The King's Vineyard, Chapter 28
|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|
As Cella was introduced to her new life among the Elves, she did not lose her sense of wonder for a long time. The grand interior of the Elfking's halls had been a surprise. And as she traveled deeper within them, her surroundings continuously provided an otherworldly sensation that was unrelieved by anything familiar to her mortal senses. And she was constantly nagged with inner questions that she was too shy to ask her Elleth guide, Lothriel.
Her history lessons from Thaladir had not covered the method of the construction of the halls; she was only told that they were built after the Dark Lord had entered Dol Guldur. His evil influence had driven the southern Wood-elves to eventually cross over the northern mountains of the Great Greenwood, where they settled here between the two rivers.
The overall scale and scope of the initial building of this underground realm was nearly beyond the reach of her imagination. It made her dizzy just thinking of how many hands were employed, how much stone was carved into and removed, and how much time it must have taken to make it as perfect as it appeared.
Once they had climbed the long stairs and entered through the last corridor into the great hall, where the Elfking had parted ways with her, she could tell that Elves had more influence here than below. And even her untrained eye and unlearned mind could tell there was a difference in the manner of architecture in these upper areas of the caves. Where before the lines of the pillars and arches were simple and symmetrical almost to the point of severity, here the shapes were softened and curved.
Below, the polished walls were otherwise left unadorned so that the beauty of the stone and its variety of colors stood out, but up here, more often that not, the walls, arches, and pillars were embellished with delicate carvings or covered in banners and tapestries.
Lothriel explained that they were now in Thranduil's palace, which was only one part of his underground realm. This was one of the first areas to be completed, and the Elves were always making improvements to the royal surroundings, in loving service to their monarch. Even after all these centuries, the caves of the Elfking were a work in progress.
As Cella was led through many torch-lit passages, and up and down short flights of stairs, she felt more and more like she was back in the Elves' living area in the vineyard mansion. The walls here were clad in polished wood, the floors covered by carpets, and there were tapestries hanging everywhere. The biggest difference was the lack of windows, but the halls were not gloomy or dark.
Every surface that was capable of reflection had been polished to a mirror-like finish. And the burning torches made no smoke, or smell. The fabric of the wall hangings had glittering threads woven within them, and their jewel-toned colors seemed to glow and give life to the scenes they depicted. Cella's fingers itched to reach out and touch them.
There were niches carved into the walls of the passages that were strategically placed along the way. These either contained vases with autumn foliage, or green growing plants that sweetened the air. Every few steps Cella took revealed something new and beautiful to be amazed by.
But when Lothriel opened the door to what Cella assumed would be a modest guest room, she balked at the door, startled into stillness. Instead of a simple room with a bed, and possibly a table with chairs, she was led into another enormous hall that was large enough to have contained the home she and her uncle shared at the vineyard. And as richly decorated as if it were meant for a member of royalty.
"This is my room?" Cella's voice echoed and startled her. It was not a sense of unease that gripped her, or fear. Reality had yet to meet expectation once she had crossed the bridge into the Elfking's world, and every thing she saw was a marvel. But this was beyond a dream, the first glance of her chambers. This was not a room meant for a mere human to inhabit, if it could be called a room. This was a arrangement meant for the high-born, for the worthy and deserving, and not the small and common such as her. The air felt chilly and she hugged herself as she followed the Elleth.
Although Lothriel assured Cella that her chambers were no more unusual in their size and appearance from most other guest suites in the halls, she still felt overwhelmed by the grandeur of what was mere ordinary existence to the Elves.
The floors were not carpeted in this main room, which Lothriel referred to as a reception area, and it had round pillars in the center and stone benches along two walls, but no other furniture. There were potted yew plants in the corners of the room and the air was filled with their green fragrance. There were doors against a far wall that Cella assumed led to other rooms.
To Cella's ears, her footsteps echoed loudly around her as she walked around staring, even Lothriel's quieter feet behind her were audible. She was so overwhelmed by the size and scale of the palatial accommodations that she was almost afraid to speak again, for fear her voice would bounce around the pillars several times before stopping. Her hands and nose felt as cold as if she was outdoors on a cloudy day and she was glad she had the thick leggings on.
There was an enormous fireplace that took up one wall with a merrily burning blaze within it. It must have only recently been lit, and was doing its best to warm up the cavernous area, but its effect was barely noticeable. As she expected, the doors led to other rooms and Cella followed behind the Elleth as she took her through them. There was a large sitting room, a formal dining room, and a bedroom that took her breath away.
