"My daughter tells me the Icelandic mare you trained once saved her life." Elrond commented, effectively diverting Glorfindel from discussing Elrond himself.

"Did she? Could you tell me how?" Glorfindel urged, looking for all the world like a child eager for story-time.

"My grandfather didn't tell you about it?"

"Well, yes, he did," came the sheepish admission, "but Cameron wasn't with you when it happened, and the experience had to be far more exciting than he knew to tell."

"Exciting? Try terrifying." The greatest Elf that Middle-earth ever saw is eager for me to tell him a story. Are we sure he and Legolas are related?

"Okay, this is how it went," she began doubtfully. "Stop me if you're bored. No matter what the season was, Windfola always turned for home two hours before sunset. It didn't matter if I didn't want to go home, she'd point her nose toward home, and that's where we went.

"I wanted to ride up on the mountain behind our ranch and do some watercolors of an abandoned cabin, so I packed a picnic lunch and off we went about ten o'clock on a Saturday. Windfola probably knew a mountain lion was stalking us on the way home a lot sooner than I did, because she had this weird impatience, and I kept having to pull her back for fear she'd lame herself or worse on the rocky trail. Grandpa told me later that the lion was a small one, so it was probably just learning how to hunt.

"It leaped at us from a pile of rocks and was just a blur to me. The next thing I knew, Windfola was screaming and rearing. I managed to ride that, but then she bolted off the trail only to stop abruptly, and I was pitched over her head. I remember thinking before I hit the ground, 'She's running for home, and I'm going to get eaten.' I don't remember hurting from coming off - that came later - and I got up in time to see the lion go sprawling behind Windfola, who was facing me."

"She kicked it, then?" Glorfindel asked.

"Grandpa thought so. If she did, she probably snapped one of its legs or shattered its rib cage, but it was kind of hard for me to see what happened. She spun and lunged and bit at it, and threw it around like a rag doll. It wasn't moving when Windfola dropped it, but she reared and stomped it anyway, huffing and snorting all the while. She came back to me when she was satisfied it was dead, but I was shaking so badly I could hardly get back up on her.

"Her ears were pricked and she kept blowing and staring in all directions, as if another lion might come at us. I was jumping at the shadows too, wondering if mountain lions hunted in packs like wolves and if they were going to get us, but she got us safely off the mountain. I didn't even try to guide her, just held onto her mane and trusted her to find her own way home.

"She went straight to the barn, but it wasn't time to feed yet. So I brushed her down, gave her some water and half a flake of hay, and then I went looking for Grandpa. Mom was busy making supper, so I had to pretend like everything was okay when I walked through the kitchen. Grandpa was watching the news, so I sat down next to him and stared at the television without really seeing it. I was sitting on my hands and trying to stop shaking. He gave me this funny look and asked what as wrong. I told him Windfola had just killed a mountain lion.

"He asked if I was hurt. I said no, and then he asked if my pony was okay. Then he asked if I could show him where it happened. Now? Before dinner? He said yeah, now. We were talking in whispers, so Mom wouldn't hear.

"He got down his rifle and we didn't tell Mom where we were going, but snuck out the front door, around the house, and into the barn. Windfola wasn't happy at being taken away from her hay, but I got her ready again while Grandpa saddled Kino, and we went back up the mountain.

"The sun was going down now, and both horses started tensing up when we got close to where it happened. I pointed out the carcass and stayed on Windfola while Grandpa inspected it. It was pretty flat. He left it where it was - no hope of a trophy there - and got back on Kino.

"He didn't say a word all the way home, so I don't know what he was thinking. I didn't really care, I just wanted to be home because there were lions and bears, wolves and maybe aliens in those woods. I was still shaking. My heart was pounding in my ears, and if I'd heard so much as an owl hooting, I think I'd have died. Windfola kept flicking back her ears as if to say, 'It's okay, the monsters are all gone,' but that didn't really help.

"We didn't get back home until after full dark, and then all Grandpa did was feed and water everybody. Windfola got an extra flake of hay, and he patted her neck and rubbed her face. All he said was, 'You've done good, lady.' My mother yelled at both of us for being late when we went in, but she never knew why we were late." Ivy shrugged. "And that's my story."

Glorfindel looked pleased. "Elrond had me train her to take care of you, but one never knows if the training will hold if it is needed. I am glad she looked after you."

"She always looked after me," said Ivy, "even when I didn't need it. I got to ride her only three years before we moved to San Francisco, but she could tolt all day long and keep up with the big horses in 4-H. She'd go through or around anything."

"Anything?" Glorfindel sounded incredulous. "What of mud and rivers?"

"Up to her belly," Ivy said proudly. "Over logs and even a clattery covered bridge. She was so sane..." She looked from Elf to Elf and felt herself flushing. "I'm sorry, I got carried away."

"That's a never-mind," said the golden Elf. "All of us here are horse people. You'll not find a more attentive audience to listen while you talk about your mare."

"You must miss her terribly," said Elrond.

"Yeah." Ivy leaned harder against him, and he leaned back. Solid and warm, he seemed every bit as reliable as her pony had been.

"You know there is no word in Icelandic for pony, so your Windfola was actually a horse?" said Glorfindel. "When Elrond told me to find you a pony, I flew up and looked for one in the Shetland Isles. The natives there don't ask if you have ponies, they ask if you have horses. Then they ask if you have big ones or little ones - little ones being Shetlands. 'Hesti' is the Shetland word for horse, so they say, 'Does du hae ony hesti?' to which you answer, 'Aye.' Then they ask, 'Muckle or perrie eens?' You say, 'Baith,' and they say 'Foo mony?' and so it goes. After seeing one particular Shetland pony, I thought you might be happier with an Icelandic horse instead."

"Why is that?"

"The gelding I saw was white and short, barrel-chested and wicked to the point that it might have been a pwca in another life. The thing stood perfectly still while his owner and I watched, and the owner's son mounted it. It trotted obedient around the field and seemed fine under saddle. But when the boy walked me to my car, he confided that as soon as his father's back was turned, the pony would dance and buck until the boy was ejected. The wicked thing would then return without its rider to the father. Said father would grab the reins and march off in search of his muddy, limping son and wonder why the boy had fallen off again." Glorfindel shook his head. "A Shetland wasn't the pony for you."

Elrond's hand settled on Ivy's shoulder. "Your grandfather left Windfola with your neighbor to the east. We could see about getting her back, if you like?"

Ivy twisted to look up at him. "You're serious?"


"Hang about," said Glorfindel. "Where's she to keep a horse in San Francisco?"

"Ivy has agreed to join us in Warra after the meeting." His fingers combed gently through her hair. "What do you say? Do you want Windfola back?

"Oh yes, please."

"Hang about again, if you don't mind," said Glorfindel. "I know the making of this miracle is something you'll leave to me, but there are practical matters to discuss. Are the records on this mare up to date? Is she current on all her shots? I taught her to load, but does she still do it easily?"

"She'd follow anywhere I wanted to go when I left her," said Ivy. "Even into a cramped trailer, because going somewhere meant adventures to her. I don't know about the rest of it. I haven't seen her in ten years, so how can I?"

"There you are," said Elrond. "Glorfindel, make the call to Montana. We'll pick up Windfola on the way home."

"On the way home?" Ivy echoed. "It can't possibly be that easy."

Glorfindel winked at her, his blue eyes twinkling. "It is when you've millions of pounds at your disposal and a cargo-jet waiting on the tarmac just out there. It's good to be king."

"So you're king now, are you?" asked Elrond.

"I'm father of the great laird of Lairg, aren't I?" He raised his goblet in a silent toast. "That's as close as makes no difference."

The conversation was interrupted as Haldir darted into the room and headed straight for the Vinotemp next to the long sideboard. Bracing a hand atop the cooler, he spared a glance at Ivy and her group before bending down to peer through the protective glass.

"Is all well with you this evening?" Haldir asked.

"Never better," said a cheerful Glorfindel.

"Good, good," Haldir said absentmindedly. Selecting a bottle of wine, he went out the way he'd come, seeming in a great hurry.

