The King's Vineyard, Chapter 10
|Rating:||R for mature sexual content (later chapters)|
|Disclaimer:||I am only borrowing Tolkien's elves for story-telling purposes and am not seeking profit or glory from their use. Well, maybe glory, but certainly not profit!|
|Timeline:||In the years following the Battle of the Five Armies in Bilbo's story and before the Ring Quest in Frodo's.|
|Summary:||A young woman and her uncle travel north from the inland sea of Rhûn to Esgaroth seeking employment at the Elvenking's vineyard.|
|Feedback:||Please sign our guestbook or write to to email@example.com|
When Cella awoke to the daybreak horns, she sat straight up in her bed and said, "Le hannon, hír nín." [Thank you, my lord.] And then she looked around the room in confusion while rubbing sleep from her eyes. She could have sworn the Elfking was standing there, right in front of her, and she was... what was she doing? Handing something to him...?
His cloak! She looked down to see it covering her body and clutched it to her face to breathe in once again the fragrance of leaves and earth and sunlight that seemed to linger there on the soft surface. It must have been a dream. Of course, it was a dream. She sighed as she remembered the night before, and the way the Elfking had flashed that last dazzling smile at her.
Her uncle knocked at her door and she called out that she was up, awake, and, after she had grabbed her blouse off of its hook, getting dressed. As soon as she was sure Uncle Dwain was satisfied that she was at least out of bed and moving around, she carried the cloak over by the window so that she could see it in the daylight.
The color was dark green, after all, but so deep that it reminded her of a shady glade in a thick forest. She caressed the nap of the leather and searched the collar for any stray hair that may have clung there from the Elfking's regal mane. There were a few of her own there; she scolded them as she plucked them off for trying to spoil the looks of the royal garment, but not one of his. Although disappointing at first, it made sense that an Elf would not shed his hair the same way humans do, and that made her feel good.
At the breakfast table, Cella was in conflict. Should she leave the Elfking's cloak at home for safekeeping until he sent for it? Or should she carry it with her to the pressers' area in the hopes she would encounter him along the way to return it? What if he came here for it? What if the other pressers saw her with it? What would they think?
The idea of seeking entrance past the Elven sentries into the more guarded areas of the main house to personally seek out King Thranduil made her teeth chatter just considering it. And she would not think twice about handing it over to the spear-holding Elves who stood by the entrance for fear they might decide to keep it. Even though she knew no Elf in the vineyard would show such disloyalty to their monarch.
She could return it to the seneschal, who always made an appearance at various locations in the vineyard at the same time each day, like clock work. With a sigh of relief she told herself that was the easiest way to return the cloak, and it would work. But Cella discarded that idea immediately as she imagined approaching him; she was nearly as afraid of the tall robed Elf as she was of his King. And what would he make of the situation? Would he even believe her? What if he assumed she had stolen the magnificent garment? The responsibility for the cloak seemed almost too great, but she was in heaven as she worried it over.
And she was afraid to mention anything to her uncle as she was sure he would volunteer to take control of the situation for her, and she could not bear to part with the cloak, yet. In the end, she decided to keep it in her room and bring it to the feast that evening, where the Elfking was sure to be in attendance.
Just imagining handing the cloak back over to him, with a flawlessly executed curtsey and respectful words of gratitude, perfectly pronounced, made her heart flutter. But Cella was certain that was what the dream she had awoken to meant, that she was destined to return it to the Elfking with her own hands, and she was sure she was making the right decision. Now all she had to worry about was where she was going to get the courage to carry through such a frightening self-appointed task.
The Elves no longer provided escort in the morning to Cella and her uncle; instead the two of them usually walked together to the presser's area where he would say goodbye before he went along to the vintner's shed. Today they were met in the inner corridor of the main house by Himbor and he walked along beside Uncle Dwain while they discussed the violent storm and its aftermath.
The damage to the grape plants was not as extensive or severe as the overseers had feared it might be. Almost all of the stakes still stood, although many were stripped of whatever fruit had not been harvested as well as most of the leaves from the vines. But the supports had only collapsed in those places where runoff from the downpour had cut channels into the soft soil and undercut the plants, roots and all. Uncle Dwain agreed that a better system of drainage would have undoubtedly prevented that from happening, but he would need to see the area in question first.
