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12. Living in Doriath
Thranduil had often found that no matter how bleak a situation seemed in the evening, things would often feel much better after a good night’s sleep, and this morning was no exception. His shoulder and hip hurt less today, the swelling was down so he was fairly sure nothing was broken. Yes, his father was probably still angry, but at least Thranduil had borne the brunt of his fury now. Oropher would be sulking a few more days, giving them the silent treatment except for the odd acidic remark, but in time he would come to terms with the situation.
It was early, the morning lanterns not yet lit. Thranduil looked at the sleeping elleth beside him, her rounded cheek tinted pink from the reddish night light. Waking up with Aerneth in his arms was easy to get used to, even though sleeping together in his narrow bed was a bit crowded. Perhaps he could buy a larger one, like the one his parents’ shared.
He reached out to slide his fingers through her silky hair, fascinated by the play of the dim light on its golden hue. Her long lashes fluttered and she opened her eyes. He looked deep into them, allowing his own eyes to convey his desire. He moved a finger to touch her lips, following their curve. She parted them and her tongue slid out to slowly lick his finger, a teasing glint in her eye. Naughty. He approved.
As he moved closer to kiss her the bed creaked and they booth froze, listening for sounds from the other side of the wall. Nothing. He relaxed and returned his gaze to Aerneth, but she was frowning now.
“I’m not doing it with them listening,” she whispered angrily.
He glanced at his hourglass but he had forgotten to turn it yesterday. Still, it was probably early, he always woke long before his parents. “They sleep for at least an hour more,” he murmured, picking a time at random.
“This creaky thing will wake them up.” She deliberately bounced, producing a low thud as it connected with the wall.
“So lets do it somewhere else then.” He slid one of his arms under her thighs and the other under her head, promptly lifting her up, ignoring the twinge of pain in his left shoulder. A subdued squeal slipped her lips, but she was smiling. He had found that even though she had always been the one most forward of them concerning their relationship, she loved it when he was bossy in bed.
He carried her to the windowsill, putting her down beside the clay seal and flower vase and positioning himself between her legs. Perfect, this was just the right height, a bit like the working benches in her bakery. The look in her eyes told him she remembered those too. Before leaving Eglarest they had spent a very pleasant day in the bakery, finding new uses for the benches, the table, a tiny storage room and even the floor in one instance.
Glancing out the window, Thranduil made sure nobody was around. Even if they were, they could hardly see anything other than a pale shape, this was the second floor after all and their room was dark.
He returned his attention to Aerneth’s lips, tilting his head to get a better reach. Her fingers buried themselves in his hair, pulling him closer as she eagerly responded. He stroked her neck, following it to her ear. He fondled her earlobes and felt her breathe out against his mouth.
“My butt is freezing,” she complained.
He fetched a pillow from the bed, lifting her up to place it between her lovely backside and the stone of the windowsill.
“Spread your legs,” he ordered. She smiled and obeyed. “Wider.” When she again did as told, he moved close. “Good wife. Obedient.”
“What would you do if I did not obey?” she whispered, her eyes nearly black with want.
“I would punish you. With my mouth.” He took an earlobe between his teeth, nibbling it.
“Oh please do. I have been very naughty.”
That had them both laughing, nearly choking to keep the noise down.
Another deep kiss smothered the laughter effectively. Thranduil cupped her heavy breasts, one in each palm. He was left-handed but practicing fighting with two swords had made him nearly as capable with his right, he could even write tolerably with it. That talent was convenient now, as he let one hand slide all the way down between her legs while the other continued rubbing and stroking her breast.
She made low sounds of pleasure, and her fingers which had been caressing his chest and shoulders stilled their motions as she was becoming too distracted to know what she was doing. He loved that unfocused expression in her eyes.
“Take me,” she breathed.
She did not have to ask twice. Lifting her legs he pushed inside. He murmured her name with each stroke, and it did not take long until they both shuddered with surges of pleasure as they reached climax.
When his heartbeat had slowed down, Thranduil carried Aerneth back to the bed and they snuggled down close together again.
“We cannot always do it in the window,” she whispered.
“I will think of something.”
“Can’t we live somewhere else?”
“There is nowhere else. The city is full.”
“We could move to Eglarest.”
“Don’t be silly.”
“I mean it.”
He rose on one elbow to meet her gaze. She did mean it, he realised. Wherever did that odd notion come from? It was not that he had disliked the sea, or Eglarest for that matter, but his place was here in Menegroth. He could not leave his friends and he owed the king his allegiance. And, with all his faults, Thranduil loved his father and would also do his duty to him by staying at his side.
