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The King's Vineyard, Chapter 44

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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After Legolas left, Lothriel began to gracefully guide Uncle Dwain and Milda in and out of the various doorways in the pillared reception area. They were both overwhelmed by the grandness of the huge echoing hall, like Cella had been when first she had seen it, and their voices dropped to a whisper.

They admired the one shared room, a large dining room in which Cella had not yet eaten, and then their own separate bathing rooms, with their own similar pond-sized tubs carved into the stone walls. Her uncle was fascinated with the constant flow of hot and cold water streams and Milda was speechless at the luxuriousness.

And lastly the Elleth led them to their bed chambers.

Cella tagged along every step of the way and enjoyed Milda's squeals of disbelief and delight at first seeing her very own bedroom with its very own fireplace, while her uncle stayed behind in his chambers, somewhat overwhelmed by his good fortune. The Elleth left the two women after bidding them a pleasant and peaceful rest.

To Cella's distress, once they were finally alone and able to talk privately, instead of learning more about events at the vineyard, specifically the news concerning Willem, she found herself in an argument with Milda about the Elfprince.

Although Legolas was, Cella agreed, both charming and attractive, she firmly insisted that he was not at all, or in any way, interested in her romantically. And she was very sure of it. She insisted that despite all of his personal attentions to her that night, he was only behaving his normal friendly self.

"I saw you wink at him," accused Milda. She was certain this was a vital piece of irrefutable evidence proving something, "Right after he smiled at you that way, like he wanted to..."

"The King's son has been one of my best friends here, ever since I arrived," Cella interrupted before her friend could continue with her ridiculous thoughts. "And he smiled at me like that because he knew I was..."

So flabbergasted was Cella by Milda's assumptions that she nearly said more than she meant to say, about being nervous about her uncle's arrival. But she recovered and managed to remain calm as she continued.

"Both he and Lothriel have gone out of their way to make me feel comfortable here, although all day she has been busy with the other guests, poor thing. And now you are here... He knew how much I missed my uncle, and how surprised I was to see you. He was happy for me, do you see that? And I can't believe how glad I am that you came. It is good to see you, Milda. Did I tell you about the Dwarves, yet?"

But her friend would not be budged from her chosen topic quite that easily, at least not by stories about lost parties of Dwarves and the Ellith put in charge of them. The funny-looking people with their short legs and long beards were not a novelty to her. She had seen plenty of them.

"Maybe you just can't see it for yourself, but that Elf stuck to your side like your shadow," Milda pointed out. "And smiling at you like that? It's not natural for Elves to act like that, Cella, none that I've ever met anyhow. I don't care what you say."

It did not help that Uncle Dwain had stepped into the room unbeknownst to them, and overheard pieces of the conversation. He happily joined in without asking questions first, and announced proudly that he was not at all disturbed by the notion of his niece being courted by His Worship's handsome and mannerly son, not disturbed at all.

"He seems a good sort, that one," her uncle finished with one of his highest compliments, which, to Cella at least, was very disturbing. For the time being, she wondered if it might not be easier to let them both believe what they would and stop fighting it.

In her eagerness to hide the truth from her uncle, she had not thought of how it must have looked to both of them when Legolas took her arm by the wagons, and then smiled at her that sweetly. She had been so relieved at the time that it was not the Elfking who had approached her that she had not considered how his son's escorting her might be noticed as anything other than the polite gesture it was. Why did she think that the younger Elf's attentions would be less remarkable?

Her uncle had not only noticed, but had been very impressed to learn that it was the son of the King, no less, who was squiring his niece around and about the grand palatial accommodations. It was a shame, he declared, that her parents had not been there to see their daughter being treated with such respect by the Fair Folk in their marvelous caves.

And then her uncle remarked on how, when Legolas had sat next to her in front of the fireplace in the den, the King had stood between her and his son to chaperone. Uncle Dwain thought that was a mighty respectable way to run a royal house. Not that he had been worried, mind you, but it was comforting.

"Legolas is just a friend, Uncle," declared Cella nearly at the point of exasperation and simultaneously feeling swamped with guilt. "Nothing more."

"Well, give it time, brother-daughter, give it time." He seemed very sure of himself and all of a sudden she had to laugh, remembering how those very words of his had given her the courage to persist with the Elfking. 'Give it time'. It was useless to even try to prevent it from bursting out of her at this ironic twist to the woefully misguided match-making attempts of her uncle.

"You laugh now," he said, somewhat injured at her mirth, "but mark my words."

"Yes, uncle, I will," she promised, when she could finally talk in a normal voice.

