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The King's Vineyard, Chapter 40

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 peaceful vineyard was beautiful in the fading light of the sunset. Cella drank in the pleasing scene as she stood before the window in the royal bedchamber at the Elfking's mansion and looked down over the rows of gold-tinted vines spread out below her.

"For as long as you live." Thranduil's beautiful voice resounded in her ears. But even though his words were no more than an echo, or a memory, Cella did not think she could ever get tired of recalling them.

Satisfied with the way the acres of sun-gilded vines appeared, she lifted her head to look off into the distance at the lofty-peaked Lonely Mountain that dominated the horizon, and she felt so happy that she thought she would cry. But the contented peacefulness did not last for long.

For all of a sudden, an inky, murky darkness had blurred the view outside as night fell on the vineyard. Cella did not at all like the way the moon looked, hanging all alone, white and cold, up there in the pitch-black sky, and she closed the shutters to keep out both the utter all-consuming darkness and that one eerie source of light.

However, closing the shutters meant that it was darker inside of the room now, and she hesitated, unsure that blocking out the thin, cold moonlight was a wise idea. Bravely, she told herself that she was not to let herself feel afraid, because she was safe, forever safe. All she needed to do was light a candle.

As Cella reached her hands out in front of her to gropingly feel her way toward the table, she felt even less afraid and was growing increasingly annoyed that her vision was obscured. And there was also a sound next to her that she did not like to hear, it was a strange and yet familiar crackling sound and it bothered her.

Even worse, there seemed to be a frightening smell attached to it... but how could a sound have a smell? Peculiarly, the darkness that she moved through seemed to have a texture to it and parted like a misty curtain before her, and swirled around her, and then closed in behind her, just... like... smoke.

It was smoke! Black, thick clouds of smoke. The vineyard must be on fire again! Her mouth was open wide and she was screaming out as loud as she could, but all that emerged was a whispered croak. Right next to her there was a voice, quiet and yet strong enough to be heard over her silent screaming, and it said, "Open your eyes."

Cella sat up straight with a jerk and stared about her in wide-eyed confusion as she looked for the speaker of those words. At first, it was a surprise to her that the room was not dark after all, and then she felt flooded with relief. She had been asleep, on the couch, and had dreamt about Thranduil's bedchamber back at the vineyard. It was a wonderful dream that had turned into a nightmare.

Although Cella was not cold, her body shook a little with left over horror brought on by the dream, and she was not quite all the way awake. She gasped, startled, when she heard something moving around. Somebody was in her dressing room.

"Who is there?" After calling out, she noticed that her dress was damp with perspiration, most notably over her chest and back, and the fabric clung to her uncomfortably. She was too hot, probably from sleeping before the fire, but she was too sluggish from the nap to want to move away from it.

"It is Lothriel," called the Elleth, which made Cella feel better instantly, now that she knew for certain that she was not alone with a smoky monster that had crept in while she slept. But where was Thranduil? She looked around the room, as if he might be hiding in a corner, which was, of course, silly.

The Elfking was gone from the chambers, but she knew he was not far. Within her, she could feel that inner reassurance from him even stronger than she had ever felt it before. It felt like an embrace from the inside. However, he had a kingdom to manage, which meant that he could not spend every minute of his time with her, and she understood that without the need to be reminded.

The thick braid on the back of her neck felt heavy and oppressive. She shifted it aside on her shoulder and waved her hand to make a little breeze to cool off her skin there. Another bath would be nice, although she would never think of bothering anyone for one. There was an almost irresistible urge to lie back down and nap some more.

As she tried to wake fully, she realized that all of the torches had been lit, the fire rebuilt, and there were candles glowing on the mantle above the hearth. The familiar woodsy odor emitted by the sap-filled pine knots that were used for kindling was sweet to her nostrils, now that she knew the source.

And the friendly snapping and popping noises from the burning logs were no longer as disturbing as the scary crackling sounds had been within her dream. She slowly returned to normal as she put together the elements of her nightmare.

