Author Topic: Atarae  (Read 950 times)


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« on: June 03, 2015, 04:37:33 PM »
Secrets. It seemed sometimes as though the entire war had been built on secrets; that secrets and their revealing were the reason so many people were going to die. But some secrets could not be kept. They cut too deeply, were held too tightly, and all too soon, they slipped through the fingers of those who clutched at them. Ariana knew secrets only too well. She would never hold anyone accountable for a secret intended to protect others from harm, as the people she loved had done for her for so many years.

In the wake of Rory's quiet confession to her, she simply smiled, drawing him into her arms as she kissed his cheek. "You have family, rua," she told him, careful to keep the envy from her voice and eyes as she held him. "That is truly wonderful."

"Maybe," he replied with an uncertain frown, even as she drew him close. He had tried to consider her feelings in this, knowing it might hurt her to know he had family when she had none, but secrets had a way of unraveling eventually and hurting those they had been meant to protect, and he wanted no secrets from Ariana, of all people. "I suppose it is up to Arora," he added. If the Doma wanted him to be part of her life - if she wanted Ariana and their child to be part of her life - she would have to say so.

"Not maybe," Ariana insisted gently. "Rory, you have family, living family. Not just out there in the world, but walking here beside you. I would give anything to have known my parents, even for a little while; even if they had never spoken to me, or looked at me, even if they had never acknowledged I was theirs ... they would still have been there, my link to a past that stretches for centuries." Her hand curled into his, holding on tightly. "Whether Arora admits to your relationship or not, she is your mother. You know she is your mother, and you will always know that. You have a sister, and your bloodline has a future already growing in her womb. That is wonderful."

"And we'll have a child of our own someday," he added with a soft smile, touching his fingers to her cheek, wanting her to be happy for him, but wanting her to realize that this wasn't just about him - it was about her, too. "My family is your family, Ari. Liayna and Conall and Arora. Mila and Dalan love you like a daughter, and Liam and Shaye and Kari love you, too. There is no shortage of people who care for you, lea." He didn't think he needed to point out that he loved her, too, or that they would likely have a child sooner rather than later. He thought it a little ironic how not long ago she could have been making this very same argument regarding his lack of family.

Suspicious wetness glistened in her eyes as he spoke, her voice thick for a moment as she hugged herself to him. "Our family, then," she agreed softly, nestling close to him. Her lips brushed his throat tenderly, a part of her regretting that they had to remain reasonably presentable until after this meeting with Arora. "Are you sure you want me to be here?" she asked him quietly.

He smiled and exhaled a sigh of relief as she agreed, his arms going around her to hold her close. His breath caught a moment as her lips touched his throat. Though still a little shy and awkward, they were slowly getting more comfortable with each other, and it didn't take much for the spark to catch fire again. He nodded his head in reply to her question before finding his voice again. "I want there to be no secrets between us," he said, but there was another reason besides that one for him to want her there to witness.

She raised her head, looking up into his eyes. "There has only ever been one secret between us, and you kept it for my safety," she reminded him gently. "That is the only reason I would ever keep a secret from you - to keep you safe. Everything I am is yours, rua, I swear it."

"Not even to keep me safe, lea. I want no secrets between us ever," he told her, meeting her gaze solemnly. While they might keep some secrets from the rest of Arctra, he wanted there to be no secrets between them. "And everything I am is yours," he countered, in a soft voice, tracing her cheek with a gentle fingertip. "I don't think I can do this alone, Ari," he admitted with a faint frown.

"You will never be alone," she promised him. "Not so long as I draw breath." She drew him down to her, forehead to forehead, one hand resting lovingly over his heart. "I will always be with you." She breathed him in, slow and steady, more than content to fill herself with him as they waited for his mother to join them.

"Nor will you," he promised in return, his voice quiet as he rested his forehead against hers. "I love you so much, lea," he whispered, almost afraid to say the words out loud, as though saying them might break some sort of spell. "I'm scared, Ari," he admitted, though he wasn't quite sure what he was afraid of. It wasn't Arora he was afraid of exactly, so much as her reaction to his knowing the truth, and then there was the coming battle.

