Two Turns Earlier
The brownrider's green eyes darted from one player to the next, trying to read the most minute details in their expressions that might give away their hand.
Was it the gruff old man that held the winning hand? Or the lucky Lord's son? He doubted that the Middle-aged Baker had anything; he looked as dejected as ever after losing the last three hands. The old bastard was unreadable; his glossed over eyes made one wonder if he was dead at times. No, it was this smiling bastard in front of him. He had a mountain of chips stacked in front of him and some nice looking woman on his arm.
In Z'go's opinion, the kid's ass was getting to big for his chair. Looking over his cards once more, Z'go knew he had a fighting chance if he could pull another Ace. He took a chip from his pile and set it on the table and received a card.
"What's wrong?" asked the bastard. Z'go hadn't even looked at his card and the little shite... was it a tactic? The brownrider couldn't shake the feeling. If asked, Z'go would never fall into something as foul as counting cards, but he knew for a fact that there was either an Ace of another high card under there, both of which would benefit his hand. Z'go left the card unflipped, "What's wrong?" asked the Holder.
"What's the fun in gambling without a bit of risk?" asked Z'go, looking over to the woman at the younger man's arm.
"Whatever," replied the scion with a snort. He nudged the woman next to him with his arm, showing her his hand. It was a good hand, a winning hand, but notoriously missing the ace that would make it worth anything. "Watch me win."
Elowyn watched the gathered players with genuine interest, attention shifting between them with each turn. She was a bit of a card shark in her own right, but tonight didn't allow for her participation. Instead she studied the men assembled around the table, scrutinizing their subtle gestures and expressions for tells. Her gaze had begun to linger on the green-eyed rider as the game progressed, a fact that had not gone entirely unnoticed by the Lord Holder's son if the growing annoyance on his face was anything to judge by. When she felt his nudge, she politely gave his cards a cursory glance and feigned awe.
"Are those cards good?" Her voice lilted with ignorance that was hard to identify as insincere.
Mollified, if only slightly, by the opportunity to preen, the scion's face split in a cocky grin. "Let's have a kiss for good luck, just in case." He freed a hand from the table to tap at his cheek expectantly, and Elowyn felt bile rise in her throat. Instead of allow for her discomfort to show, she lifted her hand to her lips and pressed a kiss against her fingers before laying them on his face with an innocent smile. He reacted with disappointment, but didn't let that delay his move.
The smug heir spread his cards out before the stack of chips piled in the center, presenting a hand that suddenly contained the necessary ace that had notably been missing moments before. It took Elowyn a moment to notice the discrepancy, and as the young Holder announced his victory, she cast him a look of silent disbelief.
"Read them and weep," he sneered in wicked delight, "a Royal Flush."
"Another one? Oh my Faranth," Z'go's voice dripped with sarcasm when his rival revealed his cards. He glanced over to the old man and the sad man, gauging their reactions before finally settling again on the Holder. Much like Z'go, they were fuming, just not as good at hiding it. He made himself smile, "You'll have to teach me your tricks."
His gaze returned momentarily towards the woman, noticing the look she cast the man, confirming what he already suspected, as she had no need to bluff. Z'go couldn't help but smirk knowingly at her, "Maybe with that kind of luck I'll find myself a beautiful woman, too."
He flipped his yet uncovered card over, revealing and anti-climatic "2." Z'go tossed the rest of his cards on the table, considering it not even worth revealing what he could have had. The others did the same and stood up, abandoning the table with what dignity they had left.
"What are you implying?" Demanded the Holder's son in response to the rider's sarcasm, pausing in his efforts to sweep the pot toward his previous winnings. His face had begun to turn beet red beneath a scowl, though whether from his emptied wine cup or anger was up for debate.
Elowyn knew this situation could escalate quickly if not defused. The handsome rider's comment about her looks earned him a snort and a brief eye-roll, unimpressed by platitudes she was sure he used on every passably pleasing face. She smoothed the wrinkles from the front of her snug, velvety dress, subconsciously more aware of his gaze.
