The King's Vineyard, Chapter 30
|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|
Legolas suddenly turned wistful after telling her that to see his father smile was a rare event, and that Thranduil had been smiling, or just about to smile, all that day. It was a clear case of bewitchment, but he said nothing further about it being her doing.
"I have not seen him this lighthearted since, well, let me think, it must have been before the dragon came," he informed her. "Of course, there was that little period of time right after the great battle in Dale when he walked around with a lightened step for a while. Proud of himself then, I must say."
He was no longer whispering, and he had to interrupt himself in order to introduce her to the other Elves who were seating themselves near them at the table. When everyone had sat, she had a question for him.
"Were you at that battle? The Five Armies Battle?"
"You have heard of it?" He looked bemused. "Are you not full of surprises for having lived wild in the woods?"
"Your father's seneschal, Lord Thaladir, has told me some of the history of Mirkwood." She almost laughed at the face he pulled at the mention of the tall robed Elf.
"Lord?" He sounded dubious at the title. "Lord Thaladir? Is that what he calls himself when he is giving his long-winded history lectures these days? I suppose he made you sit up straight and not squirm in your seat while he was at it?" Now she did laugh as Legolas imitated an obedient pupil with perfect posture and hands folded.
"The other women at the vineyard call him Lord Thaladir, out of respect, I think," she explained. "And he was very interesting to listen to. At least the stories about the spiders and the wargs were exciting, I thought. And the famous battle in Dale, too."
"Ah, exciting, it was that. Yes, I was there, and it was a frightening affair, fraught with peril," he replied proudly. "But I must confess it was at first more unnerving to be away from the familiar gloom of the trees, than it was to later face the whole goblin army." His statement reminded her of the tale of the wary Wood-elves at the vineyard, who did not like the lack of trees either.
"But I grew used to the wide sky, the treeless fields, and the shimmer of starlight on the grassy meadows," he continued and then spoke more to himself, than to her. "And I asked if we could build a home near the shore of the Long Lake, to visit in the summer."
"Is that is why your father built that mansion at the vineyard?" she asked. "For you to visit during the summer?" Legolas chortled at the thought.
"Do you know what? I had never thought of it." He looked at her with a new respect. "After all these years...," he grinned. "It is possible that you are on to something." She was happy to have such a willing and knowledgeable table partner, and she took full advantage of her good fortune.
"Was that when you wore your fancy riding suit? When you were in the battle?"
"Oh no, I was much younger when I wore that, and that was long, long ago. I was much too young for battling trolls and goblins, although I would probably have begged to be allowed." He smiled, remembering, and added, "No, that was a happy day, the day I wore that costume, after a series of dark and bitter ones."
But, whatever the occasion had been, he could not continue telling her about it, for Thranduil had finally come and stood at his place, a few seats away from where she sat with Legolas. The hall grew quiet as the Elfking raised his drinking bowl. He turned toward Cella and spoke to her.
"This is my home..," he paused to wave his bowl in a wide all-encompassing sweep of his arm, and then proceeded. "It is my retreat from the world, and that of my subjects in time of war, and a resting place from wars in between. I strive most of all to keep this corner of the world as a haven against the tempests outside, for my people and for myself." Although he was still addressing her, he directed his next remarks to the hall.
"Baren bar lin si, firiel. Le hannon a tholed. Si, mado a sogo uin mereth!" [My home is your home now, mortal maid. Thank you for coming here. Now, eat and drink of the feast!]
At the last words of his toast, all of the Elves in the hall let out a cheer and Cella sipped from her wine bowl politely as they drank to welcome her. The Elfprince leaned over to her and whispered again.
"I am glad you came; I think we need your enchantment." But after that, he did not say another word to Cella about it at the table. She was asked polite questions by the other Elves, the ones who were able to speak Westron. They wanted to know about her uncle, and her home by the inland sea.
The food, as she expected, was delicious, but she could barely drink the wine. It was not from the previous, unsuccessful, efforts of the Elfking's vineyard, it was better tasting than that at least. But it was still wine. She left it untouched and whether Thranduil noticed this or read her mind about it, she never knew. But tea was brought for her, and she thanked him silently, and hoped that he heard.
The music she had noticed while outside in the corridor was being played by a group of Elves not unlike the ones who had performed at the Harvest Feast back at the vineyard. They had a larger stage to play on, at the back of the hall instead of in the center of the floor. Even though they were not close, their instruments could be heard above the din of the dining.
Throughout the meal, the musicians continued playing in a lighthearted fashion. And just like at the vineyard, after dessert was served, the music became louder and even jollier, and the mood in the hall changed with it. Whoops of delight rang out through the hall as the crowd of Elves in the middle rose and moved their tables to make a place for dancing in the center of the floor.
It was Legolas who claimed Cella for her first dance in her new home, and she was glad. She knew that in the arms of the Elfking she would have been the center of attention for the wrong reasons, as she was aware that her face must show her feelings about him to all of these Fair Folk. But with his son, she was comfortable and felt nothing more than friendship for him.
