"Let the record show that on the twenty-first of December, Greenwood Limited's board meeting began at ten-fifteen in the morning. All members are in attendance, with the exception of David Meyler, who is absent with regrets."

"Who’s that?" Legolas heard Ivy whisper to Elladan.

"My brother," Elladan whispered back. Taking a folded sheet of paper from his pocket, the Elf passed it to Ivy. "Hand this on to Elden, please?" Addressing his father, Elladan continued, "That's a proxy signed by David. Unless I indicate otherwise, his vote during this meeting is the same as mine."

"Very well." Elrond tucked the paper into the stack before him. "Our first item of business is to approve the minutes of our last board meeting on the twenty-first of June, as posted to each of us via email. All of those in favor, please raise your hand." Elrond looked around the table. "I see eleven in favor with Julien's vote pending. Ivy, did you receive a copy of the minutes?"


The front door slammed downstairs. So help me, thought Legolas, if Julien cracks a window I will lock him in the old Dwarven tunnels where there is no glass to break.

"It was in the packet I faxed you in New York," said Haldir from his place next to Elladan.

Ivy shook her head. "I'm sorry, I didn't see it."

"I kept it," Legolas spoke up.

Julien shot Elrond a resentful look as he limped back to his chair. His curls were in disarray and an assortment of leaves and winter-puny yellow flowers nested in them. His expensive black suit was wet and torn in places, while his white shirt was so smeared with mud that Legolas thought the gorse must have had much fun trying to keep the wayward Elf in its clutches.

"Does that mean you don't share well with others?" Julien snapped.

"It means Ivy is not yet an official member of this private board," Legolas shot back. "I thought it best from a legal standpoint not share the minutes with her."

Elrond nodded. "Your concern is valid and well within the legalities governing us. Ivy, you might consider abstaining from this vote."

It wasn't a request.

"Okay, I abstain."


Looking irritated, he plucked at his torn sleeve. "By all means, approve the damn things and let's get on with it."

"Let the record show that June's minutes are accepted with twelve votes in favor, none against, and one abstention," said Elrond. "Our next item is to announce the departure of an old member of the board, and to vote on a new member. Earlier this week and through her daughter, Marian Hamilton MacLeod notified Halden Greenwood of her intent to vacate her seat on this board. Marian put forth her daughter, Ivy MacLeod, as her replacement."

Moving behind Ivy, Elrond placed his hands on her shoulders. "Ivy, Would you like to say a few words to introduce yourself?"

The girl stiffened where she sat, and Legolas saw the panic rise sharp and strong in her green eyes. Her gaze locked into his, its message transparent. Some warning would have been nice.

"Stand up," Elladan whispered.

Pushing back her chair, Ivy rose reluctantly as all eyes turned her way. Some expressions were curious and welcoming, others looked bored or put out. The pause lengthened, and Julien gave her a glare, apparently to prod Ivy into speaking. His hostile expression was marred by a small, damp flower falling from his hair and onto the table in front of him.

It no doubt frightens her to address the board first thing this morning, thought Legolas, but she has to learn sometime, as did Aragorn.

"Um...I'm Ivy. I live in San Francisco, and Marian's my mother, but...I guess you all know that."

Stepping closer, Elrond put his arm around Ivy's shoulders before bending and whispering so softly into her ear that Legolas hadn't a hope of catching what was said. Taking a deep breath, Ivy swallowed hard and nodded in response to his words. Elrond continued as she gnawed her bottom lip and looked across to Legolas without really seeing him. Her eyes cleared and she looked a fraction less scared as Elrond stepped away, leaving her to stand on her own.

So Elrond and Ivy have forged some sort of connection in the short time they've been acquainted? That's quite the miracle given Elrond's reserve, but why didn't he warn her she'd have to address these people?

Ivy tried again. "It's a pleasure to meet all of you. I'm eager to hear more about Greenwood's ventures, and I hope you'll be patient with me while I learn how you do things. I'll help any way I can, as soon as I know how to help." Ducking her head, she glanced at Elrond. "Is that enough?"

"It is."

The Elf-lord looked inordinately pleased as Ivy sank back into her chair, and Legolas wondered if the girl's introduction had served as some sort of initial test. It wouldn't be the first time. Elrond has always had his ways of assessing someone's mettle in a very short time.

"Are you willing to serve as a member of Greenwood's board?" Elrond pursued.


Legolas noted there was no alarm or hesitation in Ivy's voice when she was talking to Lord Elrond. What magic did they work on each other when meeting last night, that he does not intimidate her and she is comfortable with his touching her as would a father?

"Those in favor of having Ivy MacLeod as a member to Greenwood's board of directors--"

A chorus of ayes.

"Those against?"


"Welcome, daughter."

Ivy visibly exhaled the breath she'd been holding, and Elladan patted her hand before sliding closer the forgotten can of Diet Coke. Popping the top, Ivy took a sip. Legolas had the feeling it was more to give her hands something to do than because she felt any real thirst.

"From this point on, my dear, you are free to cast your vote in all matters pertaining to Greenwood."

Elrond shuffled through his papers, and Legolas felt the Elf-lord's tension rise as he separated one sheet from the others. "The next item on our agenda is the proposal Julien Lovell has placed before us. Proposed: that Lee Greenwood the Third be removed as chief executive officer of Greenwood Limited, and that Julien Lovett be appointed as the acting and actual chief executive officer of Greenwood Limited. Such changes to be effective immediately should this proposal be approved by fifty-one or more percent of this board."

Legolas was determined not to look at any board member as the humiliating proposal was read, but Ivy's gasp made him lift his gaze to see the look of dawning horror and comprehension in her eyes as she realized what, exactly, had been laid before the board.

This is we have refused to reveal to you, so as not to taint your vote, thought Legolas. And now you know that Julien seeks to remove me, to toss me out as one would an old boot that has outlasted its usefulness. He seeks to take over Greenwood and all of its assets, to claim as his own everything I have built. To govern and guide and most likely ruin it.

Apparently this is not simply Julien's opinion, but others see merit in it as well. Haldir warned me some days ago that no less than Elrond himself thinks it likely Julien has enough votes to do just that.

How can this be happening? was the urgent question in Ivy's eyes. Comprehension was fast being replaced by compassion, but Legolas dared not trust it or let the girl give him the slightest reason to hope.

I have known you but a few short hours, and you seem very young and no threat, thought Legolas. But in the past I relied upon allies known to me for years who proved enemies thinking only of themselves when came the final moment. It appears it is happening yet again, with those I have known far longer.

Images of the thrice-damned battle of Culloden came instantly to mind where, in less than half a day, Legolas had seen the Scottish clans fall and die in the bloody mud on Drumossie Moor. 'Red Campbell the Fox did the work of the English; McDonald in anger did no work at all.' The Elf shoved away the old song and the images it stirred, needing desperately to concentrate on the battle he was facing here and now, rather than be sucked into a waking dream of a dead crusade.

This may prove as devastating a route as Culloden, thought Legolas. At least I could fight at Culloden, could do something other than sit here and be nattered at and humiliated. It was easier when I could conquer any adversary through direct, if bloody, confrontation. Since Aragorn's death, I have schemed and fought to preserve this small part of his kingdom. To make it a sanctuary for his heirs, the people descended of Ithilien, and every Elf who has not gone Oversea. Yet, for all my efforts, I've no doubt that before this day is done, Ivy will find me an incompetent excuse for a protector. She will probably agree that I am an incompetent leader for this corporation as well.

Elrond let the paper float back to the table, and Ivy's attention was caught by the motion. Unable to continue looking at her, Legolas once more lowered his gaze to study his blank notepad.

"Our vote will follow Julien's presentation and Lee's rebuttal," said Elrond. "Julien, you have the floor."

Sliding down in her chair, Ivy kicked Legolas under the table. Startled by her boldness, he looked up as she thumped on his foot as would a rabbit to raise the alarm out in the wild. Do something! her eyes begged, ignoring both Elrond and Glorfindel who were far from oblivious to what she was doing.

Would that I could. He captured her foot between both of his to stop its frantic movement, only to shiver slightly in apprehension as Julien began speaking.

"Thank you, Elden." Julien was all but purring as he prepared to address them. "I am most gratified to have this opportunity at long last to speak to all of you." His hair was finally free of vegetation and his smirk was back; Julien had regained his control. "As indicated on the handouts that went round earlier, you'll see that Greenwood can look forward to many improvements after I take the helm."

Legolas didn't bother touching the handout that had come his way.

"The first thing I'll do is cut the deadwood from all our companies," Julien said cheerfully.

"What, exactly, does that mean?" asked Glorfindel.

"Isn't it obvious? We need to cut redundancy, downsize our personnel--"

"Cut jobs and hurt the people working for us, you mean?" Glorfindel interjected.

Julien sighed. "As always, you approach business through the emotional side of things. Practicality must be considered in these times of new growth. We must minimize what is not working to our advantage and focus our strengths and resources on new and stronger opportunities. And yes, as I'm sure you're aware, a certain number of lay-offs is inevitable in any downsizing. We cannot become attached to every employee, and must concentrate on the bottom line. We might offer early retirements to a chosen few, but our focus needs to be on taking advantage of new investment opportunities."

"What opportunities?" Glorfindel again.

"Investment in China is hot now, yet we've entirely overlooked it," said Julien. "Our market shares in clothing and textile production, not to mention office supplies and toys, are suffering because certain members of this board have utterly refused to sign any contracts with our friends in the East. We can quickly enlarge our profits by outsourcing manufacturing and reducing its costs. When I lead Greenwood, I will do this."

"You wish to become partners with the government that invaded Tibet in 1959?" Elrond demanded. "The government that has systematically and relentlessly polluted Tibet and committed genocide for years against the indigenous people of that country, even as they deny doing so?"