"Is Haldir...does Haldir--"Ivy thought she should probably rephrase the question she had in mind. "Legolas told me Haldir's afraid of the wine cellar, but that hardly explains why there's a Vinotemp in every room."

"Are you daring to ask if the former marchwarden of Lothlórien is a lush?" whispered Glorfindel.

"Um...I guess I am?"

That set the golden Elf-lord off into peels of laughter, which Elrond's look of disapproval only served to intensify.

"I can see how it might look that way," Elrond admitted while Glorfindel struggled to get himself under control. "Haldir does not have a drinking problem. He does, however, have a problem with the wine cellar. You see, some years ago, Legolas tried bottling blaeberry wine, which is a Scottish cousin to your blueberry. It makes a fine red wine when it's put up properly. When it's not, the liquid in the bottles has a tendency to become volatile. As this was Legolas' first effort, a few of his bottles did not age well."

"You'll need a bit of backstory to really appreciate this," said Glorfindel. "As an Elfling navigating the trees of Lothlórien, Haldir was taught to maintain at least three points of contact with a branch or tree trunk at all times. Regardless he's no longer a tree hugger, he still has the unconscious habit of bracing his hand against the wall, door, doorjamb or what have you of any room he enters. It's quite amusing to note once you're aware of it. When he descends into the wine cellar, he invariably braces his hand against the wine rack at the bottom of the stairs."

"Unfortunately," Elrond retrieved the story thread, "that is the rack that contained Legolas' defective bottles back in the day. Jostled as they were, they had no choice but to explode one after the other, which made Haldir think he was being assaulted. He streaked back up the stairs and insisted, from that moment on, that the cellar was haunted and the ghost disliked only him, for no one else was ever attacked when they went down there."

"No one else is attacked," said Glorfindel, "because no one else has the habit of bracing a hand on things. From that day to this, a few bottles are always laying in wait for Haldir."

The mental image of Haldir creeping down the stone cellar steps, only to have something explode out of the darkness and send him streaking back the way he had come, made Ivy giggle. "Was the ghost laid to rest while Legolas was in Alaska?"

"The ghost is far from laid," the older Elf-lord said mournfully.

"Glorfindel and I made a pact to - as far as was possible - keep things as they were before Legolas left," said Elrond.

"We have our own vineyards and bottle our own labels in Oz," Glorfindel explained, "and we've flown in cases of stuff every solstice for decades. We wouldn't want Haldir to feel that the castle ghost is neglecting him, so we've always deliberately created a few volatile bottles."

"They must be packed as carefully as nitroglycerin itself, but bring them we do," said Elrond. "Erestor is in on the scheme as well, for he is the one who stocks the cellar. He and Bridie also fill the Vinotemps, so Haldir is falsely reassured by his not having to challenge the cellar ghost very often. Yet the bottles always lurk there, ever ready for whenever he dares venture into the ghost's domain."

Ivy looked from a calm Elrond to a smirking Glorfindel. "Haldir is seriously that gullible?"

"You've no idea," said Elrond, sounding more like Eeyore in that moment, than a powerful Elf-lord.

"Oh, that's great." Ivy giggled. "So you bottle your own wine, grow your own crops, and raise your own cattle in Oz. Are you entirely self-sustaining, like Imladris was?"

"We are," said Elrond with some pride. "But I believe Warra is even better than was Imladris, as you shall see for yourself."

# #

Ivy continued sneaking looks at the third Elf who slouched so silently in his comfy chair beside Elrond and turned a can of Diet Coke slowly between his fingers. His hair was as dark as Elrond's, and watchful grey eyes looked steadily back at Ivy, but this particular Elf hadn't contributed a word during the long conversation.

Ivy noted he possessed the same watchful stillness she was beginning to associate with all Elven warriors, but this one didn't feel nearly as old as the other two Elves. He was also attentive rather than menacing, for which Ivy was thankful.

The strange Elf's hair was as black as Elrond's and very nearly as long, while his cheekbones looked so sharp, they might have been chiseled from stone. He looked somehow familiar, but Ivy was too worn out to chase down why. Glorfindel had introduced himself immediately, but neither he nor Elrond had introduced the new Elf, and Ivy didn't think it was proper to blurt out, 'So who are you?'

"Well, I'll be leaving you three to the night, as I've some phone calls to make to Darby, and a son to check up on." Getting to his feet, Glorfindel stretched and smiled down at Ivy. "Don't let these two keep you talking 'til dawn. Sleep well when you get there, and I'll see you in the morning."

He headed for the door, and Ivy saw the same feline grace in him as she'd seen in Legolas. Once more, her fingers itched for a pencil. If I get to watch the two of them move all weekend, I won't need a pencil. The long-leggedy, flowing images will be embedded in my mind. Mmm, now that's a lovely thought.

Elrond was caressing her hair again, and Ivy wondered if it was becoming a habit for him after only one evening. "Glorfindel has a point, daughter. You will need to sleep soon."

"I know. But not quite yet. I'm too afraid of waking up back in San Francisco and discovering this has all been a dream. I won't have even started writing my thesis, and it will be time to panic."

"You truly believe that would be worse than waking up and discovering you'll have us in your life from now on?" asked Elrond.

"Oh, yeah."

Ivy's gaze was again drawn to the other Elf when he shifted, raised an eyebrow of inquiry at her and stretched his long legs toward the fire. Dressed in well-worn jeans and a ratty sweatshirt, with the tips of his pointed ears peeking out from between tousled strands of long black hair, Ivy thought this one looked like a study in shabby sinister.

Either that or he's trying for the stereotypical bohemian artist, she thought. Is he maybe mute? Oh, what the heck, Ivy, say something! He can't hurt you, not with Elrond sitting right here.

"I must be more tired than I thought," she murmured, "because you actually look familiar."

"I should, because we actually know each other." His accent was American, which was the last thing Ivy expected.

"We do? How can that be, when I met my first Elf only yesterday? Or was it two days ago?" She frowned, somewhat disturbed that her ability to tell time suddenly seemed to be in question.

"Aw, Ivy. And here I thought you kind of liked me." The Elf's grey eyes twinkled in the firelight, and he looked far from offended.

Sighing in frustration, Ivy pushed back the annoying strands of hair that defied Elrond's efforts to smooth them away from her face. "I know I’m seriously jetlagged, but I honestly don't know where I could have met anyone who looks like you."

"No? I'm mortally wounded to hear you've forgotten me." He raised his can of Diet Coke in a mock toast. "Here's to making pottery, Iv."

Making pottery? she puzzled. Iv?

The light dawned slowly in her muddled mind as she remembered a dirty ceramics lab with long hours of frustration spent at a potter's wheel. A lone friend had shared those trials at the wheel, a friend she hadn't seen in almost six years.

"You--you're not--"She sputtered, finally recognizing the Elf who was now openly laughing at her. "It is you!" she finally managed to say. "You're my Dan!"

Lurching upward awkwardly, Ivy lunged across the broad arm of the Elf's chair. Tangling her fingers in his hair, she managed to wrap her arms around his neck and squeezed tightly.

"I missed you so much!"

"Oh, now you missed me? Ouch." He winced as her enthusiasm nearly pulled out his hair. "Ivy, let go. I don't think this chair is big enough for the both of us."

"I don't care." She hugged him harder, nearly in tears as she all but buried her nose in his neck. "You left without saying good-bye, you wretch. And...wait a minute. How come you're an Elf?"

"Was born that way."

Elrond graciously rescued the can of Diet Coke the Elf was waving about, so that he could hug Ivy back.

"I did miss you." She squeezed his neck harder - half choking and half-hugging him.

"Iv...might need to breathe here."

"We were in the same ceramics class my first semester--"she babbled, looking around as if to include Elrond in the conversation.

"Yeah, I know," said Dan. "Need to breathe, hey?"

"Elrond doesn’t know."

"Yeah, he does. Really need to breathe here, pet." Wheezing, he pulled on her elbows.