"My lord," she implored sickly-sweet, leaning to wrap her hands around the hot-tempered heir's nearest arm as he stood in concert with the other players. "I'm sure he meant nothing by it. Don't let a sore loser rile you."
"No, no I won't have this!" His reedy voice rose near shouting despite Elowyn's best attempts. "Are you calling me a cheater, sir?!"
Her reaction earned her a even bigger smirk, but Z'go decided to leave it at that, since the young bastard seemed to be vying for the older man's attention. Green eyes returned to him, completely unimpressed with the way he was acting. Wasn't it enough to be a threadsucking cheater that he also had to act like a wherry's ass?
Z'go felt irritability start to invade his mood. He'd been drunk enough to not care about loosing four or five marks but he definitely wasn't drunk enough to let this little shit walk all over him just because he thought he could. Almost immediately he felt Gamyth's presence in the back of his mind, as if telling him to be careful.
"Cheater?" Z'go asked as he stood, presenting his full height to the lordling. He was dressed in fine Gather attire, probably his first time wearing it judging by the richness of it's colors and the state of it's threads.
"Not at all," he continued, straighting out his tunic, locking eyes with the younger man. There was no more smiles con Z'go's face, "I'm calling you a yellow-bellied tunnelsnake of a man. Though 'man' might be stretching it, because from where I stand you look more like a threadsucking dimwitted wherry-shit-for-brains overgrown troglodyte of a boy."
The lordling's eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets as he sputtered indignantly, unable to gather his wits fast enough to reply without faltering. Elowyn turned a shocked expression on the foul-mouthed rider, her own mouth agape and midnight eyes wide - not at his language so much as the audacity necessary to use it against the scion of the Hold in which they stood. The speed with which she composed herself was testament to her experience more than self-control, but she still turned her face away to keep the knowing smile on her face out of the heir's view. Of course /the rider was right/, but she wasn't quite so eager to commit social suicide alongside him by admitting that. She still needed the brat-of-a-lord's influence.
"How dare you!" Cried the son, knocking over the chair he had risen from to stagger dramatically backwards. "I-I'll have your head for that! Do you know who my father is?!"
When the little bastard's hand landed on the hilt of his belt knife, a fancy piece with a sheath decorated overindulgently by precious metal filigree, Elowyn no longer hesitated. Even if the blade wasn't in skillful hands, it was plenty able to do damage.
"Let's not be hasty!" She warned coolly. Her hand was iron on his wrist when the lordling tried to pull away, and he turned a surprised look at her.
"I-I want him out!" He stammered, robbed of his steam by her intrusion, but not deterred for long. At least he had not drawn the weapon, yet. "You riders think you can do anything you please, but there are costs for your actions! Even if no one else will stand up to you, I am not afraid!" The rider was more than a hand taller than the Hold scion, a fact undeniable as he stared upward with a pinched face. "Get out of my Hold!"
"Your Hold? You mean your Daddy's Hold," replied Z'go. He leaned forward, grasping either side of the table in case he had to defend himself. The stupid boy's hand had gone for his weapon, and though he'd still to draw it, the brownrider wasn't taking any chances with this wherry brained mongrel.
Guards had made themselves present, two of them directly behind Z'go. Could he take them on? Probably not, but it wouldn't be the first or last time the Bitran took bad odds and came out on top. Gamyth was fully away now and watching the situation unfold through his rider's eyes, prepared to swoop in at a moments notice.
Letting go of the table, Z'go took a step back, half pushing it against the lordling. It wouldn't hurt in the slightest, but the rude gesture was enough to topple the kid's chips from the table. "We all know who your father is, but who knows who your mother is, bastard. Probably his own sister judging by how fecking stupid you are. You're a threadsucking cheater and a hipocrite and if you're not show us all the inside of your left sleeve. Got another ace up there, have we?"