The rain clouds had moved off and when the three of them stepped out of the entrance, the lovely garden area that bordered the Elfking's mansion seemed to glow in the sunlight, as steam and wisps of mist floated delicately from every thing that still held moisture from the rain. Cella was happy to see Milda and Ingarde were waiting for her on the landing, and they offered to walk with her to the presser's shed. Anxious to inspect the damage in the fields, Uncle Dwain bade her and her friends a good day and hurried off with Himbor.
Elves were cleaning up after the storm, mostly by removing broken branches that littered the pathways and roads. There were some more of them hammering on top of the laundry shed, which was missing part of its roof. Cella loved the smooth, efficient, and graceful way they moved about their tasks. They rarely appeared to hurry and yet every task they performed was done more quickly than by any of the men who worked beside them.
After spending time with the Fair Folk, she had come to believe that most of their legendary magic came from being able to do simple or ordinary things better than anyone else. Because they had so much more time to practice they became experts at everything they endeavored. Her uncle was certain they would excel at wine-making too, someday, once they had learned the basics.
Once they had her to themselves, Milda and Ingarde proceeded to fill Cella in on some of the antics performed by the other workers the night before, shortly after she had left the tent. The partying had not lasted very much longer, but there had been some more joking and singing and then one of the pickers, on a dare, had tried to dance a jig on a table. Despite cries of caution about the slippery surface, he had fallen and had wrenched his elbow.
"You should've heard the commotion he made!" declared Milda scornfully. "He was blubbering and bawling like a big baby!" From the description of the injury, Cella's own elbow throbbed in sympathy, but she said nothing.
"Then guess what happened?" asked Ingarde, in a tone that indicated a surprise was coming.
"I can't think what," Cella responded, even though she assumed that the man must have been carried away by a cart during the rain-storm for treatment in the town. She did not want to spoil the story if she guessed correctly. Her vineyard-worker's instincts prompted her to mourn the possible loss of two hands and a strong back
"The Elfking fixed him!" exclaimed Ingarde in triumph. "He fixed his elbow back right." As she tried to describe what had happened, her hands made motions in the air indicating how the Elf's hands had moved over the injured limb. Cella needed no further explanation. She had felt those hands, and she knew what they could do. The two women, however, had always 'heard tell' about the healing power of Elves, but had never seen such a thing with their own eyes.
"And I've seen everything," declared Milda.
"Can you imagine what that must have felt like?" asked Ingarde. "To have those hands moving on your arm?"
"Or, all over your body?" added Milda in a low, knowing voice.
The two women squealed but Cella remained quiet. Milda turned to her and stopped grinning.
"Why, look at you! You're blushing! You poor, sweet thing!"
"Having to listen to such talk!" added Ingarde, although neither sounded the least bit regretful. "Shame on us!" They had reached the dressing room and stopped teasing her while they dressed. Today they did not have to wait for the pickers and could go straight to the pressing vats to begin stamping the grapes that had already been harvested the day before.
Cella had not wanted to interrupt Milda and Ingarde's 'heard tells', especially the exciting healed elbow story, until she was sure that neither they nor anyone else was gossiping about the Elfking's lending her his cloak the night before. She waited until she was standing with them at the foot-washing station before she quietly mentioned that she thought she might be attending the feast that night, after all. Her delighted friends clutched her and congratulated her on her good sense.
"I told you she would change her mind," said Ingarde to Milda, who was shaking her head in wonder. "Didn't I say so last night?
"No," replied the other woman once she had found her voice again. "It was me that told you she would change her mind after last night and you said...," but Cella paid little attention to the bantering voices beside her as she contemplated telling about the Elfking's words to her, and his cloak. But neither of them seemed interested in learning what had changed her mind because they both thought they already knew.
"'Course I knew you would want to come after all the fun we had during the storm! You were crushed and cramped all night and looked like you were having a fine time anyway," concluded Ingarde. And Cella knew that was true, for some reason it was not until she heard it said out loud that she remembered she actually had changed her mind about attending the feast long before the raised eyebrow. It made her feel better about herself to think she had not been motivated merely by a childish eagerness to please the lordly Elf while being cursed with a will too weak to decline.
Most of the talk in the pressing vat was about how the area where the Elves had planned to put the feasting tables that day was deemed too soggy and swampy after the downpour. The Harvest Feast was to be held in the dining tent, after all. Any grapes not pressed that day would be stored elsewhere. There was a tantalizing smoky scent that wafted through the vineyard from a great fire pit that had been dug, and covered to protect it from the rain, before the storm had hit and which now hosted an entire boar being slowly roasted on a turning spit for the dinner that night.