She let go his neck, only to shake him by the shoulders as a terrier might a rat. "You were my first friend - the only friend I made that year. You were my lab partner for two semesters and...and you promised to show me all those wicked cool techniques you had on the wheel, and you said you were coming back in the fall, but I never saw you again."

"I know." He cleared his throat and swallowed hard.

"You really are a wretch," Ivy said, sincere. "I cried when the registrar told me you weren't enrolled. You never came back, not once. I cried so hard, Dan."

"I'm really sorry, but I had to go." Setting his hands at her waist, the Elf lifted her onto his lap and braced his forehead against hers. "You have to know that one of the hardest things I've done in my life was leave you to find your way at school - which you were doing before I left, I might add."

"Only because you were helping me." Ivy looped her arms back around his neck. "What do you mean, you had to go?"

"You mother was coming home. You wanted to introduce us, remember? But she already knew me."

"My mother knew you?" Ivy sounded as doubtful as she felt.

"Yeah. She and I saw each other at these board meetings before you started uni. If you'd have introduced us, she'd have recognized me and found a way to make you quit school and gotten you out of our reach again."

"She wouldn't have done that - she couldn't," Ivy insisted. "I was eighteen, I decided all by myself where I was going to school. The student loans were mine, not hers. There's no way she could have interfered."

"Way," said Dan. "Trust me, Marian would have found one, and we didn't want to risk losing you again."

Ivy and rocked back on Dan's lap, the better to look him in the eye. "Who's this 'we'?"

"Dad and me, mostly."

"Dad who?"

He pointed at Elrond. "That's Dad."

The Elf-lord handed back the can of Diet Coke, which Dan promptly drained.

"Elrond is your Dad?" Ivy's brain clicked into gear reluctantly, and she turned her head to stare at Elrond. "He's your son?"

"He is."

"But he can't be. He's got this American accent, and he's gay--"

"I am not gay," Dan contradicted, "and the accent is solely for your benefit. It always has been, 'cause I wanted to make you feel comfortable around me. I figured you might need to feel comfy tonight."

"You think? Okay, this conversation is going way too fast." She squirmed as the heat from the fire became too much on her on her back. Sliding off of Dan's lap, Ivy took the hearth space Glorfindel had vacated earlier. "Could we back up a step?"

"Sure." Dan shrugged. "Whatever you want."

Wise Elrond remained silent and listened.

"You told me you were gay," Ivy insisted.

"I lied because I wanted to avoid complications."

"What complications?"

"You were in danger of liking me a little too much." Off of Ivy's blank look, Dan softly pointed out, "You're my sister, and a few weeks into the semester you started looking at me like--"

"Okay, fine," she said hurriedly. "But I have never had a brother."

"You do as far as we Elves are concerned. Listen carefully, you might get it." Gesturing at Elrond, Dan said very slowly, "He's my father, you're my sister, and I'm your brother. My name is Dan, right? That'd be short for..."

Dan raised his eyebrows and tilted his head forward, clearly expecting Ivy to connect the dots. "Aw, come on. I know you're not stupid, 'cause I never had to show you anything more than once, on or off the wheel."

Closing her eyes and rubbing the bridge of her nose, Ivy tried to concentrate. "I think the jetlag is winning. But fine, I'll play your game. If your name is Dan and Elrond is your father, then you're..."

Ivy's heart lurched as she realized what he was trying to tell her. Sitting straight up, she gripped the edge of the hearthstone so hard her fingers ached. Looking for from Dan to Elrond and back again, she squeaked, "You're Elladan?"

"Yeah," he nodded, satisfied. "I am." He tried taking another drink of Diet Coke, only to shake the can in disbelief when it came up empty.

Ivy took a moment to let her worldview settle once more. "Oh, wow. You say you're my brother, and your Dad says I'm his daughter, so you really mean it? I'm part of your family?"

"Sure - if you'll have us. Your mum never would." Dan gave the crooked smile Ivy had come to love and miss so much since she'd last seen him. "Probably best to get to know us though, before making any rash decisions."

"Ivy has already agreed to return with me to Warra."

"Then again, if Adar has already lured you into joining us, I'm not about to issue needless warnings," Dan contradicted himself, but with such a toothy grin that Ivy knew she was in no danger. Crinkling up his empty can, Elladan lobed it straight onto the top of the Vinotemp nearby, where it spun in place before settling down. "That should agitate Haldir when he comes back in here."

"Undoubtedly," Elrond said.

"Here I thought you'd be coming home with me, Ivy," said Elladan, "so I can teach you all those promised moves." His hands mimed working a potter's wheel, even as he mock-pouted. "I understand though. Dad has first dibs, 'cause he hasn't gotten to live with you for a year the way I did. You'll like Warra. It's a sanctuary and a haven like none you could ever imagine."

"You don't live there too?"

Elladan shook his head. "Not right now. I've a small cottage and a potter's studio in the village of Cilycwm in Wales, if that's anything to you."

"Um...not really."

"I thought not, but you're welcome to visit anytime. We cater to the locals as well as to the odd tourist - who has to be very odd to find us, since we're not on the way to anywhere. I exhibit a lot in London and Edinburgh and get a lot of commissions coming that way. Last century, I did the prototypes for the crockery and plates here, reproductions of which are sold in a quaint little shop down the hill. At least, I think I did them last century." He looked at his father. "Didn't I?"

"Does it matter?" Addressing Ivy, Elrond observed, "For some of us, the years crawl while the centuries fly. And then there is my son."


"Is Elrohir in Wales, too?" Ivy asked.

"Nope," said Elladan. "He and his goth band are currently touring Russia. You saw him in concert and met him briefly in California, though."

"I did?"

"Yeah. Remember when I took you to see Shadowbox? Remember the surly frontman and composer? The one who hugged you so tightly after signing your CD that you thought he'd cracked one of your ribs?"

"Was he the guy who climbed the lighting scaffold and stomped across the stage as if he was executing roaches?"

"Yeah. His name's Rogue. As in El-Rogue-hir?"

"That's your twin brother?" Ivy was shocked. "You two don't look a thing alike."

"Well, no," Elladan agreed. "Not since he's gone goth, started wearing eyeliner, and gave himself a spiked mohawk with a long, white skunk-tail down the center of our black hair - his black hair, I mean - straight to his butt."

"Not to mention the scary multiple piercings in his ears and eyebrows," Ivy added.

"All of which he stole from the orcs," Elladan pointed out. "My brother sets off every metal detector in every airport he visits. He's been strip-searched so many times, I'm starting to think he likes it. Or not," the Elf quickly amended when Elrond caught his eye.

"Do you approve of what Elrohir's doing?" Ivy asked the deeply frowning Elf-lord.


Elladan glanced at his father, only to glance away quickly and wolf-grin at Ivy. "Um, let's talk about Rogue later. Hey, did you ever get rid of those worms that were camped out in your living room carpeting?"

"What did you just ask me?" Ivy stared at the Elf, incredulous.

"What worms?" Elrond asked, conveniently distracted from the issues regarding Elrohir.

"I can't believe you brought that up now, in front of your father," said Ivy.

"What carpet worms?" Elrond repeated.

"Let me explain," said Elladan. "Back in the early seventies, Grandmother Isabel installed orange shag carpeting in her living room. It was this neon stuff you had to rake to fluff it up, to make it stand up again after you'd walked on it. That carpeting was still there in the late nineties when I rented some sleeping space from Ivy, the better to keep an eye on her."

"I did not need you keeping an eye on me," she hissed.

"Take it up with Dad, he wanted me to. Anyway, I'm sleeping on the living room couch and wake up one Saturday morning to discover there are these things - they looked like little maggots - crawling around blindly where I spilled some chai the night before. Nobody in San Fran drinks coffee anymore, it's all chai or tea, see?"

"And you, being gay, had to visit Starbucks every Friday night," said Ivy. "I kept asking where you got your Starbucks money, and you kept brushing me off. Now I know."

"Hey, it's not like I drank it three times a day, like some people we knew. And I told you, I'm not gay. Okay?"

