The King's Vineyard, Chapter 45
|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 Thranduil kissed her, he wiped the remaining traces of her tears from her face and then helped her to get under the covers. Leaving her there, he made himself ready for bed. Cella watched him undress and wondered if he was upset or disappointed with her because she would not speak to him of what he wanted to know. She had never refused, or been able to stop herself, before.
Drowsy and still a bit anxious, she wanted to please him by showing him that she did love him, and with all of her heart, and that she did trust him with her life, even if she could not bring herself to discuss her nightmares with him.
She was determined to make it up to him in other ways, in his arms. At the same time, she was hoping that once he was beside her again, in the bed, she would finally forget her worries under the influence of his healing touch.
There was more to her resistance to talk about her nightmares, and the reason she had them, than an unwillingness to feel afraid again, although she pretended that was the main obstacle keeping her from sharing her memories. She shivered, although not cold, and wished that the subject had never been brought up, no matter what good intentions there had been on Thranduil's part to get to the bottom of her fears in an effort to release her from their grip.
From deep inside, and from the moment he had asked Cella why she was terrified of fire, a nagging inner voice had clamored in alarm, telling her to beware. If he learned the truth, the whole truth, would he still want her in his life? She fought to tame those thoughts before they strayed too far out of her control and he heard them. And, she did not really know what that alarming voice was talking about, or did she? She did not want to know.
As he walked around the room, Thranduil did not appear to be troubled either by her previous refusal to talk or the thoughts she was fighting to have control over now. She tried to enjoy the view of him wearing only his leggings and hoped he would hurry back to her and banish the demons that stood at the edge of her mind.
After snuffing out candles and putting wood on the fire, he opened his chamber door and briefly, but too quietly for her to understand what he was saying, spoke to someone who must have been waiting outside in the main room of the royal chambers. She assumed it was Nenrandir, the quietly dutiful elf, and she wondered if he knew that she was in his monarch's bed.
Ever since Legolas had told her how her presence in Mirkwood benefited all of the inhabitants by benefiting their king, she was no longer worried about Thranduil's private time alone with her being accidentally discovered, or disapproved of, by his loyal subjects. But she still felt shy about being seen in his actual bed, so she was glad that whoever was on the other side of the door did not come in to the bedchamber.
While Thranduil spoke to whoever was there, out of her sight, Cella turned on to her back and examined this royal bed she was privileged to occupy. It was as large as the one at the vineyard and just as grand, if not grander.
Despite her lingering feelings of unease, she had the presence of mind to appreciate the fact that now she was in the Elfking's bed because he desired for her to be there, and not because she was the injured niece of his valuable vintner, or had crept in uninvited. Perhaps she would never sleep in her own room again, after this night. It made her smile to think of that.
The wood this bed was made from looked different; it was dark, nearly black, but the deeply-hued green drapes that hung from its canopy appeared to be identical to the ones that were on the bed at the vineyard. Instead of a series of trees carved into the roof of it, there was a single beech, shown fully leafed with careful detail, which was engraved into the dark wood and then inlaid with silver.
Even in the dim glow of the fire, the only remaining source of light in the room, the silvery tree over her head glowed as if it was illuminated from within, like the Elfking. The thick bedposts that held up the canopy had similarly embellished carvings, only these were delicate silvery vines that wound around the posts as if they were tree-trunks. The vines glimmered.
"That is mithril," explained Thranduil. He had removed his leggings and slipped into the bed beside her, gathering her into his embrace. "It is like silver, only it is rarer, and much more precious, like you are."
And even if she had wanted to answer this, or to ask something about mithril, or anything else, she would not have been able to, for he covered her mouth with his, and she was blissfully silenced. Effortlessly, without releasing her for very long from his arms, he was able to remove her nightgown, and the way his naked body felt against hers was enough to cast out any traces of thought about the mithril-decorated royal bed, or her nightmares, that may have been left in her mind.
He made love to her tenderly and slowly, almost hesitatingly, taking his time until all of her lingering nervousness was banished completely, eliminated by his touch, his kisses, and his passion. Generously, he made sure she was fully satisfied before seeking his own release within her.
