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The King's Vineyard, Chapter 39

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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For the first time since she had woken up alone that day, Cella felt at ease. She and Thranduil sat on the couch in front of the bedchamber's fireplace, and talked about her day. The torches and candles had guttered out long before they had arrived, but the fire's merry glow was sufficient for their quiet conversation. It reminded her of the night they had slept outdoors, with only the flickering flames and starlight to see each other by.

If it had been up to her, as soon as they had entered her bedchamber, Thranduil would have done more than just kiss her, although that was very nice. If she had her way, he would also have undressed her right then and there and taken her to bed. But he did not, and she could not bring herself to ask.

"Come and sit with me," he had requested, after helping her out of her cloak. "I want to talk with you."

It was not easy to concentrate at first, because the Elfking's kiss had left her a bit breathless and giddy. But after they sat down, and he had taken one of her hands into his much larger one, she found it easier to breathe. He told her that he wanted to hear about her morning, and her ride with Legolas, and what she thought of the forest creatures after they had been summoned into her view.

Because she had been under the impression that he could continually read her mind and always knew her feelings, at first she was sure that he was teasing her even though she did enjoy telling him about the way Legolas had entertained her and how Lothriel had pampered her. It was hard to believe he found any of it very interesting.

After a little while, she finally was brave enough to ask him if he was not bored by her when he already knew everything she did, thought, and felt. This was a notion that continually preoccupied her, especially at those times when she caught herself drifting off in a daydream of wishful thinking about the Elfking and would scold herself for possibly disturbing him.

She was touched to think that he wanted to hear her speak of her day, just to hear her talk, but she did not want to keep him from more important tasks if she could help it. And she admitted to him that she could think of nothing more tedious to endure than hearing her trivial opinions about his realm even the first time she had them, let alone having to hear them all over again.

But, Thranduil reassured her that although he could keep track of her thoughts, if he so chose, he actually did not. Instead he allowed her the same privacy as he did the rest of his subjects. Nonetheless, he discovered that she was difficult to ignore. And he was delighted to hear about his forest and its creatures from her point of view, for he found her perspective to be refreshment to his spirit

"You can be very distracting at times, firiel," he informed her in a tone of mock-sternness, and then he added in a softer tone, "although I know that you are not even aware of it."

"I am so sorry, Sire. I will try to do better." Although he had made her feel of some worth when he claimed that she was good for his spirit, it was worrisome to her to be thought a distraction. The idea of accidentally interrupting the important business of His Majesty with her silly flights of fancy was something she had been almost desperate to avoid at all times. The last thing she wanted was to be nuisance to him. "I honestly try as hard as I can not to think too loud, I promise," she said.

"And that is what makes your thoughts all the more impossible to resist." He lifted her hand and, after he pressed his lips against it, added, "And your efforts to remain quiet can be rather clamorous."

"Now that I am finally alone with you," she said. "I do feel safer thinking about you. But when there were others around you today, I was worried about being a bother, sometimes. But it was so hard not to think about...us." She was learning that the most important things are the hardest to say, because words diminish them.

"Ah, then you should understand that it is my lot in life to suffer much, even from the stray affections of a mortal mind, and still be strong." He smiled at her. "But, neither you nor your thoughts about me are bothersome, at any time." To hear this was a relief, but she was not so sure he was being truthful.

"What about that night by the campfire? I believe you were annoyed with me then, and my less than ladylike thoughts." She cringed a little inside, remembering how hard she had tried to send him a thought-picture to seduce him with that night, and how she had failed so miserably.

"No, I was not annoyed. I would not say that," he replied thoughtfully. For a few moments, he stared into the fire silently before continuing, "I had always thought that the emotions of mortals were both too fleeting and frivolous for consideration and never before had I let them touch my heart. Your persistence, on the other hand, was rare and unexpected, yet effective, to be sure. But you were never annoying."

As they sat together, Cella took delight in the very simplest interactions with Thranduil. Just to be able to talk with him about these ordinary and extraordinary matters made her feel cherished. And the way he sometimes lifted her hand and absentmindedly studied her fingers as he held it brought her almost as much profound pleasure as their heated coupling during the night had done.

And she was nearly delirious with the joy of being near him, and having him to herself. Now that the Dwarves had arrived and the vineyard workers were soon to follow, she had not expected to be gifted with such a treat for quite some time, maybe even days. Just being alone, truly alone, with Thranduil filled her with an emotion so deep and tender that no other feeling could compare.

But, Cella wanted to know more about the Dwarves, too. She was curious about many things, such as how they got lost if they had a map, and why they were they always wishing for each other's beards to grow long. She also wondered why Duin was spotless while the others were filthy, but she did not ask.

