Miklos stared at her with disgust.
"You're his woman!"
She wasn't. She recalled Duncan's face when he pushed her away. In the dark she couldn't see him. However, he must have looked the same way Miklos' did right now.
She could lie and tell him she was, however, it was sinful to lie. She could deny it and tell the truth but the man scowling in front of her looked like he put some importance to the fact, and this might help with her bound hands.
She remained silent. She wouldn't be at fault for Miklos' assumptions.
Miklos bellowed and slapped her face.
"I knew it." Then he stuttered and started to say more but he seemingly thought better and grinned instead.
"You'll deliver him to me within the week and he must not know that I sent you."
He drew his sword and pointed it at her chest.
If she had to deliver Duncan, it meant Miklos would release her. She nodded and did her best to sound convincing.
"You will draw him to the ridge, through the road."
He rubbed his hands and then pushed a vial into her hands.
"The night before the fight you'll pour this potion into their drink."
He answered her unspoken question with a shrug. The drink must have the effect to weaken rather than kill as Miklos wanted them alive enough to fight. She slid the vial in the pouch on her belt and remained silent.
One of the soldiers helped her mount her horse, and she left the camp without turning her head to see Miklos' sneer.
If she only could find Duncan's camp. He said they'd be somewhere around the river, but she didn't remember exactly where. Probably, the egg-sized bump on the side of her head was at fault.
She fingered the vial in her pouch and turned to look if Miklos sent anyone to follow her. Nausea settled in her stomach, and she swayed. The more she tried to remember where Duncan camped the darker the night around her became. The darkness fell like a curtain before her eyes, and she knew nothing more.
It was warm and safe, and a soft breath traveled across her face. She felt as much as she heard the deep voice whispering words she could not understand. A familiar scent invaded her nostrils. However, she couldn't remember its origin.
Warm lips covered hers, and the reality came crushing down on her. However, she found herself unable to resist answering the kiss, and she let herself sink in its puzzled safety.
A voice spoke with reproach, and Duncan pushed her away again.
"You are betrothed, Duncan."
Relief flooded her, as she realized it was guilt and not disgust in Duncan's rejection. It wouldn’t change anything between them, and nausea gripped her once more as she fell from the heights of hope into the chasm of disappointment
She knew well the importance of keeping an oath.
Duncan answered, and Dochia could hear in his voice that his temper was barely in check.
"I am keenly aware of it, Alexander."
She opened her eyes to see who spoke, and her eyes couldn't focus. She blinked a few times. However, the man was gone when her vision returned. She could only see liquid green eyes fraught with worry amid bushy red eyebrows.
"Who?" Duncan asked.
It took her a moment to understand he was asking her to tell who was responsible for the blue bruises on her face.
"Miklos." she answered.
Duncan schooled his expression and she couldn't see what he was thinking.
"In the forest across the road."
Duncan rose with purpose, and Dochia seized the opportunity.
"He would not be there, Duncan. They were packing when I left. I heard them say they would be on the ridge within one week's time."
It was the truth, as much as she could say and not betray her oath.
Duncan looked at the pouch on her belt.
"Would you have used that?"
She was puzzled, as she didn't know what the vial contained.
"Foxglove." Duncan said.
It dawned in her that Duncan asked if she would have taken her own life. She shivered and answered a decided no. She told the full truth this time and for her, it had a double meaning. Her promise was only to draw Duncan on the ridge, and she wouldn't use the foxglove on her or on anyone else, for that matter.
He strode to the tent's door and said before he exited.
"We’ve been looking for them. We will ride the day-after tomorrow at dawn and this should give us enough time to meet Miklos in a week."
The ridge loomed into the distance, and the men rode hoping they would be first at the top. Their hopes were dashed when they saw the line of armored knights awaiting them and the party stopped near the base of the ridge.
Duncan and Miklos removed their helmets and measured each other in silence. Then Miklos turned his head towards her, grinned and bowed in mock gratitude.
She looked at Duncan, and a new wave of nausea dropped into her stomach when she saw Duncan's face change from worry to ice as understanding dawned on him.
He drew his sword and so did she. She kissed the hilt and bowed to him as she used to do before every battle. The ice in his eyes didn't melt, but he returned the years-old signal and charged towards the top of the hill.
She fulfilled her oath and drew Duncan to the ridge within the week. She kept quiet about her oath to Miklos, and she would see if in truth, it was the lesser evil.
She looked back at Miklos, and this time, there was no doubt where she belonged. She charged and slid into step with Duncan, this deadly dance the single place where they could be one.