It had not only a bed and a table, but there was a couch, chairs, and a desk, and, most marvelous of all to her, another fireplace, but this one was making a difference in the temperature and she began to feel more comfortable almost at once. And there was a carpet again, which cushioned her footsteps so that they did not make any noise as she crossed the floor.
As soon as Lothriel closed the door behind them, and shut out the echoing pillared chamber, Cella felt much better. This room was smaller than all of the others so far, and it felt much warmer and cozier.
"The Elfking treats his guests very regally, I see," breathed Cella as she sat on the couch and stared at her surroundings, dazed by the spaciousness and luxury of the Elfking's caves. There was a knock at the door, and Lothriel opened it and greeted Elves bearing covered but delicious smelling trays. They entered silently and spread their burden on the table by the fireplace. Cella was grateful that she did not have to eat in the larger dining room.
The amount she was served seemed more fitting for a large family and she hoped she could convince the Elves to not waste so much food on her after this one time. Perhaps they thought she was a hobbit? There were plates and platters and bowls filled with savory concoctions both hot and cold. Besides them there were loaves of bread and small mountains of butter and a large pot of honey to smear over the top of it all. And a small jug of wine.
The sight of all the food she was expected to eat nearly took her appetite away, but once she tasted the delicious fare, she was able to make a noticeable dent in the piles. She asked for tea instead of wine, and was swiftly served a pot with ceramic cups, which were a novelty for her. But then everything she saw, felt, and used was a novelty so far.
Lothriel would not sit and eat with her, but she stayed in the room and kept her company. It was a bit unnerving at first, as the Elleth hovered about silently. And after the interruption by the tray-bearing Elves, it felt as if they had to start over again with feeling comfortable together.
But Cella grew used to her presence and finally asked her some more polite questions about life in the halls. She was tempted to inquire about the existence of an Elfqueen, but she did not want the Elleth to think she was overly interested in Thranduil's private life, at least not yet. Cautiously, she asked about her accommodations. She wondered out loud where her uncle would sleep, when he finally arrived, as there only seemed to be the one bedroom.
"Your uncle will have his own private chambers, my lady," replied the Elleth,
"My lady?" Cella repeated back, astonished, and immediately thought of Legolas's words to her earlier, when she had called him 'my lord', and knew now how he felt then. "I am not a la...," she started to say, and then stopped. "Please," she said, after a moment's thought. "Could you call me Cella? I would like that."
"Cella?" The Elleth's normally serene features faltered for a moment. She composed her features quickly, and then asked, "His Majesty said that your name was Celiel, was that not correct?"
"Yes, of course, he is always correct!" cried Cella, then paused a moment and added. "Or he thinks that he is, anyway."
At this reply, Lothriel frowned slightly, but Cella explained further, "What I mean is, Celiel is actually not my real name, either. It isn't my birth name, I should say. But His Majesty knows that, my uncle did tell him."
To her surprise, the Elleth smiled with relief and stated that she did not know that mortals had birth names and then chosen names, which was how Elves named their own children and themselves. She asked why Cella referred to herself as Cella, and not Celiel.
It was not easy to explain that her name was really only a childhood pet name, meant as a joke. Lothriel understood this quite well and told her that nicknames for adult Elves were not unheard of. Sometimes, adult Elves had names chosen for them that were descriptive of some aspect of their character, very similar to what her father had done with her name, 'running daughter'.
In fact, Elves sometimes had several names in a lifetime, and then returned to their birth name after trying on all the rest. According to Lothriel, the father and mother can both give a baby Elf two different names at birth. When they were older, but not yet adult, Elves chose their own name and it was announced during a ceremony to commemorate the occasion.
While they talked, the Elleth had at last accepted an invitation to sit at the table, and share the tea. Cella told her that most mortals were named by their mothers at birth and kept their first name for life. And then she explained how her father's fascination with Elves and their customs led him to playfully give her the elvish sounding name when she was still very little.
"When mortals are children, it is customary to shorten their names, or to give them pet names, and then call them by their whole first names again when they are adults."
"You did not choose your own name as yet?" Lothriel asked. She was politely curious and Cella began to feel more comfortable as they talked about the different customs they either shared or at least understood about each other's given or chosen names. Despite the differences, there were a lot of ways that names were the same no matter who had them, or how they decided on them.
For her part, Cella hoped that she had provided enough information, because she could think of no good reason why the members of her own race did some of the things they did. She could only guess.
"Have you met many mortals?" she asked. Lothriel smiled and told her that she had actually lived with them, once, but she did not volunteer more information.
