Ivy's musings were cut short when Elrond stepped into the room. The door closed soundlessly behind him, and the little theater seemed to shrink, in part because he wasn't small and his presence was commanding, but also because Ivy's total attention and immediate worry narrowed to only him.

I know he said he wasn't angry with me earlier, she thought, but is he still angry in general? And is that temper going to turn my way any time soon?

Her stomach lurched as his gaze found hers, and it seemed that he was as focused on her as she was on him. Wary, she stayed by the fireplace while Elrond walked slowly toward her, his robes flowing with inevitable grace. Gathering them, he claimed the black loveseat nearby, leaned forward to brace his arms on his thighs, and regarded her gravely. Ivy didn't dare move, regardless her backside was overheating.

"Haldir assures me the movie is about to begin." He spoke so quietly, there wasn't a prayer of anyone else in the room overhearing his words. "Would you care to join me?"

"I'm...the fire's so warm, I think I'll stay here for now," she returned just as quietly. No matter her refusal to join him, she still seemed unable to break the gaze he held with her.

Elrond looked distressed at her answer, but it could have been the dim lighting giving her that impression. Regarding her evenly, he made no comment. That in itself was alarming, as Ivy could never have imagined the great Lord Elrond at a loss for words, yet she seemed to have had that effect on him twice in the last hour.

"Very well," he eventually managed. "Are you in pain?"

"In pain?" Aside from my behind, which must be smoking by now?

"When I held onto you earlier, you said I was hurting you." His eyes were filled with anguish.

"I'm fine." She rushed to reassure him. "A lot tougher than I look. It wasn't a physical kind of hurt, really. I mean, Julien bruised my wrist when we wrestled last night, but you just startled me. "

Nodding solemnly, Elrond didn't seem at all reassured. Looking away as the lights dimmed and the movie began, he stared at the screen. Ivy suspected he wasn't at all interested in the props auction opening the musical.

Come to that, neither am I. The vibes coming from Elrond did far more to command her attention. If he's this miserable thinking he hurt me, how can I be afraid of his temper on my behalf? He really wasn't angry at me earlier, just...angry.

She felt far too young and inexperienced to handle troubled, ancient Elf-lords, never mind her own worries in the moment. Legolas, wherever you are, I think now would be a good time for you to show up and rescue me again.

Alas, her miraculous guardian from Mirkwood didn't leap through the door. Even though she had glanced hopefully in its direction, it remained solidly closed in a most soundproof kind of way.

I didn't think he'd show up, she groused. All right, Ivy, you can do this. Think of something - anything - to say to diffuse this...whatever it is. Like you did out in the stable. Like you did in the hallway. Three time's the charm, right? C'mon, think!

Elrond still wasn't looking at her, which made it a little easier for her to force her feet to move, to cover the distance between the fireplace and the loveseat. Not feeling brave enough to actually sit down next to the Elf-lord, she perched on the wide arm of the couch.

I hope he's not inclined to yell like Mom did when I abused the furniture. I saw Alasse sit like this earlier, so at least I know it won't break.

Ignoring the movie as the melodramatic organ overture bellowed forth, Ivy regarded Elrond until he reluctantly turned his head to look at her once more. The open guilt in his eyes twisted her heart so badly, she couldn't breathe for a moment.

Waiting for the overture to be over, she said, "We need to talk, don't we?"

"I believe so," came the careful answer, "but I am not certain you wish to speak with me any longer."

Ivy remembered hearing someone - probably Dan during one of their discussions of the art in the Rings books - refer to Elrond as the saddest Elf in Middle-earth.

He's lost nearly everyone he loves, Ivy remembered. Both of his parents while he was only a toddler. His twin brother to mortality and his wife to the heartbreaking aftermath of an Orc attack. His only daughter to Aragorn, and Aragorn to his own, inevitable death. The twins never followed their Dad Oversea, and even Rivendell's valley was claimed and made ugly by Men. I can't imagine what else he's lost.

Is he worried about losing me? she wondered. I can't imagine why keeping me around would be so important, but he's not exactly drowning in Queen's Daughters, so is that part of why he gets so fierce whenever something seems to threaten me?

"Is your offer still open?" She pointed to the cushion next to him.

Giving a solemn nod, he swept aside his robes for her.

"Thank you." Sliding from the arm of the couch and onto the seat beside him, she sank almost frighteningly deep into the cushions. Summoning a smile, she said, "My grandfather used to say, 'I ain't never heard, seen nor smelled an issue so dangerous it couldn't be talked about.' I don't know who he was quoting."

That seemed to startle Elrond, or at least it dissolved his sorrowful expression for a moment. "One of your Americans, no doubt, given his or her lack of proper English grammar."

Turning toward her, Elrond spread his hands in entreaty. "Ivy, please allow me to apologize for my appalling behavior earlier this afternoon. I allowed my fury with Julien to boil over until you had no choice but to think I was angry with you."

She shook her head. "I understand that. You don't owe me an apology."

"I most certainly do." He touched her hand lightly before drawing away as though he feared she might break. "My temper has threatened more than one of my relationships over the years, and I would hate for it to have destroyed, in only a few seconds, the new friendship you and I have forged."

"Wouldn't Julien love that," she muttered with an irony she hadn't felt until that moment.

Elrond gave her a sharp look. "Indeed?"

"Yeah, I think so," she said slowly, "though the thought didn't occur to me until just now."

Pausing as Haldir slipped inside the room, Ivy watched him pace alongside the seats to take his place in the front row, next to Verce.

"Will anyone mind if we talk during the movie?" asked Ivy once the marchwarden was out of hearing.

"I doubt it. They all chatter constantly, and so shouldn't have anything to say if we choose to talk as well."

"Good." She squirmed sideways on the loveseat, the better to look at him without twisting her neck. "You're probably way ahead of me on everything regarding Julien, but I need to try figuring out some stuff on my own. Do you mind if I think out loud for a few minutes?"

"Not at all." Reclining against the plush back of the loveseat, Elrond divided his attention between the action onscreen and Ivy, waiting patiently while she gathered her thoughts while Erik took Christine far beneath the Paris Opéra.

Drawing a deep breath, she began. "Stream of consciousness time, okay? And it may be scrambled because I'm feeling kind of wiped out with everything that's happened today."

"All right."

To keep track of things, she began ticking them off on her fingers. "The fiasco in the hall happened in the first place because I was afraid of Julien. When you grabbed me, I was afraid you were mad at me, but I don't think I was actually afraid of you. I was feeling attacked by Julien's threats, so I reacted. Now I think you may be afraid I'll run away because of your temper. But I'm wondering if any of this matters in the long run."

Tilting his head thoughtfully, Elrond matched her soft tone. "How can Julien's latest assault and my frightening you not matter?"

"Because your being mad isn't what got to me. What got to me was thinking I might have done something to make you angry with me. But Legolas and you have both said you weren't mad at me, so that should be the end of it - unless I want to elevate what happened earlier to a higher level than it deserves, right?"

Elrond arched an eyebrow. "A higher level?"

"Maybe that should be a lower level," she pondered.

"I am not certain I understand."

"Give it more importance than it warrants," she explained with a shrug. "Make something more out of it than it should be."

