Ivy's day began abruptly when bright sunlight burst against her eyelids, and a buzzing brought her upright in bed. Shielding her eyes from a sudden light, she discovered Legolas standing at the foot of her bed with the window curtains' remote control in hand. Bags from J.Crew were stacked beside her on the bed - no doubt her share of the goodies delivered after their night of shopping before.

Legolas' long hair was wet and slicked back, and Ivy was startled to realize the Elf was dressed only in one of the thick terrycloth bath-robes furnished by the hotel. Tossing the remote onto the bed, he smiled - more like smirked - at her.

"Aur vaer," he greeted her.

"You did that on purpose," she accused, knowing she sounded as grumpy as she felt. Snatching up the remote, she punched random buttons until she found the one that made the curtains shut out a bit of the light.

"Did what on purpose?"

"Woke me up like that. Because I threw a pillow at you."

"I would never do that." The mischievous look in his blue eyes told another story. "I merely wished to inform you it is seven o'clock and time for Queen's Daughter to be awake. The plane is scheduled to leave at nine."

"Seven o'clock here is four in San Francisco," she grumped.

"I share your pain, as in Alaska it is only three in the morning. You have time for a shower and breakfast before we leave." With that, Legolas was gone.

Twenty minutes later saw Ivy showered and dressed and putting her now-overstuffed bag near the living room door. Alastair grumbled a good morning through his bacon and eggs as Ivy eyed the offerings on the breakfast trolley.

Legolas stood at the window with his back to her, the cell phone once more glued to his ear. Holding a comb in his other hand, he tried yanking it through his hair. The long, tangled strands fought him, and Legolas let loose with what Ivy thought sounded like a stream of Dwarven curses - it was either that, or the garbled noise of rocks being chewed.

Going to the Elf, she dared to take the comb from him. "Don't hurt yourself. Let me help."

That earned her a harsh glower, but Ivy didn't think she was in any real danger. He's more angry at his hair than at me. If I'm wrong, he'll just have to punish me by not letting me have any breakfast.

Unable to bear the thought of the Elf's ripping out any more lovely golden strands, Ivy went to her purse. She returned to Legolas' side as he concluded his latest call to Haldir.

Rubbing the palms of her hands together, she ordered, "Turn around."

"What is that?" He indicated the clear, thick substance on her hands, and did not turn around.

"I call it hair-snot. It's made to prevent frizz, but I think it might detangle your hair the way it does mine."

He stared at her so intently that Ivy very nearly squirmed.

"Um...would you like to break with tradition? Trust me just this once, and turn around?"

Legolas sighed deeply before turning around. Very slowly. "If this does not work, I will wash it out."

"You do that." Regal prince of Mirkwood much? she thought.

Quickly gathering the recalcitrant Elf's hair before he changed his mind, Ivy discovered it was much heavier than it looked. Part of her was doing no little bit of delighted squealing. I'm touching his hair - LEGOLAS' hair. Oh, wow, this is too cool! The more adult part of her was frantically cautioning, Don't squee out loud and blow it, m'kay?

Briskly rubbing the thick gel through Legolas' hair, Ivy said a little prayer to whatever angels were listening and held her breath before gingerly applying the comb. I hope this works on him the way it does on me, and doesn't leave a greasy mess.

She let out her breath as the comb glided easily through the gold. A few tugs were inevitable, but they were minor and easily smoothed.

"All done," she announced, reluctantly handing back the comb as the Elf whirled. "That wasn't so bad, was it?"

"It was actually enjoyable." He sounded amazed as he stared at the comb, as if it were responsible all by itself for his gentler grooming. "As a child, I despised having my hair detangled. It was unbelievably painful and something to be avoided for as long as possible, which only made matters worse as you might imagine. Mithrandir had to bribe me to sit still."

Mithrandir? Ivy puzzled. Why was Gandalf combing Legolas' hair when he was a child?

"Le hannon, Ivy." He sounded sincere. "The world has indeed changed if there are inventions in it such snot." Placing a hand on her shoulder, he guided her toward the table. "I am keeping you from your breakfast, and you must eat."

"Are you eating too?"

"I have had tea. It is all I require." Out came the cell phone again, and Legolas wandered back across the room.

Ivy frowned, first at the Elf and then at Alastair who had watched the entire exchange with great interest and was eating enough scrambled eggs and bacon for both him and Legolas.

"You're eating all that?" Ivy asked.

"'Tis a long flight, lassie."

Selecting a croissant and some fruit, Ivy poured a cup of coffee and looked over at Legolas. "He can't live on tea alone."

"Himself's stomach's his own concern. Sit with me and eat your breakfast. We've the Rolls waitin' to take us to the plane. Were it a weekday, we'd have the helicopter."

"A helicopter?" That got her attention. "Why?"

"To avoid the morning traffic, of course. We've Lairg to reach, and it's best we be off sooner than later so the laird's not kept waiting."

