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The King's Vineyard, Chapter 47

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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"Wait, don't tell me, I know what you're going to say," said Milda, with a self-satisfied smirk, to Cella's offer to share a secret with her. "That pretty elf, the prince, Lego-lass? He is sweet on you. I was right? Wasn't I?"

They were standing beside the breakfast table where they had been left behind, after Uncle Dwain, in his new capacity as Royal Court Vintner, had gone to the cellars with the seneschal, Thaladir.

"His name is Legolas," answered Cella, "not lass, and no; he is not sweet on me. In fact...," but she got no further before she was interrupted.

"Indeed he is sweet on you." The merry voice came from directly behind her. The Elfprince stepped around to face her, now with a mock-sad smile on his face and one hand on his chest, but an obvious mischievous glint in his bright eyes. "How could you say such a thing, wood-sprite? You wound me to the core."

"Your majesty... highness... lord," Milda gasped out, lowering her head while dropping into a clumsy curtsey-like bow. Her actions startled both Cella and Legolas.

"Oh no, no, no," exclaimed the bemused elf as he took Milda's elbow and pulled her to stand up straight. "You do me too much courtesy. I am Legolas to you, not majesty."

"Yes, sire," whispered the flustered woman.

"Nor sire, either." Legolas smiled warmly, no longer the aggrieved sweetheart, and chuckled at the honorifics bestowed on him. "And where are my own manners? I offer greetings of the day to you, good ladies. I hope you are both well rested."

"And a good day to you," said Milda, a bit more bold now. Her sudden bout of shyness appeared to be swiftly melting away with the warmth of the Elfprince's charm. "And I slept real well in that fancy bed."

"Good morning, Legolas," replied Cella, happy to see him, but disappointed that she was prevented from telling her secret to Milda. It seemed the fair thing to do, after her friend had accidentally admitted her own earlier. But, perhaps it was better not to tell anything yet.

And, although she could not acknowledge being well rested, neither could she claim to feeling tired. Instead, she said nothing about her own night in a very fancy bed, although it made her smile to think of what both of their reactions might be if she did.

"Now," the Elfprince said to Cella while clapping his hands together, as if on a signal, suddenly businesslike and proper. "While Lothriel and I were escorting your uncle, and your friend, to these chambers last night," Legolas smiled at Milda as he continued, "did I not overhear a plan made by the two of you to explore the palace halls today?"

To Milda's surprise, he extended his elbow to her as he told them that he was there to offer his assistance as their tour guide. But the woman seemed to hesitate a moment, with an unsure look in her eyes, before agreeing to take his proffered elbow. She glanced over her shoulder at Cella, as if asking permission first, but Legolas gave her no time to receive any.

As he led Milda through the door, he assured her that Cella, who was right behind them, was capable of making her way around in the halls without needing assistance, by now, and could follow along, he was sure, without getting herself lost, or at least he hoped.

Cella agreed without question, she so enjoyed his company, and she had hoped to see him today. But she did not say anything for fear that Milda would misinterpret her affection for Thranduil's son. Once they were through the doors and were in the main corridor, she was offered his other elbow.

For a few mirth-filled hours, the Elfprince took the women in and out of halls and chambers that were more and more marvelous. Even Cella had not seen many of the places they peeked at and she hoped to spend more time in a few of them.

The grand library made her heart beat almost as fast as Thranduil's presence. The towering shelves of scrolls and leather bound books reached to the ceiling. Legolas promised her that he would bring her back there, soon. There were many books there in her tongue, she was told, that had been collected over the millennia for one reason or another and that it was about time someone came along to appreciate them.

Milda was impressed by the palace kitchen and could hardly be torn away from it. She stood goggle-eyed in front of the rack of clear glass jars that held familiar, to her, and unfamiliar herbs and spices. The Elf-rune lettered labels baffled her and she swore she was going to have to learn to read the 'squiggled words' if she was going to live with Elves.