She was grateful towards Thranduil for helping her get over her fear of dancing in front of others. If not for him, she would never have come to this feast at all, but would be alone in her bedchamber, feeling lonely and sad.
The dancing was much like that at the vineyard, the music had the same elvish style that made moving one's feet mandatory. Cella was nearly breathless after the first turn around the floor, but the Elfprince would not let her sit. She found new energy when a series of quick-stepping songs familiar to her ears, from the Harvest Feast, were played.
Cella felt she would either collapse or keep dancing for the rest of the night, she was having so much fun, and she did not want to sit. The music slowed, and the Elfprince drew her closer to him as he led her in a more formal step. Now that the tune was gentler, they were able to talk again. Legolas told her he knew she was having fun from the lovely way her cheeks were flushed.
"Pink cheeks are a sure sign of a happy wood-sprite, or so I have heard," he assured her. Involuntarily, her hand went to her face as if she could do something to make them turn back to normal. "I can see why my father is so enchanted by you, Celiel," he said.
"Why is that?" As she waited for the younger Elf's response, she flicked her eyes toward the royal table. Throughout all of the dances, she had glanced over at Thranduil. And she was continually pleased, and puzzled, that he had stayed sitting the whole time. But now, her attention was grabbed by a new realization, and she said, out loud without meaning to, "Oh."
"What is it?" The Elfprince's grin disappeared at witnessing the sudden change in Cella's expression. "Are you ill? You do not look well. Would you like to sit down?" She shook her head and managed to breathe out that she was fine, in fact, she felt wonderful.
However, she could not say aloud what she had noticed. And it was difficult to say what shocked her more, the fact that it took so long for her to notice, or the fact that there was no willowy Elfqueen seated beside Thranduil, after all. She stared at Legolas's confused face as her mind worked hard coming up with something more to say.
They had turned and now she was facing the Elfking, and she saw that there were no Elleth seated anywhere near him. How could she explain her relief and joy to his son? She could not lie to him. But there was something she could tell him.
"You told me that your father never smiles," she said. "And I just remembered that he rarely smiled at the vineyard, either. But he always smiled at me."
"Quite understandably so, you are truly delightful company, as I was about to say," he replied. "And you are very easy to smile at, as well." He seemed satisfied with her excuse and did not pry any more. There was something else she was curious about and she was glad that he seemed willing to answer her questions. She felt she could ask him anything.
"Can you read my thoughts, too? Like His Majesty?"
"No, I cannot, you need have no fear," he answered. "But he cannot read mine anymore, when I do not wish for him to. If that is of any usefulness." He laughed at himself when he realized it was not any help to her at all.
He went on to tell her that none of the High Elves in the realm were open to his father's mind unless they wished it. However, they could communicate silently with him and each other with their thoughts more easily than the Wood-elves could, and often did.
"Can any of them," she nodded toward the royal table with her head as she spoke, "read my thoughts the way His Majesty can?" It worried her to think of it, the elegantly-robed Elves, who sat quietly and serenely with their monarch, seemed in some ways as stern and sober as the seneschal, Thaladir. If they listened in to her mind she would never think again.
"No, do not worry about them, either," said Legolas. "Although, they wish they could, they are very curious about you."
"They are? How can you tell, they seem so serious, somehow...," her voice trailed off as she cast about for the right term to describe the intimidating demeanor of the Elflords in Thranduil's court.
"Truly, they are not as unmerry as they appear. Like you, their outward appearance is deceiving to the eye."
The music became loud and boisterous again, and Cella had enough of a rest to enjoy the swifter pace. She laughed until tears came from her eyes when some of the Wood-elves began to clown on the dance floor and pretended to lose their partners and then end up with the wrong ones. They made silly faces and danced with their new partners in a deliberately awkward style.
Soon Cella was dancing with one of them, and passed to another, as the Elfprince called out loudly that she had better be returned soon and in good order. When she finally was brought back, Legolas greeted her as if she had been lost for years.
And then the music slowed again, and she recognized the melody at once. It was the song she had heard in the arms of the Elfking, the first time he had asked her to dance. It struck her that he would never dance with her again.
"Why so quiet all of a sudden?" asked Legolas. "Do you need to sit? Where are my manners? I forget you are mortal, and probably need some fresh air, or maybe some refreshments from the table. Am I right?"
"It's this song that makes me quiet," she said. "I love it. Do you know what it is called?"
"In your tongue, it would translate, 'Dear Gift'. This song is only a small part of a much longer song, a love song," the Elfprince answered. "It was first sung by Elu Thingol, a great Elflord of the Teleri, about his wife, Melian, his queen in Doriath." Although most of what he said was incomprehensible, Cella appreciated that he spoke to her as if she should understand.
Legolas drew her close to him again, and she noticed a different aspect in his eyes that had not been there before, as he spoke of the ancient world. And she knew at once that he was not young at all, merely youthful. "Would you like for me to tell you the words to the song? They are usually not sung any more, only the melody is played."