Nodding her agreement, Ivy tucked into her breakfast.

# #

The Learjet had scarcely finished its climb from JFK International Airport in the bright morning light and leveled off before Legolas unbuckled his seatbelt and stood up. Thumping down his two-inch stack of papers on the table before Ivy, he slipped into chair opposite her.

I guess he doesn't feel the need to sit with his back to the bulkhead any more, she thought.

Ivy was grateful for the more relaxed mood between them, but anxiety washed over her when Legolas skimmed off the top of his stack and set the papers before her.

"Haldir indicated these are for you." Reaching for a nearby drawer, the Elf retrieved two writing pads and passed one to Ivy. A brief search yielded one pen and no others. "Perhaps Alastair has one you might borrow?"

"That's okay, I have my own."

"Very well. Haldir has sent you a brief history of Ithilien, our council, and the Queen's Daughters. I must concentrate my own dossier and cannot stop to answer any questions you may have. Haldir will address them after we arrive."

Picking up the first sheet, the Elf was as good as his word. Ivy could feel the change in his mood, as well as the 'do not disturb' vibe wrapped around him. Regardless Legolas' distance, Ivy felt encouraged he had taken the time to explain the reasons for it to her.

Maybe I should follow his example and concentrate on my own homework? she thought. No doubt Haldir will give me a test.

Ithilien's faxed history came from a tired, dog-eared copy, complete with the occasional floating letter. Elves are great typists, I take it? Ivy thought. I'd bet my next art commission that every Queen's Daughter has been given this, when were typewriters invented?

It was dry going. The Queen's Daughter stuff consisted of only a list of names, complete with birthdates and death dates. Beyond seeing her mother and grandmother's names listed, it meant nothing to Ivy. The board history told her it had been around a long time, they had planned to do things and did them for centuries. There was nothing personal or even slightly interesting in the notes.

Maybe that's so, if the notes are lost, no one will be able to tell they were written by real Elves?

Bored, Ivy leafed through the remaining pages to see if they became more appealing. They didn't.

Haldir had to pen this stuff, she thought, because they're nothing like the histories I imagine Lord Elrond would have written before he left Middle-earth. I wish I could have seen them. Not that I could have read them, but still.

She doodled on the pad and considered the list of Queen's Daughters. Most had died before the age of forty. Did Legolas know all of them? Ivy wondered. How did they die? Were all of them mad? Will I go crazy and die too? We can't speak of Arwen - what else aren't they telling me, and why?

Her doodles became rough sketches of Legolas' hand moving across the writing pad opposite her. He was using a fountain pen, she noted. Some vintage thing that might have come off of some lawyer's desk. Or maybe Sherlock Holmes'. It was old, anyway.

Did Legolas read the Sherlock Holmes stories when they were new? Or see Shakespeare's plays the first time they were put on? Did he lose friends to the Black Plague, or hide out in Scotland until it was over? He's lived over six thousand years, but no Queen's Daughter's made it past a hundred.

Tolkien said the Mortal mind couldn't handle immortality, she remembered. So did some Queen's Daughters commit suicide rather than face living forever? Is that why they're not around?

She eyed the golden head bowed over its work. Great time to stop talking to me, Legolas. Did those who came before me go mad like Rochester's wife in Jane Eyre and have to be locked away? Is there an asylum somewhere up in the Highlands where insane QDs are kept?

Legolas was scrawling notes in the margins of his faxes. Elvish notes, in a spiky handwriting that was lovely, even upside-down. Leaning back from the table, Ivy continued sketching bits of him. She even got a partial profile when he turned his head to consult his previous notes. He seemed to have forgotten her presence, which Ivy thought miraculous given the tension between them only the day before.

The morning passed until hunger inspired Ivy to prowl the lunch hamper the Four Seasons had prepared for them. Knocking on the cockpit's door, she slipped inside to give Alastair his choice of sandwich and treats before returning to the table and offering the same to Legolas.

The Elf murmured his thanks, but took only an apple. Setting it aside, he ignored the rest and went back to reading.

"You need to eat something," Ivy urged, unwrapping her chicken salad sandwich.

"I'll eat after the meeting." He didn't even looked up.

A few minutes later, Legolas' pen failed and he shook it. When that didn't work, he unscrewed the nib and examined the bladder inside.

"It's empty," he growled.

"Take mine." She pushed the Pilot G2 across the table, careful not to smear it with residue from her potato chips.

Legolas made a noise that Ivy assumed passed for thanks. He returned to taking notes, only to pause once more.

"I have others if it stopped working," Ivy reassured.

"It is working." He turned the pen around and around as though it were some alien being between his fingers. "This isn't ink. What is it?"

"A gel pen."

"A...gelatin pen?"

"More like jelly, though it's spelled g-e-l."