Her eyes opened, blue as the summer sky, holding his gaze with heartbreaking honesty. "So am I," she confessed to him in return. "But being afraid doesn't have to paralyze you, Rory. I've been afraid all my life. The only thing I'm not afraid of is you, and the way I feel about you. I think, if I have you, I can face anything."

But that was exactly what he was afraid of -  losing her and becoming lost himself. He didn't think he could live without her anymore; he didn't want to live without her. It was only after he'd met her that life had been worth living. "I'm afraid of the battle, Ariana. I'm not afraid for myself, but for you. I'm afraid of losing you. I can't live without you, Ari. I won't live without you."

She caught his face between her hands. "You won't lose me. There are thirty thousand people out there who have sworn to die before you will ever have to think of losing me. There are eight thousand clansmen and women who are marching with us for the same reason. Rory, I'm more afraid for you than I am for myself. I can't do this without you. Don't you dare die on me."

"I have no intention of dying, Ariana, not when I have so much to live for," he told her, blue eyes meeting blue eyes. "We have so much to live for. And we're going to have a child someday." Because Kari was never wrong, or so he'd been told. "We're going to defeat Velasca, and we're going to restore peace to all of Arctra." He truly believed that, though he wished it could be done without the shedding of so much blood.

She nodded, tightening her arms around him. "I'll hold you to that," she told him, her voice soft but fervent. "I'll hold you forever, if you'll let me." She smiled, knowing it was almost guaranteed that he would, but always happy to hear him say so.

A low cough announced itself from outside the tent, one of the Tarven clanswomen announcing, "The Doma of Clan Kirun, Majesty."

He was about to respond in kind when they were interrupted by the announcement that Arora had arrived. He touched a brief kiss to Ariana's lips and whispered a quick, "I love you," before moving to his feet and tugging her up beside him so they could properly greet the Doma. He drew a deep breath to gather his courage, his stomach tied in knots, though he was trying to remain as calm as possible.

Ariana smiled as he kissed her, drawn up onto her feet as she called out to the guard to allow Arora inside. The Doma bent to enter the tent, shaking the snow from her boots before coming within. She regarded them there, standing close, hands touching, and a small smile touched her face as she inclined her head. "Majesty," she greeted Ariana. "Lord Consort. I have come, as you bid me."
[size=9:fa373e12e6][color=darkred:fa373e12e6][i:fa373e12e6]Illusory joy is often worth more than genuine sorrow. [/i:fa373e12e6][b:fa373e12e6]- Descartes[/b:fa373e12e6][/color:fa373e12e6][/size:fa373e12e6]


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« Reply #1 on: June 03, 2015, 04:38:31 PM »
"Thank you, Doma," Rory replied, inclining his head to her respectfully, just as he had earlier that day. The tent was warm from the fire in the brazier, and Rory had put a kettle on it a short while ago. "Please, make yourself comfortable. Would you like a cup of tea?" he asked, letting go of Ariana's hand so that he could fix them each a cup.

"Thank you, I would." Arora smiled gratefully as Ariana gestured for her to take a seat. "The wind bites cold tonight," she told them. "The spring is coming, but before her drives the last freeze of the winter." She eased herself down into one of the chairs, biting down on her smile as she watched Ariana glance almost nervously toward Rory before doing the same. "It was a night very like this one when I birthed my son."

There was nothing like stating the obvious to get a conversation going. Rory's back was turned to the two women as they settled themselves into chairs and Rory went about fixing the tea. Fortunately, he only just managed not to drop the crockery when Arora blurted that statement. He did stiffen, however, and pause a moment before laying a few tea leaves in each cup. "I'm afraid that's what I wanted to ask you about," he said, without looking up from his task.

Aware of the young queen's eyes on her, Arora kept her own gaze turned to the young man who had invited her to speak. "You should not be afraid," she said quietly, leaning back in her chosen seat. "The past is not something to fear. It is a lesson, nothing more."

