The sound of the morning hustle and bustle in the marketplace outside echoed in Adaria's ears like a distant dream as she stood in front of a long mirror, staring at an image she was altogether unfamiliar with. There in the reflection was a woman much like herself, clad in a fine dress and short, white-fur cloak, her long, blood-red hair interwoven with jewels and flowers. There was no armor, no sword, no sign of a warrior whose only goal for the majority of her life had been simply to live one more day. The only thing left to tell Adaria that this woman standing before her was none other than herself was the pair of slitted silver dragon eyes that stared back at her in resolute silence. So mesmerized was she by the sight that she was only vaguely aware of the presence of Lydia and Keerava as the other two women flitted about, doing her hair and fussing with jewelry.
It was strange, really. The Adaria she saw now was not the Adaria she knew. Who would have believed, only three months before, that she would be standing here in Riften, not as a mercenary, not as the Dragonborn, but as a bride? The very term seemed almost laughable to her. To Adaria, she had only ever been a monster, and monsters did not love, did not marry, did not concern themselves with the happiness and sorrows of another. When she had first entered Riften three months before, she had been no more concerned with companionship than the wind that swept across the plains of Whiterun. But now? It had only been a day since last she had seen Marcurio, and already she acutely felt the lack of his presence.
Keerava's gravelly voice cut like a knife through Adaria's thoughts, and the woman glanced over at the Argonian standing nearby, one eyebrow raised.
"You look like you're having some serious thoughts," the reptilian woman continued. "If you're regretting marrying that buffoon, now is the time to call it off."
Regrets? Adaria had a lot of regrets. The times when she had allowed her dragon soul to control her, to make her do things she knew she shouldn't have done, the times when she had failed to protect the people around her...the moments when she had hurt Marcurio. Yes, Adaria could look back on her life and see a dark storm of regrets there. But this time...
The Dragonborn shook her head at the question, turning her gaze back to the foreign image in front of her.
"Allowing Marcurio into my life is the only thing I have ever done right," she stated softly. "I have no intention of changing my mind."
"I see…" Keerava frowned. The Argonian turned back to organizing the unused jewelry in clear wonderment, muttering under her breath, "I don't think I want to know what you have done wrong then."
Just then Lydia approached, touching Adaria lightly on the elbow to get her attention.
"Adaria," the housecarl said softly, "are you ready to go?"
The Dragonborn nodded in response, turning to follow the other woman out of the Bee and Barb and over to the Temple of Mara not far away.
The scent of incense caught Adaria's nostrils even before the temple doors were opened, and she paused when she stepped inside the building. The room was brightly lit with candles and lamps, bouquets of flowers decorating the altar and the ends of every pew. The seats were all filled practically to maximum occupancy, as well. There were Jarl Balgruuf, Irileth, and Avennicci on one side. Lucia was there, also, as well as many others who Adaria recognized as being people she had aided at one point or another. Some of them she knew had to have travelled far to attend the ceremony. And all of them were looking her way. It was enough to make her feel a sense of shyness the like of which she had never felt before.
As a searing heat spread across Adaria's cheeks, travelling all the way up to her ears, the Dragonborn turned her attention to the altar and to Marcurio who stood in front of it. The mage had traded out his battle robes for a set of fine clothes that included an embroidered jacket over a tunic and a short cloak of white fur much like the one Adaria herself wore. His deep brown eyes practically danced with excitement and wonder when he caught sight of her, and he drew in a sharp breath only a short moment before he held out a hand toward her at her approach.
For a moment, the Dragonborn hesitated, staring down at the hand offered to her. How many times had that hand been extended toward her, offering her comfort, support, encouragement, healing, and protection? And could she live up to that, with her own worn, blood-stained hands? To her, it almost seemed unfair to the rest of the world that she should find a companion as long-suffering as this man.
Adaria's hesitation lasted only a moment before she slipped her hand into Marcurio's and turned to look up at the priest standing before them.
