A/N: And this is it. The last chapter. A cute, fluffy and romantic one to pull it all together. I hope you enjoy it. Warnings for some fluffy and romantic wedding night sex towards the end.
Summary: Eight months after the events at Rebel's Cairn, the Reach is at peace and the Dragonborn's life is utterly untroubled. All she's got to worry about now is her forthcoming wedding...
Eight months later
Liriel opened her eyes as her girls pounced on her. She'd not been asleep. Dear gods, how was she supposed to have gone to sleep. She'd lain awake in her bed at Vlindrel Hall, tossing and turning, wondering if she'd done the right thing. If she should have told her parents. They'd never have come but... too late now.
It's not too late, Liriel. You don't have to do this. Tell him you're sorry and go back to Alinor, marry an Altmer.
"Hello darlings," Liriel whispered as Sissel bounced on the bed and Lucia curled up next to her. It was far too late and she knew it. She could never leave her girls, and they'd be heartbroken if she told them they didn't have a father any more.
"Mama, Mama, it's today, it's today!" Sissel squealed. "Can we put our dresses on now, can we?"
"Have you had breakfast yet?" Liriel asked, all too familiar with what Sissel's clothes usually looked like after she'd eaten. Both girls nodded.
"Uncle Cicero made us pancakes!" Lucia laughed. "He tossed them in the air and caught them in the pan! Apart from the two he dropped."
"CICERO DIDN'T DROP ANY!" came the outraged shriek from the kitchen, accompanied by Jordis' laughter. "CICERO NEVER DROPS PANCAKES!"
"I'm sure you didn't," Liriel laughed, finally deciding to get up. She should at least try and eat something, even though her stomach felt nervous and unsettled and she wasn't sure she'd be able to keep much down. Was it normal to feel quite this terrified? She had no idea, and the little voice in her mind screaming it's too soon, too soon, we need a decade to make sure we won't hate each other would not shut up.
But Madanach didn't have a decade to wait. So here she was, getting married. She wondered how humans managed it.
Madanach stared into the mirror, fresh from his usual shower in the master bedroom's built-in waterfall, towel around his waist but otherwise not dressed yet. No matter how much he willed it otherwise, he was definitely still an ageing Breton warlord and not a handsome young Altmer wizard. What in the name of all the gods was he thinking?
"DA! OPEN THE DAMN DOOR!"
And if Eola didn't stop hassling him, he'd... he didn't know what but she wouldn't like it. Even if she was his beloved heir to the throne and he couldn't throttle her until she'd at least produced grandchildren.
"IT IS OPEN!" he shouted back. The door finally opened as Eola swanned in, already clad in a sleeveless low-cut dress possibly more suited to a tavern than her father's wedding and her beloved white-gold wolf's head torc.
"You're up!" she laughed. "But not dressed – Da, you're not dressed! You need to get dressed, do I have to get Nepos in here?"
"NO!" Madanach gasped, really not in the mood for dealing with his steward right now. "Er. No. No, I'm sure he's very busy dealing with the cooks and the guests and everything else. We don't need to bother Nepos."
"Good, then you'll be fine getting dressed on your own, won't you?" said Eola, grinning. "Or do I need to stand over you and make sure of it?"
"Absolutely not, I am a grown man and do not need your help looking after myself," Madanach growled. "I just need a little bit of peace in my own bedroom, without my children bothering me."
"Yeah, about that," Eola said pointedly. "Ceremony's at noon. It's half ten now and it is going to take an hour to get to the Lover Stone. Bride's allowed to be late. Groom keeps the bride waiting and people think he's jilted her. Have you even eaten yet?"
"Not hungry," Madanach said, entirely truthfully. "Listen, Eola... oh what now?"
"Da?" Now that was Argis, and the man was in his thirties, did he need to sound quite that plaintive? Then Madanach heard the sound of a baby's wail and all petulance flew out of his head.
"Is that my little granddaughter you have there?" he asked, face lighting up as Argis walked in, the future High Queen of Skyrim nestled in his arms. Said future High Queen was currently fussing in the arms of her haggard father who looked like he'd been up half the night.
