Chapter 11 Decisive Gambling

Sitting at the head of the table, Eomer appeared irritated, for Vez seemed overly confident in taking part in the game, though he at least thought her inclusion would make things interesting. Another rather large Rhohirrim with a blond scraggly beard brought the die, throwing cups, and cards. "Legolas?" Eomer asked his interest, but the Elf raised his hands, "I am afraid I am done with games for this night," he declined politely, still feeling slightly buzzed from the alcohol consumption; he remained standing nearby to observe.

Two other Rohirrim joined the group and Eomer laid out the game's rules. Vezely was unsurprised that it was similar to the game she often played in the East; the card's symbols were just different. The men threw various coins into the pot and she removed one ring from her finger, a gold ring with a small emerald in the center - A ring taken from a Cosair pirate during one of the resistance's brief campaigns at sea. "To start," she smiled, feeling good about playing, for gambling offered a chance to take her mind off of more pressing matters.

The various throws of dice went around with higher stakes being thrown in; Vezely added another ring. Legolas noted her honed gestures, the way she rolled the dice in the cup and her confidence in her dealings with the cards; he deduced she must have played this game often before.

After several rounds, the two men decidedly backed out, leaving Vez against Eomer.

"The stakes should go higher," Eomer remarked, seeming confident in his current hand.

She narrowed her eyes, trying to gauge his hand as compared to hers, "What do you have in mind?"

"Our horses," Eomer replied assuredly. "If I win, you give me that black stead of yours. If you win, you can have the best horse of the Rohirrim."

Vezely had no interest in his horse, or giving up hers. "It seems a fair bet, but you have many horses at your disposal. As for myself, I am carried only by one and have no desire for two."

"You did agree to high stakes," he added steadily, about to charge her with weakness for backing out.

She breathed in, thinking she got a sense of his bluff and grew more assured of her own hand. "I did. So my horse for yours."

Legolas grew uncomfortable. It was a bet if in a similar position, he would not have taken.

They each laid their cards down, and to Eomer's disappointment, his hand did not surpass Vezely's. She quickly gathered the small pile of coin in front of her from which she replaced her two rings.

Eomer looked incredibly displeased, but he remained courteous. "Well played. I will bring you my horse in the morning."

She nodded at him before he left along with his fellow gamblers, saying nothing. She felt it was simply enough to leave it be until the morning. In reality, she had no intention of accepting his horse, but figured she'd give him the night to believe she did.

Legolas took a seat next to her, querying, "You knew he was bluffing?"

"Yes, otherwise I would never wager Gizik," she replied before proceeding to drink the last of her third mug of ale. "I have learned to read men. They are quick to wager what they perceive is against your better intentions in the hopes that you will not take that bet."

"You have played this often then," he figured.

"More so prior to my captivity, but also following it. I left the dungeons with nothing. I gambled out of need," she then took one of the pile's gold coins and observed it, biting it with her teeth to check if it was real.

"The resistance did not assist you?" he asked curiously, though slightly off-put by her unladylike gesture, for which the dress she wore did not suit.

"They did not accept me at first, nor could I easily accept them," thinking back to her uneasy transition integrating back into the world once relocating her mind. Closing her hand around the coin, she smiled slightly changing to a friendlier subject, "Not long ago I won Gizik from a similar match. The man wagered a kiss thinking I would not be willing to submit to it."

"He was brave," he joked, and then adding sarcastically, "I would think a finger is an easier wager to make."

She laughed while holding up her other hand and observing it to prove she never lost to such bets, "I have played with such stakes long ago, when I feared not nor cared of pain for myself or others. Alas, I remain reckless to a degree."

"You are young. Perhaps when I was your age, I was of similar disposition," he replied amused.

"It is odd to be considered young," she said thoughtfully, "You are how old?"

"Five times your age," he answered with a small smile while looking at her, wanting to see if such an age dichotomy surprised her.

"You have seen much then," she smiled back at him, not necessarily deterred by it but it made her curious as to the interactions amongst various generations of Elves.

"You would think so. Even with eternal youth, those older envy ones my age. My father would say so of me, being born in a brief time of peace after the founding of our kingdom in Northern Mirkwood. Though, I would reply, our home has never known peace. It is always being invaded by orcs and always on the edge of Shadow. Yet he as others remember the Dark Times, the First Alliance of Elves and men, when Sauron was at his height of power, when my grandfather died during the war that stretched throughout Middle Earth. It has been a long defeat and they have seen more of it. The younger of us can only think we understand." Vez listened intently, amazed by such an age dichotomy, as many Elves have lived in the world since right after its beginning. Her stretch of life paled in comparison. He continued, hoping to revisit their first meeting, which each had thought about that day, "You were even younger when we first met. A child by Elf standards and your youth was a topic of discussion during your brief stay."