Julien shrugged. "It's their war and not ours, isn't it? Elden, I'm sure you know enough history to realize to the victor go the spoils, as they've always gone in Mortal conflicts since the dawning of that puny race. Why should we allow Man's little wars to stand in the way of our strong profits? It doesn't make financial sense."

He waved a hand in open dismissal. "Oh, I know that you and Gordon have long refused to invest in China because of the Tibetan invasion. But that was such a long time ago, and everything's settled. I know a little sympathetic fuss is raised every now and again, but Tibet is part of China now, so there's no reason not to invest with them.

"Now, if I may continue?" Julien rushed on. "I would like to point out that during the time Lee has been gone we've done nothing but tread water while the rest of the business world has moved ahead. Certainly it is time to move ahead with stronger leadership. Strong leadership requires a bit of ruthlessness, certainly not the sentimentality that seems the trademark of Lee's reign. It's disgraceful how we've tottered along for years with the same selection of quaint little companies we've had for hundreds of years."

"Excuse me." Ivy raised her hand tentatively. "Do you mind if I ask a question?"

Julien's smile was unctuous. "Of course not, love."

"Love?" Ivy's dubious expression said, I'm not your love, but she ploughed on before the audacious Elf dared offer something even more condescending. "Halden gave me some of Greenwood's annual reports to look at,, you know those money spreadsheet things you guys did for all your subsidiaries over the last sixty years?"

"Yes, we know," said Wendy. "They're called balance sheets, and Elden releases them twice a year."

"Balance sheets." Ivy smiled. "Thank you, Wendy, that's good to know."

Probably the only bit of the business Wendy does understand, thought Legolas.

"So, Morno..."

Did Ivy just call Julien by his Elven name? That got Legolas' attention. Is she aware how he hates that? He thought she must, given the bright smile Ivy gave Julien when he scowled impotently at her.

"It's Julien, my dear. I know it is confusing to you, but we must mind our names in these meetings."

"Right. Sorry, Morno. But could you point out to us exactly where Greenwood's been bleeding cash and losing market shares with the companies we've had over the past sixty years?" asked Ivy. "Because I thought every company's performance looked really good on those balance sheets. The assets kept going up while the expenses went down."

"Oh, yes, they did," Julien agreed. "As I said, under Lee's inept leadership, Greenwood's subsidiaries have tottered along as they have for hundreds of years. Their financial performance has been acceptable, but far from exceptional. This means our company quite simply is not living up to its gross profits potential. This means we are losing money that we should and could so easily be raking in, and I think we're all here for the dividends, aren't we?"

Julien nodded his satisfaction as murmurs arose from the table, but he kept his attention carefully focused on the newest member of the board.

"You received your first check this week, didn't you, Ivy? Wasn't that pleasant? Now, it could be more than that - perhaps double that if we move forward into this century. Wouldn't you like it to be much fatter by, say, next year?"

"You think you could make a difference that fast?" she challenged.

"I know I could. Opportunities are like Easter eggs. They are just laying about the corporate garden of Men; we have only to pick them up. You can't know how many have been trampled in the grass over the last fifty years as we trudge along in our little business rut." Julien looked so sad, Legolas thought someone might have kicked his favorite puppy. "With me at Greenwood's helm, the profitable partnerships we'd forge and the incompetent leadership we'd replace would more than make up for our losses."

Losses in your own mind, thought Legolas. Greenwood takes care of its own, that's what it has always done...and will not do in the future, if Julien has his way.

"Lee began losing us money from the very moment he deserted us," proclaimed Julien.

"Deserted you?" Ivy echoed.

"Oh, yes." Julien looked at each member in their turn. "Or have you forgotten that after Lee Greenwood the Second walked away from Isabel Hamilton in Paris and left no one with any idea where he'd gone, we had no choice but to manufacture the announcement that he had drowned in an unfortunate boating accident in Loch Shin? Halden, have you forgotten how you were shoved into a public limelight you were ill-equipped to handle? Elden and Gordon - the gods bless you - you must recall how hard you had to work to pick up Greenwood's shattered pieces?"

Ivy looked thoroughly confused. "Elden and Gordon did what?"

"Oh, darling, you really have been left in the dark, haven't you? Elden, would you care to tell Ivy how we've been doing business during Lee's long absence?" Reclaiming his chair, Julien primly folded his hands atop the table. "You have the floor, of course."

Elrond didn't bother standing up. "Ivy, there are such things in the world as corporate takeover specialists. Lee was one - a very good one - before he left for Alaska. He is still a good one."

"One might assume, but we have no way of knowing that as he has done nothing for over fifty years. Elden, on the other hand," said Julien, "is a corporate lawyer well-versed in international law, aren't you? He and Gordon kept our leaky little boat afloat after Lee left us, but it was not smooth sailing. Not smooth at all."

Legolas saw the stricken look Ivy cast him and Elrond, begging one of them to say it wasn't so. Turning his gaze back to the intricate grain of the wooden table before him, he knew all too well there were no words to reassure the newest Queen's Daughter.

"At Halden's request, Gordon and I did take over in Lee's absence," Elrond admitted with great reluctance.

"Halden's rather panicked request, I might say. Someone obviously had to take over," inserted Julien. "The company wasn't going to run itself, and Halden hadn't the necessary skills."

"I am sitting right here, you know?" Haldir bristled. "I don't recall being that incompetent."

"Of course you weren't," Julien soothed. "There is a difference between being incompetent and merely being forced by the negligence of others into a position for which you were ill-prepared and inexperienced - a position you should never have had to shoulder. I mean no offense, my friend. My only intent is to bring Ivy up to speed on the pertinent details of our shared travails over the past fifty-three years, and that includes the abuse you were handed."


Ivy ignored Julien and asked Elrond, "What happened after you took over?"

"I did the research and investigation necessary to identify firms whose performance we could improve," said Elrond. "Whenever we found a strong candidate, Gordon framed business plans and takeover proposals while I filed the necessary paperwork. We then communicated our preparations to Halden, who carried out the plans - quite adequately, I might add."

"Exactly!" Julien crowed. "Are you getting this, Ivy? Do you understand that Halden Greenwood is nothing but a puppet CEO whose strings have been pulled right along by Elden and Gordon?"

"I most certainly am not!" Haldir protested. He may not even have bothered speaking for all the acknowledgement Julien gave him.

"It took three people to act in Lee's absence - illegally, let me point out, since those three were never authorized by this board to do any of this. Lee's absence was never authorized, either. Oh, it has been tolerated with long-suffering patience for five decades - out of some sort of misguided loyalty to the old leadership I can only assume - but authorized? Never! Disgraceful, isn't it?"

"If you say so," Ivy said slowly, and Legolas knew in that instant she had begun losing her confidence in him. "But I'm still not getting part of this."

She looked at the other board members who seemed determined to sit in stony silence and merely listen. "If Lee did the work of three people so well for so many years, doesn't that make all of you eager to welcome him back and let him keep doing what he did before?"

"Are you mad?" Julien hissed, twisting his body as he leaned against the table - probably to accommodate the pain in whichever hip he had landed on. "Can you not see that Lee deserted us? That shows how much he cares for Greenwood, that he would toss it all on the rubbish heap and run off because he got his feelings all in a swivet.

"Lee abandoned us, not caring if we should survive or not. He showed us no concern, no loyalty whatsoever. How are we to trust him again? Yes, he's still officially on this board, and we have been paying him for absolutely nothing during the years he's been gone, but why? The rest of us have served faithfully right along and have fulfilled our many obligations. What has Lee done since 1951 to aid us? It is my personal opinion that he needs to step down and at the very least return all of the dividend payments deposited into his account since the date of his desertion!"

Elladan growled from beside Ivy. "Have you forgotten that without Lee there wouldn't even be a Greenwood Limited for you to try taking over? He founded the company."

"That was then, this is now," Julien said, offhanded and smug. "Again, misguided loyalty to the past. He deserted us without so much as a by-your-lady warning. Had it been anyone else, we would have removed him that instant, and there would be nothing to discuss fifty-three years on. Do you think any of the rest of us would have been forgiven for that sort of transgression?" he demanded, his gaze sweeping around the table. "I very much doubt it."

"In the past--"Glorfindel began.

"Stop right there and listen to yourself, Gordon," Julien interrupted, "because 'in the past,' is at heart of my argument. The next point I wish to make is that our Lee has been out of the game for so long, it's moved beyond his capabilities to play. We can't afford to waste the time it would take to let him play catch up."

"If it is one thing our organization has always had," Legolas said softly, "it is time."

"And that statement illustrates what I am saying. The world moves at a much quicker pace now. Our having time at our command may have been true in the past, but you've no idea how far the world of Men has progressed during your little northern sabbatical."

The Elf's expression moved into pity, and Legolas braced for the worst.

"We aren't angry with you, Lee...not really...for we know how exhausted you must be after all this time. We wouldn't dream of actually removing you from the board. No, we're only asking that you pass the torch and step down after all these years. A new century has dawned with new technological wonders and many brave ideas. It's understandable how you could have fallen behind while spending so much time out in the wilderness, especially after having been closeted for decades in your little countryside retreat here. Just a tad out of touch with the world, I'm afraid."

Legolas heard the sub-text all too clearly: We understand you're old and tired. You need to step down and go back to your much-needed rest. Of course you'll still be on the board. You just sit back and let me rake in the dividends for you.

I need to sit back and watch Julien destroy everything I worked so long to build and have fought so long to keep? Legolas wanted nothing more than to lunge down the table and box the wanker's ears until he cried and begged for mercy. I should watch him turn my home into a bed and breakfast establishment while he turns the people of Lairg into service employees for the tourists? Or worse, Julien organizes another clearance and boots them out of their homes? Only this time the sheep would be Chinese and American tourists with Euros in their pockets. I'd rather have the sheep.