Their accommodating tour guide was willing to pause in front of the tapestries in the main corridors and answer their questions about them. They were both allowed to touch the glossy, jewel-toned threads, too. Milda was most interested in three large ones, with terrible battle-scenes between Elves and an army of monstrous creatures, which dominated one torch-lit corridor.

They were very like the ones that the Elfking and Cella had paused in front of a few nights previous. According to the younger Elf, the war took place in the same lands that once lay far to the west from Mirkwood, called Beleriand, as the ones she had seen before.

"Is that a naz-ghoul?" asked the wide-eyed Milda, who stood in front of the first one of the trio of tapestries. She pointed to a giant man-shaped creature, engulfed in flames and armed with only a fiery whip, which towered over the tiny Elves that were fleeing before its terrible wrath. In the dark night sky in the embroidered battle scene flew a dragon, and goblins carrying torches swarmed from all sides. Legolas face grew thoughtful, if a touch amused, before he answered.

"A Nazgul? No it is not." His voice dropped and the tone was one of dread as he added, "No. That is a balrog, a demon unleashed from the pits of Angband." To Cella, the fiery creature too closely resembled the bon-fire monster that had pursued her in the nightmare she had when she was at the vineyard. Even though she did not feel the familiar inner sense of panic such a comparison would have evoked prior to that day, she still wished she had not seen it.

She wondered if all of her bad dreams had been forever banished, now that she had finally allowed herself to recall the reason for their origin. To shake away the traces of horror that tickled her upon looking at the awful creature, she asked their guide something she had wanted to know for some days.

"Were you ever there, in Beleriand?" She remembered the beautiful song that Legolas had sung for her, which told about the Lord and Lady of the city of Doriath in Beleriand, Elu Thingol and the enchantress, Melian.

"Oh, no, although I can not say that I am sorry," answered the Elfprince. "Many long years before I was born, most of that fair and terrible land had been destroyed, during the War of Wrath, and only a tiny sliver remains. But it is real to me, nonetheless, after having been told these tales by some of those who lived there."

Cella assumed he was referring to his father, but Milda was interested in learning who else amongst the elves in the woven tapestry before them were now alive in Mirkwood.

"There are none in these depictions," said Legolas. "These show the battles that took place many years before war came to the Elves in Doriath. And that was where many of my kin were slain, however not by yrch or balrog, but by the sons of Fëanor." His face grew grim for a moment and his gaze distant, as if recalling an evil event that he actually had witnessed. He was silent for many minutes before he spoke again.

"For that, we will need to go to another part of the palace. I know of one tapestry that you both might find interesting." Legolas led them down a few narrow passages until they reached another wide corridor. There, he brought them to stand in front of another trio of meticulously detailed tapestries. These showed the terrible sight of Elves battling Elves as their world around them was destroyed.

It was terrifying for Cella to see the one tapestry that showed the green, fair lands as they crumbled into the sea, and the great waves of foaming sea-water that had swallowed them. But Milda found the ones showing the warring Elves even more fascinating.

"Is that Lord Thaladir?" Milda pointed to one carefully embroidered Elf, who, even though no bigger than her forearm in the picture, nevertheless towered over the others around him with his sword held high. "You can almost see the fire in his eyes!" Around him, several Elves lay bleeding and dying. Both she and Cella expressed their awe at the ferocity of his battle pose. They would never have believed such an attitude possible in the normally staid seneschal.

"Ai," sighed Legolas, "he can almost spout flames from his eyes if need be, believe me, or at least that is how it feels. I have been fair scorched by his glare more than once." He seemed pleased to have been on the receiving end of the seneschal's wrathful visage, as if it was a triumph or an honor. "However, he has not picked up a sword in many years, although he was one of Doriath's mightiest warriors in those days."

Both Cella and Milda agreed that they would rather avoid a sword-wielding Thaladir and were content with the stiffly formal one they were accustomed to in their own days. Legolas laughingly agreed with them and led them to another set of equally beautiful tapestries that showed the inner halls of Thingol's realm in Doriath. There was one in particular that stunned both women nearly speechless.

