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11. Meeting the In-laws
A dream come true – there was no other way to describe the magic happening between them. This ellon, this glorious person that she had loved for so long, was finally becoming hers , hers alone. Nobody would be able to separate them again, they would be wife and husband for all eternity.
A thin strip of light came in through a crack in the window shutter, illuminating his face and bare shoulders, making him shine like one of the Valar. He reminded her of Ulmo and of the sea itself; strong and powerful, his voice dark and his eyes clear as water – eyes one could drown in. Tiny droplets of perspiration coated his body as he moved between her legs, his intense gaze never leaving hers, his sensual lips slightly parted. She pulled down his face so she could kiss them. His hair tickled her chest and she moved it back behind his ear, stroking his smooth, white cheek and neck.
“Say my name.”
“Aerneth.” His deep voice sent shivers through her body. “Aerneth.” He sounded breathless and hoarse, and his gaze was turning inwards, becoming glazed. Somehow that made him even more mesmerising. Thranduil was losing his self-control because of her . It made her feel powerful.
A tremor went through him, and another. With a low groan he froze, his body tensing. She knew that look from before, he had reached his finish point just like in his bath that time, only now it was happening with her, inside her.
She was close as well, but not there yet. “Say my name.” Again he readily obeyed, holding his position over her. She guided his hand to where she was most sensitive, showing how to touch her. How different it felt with him doing it! She closed her eyes and tensed her legs, focusing on his fingers and his magical voice. It did not take long until waves of pleasure shook her body.
Their eyes met. She could not entirely interpret his expression, so many emotions were mingling; worry, unease, a lingering want – he would likely not be averse to a reprise of this. But her heart ached as she realised he did not quite share her happiness. He had wanted to wait and she had persuaded him otherwise. Was he angry with her? Or just anxious of what his father would say? She had not imagined him to ever be afraid of anything, but she had met Oropher once and he did seem rather intimidating.
Still resting on his elbows, Thranduil bent down to kiss her. His touch was a tender, featherlight caress. As he pulled back, her throat constricted at the overwhelming sadness she read in his eyes. It was painfully clear he regretted what they had done.
She did not want to see it. Gently pushing him down to lie beside her, Aerneth nestled back against his chest, feeling the warmth of his body behind her as he enveloped her. His strong arm held her close and he burrowed his nose into her hair. She stroked his hand, touching his calloused palm and interlacing her fingers with his.
Whatever troubles awaited them in Doriath they could handle them, solve them together one way or another. He was finally hers . Her husband, her mate, joined before Eru with Varda as her witness. This was right, this was perfect and she refused to feel bad about it.
Doriath… Soon she would be back there, back to stay, not only for a summer but indefinitely. She hoped she might fit in better than last time. At least now, Thranduil would not mind having her around.
The thought of Doriath made her recall when they met there for the second time, shortly after Aerneth and Uinen had helped save him from the orcs. She had travelled to Menegroth at first opportunity, her feelings strengthened by seeing his face again, but she had also been almost scared out of her wits to meet him. She was certain he would recognise her as the annoying elfling she had been, and treat her with that slightly condescending kindness he had used to, like a well-meaning older brother.
Thankfully her worries had come to naught, he had looked at her in a completely new way, a way that made her heart beat fast and her stomach flutter.
This time she took care not to repeat the mistake of her youth when her open adoration had scared him away. She had guarded her deeper feelings, acting secure and unconcerned. It worked better than expected. To see Thranduil at loss for words, saying awkward things, gaze at her with desire! Their roles had been completely reversed.
The memory made her smile with fondness now. She pressed his hand and brought it to her lips, contemplating telling him how much she loved him. But no, this was a bad time, he was still so worried.
”Your hand smells good,” she said instead.
He did not reply, only pulled her in tighter in response to her words. She did not like his tendency to be silent, but knew from experience that trying to coerce him into saying what was on his mind would not work. Their distance relationship had proven that.
That relationship… Ouch. What a farce those hateful three years had been! Aerneth was certain now it was the distance that had ruined things between them, making Thranduil forget that he liked her.
It had started so well, with the romantic water calls, and the dirty talk... But all the while his refusal to end his courtship of Lúthien had hurt. She had tried to make excuses for him, but the more time passed, the harder it had become. Lúthien was so beautiful, and the king's daughter at that. Aerneth was terrified he would eventually choose her instead.
And then came that horrible, horrible day when he completely out of the blue had ended their relationship, breaking Aerneth’s heart in a million pieces. She had lost him. He was her one, true love, and she had lost him to Lúthien.