"She won't sleep," Argis said, staring wildly at his father, silently imploring him for aid. "Why won't she sleep? She's fine when Elisif and I hold her but as soon as we put her down... Da, why?"
Quite why Argis expected him to magically know what his granddaughter was thinking, Madanach had no idea, but he'd do his best. He held his arms out and Argis gratefully decanted little Lirela ap Elisif into Madanach's hands.
A whole month it had been since the courier arrived bringing the news that High Queen Elisif had been safely delivered of a healthy little girl, and Madanach had left for Solitude immediately for the naming ceremony, Liriel at his side and their girls with them in the carriage. When he'd got to the Blue Palace and Argis had brought her out, eyes shining as he babbled on about how gorgeous she was and so tiny, Madanach had held her in his arms, staring wordlessly at the tiny child that was somehow his first grandchild. Liriel had stared at her, whispering she didn't know people could be that small. Then the girls had wanted to see and oohed and aahed over her, and then Argis had said he and Elisif wanted to call her Lirela, was that all right, and then Liriel had been lost for words too, just nodding tearfully and that was two of them, a Dragonborn and a King, grinning stupidly at each other with tears in their eyes.
Now Argis and Elisif were both here, looking exhausted and worn out but at the same time constantly cooing over little Lirela, neither seemingly able to get their heads around the idea they'd made a person. It was rather strange when you thought about it. All this time and there'd been no Lirela anywhere and now here she was, alive and well and gurgling up at her grandfather.
"Hello there, little one," he murmured at her, bright blue eyes gazing up at him as the wailing subsided and she looked solemnly at him. "You recognise me, don't you, cariad? It's your granda, isn't it? Did you miss me? Is that why you were crying, hmm?"
"By the gods," he heard Eola mutter. "Da, you were meant to be getting dressed?"
"In a second," said Madanach, refusing to be rushed. When it came to his beautiful granddaughter, the rest of the world could wait. "Yeah, you just wanted a cuddle, didn't you? Didn't want to be left alone, did you? And why should you be, you're too adorable to ignore." He took a proper look at Argis and tutted. "Son, is that steel armour you're wearing?"
"Yes?" said Argis, looking a bit confused. Bless the boy, you could tell he'd not been around babies much.
"Thought as much. Your inyeen here wants body heat and warmth, she'll get none of it through that. Get changed into something softer and get a sling off the servants, I had some put by for you. Carry her next to you, take it in turns with Elisif, she'll sleep just fine."
"You think?" Argis asked hopefully.
"Ten forty-five!" Eola hissed, having inherited all her maternal instincts from her own mother. Madanach made a mental note to talk seriously with her about letting him raise any children she had. He loved Eola, he really did, but honestly someone whose immediate reaction to a new niece had been to glance at her, note that she was cute and then head off in search of something more interesting probably wasn't cut out for childrearing. Not to mention when she did hold Lirela, she kept cheerfully talking about all the many ways to cook and eat the child. He was sure it was just her twisted sense of humour but even so, there were limits.
"I think so," Madanach said, handing her back over. "Honestly, I think she just gets bored lying down, unable to see all the interesting things going on. If she can see what's out there, she'll probably be fine. Eola was exactly the same. Constantly in everything." And very little had changed since, to be honest. Huffing, Eola got up, taking the point.
"Ten fifty," she announced tersely. "Now get dressed. We will be late."
"We will not be late," Madanach sighed, ushering his children out. "We will be fine. Liriel is wrangling two young children and Cicero with just a housecarl to help. Believe me, she will not get there before us."
Argis and Eola both left him to it. Madanach let out a sigh of relief as he reached for his razor. Just the ceremony itself now. Just get through the day and then he could finally take Liriel to bed as his wife. His queen. Officially. Properly. He'd already granted her citizenship of the Reach a few days before and she'd been made a citizen of the Empire while they'd been in Solitude. A child of Alinor now part of Talos's Empire and soon one of its queens too.
