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The King's Vineyard, Chapter 24

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.
Feedback: Please sign our guestbook or write to to thaladir@yahoo.com

"In a way, you speak the truth, and indeed you are not a child. I did not mean to say that you are," the Elfking replied to Cella's declaration of adulthood. "For in the eyes of other mortals, you are a woman." His deflating answer indicated that he had not understood at all what she had meant by her remark. Or, he had understood, but was not moved in the direction she had wished he would move. It was up to her, she understood instantly, to find a way to close the gap between them.

Although she nodded silently, as if in agreement, Cella was barely listening to his words. She pulled her eyes away from him and stared into the dimly glowing remains of the dying fire. She knew that she had no one to blame but herself for being seen, and treated, as a child.

And it was only after she had told Thranduil that she was not a child anymore that Cella seemed to fully realize it herself. She was a grown woman. But it did not seem to make her current situation any easier. He was sitting so close that she could reach him with only a few steps, and it was dark, and they were alone.

However, he may as well have been sitting on top of the Lonely Mountain, while she sat at its base, for they were that far apart. Actually, it was a distance so vast that it could not be measured by any amount of space in between them. It was the distance between the sun and the earth.

If she wanted this handsome Elf to see her as a woman, she had to behave like one. She decided that now was the perfect opportunity to try something truly daring,; she would attempt to send him a message without words. A very clear message.

But she was not sure how to do it. A shiver ran through her, and she pulled the cloak more tightly around her shoulders. As if waiting for her to give such a signal, the Elfking rose and tended to the dying campfire. There was a tidy pile of branches nearby, which the Wood-elves had gathered earlier, and after he raked together the last of the glowing embers out of the ashes of the campfire, he placed a few of the smallest pieces of wood on top of them, which quickly ignited.

Cella's chilled face and exposed fingers felt the difference within moments. A few more branches were laid on the blaze, and she stretched her hands out to meet the warmth. The flames did not frighten her, because they were contained in a ring of smooth stones collected from the river. And the Elfking was there.

"When are you going to tell me how Elves sleep differently?" she asked him. It was a question meant to stall for time. She needed to gather her nerve before she attempted to send him a picture with her mind, and she still had to decide what it was that she wanted him to see.

"I think you cannot sleep because you are far from your bed, rather than having any curiosity about the sleeping habits of Elves," he said as he finished laying the wood on the fire. "And you are probably feeling the effects of the natural tonic to the spirit that occurs from exposure to starlight and the music of my river," he added, while settling himself back down next to his tree. "It is useless to fight against it, I can see."

Cella looked up at the stars and wondered if he was right. She had not slept for very long on horseback, and she had barely slept at all the night before, so she should be tired now. But, she did not feel in the least bit weary. It was exhilarating to be out of doors in the dark.

Perhaps what she was feeling was nothing more than the enchantment of Thranduil's forest with its magical atmosphere. And because of that enchantment, she was not thinking clearly, and had allowed herself to be swept away into unknown and possibly dangerous territory, by her foolish heart.

She reminded herself about all of things she had sworn to do, if she could just get out of the Elfking's bedroom unseen, that dreadful morning of the fire. She had promised herself she was going to use her common sense, keep her feet planted, and not push herself on him. A sense of relief washed over her as she decided to stick with her resolutions, and be satisfied with enjoying his company while she had him to herself, instead of trying to provoke him with her thoughts.

"The stars are beautiful, My Lord, they do dazzle my eyes," she said. "Why do they look so much bigger and brighter here? I feel as if I could reach out and touch them, although they look like they might feel sharp, they glitter so fiercely." She stopped, feeling that she was babbling, and probably annoying to listen to.

Again, Thranduil was silent for a moment before he answered her, but she did not feel anxious during the pause. She was adjusting to his rhythm of conversation. Unlike Milda and Ingarde, who raced each other to respond to every question she asked, even if they did not know the answer, the Elfking naturally took his time before he spoke.