"Yeah, sure. Whatever. Like I'd ever care who you sleep with."

Elladan narrowed his eyes. "You cared, little sister."

"What happened to the carpet worms?" Elrond pursued.

"Dan yelled for me to get out of bed and come look at them," Ivy took up the story. "I came, I saw, and I freaked like any normal person would do. I didn't have the money to rent a dumpster and get rid of the carpet, which is what it would take in the city. I also didn't have any money to fix the floor underneath or get new carpeting. The old stuff is still there."

"We picked up the worms with some paper towels," said Elladan.

"You mean I picked up the worms," Ivy contradicted, "because you were too busy going all shrieking hysterical, stereotypical drama queen on me."

"She threw them into the trash," Elladan confessed without looking at Ivy, "and I promised to stop spilling stuff on the rotten carpet."

"After that, he refused to step on the floor. I mean, seriously, if Dan wanted something out of my kitchen that's beyond the living room, he'd take off his shoes and make this flying leap from the front entry - which had a wood floor - and land on my easy chair, which looked like something out of reruns of 'Bewitched.' Then he'd tiptoe across the coffee table to reach the couch. He'd then brace his foot on the back of the couch, shift his weight forward, and make the couch fall backward so he could leap to the linoleum safety of the kitchen. It was disgusting."

"You didn't want to walk across the carpet either," Elladan challenged.

"Yeah, but I didn't walk on the furniture, did I? I just tiptoed around the edges of the room."

"Yeah, you did. Eeewing and icking all the way," said Elladan. "So, the carpet's still there?"

"Yes, it's still there because I still don't have the money to replace it, okay?"

"Did not Haldir set up a trust fund for you and make an initial deposit last week?" Elrond inquired.

"I don't know about any trust fund, but yeah, he did make a deposit with far too many zeroes into my account."

"You should receive at least one hundred fifty thousand pounds every six months from your shares of Greenwood Enterprises," Elrond said calmly. "I believe we might arrange to have the carpet removed before you return to San Francisco."

Ivy turned her attention to Elladan. "Why did you have to bring this up now? You know your Dad's not going to let this rest until I agree to let him at that carpet."

Elladan beamed beatifically at her. "Just helping out, sister."

"I do not need your help."

"Then why'd you miss me?"

Ivy was saved from answering as someone exclaimed, "What the bloody hell is that doing on top of my Vinotemp?"

Looking past Elrond, Ivy saw Haldir standing and glowering at her from the doorway. Her heart sank as she realized that because of the way the chairs were positioned, Haldir could see only her sitting on the hearth.

"Where's his hand?" whispered Elladan, folding up his long legs and sinking further out of sight in his chair. Elrond didn't move, but arched an eyebrow as if to indicate he wished to know as well.

Ivy looked. "Doorframe."

"Told you so," Elrond murmured.

It was all Ivy could do to keep a straight face when Haldir swung his gaze to nail her where she sat.

"Did you do that?" the former marchwarden demanded, "or was it Elladan? It has to be the one or the other of you, since you're the only two on the premises who drink that vile concoction that tastes like battery acid. So which of you did it?"

"Er, did what?" She stalled, just in case Elladan wanted to do the honorable thing by leaping up and admitting to the transgression.

"Left that bit of garbage for me to pick up. It's not as if I don't have enough to do to prepare for tomorrow, you lot have to make more work for me?"

"Elladan did it." Ivy not only threw her brother under the bus, she pointed at him where he sat hidden in his chair.

Elladan made some small noise in protest, and Ivy smiled sweetly. Haldir stalked forward.

"Wormy paybacks are hell, big brother." She scooted further down the hearth, leaving Elladan to his fate.

"You will throw that away, won't you?" Haldir said sweetly, laying a hand across the back of Elladan's chair.

"I sure will."

"Immediately, if not sooner?" The marchwarden's impatient, clipped delivery made the hair on the back of Ivy's neck stand up. Should he be talking to a warrior Elf in that tone of voice?

Ivy watched as the expression on her friend's face went from guilty to pissed in less than a heartbeat. When he spoke, his accent had changed to one Ivy wasn't familiar with, and he sounded every bit as dangerous as Ivy knew Legolas could be.

"Bado mîbo orch," he growled.

"What did you say to me?" Haldir asked.

I think Dan just told him to go kiss an orc, Ivy thought. And I don't think I mistranslated, because we played at speaking Elvish, and I distinctly remember that particular insult. Uh-oh.

Unfolding from the chair, Elladan turned to face Haldir. Only then did Ivy realize Elrond's son was considerably taller than the marchwarden.

"I've told you before, Haldir. Don't address me like you're some nasty little Victorian judge and I'm a thieving street urchin you're about to sentence to the gallows."

"Then stop annoying me."

"Get a sense of humor, and you won't be annoyed."

"Haldir." Elrond spoke softly.

Ivy had very nearly forgotten the Elf-lord was there. From the way Haldir flinched, it was obvious he hadn't known Elrond was even in the area. To his credit, the Lorien Elf didn't scuttle out of the room the way Julien had scuttled down the hall. He did straighten his shoulders and turn to face the Elven lord squarely.

"Yes, Elrond?"

"I am very sorry to be the one to tell you the gilded mess in your receiving room is falling to pieces."


"Is the rococo finally collapsing?" Haldir looked inordinately pleased. "I was assured by the decorator that it would fall apart well before the new millennium. I am most pleased to hear it is happening at last."

"You actually want the walls to buckle and the ceiling to fall?" asked Ivy.

"How else am I to get rid of the gilded monstrosities in this castle?" Turning, Haldir looked from face to face. "Don't tell me you think I like those ghastly cherubs and all that accompanies them? Do you truly believe my personal taste is so horrid? Let me assure you, I have never been a fan of extreme rocaille."

"You're the one who put it up there," said Dan. "Why put it up if you don't like it?"

"Halden Greenwood met and entertained Mortal visitors in the affected rooms. The art was meant to be frivolous. It was also built to come down. Lee Greenwood will donate the antique furnishings to an Edinburgh charity, while the rooms themselves are gutted and restored to their former medieval glory."

"Why medieval?"

"Because that, dear girl, is one of Lee's favorite periods, if not the favorite. We will naturally redecorate to suit his tastes."

"Lee? Don't you mean Legolas?" Ivy asked.

"No, I mean Lee. Legolas couldn't care less what style surrounds him or the affect it has on others. He's always been impossible when it has come time to create a new role for himself. The fact remains that certain rooms of Lairg Castle are dedicated to displaying the laird's life and status to the world of Men. We use those rooms - along with the car he drives and the cut of his suits - to help communicate the laird's personality and style."

"Have you told Legolas about the changes you have planned?" Dan asked. "'Cause last time I looked, this was his home, not a status symbol."

"It has become both," Haldir insisted. "The world has changed in Legolas' absence, and he has much to learn."

"I'm sure he can learn it without your gutting his home," Dan challenged. "Again."

"We shall see." Haldir turned back to Elrond. "How extensive is the damage to my receiving room?"

"Ivy and I fled a falling angel head and panels that were breathing at us. We were well-pounced by gilding on the way out, but shook it off in the front vestibule."

Haldir wrinkled his nose. "You mean to tell me that on top of everything else I need to Hoover the entry?"

"I can clean it up," Ivy volunteered, hearing another Elven argument in the making.

"You most certainly will not," said Elrond.

Ignoring the Elf-lord, Ivy leaned forward and grabbed Dan's knee. "Do you know where the vacuum cleaner's kept?"


"Ivy, you are not a servant," Elrond protested.

"Neither's Haldir. Dan will help me clean up."

"Right. Let's go." Grabbing Ivy's hand, the Elf towed her from the room. Once clear, he observed. "If you're going to hang out with Adar, you need to know it's a lot easier to ignore his protests and do what you want, than wait for him to stop talking."

Dan stopped in front of an wood panel next to the ballroom that looked like every other wood panel Ivy had seen so far in Castle Lairg, except that its wood was darker.