But the mid-day meal was ordinary fare and, as soon as it was served, the workers were urged to eat quickly so the tent could be decorated. There were Ellith waiting patiently outside of the tent's entrance holding baskets filled by bunches of autumn flowers or with branches of colorful leaves or bright red berries, which had all also been gathered before the storm had hit to decorate the outdoor feasting area. Cella began to feel excited about the big party, but still felt queasy when she imagined returning the Elfking's cloak to him.
Today, because of the feast, Lanthiriel dismissed them all early and the women descended on the foot washing station with a vengeance. Normally, when they wore long skirts, they displayed their purple ankles as if they were badges of honor. But today everyone wanted their legs to look as close to normal as they could make them. However, their best skin-reddening scouring could not perform that miracle, even with Elven-made soap, but they tried anyway.
Walking stiffly on stinging legs, Milda and Ingarde followed Cella to her door where she made them wait for her while she went to her room to fetch her dress. They wanted her to come back to their quarters with them to change clothes and prepare for the night's festivities.
After grabbing her one good gown off of its hook, she paused long enough to take the Elfking's cloak down from the shelf over her door where she had placed it, carefully folded, before she had left the house that morning. After she had petted it and held it to her face for a moment, she reluctantly placed it back. She was not ready to answer the kinds of questions her friends would ask if she showed it to them now. It would be safer here, too, and she would come back for it later.
Most of the single women were in a flurry of preparation when the three friends arrived in their common washroom in the main house. There was running water from an underground source that traveled along a trough along one wall, where they could wash. There were tubs, too, behind latticework screens for privacy, and great kettles hung by hooks on long cast-iron arms that were hinged so they could be moved within the washroom's fireplace hearth for heating the cold water for bathing.
While the three friends were washing their faces in the common sink with a special milled soap that Ingarde swore would give them rosier cheeks, Lanthiriel paid them a visit and brought gifts of colorful satin ribbons for each of the women. After the Elleth left, and they had put on their dresses, Cella sat on a bench nearby while Milda and Ingarde arranged each other's hair with the ribbons and then they both worked on hers.
"I have been dying to get my hands on your hair ever since I first laid eyes on it," declared Milda as she brushed the hair back from Cella's face and wrapped it around her skull in a tight bun. "How does that look?" she asked Ingarde.
"Can she see with her eyes pulled tight like that?" asked a helpful bystander. "Leave it down," said another woman behind her. "It looked prettier like that." She demonstrated by coming over and pulling the tight bun out and letting Cella's hair fall naturally around her neckline and shoulders. A crowd gathered, many opinions were shared, and a compromise was reached. Her hair would stay loose but a ribbon would be used to pull the hair back from her forehead and this was tied with a festive bow on top of her head. Everyone was pleased with the result.
From the direction of the dining-tent came the sound of the Elf-horns calling the vineyard worker's to attend the Harvest Feast. There was to be some type of outdoor ceremony first, according to those who had attended the previous years, while the sun set. After that, they would eat, and then dance. A bonfire would be lit, and it would be even bigger than planned due to the additional storm debris.
As the large group of women walked to the dining-tent, where everyone was supposed to gather, they could hear harp music being played. It was a soft tune that seemed to mourn the dying of the day. Before they had reached the rest of the crowd, Cella stopped dead in her tracks. The cloak! She had to go back and get it.
"Go on ahead," she told Milda and Ingarde. "I will catch up with you." With a pounding heart as she contemplated the daring return of the cloak she had planned, Cella ran as fast as she could, holding her hands over her hair ribbon to keep it from slipping off of her head, back to her home and into her room.
One last time, she draped the royal garment over her shoulders and giggled while she imagined wearing it back to the feast. Then she folded it carefully, and walked slowly out onto the veranda while rehearsing what she would say when she handed it to the Elfking. From the corner of her eye, she could see a large figure standing in her way, and she looked up happily to greet who she assumed was her uncle, come to escort her to the feast. But it was not. Startled, she dropped the Elfking's cloak to the ground.
This time, Gorst had a rag in the hand that he clamped over her mouth, and he shoved the greasy-tasting cloth all the way in when she tried to cry out.
To be continued in Chapter 11
Posted: August 24, 2004
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"Long live Thranduil, great Elf-king of Greenwood!"