"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.