"We do not often receive guests to the palace," the Elleth added after a moment. "And we have never had a mortal living here with us."
This information stunned Cella almost as much as the grandeur of her chambers and, after she recovered enough, she looked around her again with a new perspective. She was the first human to see these walls, these floors, this ceiling, and everything contained within them. It was a glorious feeling, but she could not shake the thought that she was undeserving of the privileges that came to her only from her relation to the Royal Court Vintner.
And, although Cella felt honored to be the first mortal guest in the Elfking's halls, she wished she had more of them for company. Ingarde and Milda would be overjoyed to see all of this. She missed them and her uncle, now that she was finally settling in. It seemed to her that there were too many good things for her to appreciate by herself, they would be better if shared and it made it harder to absorb the experience all alone. The Elves took it all for granted, or so it appeared to her.
She was informed that the guest rooms were built long ago, in anticipation of visitors from the other Elven realms. However, the long fearful years of oppression during the Dark Lord's inhabitation of Dol Guldur had prevented easy travel into and out of the great forest. Lothriel admitted that she had never yet heard of a mortal having ever asked to be invited into Thranduil's halls, but that did not mean it would never happen.
After her table was cleared, Cella stood and remembered the promise of a soak in hot water to help her aching legs, which had stiffened up painfully while she had sat at her meal. But she did not know if she should ask about it now or just wait. It was so difficult to know what was impolite and what was expected of her in this strange new world she had entered.
A bath in the vineyard meant a bit of work had to be done first to heat the water and fill a tub, which she was willing to do for herself here if she was shown where to go to begin. There were other doors that led to rooms yet to be explored. Maybe Lothriel would leave her alone and she could look in them. Even though these were supposed to be her rooms, she still felt inhibited from relaxing fully while the Elleth stood by.
Wistfully, she wondered if the Elfking would have offered to lay his healing hands on her sore legs if she had not have been so bold with him for the past few days, and wished he would do so anyway. The idea of his touching her again, even if only to help ease the discomfort, sent a wave of heat through her. It persisted no matter how hard she tried to stop thinking about it.
"Would you like to see where the Court Vintner will be staying?" Lothriel's question caught her off-guard, and it took a moment for Cella to realize who she was talking about, but she did very much want to know where Uncle Dwain would be sleeping and she hoped his chambers were as nice, if not nicer, than hers were. The Elleth led her through one of the mysterious doors and the first thing Cella noticed was the sound of pouring water coming from someplace nearby. It gave her an excuse to bring up the bath.
"Where can I wash my face and hands, please?" she asked. Lothriel led her to another door, and when it was opened, Cella gasped. It was a bathing room, not as large as the Elfking's was back at the vineyard, but much more lovingly and cleverly constructed. The bathtub itself was as large as a small pond and was carved right into the stone. It sat in its own little alcove and was illuminated with several small earthen-ware lamps placed in niches or upon small ledges that burned sweet-smelling oil. There were no torches in this room.
Fresh water flowed into the tub continuously, and a slight bitter smell indicated that a hot spring was being used to heat the bath naturally. There were outlets that poured two separate streams of water into the large basin, and another one that carried the used water into a drain in the floor. A mist rose from the swirling surface.
There were stacks of towels, washing cloths, and cakes of soap on shelves carved into the walls. And lined along one edge of the bath were mysterious bottles and jars. The clear glass revealed different colored fluids that interested Cella even more than the prospect of soaking in the unusual bathtub.
As she stepped further into the room, Cella realized that the floor was made of narrow wood planks, and there was enough space between each board to carry any dripped or splashed water away from the surface to prevent slippery puddles.
Cella could not wait to undress and try it all out, but felt shy to do so with someone else in the room. There was a smaller basin, obviously meant for personal washing, sitting on a ledge near the tub. Lothriel filled it using a small jug that she dipped into the bathwater and then stepped away and stood by in her usual silence.
While Cella cleaned her face and hands, she promised herself to come back here first as soon as she could convince the Elleth to leave her alone. They left the marvelous bathing room and went back out into the pillared reception area. The fireplace had finally warmed the large room and it did not seem as cavernous anymore.
They were about to enter through the door that Lothriel said would lead to her uncle's chambers when a familiar voice from behind them made Cella gasp as joy pulsed through her entire body like a shock-wave.
"Are you comfortable in your new home, firiel?" Cella whirled to greet Thranduil while Lothriel automatically dipped into a curtsey.