"Are you feeling well, Celiel?" asked the concerned Elf maiden. She had come out from the little room with a garment in her hands. It was a dress, but one Cella had never seen before.

"I am fine, I think, just too warm from the fire," she said and then covered a yawn with her hand before adding. "I was having a bad dream, but I feel... better now."

"Oh, you must tell me about it then, for that is the best cure." Lothriel sat beside her, after draping the gown that was in her arms over the foot of the bed, and waited expectantly. When Cella did not immediately respond to her, she prompted, "And then, perhaps I can help you to decipher the dream properly and dispel the fear that it grew from."

"I... I can't remember much of it anymore, just bits of it, the very end." It would be more truthful to say that she did not necessarily want to talk about her nightmare with the Elleth, than to say she could not remember it. And the Elfking was not there. She would have related it to him, maybe. Or, maybe not. With a sharp pang of remorse, she suddenly missed her uncle and felt guilty for ever having dreaded his arrival.

"The very end of your dream will do fine, if you wish to tell me about it, and that is often enough to bring out the rest of it," said Lothriel. "Tell me all that you can recall."

"Never mind, please, it isn't that... important." Cella was touched by Lothriel's offer, but she would rather put the unpleasant dream behind her and not think about it any more. She smiled at the Elleth and said, "Please don't worry about me. I have had that dream before, or ones like it."

"I have had episodes that are much like a mortal's nightmares, too, from what I know about them. Except that what I experience is more akin to deliberately allowing dark memories to haunt my mind when I am feeling weak, or angry."

The fact that the Elves were big believers in talking, and not just to anyone, but also about everything, was something Cella had known before she had ever met or lived among them. Nonetheless, she was not yet accustomed to discussing herself, or her fears, at least not freely with anyone. However, she almost changed her mind when Lothriel spoke about her own 'dark memories'.

As she spoke, the Elleth seemed to withdraw her immediate presence from the room, without actually moving anywhere, in much the same way the Elfking did at times when Cella asked him a question about the past, especially his own past. As if they could slip in and out of two different worlds at will.

"And to think," Lothriel remarked slowly, a bit ashamedly, and before Cella could respond to the last thing she had said about being haunted, "it is possible that I may have spared you from having your nightmare if I had followed orders and wakened you immediately when I first came in."

She stood as she continued talking, "But you looked very peaceful, and I know you did not get much sleep last night, so I thought that I should allow you a few moments more rest while I brought out a fresh dress for the evening."

And there was something in both the way Lothriel smiled at her, and in her casual tone when she mentioned the night before, that spoke volumes to Cella's newly-blossomed woman's heart. Before the Elleth could turn away from her, she stopped her with a question.

"You know... don't you?" She breathed it out to Lothriel before she had even realized what she was about to say. "I mean... well, what do you know?" Cella could not help herself, she needed a friend. But she winced a little, not knowing what to expect in reply. The Elleth's face grew thoughtful and serious as she returned to sit again before she answered.

"Do you mean, what is it that I know about mortals? Or what do I know about their dreams? I think that I have told you before that I have lived among mortals. I have learned much about them and their unusual sleeping habits, and their unfortunate fear of the dark, which often leads them to feel terrified in their dreams..."

Lothriel stopped short in her speech and appeared close to being surprised at what she had said to Cella, and then she added, apologetically, "Of course, I did not mean 'unusual' in a bad way, you do know that?"

"Of course," agreed Cella, fascinated. Although she had not meant what Lothriel obviously thought she had meant with her question, she was curious about what the Elleth knew about mortals. And this misunderstanding was a relief in a way.

Regardless of her reprieve, before she could have asked her first question over again, if she had found the courage to do so, the Elleth continued.

"Truly, I am sorry, Celiel, for a moment I forgot that I was speaking to a mortal." And even though Lothriel meant it as a personal criticism of her own lapse in manners for making such a mistake, Cella did not feel offended by it. In fact, she took it as a compliment. She felt flattered that an Elf had felt so comfortable talking with her, if only for a brief moment, that she had not suppressed her thoughts or her words.

