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The King's Vineyard, Chapter 29

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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It made Cella a little sad when Thranduil left her, after escorting her back to the bathing chamber, and went off about his business in the palace. Before he bade her farewell, he had advised her to nap after her bath, for his feasts were known to stretch long into the night, and she would need her rest.

And it was difficult to have him near to her, so irresistible and so close that she could reach out and touch him. But she did not have enough courage to do more than smile into his eyes as he stood near her.

It was even more difficult to watch him walk away.

She had a pleasant surprise waiting for her in the bathing chamber that helped soothe her feelings of loneliness. Lothriel had closed the water valves temporarily, so that the water in the tub was no longer filling and emptying itself. Instead the steaming pool was still, and there was a new fragrance in the air.

The Elleth explained that she had added some special oils to treat the water with, which would make a mortal's skin feel softer and healthier after soaking in it for a while, and some special mineral salts had been included to help the aches and stiffness from the horse ride. She was apparently not aware that the Elfking had already taken care of that problem, and Cella did not mention it.

The water had a different color to it now. The salts had made it cloudy and blue-tinged and the surface bore a rainbow-colored iridescent sheen that was highlighted by the glow of the ceramic lamps with their flickering flames. Because the oil would stay on top of the water, Cella's hair was arranged to stay up off her shoulders as she soaked.

Even though the king had healed Cella's aching legs, it still felt marvelous to be wrapped in the silken-textured heated water when she finally got into the tub, after Lothriel discreetly stepped out of the room while she undressed. It was a new habit, to bathe daily, but it had been easy to grow accustomed to at the vineyard.

Even though Cella looked forward to putting on her dress again, she also hoped she would get to keep the fancy riding clothes. Lothriel had asked her to leave them in the bath chamber where they would be retrieved for cleaning. The Elfking had said something about how they would have taken a bit of work to fit her, but she did not know if that was an observation or a promise.

The Elleth left behind a robe for her to wear after her bath, instead of getting dressed again. It hung on a hook and appeared to be made out of the same type of absorbent material that the towels and cloths were.

Lothriel had advised Cella to open the valves again when she was done soaking, to clear out the oil and refresh the warm water. After she had done this, she took her hair down. If she sat at a certain angle, the mixed flow of hot and cold water merged together right over her head and poured over her like a warm waterfall.

The tub was deep and she floated around and swam more than she sat in it. There was a ledge carved out for sitting, and the interior was slanted to assist with the draining system. This made one side deeper than the other. If she slipped off the seat, she could sink almost all the way beneath the surface. The feeling of weightlessness was new for her and she could have stayed in the tub for much longer if her skin would not wrinkle because of it.

Even though the heated water had a slightly odd odor, considering its mineral origins, the perfumed scent of the lamp's oil, along with the various bath additives, made the pungent odor easier to bear. She soon grew used to the smell and did not notice it anymore. It came back into her nostrils with the fresh flow and she had to get used to it all over again, but she considered the temporary discomfort a small price to pay for how it felt.

Finally she picked up a bar of soap and began to wash; the smooth texture of her skin was a surprise. She ran her fingers over her arms and then over her shoulders, which were the only parts within reach and above water. Was her whole body like this now?

After sitting back on the ledge, she could explore more of this marvelous new skin she had, and as she watched her fingers skim over her breasts, she thought about Thranduil's hand there, instead of hers. The nipples stiffened, and she bit her lip and tried to stop thinking about him. But she could not, even after she sank back under the water to her chin, and stopped touching herself at all.

Oh, but how wonderful it would have been if the Elfking was there, in the bath, with her. It was as if she had no will left within her, now that she was within the walls of his palace, to prevent her thoughts from wandering to him, and his presence swam firmly into her mind. Every detail of his handsome face was clear and distinct in her mind, as she had wished it to be the night before. She allowed her thoughts to flow freely now.

What, exactly, would happen if he had been next to her, at this moment, and naked? She groaned as she almost tortured herself by imagining him washing her with his bare hands. However, what such behavior would lead to in the end was mostly a mystery. Not that she was unwilling to find out. At least he might kiss her again.