Aragorn entrusted to me a desolate, war-blasted Ithilien, and I worked with both Men and Elves to re-seed the land. I have watched it and its people grow for centuries, guarded and preserved both as best I could through blood and sweat and pain.

Must I now watch Julien cut it all down? Not only my people, but my trees as well? This ancient Caledonian forest at my back door, a tangle of fern and rowan, birch and oak that is home to so many - deer and rabbit, badger and hawk? This is my home, and they are my friends standing strong and silent and trusting. I planted the ancestors to these trees with my own hands after Sauron's defeat. I have fought to preserve them along with my people over the centuries.

In my terrible, foolish absence, Julien has made his plans. Already, he has had someone survey my trees; I have seen the bright yellow plastic ribbons tied round them, slating each for slaughter if Julien wins the day.

"To lead us this new century," said Julien, "we need more than an Elven leader whose greatest claim to fame is having been a member of the Fellowship. I'm certain he was a wonderful warrior in bygone times, but Lee's weapons are as outdated as his business leadership. Battles today require a new sort of warrior. A modern, corporate warrior like myself."

With every word, Julien only added to Legolas' fury and despair. It would take so little to silence him, were the rules today the same as they were in 'bygone times.' Without shedding the slightest drop of blood - Julien's or anyone else's - I could be well rid of him.

"What makes this century so different?" With a sinking heart, Legolas realized Ivy's tone had become one of curiosity, as though she was considering the common sense and logic of Julien's arguments. "Greenwood is already one of the richest corporations in the world. Why do you want so much more money?"

Julien gave a lazy smile. "I thought you'd never ask. We need it to defend ourselves."

"From what?"

"Mortal technology, for one thing. It's all in those little papers I've passed around, if you'd care to examine them?"

"Why don't you summarize what's in them?" Elladan suggested.

"Very well. There are digital photo records stored in government computers that will never go away, DNA databases expanding daily to record the cellular fingerprints of common men as well as criminals. To this, add laser-scan fingerprinting, retinal scans and voice recognition that can be embedded into security systems. Mortals microchip their pets now and place the information into a nationwide databank so that a lost pet may be located wherever the chip can be read, whether it be at an animal shelter or in a veterinarian's office. Some parents want their children microchipped, so satellites may locate the child if it is abducted. There has also been serious discussion regarding citizen microchipping, with medical and personal records that can be scanned and accessed at any time by law enforcement or medical personnel.

"Global positioning units on vehicles can be tracked by satellites, and information such as location and speed can be sent to any military and other authority that may require it. Powerful cameras in satellites can zero in to watch and record any detail on you, Ivy, as you shop for a new dress. Or on you, Dan, as you remove your latest ceramic efforts from your back-yard kiln in Wales. Because I've paid a small monthly fee to a specific global mapping service, I could log onto Halden's computer and show you a satellite picture of this castle's forecourt. That image would be scarcely twenty minutes old, and you would be able to count every car parked outside. If I pay a higher fee, I can access current-time, moving images. Gordon, how would you like someone to track you via satellite throughout your workday on Warra?" Julien spread his hands helplessly. "Where can any of us hide from technology such as this?"

No one answered him. From the shared looks around the table, Legolas knew his own apprehensions over Julien's revelations were echoed by the others.

"As a further example, let us examine one obvious application of the simple microchip."

Reaching into his pocket, Julien brought our a small plastic bag. Dangling it between his thumb and forefinger for a moment before pushing it down the table, he let everyone see that it contained a tiny object no bigger than the tip of someone's little finger. It looked so harmless, Legolas knew in other circumstances he would have overlooked the thing as entirely inconsequential.

"A little wired wafer such as that one can be injected beneath the epidermis of your arm to nestle there painlessly, indefinitely. The micro-circuitry it contains can then be used to track you - no matter who you are and no matter how much power or control over your life you may think you have - at any time, anywhere on the planet.

"If you find that thought chilling in regard to the privacy we have all enjoyed over our long lives," Julien continued, relentless, "I ask you to remember one more thing. Man's long history of greed and his lust for power has shown he cannot resist applying any invention for long - no matter how harmful or destructive that invention may be. Man revels in the knowledge that he can; whether he should is not up for discussion in their halls of power for very long. It is therefore only a matter of time before every living being on the planet is chipped and cataloged as a matter of course for future medical treatment or study, control or location. Those living beings, I regret to point out, include us."

Legolas listened with growing worry as Julien painstakingly listed only a few of the things Legolas had not been aware of while he had sat sulking over Isabel Hamilton for five decades. How could I miss the coming of these things, and why did my father or Elrond not warn me? Why did they not bring me back before now?

It all sounds like something Sauron might have invented to destroy all freedom, and not only the Eldar's freedom. To manipulate and control beings bit by bit, until in the end all are enslaved by power and knowledge that is held by only a few. Did we manage to destroy the One Ring and the power of the Dark Lord, only to have it take root and grow in other, Mortal hosts? This is indeed an evil path to follow, but how can we turn it aside now?

"We have enjoyed centuries of moving among Men and reinventing our identities and lives at will," Julien continued. "But microchips and other advancements promise to make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for any of us to continue doing this. We might evade subcutaneous invasion, but for how long? Even if we do, there are other ways to follow us, from fingerprints to retinal and voice scans.

"Once any pertinent information is entered into Mortal databases, that is information Mortals could conceivably use to discover us or track us in the future. It is already happening in small ways, simply because we buy and use their goods. For example, Gordon, do you not use voice recognition technology to guard your fences at Warra? It is inevitable that someone, at some time, will notice something matches. Someone may realize, for example, that the identity Gordon runs with in two hundred years has the same voice print or the same thumb print as the identity he is using today. If we continue blithely on and depend on the old methods of concealing what we are, sooner or later we will be discovered. If we do nothing, we are simply begging for them to find us."

Why was I not told of this? Legolas thought, despairing. Perhaps something could have been done in the beginning, but these ways of spying and gathering information have already been put into motion. What does Julien want to--

"What, exactly, are you proposing to prevent our eventual discovery?" Elrond's question echoed Legolas' train of thought.

"It's obvious, isn't it? If we do not wish to be ferreted out, we must gain total control of the technology and be purveyors of it. We must direct the information garnered from it, so it cannot threaten what remains of our race."

"That technology is not only in corporate hands," Elrond pointed out. "It was initially developed for and used by the military in a number of nations. Are you suggesting we gain military power as well?"

"I am suggesting we do whatever it takes to gain the absolute power and wealth needed for us to survive," Julien insisted. "You, Lord Elrond, were one of the few among us who had the sufficient power and knowledge of the world of Men to keep Greenwood going. But while your time-honored techniques have allowed us to survive in the short-term...forgive me, but something more - much more - is needed for the long-term."

"And what might that be?" the Elf-lord pursued.

"We require more money, more power, and definitely more control of the key industries rolling out these dangerous technologies," insisted Julien. "We are already far behind. Clearly the information I have presented this morning has shocked and dismayed all of you. Clearly, we are all vulnerable to these possible dangers, and all because those currently leading Greenwood failed to notice what was happening. Greenwood needs someone with my vision to lead it forward, and the change must happen now. To waste any more time on the old ways is to deepen the threat to ourselves."

Looking around the table, Julien pressed on. "The twenty-first century offers a complex and volatile environment, one neither Legolas nor anyone else but me has the experience or knowledge to negotiate. Without that, it will be difficult to achieve our goals for increased security as well as increased profits.

"This is a time of great change, and Greenwood needs to change with it - no, we must change with it or die. Literally, I fear, given Mortal intolerance of anything different from themselves. While Lee has been in Alaska, I have been preparing. Studying and positioning myself in the world of Men to be of exquisite service to our organization. I offer my talents, my insights, and my vision to lead us into the future." Julien looked well-satisfied with the arguments he'd offered. "Are there any questions?"

Legolas' heart sank as no one around the table responded. Elrond, Ivy and even Glorfindel had been silent for many long minutes, listening intently to the message Julien was delivering.

Julien's smirk was oily and self-satisfied. "If there are no questions, then I now relinquish the floor to Lee, who will defend his position as best he can."

"I have a question." Ivy spoke quietly, her voice wavering.

Desolation washed through Legolas as he realized the girl's tone had softened toward Julien. Tightening his grip on the armrests of his chair, Legolas lowered his head and closed his eyes.

I've lost them, Legolas thought. Every one of them, even Ivy. And I've lost Greenwood. I came into this meeting fearing I might lose everything. Now, after listening to Julien, perhaps the greatest irony of all is that I believe I may deserve to lose it. There is truth to what he says, and the fault lies with my self-indulgent inattention.

"What is it, Ivy?"

"I'm curious to know why you think you're a better man for the job you've outlined than, say, Elden or Gordon or even Dan? I mean, you're much younger than any of them. Don't you think their experience counts for--"

"I've already explained all that!" he snapped, waving away her question. "While Lee has been off wasting time and the others have been desperately trying to preserve Greenwood's crumbling foundation, I've been preparing myself to--"

"You've used generalities. What about specifics?"

"Of all the--" Julien sputtered. "Were you not listening? We've covered all of that. Or are the concepts too difficult for you? I know you're far too young to have an understanding of anything but your paints."

Two beats. Three.

That's it, thought Legolas. In less than an hour, Julien has managed to silence all of us. And I have no good rebuttal prepared against his very sane arguments as to how Greenwood should be run in the future.

"Explain it again," said Ivy. "Use very little words. Make me understand."

Legolas' head came up as iron determination sounded behind every soft, clipped word. Ivy's jaw was locked, she spoke through gritted teeth. Her narrow gaze was assessing and this side of cold. Her entire demeanor was suddenly one the Elf hadn't seen or heard for millennia--an attitude so achingly familiar to Legolas, it made him weep when he met it in waking dreams.