"And I am sorry, too," Cella answered, "because I do not doubt that you know more about mortal sleeping habits than I do, and I guess it sounded like I did. And I would like to learn about how Elves sleep, and dream, someday. But, that wasn't what I meant..." She found she could go no further.

"Ah, then you wonder what I know about... what?" After a pause, in which Cella could not have replied if her life had depended on it, Lothriel laughed.

And it was not a scornful laugh, or a demeaning one, but a tinkling little burst of merriment, as if Cella had told a joke that had taken a bit of thought before the humor became apparent to the Elleth. Lothriel patted her hand as she replied to her.

"It is not my place to question the decisions of aran Thranduil, but it is evident to me that he treasures you, Celiel, and it my duty to care for and protect whatever he treasures. But you are worthy of his high regard, and his... affection. That was apparent from the moment you first arrived... actually, now that I think of it, even before you had arrived."

Lothriel sat silent for a moment, as if remembering a pleasant experience, and then she continued, "We were told beforehand that our king was bringing you with him here to his halls, and we were encouraged by what we had heard about you. And you were even more delightful in person than we had expected."

"We?" Cella imagined a hall full of sober, robed Elves. It was a daunting image.

"Legolas and me," explained Lothriel, to Cella's relief. "There are not many of us in the realm who can speak your tongue, so he and I were the ones that were appointed to help make you feel welcome and at home here."

"When Halatirn came ahead of you in the night while aran Thranduil paused to make camp," Lothriel continued, "he came not just to fetch the horse and the riding suit, but also to alert us to prepare for you with great care. He had told us that our lord had a mortal guest of importance.... and that he was of the notion that the king was quite partial toward you, leastways from what he had seen."

"Then Legolas already knew who I was, before he ever met me?" Even though it was a little unnerving to discover that she had been discussed ahead of her arrival, and by Elves who were strangers to her at the time, Cella was absurdly pleased to consider this about the Elfprince, even though she should have felt tricked.

Instead she felt amused as she remembered the various questions he had asked about her and the humorous assumptions he had made. She smiled to herself as she thought of how he had behaved like he was surprised by her appearance with his father, and was ignorant of her origins, when he had known all along that she was from the vineyard.

There was a knock at the door, and Cella's spirit soared, but her hopes were dashed instantly. It was not the Elfking that poked his head into the room, but the same quiet Elf that she had seen in her chambers before, the one who had helped with the dinner trays and had delivered her gown. She had not yet learned his name.

While Lothriel left her alone as she stepped out of the room to speak with him, Cella wondered if she was going to be brought her dinner to eat there in her chambers, or if she was expected to dine with Thranduil in one of the great halls. Was there to be a welcoming feast for the Dwarves?

The idea both excited and worried her. She was not sure she was ready to be on display before a large gathering, but she would like to see the Dwarves again, and Legolas, and, of course, the Elfking. The Elleth returned, and beckoned to her.

"If you will go on ahead to the bathing chamber to freshen up," she said as Cella joined her in the doorway, "I will bring your gown to you, and then I will brush your hair. Would you like that?"

"Very much," said Cella, who did enjoy having her hair tended to by the Elleth's capable hands; it made her feel pampered. And even if she could not bring herself to ask for another bath, after she had already had one that day, she was grateful for the opportunity to wash her face and hands, and to change into a fresh gown. She felt quite spoilt. Before she went ahead, she had one more question.

"Have you heard anything of my uncle, and the rest of them from the vineyard? Are they near?" But Lothriel shook her head, and shrugged slightly in reply. Cella knew that the Elleth was looking forward to having some help with her Dwarf-keeping duties.

"Aran Thranduil will undoubtedly know," Lothriel answered. "Perhaps he will tell you over dinner; you will be dining alone with him after you are dressed." And that was all Cella needed to hear to send her flying off to get started.

