Once you are Queen, privacy will be one of the hardest things to come by. You will have to fight for it every day, but make sure that you do, for the sake of your marriage… and your sanity. These were the words of warning Amareth had shared with Arasien shortly after the engagement, and she had indeed spoken truly. Thranduil was not even formally King yet, but already Arasien had had to draw her boundaries with regard to etiquette. She was willing to give a little, and she did not mind being escorted by guards or her ladies-in-waiting wherever she went, but there were a few simple things she would fiercely defend, and one of those was the right to an hour or two of peace and quiet for herself and her husband.
"I thank you for your company, Talariel," she told the elleth who had accompanied her to the royal chambers after a small gathering at a friend's house. "Here you may leave me. I will have no further need of you tonight."
After the elleth had curtsied and left, Arasien took a nearby torch from its sconce and headed down the corridor that led to her rooms. Upon entering, she found Thranduil still in the same spot as before, poring over papers with a glum expression on his face. His features brightened when he saw her, however, and he reached up to bid her welcome with a kiss. "Did you have a pleasant evening?" he asked her. He seemed glad for the distraction, but his smile did not convince her, not entirely.
"I did." She glanced at the stacks of paper in front of him. They did not seem significantly smaller or more organized than they had a few hours earlier. "How was yours? Did you get some work done?"
"Very little." He sighed and pushed the files he had been studying aside. "Watching mountains erode is more entertaining than trying to absorb some of this drivel. I have never had the patience for these things. I know fighting, Rasi, and not much else."
"I do not agree." She caressed his cheek. "Your father taught you well. It just takes some time to remember it all. You will find your footing soon enough."
He closed his eyes and leaned into her touch slightly. "Naneth was here a little while ago." He went on to tell her about his conversation with the Queen-Mother. "I think I have to start using Father's former study, but I dread going into that room, which is why I have avoided it thus far. It has not been touched since we rode to Mordor all those years ago, and you know what a hoarder he was."
"It is a good idea, Thranduil. You need a proper work space, a desk; you'll be glad for it in the end." She touched his shoulder reassuringly. "I'll come with you, if you want me to. We'll sort through your father's things together and get the room ready for you, even if it takes a year."
He nodded and covered her hand with his own, turning his head to kiss her fingers one by one. She merely watched him, as she so often did, studying the face she knew more intimately than her own- the curve of his upper lip, the strong nose and noble forehead. She semi-playfully rubbed the crease between his brows with her thumb, wishing she could make his worries disappear that easily. When his gaze met hers, she did not look away from the heat she saw in his eyes, nor did she protest when he caught her by the wrist and slowly pulled her onto his lap. "My love," he murmured as he leaned in to kiss her neck. "How shall I get any work done with you nearby?"
Arasien tipped her head back to give him better access, curling her hand into one of the lapels of his robe. Desire lent fire to his kisses and made his usually nimble fingers struggle with the bindings of her dress. Instead of helping him, she gathered her skirts and straddled his hips, pushing the robe from his shoulders. His breeches gave her no trouble whatsoever- she unlaced him deftly, feeling his breath quickening against her skin as she pulled away the fabric as far as it would go, exposing him. He filled her hand so beautifully, but she wanted more, more. What she would have wanted most of all was the power to give him back the past years of his life, silence the voices of his fallen comrades and make him unsee those dead faces in their watery grave, but no such power existed under the Sun. However, the things she could do to make him briefly forget his troubles, she would do gladly.
They completed the marital act there on that chair, Thranduil's cry of release smothered against her bosom. Their couplings were always passionate, but this time there was a little sadness mixed in with the pleasure. As she held him afterwards, her heart bled for his beautiful, wounded soul, for the rebel-turned-king, for the part of him that had perished in Mordor. Yes, his experiences there had changed him, undeniably, and the road ahead was not without some perils of its own, but she would walk it with him. She prayed that it would be enough.
After a while Thranduil drew back slightly, lifting his hand to brush a stray lock of hair away from her cheek. "I sent Aegas away for the evening."
The words seemed to convey a promise, and she gave him a smile in response. "That must have taken some persuasion on your part."
Thranduil sighed. "He is a good lad and I like him, but I could like him even more if he willingly gave us a little privacy now and then. A valet should know when to take his distance. These are our bridal days after all."
"He is young; he wants to impress you." She shifted slightly in his lap, pleased to note that his body was already showing signs of renewed interest. "When you were a young elf, did you not look upon Elu Thingol with the same adoration, hoping to be noticed and praised by his Lordship?"
"That is bordering on sacrilege." He softened the words with a smile. "Elu Thingol was High-King of Beleriand, one of the greatest Eldar who ever lived. I am but a fledgling king of a rustic people, little more than a footnote in the annals of Middle-earth."
