Chapter 15 - Past Lives

...The smirk on Vez's face grew as she heard Gimli finish his tale on the death of the Dwarf enemy Azog, the Defiler, and a slight chuckle delightfully left her lips followed by her thoughts made vocal, "So that is how the bastard met his end."

All eyes turned to her, and she met them with an overly smug look on her face.

Gimli asked surprised, "You knew this pale orc?" For Vezely had remained quiet when the tale was being told, desiring not to project her past into the present; but to hear of Azog's demise and in such a way amused her.

Vez's pleased smirk did not leave as she replied, "I had the displeasure of holding council with him before he was sent West. Always liked to complicate things, create problems when there was none. It does me well to hear of his disposal by your kin."

"I often forget you've held some dark company," Gimli remarked gruffly.

Vezely shrugged, "And tales of which I fear if spoken would harbor me ill will, for I am the villain in them."

"Then would you share with us the story of Vezena?" Eowyn spoke up among them, remembering before Vez had mentioned her namesake. "Of this woman warrior you are partly named after?" Eowyn desired to hear such a story, for the night had offered tales of only great men.

Vez smiled, pleased of Eowyn's remembrance and the chance to tell such a tale. She nodded politely, "If others desire to hear it, for it an Easterling tale and may require some additional cultural translations."

"I'd be interested in hearing more about Rhun," Merry remarked curious.

"It would do us well to hear of someone none of us know," Aragorn replied politely.

"Aye, give it to us lass, we'll follow," Gimli added moderating, for his tales had been center stage that night.

She nodded, and glanced at Legolas briefly before starting, who appeared interested as well. "Alright. Vezena...legend says her chariot was pulled by dragons, but such is the domain of myth and there is an underlying reality of her greatness and why her legend is still told to Easterling children to this day. At the end of the Second Age, Easterlings were not a settled race. They were dispersed in small tribes throughout Rhun. You have probably never heard of the Kreshtan and for good reason, for today they do not exist but once they were intent on extending their power and marching their armies throughout the East, assaulting and assimilating tribes into their fold. A small alliance of warriors from the lower lands of Rhun stood up to the Kreshtan, but they were slaughtered for they were no match for their invested skill. Among the warriors killed was Vezena's father, the leader of her tribe. Now, the Kreshtan were gracious, they offered terms of peace to the defeated, but did so under superstitious threat for they had sent the dead warriors' bodies back to their people, but without their heads. Of which they had formed a wall of guarded pikes stretching throughout the lands they conquered."

"That is awful," Eowyn responded with her nose scrunched slightly, being fully engaged in the story, as was Merry, who unabashedly enjoyed darker stories.

She nodded, and thinking she would need to explain further. "It is actually a graver offense than it appears. For many in the East believe that one's soul cannot pass into the afterworld without burning the entire body within three days of its passing. To use this as strategy proves the Kreshtan were ahead of their time," she then added nonchalantly, "For it is a rather effective means to conclude negotiations and alleviate the need to burn infrastructure."

"You speak from experience lass," Gimli blurted wryly, raising one eyebrow.

She smirked, realizing she did, "Sometimes means justify the ends and using people's superstitions against them may result in quicker surrender, perhaps even in less deaths," she adjusted her position slightly, noting the wide eyes of Merry as she did. "But I digress for I was not going to tell a tale about myself."

"Aye, continue on," Gimli conceded.

"So, as the elders discussed surrender, Vezena, crouched over the headless body of her father, saw a vision of what her people could become if they found the strength to stop the line of pikes from forming throughout her homeland. It was not an argument easily won for all feared for the souls of the fallen and for their own if they should also fall. But her resolve did not wane. It is said she burned with the determination of the sun and those before her were sparked by her rays to not fear for the dead when the living were under threat. She amassed a small army to confront the Kreshtan. They wore all their gold and dressed in their finest silk, as if it was to be their last day on earth. And there, on the lower land fields, they would defeat the Kreshtan against staggering odds and Vezena would unite the lower land tribes to form the great kingdom of Wainriders. To this day, Easterlings wear their gold into battle, and they make offerings to the sun's mother, for that is what her name means."