"I was not a child amongst men," she rebuked, slightly miffed at being considered so; perhaps he did view her as a child, she thought. Though she wondered why this interest was so amongst his kin.

"No, but there are few Elves your age in Middle Earth since fewer have been born during these times. For we are most concerned about our offspring, and would choose not to bring a child into the world under such conditions. I am an only child because of this. While I do not question your existence, but query the possibility of higher reasoning behind it," he proposed his thoughts, thinking of his father's acknowledgment of their crossed paths and hoping to further converse on it.

"Higher reasoning?" she scoffed skeptically, shaking her head, "Posing such questions only leads to others, and mostly angered ones. Many like to speak of fate and destiny. I want to know who dictates such paths for I would have a thing or two to say to them."

"You would be bold to do so," he rejoined dryly, noting her disgruntlement.

"Would I?" she shrugged unconcerned for speaking brash, "I have been from one side of the East to the other. Everywhere people claim to be guided by gods, spirits, the divine, the Valar...they seek their protection, defer their will to them as if such beings exist or care. I ask, where was their protection when my army slaughtered them, burnt their villages down, took their livestock? Was it higher reasoning for me to bring these people to their knees for the sake of Sauron, who may as well claim himself divine?" She stopped, for these questions irritated her, "Forgive me, I tire of being owned by unseen forces, as well as having my path dictated by those I can see," referring not only to Sauron's use of her, but also more recently with being made to go West by the Blue Wizards, having little say in the matter.

He knew he had struck a chord, which he had not initially expected. He added carefully, "You desire to make your own path?"

"If I was at liberty to," she replied, trying to speak calmly and desiring detachment from the subject, "I have yet to pay my debts and gain that right. Returning West is part of it." She then looked at him stoically, sensing he was considering her words and trying to figure her out. He was always doing so she realized.

Legolas thought through his father's premonition, wondering his own role in this and feeling uncertain of her current demeanor. She seemed to suddenly be distancing herself from the conversation, quelling what obviously angered her. "It seems fitting, since you once lost the right to return to these lands," he replied carefully.

"Yes, your father banished me," she laughed slightly, "Rightfully so, for I provoked the attack on your kin. We were given the chance to turn around but after our prior defeat on the Wold, I was in no mood to be deterred."

Legolas did not know she provoked the attack, though somehow he was not surprised. Several of his friends had died, and a sudden bitterness grew in his mind.

"I remember," Vezely continued unconcerned about what this new information meant to him, "Thinking of the emptiness of your father's threat for I always assumed I would return, but not as such."

Legolas tried not to let his resentment show, for it was unfair of him to judge her the same now. "My father knew you would return. You may not believe in fate, but he did foresee it. But by a different path and as a different person," he stated with slight encouragement in his tone.

"Well, one thing is different, I no longer have an army," she added slightly annoyed at the notion of being different or of such premonitions coming true. Suddenly she wished her mug could be refilled.

His eyes narrowed, for her reply seemed not in jest. He added tempered, "You act as if you have not changed, that you remain who were under Sauron."

She noted the contempt in his words and did not answer, instead she shifted her eyes away from him. Unfortunately, she could not necessarily disagree with the assertion.

"I spoke rashly," Legolas then added politely, seemingly out of instinct, "On things I obviously know not."

She returned her gaze to him, her eyes appearing unmoved by his apology for she believed it was formed simply out of his elite Elvish breeding. "You desire to figure me out," she stated, noticeably irritated and knowing it to be true. "Don't. For I still do not know myself." She hesitantly stood up from the table, her hand grasping the top of her mug, thinking over whether to bring it with her to find more to drink or to leave it be. She let go of it slowly and left his side, desiring to leave the merriment of the Golden Hall for the dark and quiet of outside.

Legolas's annoyance at the exchange did not immediately dissipate. Again he questioned why he cared to know more about her. She seemed now to be too problematic a diversion for his mind and he desired to lose interest. Though underlying these thoughts were guilt; had he led the conversation poorly and perhaps he should not have suggested she remained the same as under Sauron. He suddenly worried he caused her distress rather than alleviating it. He was confounded not only by why he cared for her, but still cared nonetheless.

Aragorn, who had been talking with Gandalf just prior, approached the Elf who remained seated in contemplation, while Gimli was still passed out on the floor below. He sensed some distress in his friend as he rounded the bench in front of him.

"Thoughts consume you," he said calmly in Elvish after sitting.

"And ones I should not be concerned with in such times," he replied miffed, and sounding disappointed in himself.

Aragorn assumed such concerns pertained to Vez, who he had seen storming off just prior, "You two exchanged harsh words?"

He did not answer this directly and said instead, "I do not understand her. One minute we are affable, the next at odds."

"Do you desire to understand her?" he asked carefully.