Slapping his hand against it, Dan said, "Behind this magnificent piece of oak is the elevator to the second floor and the north wing. That's where Dad and Glorfindel are staying, and where Legolas' private rooms are. You can't get there from here without knowing the secret to opening the panel and the code to punch in once you're inside the elevator."

"I see."

"I told you that just to torture you, 'cause we want the more humble broom closet next door. Press so and bingo." The door popped open as Dan triggered the hidden latch. Stepping inside, he retrieved the vacuum cleaner, which actually was a Hoover. "Where's this mess we're to clean up?"

"By the front door." Only half of Ivy's attention was on Dan, for Elrond was bearing down on them. Given the speed with which he was moving, the scowl on his face and the way his robes were billowing, Ivy didn't think it wise to let him catch up with them. "Elf-lord at twelve o'clock."

"Come on." With the Hoover in one hand, Dan grabbed Ivy by the other and jogged her down the hallway.

"Be careful of her wrist," Elrond called, halting at the broom closet and not pursuing them after all.

"What's wrong with your wrist?" asked Dan.

"Julien mauled it." Glancing back, Ivy saw the Elf-lord disappear into the now open elevator.

"And Julien yet lives?" Dan asked, incredulous.

"Your father said he'd would be dealt with, whatever that means."

"It means Julien won't get a second chance at you, that's what it means. Don't be surprised if he shows up damaged tomorrow. Once Legolas finds out you were attacked in his territory...well, Julien will be dealt with, as Adar said."

The vestibule was as empty as the rest of the house. Ivy stood and gnawed on a thumbnail while Dan slipped inside the crumbling receiving room to find an electrical outlet.

"Where is everyone?" she asked when he returned.

"Haldir's bothering Erestor in the kitchen about stuff being ready for the morning. You saw where my Dad went, and I'd imagine Glorfindel's up there with Legolas as well. Julien and the others have relocated to Haldir's library by now because they're trying to avoid talking to Dad. From the way Haldir's been running back and forth, it looks like the old Inverness libations in the library Vinotemp aren't pleasing his guests, so the marchwarden was in the dining hall grabbing the good stuff from Oz. And no, you're not cleaning this carpet." Dan grabbed at the handle before Ivy could close her fingers around it. "Adar would never forgive me if I let you."

Switching on the Hoover, Dan made short work of the gilded mess. Slipping inside the receiving room, Ivy pulled out the plug and retrieved the cord before Dan could do it, only to emerge and discover Elrond had joined them.

The Elf-lord's disapproving glance - first at the door of the stricken room and then at Ivy - was enough to tell her he wasn't happy. Rather than chastise her, however, Elrond handed Ivy a small green jar.

It was a pretty, hand-blown thing. Turning it between her fingers, she enjoyed how the black, spider-webbed glass caught the light. "What's this?"

"It contains the salve I wished to get for you earlier. Apply it before going to sleep, and your wrist should feel less sore in the morning."

"Thank you." Unscrewing the cap, she sniffed only to recap the jar and grin up at Dan. "Your mother was a hamster."

"And my sister will smell of elderberries," he promptly rejoined, much to Elrond's evident confusion. "Um...pop-culture reference to a movie you've probably never seen. Unless you've an objection, Adar, I'm not inclined to return the Hoover to its closet tonight."

"I suppose we can't let Haldir go to bed happy." Elrond's expression was as bland as his tone. "Speaking of bed, I believe that's where the two of you need to be heading?"

Dan's arm was immediately around Ivy's waist and hugging her close. "I'll walk her up, see her safely to her room."

"That is well."

" should I call you?" Ivy stammered at the Elf-lord.

"You may call me father, Adar, or Elrond - whatever you are most comfortable with." Taking her gently by the shoulders, he leaned down to brush her forehead lightly with his lips. "Sleep well. I will see you in the morning."

Ivy was startled, but not at all displeased at the gesture. I can't remember ever having been kissed good-night before.

"And you can call me Dan. Whenever someone calls me by my full name, I know I'm in trouble." He nudged a bemused Ivy none too subtly toward the steps.

As Ivy climbed, she knew without glancing back that Elrond would be watching and guarding from the foot of the stairs until both of his children were out of sight. "He's really protective, isn't he?"

"You have no idea, but you will. Hey, we made it through the evening," Dan observed as they entered her room.

"Yeah, but you didn't get a good-night kiss from your father."

"I feel so neglected." Going to the hearth, Dan scraped back the ashes, laid a fire from the wood-box, and snatched a handful of kindling. "Has anyone taught you how to start one of these, so you don't keep needing us to do it for you?"

"No, but I've started my own fires at home. Is it all that different?" she asked, kneeling beside him.

"Not much, and you should be good 'cause you haven't burned down your house. What you set in here has to be a lot smaller because this firebox is smaller." He patted the fireplace wall. "The flue's already open and the damper's set. Matches are here, wood and kindling's there, and don't use more than three baby logs to start." He handed her the matches.

Ivy managed to light the fire on the first try, which she knew saved her from being heckled. Leaving her soaking up the heat, Dan went to the French windows. Shoving back the curtains, he checked the locks and peered out at the night-world beyond.

Can Elves see in the dark? she wondered.

"Okay, I've got to ask," Dan said, letting the curtains fall and turning around. "Why does your bed smell so bad?"

"What, huh?"

"Your bed. Adar was in here earlier while you were napping--"

"He was what?" Visions of Elven stalkerness danced in her head.

"Don't go all outraged, he didn't mean any harm." The Elf settled himself in the cross-frame chair beside the fireplace. "He wanted to see for himself that you were really here and all right."

"I could have left embarrassing stuff laying around!"

"Not that I can see." Dan surveyed the room. "No frilly magazines, no skimpy under-things. Sorry, but you're as boring as I remember. Adar said your bed stank so I have to ask why, because he was right. I can smell it from here."

"It's probably the bearskin coat Legolas gave me," Ivy admitted, resigned to everyone but her disliking it.

"Yeah, that sounds about right. Nothing like ripe Elf and dirty bear combined to offend our father's senses. If you sleep with that thing, you'd better take a shower in the morning. If you want to keep it, you really need to get it professionally cleaned, else I've no doubt Adar will disappear it at the earliest opportunity."

Ivy felt an unreasonable amount of panic at the thought of losing the coat. It's irreplaceable, and HE gave it to me. I don't want to lose it. Not only that, it's warm. "How am I supposed to get it cleaned?"

"Tell you what. I'll take it with me when I leave and drop it off with a furrier in London. They'll send it back here when it's done, so it'll be waiting all clean and fresh for you next winter. It's not like you're going to need it in Oz before then, it's high summer there right now."

"You'd do that for me?" She felt like hugging him, but was too tired to get up and do it.

"I don't mind. It gives me an excuse to visit a couple of booksellers in Knightsbridge. Elrohir's room is next door, and it's empty. We could store it in there until I leave."

"If it really smells that bad--"

"Trust me. It smells that bad. Like something mated and died in it. Several times."

"Okay, take it," Ivy said quickly, not giving herself time to change her mind. "Just please don't lose it?"

"I won't."

"It'll be a cold night without it, though," she said wistfully.

"Your hutch chest has extra blankets."

"My what-who?"

Dan thumped the sturdy wooden box next to his chair. "This. Medieval hutch chest made by Legolas. Holds linens and things like warm woolly blankets that you put on the bed to keep yourself warm. Nobody told you they were there?"

"I'm wondering how you knew they were there."

"Every room has one, you ninny, because Legolas tries to anticipate everybody's needs and pretty much succeeds since he's been playing host to various people for a very long time. Stupid housekeeper should have told you. Unless it's Haldir wanting something, she's worthless. Anyway..."

Getting to his feet, Dan threw back the lid of the chest. Gathering three thick blankets, the Elf tossed them onto the bed. "If you don't think that's enough, we can invade my brother's room and steal his."

"I'm sure that's fine," Ivy said vaguely, too busy admiring the brilliant red, green and black tartan weave on each blanket.

