Love and honor, treasures above value…
The following month was a calming period for Duncan, a blissful time for Madelyne.
Madelyne was enchanted with the Scots. She thought they were the most amazing warriors in all the world, save for her husband, of course. The Scots reminded Madelyne of the ancient Spartans because of their stark existence and their fierce loyalty.
They treated Duncan as one of their own. Catherine was also happy to welcome Madelyne into her home. Duncan's sister was very pretty and very much in love with her husband.
Madelyne wasn't able to see Edwythe, though Catherine promised to send a message of greeting to her for Madelyne. Edwythe lived in the highlands, a considerable distance from Catherine's home, too far, in fact, to go for a visit.
They stayed with Duncan's relatives a full thirty days
Duncan remembered his promise to teach his gentle wife how to defend herself. He was patient with her until she reached for her bow and arrows. He left her on her own then, fearing he'd lose his temper if he had to watch her make the same error over and over again. She was consistently off target. Anthony had warned him about that flaw. Madelyne was always three feet, a little less perhaps, above the mark she wished to hit.
Duncan and Madelyne returned to Wexton fortress the end of August. It was then that they learned of King William II's death. The accounts were milky, but everyone who had witnessed the tragedy vowed it had truly been an accident. William, with his brother and his friends, had gone hunting in his forest. A soldier shot his arrow toward a stag, it was said, but the king's neck got in the way. The king died before he hit the ground.
The most accepted and least believed account came from an eyewitness who claimed he'd seen the whole of it, from start to finish. He stated that the loyal subject had truly aimed his arrow at the stag, but when the arrow was flying toward the animal, the devil's red hand suddenly reached up out of the earth. The arrow was caught in the devil's fist and redirected toward the king.
The church blessed the account as accurate. Aye, it was written down immediately. Satan had ended the king's short life, and certainly none of those who witnessed it were responsible.
Henry immediately claimed the treasury and became king.
Madelyne was thankful she and Duncan had left court before the tragedy. Her husband was just as angry that he hadn't been there. He thought he might have been able to save his leader's life.
Neither believed the story about the devil's hand, and neither would admit that Henry might have had something to do with his brother's accident.
Though Madelyne wasn't as knowledgeable as Duncan in matters of state, she remembered that Henry had suggested to King William that Duncan spend a month with the Scots. She believed he wanted Duncan away from London, believe,. too, that Henry might have given Duncan his life bv sending him away. She never spoke such thoughts to her husband, however.
Gerald and Adela were married on the first Sunday of October. Father Berton had only just arrived with his baggage to take up the task of saving Wexton souls. The Earl of Grinsteade had died five days after Madelyne's wedding ceremony.
Duncan had sent soldiers throughout England, searching for Louddon. Since Henry was now king, Louddon was an outcast. Henry had made no pretension about his dislike for Louddon.
Madelyne believed Louddon had left England. Duncan didn't argue with her, but he was convinced Louddon was hiding, waiting for his chance for revenge.
A summons arrived requesting that Duncan kneel before his new king and give him his pledge of fealty. Duncan couldn't refuse the order, yet found he was uneasy leaving Madelyne.
He sat in the hall, the petition from Henry still in his hands, when Madelyne finally came down for breakfast. Duncan had already eaten his midday meal.
His wife looked rested, but he knew in just a few hours she'd need a nap. She tired easily these days. Madelyne tried to hide the fact from Duncan, but he knew she was sick every morning.
He wasn't the least upset over her sickness. No, he waited for her to realize she carried his child.
Madelyne smiled when she saw her husband sitting in his chair by the hearth. It had turned chilly and the fire beckoned her. Duncan pulled her into his lap.
"Duncan, I must speak to you. It's almost noon and I've just gotten out of bed. I believe I'm ill, though I don't wish to worry you. I did ask Maude for a potion yesterday."
"And did she give it to you?" Duncan asked. He tried not to smile, for his wife's expression was close to brooding.
Madelyne shook her head. She pushed her hair away from her shoulder, hitting Duncan's chest in her haste. "No, she didn't," she said. "She just smiled at me and walked away. What am I to think about that I ask you?"
Duncan sighed. He was going to have to tell her. "Will you be very upset if our son has red hair?"