She had not expected to meet Thranduil again, ever, so when she got the news of his arrival in Eglarest she could hardly believe her luck. Had the Valar granted her a second chance? If so, maybe, just maybe she could persuade him to take her back...
She was pathetically eager to see him, but at the same time terrified he would think her clingy again. Thus, she had gone to that lunch in a flutter of nerves, even forcing poor Galdor to go with her as support, trying to act unaffected while at the same time aching to just fall into Thranduil’s arms and kiss him.
To Aerneth’s surprise, he had seemed very different from how she expected. He had been looking at her in that way…
With a new hope awakening, she had realised getting him back might not be so hard after all. But just in case, she decided she would make him come to her this time, and apologise for hurting her. She did not want him to know how desperate she was! Well, so much for that determination… all he had had to do was look at her with puppy eyes and her resolve dried up like a jellyfish in the sun.
In retrospect it was a bit frightening, the power he held over her. Did he realise it? No, she did not think he did, or he would have been less insecure around her when he first came here. Well, after this it would seem they were even, clearly she must have some power over him too, seeing as she had managed to talk him into marrying her on the spot.
A disquieting thought struck her. Did Thranduil blame her? If he was having second thoughts, would he think it her fault he had agreed to it?
She knew whose fault it really was; his father’s. If only he had been less stubborn and difficult they could have married in Menegroth when they arrived there, and Thranduil would not have to regret anything. However, the flat, unyielding reply Oropher had sent proved that he would never have agreed to that, and she instinctively knew Thranduil would have been harder to persuade once under the influence of that ellon. Their arguments before had shown how dependent he was, how much he bothered about the other’s opinion. He had not even been able to break up with Lúthien until the elleth did it herself!
No, waiting had never been an option. This was the only way, and with time, hopefully Thranduil and his parents would come to terms with it.
She heard him sigh behind her. It was not right that he should be unhappy, that he should feel they had hurried – as if courting for three years before the wedding was to rush things! Turning to face him, Aerneth decided it was time to give him something else to occupy his thoughts with.
“Here, I want you to have this.” Falasiel placed a rolled up canvas and a bundle in Aerneth’s hands. Opening them, she found her favourite painting and favourite clay figurine, both picturing a spotted harbor seal Aerneth had made friends with. She would miss the seals and all the other animals, and she would miss swimming. But most of all she would miss her mother.
“Thank you, Nana.”
“Don’t cry, little one, you can call me anytime, you know.”
“I know.” She sniffed and wiped her eyes.
Her father had also brought a gift, a silver box full of top quality pearls from the Isle of Balar. “You, son, have already received my most valued treasure,” he said to Thranduil. “But your parents will get an extra mouth to feed, and more so with the arrival of grandchildren. These might come in handy.”
Giving a valuable present to the family-in-law was a Doriath custom, which Círdan naturally knew about. Unlike in Eglarest, there were no empty homes in Menegroth where newlyweds could live, so instead the couples moved in with the bridegroom’s family. To compensate for the extra expenses, the bride’s parents gave them something of value to sell or trade if need arose.
Parting with her father was easier than with her mother, Círdan was a busy ellon who had always left Aerneth much to her own devices, trusting in her ability to take care of herself. With Falasiel it was different, it was like she needed looking after, someone who told her to eat and sleep. With Aerneth gone, who would do that?
When they were on their way a little while later, Aerneth felt hollow and empty from all the crying. She stroked the smooth neck of Nênlinna, her dun coloured mare, feeling the warmth of her body through the fabric of her riding dress.
“You should use a saddle, look at all those hairs on your dress,” said Thranduil.
“I don’t mind.”
“You need to take better care of your clothes,” he chided, feigning seriousness.
“Yes Ada.” She grinned weakly at him.
He chuckled and moved his chestnut stallion up to the front of the company. She knew he was trying to cheer her up, taking her mind off the painful separation from her family. She appreciated his effort, especially since he obviously still worried about meeting his parents – he covered his emotions with a mask of indifference, but he could not hide the look in his eyes.
Thranduil’s initial gloominess after their wedding had thankfully subsided during the first few days afterwards, as he came to terms with the definiteness of what they had done, and perhaps Aerneth’s parents’ acceptance of him as her husband had helped too. Oh, her father had scolded them of course, both he and Nana had been disappointed that their daughter had not invited them to witness the exchanging of vows, but as they had expected the wedding to be held away from them anyway, their slight vexation had soon passed.