Elrond still looked dubious, so Ivy took a deep breath and tried again.

"Okay, let's say I cringe every time you walk into the room because I'm afraid you'll get angry and grab me again. And you keep feeling bad because you're sorry you showed me how hot your temper is. So we end up moving further apart every time we see each other and for no real reason. I think Julien would love to be able to drive that sort of a wedge between us," she concluded.

Elrond was listening closely. "I think you are very right."

"Really?" She couldn't hide her delight. "You know, before you came in here, I was this close to letting Julien still get to me even though you've got him down and drugged. But what was I supposed to do? Decide you're dangerous to be around because you've got a temper? Change my mind about going to Warra with you? Go back home as soon as the storm's over and pick up where my boring life left off, and hope and pray I can get a job in an art gallery instead of McDonald's? Pretend Elves aren't real until next June when I have to come back here?"

"I would not blame you at this point if you wished to go back to the relative safety of the Mortal world," Elrond said carefully.

"But that would mean I'd have to ignore your rescuing me from Julien last night, and forget how tightly you hugged me in Haldir's parlor, and how safe I felt with you even after his flaky cherubs tried to hurt us. The staircase incident aside, I like being with you. I feel safe with you," she admitted slowly, realizing the truth of it even as she spoke. "I still feel safe with you."

The mournful look was back despite her assurances, and Elrond shook his head. "We have subjected you to many other things this week and most likely will continue doing so. I must warn that not all of those things will be pleasant."

"But no one's life is all lollipops and sunshine is it?" she protested. "Mortal reality has its down moments, and that's just the way it is. Is life with Elves the same?"

"It is."

Shrugging, she let the truth of that settle into her psyche as well.

"My time with you hasn't been that bad. No, really, it hasn't," she insisted off his patently disbelieving look. "It's turning out to be a real adventure, and I can't wait to see what happens next. It's not like it's going to be boring."

Elrond said nothing, but his dubious expression clearly said he was still not convinced, and Ivy sensed she needed to ward off any argument he might be preparing.

"I'll admit that part of me is still feeling a little panicked," she confessed, "but that's not because of you. I mean...okay, you've got a wicked temper, but so has my favorite stallion to draw. He'll lunge like a demon from hell and hit the fence and snap at me with those big teeth clacking in my face, but he's still the most beautiful creature I know, and he's an absolute dream to paint."

Elrond's look was one of incredulous horror.

"He doesn't really mean me any harm," Ivy rushed on, "he's just showing off how fierce he can be. It's horse-macho stuff, and he makes me laugh with it, because he's really a marshmallow inside."

Elrond laughed softly despite himself. "I think I can promise to never lunge at you like a demon or snap my teeth at you. But if you are not frightened of my temper, then what is bothering you still?"

"Julien," came the adamant answer. Giving a shiver, she slipped her hand impulsively beneath his.

Instantly wrapping his fingers around her cold ones, Elrond managed to entirely engulf her in warmth and security.

"Julien got there first and gave me a nasty blast," she continued. "The more encounters I have with him, the worse it gets. He's started feeling like some sort of crazymaker who's right up there with my grandmother - nuts for the sake of being nuts. He definitely doesn't deserve to have any influence on you and me. Right?"

"I quite agree." His smile finally reached his eyes to drive all the worry away. "We are friends again, then? And you are still coming with me to Warra?"

"I wouldn't miss it for anything." She leaned against the Elf-lord, who released her hand to slide his arm around her shoulders and hug her close.

Melting into the hug, she returned it. "Julien messed with my head, so it took me a few minutes to realize it made no sense for me not to blink an eye when Legolas goes all Third-Age warrior on New York clerks and irritating London Elves, but I was feeling wary because you demanded to know what Julien did to me."

"The operative word, I believe, is 'demanded'," Elrond noted. Closing her eyes, Ivy enjoyed the way his voice rumbled against her. "You were already upset. You deserved to be treated with much more gentleness than I displayed."

Ivy grimaced. "Julien brings out the worst in all of us, doesn't he?"

"It seems that way. But my child..." Drawing back slightly, Elrond cast her a serious look. "I know it must have been entertaining for you to read about fantasy Elves when you were younger, but we are truly nothing like that. I am not a benign librarian tending musty old books and presiding over endless, elegant banquets."

"I know that." Lifting her head, she startled the Elven lord with a grin. Daring to hug him tightly, she subsided back against him and closed her eyes. "I know you ruled Imladris for thousands of years and commanded armies, and bore Vilya through two ages. Facing Sauron and bearing a ring of power had to take somebody stronger than a librarian."

"Perhaps. But words like that are still exceedingly limited. They can only mean very little to you."

"But you'll teach me, right?" Craving his warmth and solid strength, she snuggled even closer. "I figure that even if Vilya is dead, you're still an authoritative, dominant Elf-lord, and your authority is going to manifest all over the place sometimes. Like this afternoon, when it felt like it manifested all over me."

"I am, and it most likely will," he confirmed. "But as Legolas pointed out earlier, I would never hurt you."

"I believe you. And I believe in you."

If Legolas is action, Elrond's intuition, she realized. When Elrond grabbed me, he blasted his emotions like some sort of scatter shot and I think I absorbed them emotionally. I was already vulnerable because of Julien, so Elrond just caught me at a bad moment. And I caught Elrond at a bad moment, too. Now that I know what's going on, I can brace for it the next time he's angry. She shivered.

"You are cold?"

"A little. The fire's too far away."

Shifting slightly, Elrond brought a good bit of robe and both his arms around her to wrap her up in a cocoon of Elven warmth. Sighing, she allowed herself to relax against him.

He needs this, to take care of me and assure himself I'm not running away, she told herself, though it was very nice to stay right where she was even without a reason. Elrond's calm, steady breathing was reassuring. So was the way he tightened his grip on her.

"It's strange," she murmured against the soft raw wool beneath her cheek, "but I swear I can feel your relief and affection as clearly as I felt your fury. I can deal with that."

"Avo 'osto," Elrond murmured.

You don't fear, her tired mind translated.

"No, I don't." Sighing, she snuggled closer as Elrond's cheek rested against the top of her head. No matter the prima donna and her yowling poodle on screen, Ivy relaxed and was contented for the first time in days.



Ivy awoke some time later to the slow awareness that the singing had stopped. Further observations that crawled into her sleepy mind was that there was nothing but blessed silence in this room and that she was warm and comfy as she hadn't been since she arrived. The next discovery was that someone was slowly stroking her hair.

That brought awareness back in a sudden rush. A quick inventory of sensation informed her that she was stretched out across the loveseat, and that she was snuggled beneath a heavy quilt. Opening her eyes, she saw that the screening room was dark and still, devoid now of the Phantom, Haldir, and the ellith. The fire had burned down to glowing embers, which gave Ivy a good idea of how long she had been napping. And Elrond still sat with her.

Oh, no, she thought. I meant to close my eyes for only a moment.

Her panic was easily routed as the Elven lord's calm enveloped her, and the quilt kept her so warm that she struggled to not go back to sleep. Her eyelids wanted to slide shut again in the fire-lit room, but she fought the urge.

Could close us again, the inside of her eyelids teased. It'd be easy. Just for another couple of minutes....