"I don't understand. Is this yet another thing the world invented while I was away?"

He sounded irritated. Is he irritated because the inventions have left him behind, or does he get snarky whenever he doesn't understand something? Either way, from the annoyed look he was giving her, Ivy knew she'd better start talking.

She picked up his now-useless fountain pen and screwed the nib back on, hoping to distract him from glowering at her to watching her hands. It's easier to talk when you're not looking at me like that.

"If I remember correctly, dip pens and fountain pens use inks that are dye solutions mixed with a water or shellac-based solvent. Water makes non-waterproof ink; shellac makes it waterproof. Ball-point ink uses paste ink mixed with a dye solution in an alcohol solvent. And gel-pen ink uses actual pigment suspended in a water-based gel."

Legolas was staring at her again. His blue eyes were intense, and he said not a word.

Ivy carefully set down the fountain pen, stared at the writing pad, and tried not to squirm. She knew she was blushing, she could feel her face heating up. "You asked."

"You have made a study of inks?"

Her temper flared at the skepticism in his tone. "Artists have to study all sorts of pigments. Some of us even like to play with gel pens because the colors are very bright, and they can be used on dark paper. They're clean and smooth and disposable. I'm sorry if I sound like a commercial, but you should try something before you sneer at it. Or at me."

"You are an artist?"

"I didn't kill myself with student loans and spend six years of my life getting a masters degree in tinker-toys, okay?"

Legolas' blue eyes narrowed, his jaw clenched. "I have no idea what you have done with your life, Queen's Daughter. If you recall, I met you only yesterday. "

"If you recall, you're the one who asked what kind of ink's in that pen."

"I didn't expect a dissertation."

"I didn't dissert, I answered your question. I know you don't believe me, but I'm not lying. If I don't know something, I'll say so, not make something up."

He glowered at her, and Ivy glowered right back, regardless part of her was horrified she was daring to challenge him and wanted to back down immediately. I will not!

Legolas was gripping the gel pen so hard, Ivy thought it might splinter in his grip. It'd serve him right if he got ink all over his beautiful fingers. Betcha his elderberry soap wouldn't get that off.

"Ivy." The Elf exhaled hard. "I meant no offense, and I am under a great deal of pressure at the moment. I am being bombarded by a vast amount of new information and must do my best to absorb it over the next few hours. The world around me is filled with new things I have never before experienced."

"You asked about the damn pen!" Ivy insisted. "Are you trying to blame me for everything new in your world now?"

"No. I am asking for a bit of patience and understanding on your part."

"Fine. You've got it. Whatever." She stared anywhere in the cabin but at him.

"Whatever? What does that mean?"

"It means what it means. Whatever you want, however you want it."

Another chewed-gravel oath from the Elf. "Bloody hell, it's just ink!"

"It isn't just ink." Much to Ivy's her dismay, she felt on the edge of tears. I will NOT cry in front of him. I will NOT give him that satisfaction! "It's a point of honor now."

Tilting his head, Legolas considered her words. "How has it become so?"

"My mother thinks the stuff I know about art is useless, and I can't help but feel you're thinking the same. I know you're under stress, and I'm sorry. Do you think I'm not feeling the pressure, too? I've just found out Elves are real and that I'm immortal, but I can't ask you questions about anything because you're studying for some important thing at the meeting. Haldir is supposed to tell everything when we get to this strange place I've never been to before, and...and I'm trying to help any way I can and not get on your bad side, but...but whatever! Look, you do what you need to do, and so will I. Your stupid meeting will come and go, and then I'll go, and...let's just use the pen and forget about it, okay?"

Looking away, she blinked back tears. "It's not worth the argument. You have better stuff to worry about."

"I see." Glancing down, Legolas drew slow circles with the pen. "It is a fine pen. Thank you for explaining to me how it works."

"Anytime." I will not cry.

"Perhaps Greenwood should look into investing in them," Legolas said softly.

She swiped away an errant tear. Is he trying to be nice now? What, does nobody challenge his more arrogant assumptions? I may be an infant to him, but I'm not stupid, and I'm not falling for it. She didn't say anything.

Legolas held his hand out across the table. "Please forgive me, Ivy MacLeod? It was not my intent to hurt you or question your honor."

It sounded like a formal apology. Glancing from the Elf's hand to his face, Ivy felt bewildered, but knew he expected a response. I don't get what he's doing now.

"It's okay. I shouldn't have gone off on you like that." She put her hand in his, thinking to shake on it, but Legolas closed his fingers instead and laid his other hand atop hers.

"Thank you for sharing your knowledge with me." He sounded sincere, and he was half-smiling, as if he were every bit as uncertain as she was.

Oh, damn. That smile will get him anything he wants. "You did ask."

"I know I did." His dimples deepened, but there was no mockery in his eyes. "Forgive me?"

"Yeah, okay. I guess so."