She loved the dimly lit atmosphere of the bathing chamber, and the way the glimmering water reflected the lamplight all over the polished stone walls, but she was almost startled to see that the inlet and outlet streams had been shut off, and the bath was filled and still. She had not taken many steps further into the room to investigate when she gasped as hands gripped her shoulders from behind and stopped her.

"Do you need some help, firiel?" With a squeal of joy, Cella tried to turn to face him, but the Elfking held her there. "No, stand still," he said.

"What are you going to do?" She was so shocked that he was there, and so overjoyed, that she forgot why she had come in.

"You do want to take a bath, do you not?" He began to unfasten her gown.

"Yes, I do."

"Then you will need to be undressed first, true?"

"Very true, Sire." Her dress fell to the floor, leaving her standing in her shift.

She turned partway to look at Thranduil as he carefully picked up the discarded gown and placed it aside, and she was surprised to see that he was only wearing a robe.

"Are you going to take a bath with me?" But without answering her, he turned her back away from him again and removed her shift and then unbraided her hair.

"Recently," he said as his fingers worked the plait apart, "you interrupted a very boring conversation, firiel, when you were wishing for me to be in here with you, do you recall?" Even though she had already said that she was sorry for that, Cella felt so immediately guilty that she wanted to apologize all over again, but she could not find the words.

"You do not need to be sorry," said the Elfking as he nudged her over toward the bath. "Indeed, I want to thank you for the pleasing presentation." With that said he lifted her into the water, dropped his robe, and stepped in to join her.

Thranduil's large supple fingers were incredibly gentle as he washed her hair. He had placed her before him on the built-in bench beneath the water, which was wide enough to allow her room to sit between his spread legs, while he slowly worked the soapy liquid from one of the bottles that lined the tub into her scalp. They talked.

"What do your subjects think of me?" After speaking with Lothriel, she felt a little safer in asking him such a question.

"Many of them are fascinated with the way your cheeks turn pink on occasion," he told her. "They are so unused to mortals that they think it an appealing ability on your part."

"But it is embarrassing, do they know that?"

"They say that it makes your eye-color more intense and in a most amazing fashion, and some openly wish that they could duplicate the behavior on demand." She had to giggle at the thought. Her eyes were quite ordinary compared to the perpetually bright eyes of the Fair Folk. But to be envied for blushing was hard to believe.

"Hold your breath and close your eyes," Thranduil warned before he lifted her off of the built-in bench and dunked her under the water a few times to rinse her hair. She trusted him not to drop her backwards into the water, and to know when to pull her back out so she could breathe.

Afterwards, they traded places and he let her wash his wonderful glossy mane. Cella had to perch all the way up on the edge of the tub and out of the water, while he remained sitting on the built in bathing seat, in order to reach him from a better angle, but she did not mind. She would have sat on glass to be able to get her hands into his wet hair.

Thranduil suggested that she fold a towel to sit on in order to protect her bared bottom from the cool, hard surface of the carved stone. She felt queenly seated on her cushion above him, and it was fun to rub her feet along his thighs under the water while she lathered his head.

She grew a little anxious when the Elfking held himself under the surface for what seemed an unreasonable length of time before emerging, rinsed off and glorious to behold in the flickering lamplight.

With a naughty grin, Thranduil made her stay where she was sitting while he slowly soaped and rinsed her legs and feet. Then he sat back on the bathing bench and drew her down to his lap so that he could wash the rest of her.

"You are beautiful, little star," he said as he held one of her breasts in his hand and admired it.

"You make me feel beautiful."

Together they slid off of the bench and moved into the deeper part of the tub. The weightlessness of floating in the water added to the light-headed way his kisses made her feel as she clung to him.

Every so often, his hand would slide between her legs and he would tease her there with his fingers. It would always take her by surprise and make her feel weak all over.

And each time, before she could react quickly enough to squeeze her thighs together to trap his slippery hand there, he would pull it away from her... until she thought that she would go mad. Helplessly, she finally made a noise of displeasure at the tactic, and he whispered into her ear.

"Not yet."

To be continued in Chapter 41

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Posted: February 4, 2005

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