This tapestry, explained their guide, was a depiction of Elu Thingol, the High King of the Sindar Elves in Beleriand, on his magnificent throne. Like the tapestry of Thranduil that hung in his throne room, this one of the ancient Elf Lord in the time of Doriath's splendor was also a life-sized image. The intense expression in his keen eyes seemed to pierce through the threads they were sewn with as he looked out at the world before him. In one hand, he held a scepter, but he had no crown upon his head.

On either side of the striking-looking King stood two beautiful women, who Legolas identified as his wife, Melian, and their daughter, Lúthien Tinúviel.

For a while, the Elfprince's face grew somber and his voice grew quietly wistful as he gave them a brief account of the tragic lives of the three embroidered characters, and of Lúthien's mortal husband, Beren, who was not pictured in the tapestry. After that they all stood silent for a few moments before he asked them if they had any places in or around the caves in mind to visit that they had not yet seen.

"Yes, sir," answered Milda. She was saddened by the history of tragedies suffered by the Elves in Beleriand, she told him, both in their battles against the dark forces, and in their love for the wrong people. "Could we go see where Dwain got himself off to? I only ask because I am sure that Cella would like to see her uncle now, wouldn't you?"

Despite being nudged by Milda, Cella was lost for a moment in the stories of Melian and Lúthien, and was not ready to think of any places to visit, or seeing her uncle. Numbly, she nodded, and followed behind, but reluctantly. She wished she could have heard more of the tales of Doriath and Beleriand, even as sad as they were.

There were many long staircases to the cellars, and at each landing the women thought they must have at last reached the bottom, only to be taken down yet another. Finally, they reached a place that had many corridors branching off from an inner hub-like chamber, like spokes on a wheel. From one passage came the clear sound of water rushing, and Legolas told them that they heard the Forest River that eventually flowed out from the caves in front of the great gates.

It was darker down in the bowels of the Mirkwood caves, but the air was surprisingly fresh, and the women were happy to follow Legolas down a particularly dim tunnel opposite to the one that led to the river, lit only by a scarce few torches along the way. They exited finally in a large storage area that was equal in size to any of the grand halls in the floors above.

Here the walls were not polished to show off their precious contents, but were mostly left roughly carved. The torches did not seem as bright without the reflective surfaces and the sound of water dripping added to the under earth and other worldly feeling of the place. Cella was not bothered much by the lack of sunlight, but she could tell that the mostly silent Milda was not as comfortable in these deepest parts of the caves.

There were dozens of large alcoves built into the cavern walls that contained various-sized wooden casks, which several Elves were busy removing when Cella and Milda arrived. Uncle Dwain stood proudly in the center of the hall with Thaladir beside him, and the entire party of Dwarves before him, save one. Each of the bearded folk were equipped with either a pick or a shovel, except for Duin, brother of Dain, who stood on the other side of Uncle Dwain in his regal finery.

After having seen the tall seneschal in his battling days, Cella could not help but wonder if he missed carrying a sword. He towered above the Dwarves, and stared at them with a hint of alert suspicion in his gaze, as if he was deciding whether or not he would have to run for his weapon at any moment.

At first, Cella was worried about interrupting her uncle as he spoke to the Dwarves. He had to pause now and then to let Duin translate the words into his own tongue for the bearded folk who did not understand either Westron or Elvish. But her uncle noticed the three of them as they approached, and happily stopped to greet her and Milda, and their tour guide.

"Welcome!" Uncle Dwain's face beamed brighter almost than the torches as he spread his arms and indicated the far reaches of the walls around him. "Welcome to the Royal Fermenting Cellars of Mirkwood." He chuckled happily at the sound of it, and then added, "Or they will be soon, it won't take much work after all, at least not with these handy fellows here to help out."

He waved his hand at the Dwarves, who smiled broadly, at least those who understood him. Then they all bowed to the ladies, politely, and in unison, while their funny beards swept the floor.

"Work!" The Dwarf named Narfi cried out gleefully when he stood straight again. "Nay, this is not work, this is play!" Cella noticed the same eager gleam in the eyes of the son of Norfi, the Builder, as she often saw in her own uncle's eyes when the grapes were at their peak and it was time to harvest. It was joy, the joy of doing what one loved to do best, and the opportunity to do it, that lit their eyes that way, or so she thought.

