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The King's Vineyard, Chapter 35

By: Mary A
Beta: Malinornë
Pairing: King Thranduil/OFC
Rating: R for mature sexual content
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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The Elfking was good at his word and he did come back to Cella, but only for a brief time. At least that was what she could recall later when she was fully awake.

It was hard to say exactly when Thranduil returned to her bed after slipping out from under her when the banging noise woke her the first time. It might have been minutes or hours. Cella had been in deep dreamless sleep while he was gone, or so it seemed, and could not waken all the way when he returned.

She only knew that he had taken her up into his arms to cradle her gently while he stroked her hair for a few moments before he left her alone again. When he did so, she could feel that he was dressed, which made her sad because she knew he would not get back under the covers with her anymore.

He had told her that he had to leave the halls and ride out into forest, and that she needed to go back to sleep. Before she drifted back completely she heard him repeat to her something he had said earlier.

"Gil dhannen dithen nín," he whispered, and then he was gone again.

But when Cella awoke fully, much later, it took her some time to remember where she was and what had happened to her during the long passionate night with Thranduil. It was only after she remembered that the Elfking had returned to her, while she was still asleep, and had roused her briefly, that she could recall any thing else. And then all the rest returned to her in a rush.

She lay absolutely motionless, clutching the covers with her fists, as she absorbed the full impact of reliving the events that had taken place in this very bed. And then she lifted her head up and looked about her as if she expected the world to be changed from the way she had felt everything rock beneath her. But nothing around her was disturbed by that shocking inner tremor of realization. Her heart pounded and her mind raced in a dazed panic. What had she done? What was going to happen to her now?

After a few moments her mind quieted. She reminded herself that she was in her own bed, in her bedchamber, which was in the Elfking's halls, and there was no safer place to be. And she was a woman now, in every sense of the word. It was unexpectedly calming to realize that she was no longer ignorant about the mystery of what lay on the other side of her all-consuming desire to lose her innocence. She knew.

Startled by a burst of laughter that seemed to erupt out of her chest unasked for, Cella covered her mouth with her hand. Somehow, Milda and Ingarde came to her mind, and what they would think or say about what had happened between her and the Elfking made her laugh even harder.

And as she touched her face, she wondered if she looked different. There were mirrors in the dressing-room. She had always had a superstitious dread of mirrors, although she had not been exposed to very many of them in her life. She did not like looking at herself in one, and had avoided it so far while she was here. If she could get up the nerve to go look at herself in one of them... at least she knew where to find them.

As soon as Cella's thoughts led her back into the dressing-room she could not help but remember what took place within it with the Elfking, and what anyone who looked around in there would find. Her dress, the nightgown, and her shoes would be tossed around on the floor and she felt a little embarrassed about it.

She was naked, too, and that was discomfiting to discover as there was no garment within view to cover her so that she could get out of bed to tidy up the other room before any one else saw it. And she could not imagine what it would be like to see herself nude in one of those mirrors.

What had happened to her undershift? Not that she wanted to put on the well-worn garment again for one more minute longer than necessary. But she figured it had to be close by. She sat up all the way straight and looked around her more carefully as she thought it over. The Elfking had removed it, and her stockings, too, but she had not seen where he had put them.

In fact, just remembering when that had happened, especially when Thranduil pulled off her stockings, and what it felt like, made her feel giddy for a moment. She had to lie back down for a while before she remembered that she was supposed to be looking for something to wear.

But even then, trying as hard as she could to mentally track down the whereabouts of her shift, all she could see was the smile on the Elfking's face as he drew it off of her. She felt weak all over thinking about it and how much he had appeared to have enjoyed himself doing that, among other things. She grinned up at the ceiling and after heaving a great, happy sigh, she sat up once more to get serious about finding something to put on.

Cella tried to first straighten the disheveled blankets and linens as she searched through them, but soon gave up and just ignored their disarray. She had never risen in a bed in such a messy condition before and it was a delicious feeling.

It did not help her concentrate on finding her shift when a scent arose from the covers as she lifted and moved them around, a heady aroma that was a mixture of the Elfking and herself and their mingling. She quickly lost track of her original intentions as her head spun from breathing in the exotic perfume.

