The King's Vineyard, Chapter 49
|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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As Cella sat and waited for Uncle Dwain to respond to what Thranduil had asked him, she felt amazed that their secret was not only out in the open, but that the world had continued turning despite that. She gazed steadily at her uncle across the table and willed him to accept His Majesty's proposition.
Valiantly, she fought back the stubbornly lingering fear that he might reject what was offered on her behalf, and could still try to take her away from Mirkwood. Of all of her recently abandoned fears, only this one would not go away and it clung to her heart.
She had trusted the Elfking up to a certain point and had thought that everything would work out with Uncle Dwain, somehow. But ever since the flurry of confusion and impromptu confessions from her uncle and Milda, she was no longer sure of anything.
Even though she believed that she would never have to be separated from the Elfking, no matter what her uncle did or said, she still wished that he would agree. And do it quickly, too, because she thought it would also feel good to be able to breathe normally again. After a small eternity, Uncle Dwain finally spoke up.
"If it pleases Your Worship, I would like to go straight to the point," he said to Thranduil. "Are you offering Cella marriage?" Nandirn answered instead of the Elfking.
"In the eyes of the Edain," he said. "In a strictly legal fashion, according to the prevailing contract laws of the region, it could be so termed," Only Milda made a noise that did not exactly express delight at hearing his explanation. Every one else waited.
As Cella watched her uncle's face, she could see what the Elves saw when they watched hers. His feelings were not hidden, or obscured by a mask of placid indifference; instead he was obviously perturbed, and anxious. After absorbing the information, he looked at her, and she could see even more clearly that he was not sure how to reply.
"And what do you want, brother-daughter?"
"I want...," Cella stopped to think. Now everyone at the table seemed to lean in toward her as they waited for her answer. But it was hard to decide what to say, because she already had what she wanted. Marriage, or something like it, was not as important to her as being able to love Thranduil openly, and not to ever have to hide it from her uncle, or anyone else.
It was as simple as that. This realization released her lungs, and she could breathe again. She only had that one desire. To be able to love the Elfking, without anyone, including the Elfking himself, telling her that she could not or should not.
"I really only want you to be happy for me, uncle," she said. "I will not leave His Majesty's side if I can help it, and I will still love him whether you are happy or not. But I would rather that you were happy for me. And that is all that I want."
"I will always only want what is best for you, Cella," he answered, less anxious now. "And that means that I sometimes have to put my own happiness aside to decide what is right."
"Wait a minute...," interjected Milda. Uncle Dwain put his hand up to silence her and she slumped back into her seat with a sigh of impatience, but kept quiet.
"Since the day we lost your parents," her uncle started, but paused, and a look of regret crossed his face as it always did when he accidentally mentioned that event. Cella reached across the table and patted his hand.
"You can talk about it to me now, uncle, really, I won't feel bad." She looked up to Thranduil for confirmation and he nodded in agreement. Her uncle lifted his eyebrows in surprise, but otherwise he did not look convinced, and he still picked his words carefully.
"Well, child, since... then, your welfare has been my chief concern," he said. "And even making sure that the vineyard turned a good profit was mainly to keep you fed and clothed and with a roof over your head. I would have grown grapes no matter what happened, but you gave me a reason to be the best that I could be."
"And you are still the best," Cella said proudly. "And I am sure that you were probably the best even before that day, uncle." She did not mention the drought, nor did he.
"Be that as it may be," he replied, "the one thing that I never could do was bring that spark of life back into your eyes that went out on that day, the day that your parents... passed on. And now..." he swallowed hard and Cella could see that his eyes briefly swam in tears that he fought back before he could continue. "I think that I do see that light in your eyes again, right now. How can I not be happy about that?"
"Then you do forgive me? And you are not angry?"
"You know, it's a funny thing," said Uncle Dwain, although he did not sound amused. "I suppose that I should be feeling sore at you both for what happened, but I can't bring myself to do it. Leastways not after..." He glanced at Milda, and then continued. "Well, let's just say that most any body seems willing to forgive himself for being foolish, but if he can't bear to let anyone else get away with it, then he is a hypocrite."
"Agreed," said Thranduil.
"And I can abide a fool but I can't abide a hypocrite, especially living right inside of my skin. Meaning no disrespect."
Uncle Dwain hastily directed this last comment to the Elfking, as if it had occurred to him, too late, that he had just inadvertently, if obliquely, referred to the monarch as a fool.
"Perhaps you would take a moment to read the terms of the agreement?" Nandirn handed Uncle Dwain another scroll as he spoke. "It may help you to decide if you know exactly what aran Thranduil is proposing."
