"The truth." Louddon sneered. "Aye, your honesty will trap Baron Wexton." He actually laughed over his own announcement. "You can't help yourself, Madelyne."
"I would tell the truth if I spoke to the king. But I'm not going to say a word. I'll simply stand there and stare at you when the king asks me his questions. God's truth, I'll not say one word."
Louddon was so enraged by Madelyne's threat, he almost hit her again. When he raised his hand, Anthony took a menacing step forward. Louddon's urge to retaliate was immediately pushed aside.
"We'll speak of this later," Louddon said. He gave Anthony a meaningful glare before he continued. "When we are alone, I promise you I'll change your mind."
Madelyne hid her fear. "We're going to speak of this now, Louddon, else I'll send Anthony to our king to tell him how you are mistreating me."
"You think William would care?" Louddon shouted.
"I am as much his subject as you are," Madelyne returned. "I will also instruct Anthony to tell the king how concerned I am that you are going to kill Uncle Berton. I doubt William would like the church's reaction to a baron murdering one of their own."
"The king wouldn't believe you. And you know damn well your precious priest is alive. But if you persist in this rebellion, I will have him killed. Goad me further, bitch, and I'll—"
"You'll send me back to live with Uncle Berton. That is what you'll do."
Louddon's eyes widened and his face turned a blotchy red. He couldn't believe this radical change in his sister's disposition. She was standing up to him, and in front of a witness too. Worry edged into Louddon's mind. It was imperative that he have Madelyne's cooperation if he was going to sway their king into ruling against Duncan. Aye, he'd counted on Madelyne to tell how Duncan had destroyed his fortress and taken her captive. Suddenly Madelyne had become unpredictable.
"You expect me to answer only certain truths, don't you? What if I begin my accounting by telling how you tried to kill Baron Wexton?"
"You will answer only those questions put to you," Louddon bellowed.
"Then give in to my request. Let me go to my uncle. I'll stay with him and let you take care of this problem with Baron Wexton."
Madelyne felt like weeping over her deliberate choice of words. Problem, indeed. Louddon was out to see Duncan destroyed. "I swear to you, I could do your petition far more damage if I'm called before the king. The truth might damn Duncan, but my silence will damn you."
"When this is over…"
"You'll kill me, I suppose," Madelyne announced with a forced shrug of indifference. Her voice was devoid of emotion when she said, "I don't care, Louddon. Do your worst."
Louddon didn't need to think about Madelyne's threat. He concluded immediately that she should be removed from court. There simply wasn't time to beat her into submission.
Just two days past he'd learned of Morcar's failure to kill Duncan. Morcar was dead, and Duncan would surely arrive in London anytime now.
Perhaps he should let his sister have her way. Her departure would serve his purpose well, he decided.
"You will leave within the hour," Louddon announced. "But my men will escort you, Madelyne. Wexton's men," he added, staring at Anthony now, "have no reason to follow after you. The baron no longer has a say in your affairs. He has his sister back and you now belong to me."
Madelyne agreed before Anthony could offer argument. The vassal exchanged a look with his mistress and then nodded his acceptance.
He didn't have any intention of honoring the agreement, of course. Anthony would follow Madelyne no matter where Louddon sent her. He would be discreet, however, and let Louddon believe his duty was done. "Then I'll return to Wexton fortress," he announced before he turned and walked away.
"I must go and have a few words with the king," Louddon muttered. "He is expecting us. I'm giving in to your whim, Madelyne, but you and I both know the time will come when you must report what happened to William."
"I will give him my honesty," Madelyne returned. When Louddon looked suspicious, she hastily added, "And that will, of course, support your cause."
Louddon looked slightly appeased. "Yes, well, perhaps the visit to your uncle is best after all. Seeing him again will remind you of your tenuous position."
The bitch needs reminding of how important her uncle is to her, Louddon decided. She'd obviously forgotten what an old, frail man Berton was, and how impossible it would be for him to protect himself. Aye, she needed to see the priest again. Then he'd have his fearful, timid sister back where he wanted her.
"There is always the chance that I'll have taken care of Duncan before you're asked to return to court, Madelyne. Return to your rooms now and get your puny possessions. I shall send soldiers to escort you to the courtyard."