She looks as I saw Aragorn look when he faced down the learned men of Gondor's own council.

"Tell me your qualifications," Ivy continued, "the sort you'd put on a resume. Tell me why you'd be a good choice to take over from Legolas as CEO. What classes have you taken, what degrees have you earned? What businesses have you run, and what was their performance? What experience have you gotten out there in the real world of Men?"

Julien stared open-mouthed as if he could not believe the little chit was daring to question him. Ivy waited a moment or two before continuing.

"After you've outlined your qualifications, make me understand how your reacting with greed and fear to grab more power and wealth is going to make it safe for any Elf to remain in this world. But before you do that, I want you to tell me why you think it's so damned necessary for any Elf to remain in this world - long-term, of course, since you're obviously trying to make long-term plans for all of us."

"It's all in the handout!" Julien repeated. "If you'd just look at it, you'd see that I've spent my whole life among Men. I've worked among them and befriended them in a variety of venture capitol projects totaling billions, and I've a Master of Letters from Judas College in Oxford."

"How the bloody hell does a Master of Letters prepare you to run a multi-billion dollar company?" asked Elladan. "If you had a Master of Business Administration, you might start in some little mailroom somewhere and try working your way up, but Letters? Come on, Julien!"

"I know how Men conduct business!" Julien shouted. "I've lived as one of them for decades, unlike you lot! You've been hiding out in quaint little villages like the one down the hill, or out in the middle of nothing in Australia on a cattle station whose very name means 'go away!' I've been living among Mortals, interacting with them as one of them since my birth. I've been a member of White's for years, and my membership is pending to the Athenaeum Club!"

Glorfindel burst out laughing. "Are you seriously claiming that membership in a London gentleman's club helps qualify you to look after Greenwood?"

"It proves that I understand Men. It proves I can move as one of them!"

"We all do that, Julien," said Elrond with far more patience than Legolas suspected the Elf-lord felt.

"Not as I do," Julien insisted. "Not so closely as I have since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, I think you'll admit."

"Oh, I'll definitely admit that," muttered Glorfindel. "You were the first among us to embrace the combustion engine, and it's all been downhill since then."

"There. You see? I've always been able to see where this world is headed. You can't. You'd still have us using horses for transportation. Oh, I’m sorry, Gordon. You still do, don't you?" Julien glowered at each board member in their turn and ended with Ivy. "I think we've made it all quite plain, even for you. Do you have any more questions you want answered, Ivy?"

She and Legolas had sat silent throughout the latest outburst. Now, her expression inscrutable, Ivy shook her head. "No, I'm good. Thanks."

"Then I ask all of you to seriously consider my bid to become CEO of Greenwood Limited. I now surrender the floor to Mr. Greenwood." Falling into his chair, Julien nursed his sore arm and cast a sullen look Legolas' way.

With reluctance, and feeling it was rather useless at this point to say anything because he knew he was about to lose everything, Legolas got to his feet. Ivy watched him, still wearing her inscrutable expression, and the rest of the board wasn't giving anything away either.

"As I look around the table," Legolas began, "it occurs to me that some of you have known me nearly all my life. The rest of you, I've known all your lives. I owe every one of you an apology for deserting my position and causing such chaos. I can but ask your forgiveness. Beyond that, I would like to point out a few things.

"When I went to Alaska, Greenwood's coffers were £380 billion strong. Had we earned not one additional pound during the fifty-three years I was gone, everyone Greenwood supports could have lived quite nicely on only the interest generated by that sum. If I had not known you were all secure, I never would have left. Had Greenwood's security faltered, I would have been informed and would have returned.

"I thank Halden, Elden and Gordon for taking up where I so abruptly left off. They made certain in my absence that Greenwood continued to flourish. Our traditional subsidiaries have strong foundations and performed like well-maintained mechanisms to continue prospering. The continuing efforts of both Men and Elves made this possible.

"We added new companies to our family, and the dividend checks have continued coming. Now, it is now time for Greenwood's day-to-day operations to be handed back to me."

Legolas ignored the disgusted sound of disagreement from Julien's end of the table.

"What will you have in me as Greenwood's CEO?" asked Legolas. "The same as you have had in the past. The needs Greenwood answers for all of us are few and quite simple. Yes, one of our goals has been to earn vast amounts of money, but not because any of us are greedy or crave power over any other being in this world.

"The first thing money provides us is the freedom to move within the world of Men, and the freedom to own the land we live on and prevent Men from taking that land from us. Money has given us the freedom to live where and how we would, including our quaint villages and cattle stations that afford us privacy as well as membership in Mortal gentleman's clubs.

"The second thing money provides is choices. The more money Greenwood has in its coffers, the more choices are open to all of us. What dreams did your parents have? What dreams do you have? Quite simply, for hundreds of years Greenwood's profits have made our dreams come true and put paid to our fears. Greenwood's purpose has been to give us freedom and offer us choices while we live in this world. We Elves may move through the world of Men, but we have never been part of it. We should never become part of it, for we are Elves, not Mortals.

"I created Greenwood long years ago out of necessity, but it has grown to belong to all of us. It works best not with only one of us at its helm, but with all of us working in concert to preserve our freedom and our choices.

"Greenwood's CEO does not perform the same functions as the CEO of a Mortal company. More than anything, our CEO is a public figurehead - a breathing illusion required by Men to perform in public. He or she is a single swan gliding on the surface of the water, while many Elven feet paddle beneath the surface to aid him or her. We share our strengths and responsibilities in managing Greenwood just as we share the rewards."

"In all the years I have publicly led Greenwood, I have never led it alone. Halden, Elden and Gordon have always been a very large part of it. Your forebears, your parents and yourselves have helped every step of the way as well. Greenwood belongs to far more than this board and the Elven communities it serves. It belongs to the people living in the village of Lairg, whose families have been with me since the days of Gondor. It belongs to the green wood from which the company borrowed its name, so that we could be forever reminded of the home that sustains us, protects and shelters us from outside harm. It belongs also to the creatures living in the ancient forests surrounding this house, for Greenwood is not just my creation: Greenwood is creation. That is what it stands for. That is what it is used for - to protect and to nurture, be it Elf or Elf-friend, creature or tree.

"Whatever power we have earned across the ages by collecting the wealth of Men - or green frog-skins as my Inuit neighbors call the world's money - I believe that we must always remember we are not Men. We are Elves. We do not embrace the conflict and competition for power and riches that drive some Mortals. We do not wield power against others in greed or fear. If the day comes when we are tempted to do so, then we are in danger of diminishing until we can no longer be counted among the Eldar. When that happens - if it happens - I believe we need to turn away from the darkness in our hearts, hand off Greenwood to the Elf-friends it serves, and follow the west road home.

"If we are now filled with such terror at the thought of Men discovering we live among them that we believe we must seize power from them - we must hurt them before they hurt us - then it may already be time for us to follow the west road home.

"That is all I have to say. Have you any questions to ask me?"

The silence that followed was deafening. Legolas nodded, still not meeting the gazes of those around him.

"I yield the floor," Legolas concluded quietly. "If there are no questions, perhaps we might proceed with the vote and quickly settle this matter?" He settled back into his chair.

This was a good tree, he thought, rubbing the grain at the edge of the table with his fingertips. I remember when it fell. I remember crafting this table from it. I remember transplanting a seedling into its place. What will happen to my trees now?


"Are there any further questions before we vote?" asked Elrond.

"I have a question," Ivy spoke softly.

Julien's audible sigh gave voice to his frustration. It must be torture to have success so very close to being in your grasp, only to have it delayed by such trivialities. Legolas ordinarily would have enjoyed Julien's discomfiture, but today he agreed. Please, make it quick. Let this end.

"What now, Ivy?" muttered Julien.

"It's only a teenie, tiny question," she offered, apologetic. She fanned the pages of Julien's handout, and Legolas cringed inwardly. "I know you're all anxious to cast your votes, and I know as a newbie I'm trying everyone's patience, but I'd really like to look at this report thing...or whatever it is...before making a decision. If that's okay?"

She is giving this serious consideration? She finds this plausible? Legolas wished she would throw another one of her bright smiles his way so that he could at least pretend she was still on his side. But no, she only looked to Elrond for guidance.

"A most excellent suggestion," said the Elf-lord. "Why don't we all take fifteen minutes to look at Julien's materials?"

Elladan and Haldir ignored Elrond's counsel to push back from the table and descend on the snack trolley. Wendy sank back with a long-suffering sigh and fanned herself with Julien's report. Sindohte sniffed in disapproval, and Alasse wrinkled her nose as Wendy's perfume began to waft in a widening cloud to surround those at her end of the table.

Sindohte attempted to speak to Alasse quietly, but Wendy's voice rose above their murmured conversation. "Have you seen the Times? There's a fantastic sale at Harrod's on Prada and Gucci that I simply must get to this week."

Elrond and Glorfindel remained seated, determined as ever to stay the course. Ignoring everyone else, Ivy intently began scanning the papers before her.

Julien circulated with drink in hand, his agitation once again under wraps. His smile was irritating and his manner unctuous and ready to help with any questions. Ever so slowly, he oiled his way over to stand behind Ivy. Legolas and Elrond both tensed when Julien dared lean over her.

"If I may?" he purred.

She jumped sideways to evade him, and Julien leaned even closer. Their noses were so close, Legolas was certain they were breathing each other's air. Julien's smile widened to something resembling a crocodile's.

"Please allow me to direct your attention to page fifteen."

He wasn't touching her, nor was he being rude. He was invading her personal space, but until the girl made an issue of it, her guardians could do nothing to stop it and well Julien knew it.

"Please, allow me." Sliding the report from between Ivy's unresisting fingers, he turned to the page in question. "You were asking after my curriculum vitae, were you not? Well, here it is. I'm certain you'll find it most satisfactory."