Madelyne's eyes widened and her hand instinctively moved to her stomach. Her voice shook when she finally answered his question. "She'll have brown hair, like her mother. And I will be the most wonderful mother, Duncan."
Duncan laughed and then kissed Madelyne. "You have taken on my arrogance, wife. You'll give me a son and that's the end of this discussion."
Madelyne nodded, pretending agreement while she pictured the beautiful baby girl she would hold in her arms.
She was so overwhelmed with joy, she thought she might weep.
"You can't feed your wild animals anymore. I don't want you going outside the walls."
"It's my wolf," Madelyne teased. She still hadn't admitted to Duncan that she really thought it was a wild dog. "Today will be the last time I leave food for him," she promised. "Is that good enough for you?"
"Why today?" Duncan asked.
"Because it's been exactly one year since I arrived here. You may walk with Anthony and me if you wish." She gave a mock sigh. "I shall miss my wolf."
Duncan saw the sparkle in her eyes.
"I will stop feeding him only because you order it, husband."
"I don't believe that for one minute," Duncan returned. "You obey me because you feel like it."
Duncan finally promised to accompany Madelyne. She waited for him but when she'd finished her target practice, the sun was beginning to fade, and Duncan still hadn't finished his other duties.
Madelyne collected her arrows, slipped them into the cloth carrier Ned had fashioned for her, and then strapped the carrier on her back.
Anthony carried the food for her in the burlap sack she always used for the task. She carried her bow, boasting to the vassal that she just might catch at least one rabbit for their dinner.
Anthony thought it impossible.
When they reached the crest of the hill, Madelyne took the food from Anthony. She spread the cloth on the ground, kneeling now, and placed the food into a pile. A large bone, fat with meat, topped her pyramid. Since Madelyne knew she wouldn't be feeding the wild animals any longer, she thought to leave them one last filling treat.
Anthony was first to catch the noise behind him. He turned, scanning the trees behind Madelyne, just as an arrow whistled through the air and lodged in his shoulder. The vassal was knocked to the ground. He tried to catch his balance and then saw his enemy raise his bow a second time.
The watchman shouted the warning as soon as Anthony fell. Soldiers lined the walkway along the wall, their arrows raised to their bows. They waited for the enemy to show himself,
Duncan had just mounted his horse. He had thought to please his wife by joining her and carrying her back. He heard the shout, then goaded his horse into a full gallop. His bellow of rage could be heard throughout the fortress. Men ran to their horses to follow their lord,
Madelyne knew she didn't have time to run. A half circle of almost twenty men slowly came from their hiding places behind the trees. She knew, too, that the watchman and the archers wouldn't be able to see them until they reached the crest.
She wasn't given any choice. Madelyne reached for one of her arrows, adjusted the indented edge to her bow, and took careful aim.
She recognized the man closest to her. He was one of the three who had testified to Louddon's lies. She knew then that Louddon was close by.
The knowledge made her more furious than frightened. She shot the arrow and was reaching for another before the enemy fell to the ground.
Duncan didn't climb the crest. He rode around the base of the hill, motioning for the others to take the opposite side. He thought to cut off the enemy by placing himself between them and his wife.
Within bare minutes Duncan's soldiers were engaged in battle with the enemy. Madelyne dropped her bow and turned, thinking to help Anthony. The vassal had rolled halfway down the hill but was standing now and slowly making his way back up to her.
"Madelyne, get down," Anthony suddenly shouted.
She heard his order, started to do as he commanded, when she was grabbed from behind. Madelyne screamed as she turned, and came face-to-face with Louddon.
He had a crazed look in his eyes. His grip was excruciating. Madelyne stomped her foot down on his, causing him to change balance. Remembering Duncan's lessons in defense, she slammed her knee into his groin. Louddon went crashing to the ground, pulling Madelyne with him.
She rolled to her side just as Louddon staggered to his knees. He hit Madelyne with his fist, his aim right below her jaw. The pain proved too intense to endure. Madelyne fainted.
Louddon jumped to his feet when Madelyne went limp. He looked to the bottom of the hill, saw his men running away. They deserted him, trying to escape Duncan's wrath.
Louddon knew then he couldn't get away from Duncan this time. "You'll watch me kill her," he screamed.
Duncan was on foot now. He started running up the hill. Louddon knew he had only seconds left. He frantically searched the ground for his knife. He would plunge it into Madelyne's heart before Duncan could stop him.