Even as her breathing started to slow into easy sleep, she was startled to feel the rhythm of Elrond's deep, steady breathing against her back. She was even more astonished to discover her arm was draped casually across his knees.

I can't be lying with my head in his lap? A moment's reflection confirmed that was exactly what she was doing. Oh no...this is too surreal for words.

"How did I get down here?" she murmured, trying harder to wake up completely.

"You were leaning against my shoulder as we talked earlier," came the quiet answer. "I must have worn you out, for you fell asleep mid-sentence and continued leaning until it seemed expedient to let you lie down."

"Huh." Leaning? I kind of remember leaning against that big shoulder of his, but that doesn't explain how I ended up with my head in his lap.

At least he doesn't seem to mind sitting in the cold with me sprawled across him, she reflected. Still, I'm a little shocked by this, and I'm sure he doesn't usually sit around with people's heads in his lap, so I should get up.

I really should get up right now, she ordered herself, but her mellow, traitorous body refused to obey that directive. Sighing in defeat, she snuggled down to take shameless advantage of Elrond's calm strength and security for a few minutes more.

He feels so very big and safe to be near, she thought. I don't think I'm particularly small, but I feel dwarfed next to him. She smiled a secret smile against his thigh. That's not a bad thing at all. And he's still stroking my hair.

"You really need to stop doing that," she said drowsily.

His touch disappeared abruptly. "You dislike my touching you?"

"No," she hastened to assure him. "It makes me feel as safe as anything, but if you keep doing it, I'll never wake up."

"There is still some time to pass before supper, and I do not mind guarding your sleep." He went back to carding his fingers through her hair.

"But I don't want to sleep," she protested, trying hard to fight the hypnotic affect of that wonderful touch. "I want to talk to you some more."

"Then I haven't frightened you away?"

"Not yet. Are you planning to?"

"Certainly not." His hand cupped her shoulder, and his fingers were so long they completely engulfed it along with a good portion of her collarbone. "How are you coping with the labyrinth of emotions and events we are asking you to navigate this week?"

She thought for a moment. The polite answer would be, 'Fine,' but Legolas said I should speak my mind. "I was thinking earlier that I wanted nothing more than some time by myself to think over everything that's happened."

Tension took his entire body, and she winced slightly as that included the strong finger pads pressing acutely into her collarbone. Talk about instant reactions.

"You wish me to leave you alone?" he murmured.

"No, silly." Ivy patted his knee reassuringly, and the pressure of his fingers lessened immediately as if by magic. "I was feeling a little crowded by the others earlier, but I'm okay with you or Legolas. And Glorfindel. Which is weird, because except for that year with Dan, I've been on my own. I got used to being alone, and I've been okay with that. Mostly."

"Mostly." Elrond sounded so neutral, Ivy couldn't tell whether he thought she was putting a brave face on things or if he agreed with her.

Yawning, she made the supreme effort of commanding her body to move. After a molasses-like struggle to sit up, her effort to push aside the warmth of her coverings turned into a real fight as she wrestled with the tangled quilt engulfing her.

Exasperated, she abandoned her flailing to glare at Elrond. "Somebody didn't want me escaping this thing anytime soon, did they?"

Chuckling softly, he helped her out of the quilted snare. "Haldir does seem to have tucked you in with great enthusiasm."

"Figures it was him," she groused. "He doesn't do anything by halves, does he?"

Bringing up her stockinged feet, Ivy perched on the loveseat's high arm. Facing Elrond, she shivered as the castle's ever-present chill crept in to replace her lovely warmth. Snatching back the quilt, she wrapped it around her. "I'll bet Haldir stole my boots too, so I wouldn't get his loveseat dirty."

"You would win that bet, but your boots did not go far. They are sitting on the floor next to me."

"How could he take my boots without waking me up? That's embarrassing." Finger-combing her hair and stifling a yawn, she said, "I feel like that cat who fell asleep on the cardinal's lap, and he wouldn't move - not even when his legs went numb - until she woke up." Her gaze sought his in sudden horror. "Are your legs numb?"

"I assure you my legs are just fine." Shifting, Elrond stretched his arm out across the back of the couch and tilted his head. "Your cardinal's pet sounds like Pangur, a cat who once claimed my library in Warra."

"Pangur?..." she echoed. "Why does that name sound familiar?"

"Perhaps because he was named after another Pangur made famous by the scribblings of an anonymous eighth-century Irish scribe." Arching an eyebrow, Elrond quoted, "'I and Pangur Ban my cat, 'tis a like task we are at. Hunting mice is his delight, hunting words I sit all night. Practice every day has made Pangur perfect in his trade; I get wisdom day and night, turning darkness into light.'"

Hugging her knees, Ivy laughed in delight. "Getting wisdom day and night? Oh, that sounds like you."

"I doubt that, but Pangur seemed an appropriate name for the him at the time."

"Where did you get him?" she asked.

"He was born a barn cat, but failed to thrive as he was half the size of his siblings who shoved him out of line at nursing time. Glorfindel watched his struggles and grew distressed, and so he carried the kitten to me and laid him in my hands when he was little more than a ball of black fluff with worried blue eyes." Elrond's eyes crinkled into a smile at the memory, and Ivy could only imagine how tiny the kitten must have looked cradled in the Elven lord's huge palms.

"I bottle-fed him, and he grew to be a most impressive tomcat," said Elrond. "He also became quite attached to my library and made quite a nuisance of himself. Climbed straight to the top of the highest bookcases, quite out of reach and the lord of all he surveyed. Jumped regularly in the middle of my papers and scraped them off as he wished to stretch out across my desk."

"But you love him, I can tell. That's so sweet."

Elrond gave a sad smile. "Pangur is many long years gone now."

"Oh. I'm sorry." Leaning forward, she cast about for some subject to distract the Elf-lord from such a poignant memory. "Forgive me, but I'm about to ask an impertinent question. Do you happen to have a...thing...about watching people sleep?"


"You know - a fetish?"

Elrond's expression fell somewhere between amused and horrified. "Fetish? I certainly do not. Whatever would inspire you to ask me that?"

"Dan told me about your sneaking in and watching me sleep yesterday, and here you are watching me sleep again today. It's made me very suspicious."

"Trust my son to help make you suspicious." Elrond's tone was dry. "I do not have a sleeping fetish, or a watching fetish, or whatever you care to call this - nor any other sort of fetish for that matter. When we arrived yesterday, I wished to assure myself you were all right. As for today, your body was obviously demanding a much-needed rest, which comes as no surprise considering the many stresses our merry band has subjected you to."

The Elf-lord scowled. "I feel contented that you trust me enough to fall asleep in my presence, and no small satisfaction at finally being able to watch over you - asleep or awake - as your mother kept you from me for so many years. Your nap this afternoon has also afforded me with some much-needed quiet time to think."

Ivy didn't bother hiding her surprise. "You need quiet time to think?"

"Always." His frown deepened. "I do think, you know."

"I know you do. I didn't mean it like it sounded. It's need alone time, too? That's a surprise. Did you have to lock the door to get them to leave us alone?"

"Of course not. I simply ordered everyone to leave when the movie was over."

