Madelyne turned and closed the door, and almost made it to the bed before she started to weep.
Duncan immediately went back to the hall. He intended to command cooperation from his brothers on his plan for Madelyne.
Edmond and Gilard were still sitting at the table, sharing a jug of ale between them. Adela had, thankfully, already left the hall.
When Duncan sat down, Gilard passed the jug to Duncan just as Edmond challenged him. "Are we Wextons now going to have to protect Louddon's sister from one of our own?"
"Madelyne hasn't done anything to Adela," Gilard defended. "She's nothing like her brother and you damn well know it, Edmond. We've treated her shamefully, yet she hasn't spoken a single word of protest."
"Don't play Madelyne's champion to me," Edmond returned. "She is courageous," he admitted with a shrug. "You've already recounted the story of how she saved your backside during the battle, Gilard. God, you've retold it so many times, I know it by heart," he added, looking at Duncan now. "The issue isn't Madelyne's character, however. Her presence upsets Adela."
"Aye," Duncan interjected. "And that pleases me."
"What say you?" Edmond demanded.
"Edmond, before you lose your temper, answer me this. When did Adela last speak to you?"
"In London, right after we found her," Edmond answered. His voice sounded with irritation, but Duncan wasn't offended by it.
"Gilard? When did your sister last speak to you?"
"'Tis the same as Edmond," Gilard answered, frowning. "She told me what happened and that was all. You know she hasn't spoken a word to anyone since that night."
"Until this evening," Duncan reminded them. "Adela spoke to Madelyne."
"And you view this as a good sign?" Edmond asked, his voice incredulous. "Adela finally speaks, aye, but only of murder, brother. Good God, our sweet sister vows to kill Madelyne. I don't see this as recovery."
"Adela is coming back to us," Duncan explained. "There's anger now, so fierce it all but consumes her mind, but I think, with Madelyne's help, Adela will begin to heal."
Edmond shook his head. "When our sister Catherine came to visit, Adela wouldn't even look at her. Why do you think Madelyne can help when Adela's own sister couldn't?"
Duncan was hard pressed to put his feelings into explanation. He wasn't at all accustomed to discussing anything of significance with his two younger brothers. Nay, his usual custom was to issue commands, expecting each and every one to be carried out to his satisfaction. Duncan ruled his house just as he ruled his men, and in much the same manner as his father had ruled. The only exception to this sacred law was when he trained with his men. Then Duncan became an active participant as well as their instructor, demanding only from each soldier those feats he'd already accomplished himself.
Yet this was certainly not a usual circumstance. His brothers deserved to know what Duncan thought to do. Adela was also their sister. Aye, it was also their right to voice their opinions.
"I say we send for Catherine again," Edmond interjected, a stubborn set to his jaw.
"It isn't necessary," Duncan stated. "Madelyne will help Adela. We've only to give her direction," he added with a hint of a smile. "Madelyne is the only one who'll understand what's going on inside Adela's mind. Eventually our sister will turn to her."
"Aye, Duncan, Adela will turn to your Madelyne all right, but with a dagger in her hand and killing in her mind. We'll have to take every precaution."
"I don't want Madelyne placed in jeopardy," Gilard remarked. "I think we should have left her behind. Louddon would have found her soon enough. And she isn't Duncan's Madelyne, Edmond. We are all equally responsible for her." voice was soft but the challenge was there, in the set of his shoulders and the way he stared at his brother.
Gilard reluctantly nodded agreement. Edmond watched the exchange between his brothers. He wasn't at all pleased by the possessive tone in Duncan's voice.
Edmond was suddenly in complete agreement with Gilard, a rarity, for Gilard and Edmond usually took opposing viewpoints in nearly all matters of substance. "Perhaps Madelyne should have remained behind," he said, thinking to next bring up the possibility of returning her as soon as possible.
Duncan's fist hit the table with enough force to overturn the ale. The jug would have toppled off the table had Gilard not reacted so quickly.
"Madelyne isn't going anywhere, Edmond. I'll not ask again, brother. Do you back me in this decision?"
A long moment of silence stretched between the two brothers.
"So that's the way of it," Edmond finally said. Duncan nodded. Gilard watched the exchange, perplexed. He'd obviously missed something but couldn't understand what it was.
"Aye, that is the way of it," Duncan acknowledged. "Do you think to challenge me on this?"