"Um, I was actually reading about your business projections." She tried to flip back to the page she had been reading, but Julien once more twitched it out of reach.

"Oh, this is far easier to understand. Here, on this page there's a chart of projected profits and benefits you may find particularly interesting. And it's in color, too. Makes things very clear, don't you think?"

Leaning on the table, Julien pointed out the chart. "Here is how profitable we were this year. And here are our expanded profits next year after my management principles are applied. Those are wonderful figures, aren't they? How would you like all that lovely extra cash rattling around in your trust fund? I know it's rather empty at the moment, seeing as you've only just started with us. I can fix that," he assured with another smile.

Ivy looked over the chart in question. "Wow. It looks impressive."

"It is impressive. The actual results will be even more incredible."

"Thanks for showing this to me." She sounded sincere, and Legolas' heart sank even further.

Claiming Elladan's abandoned chair, Julien scooted closer. Sparing a glance at Elrond, Legolas saw that while the Elf-lord still closely watched Julien's interaction with Ivy, he had subsided back in his chair. Apparently Elrond had also recognized Ivy's willingness to listen to the weasel.

That's it, then. It is over. Ivy is lost and so is all of Greenwood. Will Julien allow me to remove my things from this place, or will he claim it all? And if he affably allows their removal, would it be better to give everything up and walk away with nothing but what little dignity I might retain after this defeat?

"I could show you other things."

The rampant innuendo in Julien's tone made Legolas snap his attention back to the pair. Far from taking offense, Ivy seemed captivated by the younger Elf.

Is this Queen's Daughter so young and untried, Legolas wondered, that she is conquered through empty flirtation? No good can come of this.

Ivy regarded Julien for a long, unreadable moment, and Legolas held his breath. Order him away, he petitioned silently.

Rather than rebuff Julien, Ivy favored him with one of her bright smiles and pushed the report toward him. "If you don't mind taking the time, I'd like it if you showed me."

So strong was the wave of nausea and despair that hit Legolas, he had to close his eyes and force down the bile filling his throat. While no longer subjected to the sight of Julien seducing the new Queen's Daughter to his twisted ways, Legolas could still hear him pontificating and Ivy's quiet voice asking for clarification.

The ordered break took an eternity longer than fifteen minutes, or so it seemed to Legolas. Keeping his eyes closed the entire time, he was infinitely grateful when Elrond asked everyone to return to the table.

"Steady on, and try not to lose hope," Glorfindel murmured in Gondolic as everyone resumed their places. Startled, Legolas opened his eyes and locked gazes with his father. Leaning against Legolas, Glorfindel tried to lend his son strength and comfort through the touching. "Nothing's as bad as all that. If the vote goes south, we'll go back to Alaska together and make an adventure of it."

"There will be bears," he muttered and tried not to look at anyone directly, most especially the young Queen's Daughter directly across from him.

Elrond settled at the end of the table and took a moment to look at each board member directly. "Now is the time to vote on Julien's proposal that Lee be removed and Julien be appointed as chief executive officer of Greenwood Limited. Since this vote involves major changes to our company's future and requires but a majority of one to pass, I think it only proper that, rather than a showing of hands, we should verbally indicate our votes.

"Please vote yea if you are in favor of removing Lee and appointing Julien in his place. Please vote nay if you are in favor of Lee retaining his position. Halden, if you would be so kind as to track the votes as we go? Are there any last questions before we begin?"

A few shook their heads. Much to Legolas' relief, everyone remained silent. His heart, however, was pounding loudly enough in his ears to rival the voices. He had to struggle to hear Elrond's voice through the noise.

"Very well. Halden, my vote is nay. Lee?"

It took a few seconds for Legolas to realize he was being asked to respond.

"Nay." For all the good it will do.



Thank you, my father, thought Legolas. At least all of the votes won't go against me.


"Yea." Her voice was soft, flat and devoid of emotion.


"I vote yea." She also sounded almost disinterested.


"Yea." She sounded bored. No surprise there.


"Of course my vote is yea."

Ah yes, the wolf is waiting to dine. Or rather the hyena, waiting to steal the carcass away from its rightful owner.


"Yea." Staccato, anxious and clearly uncomfortable.


"Yea." Marina looked in Legolas' direction, but he refused to meet her eyes.


"Nay." Haldir - Elbereth bless him - was looking down his patrician nose at Julien.

"Dan, you are voting proxy for David. His vote is?..."


"And your own?"

"Nay as well."

Six votes for. Six against. Legolas shuddered and felt Glorfindel tense beside him. Ivy is the last to vote, which means an untried Queen's Daughter will decide all our fates.

All eyes fell to Ivy. Legolas willed her to look at him, but it seemed the girl had eyes and smiles only for Julien now. Delighted, he smiled back at her, entirely confident she was now as much on his side as her mother Marian had been. Ivy would not fail Julien, and he was practically salivating in anticipation.

"Ivy," said Elrond. "What is your vote?"

"It's nay." She looked up at the Elf-lord. "Wait, that's against Julien and for Lee, right?"

"That is correct. So your vote is nay?"

"That's right," she answered brightly.

"No!" Julien exploded from his chair. "You've got it wrong. It's yea for me to take over, not nay!" He whirled to face Elrond, his face draining of color. "She's made a mistake. She's young, it's her first vote, so let's let her vote again!"

"I don't need to vote again. I meant just what I said. That's no to you, Morno, and yes to Lee."

Julien sputtered. "You can't vote against me!"

"Just did. What part of no do you not understand?"

"You can't!" he howled. Wendy made a grab for his arm, but he shook her away. "Not ten minutes ago, you liked what you read in that report! You agreed with me! You understood!"

Ivy smiled a smile as devoid of warmth as any of Julien's. "I didn't agree with you. I listened to you lecture me. Big difference. You never heard me say I was going to vote for you."

"Your mother would have!"

"Like I told you last night, Morno, I'm not my Mom and she's not here."

"But why, you stupid child!"

"Because your plan sucks, that's why. And you really need to work on your people skills."

"Daughter." Elrond's hand on Ivy's shoulder instantly silenced her. "Julien. You know as well as I that Queen's Daughter is not required to justify her vote any more than are the rest of us on this board. Now, sit down."

That, along with a hard look, was enough to make the younger Elf obey.

"Halden," Elrond continued, "where does the vote stand?"

Haldir consulted his notes. "Six voted for Julien's proposal and seven against."

"Thank you. Let the record show that Lee Greenwood remains our chief executive officer. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Let us break now for our mid-day meal and meet back here in ninety minutes."

Julien continued sputtering while Elrond turned away from the table. Following his lead, Ivy sprang to her feet with Elladan not far behind. Glorfindel and Legolas rose as one, and only Wendy paid her brother any attention as the four other female Elves who had voted for Julien fled the room. Leaping up, Julien cut through everyone else to make a beeline for Haldir.

"You miscounted," the younger Elf accused, breathing so fast that Legolas thought Julien might hyperventilate. "It was seven for me, not six."

"I'm relatively certain I can count to thirteen," said Haldir. "If you like, you may take a look at the record Elrond requested be kept."

Snatching away the offered sheet, Julien held it with fingers that shook so hard, the paper rattled.

"Don't even think of tearing that up," warned Haldir. "We've the entire session on video."

"Haldir, darling." Slinking up beside the Elf, Wendy captured his arm and leaned against him. "Julien and I simply must get back to London for the sales. Have you a computer I might use to check the weather?"

"Allow me to get my laptop. We've a wireless connection so you can sit in comfort down in the dining hall rather than hunch over some old desk. I'll meet you there, shall I?

"This cannot be right," Julien muttered at the paper.

Grabbing her brother by the arm, Wendy towed him toward the door. "Come on, Julien. Your silly proposal has had its day, and we simply must get off this hill as soon as possible."

"What?" He blinked at her. "We're not leaving yet. We can't."

"Of course we can. We shall get into the car and drive away. I assure you, it's as simple as that."

Haldir snatched back the voting record as Julien went by.

"We are absolutely not leaving, Wendy. I need--"

"What you need is to give up on your silly plans. What I need is to shop. You promised that we'd go right after the vote."

The library door closed on Julien's ever more frantic protests.

"Alone at last." Glorfindel sighed. "I thought they'd never leave."

"Almost makes me like Wendy." Dan grinned. "watching her drag him off like that."

"Yes, well. I must make sure the buffet is in order," Haldir murmured.

"I'm certain Erestor has it well in hand," said Elrond.

"I must also make sure our resident evil brother and sister do not steal the silver."

"They wouldn't try," said Elladan. "It'd be anticlimactic after trying to steal all of Greenwood."

"No doubt Julien will plot something else for our entertainment this afternoon," said Legolas. "He can't lose completely so there is certain to be some manner of retribution, no matter how petty.

"I hope he plots slowly, for I'd like a quiet luncheon." Going to the corner desk, Haldir retrieved a small, flat leather satchel that Legolas thought might contain the laptop computer the former marchwarden had promised Wendy.

It would have to be small, wouldn't it, to fit on her lap? thought Legolas. Or perhaps my understanding of 'laptop' is inferior.

Laying a hand on Legolas' shoulder on the way by, Haldir murmured, "So glad the vote went your way, and that the little beast did not get our company."

"As am I." Legolas clasped Haldir's arm in simple affection. "I am most grateful for your vote."

Haldir sniffed. "As if I'd ever vote for that little worm? All right, I'm off. There's a banquet to oversee, the Lovells to be watched and spoons to be counted. Your discussions and machinations will certainly carry on, but please do keep me informed after the nonce?"

"We always do," Glorfindel said cheerfully. "Best away and see to those prawns and canapes."

"Yes, yes, and preserve you some, I know the song. Would the last person out of my library please lock the door? We don't want anything befalling the meeting video or our very expensive recording equipment." Haldir swept out.