"Hey, little sister." Dan waited until Ivy's attention turned back to him. "I know you're used to having to do everything by yourself, but you're not alone anymore, okay? Especially not if you're letting Adar into your life. He's fretted and wanted to take care of you for years. You can have him - and us - involved your life as much or as little as you want. You just have to tell us how much that is."

Ivy sighed and ran a hand through her tangled hair. "All I want right now is to keep warm tonight, so that I can sleep and get through the meeting tomorrow - later today, I guess it is now. I can't think past that, though I do want to see Warra."

"Fair enough." Dan nodded. "You've met most of the family tonight, so that's done. You could ask Adar for some quick advice at breakfast about the meeting, but it should all be over by noon. The nasty bits, anyway."

"Are the rest of the board members scary?"

"Not really. We're just cliquish because some of us survived the War of the Ring and some of us were born afterward. There's always a bit of a generation gap and clash going on because some members were born a long after the Fourth Age began."

"Like Julien?"

"Yeah. Like him. The later someone was born, the more they seem to be involved in the world of Men. You can generally tell at a glance which is which, and you'll likely decide to align yourself with one side or the other once you know all of us a little better. For now, though, you should get some sleep."

Getting to his feet and stepping over Ivy easily with his long legs, Dan headed for the door.

"Wait." Lurching up from the hearth, Ivy sorted through the bedclothes to find the bearskin parka. "Don't forget to take this."

"Thanks. I promise to keep it safe and sound." He backed toward the door. "Be sure to lock this after me, 'cause you don't know what old Elf might wander in these days. Some have a real problem with privacy."

It was said with a grin, but Ivy thought it sounded like a good plan.

Dan touched her nose. "G'night, Iv."

A few minutes later, after brushing her teeth and making sure she applied the salve Elrond had given her, Ivy climbed gratefully into bed. With a very warm room and more than enough blankets, she thought she might actually sleep, especially given how very tired she was. Adrenaline had helped get her through the evening, but that was long gone.

Shortly after she turned off the light, Ivy head someone tried the bedroom door knob. She'd locked it as Dan suggested, and whoever it was went away without knocking. As she drifted off to sleep, she thought she heard someone's footsteps crunch in the snow on the balcony. She definitely heard the latch rattle on the French doors.

How sweet of Legolas to make sure everything's locked up tight, she thought on the edge of sleep.


An Elf-lord was loitering outside Ivy's door when she emerged the next morning.

"Are you lurking for me?" she couldn't resist asking, even as she admired how authoritative and elegant Elrond looked in his grey robes. The braiding in his hair is different from last night and so intricate, does he do that himself?

Elrond smiled down at her. "I do not lurk. I have, however, been waiting patiently to escort you to breakfast. I also would like you to meet another member of our board."

He stepped back to reveal the female Elf who had been hidden behind his broad frame. "Verce, I would like to introduce you to my daughter, Ivy MacLeod. Ivy, this is Mona Williams, who is known among us as Verce."

Blessed with a regal bearing and the sort of ethereal porcelain beauty that could stop both men and women in their tracks, the Elf looked far too small and insubstantial standing next to the Elf-lord.

"How lovely that you have a new daughter, Elrond, and one so lovely. Welcome, my dear."

Verce's voice was as delicate as the thin, pale hand she offered Ivy. Shaking Verce's hand, Ivy discovered the fragile-looking bird-bones were stronger than they looked as the Elf's firm grip matched Ivy's and then some.

I'm starting to think nothing in the Elven world is the way it looks on the surface. Much to her relief, she managed to escape with all her painting fingers intact. "I'm happy to meet you."

"It is an honor to meet you, Queen's Daughter. I hope you'll be happy among us." Verce's expression was welcoming, but her eyes were cool.

"I'm sure I will be." Is she being sincere or just polite? Ivy wondered. I can't tell, but I'd bet she's on her best behavior in front of Elrond. I wonder what sort of reception I'd get if we spontaneously met out here.

"Verce runs our Belgian import company," Elrond imparted.

"My father and my mate founded it, but they have been gone Oversea for some years."

"That sounds terribly lonely," Ivy murmured. "It must be difficult for you."

The Elf's pale blue eyes thawed just a little. "At times, it can be very difficult."

"Ivy and I are on our way down to breakfast." Elrond laid a hand across Ivy's shoulder. "Would you care to join us?"

"Your invitation is most gracious, but I am waiting for Tamurile." To Ivy, Verce said, "Kiki is her Mortal name. She runs our import company in Los Angeles."

"I see."

Ivy didn't know the first thing about import companies, and hoped it wouldn't matter in the next five minutes. Feeling suddenly overwhelmed and insecure in a strange and very adult Elven world symbolized by perfectly poised Verce, Ivy instinctively stepped closer to Elrond. His hand instantly engulfed hers, and she thought she might weep later in appreciation of his constant strength and unconditional support.

"Very well, Verce. We shall see you at the meeting." The Elf-lord tightened his grip slightly. Come, Ivy."

Elrond struck out for the stairs. Ivy was grateful she'd seen him in motion the night before, for it had prepared her for the rate at which his long legs covered the distance. He did slow going down the stairs, but only minimally.

"Thank you for waiting for me, because I'm not feeling all that brave this morning," Ivy confessed as they reached the ground floor.

"I thought that might be the case given the overwhelming introduction we subjected you to last night."

"I'm okay with most of you. Really." Following Elrond into the dining room, Ivy realized she was enjoying to an absurd degree the right she had to be with him. "Especially with you."

"It brings me great joy to know that. I had worried that you might wish to keep your distance from me, as your mother did." Handing Ivy a plate, Elrond guided her toward the buffet. "As for feeling braver, I long ago discovered most things become less intimidating on a full stomach."

"I know you're right, but will I have to meet more Elves this morning?"

"We are among the last to dine this morning, and the meeting will begin soon. Without my direct invitation, I doubt anyone will dare to approach our table."

It's good to be with the king. Ivy sat next to the Elrond at the long table. "Is it wrong for me to feel relieved about that?"

"Not at all." Pouring a glass of orange juice, Elrond pointedly set aside the Diet Coke that Ivy had selected for herself and placed the juice before her. "You knew nothing of our existence, and it is unfair for us to have immersed you so abruptly and so completely. You are doing remarkably well, considering the ongoing stress and strangeness we are subjecting you to."

Glancing at Ivy's plate, Elrond did a double-take. "Earlier this morning, Erestor voiced some concern that you might take a page from Legolas' book and be too nervous to eat. He will be pleased to know he was wrong."

Following his gaze, Ivy was beyond appalled to see the huge selection of scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage, sautéed mushrooms, hash browns and fresh tomato slices she'd selected. Feeling herself flush with embarrassment, she stammered, "I was listening to...I didn't realize...would you like some of this?"

"Thank you, no. I have my own." His own was wheat toast, a selection of fresh fruit and a mug of tea. "Eat what you want and feel free to leave the rest. Erestor will not be offended as long as you do not reject his lunch as well."

Taking up his fork, Elrond began eating. The faintest tremor showed in his hands.

Why do I have the feeling the Lord of Imladris isn't as cool, calm and collected about this meeting as he'd have me believe? Taking a deep, slow breath before starting in on her breakfast, Ivy wished she dared to reach for the Diet Coke he'd stolen.

"As you're an artist," Elrond said, every bit the diplomat and distraction, "you might be interested in knowing that our Verce was the model who posed for Philip Burne-Jones' most famous painting."

Not wanting to shatter the web of security the Elf-lord was working so hard to weave about her, Ivy struggled to shift her mental focus from the Elven problem to British Pre-Raphaelite art.

"Do you mean 'The Vampire'?" she asked, remembering a late-Victorian oil featuring a male victim sprawled on his back in bed while a beautiful woman with a dark, victorious smile leaned over him.

"'A fool there was and he made his prayer/To a rag and a bone and a hank of hair.'" Elrond quoted Kipling's poem that Ivy knew had been inspired by the oil. "The very same."