He was marrying Liriel. Gorgeous, beautiful, amazing, passionate Liriel. She'll change her mind. She won't be there. She'll lose her nerve and run away. She won't be able to face marrying a human, much less an old man, even if he is king. He'd seen it in her eyes, the hesitancy whenever the wedding was mentioned, sadness in her eyes when she didn't think he was looking. A decent man would have let her go months ago, sent her away to find an Altmer to love. But Madanach was not a decent man and he'd spent twenty years in prison unhappy and lonely. He was never giving her up if he could help it. He just wished he didn't feel like he was damning her to misery in the process.
Noon, more or less. The great and good of Skyrim were gathered around the Lover Stone, taking seats on the benches set up to watch the ceremony. There was the High Queen of Skyrim and her husband, cooing over her new baby in its embroidered Forsworn-made sling and showing it off to everyone, wild-eyed and amazed by its every move. There was General Rikke and a few Legionnaires, including Captain Hadvar who'd apparently rescued the Dragonborn from the burning wreck of Helgen. There was the eclectic little group in black and red who claimed to be some sort of mercenary group Liriel worked with. There were a few shady-looking black-clad types – one red-haired Nord, a blonde Imperial with a bad attitude and a shaven-headed Breton who would later be making off with the valuables of certain wealthy guests not part of the Reach royal family. There were the Black-Briars of Riften – Maven, Hemming and Ingun anyway, Sibbi was still in Riften prison after Maven had found out he'd sold one of her prize horses. There was Jarl Balgruuf and his housecarl Irileth, and his steward Proventus and his daughter Adrienne with her husband. There were various mages from the College of Winterhold – their Master Wizard, their Destruction mistress, their Illusion master and three of their apprentices, all busy listening to Forsworn tales of Reach magic in awe. There was a Dunmer priestess of Azura chatting to a Dunmer mercenary from Whiterun and from their body language, it was becoming blatantly obvious that the Shrine of Azura might just remain untended for a while longer. There was Brina Merilis of Dawnstar and her housecarl, and Jarl Idgrod of Hjaalmarch who was busy cackling away with King Madanach's sister and if said sister was fairly dripping with Illusion magic, no one commented. Idgrod had brought her husband and children too, and young Joric was apparently fascinated by Lady Keirine.
"You're really different, aren't you?" he whispered. "You see things too, don't you?"
"I see lots of things, young one," Keirine replied, looking for all the world like a sweet old lady with silver hair and blue eyes like her brother.
"Did it hurt?" Joric whispered. "Getting the claws and feathers, I mean."
Keirine raised a finger to her lips. "No, only a little and not for long. But do not speak of such things here, Nordling. This is not for the eyes and ears of ortallanai, outsiders."
"I get it," Joric nodded. "Everyone in Morthal thinks I'm weird too. Do you think I could move to the Reach one day? Everyone here seems to get it."
"One day, Nordling," Keirine said, grinning. "One day."
There was half of Markarth here for the party, and a great many Forsworn milling around. There was Reach-Princess Eola cheerfully mingling and herding people into place, there was Erandur the priest getting ready to officiate, and lastly, there was the groom himself, waiting nervously at the front, fretting at his steward.
"She's not coming," Madanach muttered to Nepos. "She's changed her mind, I know it. Of course she has, why in the name of Magnus would she marry me?"
"Madanach," Nepos sighed. "She loves you. She got you your kingdom back, found Eola precisely so you could marry for love not heirs, you adopted her children, of course she's marrying you."
"Then why isn't she here?" Madanach growled, tearing his hair out. "We weren't exactly on time – well you try getting a month-old child and her sleep-deprived parents out the door to any kind of schedule. Where. Is. Liriel?"
"Madanach. She'll be here," said Nepos, patting his hand. Madanach nodded pensively, trying not to imagine Liriel quietly fleeing back to Alinor in a panic or worse, something having happened on the road here, oh gods should he send guards back to Markarth to look for her?
He needn't have worried. In the distance came the all-too familiar sound of Cicero giggling and singing then being hushed. Madanach got up, hardly daring to look, glancing up at Erandur who smiled and motioned for quiet. Silence, nothing but the breeze and Madanach wanted to look, wanted to see her, touch her, hold her and never let her go.
