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The King's Vineyard, Chapter 36

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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Eating breakfast while bathing turned out to be a wonderful way to start her day, Cella decided. The cleansing steaming water was just what she needed to feel as fresh on the outside as she did on the inside, and the meal she was served was delicious.

She felt like a different person and she saw every single thing that came into her view, including her own body, from a new perspective. I am a woman now, she kept telling herself, and I am seeing the world through the eyes of a woman.

It was almost as if she had a new set of senses to feel the water and taste her food with, or her previous way of sensing had been heightened, possibly, now that she was a woman. This was more than mere happiness; this was a new way of being.

Added to that new awareness was an inner melody that hummed through her constantly, or maybe it was more of a tingling that coursed through her nerves uninterrupted? Or maybe what she felt was just a natural side effect of spending her night in the arms of the magical Elfking? It did not matter; she enjoyed the pleasant interior harmony just the same.

And she discovered that a simple thing like taking her robe off in front of Lothriel was not as difficult as it would have been the day before, even though the Elleth turned her head politely. They were busy talking when Cella disrobed, and it was not until she stepped into the water that she noticed that she had not felt embarrassed to be unclothed while in the same room with another person.

Not for the first time did she wonder if her face looked different, too, although Lothriel's manner did not seem to indicate that she noticed anything unusual about her appearance. However, that did not mean much as it was a rare Elf that ever displayed their feelings unless it was in an extreme situation. But Cella was starting to distinguish the subtle changes that even the most subdued of the Fair Folk's features displayed when they were in distress, or very happy.

Today she enjoyed the Elleth's company very much, finding that now that she was in a more talkative mood she was also very informative. Cella was very curious about the Dwarves who were coming to the caves and what they might have been doing to get themselves lost in the Elfking's forest.

Lothriel sat next to Cella as she bathed and explained the existence of the ancient Men-i-Naugrim [Dwarf Road] that she had mentioned earlier. It ran straight through the Elfking's forest and was originally built by the Anfangrim [Longbeards], as the Elleth termed those particular Dwarves. "Durin's folk," she added, as if that would make the term even clearer to the mortal.

She told Cella first about how, long before the first King, Oropher, and his son Thranduil had crossed the Misty Mountains and entered the forest, the Wood-elves shared the Rhovanion forestland with the bearded folk.

At that time, the Elves were living without a leader in the very southern edge of the Great Greenwood. They mostly lived in the area of the forest directly across the Anduin River from their kinfolk, the Galadhrim, in the Golden Wood that they called Lothlorien. Cella was quickly lost in the tangle of foreign terms, unfamiliar place names, and elvish words, but she enjoyed the Elleth's tale nonetheless.

In the far north of the woodland, but still within the forest, there lies a mountain range which was once called the Emyn Duir [Dark Mountains] and just below those mountains the Dwarves had built their ancient road. For an age, that northern area was the exclusive domain of the thrawn folk, as Lothriel also called them, there seemed to be many names for them in the Elven tongue, and they had built that road for traveling between their mines in the Iron Hills and their great city within the Misty Mountains.

"Moria," pronounced Lothriel gloomily, and even Cella had heard old tales of the great goblin cave in the far-off mountains, when she was a child. Access to the river Anduin at the road's westernmost end lay almost exactly halfway between the ancient Dwarvish meeting-place at Gundabad to the north, and Durin's former mansions in Moria to the south. But that road had been long since abandoned by them when the Elves moved there.

As the tale unfolded, Cella began to get a glimmer of an idea why the Elleth sounded contemptuous of the Dwarves. It seemed that all they were interested in, at least from what Lothriel said, was what lay below the surface of the earth's skin, and not the light of the stars in the sky, or the beauty of the trees in the forest and the welfare of the creatures that dwelt among them.

"When they traveled on their road through the woodland," said Lothriel, "they always kept their heads down, to avoid seeing the beauty of the trees." And Cella recalled the Dwarves she had seen trudging beside the road to Laketown who marched along in that same fashion.

