Now this warrior tried to mock the gentleness right out of her.

Well, she wasn't going to let that happen. Duncan wasn't going to make her lose her temper now, no matter how much he grinned over her aches and pains.


She stared into his eyes, determined not to flinch this time. He was looking at her intently, as if he thought he might find an answer to some unsolved puzzle that was bothering him.

His gaze slowly lowered, until he was staring at her mouth, and she wondered over that until she realized she was staring at his.

She blushed, yet didn't know why. "Gilard is wrong. I'm not simpleminded."

His grin, damn his black soul, widened.

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"You may let go of me now." She gave him what she hoped was a haughty look.

"You'll fall on your face if I do," Duncan announced.

"And would that give you pleasure?" she asked, trying her best to keep her voice as whisper-soft as his had been when he made the disgraceful comment.

Duncan shrugged and suddenly let go.

Oh, he was a horrible man all right. He knew exactly what was going to happen. Madelyne would have fallen on her backside if she hadn't grabbed hold of his arm. Her legs could not seem to remember what their duty was. "I'm not accustomed to riding for such long hours."

He didn't think she was accustomed to riding at all. Lord, she confused him. Without a doubt Lady Madelyne was the most perplexing woman he'd ever encountered. She was graceful when she walked, but could be incredibly clumsy too. She'd bumped her head against his chin so many times, he thought the top of her head must surely be bruised.

Madelyne didn't have any idea what he was thinking. But he was smiling at her and that was a worry. She was finally able to let go of him. She turned her back on him then and slowly made her way into the forest to find privacy. She knew she was moving like an old woman and prayed Duncan wasn't watching.

When she returned from the dense, wooded area, she circled the men, determined to work the aches and cramps out of her legs before she was forced back on Silenus again. She stopped when she reached the far corner of the triangular area, and stared down at the valley they'd just climbed.

Duncan didn't seem to be in any particular hurry to set out again. That didn't make sense to Madelyne, for she remembered how irritated he'd been when Gilard demanded they stop. Now he acted as though they had all the time in the world. Madelyne shook her head. Duncan of Wexton was the most confusing man she'd ever met.

She decided to be thankful for this respite. She needed a few more minutes alone to clear her mind of her worries; a few precious minutes of peaceful solitude to get her emotions under control.

The day was nearly gone, for the sun was setting now. Glorious streaks of bright orange and faded red lined the sky, arching downward, giving her the impression that they touched the ground in some distant spot. There was such beauty in the starkness of coming winter; each season held its own special treasures. Madelyne tried to ignore the noise behind her and concentrate on the beauty below, when her attention was caught by a spark of light that suddenly appeared through the trees.

The blink of light disappeared a second later. Curious, she moved to the right, until she captured the light again. Odd, but the spark seemed to come from another direction farther down the valley now.

The lights suddenly multiplied, until it appeared as if a hundred candles had all been lit at the same instant. They flickered and blinked.

The distance was great but the sun acted like a mirror, bringing the sparks closer and closer. Like fire, she thought… or metal.

She understood then. Only men wearing armor could account for such reflections.

And there were hundreds of them.

Chapter Five

"The wicked flee when no man pursueth; but the righteous

are us bold as a lion."

old testament, proverbs, 28:1

Dear God, they were going to be attacked. Madelyne was too stunned to move. She started to tremble with fear. That infuriated her, losing her control so quickly. Madelyne threw back her shoulders, determined to think logically. She took a deep, calming breath. There, she told herself, now I can decide what to do.

Oh, how she wished she had courage. Her hands had begun to cramp and she realized she was gripping the folds of her cloak with such force, her fingers ached from the pressure.

Madelyne shook her head, praying for divine help in making up her mind.

It certainly wasn't her duty as a captive to alert Duncan to the approaching threat. She could keep silent, and as soon as the battle began, make her own escape.

That possibility was soon discarded when she realized there'd be more killing. If she told Duncan, perhaps they could hurry to leave this place. Aye, they could gain distance if they left immediately, and the battle would be denied. Wasn't saving lives more important than her own escape plans?

Madelyne made up her mind to intercede. She picked up the hem of her gown and ran in search of her captor. She thought it was ironic that she would be the one to give the warning of the coming attack.