Edmond sighed. He shook his head. "I do not. I stand behind you, Duncan, though I would advise you of the problems this decision will bring."
"It wouldn't sway me, Edmond." Duncan didn't look disposed to explaining the conversation. Gilard decided to wait until he had Edmond alone, and then find out what was going on. Besides, another comment had nagged him into a quick question. "Duncan? What did you mean when you said Madelyne only need be directed toward helping Adela?"
Duncan finally turned to look at Gilard. He was pleased by Edmond's support, and his mood was therefore lightened. "Madelyne has had experiences that will help her with our sister. My suggestion is to place the two together as often as possible. Edmond, it will be your duty to escort your sister to dinner each night. Gilard, you'll bring Madelyne. She isn't as frightened of you."
"She's afraid of me?" Edmond sounded incredulous.
Duncan ignored the question, though he gave Edmond an irritated look to let him know he'd little liking for being interrupted. "It isn't significant if either Adela or Madelyne wishes to decline. Drag them if you have to, but eat together they will."
"Adela will destroy our gentle Madelyne," Gilard rushed out. "Why, sweet Madelyne could never hold her own against—"
"Sweet Madelyne has a temper as fierce as a winter gale, Gilard." Duncan's voice sounded exasperated. "We have only to direct her to lose a bit of it."
"What say you?" Gilard all but shouted, clearly astonished. "Madelyne is a gentle maiden. Why…"
Edmond's usual scowl deserted him. He actually started to chuckle. "She's got a sweet left hook as well, Gilard. And we know well enough what a gentle little maiden she is. She bellowed it loud enough for all of England to hear."
"The fever ruled her mind then. I told you we should have cut her hair to let the demons out, Duncan. Madelyne wasn't herself, I tell you. Why, she doesn't even know she blackened Edmond's eye."
Duncan shook his head. "You needn't defend Madelyne to me," he said.
"Well, what are you going to do with Madelyne?" Gilard couldn't keep the demand out of his voice.
"She will have a safe haven here, Gilard." He stood then and was about to walk out of the room, when Edmond's comment reached him. "It won't be safe until Adela comes to her senses. Madelyne's going to be put through an ordeal."
"An ordeal for all of us," Duncan called out. "God willing, it will all be over soon enough."
Duncan dismissed his brothers. He made his way to the lake for his swim.
His thoughts kept turning to Madelyne. The truth was inescapable. By an ironic twist of fate, Madelyne had remained unblemished by Louddon's black nature. She was a woman to be reckoned with. She hides her true character from herself, Duncan thought with a smile. Yet he'd been given treasured glimpses of the real Lady Madelyne. It had taken a raging fever to bring out her passionate spirit though. Aye, she was sensual, with a thirst for life that pleased him considerably.
Perhaps, Duncan thought, Adela will aid Madelyne as well. His sister might unknowingly help rid Madelyne of some of her cloaks.
The frigid water finally bothered Duncan enough to push all thoughts aside. He'd finish his swim and go to Madelyne. That singular motive aided him through the ritual in quickened time.
Madelyne had just opened the shutters to her window, when she caught sight of Duncan walking toward the lake. His back was to her and she watched him remove every bit of clothing and dive into the water.
She felt no shame in seeing him without his clothes on. Aye, his nudity didn't embarrass her at all. She was too stunned by what the daft man was doing to blush over his nudity. Besides, his back was facing her, saving her true discomfort.
She wouldn't believe he was actually going to dive into the water, but he did just that, and without a moment's hesitation.
The full moon gave her sufficient light to follow him across the lake and back again. Madelyne never lost sight of him, but out of a sense of modesty she closed her eyes when he climbed out onto the bank. She waited for what she thought an adequate length of time, and then looked again.
Duncan stood by the edge of the water, the lower half of his body covered. He looked just like an avenging godchild of Zeus, for he was gifted with a most magnificent body.
He hadn't bothered to put his tunic back on, but threw it carelessly over one shoulder instead. Didn't he feel the cold? Madelyne was already shivering from the breeze that came through the window. Yet Duncan acted as if it were a warm spring day. Why, he was walking back toward his home with a lazy, unhurried stride.