A final squeeze of her hand and Legolas returned to his work. Her fingers tingled where they'd been tangled with his. Settling back, she felt more than a little confused about the argument they'd just had. Haldir's faxes forgotten, Ivy stared at the Elf as openly as she dared. He's certainly more than a little odd.

The monotonous sound of the plane engines as well as the escalating warmth of the cabin coaxed her into closing her eyes. What would it hurt if she fell asleep? Legolas certainly didn't need her to stay awake.


Ivy awoke when her ears began to ache as the plane descended fast through the darkness and the cabin temperature grew colder. Legolas had cleared the table of the collection of papers and moved back to his bulkhead seat. Glancing out of the window as the engines slowed and the Lear banked sharply, Ivy saw a line of blue runway lights streak past, but nothing else.

"It's so dark out there. Where are we landing?" she dared to ask.

"Close to the house, on a private runway at the edge of Loch Shin." His voice was calm, but his knuckles were white where his fingers gripped the armrests.

Would he tell me if the landing were in danger? she wondered. Would I want to know?

No, she decided. I don't want to know.

"It is only nine o'clock," Legolas volunteered as the Lear lined up and sank gracefully toward its landing. "Haldir should have supper waiting."

The plane touched down lightly on the snowy runway, and Ivy thought that Alastair was well worth whatever Greenwood was paying him. The reverse thrusters fired to slow the plane, which eventually turned off of the tarmac and onto a narrow lane of snow-packed asphalt. Headlights gleamed as a car bounced toward them.

Ivy rose as Legolas did when Alastair emerged from the cockpit to lower the stairway. The Elf followed the pilot down to the ground, but set out for the waiting Range Rover while Alastair turned to retrieve their luggage. Ivy hovered at the bottom of the stairs, uncertain what to do in the dark and cold. A bitter wind streaked through her, so that she lowered her head and wrapped up tight in Legolas' bear parka.

A silhouette crunched toward her over the snow.

"Ivy, is that you?" Someone peered at her beneath the hood of the coat. It's so nice to have you safe on the ground. I'm Haldir, and you must be freezing."

It was the same soothing voice she had heard on the phone, but now she had the image of an austere face with a long nose and a head of long hair whipping in the wind like some demented silver-blonde mane to go with the voice.

"I'm Ivy, and you're right. Legolas tried to warn me how cold it is--"

"No description can prepare one for the wind off the loch." Another coat was placed over Legolas', and an arm slid firmly across Ivy's shoulders. Pulling her to him, Haldir bundled her up in a warm hug. "Come inside the Range Rover and get warm while we shift your things from the plane."

She was guided into warmth and silence and the door closed behind her. The warmth didn't last long, as Legolas flung open the back door to accommodate the bags Alastair and Haldir slung inside. Moving around the Rover, Legolas took the front seat. Haldir followed on the other side to take the wheel.

Slamming the back door, Alastair pounded twice on the glass, and then Haldir was turning the Rover around. Caught in the light beams, Alastair took the steps back up into the plane.

"What about Alastair?" she asked.

"His car is in the hangar," relayed Haldir. "He'll put away the plane and go home, off down the hill to the village."

"I didn't get to say thank-you or good-bye," Ivy whispered to herself, shivering as the warmth tried to reach beneath her coats.

"Don't worry for that," said Legolas, and Ivy started, realizing the pointy Elven ears had managed to catch her whispered words. "He should be at the ceilidh, you can thank him then."

What's a ceilidh? She wanted to ask out loud, but sensed now was not the time as the two Elves began a quiet conversation between themselves.

"Has anyone else arrived?" Legolas asked.

"Not yet. You're well ahead of them all."

"Thank Elbereth for small blessings."

Ivy stared out the window as the two switched to Sindarin. I have got to learn Elvish. I wonder if Amazon sells lessons on CD?

She couldn't see much beyond the Range Rover's lights, only a narrow dirt road ahead and a blanket of snow swirling around them. The road wound its way up through a thick forest of tall trees that, when combined with the snow, made Ivy feel slightly claustrophobic.

I wish we could have landed in daylight, she mused.

Haldir slowed as a huge, grey stone wall loomed up beside them. The Rover traveled a few more feet before rolling to a stop inside a what appeared to be a long, multi-car garage.

Exiting the SUV as her companions did, Ivy looked back to see the stone wall they'd encountered belonged to a dignified castle to which the garage was attached. Carriage lights winkled at her through the falling snow until someone activated the automatic garage door, which lowered and blocked the view. There hadn't been nearly enough time or light for her to glimpse any real details; Legolas' home could have had black towers and gargoyles for all she'd seen.

The Elf dropped Ivy's bag at her feet before retrieving his own and passing on. She hefted the satchel into her arms, only to have Haldir take it the next instant.