And after the Elves had begun migrating northward, a family of Dwarves, who still frequently traveled the old road, had befriended them and had even guided them about in their new surroundings.

Eventually, these Dwarves had also offered their services to Thranduil, not long after he had settled his subjects between the two rivers in an effort to escape the creeping darkness from Amon Lanc, and they had built most of his cavern stronghold for him.

They had never completed the construction as they had promised. However, by the time they left the caves, and Lothriel did not explain why they went away and did not finish, the Elves had learned enough stonecraft from them to finish the job in their stead.

While she listened to the story of the Elves and their dealings with the Dwarves, Cella loved it that she was learning more of the history of her new home. Now some of the pictures she had seen on the tapestries in the corridors began to make more sense to her. Some depicted the Wood-elves in tall fir trees, few of which Cella had seen during her ride among the beech tree lined road from the vineyard. And the reason for the difference in the way the caves were designed in some areas compared to others was coming clear.

She was not much closer to understanding the underlying animosity between the two groups besides the way they dealt with nature, but she gathered from Lothriel's telling of the story that there was never much affection shared between these particular races, even before the caves were built. However she was not worried about the Dwarves doing her, or her new home, any harm.

After eating her breakfast while bathing, and listening to Lothriel's tales about the history of Mirkwood before the Elves moved into the caves, Cella felt ready to go back to bed and sleep some more. The warm water and the good food, and learning more of the history of her beloved Elfking's realm, were almost too relaxing when what she needed was to wake up fully.

When it was time for Cella to get out of the bath, Lothriel left her alone to dry herself and put the robe back on. The Elleth returned with the riding suit and a pair of calf-high boots that were new.

"Legolas insisted that you be properly booted for your ride today," Lothriel explained as she sat to brush Cella's hair.

Until it was mentioned, Cella had forgotten her promise to go riding with the Elfprince today, and now the riding suit made more sense. The fresh air would wake her up, too, she figured, and she did anticipate being outdoors if the day was sunny. But she worried a little about seeing Legolas this soon.

She could not help but recall how he had practically trapped the Elfking into being alone with her in the little dressing-room the night before. Would he mention that to her today, she wondered? What else did he know?

But her troubled thoughts of the merry younger Elf were easily erased by the memory of his father when the events of the night and early morning, which had never completely left her thoughts throughout the bath and the story of the Dwarves, were moved once again to the front of her mind in full force. Thinking about the Elfking made her melt inside, and what little distress she had felt over seeing his son disappeared.

'Gil dhannen dithen nín,' was the last thing that Thranduil had said to her. She thought she knew what the words meant, something about stars, although she was not exactly sure, and their translation was not at all crucial. The way he had spoken them to her was like a caress to her soul. She thought about asking the Elleth, except that she was not willing yet to reveal any more than was necessary about what had taken place in her bed with the Elfking.

Even if every Elf in the realm was aware of what had happened, and she did not let that idea sink in all the way or she would have never left her bed to show her face in the first place, she was determined to remain silent until she knew how His Majesty was going to treat her now. Her biggest fear was that he would revert to his formal forbidding attitude and retreat back behind the wall he claimed she had broken through.

Soon enough she was dressed and properly shod, with her hair braided back from her face in a single plait, and ready to ride. According to Lothriel, it would be afternoon before the monarch and his guests would get there, meaning there would be plenty of time to have a pleasant jaunt through the forest.

"Ah now, look who has finally managed to rise from her mortal slumber to greet the new day," said Legolas. He was standing in the large reception hall, and there was no way of knowing how long he had been there. With a graceful bow, he gestured her through the door and out into the corridor.

"I am sorry if I made you wait very long," said Cella, although it was hard to feel very regretful. She had so loved hearing about the Dwarves and the Elves from Lothriel, that she felt she had not slothfully wasted her time at her bath, at least. She found the history lesson valuable. And as far as her sleeping late was concerned, she was a mortal, as he said.