"It was Mara that first gave birth to all of creation and pledged to watch over us as her children…" the priest, Maramal, began from where he stood on the opposite side of the altar, his voice coming out in a slow, emphatic drone.
Well, this was going to take a while.
As Maramal continued his speech, Adaria's mind wandered back to the warmth that now seemed to encompass her. She most certainly didn't deserve to accept this hand, but she also could not imagine her life without the one extending it to her. She wasn't certain that she would ever be able to return Marcurio's love to the measure he deserved, but at the very least, here in this moment, she silently prayed that the gods would allow her to indulge in the selfishness that the mage's foolishness afforded her.
She had never cared much about the gods. Certainly they had never seemed to care much about her. And yet...it was hard to consider this a coincidence. After all, Adaria and Marcurio had met in this city, which, for all its filthiness, was still the center of Maran worship. So if it had been fate that the two of them had met there in that city, if it had been fate that her identity was revealed with the dragon attack, if it had been fate that caused the disaster in the Falmers' lair...if it had been all that, the work of the gods, then she had to at least lift up a prayer of thanks. She wasn't sure what she had done to merit such favor, but she wasn't going to waste it now.
At the thought, Adaria gave Marcurio's hand a tight squeeze, as though trying to communicate to him the depths of the emotions she could neither name nor express. A stifled yelp from her companion, followed by a quiet chuckle, told the Dragonborn that the man had noticed and, with comparable strength, he returned the gesture.
Just then, Maramal turned toward Marcurio.
"Do you agree to be bound together, in love, now and forever?" the priest asked.
Marcurio smiled broadly, casting a quick, flirtatious glance Adaria's direction.
"I do. Now and forever," he answered firmly.
Then Maramal turned to Adaria herself.
"Do you agree to be bound together, in love, now and forever?" he repeated.
The Dragonborn nodded solemnly.
"I do. Now and forever," she answered.
At this, Maramal lifted his hands slightly, and said, "Under authority of Mara, the divine of love, I declare this couple to be wed."
He then reached for a pair of simple rings that had been lying on the altar, handing one to Marcurio and the other to Adaria.
"I present the two of you with these matching rings, blessed by Mara's divine grace. May they protect each of you in your new life together."
A roar of applause from the attending guests erupted in the tiny room then, echoing off the walls and reverberating in Adaria's sensitive ears.
There was a child-like look of glee in Marcurio's face as he lifted one of the Dragonborn's hands, sliding the ring he had been given onto her finger. Adaria followed his example somewhat awkwardly, then glanced up into the man's face, silently asking if she had performed the ritual properly. In response, the man grinned even broader, if that were possible, before placing a kiss on her lips.
"Everyone," Lydia's voice cut through the din, "a celebratory feast is to be served at the Bee and Barb now. You are each invited to join the happy couple there."
Adaria watched for a moment as the doors to the temple were opened and guests began making their way outside. She turned back, however, when she heard Marcurio chuckle.
"What is it?" the Dragonborn questioned, noticing the look of mischief in the mage's eyes.
"I was just thinking," the man mused, kissing her again, "from the time I met you, I knew that you weren't the only one destined to conquer a dragon."
At this, a wry smile crept across Adaria's own face, and softly she leaned forward, her lips brushing against his ear.
"Perhaps," she answered, a mischievous lilt in her own voice. "But don't think that makes you thuri."
The sound of laughter and music echoed throughout the Bee and Barb, spilling out into the streets of Riften long after the sun had set. Though most had already eaten and drunk to their fill, that didn't mean that the entertainment was over, and as yet another bard stood up to entertain the audience, which had long ago grown in number post-ceremony, Adaria could sense Marcurio lean in toward her.
"Shall we leave the rest of the celebration to them?" the mage inquired, giving the woman a mischievous wink as he nodded toward the crowd.
The Dragonborn nodded in response. She had had enough of the chaos anyway.
Quietly the pair stole up the stairs and off to the room they had rented earlier, and when at last the door was closed behind her, Adaria sighed audibly.
