Question before we start, should I take out the part about the Keep's history? also the Title is just a working title for now, I'm not sure how much I like it.
England, Spring, 1190
Where there is much light, the shadows are deepest.
Beautiful light is born of darkness, so the faith that springs from conflict is often the strongest and the best.
There, if the light glinted through the trees right she could see it - the ruby chestnut shade of a horse’s flanks. Drua crouched low in the brush, determined to not make a sound. Her ear towards the horse’s movements she waited. The sun in shafts came down through the forest, the wind whipped through the trees and underbrush tossing leaves around.
A loud crack sounded through the forest, spooking the horse, and as it sprinted wildly through the trees Drua followed him.
As her booted feet slapped against the earth Drua searched with her eyes for some landmark, and found the corner of the old Templar ruins. She slowed her pace, the horse would have corned itself now, for at the end of this path was only caves and rock face.
Making sure to creep softly she approached, through the bark and branches paced the agitated horse. Sweat gleamed off the smooth flanks and dripped at the ends of his long fettered caramel mane.
Bending slightly, her left arm out, fingers splayed, she advanced on the animal who spun towards her and the sound of her steps.
The animal pranced a bit, but slowed its anxiety as she petted its slippery neck, and took the bridle in hand. Making shushing sounds to calm the colt, she observed that the hair on his neck was short and fine, not like Northern horses. It was truly a beauteous animal that her brother had brought from the East. He had said on his arrival this May Day, that is was a present from some Moslem Sheik. His sinewy, lithe frame was such a wonderful difference from the Mountain Ponies and work horses they rode here. With slow movements, she offered the creature her upturned palm. It stretched its long neck around and sniffed her palm, the long, sun glided whiskers tickling her skin. Finally after some time, the horse started to nuzzle her palm in affection.
“That’s a good boy, let us get you back.”
Not trusting the colt’s mood, she decided against riding and looped the reins in her hand, and started the trek back to the keep’s stables.
The Keep, Windfell, wasn’t large by any means, Sir Artus hadn’t expanded it in all his years as Lord of the Manor. It contained one-hundred and fifty farms and three-hundred serfs in the surrounding countryside. On one side of its stone protrusion was the town of Lisle, the other the forest of Nant. The twon of Lisle was a dirty, bustling place, a way stop for Crusaders to the Holy Land, and contained one Inn, one Blacksmith, and one Priest. Sir Artus had said when his advisors advised expansion that he liked it –this way-. Certainly his wife did, Lady Margot of Dudain was charmed by the quaint, peasant feel. But she had died in giving birth to their fifth child, a boy, who subsequently died three days after. The Lord had turned to his books, and their three sons had sought the Crusade to prove their worth. The oldest Marc had returned wounded to help his father with their investments. Paul, the second had died in battle at Acre, and Stephen, the youngest, had just returned from Jerusalem, where he was a knight in the King’s army. That left Drua, the Lady of the household in her mother’s wake.
There was crashing through the brush ahead, which startled but did not spook the colt. Drua did not think anything of it, it was probably some children or hunter’s from the village, until something grabbed at her.
The horse reared and spun, before running off.
Drua, heart beating like a little sparrow in her chest, lashed out at her captor until he unceremoniously tossed her to the ground.
Wiping her hair out of her eyes, she looked up. She was surrounded by men, in dark tunics whom she did not know. Starring daggers at the men, she tried to figure a way out, now cursing that she hadn’t told any one of her plans to find the horse.
The one that had captured her spoke, “Now what have we here, little missy.”
He prodded her side forcefully with his boot, Drua hissed at the pain.
Another reached down to take a few strands of her much beloved dark hair, betwixt his fingers.
“A pretty one at that.”
Drua’s mind was racing – who were these men, why were they on her father’s land, what did they want from her.
She steeled herself and looked their leader in the eye, “I’ll have you know that I am the Lady of the Household, Lady of Windfell, my father and brothers will be very cross with you for this.”
The leader pursed his thin lips together, before speaking, his voice full of ale and dirt, “I don’t think they can be cross about anything right now, luv.”
She sent him her very best death glare. Fear, tendrils of darkness maraudered her thoughts.
The man with her hair jerked her, and she tried to fend him off but he quickly had her hands behind her back.
She tried to bit and then scream, but it was muffle by the man’s arm, hooked around her face.
The leader reached for her with a gag, “We don’t want you alerting the villagers, now do we?”
Drua woke her body aflame with pain. It seemed every part of her hurt. When she tried to open her eyes, darts of pain sliced through her already pounding head. Groaning she tried again.
A soft female voice cut through to her, “Do not try to move, you will only hurt yourself, you are safe now, go back to sleep.”
Not willing to fight, she drifted off into an uneasy rest.
When she awoke again, she could hear voices.
“How is she, Sister?” A deep male voice inquired.
“Better than yesterday, better than when you brought her to us. Thanks be to God, you found her when you did Sir.”