"Whose lesson?" he asked, wondering what it was he was supposed to learn from the decision she had made. He wasn't about to make that same mistake. He had no intention of ever letting Ariana out of his sight, and he would make sure their child knew he or she was loved. He did not look up from his task as he filled each cup with hot water. There wasn't any cream or honey to add to the tea, but it didn't matter - it was hot and soothing, and that was what was important.

"I did not say you had to learn from the lesson," Arora pointed out with a mild smile. She was silent for a long moment, listening to the howl of the wind. "Of all the lessons of my past, the hardest I have ever suffered was the knowledge that my children would never know me. Two, I've borne - a girl, to the Domus of another clan; and a boy, to an Arctran who showed me no fear, only love." Her smile softened as she spoke. "It was a single night, but one I shall never forget, and for nine months, I carried a part of him in the son that grew beneath my heart."

He set the kettle down, glad his back was turned to them both so they could not see his face, as his eyes were welling with tears at the memory of his father. She seemed to be acknowledging his birth, and yet, she had not yet come right out and confirmed that her son had been him. "He never forgot you," Rory said, almost too quietly for them to hear, not trusting his voice not to give his feelings away.

Ariana watched as the Doma closed her eyes, caught between the sadness in Rory, and the sadness in his mother. She rose to her feet, moving to lay her hand against Rory's back as Arora spoke again.

"It is my greatest regret that I could not stay, and he could not come," the older woman said in her quiet way. "I am a Doma; my duty is to my clan. I had thought, perhaps, that I might be allowed to keep a part of him with me, but when I held my son in my arms, I knew I could not. The Goddess needed him to walk another path, and so, as I had done with his sister, I gave him up to his father. I never saw him again, not until Clan Kirun joined this army."

Rory was glad Ariana was there, drawing strength and comfort from that simple reassuring touch, as if to wordlessly remind him that he was not alone. "He needed me," Rory pointed out. "And he loved me," he added, struggling to keep his voice steady. He wondered how much she knew of his life and of his father's death, but he wasn't sure he could speak of it just yet.

"He gave you a life I could never have," Arora said, watching the young pair together with a pang for how free they were to love one another. "You gave him the love I could not. He was a good man; the finest I will ever know." She drew in a shaken breath. "We were too late to save him, I know. But know this, velan ... we gave him the peace of burial. We would not leave a man to rot by the roadside, nor deny a son a place to mourn his father. I will show you, when this is done, where your father lies."

He listened to her silently, unable to speak for a moment, overcome by the memory of his father and of his death - no, his murder - though that was not what he wanted to remember. He wanted to remember his life and keep those memories forever in his heart. "They killed him, right in front of me. They killed him because of me," he confessed quietly, wiping at the tears that were streaming down his face, his voice strained with emotion. He had not spoken of his father in months, not wanting anyone to know his pain.

"No, they didn't," Ariana was quick to interrupt, knowing she had little place in this conversation, but refusing to let the man she loved torment himself so appallingly. "If anyone is to blame, it is Velasca herself. If she had not killed my parents, she would not have been afraid of me. If she had not been afraid of me, she would not have chosen you to insult me with. Your father died trying to protect you, yes, but he died with honor, with dignity. She tried to take it all away from him, and he kept it. And I know he did, because I know you."

Rory lifted his face to Ariana, unafraid of her seeing his tears - she had seen them before and would likely see them again and loved him in spite of those tears. "And I will kill her for it," he said between clenched teeth. "I will repay her for what she did to your parents and my father and you. I will repay her for everyone who ever suffered at her hands. I will do it. I swear I will. And Valeyna, too. They will pay for what they've done."

Her fingers stroked gently against his cheek as she looked up at him. "They will," she agreed softly. "But this isn't what Arora is here to say. You need to speak to her, rua. Don't make her walk through these memories on her own."

Rory nodded his head, sniffling back the tears of anger and grief, realizing that it would only hurt Arora - his mother - to talk of his father's death. "I know, I'm sorry," he told Ariana quietly, drawing a shaking breath as he tried to compose himself. There plenty of people who wanted Velasca dead, and he was only one of them.

