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The King's Vineyard, Chapter 31

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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At first Cella was afraid to move while Thranduil held and kissed her, in case she broke a spell. But at last she could not help herself and finally had to push her hands out from underneath the cloak to put them around him, and press her body closer to him. His reaction was immediate, and he nearly jumped as if startled by her touch. He broke the kiss while taking her hands from around his waist.

But, instead of scolding her, or declaring himself at fault for losing control, as she expected him to do, the Elfking looked at her with worry and concern on his face as he held her hands within his own.

"Your fingers are cold, too cold." He began to massage them, to warm them further. "I must return you indoors. I do not know what my son was thinking, to bring you outdoors into this wintry air."

"My hands feel fine, Sire, as long as you hold them like that," she said. "And I don't want to go back indoors, not yet."

She could not feel her feet either. But she did not complain about them or protest his breaking their kiss; at least he did not seem upset with himself, or with her. And she felt warm everywhere else.

"I am fairly certain that your uncle will be expecting to find you with all of your fingers attached," he told her. Cella did not like being reminded of Uncle Dwain. He was far away from here, for now. She pulled her hands away from the Elfking and tucked them back inside of the cloak.

"If I promise to keep them in here, like this, where they can stay warm, and safe," she asked, "will you kiss me one more time? Please?"

Before he could even answer her, she stood on tiptoe and kissed him again, to demonstrate. His hands flew up to her shoulders, and he held her by them, but he did not push her off. It was she who broke away this time, and she smiled up at him while she stood flat on her feet.

"Do you see how well that works?" she asked. "My fingers are nice and warm now, but I think my nose needs a little more help. I am sure Uncle Dwain will not want my nose to fall off, Your Majesty."

"You drive a hard bargain, firiel," Thranduil said. And he was going to kiss her again, she knew it, but something he must have either heard or felt distracted him and diverted his attention. He turned his head toward the forest as if to listen and then looked back down at her. Cella could hear nothing unusual.

"Someone is approaching," he said to her. "They are being watched, but they have managed to bypass my sentry outposts." He lifted his head up and for a moment longer he stood silent. "Come, I must find some sober Elves in the hall to ride out and investigate this mystery for me."

But Cella's nearly frozen feet would not cooperate, and she stumbled clumsily as she was guided back up the stairs with the Elfking's hand on her back. Without slowing down to ask her for the reason she was having difficulty, he scooped her up in his arms and carried her for the rest of the way up and then through the gate, which closed behind them as silently as it had opened.

Even though Thranduil was holding her in his arms, which was very nice, Cella could tell his attention was focused elsewhere as he nearly flew up the stairs toward his palace halls. He set her down gently on a bench carved into the wall and gave brisk commands to the sentries positioned there, the first Elves they had seen since they had re-entered the gates. One of the door guards went back down the stairs while the other went deeper into the palace.

Within moments, several Wood-elves, not entirely sober, but not reeling or glassy-eyed from the wine at the feast, arrived in the hall to be summarily dispatched to scout out the strangers who had entered the borders of Mirkwood without the King's permission.

It was very exciting for Cella, to watch the regal warrior Elf take steps to protect his realm, although he did not behave as if he considered the distant trespassers a serious threat. She understood enough of what was said to know that whoever it was that was encroaching on the borders may be lost travelers, and not intent on doing evil. Every effort was to be made to deter or redirect the strangers, instead of attacking them.

She envied the Wood-elves their ability to dash right out into the bitter night without having to stop first to add cloaks, boots, and gloves, as she probably should have done instead of going outdoors with only her thin dress for protection.

"Very good." Thranduil stood in front of her when they were alone again in the great pillared hall. "I trust that all is well in my forest, or will be dealt with handily by my Elves. Let us see to your feet."

"They are so cold that they are numb," she explained. However, the truth was that now that she was in the warm caves, and on carpet instead of stone, her feet had started to thaw and they tingled almost painfully. "I think I can probably walk now, but it was nice to be carried, thank you."

"Are you sure? I do not like to hear that they are numb."

