The King's Vineyard, Chapter 32
|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 last, Cella made up her mind that she was going to make a stand. In the final moment she had dug in her heels, and refused to let go of the Elfking. Nothing would make her release him. She imagined him prying her arms off while she gripped tighter and wept, and she realized he would not do that for fear he would hurt her.
She pressed her cheek against his chest and did not look up into his face just in case she would see him frowning down at her, and therefore lose heart. She was not going to let go of him.
Cella clung to the Elfking as tightly as a floundering and exhausted swimmer would cling to a rock encountered by chance in a stormy sea. And just like a drowning person, she was afraid to release her hold, lest she be swept away and submerged beneath the waves of these powerful new emotions that threatened to overwhelm her. These curious feelings that seemed to uplift, embolden, frighten, and depress her, and all at the same time.
And yet, there was more to her desperate embrace than desire for physical closeness to the object of her dreams and desires. Cella realized that she dreaded, now that she was here before the bedchamber door, the idea of sleeping in these enormous guest quarters.
Except for the disastrous morning she had crawled alone into Thranduil's bed at the vineyard, and the night she had slept in the Elfking's arms in the forest, she had never slept more than a few footsteps away from her own kin. But here in Thranduil's halls, she felt miles away from everyone else, and the Elves were all mostly strangers to her.
No matter how much she would have wished for it she did not expect the Elfking to accompany her into her bedchamber and sit beside her while she slept. But neither was she eager to be parted from him, and be alone for the rest of the night. It was possible that Lothriel would stay with her, but she was not sure if the Elleth was planning on doing that, or if it would be proper to ask her.
It would not be long before Thranduil noticed that even though she had said goodnight to him, she was not releasing him, and that she had no intention to do so. She held on tightly and waited.
"You were curious, earlier," he said calmly, as if he saw nothing unusual in her behavior, "about the presence of a queen within my halls." At those words, every muscle in Cella's body went rigid for a moment, and her eyes widened. But she did not let go.
"Legolas' mother?" he added.
"Yes, I was curious." Cella answered very slowly, unsure that she wanted to know any more about the subject. Cautiously she lifted her eyes to his face, he was not frowning at her, but he was not smiling either. Which made his next words all the more devastating to hear.
"I do have a wife."
If Cella had been handed a burning brand to embrace, she could not have let go of it more quickly than she did Thranduil at that very moment. But she did not step back, for his hands on her shoulders gripped her tightly, although not painfully so, and she could not move.
"She gave up her life here, and her spirit departed from me, while she was giving birth to my son," he said as his eyes seemed to bore into her soul in an effort to impress the truth into her mind.
Cella had not had an opportunity to ask any of the Elves about the location of the Elfprince's mother, once she had decided that there was not an Elfqueen here in the palace. But she had suspected that the absence of a Queen, if there ever was one, was not due to happy circumstances.
And now her heart went out to both son and father. To just imagine the sorrow the Elfking must have felt at the death of his wife and with a new babe to care for by himself was enough to bring tears to her eyes.
"I am so sorry, Your Majesty, for your loss." She could think of nothing more to say, and her heart ached to think of the merry Elf, Legolas, without a mother at all.
"Although my wife has departed this world," explained Thranduil, "she is not lost. An Elf never dies, Celiel. Indeed, she has passed on to the Halls of Mandos, where she might linger until the end of all things. Or, if allowed, she may re-embody and dwell with her kin in Aman. But she will never return to this brutal world, of that I am sure. Her last days here were agony, for both of us."
Although he spoke to her seriously, it was not until that moment that a flicker of pain appeared within his otherwise calm and steady gaze. It pierced her as thoroughly and painfully as an iron-tipped spear would have done, if aimed at her heart.
She knew very little about the Fair Folk, but she had been taught that the Elves had another home, their one true home, over the sea. Was this Aman that he spoke of the place all of the Elves would sail away to, eventually? Would he go to her someday, she wondered, and resume their life together? She loved him that much, that she hoped he would, if it would bring his heart ease.
"I am so sorry," Cella whispered again, not knowing what else to say, and not knowing why he was telling her this, either. "I wish you never had to suffer, Your Majesty." He smiled down at her and lifted one of his hands from her shoulder to stroke her hair.
"Ah, but who, even among the lofty Valar, can live time through forever without suffering?" he asked. "Pain and pleasure, like light and darkness, succeed each other. To spare oneself from grief at all cost can be achieved only at the price of total detachment, which excludes the ability to experience full happiness. Do not misunderstand me, firiel, for I do not mean for you to be burdened with my sorrow."
