, she'd forgotten to tell him.

"Does Duncan call Baron Rhinehold his friend?" Madelyne asked Henry.

"He does," Henry answered. "Why do you ask?"

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Madelyne didn't know how to answer him, and so she sought to change the topic. "I wish I could speak to Duncan for just a moment. I've just remembered something I have need to share with him."

"Luck is on your side, Madelyne. Did you not just see Louddon leave with his friends? He's no doubt going to try one last time to sway our king before the meeting is called. Wait on the terrace and I'll send Duncan to you."

She wasn't kept waiting long.

"Madelyne, it will be over soon," Duncan said as way of greeting. He took her into his arms and kissed her tenderly. "Soon, love, I promise you. Have faith in me, my sweet—"

"Have faith in me, Duncan," Madelyne whispered. "You do, don't you, husband?"

"I do," Duncan answered. "Come, stand by my side when we speak to the king. He should arrive at any moment."

Madelyne shook her head. "Louddon believes I'll trap you. Henry wants my brother to continue to feel confident until the last moment. For that reason I cannot stand by you. Don't frown so, Duncan. It will be over soon enough. And I've the most wonderful news to give you. Why, I've known the truth for several days but there's been so much going on I quite forgot to tell you when I first—"


She realized she was rambling then. "I am illegitimate. What think you of that news, husband?"

Duncan did look surprised. "I'm a bastard, Duncan. Doesn't that please you? God's truth, I am pleased, because it means I'm not related to Louddon at all."

"Who has called you bastard?" Duncan demanded. His voice was soft, yet filled with rage.

"No one. I heard Louddon talking to Clarissa. I always wondered why Louddon and his father had turned against my mother. Now I know the truth. She was carrying a child when she married. She was carrying me." Duncan stared at Madelyne. She thought he might be worried. "Will it matter to you that I'm a bastard?"

"Stop that talk," Duncan told her. He shook his head. But he was smiling and Madelyne's heart was warmed with love. "Wife, you're the only woman in this world who would welcome such news." He tried, yet couldn't contain his laughter.

"Louddon won't tell anyone," Madelyne whispered. "He has freed me and doesn't even know it. Will it matter to you?"

"How can you ask such a question?"

"Because I love you," Madelyne said with a mock sigh. "It doesn't matter if you're upset or not. You have to love me forever, husband. You gave me your word."

"Aye, Madelyne," Duncan answered. "Forever."

The trumpets sounded behind them just as Duncan leaned down to kiss his wife again. "Do you know who is your father perchance?" he asked when he saw the fear return to Madelyne's eyes.

"Rhinehold," Madelyne announced, nodding vigorously when Duncan smiled at her. "You are pleased," she said. "I can see that you are."

"Very pleased," Duncan whispered. "He is a good man."

Henry made the interruption from behind Duncan's back. "It's time," he called out. "Madelyne, come with me now. The king waits."

Duncan could feel Madelyne tremble. He gave her a squeeze before releasing her. When she started to walk away, his mind worked to find something, anything, to ease her worry.

Madelyne had just reached the doorway when Duncan called out to her. "Rhinehold has red hair, wife. As red as fire."

She didn't turn around. " 'Tis more brown than red, Duncan. Surely you can see that."

And then her laughter reached him and he knew she was going to be all right.

Chapter Twenty-three

"… The just is blessed, but the name of the wicked shall rot."

old testament, proverbs, 10:7

Silence descended upon the gathering as William II made his way to his chair positioned atop a platform. When the king sat down, everyone lowered their heads.

The laughter was gone from Madelyne's eyes now. She stood alone in the center of the room. Henry had left her unattended and was now speaking to his brother.

Whatever Henry was saying to the king didn't seem to sit well. She watched as King William suddenly shook his head and waved his hand in front of his brother's face. It was an obvious dismissal.

Madelyne closed her eyes and prayed for courage. Henry had told her that Louddon would present his side of the debate first, Duncan second, and she last of all.