"Maybe if you take off my shoes, and rub my toes, like you did to my fingers, they will be fine..." Although she had no real hope that he would do so, she enjoyed imagining it and let him see that picture in her mind, of his warm hands on her chilly bare feet.

It was impossible, however, to keep her face straight or her expression innocent, as she made the bold mental request.

"I believe it is time for a calmer head to prevail," said the Elfking.

"But, Your Majesty," she managed to say levelly. "Do you not believe that Uncle Dwain would prefer to find me with all of my toes attached, too?" It was hopeless; at the sight of his lifted eyebrow she had to cover her mouth with her hand, which barely masked her giggles.

Before he could reply, the door guards returned to take up their positions, standing still and silent. And then a few more Elves came from the feast, their curiosity aroused by the rumors of intruders in the forest, and Thranduil sent them out to follow the first group.

Despite the Elfking's nonchalant attitude toward the possibility of strangers invading his forest, Cella began to worry a little. What if it was a group of those vigilantes from the Long Lake? Maybe they thought they could invade Mirkwood to find justice for the dead Gorst? Even if they would never make it past the Wood-elves, the thought that anyone would be brave or foolish enough to invade the great woodland in order to do her harm was sobering.

She had not thought of the Laketown men, or the fire, since she had left the vineyard. And now the horror of those last hours, the sickening reek of the smoke, Uncle Dwain's injury, and the sight of her bedroom turned to ashes, swept over her. Even here, within Thranduil's massive caves protected by their mighty gates, she was not safe from her memories.

"I swore no harm would ever come to you again at the hands of those men, and I meant what I said, firiel," the Elfking said as he sat beside her on the stone bench. She took it for granted that he had read her thoughts, or perhaps had merely read her face, and she did not wonder how he knew what she was thinking.

Mutely, she nodded to show that she understood his intentions. She wished that she could erase that time from her mind. But the guilt that attended her recollections had too tight a grip on her conscience. If not for her, this royal Elf's life would be so much easier...she had brought him nothing but trouble.

"Come, let us see to your good feet." Taking her hand, he smiled as he rose and drew her up to stand beside him. "Perhaps your uncle would not miss a toe or two, but my grapes will be in need of them come next harvest season, and I cannot afford to have any missing."

As if by magic, all thoughts of Gorst, the vineyard, or even the world outside of the gates, vanished as she took Thranduil's offered arm. Cella's heart banged painfully in her chest as he led her down a corridor she had never been down and through a door that she hoped without hope would lead to his bedchamber. She did not even notice her feet, they barely touched the floor.

Instead he took her into a cozy den, with leather covered chairs, couches, and a small fireplace. Cella was only a little disappointed; at least there was more privacy here. Torches flanked grand tapestries that reached from ceiling to floor, except for on one wall that was covered with long shelves. These held books and small carvings of animals, which caught her eye for a moment. But she let herself be directed to a large chair with a cushioned footstool that sat together in front of the hearth.

It was too warm inside the small room for the cloak, which the Elfking helped Cella remove, and while he hung it up she sat on the chair and waited to see what he had in mind. She was calmer, knowing he was probably not going to do more than examine her feet, if that much, but still she wished he was interested in more than his grapes, and would kiss her again, instead. She almost regretted she had ever mentioned her toes.

He sat on the stool and asked, in a more business-like tone of voice than she would have preferred, for one of her feet. She lifted her leg and placed a foot into his outstretched hand, which he then put on top of his knee while he removed the shoe.

The firelight played over his handsome face, and Cella sat, adoring him, while he unlaced her shoe and slipped it off. And then she gasped as his hands moved up under her skirt to remove her stocking as well. When he slowly drew the silken hose off her leg she no longer regretted anything. The shivers that coursed through her body had nothing to do with feeling chilled. The heat from the fire was thawing her nicely.

Gently, he cradled her bare foot in his large hand, and counted her toes with the fingers of his other hand, grasping each one lightly as he did so, and making her giggle. She had to agree with him that they all appeared to be there, and in good shape.

