The King's Vineyard
By: Mary A
"No great thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes... Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen." Epictetus, circa 60AD
That night, after the last of the wine barrels had been unloaded and properly laid in the cellar, there was a feast. It would prove to be one of the largest and most memorable feasts in the history of the Halls of the Elvenking in Mirkwood. Not to mention the first in memory that included both Dwarves and Men amongst the company.
All of the Elves in the palace that day were filled with an uncommonly infectious joy, which they poured into the preparations. The largest hall was festooned with banners and adorned with sprays of evergreen branches, such as yew and spruce, which perfumed the air. Long tables groaned under mountains of food.
The tales told afterwards of the savory meal, intoxicating drink, and magical music, were eventually carried to all of the surrounding regions, and in the weeks to follow they gained near legendary proportions in the telling and retelling.
The previously recalcitrant Dwarves finally felt comfortable enough amidst the Elves to join the party. They were certainly in the mood for a hearty feast after their productive day of either removing or reshaping the stone of the cellars. They had worked alongside those Elves of the realm who also had knowledge of stonecraft. Both groups admired the other's skills and learned to cooperate more swiftly than most would have imagined.
Uncle Dwain was exhausted but happy about the final results with the unloading and storage of the newly arrived wine barrels. There were many eagerly willing hands and strong backs among Thranduil's subjects, and the work had gone quickly with merry songs and without mishap.
It turned out that the impatient Laketown boatmen had a good reason to want haste. The weather was promising a storm, with increasingly higher winds and dark clouds gathering. While it was still light outside, Cella and Milda were allowed to bundle themselves up and leave the caves to stand above the riverbank and watch the unloading.
The fierce gusts whipped their words away almost before they spoke them and they had to shout to each other to be heard. They worried out loud over how the freshly emptied flat boats were being tossed about by the wind blowing over the river, which sent them bumping and banging against each other.
All around them, the last tattered autumn leaves flew about as the branches on the beech trees on the hillside behind them, and the ones that grew along the river's edge, were battered and bent by the increasingly strong gales. But the well-tethered craft in the river were safe; it was the boatmen who were in danger if they tried to board them.
When the clouds burst, and the driving rain forced the spectators back inside, the men from the Long Lake were grateful for Thranduil's invitation to come in to his caves and wait out the storm, which he predicted would not blow over until the following day. And they had gladly joined in the feast.
The Long Lake men stayed close to the Lonely Mountain's Dwarves, who they felt quite comfortable with, and were surprised to find visiting there. They marveled openly at the situation of the humans who were living within the caves. It was unheard of, among the general population of Esgaroth at least, for the gates of Mirkwood to be open to any one else besides Elves.
The boatmen usually did not tarry long in the forest after making deliveries to the halls and they were very curious about everything in the caves, including what the occasion was for such a grand feast. The reasons given to them for the celebration varied according to who answered.
First, they were informed that it was a feast for the lost party of Dwarves, who had so far avoided being duly honored as guests, and next they were told it was for the returning vineyard workers who were being welcomed back to their home.
Cella had told them that the feast was for the new Court Vintner's title to be honored, and there was also the much anticipated arrival of the wine barrels. But Milda insisted that the true reason was to acknowledge the newest member of the royal house, who had exchanged oaths with the king of the Elves, and in the presence of many witnesses, within the royal throne room that very day.
She was clever enough, though, and protective of Cella's reputation, as well as not sure about all of the legal machinations employed by the Elves, to say no more than that. The boatmen could draw their own conclusions.
And Cella sat at the main table during the feast, in the highest position of honor at the right hand of the Elfking. The magnificent emeralds that graced her neck sparkled and flashed in the torchlight. The Dwarves' eyes had lit up at the sight of the necklace, and much murmuring speculation was heard from them, but they otherwise minded their manners and made no remarks.
Over the Royal Court Vintner's protests, a barrel of the wine just delivered from the vineyard was brought up to the feasting hall. Despite the fact that it had not had a proper aging, according to Master Dwain, it was opened, poured, and pronounced delicious, and even the ale-loving Dwarves returned for a refill of their wine bowls.
When the musicians began to play Cella's favorite song, she accepted Thranduil's invitation to dance with him without hesitation. She did not seem bothered at all that no one else shared the floor with them.
Uncle Dwain was next to have a turn with Cella and he reminded her of her former shyness about being seen dancing in front of a crowd. She told him that when she first heard the music that the Elves played at the vineyard, she had changed her mind. It was that irresistible.
While she was dancing with Uncle Dwain, Lothriel and Milda found that they shared a common interest, namely Cella's happiness, although for different reasons. Lothriel knew that if the mortal maid was happy then her lord would be happy, and the entire realm would benefit, but Milda just wanted Cella to be happy for her own sake.
From Milda's wagging tongue, Lothriel, Glawareth, and Lanthiriel learned the full details of Gorst's attack and Cella's terrible injuries, and what else she had 'heard tell' about the vigilantes and the fire. Together, the woman and the Ellith conspired to make this night as wonderful as they could for the mortal maid and the Elfking.
When Narfi, son of Norfi the Builder, approached the main table, bowed low, and then asked Cella to dance, she looked to Thranduil. After a pause, he nodded his consent and then smiled to watch her being swung about by the stout but bouncy gentle-dwarf.
The Dwarves had been invited to delay their travels and spend the winter in the caves. Master Dwain had a few ideas for his wine cellar, such as a better drainage system, and for some of the river water to be diverted into the fermenting area. He also wanted a better air flow throughout.
Narfi was considering it seriously, but Duin, brother of Dain, had his fill of adventure, and arranged for a ride back to the Long Lake with the returning boatmen. From there, he and his two retainers could hire another boat to sail up the Running River to the Lonely Mountain, and home.