For several moments the room stayed silent while her uncle read. Cella's head was swimming now and she could barely believe what was happening. She tried to smile at Milda, who was not slumping in her seat anymore, but her friend was reading over her uncle's shoulder and did not notice. And then she almost jumped when she felt something touching one of her hands, which were now folded on her lap.
It was Thranduil's hand, and she grabbed onto it gratefully, twining her fingers in between his, relieved by his touch. When she looked into his eyes, they were calm and at peace. She took courage from the confidence she saw within them, and her head cleared.
Her uncle let out a long, low sound, halfway between a whistle and an expression of relief, as he set the parchment down on the table. "I think that if Cella was my flesh and blood daughter, I could wish for no better life for her than under your direct authority, control, and...," he leaned to read the document before adding, "jurisdiction, Your Worship." He smiled.
However, next to him, Milda had grown noticeably upset. Cella watched her friend's eyes as they darted swiftly from her uncle to the Elfking, and then to Nandirn, and then back to her uncle. Finally she erupted.
"Doesn't Cella get a chance to read this?" Her hissing words were so indignant that Cella cringed inside. But her friend saved herself by addressing them to Uncle Dwain.
"Hush, dear, er, Milda. I am sure that she will," he reassured her.
At that, the Elfking lifted the scroll and handed it to Cella. For a few moments she stared at the words while she waited for them to organize themselves into something she was able to understand. There were too many terms that she did not recognize, having never dealt with any legal issues in her life. Except for the time she was questioned by the Laketown's sheriff about Gorst's first attack.
She had been asked to read and sign a document on that day, too. But that one was only her own words that had been written down, they being her answers to the sheriff's questions and her version of the events. She had understood every word of it without translation.
But this piece of parchment was dense with phrases such as: 'the party of the first part', and 'the second', and 'the third part', and words such as 'whereas' and 'wherefore' seemed to sprinkled with abandon within every other sentence. She felt completely lost.
"What does it all mean?" Cella handed the scroll back to the Elfking, who then laid it on the table. "What do I have to do?"
It was Nandirn who answered her. "Will you freely agree to solemnly swear undying fealty and allegiance to aran Thranduil Oropherion, and freely agree to both honor and serve him, in both word and deed? Until the day of your mortal death?"
"Of course! I mean, yes. I do solemnly swear to do all of that, sir." It sounded very much like the ceremonial words that were used when her uncle was declared Royal Court Vintner, and those were easy to understand.
"In return, aran Thranduil agrees to keep and protect you to the best of his ability, and under his authority, control, and jurisdiction, as a subject of his realm and a highly regarded member of his royal house, until the day of your death. Do you agree to these terms?"
"Yes, I do," said Cella.
"As her legal guardian, Dwain, son of Dake, do you thus agree to these terms stated in this contract, on behalf of your niece?"
"I don't rightly see how I could refuse on her behalf, seeing how she's so set on it," replied Uncle Dwain, obviously still bemused, but he was smiling a bit more easily now.
"Is that a yes?" Cella could hear the touch of humor in Nandirn's patient voice when he asked, and it helped. After her uncle quickly agreed that he indeed meant 'yes', it was difficult to restrain herself from leaping out of her seat to embrace him.
"And, of course I give you my blessing, brother-daughter," he added. "And I am happy for you, for both of you."
Nandirn rose from his seat to open the door, and in walked Thaladir. The tall noble Elf carried a small casket that was marvelously made out of dark wood and decorated with mithril inlaid carvings. The delicate silvery vines were very like the ones Cella had seen on the royal bed, and in the center of the lid was a flower with seven petals.
The seneschal set it down on the table and lifted the lid to reveal writing instruments, an inkpot, a stick of sealing wax, and the royal seal. As he lifted each item from within the box he set them out on display almost ceremoniously. It was mesmerizing.
While he was thus occupied, Nandirn sat back down next to Thranduil, lifted the scroll from the table and laid it back down in front of the seneschal.
"You will need to sign the document with your legal name, your birth name," Nandirn told Cella, adding, "I understand that Celiel is not the name you were given by your mother, as is the mortal custom?"
"It is Anya," said Cella, wonderingly. It had been many years since anyone had called her Anya, and then only her mother ever had. In a way she had been named very like an elf, only she had never been given a choice as a woman to choose any other.
It had never seemed to matter to anyone before today what her birth name was, and it made her feel very unusual. It was as if she had reverted to a child for an instant and then became an adult in the next, when she remembered and then said her real name. She watched as Thaladir gracefully wrote her name down on the parchment.