Ivy couldn't tell if he was joking or not. He's probably serious, she decided. He must like his privacy, and nobody has dared interrupt us.

"So where did everyone go after you got rid of them?"

"Downstairs to have a drink and find other amusements until supper is ready." Elrond calmly awaited her next question.

"Why is it we've only just met, but I don't feel at all awkward with you?" she mused. "I don't usually feel comfortable with anybody - except Dan, and he had to work at it for a couple of weeks." She gave him a sidelong glance, suddenly worried. "You're not just being really polite or extremely paternal with me, are you?"

"No, I really am not," he confirmed.

"I didn't think so." She couldn't help the small sigh of relief that escaped. "You don't feel like Mom felt to me whenever she stopped listening and wanted to move on to something else." Ivy shook her head. "No matter what, she was always thinking of the next thing she wanted to do."

"I would never do you such a disservice."

"Disservice?" She puzzled that over. "I don't know what that means. Wait, I know what the word means, but I don't understand the context you're using it in."

"It means I would never hurt you as I believe others have done. Would it not be unspeakably cruel for me to invite you into our strange new world and expect you to navigate it without any advice or help?"

"Mom did," Ivy pointed out quietly.

"I find that unforgivable. So do Legolas or the others." His warm grey eyes regarded her evenly.

"You really don't mind looking after me or endlessly answering my questions?" she asked.

"Not at all. I chafed a great many years at not being able to do so, and no one else in recent memory has allowed me such ongoing liberties in the art of conversation."


Elrond smiled. "No one but you wishes to hear me talk."

"I love hearing you talk, never mind the things you tell me. And I came in at the middle of the movie, remember? I need lots of exposition." Ivy was amazed at the Elf-lord's seemingly endless patience, especially since she now knew it was all wrapped up in a tall, powerful package of quick-to-anger. "Why in the world didn't Mom tell me about you, along with Haldir?"

"For reasons I have never quite understood, your mother seems to find me intimidating and easier to ignore than to deal with. Julien and Wendy are much more to her liking."

"Oh yeah, I can see that. Intimidating you can be, and Wendy likes to shop. But I like you," Ivy reassured him hastily, "and I do not like Julien. At all. Jury's still out about Wendy. She's a bit odd, somehow."

"Indeed? I do not intimidate you?"

"Not at the moment. Right now, you feel comfy."

He gave a solemn nod, but Ivy saw the smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "May you always fine me...comfy."

"So..." she ventured cautiously, "would now be a good time to ask a couple of questions that have been bothering me?"

"It would."

"Okay. So...could you maybe tell me what happened to the other Queen's Daughters?"

"That would be an all-night proposition." Settling himself more comfortably on the loveseat, Elrond continued. "Most Queen's Daughters did not wish to live as Elves, and their full history among Men is contained in my library at Warra. You may read it as soon as you've mastered Sindarin."

"Oh, great," she said, keenly disappointed. "That'll take months."

"Which is why I am quite willing to give you the short version this evening. Determined to marry Mortals and have families, prior Queen's Daughters - including your mother - have found it extremely difficult to watch their husbands and children die in the fulfillment of Mortal time. Most daughters' minds have not been suited to cope with immortality, and so each has become ever more weary of this world and burdened by its sorrows."

"So they just…die? Just like that?" Ivy asked.

"Most simply fade away," Elrond said, his eyes full of sorrow, "but a few have met less peaceful deaths."

A chill having nothing to do with the temperature of the room ran up Ivy's spine. "Less peaceful, how?"

"Your great-grandmother Violet Hamilton is a case in point. A music hall singer in New York, she informed her Mortal lover, Danny Sheets, that she preferred performing to marrying him, when in truth she knew tying herself to him would only end in tears. This, regardless the fact that, as a public performer, her eternal youth was beginning to be remarked upon as she lived before the excuse of plastic surgery was an option," Elrond added sourly. "Once denied, Danny stabbed Violet in a fit of jealousy and then killed himself with their three-year-old daughter - your grandmother Isabel - looking on. Police found the toddler sitting in her mother's blood."

Ivy gasped. "Poor grandmother, that's terrible! I can't believe I just said that about someone who wrecked my family, but nobody ever told me about that part of her history. It's awful, even for crazy Granny Isabel."

"That is life among Mortals." Elrond murmured, seemingly caught between his natural compassion and the memory of Isabel at her tyrannical worst. "Legolas was determined to whisk young Isabel away from the madness, but her mother's brother - a Mortal, of course, who knew nothing of Greenwood or the existence of Elves - became Isabel's guardian a few days before Legolas' ship steamed into New York."

"Do you think she remembered her father killing her mother?" asked Ivy.

Elrond hesitated. "It might be argued that a Mortal toddler would not be permanently traumatized by seeing her mother murdered, but that was disproved toward the end of the twentieth century. Even babies seem to remember a great deal - most certainly the emotions they experience while witnessing such a horrific crime.

"Isabel was not a Mortal toddler," he pointed out, "and yes, she remembered and was deeply affected by the violence and loss. Legolas and I knew she was desperately in need of help, yet because of Mortal law and her uncle's interference, we were unable to do anything but watch from a distance while she grew up."

"As you watched me?"

Elrond nodded. "And so, Isabel received no help in coping with her traumatic memories. Even worse, she knew nothing of her Elven heritage until she left her uncle's home at eighteen and moved to New Haven to work as a billing clerk for the Connecticut District Telephone Company."

"Were you the one who told her about the Elven connection?"

"Alas, no. She spent her lunch hours in a small diner near her place of work, and Legolas arranged to frequent the same establishment. One day, the diner was crowded and he asked if she would care to join him at his table. Thus began the casual friendship that eventually enabled him to reveal to Isabel her heritage."

"Sneaky Elf."

"He is that," Elrond agreed. "Isabel's childhood had not been a pleasant one under the care of her uncle, and while Legolas apologized and explained at length the reasons he could not contact her before she had reached her majority...I don't believe your grandmother ever forgave him for not riding up on a white charger, in full armor, and spiriting her away for us to raise."

Ivy wrinkled her nose. "That sounds like the sort of unrealistic fantasy she would have expected. But what sort of relationship did you end up having with Isabel?"

"The same as with many other Queen's Daughters - I saw her at our board meetings every six months and tried to remain close to her," Elrond said quietly. "But more often than not my help has not been wanted, and such was the case with Isabel."

Elrond's smile was bittersweet. "As a rule, it seems my expectations are far too high. I will endeavor not to make the same mistake with you. In most cases, Legolas has acted as each daughter's guardian and point of contact with our Elven world."

"Does that mean I'm supposed to deal with Legolas after my visit to Warra, and not with you?" she asked carefully. I've only just found Elrond, and now I'm not supposed to even talk to him?

"No!" came the firm, almost explosive reply, which jolted Ivy into staring at him in sudden alarm. "You are my daughter, and no one can deny you the right to interact with me. Only you can deny me the right to see and speak with you."

"Oh good, 'cause that is so not going to happen."

He smiled before squeezing her knee in simple affection. "Agreed."

"Has Legolas..." She squirmed, not wanting and yet wanting - needing - to know the answer to her next question. "I mean, what has been his relationship with the other...."