"Oh ho ho, that is a good tale," Gimli exclaimed, pleased.

"It has offered further understanding of Easterling culture," Aragorn nodded graciously, and then asked, "And you are named after this warrior?"

"Partly. The Balchoth are descended from the Wainriders, and their children are often given half-names in remembrance of warriors past. I was honorably given the title of sun, from Vezena," she replied, not sure if she wanted to divulge her full names meaning.

"And what does the rest of your name mean?" Eowyn asked politely.

She looked around at her friends before answering, feeling slightly apprehensive, "Vezely roughly translates in Westron to the setting sun, the sun in the West. It held meaning of my purpose, for the promise Sauron had provided the Balchoth, to lead them in taking over the lands West of Rhun."

"Meanings can be re-forged," Legolas added encouragingly, noting her prior apprehension.

She smiled at him appreciatively and he smiled back at her; their warm gaze seemed to fade out the present company. A moment all picked up on. Gimli glanced over at Aragorn and they exchanged a non-surprised look.

Merry added intrigued, "I kinda wanna hear more about that war strategy."

"You would," Vez chuckled knowingly at the hobbit, whom she had spent the afternoon discussing war strategies with.

"Before we digress into cutting men's heads off," Gimli added gruffly at the two misfits, "I'm getting some sleep. I've had enough ale and good stories for one night."

"Probably a good idea for all of us. Even you, Merry," Aragorn added kindly to the hobbit.

"Right, right," Merry accepted, still amused.

As they exchanged their good nights and slowly left for their beds, Vez knew she would inevitably be left aside Legolas, who she had not been alone with since the afternoon when much was left unsaid. A knot in her stomach grew and she felt flustered on how to approach the subject, or to approach it at all.

Yet such a decision would not need to be made, as Legolas suggested to the group, "Perhaps I will also rest, for a night to do so may not come for some time."

"Vez?" Aragorn inquired if she also would join them.

"Probably a good idea," she replied politely, wondering whether Legolas had decided to do so in order to avoid an inevitably awkward conversation.

She had not slept in the same quarters as the group thus did not have a space allocated as her own and instead she went over to the corner where her rucksack and sword were placed, removing her scarf from her neck, though not noticing that her presence made some of them uncomfortable when going to remove their outer layer of garments.

Gimli coughed, "Let us know if you need your space lass."

Vez turned to the Dwarf unsure what he meant, then noticing they were all staring at her as if equally uncertain of how to proceed undressing around a woman, she realized with a slight chuckle, "Perhaps it is I who should give you space, for I know not the West's idea of modesty. Go ahead, Master Dwarf," she said turning her back on him, trying to hold in a laugh, "I will not look upon you in your undergarments and I will equally spare all the sight of my bare skin."

"Hmm," was all the Dwarf could fluster. Despite his attempt at politeness, Gimli knew she was mocking him.

Aragorn went over to her with a pile of blankets in his hand, his face appeared amused by her comments, "Sleep well," he stated politely offering them to her.

"Gratitude," she nodded amiably, again surprised by the kindness of kings, even would-be kings, in this land. She took the blankets and laid them out on the floor below. She did not remove her outer layers, for underneath her jacket was nothing but a fitted leather bodice with thin shoulder straps, leaving her decollage, upper back and arms completely bare. It undoubtedly showed more skin than such noble beings were use to, or at least, that is what she gauged of the West's modesty. She had lived and fought in less than they slept in. She also decided to leave her boots on, for she felt that sleep may not find her and she did not want to cause any more noise if she were to decide to go outside. She lay down on her side, facing the wall next to her, giving the group their privacy while closing her eyes and trying to clear her mind.