Would he come to her if she called him here? She knew he would not, but giggled to imagine him engrossed in some important meeting with one of the sober-faced grandly-robed Elves and suddenly seeing her beckoning to him from the bathtub. It was a childish notion, she realized, to think it would be that easy, or that he would actually see her like that, like a picture in his mind.

And furthermore, he would be constantly interrupted in his thoughts if he had to see every idea that everyone had about him as they happened. No, Cella, she chided herself. Do not play with this fire. He would probably consider any message she could manage to send to be as desirable as a buzzing fly about his face. And there was still the matter of the Elfqueen to be considered.

And Cella had no difficulty imagining an amazingly beautiful willowy-figured Elleth seated next to Thranduil in a throne room. If there was a wife for the King here after all, then what she was thinking was worse than playing with fire, it was asking for heartbreak. And for being thought a fool. She could not think anymore about him being married, it was already beginning to hurt.

Quickly then, she washed her hair with a scented soapy liquid from the bottle Lothriel had pointed out to her and rinsed it under the tub's waterfall. From nowhere tears came, as she faced the fact that the king certainly was wed, and happily so, and she was already a fool for coming here with him. She knew she was being silly, no one here knew how she felt about him, and he would never say anything, she knew that without having to be told.

But once they had started, the tears would not stop, and she actually forgot the possible Elfqueen for a while. She let all the rest of the stifled emotions and pent up grief trapped within her pour out while she was in the safety and privacy of the bathing room. It helped that she was under the cover of the water's steady falling noise, too, which hid her sobs. She felt very alone.

And even though her eyes were closed when she heard Thranduil's voice say her name, "Celiel," she knew he was not in the room with her. It came from deep within her and resonated outwards, and it calmed her immediately. In much the same way his physical presence always did.

He was aware of her sorrow and did not want her to feel sad anymore. Without any further words spoken on his part, she nonetheless felt calmer. All of that had been expressed just in the way he had said her name.

And she replied, out loud, "I am alright now, Sire," knowing that he would hear her. So abruptly did she feel better that she sat puzzled and disoriented for a moment as she tried to recall what she was doing in a tub.

He had meant to comfort her, and had, but it was a little spooky too, when she let the full impact of actually having heard him speaking to her sink in. And then it dawned on her that it was not her desires that had reached him, but her sadness, and her loneliness.

It made Cella feel cared for, that he had reached out to her that magical way, and more than a little guilty. She assumed that she must have been an interruption to Thranduil's attention, which was better served by being intruded on for emergencies only. And then, before she could even feel much guiltier for that, another wave of reassurance resonated through her, only it was more a sensation than spoken words, like an echo of his voice.

Smiling to herself, Cella yawned with drowsiness, the hot soak and the tears combined had made her feel weary. It was time to get out of the bath and take her nap, she concluded. Although none of her problems were solved, she did not feel as anxious or upset about her future beyond climbing into her new bed. She knew she was not being ignored, or neglected, or abandoned here in some sort of fancy cage.

She forgot why she had started crying and wondered if her eyes and nose were all red and ugly. If Lothriel was waiting for her, she would wonder about it, and maybe talk about her to the other Elves.

Before she climbed out of the wonderful bath, she held her face to the water's cold side in the streams, and let it flow over her eyes to cool them off. The chilly water spilled over her neck and chest, and made her shiver, but it felt refreshing.

The robe was soft, and Cella could tell it was made for an Elleth by the way the sleeves covered her fingertips, but the hem length was good, it only skimmed across the floors. Lothriel was in her bedchamber, waiting for her, and promised she would return to wake her and help her dress for the feast.

And Cella believed she would lie for hours, tossing and turning, as she tried to adjust to sleeping in strange surroundings, while tormenting herself with images of the Elfking and his possible Queen. But she was asleep almost as soon as she put her face on her pillow.