“I am a march-warden, I work here.” He kissed her lightly. “Things will get better soon, Father will come around. Don’t worry.”
He changed the subject, anxious to take her thoughts off his parents. “I have a free day today, no guard duty. Shall we go shopping? We could buy wedding rings and more clothes for you.”
“Whatever you say.” She still did not look happy but at least she had stopped talking about moving.
Making ready for the day with Aerneth was enjoyable, much like waking up next to her had been. Thranduil offered to brush out her hair, which she readily accepted and then commenced to do the same service to him. Her careful touch was immensely pleasurable in a completely different way than bedding her. He closed his eyes and all but purred with satisfaction.
When they were ready, they ghosted down the stairs to not wake his parents. Neither of them wanted a repeat of yesterday’s awkward meal and prefered skipping breakfast. If they felt like it, they could buy something from a vendor downtown.
The commercial part of Menegroth was located in the streets closest to the city gates. They went to the tailor’s shop first, and since Aerneth did not care at all about fashion she let him decide everything. Thranduil had a great time, choosing between various materials and designs, and watching the tailor take his wife’s measurements. The dresses would be delivered as soon as they were finished.
At the jeweller’s, Aerneth was more interested, and together they decided on matching rings shaped like a golden snake coiling itself around the wearer’s finger.
“I can pretend mine is an eel,” she said, waving her hand to make the gold catch the faint daylight seeping down through the quartz of the distant ceiling.
“You and your sea creatures.” He smiled.
“What? I happen to like sea creatures and this design was the closest I could get. If there had been a seal ring I would have picked it on the spot.”
The purchases today would eat up most of Thranduil’s savings, but it was well worth it. He loved beautiful clothes and jewellery, and when he realised how much Aerneth liked the ring he bought her a matching pair of golden snake earrings in the spur of the moment. She rewarded him with a sound kiss right in front of the jeweller, to the latter’s amusement.
It was nearing noon and they ought to get back home to have lunch. Oropher would not be easier to deal with if they avoided him, more likely the opposite. Yet, they both involuntarily dragged their feet, and the closer they got, the slower they went. But of course they got there in the end and had to go inside.
“Where have you been?” Oropher looked up from his book when they passed through the sitting room. His eyebrows were drawn together into a single line.
“We bought wedding rings.” Thranduil held out his hand and Aerneth did the same. Her fingers trembled and he felt a pang of sympathy for her sake. He had to remember that she did not know his father the way he did – she had never seen his softer side.
“Even that done belatedly.” Oropher shook his head.
“They do not use them in Eglarest.”
“No? I knew the Falathrim were a bit behind on many things, but to be so ignorant? Even the Noldor use rings.” Oropher’s voice was brimming with contempt.
“We are not ignorant! We have other traditions.” Aerneth scowled at him. Thranduil gave her hand a warning squeeze, talking back to Oropher was not a good idea.
“Oh, do you.” He glared at her. “Let me guess. The tradition of disobeying one’s parents? Or the tradition of rushing into irreversible, life changing, everlasting decisions? Or is it perhaps the fine tradition of luring young ellyn into one’s bed?”
“I did not –”
“Aerneth!” He pulled her to him. “Come, let us go upstairs and freshen up before lunch.”
As he closed the door behind them, she furiously turned to him. “Why did you let him say those things, like it was all my fault?” she hissed.
“Speaking back to him will only make things worse. I know my father, the best call is to wait until he calms down and forgives us.”
“But he humiliated me!”
“After what we did, he is entitled to be angry.” He pulled her into a hard hug. “Please, let us not fight over this. Just trust me.”
She did not return the hug, remaining tense in his arms, but thankfully she did not voice her complaints anymore.
She would just have to come to terms with this, it was what it was.
“I had hoped my father would be calmer by now. He probably would have too, if Aerneth had behaved better in his presence and not talked back all the time. It is like they bring out the worst in each other. And to make matters worse, my mother is taking her part, so now my parents argue all the time as well.” Thranduil sighed heavily.
Amroth and Thranduil had gate duty together today, which marked the ninth since he had returned to Doriath as a married ellon, and this was his first opportunity to speak in private with his friend about his troubles.
“I do not know what to say. What a complicated mess you’ve gotten yourself into.” Amroth pressed his shoulder. ”I wish you would have taken my advice and broken up with her for real. Nothing good comes from dealing with ellith, I say.”
”There are some perks.” Thranduil could not hold back a smug smile.
Amroth pretended to be sick. ”Please, I don’t want to know. Anyway, I guess there is no point looking back, you are stuck with a wife now. But maybe you should speak with Medlin for advice, he knows about being married.”
