Disclaimer: this is a piece of original fiction. all characters are mine, just mine :)

Rating: NC17 for swearing and graphic sexual situations between consenting adults

Summary: It's 1173 and the Normans have established themselves as rulers of England, but here and there are pockets of Saxon and Welsh resistance, even the king's own sons are opposed, so can a marriage decreed by King Henry II, really lead to peace? finds out, will he still pursue her?

In Darkness We Stand

Chapter One

During the reign of King Henry II.

Heather Du Lac sat silently near the fireplace and listened to the voice of the messenger who had arrived minutes ago. He had come, demanding entrance in the name of Henry Plantagenet, King of England and the young woman had dreaded the news he had been about to announce. The king demanded her immediate marriage to one of his marcher lords, Duncan De Gael, the Earl of Penfrey. After the messenger had ended and been sent away, silence lay as heavy as a death shroud on the hall and one could only hear the soft crackle of the logs burning in the fire place. Robert Du Lac, Earl of Dunston, let out a shuddering and shallow breath and his niece Heather was immediately at his side.

'Hush, uncle. Do not upset yourself!' she whispered and put her hand onto his gnarled one. Robert watched her out of sea-blue eyes. He had been her guardian for almost fifteen years, loving and protecting her as if she had been his own child. Ever since her parents had died in a siege when she had been barely ten, he had watched out for her, had furthered her education to the brink of heresy. Now with her five and twenty years she was far over the marriageable age and furthermore she was not a beauty in the usual sense. She was small and plump but comely and although men preferred small women, she was far too womanly curved as too call her small, with her green eyes and long, soft red hair the colour of copper she could not dispute her heritage from the Celts of ancient times. And indeed not only did her countenance show the close ties of her ancestry, she also had the power of the ancient druids, she being very well aware and learned in the craft of healing and magic. A dangerous combination, especially in a woman and Robert knew that more than once women, and men at that, found with the powers of the Learned Ones of the Celts, were burned on the stake. The old lord feared that this very thing would happen to her if her future husband feared the powers of the ancient tribes.

'So many years I've protected you but now I'm too old to do that anymore. I wish I could defy the king's order...' Robert whispered but Heather shook her head sadly.

'Uncle Robert, the king would kill us all if he heard your words. We both cannot ignore a royal command...' she broke off when her uncle started to cough. Soothingly, she put her hand onto his back and tried to ease his pain. Her hands tingled when her healing gift started out to work. Soon, Robert Du Lac was able to breathe more easily and he gave her a thankful smile.

'So you will abide the king's orders?' he asked her and Heather nodded.

'To defy this marriage would mean to defy the king and as it is with his son young Henry rebelling against him, this is not such a good idea...' Heather replied.

'Aye, my little one. You 're right,' Du Lac said slowly. 'But what irritates me that the king chose the Earl of Penfrey of all marriageable men. Duncan De Gael is reputed to be a hard and ruthless man. He is known for his cold-bloodedness on the battlefield and a man with such a reputation must be very cruel indeed. If I didn't know that he had more Anglo-Saxon and Briton blood in his veins I'd say he is in league with De Belleste...' Robert broke off when he saw his niece's stricken face. De Belleste had been the very man who had led the siege against her parent's stronghold, resulting in the death of both her parents.

De Belleste was ruthless and cruel, fighting was a sport to him and people said that he killed for pleasure, Heather thought and shuddered inwardly. She could count herself lucky that the king had not chosen him to be her intended. 'As long as I don't have to marry De Belleme himself I'm content with the King's order, uncle,' Heather said firmly and Robert petted her cheek.

'We could petition to the Queen...' he said but he knew very well that this would be in vain. The king himself had imprisoned his own wife, Eleonore of Aquitaine, after he had found out that she had helped her rebellious son young Henry. Turning towards her would be a useless even dangerous thing to do.

After Robert Du Lac had retreated to his bed chamber, Heather stared into the flames, deeply in thoughts. The impending marriage with a man of such questionable reputation made her nervous. Not that she had always wished to marry but after she had turned three and twenty she had given up all hope to do so anyway, besides her powers made it almost unbearable to be with other people, let alone touch them. Like her mother, she had the healing gift and with it the power to pick up emotions and sentiment, love and hatred, passion and cold disdain by simply touching. Only with her close family, which all but constituted of Lord Robert and her nurse turned chaperone Agnes, she felt comfortable to touch, and she was able to shield herself from deeper more dangerous sentiments. She was not sure if she could say the same about her husband-to-be.