Oropher’s reaction had been harder to assess. Thranduil had sent a bird to Doriath the morning after their wedding to convey the news, and received a swift reply later that day.
Received your message. Will talk more home. Oropher
No “dear son” or “with love” this time, which probably was a bad sign. But Oropher would have two weeks before they returned to come to terms with his son’s decision, he would hopefully have cooled down by then.
So far, married life was very enjoyable. Today marked their first week as husband and wife, and what a week it had been! They had spent most of it getting to know one another. Well, at least getting to know each other’s bodies, they had not actually talked very much. Who wanted to waste time talking when such an amazing alternative was available?
Thranduil was a thorough ellon, it was as if he had decided her body was a challenge and the ability to please her a skill he was determined to master. With ready zeal he had studied and memorised her reactions to every new thing he tried. For her own part, she would just do what she felt like and touch him where she wanted to, whether it was with her fingers or her lips. Thankfully he seemed to like almost anything she did, except tickle his knees. Of course, she would often tickle his knees. He was too good for her, really.
The upcoming days would be the first trial of their marriage, as the vicinity of the rest of the guards and the members of the trade delegation would make intimacy between the newlyweds impossible. How would they survive eight days of involuntary celibacy?
Aerneth cast a glance at the broad shoulders and waist long hair of her husband before her, feeling a twinge of longing. The stallion he rode was very interested in Nênlinna, so they could not even ride next to each other. If Aerneth ached so badly to have him close already now, how would she feel tonight? Tomorrow? The day after that?
She would be miserable.
With a deep sigh, Aerneth leaned down to hug Nênlinna, burying her face in her pale mane to avoid the temptation of watching Thranduil. It would be a long journey.
“Why does it have to rain?” Aerneth wiped her face for the umpteenth time. Her lashes were beginning to glue together in the downpour.
“It always rains when one is trapped out of doors.” Thranduil shrugged. “Try to ignore it.”
“I tried and failed.”
“Weakness. A warrior would never complain like that.” He smiled as if he were joking, but there was an undertone of annoyance in his voice. They neared his home now and he had been edgy the past two days.
Aerneth frowned and returned her attention to the soggy lembas she was trying to swallow down. She and Thranduil sat some way off from the rest of the company, as had been the case every evening so far. Ever since the others learned of Thranduil’s marriage they had treated him with badly hidden contempt. As if he had done something bad, something criminal! It was enough to make one want to throw things and stomp one’s feet, but of course no well-brought up elleth would behave so childishly.
“At least tomorrow I can have a bath. That will be something,” she said, watching Thranduil’s face. His bleak features changed slightly and she knew he was picturing her naked, bathing. Good. He must stop worrying about his father and think of sex instead. “Warm, soapy water covering me up to my… bosom. Ahh...” He still did not return her gaze, but he was smiling now. She lowered her voice, not that it was really necessary, in the heavy rain nobody was likely to hear anyway. “And then maybe I would feel lonely. So I would call for my husband to wash my back for me…”
Finally he met her eyes. He moved a little closer, and with a guilty look around, gave her a quick peck.
“I know. I am so bad.”
“Aye. I like that.”
Nênlinna protested against being left alone in a foreign stable and Aerneth felt guilty about leaving her. The grooms seemed to be good people though, they connected well with the horses and shared her own ability to bond with other living things. Her mare would be treated well, and in addition Aerneth promised to come visit every day. Just in case, she bribed the horse with her last pieces of lembas.
Thranduil waited impatiently outside and she joined him with some trepidation. Ever since they passed through Melian’s Girdle and entered Doriath he had been taut as a bowstring, ready to lash out at her for the slightest offense.
“Finally.” The tension in his voice was almost palpable.
“Sorry. She did not want me to go.”
“She’s a bloody horse.”
Aerneth bit down a harsh answer. Thranduil was just nervous, probably later tonight he would apologise and make it up to her. Hopefully physically.
She followed him over the bridge and through the main street of Menegroth. As always, the air down here was slightly chilly and there was a musty cellar smell she knew she would soon get used to and not feel anymore. The beauty of the pillars, carved animals and home cavern entrances on either side of the street made up for the lack of light and fresh air. Partly, at least.
Outside his home, Thranduil paused and straightened his back, seemingly gathering strength to enter. The look on his face made her chest ache with sympathy. Was his father really that bad? His unease was contagious and suddenly she felt afraid. She hated arguing, she hated when others were angry. In her own home that almost never happened. Would there be yelling now? She had a horrible suspicion it would.
Thranduil took her hand and opened the door. His grip was a little too tight.