"It was well worth it," replied Legolas as he walked beside her, his lips upturned in an approving smile. He craned his neck behind her and seemed to be examining her back. Cella wondered what he was up to until he lifted her braid and then she grinned at his question, "How is your neck? I hope that my father did not leave any visible teeth marks."

"Your father did not have to use his teeth." Cella braced herself for further teasing, but he did not pursue the subject. Before she even realized it they were entering into an unfamiliar hall, the largest one she had seen or been in since she had arrived. So certain she was that he would say something to make her blush, she had not paid attention until they were walking across the floor. She slowed her step and looked about her in awe and puzzlement.

Immediately Cella could tell that this was an important public gathering area by the rows of benches that lined the cavernous room six rows deep on three sides, and still there was what felt like a half-acre of open space, broken up only by the distinctively Elf-carved pillars, in front of a raised platform with a large chair on top of it. The oversized seat was made of dark wood and was carved all over in much the same way as the royal bed was decorated back at the vineyard.

This was the Elfking's throne, she realized. They were in his throne room. It was, like him, magnificent, and made his great meeting hall back at the vineyard seem parlor-sized by comparison.

"I want to show you something," explained Legolas. "I think you will enjoy seeing it."

The stone walls were hidden behind layers of torch lit wall hangings including variously colored banners, some with the crests of the various Elflord families who were part of the royal house, and some without that were just for show. There were enormous embroidered tapestries also, and it was toward one of these, flanked by its own torches, that the Elfprince led her.

The sight of it from across the room sent a thrill through her, and for a moment she thought she saw the Elfking sitting there with them, silent. An embroidered picture that was a life-sized one of Thranduil on the same throne that sat within this room, but instead of being on the dais within the caves, the throne was out of doors in a clearing surrounded by the familiar beech trees.

On his head he had on what appeared to be the same crown of autumn-colored leaves and bright red berries that he wore to the feast the night before and he held a staff in his hand. She resisted stroking the intricately detailed needlework; it may appear that she was interested in more than merely inspecting the handiwork.

A younger, smaller Legolas stood next to the Elfking in the tapestry wearing the same riding suit that she was wearing now, only with the addition of a cape over his shoulders. Cella gasped to see the outfit on him in front of her in perfect proportion. He stood not much taller than she did now during what appeared to be an important ceremony being depicted.

"My father's 'Aranor'," Legolas told her and explained how it was much like a coronation ceremony would be for a human king. It was the day that Thranduil officially became the new King of the Wood-elves, when he took his father's staff and seat. "It was held outdoors, because the Dwarves were not finished with this part of the palace yet."

And in the background, among the various Elven dignitaries depicted, were a small group of Dwarves. Cella had noticed them right away, now that she had learned so much about them, and she wondered if the Elfprince felt as annoyed by the news of their impending arrival as Lothriel was. She peeked up at him to see if she could tell.

"I suppose you have heard about our unexpected naugrim [stunted folk] guests from Lothriel," he asked, as if reading her thoughts the way Thranduil often did. "She has had a long face all day because of it," he added a bit apologetically.

"Does she have to take care of both me and them?" It did not seem fair to burden the slender Elleth with that much responsibility.

"Yes, you see, Lothriel is one of the few here who can speak Westron, which we have been told that a couple of the Dwarves can speak as well. Only old Thaladir is capable of understanding their tongue, Khuzdul, and he will not be back before they arrive, which I am sure will distress him to no end." From the way he grinned, Cella believed he was pleased to think of the seneschal being bothered.

"Plus," he added, "Lothriel is the only one of us left in the caves that have actually dwelt in an area that was regularly visited by Dwarves, so that makes her the resident household expert, until the rest of the staff from the vineyard arrive home." From what Cella had observed, the Elleth's knowledge was stretched to its limit as it was.

It turned out that most of the Wood-elves who had followed Thranduil to the vineyard, and stayed, were also veterans of the first campaign to the Laketown, when they went to find the Dwarves who had escaped with the help of the hobbit and ended up engaged in the Battle of the Five Armies.