She opened her eyes and found Duncan across the room. He stared at her as he slowly made his way over to her side. Neither said a word, but each looked at the other for a long time. Madelyne felt as though Duncan were giving her some of his strength. She rose up on tiptoe and kissed her husband, in plain sight of anyone who might be watching.

Oh, Lord, how she loved him. Duncan looked so confident, so unconcerned. He even winked at her when the soldier shouted his name.

"Stay here until you're called," Duncan said. He brushed his hand against her cheek before he turned and went to his king.

Madelyne didn't want to obey him. She started to follow, and hadn't gotten very far when she suddenly found herself completely surrounded on all sides by Edmond, Gilard, Gerald, and a number of barons she didn't even know. They made a complete circle around her.

The crowd parted as Duncan and Louddon made their way to stand before their leader. The two men faced each other a good thirty feet apart.

The king spoke, addressing the crowd. He told of his displeasure over these two warring barons, the pity and anger he felt because of slain soldiers, his frustration over hearing so many different accountings of what had truly taken place. The king ended his tirade by demanding the truth. He then nodded to each baron and motioned for Louddon to begin.

Louddon immediately protested innocence of any wrongdoing. He accused Duncan of treachery, stating that the baron had destroyed his fortress, killed as many as two hundred good, loyal men, taken his sister captive, and nearly destroyed her.

Louddon then took the defense, stating that Duncan blamed him for something another man had done to his sister, Adela. He spun a web of lies around the king, reeking with sincerity as he claimed he hadn't even known Baron Wexton was going to challenge him. How could he? He was in court when Duncan and his soldiers attacked his fortress and had witnesses ready to testify to that fact.

Louddon ended his persuasive argument by insisting that Duncan had no evidence of any wrongdoing, while he had plenty of evidence regarding Duncan's foul deeds.

He was as slick as an eel and lied like a whore to his king. He turned cunning next. Louddon explained he understood the king's difficulty in knowing which one to believe and therefore called forth three men to give testimony on his behalf.

When the king nodded, each man Louddon called knelt before their leader and told their lies. Madelyne didn't recognize any of the faces, but she knew their names well. They all shared the same. Aye, each one was Judas.

The last witness finished his obviously rehearsed story and moved to stand behind Louddon. Madelyne grabbed hold of the back of Edmond's tunic and was twisting the edge. Edmond turned, pulled his garment free, and then took hold of Madelyne's hand. Gilard grabbed hold of her other hand.

They offered her their comfort. Neither brother had expected the king to allow witnesses. Both were furious, and worried too. And both tried to hide their feelings from Madelyne.

Louddon stepped forward again. He bowed, added a few more of his obscene truths, and finished his version by dramatically pleading for true justice.

It was Baron Wexton's turn to speak. The king was obviously on good terms with his vassal, for he called him Duncan when he commanded him to tell his version.

Duncan was a man of few words. He quickly stated the facts. He didn't call any witnesses but explained that Louddon had abused Adela, tried to kill him, and he had retaliated in kind. It was evident to everyone in the hall that Duncan wasn't pleading for justice. He was demanding it.

"You have witnesses to bring forth to verify your accounting?" the king asked.

"I have given you the truth," Duncan answered. His voice was hard, controlled. "I need no witnesses to verify my honesty."

"You have each charged the other with ill conduct. There are still questions to be settled in my mind."

"He is caught in the middle," Gilard whispered to Edmond.

Edmond nodded. Each man did contradict the other. Edmond thought the king wanted to rule in Duncan's favor. Yet Louddon had balanced the scale in his favor by bringing witnesses to lie on his behalf. Duncan was a loyal vassal, a warrior as well, who could become a threat if he felt his king had betrayed him.

It was an insult to ask Duncan to have others testify on his behalf. He had told the truth. The king would either believe him or not.

Edmond let out a ragged sigh. Duncan wouldn't play the game now. He was stubborn in his belief that he'd acted honorably in the past and that the king would believe him now.

Yet Louddon had also made a valid point in his maze of lies. Duncan had married Madelyne without gaining permission. That was an insignificant breach, but destroying another baron's fortress and killing over two hundred soldiers was a more serious charge.