The first thing the Elfprince did, after greeting Cella merrily and stating his intention to escort her to the feast, was to take her by the hand and twirl her around so that her skirt flew in a circle. He pronounced her 'feast-worthy', and congratulated Lothriel on her hairdressing skills after the carefully crafted arrangement on Cella's head stayed in place. It was hard not to feel happy when he was near.

As they walked through the corridors, Legolas announced proudly to her, "I have decided that I was right all along, although I had almost been fooled by your disguise. But I am certain now that I know the truth. You can no longer hide your identity from me." At this odd accusation, Cella could do no more than open her mouth in an effort to profess her innocence, but before any words could form, he kept talking.

"I should have stayed with my first impression, I am happy to say. One should always stick with their first guess, I suppose." Even though his words were slightly ominous, he was so obviously teasing her with them that Cella could only smile and wait to hear what his conclusion of her 'true' identity turned out to be.

"It is obvious to me," he continued, "or to anyone else with two eyes, that you really are a wood-sprite, and your habit of persistently dressing in green only further confirms my suspicions. Do you deny it?" It was not hard at all for Cella to be alone with him, and she had no feeling of shyness when she replied to him.

"The Elves at the vineyard made this dress for me," she said. But she did not add anything about why it was made.

"Ah, that is your story then, is it?" He chuckled and shook his finger at her. "It is no use denying the truth, little wood-sprite. I have just spent the day with ada, who is clearly under an enchantment, completely bewitched, so it is of no further use to pretend otherwise."

"Legolas, I am not pretending anything," Cella replied as politely as she could, although it was difficult not to giggle at his mock stern expression. "Pray tell, what must I do to convince you otherwise?"

"Now we are getting somewhere!" exclaimed Legolas happily. "You will have to admit you have cast a spell on my father."

"What do you mean?" she asked, and suddenly faltered. "Is there something wrong? What has happened to him?" Her thoughts raced. She felt a rush of dizziness at wondering if Thranduil had taken ill. But Legolas would not act so cheerful if that was the case.

Then her stomach sank even more when it occurred to her that somehow, in some way, the business in the bathing chamber may have been broadcast throughout the realm. She stopped smiling and felt weak in her knees as she waited for his response. They had walked through the corridors for what felt like leagues, but now she could hear music, and a murmur of voices ahead. Were they all discussing her, and her bath?

"What has happened to him?" The Elfprince repeated her words back to her as if he was astonished she would say them. He rolled his eyes and then clucked his tongue, "Now, now," he continued. "I am the one asking the questions here, did you forget that?" He tapped the tip of her nose. "I am asking you. Now, what happened to him, explain yourself."

"Me?" Cella sighed with relief, he was only being silly, and she had to learn to tell the difference. The aroma of the meal floated around them now, and the sounds of the Elves at feast grew louder. "But, what have I done?"

"Yes, that too, that too," he agreed. "What have you done?" Now Cella had to laugh, but more with how nonsensical the whole conversation had become. The Elfprince was not put off a bit by her mirth and continued with his interrogation. "More importantly," he asked, "how did you do it? And can you teach me?" His voice had dropped to a mock whisper, as if afraid of being overheard, but he did not seem surprised at all when he was interrupted by a familiar voice.

"Man anirach istad, ion?" [What do you desire to know, son?]

The Elfking appeared from nowhere, and was right beside them. As quickly as she could, Cella tried to remember every word that she and Legolas had said as they had walked along.

"Will you give me a moment alone with our guest?" While he spoke to his son, Thranduil offered his elbow to Cella. Legolas nodded and gracefully bowed to them both, and then left them alone. All of a sudden, Cella did feel shy, and a touch embarrassed.

"Your Majesty, I don't know what to say," she murmured, eyes down.

"Do not say anything, then, for it is I who wish to speak to you."

"Yes, My Lord." She felt chastened and a bit fearful of what he was going to say to her.

"You do not have to fear me," he said.

"I know." But, she felt as if she had been hit by a bolt of lightning; he had heard her thought. She did not even have to try. With his finger, Thranduil tipped her chin up so that she had to face him and without meaning to, she spoke again, "I am trying not to fear you, Sire, but it isn't easy." The truth sprang out from her lips as it always did when she looked into his eyes, unbidden and uncensored. He smiled.