"Has Legolas gotten himself emotionally entangled with any Queen's Daughter other than Isabel Hamilton?" Elrond finished for her. "No."

Whew, she thought.

"In time, you will discover that Legolas is still very much a Mirkwood wildling at heart." Elrond thought for a moment. "You are familiar with Kipling's, 'The Cat That Walked By Himself'?"

"I remember reading it as a child," she said, uncertain where Elrond was going.

"Well, that is Legolas," said the Elf-lord. "He will protect the Queen's Daughters and run himself ragged earning outrageous amounts of money to keep safe his clansmen and all of the Elves left in this world. He will preside at Lairg's ceilidhs and be kind to all of the Mortal children when he is at-home, as long as they do not pull his tail too hard.

"'But when he has done that, and between times,'" quoted Elrond, modulating his voice much lower and speaking very deliberately, "'when the moon gets up and night comes, he is the Cat That Walks By Himself, and all places are alike to him. Then he goes out to the Wet Wild Woods or up the Wet Wild Trees or on the Wet Wild Roofs, waving his wild tail and walking by his wild lone.'"

Ivy burst out laughing.

Elrond was smiling as well. "You don't believe me?"

"I'm having a hard time seeing Legolas waving his tail." She giggled. "But I think you might be right about the rest of it."

"I am right. You'll see." He sounded smug. "For that very reason, if for no other, it was more than startling when Legolas involved himself with Isabel."

Ivy worried a corner of the quilt. "Do you know exactly why he was attracted to her?"

Elrond considered the question. "Initially, I believe it was because she was vulnerable and needed him. The affair began when Isabel asked him for help, not only in dealing with us, but in forming a life for herself. She was very naïve about the world, and Legolas longed to protect her from all future harm. Isabel presented well at the beginning. She was young and fresh, beautiful and glittering, and she quite lit up the room when she entered it."

At Ivy's dubious expression, Elrond nodded.

"Yes, your grandmother could be very charismatic when she wanted to be, and Legolas became quite taken with her. In the early days, any road, until her instability and meanness began rearing their ugly little heads - which unfortunately took very little time to manifest after she encountered the world of Elves.

"She found all of us very strange and felt so inferior that she began fighting - most especially with Legolas - to be what she perceived as our equal. She tested him incessantly, played endlessly with his emotions, and in a matter of days had evolved into quite the prima donna. There was no pleasing her, and Glorfindel despaired of watching her abuse his son, but there was nothing for it except to let Legolas ride the train that was Isabel until it crashed."

"So there haven't been any other women in Legolas' life at all?" Ivy asked, sick at heart over her grandmother's tormenting him.

"Not in any serious sense, for he has always found it difficult to trust anyone. Legolas is not like Elladan or others who have successfully forged a relationship or two with Mortal women over the centuries. I believe Legolas has had quite enough of watching loved ones die, first in Gondor and Ithilien and more recently here in Lairg. Watching Aragorn and his other friends die was painful enough. He has no wish to repeat the experience, yet his commitment to the village below even now ensures he cannot escape such losses entirely. Why should he wish for additional sorrow in the form of more intimate entanglements with a Mortal wife and children?"

"I see what you mean. Have you ever gotten involved with a Mortal woman?" Ivy couldn't resist asking.

"No." From the baleful look Elrond gave her, Ivy knew instantly that his love life was not a subject she should pursue.

"Oh." She frantically cast about for another, maybe-safe question. "Arwen lived as Mortal, right? Has she been able to help any of the Queen's Daughters?"

Glancing away, Elrond was silent a long moment before saying carefully, "Arwen lives in seclusion and is unable to help anyone. Not even herself."

Okay, that's two for two, Ivy realized. No more questions about the Elf-lord's romantic life, and we don't speak of Arwen. It's like she's the stereotypical elephant in the room that everybody ignores with a lot of determination, and Elrond's obviously working at it really hard, but she's obviously still there. Seclusion…he said she lives in seclusion, so does that mean she has to be locked up?

Hey, let's see if we can get a third strike here.

"Adar..." she began with much trepidation, waiting until he turned his head and looked at her before continuing. "Please forgive me for asking, but do Queen's Daughters go insane or something?"

Eyes widening in shock, Elrond reared back to stare openly at her. "Insane? No."

Relief washed over Ivy, only to dissolve into sharp alarm as Elrond continued speaking.

"At least, they do not go insane in the classic horror-movie sense. The Queen's Madness does not make you run wild-eyed and screaming through the corridors, nor do you try to claw people's eyes out and need to be locked up for your own safety. No Queen's Daughter has ever heard voices telling her to kill someone. Nor has any one of them tried slitting her wrists."

"The...Queen's Madness?" Just repeating the phrase made Ivy force down panic. My god, is this like rabies where you get to be in excruciating pain and froth at the mouth and are terrified of water and work really hard to kill people until you just...die? Is Arwen clanking around in chains down there in Warra? No, he just said not, but--

"Is that what's in store for me?" Ivy squeaked. "I'm going to go crazy?"

"Of course not!" Elrond snapped. "The madness is something one is born with or not. It manifests when one is still a child, and you do not have it."

"How can you be so certain?" she demanded, frightened beyond reason at this latest revelation. Elrond sounded quite firm, but Ivy still had to ask again, if only to hear it one more time.

"Am I not a healer?" demanded the Elf-lord.

"Well, yeah. But maybe I'm just presenting well, like Isabel did."

"Am I not also father to the original queen?"

"Yeah, but..." That's somehow not the slightest bit reassuring. "But you call it the Queen's Madness, so doesn't that make Arwen insane by definition? My grandmother was sure nuts by anybody's description!"

"My daughter is not insane in any clinical sense!" he snapped. "She is...."

His anger dissolved in an instant, only to be replaced once more by hesitation and sadness. Sighing deeply, Elrond closed his eyes and took a long time to gather his thoughts.

"Arwen is not insane," he said more calmly. "She is, in fact, quite gentle and hospitable as you will see when we reach Warra. But no, Ivy, you do not have the Queen's Madness. Of this, I am absolutely certain."

"But Isabel had it, didn't she?" Ivy asked. "Is that why she treated Legolas so badly?"

"Isabel treated a great many people badly, including your mother and your baby sister."

"What, exactly, was wrong with her?" Ivy prodded, unwilling now to let Elrond off the hook for anything except Arwen. I don't want to hurt him, but I really need some answers here, and I'm more likely to get them now while we've got the ball rolling. Down hill. Really fast. It's probably going to squash me flat by the time we're done, but I have to know.

"It is my professional opinion that Isabel was an untreated bi-polar," Elrond said reluctantly but succinctly, finally giving clear definition to one of the things tormenting Ivy. "I repeatedly witnessed your grandmother's over-the-top emotional behavior, her extreme, frequent mood swings, and her unpredictable aggression. She had a terrible temper and very poor self-control, which inevitably made most discussions devolve into violent arguments. I also know that she verbally attacked your mother and Legolas on more than one occasion."

"Did she physically attack them as well?"