"Verce doesn't look a thing like that," Ivy protested. "I also seem to remember reading that Mrs. Patrick Campbell was the love-struck artist's model, after she let him down?"

"Did you also read Burne-Jones' protestations to the contrary when the painting was first exhibited in 1897?"

"I don't think so. How did Verce meet Philip Burne-Jones?"

"In 1895, she owned a bookstore in Brussels. They met when Philip came searching for a book on succubi. I do not know if he ever got his book, but he began his preliminary drawings in Belgium. He also paid Verce a certain sum each day to pose for him."

"Huh." Ivy reached stealthily for her can of Diet Coke, only to think better of it, considering the currently dormant power and possible reaction of her companion. "I like the technique in the younger Burne-Jones' pen and ink illustrations, but most people aren't aware of those. Did you know him?"

"Elladan did. They forged a lasting friendship after Verce introduced them, and Elladan helped Philip catalogue, photograph and dispense his father's works after Sir Edward died in 1898." Having finished his breakfast, Elrond pushed back from the table. "And there is my youngest son now."

Yawning his way across the room, Dan fell into the chair opposite Ivy and his father. "'Morning, you two. Were you talking about me?"

"Actually," said Elrond. "We were talking about you and Philip Burne-Jones."

"How did he come up at breakfast?"

Ivy waved her juice at him before taking a sip. "'The Vampire.'"

"Oh. And which one of you brought up that weird breakfast topic?" Dan snagged a piece of leftover toast from his father's plate.

Ivy pointed at Elrond.

"Wow, color me surprised. I thought ghoulish art would have been more your style, sister." Dan grinned at Ivy's soft whimper of protest - all she dared with Elrond sitting right there. "Philip could have been a brilliant artist, you know?"

"Why wasn't he?" asked Elrond.

"Two things worked against him." Dan caught the jar his father directed toward him across the table.

Tiptree Scarlet Jam, Ivy read the label as it slid by. I hope that's strawberry.

"The first problem," said Dan, slathering his toast with the jam, "is that Philip never needed to work because he inherited his father's money and baronetage. The second was that no matter what he did as an artist, Philip thought his works would always be unfavorably compared to his father's. He always seemed hesitant and unhappy. Sad, really."

Popping the last bit of toast into his mouth, Dan spoke around it as someone called his name from across the room. "Gotta go. See you two upstairs."

Ivy watched as the Elven warrior joined Glorfindel and two female Elves at the fireplace. Catching Ivy's eye, Glorfindel winked and raised his mug to her.

I'll bet Elrond doesn't make him drink orange juice. Ivy waved back and quickly asked. "Who are they talking to?"

"The slender, dark-haired woman is Kate Hutton, known to us as Sindohte," said Elrond. "A theatrical producer in New York, she was born and raised there in the 1800s as Julien was raised in London. Sindohte's parents still reside in Manhattan, but she replaced her mother on our board after her older brother was lost in the Great War.

"The other woman is Marina Palermo, known to us as Alasse. She is a museum director who also runs a small press. Alasse and Sindohte are fast friends and sometimes business partners. Both are currently active in New York society, serving on several theatrical and arts boards."

Ivy found herself flinching when Julien strode into the room with his chin held high and his hands squeezed into tight fists. To Ivy's relief, he didn't spare her so much as a glance before heading straight for the group at the fireplace. A bored looking female Elf with short-cropped black hair and a solid black jumpsuit that looked painted on followed in his wake.

Leaning over Sindohte's chair, Julien whispered something into her ear before whirling and heading out the door as quickly as he'd come. The black-haired girl stayed behind to sidle close to Elladan and smile up at him in rapturous attention.

"Who's the girl languishing at Dan?"

"That would be Julien's sister, Wendy." Elrond sounded amused at Ivy's impertinence. "Julien's Elven name is Morno, while Wendy's is Tarwe, but both prefer to be called by their Mortal names."

"Well, then. I'll do my best to call her Wendy and him Morno. Not that I want to tweak the tail on the Elven donkey or anything."

"Of course not."

Dismissing the other Elves for the moment, Ivy turned back to Elrond. "Not to change the subject or anything, but I need to ask if you have any last-minute, sage advice for me regarding this board thing? Or are you part of the Elven conspiracy to keep me honest by keeping me ignorant?"

"I am indeed part of the conspiracy to keep your vote honest," Elrond admitted, "but there are still a few things I may suggest. The most important is that you should not be afraid to trust what your instincts tell you about the presentations we will hear. That applies to the presenters as well. You should also not forget that you are Queen's Daughter. You carry the blood of Elven kings and are wiser than you think you are. You have every right to be here with us."

"I'm only twenty-four," she protested. "I'm not wise."

"No? I suggest we table that argument for now, as we have a meeting to get through. Listen to the arguments presented and learn what you can from them. And then..." Elrond spread his hands before him. "Vote with your heart."

Ivy threw up her hands. "That's what everybody's telling me, but it makes no sense."

"At the moment, I imagine it does not. If you do not feel confident to trust your feelings when the voting begins, then I suggest you select someone you trust and vote as they do."

"Like you?"

"If that is your choice, yes." Elrond rose from the chair, his robes flowing like an elegant silver waterfall. "I believe it is time we went upstairs."

# #

"This will hardly do." Haldir was fussing around the snack-laden tea trolley at the entrance to his library as Elrond and Ivy approached. Giving Ivy a harried glance, he muttered, "Hello, good morning. Excuse me, Elrond, but I need to talk to you about the crumpets. Could we perhaps tell Erestor we've just had breakfast, which means they shouldn't be here?"

The dignified Elf-lord of Australia was reduced to dutifully studying the snacks in question. Ivy would have remained stoically at his side, had she not spied Legolas sitting by himself at the long table where Haldir had trapped her the day before.

The Elf seemed to be staring at the table, but he lifted his head as Ivy approached. His expression was guarded, while his blue eyes were filled with a wariness Ivy wished she understood. His skin was as translucent as Glorfindel's in the morning light - far more pale than Ivy remembered it appearing. Rather than fading, the dark circles beneath Legolas' eyes were even more pronounced than they had been when Ivy had last seen him.

"Good morning," she said softly.

"Mara tuilë," Legolas returned just as quietly and sounding as if the day were anything but good. He turned a small folded white card round and round between his fingers, and Ivy noticed other cards like it were set before each chair at the table.

Leaning forward, she inspected the exquisite calligraphy on the one closest to her, only to recognize it as Haldir's work and see that it had her name on it. Thankfully, the chair it sat before was opposite Legolas.

"There's assigned seating?" she asked.

"It seems so today," Legolas confirmed.

Ivy stole a look at the name on the place card next to her chair. Much to her relief, it had Dan's name on it. Taking her seat quickly, lest Haldir swoop down and tell her she shouldn't be sitting there after all, Ivy made a boarding-house grab at the card gracing the head of the table.

If Legolas isn't sitting at the head, then who...oh, thank the gods, it's Elrond. She pushed the card back in its place. Folding her hands on the edge of the table, she regarded the Elf opposite her, who seemed to have resumed studying the polished wood.

"So, let me see..." Ivy began and waited until his pale, unhappy blue eyes lifted to meet hers once again. "Your back's to the window, and you're facing the door. I'd say that means you're not about to let yourself be cornered, and no one can sneak up on you, either."

Leaning forward, she lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "I think we've been here and seen this before. On your jet."

Legolas nodded but did not speak.

He looks like he's attending his own execution, Ivy thought. What is wrong with this meeting? She tried again. "I thought you'd be sitting at the head of the table. You know, conducting the meeting?"

"That is Elrond's privileged duty."

Glorfindel came around the table then which forestalled any further conversation. Laying a hand on his son's shoulder, the Elf-lord squeezed it gently before claiming the place next to Legolas.

"These chairs are always too close together," he murmured, sliding into his seat.

Legolas gave no answer but continued staring at the table.

So are the seating assignments deliberate? Ivy wondered. Is Glorfindel acting as a physical buffer between Legolas and the rest of the board? I've got Elrond on my right at the head of the table and Dan on my left to act as my buffer? Who else is near-by?

