Of Love and Destruction
Chapter 1: Elena

"Elena! Ah, my sweet girl! Will ye marry me today, or must I wait?" I laughed good-naturedly, and refilled his tankard.

"Lay off, you old sot. I am too tired to be making wedding plans just yet!"

The men in the tavern laughed. "Bested again, eh Mathersson?" I smiled, and began scrubbing the tables.

"Elena, come over here honey, give an old man some love!" A man ancient enough to be my grandfather grinned toothlessly my way.

"Nay, kind sir, for how would I get any work done if I oblige?" I picked up an empty mug, and dropped it in the dishwater.

"Oh you'll get plenty of work done, lass, if I have anything to say about it!" They erupted into laughter again, and I shook my head.

"Don't flatter yourself, sir." I rinsed the mug, and set it on the drain board to dry.

"Elena! Watch your mouth!" My mother's shrill yell echoed from the back room.

"Yes mamaa!" I called, and flicked a bit of dishwater at a man leering at my chest. "Mind your manners, sir!" I went to give the man in the far corner his drink. He perplexed me, cloaked in a long tunic and cape, the hood shadowing his face. He was obviously well bred, based on the sword hanging at his side. I set his beer in front of him.

"Here you are, milord. I apologize that there isn't better, but we've had a hard year." I went to move away, but he caught my wrist in his gloved hand. He dropped a coin into my palm.

"Thank you, lass."

"Call if you need something." He was extremely courteous, for a well bred Saxon. I was of Norman blood, therefore unspoken enemies to the Saxons who brutally ruled us. I withdrew quickly from his table, re-joining the group of bawdy men.

They continued to taunt me, but I ignored them, preferring to contemplate the quiet man in the corner. I could still feel his powerful hand gripping my wrist. At closing time he left, and came back the next night.

This time he asked for a room, and I ran upstairs to make one ready. He handed me a coin, and disappeared into the room I'd given him. He still would not reveal his face.

The next morning I awoke earlier than usual, going to do my chores, then to the linen closet. I gathered the required materials, then knocked lightly on the strange man's door.

"Come in!" He called, and I pushed open the door.

He was shaving off his stubble in the mirror over the washbasin, his entire torso completely naked. A long white scar twisted its was down his bare back; marring his otherwise-flawless skin. I scolded myself for thinking such things.

"I... I apologize, sir!" I made for the door, images of his muscular chest floating in front of my eyes.

"It is fine. I don't mind. What did you want?" I averted my eyes. My heart still pounded in my chest as I resisted taking another peek. I had never seen any man besides the boys I'd played with as a girl with his shirt off, and frankly, I thought this man handsome.

I scolded myself for such thoughts, as a romance between nobility and a peasant was forbidden. Anyway, what could he see in me? A homely green-eyed girl in a homespun dress, nothing more. I was not pretty, no matter what anyone says to the contrary.

"To change your linens. I brought clean ones."

"Well then hurry up about it!" He sounded impatient.

"Yes, milord." I hurried to do his bidding, yanking the covers off his unmade bed. I wadded up his dirty sheets. "I'll be downstairs if you need anything, sir." I tried not to look at him as he yanked on a shirt and tunic.

I walked slowly down the stairs, pondering the irony of that particular scene. Wealthy Saxons didn't just let poor serving girls see them half-naked every day like it was nothing. I scrubbed at the empty counter while I thought about it.


I wondered how long he'd be staying.


And what he was here for.


I snapped out of my reverie to see mother standing in front of me; hands on hips.


"You've been cleaning the bar for ten minutes now! Pay attention!" She stormed away. I sighed, but did as she bid me, starting in on the first row of tables.

A chuckle came from the direction of the stairs, and I whirled. The Saxon was standing watching me, arms crossed, an amused smirk on his face.

For some reason blood flooded to my cheeks, and I ducked my head to avoid his gaze. "Are you hungry?"

"That would be lovely, thank you." I went into the kitchen, and when I came out he was seated at a table in the corner. I set a half loaf of bread and a slice of cheese in front of him, and handed him a tankard of my father's apple cider.

"I'm sorry it isn't better-" I started, but he caught my arm, a small smile gracing his lips.

"It is fine, Elena." I was startled.

"How did you know my name?" I blurted before I could stop myself.

"Simple, those drunken bastards last night wouldn't stop screaming it."

I blushed again at his use of language, then turned to go. "Excuse me, sir, but I must get to my chores."

"Of course." I felt his eyes follow my retreating form.

I thought of the strange man all day as I worked. Usually wealthy Saxons didn't come to our town, much less stay more than a single night. He was out most of the day, taking his horse with him.

After my chores were done I went out to the stables to talk to my mare, Anwen. I rested my forehead against her soft muzzle, and she snorted as if to say; 'Silly girl.' When Anwen and I met she was but a gangly-legged foal. A rogue stallion had impregnated her dam, a warhorse, and died giving birth to her. Her distraught owner was going to kill her, but I traded a weeks worth of cleaning his stables so she could be mine.

Hoof beats clattered in the yard, and I jumped as the strange man rode in. I quickly moved away from my horse, as women were not allowed to own them. My father had seen her potential from a young age, and allowed me to keep her under his name.

The man smirked at me as he led his sweating stallion into the stall, and began to brush him down. I went to get grain for the horses, and came back to see the man checking his horse's hooves. I slipped into Anwen's stall, and patted her neck. She nudged me gently.

"What's the mares name?" his voice cut through the evening air, and I jumped again.

"I call her Anwen."

"Is she yours?" How could he have possibly guessed?

"I am a woman. She is my father's horse." I lied, not very convincingly.

"I don't believe you. She trusts you, and usually a horse only makes that bond with one person." I was silent, and for a moment the only sound was of Anwen chewing noisily.

"Don't worry, I'm not about to punish you. I think it is a silly law, anyone who can ride a horse should be able to own one." I still did not trust him, so I stayed quiet, brushing the tangles from my mare's mane.

"You don't talk much, do you?" I shrugged, and Anwen nudged me again. I heard him stop grooming his horse, then he spoke again. "Are you afraid of me?" His voice was soft, almost gentle.

"You are a Saxon," I forced myself to say, then turned and ran back into the inn. Mama set me to washing dishes the instant she saw me.

The man left the next day. I never knew his name, or why he came. All my parents cared was that he paid good money for his food and room. He had not spoken to me again since I'd admitted I was afraid of him. I had the sinking feeling that this was not the last I'd see of him, and not two months later my fears were justified.

[A/N Ooohhh! Cliffhanger much? Sorry! I'm so bad! Please tell me what you think, I'd love any criticism, as this is my first story on here! I might -just might- have the next chapter done faster if you review! Tell me what you think of Mr. Mysterious!]