Behind them, Arora held her peace, knowing she could not leave without the queen's permission. She was glad that Rory had so many people who loved him; glad that the path she had set him on as a newborn babe had brought him to this moment, where he had the love of a woman who would never betray him. But still, a tear marred her cheek as she remembered the man who had given her a son, and who had died so horribly on the Queensroad.

But it was not Ariana who needed his apology so much as Arora. Rory offered Ariana a reassuring smile, even through his tears, and brushed a kiss to her cheek, before moving past her and kneeling down in front of the woman who had birthed him, even though she still had not come right out and acknowledged him yet. "I'm sorry, atarae. I did not ask you here to bring you pain. Can you forgive me?" he asked, blue eyes shining with unshed tears.

Arora's sad face grew a soft smile as he addressed her - not as Doma, or lady, but atarae ... mother. "Pain is a part of life, velan," she told him gently. "The pain of birth gives life. It is how we begin. Without pain, without sorrow, how would we know joy, love?" Her hand touched his cheek, trembling just a little. "My beautiful boy ... you have known much pain. But you will know great joy, too. My little velan is grown, just like my little velira. I am so very proud of you, Rory."
[size=9:fa373e12e6][color=darkred:fa373e12e6][i:fa373e12e6]Illusory joy is often worth more than genuine sorrow. [/i:fa373e12e6][b:fa373e12e6]- Descartes[/b:fa373e12e6][/color:fa373e12e6][/size:fa373e12e6]


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« Reply #2 on: June 03, 2015, 04:39:48 PM »
Rory looked into her eyes - eyes so familiar now that he knew who she truly was to him - eyes filled with tears, both of sorrow and joy. His heart swelled at her words, all the anger and grief fading away. He mirrored her smile, as he took her hand into his own. "I only wish I had known you both sooner," he told her quietly, though perhaps the Goddess knew best. If things had been even a little bit different, he might not have met Ariana, and he could no longer imagine a life without her in it. Turning to Ariana, he held out a hand for her to join them, none of them alone any longer. "Come, meet my mother, Ari." Of course, she had met the Doma already, but not in such a way as this.

"We wish for many things," Arora told him tearfully through her smile. "Sometimes Leniniya answers." She looked up as he reached a hand toward Ariana, his aera, and her smile deepened. The hidden princess, the vipsana who would restore the balance to the land ... this was her son's reward for all his suffering, to be loved by a very special young woman. "And sometimes, we are given what we could never wish for."

Invited to join them, Ariana hesitantly laid her hand in Rory's, sinking onto her knees beside him to look up at the woman who had given him life. "It is a very great honor to know you, Arora," she said quietly, a little startled when the Doma reached out to stroke her hair.

Arora's smile warmed as she looked between them. "You have a great deal of love," she told them both. "Your line is blessed. Twin moons ... twin babes."

Rory smiled encouragingly as Ariana moved closer to kneel down beside him. There had been enough pain and grief and sorrow. Perhaps it was time to let the pain go and work toward healing. Though his father and Ariana's parents could not be there to share in their joy, there was Arora and Liayna and Dalan and Mila and everyone else who cared for them, whether they were bound by blood or not. Rory smile warmly as his mother and his beloved greeted each other, and he wondered how he could have ever been angry at this gentle woman who had loved his father. His eyes grew wide, however, at the prediction she seemed to be making. Twins? How could she know that already, when they couldn't even be sure Ariana was with child yet? "How do you know?" he asked, unable to keep the question unspoken.

"Twins run strong in the line of Arlan," Arora pointed out with a smile, though this was hardly a confirmation of what she had said. "Arian was a twin, Telaera was a twin. Every queen of Arctra has born twins - a boy and a girl. There is no reason to believe that tradition will break with you."

Ariana was staring at her, mouth open in a very unqueenly expression of terrified astonishment. "But ..." She looked wildly at Rory. "I can't even look after myself, what are we going to do with two babies?"