After more than a few bowls of wine had been passed around, Milda joined Cella at the main table and told her about how she had fallen in love with her uncle. It was not, as first thought, during the time Dwain was being nursed back to health, although that period had been an important factor. He was lonely and, after Willem's treachery was discovered, she was devastated. But Milda swore that there was more to it than that.
"It was probably all the way back to that night when the king Elf found you and carried you up his stairs, while Ingarde and me could only watch? My heart went out to your uncle that night and it never really came back." Both of the women were silent for a moment. And then Milda continued, rueful in tone.
"Willem was, well, I always thought he was a little too good to be true. There was something off-kilter about how perfect he was, I mean for a vineyard worker, and I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. But Dwain is plain as plain can be, and doesn't pretend to be nothing more than what he is, a good man."
Cella agreed, but she had drunk enough wine to speculate out loud how much having warm feet all winter had to do with Milda's tender feelings. Before any further conversation could take place between them, both of the women were invited to dance again.
After Cella had danced with Legolas, Nandirn, Duin, brother of Dain, Himbor, her uncle again, and even the reticent seneschal, who was surprisingly graceful on the dance floor, she was waylaid by a mirthfully mischievous Milda and her accomplice, Lothriel, with Glawareth and Lanthiriel beside them.
"We are going to hide her from you," said Milda cheekily to the Elfking's query about their intentions with his newest subject. Although he lifted an eyebrow at the sassy remark from her friend, Cella, obviously tipsy, grinned up at him.
"Do you think you will be able to find me? Soon?"
"Very soon," he answered, and then gestured for the group to be on their way, which turned out to be toward the royal bathing chamber. They crowded around her as she bathed and discussed what to do with her hair. But Cella vetoed any plans that included ribbons or hair combs or any other attachments. And she brushed her own hair, too.
All of her clothes had been moved to the royal bedchamber, and the Ellith and her friend were startled by Cella's tears when she saw her smaller wardrobe standing next to Thranduil's massive one in the alcove next to his bed where he dressed. She tried to explain how there was something so firmly solid about the two pieces of furniture, hers and his, standing side by side, that made what was happening to her very real.
But when they tried to coax her into wearing one of the fancier new lacy nightgowns they found within the emotion-provoking wardrobe, Cella was not tearful at all when she calmly refused to put it on. She informed them that she was going to wear the perhaps plainer but still lovely gown that His Majesty had remembered to bring for her from the vineyard or nothing at all.
"That Elf would probably like that, nothing at all," said Milda with a snort. "But I think it would be wiser to make him work for that just a little bit tonight." The pragmatic Ellith agreed.
After she was gowned, they had her hide behind the drapes attached to the royal bed's canopy to wait for the Elfking and they left her alone there. When Thranduil came into the room, he called out her name and pretended not to be able to find her at first, even though her bare feet were quite clearly visible.
"It does not help you to remain hidden if you insist on giggling, firiel," he announced, which made it worse.
"It is good to hear you laugh," he told her when he finally 'found' her, and pulled her out to stand in front of him, between his spread knees, while he sat on the bed. "The last time you were in my bed, you wept."
Cella began to speak, but he put a fingertip on her lips to silence her.
"I can not promise you that you will never weep again," he added, "only that I will do everything in my power not to be the cause of your tears, and to wipe them from your eyes if you will let me." He removed his finger to let her answer.
"Let you? Did you forget how I promised that your every command was my desire and your requests my duty to perform?" She tried to imitate the seneschal's careful pronunciations and solemn attitude. Thranduil laughed.
"No, I have not forgotten your oaths, not for a moment." His eyes were shining.
"And what is your command for me, oh great and terrible Elvenking?"
"Turn your back," he said and when she did he moved her hair from her neck so that he could unclasp the necklace, after first bestowing a kiss there that made her shiver. He explained that as much as he loved to see them sparkle in the candlelight, the stones of the necklace might cut into her bare skin.
"But my skin is not bare, Sire."
"No it is not, and that is my second command," he said. She turned to face him before complying with his unspoken order and then pulled off her nightgown. He drew her closer to him in order to reward her with a kiss, and she visibly trembled when his hand found one of her soft breasts and cupped it tenderly. It was hard to do, but she managed to break away from him to talk.
"Can I make a request, Majesty?"
"You must know by now that your every wish is my command," he replied while he held her at her waist and pulled her close to him to kiss her again before she could tell him.
One of her hands had boldly wandered, however, and she tugged at the ties on his leggings. Instead of trying to say out loud what she most desired, she sent him a clear mental picture of how she wished to see him, which was naked, and above her, and as soon as he could manage it.
And she did not have to wait very long.
When the boatmen returned to their homes by the Long Lake, some days later, they reported on the spectacular wedding of the woodland's king to a mortal maid as if it was a fact, even though they could not provide eye-witness testimony to any ceremony. Irregardless, they had been to the party, drank the best wine they had ever tasted, and had seen the famous necklace of emeralds, and that was enough proof for anyone.
Their tale was believed by all, and the few of Gorst's remaining kin were chilled at the idea of perpetuating a personal vendetta that would now include the dangerous Elven inhabitants of the treacherous forest.
Cowards that they were, the vengeful men were also more concerned with saving their own necks than with pursuing a woman who was being harbored by the Elves. To see justice done to their kin was one thing, and perhaps possible if she was living anywhere else besides Mirkwood, but to even plan an assault on a member of the royal house of the Elvenking was akin to digging one's own grave. Without further word, they silently declared a truce, and never tried to invade the king's vineyard, or harm any of his workers, again.
Truly the End
At the moment, I have no firm plans for a sequel involving Cella, but I may revisit the vineyard in the future.