He finally explained, using his hands to help describe what he meant, about how the thick forest that surrounded the clearing provided a frame for the small patch of night sky over their heads, which magnified the brilliant points of light caught within it. She returned her eyes to the stars while she listened to him, and reveled in the way their glittering brilliance seemed to transport her out of her heavy earthbound self, and pull her upwards, as if she were flying.

It was the same way the Elfking's smile had made her feel at times, this light as a feather sensation. It made Cella feel cheerful enough to sing, and she had to stifle giggles that threatened to bubble up and out from within her. Over by his tree, sitting still as a stone, the Elfking's serene voice and patient tone seemed to challenge her.

And so she changed her mind about settling for enjoying his company, and decided that provoking him into action was exactly what she wanted to do, after all. Although she regarded it more as a test to see if she really could reach him with her thoughts, and break through that placid and unmovable exterior.

After Cella had learned that Thranduil could read her mind, or 'hear' her if she called, as he had put it, she had been careful to keep her thoughts about him as inoffensive and bland as she could, in case he accidentally 'overheard' them. She had already learned that it was not possible to never think about him, so that was out of the question. Instead, she monitored herself, and did not try to deliberately communicate directly with him through her mind.

Except for that one time when he had fled, after he had kissed her, and she had wanted him to return to her. He had not come back. Maybe she had not done it right? It had not been a proper test, she reasoned, because she knew at the time he would not respond. He might not respond to her tonight, either, but she decided that she was going to try it anyway.

At the very least, he would know how she felt about him, and how much she wanted to find a way across the enormous distance between them, or even to meet him halfway. And she knew that she had reached him, that he had heard her, once before. If she could just repeat those steps, would it work again?

As she pretended to be absorbed with star-gazing, she swiftly reviewed everything the Elfking had told her about hearing her thoughts when he had danced with her. He promised that he could only know what she wanted him to know. 'Do not fear me,' were his words. 'Your mind is safe from me. It will always be your choice for me to know your thoughts.'

On the night Gorst had hurt her, she had imagined the Elfking's face in her mind, in every detail. But she had done that many times before and since, and so she knew there was more to it than that. She had also wished for him to rescue her. Here, beside the campfire, she tried to calculate what part was most important and in what order she should proceed.

Should she start with imagining his face? Or, should she begin with a wish? What if it was necessary to do both of them at the same time? And what, exactly, did she want him to do? Perhaps she should start with something simple to begin with? Just a kiss? She closed her eyes, and tried it.

After a few moments, she learned that sending him a thought-picture wish for another kiss was not as easy as she had assumed it would be. What picture should she imagine? And then what should she wish for, exactly? Did she want him to leap up and grab her into his arms? No, she would rather he gently approached her. She shivered again, at the notion of him slowly drawing near to her. But, did she have to wish for it simultaneously with whatever she saw in her mind? And the fact that she could almost feel him sitting so near did not make it any easier.

Flustered from the effort, Cella opened her eyes, shook her head slightly, as if to shake off dust and cobwebs, and then looked over at the Elfking. The fire's glow illuminated him in a fascinating fashion. He was looking up at the night sky and the coppery light from the flames made his shimmering hair and perfect profile stand out in sharp contrast against the dark background of his tunic and the surrounding night and shadow. She studied his mouth, and knew what she had to do; she closed her eyes again and tried to recall what it felt like when he had kissed her.

But, what exactly should she remember? For some reason, she could not form a clear picture of his face while he kissed her. It must be because her eyes were closed at the time. Should she concentrate instead on how he had looked right before it, while he was lowering his face to hers? Did she really need to have a picture of his face in her mind?

Her mind seemed to flit from image to image, as if it had become a hopping toad instead of a thinking instrument. The harder she tried to settle on something in particular about the time he had kissed her, the vaguer all of it became. Her heart was pounding, too, as she anticipated how he was going respond, when she finally succeeded, if she could ever get her thoughts to calm down long enough and be still.

