The King's Vineyard, Chapter 12
|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|
After the men left the room, the Elfking spoke to someone just outside the door, but Cella could not hear what was being said. He turned back into the room and smiled at her, and she noted a touch of humor in his eyes, but his voice was serious when he spoke.
"There are some visitors for you here, downstairs," he told her. But Cella shook her head and shrank back down under the covers of the bed.
"I would rather not see anyone," she said.
"Ah, but I think that you should see them," he lifted his chin as he spoke. "They will do you good. I have sent for them." She sank further under the blankets, pulling them all the way up to her chin.
"What do they want?" She did not want to answer any questions.
"They have brought lunch," he answered, and then added in a brittle tone, with his mouth quirked up on one side, "They believe you may not be receiving proper nourishment in my care." Cella bristled a bit at the slur to the Elfking's character, but he seemed more amused than bothered by the charge. "They are correct in one thing. You need to eat to keep up your strength."
"I am not hungry." She realized that she was actually very hungry, but she thought denying it might work to deflect the possible visitors. However, he only shook his head.
"No, I will hear no more arguments." Even though his words were stern, his voice was kind. Cella did not feel scolded and yet she knew better than to answer back. He came over to the bed and pulled the curtain all the way to the edge. "I insist that you eat and receive your visitors."
When the Elfking opened the door, Milda and Ingarde entered. Nearly paralyzed with awe, they carefully stepped into the room. Their eyes were round and they turned their heads this way and that while they stared at every single thing as they inched forward towards her. Cella could not help but feel happy to see her friends and she sat up to greet them, if they ever would look her way.
Milda was carrying a small wicker basket with a brightly colored little cloth covering it, while Ingarde had a serving tray with a teapot and drinking bowl sitting on top that clattered softly, betraying her shaking hands. They both glanced warily at the silent Elfking, who stood with arms crossed near the door. But, the normally bold and talkative women were meek and tongue-tied now, especially when he stepped over beside them to assist in setting up the tray for Cella to eat from while she was lying in the bed. Their eyes were almost wild with fear at times when he spoke to them, or took something from their hands.
Cella wished she knew how to comfort them somehow, for they were so obviously frightened, but she did not want to say anything in front of the Elfking that might embarrass her friends. She knew that she had felt terrified of him, once, but now she was glad she no longer did. He bade them have a pleasant visit before leaving the room. Once he was gone, the two women relaxed, and finally found their voices.
Ingarde pulled the chair that Uncle Dwain had been sitting on even closer to the bedside, and Milda perched on the edge of the bed at the foot. As Cella pointed out the interesting features of the headboard and the beautiful tree carvings in the canopy roof, they respectfully admired the craftsmanship, but even more so her ability to read the "squiggled letters"-- as they termed the Elf runes.
"I never thought I'd live to see a bedroom like this, let alone see you in it!" declared Ingarde after a thorough study of her sleeping arrangements. Milda could not stop touching and stroking the luxurious bedcovers, linens, and drapery. They were both overwhelmed by the size of the room and the bed. When they were finally calmed down, they marveled at length about how healthy and happy Cella appeared, compared to the last time they had seen her, while she was being carried in the arms of the Elfking, the night before. The women grew quiet.
"You were here?" asked Cella, confused.
"We were just outside, downstairs," explained Ingarde, for Milda's eyes had filled with tears and she could not answer. "We were waiting for the Elfking to fetch you." Now Cella was even more confused, so the women felt obligated to tell her the whole story, from the very beginning, starting from when she had told them to go on ahead and that she would catch up to them.
She sat and ate, rapt with attention, as Milda and Ingarde told her what had happened after that, fighting to be the first to tell her everything, frequently stopping to correct each other and say it the right way.
"We came all the way back up the road and waited for you out on the landing," said Milda. "But we heard the music start to change and we..." she stopped because Ingarde interrupted.
"No, I said, 'we better go get her before the music changes, because I didn't want her to miss the...'"
"Oh, that's right. And then we went back to your house but you weren't there, Cella," Milda informed her, as if there was a possibility that she was unaware of that.
"We couldn't figure out how you got past us," said Ingarde. "Unless you had gone through the gate."
"But I said, 'Why would she go out the back gate?'" There was an argument about who wondered what first, and then they continued. As soon as they saw that the gate had been left wide open, they felt scared.
"So we went through it and looked out there, and then we saw them footprints in the mud," declared Ingarde in a voice so low it was almost a whisper. "My heart just stopped. I thought I was going to die." She put her hand over her chest to demonstrate how close she had come to dying.
