| It was too late to send word to Duncan.
She opened the chest and pulled out her leather face mask and her cuir bouilli armors. She plaited her hair and rolled it closely around her head, however she avoided the mirror as she changed into Lord Stan.
The scout didn't recognize the band of mercenaries camping in the forest, so she didn't fear recognition.
She dreaded Duncan's temper when he'd discover she ignored his order to stay within the tower and leave the defense to his garrison.
She sheathed her sword and descended in the hall where Alexander, the commander of the garrison, met her with a frown.
"Duncan would have our heads if harm comes to you, my lady."
A vision of the tower on fire dampened her doubts.
"If you can reach them with your arrows, they can reach our tower with theirs, on fire. We must stop them before they come near."
Alexander agreed with a nod.
"We plan to ride in the morning."
A young man interjected.
"We cannot, Alexander. The mercenaries outnumber us three to one."
Dochia faced the men in the hall.
"A night attack would take them by surprise, and tonight it is our best chance. The tower is our home, and we would not see it burned. Who is willing to follow me?"
Alexander snorted and turned to leave, followed by his men.
Dochia straightened, and her voice echoed in the hall.
"Those who fear death need not come with us. Who is ready to die for our home and our land?"
Peter answered, strong and clear.
"I am! I am tired of running. I owe you, my lady and I would pay my debt."
Dochia nodded in gratitude. His failure to kill Miklos still weighed hard on his mind.
"I am!" several voices from the garrison answered, and Alexander glared at them. Then he turned to Dochia, and their eyes held for a prolonged moment. Dochia knew he resented her because he long wished Duncan to marry his sister, Rose. It'd be the perfect opportunity for him to be rid of her.
"Who rides with me, stay. Who doesn't, should we fail, defend the tower the best you can. You may leave now."
She would disclose her plan only in bits and pieces, and they would ride as soon as they were ready.
Alexander stopped at the door.
"I ride with you, my lady. I leave a quarter of the garrison for it is unwise to leave the tower defenseless."
Dochia stilled. She glanced at Peter, and his slight nod reassured her of his protection.
They rode in silence, on secret paths that only she knew and circled the mercenary camp. She signaled Peter and he left with five of her men.
Horses whining loudly and the thunder of hooves that followed were the signal of attack. With a cry, she rushed towards the camp, making headway through the surprised mercenaries.
She used the hilt of her sword to send them into oblivion while the youngsters came behind and trussed them like geese.
Soon the rest of the mercenaries caught their bearing and hastily donned their armors and wielded their weapons.
The fight surrounded her; however, without horses, the mercenaries stood little chance. She watched with satisfaction as her enemies surrendered or paid with their lives for their foolhardiness.
She surveyed the field, and stilled. In the light cast by the bonfire, a well-known silhouette had its eyes trained on her. She answered his glare with such intensity that she failed to hear the rider coming behind her.
"Miklos." she hissed when she approached him. He often held her at knifepoint and now she had her chance to have her sword pointed at his chest. She raised her sword, and Miklos lounged.
She let a cry of surprise when she understood he didn't lounge at her but he deflected the sword aimed at her back.
She heard the loud screech of metal on metal, and she knew Miklos's parry was successful. It gave her just enough time to turn and let another cry of surprise.
"He should have married Rose."
He lounged at her, but his sword didn't reach hers. Miklos parried again; however, he was no match for a mounted knight. The sword cut through his mail and pierced through his side. He roared and raised his sword to Alexander's now exposed flank. A loud cry and a muffled thud told her that Miklos his mark. She dismounted and looked in question at Miklos.
"That day, at the lake, I meant it. Duncan is a lucky man."
The fight ended, and her servants carted the wounded back to the tower.
"Take Alexander to the guest room."
He would have much to explain when Duncan returned; however, until then she must treat Alexander properly.
Miklos was slowly fading away and needed immediate help if he was to survive.
"There are no rooms left in the tower to house the wounded, my lady."
She sighed and took a deep breath.
"Take him to my chambers."
Duncan returned the following morning. He looked dusty and weary, and he didn't notice the agitation around the tower. He searched for Dochia, and a smile lit his face at her sight.
She rushed to him and held him tight.
"Hello, my love, nothing of importance happened while you were away. I only ignored your order, fended an assault on the tower and chanced an attack in the night while grossly outnumbered. Oh, and our wounded enemy recovers in our bed."
The words never left her mouth, and she said instead.
"Everything went well in your absence; would you like something to eat?"
He shook his head and strode up the stairs.
"No, send a bath in our chambers."
"Duncan, wait!" The words echoed behind him; however, he didn't turn.
Dochia sighed and motioned to a servant.
"Prepare the bath in the kitchen."
She barely finished speaking when a bellow shook the hall.