Sternly reminding herself to remain focused on finding something to wear, she crawled around the edges of the mattress, keeping herself modestly covered by wrapping one of the loosened sheets around her, while looking on the floor for her shift and stockings. She did not see them. After she had made a tour of the whole bed the linens were completely messed up in a circular shaped tangle in the center.

She sat befuddled for a moment and felt slightly annoyed with her situation. The bedchamber was lit with a couple of the torches, and the fire had been rebuilt. She smiled to herself at how good she was taken care of and felt better.

Her heart leapt when a soft knock was followed by her door being opened, but it was not Thranduil peeking around to see if she was awake, it was Lothriel. Quickly, Cella pulled the edge of the sheet up around her bare shoulders and sat very still so that it would not slip off.

"Good day to you, did you rest well?" The Elleth bore a tray and Cella was relieved to see that no helpful Elves were trailing along beside her this time. The sheet was pulled up to her chin anyway. Even if they were both females, it was uncomfortable being undressed in front of a stranger.

"Good day to you, Lothriel," she replied. "Yes, I did rest well, thank you. What time of day is it?" With no windows to guide her, Cella felt as if she were floating in a timeless world and it could be any time at all beyond the thick stone walls. It was an odd feeling, and she wondered how Uncle Dwain would cope after he came to live here, although he never needed sunlight to tell time.

But the Elleth did not appear to have heard Cella's question as she set the tray down and began spreading out breakfast on the little table near the fireplace. Lothriel seemed more detached than was usual even for an Elf, and her normal serene smile appeared strained. Was she upset about something? Maybe she was angry about Thranduil having been there? Did she know? Who else knew? Was it supposed to be a secret? Discretion was always a good idea, no matter what the situation.

"Is the weather nice today?" Cella tried again, hoping to elicit a friendly response.

"Aye, 'tis fair," replied the Elleth with an air of indifference. "Quite fair." This was not a helpful answer, Cella realized, seeing that some Elves, especially Wood-elves, consider pouring down rain to be fair weather. But it was her own fault for asking if the weather was nice or not and for not being more specific.

"The sun is up, then?" she tried. "And out?" At hearing this last question, Lothriel seemed to 'wake up' from whatever odd mood she had been in since entering the bedchamber, and she looked at Cella as if she just noticed there was a mortal in the room who could not feel through the walls of the cave to determine either the weather or the hour.

"It is a sunny day, yes, and not quite midday by the hour." The Elleth stood beside the table as if expecting Cella to get out of bed and eat something, which was reasonable. But she still seemed distracted and not quite engaged in her activities, as if she were sleepwalking and having a disturbing Elvish dream that claimed most of her attention.

"Is there something wrong?" Up to this point, Cella had tried to avoid asking her right out, in case the Elleth was upset or disapproving about the Elfking. She would probably not say anything if that was true.

"I would not say wrong," answered Lothriel after a moment's hesitation in thought. "Only unusual, perhaps, or out of the ordinary, and that is unsettling. I am sorry if my manners have been poor."

"You just look a little bit worried about something," said Cella. "I was hoping I had done nothing to offend you." This was it, if Lothriel knew anything, she would say so now.

"Offend me? Oh, my dear, no, you are a welcome interruption." The Elleth shook her head and then smiled with a little more warmth as she added, "Many years have passed, seasons almost beyond counting, since last I have seen a single guest within these halls, and now today we are to have more." She sighed and stared off into the distance as if searching for an answer to a puzzle in the air.

"Do you mean my uncle and the rest?" For some reason, the prospect of seeing Uncle Dwain again did not fill Cella with as much joy as she thought it should. She instantly felt guilty, but not much. All she could think of was that it would be more difficult to be alone with Thranduil once there was a chaperone in the guest chambers. But she could not understand why this news would be unsettling to the Elleth all of a sudden; it was well known that more guests would be coming.

"The party from the vineyard is not supposed to arrive until late tonight, if not on the morrow. They are coming slowly because of the wagons," explained Lothriel. "But, yes, there is that, as well." The Elleth then retreated again into her former detached state, her eyes glazing over slightly, and she glided across the floor and made her way toward the dressing-room.