Madelyne pretended humility. She bowed her head and whispered her appreciation. "I have truly been through such an ordeal," she told her brother. "I hope the king does not argue with your request that I leave…"
"My request?" Louddon laughed, an obscene sound that grated. "He won't even know, Madelyne. I need not request anything from William on such minor issues."
Louddon turned and walked away after making his odious boast. Madelyne watched him until he'd disappeared around the curve in the corridor. She turned then and started back toward her chambers. Anthony waited in the shadows and was quick to intercept her. "You take too many chances, milady," Anthony muttered. "Your husband will be displeased."
"We both know Duncan isn't my husband," Madelyne said. "It is important that you not interfere, Anthony. Louddon must believe he truly has his sister back."
"Madelyne, I know you think to protect Adela, but Gerald's duty—"
"Nay, Anthony," Madelyne interrupted. "I am only thinking to gain time. And I must go to my uncle. He is like a father to me. Louddon will kill him if I don't protect—"
"You must protect yourself," Anthony argued. "Instead, you try to protect the world. Will you not listen to reason? You'll be vulnerable if you leave the castle grounds.
She patted Anthony's hand and then said, "I'll be vulnerable until Duncan has righted this problem. You will tell Duncan where I've gone, Anthony, and then it will be his decision."
"What decision?" Anthony asked.
"Whether to come after me or not."
"You actually doubt…"
Madelyne let out a long sigh. "Nay, I do not doubt," she said, shaking her head for emphasis. "Duncan will come after me, and when he does, he'll leave soldiers to guard my uncle. I only pray he is quick about it."
Anthony couldn't fault Madelyne's plan. "I'll keep you in my sight at all times," he vowed. "You've only to cry out and I'll be there."
"You must stay here and tell Duncan—"
"I'll leave another to see to that duty," Anthony said. "I gave my word to my lord to protect his wife," he added, placing force on the word wife.
Though she didn't admit it, Madelyne was relieved to have Anthony's guard. When she'd finished gathering her clothing, she hurried to the courtyard adjacent to the king's stables. Three of Louddon's soldiers had escorted her. They left her standing alone now while they prepared their mounts.
Madelyne was thankful she hadn't run into Clarissa again. And Louddon was still in conference with their king… filling his head full of lies about Duncan, Madelyne knew.
A curious crowd had gathered to watch the departure. The marks on Madelyne's face were quite noticeable, and she couldn't help but overhear the speculative comments behind her back.
A tall red-headed woman separated herself from the group and rushed over to Madelyne. She was a beautiful woman, with a regal, elegant manner, a good deal taller than Madelyne, and a bit more filled out as well. She didn't smile at Madelyne but gave her a look of hostility.
Madelyne met her stare and asked, "Is there something you wished to say to me?"
"'Tis a risk I take in speaking so openly to you," the woman began. "I must think of my reputation, you see."
"And speaking to me will tarnish it?" Madelyne asked.
The woman looked surprised by the question. "But of course," she admitted. "Surely you realized that you are no longer a desirable—"
Madelyne cut off the veiled insult. "Say what you wish to say and be gone then."
"I am Lady Eleanor." Madelyne couldn't hide her surprise. "Then you've heard of me? Perchance Baron Wexton has spoken of—"
"I have heard of you," Madelyne whispered. Her voice shook. She couldn't help but feel a bit inferior standing next to the woman. Lady Eleanor was dressed splendidly, while Madelyne wore a simple traveling gown of faded blue.
Duncan's intended appeared to be everything Madelyne believed she wasn't. She was so composed, so dignified. Madelyne doubted the woman had ever been clumsy, even when she was a little girl.
"My father has still to come to formal agreement with Baron Wexton regarding our wedding date. I just wanted to tell you that you have my compassion, poor child. I don't place any blame on my future husband though. He was merely retaliating in kind. But I did wonder if Baron Wexton mistreated you."
Madelyne heard the worry in Lady Eleanor's voice and was furious. "If you must ask me that question, then you don't know Baron Wexton well at all."
She turned her back on the woman and mounted the horse one of the soldiers had led over to her. When she was settled, she looked down at Lady Eleanor and said, "He did not mistreat me. Now you have your question answered and it is my turn to ask you something."
