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The King's Vineyard, Chapter 6

By: Mary A
Beta: Malinornë
Pairing: King Thranduil/OFC
Rating: R for mature sexual content (later chapters)
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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Uncle Dwain had made Cella promise to come home directly from the dining-tent after she had finished her supper with her friends, Milda and Ingarde. To make sure they did not walk home by themselves, he arranged for the three of them to have a suitable escort back to the main house. Before he left to have his private meal with Thaladir, an Elf named Nandirn was found and assigned the duty.

As the women ate, he stood silently near their table. Her new friends giggled at first from the excitement of having such a handsome private guard, but they soon stopped trying to capture his attention and gossiped about the other hired workers instead, especially the injured grape-presser who had been so rude to the seneschal.

From time to time, Milda and Ingarde shamelessly flirted with some of the men at a nearby table. But Cella kept her eyes on her meal and her thoughts to herself. These women would travel on to other harvests after the Elfking's grape crop was picked and were probably used to bantering with the eligible bachelors who crossed their paths along the way.

More interesting to her was Nandirn, the silent, unmoving Elf who guarded their table. She felt a little sorry for him that he was given baby-sitting duties for three grown women, but she felt comforted by his presence and peeked at him when finally she felt brave enough. From the careful way he surveyed the other tables, Cella supposed her uncle had warned him to be on the lookout for bad'uns

At first, he seemed only just slightly less intimidating to her than the Elfking. He quietly observed his surroundings with the same calm, distanced attitude she had come to recognize as a common attribute of all the Fair Folk she had thus far encountered. Only rarely would his dark alert gaze sweep over the women at her table, although he showed not the least interest in them other than to see after their general welfare.

She had not seen him on the picking-lines, near the pressing vats, or in the laundry shed and she wondered in what part of the vineyard he worked. He did not wear the dark green tunic with black leggings like the gate-guards but instead was clad in dark gray. However, with his slender physique and elegant posture, he did not at all look suited for field-labor. But she realized that neither did any of the other Elves who worked alongside the mortals here.

"Milda," she asked, "why does the Elfking not have all of his subjects here in the fields?" It was a question she had meant to ask Glawareth when they returned to the picking lines together, but never had the chance. "Or at least why are there not more of them in the pressing vats with us?"

As it turned out, it was Ingarde who knew more about the subject. And, in fact, according to her, the Elves desired to have more humans in the fields and in the pressing vats, not less. But the local folk were only slowly coming to trust the Elvenfolk enough to step foot on their land, let alone seek employment from them. And yet almost anyone who came was quickly put to work.

The wine-making Wood-elves who had dutifully followed their monarch into this newest venture of his were the few, the brave, and the least offended by the confinement and manipulation of plant-life for personal pleasure. It apparently went against their instincts that bade them to allow all living things, except those in service of The Dark Lord, to remain in their most natural state and not be constrained by unnatural growing or living conditions.

"It made some of them wilder Elves ill," reported the knowledgeable woman. "When they saw the vines tied up and trained to grow up the stake and the stakes planted in straight lines," she lowered her voice, "it made them feel real uneasy, and nervous." Milda nodded in agreement.

"It's almost like they think the grapes have feelings," she whispered in awe, as if such a notion was a shocking thing to believe.

Cella had never thought of a growing plant in that way before, but she felt more intrigued than surprised. It made sense that the vines might have a different way of existence than the one she had always known. But it disturbed her to think that the grapevines might notice what was happening to them or feel uncomfortable about it.

"Some Elves couldn't stomach the sight," added Ingarde, shaking her head. Milda leaned towards them both, after throwing a sideways glance at their private Elf guard.

"But they all sure can stomach the wine," she said with a grin and a wink. Ingarde chortled but Cella worried that Nandirn would think they were talking about him, so she grinned back but kept silent.