And Cella was hungry, the breakfast looked delicious, but she was torn now between stopping the Elleth from seeing the untidy dressing-room and asking her to bring out something to wear so that she could get out of the bed and eat.

"Do you mean that there are other visitors coming?" Cella asked to delay the Elleth. It worked. Lothriel paused before the dressing-room door to answer.

"His Majesty did not tell you? He said that you were aware that he would not be here when you woke up." Lothriel said this as if it was the most natural thing in the world for her to discuss the Elfking's bedroom conversations with him.

"All I remember is he said he had to ride into the forest, but not why, or anything about visitors." Cella felt a little awkward admitting out loud even that much about her time alone with Thranduil. But if the Elfking had discussed her with the Elleth and what he had told her when they were in bed together, then at least that indicated he did not feel the need to keep what had happened between them a secret. Or did it?

"There was a banging sound last night, and I think now it must have been someone knocking at my door," Cella started carefully, determined to admit nothing about the bedroom intimacies she had shared with Thranduil. "And then he went out into the forest after that, but he did not say more than that to me." In her mind she tried to calculate how much time had passed since then and gave up immediately, she had no idea what the time was now, let alone what the hour was when she was with the Elfking.

"Yes, he has returned since then to fetch some food and other supplies, and has gone back to escort them the rest of the way here."

"Them?" Cella wondered if the Elleth thought that she was a mind-reader.

"Dwarves," breathed Lothriel, as if she was forced into mentioning a particularly virulent plague. Even her placid features could not fully mask the grimace of disgust that lay beneath them, wanting to emerge. "We are to have," she breathed in and exhaled slowly before continuing, "Dwarves visiting in the halls. Guest rooms are to be made ready for them." She did not appear very happy to have to announce it. But Cella felt very proud of herself for having been a witness to their initial discovery.

"That is who must have crossed the borders last night," she concluded after she told Lothriel about how she had seen the Elfking sensing someone unfamiliar within his forest. "It was those Dwarves." Cella was relieved that the raving band of Laketown vigilantes who had been creeping toward her in her mind vanished all at once into the same place where all of her bad dreams went after waking. Replaced by funny little men with beards.

Preoccupied for a moment in considering the intriguing outcome to what had been an unnerving situation, Cella did not even notice that the Elleth had left her and gone into the dressing-room. In fact, she did not realize she was gone until Lothriel emerged carrying the riding suit.

The whole while the Elleth, her previous too-quiet mood replaced by a noticeably chattier attitude, had been telling her about the party of visiting Dwarves, at least what little she had been told herself. And Cella could hear contempt in the tone of her voice as she related the facts of the matter.

They claimed to be lost, these Dwarves, and were not up to any mischief. They were searching for their ancestral landmarks on some sort of pilgrimage. They were attempting to find their ancient road and had become disoriented in the darkness, not being used to above ground exploring. The Elleth had to begrudgingly admit that the bearded earth-dwelling folk were not known for their wood-craft, and it was more likely than not that they would be instantly befuddled by a single tree in the middle of an open meadow. Let alone a whole forest.

The road they were looking for happened to be under the supervision of the Wood-elves, and was called the Forest Road, and was located many leagues north of the halls. This road had been under the jurisdiction of His Majesty since the Second Age, as the Dwarves should well know, at least according to Lothriel. She sounded excessively skeptical of their story, to Cella at least, for having so little information about it. Apparently the idea of Dwarves not knowing that they needed permission to travel in the forest was absurd to the Elves.

But Cella was looking forward to seeing Dwarves up close. She had never seen them before she and Uncle Dwain had traveled to Esgaroth and even then she had only caught a glimpse of a few of them. First there were a couple of them trudging along together, with their heads down, beside the road as they drove past in the cart. Neither of them had glanced upward, and Cella had not turned back to look at them for fear they would think her rude.

After that she had seen another one who was emerging from the Laketown inn where she and her uncle had eaten lunch on the first day they were there. Again, she was too polite to stare, so she only saw him pass by her out of the corner of her eye. He had touched the edge of his cap in greeting, but remained silent. His beard was so long it nearly swept the floor. His head barely reached her shoulder even with the cap.