Duncan De Gael paced the floor in front of the fireplace in his solar. In his fist he had crumbled the last pieces of a royal document that had been delivered only hours before. The young man was angry. How dare the king demand him to marry a noble lady he had never seen nor heard of. Angrily, he threw the parchment roll into the flames and cursed beneath his breath. For years, he had avoided wooing or marrying a woman for he had lived the life of a mercenary before his father and his younger brother had died in one of Henry's innumerous battles in France. Although he had been the first born son, his father Lord Giles, had preferred his youngest son to be his heir and Duncan had to make money out of his skill as a soldier. When his younger brother Oliver had died his father had grudgingly instated him as the legal heir to the estates of the De Gaels. It was at that time, he had found out why his father had never been a real father to him. His own mother had been a royal whore, having shared the bed with the king and other noble knights alike. He had been the product of adultery and ever since then Duncan De Gael had sworn to himself that he would never bed nor marry a highborn woman...until now.

The Earl knew full well that it was dangerous to ignore the king's wishes and despite his ruthless reputation, he was not foolish enough to take up arms against the king.

The warrior turned when he heard the door to his solar open. Duncan nodded curtly when he saw that it was his captain Angus ap Owain and he pointed towards one of the prized chairs by the fire place.

'The messenger is on his way,' the man said and his bones creaked loudly when he said down. 'Awful business...' he murmured as he eyed his liege nervously.

'It's a goddamn business,' Duncan almost shouted and raked his long, ravenblack hair. Angus knew Duncan since the man had been a new-born babe. In fact , he had been the one who had taken care of the child after the old earl had made it unmistakably clear that he did not want to see this bastard child anywhere near the keep. Angus had taught him all he knew, giving him the skills to become one of the most famous warriors of England and France. He had tried to raise him to become an honest man and he had succeeded in all but one thing: he had failed to convince him that not all women were like his mother, the Lady Danielle. After he had been present when the messenger had announced the reason he had come, the old man dreaded the time when Duncan would bring back his wife to Penfrey Castle. Angus sighed inwardly and rubbed his beard. 'I've heard that Robert Du Lac is dying. His only heir is his niece Lady Heather...' he said. 'From what I've heard she is a good match. By marrying her you'd gain more land and estates than any other baron has. Half of the marches would be under your control and I don't think the king even knows how much power he bestows on you...'

Duncan snorted at that and sat down on the other remaining chair.

'Nay, the king knows exactly what he's doing, Angus, he's playing one of his little games,' he shook his head. 'And I'll be damned if I play along with him!'

'Steady, Duncan. If you challenge the king, that'll mean war...' Angus replied and watched the young man in front of him. The shadows of the flames danced across the young warrior's face and for a moment the old man saw the face of his enemy, Guillaume De Belleste. At times like this, Duncan De Gael resembled his legitimate father and the old man shivered. Duncan stared into the fire and when he turned his head, he saw the flicker of fear in the old man's eyes. He understood Angus' doubts all too well. Ever since he had found out who his real father was, he had lived in constant fear himself that he would turn out like his father, that he would become as cruel and bloodthirsty as Guillaume De Belleste, the devil himself.

'Do you believe that I've inherited the cursed blood of the De Bellestes?' Duncan asked calmly and the old man shook his head.

'I do not know, my lord. All I know is that you are not like Guillaume De Belleste,' Angus stood up and angrily paced the floor. 'You are Duncan De Gael, Earl of Penfrey. A man who...'

'A man who fights in battle mercilessly and without regret!' Duncan interrupted and watched his foster-father in silence. 'I have a foul temper and every time I lose it I ask myself if this is the first sign of insanity...' When Angus did not reply at that, confirming his own doubts, Duncan buried his face in his hands and Angus cursed beneath his breath. 'I will marry this lady Heather but as soon as the marriage ceremony is over I will send her on her way to one of my castles where she can spend her life in luxury and with any man she prefers for her bed companion ...'

It was long time after Angus had gone, when Duncan De Gael raised to his feet and poured himself a cup of strong wine. He went over to the window and after he had opened one of the shutters, cold air hit him like a knife but he did not mind, he welcomed the sharp twinge. Aye, he thought, he would have to marry Heather Du Lac. But they would never have children, not his anyway to inherit the cursed blood of the De Bellestes.

Chapter 01 | Chapter 02 | Chapter 03 | Chapter 04 | Chapter 05