“Father, mother, we are home.” His voice was steady and his features unreadable, the distress he had shown outside completely hidden. She wished she could do that too, and stop trembling like a hare before a fox.
“Ah, Thranduil. Welcome back. And you must be his new wife.” The ellon’s voice was sated with badly hidden rage and his glare at Aerneth positively scalding. Obviously two weeks had not been enough to placate him. She almost felt like turning on the spot and bolting back home.
Eiriendîs, Thranduil’s mother, was much calmer as she greeted her son with a light kiss on his cheek and Aerneth with a bow, her hand over her heart.
“Welcome, my dear. I hope you shall enjoy it here.” Despite her polite words, there was no real warmth in her voice.
“Come, I will show you our room and you can unpack your things.” Thranduil seemed anxious to get away from his parents and Aerneth heartily agreed.
When they were alone, Aerneth drew a long, ragged breath and wiped her moist hands on her dress. At least he had not yelled. Yet.
Thranduil’s room was on the second floor, right beside his parents bedroom. It was small, with barely room for a narrow bed, a washstand and a large clothes chest.
Unpacking the gifts from her parents brought tears to Aerneth’s eyes. She placed the clay seal on the windowsill and Thranduil hung the painting on the wall opposite from his bed. The chest was full to the brim with his clothes, so it was a bit difficult to make room for her garments in one corner of it, but thankfully she did not have that many.
“Are those all the dresses you own?” he asked incredulously. “We really need to go shopping.”
His remark somehow struck her as very funny and she could not hold back a giggle, which grew into a fit of laughter. Despite all the tension and worry and missing her parents, she could not stop laughing, or perhaps she laughed because of that.
Thranduil seemed to understand. He pulled her to him in a tight hug, silently allowing her to calm down. She did not know if she was laughing or crying now, but it felt good to be held.
When she finally had regained some composure, Thranduil released her and picked up the box of pearls her father had given him.
“I should bring this to my father. And I think… he probably wants to speak with me alone.” Again his face was blank, all emotions locked up somewhere inside.
She nodded, wiping her eyes. “Good luck,” she whispered.
After he had gone, she strained her ears to perceive what was happening. She heard subdued voices below but still no yelling, thank the Valar.
The door opened to let in Thranduil’s mother with a vase of dried flowers.
“I figured you would want to make this room a bit more feminine.” She placed the vase beside the clay seal. “Oh, this is beautiful!” She stroked the figurine. “Did you make it?”
“My mother did.” Aerneth’s breath hitched. Eiriendîs’ kind words felt like balm for her wound up nerves.
Eiriendîs did not reply, she had caught sight of the painting and seemed completely spellbound by it. In the middle, the seal from the figurine was sunbathing on a rock, its chubby, spotted belly upturned. Small waves licked the rock’s sides, so realistically painted it looked like they moved. Further away was the horizon and a thin strip of blue sky, with two seagulls as white specks. Between the sky and the ocean, the distant shore of Aman stretched out in a grey line. Eiriendîs slowly raised a finger to touch it.
A loud crash from below made them both start, and Eiriendîs snapped out of her entrancement. The corners of her lips turned up but the smile did not reach her eyes.
“Well dear, I shall get going, the partridges for today’s supper will not pluck themselves!”
Aerneth stared at the door when the elleth had left. There were more noises from below, a series of dull thuds. Aerneth’s heart beat fast, what was happening? Was Oropher breaking something? She considered going down to them, but that would probably only make matters worse. It was best to let Oropher get his scolding done and over with so he and Thranduil could make up and be friends again.
Oropher’s voice was louder now and Aerneth could make out part of what he said. “Deliberately disobeying me… shame... public disgrace… laughing stock.”
She did not want to hear. Laying down on Thranduil’s bed – their bed now – she put a pillow over her head. Silent tears poured down her cheeks. Would Thranduil really be laughed at? He would hate that, she knew how much he cared about what others thought of him. For the first time, Aerneth began to question whether marrying privately had been the right thing to do after all.
Thranduil returned some time later, carefully closing the door behind him and sitting down next to Aerneth on the bed. She anxiously peeked out from below the pillow. He looked the same as when he had left, his features smooth and calm, the only evidence of any agitation being a slight redness of his eyes and a hint of moisture in his lashes.
She sat up, tossing away the pillow.
“How did it go?”
“He was not happy.”
“I get that. Did he… did you make up? Did he forgive you?”
“Nay.” The definiteness of that short answer and the accompanying pain she suddenly read in his eyes hit Aerneth like a punch in her belly. He did not seem inclined to elaborate, so the next hour they just sat there in silence, occupied with their own thoughts.