"With the grape-stampers, it's a funny thing," said Ingarde. "There were more Elf ladies that came to do it in the beginning, but they couldn't squish the grapes fast enough. Their little dainty fairy feet just danced along the tops at first." She demonstrated by making her forefinger and middle finger into two little dancing legs that skipped too lightly over imaginary grape clusters. Now even Cella had to giggle out loud at the thought.

Ingarde went on to explain that the Ellith who worked now with them had been doing it for a couple of years and had learned how to smash the fruit beneath their bare feet deliberately. Not all of them took a liking to it; it injured their sensibilities, and those few had returned to their forest home. At least that was how she understood the situation to be.

When they returned to the main house, Nandirn followed behind them. His footsteps on the graveled road were so imperceptible that Cella found herself looking back over her shoulder more than a few times to make sure he was still there. She wondered if she would have been able to see him at all but for the light from the brilliant near-round moon overhead, as he seemed so capable, with his dark hair and gray clothes, of blending into the shadows.

Because the two village women were temporary workers, employed for the harvest only, they had more casual living arrangements than Cella and her uncle. Ingarde and Milda insisted that she come and see where they lived, while their Elf escort followed along dutifully. He waited outside the door to the women's living quarters, a silent sentry.

Her new friends shared a large sleeping room with the few other unmarried women who had been hired on. They each had folding lattice-work screens around their separate bed areas, for privacy. Otherwise it was a large, open, and airy space with numerous windows. These had louvered shutters and were placed high to prevent anyone outside from peeking in.

There was a similar sleeping section for the single men, who were separated from the women by the quarters for the married couples. Cella followed her new friends through the corridors and hallways as they gave her a tour of the mortal living areas. She wished those people at the Long Lake inn who spoke so ignorantly about the way the Elves lived could see the truth with their own eyes as she now did. This was no rabbit warren.

Just as in her and her uncle's private residence, the Elves provided the mortal tenants with a bare minimum of furnishings. Every item within these halls was useful or needful. But it was all also beautiful, the finish on the furniture and the woodwork shone in the mounted torchlight as if polished with butter. The metalwork on the fireplace hearths gleamed. The blankets on the beds were finely-woven with softly colored threads in curious subtle patterns.

Indeed, even though there were many duplicated objects, nothing seemed thrown together or hastily built. Instead, everything, the beds, tables, chairs, windows, walls, doors or floors, seemed lovingly and carefully crafted. Milda and Ingarde, with Nandirn following, walked the dazzled Cella down to the last corridor and through the little garden and onto the veranda of the home she shared with her uncle.

After they left her at her own door, with cheerful farewells, Cella hugged herself and looked up at the moon. It was not yet full, but it was bright enough to dim the stars directly overhead, and to throw shadows across the plastered wall of their enclosed courtyard. She wondered if the Elves celebrated the night of the Harvest Moon in the same way the people who lived beside the inland Sea of Rhun were wont to do. With bonfires and feasting and dancing.

Cella had always stood off to the side during the moon-lit partying at her uncle's vineyard. She would watch the younger folk pair off and disappear into the night shadows and reappear later looking flustered and proud of themselves. Even the married couples would cuddle closer under the moon that shone nearly as bright as the sun on a wintry day. Her uncle did not allow too much wild behavior, so the festivities and music would usually end early with him giving a last toast to the generous vines in his fields before shooing everyone off to their own beds or temporary sleeping areas.

Now that she was back to the private residence, Cella did not want to go inside to bed. The velvety autumn air felt like silk against her skin as a gentle breeze moved it around their tiny garden. The fragrance of the flowers was almost palpable against her flesh. The interior of their quarters was dark; her uncle must still be with the seneschal, more likely than not talking the poor Elf's ear off.

And she was still achy all over, although not as stiff and sore as she had been early in the morning. Her shoulders still grumbled a little about the grape-picking yesterday and her legs were not happy with the enthusiasm she had put into her stamping that day. Lanthiriel had advised her to take a warm bath before bed to ease her muscle pains, but Cella wanted her uncle to be home when she did. She wished she had the courage to have asked Nandirn to return to stand sentry at their front door after he had taken Milda and Ingarde back to their beds, as she assumed he had done.