He felt a guard's arm grab him by the bicep and the blonde rider yanked it away before he could get a clean grip. Anger dominated Z'go now, and before he could think twice his arm was already swinging back towards the guard who had tried to grab him, elbowing him square in the face and breaking the man's nose. He fell back holding it with a muffled yelp of pain as blood started to gush from the wound.
The second guard tried to grab Z'go from behind but the experienced rider caught him by the arm and used the guard's own momentum to flip him over his shoulder and send him crashing into the poker table.
"You know what? Feck this Hold, feck these guards," Z'go swung his right foot directly into the guard's side. "Feck you and your cheating ass. I'm out of here. Keep those wherryshit marks."
Z'go started to back off, warily, in case he was attacked again.
Elowyn hastily moved out of the way as soon as fists began to fly, separating herself from the fray almost entirely. She couldn't leave, not yet, but bloody shards if she was going to let herself get dragged into a brawl in this outfit! The weaver's services hadn't been cheap. "Fecking men," she hissed beneath her breath, watching the scuffle unfold with slim arms crossed beneath the subtle curves of a nearly flat bosom. They were always trouble.
Perhaps it had been watching no less than TWO guards dispatched with relative ease before his very eyes that gave the Hold scion pause, but he hesitated rather than aid his father's men. His adam's apple bobbed with a nervous swallow, brows furrowed over anxious eyes as the brown brownrider began to make his exit. Several quiet moments passed without a word, the eyes of every one of the party's attendees fixed on their group. "Y-you'll pay for that as well, rider!" The word dripped with derision on his tongue, but he remained still - belt knife safely in its sheath. "I'll see to it you never return here!" His voice wavered tellingly.
Elowyn had eyes only for the abrasive rider, curiosity piqued despite her best interests.
Z'go grinned when he heard the boy's voice wavering, humiliating himself in what could one day be his subjects. Triumphant, the brownrider snatched a nearby wineskin from a table and tossed them a quartermark. He took a long swig, showing the lordling his middle finger before completely turning around and disappearing into the people eating, dancing and enjoying the Gather.
The brownrider knew that even if they did put out the order to keep him from ever returning, it wouldn't really go into effect until tomorrow, unless Z'go was stupid enough to have another run in with the Guards, most of whom he assumed were itching to kick his ass after so easily defeating the previous two. Z'go was a brawler by nature, and his training to be a dragonrider had only honed his natural skills over time.
Elowyn managed to keep her expression free of the internal cringe she felt watching the exchange take place. Z'go won points for style and bravado, his point made beyond a doubt. That anti-authority flare with a dash of wherrybrained disregard for the social standing of others did him few favors in her book. Dark eyes followed him into the crowd with his middle finger high, unmissable. This man was trouble, she could have seen that from dragonback on high. And yet..
Seizing the opportunity this disruption had provided, Elowyn made herself scarce from the lordling's side. The boy was too preoccupied to notice, conversing heatedly with his personal scribe while the other scribbled madly on his note-scroll. At Gatherings such as this one, it was easy to become just another pleasant face in the sea of people. Most did little more than glance her way once or twice as she passed, and that suited her purposes just fine. The dress she wore revealed little in the way of flesh, though it clung to her slender frame like a second wine-dark skin and accentuated what assets she /did/ have. Feminine wiles had their uses, after all.
That rider had vanished into the throng only moments ahead of Elowyn, though she had needed to take the long-way ‘round to avoid the card tables. Being of average height had its disadvantages, and an inability to see over the heads of others was definitely one of them. It would not stop her from attempting to seek the offensive rider out. "Now… if I were a brutish rider with a sour personality, where would I be?" She wondered aloud, a bad habit.
"Right behind you, getting more sour by the minute," replied a voice she would recognize.
After his stunt, Z'go had slipped into the crowd and circled back, just in case. Though he should've been more preoccupied with what the asshole was upto, his eyes were drawn towards the slender woman with the unforgettable dress and the dark, exotic blue eyes. She slipped away from the rest and Z'go started to maneuver himself through the crowd, following her from a distance. Just as he decided to close in he heard her speak to himself. The brownrider's ego was pleased to hear that she had slipped off to look for him.