Those Elves that were the most likely to feel comfortable in the treeless region, and least likely to be offended by the sight of other races, including Dwarves, were highly valuable in the vineyard, and much missed at home for this unlooked for occasion. Legolas explained this to her as they went out into the brilliant day and found their horses waiting for them.

Seeing Hwiniel, the bay mare that she had been given to ride on her way there, was like seeing an old friend. Cella was surprised to find that the Elves had either found, or made for her, a regular saddle with a bridle, reins, and jingling stirrups.

The gentle horse stood quietly, swishing its tail now and then, while Legolas helped Cella mount and then adjusted everything to fit her properly. This mainly involved the stirrups, which she could only reach with the tips of her toes when she first tried. It was a great improvement to her feeling of security once she had the more familiar-feeling reins in her hands.

The Elfprince's horse, a lovely dappled gray stallion, was not as large as his father's, or as feisty, but was similarly unsaddled. They rode across the bridge over the swiftly flowing river and Legolas led her off of the road and directly into the trees.

A tiny path, allowing only one horse at a time, took them away from the caves for some distance under the colorful beech trees, whose leaves were falling and leaving a rusty-golden carpet that whispered softly beneath the delicately placed horse hooves.

"I think all of the animals are hiding from me," Cella observed after she spotted what she thought might have been the tip of a squirrel's-tail disappearing up into a tree. Except for birds chirping in the underbrush, the forest had been devoid of either sight or sound of any living creatures besides their horses.

"Well then, we will have to lure them into view," replied Legolas confidently. "This is no time for hiding; they have too much work to do gathering their food for winter." He began to sing, and at first Cella strained to hear and understand the words but quickly realized that he was not singing in any tongue she recognized. It may have been Elvish, but a nonsensical form of it, or perhaps it was the language of the animals that he was luring, translated into his tongue.

Whatever it was, it was working, and soon Cella was treated to the sight of many of the same animals she had seen carved in wood on the shelves in the Elfking's den. The birds were the first to show up, flitting overhead, while continuing their merry chirping. Then Legolas pointed out a bright-eyed squirrel, its thick winter coat was an unusual glossy-black, as it chattered down at them from the branches of the beech-trees while twitching its brushy tail.

A red fox dashed along beside them before diving back into a hole in the underbrush, and a couple of more squirrels chased each other around the trunk of a tree to Cella's delight. Soon she needed no help in spotting any new creature that had been attracted by the Elvish song.

"Ah-ha!" exclaimed the Elfprince. He halted his horse and looked back over his shoulder into he distance behind her. "I think I detect the presence of a most unique species, we may have to sneak up on it though, for only very rarely can they be spotted unaware." He brought his horse back around hers and led her back for a while the way they had come before taking another path that branched off of the first.

Enough of the afternoon sun shone through the trees that had lost leaves to show that they were moving farther away from the direction of the caves, and Cella was eagerly curious about the rare animal she might be fortunate to see, if they were wary enough in their approach to it.

Through the trees she could just see that the straight line of road was not too far away, and in a small clearing not far from it they dismounted. From there the Elfprince led her by hand, after pressing a finger to his lips to indicate the need for silence. After he had situated the two of them behind a large beech that sat next to the road, he slowly and carefully peered out from behind it and then gestured for her to do the same, which she did as cautiously as he had.

At first she saw nothing in front of her beside the road stretching straight away into the distance within its tunnel, its surface now a carpet of fallen beech leaves, and the trees that grew beside it. She had expected to see some furry creature, a bear perhaps, or something she had never seen before, and she was mightily puzzled.

"Look ahead, down the road," Legolas whispered and when she raised her eyes, she had to cover her mouth to keep from making a noise. There were riders approaching, and at their lead, still tiny in the distance, but still recognizable to her, was the Elfking. "Try not to giggle," warned the Elfprince after she drew back behind the tree to remain hidden from sight with him.

A/N: The term Aranor was invented by my beta, Malinorne, and is based on the Sindarin words Aran [King] and aur [day].

To be continued in Chapter 37

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Posted: January 8, 2004

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