"Yes, Majesty," she choked out as she tried to imitate the Elleth's graceful dip.
Thranduil smiled warmly and spoke to Lothriel in their own tongue, and too swiftly for Cella to follow. Not that she cared at the moment. He had been transformed since she had last seen him, and she could only gaze at him in awe.
The Elfking's usual dark green tunic and black leggings had been replaced with regal embellished garments more fitting for a monarch in his palace. These were made of the same soft fabric and in the identical forest green hue as her borrowed clothes were. Cella almost giggled when a picture of the two of them standing side by side entered unbidden into her thoughts. And then she thought of a shorter Legolas wearing the matching suit in her stead, and this made a nicer and much more sensible image.
However, Thranduil's tunic was cut differently; it was longer, to his thighs, with shorter sleeves and he wore a linen shirt beneath it. And, although it was embroidered with the same silver threads as hers was, that glimmered in the torchlight, it was not nearly as fanciful. Instead of the ornately fashioned designs her clothing bore, there were only a few slender vines bearing gracefully curved leaves stitched across the front of his tunic and at the edges of his collar and sleeves.
His shining mane of hair had been braided, but just enough to pull some of it away from his noble brow, which was adorned with a circlet of leaves and bright berries. Lothriel murmured something back to the Elfking and Cella could not really hear her over the roaring in her ears. She swung between feeling utterly humbled by his royal visage and demeanor and yet comforted by his familiar presence. He turned to her again.
"There is a lot to take in, Celiel, I know. But you will adjust," he said gently.
She had to wonder if he had read her thoughts, or if her current state of disorientation was written on her face in his sight. Another Elf had joined them as if he had appeared out of nowhere, carrying her gown, which had been cleaned. He handed the garment to Lothriel, after bowing to his monarch, and then left them as silently as he had come in.
At a gesture from the Elfking, Lothriel left them and returned into the bathing chamber. Cella was glad she was alone with the Elfking.
"How do your legs feel now?" Thranduil asked.
"A warm bath will help," she answered, while wishing that she had the courage to ask him to heal them, but she did not want to seem forward.
"Come," he said.
Cella followed him to one of the stone benches, and stood waiting as he sat down. He waved her to stand in front of him, and she shook slightly with anticipation as he positioned her even closer, with his hands on her waist. She did not have to ask him to help her, after all, and she blessed whatever gods there were who might have intervened on her behalf.
Tears of gratitude filled Cella's eyes as his hands moved slowly down over her hips and thighs. She remembered how embarrassed she had felt the first time he had touched her, and healed her, this way, but this time she watched. The odd tingling sensation his touch evoked eased the stiffness and aching from the horse ride almost instantly. By the time he reached her knees, she felt normal again.
She wiped the unshed tears away, and smiled down into his eyes as she thanked him. But she decided not to back away so he could stand up. He would have to move her or ask her to move. Instead, he smiled back at her and patted the bench beside him. She sat, foiled in her plan, but happy enough to be invited to sit with him not to care.
"My subjects," he told her, "are anxious to have a feast to formally welcome you to my palace as our newest resident."
"Your subjects? All of them?" Normally, such a statement would strike terror in her shy heart, but, as Cella imagined those solemn Elves in their regal robes clamoring for a merry feast, she felt amused instead.
It was such an absurd notion that she felt doubtful, but she had no reason to contradict the Elfking's words. If he said it was so, then it must be true. But Thranduil chuckled as if hearing her thoughts, which she was starting to suspect was the case.
"No," he replied, still smiling. "In truth, only one of them, but a very important one, has made this request. However, many have agreed with his proposition." He cocked his head slightly and regarded her before asking, "Do you think you would enjoy attending such an event, or would you prefer to rest here this evening with Lothriel for company?"
It was a hard decision, and one that Cella had never believed she would have even considered at one time in her life. An invitation to any type of gathering would normally have filled her with dread. But she wished to be with these Elves as they feasted, and the prospect made her feel happy, and not afraid. She wondered who the very important Elf was who had made the request.
"Yes, Sire," she said at last. "I think I would like very much to attend a feast in your palace."
"Very good," the Elfking answered as he stood. "You will make my son very happy. He is always trying to think of a reason for a feast."
Legolas, then, was the important Elf. It figured and Cella laughed to think she was an excuse for merrymaking, but she enjoyed knowing she would be making the charming Elfprince happy. And that she would be at a feast with his father as well.
To be continued in Chapter 29
Posted: November 12, 2004
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"Long live Thranduil, great Elf-king of Greenwood!"