"And what was your father's name?" Quietly, Cella answered all of Nandirn's questions, including her mother's name before she married her father, and when and where every one was born. After her it was her uncle's turn to give his name and the names of his parents, and Cella's other grandparents, as well.
Everyone was asked to stand and sign the parchment, even Milda, although at first she balked. She seemed bewildered by the request, not to mention everything else that was happening. Before she could say much of anything, she was stunned into silence by Thaladir's glare and did as she was asked without any complaint. After every signature had been collected, the seneschal heated the wax and poured some at the bottom of the page and Thranduil pressed the royal seal into it.
While Thaladir sprinkled sand on the wet ink to hasten its drying, Nandirn directed Cella and Milda to return to their seats and asked them to wait there for a few moments. He, Uncle Dwain, and Thranduil left the dining room. Only the seneschal remained. Milda finally spoke again, but she whispered this time.
"Do you think that Nandirn is some kind of lawyer? I thought he was just a bodyguard."
"I am starting to think that the night Uncle Dwain asked him to watch over us, he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time," whispered Cella back.
"Indeed, my lady," said the tall Elf. "The Royal Counsel does not usually provide escort services to those employed at the vineyard. However, your assessment of those events is entirely correct." He told them how Nandirn had been on his way to a meeting with the Elfking that night, but had been waylaid by Cella's uncle and pressed into the role of temporary caretaker for his niece, and her friends, by the unwitting mortal. The gentle-spoken Elf had been far too polite to say no.
And Milda added that it was a lucky thing to have happened, considering how badly things turned for Cella with Gorst, and how no one would have known if not for the vigilance of the gray-clad Elf that night. As she spoke, Thaladir had carefully laid all of the contents of the marvelously made casket back inside of it, and then closed the lid. He asked the women to continue waiting where they were, and then he left the room with the freshly signed scroll in hand.
"Isn't there even going to be a wedding?" Milda sounded more sad than curious.
"I think that was the wedding," said Cella. But she was not at all disappointed with the signing being the only ceremony she would have. However, she did wish that she could be with Thranduil now, and wondered where he and her uncle were. The door opened, and she hoped it was one or the other of them, but she smiled when she saw that it was Legolas who entered the room.
"And how are you two ladies doing this afternoon? Are you enjoying your stay with us, Milda? Did I miss something? Why the long face?" The Elfprince's cheeriness was like the first fresh breeze after a summer's thunderstorm has passed. Before either of them could reply, he added, "Oh, did I tell you? I am here to escort the both of you to the throne room."
"This is more like it," whispered Milda when they entered the hall where Thranduil sat on his magnificent throne, surrounded by the members of his royal house, including Uncle Dwain. The Elves and the man flanked the throne on either side in neat, orderly lines. Even the Dwarves stood nearby, and they all bowed to her as she was led forward. Their beards swept the floor in unison as they did so, but Cella only noticed the Elfking.
He was crowned again, as he had been the night of the feast, and as she drew near, Cella noticed that the glossy leaves and red berries that wreathed his head were the same kind as the ones in the wooden bowl in the dining-room. On him, they made a much nicer display.
Legolas brought her to stand before the throne, but gestured for her to first face Thaladir, who was standing to Thranduil's right side. The seneschal in turn requested that she place her hand over her heart and repeat his words back to him, first advising her to use her birth name for the purposes of the ceremony.
"I...," he began.
"I, Anya," said Cella, and her voice stayed steady and clear as she said the remainder of her oath of allegiance, repeating the words back carefully. "Do solemnly swear fealty unto the throne of this realm... And I do freely agree... to be placed, body, mind, and spirit... under the authority, control and jurisdiction of Thranduil Oropherion... and swear to loyally serve him to the best of my ability... for as long as I live."
She was then directed to face the Elfking, and kneel before him for the rest of her oath:
"Your command now is ever my desire and your requests my duty to fulfill... May my service always please you and may your justice be swift if it does not... I give myself to you freely, until my death you shall have me in your keeping... As the stars ever turn, my will is yours... In need or in plenty, in peace or in war, in living or in dying, until you depart from your throne, death takes me, or the world ends... so say I, Anya."
After she was finished, she could hear Milda sniffling. It made her happy to know her friend was getting her wish for a ceremony after all. Thranduil stood and held his hand out to Cella, and drew her to stand before him while he spoke to her.