"I'm so sorry this happened," Ivy blurted. Shivering, she wrapped her arms around herself and looked on the verge of tears.

Elladan perched on the edge of the table. "It's not your fault Julien walks among us. So why are you sorry?"

"Legolas has been looking after all of you for millennia," she explained. "It took my grandmother's insane behavior and evil treatment for him to need a vacation. If it weren't for Isabel, this entire situation would never have come up."

"All of which took place long before you were born."

"Indeed it did," Elrond confirmed. "Thankfully, Isabel and her behavior are in the past, as is Julien's takeover bid. I suggest we move forward and deal with the present."

"The present..." Legolas mused. Taking a deep breath, he braced himself for whatever else might come before the day's end. "Perhaps Julien is right and I am out of touch these days. Perhaps someone else would do a better job of running Greenwood this new century."

"Absolutely not," Glorfindel said firmly. "Speaking as your father and also as Gordon Weston, I say that you are the best choice to lead us. You always have been and well we all know it, straight back to Aragorn and his asking you to rebuild Ithilien after Sauron's fiends blasted it."

"Actually I asked to do it. I liked the place."

"No matter, you still built Laird, this hall, this company. You have always led here, and led well. Even Elrond agrees with me on that, don't you?"

"I do. All of us voted for you because we believe in you."

No hesitation there, much to Legolas' relief. "Thank you, Lord Elrond. I know too well no summons would have come from Haldir had you no faith in me, but your support is astonishing given my past inadequacies."

"I fear you judge yourself far more harshly than any of us ever would," Elrond ventured.

"Regardless," said Legolas, "it seems all of you have given me not only a vote of confidence this day, but a second chance to serve. You have my gratitude."

"You have our welcome, my son, and I've something else to point out after observing that vote," said Glorfindel. "With the exception of Ivy--and that exception was a marvelous thing, my dear--the line was drawn very clearly between we ancient and those youthful Elves. Everyone the near side of Elven infancy supported Julien, and I noticed that most of their parents are Oversea. Those who are not have washed their hands of any involvement with Greenwood, so the children are indeed accountable to none outside these walls."

"I noticed that line of demarcation as well." Elrond folded his arms. "Verce, Sindohte, Alasse and Tamurile all supported Julien, yet none looked happy doing so. Ivy, it may interest you to know that your mother claimed both Julien and Wendy as friends. They were constant companions whenever she was among us, and she consistently voted with the two of them."

"Obviously, Julien expected you to be like your mum and go over to the Dark Side," said Elladan. "That must be why he was so confident of winning today."

"The Dark Side?" Ivy wrinkled her nose. "Why would I go over to the Dark side? I want to hang out with you Jedi, not the weasel Sith."

"We are what?" asked Legolas, entirely bewildered.

"They're referencing Star Wars," said Glorfindel. "A movie you haven't seen, but probably should. For all that the lightsaber...erm, sword woefully lacking."

"Ah, the space movie. I am actually aware of it."

"You've seen it?"

"I've not actually seen it. I heard talk. I did see a moment of it while in the general store at Meyers Chuck, but I was too taken aback by the shopkeep's dress to actually pay attention to the movie. I will add it to the list of things I must explore."

"Her dress? What was so amazing about her dress that it made you ignore Darth Vader?" Ivy asked.

"It didn't suit him or his curly black beard."

"HIM? Oh. I guess that would"

Elladan grinned at Ivy. "How much do you bet Legolas will want to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi like his father?"

"Been there. Already done that." Glorfindel looked at his son with evident pride even as irritation flared within Legolas.

"I've no idea what any of you are talking about."

"Perhaps we should leave the galaxy far, far away and return to the concerns at hand?" Elrond suggested. "As Legolas pointed out earlier, we were long ago warned of our diminishing. It appears some among us are certainly doing that. Have we all lingered too long?"

"Surely that's a debate for another day?" suggested Glorfindel. "As you said, now is the time to find out why those younglings supported Julien. Do they share his attitude that we are but ancient Elves who have outlived our usefulness? Time to give over to a more modern, efficient way of doing things and retire?"

"That's insane," said Ivy. "I mean, it's not as if any of you age like Mortals and are in your dotage, mentally or physically."

"No, we're merely entrenched in the old way of doing things, which Julien and perhaps the others believe is wrong," noted Elrond.

"Never trust anybody over three thousand," Dan added.

"I'm yet to be convinced anyone but Julien shares that view," said Glorfindel. "I want to interview our four rebellious girls during the break and find out why they voted for his high and mightiness."

"Especially since those younglings, as you call them, have been rock steady in their supporting Lee and the rest of us in the past," said Elladan. "They've had no use for Julien in the past, so why start now?"

"Clearly, something is going on behind the scenes that we know nothing about," said Elrond. "I do know that Verce has been trying to avoid me since we arrived. I managed to corner her this morning and introduce her to Ivy, but Verce still seems uncomfortable around me and that is most unusual. We may wish to talk to her first."

"Right, then. Let's get on with it," said an eager Glorfindel.

"I believe we should also make every effort to help Haldir watch Julien," Legolas suggested. "There is no telling what mischief he will plot next, and I do not want him left alone while he's among us."

"Agreed," said Elrond. "I will come with you now, Glorfindel. Between the three of us, we should be able to keep track of Julien, as well as talk with the others." He looked pointedly at his son. "In my absence, you or Legolas will watch over Ivy?"

"You've got it."

Elrond left with Glorfindel in a flurry of robes, and Elladan pushed away from the table.

"We should join them, sister."

Ignoring her brother, Ivy eyed a still-wary Legolas. "You said you'd eat after the meeting. Are you going down to lunch?"

Legolas shook his head. "Why don't you go ahead with Elladan? I'm not really hungry."

"Are you all right?"

"Legolas needs some time alone after the fireworks," inserted Elladan, taking hold of Ivy's hand. "We need to give him that time, so come with me."

"I just want to ask how he feels about the vote."

Elladan looked up at the ceiling as though begging for patience. "How do you think he feels?"

"I just wanted to ask. I don't know him that well and he still doesn't look happy," she hissed at her brother.

"Let me spell it out, okay? He may have won, but this morning was still hellish so how do you think he feels?" The twin sent a slanted glance Legolas' way before looming over Ivy in an open attempt to crowd her toward the door. "His is a sensitive soul, and now's not the time. Take the hint, don't make him spell it out. Let's go get something to eat."

Legolas hoped his silence would be read as the agreement and appeal for blessed aloneness that it was.

"I want to stay with him and help." She was not quite whining.

How ironic the obstinacy she inherited from Aragorn that proved invaluable in defeating Julien has now become a problem, thought Legolas.

"You want to help? Then shut up and come on." She still dragged back against his grip on her arm, so he gave it a little shake for emphasis. "Look at him, Ivy. He wants to be alone."


"Okay, that's it. Come on, little sister." Picking her up, Elladan tucked Ivy under his arm like a double bass violin and began carting her out the door.


"You need to come downstairs with me and eat your lunch. You're too skinny as it is." He cast a look Legolas' way that said, You owe me for this, and continued out of the room.

"I don't believe you're doing this!"

"Believe it, sister."

"Put me down, you Elven bully!"

Ivy grabbed the door, which only had the effect of closing it on her hands. She let go with a screech, and Legolas knew the argument would only continue in the hallway beyond the library.


Elladan thumped Ivy down and she spun on him. "I've half a mind to--"

"What?" He loomed over her. "Hit me? Yell at me for carrying you away from Legolas?"

"Yeah! A lot and really, really hard! I had things I wanted to ask him, and he was actually sitting still in there without anybody interrupting!"

"Questions will have to wait."

"I don't want to wait." She ducked under Elladan's outstretched arm, which was supposed to be herding her away, and headed with all speed toward the still-open library door.

Catching her by the arm, Elladan spun her back around to face him. This time, he didn't let go. "Ivy, I'm trying to help both you and my friend, so I'm gonna use the really small words, okay? Knock it off, shut up, and let's go find the Diet Coke and prawns. That's the best thing we can do for Legolas. I've known him a hell of a lot longer than you have, and I'm suggesting strongly that right now you leave. him. alone."

"But the nasty Julien vote is over and we won, so why is he still being weird?"

Stepping Ivy a few feet further from the door, Elladan cast it a watchful glance before placing himself between her and it. "Yeah, the vote is over but Julien nearly cost Legolas everything. Your new Elf friend has been well-mannered up to this point, but take it from me, Ivy, he's not up to answering your questions or making polite conversation at the moment."

"Why not?" Ivy's head turned back toward the door, still seeking enlightenment from the wooden portal somehow.

"Because he's a warrior, that's why. We're trained to meet the enemy head on and end the problem with physical force. Legolas can't just wade in with his knives and behead Julien as he would have an orc. He's been denied that easy outlet, and he's had to sit still and play nice all morning.

"He's also got to be furious that Julien would dare challenge him in the first place. On top of that, there was that little self doubt issue Legolas raised in there a moment ago. All those emotions are still swirling inside of him with no easy outlet, so he's going to need a little time to release it safely without going out and killing something. Or someone. He needs time for a deep breath all by himself without worrying about how somebody else is going to react to it."

"How's he supposed to do that in Haldir's library?"

"Legolas will find a way. He has to find a way, else he's going to be as surly and nasty as Elrohir is when Adar forces him to deal with Arwen. Please, Ivy, just trust what I say and stay out of the line of fire."

"But I miss Legolas. And I really want to talk to him."

Elladan shook his head. "Best wait until he wants to talk. And don't look so glum because he won't make you wait forever. You'll see him this afternoon for the second session of the meeting."

"Oh, joy. More meeting, more Julien."

"Yeah, he's a right spoilt bastard to deal with. Has been for years." Elladan rubbed her arm. "C'mon, if you're not going to go eat, then come with me. I have to get out of here before the second session starts, so why don't you help me pack?"