As always, when he spilled himself into her, Cella's heart soared with joy at the realization that she was the one, the only one, allowed to bring this gift to him. Their joining in this way meant more to her than merely the mutual physical pleasure they found together; it was also an honor above all other honors to be the one that he chose to reveal this other side of himself to. That no one else ever saw.
This aspect of the Elfking was for her eyes only to witness and for her body only to receive, and it made her happy to be the one he chose to please him, even as she knew she had done nothing in her life to deserve such a reward.
Nestled snugly in his arms afterwards, Cella listened to his heart's steady throb beneath her ear. It was as reassuring to her as the way his strong arms felt as they held her against him, or how gentle his fingers had felt when he wiped her tearful face clean. Maybe now she would truly forget her earlier fears and find peace.
"Sleep now," he told her as he stroked her hair. But when she closed her eyes, she saw flames. Bewildered, she opened them again and stared off into the darkness. It was hopeless, she had to tell him about it, or she would never rest. Why could she not just forget as usual?
'It was only a dream, a bad dream, it was only a bad dream.' She repeated this in her mind, stubbornly now as if she was also trying to convince herself, hoping he would hear her. Even though she no longer felt afraid, she was not ready to say anything out loud yet. Something was still stopping her from speaking.
Those nightmares had haunted her for her whole life, it seemed, although it had been many years since she had one that scared her as badly as earlier that evening. Or the one she had at the vineyard when she had hidden in his bed.
"Yes." Thranduil whispered as he repeated her words back to her now, "Only a bad dream."
He had heard her! It was such a relief to know it. Tentatively, she proceeded to 'talk' to him with her thoughts. 'I know why I have them, the nightmares. It isn't all hidden from me, like you said. I just don't want to think back about that day.'
"Nor do I desire for you to think of it, until you are ready," he answered out loud. The way it felt to know he could hear her silent voice encouraged Cella to try to be more specific with her reason for not wanting to talk about her fear of fire. Maybe, if she could only explain it carefully enough, he would never ask her again.
Normally, when she was younger and the nightmares were happening frequently, Uncle Dwain would come to her bedside soon after she woke up shaking and in tears. He would bring her water to drink while he comforted her as best as he could. She tried to remember what he would say to her to calm her back to sleep.
'Sometimes, I would start to tell Uncle Dwain about the bad dreams, but he would always make me to go back to sleep, and he would tell me to forget.'
"Your uncle is a wise man and I trust that he must have known what was best for you."
But now Cella was in a quandary, for as soon as she recalled her uncle's specific efforts to relieve her fears during the nights when she woke up in terror, she also remembered what he used to say to her. And it was not to forget. He never told her to forget. Why had she thought he had?
'It wasn't your fault, child.' She heard Uncle Dwain's voice as clearly as if he were in the Elfking's place, holding her to comfort her. Quickly, as if to erase the thought, she squeezed her eyes shut and tried to think of something else, anything else. Thranduil's fingers in her hair helped, and she concentrated on that. 'It was never your fault,' her uncle said again.
"It wasn't my fault," she said out loud now, but when she heard her own words she was not certain that she thought this because she knew it was true, or because she had been told it was true so many times that she had come to believe it.
"You were a child?" The Elfking must have known without needing to ask, but this simple question seemed to snap her to attention at last. It was true that she was only a child when the fire had happened. It was long ago, an eternity ago, in another place and time. Why was she still so afraid?
"Yes," she answered. But that was all she could say before her throat and chest tightened, as if a hand had been placed over her mouth to keep her quiet, clamped firmly. She struggled to breathe and panicked, whimpering from the effort. Without clearly understanding what she was doing, she pushed away from him and sat up.
But she could not answer, even with her mind, and she covered her face with her hands and shook her head. The Elfking sat up beside her and pulled her close to him. Without speaking further, he drew one of her hands from her face and held it for a while.
"I am with you now," he reassured her when he finally spoke. "You have nothing to fear."
But yes, she realized, yes she did. It was coming back, all of it. Even with her eyes open she could see the flames. And she knew there was something bad she had done to cause all of it. Something wickedly bad, after she had promised not to...