He didn't look. He stayed still, back to her, waiting, eyes closed until he felt her there, the gentle touch of her hand on his, then letting go again. Finally he dared to open his eyes.
She was standing at his side, smiling nervously, red hair swept back and a circlet on her brow, beautiful flowing blue wedding gown that was clipped with gold sea-shell clips at the shoulder, fell in silken folds around her chest then tied at the waist with a gold belt and hanging loose around her perfect legs. Her torc was round her neck, a small bouquet of flowers in her hands and her flawless skin was gleaming in the sunlight. Madanach couldn't breathe. She was stunning, perfect, beautiful, a goddess in human form and she was marrying him? What was he next to her? Just an old man who'd spent his life murdering his way to power and who in no way deserved to have a powerful, beautiful woman agreeing to marry him.
Not that he'd ever even consider sending her away. But he'd forgive her eventually if she did change her mind.
"You made it," he murmured, hoping the relief wasn't too obvious. "I was beginning to think you'd changed your mind."
"Never," Liriel said, smiling. All the same, Madanach could sense the lurking anxiety behind it and it did nothing to allay his own fears. Was he doing the right thing? He didn't know and didn't care, all he knew was that he couldn't let her go. Not now. Not ever.
Erandur called them both together and the ceremony began. There was the usual homily to Mara and her blessings which Madanach barely heard, and then the vows. First the Imperial ones that would make it all legal.
"Do you, Madanach ap Caradach, agree to be bound in love to Liriel Dragonborn, now and forever?"
Yes, gods yes, he was already bound, as far as he was concerned this was just making it clear to the rest of the world that Liriel was his.
"I do, now and forever."
Erandur smiled, seeming pleased with that. Then it was Liriel's turn.
"Do you, Liriel Dragonborn, agree to be bound in love to Madanach ap Caradach, now and forever?"
Silence. Moments ticked by and Madanach risked a glance, suddenly feeling nervous. Liriel was staring at the Lover Stone behind Erandur, breath coming in rapid, shallow bursts and her eyes... she looked terrified. No no Liriel no, not now, please, don't run away, I love you...
She closed her eyes, shook her shoulders and took a deep breath.
"I do, now and forever," she gasped, cheeks flushing red and then she looked up, seemingly astonished as she met his eyes. She bit her lips, eyes shining and then a tear trickled down one cheek and he realised she was crying.
"Liriel, are you alright?" he whispered, alarmed. She nodded, smiling as she dabbed at her eyes.
"I'm fine," she whispered back. "I'm just... overwhelmed."
Madanach squeezed her hand, turning to face her properly. The vow to Mara was done, now the Forsworn vow made to each other. With Mireen, he'd spent most mornings looking at her and wondering what in the Void he'd been thinking. He hoped it'd be different with Liriel. He already felt different. He wanted to make promises to her, wanted to keep them. He hoped she felt the same as she took his hands and Erandur, having been briefed on this bit by Nepos, draped a specially enchanted ribbon around their hands. The ribbon tightened by itself, binding them together while they made their vows. Some said it would burn the hands off anyone who swore a wedding vow falsely but Madanach doubted this. He and Mireen had survived after all.
"I, Madanach ap Caradach, do take you, Liriel Dragonborn, as my wife and partner in the Dance, from now until the Void takes me. I swear to walk with you in the sunlight, shelter with you when the rains come, protect you from your enemies and show hospitality to your friends. When night falls, my bed will be your resting place and when the day breaks, I will be the one to greet it with you. In the name of the old gods, this I do swear."
Then it was Liriel's turn and the vow was no different for women. Liriel faced him as she spoke, meeting his eyes without fear now, the Thu'um lacing her voice with power that made him shiver – but not because he was afraid.
"I, Liriel Dragonborn, do take you, Madanach ap Caradach, as my husband and partner in the Dance, from now until the Void takes me. I swear to walk with you in the sunlight, shelter with you when the rains come, protect you from your enemies and show hospitality to your friends. When night falls, my bed will be your resting place and when the day breaks, I will be the one to greet it with you. In the name of the old gods, this I do swear."
