He was very satisfied. And if Madelyne had been watching him, she'd have known how her words had pleased him.
Dear God, she'd actually shouted at him. Madelyne felt like crying. She took a deep breath, stared at Duncan's chest, and whispered, "Then I'd get my heart broken, wouldn't I?"
"I would protect your heart," Duncan answered.
He sounded very arrogant. Madelyne gave him an exasperated look. Duncan couldn't stop himself. Her mouth was too close to deny. All his discipline evaporated. He leaned down and captured her mouth in a searing kiss.
"For God's sake, Duncan, we're all waiting for Madelyne to play the psaltery," Edmond shouted.
Duncan sighed into Madelyne's mouth before pulling away. His thumb slowly rubbed her lower lip. "I forgot we weren't alone," he told her with a grin.
"I also," Madelyne whispered back. She blushed and tried to catch her breath.
Duncan took hold of her arm and escorted her to the one vacant chair. "This is where you're supposed to sit," Madelyne told him. "It has the highest back," she explained.
When it became obvious Madelyne wasn't going to begin until Duncan sat where she thought he should, he complied with her order. He even smiled over it.
Edmond pushed another chair toward Madelyne. "You'll be more comfortable here," he told her when she reached for a stool.
Madelyne thanked him and sat down. Gerald handed her the psaltery. Her hands shook when she placed the instrument in her lap. Madelyne was terribly nervous now. She hated being the focus of everyone's attention. There was comfort in being inconspicuous.
Gerald stood behind Adela's chair. His arm was draped over the back. Both Gilard and Edmond stood, leaning against the hearth at opposite comers. And every one of them was staring at Madelyne.
"It has been such a long time," Madelyne said. She looked down at the instrument. "And I sang only for my uncle and his friends. I've had no true training."
"I'm certain your uncle and his friends thought you were wonderful," Adela interjected. She had noticed how Madelyne's hands trembled and tried to encourage her.
"Oh, they did think I was wonderful," Madelyne admitted, smiling at Adela. "But then, they were all quite deaf."
Duncan immediately leaned forward so that everyone could see him clearly. The look on his face suggested no one laugh.
Baron Gerald coughed. Gilard turned around to stare into the fire. Madelyne thought he was weary of waiting for her to begin.
"I could sing some of our Latin chant we use during Eastertime," she suggested.
"Do you know any songs about blades of grass?" Duncan inquired.
Madelyne looked startled. Duncan grinned.
"A blade in winter can be broken in half when you stomp on it," Madelyne told Duncan sweetly. "And a blade in summer can be smothered if you keep your boot on top of it long enough," she added.
"What are you talking about?" Gilard asked, puzzled.
"A sad tune," Duncan commented.
"Predictability," Madelyne answered at the same time.
"I'd rather you sang about Polyphemus," Edmond interjected.
"Who or what is a Polyphemus?" Baron Gerald asked.
"A one-eyed giant," Edmond answered, grinning at Madelyne.
"He was the leader of the Cyclops," Madelyne said. "Do you know the stories about Odysseus?" she asked Edmond.
"Bits and pieces," Edmond answered. He didn't add that everything he'd learned had come from Madelyne when she raged with fever.
"Gerald? Madelyne does tell the most wonderful stories," Adela said. In her enthusiasm she actually reached up and touched his hand.
"I've never heard of this Odysseus," Gerald announced. "Why is that, do you suppose?"
Madelyne smiled. Gerald sounded irritated that he was uninformed. He seemed to be looking for someone to blame.
"There's no shame in that admission," Madelyne returned. "Have you heard of Gerbert of Aurillac perchance?"
"The monk?" Gerald asked.
Madelyne nodded. She looked at Adela to give her explanation, certain Duncan's little sister couldn't have heard of the man. "Gerbert lived a long time ago, Adela. Almost a hundred years past, I believe. He left his monastery and went to study in Spain. When he returned to France, he led the cathedral school at Reims, and it was during that time that he gave his students some of the ancient stories he'd translated. It was another man named Homer who told the tales about the mighty warrior, Odysseus, and Gerbert who translated the tales from Greek to Latin."
"Were Homer and Gerbert friends, do you suppose?" Adela asked.