"You thought you were going to die?" countered Milda. "And how do you think I felt?" She turned back to Cella, "I just knew it was that Gorst." The two friends had followed the tracks as far as they could, but lost them in the wetter, swampier areas and gave up their fruitless search. Then they had run back to find Cella's uncle. When they got back through her gate, they saw the Elfking there. He was picking something up that neither one of them had noticed was lying there, on the paving stones of the veranda.
"It looked like a blanket or something," said Ingarde. Cella nodded, understanding. The cloak was hanging now in this very room, she could see it on a hook by the door; at least she hoped it was the same one. "He said to us, 'Find her uncle. I will meet him here, tell him that.'"
"And it was eerie, the way he said it," reported Milda while Ingarde nodded furiously, clearly upset because she did not get to mention that first. "It was like he knew exactly what happened to you, and we never told him a thing yet!" And then, her friends fought to tell her first, he had disappeared through the gate. So quickly did he vanish, it was as if he was not there to begin with.
"But he had this look in his eye, real fierce-like," Ingarde shuddered a little as she remembered. "I was just glad I wasn't that Gorst." Cella had a feeling her friend had not been all that discomfited by the Elfking's wrathful appearance; she seemed almost excited about it as she talked.
After that, the two women had run to the dining-tent to find her uncle. Along the way they had encountered the seneschal, Thaladir, and their favorite body-guard Elf, Nandirn, coming in the opposite direction and obviously following after the Elvenking.
"Only, I don't think he's just a body-guard," interrupted Cella. "I think he's something more important than that." It was her turn now to impress her friends, who were willing to wait quietly through her account of what had happened earlier that day with Nandirn and the Sheriff, even if she was jumping way ahead of their story They were as mystified as she was by the Elf's apparent, but still unknown, authority.
After they had filled in the two Elves with all the information they knew about the open gate, the footprints, their speculation about Gorst, and their errand to carry the Elfking's message to Master Dwain, Milda and Ingarde continued on to the feasting area. Although each of them thought that one of them should stay and wait by Cella's door, while one went to find her uncle, neither was willing to be parted from the other, but they argued about it anyway as they hurried along.
The women had just reached the outer edge of the crowd of the vineyard's workers; men, women, Elves, and Ellith, who had gathered for the feast. Her uncle had appeared then, searching along the outer edges for his niece. They told him that the Elfking wanted him to come to the main house, but they were afraid to tell him why. He was puzzled by Cella's absence, and worried about her, but they told him that she was going to be there when they arrived to his home.
But Master Dwain, son of Dake, they were to learn, was a shrewd man, and not at all fooled by their explanations. As they followed him back to the main house, they admitted to him what they knew, from start to finish, only leaving out the part about their speculation over Gorst's possible involvement. He did not at all like hearing about the wide-open gate but when they told him of the footprints, he had taken off ahead of them in a full sprint.
"Right after we caught up to him, the King came through the gate carrying you, wrapped up in whatever it was he found, that blanket? And all we could see was your face." As Ingarde remembered the scene, her voice dropped down to a whisper again, and her face grew solemn. For a moment, she had to look away from Cella. Milda, seated next to her legs on the bed, reached out and clutched the one nearest to her.
"You looked so...bad," she managed to say before losing control of herself and weeping into her hands. Soon the tray was removed from Cella's lap, set on the floor, and all three women were sitting on the bed while holding each other in a mutually tearful embrace.
Cella enjoyed being able to comfort her friends more than she felt she needed to be comforted by them. She assured them that all of her hurts were healed. To demonstrate, she pulled her covers back and her gown up to above her knee. There was still an ugly bruise, but she promised them she felt no pain at all. They had no idea of the full extent of her injuries, but her uncle had told them she had broken her ankle and hurt her leg. Of course, they knew about the cuts to her face.
"Do you want to talk about it, tell us what happened?" asked Ingarde. Cella shook her head.
"Not yet, not right now." But even as she said it, she knew she wanted to tell them some of it, at least enough to let them know that even though she may have been physically injured, she had not been violated. "He never...he didn't... do anything." She felt them both breathe a sigh of relief as they exchanged grateful looks with one another, and knew that was enough for now, they would not ask for anything further until she was ready.
"You must have been so scared." As she spoke, Milda reached out a tentative finger to Cella's cheek. Her wonder at the Elvenking's healing skills soon replaced her fearful memories of how her friend had looked the night before; her body, limp and lifeless in the Elf's arms.
"Your face and hair was covered in blood and mud," she told her. "And you looked so pale. I thought your uncle was going to collapse." Cella put her hand to her face as she recalled the stinging sensation she had felt the night before. She could only feel a tiny line of raised flesh, as thin as a hair.
"But the King just carried you past your door, and we all followed him into the main house. Only, they wouldn't let us past the big doors. Just your uncle." The Elf sentries held firm under Milda and Ingarde's most urgent pleadings that their friend would need them by her side. But, after a while, her uncle had returned and told them that Cella was going to be fine, her wounds were healed and that she was sleeping. For several moments, all three of the women were silent.