When Eiriendîs called that supper was ready, Thranduil rose, making an involuntary grimace. Aerneth stared at him. Those noises before… But surely…?
“Are you hurt?”
“I’m fine.” He walked out of the door before she could ask anything else. She tried to shake off her suspicions as she followed him down the stairs, perhaps she had only imagined things.
Supper was a very silent affair. Oropher and Thranduil both looked down at their plates, focusing on their food, while Eiriendîs hardly touched hers. She emptied several goblets of wine instead. The ellyn had fruit juice, and after a glance at Oropher’s stern face Aerneth did too. She had no appetite whatsoever but ate anyway, mechanically chewing and swallowing without tasting anything. The only conversation were a few polite questions from Thranduil’s mother if they liked the food and if anyone wanted a second plate. Nobody did.
It was a relief to be finally returning upstairs.
Aerneth and Thranduil needed a bath after their journey, and took one bucket each to fill the bathtub from the kitchen pump while his mother heated some of it over the fire. Aerneth’s suspicions from before returned when she noticed how stiffly Thranduil carried the water, but when she asked again he repeated his ‘I’m fine’ in a tone that made it clear he did not want to talk about it.
When the tub was full, Thranduil politely allowed Aerneth to use it first. She naturally could not resist suggesting they share, but he did not even smile. She was really becoming worried now, what was wrong with him?
Aerneth did not stay long in the bath. It was lovely to become clean again, but she was too anxious to enjoy it fully. She just wanted to go to bed and make Thranduil talk to her.
While he was in the bathroom, she used his washbowl to call her mother, brushing out her hair meanwhile.
Falasiel readily replied. “Hello my love! So good to see you. How was your journey?”
Seeing her mother’s familiar face almost had Aerneth burst into tears, and it was all she could do to remain calm. There was no need to worry her mother with her father-in-law’s resentment, he would probably come around and forgive them soon and this would all be forgotten. Instead she talked about her room, and the new clothes Thranduil wanted to buy her and that she had eaten partridge for dinner. Her mother thankfully did not see through her forced cheerfulness.
Aerneth had just closed the connection when Thranduil came back, wearing a long, white shirt and a towel slung over his shoulders. He smelled lovely of some unknown herbs from his soap.
He cast her an almost wary look. “It is late and we have travelled all day. We ought to sleep now.” His tone was wary too. Did he mean they could only sleep? But why? They had been forced to abstain for eight days, surely he must want to do it as badly as she did...
When he lay down with a faint grunt Aerneth suddenly understood. He did not want to do it because he did not want her to see his body, because he was hurt . Damn that ellon and his pride! She sat up, scowling down at him.
“Take your shirt off.”
“Nay.” A faint blush spread over his cheeks. Her scowl deepened. He was ashamed, embarrassed because of what his father had done to him.
“He hurt you, didn’t he? How could he? His own son.”
“Keep your voice down,” he hissed, casting a nervous glance at the wall. Sounds came from the other side, footsteps, a low cough. Dismayed, Aerneth realised how thin the wall was and how well sounds travelled through it.
She raised the hem of Thranduil’s shirt and he did not resist anymore as she helped him pull it off. Seeing the ugly bruises on his left hip and shoulder brought tears to her eyes.
“What happened?” she whispered.
“He lost his temper and pushed me into the wall. It looks worse than it is, don’t worry.”
“But you’re a warrior, you could have resisted,” she accused.
“Then why didn’t you?”
“I don’t know.” He shrugged his good shoulder.
Aerneth took off her own nightshirt and snuggled close to him, skin against skin, pulling the quilt up to their necks. Nothing had gone as planned. She already hated this house, and Thranduil’s father too. They could not live here.
When sounds of arguing seeped through the wall, a while later followed by sounds of love-making, Aerneth’s determination to move somewhere else increased tenfold. Especially when she realised they would be heard equally well, should they engage in the same activity – not that she felt even the slightest desire to do so anymore.
There you go, Aerneth’s point of view for a change. :)
On elves and sea-longing: Many elves experience that after seeing the western sea for the first time, meaning that they ever afterwards long to sail to Aman. Depending on the individual, this could affect them differently. Legolas felt it strongly, and it led to his sailing west in the Fourth Age. In my story, Thranduil is not much affected, and in the previous chapter he even decides that he does not want to sail west yet. Aerneth is different, which maybe Legolas inherited, I picture him as being a lot more like his mother in many ways.
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