There was a gate in the wall of the Elven-made enclave that surrounded the tiny garden. Feeling an irresistible urge to see the Lonely Mountain in the moonlight without any obstacles in her view, she unlatched the iron door and was rewarded with a glorious vista of shimmering-leaved grapevines in the foreground, which seemed to stretch for miles in orderly lines, backed in the distance by the dominating profile of the mountain.

Without conscious decision, Cella found herself walking toward it; it seemed so near in the crystal clear fall air, as if she could reach it with only a few swift strides. The mountains near her home by the inland sea now seemed to be lowly hills in comparison with the magnificent peak that towered before her. She wondered what it would be like to climb those steep slopes and stand on top to see the entire world. It was only after she had traveled several yards that she stopped and realized that she should not be outside of the gate by herself.

But it was hard to feel afraid in the brilliant light of the friendly moon. A few tattered clouds floated lazily overhead, in no hurry to get anywhere, and while she stood in indecision, a vee-shaped formation of honking geese came from the direction of the looming peak on their way to the balmy southern marshes. She was glad she had been out to see them, even though the melancholy music they made as they called to one another in the night sky tugged at her heart. They had a long way to fly to escape the chilly weather soon to come; and she silently wished them good-speed.

Standing perfectly still for a few moments, with her mouth slightly open so she could listen better, Cella decided she was in no danger. She could hear nothing besides crickets and the soft rasping whispers of the leaves on the nearby grape vines as they were tickled by the breeze. From within the main house, through the high opened windows, she could hear voices and activity suggesting that the last few stragglers from dinner were preparing for bed. Otherwise, the area around her seemed peacefully deserted.

There was an upper story that had several large windows with wooden shutters. Only a few were open and the rooms inside were dark and lifeless in appearance from where she stood. She wondered if in one of the rooms with the closed shutters, where faint light shone through a narrow crack here and there, her uncle sat huddled with the seneschal comparing notes on the field-workers. And then she realized that one of them could be the Elfking's private chambers, and for some reason she felt warmed by the thought, which she hastily pushed away from her mind.

"That is none of your business," she whispered out loud to herself, severely.

She decided to walk a little ways within the rows, to listen to their dry rustling voices. It was a custom of her and her uncle, when she was a child, to walk out in the vineyard at night to listen to the grapes. He would talk back to them too, which sometimes made her giggle. But usually he just praised them and asked them to continue to ripen well and bear sweet juice for the barrels.

This once happy bed-time habit had become sadder and sadder during the drought. Her uncle would plead with the vines to hold on for a while longer until the rains returned, as he assured them would happen. But even his most sincere pleas could not replace the life giving waters that refused to fall from the empty skies, and their walks in the moonlight became harder and harder to bear. It had been a few years, now, since last she had listened to the grapevines, and now she wished Uncle Dwain were here to tell her what they were saying.

And she thought about what Ingarde had told her about the unhappy Elves and their view of training the vines to grow. In an 'unnatural' way, she had termed it. As Cella walked through the rows she tried to imagine them growing wild, untamed, snaking out along the ground as she supposed they would do if not trained to climb the stakes. She was so absorbed in her daydreams that she was completely unprepared for the hand from behind when it clamped over her mouth. Another hand caught and trapped her wrists and held them in front of her.

More disgusted with the feeling and flavor of the fleshy hand than truly frightened, Cella bit down hard and tasted blood. The owner of the hand screeched and delivered a stunning blow to the side of her head by butting her with his own hard skull. She saw stars but remained upright and did not loosen her jaw's grip on her victim.

He bellowed in pain and aggravation as he tried to wrench free, but she would not let go, even though the taste of his blood in her mouth made her feel sick. Finally he let her hands loose so he could pry her jaw open and release himself. After hurling her to the ground, he loomed over her for a heartbeat and then, as if by magic, he was lifted into the air by some unseen force and thrown into the grape-vines, sailing head over heels and landing with an agonized wail of pain.