As the lovely, swaying tune played, the Elfprince sang, in a strangely beautiful chanting fashion, the words of the ancient lay to her. They told of an Elfking who was mighty in deed and spirit, but humbled in love, and of his gratitude to the Valar for his dear gift, Melian.
Although the words were not sad, Cella felt saddened by them. Because she wished she was truly an enchantress, as Melian was, and immortal. She tried not to let it show, but Legolas' voice faltered, and he asked her again if she needed to sit, to rest, to drink or to have something more to eat, or perhaps did she need to breathe some fresh air? They could go outdoors, and see the stars? As she had not been out since she had arrived, she agreed to his last offer.
The great gates opened instantly and silently, and she could see no gears or machinery that operated them. The combination of frosty cold air and the sudden dazzling view of the clear star-spangled sky above the horizon of the forest hit Cella like a slap in the face, and she involuntarily took a step back.
"Is it too cold for you? I had not thought of your mortal flesh," confessed the Elfprince. He pulled her close beside him, and rubbed the outside of her arm, as if the friction would warm her.
"The air feels like it has icicles in it," she said, puffing out clouds of white steam. "But it is marvelously refreshing." Her teeth chattered a little, and Legolas put both of his arms around her and held her to his chest.
"I suppose a real wood-sprite would not be shivering," he told her. "You are making me have to change my mind about you, but it could just be a trick. Let me see." After leaning back a bit, he lifted her chin the same way his father often would, with a finger beneath it.
However, instead of gazing into her eyes while pulling the truth from her, as his father always did, he was more interested in her nose, or the temperature of it. He tapped it. "Far too cold," he pronounced, "for an elemental spirit. You truly must be a mortal maid."
She would have answered, if she was not so cold, but she nodded firmly in agreement with his final assessment of her.
"I know of only one way to warm a mortal's nose," he said. "And I have always wanted to try." With no further warning, he kissed her.
For a moment, Cella was so shocked that she did not even close her eyes, but stood astonished as her mouth was gently assaulted by the charming Elf. Without meaning to be rude, she began to laugh. It was too much like another joke to take the gesture seriously. He backed away from her with a rueful smile.
"Is your nose any warmer?"
"It is, a little," she said, although it was not that much warmer. Nor was she anywhere else warmer.
"Estelio nín," [Trust me,] he whispered as he bent to her again. This time, she closed her eyes and gave the kiss a chance. It was no use. Beyond guarding her slightly from the frosty air, she felt no benefit from the intimate contact. Even so, she still felt a flash of guilt when a voice spoke from behind them, and she quickly stepped away from the Elfprince.
"Man cerich, Legolas?" [What are you doing, Legolas?] Thranduil removed his cloak from where he had draped it over his arm, and enveloped Cella in it.
"I was only trying to warm up her nose, ada," said the younger Elf cheekily, not appearing in the least bit surprised by the interruption. Cella had to wonder for a moment if the Prince had planned for them to be found. But she would not allow herself to think any more of it; instinctively she kept her mind quiet. The Elfking's cloak had cut the chill air, leaving only her face and feet unprotected.
"It appears to me that your nose is in good hands, now." Legolas winked at her as he said so. "I will say farewell then, and return to the feast." With a polite bow, he left them alone. Cella did not move, but stared out at the brilliant stars quietly, still shivering a bit as she slowly thawed beneath the magical Elf-cloak.
"You must forgive my son," the Elfking began, but she did not let him finish.
"I will not forgive your son," Cella declared. "Because he has done nothing to be forgiven for. He was only being kind to me, and my nose." Slyly, she darted a sideways glance at him and then added, "Unlike some Elves I know..." She let her voice trail off while she moved away from him, and began to descend the stairs.
"Where are you going?"
"For a walk," she answered as she continued downward, without turning to face him as she spoke. "I am not sure where, really. I just want to walk." This was the truth on both accounts. "You have shut me up in your cave all day long," she accused. "It is nice to have some fresh air to breathe."
It really was a gloriously beautiful night, and the thought of returning into the crowded hall was not appealing. The frosty air seemed to work like a tonic to her spirit.
The Elfking followed her closely, as she had assumed he would. Below them, at the bottom of the stairs, the windows in the little huts that crowded around the entrance were dark; their inhabitants were most likely all within the cave at the feast, dancing the night away. She wondered if any of them within missed their monarch's presence
"Are you warm enough?" At his question about her physical well-being, she at last turned to face him again.
"Yes, Sire, except for my nose. But, thank you for the cloak," she said. "It was most kind of you to think of me a little." After saying that, she stood still, and looked up at him. "I know you have many more important things to be concerned about, other than me." And she was not worried about his reaction. If the Elfprince was being truthful, she only had to wait.
Silently, he returned her gaze for many moments. At last he spoke.
"May the Valar forgive me," he said in a bemused tone of voice. "I can think of nothing more important to be concerned about at this moment than your cold nose."
"What are you going to do about it, Majesty?" And for some reason, she was not in the least bit surprised when he took her into his arms, and kissed her.
To be continued in Chapter 31
Posted: November 22, 2004
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"Long live Thranduil, great Elf-king of Greenwood!"