"What?" Ivy stared up at him, Legolas momentarily forgotten. "You're leaving?"

"Have to. Am needed in Wales."

Elladan turned as a deep, groaning moan followed by a dull thud sounded from inside the library. A cold draft wafted out from the room and into the hall, making Ivy shiver.

"And there he goes," Elladan murmured.

Cutting around the Elf, Ivy ran back into the room. "Legolas?"

"He's gone." Elladan came up behind her.

"He couldn't have left, we were right outside the door."

"Yeah?" Going behind Haldir's desk, Elladan laid a hand on the window through which Elrond had sent Julien tumbling earlier in the day. Yielding to Elladan's touch, it moaned again as it opened even wider. "Like I said, Legolas is gone."

"He jumped?" Coming up beside her brother, Ivy stared down at the snow, regardless it was impossible to tell Legolas footprints from Julien footprints at this height. "But there's no sign of him."

"He moves fast when he wants to."

Putting her arm out the window, Ivy caught a handful of snowflakes. "It's so cold, and it's snowing again. And - and he didn't even have a coat on!"

"Your favorite Elf won't freeze to death, and he'll be back later," Elladan assured as Ivy retreated back into the room. "He lives here, remember? We'll lock up the library as Haldir asked, and then you can help me pack."

Feeling sad and strangely disheartened, a subdued Ivy followed Elladan out of the library and down the hall to his room. Perching on the edge of the bed, she watched the Elf gather his things.

"Why are you suddenly needed in Wales?" she asked.

"My wife is dying."

Ivy sat open mouthed, and it took a moment to remember that she could close it again. "Your...wife?"

"Wife. W-I-F-E."

"You never mentioned you were married. Not once, the whole time you were with me in San Francisco."

Elladan shrugged and shoved another shirt into his backpack. "Didn't fit well with the whole 'I'm gay' scenario."

"And she's dying? But Elves aren't supposed to die! Oh, Dan, I'm so sorry." Flinging her arms around his shoulders, Ivy buried her face in his long hair as much to find comfort for herself as to offer support.

Returning her embrace, he patted her back. "No, it's nothing like that. It's okay. Really, it's sad - very sad - but okay. The short version of the story is that I married a Mortal, and now she's gotten old and she's dying. Mortals do that."

Offering a small noise of protest, Ivy could only gape at him in disbelief. "You bonded with a Mortal?"

"No, we bond with other Elves. We only marry Mortals."

"I don't understand the difference." I only understand that it feels like Legolas won't stick around, and now Dan is running away from me. Again.

"Bonding is forever, and it's done Elf to Elf," Elladan explained. "Marriage is with Mortals, and it's until their death do we part."

Ivy watched silently while he pulled a suitcase from beneath the bed to begin tossing in clothes without bothering to fold them.

"Aw, don't look at me with those big, sad, Disney princess doe-eyes." Settling beside Ivy, Elladan hugged her tight, which only made Ivy feel even more abandoned.

"I'm okay," she said. "I just wish you didn't have to go. Especially not for such a sad reason. And really especially not in such weather. It's scary out there."

"It's not like I want to go. I have to go. Gwen and I have been together a good, long time, and we've been really happy, but she's in sixth stage Alzheimer's now, in the fords of the river."

"What does that mean?"

"She's pretty much on her death bed." Elladan shivered slightly, and Ivy could almost feel the woman's spirit pass through the room. "Her mind is long gone, and she isn't anyone I know anymore. She's such a mess."

Clutching his hand in both of hers, Ivy held on. "I'm so sorry."

"Adar warned both of us before the wedding - in Gwen's native Welsh, no less - that what we had was, 'roedd y cwbl yn freuddwyd gwrach wrth ei hewyllys' - no more real or lasting than the dream of a witch. He warned I'd have to watch her wither and die. I loved her so much, I didn't care. It's easy to make light of that end of the rainbow when you've got so much time ahead of you.

"Now, she hasn't recognized me for months. She thinks I'm just some strange guy living with her, tormenting her as I try to take care of her. Every time she sees me - even if I walk out of the room only to walk back in - she wants to know who I am and why I'm holding her prisoner. She says she wants to go home, but home for her isn't in this world any longer. Her mind has already left on a journey where I can't follow, and the rest of her body's failing now in so many ways that I know it won't be long before she passes.

"No one should die alone, so it's shameful to admit I was hoping she'd pass on while I was up here. But the nurse hasn't called to tell me she has, so I have to go back." He looked down at his fingers entwined with Ivy's and stroked the back of her hand with his thumb. "I wish she'd go. She's miserable, and it's hard to watch her suffer like that."

"How did you end up living with me that year if you were married to Gwen?" Ivy asked quietly.

"Adar knew how much you needed someone to help you that first year at uni. He doesn't trust many to look after you, so he asked me to go. And I was glad to go, so don't start thinking any 'poor Dan' thoughts."

Ivy nodded and tried to accept the truth of his words through the emotions now filling the room. "Did your wife know about me?"

"We had no secrets. She knew everything and supported my being with you."

Ivy stroked his fingers. "It must have been difficult to be apart that long."

"It was in the beginning, so Adar talked to her about you. Gwen liked kids though we never had any, and Adar explained you were like a kid getting thrown into the deep end of the pool, or a preschooler getting abandoned in a big mall somewhere. Gwen wanted to protect you then, too." Dan smiled, but Ivy thought the smile was starting to look a little wobbly.

"If there had been some way we could have explained the gay guy having a really old girlfriend, Gwen would have come and taken care of you, too. But her memory was already starting to go, so it would have been bad all around. I called her a lot to keep in touch, and she also got a lot of art done that year without me distracting her. Some of her last good work."

Elladan's eyes swam with unshed tears. "I wish you could have met because I know you'd have gotten on. Gwen painted, too - beautiful little miniature watercolors of kids and cats, ponies and landscapes from around our village. Some of them are just so tiny and so detailed at the same time, I really loved those. It's too late now for you to meet her because everything Gwen dreamed, everything she's all gone. I've been missing and mourning her for years, no matter her body's still here. My Gwen is already dead, her body just doesn't know it yet.

"Anyway..." He drew a deep breath. "The moral to this sad tale is, whatever you do, don't marry a Mortal. Adar's right, being left behind is too damn hard."

Patting Ivy's hand, Elladan released it to swipe at his eyes, then turned to peer speculatively into the depths of his bag. "Am I still taking Legolas' old coat to London?"

"Yes, thanks for remembering."

"It's not a big bear, is it?" He reached into the bag to shuffle things around.

"Not all that big. I'll get it for you." Ivy sprang up from the bed, glad to have something useful to do. Darting across the hall, she tried the door to Elrohir's room and found it unlocked. Retrieving the lumpy, tightly closed plastic bag just inside the door, she carried it across the hall.

"Could I talk you into leaving your hair dryer?" she asked. "Mine won't work with this current."

"Sure. It'll mean more room for the bear." Retrieving the appliance from the suitcase, Elladan tossed it onto the bed. "Anything else you need?"

Ivy shook her head and watched her brother struggle to fit the big plastic bag into his suitcase.

"Are you sure you want to put that in there?" she asked. "I mean, what if the plastic breaks? Won't all your clothes end up smelling like dead bear?"

"Good point." He pulled the bag out and zipped the suitcase. "You take charge of this and make sure I don't forget it."

Ivy watched Elladan shrug into a heavy wool and leather bomber jacket. "I won't see you again before going to Australia with Elrond, will I?"

"Probably not." The Elf gathered his keys, wallet and motorcycle helmet. "But it's not like you won't see me ever again. I've lived in Warra before and am planning to move back once Gwen has passed on, so you'll definitely see me there."

"Oh. Well then." That's a relief, she thought, but couldn't very well say it out loud. "Before you go, do you have any final words of wisdom about making it through the rest of the days here?"

"Poor Ivy." Setting aside the motorcycle helmet, Elladan drew her back down onto the bed. "You're far from alone, or I wouldn't be leaving."

She looked at him doubtfully, and Elladan gave her a squeeze. "Don't forget that Legolas is your first protector because of that promise he made Aragorn. Legolas may be further away than you'd like at the moment, but if Julien dares so much as to look at you wrong, Legolas will blacken both his eyes so he won't be able to see out of them for two weeks. In addition to Legolas, you've got Adar, who feels more than entitled to take care of you. He'll drive you crazy with it, just see if he doesn't."

"Because I've agreed to go back to Oz with him?" Ivy asked.

"Because you've accepted him as your father, but most of all because he loves you. You've no idea how frantic he's been about you all your life. You're within his reach now, and he'll move this world and the next to keep you safe.

"But back to Legolas. Lairg County and all it holds is pretty much his kingdom, and we're smack in the middle of it when we're in this castle. Adar sometimes tries hard to forget that, but even the great Lord Elrond has to submit to Legolas in Ithilien. That means right now you're Legolas' to hold safe, and Adar has to hang back and let your first protector do his job."

"No matter what happens?" Ivy pressed.

"No matter what happens," Elladan confirmed. "If something comes up, Adar may want to help, but he has to wait for an invitation or permission from Legolas. So if you need anything, honor Legolas' authority and ask him for it while you're here.

"The minute you leave here for Oz, Adar's care will pick up where Legolas leaves off. Don't blame me if you end up feeling stifled by the cotton wool Adar's got planned for you." Elladan gave her a crooked grin. "I doubt he'll even wait for the plane to leave the runway before wrapping you up in it. And don't forget about Glorfindel who also seems to like you - so far, anyway. You can't go wrong if he's watching from the background, because he's the most powerful among us. Nothing much suppresses, oppresses, impresses or scares him."

"So the professor got it right when he said Glorfindel's the equivalent of a Maia in everything but physical form, and that's only because Glorfindel needs a body and the Maiar don't?"