"Avo visto." [Do not move] A thrill ran through her at the sound of the familiar voice. "Be still," he added in Common Tongue. Like a shadow that suddenly materialized into flesh, he stood before her. Cella could not have moved a muscle in her body even if she had desired to. Her relief from the unlooked-for rescue, combined with the nearly overwhelming fear she felt toward her rescuer, caused her to feel weak in every extremity.

"Avo 'osto." [Do not be afraid] The Elfking's voice softened in tone, but Cella's heart still hammered as he knelt and helped her to sit up straighter with his hands on her forearms. She shook for a moment longer, and then felt calmer as if she drew strength from his grip on her.

He scanned her face and upper body quickly but did not release her; his hands were gentle in their grasp on her, supportive. She jumped when she heard a commotion coming from the area beside them where he had thrown her attacker, but the monarch did not seem to pay any heed to the noises of struggle amongst the vines. His eyes, which appeared able to absorb every beam of available moonlight to reflect it back, stayed upon her.

"Do not worry; your attacker is being... attended to... by Nandirn."

There was silence in the vines. The Elfking's voice remained calm, but an icily threatening tone entered when he added. "And he will be dealt with later, by me." Cella felt able to move again, and tried to pull away from him slightly, only to feel his hands grip her arms.

"Be still," he repeated, a bit more sharply. She felt afraid again and when tears filled her eyes, she turned her head away and batted her lashes furiously in order to keep them from falling and shaming her. But she did not try to move again.

His hand moved slowly up to the shoulder she had landed on when her attacker pushed her, his fingers traveled over the abraded area gently and then back down to her elbow. Everywhere he touched her, whether the skin was bare or sleeve-covered, she could feel a warm tingling sensation and then nothing, no more pain. Then he touched her head where she had been hit, and though she winced when his fingers found the tender raised area, she remained still.

This time, there was a prickling sensation that seemed to move over her head until it covered her entire scalp, and then the throbbing ache eased. The Elfking stood and took one of her hands to draw her to her feet before he crouched back down in front of her. Now his hands grasped onto her waist and she jerked involuntarily at the intimate way they held her.

"Avo visto," he repeated, but softly now. Obediently, Cella stayed still as his hands moved over her hips and down her to her thighs. She could feel the heat his fingers emitted through the woolen fabric of her skirt, as if it was not even there as a barrier between his touch and her bare flesh.

One of his hands lingered over the sore part of her thigh that she had landed on after being thrown. It had smarted with pain immediately when she had stood up. She felt his fingers pressing into her flesh there, and she closed her eyes with embarrassment although her gratitude was boundless as the discomfort melted away beneath his touch.

"Th... thank you," she stuttered weakly. And then, after a deep breath, she tried again, "Le hannon, Your Majesty." As he continued to move his marvelous hands down her trembling legs, to her knees, and over her calves, he told her that she should be grateful to Nandirn for watching out for her and to her uncle for asking him to do so.

Cella's eyes flew open at his words. The Elf had removed his hands away from her legs and she found she could think a bit more clearly.

"Does my uncle know that I...?" But she could not continue. The idea of her uncle being afraid, or worried about her, sank in and touched her heart. She found she was more horrified at the thought that he had learned of her foolhardy behavior from Nandirn than she was upset about being attacked.

"Not as yet," the Elfking answered as he stood. "But I suggest that you tell him because he will find out." Cella looked up into his handsome face and drew in her breath as he smiled down at her; his eyes seeming to shine with an inner light of their own.

Her trembling stopped, and, for a moment, she felt as light as a feather floating through the air. She did not know if this meant that she was completely numb from fear, or if she was just no longer afraid at all, to be so near to him.

"Run along home, Celiel," he prompted her gently.

She turned and ran.

To be continued in Chapter 7

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Posted: August 9, 2004

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