"Now for the other," he said, and soon both of her feet were on his knee, bared, and with each toe carefully accounted for. "They feel warm enough to me," he remarked as he let his fingers move over them slowly. "Do they still sting?"

"No, they feel wonderful," Cella whispered as she leaned back into the chair and reveled in his touch. "I feel wonderful all over, as I usually do when you are near me." The warmth of the blaze, and the Elfking's hands, made her feel comfortable to the point of drowsiness. She stifled a yawn.

"The hour is late," he said briskly as he moved her feet to the floor. "And now that I know your good feet have not been harmed, I will find someone to escort you to your chambers."

Wordlessly, she gazed into his eyes, which shone brightly back into her own now. But she could not tell whether his eyes were illuminated by the blaze beside them, or kindled from some inner fire within him, that he would not share with her. Bravely, she stated, "I always feel wonderful when I am not tormented by being near you, that is."

Thranduil frowned slightly at her, and drew his eyebrows down. "I would not have it so," he said with a slight shake of his head.

"Then why do you make me suffer, My Lord?" His words from before the feast returned to her mind, and she repeated them as best as she could remember, "Did you not say that emotion turned back on itself, and not leading to thoughts or actions, will lead to madness? You said so, did you not?"

"That was different, I was speaking of your sadness," he said. But she was not finished and she sat up straight to press her point.

"You also said," she reminded him, "that to give vent now and then to feelings, whether of pleasure," she paused to emphasize that word before continuing, "or discontent, is a great ease to a mortal's heart. Did you not say that? And yet you do not allow my heart even the slightest ease, Sire." To show how miserable she felt, she slumped back into the chair, and sighed.

"It is no easier for me, firiel," he told her. "Do you forget that I have vowed to protect you and that..." he began, but at those words she boldly interrupted him. No longer was her head in control, her heart had taken over. And her heart did not want her to fight fair.

"You cannot protect me from myself, then," Cella choked out as she fought tears. "Nor from the pain I feel when you are near me and I cannot reach out to touch you, and hold you. Perhaps to ease your heart, and therefore ease my own." She wiped her eyes and stared down at her hands after folding them in her lap. "Unless," she added softly, "you derive some pleasure from the pain I feel. That must be it."

"No," he said, but she kept speaking.

"And the pain that I feel is not only constant and unceasing, but is only further inflamed each time you draw near to me and I cannot touch you. But you will show me no mercy."

"You do not believe that," he gently chided her. "I do not want to see you suffer any pain, Celiel." Clearly now, she remembered the look in his eyes when he had spoken of madness and she knew that it was not her pain alone that concerned her.

"Whenever I see you, Sire," she said, "my heart delights, but the rest of me aches. I may be safe from harm here and from those men of the Long Lake town, Gorst's kin and the rest. But how can I long endure the constant torment of being so near you, and yet so far that I can never reach out to you, and be of some comfort to you."

"Do not worry for me, firiel," he replied firmly. "I can and I will long endure adversity, no matter what form and shape it takes."

"Maybe, then, it is far easier for you than it is for me because you are a wise and noble King and I am but a small and common mortal. So, it is not hard for you to deny yourself what little I have to offer. And I would never deny you anything, Majesty," she said with her head still bowed. She finally looked up to face him, not caring that her words might be reckless.

"I only require that you feel safe and happy here," he explained patiently. "Other than that I do not ask you to concern yourself with my happiness."

"You say you want me to be happy, and yet you deny me that which would make me most happy." Cella knew she was fighting a losing battle, but she had to try while she had this chance, before the moment passed forever.

"Because you do not know what you are asking for," the Elfking stated flatly. "Nor have you considered all of the consequences, which I do not expect you to do. It is your innocence that makes you feel brave, Celiel, and it is that innocence that I would protect." He stood up, to show that the conversation was finished, or at least his participation in it.

It was another impasse, the magical spell had been broken, but Cella did not feel defeated, only delayed. He had kissed her, and more than once, she kept that in mind. And since she was not schooled in the art of seduction, she could do no more at the moment than rein in her heart and call a temporary retreat.