He reached out to her, touching her shoulder in an attempt to make her turn around and look at him. "What's wrong? Tired of being the little Lordling's pet?"
Much to her chagrin, Elowyn flinched hard the moment his voice reached her ears. Shells! It was just her luck that he would materialize behind her, though he had saved her the trouble of a search. She schooled her expression as best she could, but a slightly embarrassed shade lingered on her cheeks when she turned to face him. The hand he laid on her shoulder she pried delicately free with one of her own. "You ought to wear a bell," she remarked at last. "Don't you know it's rude to sneak up on a woman?"
He may have held the advantage to begin, but she was quick to return the serve. Dark eyes like bottomless pools pinned him with a stare that dared him to touch again uninvited, flashing a promise of violence. "Secondly, I am /no one's/ plaything. I go where I like and do what I please. No little lord nor puffed-up rider can change that, try though they might." The offended heat in her voice told him his insult had struck a chord. "And you? Do you always pick fights with your superiors, or is this a special occasion?"
"Rude and brutish sort of fall into the same line, don't they?" he replied quickly, putting up no resistance to when she removed his hand from her shoulder. Z'go took the moment to step in closer, only to be trapped by those eyes full of promise and defiance.
"The little bastard would love to think he is special, wouldn't he?" the brownrider asked, and deciding that perhaps space was a better alternative than to be standing so close to a wild feline dressed as a woman, he stepped to one side of her and motioned with his head, beckoning her to follow him through the crowd. "He's just one more threadsucker that's learned his place as far as I'm concerned. Cheater is a cheater, doesn't matter what rank you are."
Elowyn wasn't sure what she hoped to gain from this venture, but when he neared, she resisted the self-preserving urge to retreat. She recognized his type; he surely knew precisely what sort of effect his proximity had on others - what handsome man didn't? She cocked a brow, listening to his answers over the din of the crowd, mildly surprised by the candor. It appeared that she hadn't expected a real reply to her quips.
"I'm sure you'd like to think you're special as well," she replied evenly, her gaze fixed on him curiously as he pulled away. The venom had left her words as easily as it arrived, placated by the lack of hostility he displayed. Giving his beckoning gesture a moment of consideration, she fell into step at his side at last. Perhaps she was not as unsusceptible to his roguish charm as she styled herself. "I'm not sure that one will ever learn his place, his sort tend not to... I hope you weren't fond of his Hold. He may have had sense enough not to cross blades with you, but he will likely follow through on that ban."
"I'm special enough to warrant you seeking me out," he replied, opening the skin of wine he'd stolen before and offering her a drink as they walked. Usually he was a bit more sulky but he was still a little high on the adrenaline of telling the scion off.
"In any case, he learned not to feck with people. Not everyone is meek enough to let themselves get walked over because of a rank or a color," Z'go shook his head, trying to dispel the thought before he found himself annoyed again. He stopped and turned towards her, seeking out those eyes once more. "I know you saw it. I saw it in your eyes then. The threadsucker pulled the ace out of his arse. And on top of that to gloat?" Z'go seemed offended into the core of his being. "If his daddy isn't going to teach him a lesson someone else will."
Elowyn notably did not object to his initial observation, though she leered at the peace-offering of a wineskin like it might bite. It was not that she disliked alcohol, quite the opposite, but that was the problem in itself. How far could she trust her own judgment if addled with wine? Experience said not far.
"Said the man who called the Holder's son a.. what was it, threadsucking dimwitted wherry-shit-for-brains?" She retorted before he stopped in his tracks and caught her eyes with his own. Holding his gaze rather than fleeing before it, she cocked her head to one side at the accusation. "Yes, I saw. I realize now why he wore that stupid shirt." Elowyn made a sweeping gesture near one of her sleeves with the opposite hand, indicating the lordling's odd fashion choice with a curl of her upper lip. The rider's vehemence resonated with her, and when she replied next, it was with a bark of laughter. "Sounds like you enjoy being that someone. Who /are/ you? I can't address you as 'rider' forever."