The ribbon glowed green then red, Anu and Sithis, and then it disappeared, seeming to sink into their hands but the sense of being connected remained. Then there was the ritual exchange of Mara's wedding rings, but Madanach wasn't so bothered about that. The important part of the ceremony was done. They were married. She was his. He'd always been hers. Hadn't he protected her and her children from Astrid? Shown hospitality to Cicero despite no notice and Cicero being Cicero? He'd even offered his bed as a resting place that very first night they met. He'd always wanted her and now it was official. Liriel was his wife and as the rings settled on their fingers and the assembled crowd cheered and let off Destruction magic in the air, Madanach pulled Liriel into his arms and kissed her. This time around, he had a feeling it was going to work out.
The festivities got into full swing after that as the guests gathered round and congratulated the happy couple. Then the young and unmarried gathered round for the traditional throwing of the bouquet, the catcher of which was said to be the next one to get married, an Alinorian custom that Liriel had been delighted to hear the Forsworn shared. So she'd faced away and flung the flowers over her shoulder, a little bouquet of nightshade and juniper, and there'd been the usual scrambling and jostling and then...
"CAUGHT IT!" came the demented howl of delight that could only be one person. "SISTER, SISTER, DID YOU SEE?"
"We all saw," Eola remarked, rolling her eyes. "Was it strictly necessary to elbow Young Idgrod in the cheek to get to it?"
Liriel turned around to see Idgrod the Younger being tended to by Aranea Ienith who pronounced the girl healed as Cicero apologised to her, the wedding bouquet clutched in his hands. Then, having been assured that the young Nord was going to be fine, Cicero ran back to Eola, suddenly looking a bit hesitant. Then without a word, he dropped to his knees and offered the flowers in one hand, and with the other, fished in his pocket and held up a little ring-box which turned out to contain a gold diamond ring. It was one Liriel had found in a tomb a couple of months back and Cicero had pouted and whined and fawned until she'd given in and said he could have it. Now she realised why.
"Sweetling," Cicero said nervously but meeting Eola's eyes with not a flinch. "Sweetling, Cicero loves you. It has been six months, more than that, so your father cannot set Cicero on fire for asking now. Please, my lovely? Please marry sweet Cicero?"
Eola stared back, hand to her mouth, clearly not having expected this. Her first reaction was not to answer but to look to her father.
Madanach was watching, arms folded and grim expression as he glared at Cicero, kneeling on the ground and dressed in a High Rock Breton style frock coat, cravat and breeches with boots, hair tied back with a black ribbon and not a piece of motley in sight. Cicero the Man was clearly not quite as dead as everyone had thought. After a long moment, Madanach sighed and nodded.
Eola's face lit up and she turned back to Cicero, tears glistening in her eyes as she nodded assent, reaching out and taking first the flowers then holding her left hand out for the ring. Cicero took it from the box and slid it on to her finger before staggering to his feet and holding out his arms. Eola went into them without hesitation and the two kissed as the crowd erupted in yet more cheers.
"No wedding until the Treasury's recovered from this one!" Madanach said firmly, but Cicero and Eola didn't seem to care. They were too busy holding each other, Eola clinging tearfully on to him and Cicero crooning into her ear about how he'd never let her go hungry again but would feed her and tend to her and make sure her enemies died horribly.
"You're OK with them marrying then?" Liriel whispered in Madanach's ear. He just shrugged, putting an arm around her.
"He's clearly keen, she needs to marry someone and I have a feeling anyone else I found for her would probably end up getting mysteriously stabbed in the night," said Madanach, leaving them to it and leading them off to where the tables for the wedding feast had been set up. "Come on wife, let's leave the young people to it. We have a party to attend."
And so they'd sat together at the high table, everyone else taking seats at lower tables for a free meal courtesy of the Reach-King, and Liriel had her children on her left with Jordis on their other side, both wanting to see the ring and then cuddling her and Madanach in turn. Meanwhile Madanach had his children and their spouses on his right, and while Cicero and Eola were mostly wrapped up in each other, Argis stopped by to congratulate them both and then chatted to the girls while Elisif turned up with Lirela and she and Madanach promptly started talking about babies. It was very odd, Liriel hadn't ever thought Elisif and Madanach would have anything in common or even like each other, but it turned out they got on quite well, especially with a baby to coo over. And that was sad, a reminder of what she could never give him.
