"They came inside, you say?" the king asked after a long minute.
"A fight began," Madelyne said.
"And then you were taken captive?"
"In truth, I was given freedom from my brother's mistreatment. He did like to hurt me, and as God is my witness, I tired of his abuse."
A surprised murmur rolled through the crowd. "Baron Wexton took me with him. I was afraid of Louddon and I confess again to you that for the first time in my life, I really felt safe. Duncan is an honorable man. He treated me well. I never feared he would hurt me. Never."
The king glared at Louddon a long minute and then turned back to Madelyne. "Who burned his home to the ground? Or was it burned at all?"
His voice had risen in volume.
"Duncan destroyed my fortress," Louddon shouted.
"Silence" the king roared. "Your sister is giving her accounting and she's the only one I wish to hear. Answer this question," he added to Madelyne.
"Louddon destroyed his own home when he dishonored the sign of truce," Madelyne announced.
The king sighed. He looked weary now. "Then I can assume your virtue wasn't taken from you?"
Madelyne all but shouted her answer. "He didn't touch me."
Another low murmur escaped the crowd. Everyone was quite spellbound by the strange tale unfolding.
Until that moment Madelyne hadn't actually spoken a lie. "Duncan didn't touch me, but I've promised to speak the full truth and so I'll confess to you that I did try to take advantage of his good nature. 'Tis the truth that I did eventually seduce him."
A gasp replaced the murmur now. Madelyne thought she heard Duncan groan. The king looked ready to scream. Duncan was suddenly standing next to Madelyne, and his hand covered her mouth. She guessed he wanted her to stop.
When she nudged him, Duncan moved his hand back to rest on her shoulder.
"Do you realize how you defame yourself, my dear woman?" the king bellowed.
"I love Duncan," Madelyne answered. "And I wasn't able to seduce him until we were married."
The king turned to scowl at Louddon again. "Your charge that your sister was defiled I now deny. I've only to look at her to see she speaks the truth."
The king then asked Madelyne, "What about your husband's charge that Louddon defiled his sister?"
"It is true," Madelyne said. "Adela told me what happened to her. Morcar attacked her, but Louddon was there too. It was his plan and he was therefore just as responsible."
"I see." The king looked furious. He continued to question Madelyne a long while. She fenced with her answers, yet always spoke the truth.
"My husband acted with courage, my brother with deceit," Madelyne said.
She sagged against Duncan's side when she was finally finished.
"Do you have anything further to say to me?" the king asked Louddon.
Louddon could barely speak. His face was mottled with fury. "My sister boldly lies to you," he stammered.
"Isn't this the same sister you praised to me as always speaking the truth?" he yelled.
Louddon didn't answer him. The king turned back to Madelyne. "You are loyal to your husband. An admirable trait. Do you tell me truths now or do you protect Duncan?"
Before Madelyne could answer, the king turned to Duncan. "Do you have anything further to add to this?"
"Only that it was an equal seduction," Duncan commented. His voice was mild now. "And thoroughly satisfying."
A roar of approval echoed through the hall. The king smiled.
He stood then and gave his decision. "Louddon, you have betrayed my confidence in you. You are now stripped of all duties and forever banned from my court."
He turned to Duncan next. "My brother, Henry, has suggested a time to cool your anger. I am displeased over the havoc caused and the lives lost, but I accept that you were retaliating in measure for your sister's honor. Perhaps a month with the Scots would be sufficient time."
Madelyne felt Duncan stiffen against her. She took hold of his hand and squeezed it, begging him to keep silent.
"If, when you return, you still wish to challenge Louddon and the men who stand with him in this matter, I will allow a fight to the death. The choice of confronting will belong to you."
Duncan didn't immediately accept or reject the order. He didn't like waiting to challenge Louddon.
He felt Madelyne tremble. Her fear made the decision for him. "I will leave immediately."
The king nodded. "I've released Louddon from his duties, Duncan. I've given him a month to hide from you," he admitted.
"I'll find him."
The king smiled. "Of that I have no doubt"
Duncan bowed to his king. William then left the room, with Louddon chasing after him.