Duncan had stated that Louddon had tried to trap him twice, but those charges couldn't be proven. Gilard could testify to one battle, true, yet he couldn't state for fact that Louddon had been behind the attack.

Gerald could also testify against Louddon when the second trap was set, but Morcar could be blamed. Louddon hadn't been there either.

Edmond cleared his mind when Madelyne's name was called. He turned to look at her.

Madelyne straightened her shoulders, composed her expression, and slowly walked toward the king. She stopped when she reached the platform and then knelt down with her head bowed.

"Your brother has convinced me that you have been through too much pain to give me your accounting now," the king announced. "I therefore release you from this duty."

Madelyne took to her feet and stared in astonishment at the king. She understood now why Louddon was looking so confident all evening. He'd already made certain that she wouldn't be allowed to speak.

"I am one of your loyal subjects," Madelyne announced. She could tell she had the king's full attention, for his eyes did seem to widen. "Though I do not have an army of vassals to give you aid, I would do anything within my power to serve you. I would like to answer your questions."

The king immediately nodded. "You do not seem distraught, as your brother has indicated," he announced. He leaned forward said in lowered voice, "Would you prefer that I empty the hall before you tell me all that has happened to you?"

Madelyne was surprised by the gentle tone the king used with her. "I do not prefer it," she whispered.

"Then tell me what you can about this puzzle."

Madelyne obeyed. She folded her hands in front of her, took a calming breath, and then began her recounting.

It was quiet enough to hear a mouse nibble on cheese. "I would begin with the night of the attack on my brother's fortress if you wish," she said.

"That would be good enough," the king said. "I know it will be difficult for you, gentle lady, but I would have more light shed on this problem."

Madelyne wished the king weren't being so kind to her. It made her task all the more difficult. "My husband says you are an honorable man," she whispered.

William leaned forward in his chair again. He was the only one who heard what she said. "I am many things to many people," he boasted. He kept his voice as low as Madelyne's, wishing only to share his comments with her. "I believe I am honorable to everyone, even gentle ladies who have no armies to help my cause."

Madelyne gifted the king with a smile.

"Now, begin your tale," the king commanded, his tone loud enough for all to hear.

"I was on my way up to my chambers when one of my brother's soldiers announced to Louddon that Baron Wexton wished to speak with him."

"Louddon was there?" the king asked.

"He was," Madelyne said. "I heard him tell the soldier to let Duncan inside the gates under the sign of truce. It was a trap, of course, for as soon as Duncan rode inside the fortress, he was taken captive. My brother told his vassal he was going to kill Duncan. He thought himself very clever, you see, because he'd come up with a plan to kill the baron by freezing him to death."

Louddon let out a gasp. He started toward Madelyne, but stopped when he noticed Duncan reach for his sword. "She doesn't know what she's talking about," Louddon stammered out. "Madelyne is too distraught to know what she's saying. Release her from this ordeal!"

The king waved his hand for silence. Louddon took a deep breath. He calmed himself when he realized that the rest of Madelyne's story would be in his favor.

"There will be no more interruptions," the king shouted. He turned back to Madelyne, gave her a curt nod. "Continue, if you please, by explaining this clever plan to freeze my baron to death. I do not understand."

"Louddon didn't want to use a weapon on the baron. Once he'd died from the freezing temperature, the men would take his body to a remote area and leave it there until someone found him or until wild animals got to him. They stripped him of his clothes and tied him to a post in the courtyard."

Madelyne paused to take another deep breath. "Louddon left for London. He left some of his men to guard Duncan, but they couldn't take the cold, and finally went inside. As soon as they left, I untied Duncan."

"And did his soldiers attack the fortress then?"

"They gained entrance by climbing over the walls. Their duty was to protect their lord," Madelyne said.

"I see."

Madelyne didn't know what that meant. She glanced over to look at Louddon, saw him smirk, and then looked over at Duncan. Her husband nodded encouragement to her.

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