For the first time in days or perhaps weeks, Rory laughed, the sound bubbling up inside of him, like a fountain of joy. "We will look after them together, lea," he told her with a fond smile, as he gave her hand a reassuring squeeze and leaned over to touch a kiss to her cheek. "And we will have help," he added, with a glance to Arora, though he had a feeling she would be returning to her clan, when the war was over. The thought of that brought a small frown to his face, though he said nothing of it.

"You will always have help," Arora assured them both. "My clan, Kirun ... we range the lands around your city of Loscar. This is our territory we will shed blood upon. Your sister's clan, Tarven, range the north, around your city of Phalion. Wherever you choose to be, velan, you will never be far from your blood."

It was too early to make those kinds of decisions, he thought, and even when it was time, he would likely let Ariana decide which city became home - perhaps both. "We will be a family," he said, as if he needed to say it to make it real. He looked from one to the other, as if he was including them both in that equation - mother and mate - queen and Doma.

"Valantis," Arora agreed, one hand on each of their cheeks as she glanced between them. "No matter how far, we will always be connected through the Goddess, velan. I should have come to you when I first knew it was you walking by the vipsana's side. Forgive me?"

Rory frowned faintly, feeling a little guilty for his initial feeling of anger and hurt when he'd first been told she was his mother. It was Liayna who had paved the way for this meeting and this healing between them. It was her he needed to thank, and his mother deserved to know it. "Don't be angry with her, but it was Liayna who told me."

For just a moment, the Doma's eyes narrowed at this news, proof that she would be having words with Liayna before the march was done, but she did not linger on that feeling. "She has known there was something between you since you first met," she said carefully. "She did not know for certain until she asked me herself, when our clans met again on this march south. Did it take her so very long to tell you?"

He gave her hand another squeeze, a pleading look in his eyes when he saw hers narrow. "Please, don't be angry with her. How would I ever know, if she had not told me? Would you have kept it a secret forever if she had not spoken?" he asked, moving to his feet, one arm around Ariana's waist to pull her up with him.

"Such a secret was not hers to tell," the Doma said, and in her tone was a sternness that was almost frightening. It certainly alarmed Ariana, who was only too happy to rise to her feet, secure in the wrap of Rory's arm.

"Perhaps not, but she is my sister, and once I knew, I pressed her for the truth, so she is not entirely to blame. If you wish to blame someone, then blame me," he told her, almost with an air of authority about him that he was completely unaware of, willingly taking the blame upon himself, just as he had all those months ago when he'd been willing to suffer a beating for Ariana's sake. He sighed, softening, his expression gentling. "I am not angry with you, atarae. How can I be angry at you when you were only doing what you thought best to protect us?"

Arora studied him for a long moment, slowly rising to her own feet. "If I were to lay blame, or anger, on anyone, velan, it would be at the feet of the Goddess," she told him. "She told me that I could not be a mother to my children. Life is pain and joy; sorrow and happiness. Without my pain, you would not have your joy. It was my choice, in the end."

"Then let us not speak any more of blame or anger, but be glad the Goddess has seen fit to bring us together and pray that we do the memory of my father and Liayna's father justice in becoming a family again," he said, leaning in to touch a kiss to her cheek.

Arora caught his face in her hands, gently touching her cheeks to his, left to right, in a familiar gesture. "My velan," she whispered, pressing a kiss to his forehead before drawing back. "The past is a lesson, the future is a promise. And you have been promised great things, my velan."

Rory smiled again, hoping she was right. Kari had told them as much, and his mother seemed to concur. He wasn't sure how they came by their powers of prophecy; much of the ways of the Wild Ones were unknown to him, but he was hoping to learn more about that part of his heritage once they were done with war. "I will try to make you proud, atarae." Though she had already told him she was proud of him, he thought he had not really done much to earn such praise yet. The true test was yet to come.
[size=9:fa373e12e6][color=darkred:fa373e12e6][i:fa373e12e6]Illusory joy is often worth more than genuine sorrow. [/i:fa373e12e6][b:fa373e12e6]- Descartes[/b:fa373e12e6][/color:fa373e12e6][/size:fa373e12e6]


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« Reply #3 on: June 03, 2015, 04:41:00 PM »
"You will," the Doma promised him, her confidence almost infectious as she drew back, turning to take Ariana's hand in hers. She folded the young queen's palm between her own, staring into the girl's eyes. "My velan is your eniro, vipsana," she told Ariana softly. "Do not doubt, do not fear. It is promised."