Louddon shouted with obscene laughter when he spotted his dagger on top of a pile of garbage. He knelt down and reached for his weapon.
He made the mistake of touching the food.
Louddon's hand rested on the handle of his dagger. He was turning, when a low growl stopped him. The sound intensified until it was earthshaking.
Duncan also heard the sound. He saw Louddon throw up his hands in front of his face. And then a streak of brown lightning leapt at his throat.
Louddon fell backward, strangling to death on his own blood.
Duncan motioned to his men to stand where they were. He kept his gaze on the mighty wolf as he slowly reached for his bow and arrow. The wolf stood over Louddon. The animal's teeth were bared and a low, threatening growl permeated the stillness.
Duncan prayed Madelyne wouldn't wake up. He started forward so he could gain a clear shot at the beast.
The wolf suddenly moved to stand over Madelyne. Duncan stopped breathing.
Her scent must have been familiar to the animal, Duncan decided, for the wolf quickly ended his curiosity and went back to the food. Duncan watched the wolf take the bone between his teeth, turn again, and disappear down the other side of the hill.
Duncan threw down his bow and arrow as he ran to his wife. Madelyne was just waking up when he knelt down beside her. He gently lifted her into his arms.
She rubbed her jaw, testing her injury. She was able to move it, yet thought it throbbed enough to make her think it should be broken. She realized then that Louddon was there.
"Are they gone?" she asked Duncan. She was squeezed so tightly against his chest, she could barely whisper her question.
Madelyne closed her eyes and said a prayer for his soul. She didn't think it would do him much good, but she said it all the same.
"Is Anthony all right? We must see to his injury, Duncan," Madelyne said, trying to struggle out of her husband's hold. "He's wearing an arrow in his shoulder."
Duncan stopped shaking. Madelyne was deliberately talking without pause. She knew he needed a few minutes to recover. When he eased up on his hold, Madelyne smiled at him. "Now is it over?" she asked.
"It is over," Duncan said. "Your wolf saved your life."
"I know you did, love, you will always protect me," Madelyne answered.
"Madelyne, you misunderstand," Duncan said, frowning. "Your wolf killed Louddon."
Madelyne shook her head. How like her husband to become fanciful in her moment of fear. She knew he teased her just to lighten her worry.
"Are you strong enough to stand?" Duncan asked. "Do you feel—"
"I am fine. We are fine," she amended. She patted her stomach for emphasis. "I can't feel her yet, Duncan, but I know she's safe."
When Duncan helped her to her feet, she tried to look at Louddon. Duncan moved in front of her, effectively blocking her view. "You needn't look at him, Madelyne, it would only distress you," he told her. Louddon's throat had been shredded by the wolfs jaws. It was not a sight Madelyne would soon forget if she saw it, Duncan decided.
Anthony came to stand with them. He looked more incredulous than pained.
"Anthony, your shoulder—"
"'Tis only a flesh wound," Anthony said. "Baroness, you shot one of them right through his heart," he stammered.
Duncan didn't believe him. "It was her arrow?"
Both men turned to stare at Madelyne. They looked quite astonished. Madelyne was a little irritated by their lack of faith in her ability. For a fleeting second she thought she just might keep silent. The truth, however, won out. "I was aiming for his foot."
Both Duncan and Anthony thoroughly enjoyed her admission. Duncan lifted Madelyne into his arms and began to walk down the hill.
"The wolf saved your life," he told her once again, thinking to explain the full truth.
"I know, dear."
He gave up. He'd have to explain it all to her later, when her mind wasn't so stubbornly set on believing he was her savior. "You'll never feed the beast again, Madelyne. I'll see the duty done. The wolf deserves to live an easy life now. He has earned it."
"Will you stop teasing me, Duncan?" Madelyne announced, clearly exasperated. "I've been through an ordeal."
Duncan smiled. Such a bossy bit of goods she was, and such a delight. He rubbed his chin against the top of her head while he listened to her complain about her new bruise.
Baron Wexton was eager to get Madelyne home, as eager, he thought, as Odysseus must have been to get home to his wife.
The future belonged to them. Madelyne liked to call him her wolf, but he was only a man, yet a man more powerful than the magical Odysseus.