Her thoughts inevitably drifted to earlier that day, however; to Legolas holding her hand close to his chest and saying he desired to be comforted with her by the Forest River. It was more than a polite touch between friends, which she knew they had shared. Was it pity as she assumed? Such as the comfort given to a child who has fallen and hurt themselves, or was it something more affectionate? And if it was, did she desire such a relationship with him? Love had never been a word on Vezely's register, but suddenly she comes West and it continues to find its way into her conversations. Eowyn surprised her by bringing it up this morning. She had also said something that disturbed her - that Elves can die of a broken heart. Was such an absurdity, for it seemed so to someone raised as a Balchoth, true? For she had heard her whole life, admonishingly, that Elves were an emotionally fragile race. She now wondered whether the concern Romestamo and Morinehtar seemed to pay tending to her, and overhearing them speak of their surprise at her survival in the dungeons, was also due to this assumption. And if an Elf can die of a broken heart, would she allow Legolas to love her and thus cause him to despair if she met her assumed fate. For her, such a relationship could not lead anywhere positive. But despite stopping here, she continued her thoughts on the logistical issues of such a relationship: "He is honorable, a king's son, and pure of body and mind. I served Sauron and am corrupted in mind and body. What kind of love would he expect? I would not be marriageable." Or at least this is what she assumed in his society - that love equated marriage, even though she knew little about Elvish partnerships other than from information gathered on them via brief snippets of Elvish history. "Besides, maybe he is already married. Perhaps, he has an Elf maiden at home; a fairer being who maintains the family line with some sense of propriety. ...For he is simply too perfect not to be attached to someone." She suddenly realized how odd it was for her to be milling over such notions of love and marriage, which for her connoted weakness; and furthermore to be focused so much on one person. She felt like slapping herself hard, and would have if not for being where she was.

Meanwhile, Legolas removed his outer tunic glancing over to her form briefly, noting that her prior mention of her bare skin caused him to think indecently. Lust was not a common emotion for Elves, and their libidos often diminished over their life span. The norm of marriage early in life would fulfill their sexual desires for the later years. Yet his decision to forgo marriage meant he was left with an empty bed, and empty experience. For Elves, however, this held less concern than for Men. But to suddenly have such thoughts surface, made him slightly unsure of how to react to them. These thoughts went beyond simple appreciation of looks, for he had seen many beautiful Elf maidens in his years, but none whose appearance was worthy of further consideration. Vez was definitely not conventionally beautiful to Elvish eyes. Elves held a special attraction to long hair, and her short locks and missing ear tip would be completely off-putting if not for the shape of her face, the freckles spanning the bridge of her nose, and the depth of her eyes, which were blue but with muted greens and golds. Her black liner and small gold rings in her ears gave her an exoticness which he knew added to his interest. But as her bare skin passed through his mind again, he thought, perhaps such impolite thoughts should not be had when he knew not how she felt. He would close his eyes and attempt to clear his mind, knowing rest was necessary for the battle to come.

Minutes passed and Gimli's light snoring filled the quarter's darkened silence. Vez finally managed to settle her mind enough to drift off, but dreams would take her to her past, recalling moments of identity crisis.

"You are Vezena reborn," the black haired woman proclaimed proudly, presenting her a sword engraved with words she also spoke, "'Fear not the destruction of your soul, instead fear defeat in life.' These are Vezena's words and words the Balchoth live by. Carry them on your weapon and fulfill them in life, and you shall not be ashamed."

The youth took the long curved blade, her eyes running with the glint of the sun that ran over its length. "I will make my ancestors proud and my people prouder," she declared confidently, finding comfort in her mother's eyes before the dream shifted to an outdoor arena, and she noted she was still gripping the hilt of the same sword, now attached at her side. Her eyes narrowed onto a man who was her father's younger brother as he menacingly paced back and forth in front of her, addressing the crowd of her clansmen who had gathered for the challenge.

"She is not a Balchoth," the large, bare chested man spoke assuredly, his voice ascending high and loud, "Pointed ears, eternal youth, her blood is not our blood. Sauron deceives us with this gift. He deceives us into believing we cannot complete our destiny on our own. That we would need the help of this outsider." There were enough of his supporters in the crowd to make the atmosphere tense, for all feared a rebellion would take place if Vezely lost.