Duncan was standing in a circle of soldiers, Gilard right beside him. Madelyne edged around the men and stopped when she was behind Duncan's back. "Baron, I would have a word with you," Madelyne interrupted. Her voice cracked with tension and held little volume. Surely that was the reason he ignored her petition. He just hadn't heard her.

"I must speak to you." Madelyne repeated her request in a much louder voice. She then dared to nudge his shoulder once.

Duncan continued to ignore her.

Madelyne nudged him again, harder.

Duncan increased his voice as he continued to speak to his men on some subject Madelyne knew had to be paltry in comparison to what she was trying to tell him.

Lord, he was stubborn. Madelyne wrung her hands together, growing more alarmed by the second, sick with worry that the soldiers climbing the hills would be upon them any moment now.

The frustration of waiting for him to acknowledge her suddenly became too much to bear. Anger took control. Utilizing every ounce of strength she possessed, she kicked him quite thoroughly. Her aim was the back of his right knee, her mark most accurate.

Madelyne realized the foolishness of her rash action when excruciating pain shot up her leg. Her toes were surely broken from the impact, and the only consolation for her self-inflicted pain was the fact that she did get his attention. Rather swiftly too. Duncan turned to her with the speed of a wolf ready to pounce.

He looked more astonished than furious. His hands were on his hips, fisted, she couldn't help but notice. Madelyne, grimacing from the pain in her toes, now found it just as painful to look directly up at his face. She turned to stare at Gilard instead, and that did ease her discomfort, for the younger brother had the most ridiculous expression on his face.

"I would like a word with you in private," Madelyne stated when she was finally able to look at Duncan again.

Duncan was curious over the worry he'd heard in her voice. He nodded, took hold of her arm, and dragged her over to the other side of the camp.

Madelyne tripped twice.

He sighed once, long and drawn out it was, and she knew it was all for her benefit

Madelyne didn't care if he tried to make her feel as unimportant as a splinter under his skin. He certainly wouldn't think her interruption was a nuisance when she explained. Why, he might even be appreciative, though in her heart she doubted he was capable of that reaction.

More important, killing would be averted. That thought gave her courage to look him right in the eye. "There are men coming from the valley," she said.

She expected an immediate reaction to her statement. Yet Duncan just stared at her. He didn't show her any reaction at all.

She was forced to repeat her words. "Soldiers are coming up the hills. I could see the sun reflected from their shields. Think you should do something about it?"

Was it going to be an eternity before action was taken? Madelyne considered that possibility while she waited for Duncan to say something.

He was staring at her in the most disturbing way, his hard, angular face clearly showing his puzzlement. She thought she saw cynicism there as well, in those chilling gray eyes. Madelyne decided then that he was trying to decide if she was telling him the truth.

"I have never spoken a falsehood in my life, Baron. If you'll follow me, I'll show you that I speak the truth."

Duncan watched the lovely woman standing so proudly before him. Wide blue eyes looked up at him with such trust. Tendrils of auburn-colored hair floated across her cheeks. There was a smudge of dirt on the side of her nose, drawing his attention.

"Why do you give me this warning?" Duncan asked.

"Why? So that we could get away from here," Madelyne answered. She frowned over his bizarre question. "I don't want any more killings."

Duncan nodded, content with her answer. He motioned to Gilard. His younger brother had been standing off to the side, trying to hear what was being said.

"Lady Madelyne has only just realized we're being followed," Duncan remarked.

Gilard showed his surprise. He hadn't realized they were being followed. He turned to look at Madelyne. "We're being followed? How long have you known, Duncan?"

"Since midday," Duncan answered with a shrug.

"They be outcasts?" Gilard inquired. His voice was mild now in an attempt to imitate his brother's nonchalant attitude. Inside, Gilard was irritated over Duncan's silence throughout the afternoon. Yet he was puzzled, too, wondering why Madelyne had given them warning.

"They aren't outcasts, Gilard."

A long, silent moment stretched between the two brothers before a look of comprehension came over Gilard's face. "Does the rat chase after the wolf?" he asked.

"God willing, he'll be leading his men this time," Duncan answered.