"What can I say? I'm a born poet," he replied, omitting the fact that he'd been kicked out of the Harper Hall for an offense much worse than this one.
Z'go nodded when she spoke about the shirt, and again when she motioned her sleeve, noting that she had caught on perfectly. In his own experience, unless the wearer was obsessed with 4th-Pass fashion, most people who wore those kind of tunics were more than likely cheaters.
"You want my name?" the brownrider laughed. "If I told you wouldn't the appeal of the mysterious yet brutish brownrider be lifted?" He leaned closer to her, "What would I have going for me then? Tell me your name first."
"With that attitude, I'm not sure you've earned mine just yet," Elowyn replied with a teasing cadence and a cheeky smirk as he drew closer. She raised her hand toward the collar of his fine jacket, dropping her eyes to roll the material appraisingly between her thumb and forefinger unless he interfered. "You do have better taste than the typical brute, I'll give you that much. Makes me wonder what other stereotypes you defy."
Sliding forward as if to close the gap between them, she halted barely an inch from pressing her slim body against his. The hand that had sought his collar drifted across his shoulder, hovering just above touching as she followed the fabric down his arm. "Very fine... Southern Boll? The stitch-work reminds me of pieces I've seen from the crafthall there."
Allowing her to touch him, laughing a little bit at her response. Z'go didn't mind her inspecting his Gather clothes; he'd spent a pretty mark on them and they were definately to be looked at rather than ignored. When she finally made her judgement Z'go nodded, emphatically, "Good eye. It took me about a month to convince Master Branfin to put this together for me. Ended up paying a little extra to cut in line of the Lord of Bitra, which only makes all the sweeter."
Taking her hand he led her between two booths, escaping the crowd that had been flowing around them and gaining a little bit of privacy. Though it probably wasn't the smartest move, Z'go gripped her hand a little tighter and drew her close to him; so close that even in the reduced light he could lose himself in those dark blue eyes. He smiled a little, "I'm Z'go, Gamyth's rider."
Elowyn chuckled at the thought of leaving the Bitran Lord to wait in line, some part of her always ready to be amused by the (mostly harmless) suffering of those in charge. He took her hand and she followed willingly in his wake, aware of the flow of the crowd they wove through even though her eyes remained fixed on the rider.
When he pulled her into the alley between booths, she couldn't help but laugh to be reminded of younger days darting away from her minders for mischief. She didn't resist the guiding hands that drew her near, a victorious smile his reward for finally offering a name as she leaned against him invitingly. There was an undeniable thrill to being the subject of his attention, and it provoked boldness in the harper with nearly the same effectiveness of wine. "Elowyn," she answered him at last and stood on her toes to capture his lips with her own.
Z'go could've left it as a simple peck but greed overcame him when he felt the warmth of her body pressed against his and the softness of her lips locked onto his own. He dropped the wine skin and his hand slipped onto her hip, passing over the skin tight dress only briefly on his way towards her jaw, which he captured to keep her from escaping too soon.
The taller man leaned into her, parting his lips ever so slightly to allow the tip of his tongue tease her as the kissed, inviting her own to join him. It wasn't difficult to guide the hand he had caught earlier to his chest, letting her feel the athletic body underneath that expensive Gather clothes. As he felt the need to breath he separated, only a little, though not without a nip to her bottom lip.
"Well met," he said, his voice a low purr, so close that she could still feel his breath brush her lips as he spoke. "Elowyn."
Smooth as Benden wine, Elowyn melted into his embrace, surprised and delighted in equal measure by the passionate way he responded. The hand placed against his chest roamed slowly upward, admiring the firm planes of his muscular physique with the slightest pressure from her fingertips. The material was smooth and well-made, but not so thick she couldn't detect what lay beneath. Riders were always so well-built, and he was further proof of the rule - marvelously. Fingers slid up and over his shoulder, allowing her arm to drape behind his neck as if to secure her position. Lips locked, her tongue answered acceptance in a dance with his until necessity forced them apart.