"What the devil is he thinking, making you carry your own luggage? Hang about!" the silver-haired Elf called out to Legolas, who was fast disappearing through a door Ivy assumed led into the house. "Some host you're turning out to be."

"I think he has other things on his mind," Ivy murmured, following Haldir into the house.

"Undoubtedly, as he will for days to come, but that's no excuse to forget his manners."

"He'll not be forgettin' his manners with me about, will you laddie?" a new voice intruded, this one feminine and with a Scots accent that was, if possible, even stronger than Alastair's to Ivy's ears.

Ivy peered over Haldir's shoulder to see a short, pinch-faced woman standing in a frayed, lumpy sweater and skirt, rubbing her hands on her apron. At the moment, she was glowering up at Legolas, who was trying to slip past her and into the hall beyond.

"New laird of this manor you may well be, but you'll not be tromping over my clean floors with those boots. Leave them here in the mudroom."

Ivy thought she heard a soft growl before Legolas dropped his luggage and complied. Haldir bent over his own boots, while Ivy managed to close the door and stood against it, almost in the corner of the small room and hopefully well out of the way of the woman's verbal blast.

"You'll be Ivy. I'm Bridie, himself's housekeeper." The woman's gaze raked Ivy head to toe, and she scowled. "Ach, did your mum not feed you? You're not but a wee thing, skin and bones. Get yourself into my kitchen, I've something hot for you."

Bridie hustled out and Legolas stared at Ivy. "For me she has a scolding, but for you it's something good to eat?"

"Marian always had a Christmas present for Bridie, and I told her Marian's daughter would be joining us."

"Oh, that's great, I've brought nothing for her," Ivy hissed, shrugging out of her coat and hanging it on the nearest peg before removing her new boots.

"Give her my bear coat." Legolas grinned before disappearing around the corner.

"Yeah, that'll make me popular." Kicking her boots into the corner, she hurried after the Elf and left Haldir clucking over the room's disarray.

Ivy sprinted down the empty hallway. Determined to catch up with Elf, she slid hard on the slick wood floor in her stockinged feet. Legolas turned, his hand on what Ivy assumed was the kitchen door, as she very nearly slid into him.

The Elf arched an eyebrow. "Floor surfing?"


"Very well done. We could have used you at Helm's Deep."

He pushed through the door and into a designer kitchen that was every bit the religious experience the Four Seasons bath had been. What looked to be antique hardwood cabinetry housed two stainless steel ovens and a huge, gleaming refrigerator. The black marble counter-space seemed endless, while the stovetop had been beautifully married to the center island which also housed a Vinotemp.

"Doesn't your castle have a wine cellar?" she whispered to Legolas.

"There." Legolas pointed to a dark oak door set in the opposite wall. "Haldir believes it's haunted and refuses to go below."

Bridie was dishing up bowls of stew, and Ivy inhaled deeply. "That smells delicious."

"I should hope so, I made it myself." The housekeeper beamed. "The bread's just out of the oven, and there's fresh butter and honey. Take a slice and a bowl, and sit yourselves down."

Haldir reappeared as Ivy was joining the Elf at the heavily scarred oak table that looked to have survived a few hundred Scottish winters. Bridie plopped an open bottle of wine on the table as Haldir slid into the chair at the head of the table.

"I've kept you late tonight," the Elf said when the housekeeper had set his stew and buttered bread before him. "You should go."

"Not until I've seen you lot finish your supper, seen Marian's bairn up to her room, and sorted out the kitchen. Then I'll be going home." Going around the table, Bridie claimed her own chair, put her arms on the table and settled in to watch them eat.

Taking in Haldir's placid acceptance as he poured the wine, and Legolas' bristling as he watched the housekeeper watching all of them, it wasn't hard for Ivy to sense the inevitable rising storm. Ducking her head, she chose to concentrate on her meal and wasn't at all surprised when Legolas began speaking to Haldir in a stream of clipped Elvish.

Haldir replied quietly, which seemed to do little to sooth Legolas' tirade. The Elf then began speaking so fast, Ivy couldn't even catch the odd word. They were still at it when she got up to take her dishes to the sink.

Bridie joined her there, to intercept the dishes and stack them as she preferred. "It's sleep you'll be wanting now. Get your things, but leave your boots, and meet me in the hall."

Glancing at the two Elves, she saw they were still deep in discussion, with Legolas having shredded his bread and barely touching his stew. Hurrying to retrieve her things, Ivy dared not let Bridie see her slide on the wood floor, but padded quietly back to where the woman waited outside her kitchen.

Ivy was then led through what seemed the entire length of the house. Her first impression was of a deathly quiet and cold, old and dark place filled with a lot of wood paneling and heavy furniture of no specific period she could easily identify. She was so tired that everything was a blur in her mind, including the monologue Bridie kept up as they went.

They climbed a beautiful narrow staircase with an intricately carved banister, which Ivy ached to examine in the light of day. Reaching the second floor, she was briefly aware of a long, dimly lit corridor before Bridie led Ivy straight across it.