Lady Eleanor agreed with a curt nod.
"Do you love Baron Wexton?"
It became obvious after a long silent moment that Lady Eleanor wasn't going to answer Madelyne. She did raise an eyebrow, and the look of disdain on her face told she had little liking for the question.
"I am not a poor child, Lady Eleanor," Madelyne announced, letting her anger sound in her voice. "Duncan won't marry you. He won't sign the contracts. He'd have to give up his greatest treasure in order to marry you."
"And what be that treasure?" Lady Eleanor inquired, her voice mild.
"Why, I'm Duncan's greatest treasure. He'd be a fool to give me up," she added. "And even you must know that Duncan is anything but a fool."
Madelyne then goaded her mount forward. Lady Eleanor had to jump out of the way, else be pounded into the ground. Dust flew up in the silly woman's face.
She didn't look so superior now. Aye, Lady Eleanor was clearly furious. Her anger pleased Madelyne considerably. She felt as though she'd just won an important battle. It was victory to Madelyne's way of thinking, childish, born of rudeness, true, but a victory all the same.
"We walk by faith, not by sight."
new testament, ii corinthians, 5:7
She told him everything.
The retelling of all that had happened to Madelyne took almost two full days. The dear priest demanded to hear every word, every feeling, every outcome.
Father Berton had wept tears of joy when Madelyne walked into his tiny cottage. He admitted he'd missed her terribly and couldn't seem to gain control of his emotions for most of that first day. Madelyne, of course, did a fair amount of weeping too. Her uncle declared that it was fine enough to be so undisciplined because they were all alone, after all, and no one could witness their emotional display. Father's companions were off to visit another old friend who'd suddenly taken ill.
It wasn't until she'd prepared their supper and they were seated side by side in their favorite chairs that Madelyne was finally able to begin her recitation. While the priest ate his dinner, Madelyne told her story. She thought only to give her uncle Berton a brief summary, but he wouldn't allow a skimpy accounting.
The priest seemed to savor every detail. He wouldn't let Madelyne continue until he'd memorized each word. His training as both a translator and a guardian of the old stories was the reason Madelyne gave for this familiar peculiarity.
When Madelyne first greeted her uncle, she began to worry about his health. He seemed to be failing. Aye, she thought his shoulders slumped a little more now. His back appeared to be a bit more bent, too, and he didn't seem to move about the cottage as quickly. Yet his gaze was just as direct, his comments just as sharp. Father Berton's mind was as keen as ever. When he confessed that his companions wouldn't be returning to live out their last years with him, Madelyne surmised it was loneliness and not his advanced years of fifty summers that accounted for the changes she'd noted.
Madelyne was confident Duncan would come for her. Yet when three full days had passed, and still not a sign of Duncan, her confidence began to evaporate.
Madelyne admitted her fears to her uncle. "Perhaps, once he was again acquainted with Lady Eleanor, he changed his mind."
"'Tis foolish talk you're giving me," Father Berton announced. "I've as much faith as you, child, that Baron Wexton didn't know Laurance wasn't a priest. He thought he'd married you, and for a man to take such a step, there'd be a true commitment in his heart. You've told me his declaration of love. Have you no faith in his word then?"
"Oh, of course I do," Madelyne returned. "He does love me, Father. I know he does, inside my heart, yet a part of my mind does try to make me worry. I awakened during the night and my first thought was a frightening one. I asked myself what I would do if he doesn't come for me. What if he did change his mind?"
"Then he be a fool," Father Berton answered. A sparkle appeared in the priest's eyes. "Now tell this old man again, child, what were your very words to Lady Eleanor with the pretty red hair and the regal bearing?"
Madelyne smiled over the way he teased her with her own description of Lady Eleanor. "I told her I was Duncan's greatest treasure. It wasn't a very humble remark, was it?"
"You spoke the truth, Madelyne. Your heart knows it well enough, but I'm agreeing there's a wee portion of your mind that needs some convincing."
"Duncan isn't a fool," Madelyne said then. Her voice was firm with conviction. "He won't forget me." She closed her eyes and rested her head against the cushion on the back of the chair. So much had happened to her in such a short time. Now, as she sat beside her uncle, it seemed as though nothing had really changed at all.