"Too many people?" Marcurio laughed as he pulled his cloak off his shoulders.
"Mm," the Dragonborn grunted in response as she dropped her own cloak off to one side before beginning to remove the jewelry that Lydia had put on her earlier.
The housecarl had gone beyond overboard, if anyone were to ask Adaria's opinion.
The woman had just barely removed the last of the jewelry when she felt a pair of warm, strong arms wrap around her from behind, followed by a chipped, scuffed bottle of mead appearing in her face. She glanced over her shoulder at the man behind her, raising a quizzical eyebrow at him.
"Recognize this?" Marcurio inquired, running his lips lightly along Adaria's right ear.
The Dragonborn shivered at the touch, then shook her head slightly.
"It looks like a nearly-broken bottle of mead."
"Well, it is that," the mage laughed as Adaria turned to face him, her sharp silver eyes watching him closely.
Quietly Marcurio reached for a set of goblets on the small table nearby, pulling out the cork in the mead bottle and pouring an even amount in each cup.
"Not so very long ago," the man said, handing one goblet to the Dragonborn and pressing his own against it, "a certain stubborn, drop-dead gorgeous, dragon-eyed woman told me, 'I leave in half an hour. Don't be late,' as she threw this bottle of mead at me."
Adaria's eyes widened when the memory suddenly came back to her.
"You never drank it?" she asked in bewilderment.
"I thought about it," the mage answered. "At first, I wasn't sure what to make of you throwing a bottle of mead at my head. I thought that perhaps I would save it for a time when we were far from civilization and I needed something good to drink. But then…"
"But then, that morning, I walked out of this inn and found you standing there, staring at a clear blue sky and wearing that set of steel armor and I thought, 'Damn, she's beautiful. If only I could touch her…'"
He lifted his hand then, gently stroking Adaria's cheek with his thumb, and unintentionally she found herself leaning into his touch, her eyelids drooping ever so slightly. It was like his touch itself carried with it an essence of magic.
"I'll admit," Marcurio continued, "at first, it was more like a game, like a question of how long it would take to make the Dragonborn fall in love with me. But as I got to know you, as I began to feel your pain, your sorrows, your loneliness, your longing...as well as your kindness, your strength, your loyalty...I began to realize that I wanted to save this bottle, not as a celebration for 'conquering' you, but as a celebration for falling in love with you. It didn't take me long to realize that you had conquered my heart without even trying. I knew a long time ago that I wanted to marry you, and I decided that I wanted to save this bottle, this token of the beginning of our adventures together, for the moment when I could hold you in my arms without scaring or angering you...for that moment when I could honestly say, 'That's my Dragon Eyes.'"
"Hmm…" Adaria mused, casting a mischievous look in Marcurio's direction before taking a swig of the mead. "I never pictured you as a romantic."
The mage feigned hurt at this.
"I happen to be one of the most romantic men in all of Tamriel, thank you."
The Dragonborn smiled slightly at this.
"Well, I never thought I'd see the day I got married either," she said softly, staring down at the strange reflection gazing back at her from the surface of the mead.
Marcurio smiled in response before downing his own cup of mead and bringing his lips to hers.
Quietly Adaria set her goblet aside as she leaned into Marcurio's kiss. It was a strange world, this thing called love, but as the Dragonborn pressed her lips to his, relishing the taste of the mead he had just drunk and the lingering spice of the wine he had consumed at the feast earlier, she decided it was a world she wanted to explore.
As hands roamed, exploring the curves of each others bodies, kisses deepened, and Adaria only barely twitched as Marcurio slid her dress from her shoulders, the light sting of cooler air hitting her now-bare skin. Following his example, the Dragonborn began to push the mage's tunic up, soaking in the feeling of his skin against her hands, and she growled slightly as he separated from her long enough to discard his clothing somewhere off to the side.
A laugh escaped the mage's lips at the woman's quiet protest, and in what seemed one motion, he pulled her down onto the nearby bed, one hand braced behind her head, the other in the small of her back to cushion her landing.