Left nearly breathless in the wake, Elowyn felt relief her knees hadn't buckled! There was something about the way he said her name that sent a tingle down her spine, pulling her lips into a slow smile that was anything but coy. Still so close, she retaliated by stealing a second, brief kiss from him in return for the playful bite.
"Faranth," she exhaled an airy laugh, a new husky note in her voice, "that's certainly one way to liven up this dead Gather." Dark eyes opened as she spoke his name, the taste of his wine still on her tongue. "Z'go… Are you always this entertaining?"
"I'm entertaining?" he asked with a playful snort, very much enjoying the way she had melted into his arms, touching him as they kissed, feeling her pleasure at their closeness. Z'go tilted his head to the side, his eyes drinking in beauty. "I doubt anyone else here shares that opinion... though to be honest, right now, yours is the only one I give a damn about."
As to accentuate that point, Z'go removed his hand from hers and descended, brushing her hip and venturing around it to brazenly grab a handful of that behind that made that dress she was wearing to maddening and tempting. His lips hovered over hers, intent on stealing any sound that dared escape her lips with a kiss.
He was about to kiss her anyways when he heard the lordling's voice from various stalls over. The bastard was marching with various guards, going from stall to stall asking if they had seen Z'go. The blonde brownrider growled and delivered a quick kiss to Elowyn's lips.
"Time to go, I think... want to come with me?" he asked, separating himself from her a little. Though they were hidden in darkness, they weren't completely invisible to the naked eye, and therefore had little time to decide how to act. Z'go knew that he wouldn't get away so easily if caught; this time the guards would be expecting him. Everyone would.
Elowyn would have been hard-pressed to predict this was where the evening would head, but she had become a fan of letting life lead where it pleased. His provocative squeeze elicited a peal of throaty laughter which he promptly smothered with another kiss. Her fingers wove through his flaxen hair, grasp tightened encouragingly. He had played his cards very well thus far.
It was for that reason it was such a shame the little bastard had to spoil their fun. Shards and crackdust, if that wasn't just her luck. She detected the intruder approaching roughly when Z'go did, issuing a disappointed hiss from between clenched teeth as her eyes darted toward the crowd from which they hid. The rogue surprised her with a parting kiss before pulling away, and her attention was back on him in an instant.
Elowyn knew immediately that she /wanted/ to run off with him in that moment, but as usual, work found a way to interfere with her fun. "I'm afraid not," she answered with a playfully dramatic sigh and unwound herself from him. "Duty is calling. I'm sure you understand." If nothing else, she presumed he could relate to that. "I hope we meet again, Z'go, Gamyth's rider."
He couldn't deny he was disappointed in her reply and for a moment he considered being a bit more forceful, bringing her with him, and duty could go feck itself... but that would ruin this, whatever it was, and even if it had only lasted a few moments, Z'go found it beautiful enough to not ruin, as he usually did.
He gave her a roguish smirk, took one of her hands and kissed it. "I hope so, too, Elowyn."
With that he turned around and started walking briskly away from the direction of the lordling, calling Gamyth to meet him in a nearby field where he would make his escape. He glanced back once, to see if she was watching, but in a matter of minutes he had mounted his brown and disappeared into the sky about the Gather.
Elowyn's eyes had lingered on his retreating form, regretting her choice not to follow more than once as he walked away. The luxury of choice was not one she could afford that evening. To see him hazard a look back as he left brought satisfaction, and the smile that split her face was reminiscent of the feline that caught the wherry.
She twisted on the ball of one foot to make her own exit at last when the lordling's voice became too loud, too near to ignore. Another sigh escaped her, but without fail, she donned a mask of insipid delight and strode out to meet the mark she'd been sent to observe.