"Are you finished?" Vezely asked confidently, her voice also ascending over the crowd, as she was undeterred by her uncle's mutiny. "I do not want to spend my afternoon listening to your insolence. Are you going to challenge me for the title, or not?"

He smirked, for he had been preparing for this moment since his brother's death, causing the tribe to split over their loyalties. "Yes, I challenge you."

Vezely placed her fist to her chest and bowed her head slightly, saying with feigned respect, "And I accept. Choose the weapons."

He moved closer, "The scythe," he called out to the crowd, before directing his words to her only, "I know you well. You will not defeat me with this weapon."

She breathed in his foul breath, replying steadily with her eyes forward, "We will see."

She removed her belt and sword, along with her jacket. Her leather top underneath allowing for a proud display of her upper back and arms which were marked sparsely in the black ink of Rhunic script; the runes lining her upper arm to represent the defeat of past challengers were slowly adding up. She had hoped to be past such matches and to have moved forward into preparing her people to settle West into Calenardhon, but the transition period between her father's death and this moment remained incredibly unstable. She hoped by putting her uncle in the grave, his rebellion would lose any chance of takeover and she could fulfill Sauron's demands.

But before blows could be made, the dream shifted to the end of the fight, she tasted her own blood in her mouth as she found her hands covered in her uncle's. She stood from her position crouched over his severed body, finding the crowd silent and awaiting her motion.

"I am a Blachoth," she raised her voice with pride, "Question this again and I will send you to your forefathers." She raised her blood soaked weapon and the crowds' voice ascended with it.

The dream then placed her centuries forward on Ester Ridge; to after the battle she had predicted her victory prior by calculating statistics. It was the same battle she outlined earlier that day to her current traveling companions as proof of her effective war methodology. Dressed in full Easterling battle gear, her black lined eyes scanned the once green fields, now littered with bodies soaked in dirt and blood. The smoke of previously set fires due to her bold use of blasting powder, continued to smolder, muting all into a gray haze.

"General," a young officer approached her, and nodded respectfully before being bid to continue, "We have captured thirty Estens who escaped the fields. They are pleading for terms of surrender."

Instead of responding, she breathed in the cool air; the sensation matched her cool demeanor as she replied, "Terms of surrender?" she suddenly appeared slightly amused, "There is enough wood for crosses. That ridge," she tilted her head up as her eyes looked towards the top of the field's crest, "I expect it lined with their crucified bodies by nightfall."

The young officer nodded respectfully again before leaving with her grim task.

Behind her stood Vez's second in command at that time, stationed in front of a table strewn with maps of the region they were marching through. She turned to him, validating her decision by saying confidently, "We need to send a message to other clans in this region."

"Agreed," the man conceded, for they were being met with a high amount of hostility there in their efforts to gain allegiances for Sauron, "And we should move eastward," he added calmly, his eyes scanning the maps in front of him. "There is a small colony of Dorwinion Elves there, who we should not find issue destroying."

Vez raised one eyebrow up, "Our mission is not east, but north. I will not deviate from our path to destroy settlements on a whim."

The man looked at her skeptically, "Sauron would find no qualm in our destruction of Elvish territories," and then added, "And one of such small scale would not endanger troop numbers."

"We are already stretched thin, and I intend to keep north," she replied bitterly, displeased by his attempt at persuasion.

"You were less concerned before this battle, despite the odds," he noted dryly, believing that her refusal to take on Elves had other motives.

"This was our course, beside the calculations didn't lie," she knew fighting this battle considering the numerical imbalance was risky. "No, we keep north, out of Dorwinion Elf territory."

"Your allegiance to your own race finally shows," he stated displeased while slightly shaking his head and forgetting his rank for a second later his feet were kicked out from under him and her boot smashed into his throat.

"You forget your place. Question my allegiance or my decisions again and you will also find yourself on that ridge, as an example," she spat angrily amidst his distressed attempt not to be crushed.