"You were never bad, firiel," the Elfking said. "In this you can trust me, for your heart is as transparent as glass to me, and there is no badness within you, little star." She knew that he always spoke the truth and she was willing to believe him. "Close your eyes," he said mildly, not insisting, adding, "and tell me what you are seeing."
"The barn at my uncle's vineyard." It was almost a lie, because she saw more than that, but she felt safe starting there. The huge structure dominated the view in her mind in much the same way it had dominated the view from out of her bedroom window during her childhood.
She was a little girl, but not tiny, old enough that the memories of that time in her life were still mostly clear and sharp, and at times poignant, up until one warm spring day. However, she had to claw to remember anything after that day clearly, until many years later. Anything, that is, of more significance than working alongside her uncle in the vines. That was all she could see, for a long stretch of her memory, the rest was murky and elusive.
But she remembered the barn.
"Can you tell me anything else?" With her eyes closed, she looked around her memories and recalled that day to her mind. It felt like Thranduil was right beside her as she walked toward the barn in her mind while she haltingly told him what she saw. Somehow, she knew that she could stop talking about it at any moment, and he would not force her to continue. Knowing this gave her courage.
If ever she started to feel afraid again, to the point where she could not speak, he would squeeze her hand, or stroke her hair, and she would find the courage from his affectionate touch to continue a little farther. And in this way, step by small step, she told him... everything
When she woke up that morning, Cella was not yet frightened of fire. She had been ill but she was feeling better. However, her mother had asked her to stay in her room quietly while the morning chores were seen to, and then she could have her breakfast in bed.
There was a sharp clanging banging metallic sound coming through her open window that signaled the presence of the traveling farriers. The horses were being shod today! She hopped out from under her covers to check and saw the back end of their funny little wagon, with its two tall wheels and the racks of horseshoes in the cupboard-like structure on top of it, which had been pulled partially through the barn doors and blocked the entrance.
This was an activity that she did not want to miss, and she had scampered quickly from her room, sneaking cautiously past the kitchen where her mother was busy, and into the barn to watch. Too impatient to stop and dress, she realized too late that she was still in her nightshirt when she entered the barn through the little side door and she quickly hid herself from sight among the bales of hay just inside, but from a place where she could still watch.
For a moment, she thought she saw the farrier's eyes flicker in her direction after she peeked out, being as careful as she could not to bring any attention to herself. But he turned his head away, to her relief, and went about his business.
The farrier was not a nice-looking man to her; he was massively muscled and perpetually dirty, his arms and hands were blackened from the soot-making forge used to heat the horses' pre-made shoes. He had made them at his black-smith shop in the town and brought with him and only had to get them hot enough to shape them to fit perfectly onto the horse's hoof. But the fire had to be stoked often with small chunks of coal kept in a hod that was attached to his wagon.
As he waited for the metal to redden to the proper hue, he shaved down and then used a rasp on the horse's hoof to make it easier to apply the shoe. Then he would plunge the hot shoe into a bucket of water to cool it before nailing it in place. If it was not for the fact that her father was there to help him today, she would have bolted back to her bed. She did not want to be alone with that man.
The first time she had seen this whole process, she had screamed when she watched as the shoe was nailed to a hoof, which had startled the normally placid draft horse being shod, and she had to be taken from the barn. She was promised by her father that the horse could feel no pain, and was indeed grateful to have those shoes on when it rode over many miles or its hooves would crack and its feet would be sore.
In turn, she had promised to remain quiet, and never ever make loud noises in the barn while the horses were being shod, and she had obediently done so ever since.
However, today she kept extra quiet because she did not want to be discovered and then sent back inside to dress, at least not until the men was done with the horses. After a little while, she heard her mother calling her from the house. If mama figured out what was going on in the barn, she would know Cella was probably there.
Her father also heard her mother calling but he did not remain quiet, instead he left the barn after telling the other man that his daughter had probably run off into the vines to see his brother. Cella watched him pass by her where she hid but she stayed still. The horses' hooves would continue to be shod without his help.
Today the farrier, Tobe, did not have his apprentice with him, a pleasant-faced young man named Mid, who always whistled merrily as he worked. Cella liked Mid, he would whistle like a bird for her, he knew many different calls, and she would try to guess which one he was imitating.