"Yes, Sire," she answered, as if she understood. He took his hand from her hair and held her shoulder with it again.
"The grace of the Valar is a gift not lightly given or taken, firiel, and there is a curse hidden within every blessing that they bestow upon the Eldar. For with that bestowal of power comes a great responsibility. No Elflord is invested with the authority of a throne without being at the same time burdened with that responsibility. And I had an obligation and a duty to my people to not give in to despair at the worst, lest their own hearts despair at the least. Do you understand me?"
"I think so," she answered. "You had to be brave for your subjects, and not show how much you were hurting. I can understand that, how you would do that." But she did not necessarily understand why he was telling her any of this.
When the voice came from across the hall, Cella was staring deeply into the Elfking's eyes as she thought over what he had just told her and heard nothing. And it was only after the speaker repeated his words again that both of them briefly turned to see who was there.
"Excuse me." It was Legolas. He stepped into the reception hall and approached them. "I do not mean to interrupt anything, but I was just wondering, ada...?"
"Yes, what is it?" Thranduil did not turn his head again as he asked, but kept his eyes on Cella. She did look at Legolas and smiled at the sight of his ever cheerful face as he approached them, even as she wished that she and the Elfking could continue with their conversation.
It had just been getting interesting, even though his words were mostly making her feel sad. At least it was pleasant when he had petted her hair. There had been something in the expression on his face that had made her think he was about to tell her something important. But that could have been wishful thinking on her part, too.
"Are either of you planning on returning to the feast soon?" Cella could not tell if the Elfprince was being polite by pretending not to notice that she was alone with his father, or had expected to find them here together and was not surprised. As an answer to his question, she shook her head and then cast her eyes downward for a moment.
"His Majesty," she said, "believes it is time for me to go to bed, so I will not be returning." The Elfprince clucked his tongue sadly and sighed.
"Alright then, you are excused," he said and then turned to his father with lifted eyebrows. "And Your Majesty...?" The younger Elf suppressed a grin as he uttered the lofty title.
"Actually," replied the Elfking, "I have some other business to attend to, outside of the gates..." He released Cella's shoulders and for a moment she stood feeling bereft. And she was caught once more in that awful place of being both too near and too far from him. A feeling she knew now she would have to accept and grow accustomed to. "A minor disturbance, perhaps, in the woodland," Thranduil added as explanation while he turned to his son.
"Ah yes, yes, so I have been told," the Elfprince said, and then, with a puzzled expression added, "Something about trespassers being at the forest borders?"
Thranduil nodded in reply and Legolas's face brightened like he had just heard good news. As if stating an obvious fact, he said to his father, "But even on the fastest steeds from the stables it will not be until midmorning before the riders return with their tidings. Surely you have plenty of time in the meanwhile to make merry?" He grinned broadly at both of them.
With an unmistakably mischievous twinkle in his eyes, the Elfprince glanced at Cella and then looked back to his father while he added, "In the feasting hall that is. The atmosphere is just at the edge of chaos." He laughed just thinking of it. "If you wait too long, it will be a complete catastrophe, and you will have missed all the fun!"
After saying this, the agile younger Elf swiftly moved around the pair standing before the bedchamber door, which he opened. He groaned mournfully as he peeked inside.
"What are you thinking of, ada, to make your wood-sprite sleep alone, by herself, in such a lonely and unfamiliar place?" Quickly, he returned to Cella's side and took one of her hands into his. He petted it as if it was a fragile object. "You go on ahead to the feast, Your Majesty; I will stay here and keep her company." He announced this as if he was making a great, personal sacrifice on her behalf.
"Nonsense," the Elfking said as he entered the room and beckoned for them to follow. "Lothriel is within and she will keep Celiel company tonight, neither of you need fear. I am not an ogre, ion."
"He could have fooled me," whispered Legolas into Cella's ear, but so quietly that she almost thought she might have imagined it. The Elfprince still held her hand in one of his, but he now had his other hand on her back and followed closely behind her as if she was so frail that she needed his assistance to even move forward. She wondered what he was up to this time.
However, she did not know what to think after they stepped into the dimly lit room. Lothriel had doused the torches, and now only a few candles and the fire's light illuminated everything. But the Elleth was nowhere to be seen. Legolas could not disguise the mirth in his voice as he replied to the unasked question.