"This I cannot deny, though it has become more of a distraction for my mind than anything," he replied, having convinced himself prior that his interest was so. "I admit to feeling obligated to offer her knowledge, to assist her in understanding our kin for there is much she does not know."

Aragorn knew Legolas was protective, but to a default, often viewing his companions as children and looking down on them; he replied carefully, "No doubt she is grateful for the information you offer, but she is not an obligation, or a student needing to be taught. And if figuring her out is only a distraction, this task should not cause you such distress."

"She cannot be more than that," he stated assuredly looking at him with serious eyes.

Aragorn noted his slip in calling the task her. While unconvinced in his detachment, but deferring to his friend's convictions, Aragorn replied calmly, "Regardless. If she is causing you distress..."

"I should not involve myself," he finished his sentence.

Aragorn nodded, "That is for your heart to decide."

Aragorn unfortunately had a way of grounding his thoughts, making him confront his less becoming character traits, and reflect again on his instincts. An obligation, a distraction, it was unfair of him to think of her as such, and he wondered why he did so. He could not be denying other feelings for her - "No," he reassured himself, "She is not someone to seek companionship with, we are not compatible, nor does she harbor such feelings."

Before their conversation could continue, Eowyn had approached them, having just come from speaking to Vez. She seemed slightly apprehensive, uncertain of how to approach the subject...

[Minutes prior]

Reflecting that afternoon left Vez with a great deal of distrust in Legolas's intentions for during their conversation she led herself to believe he was judging her responses, and he practically insinuated that she was a child or at least it seemed that way to her currently. "He thinks I'm naive," she thought darkly, walking through the crowd, "A child needing to be taught." She was too angered to question herself on why she cared so much about how he viewed her, for others opinions always mattered so little to her.

Before she could reach the door, however, Eowyn approached her from the side, slowing her steps to a halt. She tried to remove any hint of distress from her face when greeting her.

Eowyn desired to share her concern with Vezely over rumors of trouble that could come from the previous gambling match she partook in. "Eomer is not pleased that you won his horse," she confided quietly.

"As I would not have been pleased if he won mine, but he did agree to the bet," Vezely replied unconcerned.

"Of course, but he may be reckless when drunk and I do not want harm to come from it," she added concerned.

"What would he do?" Vezely asked skeptically, then the thought hit her, "He would not touch my horse, would he?"

Eowyn's eyes showed slight apprehension, enough to make Vez turn quickly from her to go to the stables. Her mind had shifted from the previous quarrel to one of equal annoyance.

Upon entering, she found Ridar, the man who sought to apprehend her after the Warg battle, and two of the men she played the card game against, but Eomer was nowhere to be found. They were attempting to pull Gizik from her stall, much to the horse's displeasure.

"Is there a reason you are handling my horse?" Vezely asked sternly, her eyes narrowed on the men before her.

"It's a lovely evenin' for a ride," the one man replied assuredly, but his speech was slurred and he was obviously drunk. He tugged again on the horse's reigns causing her to whinny and stamp her hooves.

"And is it a good evening to die?" Vezely warned them sarcastically, for she was not amused watching Gizik being stressed.

"Are you threatening us?" Ridar stated back, undeterred by her words, his posture straightening as he turned towards her.

"I am politely warning," Vezely added, raising one eyebrow.

Before Ridar replied, the man closest to her charged, but she dogged him only to find Ridar also attempting to throw a punch into her face. She diverted their attempts easily and did not retaliate, but when the third man joined in, she no longer felt kind.

While slowed down by the skirt of her dress, they were slowed down by their previous alcohol consumption. Their inability to touch her made one mad enough to unsheathe his dagger making the fight more serious. He swung at her wildly until she grabbed the man's arm and twisted it backward, causing him to flip to the ground quickly. The other man charged her from behind, attempting to strangle her in a choke hold. She was able to divert his attempt by elbowing him in the gut. She then spun behind him to hit him across the back of the upper neck, knocking him to the floor unconscious. Ridar was left standing and exceedingly angry at the fall of his friends, and he retrieved his friend's dagger from the ground, "You witch, I will kill you," he spat with teeth cinched and brows furled.

She dodged the knife and retaliated, managing, despite the skirt, to kick him against the stable wall. She quickly found her hands at his throat, pinning him to the boards as he desperately tried to claw at her grip as it grew tighter. She observed indifferent as his face turned red, not caring if the man suffered from loss of air.

At this moment, Eowyn, Eomer, Aragorn, and Legolas entered the barn to find one man unconscious, another on the floor stirring in pain, Gizik stamping wildly, and Vezely in this compromising position. She released Ridar just before his brain went dark, causing him to fall to the ground like a rag doll before coughing breath into his lungs.

"What is the meaning of this?" Eomer asked in heightened tone.

Vezely remained quiet, her face showing no emotion beside the rage that brought the men down.

"Speak woman," he commanded her instead of his men.