Madelyne's heart quickened as Duncan drew closer. He certainly was well proportioned. The man was long in flank, lean in waist, extremely broad in shoulders. The strength in his upper arms was clearly outlined by the light. Madelyne could see muscles all but rippling across his chest. Power radiated from him, even from such a distance, drawing her and worrying her at the same time.
Duncan suddenly stopped and looked up, catching Madelyne staring at him. She instinctively raised her hand in greeting, then faltered in the attempt. Madelyne couldn't see the expression on his face, but she guessed he was scowling. Lord knew that was his usual expression.
Madelyne turned away and went back to her bed, forgetting in her haste to close the shutters.
She was still angry. Every time the picture of Adela came into her mind, she wanted to scream. She'd wept instead, for almost a good hour, until her cheeks were raw and her eyes swollen.
Adela was the initial reason for her fury. The poor girl had been through such an ordeal.
Madelyne understood what it felt like to be at the mercy of another. She knew the rage inside Adela and pitied the girl.
Yet she was also furious with the Wexton brothers. They had made the situation far worse by treating Adela so poorly.
Madelyne made the decision that she'd accept responsibility for Adela now. She didn't think she wanted to help Duncan's sister because Louddon had caused her pain. Even though Madelyne was Louddon's sister, she wasn't going to feel guilt because of relation. She would help Adela because the sister was so vulnerable and lost.
She would be gentle with the girl, kind, too, and surely in time Adela would accept her comfort.
God help her, Madelyne started to cry again. She felt so trapped. She was so close to the border and to her cousin Edwythe's home, but now she'd have to wait to make her escape. Adela needed love and guidance, and her barbarian brothers didn't know how to give either. Aye, she was needed here, Madelyne thought, until Duncan's sister was given new strength.
The air in the room had turned freezing. Madelyne huddled under the covers, shivering, until she remembered the shutters were wide open. She got out of bed, wrapped an animal skin around her shoulders, and hurried over to the window.
It had started to rain, fitting weather for her mood, Madelyne decided. She looked down at the lake just to make certain Duncan wasn't still there and then glanced over to look at the crest on the lower hill visible over the top of the battlements.
Madelyne saw the animal then. She was so startled by the sight, she rose up on tiptoe and leaned out the window, afraid to take her gaze away for even a second, lest the huge beast up and vanish on her.
The animal seemed to be looking up at her. Madelyne knew then that her mind had broken, just like Adela's. Good God, the beast looked just like a wolf. And Lord, he was magnificent!
Madelyne shook her head, yet continued to watch, mesmerized by the sight. When the wolf arched his neck back, she thought he might be howling. The sound never reached her though, probably snatched away by the wind and the rain pelting against the stones.
She didn't know how long she stood by the window watching the animal. She did close her eyes, deliberately, but when she opened them again, the wolf was still there.
"'Tis only a dog," she muttered to herself. Aye, a dog, not a wolf. "A very large dog," she added.
If Madelyne had been given to a superstitious nature, she would have jumped to the conclusion that the wolf was an omen.
Madelyne closed the shutters and went back to her bed.
Her mind was filled with images of the wild beast, and it took a long time before sleep claimed her. Her last thought was a stubborn one. She hadn't seen a wolf after all.
Sometime during the cold night Madelyne shivered enough to wake up. She felt Duncan put his arm around her and pull her toward his warmth.
She smiled over her fanciful dream and fell asleep again.
"There were giants in the earth in those days."
old testament, genesis, 6:4
If Madelyne lived to the ripe old age of thirty, she vowed she'd never forget the week that followed her decision to help Adela.
It was a week like none other, save the invasion by Duke William perhaps, but then, she hadn't been born yet to witness that event, so she guessed it didn't count. The week all but destroyed her gentle nature and her sanity. Madelyne wasn't sure which she coveted more, however, and therefore determined to keep both.
Why, the strain was enough to set a saint's teeth to gritting. The Wexton family was, of course, the sole reason.
Madelyne was given freedom to roam the castle grounds, with only one soldier trailing behind her like a loud shadow. She had even gained permission from Duncan to utilize the waste of foodstuff by feeding the animals. And since the soldier had also heard her request approved, he actually argued in her favor to the men in charge of the drawbridge.
Madelyne walked all the way to the top of the hill outside the walls, her arms filled with a burlap bag containing meat, fowl, and grain. She didn't know what her wild dog would eat and carried a selection sure to entice him.