The Elfking was amusing to listen to as he recounted the story of how the Dwarves had lost their way. It seemed that the famous map of Thror that the Dwarves had with them only described the very edge of the entire forest. He had to let go of her hand to hold one of his own up, palm forward so she saw the back of it, to help describe what the actual map represented as he explained it to her.

"Imagine that this is my forest," he said. "The map only showed this part." Then he pointed to the very tips of his fingers to indicate how the entire depiction of the great woodland was along its very northern edge. The rest of it was not shown.

"However," he added, "there was at least an arrow pointing to my halls and a warning to beware of the spiders." He shook his head. "That was all." For a moment he sat with an expression of near bemusement on his handsome face before he continued.

"The naugrim from the Lonely Mountain kingdom do not travel this way but rarely," he began, "Specifically, in this situation, Duin, the brother of Dain, and the leader of their group, and his soldiers, were not very used to traveling far from Dale at all, if ever."

The other Dwarves, Narfi and his escort, were Anfangrim [Longbeards], whose forefathers had originally dwelt in the mansions of Dwarrowdelf, in their Kingdom beneath the Misty Mountains and it was they who had built the Old Forest Road. He had expected that the Dwarves might begin to travel back and forth again upon that road now that the darkness from Dol Guldur had diminished.

"Narfi would be from Durin's folk?" The question seemed to jump out of her mouth, unbidden, but Cella was pleased with herself when the Elfking grinned proudly while he nodded.

"The builders of their grand caves were Narfi's ancestors. How do you know of Durin's folk?

"Lothriel told me about them and their ancient road this morning."

Although Cella briefly considered it now, she decided not to ask Thranduil any questions about the underlying tone of animosity toward the Dwarves that she had noticed during her conversation with the Elleth. She remembered in time how he had not been pleased when he had told her about the hobbit who had helped some of them escape from his dungeons.

She figured that if he had imprisoned Dwarves in the past, then there might be something dangerous about them that she did not suspect, or detect. And she did not want him to think her foolish, or even traitorous, for liking them, even if she did not feel at all uncomfortable when she was introduced to them that day.

But, of course, she did not have to ask him anything. The Elfking regarded her face calmly for a moment, and then put an arm around her to draw her closer to him. He held her without speaking and she wondered what he was thinking.

"This must all be very confusing to you," he finally said. "But I would rather not have you burdened with the ancient history of all the bitter relations between our folk. This particular party of visitors poses no threat to my realm, Celiel, and there is no purpose served in abusing any lost traveler who gives an honest account of their activities in my forest. You may enjoy their company without guilt."

"Thank you, Sire." As he spoke, Cella reveled in his embrace. When he did not release her at once, she slipped one of her arms around him and snuggled even closer. That way, she could hear the vibration of his lovely voice in his chest, and below that, the steady rhythm of his heart-beat, which was nearly mesmerizing all on its own.

Getting back to his tale of the lost Dwarves, Thranduil told her how Narfi and his escort had misgivings about Duin's usefulness as a guide, but when he did not immediately lead the expedition party astray, the former denizens of the Great Greenwood had accepted the mountain Dwarf's guidance without question for many leagues of travel toward Mirkwood.

Again Thranduil held his hands up, and traced a line from an imaginary Lonely Mountain a few inches above his longest finger that ended near the outside of the tip of his first finger. Duin had no problem following the Celduin River from where it spilled out of that mountain on its way to the Long Lake, which was located beside the knuckle of that same finger, a little to the left.

Cella giggled as she imagined the tiny mountain and miniature lake beside the enormous hand-sized forest. She had traveled beside that river, and knew the layout vaguely, but it was interesting to see it before her like this. And even though Thranduil had removed his arms from around her to demonstrate the misguided Dwarves' progress with his hands, she had not let go of him. He did not seem to mind.

She tried to focus on his forest, held before her in all of its majesty, represented by the back of his beautiful hand.

"And just about here," the Elfking explained, as he pointed to spot just below the fingernail of his first finger, "is where their troubles began, for the Forest River that flows out of Mirkwood," he drew a line across the top of his knuckles, "and into the lake, lay right across their path, and in their confusion they followed alongside it instead of the Celduin, which they had intended to travel beside until they reached the Old Forest Road. Unfortunately, they ended up traveling due west instead of south, as they should have."

It was shortly after leaving the lakeside while keeping to the river's edge that they suddenly found they were surrounded by trees. Duin was too stubborn to admit that he might have made a mistake, and even though Narfi was quite sure from the very start that they were following the wrong river, he was outvoted when the decision was made to continue on.