“True. Perhaps I should.” Even though Thranduil was not the talkative kind, he for once felt the need to share his troubles with his friends.
When his shift was over, Thranduil was reluctant to go home. Every dinner was a trial to endure, an obstacle to go through in order to reach the night. The nights were just about the only positive thing in his life right now, apart from his work, for even after a heated argument Aerneth was never unwilling in bed – now that he had bought a bigger, non-creaking one.
He took a route that led him past Medlin’s home cave, where he lived with his wife’s parents. In their case it was he – the bridegroom – who had moved in with his in-laws. Medlin had two married brothers, so his own parents’ house was already crowded.
Medlin readily agreed to a walk before supper. They strolled under the silver tree pillars in the nearby park, while Thranduil again recounted the story of his rushed marriage and his problems.
“The past week Aerneth has been either angry or sad all the time, and sometimes I think she deliberately picks fights with Father. Such as drinking wine during our meals, which he really hates. She has become so petty.”
“Perhaps you should try to cheer her up? Give her presents, take her out – do things you know she likes. I personally find some time alone every now and then to be necessary, or I would never have survived the past decade.” He grinned. “When is your next leave from work?”
“After the Autumn Hunt. Hm. Maybe I should take her to our cabin, while it is still clean and in order.”
“Ugh, don’t do anything… disgusting in it.” Medlin made a grimace, chuckling.
“Cannot promise that, sorry.” Thranduil grinned.
When he walked back home, Thranduil felt a little more hopeful. Presents were a good idea, Aerneth had loved the earrings he bought the first day and wore them all the time, and to get some time alone would be great as well – for one, they would be able to make love without the need for silence.
During supper, only Aerneth and Thranduil’s mother were talking, and exclusively with each other. The topic was the behaviour of peacocks for some reason, but Thranduil did not really pay attention to either their conversation or the food. He was apprehensively watching his father’s features grow darker with each goblet of wine emptied by their wives. Would this be the evening he snapped, or would he manage to control his temper yet another day? Sometimes family meals felt like sitting beside a drawn bow, anxiously anticipating an arrow to be released and cause irrevocable damage.
When the ellith began to clear off the table and disappeared into the kitchen to do the dishes, Thranduil at last felt his tension ease somewhat. He followed Oropher to the sitting room, where the other picked up a book on economic theory.
“How was your day, Father?” he asked.
“Hm,” grunted Oropher, not looking up. Thranduil figured it might mean yes, at least it did not sound like no. The fact that his father replied at all was a progress of sorts.
“I look forward to the Hunt,” Thranduil said, trying another subject. Hunting was Oropher’s favourite pastime. “With this mild weather it should be successful.”
“Hm, aye. Been a good summer.” The other nodded. “Now, be quiet, I try to read this.”
“Sorry Father. I was going to bed anyway.” Thranduil carefully schooled his features to hide a hopeful smile. This was by far the longest polite conversation he had with his father since his marriage.
Thranduil drained the bathtub and went to his room. His mother and Aerneth were there, and he paused in the doorway to watch them. His mother was gazing at their sea painting again, she had grown very fond of it, and Aerneth sat on the windowsill looking out.
“I miss the stars,” she said with a sigh.
“Do you think your mother would sell one of her paintings to me?” asked Eiriendîs. There was an odd longing in her voice.
“Sure. I can ask her when I call her tomorrow.”
“Maybe I can join your call? I could see what she looks like and talk to her.” Eiriendîs’ eyes did not leave the painting when she spoke.
“She would love that, I am sure.” Aerneth smiled, seeming very pleased with the suggestion. Thranduil’s chest constricted. He wished he could make her look happy like that, and suddenly he felt a pang of jealousy.
He went inside, frowning. “This is our room. You should leave, Mother.” Both ellith looked at him with surprise first, and then with disapprobation – like he was a troublesome elfling.
“Of course.” Eiriendîs turned to Aerneth. “Goodnight, dear. Tomorrow then.”
“Tomorrow.” She smiled again.
Thranduil’s frown deepened and he felt an urge to push his mother forcefully to make her go faster.
The door closed behind her and Aerneth’s smile disappeared. “Why are you like that? She can come in here, it is her house too.”
Thranduil could not say why he was angry, he just was. All he knew was that he wanted Aerneth to smile again when she looked at him, not frown like now.
He went to her in two strides, feeling another pang in his chest when she flinched. Why? Did he scare her now too? Frustration and pain was building up within him as he took her in his arms, kissing her urgently.
She whimpered and cupped his cheeks. “Easy… You’re hurting me.”