Before removing her boot, the dream shifted and she found herself amongst a fire gutted village on a mountain top in the Nurunkhizdin; one which her armies torched the night before. She loathed the need to burn infrastructure, but the town's insurgence left her little choice. By her side was her second in command and later betrayer, Öldür, as confident as she as they surveyed the damaged. Commotion from her soldiers shifted their attention to a half-burned barn, where they dragged three small children alive from the wreckage. Terrified, the youth huddled together; tears soaked their faces, for they had seen much the previous night.

"Kill them," Öldür commanded perturbed, finding their survival a bad omen. Immediately the soldier nearest to them unsheathed his sword.

"Wait," Vezely demanded, walking over to the group of pathetic beings. She used her index finger to lift the one child's wet chin, causing her tear filled eyes to look upon the woman general. As Vezely observed the little one not yet four years of age, she appeared stone cold and completely unmoved by the child's plight. Saying equally stolid, "That is not necessary. They will die of their own accord."

Öldür's eyes narrowed at his commander, but conceded to her wishes.

As they walked away, leaving the children to fend for themselves amongst the ruins, he commented, "You are getting soft. Your blood has weakness."

She laughed slightly, "Your superstitions are your weakness," for she knew too well that it lay behind his desire to have the children killed and part of her stopped the incident simply to spite him.

The dream again moved to a few months after her captivity in Dol Guldur. With a blanket over her shoulders and a half-filled tea cup in front of her, Vez sat in a room alone in Romestamo's small abode on the outskirts of Rhun's vastest desert. She overheard Romestamo's conversation with his companion wizard in the room next door; realizing she was the topic she listened in with her keen hearing.

"...But she has not despaired, I have never heard of such foul deeds done to an Elf who didn't die of grief or need to sail to the Utter West immediately after," Romestamo confided intrigued.

"Her resilience to this is astonishing no doubt, but considering her upbringing," Morinehtar reasoned calmly.

"Environment over blood, interesting, interesting," the wizard exclaimed, rubbing the palms of his hands together fascinated by its implications.

"Yet we cannot allow her to continue denying her bloodline, for there is no hope for her redemption otherwise," Morinehtar reasoned back, knowing his companion was often overly giddy by the unexpected.

"The topic is not easily received," Romestano replied concerned, for he was often shot down by her for his interest in her Elvish background. "We will need to ease her into it slowly..."

The dream again shifted to the time after the fall of the resistance, to the black void of the desert at night. Romestamo said to her in a hushed and hurried voice, for their position had been compromised, "Ride West, to outskirts of Fangorn Forest. Seek out Gandalf, member of our order, give him all the information our cause holds."

"Why do you send me on this task?" Vez asked skeptically while quickly saddling her horse and attaching her rucksack. She did not expect to be given such an important mission, since she was often relegated to mostly menial tasks for the resistance.

"It is the path you must take, one I have been preparing you for," he told her assuredly, "An opportunity to confront your past, to restart your future."

Her eyes narrowed, for his riddle unsettled her, "Fangorn Forest is located in the kingdom of Rohan."

"And there you will ask for forgiveness from their king," he replied quickly, undeterred by her skepticism.

She closed her eyes trying to settle her desire to rebuke him. While displeased by what was attached to this mission, she resolved to its sense of urgency, "I told you, I do not seek forgiveness, but," after mounting her horse, she said sincerely, "I will complete this task, for the debt I owe you is great." She admittedly had grown fond of the old wizard and despite the trouble she gave him, she respected and appreciated his and Morinehtar's guidance.

"Speed to you, young Elf," Romestamo warmly farewelled, using her pet name, which he knew irritated her, "May you find some sense of peace while there."

Instead of chastising him for the title, as she often did, she respectively pressed her fist to her chest and bowed, leaving the wizard and Rhun behind, uncertain of what lay ahead.