"This'll be your room, as it was your mother's whenever she visited us."

A wave of welcome heat rolled past Ivy as she followed the housekeeper into the room. "It's warm."

"The master had me light the fire earlier today to warm the room for you. Right thoughtful, he is." Bridie turned on a bedside lamp and continued on. "The WC's through here, and yours is private unlike some others in this house."

Ivy peered inside the small bathroom to discover a sea of ancient white tile, a commode with a water cabinet above - complete with a chain and wooden handle to be pulled, which Ivy assumed would flush the commode - and a freestanding clawed-foot bathtub that was so high and long that Ivy thought she might get lost in it.

"Is the plumbing Victorian?" she asked.

"Aye, that's the last time the laird updated this wing." Bridie fiddled with the small water heater tucked between the sink and the bathtub. "I've turned up the gas so you'll have hot water in the morning, and there's enough for a shower. Arrangements will have to be made if it's a bath you want."

Ivy wondered what that meant. Would she heat buckets on the fire and pour them into the tub like they did in medieval times?

"Towels are in here. If it's anything else you need, you'll be letting me know tomorrow when I bring up your breakfast." Pushing past Ivy, the housekeeper raked back the curtains of the four-poster bed and continued on to the fireplace. "I'll stoke the fire so you'll be toasty warm though the night. There's a bed warmer here for you if you'd like it."

The housekeeper tapped the round metal object with a long wooden handle that was hanging beside the fireplace. "It's no more than two minutes in the fire, and run it lightly across your sheet. No longer unless you mean to burn it."

She poked the fire and shoved another log on top, then set the iron-and-mesh screen back in place. Rising, Bridie wiped her hands on her apron, gave a brisk nod, and headed for the door. "Good-night, dearie."

For all her exhaustion, Ivy lost no time in prowling the room once the housekeeper had gone. Starting at the fireplace, she warmed her hands and unhooked the bedwarmer to get a better look at it.

Is this...silver? She opened it and peered inside. It's definitely been used - did Mom use it? - but it looks like it belongs in a museum. Victorian, huh? She stared at the massive bed and its intricately carved frame. That's not Victorian. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a chamber pot under the bed.

She had to check. Much to her relief, there wasn't. Getting to her feet once more, Ivy ran a hand over the wood paneling and stared up at the ornate tin ceiling. A pair of French doors graced the far wall of the room with a shadowy balcony beyond. Ivy wandered over to peer into the darkness.

How big is this castle? She could see little beyond the stone terrace and the snow piling up there. Ice coated the windows, discouraging her from opening the French doors and letting all of the heat escape into the night. I guess I'll find out more about this place tomorrow. It would be nice to find out more.

Giving up for the night, she put on her pajamas and brushed her teeth. Even with the fire warming the room, she was too cold to fall asleep immediately.

Legolas said it would be cold. I didn't get how cold until now. Getting up in exasperation, she put her sweatsuit on over her pj's, glad she'd thought to get them. Pulling the blankets up to her nose, she quickly fell asleep in a cocoon of warmth.


Legolas juggled his satchel and armful of papers before pushing through the back door of the kitchen and into the enclosed, cement-floored workroom beyond. Wrapping his fingers around a section of the doorframe, the Elf felt for the faintest rising in the wood. Pressing firmly, he heard a soft click and was gratified when a hidden door swung inward. A dark stairwell within led up to the second floor, to his private wing and sanctuary.

"We refitted the lock at the top of the stairs with a coded keypad," Haldir offered.

Turning, Legolas shoved his papers at the marchwarden, before taking the stairs two at a time. "What is the code?"

"There isn't one yet, I thought you'd want to set your own." Haldir paused on the step below Legolas as he eyed the newest bit of technology to get in his way.

"How thoughtful of you. How do I set it?"

"Press six digits, and then press the pound key."

Peering at the keypad, Legolas poked 3-1-2-9-3-1-#. A faint beep rewarded his efforts.

"The code is now set," Haldir relayed. "Re-enter the numbers to actually open the door."

Legolas did, and the keypad whirred.

"You have three seconds to turn the knob. Much better than a key, don't you think, as keys can become lost?"

"I suppose so." Though I've managed to hang onto mine for three hundred years, thought Legolas.

The hallway beyond was softly lit, and the wood paneling had not changed, despite Legolas' fears he'd return to find it painted over. The thin old carpeting with its unattractive floral pattern had been replaced, but he couldn't fault that: the wool to make the original carpet had come from Lairg sheep sometime in the eighteenth century and had been thinning when Legolas left. Interior decorating had never been his strong point.

The heavy wooden door directly to his left stood closed, and no keypad graced it. Legolas let his satchel thump to the floor.

"Did you change the lock to my private suite as well?" Legolas asked.

"I wouldn't dare."