"We'll never have our own, will we," she said softly as Elisif carried Lirela off to feed her. "I'm sorry, Madanach."
He turned round, surprised she'd even think that. "Why? Don't worry about me, I've got one grandchild to fuss over and Elisif's already saying she wants another one, and I imagine Eola will do her duty to the Reach and have one at some point. Which I also have a feeling I will end up raising, so don't you worry, Liriel. I am quite content with the children I have." His face softened a little as he saw the shadows in her eyes and he took her hand. "Did you want one, cariad? I know we talked about it and agreed not to, but if you really wanted one, I'd do it, you know I would."
Liriel knew and he'd be a loving and devoted father, she knew that. But it wouldn't be fair on the child to be fated to lose that father so young.
"It's fine," Liriel whispered. "It's just a bit sad, that's all." She squeezed his hand and shifted closer to him, resting her head on his shoulder. "But I've got you and that's the important thing, right?"
Madanach laughed, pulling her into his arms as he rested his head against her forehead.
"You have me," he promised and Liriel closed her eyes as he kissed her again, feeling her sadness abate. She just married a man she loved in the sacred rite of Mara, of course she'd done the right thing. She could even feel the connection from the Forsworn rite, a knowing deep in her bones of where he was and what he was feeling. Right now, he was feeling pleased and passionate and happy and possessive and more than a little aroused... and grateful. Profoundly, deeply grateful and awed, and when she remembered how he'd come across when she'd first met him, the change couldn't be more stark. So maybe she wouldn't have him forever. To have had him at all was a blessing, and all this besides... it was nothing more than a miracle.
So Liriel held his hand and smiled and drank toasts with everyone else and ate her fill and was presented with wedding gifts as was the custom, and accepted them graciously on behalf of them both, even though she didn't need half this stuff and would probably end up gifting it on to those less fortunate.
And so the afternoon wore on, with no rain or mist in sight, and then the sun set and the older and more distinguished guests took their leave, the banquet tables were taken down and cleared, Jordis took the girls home, and Argis and Elisif took little Lirela back to Markarth. The Forsworn folk band that had been doing gentle background tunes all afternoon started up something a bit more raucous and the traditional bale-fires were lit.
"For the fire dancing," Madanach explained. "Normally the bride and groom would be the first to leap them for fertility and good fortune but I am opting out of this one on the grounds I already have children. And because I'm too old for this sort of thing. So seeing as my daughter just got engaged, she and her lunatic consort can lead off instead."
Cicero had already squealed, swept Eola in his arms and sprinted towards the nearest fire, leaping over it in style before landing like a cat and depositing Eola, who'd clung on to him throughout.
"Jenever, get me jenever," Eola gasped, flagging down a passing Forsworn with a drinks tray. "Sithis, I'm never doing that again."
"You'll have to at your own wedding!" Borkul called from where he was cuddling two giggling young Reach girls. Eola just knocked back her jenever shot in one and cuddled up to Cicero, shivering. He just giggled, kissing her cheek.
"Don't worry, sweetling, Cicero would never drop you. He never drops anything he cares about."
Eola nestled closer, relaxing as the drink took hold and the festivities started in earnest. She'd never had anyone see her as she was and want more before. They'd usually run screaming or wanted sex but no more or not been interested in that at all, just the meat. Not Cicero. He'd not only accepted it, he positively loved helping her indulge. She was definitely keeping this one.
While Eola and Cicero snuggled, Liriel had been very surprised to find a large hay pile covered with furs and pillows set up for her and Madanach, surrounded by a structure a bit like a Forsworn tent but open to the sky.
"What..." she began, but it was obvious what it was, especially when Madanach indicated for her to go in.
"Normally bride and groom don't retire to this until late at night, but as I said, I am old and have been socialising all day. Now what I mostly want is to retire to bed with my lovely wife while my daughter takes care of the festivities for me."