Eowyn interjected equally angry, "It is obvious they were intending foul play with her horse. I alerted her to these issues, ones you did not dissuade your friends from prior."

Vezely went over to Gizik, talking to her in Easterling, hoping to calm her down as she stamped around wildly. Legolas quickly went to assist her, helping to get Gizik under control through soft Elvish chants. She did not look at him as he did this, for anger still writhed in her.

Aragorn had gone to check the pulse of the fallen man, as the others groaned in discomfort and attempted to stand on their feet. Eomer stood quietly by his sister assessing a response to the situation. "Knives," Aragorn told the group, picking the dagger off the floor, "They had even fouler intent." He then looked back to Eomer for answers.

"Apologies, I did not know they would go beyond simple horse play. I will have words with my men," he felt slightly guilty for not dissuading their intentions earlier. He appeared honest in not believing they would go this far. He went to Ridar and attempted to steady him to his feet, "Sorry my lord," the man croaked. "I should strip you of rank," Eomer replied to him displeased.

"That won't be necessary," Vez interrupted, leaving Gizik's side to approach Eomer, glaring at Ridar momentarily before speaking her peace. "I do not care for myself," she stated cautiously, "But advise your men not to mess with my horse, which is something I thought horse masters would respect." She then confided personally, "And your horse is still yours. I was not going to accept my prize come morning."

Legolas, who had calmed Gizik significantly, thought a walk outside the stables would further ease her stress and he was already making his way to do so. He thought the same would do well for Vezely, if she desired to follow him.

Vezely did desire to leave the scene, needing distance from it and finding her path already being led by the Elf, who Gizik was following without question. She approached Eowyn before leaving, saying sincerely, "Apologies for your dress Eowyn, the coin I won tonight should pay for it," for the skirt was covered in muck and slightly tattered.

Eowyn shook her head, showing appreciation for the concern, but she did not care to have her payment. "It is not important," she replied appreciatively.

Vezely looked at her sincerely before leaving through the stable's entrance. The two Elves walked Gizik slowly to the edge of town. They remained silent, and Vezely felt her anger dissipate slightly as her horse calmed.

"I can take her from here," Vezely's voice broke the uncomfortable silence, hoping to rustle the reigns from him and be on her way alone.

He stopped to face her, noting her distress and desiring to ease her tension but knowing not what to say for their conversation prior remained unsettled, as did his feelings for her.

He slowly handed her the reigns, which she took quickly and turned from him. Before she had gone three steps he called to her, "The stars still shine."

She stopped and turned her face to the side, for memories of their first conversation about the stars hit her, when she had asked whether the stars ever lost their light. She stood still for a moment before quietly replying with the same line he told her in his explanation, "Even behind a veil of darkness." She looked back at him, finding genuine concern in his eyes and a small smile which had formed from hearing his prior words, for she had remembered.

She returned his smile, exchanging with her eyes an unspoken apology for before. In that brief moment, before she would turn from him again and walk Gizik away, they rediscovered that affection did exist between them. On the outskirts of town, where she would listen as the townsfolk exited the Golden Hall, filtering their way to their homes down below, she realized perhaps her distrust was misplaced. While she knew not how he viewed her, for he may as well see her as a child, she should not harbor contempt in his intentions for they had provided her comfort. For through him, she saw the possibility of belonging. While the implications of this continued to concern her and she could not yet find the willingness to accept it, his companionship made such a path possible. Companionship, suddenly the thought of its connotation consumed her. She could not judge whether their companionship was more than a simple bond between kin or between battle mates. But thinking of it beyond friendship made her laugh at its absurdity. King Thranduil's son and me? We could not be more incompatible, she thought, for he is a proper Elf, and I am properly problematic. She could not think it probable or reasonable for either of them. When the hall grew silent and the village appeared to sleep, she would return Gizik to the stables.

Legolas returned to the hall's outside terrace, not desiring to return to the gathering in order to collect his thoughts in solitude for the evening had brought much to think about. While just prior their argument made him desire to lose all interest in her, now he realized he did harbor genuine concern for her well-being. He cared about her and she was not an obligated concern, but one that grew out of knowing her as a person and the person she is, while estranged and uncouth, did not deter his affection. His father did mention after her departure from Mirkwood that one day he would come to understand the feelings that may linger. For then he only saw in her eyes malice and deceit, but tonight he realized those same eyes harbored warmth and reassurance. But even if deeper feelings existed, he was yet unsure, it did not make pursuing such a relationship right. An unlikely couple, he thought laughably, One to cause more concern than celebration.

Amidst his thoughts grew a darkness emanating from the East. Aragorn who had gone outside for a smoke, would find him standing on the ledge, head cloaked staring at Mordor in the distance.

He spoke to Aragorn concerned, "The stars are veiled. Something stirs in the East. A sleepless malice. The eye of the enemy is moving."