She let her breath out in an aggravated sigh and opened her eyes again.

"What is it?" asked the Elfking, not turning his face from the stars.

"Nothing important," she answered, and then added with a low chuckle. "I was just thinking about something you told me, about how our mortal minds work. I am finding out how true it is, what you said." He looked over toward her, with a puzzled expression.

"What did I say about mortal minds that would make you so agitated?" he asked.

"It was about how we can never keep them still." Cella shook her head, and accepted defeat for the time being. She obviously needed more practice on her own. Sending him a message with her thoughts was not going to work right now. "I think I am going to go to sleep," she added.

"Good," said Thranduil. "Sleep is... sleep is good." She nodded mutely in agreement and then, remembering her manners, murmured goodnight to him. With a sigh, she moved a short distance away from the fire and arranged herself, with the cloak wrapped around her, on the soft forest floor, lying on her side, facing away from him. She felt irritated, and more than a little out of sorts.

After a few moments, his last words to her finally reached her consciousness. 'Sleep is...," he had said, "sleep is good'. Why had he said that? 'Sleep is good'? What a thing to say! Of course sleep is good, was that ever in dispute? She thought about asking him what he meant by it, and then decided that he would think she had lost her mind. She would just be quiet instead. And not think about him anymore.

What else had he said? There was something else he mentioned that tickled around the edges of her mind. Oh yes, he had said something that she had found easy to disregard at the time, because she was so determined to change his mind. But now that she had given up that effort, she could not stop his words from returning, '...in the eyes of other mortals,' he had said, 'you are a woman'. In the eyes of other mortals.

She had not let the full importance of those words sink all the way in until now. He could only have meant one thing. In the eyes of the Elves, she was a child. Would always be a child, and would never be considered an equal. No matter how many years she had lived. She would always be a child in their eyes. And that hurt, because, sadly enough, she could provide no counter-argument.

According to the time line in the seneschal's history lessons, when he had told her and her friends about all the dark years of Mirkwood, the Elfking must be thousands of years old. In comparison to him, she was an infant. She imagined that he regarded her as a toddler, who needed picking up every time she fell.

No wonder he had withdrawn from her that night, after he had kissed her. Whatever desire he had felt for her must have disgusted him; she had seen that so clearly on his regretful face, but not until this minute did she realize what she had seen.

He would never come to her, could never come, and Cella burned inside as all of her romantic notions turned to ashes. What a cruel fate she had been born to endure. It did not seem right to be considered an untouchable child merely because she belonged to the wrong race. And she had no interest in those mortal men who did not see her as a child. She was doomed. Before she knew what was happening, or could do anything to stop it, her eyes filled and then spilled over with tears.

Furious with herself, she wiped at her cheeks and tried to stop the tears. It was hopeless. The best she could do was not to sob out loud. Her nose needed attention, and she had to breathe through her mouth to keep from sniffing as she reached down within the confines of the swaddling cloak. She was able to pull the hem of her dress up to her face for a makeshift handkerchief.

"Celiel, are you weeping?" The Elfking's voice cut through her grief and stopped her tears. But, she could not answer yet without her voice giving her away, so she could not immediately deny the truth, as she would have liked to have been able to do. It would take a few moments of stern inner lecturing before she could bring herself back under enough control to reply to him. "Are you unwell?" he asked her.

His beautiful voice sounded sincerely concerned about her welfare, which only made her feel sadder. Did he not know that when he spoke to her with such consideration, it only made her love him more? Must he always be so kind to her? She squeezed her eyes shut tight as a fresh wave of anguish swept through her. She knew, and with spirit-dulling certainty, that she would be forever denied his heart; it was off limits, unattainable. But she loved him so much that she could not possibly survive it.

It was sheer, blatant torture, to be so near him like this, and yet be so far apart. But she had some pride left, and she had to say something to satisfy his query. Cella steeled herself and forbade herself from showing any emotion in her voice when she replied.