The dream then shifted weeks forward to barren wastelands which were once the more fertile fields of the Balchoth; the climate of the area had turned arid and inhospitable. Vez's mouth felt noticeably parched for she was low on water and far from natural sources. She had taken this route through Rhun for safety reason, for it was unlikely to be used as a militia traveling ground, and from there she would cross the borders of Rhovanion into the West and into the kingdom of Rohan. Cut into a cliff face was a sanctuary dedicated to remembrance of the clan's leaders; it was filled with nondescript rectangular, polished black stone totems erected side-by-side. A portion of the leader's ashes were buried in front of them in soap stone boxes, while the rest would have been scattered to the winds. She had not returned there for three hundred years, since the time she returned the Balchoth leader ring. It was when her allegiance had fully shifted to Sauron and she felt odd to hold onto it; for her people had vanished into history and memories of her failure in the West unsettled her. The sanctuary was in squalid condition, with part of the entrance collapsed and several of the totems knocked over and broken; for earthquakes had taken their toll on the area. Her father's totem, stationed next to her mother's, whose ashes were mixed with his, remained in situ. She knelt in front of it, her knees adjusting to the rough gravel on the broken tile floor. She poured some of her remaining water over the stone to cleanse it, revealing the polished black stone underneath. It was custom for one to do so when they came to pay their respects, thus despite her scarcity of water, she felt it necessary. She took a moment to gather her thoughts.

"I do not believe the dead can hear the living or any of that superstitious nonsense," she scoffed aloud, trying not to feel foolish for a desire to make her thoughts vocal, "But here I am feeling a need to speak to both of you. I go West, a direction I have not gone since I led our people to their fate. And there, I am to fight alongside our enemy. Ironic, I know, but I believe it is against the right foe. Sauron deceived both of us. Know I do not begrudge you your part in this deception... I hold no connection to those whose arms I was taken from before being placed into yours, despite my rescuers desires to embrace my blood. They do not realize it is not my blood that kept me from despair those years in captivity..."

She opened the soap stone box to view the ashes of her mother and father. Moving her fingers through the grey sand she found the gold ring she placed there centuries past. After brushing the dust from it gently, she pushed it onto her index finger.

Gaining strength from remembrance, "It was your upbringing that made me strong. As Vezena, I would not accept defeat, not to one who has wronged us..." She would leave with the ring as a reminder of the only home she had truly known; a reminder that she once had purpose and the honor to fulfill it. A few weeks later she would find herself on the edge of Fangorn Forest, and the beginning of her journey with her current traveling companions.

Vez awoke, her eyes opening to the darkness of the communal quarters, and her ears to the light sound of Gimli snoring alongside the winds of Edoras shuffling the grasslands outside. She did not desire to return to sleep, and instead grabbed her sword from its position resting against the corner wall before quietly exiting the side door; attempting her best to walk lightly as to not disturb anyone.

Her eyes looked towards the heavens and she would find the stars brighter than usual; enticing her to the terrace corner where she took a seat on the ground. Sitting cross legged, she held up her sword in the palms of her hands. Unsheathing it halfway in front of her face, her eyes surveyed the chiseled engravings across its length. "Fear not the destruction of your soul, instead fear defeat in life." This was not the sword given to her in her youth by her Balchoth parents, for that sword was lost to history. It was one passed on to her by the Blue Wizards, when they deemed her mentally stable and amicable enough to carry one. It was one of many weapons the resistance confiscated when they ambushed an army supply caravan, thus it was not of the highest quality and sparse in decor. She had added the engraving herself, trying to reconnect with her past, when life had a greater purpose and to remember the people who were instrumental in her upbringing. After thinking through its words, she brought the sword's blade to her forehead, lightly touching its coolness to her skin. It caused her to sigh, "Who am I?" Not even realizing she spoke this in Westron, for she had been speaking this tongue consistently lately. Bringing it away from her head, she gazed uncertain at the reflection of her eyes in its moonlit steel, before it reflected movement behind her. She tilted it and saw his form. Sheathing it in a quick motion, she gathered her composure and spoke with her eyes remaining forward, "Apologies if I woke you. I need to learn to be quieter."

"You were, for no others were stirred and I was already awake," he replied softly.

"You could not sleep?" she inquired, looking up at him when he reached her side.