Milda and Ingarde returned to the rest of their tale and Cella learned, most of it now from 'heard tells', what else had happened when Gorst was dragging her away from the vineyard.
As it turned out, the two women had learned later from others at the Harvest Feast, the Elfking had just begun the sunset ceremony, a toast to the end of the bountiful season, by lifting his bowl to the sinking sun. However, for some reason, he stopped abruptly and cocked his head, as if he had heard something, handed his wine to an Elf standing near to him, and then had rushed away from the stunned crowd.
The music stopped, no one spoke. No one had known what to do. Everyone in attendance froze in place for several moments, as the sun kept going down, without salute. And then, or so they had been told, the tall seneschal had lifted his wine bowl and had uttered some Elvish words, that no one understood, at least none of those who related the tale to the two women. He then gestured to Cella's uncle, who gave a toast of gratitude to the sun for its life giving, juice producing, and vine growing assistance to the vineyard and a hope for an equally vigorous crop in the years to come. Then the two Elves, Thaladir and Nandirn, had hurried along after the Elfking. At least, that is what they had 'heard tell'.
After a few more moments, Cella's uncle had started searching for her in the crowd
"Wait," interrupted Cella. "Did you never go to the party?" Milda looked at Ingarde, and both of the women smiled at each other.
"We're getting there, just wait," said Milda. The women told Master Dwain to follow them back right away to his house, by order of King Thranduil, and that Cella might be in trouble. Some of the workers nearby, both men and Elves, overheard them and had rushed ahead to assist the Elfking. And then a few more had followed, prompted by the urgency of the departure of the others, if not actually sure where they were going, or why. And then a few more, and then more, and still more, until there was no one left at the feasting area. Everyone was at the main house.
"There was no party, Cella. The feast got called off after all, only not because of rain."
"Because of me?" she asked.
"No! Because of Gorst!" replied Milda; her voice sharp for the first time since she had entered the room. She took Cella by the shoulders, but gently, and said, "It wasn't your fault. None of it." They hugged and more tears were shed.
"Look at you," said Ingarde to Milda. "Who is the big bawling baby now? And we came here to cheer Cella up, or did you forget that?" Of course, it did not help that she was sobbing, too, as she said it. But, the absurdity hit them all at the same moment, and they fell back on the pillows, helpless with laughter.
"Your uncle," said Milda, as soon as she could talk again, "says we're going to have an even bigger party, when you get better." The news did not exactly cheer Cella, except that she was sorry that her friends had missed the feasting the first time, and now would have another chance. But she smiled and nodded and pretended to be happy, for their sakes.
She was not unhappy about the postponed feast hinging on her health, either; she was just not ready to think about it, yet. All of those people with all of their questions, or their staring at her, and wondering... Cella decided she would think about it later. When she felt ready. If she ever felt ready. Her friends did not pressure her to discuss it any further however, and were busily discussing how although the roast boar had been eaten in the dining-tent, it was a cheerless event. The two women were just getting warmed up with the rest of the 'heard tells' they had gathered when the Elfking returned.
Shamefaced, they leapt from the bed, but he did not appear concerned as he silently helped them gather the tray, teapot, and basket. Cella could tell they felt more at ease around him, since they had a chance to see and speak to her, and see how well taken care of she was. They left with promises to her to return the next day, before being stunned into silence when the lordly Elf granted them permission to come back as often as they chose.
Cella was happy that the Elfking did not move the chair by the bed back into its original position before he sat in it, next to her. She studied him carefully as he sat and regarded her; she never tired of staring at his perfect features. His green gaze was steady and his face was so serious that she began to feel worried.
"Is there something wrong?" she asked.
"You had a good visit with your friends," was his reply.
"Yes, thank you for insisting I see them." Although puzzled by his answer, she did feel grateful to him. "It was good to talk to them."
"I believe so, at least for the time being." He stood. "Now, I must leave for a while, but before I do, there is something I must tell you." Cella froze inside at the word 'leave' and she felt fear begin to rise within her at the thought of him going away. She could not reply beyond nodding her head to indicate that she understood.
The Elfking drew a breath to speak and then stopped himself. He sat again, and now she grew even more worried as he took one of her hands into his large one, but was thrilled to have him touch her. And then he said the words that would change the course of her life, forever, "I am going to send you away from here, Celiel, with your uncle. You will both be leaving together, after the feast."
But Cella heard none of his words beyond 'send you away'. The sound of her heart shattering into pieces had deafened her completely.
To be continued in Chapter 13
Posted: August 30, 2004
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"Long live Thranduil, great Elf-king of Greenwood!"