"It does no good to argue with newly restored royalty, especially from the house of Dain, may his estimable beard grow long, for they are a proud and stubborn breed. And Duin takes his status seriously, as all of their Blue Mountain folk were wont to do. I do not blame them for it. They were so long exiled by the invasion of Smaug..." Thranduil's voice trailed off as if he was lost in memory and he was silent again for a while, but Cella did not mind. She was not really listening any more.

He had lost her when he said it did no good to argue with royalty, because she knew differently, although she did not say so out loud. She only smiled to think that she actually had the courage to challenge the only royal person she had ever met. And he was here, right beside her, because she had been brave enough to argue. She stared into the fire while she loved him.

However, underneath Cella's joy at being alone with the Elfking, and despite it, there was a quiet but constantly gnawing awareness that she was only a mortal, and of no significance or importance in her brief turn in this world.

On and off, throughout that day so far, she had worried that at any moment the Elfking might come to his senses and realize all of that about her, too. It was a dark thought, and she had fought it off each time.

Once that they were alone, those feelings had disappeared the minute he kissed her, and she had forgotten them. But as he spoke of events that had occurred before even her own parents were born, the anxiety she had felt rose up again to thwart her peace of mind. What could she ever expect to be in his life?

"Do you have a question to ask me?" She nearly jumped at his words. Immediately she regretted her fears because she knew that he did care about her, and very much. And he had shown her that he did with more actions than mere words of everlasting devotion could have ever shown. She was almost tempted to deny everything; if only that they might quickly return to the happy quiet state that they were sharing just moments ago.

But, Cella did want to ask him something, and now was a good time for it. She smiled up into his face and spoke.

"What does 'gil dhannen dithen nín' mean?" She had not forgotten his words, or the tender way he spoke them, and in fact had repeated them to herself many times. However, she was not sure she was saying them back to him correctly.

"Do you not know? You should, for you said them first to me," he answered. But from the way he quirked the corner of his mouth she figured it was something of a riddle for her to decipher. She thought hard before she replied.

"I know it is about a star, or a little star?" Cella searched his face for a clue, as if she could have read the answer to anything in that penetrating gaze. Instead she grew even more befuddled by the light that flickered subtly in his eyes as he waited for her to figure out the puzzle. "Tell me," she whispered in surrender.

"It means, 'my little fallen star'," he said, before he kissed her. And then he kissed her again after she asked him to say it to her in the way she wanted to hear it, "Gil dhannen dithen nín." But then he broke away from her, and she groaned.

"Don't stop, Majesty."

"Have patience, little star," the Elfking replied gently and then added, "It is good that you reminded me of this." He sat straight again and pulled her head to press against his chest. "There is something else that I want to talk to you about."

Although she felt a twinge of alarm, she reminded herself of how she had gotten herself trapped in a state of misery the last time she had assumed the worst when he had had something important to tell her, and how foolishly she had behaved because of that.

"Alright," she reluctantly answered. "I will be patient, Sire."

"I cannot marry you, Celiel, as is the custom of mortals," he began, and even though she had never in her daydreams considered that he could, her heart sank so quickly that it made her feel sick. But she took a deep breath and instructed herself to be calm and listen. "But neither will I deny my feelings for you," he continued, "nor do I choose to disguise them any longer under a mask of self-righteous nobility. And I find that I cannot be false when you are near me and we both know the truth."

She sat up straight and looked at him after she could breathe again

"Just, please, do not send me away from here, Your Majesty," she said. "I could not bear it and I would not live through it." And Cella was more than ready to promise him anything if he would only tell her that he would not dismiss her.

"Never," he said flatly, calming her instantly. "When a star this bright falls into my lap, I would be a fool to discard it." He kissed her again, to prove that his words were true.

And then it was her turn to break away, when her curiosity over what he had just said finally overcame the pleasure of kissing him.

"What is going to happen, then? To me?" And then, she dared to say, "To us?"

She braced herself. Her biggest worry was that his own subjects disapproved of what they might consider offensive behavior, on the part of their monarch, for him to consort with a lowly mortal maid. If that was true, then their sheer numbers could overrule her insignificant desire to love him. The Elfking was dedicated to keeping peace and harmony within his entire realm.

Her second worry was that Uncle Dwain would somehow discover that they were lovers, and would disown her in disgust, or try to take her away from the Elfking by force. She shuddered.

"Do not fear, Celiel." Thranduil's voice was soothing and she let him draw her close to him again as he continued speaking. "For I have thought of something else, and maybe there will be a way to satisfy all parties involved. I will not say anything further until I consult with my legal advisor. However I do want you to know one thing."

"Tell me." She was no longer afraid of anything he might say, but she wished he would kiss her again first.

"You will not ever be taken away from me, either by the law, or by the hand of any one else, for as long as you live."

And then he did kiss her again.

To be continued in Chapter 40

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Posted: January 29, 2005

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