But she had never felt comfortable around Tobe, with his huge barrel-chest, thick neck, and arms that were as big around as her entire body. His sheer bulk was scary enough, but there was more to her unease than his size. There was something about the coldness in his small dark eyes when he peered at her, usually while she stood clinging to her father's leg, which bothered her even more than his appearance.
And it was not just that his hands were always dirty, black and soot-covered when she had been close enough to see them, it was also apparent that beneath the ground-in grime his fingers were covered with calluses and scars. She dreaded those hands, and hoped he would never touch her with them.
He and his hands frightened her as much as the stories she enjoyed hearing from her uncle, even if they were harrowing, of goblins from the mountains to the south that used to swarm over the Rhun sea-shore and terrorize the countryside, until the people learned to defend themselves against the ravening enemy hordes. She would shudder in equal fear when Tobe was nearby.
As soon as her father left the barn to search for her in the vines, Tobe took the shoe that was heating in the portable forge, itself the subject of many warnings to Cella not to touch or even draw near to, and set the glowing red object to the side. There was a splash of showering sparks when he put it on the lip of the stove. And then he turned and came toward where she was hiding.
At first, she was not worried, and thought he might be looking for something among her uncle's tools which were hung on hooks close to where she hid. And then he stepped around the hay bales and stood before her. His beady eyes seemed to pierce her and hold her in place while he squatted down in front of her.
"Well, well and what do we have here, hiding like a mouse?" With a low chuckle he reached out to her, and she was frozen completely stiff with fear as she watched the blackened callused paws coming closer. "Now you be still for a minute, I just want a wee peek under yer shift."
Cella obeyed him and remained still as he lifted her nightshirt, he warned her to stay quiet or he would tell her father on her. Somehow, she endured him and his hands being so near to her until he touched her, and that was when she could not help herself; she broke her promise, and screamed. She was not sure what happened next, only that Tobe had stood up straight, his face twisted in rage.
With the back of his hand, he slapped her so hard that it sent her sailing across the floor until she hit the wall. "Look what you did!" He bellowed at her, but instead of coming after her to hurt her again, he raced to his wagon. Cella stopped screaming when she smelled smoke, and heard the dreadful sound that the horses were making as they whinnied in fear.
Her father burst in, calling for her, he must have heard her screaming, and the farrier yelling, but he did not come to her. She wanted to run to him, and cling to him, but she was afraid that Tobe would see her, and hit her again.
"What happened?" Her father had to shout to be heard over the squeals of the frightened horses and now Cella could see the smoke that she smelled, and she could hear a snapping, crackling noise that she did not like the sound of.
"Yer damn brat got in here and skeered the horse so much it tipped the hot shoe off the stove and sparks got into the hay!" Alarmed at the accusation, Cella peeked over the bales and saw her father and the farrier stomping and beating out small tongues of flame that were scattered over the straw-strewn floor. They could not keep up with them.
At some point after that, her mother was there, although now Cella's memory began to fail her. The smoke was thick and she could barely see at that point, let alone breathe, but she had clearly heard her mother's voice.
Her father hollered that Cella was somewhere in the barn, hiding, and her mother was trying to find her, but she stayed hidden. She had caused the fire and she did not want to face her parents. And the little tongues of flame had gotten bigger and bigger, and were climbing up the posts and walls. The horses screamed and the fire's crackling noise turned into a roar.
When her uncle had finally found her, she had wedged herself deeply within the still stacked hay bales. He told her later that it was only her coughing that led him to her hiding spot. If she had not been so near the side-door, she would have been burnt alive.
Cella was never told what had happened to her parents. She knew only that she never saw them again, and that they were not going to come back.
And that it was all her fault that they were gone. No matter what Uncle Dwain had to say.
"No, firiel, no" said Thranduil soothingly as he held her now, sobbing so hard that she could hardly breathe. "It was not your fault, calm yourself. It was never your fault. Do you not see that now? You were always good, always, and it was not your fault." But it was a long while before she would listen to him, and even longer before she believed him.
To be continued in Chapter 46
Posted: March 11, 2005
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"Long live Thranduil, great Elf-king of Greenwood!"