Ariana stared up at her, wide-eyed, not knowing what she was supposed to say in answer. The Wild Ones were a people apart, a people who knew the world far better than she ever would. She did not dare speak, in case she said entirely the wrong thing.

Though he was only just starting to understand the ways of the clansmen, Rory knew one thing for certain - together he and Ariana were uniting the people of Arctra - all the people of Arctra - in ways they had never been united before. Their children - their twins - would be of mixed blood, both Arctran and Wild One, uniting the people and the land under one crown and one Queen. He couldn't help but wonder if that had not been the Goddess' plan all along. "Thank you, atarae," he told her gently. "I am glad to be your velan."

Indeed, the Arctran people were not ready to accept a Wild One as Consort to the Queen ... but the son of a Wild One, that was easier for them to swallow. Though peaceful tolerance would be a long time in coming - generations, perhaps - the seeds of a truly united Arctra were already planted in Ariana's womb. Arora nodded to Rory, releasing his aera with gentle hands. "As am I," she told him softly. "But the night grows dark, and the march is not yet done. Love and sleep, hantarai. I will take my leave."

They never did get to the tea, but no matter. What had passed between them was far more important than the sharing of tea. Rory gave his mother's hands a final gentle squeeze before letting go, a first embrace of sorts. He could not yet say he loved her, but he was hopeful a son's love would come in time. "Rest well and be at peace, atarae. I forgive you, though there is nothing to forgive."

She inclined her head to them both, once again the Doma of Clan Kirun, straight-backed and tall as she took her leave of them. As the tent flap fell closed, Ariana turned to Rory, her hand rising to touch his cheek as she looked into his eyes. "It is a beginning, rua."

He maintained his composure, more for his mother's sake than his own, until she was gone and the tent flap was closed, leaving him alone with the one person he trusted more than any other - more even than his mother or sister or the Commander of the Army or the First Blade. "But it has come at such a cost, Ari," he told her quietly.

"I know," she whispered to him, drawing him back to the bed so that she could wrap him in her arms. She couldn't begin to imagine the pain in his heart for the loss of his father; she had never known her parents, and though she felt their absence keenly, she had never known their love. It was not such a hardship for her to be orphaned as it was for him to have witnessed his father's murder. "We will balance those books, rua. Though I can never bring him back to you, I will see that the people who killed him will not live longer than it takes to slice their heads off."

"I'm not sure I even want that, Ari. I just want there to be peace. No more death, no more pain and suffering. Just peace. That's all I want," he told her, though that wasn't entirely true. He wanted her and he wanted them to spend the rest of their lives loving each other and whatever children the Goddess saw fit to bless them with. He let her draw him back to the bed, weary and drained from the walk and the events of the day, but willing to hold her a while before sleep took them both. "Twins, lea," he whispered as they settled themselves on the bed and into each other's arms. "Can you believe it?"

She laughed softly, nestled into his arms. "I'm trying not to think about it," she admitted with comical dismay. "Can you imagine how I'll look? I'm supposed to be this elegant, inspiring ruler, and if I'm carrying twins, I'll be waddling around like a drunken duck for months!"

He chuckled again at the mental image that put in his head. "And the people will love you for it," he told her, not to mention himself. Of all the things for her to worry about, it amused him that she was worried about that. "You should get some rest, lea. We have another long march tomorrow," he told her, leaning over to press a kiss to her lips and tuck the blankets around her.

She was glad to have made him laugh, even at her own expense, smiling as he kissed her. Her arms tightened around him as he tucked her beneath the blankets, nestling closer with an intimate confidence they had been lacking just a few days ago. "And what if I don't want to go to sleep yet, rua?" she asked him with a surprisingly sultry twinkle in her blue eyes. Some things, it seemed, came more easily as a woman than they ever had come to her as a man.