"I would have a few words with you, wife," Duncan whispered.
Madelyne tried to smile at her husband. His face was masked. She couldn't tell if he was angry or just irritated. "I am very tired, Duncan. And you did tell the king we would leave immediately."
"You wouldn't leave me here, would you?" she asked, clearly appalled.
"I would not."
"Do not tease me," she muttered. "I have been through an ordeal."
Baron Rhinehold interrupted the discussion. "Your wife equals you in courage, Duncan. She faced our king and told him her story. Why, her voice never wavered."
"And what did she tell him?" Duncan asked, his voice mild.
Baron Rhinehold smiled. "That is the question, isn't it? I listened to her explanation and am still confused as to who burned what, who attacked and who retreated… and still I haven't the faintest idea of what happened."
"You have just described my life with Madelyne," Duncan announced. His voice sounded pained now.
Duncan looked down at Madelyne and saw how she stared at the baron. "I've forgotten to introduce you," he realized out loud. "Baron, this is my wife, Madelyne. I understand that you knew her mother?"
The baron nodded. "Your wife looks like Rachael," he said. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Baroness."
He had such a nice smile. Madelyne could feel herself getting emotional. She forced a smile and said, "I would like to speak to you about my mother, Baron. Perhaps, when we return from our temporary exile, you would pay us a visit."
"I would be honored," Rhinehold said.
There wasn't any more time to talk with the baron. The other allies came to express their pleasure over the outcome. Madelyne stood by Duncan's side, holding his hand, wishing he'd tell her what he thought about this encounter.
Duncan ignored her. He turned when Gerald joined them and stated that they would ride in one hour's time.
"Duncan? Is there time for me to gather my things from my room?" Madelyne asked.
"You wear the clothes on your back, wife."
Madelyne sighed. "You're angry then?" she asked.
Duncan looked down at his wife. Her eyes were misty and she chewed on her lower lip. He slowly shook his head. "Seduce me? My God, you told the king you seduced me. When you decide to tell a falsehood, you aren't the least timid." He grinned at her while he rebuked her.
"It wasn't a falsehood," Madelyne said. "I did want you to kiss me and I never liked it when you stopped. That is a bit of a seduction, isn't it, Duncan? And I kissed you that first night. You only responded in kind, husband. Aye, it was the truth. I did seduce you."
"If you'd told the full truth, I would have been able to challenge Louddon now," Duncan pointed out.
"Oh, I know how that works," Madelyne said. "You both contradicted each other. The king would have put you in a lake, with your hands and feet tied to stones. And if you sank to the bottom, then he'd know you spoke the truth. Of course you'd be dead, but your honor would be intact. Well, I don't want to go to bed at night with your honor for company. I want you alive and well. What say you to that, husband?"
Though she tried, she couldn't help the tears that escaped.
Duncan was staring at her with the most astonished expression on his face.
"Madelyne," he said, drawing her name out in an exaggerated sigh, "warriors are not put to such trials. The church uses that method, not the king."
Duncan felt like laughing. He took Madelyne into his arms, smiled when he heard her mutter, "I have been through an ordeal."
"You have a heart of gold," he said. "Come, wife. I have the urge to let you seduce me."
Madelyne was in complete agreement with his plan.
They made camp almost four hours later. Madelyne was weary. Clarissa had intercepted her just as she was leaving with Duncan. The vile, angry words she'd yelled at Madelyne still echoed in her mind.
Duncan left her by a stream he'd found while he saw to protecting his camp. Madelyne was in his sight at all times however. As long as Louddon was alive, Duncan wasn't going to leave Madelyne's side.
Madelyne washed as best she could under the circumstances and then returned to the campsite. Duncan had just finished building a tent for the two of them. It was a short distance away from the contingent of men traveling with them.
"Will Father Berton be safe enough? Or do you think you should increase the number of men guarding him?" she asked Duncan.
"He will be fine," Duncan said. "I left the fittest men in charge. Don't worry, love."
Madelyne nodded. "Do you remember the first night we slept together?"
"I remember it well."
