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The King's Vineyard, Chapter 20

By: Mary A
Beta: Malinornë
Pairing: King Thranduil/OFC
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.
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The king's mouth was warm, his lips moved gently, and Cella's breath was taken from her. He broke away, removed his hand from her chin, and stroked her hair as she stood staring up at him, not believing he was real. Or that he had just kissed her; it could not be possible. Unconsciously, she pressed her fingers to her lips as if by doing so she could capture the way the kiss had felt on her mouth and keep it there.

"Now," he said. "Am I forgiven?" For several heartbeats she could not answer, not even the strong wine had been as disorienting to her mind as that kiss had been.

"Of course you are forgiven, you always were," she said at last, not certain if he was serious, but somehow knowing he had not kissed her for her pardon alone, and the thought warmed her. "You have done nothing to be forgiven for," she added, echoing back his words to her from the day she had thought he was sending her away from him.

"I have much to be forgiven for, Celiel." His voice was serious now. "Not the least of which is indulging myself by granting your true desire." She gasped at his words, so he had known her thoughts today, although he had said he did not.

"You did read my mind!" More than being shocked at an invasion of her privacy, Cella was astonished that he had told her he only knew what she was thinking if she chose for him to know. Had he lied about that?

"No, firiel, I did not read your mind. Your disappointment at the way you were kissed earlier was written in your eyes, as plain as if you spoke. You are an open book, because you have nothing to hide." As he continued, his eyes lost the intriguing light that had pierced her soul, and grew dark.

"And I was wrong to come here, where I knew I would be alone with you. I have sworn to protect you from those who can not control their own desires."

She only heard what she wanted to hear. Did he mean that he desired her? Cella did not know exactly what was involved in satisfying the desires of men, or Elves. But the Elfking's kiss had ignited a flame deep within that melted away any resistance she ever had against exploring further what there was to learn about it. Right now. Impulsively, she stood on her tiptoes and kissed him again.

Boldly, she pressed her body against his and wrapped her arms around his neck to pull his face closer to her. But the Elfking broke free from her, unwound her arms, and held her hands in his, between them.

"No, Celiel, this must go no further," his voice stern now. "Truly, I was not acting wisely, or in your best interest. Your innocence has... beguiled me." He backed away from her, with regret in his eyes, before adding, "But this can go no further, at least not here, like this." Before she could make any protest, he released her hands, and, with his usual swiftness, left the house.

For a long while, Cella stood, with her head pressed against the closed door, and tried to come to an understanding of what had just happened. At first, she did not think at all, or could not. She pressed her hand against her lips and remembered the sensations he had evoked, and his scent, and his voice. But then her dizzy head began to clear, and she considered his words. His final tone was full of reason, propriety, and the need for self-control, when she had wanted passion and immediate gratification of unnamable desires.

Cella felt as if her heart would break just moments after she learned what it was capable of feeling. Not here, he had said, and not like this. What had he meant? Hot tears filled her eyes and threatened to spill, but did not when she thought about his words more carefully. She was a temptation to him, that much was clear, but he would not take advantage of her eagerness to do anything to please him.

He wanted to be alone with her, but would deny himself, to protect her. It did not seem fair, what about her feelings and her own...desires? She groaned to think of how he would probably keep himself far removed from her now, and knew she could not stand for that to happen.

In desperation, she tried to summon him to her, on purpose, by picturing his face and begging him silently to return, and help her to lose her innocence. She no longer wanted it, had no use for it, but only wanted him to kiss her again and again, into senselessness. But she knew he would not come, no matter how thoroughly she imagined him there with her. Finally, after emitting a long sigh, she surrendered to the situation as it was, straightened her shoulders, and moved down the hallway to her room.

Although she was weary, she could tell that sleep was not going to be coming soon. But at least in her bed she would be warmer. For some reason, this thought reminded her of Milda, who was so happy to have a warm bed to sleep in while employed here at the Elfking's vineyard. She wondered how her flirtatious friend would have dealt with that kiss, and the conversation that had followed it.

Instantly, her spirits were lifted and her heart soared again. Instead of getting undressed, she left the room, and the house, to go find her friends and confide in them. It made perfect sense, she needed someone to talk to and they would listen. And it did not seem to matter anymore what they may think about her if they knew the truth, in fact it was silly to her that she had kept her feelings about the Elfking from them all this time. And they were leaving in the morning; maybe she would never see them again.

Once inside the sleeping quarters, she tiptoed so as not to disturb any of the other exhausted women. There was a dim glow from candles that were placed on wall sconces at both ends of the room. They gave enough light to navigate safely without injury from the edge of a bed or the side of a table, and enough to recognize facial features.

Milda was not even in her bed, and Cella felt a sharp pang of jealousy for the lucky woman who was probably out somewhere, satisfying all of her desires, unimpeded. Ingarde was sound asleep and she looked so peaceful that Cella hesitated to wake her. She thought she should go back to her home, but, unwilling to give up too quickly, she sat on the bed and gently shook her friend to wakefulness.