"I am not unwell, Sire. I am missing my uncle," she lied. He would have to accept that answer, because it was not possible for her to say another word to him. Somewhere in the distance, an owl was calling, at least possibly an owl. Thranduil said nothing, and after a time she was able to calm down even more. It was not his fault he was so perfect and regal and lovable, and all at the same time. It was not her fault that she could not stop loving him. It was just... so... unfair.

And she wept again, even harder, and this time it was impossible to prevent herself from sniffling a little, even though she had the wadded-up hem of` her dress pressed to her face. And the thought of what the mangled up mess of her skirt was going to look like in the morning made her cry even harder. When she felt something touch her shoulder, she gasped and flipped over onto her back. The Elfking was crouched beside her, on one knee.

"Why are you weeping?" he asked again. "You must tell me. Are you in pain?" He looked worried, and she felt guilty.

After pulling the loose flap of his cloak over her face to hide from him, she answered, although it was a bit muffled, "I'm fine. Nothing is wrong, really." She held her breath and listened for him to move away, but she heard nothing. She refused to peek out to see what he was doing, even though she was tempted.

What did he expect her to say? 'I am crying because I love you, and it hurts knowing I can not ever have your love in return'? Just imagining saying that to him made the tears return. The soft suede of the cloak she hid beneath clung to her wet cheeks and she wondered if it would smother her if she did not move it away from her nose. The idea captivated her. She was willing to die for love.

The Elfking had other ideas. Slowly, he peeled the cloak away from her face, wiped the damp hair from her face and then studied her closely. Cella felt like she was being lifted from a swamp of misery that she had unwittingly stumbled into, and she could feel her battered spirit reviving, almost instantly. Whenever he touched her, it was a healing touch.

"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I really don't mean to be so bothersome. I was weeping, you were right. I feel sad, and I am not sure why."

"I do not believe you. You do know why," he replied. "Now, will you tell me?"

The truth left Cella's mouth before she could stop it, "I love you." She clapped her hand over her traitorous mouth and tried to turn her face to hide from him again. But Thranduil stopped her by placing his hand on her chin and gently turning her back to look at him. He smiled down at her, and she stopped feeling afraid. As long as he kept his fingers like that on her face, she would be fine.

"Do you think you have hidden your emotions from me tonight?" he asked, and then, softly, almost as a whisper, "Or your desires?" She moaned, and closed her eyes. If he would not let her hide, then she would shut him out of her sight. But he was not discouraged by her gesture.

"The life span of a mortal is akin to me as a shooting star is to you," he said. "And although all such mortal lives are brief, just like those falling stars, some are more brilliant than others." She opened her eyes again, and watched his face as he spoke to her. "I do not deny that I am tempted, and sorely tested, by that brilliance. But to capture a star to keep for my own is a sin, Celiel. Do you understand?"

Without speaking, she nodded, even though she did not understand at all. Was he saying again what he had said before, that it was wrong for him to desire her? How was that supposed to make anything better?

"But," she managed to say, "I still love you. And now you say that I have to suffer for being brilliant?" His reaction was swift, his eyebrows drew down and he shook his head, but before he could speak, she added, "Because that is how I feel, that I have to be denied what I desire, because you can not allow yourself to share what I desire with me."

"There is more to what you think you want than you can imagine," he answered firmly. At hearing those words, Cella abandoned every resolution she had made to use reason, and common sense, when dealing with the Elfking. And all the rest of the prohibitions she had placed on her behavior. She only knew that at some point, her heart took over, and overruled everything else within her.

"I know there is more than I can imagine," Cella admitted. "And it scares me to think of it. But, that does not stop me from imagining." Deliberately, she brought the kiss back into her memory, and relived it, looking into his eyes.

"Stop that," he said, and she could detect the strain beneath his words. "You do not know what you are doing."

"You are tempted by me," she said. "And I want you to love me, and that is all I know."

To be continued in Chapter 25

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Posted: October 20, 2004

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