Gilard smiled. Duncan nodded. "I'd thought to meet them nearer to home, at Creek Crossing, but the hills below us give much the same advantage. Tell the men to prepare."

Gilard turned and hurried across the clearing, shouting the order to mount.

Madelyne was too appalled to speak. Her plan to give warning so that a battle could be averted evaporated when Gilard's laughter reached her. She hadn't understood what the brothers' exchanges meant though. They spoke in riddles, talking about rats and wolves, making no sense at all.

"Then I was correct," Madelyne blurted out. "You're really no different than Louddon, are you?"

Duncan ignored her angry outburst. "Mount my horse, Madelyne. We'll meet your brother together."

Madelyne was too infuriated to argue. She told herself she should have realized Duncan wouldn't turn his back on a fight. Hadn't she learned that lesson when she'd tried to persuade him into leaving Louddon's land?

Before she realized what she'd done, she found herself settled on Silenus's back. Her anger had made her forget all about her fear. She couldn't even remember from which side she'd mounted the horse.

Duncan walked over, grabbed hold of the reins, and began to lead the animal across the clearing.

Madelyne held on to the saddle for dear life, her shoulders bent to the task. The stirrups were too long for her feet to catch, and her backside was being slapped with each step the animal took. She knew she looked pitifully untrained and was thankful Duncan wasn't watching her. "By what name do you call this horse?" Madelyne asked.

"Horse," Duncan called over his shoulder. "The animal is a horse and that is what I call him."

"Just as I suspected. You're so cold and heartless, you couldn't even take the time to name your loyal steed. I have given him a name. Silenus. What think you of that?" she asked.

Duncan refused to answer. He should have been irritated that Madelyne had the gall to name his stallion, but his thoughts had already turned to the battle ahead of them. He wouldn't allow himself to be bothered by such insignificant talk.

Madelyne smiled to herself, feeling pleased with the way she'd just goaded him. Then Ansel appeared at her side with another horse, a flecked gray mount that looked much more docile than Silenus. Duncan turned, threw the reins to Madelyne, and mounted the back of the gray.

The smile froze on Madelyne's face. She caught the reins, overwhelmed when it dawned on her that he expected her to direct the animal. The stallion must have caught her worry, for he immediately began to dance to the side. His heavy hooves stomped the ground with enough force to unseat Madelyne. She was sorry now she had done such a good job of pretending to be skilled.

Gilard appeared on Madelyne's other side, riding a brown steed. He forced his mount close to the stallion, effectively blocking the animal's skittish sidestep.

"They still be some distance away," Gilard remarked to his brother over the top of Madelyne's head. "Do we wait for them, brother?"

"No," Duncan answered. "We'll meet them halfway."

The soldiers were lining up behind the threesome, making a terrible commotion. Madelyne thought Duncan waited until the sound diminished before giving the signal.

"I'll stay here until you return," Madelyne told Duncan. Her voice sounded desperate. Duncan glanced over at her, shook his head, and then turned back to look down into the valley.

"I'm going to stay here," Madelyne announced.

"You are not." He didn't even bother to look at her when he made the harsh denial.

"You could tie me to a tree," Madelyne suggested.

"Ah, Lady Madelyne, you wouldn't want to deny Louddon the sight of your lovely face, now, would you?" Gilard asked the question with a smile on his face. "I promise it will be the last he sees before he dies," the brother added.

"You'll both enjoy this battle, won't you?" Madelyne asked. She was so appalled, her voice shook.

"'Tis a fact I will enjoy it," Gilard answered with a shrug.

"I think you are as crazed as your brother, Gilard."

"You know we've good reason to want your brother dead," Gilard announced. The smile slowly left his face. "Just as you must surely want us dead." He mocked her with his statement, a deliberate sneer in his voice.

Madelyne turned to Duncan to see how he was reacting to his brother's remark, but the baron didn't seem to be paying any attention to their conversation. She turned back to Gilard then. "I understand why you want to kill Louddon. I don't want you or your brother to die in this confrontation, Gilard," she added. "Why would you think that I would?"

Gilard frowned in confusion. "What kind of fool do you take me for, Lady Madelyne? Do you try to tell me you won't take Louddon's side. Louddon is your brother."

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