He pulled back, drawing a couple of deep breaths and fighting to control the dark storm of feelings tearing at him.
Aerneth reached up to kiss him more softly, teasing his lower lip with her tongue. He groaned against her mouth, his self-control again failing. He needed her now . Scooping her up into his arms he placed her on the bed and tore off her chemise and his shirt, carelessly tossing the garments on the floor, for once not minding if they got dirty. His lips left her mouth to trail all over her body, kissing, nibbling, licking. Below him she squirmed, breathing fast, and then she drew him closer, helping him push inside. He could not restrain his frenzied tempo but she met every hard thrust. Her climax came fast and his own not long after.
As he rolled off her, tears stung his eyes. He was a monster. “Sorry,” he mumbled, his chest an inferno of aching remorse.
“For what?” She was still breathless.
“I hurt you.”
“Only at first, not after I said it.” She rose on her elbow and regarded him closely, touching his cheek where a treacherous tear spilled over. “Thranduil, what is the matter?”
“I don’t know.” He turned his back towards her. Even though they had just been intimate he did not feel satisfied, and he did not quite dare believe he had not hurt her. It frightened him that he had lost his control like that, it reminded him too much of his father.
On the other side of the wall, his parents’ voices were getting loud. Another argument on its way.
“It’s this place,” Aerneth said behind him. “We would have been happier alone.”
“It is what it is.”
“It doesn’t have to be.”
He did not reply, he knew what she was about to say, they had had this conversation several times already.
“Thranduil, we could move. I don’t like it here, I am lonely. You are away all day and I am bored, I have nothing to do and no friends. Your mother is nice but all she does is sewing or cross-stitching.”
“Sewing and embroidery are fine occupations for ellith.”
“They are boring and I hate them. At home what I did meant something.”
The sounds from his parents’ argument ceased abruptly and the door slammed as Eirendîs stomped down the stairs. That was her habit recently, in the morning Thranduil would find her asleep in a chair in the sitting room with an empty goblet next to her.
“Baking lembas was an important task, as well as healing. If I had a real occupation here too, I could–”
He interrupted her litany with a soft kiss, pulling her on top of him. If only she would stop dwelling on the impossible all the time and just accept the way things were.
”I had not finished,” she mumbled but returned his kiss, and as he stroked her back and soft behind she moaned softly. This time he would do this properly, focusing on her pleasure instead of selfishly taking what he wanted like a brutish animal.
“What are you doing?” Aerneth looked at him in surprise when Thranduil took her hand and pulled her out of the kitchen, leaving his mother to do the last of the supper dishes alone.
“You will see,” he said secretively.
“It better not be anything dumb,” she said, but she was smiling for once. His heart ached, he loved when she smiled. This was a good idea.
He took her to their bedroom, placing his hands over her eyes. “Close them. No peeking.” He steered her inside, shutting the door behind them. “Now, look!”
She opened her eyes slowly, peering around in the dark room. Then she turned her gaze up and gasped. “Stars…!”
All over the dark ceiling twinkled tiny pinpoints of light, sparkling, glittering as they caught the slight light from outside.
“You like them?” Thranduil’s grin nearly cleaved his face in half.
“Aye! But how did you do it?”
“They are tiny crystals, I bought them today.”
“They are beautiful. How did you know I wanted stars?” She jumped into his arms, kissing him soundly. “Thank you.”
“Nothing could be more beautiful than you,” he said truthfully. That was a rather cheesy line, but Aerneth seemed not to mind – if her enthusiastic kisses were anything to go by.
Thranduil inwardly thanked Medlin for his advice. Presents seemed to be quite the thing! Soon he would try the second suggestion and organise some time alone with Aerneth, and then hopefully she would finally get over her melancholia and accept the situation.
On elves and equality: Gender roles were not so rigid for elves as humans in Middle-earth, but I’ve made Oropher set in his ways which has influenced his son. To them it is natural their wives should do the domestic chores since they work away from home.
Another thing: I have noticed from comments and reviews of this story that many take Thranduil's side against Aerneth, which is not strange since he is the main character, and usually the narrator. However – and this is important – he is not a reliable narrator. You as a reader get only his point of view. To Thranduil, fighting and arguing is normal, as well as his father beating the crap out of him, and having sex after a dispute is his way to compensate for any mistakes on his side (rather than say sorry), just like his father does… For Aerneth this is all shocking and horrible, and she's also not a passive victim who meekly accepts what she perceives as deeply wrong. She tries to be strong, and hence her talking back to Oropher, acting 'difficult' (in Thranduil's eyes). Bear this in mind as the story progresses!
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