Drunken cheering from outside and Liriel lay back on the bed as Madanach closed the tent flaps behind him and lay down alongside her, torc and circlet placed to one side as Madanach slipped out of his finery and under the furs, reaching for Liriel with a smile on his face as he undid the clasps on her dress. Liriel shivered as the cloth fell away but the furs were soft and her new husband's arms were warm, and soon she was comfortably naked, looking up at the stars.
"You really meant it when you said everything important in a Reachman's life happens under the open sky."
"Of course," he murmured, nuzzling at her ear. "And marrying you is one of the most important things I'll ever do, my Dragon-Queen."
Once again, Liriel could feel it, that magical connection between them communicating the truth of the feelings and she wondered just how deep and how long that magical connection was going to last. So she asked him.
"Last?" Madanach laughed. "It doesn't wear off, macreena. It's the Forsworn Bond of Matrimony, a constant awareness of where your spouse is, or what direction they're in anyway, and what's going on in their mind – not actual thoughts, I might add, just emotions. It's a remnant of the days when a lot of marriages were arranged and it was a way to help spouses who wouldn't have known each other very well work together and take care of each other. We kept the custom on because when two people love each other and have this in place, the result is... mindblowing."
"The sex is that good?" Liriel asked, grinning. Madanach shot her a sly grin at that.
"Oh absolutely, some of the best sex I ever had was with Mireen in the early days of our marriage. But it's more than that, especially when you're both happy, it's like a spiral of emotions feeding into each other, more potent than any drug. But when things go bad or you have two people who don't care, or one person turns out to be a vicious sociopath... it can be horrific." He didn't say any more, falling silent, and Liriel didn't need the empathy bond to tell her he was speaking from experience. She shifted closer, nestling against him, hoping he could feel that she loved him, wouldn't hurt him, would take care of him. And to her surprise, she felt an answering surge of emotion from him as he hugged her back, the gratitude again, the thankfulness and the love, so much love and Liriel was crying again, sobbing on Madanach's chest as he held her, tears in his own eyes. She'd never felt so loved and connected to anyone before and as she thought it, she realised he could feel something of that too and that just set her off even more.
"I love you," she sobbed. "Gods, I love you."
"I love you too," she heard him whisper, voice nearly drowned out by the singing and revelry outside but it didn't matter. They didn't need words, not now. Madanach was kissing her and she was lying back, moaning as she felt him touch her, hands passing over her breasts then down her stomach and then Madanach was kissing his way across her cheek before going straight for the ear, teeth nipping at the edges as he nuzzled the point and Liriel could feel it, feel everything. She could feel the love and adoration pouring out of him, and while he'd explained it to her once, that the Reachmen were descended from elves and occasionally elven features like pointed ears and faces would crop up and that these were considered signs of great beauty, so for an actual elf to turn up, that was a prize indeed – Reach natives adored elves. The fascination he had with her ears was all part of it, it was a symbol of everything she represented, magic, elvishness, being Madanach's type and conforming to Forsworn ideals of attractiveness and now she got it, now she could feel it, feel a human wanting her and desiring her precisely because she was an elf and not treating her with suspicion or hostility. She'd never been so aroused in her life and as she opened her legs, she thought to herself Mother, you were wrong, you have never known what it is to be loved until you've had a human staring at you like you're a goddess.
"Madanach?" she whispered. "Madanach, please, can you touch me, please, I really want you inside me..."
Low moan from him that nearly had her coming right there, and he lay on top of her, one hand pinning her shoulder down while the other was between her legs, fingers sliding in and out of her, then he stopped, reaching for her leg and flinging it over his shoulder then driving in to her hard, fucking her deep, eyes never leaving hers as he pinned her upper arms down, half-smile on his face as he moved inside her. Liriel cried out, closing her eyes and just revelling in the feelings she was picking up from him, want and desire and the sense that although he thought she was a beautiful Altmer goddess, he also got off on taking, owning and using said goddess like a common whore and that turned her on even more. Yes, yes, use me, fuck me harder, I'm all yours...