"Unfortunately not, for my mind wishes otherwise," he explained, for he had fallen to sleep briefly only to be visited by visions of Mirkwood burning and his people dying in battle. He wondered if this war was taking its toll on him; that the constant peril and death were causing him to lose resolve. He knew he should not have followed her outside, for undoubtedly she desired solitude, but yet his heart desired to be near her. As if he could find some solace by being in her presence.

"Mine as well," she replied commiserating.

"May I sit beside you?" he then asked politely, despite it being an uncomfortable position for one who preferred to stand - honed by years spent on patrol with the Woodland guard.

"Please," she scooted slightly over from the corner, smirking slightly, for his courteousness continued to amuse her. While before she wanted to avoid an awkward conversation with him, she also could not deny that she felt calmed by his presence and was glad he was there.

They each looked at the stars above, quietly breathing in the cool air, each uncertain how to frame their conversation due to the prior episode that afternoon - her hand in his, their confusion in desires - it remained fresh in their minds.

"I should not have shared with you that map," Vezely broke the silence cautiously, believing she gained a sense of his prior distress, "For the information now weighs heavily on your mind."

Legolas somehow was not surprised she knew what caused him unrest, for Elves were often perceptive of emotions, "Do not feel guilt for doing so, for I desired to know what awaits my kin. And regardless, other thoughts would have equally kept me from rest."

She smiled briefly at his polite forgiveness, furthering considering, "This war is wearing on you. I have heard Elves can only take so much death and despair before they wear thin."

He looked at her curiously, wondering where she was provided this information, "To some extent this is true. The Shadow that now spreads has caused many of our kin to feel the weight of uncertainty and to desire the bliss of Valinor. Though I am not unaccustomed to war and its effects. What have you heard about the emotional character of Elves?" he asked wondering.

"That there is weakness in Elvish blood," she stated solidly, as if it was a truism she always held.

"Weakness?" he repeated, surprised at her word choice.

"Perhaps that is a biased word," realizing she spoke condescendingly, "One honed by centuries of desired disassociation. I was told I should not have survived the dungeons of Dol Guldur, or to have survived, but with less resolve."

"It is admittedly surprising," he considered, "But such does not spell weakness in the blood of Elves, but speaks more to the strength of your own character," turning her idea on itself, "And what else have you heard?"

Vez considered her phrasing, "That there is a great dichotomy of the strength of our flesh and the softness of our emotions. That an Elf cannot die from age or disease, but in battle or of a broken heart, Elves can perish. The latter of which I can only assume is incorrect, for such a possibility is inconceivable;" an uncomfortable chuckle followed.

"You underestimate the power of love," he replied earnestly, internalizing the truism of her words and querying her disbelief.

She looked at him skeptical, "This cannot be true." Her eyes displayed shock and disbelief, with a hint of disdain before betraying worry, which he wondered of.

"Love is not something taken lightly by those who walk this land for centuries," he explained, "Companionship is typically found early in life. Elves marry young, and the joy of that bond sustains them for eternity. For even when couples are asunder, they are linked by heart and mind. The loss of one destroys the other."

She thought through this explanation but "I see," was all she could manage in a reply, for she could not conceive of such a strong connection. The implications of it bothered her. Then, as if needing confirmation, she asked, "Are you not married? For I would suspect someone such as yourself would easily be spoken for."

He was slightly embarrassed that she even thought this, especially since his slight advances on her would be deemed adulterous if he were. A small uncomfortable smile marked his face.

"Apologies," she added concerned before he could reply, biting her lip, for she realized she caused him uneasiness, "It was too personal a question to ask."

He smiled slightly while looking down, "No, it is a question well-expected for I am not the norm. My parents did encourage me to seek companionship early in life, but you cannot force love when the right one is not to be found."

An awkward silence followed his words, and Vezely felt regretful to have caused it. Hoping to mend this, Legolas added, "You may ask me personal questions, if there is something you truly desire to know, I would gladly answer it."

She was unsure of his reasoning, but desired to provide him the same offer, "I will provide you the same courtesy. Though," she smirked, "I think you are too polite to ask what you truly desire to know."