The well-oiled lock turned easily, as Legolas thought it should under its original key. Reaching for the lightswitch just inside the door, he discovered a fragile plastic knob had taken its place. What else has he interfered with? "Haldir--"

"Here, let me." Haldir pushed aside Legolas' hand. "It's a dimmer switch, you see? Terribly convenient, I installed a number of them a few years ago. You push to turn it on, and then turn it like control the brightness of the lights." He demonstrated. "Better than candlelight, don't you think?"

Legolas made no answer, but prowled further into the room.

"As you can see, your sanctum sanctorum hasn't been disturbed," Haldir soothed. "I did take the liberty of having the housekeeper straighten the mess you made while packing for that last trip. Your bed's been made and the room had been dusted from time to time - supervised by me, of course. Beyond that, no one has been in here. Not one thing has been touched."

Legolas eyed the stack of clothing on his bed. It would all have to go, of course. He wouldn't miss it, for it was all out of date and reminded him of his time with Isabel.

I'll see it burned, he thought. Aloud, Legolas commented, "That is well."

The rest of the room welcomed him with its purely functional oak furniture that the Elf himself had crafted centuries before. His massive ash secretary with its triple glass-enclosed bookshelves sat safely closed and locked, while the worktable that had been assembled in Ithilien was easily the messiest thing in the room. Old correspondence, books and business reports, blueprints and carpenter's catalogs were stacked haphazardly across its surface. Most would be discarded as being out of date and quite useless, but Legolas looked forward to revisiting the carpenter's catalogs.

Their products are timeless enough, and perhaps some of the suppliers are still in business. Working with wood had always soothed him, and the Elf felt badly in need of soothing. One thing at a time, he admonished himself. See to the meeting first.

Settling his faxes on a nearby chair, Legolas gathered a tall pile of old papers and set it on the floor, only to straighten and notice what looked like a small television and typewriter keyboard was lurking in the space behind it.

So nothing else has been touched? Looking at Haldir, Legolas narrowed his eyes. "What is this?"

"It's called a computer."

"I know that. Why is it in here?"

"Because you'll need it in here. Lee Greenwood will be sending emails and receiving faxes constantly. You might even enjoy surfing the Internet from time to time. Of course you don't know what the Internet is yet--"

"I know what the bloody Internet is, the general store in Meyer's Chuck was connected to it. I am not interested in cruising or surfing or whatevering it." Shoving his papers to the middle of the table, Legolas sat down. "You know as well as I that Lee Greenwood may not even have reason to exist after tomorrow's meeting. I've a limited number of hours to learn all I can about Julien's proposal and why it's being supported, so can we please dispense with the new technology tour and get started?"

"Of course, Legolas." Haldir's voice dripped sarcasm, for all that he sketched a polite bow before sitting down. "We already know the vote will be very close. Perhaps fatally so."

"That's what I'm afraid of."

"Perhaps we could persuade Ivy ahead of the meeting?"

Legolas shook his head. "In all the hundreds of years of Greenwood's existence, I have never attempted to manipulate any vote, much less Queen's Daughter's. I absolutely refuse to begin, at this late date, to play Machiavelli to Julien's Mephistopheles."

"As you wish." A chastened Haldir fell silent.

Taking up a yellowed notepad, Legolas wiped it free of dust before reaching for a stray pen that lay nearby. Uncapping it, he discovered it was another uncooperative, dried-up fountain pen. Sighing, he drew Ivy's gelled wonder from his pocket, only to uncap and turn it between his fingers. Out with the old Queen's Daughters...they are as dust to me. What of the new one I left downstairs?

"Haldir, what do I need to know about Ivy MacLeod?"

"Let me get her file, I left it in my study."

Legolas' hand on Haldir's wrist stopped him before he rose. "I need nothing so detailed as her life's file. She says she is an artist. Who do you believe her to be?"

Folding his hands before him, Haldir recited, "We've had her watched all her life, unbeknownst to her mother, so our records are very complete. She was born in Phoenix, Arizona on the 18th of May, 1980. That is also the day Mount St. Helen's erupted."

Legolas arched an eyebrow at that useless bit of information.

"I'll jump forward to the present, shall I?" Haldir rushed on. "She is indeed an artist, though that is something her mother will probably never acknowledge."

"Is the child that bad?"

"Bad?" Haldir sounded incredulous. "Quite to the contrary. Regardless Ivy's talent, Marian wanted her daughter to go to business school. Ivy's refusal at the tender age of eighteen marked the first time she refused any demand made by her mother."

Reaching across the table, the marchwarden flipped on the computer. "Ivy earned her Bachelor of Arts in Art a little more than two years ago. Two days before you met, she was awarded her Master of Fine Arts in Art from San Francisco State University."

"She wishes to teach, then?"

"Oh, no. Ivy has prepared herself to compete in the professional world of painters."