"Oh dear, I forgot to mention that I sent Lothriel off to the feast, no use for her to be sitting here alone tonight while everyone else was making merry." As he said this he released Cella's hand and stood between her and his father with a regretful look on his face and a very amused gleam in his eyes.
Thranduil stared right back at him, expressionless, and she wondered if he was speaking to his son, silently. If he was, the Elfprince did not appear to have heard.
"But I will go there at once and fetch her," he declared happily. "Now that you have returned, I can see that her presence is needed. Wish me luck!" Before either Cella or the Elfking could have done a thing to prevent it, he was out of the door, which was closed behind him.
"He will not be back soon," said Thranduil as he went over to the door. "I will go find you some suitable company." But, before he could leave, she replied quickly.
"I'll be fine, Sire." Cella felt brave as she added, "I don't need Lothriel or anyone else for a nursemaid." She smiled at him and then said, "And I keep telling you that I am a woman, and not a child. Perhaps I should act the part to prove it is true."
She shrugged at her own fears, now that she was in the lovely bedchamber. It was not fearfully lonely in appearance as her imagination had made it to be. With the firelight's reddish glow burnishing every reflective surface it felt almost magical. Across the room from her, the Elfking's skin appeared to have been dipped in copper; his hair was a shimmering river of liquid flame when he slowly nodded.
"You will not be afraid?" He asked gently, and she melted inside at his concern. Ogre, indeed. Why would his son think so? But, then she remembered what else she had just learned, about the grief surrounding the birth of the Elfprince, and she hoped for Legolas's sake that his father had shown his own child as much concern as he gave to her. She felt sure that he had, or his son would not be so light-hearted and kind.
"I will be fine, I promise," she said, and she meant it. "And I am able to undress myself and put on my own nightgown, too..." Cella stopped suddenly and put her hand to her mouth as it dawned on her that she had nothing to wear to sleep in.
She had put on her shift again, reluctantly, after her bath, under the robe she was leant to wear, and she had it on still. And now the idea of sleeping in it made her feel more uncomfortable, it needed to be laundered.
"I am so foolish," she said, "I have forgotten to bring my nightgown." She recalled as best she could where she had last seen it and when she had last worn it, the lovely gown she had been given at the vineyard, when she was allowed into the Elfking's bed. Her mind raced to track it down in her memory.
And then, "Oh, it must have been lost in the fire." It was not easy to remember anymore, because she would rather not have to relive that last morning.
"There should be something for you to wear in there," Thranduil said, breaking into her thoughts. He gestured to a door on the far side of her bed, in a part of the chamber that was now dark in shadow. It was a place that she had meant to explore earlier, when and if she was finally left alone in her room. He asked, "Did Lothriel not show you within?"
"What is in there?" asked Cella warily, and she was relieved when he picked up a candleholder with a lit taper, stepped across the room, and opened the mysterious door for her. She would have followed after him except for the sound of the chamber door opening behind her. She turned to see that they had company, again.
"I regret to inform you that Lothriel cannot make it back," Legolas shook his head sadly. "However," he added, after he glided over to stand beside Cella and take her hand again, "I will gladly assist you, in whatever capacity that you might need my assistance. I feel in my heart that it is the least I can do." He glanced over toward to the Elfking as if just remembering he had a father.
"What are you doing over there, ada?" Legolas pulled Cella by her hand over to where the Elfking stood, and then, after he deftly grabbed the candle from his father's hand as he passed by, they entered the little room together. She drew in her breath as the area was illuminated. It was a room filled with wraiths, or so it appeared by the flickering candlelight which cast sharp wavering shadows over the tall shrouded figures that loomed before them.
"What have we here, I wonder?" asked the Elfprince as he drew what turned out to be a sheet of fabric covering one of the ghostly forms and revealed a table that had a chair in front of it and a round mirror attached to the top of it. With a flick of the Elf's wrist, another wraith turned out to be a tall standing mirror on a swiveling base. An already partially uncovered wardrobe was standing with its doors opened, and inside hung clothing that Cella recognized and some that she did not. They were in a dressing room.
To her surprise, and pleasure, the forest-green riding suit was in the large and mostly empty closet, and Legolas drew the tunic part of it from its hook. He held it up for Cella's appreciative inspection and pointed out that it looked to have been altered to her size before handing it to her.
"Now that it will fit you properly, I cannot wait to see it on you again. Mayhap you and I can go for a ride in the forest on the morrow?" She nodded in agreement at the offer of another horse back ride, forgetting for the moment how sore she had been from her last one.