"I thought the fire was too close and worried our tent would catch flame," she said.
"You worried about everything," Duncan told her. He untied the roped belt resting against her hips. "You slept with your clothes on that night."
"I protected my virtue," Madelyne said. "I hadn't known then that I really wanted to seduce you." She laughed over the disgruntled look on her husband's face.
"I protected your virtue," Duncan countered.
Madelyne settled herself on top of the animal skins. It was a cool, accommodating evening. The breeze refreshed and the bright moon gave them a soft light.
"Take your clothes off, Madelyne," Duncan told her. He'd already stripped out of his tunic and his boots.
Madelyne wanted to do just that, but she worried about the men. She tugged Duncan's hand. When he was leaning over her, she whispered to him, "We can't make love this night. Your soldiers would see us."
Duncan shook his head. "No one can see us, wife. I want you. Now." He showed her he meant what he said by kissing her soundly. Madelyne sighed into his mouth as she wound her arms around his neck. She opened her mouth, rubbed her tongue against his, instinctively arching against him.
"You make too much noise," Madelyne whispered when Duncan ended the kiss and began to nibble on her earlobe.
She shivered in reaction to the pleasure he gave her. Duncan chuckled. "You are the one who screams for fulfillment, love," Duncan told her. "I'm too disciplined to make a sound."
"Is that the truth?" Madelyne asked. Her hand slowly caressed a line to his throbbing arousal.
Duncan forgot what they were talking about. He caught her mouth again while he roughly pulled on the hem of her gown. He wanted her heat, and when his fingers probed the satin folds shielding the very core of her femininity, he knew she wanted him. She was moist with heat, and arched against him when he thrust his fingers inside.
Their clothes were discarded in wild abandon. Duncan didn't want to calm his ardor. He needed Madelyne now, and he could tell from her uninhibited response that she didn't want tenderness. Aye, she needed him to forget all restraint.
Duncan silenced her moans by covering her mouth with his. He settled himself between her thighs, penetrated her. She drove him to the brink of fulfillment with her erotic whimpers of pleasure, goaded him toward spilling his seed into her with her pleas and her nails digging into his shoulders. When Duncan couldn't hold back any longer, he slid his hand between their bodies and stroked her into cl**ax.
Duncan wanted to shout with his release. He couldn't, of course, and claimed Madelyne's mouth again, trapping her own scream.
"I love you, wife," he whispered later, when she was cuddled up against his side.
"I love you too, Duncan," Madelyne said. She was content to rest against her husband for several more minutes. Then she asked, "Did I embarrass you in court when I said I seduced you?"
Duncan smiled against the top of her head. Madelyne turned, bumping him.
"I do not get embarrassed," he announced. His voice was laced with arrogance. "Women become embarrassed."
Madelyne smiled. "What do warriors become?"
"Tired," he said. "They become exhausted after making love to their wives."
"Are you suggesting I go to sleep now?"
"Then I will, of course obey your suggestion after just one more question." She heard him sigh but ignored it. "Who were those men who lied for my brother? Were they barons?"
"They were not barons, only men who have joined your brother against me," Duncan said.
"Then they have no following? No armies of their own?"
Duncan hesitated a long minute. "They have no armies, Madelyne. Yet there are many unscrupulous men who would join them if given enough incentive. Louddon doesn't have enough gold at his disposal now to cause much of a threat."
Madelyne was content with his answer. She put the worry of Louddon aside. "Duncan? You'll be able to meet my cousin, Edwythe, when we go to Scotland. I was going to live with her. That was the plan I'd formed before I met you."
"You'll be able to meet my sister, Catherine," Duncan said. His voice sounded sleepy.
"Your sister is married to a Scot?" she asked. Her voice sounded incredulous.
"Does her husband…"
"No, he doesn't have red hair," Duncan interjected.
"I wasn't going to ask that," Madelyne protested. "I just wondered if Catherine and her husband might know Edwythe."
Duncan's deep, even breathing told her he'd fallen asleep. When he began to snore, she was certain. Madelyne snuggled up against him.
She had the most wonderful dreams that night. They were dreams of the innocent.