"That, I do not know. Neither has ever remarked upon it, but I would not rule it out. There was a manic energy about Isabel always, and Tamurile initially found your grandmother to be quite fun company during her manic presentations. But the dark mood always followed, and that sort of company Tamurile found no fun at all. In fact, those moods became quite frightening, for Isabel's emotions swung without warning from the heights to the depths and back again, while anything and nothing could trigger the change.

"Every mood was accompanied by a deep, morbid suspicion and fears of imagined Elven conspiracies set against her," relayed Elrond. "In Isabel's mind, we were all plotting - individually or in groups - to hurt her emotionally or to ruin her financially. I do not think she suffered hallucinations to begin with, but I do believe she was delusional and had troubles of conscience. An unfortunate case in point is her refusal to accept any responsibility in causing your sister's unfortunate death."

A solemn Ivy remarked, "My mother wanted nothing to do with her after that. They never spoke to each other again."

"I would imagine not, as Isabel's thoughtless actions cost your mother both her daughter and her husband. Unfortunately, all of the things I've mentioned are clinical symptoms of insanity."

Ivy nodded. "My grandmother recorded some outrageous suspicions about Legolas in her diary."

"That does not surprise me. Legolas became Isabel's personal demon and stalked her relentlessly if you are to believe what she said of him. Unfortunately, her paranoid suspicions and aberrant behavior did not stop when Legolas left us. She did trust Haldir for a time, which enabled us to help her buy the house in San Francisco. That provided a certain stability to her life, but Isabel's relationship with Haldir eroded quickly after she joined the hippie movement."

"My grandmother was a hippie?" Ivy said, incredulous. "Oh, no way!"

"Way," confirmed Elrond. "She was one of the originals at the very beginning of the movement. Isabel not only embraced that alternative lifestyle and radical belief system, she also invited a great many other young hippies into her home - which had the unfortunate advantage of being in the Haight-Asbury District of San Francisco - for a permanent, indoor love-in. They came in droves, and everything was paid for by Isabel. Having unlimited funds as Queen's Daughter bought her many, many anti-establishment friends."

"And her personal establishment authorities were the Elves, so of course she was anti-establishment," Ivy said wryly. "I should have guessed all of this, our house alone should have made it really clear. It still has a peeling acid paint-job on the outside, and our garage door has a giant yellow smiley face on it, along with a lot of other psychedelic art that the neighbors really wish we'd paint over."

Elrond made a noise that lay somewhere between amusement and horror.

"I get, 'Hey, man! Your house is groovy, out of sight!' postcards in my mailbox instead of holiday greeting cards," Ivy continued. "The tour buses come by every day, and we've still got bedrooms that aren't usable. Mom locked the doors when we first moved in and warned me not to go in there. She said they aren't safe, but she never tried to fix them up. Are my grandmother's guests the reason why those rooms are so hopeless?"

"Most probably," said Elrond. "I'm sure the bedrooms your mother closed off were dens where Isabel's friends indulged in psychedelic drugs and free love. Literally anything could still be inside them."

Ivy was horrified. "You don't think they're still inside? I mean, like, leftover hippies?"

Elrond laughed. "No, I am certain there are no bodies hiding within."

"How can you be sure?"

"Any unfortunate victim of an overdose would have made his or her presence known long before now. No, when I said literally anything could still be inside those rooms, I was referring to things like stained mattresses and broken lava lamps, black-painted walls with black-light posters and 'Frodo Lives' bumper stickers, rusty needles, broken hookas and other drug paraphernalia―"

Ivy clapped her hands over her ears. It was beyond weird to hear Elrond use the hippie subculture's lingo, and Ivy closed her eyes against the images behind the words. "Not listening! No wonder Mom locked the doors."

"Trashed rooms no doubt lay behind those doors. Isabel rejected what she saw as middle-class Mortal and Elven morality, you see? She was searching for 'a higher consciousness and intuitive spontaneity'."

"Whatever that means."

"Exactly. I believe it was anything your grandmother wanted at any given moment, in all capacities. Your mother once confided to Haldir that, as a little girl, she didn't know who her father would be for the day until she opened Isabel's bedroom door and met the beatnik her mother was currently sleeping with."

"Oh, poor Mom, that's sick in so many ways. Free love, I guess. Only it's not love, it's just sex, isn't it? No wonder my mother married a fifty-year-old father-figure named Reuben. He's a stable, happy, over-thirty and responsible-capitalist a guy as you can get."

She thought a moment before asking, "If my grandmother let those kinds of people into her home, what do you think she was into? Drug-wise, I mean?"

"Undoubtedly marijuana, LSD and psilocybin mushrooms," Elrond relayed mercilessly. "We believe cocaine and mescaline also played their part, along with PCP and nitrous oxide. However, I do not believe your grandmother ever used heroin."

"Well, thank the gods for small favors," said Ivy offhandedly, though she was feeling anything but. "No wonder she was a mess by the time my sister and I were born."

Elrond nodded. "I understand the reason for Isabel's demons and must confess to feeling a good deal of pity and despair for the way she lived and died. I find myself wondering from time to time who she would have been, had we been able to guide her as she grew up."



Ivy jumped as the door to the screening room opened, but Elrond did little more than turn his head. Stepping inside, Legolas cast a warm smile Ivy's way - once more revealing those adorable dimples - before pacing quietly into the room. She couldn't help but smile back at him and barely restrained the little wriggle of happiness she wanted to give at seeing him once again. Down, girl. You're not a puppy, okay?

Oh, look at how beautifully that long hair fans across his shoulders, she thought, remembering how heavy it had felt between her fingers when she'd touched it in New York. Her artist's eye also recorded how the indirect lighting made the shadows beneath Legolas' cheekbones stand out in harsh relief, and how the shadow of his long lashes dusted his cheeks. Sighing to herself, she thought, He's so very nearly perfect, I could look at him all day.

"I've come to make sure all is well between you," he said in the warm, unusually smooth voice that Ivy was still getting used to, "and to inform you Erestor has the ellith setting the table, so supper should be ready soon."

Elrond arched an elegant eyebrow. "Tamurile and the others are actually working? They must be hungry."

"They are. Erestor grew impatient with their hovering and so assigned them tasks to get them out from underfoot. Already he wonders if he might get them to do the dishes afterward."

Pausing before the loveseat, Legolas focused intently on Ivy. His open concern was so completely different from the brittle hostility she had encountered upon meeting him that she had to stifle a gasp. Oh, does he like me tonight? The world seemed to shrink to only the two of them, and she could have lost herself in the warmth of his blue eyes.

"How are you feeling?" Came that melodious voice again, which had the power to melt her bones and fill her stomach with butterflies like none before.

"I'm okay," she said, suddenly feeling shy to be the center of his attention and very much wishing she could be as elegant as Verce or as bubbly-cute as Tamurile instead of mumbling merely, stupidly, 'I'm okay,' while sitting wrapped up in an unflattering, formless quilt. "We've talked some stuff out."

"Stuff?" Legolas echoed. "With whom?"

"With me," said Elrond. "I have apologized, and Ivy has graciously forgiven me for my evil temper."

"You apologized?" Not bothering to hide his surprise, Legolas' gaze snapped from Ivy to stare openly at Elrond. "Ivy, you are indeed a favored daughter, for Lord Elrond seldom apologizes for anything. This is an event to be savored."