“Thank you Sister, for without you I fear she never would have survived the night.”
Drua discovered that when she moved her hand, her body no longer hurt to move, although there were still some parts that held a dull ache. Opening her eyes she found she was in some kind of infirmary, everything was white and there were white muslin drapes instead of a proper door.
Bracing herself, she lifted her body so that she was upright. Her hands were bandaged and so were her feet. Bringing her hands to her face, she could feel the cuts and bruises there. Running a hand through her hair, she stopped at the unaccustomed feeling of shortness. Her hair, her lovely long mahogany hair was no more. She gritted her teeth in frustration and tugged harshly at the now short lengths.
She must have voiced her indignation for a woman bustled in.
“Where – where am I?” Her voice croaked from disuse.
The woman, who Drua figured was a nun fiddled with her bed sheets before taking Drua’s hands in her hers.
“The Convent of the Sisters of Mary.”
Drua calculated the distance in her head; it was quite far from her homestead.
“How did I get here?”
The nun looked on her with pitiful eyes, “You do not remember? Well I guess tis for the best.”
Drua racked her brain; she couldn’t remember anything except the men in the forest, and waking here.
The woman continued, retrieving a cup and vial from the armoire.
“Sir Marhaus brought you here a fortnight ago. You have been asleep since.”
Oh, Drua remembered the conversation she had overheard, that must have been Sir Marhaus.
“Now drink this.”
The woman had emptied the contents of the vial in the cup and raised the spicy smelling liquid to Drua’s lips.
Drua was ashamed to find she could not hold the cup on her own, and the woman had to help her drink.
“I am Sister Catherine, dear, if there is anything I can get you ask for me.”
“Yes, Sister, can I have a glass?.”
By the time, Sister Catherine had come back with a glass, Drua had inspected her injuries. There was a deep cut, now almost healed starting at her hip bone and ending at her knee, and burn marks on the skin under her knees, another of yellow brown quality stretched across her belly. There were also various cuts and bruises covering every part of her skin.
"Here you are dear."
Drua took the glass and brought it level with her face. She almost shrieked at the sight. Her face a myriad of numerous cuts, tiny rust marks, and bruises: a mesh of waxy yellow and purple blots like those of colored ink marking her features. There was a large ochre burn mark over her left eyebrow and both eyes were bloodshot and swollen. Her hair, had indeed been cut short, the strangs barely the lenght of her thumb. She brought fingers to her hair, in horrid awe. Although Drua knew she wasn't the prettiest of girls, she had always covetted her hair as a prised posession.
"My hair!" Was what came out, through her burised lips, when she could speak, her face skewed.
"I am sorry," Sister Catherine spoke, "We had to cut it, it was badly burnt."
Drua was about to question her about the burning, when a figure appeared.
"Sister Catherine, a vistor."
The Sister patted her on the arm before leaving.
Another figure appeared past the sheer muslin. Tall and broad, and when he spoke she remembered it as the voice from before.
"How is she?"
"In shock sir, but alive and awake. I don't believe she remembers much. You may go and she her if you like, but please do not upset her."
The figure just nodded.
The Sisters left and the man brushed aside the curtains and entered. Drua placed down the glass to look up at him. He was of alpine stature, with a rugged look about him. His dark hair was cut short but wild, and his eyes bore flecks of brown and green, like the forest rushes, but one having more green than the other. He wasn't a particularly handsome man, but his stature spook of strenght and agility. He wore riding breeches and a worn, muddied tunic, the emblem in the center sea-blue, the wings of a hawk. He pulled up a chair, to sit next to her.
"I am Sir Marhaus of Elthia, Chevalier du Faucon, Knight of Jerusalem of the 10th Order."
Drua lowered her eyes, as was acustomed to do so in presence of a Knight, a Crusader.
"Lady Drusilla of Windfell."
He bowed his head, "I knew your brother, Sir Stephen, we fought side by side at Jerusalem. He was a good man your brother."
Drua was slightly confused why this Knight, this man, was referring to Stephen in the past tense.
He seemed to know exactly her questions and caught her eye.
"I am afraid that I am the bringer of bad news Milady, I do regret that. Your brothers and father are dead. The Keep at Windfell has been burnt to the ground. You were lucky to make it out alive."
Drua blinked, her brain had come to a full stop, all higher fuctioning had ceased. No - it couldn't be, fear gripped at her insides like a bunch of paupers hands. Her brothers and father were waiting for her back at Windfell. She wanted to yell and scream, call this man a liar, but the only thing that came out was, "How?"
The man looked uncomfortable for a moment but continued.
"Marauders most likely, maybe a band of Picts, or Templars attacked the keep and the surrounding countryside. I only arrived too late to save anyone there. But I did find you in the forest."
Though Drua noted he did not say how he found her. She wished she remembered. ¨
"Now Milady, I should leave you to your rest, but on the morrow when you are better, I could accompany you to Windfell."
He bowed before leaving Drua with the dark knowledge that to her, all was lost.