She was not entirely unhappy, but she still yearned to find a way of reaching through the Elfking's noble nature, which he wore like a mantle of chain mail, and touch his heart. Quietly and obediently, she put her stockings and shoes back on, but deliberately lifted her skirt higher than she needed to in the hope that he was watching her. She could not bring herself to even peek in his direction as she did so.

He left her alone to find her an escort, and she took the opportunity to study the animal carvings more closely. There were nearly every type of animal she had ever seen, plus some she hoped to never have to see. Antlered stags were posed with does and fawns, and foxes, rabbits and bears lived in unnatural harmony in the wooden menagerie.

Her favorites were a series of delicately carved birds. Each of their tiny feet gripped miniature branches of whatever type of plant, bush, or tree that they normally perched upon. The detail work reminded her of the carvings in the Elfking's canopied bed at the vineyard.

Cella closed her eyes and smiled as she imagined it. She sighed wistfully, and wished in vain that she was back there now, surrounded by the dark green curtains, and alone with Thranduil.

As if that thought was a signal, the door opened and he returned. But he gave no sign of having changed his mind, and she saw that there was another Elf with him, her escort. Without speaking, she nodded and stepped past them out into the corridor, ready to be led to bed, alone. The Elfking could not stop her from thinking about him, once she was there.

"I would rather you take me to my room, Your Majesty," Cella said, and she did not have to pretend that she felt shy near the unfamiliar Elf, who otherwise appeared harmless.

If she and Thranduil had been alone, she would have promised him to behave like a lady should, if he showed her the way to her chambers, and that she would not bring up her feelings about him again. Instead, she looked into his eyes, and hoped he understood. When he smiled down at her, she almost felt him answer, and she knew he had heard her.

After speaking to her would-be escort, whose name she never learned, Thranduil accepted her silent offer and offered his arm to her once again. And she knew that she did not need to be upheld, and was quite able to walk unassisted, so the fact that he initiated further physical contact with her, even in this formal fashion, filled her with hope. At least he was not afraid to let her touch him.

She was able to keep her thoughts neutral as they walked down the corridors by concentrating on the tapestries that lined the walls and asking many questions about them. A few times, the Elfking would pause to point out a certain detail in the woven pictures that he thought might interest her, to her delight. And he let her touch them, as she had often wanted to since the first time she had seen them.

"Seeing the fall of this ancient city through your eyes has given me a new vision about it," he said to her after they had stopped and discussed a dramatic trio of tapestries that depicted battles between Elves and orcs in a place he called Beleriand. His words were almost as good as a kiss.

When they reached the door to her chambers, Cella claimed that the large reception hall with its pillars was too large and eerie for her to walk through it alone. She would not feel safe unless he remained with her until she reached the door to her private suite.

"Lothriel should be in there, waiting for me. She said that she would be." And this was enough to win her his arm through the last large hall. As before, her own footsteps echoed through the pillars, but she could not hear Thranduil's footfall beside her at all.

"Have a good rest, firiel," said the Elfking when they had reached the door to her bedchamber. Cella moved swiftly. She disengaged her arm from his elbow and before he could prevent it, threw her arms around him and held herself tight against his body. But she did not look up at him; instead she pressed her face against his chest and spoke.

"Goodnight to you, Your Majesty," she said. "And thank you for the beautiful bedroom. I have not said that to you yet, have I?" Now she did glance up at him, and was relieved to see him smiling down at her, even if he would not return her embrace as she had wished. Instead, he put his hands on her shoulders and held them gently.

"Oh, you have said so, only not in so many words," he replied. He kissed her upturned forehead and she sighed to show that she was disappointed. Impulsively, she stood on tiptoe and quickly kissed his lips.

"There," she said. "That is a better thank-you, I think." And she also thought that if he wanted her to release him, he was going to have a difficult time of it. She was not going to let go this time.

To be continued in Chapter 32

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Posted: November 27, 2004

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