"He got it very right when it comes to the golden wonder from Gondolin."

"Wow," was all she could manage. Two powerful Elves and a mostly-Maia are lined up to baby-sit me? What in the world made Mom run away from them and throw in with Julien?

"Just try never to cry wolf or ask any of them to bring you a glass of warm milk before bed," Elladan concluded.

She laughed despite herself. "You're silly."

"On occasion." Getting to his feet, the Elf retrieved his suitcase and helmet. "You're okay, right?"

"Yeah, thanks to your little pep talk."

"Good." He wrapped his free arm around her shoulder. "Now let's find Adar so I can tell him I'm leaving."

Ivy snatched up the trash bag and borrowed hair dryer before following Elladan out of the bedroom. When her brother made a sharp left rather than head for the staircase, she swung open her own bedroom door to toss Elladan's hair dryer onto the bed and paused to watch it bounce on the quilt that was tightly stretched over multiple blankets. Huh, Bridie must have made my bed for me.

Stopping at the door next to his, Elladan rapped smartly on the wood. "Hey, Julien! Whatcha doin'?"

"Bugger off!" came the immediate, snarled answer.

"Aw, that's not very nice. Just wanted to see how you were faring after losing that vote this morning."

Julien's answer was in Elvish. It didn't sound pleasant, but Elladan laughed in delight.

"What did he say?" Ivy whispered as she stole up beside him.

"Nothing I'm going to repeat, or Adar would have my pointy ears. Let's just say Julien isn't a very happy camper right now."

"At least we know where he is."

Elladan smirked. "I knew he'd sulk after not getting his way. Hope he stays in there for a good long while."

# #

Leaving Elladan's things at the front door, Ivy and the Elf moved on to the dining hall. Elrond and Glorfindel seemed to have cornered the four female Elves who had voted for Julien, so rather than disturb his father, Elladan headed for Haldir instead.

"Hey," Elladan began, "we're here to tell you Julien's upstairs in his room pouting like the sullen brat he is, and I'm leaving for Wales."

Haldir turned from glowering at the napkins on the buffet table. "You're not staying for dinner? Or for the ceiledh, for that matter?"

"I need to be with Gwen."

"Yes, of course." Eyeing the bomber jacket and tight black leather gloves Elladan was fishing out of its narrow pockets, Haldir asked, "You're going back on the bike?"

"That's how I got here, yeah."

"That monstrosity isn't safe in this weather," Haldir protested. "Your father will never allow it."

"Allow what?"

Ivy jumped to find the Elf-lord suddenly at her elbow. "You sneak really good."

"My pardon." His hand at her back was reassuring. "What would I never allow?"

"Elladan must leave us early and expects to ride his motorbike in this weather all the way back to Cilycwm," Haldir relayed.

"Not all the way. The weather is bound to improve once I get off this hill, and I'm stopping off in London."

"Can you not delay with the rest of us until the storm clears?" asked Elrond.

"Gwen needs me," came the quiet answer, which seemed to explain everything, Ivy noted. "As for the bike, I have to go as I came, don't I? I'm certainly not walking home."

"You can leave the motorbike and take my Range Rover. I'll get the keys and bring it round." The marchwarden headed off without waiting for Elladan's response, only to turn back. "Make sure to sign a proxy over to your father before you leave to cover this afternoon's voting."

"Sign a proxy. Right."

"You will need provisions in case you are delayed or stranded in the snow," said Elrond. "Haldir, could you please ask Erestor to see to it?"

"Of course."

Snatching a linen napkin from the buffet, Elladan prowled the drawers of the sideboard behind the table until he found a pen. Quickly scribbling the demanded proxy, he shoved the linen at his father. "It's snowing hard again. If I don't leave soon, I'm not going to get out."

Ivy trailed after both Elves as they headed down the corridor to the front door.

"Gwen can't be left alone at all now," said Elladan. "It being this close to Christmas, I was only able to get a nurse to stay with her until tomorrow afternoon."

"I understand, but wish it were otherwise."

That makes two of us, thought Ivy.

Picking up the motorcycle helmet beside his suitcase, Elladan thrust it at Ivy. "Could you ask Haldir to keep this with the bike? I won't be needing it after all."

"Sure." She set the helmet on the bottom stair as Wendy came tearing down from above.

"Elladan! Wait! Oh, wait just a moment!" She clattered perilously down the staircase in her dainty heels, clutching at the banister to stop her controlled fall. "Oh, sweetie, Haldir just messaged me to say you're leaving for Wales in the Rover."

"I am."

"Drop me in London on the way?" she asked, blue eyes wide and guileless.

"Sorry, no."

"But I simply have to get back!"

"But I simply am not taking you."

Grabbing his suitcase, Elladan followed his father through the front door and down the stone steps. Not wanting to miss anything as Wendy darted out into the cold after them, Ivy followed with the plastic bag containing her bearskin coat. A blast of snowflakes hit her face and she shivered as the icy wind streaked without mercy through her heavy sweater.

Wendy tottered after Elladan. "But why not?"

"Because it's safe and warm here, and you'll be well taken care of."

Vacating the driver's seat, Haldir left the car running. Clapping Elladan on the shoulder, he said, "There's a hamper of food in the back, along with a hot flask of tea and a bottle of good brandy. A couple of blankets are there as well."


"Safe trip home. Just bring my Rover back in one piece, please?"

Haldir hurried back into the house while Elladan opened the back door and shoved his case inside. Darting between him and the Range Rover, Ivy pushed in her plastic bag.

"All tucked in safe? I'll take good care of Mr. Bear, never fear." Elladan patted Ivy on the head before rounding on Wendy who was tugging on his sleeve. "Look, I have to get back but you don't. I'm taking a huge chance traveling in this weather."

"I'm more than willing to take the chance with you. I'm sure you're a good driver, and I must make the holiday sales!"

"No. I'm not about to endanger you for the sake of Gooey and Pravda."

"That's Gucci and Prada, you idiot!"

"Exactly." Elladan slammed the car door. "There's no guarantee I'll even make it out of the Highlands safely. Call me whatever names you like, but if I get stuck on the side of some road, the last thing I want to worry about is your survival as well as my own. You'll stay here and wait for the storm to clear, just like you've done every other year."

"Oh, you are an evil wretch!" Wendy spat. Shoving past Ivy, she stalked back into the house and slammed the door.

"She likely just locked the two of you out," said Elladan.

"Very likely." Coming up behind Ivy, Elrond encircled her in his arms, which also had the effect of wrapping her up in his robes. His very warm, voluminous robes. "What are you doing out here without a coat?"

"Freezing," she said cheerfully through chattering teeth before opening her arms to Elladan. "Group hug good-bye?"

"Group hug," the Elf agreed, stepping up to wrap himself around her and his father.

This is nice, Ivy thought. Too bad it's not under happier circumstances.

"Call tonight when you get home," Elrond's baritone vibrated against Ivy's back.

"I have a couple of errands to run in London, so I'll stay tonight at The Berkeley," Elladan rumbled against her front. "It's going to take until after midnight for me to get to Knightsbridge."

"Then call from the hotel and again when you get home tomorrow."

"Will do."

Giving Ivy a final, hard hug that took her breath away, Elladan kissed her forehead with cold lips and slipped behind the wheel.

"Safe journey, my son."

"Talk to you soon." A final wave, and Elladan was gone in a swirl of snowflakes.

"Shall we see if Wendy did indeed lock us out?" Keeping an arm around Ivy, Elrond continued lending his warmth as they ascended the steps up to the door. Trying the doorknob, the Elf-lord pushed it open. "Quickly now, in with you."

She needed no further encouragement to return to the relative warmth of the stone castle.

"...refused to take me to London! He's driving that great, with plenty of room for me, but he refused! Can you believe that?"

Ivy glanced up to see Wendy standing with Julien at the top of the stairs.

"Stop whinging, sister," he murmured. "We've an audience."

Locking gazes with Julien, Ivy tried hard to stare him down, but he only narrowed his gaze and looked down his nose at her. Taking Wendy by the elbow, he hurried her out of sight.

"So they are both upstairs," Elrond murmured. "That leaves the field clear for Glorfindel and Haldir to talk with the others. As for us, you need to get warm, and we both need some lunch before the session begins."

Ignoring the Elf-lord's hand at her waist that was gently urging her to move forward, Ivy stared up at the space the Elven brother and sister had vacated. "You know, I just realized I've seen Julien before this weekend."


"He knocked on my front door in San Francisco a few weeks ago," Ivy said absently, still staring at the top of the stairs. "Didn't identify himself, but asked for my mother. Didn't seem to believe me and tried to shove inside after I said she wasn't there. That frightened me, so I slammed the door on his foot. I grabbed an umbrella from the hall stand and was getting ready to stab his toes when he finally gave up."

"Indeed." Elrond's grip on her waist tightened, and his entire body suddenly seemed to loom larger, more protective.

Alarmed, Ivy looked up at the Elf-lord, only to meet storm-grey eyes that had gone very cold. "Have I made an enemy of Julien? Is it safe for me to go home again after I voted against him?"

"I do not know the answer to that. I do know he had no business being on your doorstep. You are coming home with me to Warra, so the matter is of no immediate consequence as Julien cannot follow you there. But his intrusion and lack of manners in San Francisco will be addressed, and he will be kept far away from you in the future."

Ivy shook her head, disbelieving. "How can you possibly control where he goes in this world?"

"We have our ways, up to and including preventing his leaving Britain."

"What, you're going to steal his passport?"

Elrond inclined his head. "If need be, we will have it revoked. Legolas and I will see to it."

"You've got that much power at your fingertips?"

"That and more when it is necessary." Retrieving Elladan's motorcycle helmet from the stairway, Elrond took Ivy's hand to lead her down the corridor. "Come, daughter. There are things we must tend before the meeting resumes."


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