"What is it, what's wrong?" As soon as Ingarde realized who was waking her, she propped herself up on one elbow and anxiously searched Cella's face. She wiped sleep from her eyes and asked, "Are you hurt, did someone hurt you again?"

"No, no, no," Cella whispered, looking around to see if anyone had heard. "I am not hurt, and nothing's wrong," she began, but her voice broke. "Or maybe everything's wrong. And I need help knowing what to do about it." As she spoke, she realized that she was hurt, too, and she began to weep.

"Tell me what's happened," said Ingarde, sitting up straight, nearly wide awake. "Why are you crying?" She was petting Cella's hand now, instinctively trying to soothe her. It was time to tell her the truth.

"I think I am in love." As the fateful words left her mouth, Cella felt better at once. There, she had said it, it was out for the world to know, or at least as much of the world as her friend's gossiping tongue could cover. But, to her surprise, Ingarde just smiled and shook her head before she fell back on her pillow, relieved and unconcerned.

"Oh, is that all? Well, that's obvious, Cella," she said, not bothering to keep her voice quiet, and paused to yawn before adding, "At least to Milda and me. That you're head over heels for the King Elf. Did you only just realize it yourself?"

"It's obvious?" For all of her sudden bravery, Cella felt exposed and uncomfortable with the knowledge that her feelings for the Elfking had not been as concealed as she thought they were. But he had said so himself, how her thoughts were written in her eyes and on her face.

"It's nothing to worry about, it'll pass," Ingarde answered wisely. "It's hero-worship, and a natural way to feel about someone who rescued you. That's what I think, anyway."

It felt odd knowing that her emotional state had apparently been a topic of discussion, but Cella was somehow not surprised, considering how her friends seemed to have an opinion on everything and considered everything open to opinion. And, she also recognized that for the past few days, she actually had done nothing to conceal her feelings for the Elfking when he was near her or her discomfort when he was not around; no wonder it was obvious.

"But I know I am in love," Cella protested as she shuddered a little at the enormity of her conclusion. Although her conviction was faltering a bit as the sensibleness of her friend's words brought her back down to earth. "I have never felt like this before, like my heart might burst because it feels so full."

"So, what happened tonight?" asked Ingarde, too curious to fall back to sleep. "To make you cry like that?"

"He kissed me," confessed Cella, to her own amazement. She had imagined telling her friends that she had a dilemma, and maybe probing their thoughts for some ideas about how to unbend the Elfking's honorable intentions, without saying anything about what had happened when they were alone in her home.

"I know, I saw that today," said Ingarde, unimpressed. "Don't take a kiss like that so serious, Cella, he was just..."

"No, he really kissed me," interrupted Cella. "Tonight. Just now, or not that long ago."

"Where?" asked Ingarde.

"On the lips," whispered Cella, suddenly shy about talking about it, as waves of heat swept over her again upon recalling the Elfking's face lowering itself toward her own. She touched her lips again.

"No, I think I could figure that out. I mean where were you?" Keeping her voice low so as not to wake anyone, despite Ingarde's lack of concern about the other women sleeping in the room, Cella told her how the Elfking helped her take Uncle Dwain to bed, and how, when she had opened the door to let him out, he had shut it and kissed her instead. And then she was asked to repeat what he had said to her, before and after the kiss, word for word, several times. At last, after hearing all the evidence, Ingarde pronounced her verdict.

"Sounds to me like you both had too much of that good wine your uncle makes. I wouldn't take a kiss like that too serious either. You look pretty tipsy to me right now." With that said, she advised Cella to go to bed, get some sleep, and try not to feel too embarrassed when she got up the next day. There were undoubtedly a lot of spur-of-the-moment kisses, and more besides that, between unlikely partners during the night, prompted by the celebration and the dancing, and all.

"Not too many people are going to be proud of themselves when the sun comes up, if they can even remember anything of what they did." Ingarde had sat up again as she tried to reassure Cella. No one would think any the worse about her, she added, if they knew about a harmless little kiss, but her secret was safe with her.

But Cella was not so sure that no one would think the wrong things about her and the Elfking, after what Uncle Dwain had told her about Gorst's kin. She had not told her friends about what she had learned about the evil stories some people were telling about her, and they had not thought to ask, once the feast had gotten underway. And Ingarde keeping a secret was not necessarily possible.

To ensure her silence, Cella told her now about the low minded speculations of some of the townsfolk, and made her swear not to tell anyone about the kiss, except Milda, who would need to be sworn to secrecy as well. Ingarde had heard tell about the loathsome speculations, too, but had disregarded them. She knew better, she said, about the way things were run at the vineyard, and the proper way that the Elves acted toward the women who worked with them.

Almost too proper, Ingarde admitted ruefully, shaking her head at what Cella assumed were remembrances of her own attempts to unbend a stiff-necked Elf or two. But, she said she did not want to talk any more, she was too sleepy, and felt chilled sitting up in the dark.

"Go to bed, Cella dear," said Ingarde sweetly as she lay her head back on her pillow. "You need to sleep, I need to sleep, only the Elves don't seem to need sleep, but for the rest of us, that's what the night is for, or what's left of this one anyway." With a sigh, she snuggled down under her covers and closed her eyes.