A squinting glance at the place card beyond Dan's made her think Haldir might be sitting there.

Turning toward Legolas, Glorfindel began speaking intently in a language that sounded close to Sindarin, but the inflection was different and Ivy couldn't catch any basic words. That sounds nothing like what Legolas was speaking to Haldir over his cell phone.

Legolas replied in kind to his father, so that within seconds the two were deep in conversation and seemed entirely oblivious to anyone else in the room.

How wicked cool is it that I get to watch them together? Up close and personal, their resemblance is even stronger. Though Glorfindel only looks anxious. Legolas looks beyond grim.

Someone slid a Diet Coke in front of Ivy, which made her jump. Taking the chair beside her, Dan wheeled closer offered the same warm grin she'd grown used to seeing every morning when he'd roomed with her five years before.

"Did you sleep well last night with all those blankets smothering you?

"Yeah, I did. Thanks for pointing them out to me."

Dan grumbled while fidgeting to get his chair set just right, while Glorfindel and Legolas were still deep into it. Ivy watched Glorfindel turn his chair sideways - the better to lower his voice and continue the conversation - while Legolas sat very still and continued staring at his notepad. Nothing was written on the pad, but Ivy recognized the gel pen resting to its side as the same one she'd given him on the plane. Regardless the thick stack of papers she'd seen him studying earlier, it appeared Legolas had brought nothing to the meeting except the naked notepad.

A single folder sat before Elrond's place at the head of the table. Ivy was tempted to look through the papers secreted there, if only to sneak a look at the meeting's agenda, but something told her it was best not to even try. Especially since the missing members of the board seemed to be arriving now, and any grab Ivy made for the folder would definitely be noticed.

The new Elves were definitely casting looks her way. Ivy didn't know whether to feel intimidated by they scrutiny or stick out her tongue at them.

Better to behave, she decided, though it was tempting.

She returned Haldir's smile and his murmured good morning from the other side of Dan before sinking down farther in her chair. Ivy recognized some of the other Elves that Elrond had taken the time to point out to her, like Verce, who nodded at Ivy as she preceded Julien's sister around the table. The conversation on the other side of the table continued without acknowledging Haldir's arrival.

Leaning against Dan's solid, comforting shoulder, Ivy whispered, "I can't understand a word Legolas and Glorfindel are saying. Are they speaking some strange dialect of Sindarin?"

"Nope, it's Gondolic. They're the only ones left this side of Valinor who can speak it, because everyone who didn't die when Gondolin was invaded by Morgoth has gone Oversea. Those two use it when they don't want to be overheard."

"Oh." Ivy fell silent as Elrond glided up to the head of the table. Not only did Imladris's master of lore seem terribly tall and imposing this morning, his gaze seemed this side of cold and ominous as he surveyed the table.

Am I sure he's the same Elf-lord who welcomed me so warmly last night? Ivy marveled.

"Our board meeting is due to begin. As you can see, we are short one member. Wendy, do you happen to know where your brother is?"

The raven-haired Elf waved away the question as though it were an annoying insect. "I've no idea. Julien has never let me baby-sit him."

Elrond's expression became darker, but he nodded acknowledgement of the answer. "We shall begin without Julien. As always, this meeting is being video taped for legal and security reasons."

It is? Ivy glanced surreptitiously about the room. Where's the camera?

"For the sake of our corporate minute transcription," Elrond continued, "please be sure to use your Mortal names beginning now."

Ivy's heart rate increased as she felt someone else enter the library. I'll bet that's Julien because my hair's standing on end. Besides, he's the only one missing.

Half-turning, she saw that Julien was indeed making his way down the table. He was dressed in what Ivy assumed had once been a perfectly tailored and very expensive black silk suit. Is that an Armani? Mud was smeared across Julien's back, and he was walking with a definite limp. Not only that, but the slender Elf openly winced as he rounded the table and pushed back his chair to stand opposite Elrond at the end of the table. His perpetual smirk had been replaced with a rather sullen, aggrieved expression, which for some reason pleased Ivy

What happened to him? she wondered. He wasn't limping when he made his entrance in the dining hall this morning.

She couldn't help but contrast Julien's disheveled appearance against Elrond's immaculate demeanor, for the two Elves couldn't have appeared more different if they had deliberately tried. There stood Julien with his dark ringlets cut short in a very Mortal style, and his pointed ears covered by the fringes of his hair. Elrond's waist-length black hair flowed free across his shoulders, and he stood with all the dignity his station and wisdom could afford. His expression inscrutable, he watched Julien's progress.

Setting a thick presentation binder before him, Julien opened it with his left hand, which was shaking. His right arm, Ivy noted, was held against his body at an odd, tense angle.

"Aren't you the embarrassment?" Wendy hissed. "Not only are you late, you're filthy."

"Sorry," came the sullen apology. "I was...unavoidably delayed."

Wendy sniffed. "Maybe you should have delayed a bit longer and changed your clothes."

Leaning against Ivy's shoulder, Dan whispered for her ears only, "I told you Julien would show up damaged this morning."

Startled to remember who would have been the one to damage the Elf, Ivy glanced across the table only to lock eyes with Legolas, who seemed to be watching her reaction carefully.

Did you - she mouthed at Legolas before cocking her head Julien's way.

Legolas gave a tight smile - more of a satisfied smirk, really - before nodding ever so slightly.

Ivy's grin was so wide, it hurt her lips. Thank you, she mouthed.

"I am not concerned for your apparel, Julien Lovell." Elrond's tone was biting and caustic in a way Ivy hadn't heard before. Moving past Legolas and Glorfindel, the Elf-lord stalking toward the other end of the table. "What does concern me is your chronic lateness to these meetings and the implication your time is more important than ours. This shows a singular lack of respect for your fellow board members."

Sorting through his papers, Julien didn't even bother looking up. "It's not my fault I was detained by one of your precious board members. I'm here now, so let's get to it." He handed a stack of folders to the Elf on his right, whom Ivy thought was Sindohte. "Pass round these handouts, would you?"

"I warned you this past June that there would be certain consequences if you were late again."

Julien jumped to realize Elrond was no longer at the opposite end of the table, but was standing practically on top of him. Staring up at the Elf-lord, the shorter Elf narrowed his eyes.

"I seem to recall some sort of threat was issued. But we both know you wouldn't dare."

"Indeed?" Grabbing Julien by the back of the collar, Elrond began hauling him down the length of the table.

"What the bloody hell?" The Elf howled. "Take your hands off me!"

"All in good time." The ease with which the Elf-lord moved made the Julien's weight seem as nothing despite his flailing arms, inevitable shocked screeching and impotent dragging of feet.

Moving behind Haldir's desk, Elrond held onto his quarry and flipped up the window latch. The ancient glass groaned in its frame - a deep, moaning protest before Elrond shoved Julien head first through the open window. The Elf's suited torso and violently thrashing legs followed, only to be dispatched downward with a quick push. A muffled thump followed by a yelp confirmed Julien's landing below.

"If you are late again," Elrond called out the window, "you will find yourself once more thrust outside and the front door locked against you."

Closing and locking the window against the shouted curses and epithets floating up from below, Elrond turned and strode back to the head of the table. Glancing round the table, he settled into his chair as though tossing tardy Elves out of windows was an everyday occurrence.

"Let us begin."

"What about Julien?" Ivy hissed at Dan.

"He'll fight free of the gorse bushes he landed in and eventually find the front door."

"But it's wet and snowing out there!"

"So?" Dan looked at her mildly. "Then I guess he'll be cold and wet by the time he gets back in. Easier landing than he deserved, though."

Good point, thought Ivy. Part of her was a bit shocked at the violence Elrond had just proven himself capable of, but most of her was cheering. I think one thing's for sure: these Elves say what they mean and do what they say they'll do. Two transgressions on Julien's part, and two consequences followed. Sorry, Mom. You were right, Elves are dangerous. But I think I’m going to like having them in my life.


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