"No," Madelyne answered. "Homer lived in ancient times, in a place called Greece. He died hundreds of years before Gerbert was born. Homer's stories were kept safe in the monasteries. Some of them would make our church frown, but I mean no disrespect when I repeat the stories. In truth, they're really too foolish to believe as fact."
Everyone looked interested. Madelyne turned to Duncan, caught his nod, and then began to play the psaltery.
She made several ear-wincing mistakes in the beginning. And then the ballad of Odysseus meeting the Cyclops became the focus of her attention. Madelyne stared down at the psaltery, pretended she was sitting next to her uncle Berton and singing to him. Once she'd captured the pretext, her hands stopped shaking. Her voice grew in strength and purity as the tale about the warrior came to life.
The poem captured her audience. Duncan thought her voice was bewitching. It was a true reflection of the gentle woman he now claimed as his wife.
Madelyne spun a magical spell around all of them. Duncan, a man who wasn't given to linger, now leaned back in his chair and smiled with contentment.
She began the story when Odysseus and his men were taken captive by Polyphemus, since Edmond had specifically requested that tale. Polyphemus determined to eat every one of the soldiers. The one-eyed giant kept them imprisoned inside his cave by blocking the entrance with a large boulder. Since Polyphemus also kept his sheep in the cave every night, it was necessary for him to move the stone each morning to let his flock out into the fields to graze. Odysseus blinded the giant and then showed his men how to crawl under the sheep and cling to their bellies. Polyphemus let the sheep pass by but waved his arms higher into the air, trying to catch the soldiers. Odysseus's clever plan saved them all.
When Madelyne finished her recital, her audience begged to hear another.
Everyone took a turn telling their favorite part, interrupting one another in their enthusiasm.
"It was brilliant of Odysseus to tell Polyphemus his name was Nobody," Gilard stated.
"Aye," agreed Gerald. "And when the other Cyclops heard Polyphemus screaming because Odysseus had blinded him, they called into the cave to him, asking if he needed help and to give them the name of his tormentor." Edmond's laugh joined the others. "And when he called out that Nobody was tormenting him, his friends left him alone."
Madelyne smiled, pleased with the enthusiastic reaction to her story. She turned to look at Duncan. Her husband was staring into the fire. He was smiling and had a satisfied look on his face.
He had a beautiful profile. As she continued to stare at him, a warm glow washed over her. And then she realized who Duncan reminded her of. Odysseus. Aye, Duncan was just like the mighty warrior she had dreamed about when she was a little girl. Odysseus had become her imaginary confessor, her friend, her confidant; she had whispered all her fears to him when she was frightened and lonely. She liked to pretend that one day Odysseus would magically appear and take her away with him. He'd fight for her, protect her from Louddon. And he'd love her.
When Madelyne became a woman, she put the childhood dreams away. And until this moment, she'd actually forgotten her secret dream.
Yet in this precious moment, while she stared at her husband, she realized that her dream had come true. Duncan was her Odysseus. He was her lover, her protector, her savior from her brother. Dear God, she was in love with the man.
"The price of wisdom is above rubies."
old testament, job, 28:18
"Madelyne, what ever is the matter with you? Are you ill?" Adela bounded to her feet and hurried over to her friend. She thought Madelyne looked ready to faint. Madelyne's face had lost all color, and if Adela hadn't reached out in time, the beautiful psaltery would have fallen to the floor.
Madelyne shook her head. She started to stand up, then decided her legs might not support her. In truth, she was still shaking over her realization. She was in love with Duncan. "I'm fine, Adela. Just a little tired, that is all. Please don't carry on so."
"Are you well enough to sing another song?" Adela asked. She immediately felt guilty for asking, but excused her conduct by telling herself she was desperate, after all, and would think of a way to repay Madelyne for her kindness if she'd only come to her aid now. Why, she'd carry a breakfast tray up to Madelyne in the morning.
Madelyne knew Adela was stalling. She sympathized with her friend yet couldn't think of any plan to get her out of her walk with Gerald. When Gerald walked over to stand beside Adela,
Madelyne said, " 'Tis a fine instrument you've given Adela. You've chosen with care, Gerald."
The baron smiled. "Duncan has also chosen with care."
Madelyne puzzled over his odd remark. Then Edmond and Gilard expressed their pleasure over her performance. She was soon blushing with embarrassment. In truth, she wasn't used to such praise. She thought the Wextons were the most unusual family. They threw out compliments so easily. They didn't think it detracted from their own value, Madelyne decided.