After a moment of indecision, Cella rose, and walked through the corridors of the main house as she thought over their conversation. Ingarde was probably right about her, that she was taking a little kiss, possibly nothing more than a token of the Elfking's affection, too seriously. But she wanted to believe it was not something to be taken lightly, and was not willing to just forget it had happened. It meant something, she was sure of that. Or did she just want to believe it?

As she had repeated for Ingarde earlier what the Elfking had said, about controlling desires, and how they could go no further, 'at least not here, like this', Cella had thought for a moment that she had discovered the answer to the unasked question, but had kept the idea to herself in the presence of her wiser, more pragmatic friend. Silently, she had dismissed the notion as fanciful and foolish, almost as soon as it was born.

However, now, as she drew near the entrance to the Elves' area, guarded by sentries at either side of an arched open doorway, she could see the staircase that led to the upper floors and the previously dismissed fancy came back to her mind, doubly strong. She looked behind her and around her to make sure that no one else saw her, besides the door-guards.

Having never been alone with a man before, at least not in that way, she found it difficult to imagine fully what more the Elfking would have done, besides kiss her again, if they had not been standing in the front room of her home, with Uncle Dwain snoring down the hall. But she felt an interesting thrill from her speculations. What more could have happened if they had been in a different location, and under better circumstances?

And with those imaginings came a plan. It remained to be proven if she had the courage needed to follow through with it, but she seemed unable to stop herself now that she set her mind on her goal. And feeling brave did not matter as long as she did not think too hard about what she wanted to do in order to pursue her heart's desire.

Cella paused briefly in front of the unmoving sentries; they seemed not to notice her presence, which she took as permission to pass through the entrance. Milda and Ingarde had told her that the night she had been attacked, when they had tried to follow her uncle through this same door to follow the Elfking up the stairs, they had been prevented from entering by these silent spear-holding Elves.

As she walked past them now, Cella's heart pounded while she waited for them to order her to halt, and remove herself, but they did not. And as she reached the bottom of the staircase, she expected them to call out to her to come away, but they did not do that either. She was prepared to bolt and run if anyone else saw her there.

Cautiously, she went up the stairs. The entire place seemed deserted, even the fire that usually blazed brightly in the great hearth in the common room had burned down to embers, showing how long it had gone unattended. Everyone must be asleep, she hoped, or in their rooms.

For some reason, her heart seemed to beat even harder while she climbed the stairs and left the sentries farther behind. With trepidation filling her nearly to the point of paralysis, she lifted one foot after the other to the next step through sheer effort of will. It was helpful not to think about what, exactly, she was going to do when she reached the top. And it was not too late to run, if she completely lost her nerve.

Before she was ready to decide if she could truly bring herself to do such a daring thing as enter the Elfking's sleeping chambers uninvited, she was standing before his door. It was hard to believe that it was only the night before when she had been sleeping in there, without fear of discovery, and now here she was, on the outside, trying to get back in without anyone seeing her.

Should she knock first, or enter? Cella put her hand on the door handle and then removed it quickly, as if it had burned her fingers to touch it. Before deciding what to do next, she put her ear to the wood and listened. With her eyes closed and her breath held, she stood still for several minutes until she determined that there was nothing to hear. As she leaned there, she felt her head swim a bit with drowsiness, and she had to stand up straight and shake herself awake.

Now she had to make the decision. Turn and leave? Knock or enter? She knocked. As she waited, her heart, which had calmed down when she had tried to hear through the door, now began hammering again as she anticipated the Elfking opening it and seeing her there. But there was no answer. She turned the handle slowly, pushed the door open, and peeked inside. It appeared that the room was empty. She took a deep breath and opened the door wider only to see that the bed was empty, the canopy's curtains were pulled back all the way on both sides, and the covers were not mussed.

The sound of voices from somewhere on the lower level made Cella jump, and she quickly stepped into the room and shut the door behind her. Had someone heard her sneaking into the royal chambers? Or had the door-guards reported her? She cracked the door open and listened for a moment before closing it again. She had heard nothing this time. However, if it was the Elfking, he might be coming up those stairs to his chambers right now, and his footsteps would be silent as he approached, as all Elves were. What would he do if he came in and found her standing there waiting for him? What if he asked her to leave? He might do that if she did not think of a way to convince him not to.

Now that Cella had made up her mind, she could think of no better place to lose her innocence with King Thranduil than right here in this room, and she was determined to do her best to accomplish that goal. She felt it was either now, or, possibly, never.

Within seconds, Cella had removed her dress and slipped under the blankets of the enormous bed in which she felt safer than anywhere else in the world. She shook with excitement while she reached out and pulled the canopy curtains next to her head half-way closed, to conceal her presence, and waited.

Smiling to herself as she imagined the surprise, and she hoped delight, on Thranduil's face when he found her hiding there, she lay down on the pillows, hugging one of them against her cheek, and closed her eyes. And feeling happier than she thought a human had the right to feel, she fell asleep.

To be continued in Chapter 21

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Posted: October 2, 2004

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"Long live Thranduil, great Elf-king of Greenwood!"