After Cella had shown an appropriate amount of awe over Milda's room, and then Uncle Dwain's following that, which were both nearly identical to her own, she felt able to excuse herself to prepare for bed. Neither of them tried to prevent her from leaving them.

She wondered if she should invite Milda to come to her room to chat some more for a while, but before she could ask, her friend remarked that she was so weary that she did not believe she had the strength to even crawl under her bedcovers before she fell to sleep. She was glad her room was warm and she declared it was a blessing.

If anything, as far as Cella was concerned, her friend was probably longing to enjoy the experience of not having to share her room with anyone else, and for the first time in her life. And being warm in bed. They promised to talk the next day, and said good night to each other.

When Cella was finally by herself again, in her own room, she found that she did not feel lonely at all, or at least she did not feel the need for Milda or Lothriel to be there with her to keep her company. It was a relief to not have anyone talking to her. Even if she had not learned anything further about her uncle and friend, and any possible romance between them, there was always tomorrow for that.

In her dressing room, she covered the tall intimidating looking-glass with her bathrobe while recalling the night before, when she had watched the Elfking in it as he had undone her gown. And then she remembered how he tripped over it later. She giggled.

It turned out to be a bad idea to think about that, however, because she missed him all over again, with a pang as sharp as hunger, as if he had just left her side. She turned around quickly to see if he was standing behind her, but he was not.

With a little bit of hope, she tiptoed out of her door and to her bathing chamber wearing only the pretty elf-made nightgown, hoping to be surprised by Thranduil once inside, but he was not there, either. It was a disappointment, although she was not truly expecting him to take such a chance at being caught alone with her now that her uncle and friend were nearby. But it would have been nice to see him before she went to sleep.

It grew more difficult by the moment to keep her spirits up. She knew beforehand that it was not going to be easy, this being separated from the Elfking, but it did not make her feel any happier now. Fighting the temptation to silently call him to her, she steeled her backbone and left him alone with her thoughts. It was only for a little while, she could endure that much.

Swiftly, Cella washed herself in the shallow basin that sat on its own ledge near the bath, brushed her hair, and then returned to her room. She was feeling tired and had managed to convince herself that the Elfking was busy discussing her future with his advisors as he had indicated he would do, and she should be happy for that.

It was time for her to trust that everything would work out for the best, have faith that they would be together again soon, and try to get some sleep in the meantime.

The first thing Cella noticed when she opened her bedchamber door again was the square package on her bed, something mysterious wrapped in a piece of richly brocaded fabric, which was lovely all by itself, without any contents. She untied the tasseled cord that held the cloth in place like a large envelope and it fell open.

"Oh!" She covered her mouth in disbelieving surprise. Inside the fancy covering were her father's books, brought here from the vineyard no doubt, and placed on her bed as a surprise.

Her uncle must have had them with him and somehow smuggled them in here when she was washing up. She was so touched by his thoughtfulness toward her, while she was in the process of trying to deceive him, that tears of both shame and gratitude blurred her view.

"No, it was not your uncle," said the only voice which could banish the tears and bring her smile back. She whirled to face the Elfking who stood across the room from her, by her door, as he continued speaking. "I brought the books, they were here all along," he said. "They were in the saddlebags when you and I left the vineyard."

"I should have guessed."

"I did not hold them back from you on purpose," he explained as she opened one of them to leaf through it. He told her that they had still smelled of smoke from the fire in her bedroom, and he had noticed that she reacted badly to that odor. Accordingly, he had them cleaned for her, of the repugnant aroma, as well as they could be.

While inspecting the one in her hands, Cella noticed that it did not smell bad at all. On the edges of the binding she could see traces of a dry, powdery substance, perhaps cornstarch. She imagined how each leaf must have been dusted with it and maybe even turned in the sun to be freshened. But she did not want to discuss her aversion to smoke, or anything else.

"They are remarkable books," Thranduil concluded, "and you should treasure them."

Did he really come in here to talk about her books? It was nice of him to have brought them, but she wished he would come over to her and embrace her. And kiss her goodnight while he was at it.

"They were my father's," she said, "and I do treasure them, very much. He was interested in Elves." She smiled right into the Elfking's eyes, as invitingly as possible, and added, "As interested as I am."

"Obviously so, from what I can tell," he replied, nodding toward the book she was holding and not seeming to notice her unspoken invitation. Instead, he stood by the door with his hand on the knob as if ready to depart quickly. He did not have to say another word to her.

"You aren't going to stay in here with me tonight, are you?" She had to ask.

At hearing her question, his features softened, and his eyes glowed with a familiar light. For a moment, she felt an unreasonable hope that he would stay.

"No, I am not, firiel." At those words, she was crushed.