He smiled slightly, knowing this was true, "Perhaps, or perhaps not. For I gather you have a negative take on love."

"This is not a question, but an assumption," she remarked, curious of what he was getting at.

"Then," he decided to rephrase, "How do you view love?"

She smiled pleasantly amused at his attempt to be bold, "I will be honest. I have always viewed love as a weakness; as a dishonest sport between the sexes, one that can be used and abused at whim. And for those who stand outside a couple's love, it can be wielded as a weapon against them."

"And you have done so?" he asked concerned.

She breathed in the cool air before replying, "Yes I have."

"You do not need to tell me more," he added politely before she could continue.

"Though you should know of my corruption, for if Elves truly hold love sacred, I am even more of an abomination in this regard," her voice solid and her gaze showing her sincere concern; she could tell he was considering why she would tell him this.

"That is your past," he replied gaining resolve in her worried gaze, for his feelings for her were not easily swayed, "My question is of your present disposition."

She averted her eyes, not desiring him to read into her thoughts, "Love remains a foreign land I know little about. And a place I am unsure if I could visit."

"And if invitation is given," he asked carefully.

She sensed a solid assertion behind his words; as if he was gauging whether she would accept his love. She continued to speak with metaphoric double meaning, "Much consideration should be given by the inviter, for the consequences of such a trip are uncertain."

Not knowing the true meaning strung to her words, he asserted, "Again, I believe you fear what you have not yet experienced."

"I do not fear for myself," she blurted forthrightly, "But for the one who would love me. I would not have another's fate tied to my own."

Suddenly he realized he was wrong, her worry was for him - the question about dying from a broken heart queried before, they all led to her concern of him loving her. "Vezely," her name rolled off his tongue softly with his breath, "Your fate is not decided. You should not live as if you are doomed."

She shut her eyes, saying just as soft, "And you should have the love of someone who is pure and has no possibility of causing you pain." As soon as the last words left her mouth, she had a desire to leave his side for such emotions overwhelmed her. She stood and turned away from him, her hand clutching her sword scabbard's beside her. But before steps could be taken, Legolas also rose and took her hand at her side, causing her to turn to him. He lifted it to his chest, and pressed her palm against him as he did that afternoon. She could feel his heart beating beneath it.

"You cannot dictate love," he stated to her quietly, causing her strained eyes to finally look at him. "If you do not feel as I do, then tell me and I will try to diminish my feelings for you." He knew he could not force her heart.

Seconds passed before she could answer, her hand pulsing in his, her breathing irregular. She thought she could lie to him, and send him through some painful days, but spare him in the end; but would he not suspect her words were false? Could she even admit that she loved him, crossing into this foreign territory that she never thought bid her welcome? The moments passed and worry began to consume Legolas, for he could not gauge the conversation she was having inside.

Her eyes closed in defeat, realizing she was not strong enough to hide the truth, "I cannot lie to you, Legolas. For the feelings I hold would not diminish if I did." After these words left her mouth, she opened her eyes to his, finding they were beginning to fill with joy, igniting a similar feeling inside her, but one she tried to reason out of. "But it does not mean we should pursue such feelings, war is not suited for it," she asserted firmly, holding her sword up to her chest as if to create a barrier between them.

"You're wrong, it is a time like this when love is needed," he knew she carried her doubts and fear of the future, but he would not let her repress this, "Love is not a weakness, Vezely. It is a strength. It will see us through this, together."

After absorbing his words, she slowly brought her sword back down to her side, her head and eyelids lowering with it, uncertain of their truth and knowing now that reasoning out of what grew between them was impossible. "I am not strong enough to love," she murmured, appearing unconvinced. But instead of letting her despair in the moment, he gently brought her body close to his, cradling her with her hand still on his chest, his head now beside hers in an comforting embrace. She continued to hold her sword at her side but it slowly slid from her grasp, hitting the stone floor tip first before falling and clanking onto its side. She brought her now free hand to his upper back and brought his body closer to hers, burying the side of her face into his shoulder. They both closed their eyes and allowed the moment to take them away from the present world.