"And a payment for hospitable services rendered," added the brother of Dain, not to be outdone in the flowery speech department. "We are in your service, Master Elf," he bowed to Legolas, "and in the service of the fair-handed Elvenking, whose gracious generosity has been a welcome change from our usual dealings with your folk." He bowed low once more.

"Ah, 'tis true," remarked Uncle Dwain. "His Worship has always dealt fair with me and my niece, and most generously." Cella was proud of her uncle as he excused himself from Legolas, Thaladir, and the Dwarves, so that he could take her and Milda aside to show them around his new domain. He led them to the alcoves while he explained what he had in mind.

The cellars as they were pleased him very much, he was glad to report. Even if there had been no practical way to make any of the various minor adjustments that he had mind, he would have been able to make do with what he was given. It was a blessing, he declared, that the Dwarves were here, but he was getting used to the magical ways of the Elves and all that touched them.

The fermentation barrels would need to be laid out in a specific fashion, with plenty of room around each one for the oak to breathe properly, and the alcoves that were currently being emptied of their casks were going to be remodeled for them. That is where the Dwarves were going to be busy with their mining-tools. Only a bit of stone would need to be carefully removed in some instances and in others entire walls were going to be demolished.

The air was dry enough, a fact he was initially concerned about, and the temperature was nearly perfect. If Cella's uncle could have built his own cellars in the low hills that lay along the sea of Rhun, he would never have hoped to do this well. As he explained to the women why this was, such as the type of rock the caves were carved from and the depth underground that the cellars existed at, the tall seneschal joined them and stood by silently.

As soon as Dwain paused and acknowledged him, Thaladir nodded politely and excused himself for interrupting their conversation before informing them that he had just received a message that His Majesty requested the company of his Court Vintner and his niece, and her friend, in his dining-room for the mid-day meal.

Cella froze at the news. It was time, and she somehow knew this without knowing how she knew, for the truth about her and Thranduil to come out. She could see that the quiet Elf, Nenrandir, had come in while they were all over by the alcoves and stood nearby. He must have brought the message. Her mouth went dry and she was glad she was not expected to say anything for the time being; she would not have been able to speak.

But neither Uncle Dwain nor Milda were sorry to hear the invitation for lunch, except that maybe her uncle was a little reluctant to leave the Dwarves and the demolition project they had already begun to perform, with steady chink-chink sounds from their tools. Soon they were climbing back up the long stairways to the palace, where they joined the Elfking in the small dining-room within his chambers.

Milda was respectfully stupefied by the grandness of the royal chambers, and it was all Cella could do to keep from admitting she had spent time there before. Not that there was anything sinister-sounding about merely eating dinner with the monarch, but she knew that such a fact would only generate many questions that she was not prepared to answer.

In the dining-room, the Elfking was waiting, and Cella's heart lifted to the ceiling when she saw him standing there. Her uncle eagerly expressed his pleasure with the condition of the cellars and his gratitude for the honor shown him that day with the gift of the robe, while Milda stood beside him, suddenly shy again in the presence of the royal Elf.

"Indeed, Dwain, son of Dake, it is you who honor me by agreeing to perform your excellent services under my roof," replied Thranduil. "And, I hope that you will do me the further honor of granting me another and possibly much more difficult request to fulfill."

"Difficult?" Uncle Dwain scoffed. "Your Worship, I am at your command. Whatever you require of me, I am here to serve."

"Good, but what I require of you is not your service, but instead your blessing... "

The Elfking was interrupted by a soft tap on the dining-room door, even though it was slightly ajar, and Cella saw Nandirn standing just outside of it, waiting to be received. In his hands he held some parchment scrolls.

"Come in," said Thranduil before turning back to address his guests. "And I believe that it is time for us to all be seated, before I tell you what it is that I require from you, Master Dwain."

To be continued in Chapter 48

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Posted: March 25, 2005

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