"I understand, I do," she said, not really wanting to understand. Now she was sorry that the Elfking had not made his confession to her uncle, if only to bring this charade to an end the sooner.

"However," continued Thranduil, "neither are you."

"Neither am I what, Sire?" With a 'click' that made her jump, even though it was a delicate sound in itself, he locked the door. Slowly he came toward her, but as his actions were not matching what he had just said about not staying, Cella was confused. But her heart began to beat faster.

"Neither are you going to stay here," he said in a matter-of-fact way as he took her by the hand. "For you are going to come with me."

"Coming... where?" He led her only a few steps toward her bedroom's fireplace and pushed against a brick in the hearth. Coming from right next to the fireplace there was another soft 'click' sound, only not as startling to her ears as the first one, and she was astonished when a sliver of the massive wall of stone slid away, and a dimly lit passage was revealed through a narrow opening.

As she stood there in amazement, peering into the darkness behind the secret door, she could feel cool fresh air moving over her that came out from the narrow opening, but she was not sure she wanted to enter within. But she did not have to decide; Thranduil swept her up in his arms and carried her inside.

With an even sharper click, the wall slid closed behind them and they were plunged into utter darkness. She was not afraid, however, as long as he held her and she could hold on to him, too. When she glanced up, she gasped. His face was visible as if lit from within, and she could see his shimmering features clearly.

When the Elfking lowered his eyes to look into hers, that mysterious familiar light was there deep inside of them, and shining into her, illuminating her soul, or so it felt to her. Instantly, she forgot every sorrow or doubt she had felt, and basked in the joy of loving him.

He moved swiftly, that much she could tell by the way the flow of air felt on her face in the darkness, but she could not tell how far they traveled or in what direction. There were turns into other passageways, but before she could ask how much farther they were going to go, she saw light.

The sides of the tunnel they were in became slowly visible and after one last turn, they were stepping right into the royal bedchamber. Although there were only a few candles lit, the room they entered was almost dazzlingly bright in comparison to the secret passageway.

This time Thranduil did not throw her on the bed, but laid her carefully on the covers and sat next to her. He bent over her slowly, his hair brushing lightly on her face as his drew closer. But, instead of kissing her, he stroked her hair away from her forehead and then cradled her head in one of his large hands.

"Tell me, firiel," he said, concerned, "why you are so terrified of fire." That was not what she had expected him to say, and it was not even close to what she had wished he would do now that they were alone, and on his bed. He added, "Enough that it gives you such nightmares?"

"Please, Sire, don't make me, not now," she pleaded, resisting the urge to talk about her bad dream, or even recall it, because she knew it would make her cry, or feel scared, and she did not want to do either of those at this moment. Instead, she wanted only to feel Thranduil's arms around her body and his lips against hers.

It was a struggle; whenever he looked into her eyes with the intention of hearing her speak the truth to him she could almost feel it, as if there were invisible hands within his gaze, beckoning her, almost commanding her, to step forward and be forthright. And she felt compelled to obey, but this time she fought back. Her nightmare had been forgotten and the fear she had felt had disappeared, so why bring it back up now?

"There is a part of you that remains hidden from me," he told her gently. "And I can see now that perhaps it is hidden from you as well, or you fear to face it."

Whether it was his words and the trueness of their aim, or the kindness in his eyes, which held her fastened in place, she could not tell. But she burst into tears and shook her head, unwilling to see what he was asking her to face. Even if she trusted him with her life, she did not want to go down that particular path with him right now. If ever.

"Please, don't make me talk about it," Cella asked again, tearfully. She did not even feel embarrassed by her wet face and wetter nose. She wiped both with her nightgown sleeve. Instead of answering her, the Elfking released her from his gaze and gathered her up into his arms, and held her.

"I can tell that something must have happened to instill this strong fear into you when you were very young," said the Elfking after a time. Her tears had finally stopped but she felt weary, and anxious. She sighed, but could not talk. If she replied, she would start crying again, she knew it, so she said nothing.

"But I will not see you weep in fear any more on my account," he added. "You have had a long day, little star. I did not mean to add another burden, rather to help relieve you of one, if I could."

That did make sense and Cella breathed easier hearing it. She knew that she did feel better when she talked about things that worried her, or frightened her, and he was wonderful to want to encourage her to do so, for her sake.

At last she felt brave enough to look into his eyes again, now that she sensed that the danger of unwittingly speaking about anything else besides her love for him had passed.

"I will talk to you about it, someday," Cella promised him then. "Only not now, not now."

"Yes, I have no doubt that you will." And then, to her relief, instead of asking her to speak anymore, he finally kissed her.

To be continued in Chapter 45

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Posted: March 3, 2005

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