But she was eager to try the tunic on again as she held the glittering garment against herself and marveled at how skillfully the tailoring had been done. The sleeves and hem had been shortened to the proper length and yet the silver-threaded embroidery and beadwork appeared untouched.
She turned her head to glance over to where Thranduil stood outside the dressing-room door, to say 'thank you' to him, and was happy to find that he was right beside her.
"What are you still doing here, ada?" asked the Elfprince; as he held the candle up to shine into the wardrobe so that he could better examine the contents. "The two of us are doing fine now, are we not?" He tossed this last comment over his shoulder at Cella but did not wait for her response as he continued speaking, "I will take good care of your little wood-sprite. You can run along and feast with the rest of the merry-makers in the hall."
While he talked, Legolas had taken a nightgown from a shelf where it had been placed, folded, and handed it to her. She nearly dropped it.
"Is there something wrong?" the Elfprince asked. "Judging by the late hour I assume you were not coming in here for another dress to dance in, were you?" Cella shook her head 'no', but was otherwise wordless. The gown he had handed to her was either the same one she had been given at the vineyard or it was identical to it in every single detail.
"Legolas." His father's voice held a hint of a warning.
"It is entirely my fault that Lothriel is not here to tend to her properly," the Elfprince said. Quietly he asked Cella, "Will you forgive me?" And then, before she could reply, back to his father, "Thus you must allow me to be of service. I can see right away that she will need some assistance into her night dress." He took the gown out of Cella's hands and held it up for display.
"Very nice," Legolas proclaimed. "And I can guarantee you that I have not worn this particular article of clothing before you have."
"I think it came from the vineyard." Cella directed her next remark to Thranduil, "But how?" And now, without him having to tell her, she recalled the bath she took in his bedchamber the day Lanthiriel had brought her the new dress. She had left the nightgown there in the mansion, where the fire had never reached. Of course.
"You brought it," she pointed out and the Elfking nodded. "Thank you for remembering it for me," she added and wished she was alone with him, so that she could thank him with a quick kiss instead of words.
"Now, lets turn you around," said Legolas, in a no-nonsense tone of voice, while he twirled his finger to indicate that she should present her back to him, which she did. He explained, "This is no time for reminiscing over the past. We must get you into your bed immediately, if His Majesty says so."
Before Cella knew exactly what he was going to do, she could feel his hands at the back of her dress and his fingers tickled her neck as he tried to unfasten the garment. "Gracious me, now how does this work, I wonder?"
"Legolas." This time the Elfking's voice was a bit more severe than last.
"A female garment appears to be a very complicated device, ada, but give me a moment, I am sure to figure this out." He tugged harder, but Cella could tell he was being careful not to pull the fabric too firmly and damage the dress.
And without having to see his fingers she was fairly sure he was not really trying to undo the hooks. "Alright, I surrender." He leaned over her far enough to see her face and winked. Then he announced, "I am sorry to tell you this, wood-sprite, but you will have to sleep in this gown tonight. Although I could cut it off of you with a knife, I suppose..."
Quite certain that he was not being serious at all, Cella answered in a light tone, "What a pity. I did so love this dress. But if you insist..." she let her voice trail off.
"I most certainly do insist. It is not any more proper to sleep in a dancing dress, young lady, than it is to dance in a sleeping dress. However, I am sad to say that I have forgotten to bring my knife with me. I suppose I shall have to use my teeth." The absurd notion made Cella giggle.
"Legolas." Now Thranduil's voice was taut with exasperation.
"Yes, father? Did you need something? I see you are still here."
"Leave us," the Elfking replied firmly "Now."
"Are you sure your teeth are up to this task, ada?" At hearing this final retort from Legolas, Cella had to cover her mouth again, and she dared not look at either the Elfking or his son, for fear she would laugh out loud disrespectfully.
"My, my," said the Elfprince, clucking his tongue, "the hour grows late and my wine bowl sits unattended in the feasting hall, what ever was I thinking? I bid you both a good night, then." After bowing to them, he turned to leave, but paused and turned back to his father and added as a last minute thought, "Be very careful near the skin around her neck, she is delicate you know, and your teeth look sharp." With a last cheerful grinning nod, he departed.
Biting her lip to keep her own grin under control, Cella stood beside the Elfking, turned, and presented her back to him. "I am not afraid, Sire, of your sharp teeth." And she waited to see what he would do next.
To be continued in Chapter 33
Posted: December 4, 2004
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"Long live Thranduil, great Elf-king of Greenwood!"