"As the sun guards the earth by day, as the stars by night," he said, "so shall I serve you as your liege lord. This is my sworn duty. I shall not abandon you, Anya, even until your death, ere the stars close their eyes and sleep. You are of my house, even as the very stone it is carved from. I pledge to hold you, to guard you, and to keep you. I pledge to honor your service as it deserves, and reward loyalty in kind. To protect and defend you against every creature with all of my power, until I depart from this throne, death takes me, or the world ends. Upon my honor and the lawful command of this throne, so say I, Thranduil."
From somewhere behind her, Cella heard sobbing, but she was too happy for tears, and felt the familiar floating sensation lifting her from the ground as she gazed into the shining eyes of her king. However, he lifted his eyes from hers and glanced over her shoulder, and she could not help but turn to see what it was he was looking at. It was Nenrandir standing at the door across the hall.
After Thranduil beckoned for him to approach, the quiet Elf bowed to both him and Cella and begged their pardon for interrupting. He then informed the monarch that the wine barrels had arrived, and that the Laketown boatmen were waiting for someone to take charge of them.
Even the eyes of the Dwarves lit up upon hearing the news, and Cella heard them speculating in noisy whispers about the readiness of the cellars and their desire to return to their work down there while there was still some time to finish. Uncle Dwain and Thaladir were given permission to leave with the Dwarves, and the rest of the royal house, including Legolas, was excused as well.
Before she would leave the throne room, Milda insisted on hugging Cella. "I am happy for you, Cella, eh, Anya? What do I call you now?"
With a shrug of her shoulders, Cella turned to the Elfking.
"Firiel, you are free to decide whichever name you choose," he said.
"I don't think I want a new name," she answered. "Cella has worked fine so far, as my uncle would say." Despite being glad that her friend had been there to witness her oath, she could not help but want to be alone with Thranduil. But Milda did not seem anxious to leave.
"So, I wonder which way Dwain took himself off to. I guess all this commotion with the wine barrels means no lunch," Milda said this last a bit woefully, and with her hand on her midsection. The Elfprince was suddenly standing next to her and he laughed. He promised that he would take her directly to the kitchen, and make sure that she was fed, if she would come with him now.
And then, finally, Cella was all alone with the Elfking.
Thranduil went back to his throne, leading her with him, and sat her upon his lap. She was hoping that he would kiss her now, but instead he held her close to him. She snuggled her face into his neck and breathed him in, loving him with all of her heart.
"How does it feel, firiel, to belong to the great and terrible Elvenking?" She sat up to look at him while she answered.
"It feels like a dream that I never want to wake up from, Sire," she said. And then he did kiss her. But it was not for long enough, at least as far as she was concerned. He broke away and chuckled at her frown.
"Close your eyes," he said and she obeyed. She could feel him reaching down to the floor for something from the way his body tipped her to the side, and then he sat straight again. "Open them."
He was holding a narrow box, which must have been made from mithril, she assumed, from the way the silvered finish seem to glow from within. "Lift the lid," he directed her, and she gasped when she saw what was inside. There, in glittering glory on a bed of velvet, lay a necklace of perfectly shaped emeralds.
At his command, she lifted her hair and turned the back of her neck to him just so that he could affix the astonishing jewelry there. The weight of the stones was a surprise, and even her untrained amateur eye knew that the value of these gems was incalculable.
"When this was presented to me," he told her, "it was in reward for that which needed no reward. And I wished, in vain I thought then, that such a magnificent piece of work would not have to suffer the unhappy fate of gathering dust in my treasure-house for all time. I am most pleased to see now that it will not."
"Your beautiful eyes are the only emeralds that I ever need to look at, Majesty." But even as she said it, Cella could not keep her fingers away from the ones around her neck. It was tangible proof of their unusual union, and the promises that he had made to her.
She needed no more reassurances, or even a declaration of love from him, as long as she could gaze at him whenever she wanted to and for as long as she wished. To be able to please him to the best of her ability, and be wrapped up in his arms while she did so, was all that she had ever wanted from him.
"Close your eyes again, little star," Thranduil said. And then he kissed her properly.
A/N: The historical reference to the emerald necklace can be found in The Hobbit, Chapter Eighteen, 'The Return Journey':
"Even a fourteenth share was wealth exceedingly great, greater than that of many mortal kings. From that treasure Bard sent much gold to the Master of Lake-town; and he rewarded his followers and friends freely. To the Elvenking he gave the emeralds of Girion, such jewels as he most loved, which Dain had restored to him."
For purposes of this story, I have referred to Thranduil's eyes as being green. However, that is using poetic license as the color of Elves eyes was normally gray. But, I am going to assume that as the Elfking took over leadership of the Great Greenwood, he became more like the forest itself.
Posted: April 8, 2005
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"Long live Thranduil, great Elf-king of Greenwood!"