"Want me that badly?" he teased, brushing his lips lightly over one earlobe.
From this angle, without the heat of his body pressed against her or the distraction of his passionate kisses, Adaria could feel the cool air lingering against her bare skin, and she shivered slightly, though not from the cold. She felt small now, without her armor and her sword, overshadowed by a body she had not realized was so much bigger than her own, and quietly she clenched fistfuls of the blanket on which she lay. She felt weak, and even the unseen scars that crisscrossed her back felt like a burning brand to her, reminding her of things she wished to forget and fears she thought she had forgotten.
Her voice came out weaker than she had intended, and the mage paused, looking into her eyes with gentle concern.
"What's wrong?" he inquired, bringing one hand up to stroke her hair gently.
For a moment, Adaria glanced away, but when she brought her eyes back to his, her gaze was steady and firm.
"Do you think you can truly love someone as broken as me?"
The Dragonborn could hear her heart beating in her ears as she watched for the man's reaction.
At first, Marcurio looked surprised at her question, but then he chuckled as he pressed another kiss to her lips.
"I do believe it is a bit late to be asking those sorts of questions if I didn't," he answered, pulling away slightly and looking straight into her eyes, "but my answer is yes. I can love you, because to me, you are not broken."
Adaria's eyes widened slightly at this, and she searched his face for some sort of explanation to such a confusing answer. Not broken? How could he possibly not see her as broken?
Seeing her confusion, the mage smiled kindly, reaching one hand around to stroke the scars on her back as he continued, "Every scar defines you, makes you who you are, reminds me that you are precious and irreplaceable, and it is my job to make sure that never again will scars like these touch you. I will go wherever you go, and not even death can keep me from coming to you."
Adaria could feel a sting at the back of her eyes, and quickly she blinked the sensation away before raising one hand to stroke Marcurio's face.
"Perhaps this is another of Sanguine's delusions," she muttered to herself. "Perhaps it isn't real. But even if it isn't, I will cherish it while I have it. And at least if this is Sanguine's doing, I can't be angry with him this time. He's done a damn good job."
"Sanguine?" Marcurio inquired, a look of curiosity crossing his face.
"Another story for another time," Adaria smiled slightly in response.
"I look forward to it," the mage laughed, returning to kissing her.
Adaria returned the kiss, but paused again when another thought crossed her mind.
"Does it...bother you that your parents were not here for the wedding?"
She still distinctly remembered the look of nostalgia that had lingered on Marcurio's face when speaking of his parents.
The man sighed at this, however, almost as though annoyed but not quite, and responded, "We can always have another wedding when we go to visit them."
Adaria raised an eyebrow at this, but Marcurio only shook his head.
"Now, Mrs. Facian, stop worrying about unnecessary things and just enjoy the moment."
At this he leaned in again, saying, "Because right now, all I want to do is enjoy the woman I hold in my arms, the woman I have waited for night and day." He kissed first one eye, then the other, followed by both ears, both cheeks, and finally her lips as he added softly, his voice ringing with emotion, "My dragon-eyed, dragon-souled friend, companion, ally, and eternal, unending love."
Aaaaaannnnddddd...we're done! Thank you so much to all of you who have stuck with me through the whole process. Dovahsil literally would never have been finished if it weren't for your support. I want to especially thank those of you who left reviews (you know who you are). Every one of those reviews, no matter how simple, made my day every time I read them.
For those of you who just couldn't get enough of Adaria and Marcurio, I can tell you right now that I have a few one-shots and one mini-series (3 or 4 chapters, maybe?) in the works, so expect to see this pair around again from time to time. For the most part, though, I'm going to be switching gears and focusing on my Age of Heroes story (promised my brother I'd work on that one once I finished Dovahsil, since it's his personal favorite). You're all welcome to take a look at that one as well. Different sort of story, and no Adaria and Marcurio there, but I think it could be fun.
Anyhow, thank you, thank you, thank you so much for all your encouragement and support, everyone! Cheers, and happy reading wherever you go from here!