"Don't say that." It saddened her to hear him bring himself down so. "You used to be so confident, Thranduil. What happened to you?"
He turned sad eyes upon her, and she regretted her words at once, but he spoke before she could apologize. "I was cocky, Rasi. Cocky and selfish and full of hot air, as Father liked to say, and he was right. I thought of no one but myself. The war has changed me, perhaps in some ways for the better, but I cannot blame the people for doubting me. I cannot even blame those who may wish Father had returned instead of me."
Arasien's eyes moistened, and she unsuccessfully tried to swallow the lump rising in her throat. "Oh, my love," she said, kissing him. "Even if there are people who think that, you will prove them wrong. You will be a worthy successor and a great King, I know it. I believe in you."
"I know you do, and it means more to me than I can ever say." He took her face between his hands and kissed her with unexpected urgency. After a few moments she stopped him, not because she wasn't enjoying it, but to rise from his lap and finish the work he had started, undressing the rest of the way. She was not a brazen woman, but baring herself to her husband's gaze caused her no discomfort. On the contrary, it was a private and almost sacred act she had learned to enjoy.
"Elbereth, ci vain." He sighed. "You could drive a man to desperation."
She took his hand and led him to the bedroom, never breaking eye contact. "Do you remember the first time we met?"
He nodded. "You wore a blue dress and you had a silver clip in your hair. A butterfly. I could not speak, I was so infatuated. Father thought it very amusing; he said it was the first time he had ever seen me tongue-tied." He paused briefly. "Always he was asking me when I would do the right thing and ask for your hand. Even on his death bed."
It was the first time he spoke to her of Oropher's passing, and she turned to give him her full attention. "Go on, my love."
"I told him I loved you and had every intention of marrying you, given the chance." His voice broke ever so slightly. "But truthfully, in that moment, I… I did not believe I would ever see you again. I was sure I would follow him into the grave at some point."
"But you didn't." She reached up and joined her hands behind his neck. "I am so sorry you were given these burdens to bear, but I will devote my life to helping you find your strength. That is my solemn vow."
He embraced her fiercely. "Rasi," he said with muffled voice, "I have much to feel guilty for, but you do know that there never was another woman, don't you? This I swear to you. I have never had nor desired another."
"I know, dearest. I have always known. And please, let go of your guilt. I have no use for it." She sat down on the bed and guided him to the floor between her legs, gently removing the gauze from his recently tattooed arm. There was some redness and swelling, but the piece itself was beautifully done and it suited him. She treated the inflamed skin with healing balm and reapplied the bandage. Then she put some ointment on a few of his larger scars as well; most of them were several years old, and they didn't bother her, but once his outer scars faded, she hoped the wounds of his soul would follow suit.
When she was finished, he got up without a word, removed his remaining clothes and joined her on the bed. This time, the flame of passion took a while to ignite fully, but once it did, it blazed like a bonfire, long and brightly. When at long last they broke apart, exhausted from loving each other, the fire in the hearth, too, had simmered down to a smolder. Thranduil collapsed into the pillows next to her, panting harshly. It was a good long while before he found his breath and could speak again.
"Merciful Valar, woman, you do know how to pour courage into a man's heart." He pulled her into his arms and kissed her forehead. "If the Enemy were at our gates right now, I'd take him on single-handedly."
"That would not be courage but foolhardiness." She closed her eyes in bliss, relishing the sense of security his embrace gave her. The fact that he had mentioned Sauron encouraged her to ask one of her most burning questions. "What happened to him, Thranduil? How was he defeated in the end?"
He waited a few moments before responding. "It was Gil-galad and Elendil who brought him to his knees, but they paid for it with their lives. Isildur then took the One Ring, the source of his power. Sauron's physical form was destroyed, but his spirit was seen fleeing eastwards, in the shape of a black cloud."
She thought about this for a while. "What does this mean, Thranduil? If his spirit endured… Can he regain his strength and return? Please, tell me the truth."
"I could never lie to you." Thranduil sighed. "Middle-earth is safe for now, but evil will always find a way. Yes, I fear that Sauron will rise again, and that this peace, for which we so dearly paid, is only temporary. I am sorry. I wish I could give you a different answer."
Fear had gripped her heart while he spoke, and she tightened her hold on him until the feeling subsided. The joy of their reunion was still so fresh; the thought of Middle-earth being engulfed by another war was not to be borne.
"Thank you for telling me the truth," she said softly. "Now I shall try to put it as far from my mind as I possibly can."
"I have told you the truth of what is in my heart," he said gently. "Who can say what the future holds? A thousand years may pass before Sauron is heard from again, and a lot could happen in that time. My fears may never come true." He kissed the top of her head and sighed into her hair. "I usually don't like being wrong… but in this case, I truly hope that I am."