"Madanach," she cried, "Madanach, yes, please, yes, more!" and that was arousing him even more, the sound of her crying his name out so she did it again, loving this, loving the way she instinctively knew now what he wanted and what he wanted was to see a goddess fall apart because of him. Which was very convenient considering what she liked was seeing a cunning and calculating Reach-King with his emotions unleashed for once, the outer layers dropped and the vulnerability on show, and by the Eight, he was leaning in now, thrusting harder, whispering her name over and over again, a litany of "Liriel, yes, want you, yes, mine, mine, you're mine, have to – need you, gods Liriel, yes..."
Liriel cried out as she came, clenching down around him, knowing she was lost, ruined forever for anyone else – she'd known this for months but now it crystallised into certainty as she realised that after this, after being fucked hard and touched all over by someone whose very emotions were laid bare to her now, as hers were to him, she could never go back to just an ordinary lover, not now. Madanach, Madanach, she wanted Madanach, and as he came too, setting her a-tingle via the empathy bond, she knew she'd made the right choice. Maybe he would die all too soon and leave her lonely, but the Dance didn't end. She'd wait twenty years, nothing to an Altmer – and then she'd start looking for another Forsworn, a young one this time, one who might be Madanach reborn perhaps, and maybe, just maybe, she'd have something like this again. In the mean time, she'd make the most of him while she had him.
He cleaned her up in silence, before pulling the furs over them both and snuggling in with her.
"My wife," he whispered, sounding enthralled and Liriel realised at least some of what she'd been thinking he must have picked up on. "You're my wife. I married you."
"You did," Liriel whispered. "I'm your wife and you're my husband."
"I know," Madanach breathed. "I can't even believe... I can't believe you said yes and didn't run away."
It had actually been a close thing and it had taken all her strength to finally do it, finally say yes and know in her heart her parents would never forgive her if they found out – and she had no doubt the Thalmor would tell them before long. Alinor was closed to her forever, she knew that now and she'd miss it horribly... but the Reach with its Aldmeri heritage felt more like home than anywhere she'd been since she left, and with the added bonus that these days it felt freer, happier than Alinor ever had. Even when Madanach died, she had a feeling this place would always be home.
"I'm not going anywhere," Liriel said gently, nestling into his arms. "You've got me for good."
"Until your next big adventure anyway," Madanach murmured and that admittedly was true. She wouldn't be always in Markarth. But thanks to the empathy bond, she'd still be able to feel his presence no matter where she went.
"Still be yours no matter where I go," she whispered sleepily and Madanach smiled at that as he held her. Just as he'd always be hers, a little piece of him living on in her mind long after he died.
Madanach drifted off to sleep in her arms, smile on his face as she held him. Liriel lay awake a bit longer, staring up at the stars. Home to the Reachman afterlife, the Void of Sithis, and to her own Aedra ancestors. She had no idea what they were thinking of her right now. Judging her for marrying a human? Or proud of her for following her heart? She didn't know. Maybe both. But what she did know was that it didn't matter any more. She was happy and loved and if her ancestors had a problem with that, her ancestors perhaps weren't as deserving of her love and respect as she'd always believed.
She closed her eyes, preparing to let sleep claim her. Tomorrow she'd go back to Markarth, see her girls again, be Queen of the Reach alongside her new husband. But tonight she was just his wife, just a woman in bed with a man who loved her. And Liriel Dragonborn regretted not a thing.
A/N: And that's the end! Thank you to everyone who has read, enjoyed and left comments, I hope the end was a satisfying one. Especially thank you to the OP on SKM who prompted for Forsworn lore and lots of it. I hope this satisfied on that score - ever since writing With A Dragonborn Like This, I wished I could have done a bit more with the Forsworn in that and given Madanach more page time - there was an awful lot of Forsworn intrigue I wanted to include and never could. But now, thanks to this fic, I have been able to do just that! Not to mention that I couldn't have done as good a job on this one had I not first written WADLT.
Writing this story was fuelled by the music of Delain, in particular 'We Are The Others' as a Forsworn anthem, and 'Electricity' as a song for Liriel and Madanach. Highly recommended as tunes.