He remained where he was, leaning close with her arms tucked about him while he brushed her hair back from her face. "Need I ask what you wish to do before we sleep?" he asked, the twinkle in his own eyes matching hers. It seemed they were both getting bolder, now that they were no longer virgins and no longer afraid.

"Well, I could be wrong," she mused, biting her lip as she grinned, daring to shift herself enough to straddle his hips as she looked down at him. "It could be a misheard bit of rough talk, but ... I think what I wish to do before we sleep is you. What do you suggest we do about it?"

"You are the Queen, and I am but your loyal servant," he pointed out with a smile up at her, his body answering for him, if she cared to notice. "You need only tell me what you wish, and I will make it so."

She leaned down to him, golden wheat hair shimmering over her shoulder to pool on the pillow beside his cheek. "I don't want a servant," she murmured, blushing as she felt his answer pressing against her. Her lips brushed his as she looked into his eyes. "I just want to be your Ari. What do you wish, rua?"

"To be with you always," he answered quietly, raising a hand to run his fingers through the golden wheat silk of her hair. His lips were warm and inviting, his eyes soft and adoring as they looked into hers. "I just want you to love me. That's all I want, Ari."

"I do love you, Rory," she promised him, the quiet playfulness easing from her expression as she looked down at him. "When we're alone, I don't want to be the queen. I just want to be yours, forever. I love you more than life, rua."

"My heart is yours, lea. I love you with everything I am. My heart, my body, my soul. You do not need want such a thing. It is already yours," he told her softly, touching his fingers to her cheek, her hair, tracing her lips, devouring her with his eyes.

"That isn't what I'm asking," she smiled, knowing why he insisted on telling her how much he loved her at every opportunity. "Am I yours, rua? Here and now, where we are just Rory and Ariana ... am I yours?"

"If I am yours, then you are mine," he replied, trying to make himself more clear. "I want no one but you. When you are here with me, we are just Rory and Ari. Man and woman. Husband and wife. You ask if you belong to me. Yes, Ari, you belong to me, just as I belong to you. I will love you forever, until the end of time."

It might have seemed such a little thing to others, but to Ariana, it meant the world to be claimed by just one man who loved her. There was an entire army outside, every man and woman of which claimed her as their queen. Another army that claimed her as their enemy. But to Rory, she was simply his. Her lips touched his as she breathed out, slow and soft, her fingertips trailing against his cheek. "Thank you."

He wasn't sure why she was thanking him when he felt the same way that she did. It made his heart soar to know she loved him and wanted him, and there was only one way to show her without words that he meant what he said. First, he kissed her, tenderly plying her lips with his, albeit a little awkwardly still. They would get better with time, as they grew to know each other better and to learn together the art of making love.

Awkward or not, they were beginning together, learning this new dance that belonged only to them with stuttering steps. Over time, it would grow less stilted, but even now, every hesitant touch, every tender kiss imprinted itself on her heart as she warmed to the one person she knew she could not live without.

As awkward and clumsy as young lovers were, there was something pure and beautiful about their love, true and honest and as warm and sweet as a summer breeze. With time, their love would grow deeper, and they would grow easier and more relaxed in each other's arms, but for now, it was about exploration and learning, not only what pleased them but how to please in return.

And outside the Royal tent, the warriors of Clan Tarven shared smiles as they heard that loving pleasure shared between man and woman, spreading out just that little bit further to keep others from overhearing what they knew Arctrans considered to be private. It would not do to have Arctran soldiers knowing exactly what it sounded like when their queen and her consort found bliss in each other's arms.

There was no better word for it than bliss, and though it might only go on for a little while, when at last they were done and asleep in each other's arms, there was a certain bliss in that, too. To trust and love and share that love with another was the greatest gift the Gods - whoever they truly were - could have ever given them.
[size=9:fa373e12e6][color=darkred:fa373e12e6][i:fa373e12e6]Illusory joy is often worth more than genuine sorrow. [/i:fa373e12e6][b:fa373e12e6]- Descartes[/b:fa373e12e6][/color:fa373e12e6][/size:fa373e12e6]