"It is not often that we have mortals visit within our halls," he told her as he released her chin. "But, I think it important for you to know something that I have not mentioned." He led her a little distance away from the corridor where the Elfprince had left them, but not so far away that she could not hear the music, and laughter.

"Now that you are within my realm," he said, "and under my roof, none of your thoughts are hidden from me. Nor are you capable of hiding them from me, if I choose to pursue them, even if you wished to do so." He paused, and she absorbed the information. It was not a complete shock, but it was not something she heard every day either.

"I am more than just a king in name, firiel," he continued. "I am my forest, my rivers, and my caves. Along with them I carry every Elf, tree, bird, beast, tree and flower within me. I draw strength from my realm and bestow that energy back into it, like a breath, or a pulse." He stopped walking and they stood facing each other.

As Cella looked into his eyes, she felt as she was looking into a deep well filled with all of the ancient secrets of the world, as yet to be revealed, but there for anyone brave enough to dive in and risk searching. She was stunned into silence. He took her hand into his and held it gently.

"To give vent now and then to feelings, whether of pleasure or discontent, is a great ease to a mortal's heart, this I know. And Elves know sorrow; know grief, pain, loneliness, and so you should not feel ashamed to have those feelings in my home. You are entitled to feel safe here, which is what I have promised both you and your uncle."

As he spoke, Cella's heart lightened with gratitude. She had fully expected a scolding, and not the gentle tone he was taking.

"I have not had much experience with mortals and their emotions," he said. "However, I believe it is true for all of the children of Ilúvatar that suffering disappears only after it is yielded to -- even sorrow. Emotion turning back on itself, and not leading on to some kind of thought or action, is an invitation to madness."

The way Thranduil pronounced the word 'madness' made a shiver run down Cella's spine, as if he had been a victim of it, or perhaps maddened himself by some grief that he could neither think about nor act upon. In either instance, he had suffered.

From deep within her womanly heart came an ache that would only be eased by offering comfort to him, if he had been wounded. But she kept her hands, at least, to herself as she stood quietly. Stubbornly, she continued loving him with all of her heart, hoping that much, at least, could reach within and heal him. His smile brightened, and his eyes twinkled as if was about to laugh.

"And your thoughts are written on your face as ever," he said. "So it is rarely necessary to pursue them much deeper. Furthermore," he continued, as he led her back to the feast, "I am fairly certain that your feelings of loneliness will diminish soon. I have just had word that your uncle's leg is saved, and he and the rest of my subjects, will be headed home on the morrow." At the happy news, Cella could not help but hug his elbow, and briefly lay her cheek on his arm as she thanked him for telling her.

When they entered the large, noisy, Elf-filled hall, Cella was overwhelmed by the sights and sounds inside. The atmosphere of merriment and joy was like a wave that washed over her as the Elfking's subjects welcomed him to his feast with a mighty roar. She nearly flung herself at Legolas when he approached them, so relieved was she to see a familiar face.

"Ada, I am beginning to believe," Legolas said in a scolding tone, "that you are attempting to starve this wood-sprite into submission. The poor thing, look at how hungry she is." Without much effort, Thranduil gave up Cella's arm to his son, who led her to her place of honor and seated himself next to her. Platters of food and bowls of wine were quickly set before them. She wondered if it would be rude to ask for tea to drink.

"I see you have renewed your enchantment," he whispered while nodding towards the Elfking, who stood at a little distance from the table, speaking to an Elf. Cella shook her head, confused and uncertain as to what the Prince was trying to point out to her.

"Why do you say so?" She kept her own voice to a whisper while she asked. "His Majesty appears perfectly normal to me, if that is a proper thing to say about a King."

"It is very proper," Legolas assured her, "But ada is not his normal self." The Prince was looking at his father as he spoke and she followed his eyes back to the Elfking as well, but had to admit that she was mystified.

"He is smiling," explained the Elfprince, as if it was the most unusual thing he had ever seen.

To be continued in Chapter 30

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Posted: November 19, 2004

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