06 - Chapter 6 - The Madness of the Wicked By: Martine A. Lynch
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The Madness of the Wicked  



Chapter  6   


Ailín smiled as she lowered tiny Caulay into the cradle by her bed, affectionately running her fingers over his head before lacing up her gown. She had insisted on nursing her son from the very start, since caring for him occupied her time. There was still so much to learn before she could truly run Dhugal’s household, and there were so many others more capable of doing it, that she had decided to take on the one task they could not do so well-the raising of her and Dhugal’s son. It gave her purpose while she learned how to be his duchess.

“Aunt Caldreana,” Ailín called with a smile. “Will ye tell Father that he may return now and take wee Caulay, if he wishes?”

“Certainly, Ailín. I’ll get Father Duncan,” Dhugal’s aunt smiled. She first bent over to caress her adorable little grand-nephew, then straightened and looked at his mother. “Ye gae an’ get your rest. Dinnae fash yourself ’bout anything.”

“Thank you,” Ailín told her gratefully as Caldreana left for the stair. Now that the babe had been nursed, he would likely sleep three hours or so, likely in the arms of his grandfather. Duncan was so infatuated with his grandson that he’d probably take wee Caulay and sit with him that entire time.

Not that Ailín’s fascination was any less. She watched him sleep for a few moments, utterly captivated by this tiny little person that she and Dhugal had somehow brought to life, with God’s grace. Kelson had noted that he seemed to resemble her, which she found flattering, but she was convinced that he looked more like Dhugal. “That’s a good little lad,” she whispered, giving him one last pat before turning from the cradle. Once Duncan had taken the babe, perhaps she could also get some sleep with Dhugal and Kelson gone for the day.

Or, perhaps not. There was a noisy clattering on the stair, so the men must have found the bandits and returned early. Sure enough, someone set their hand to the latch of her door without knocking, so it must be her husband.

“Dhugal!” she greeted warmly as the heavy oak swung open, taking a step forward to rush and greet her husband. That step froze before it was complete, because the man behind Dhugal was unexpected. Dear Lord, it was her father.

Ailín felt paralyzed, hollow, as Geoffrey of Tirkeeve stepped in the room and stood silently. The old dread and fear of his heavy hand and cruel treatment came flooding through her veins, unbidden. He had beat her senseless countless times for asking the wrong question, looking at him the wrong way. He had locked her alone in an underground storage room on many occasions, leaving her to the feared total darkness when she hadn’t anticipated a guest’s needs, or she dared to show an independent thought. He had tried to marry her to a man who had killed his first wife, until Dhugal had interfered and claimed her for his own.

Dhugal. He was her strength, had bidden her to let her caged spirit fly free. The thought of her husband reminded Ailín that her father no longer had power over her, so there was no more reason to fear. Yet, there was a wild, violent look in Geoffrey’s eyes that sent shivers down her spine. Without thinking, she took a step backward and slightly to the side, putting herself between her father and her son, sleeping so innocently in his cradle.

“Welcome back, my husband,” she greeted, partially formal before this unwelcome guest. “Was your outing successful?”

“Aye,” Dhugal confirmed, coming forward to take her hand and kiss her cheek. “I encountered your lord father on the road, and gave him escort.”

“I see,” she answered neutrally, glance darting between her husband and Geoffrey, but her eyes finally settled on Dhugal. “There is no need for ye to remain with us, if ye do not wish it. I know ye have your own guest to entertain.”

*Are you certain?* Dhugal sent silently, privately sharing his concern over Geoffrey’s behavior.

*Aye,* she confirmed. *He could only harm me before because I was a daughter in his house, and under his power. I am now his duchess, and he has no right to touch me.*

“Very well,” Dhugal conceded. “You are correct, I should not leave my own guest unattended.” Counter to the formality of his words, he gently took his wife by the shoulders and kissed her tenderly. He would make his feelings toward Ailín plainly known to Geoffrey before departing, and with them the unspoken affirmation that she was firmly under his protection. Ailín gave him a small smile as he withdrew, which he returned, but his face went rigid as he turned toward the Lord of Kilshane.

“I invite you to dine at our table in the hall tonight,” he said, then turned his head back to his wife. “I shall be nearby, if you need me.” One last look of warning was directed at Geoffrey, and he reluctantly left the room. Even though the sound of him descending the stair carried into Ailín’s chamber, there was an eerie sense of quiet.


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