Turning back toward her, the Elf smirked, but Ivy sensed a fair bit of steel was concealed behind the banter. Something tells me Legolas has felt the lash of that temper more than once himself.

"You have been spending far too much time with your father," Elrond answered Legolas, Legolas, his tone dry and unamused. "You are starting to sound like him."

The younger Elf shrugged lightly. "I look enough like him, I may as well sound like him, too. I expect both will bring me to grief," he added with a slight smile, obviously unconcerned. "What other...stuff did the two of you discuss?"

"Library cats and Ivy's relations," said Elrond. "And you."

"Me?" The blue eyes widened. "I was included in this discussion and subsequent apology?"

"Of course, you," Elrond said crossly. "Are not all Queen's Daughter's curious as to their guardian?"

"And do I not usually satisfy their curiosity myself?" Once more that perfect gaze settled on Ivy, this time with a little less warmth. "What, exactly, did you seek to know?"

"Um..." Wincing, she wished for nothing more in that moment than for Elrond's loveseat to swallow her whole. "I asked about my grandmother and you."

"I see." The tender expression was now completely gone. Backing a few steps - emotionally as well as physically, Ivy couldn't help but feel - the Elf leaned back against the row of seats, planted wide his booted feet, and folded his arms across his chest. His expression now resembled the hostile Elf's she had met initially on the plane, and Ivy's heart sank at the sudden transformation. "And what, pray, did you tell her, Elrond?"

"I shared with Ivy the nature of her grandmother's expression of the Queen's Madness, and made it clear that you are neither responsible nor at fault for the fact Isabel was mentally unstable. I was about to explain Julien's instability, if you would care to stay for that."

The implication was clear, both in Elrond's tone and in his expression: Ivy and I are at liberty to discuss anything. If you would remain, kindly leave off looking and behaving as though you are sucking on a lemon.

Actually, thought Ivy, I'd like to hear Elrond say that, though I can imagine the explosion from Himself that would follow it.

Looking regal now as well as defensive, Legolas inclined his head. "Very well, I should like to hear this. Continue."

Turning to Ivy, Elrond ignored the bristly intruder. "You are aware we Elves were warned we would diminish if we remained in this world? That diminishment ended up applying to Arwen as well, for she has lived as both a Mortal and an Elf, hence the disorder in her line. And then there is Julien."

"Julien's madness seems unique among the Elves," said Legolas, "at least thus far. Anyone with any amount of sense would have backed down immediately when the three of us confronted him earlier, but Julien continues to defy all of us."

"I noticed that," said Ivy. "What's wrong with him?"

"He is a sociopath," Elrond pronounced flatly.

Giving a great sigh, Legolas closed his eyes. "Bloody hell."

"Bloody hell?" said Ivy, looking from one unhappy face to the other. "It's that bad?"

"It is." Legolas muttered. "It means Julien will be an ongoing thorn in our side."

"But why?" asked Ivy. "I mean, he lost the vote and you've warned him off. And he really lost in the hall outside the library. He's got a broken nose, and the big dogs are dominant now. He's learned to respect the three of you, right?"

"No," said Elrond. "He hasn't. And he won't."

"So Julien's a mental case like my grandmother?"

"He is nothing like Isabel!" Legolas snapped.

"Julien is more dangerous and cruel than Isabel was ever capable of being," Elrond explained with a bit more patience.

Narrowing his eyes, Legolas practically growled. "We are not having this."

"Then I suggest you come up with some way to deal with him, short of murdering him," said Elrond wearily, "because Glorfindel and I are both out of ideas, and Julien will not stop."

"Okay, whoa." Ivy held up both hands. "Back up, please? Because everything I know about psychology I learned from network television and a more-often-than-not intoxicated college professor. In very small words, could one of you tell me what, exactly, is wrong with Julien?"

"His brain does not work like ours," said Elrond. "A sociopath - whether Mortal or Elven - knows the difference between right and wrong, but he does not care and so the distinction fails to limit his behavior. Julien is what Glorfindel has taken to calling an ice child, which refers to the frozen state of his emotions. Julien, you see, can do anything at all without the slightest bit of guilt or remorse."

"Anything?" Ivy repeated, incredulous.

"Yes. This ice child has no emotional attachments to anyone because he is incapable for forming them. He is capable only of egocentric, self-centered behavior."

"And Mom considered this nut case a friend?" Ivy protested. "Did Julien hypnotize her or something, because my mother's scared of everybody! How could she be comfortable, much less make friends, with someone like that?

Holding up his hand, Elrond attempted to deflect the barrage of questions. "He can be charismatic, and your mother found him so. He can also be manipulative - has he not already attempted to manipulate you?"

"Um, yeah. A couple of times, but not very well. I could see coming from a mile away, and it was like watching Ronald McDonald trying to bribe a preschooler with french fries!"

Legolas snorted, and Ivy spared him a glance. At least he's looking a bit less hostile in general. At the moment, anyway.

"It's nothing personal, my dear," said Elrond. "You see, to Julien, people exist only to be manipulated and used. They are tools, nothing more. You have also experienced his intense predatory stare, have you not?"

"Oh, yeah. I was meaning to ask you about that. It's a lot more effective than french fries."

"That is a classic symptom of his psychosis," explained Elrond. "When Julien stares unblinkingly into another person's eyes, he is watching for reactions, trying to read the person's emotions and use them to his advantage or mimic them. He cannot feel genuine emotion and so he often tries to mimic it, which is why he so often rings false."

"So that's why he made me feel like prey," Ivy said thoughtfully.

"There are good reasons why Haldir sends home the castle help while Julien is here," Legolas told her. "A few years ago, he broke a maid's arm while trying to force her to sit on his lap. When Haldir confronted Julien about the assault, his answer was, 'It's the girl's fault. She broke her own arm when she fought me. If she'd given in, it never would have happened.'"

Goosebumps rose on Ivy's arms. Shivering, she rubbed her arms and wrapped up tighter in her quilt. Scared now.

"He has diminished nearly to the point of being unrecognizable as an Elf," Elrond said. "Other Elves form deep emotional attachments, and our hearts are filled with those we love. Our relationships drive our wishes and our dreams. Eternal love and romance, intrigue, nurturing and protecting, reunion - these things drive our songs and our literature."

Taking Ivy's hand in his, Elrond squeezed gently. "When I do this, what is your response?"

"I like it, so I tighten my grip to match yours."

"Julien is incapable of understanding that simple affection," said Elrond, "though he does understand tightening his grip to dominate."

Legolas picked up the story. "Without emotional attachments, we're reduced to players in a giant chess match. Other beings, whether Elven or Mortal, become nothing but pawns to us." Turning his attention to Elrond, he asked, "Am I right to assume that the only thing Julien wants - the only thing left to him - is to win?"

The Elf-lord gave a solemn nod. "You are. Julien attempts to dominate and bend others to his will. He believes he can have any woman he wants and manipulate any Mortal he comes across - including, most recently, the members of our board. This is new. He has not previously tried this game on Elves."

"So strategies and payoffs are the only thrills he knows," Legolas said thoughtfully. "Haldir believes Julien has spent the last hundred years getting better at this game. Waiting for his parents to go Oversea so he could grab his place at our table."