Her uncle had promised her that she would see many Dwarves once they reached the Long Lake, but so far she had not seen any more than those few. They were not wine-drinking people, and they made their own ale to drink, which kept them from the vineyards. The hills around the inland sea were not rich in mineral ores or jewels, only topsoil for growing good green things, and they were not dug into for profit.

Even though she had only those brief encounters with the Dwarves, Cella thought that the short, stout, hairy men were odd but interesting. They seemed gentlemanly enough. She did not understand the Elleth's annoyance toward the prospect of meeting some of them.

Nonetheless, one thing was clear; Lothriel was not upset about the Elfking and Cella, if she even considered them at all. As she laid out the riding suit across the foot of the bed, and returned to the dressing room, she talked more to herself than to Cella about wishing His Excellency, the seneschal, were there to supervise the necessary arrangements as she was at her wits end with trying to prepare adequate accommodations for the 'stunted folk', as she called them. And it was not used as an endearment.

And with that said, she placed the undergarments she carried on top of the bed and bade Cella to enjoy her breakfast, and then she left the bedchamber. Off to make ready to receive Dwarf guests with as much enthusiasm as if she was being asked to handle toads.

For a few moments after Lothriel left, Cella sat bemused. Her breakfast was growing cold and she was very hungry, but the Elleth had given her much food for thought and she found she could not move in any direction until she processed the news. Dwarves were coming to visit, and her uncle would be there tonight, or in the morning tomorrow.

And then there was the matter of the riding suit, and why was it put on her bed? From the way the Elleth had entered and departed the dressing-room, without seeming to be concerned with any clothing left strewn about the place, Cella guessed that Thranduil must have cleaned up the area before he left. Either that or Lothriel was so distracted by the idea of preparing lodging fit for Dwarves that she had not noticed the floor at all.

But if all she had left in her wardrobe to wear was the riding suit, then she wondered what happened to her other clothes. Had the Elleth tromped over the top of them in her daze?

Once alone, Cella could do more than rub her eyes as she tried to decide which would be the better course of action. Should she put on the riding suit to eat her breakfast, or keep the sheet she had wrapped around herself on, for fear of spilling anything on the rich glittering garment? The door opened again, and Lothriel was back.

"You have not eaten, Celiel? Are you not hungry?" The agitated Elleth looked as if she had just been added a new problem to an already problem-filled day. "Your bath is ready; it may grow cold if you wait much longer." Before Cella could reply, Lothriel was already in the dressing-room again and then back out with the bathrobe.

"Maybe I could eat in the bathroom?" The idea of a bath jumped ahead of all other concerns, but Cella was hungry. "We could put the tray on the ledge?" She used her hands to describe the area she meant and the Elleth's tinkling laugh was a relief to hear.

"His Majesty said you would be hungry," said Lothriel, smiling now as pleasantly as she did the day before.

"Did he say I would be as hungry as a hobbit?" Cella guessed.

"Why yes, he did say so," replied Lothriel, almost seeming surprised to hear Thranduil's very words. With a last chuckle at the idea of eating while bathing, the Elleth put Cella's breakfast back on the tray and carried it to the bathing room.

With the bathrobe on, Cella followed eagerly, and was soon emerged in the luxuriously hot water while trying to keep her hands dry enough to eat with. She asked Lothriel to stay with her for a while, if she could spare the time, and tell her more about the Dwarves and their ancient road.

From the Elleth's unhappy attitude toward their unexpected appearance in the forest, Cella assumed that relations between the two races were strained, and she did not inquire into the reasons behind the animosity. But Thaladir had not told her anything about Dwarves and Mirkwood during his history lesson beyond their presence at the Battle of the Five Armies, which she had been led to believe was negligible.

She recalled that when Thranduil told her the tale about the hobbit, Bilbo, he had not referred to the Dwarf prisoners with much affection in his voice, either. Although she believed he was not happy with having to admit to being foiled by members of two races who were vastly inferior to his own mighty lineage. At least that is how she took it from the way he spoke about them.

And Lothriel seemed almost grateful for the invitation to sit beside the bath and talk; apparently Cella's wishes took precedence over providing Dwarf accommodations. Until the water grew too chilly to sit in comfortably, they talked about the history of the Great Greenwood, before the Wood-elves came to live in the caves.

To be continued in Chapter 36

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Posted: December 31, 2004

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