She'd never been called beautiful until she met the Wextons. Yet each one of them had given her that compliment more than once. It seemed to Madelyne that they believed she really was beautiful. "You're going to make me quite vain if you keep up this praise," she admitted with a shy smile.
She did notice, however, that Duncan hadn't offered her any comment and wondered if she'd pleased him.
Her husband still wasn't acting like himself. He'd behaved so strangely outside when he grabbed her and kissed her in front of the world. And he'd teased her during dinner. If she hadn't known better, she'd have to think the man had a sense of humor. That was ridiculous, of course.
Madelyne watched Gerald take hold of Adela's hand and escort her out of the hall. Duncan's little sister kept glancing back over her shoulder at Madelyne, giving her a pleading look.
"Don't stay outside long, Adela," Madelyne called out. "You'll get a chill."
It was the best she could do. Adela grasped the suggestion with a thankful nod before Gerald pulled her out of Madelyne's view.
Gilard and Edmond also left the hall. Duncan and Madelyne were suddenly alone.
Madelyne smoothed her gown to give her hands something to do. She wished she could go up to the tower room to spend a few minutes alone. Lord, there was so much to think about, so many decisions to make.
She could feel Duncan staring at her. "Would you like to tell me about men and their horses now, Duncan," Madelyne asked, "before you take your swim in the lake?"
"What?" He looked perplexed.
"You said you were going to talk to me about men and their horses," she explained. "Don't you remember?"
"Ah, that," Duncan replied. He gave her a warm smile. "Come closer, wife, and I shall begin my instructions."
She frowned over the request, thinking she was close enough. "You're acting very strange, Duncan," she remarked when she'd walked over to stand at his side. "And looking very relaxed too. You're not yourself at all," she added.
Madelyne nibbled on her lower lip while she stared down at her husband. She suddenly reached out and put the back of her hand to his forehead. "You don't have fever," she announced.
He thought she sounded disappointed. Her frown was fierce enough to give him that idea. Duncan grabbed Madelyne, pulled her into his lap.
Madelyne adjusted her gown and sat as primly as she could manage. She folded her hands in her lap.
"Are you worried about something?" Duncan asked. His thumb rubbed her lower lip away from her teeth.
Of course she was worried. Duncan was acting like a complete stranger. Wasn't that enough to worry any wife? Madelyne sighed. She brushed a lock of hair away from her eyes, accidentally bumping Duncan's chin with her elbow.
She apologized, embarrassed by her sudden awkwardness.
He nodded, thoroughly resigned to it.
"You don't sing like a frog."
Madelyne smiled, thinking it was the most wonderful compliment she'd ever received. "Thank you, Duncan," she said. "And now you'll instruct me in the ways of men and horses," she suggested.
Duncan nodded. His hand slowly moved upward along her back until it rested against her shoulder. The motion made Madelyne's skin tingle. Then he pulled her forward.
Madelyne found herself settled against his chest.
"We men form a special attachment to our steeds, Madelyne," Duncan began. His voice was as warm as the heat from the fire. Madelyne snuggled a little closer, yawned, and closed her eyes.
"Aye, we depend upon our mounts to obey our every command. A knight can't fight diligently if he has to take time to control his horse. It could mean his life if the battle is fierce and the animal unruly."
Duncan continued on with his explanation for several more minutes. "You, wife, have bewitched my stallion away from me. I should be furious with you. Now that I think about it, I am furious," Duncan muttered. The smile soured on his face as he mulled over the loss of his faithful mount. "Aye, you've ruined Silenus. You may protest now if that is your wish, but I've already made up my mind to give you Silenus. And so I will listen first to your apology for ruining my horse and next your appreciation for the gift I've given you."
Duncan didn't get either. Madelyne didn't apologize or thank him. He frowned over her stubbornness and then tilted her head back so he could look at her face.
She was sound asleep. She probably hadn't heard a word he'd said. He should have been angry with her. It was certainly disrespectful at the very least. Duncan kissed her instead of waking her. Madelyne snuggled closer. Her hands crept up around his neck.
Edmond walked into the hall just as Duncan placed a second kiss on the top of Madelyne's head. "She's asleep?" Edmond asked.
"My lecture frightened her into a faint," Duncan answered dryly.