"I believe Haldir is right. As you saw today, that game is everything to Julien. He believes the rest of us - Elves as well as Mortals - are stupid and naive for not playing his way." Elrond shook his head. "This is what happens to an Elven mind when it diminishes. Other beings are nothing more than game pieces to be moved about, used as shields, or ejected."

Legolas startled Ivy with a quick grin. "He needs to study more. His plan today was sloppy at best, and he'll not have another chance to blindside me."

"But the damage and hurt he causes everyone--" Ivy interjected.

""I have known Mortal men like Julien," said Legolas. "The damage done by any of their actions or schemes is irrelevant to them. All that matters is seeing the irrefutable evidence that they have power. Controlling others is more compelling than anything else. If Julien can make people jump, he is winning. I do believe that is his stunted version of 'fun.'"

"That sounds like a really empty way to live," Ivy protested.

"That is because Julien is hollow inside." Elrond took up the tale. "He will never spend time searching for someone to love, for he cannot love. He never worries about friends who may be in trouble, for he needs and cares for no one. He has great wealth and can afford to travel anywhere in the world and dine with whoever he pleases, but he is incapable of sharing a single moment of that experience with anyone."

Ivy frowned. "What about Wendy?"

"You saw today how he treats his sister," said Legolas. "He is as unattached to her as he is to the rest of us. The instant she disrupted his scheme, her value ended. He considers her but another tool for his use."

"Wendy remembers her brother torturing frogs as a child during their summer holidays in the Cotswolds," Elrond revealed. "He would scoop the creatures into a net on the side of the lake, stab them in the underbelly, and then turn them over and watch them bleed out. Apparently he was amused by their hopping about feebly, dragging their intestines."

Tears filled Ivy's eyes. "Oh, God. No."

"He called Wendy to join in the fun and laughed when she fled," Elrond continued. "She told their parents what Julien was doing, but they didn't believe her. She learned very quickly to keep her kittens away from her brother. I believe his behavior has become progressively worse, if sneakier, in the decades since his parents went Oversea."

"I remember his father's concern over Julien's behavior in Victorian society," Legolas commented. "The scandal regarding the fate of young ladies who made his acquaintance was nothing compared to his antics in the back alleyways. His father was too distressed to share the details with me, but my imagination easily supplied the possibilities."

"And he hates me," Ivy whispered. "And he's here. In this house, just across the hall." Beyond terrified, Ivy slipped back down onto the loveseat to huddle tight against Elrond. "Adar...."

His arms were around her in an instant, pulling her securely against his warmth and strength. Closing the distance between them, Legolas perched on the arm of the couch to lend his support.

"You are safe with us," said Elrond, once more stroking her hair as she couldn't stop shaking. "And now you understand why Julien cannot ever be allowed near you again."

"I definitely get it. But doesn't this go against everything it means to be an Elf?" she asked with no little confusion. "Is he deliberately like this? Did he make some horrible choice or sell his soul to the devil somewhere along the way?"

"No," Elrond said softly, resting his cheek atop Ivy's head. "There is merely something very wrong with the way his brain functions. Julien cannot help what he is, and he cannot change. I know of no lasting counseling and no cure, no surgical procedure, and no drug I can force upon him permanently. He cannot be helped. He is as he is, and we must cope with him as best we can."

"That's terrible. He's terrible," she murmured, sliding her arm around the Elf-lord's waist and hugging him tightly. "And yet, I feel so sorry for him."

"Do not feel sorry for Julien," said Legolas. "If you do, you will give him the weapon of your own emotions to use against you."

"Legolas is right," said Elrond. "Pity Julien, but keep your distance, my daughter. If he knew you wished to understand or help him, he would feel nothing but contempt for you."

Ivy pondered that for a moment. "Okay, then I feel sorry for us having him here. So how do you deal with him?"

"We recognize his ability to hurt others and limit his circle of influence," Legolas answered instantly.

"That is the concern of the moment," Elrond agreed. "Mortal sociopaths have readily stated their goal is to rule the world. We have thwarted his goal to rule Greenwood, which is why his manners are suffering somewhat this weekend, and he suffers from a sense of grandiose self-importance that is not based on realistic achievement."

"Hence the elevation of his pending membership into the gentleman's club in London, among other things?" Legolas' smile was grim.

"Exactly," said Elrond. "Julien believes he is brilliant and invulnerable, and no misfortune is ever his responsibility. He blames Ivy for his losing the vote, and her interference with his plans has made her a gnat to be swatted."

"Great," she muttered. "I'm a gnat, and I've made a very scary enemy. Adar, I don't want to be swatted, just in case there was any doubt there."

Legolas laid a hand on her shoulder. "Arrogant people like Julien always make mistakes. I will protect you."

"That's great while I'm here, but what about when I'm not here?"

"Warra is well guarded," assured Elrond, "and Julien would not dare to set foot on my property."

"So I can't ever leave Warra? I mean, he already knows where I live in San Francisco. He's actually been to my house, which makes me feel safe like not at all. Is he going to stalk me so I can't ever go home again?"

"Experience has shown that Julien is incapable of any sustained emotion unless he sees you every day," said Elrond. "You will be out of reach and safe with me in Australia for the next few weeks, will you not? Julien's hatred will undoubtedly then congeal around Greenwood as an entity and Legolas specifically. Legolas, you do know he will specifically try to ruin you?"

"I welcome his attention." Legolas' smile was deadly, and Ivy blinked at the eager predator suddenly revealed in the Elven warrior's narrowed gaze, giving him an almost feral expression. "I shall enjoy having him try."

I'm so glad he's on my side, she thought.

"Julien felt all wrong to me from the moment he slid into me on that bench," Ivy said, trying to distract Legolas from what were probably deadly thoughts that would get him eternally barred from entering Valinor. "I get why, now."

"I will see to Julien personally," her protector stated. "For now, however, unless we want Erestor himself to come looking for us, I think we should join the others below."

"Agreed," said Elrond. "Daughter?"

"Yeah. Okay." More than eager to leave the discussion of Julien behind, Ivy got up from the couch only to discover she was once again entangled in the Elven quilt. She pulled at the thick material, but it only fought her further. "This thing is relentless!"

"Let me help you," said Legolas as Elrond had his own robes to manage.

The aspect of the assassin-Elf was completely gone from Legolas' demeanor. Giving a quiet smile of amusement, he untangled her from the cloth cocoon and preceded her out of the room while Elrond followed, silent but observant.

Elrond or no Elrond, Ivy lunged for Legolas' hand as they exited the room. Glancing down, Legolas closed his fingers around Ivy's and leaned against her companionably.

"Are you all right?"

She gave a tight smile as they passed the sociopath's door.

"Julien's just over there, behind that bit of wood," she whispered. "I want to be as close as I can to you, because I know you can break his neck if he so much as looks at me wrong."

Releasing her hand, Legolas moved behind her. Running his fingers across the small of her back, he came up on the other side to place himself firmly between her and Julien's room. Taking her hand in his once more, he tightened his grip almost painfully.

"I will."

Ivy had only seconds to ponder the contented smile Legolas gave before the faux gaslights running the length of the hallway flickered and died.


Continued here

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