Legolas gestured dismissively. "Throughout the ages, starving artists have been halfpenny a dozen."

Ignoring the observation, Haldir pulled the computer keyboard toward him and began tapping on the keys. "Her Masters thesis was entitled, 'Francesco Salviati's Designs for Decorative Arts: a marriage of color, function and imagery.' I have a copy in the south wing if you'd like to examine it."

"Salviati?" Leaning back, Legolas crossed his arms. "So she is enamored of the Italian Mannerists and their frescoes?"

"Not really, though I'm sure she could replicate their style. No, our Ivy paints horses. And not just any horses." With a flourish, Haldir turned the screen so that Legolas could see it.

A white stallion ran free on a moonlit shore, sea foam dancing at the edges of its hooves. Cantering in the surf, the horse was in perpetual movement. Its captured and held Legolas' own, and the Elf felt the proud creature's presence, for the spirit of this horse was fully there - watching Legolas as Legolas watched him. A hand-calligraphied quote flowed in the night-cloud sky behind the stallion.

"This one creature I have found who mirrors my soul.

To him alone do I give the mystery of who I am."

Author Unknown

"Ivy knows horses," Legolas said bluntly.

"It might be more accurate to say that Ivy knows the horses she creates. She was given a pony for Christmas when she was twelve, but her mother ripped her away from Windfola the summer Ivy was fifteen, and they moved to San Francisco."

"She named her pony after Eowyn's gelding?" Legolas said, incredulous.

"Yes, but Ivy's Windfola was a grey mare."

Legolas snorted. "Why would she name her pony after the gelding that threw its rider and ran away in the presence of the Witch-king?"

"Everyone ran away from the Witch-king. Except Eowyn."

"Yes, but why not name the pony something more suitable? Like Bumpkin or Wise-nose."

"Why don't you ask Ivy when next you see her?" The marchwarden sighed deeply off of the dark look Legolas gave him. "Eowyn longed to do as she pleased, did she not? So did Ivy, and I've no doubt her grandfather's ranch in Montana became the land of the Rohirrim in her imagination. Just as the stallion of that piece you're ogling so intently became Shadowfax a few years afterward."

Legolas blinked to realize he'd once again been pulled in by the horse's gaze. Regardless it was imprisoned in a one-dimensional, pixelated world, Ivy's Shadowfax still seemed a sentient being with a palpable presence, capable of wisdom and physical power. Sea, sky and sand melted away until Legolas saw and felt only the horse.

Breathe, the animal whispered to the Elf. Relax and center. Be with me.

Far from passively viewing the artwork, Legolas felt compelled to reach for the screen because he felt compelled to reach out to the horse. The Elf found himself wanting nothing more than to leap onto that painted back and be carried a long time away from the pressures and worries he now faced.

It is only an image, yet he seems alive and he speaks to me. Shivering slightly, Legolas sought to rid himself of whatever spell Ivy MacLeod's painting was capable of casting. I have been too long away from horses.

A stable full of equine strangers waited for him just beyond the castle's back door. He had only to shove back the door and spend a few moments murmuring Elven reassurances, scratching behind ears, and breathing nose to nose to make those strangers his friends.

No good could come of such friendships if, as tomorrow ends, they no longer belong to me. But perhaps the worst will not happen, Legolas further reflected. Perhaps, as painted-Shadowfax suggests, I should breathe, relax, and try to remain centered throughout this ordeal, no matter its outcome.

"Have we purchased any of Ivy's pieces?" Legolas asked, pulling himself back to the present.

"Of course not." The older Elf sounded scandalized. "They don't go with our décor."

"I see." Unwilling to continue losing himself in the painting, Legolas turned the screen back toward Haldir. "I am glad this Queen's Daughter seems an accomplished artist. What else is she?"

"Little else, I'm afraid. Because Ivy has concentrated so completely on her art, her business experience is limited to dealing with the public at a handful of art shows and the San Francisco gallery handling her pieces. I cannot tell if her inexperience will work for or against us tomorrow. I believe much will depend on how much she resembles her female predecessors, as opposed to whatever she may have inherited from Aragorn's line. Had Marian chosen to attend this meeting, I could say with certainty how she would vote. But Ivy--"Haldir pursed his lips.

"Let me guess," Legolas said dryly. "The girl is - for all your watching and analysis - a totally unknown quantity?" ventured Legolas.

"I'm afraid so."


A/U: Ivy's horse art is based on Kim McElroy's - an accomplished professional artist whose work and website can be found at spiritofhorse dot com . If you visit Kim's site, please be sure to click on Stories and read, at the bottom left of the page under Artistic Inspirations, "Avenger: Is, Was and Ever Shall Be." In the 80s, Kim maintained a booth at the annual Scottsdale Arabian Horseshow in Scottsdale, Arizona, which is where I first encountered her and Avenger. Wednesday


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