The sudden darkness sent a surge of panic through Ivy, and her emotions shifted from edginess to terror in less than a heartbeat. Yelping, she instinctively flung herself against Legolas, burying her fingers deep into the knit of his thick sweater.

"What--what's happening?" she stammered, her heart hammering in her chest. "Is it Julien? Is he--"

Clinging to the Elf, she felt the vibration of his chest against her as he chuckled. She belatedly feared he might object to her grabbing him, but her guide wrapped both arms around her to pull her even closer.

As if that's possible? Any closer, and I'll be in that sweater with him, chided part of her mind - the part that wasn't shivering in panic.

Doesn't sound like such a bad idea. On many different levels, echoed the scared part of her, the part that couldn't even take the time to savor his embrace. Is he hugging me?

"It isn't Julien, and we are not under attack," came the low, always-soothing voice in her ear. "It is merely the weather."

"The weather?"

She felt rather than saw him nod. When he spoke again, he was so close she felt his breath on her cheek.

"The snow and wind have combined to take down a power line or two somewhere. It happens every winter." Legolas smiled, or at least his voice did, which reassured Ivy that much further.

"We are prepared for it," Elrond spoke with confidence from somewhere close behind them, and Ivy jumped as his disembodied hand found her arm. "All is well, daughter. Legolas shall see you safely downstairs while I remain behind to guard your back."

"And to take care of Julien if he decides to get nasty again?" she pressed.

"Indeed, yes." Sliding his hand up to cup Ivy's elbow, Elrond gave her a little nudge. "Off you go with Legolas. Rest assured, I shall follow in only a few minutes."

Tucking her beneath his shoulder, Legolas urged Ivy forward. "How do you feel about dining by candlelight in a medieval hall?"

"That sounds..." She tried hard to concentrate on the meaning of his words, and not just on the soothing timbre and the fact they were moving through total darkness. "It sounds amazing, actually."

Walk, feet. She made a real effort to release the stranglehold she still had on his sweater. Cashmere, remember? Don't stretch it. Elrond's back there, Legolas is right here, and have you heard? Little paint-stained you is going to get to dine in a for-real medieval hall with the Elves.

"It's beyond amazing," she decided, bravely voicing the thought out loud and shuffling her feet over the carpet alongside Legolas' much more bold steps. "This is just plain wicked cool."

If I say it, maybe it will be so. Even as she said it, she realized it was so, if she would just gather her nerve. Aloud, she muttered, "What's a little dark between Queen's Daughter and her protector, after all?"

The Elf at her side laughed again, clearly delighted with her newfound courage, while the hard-muscled arm about her shoulders urged her onward through the blackest black she'd ever encountered.

"Um, Legolas?"

"Yes, Ivy?"

"I know Elves are supposed to have fantastic night vision, but that particular talent seems to have passed me by." She waved a hand before her. "I can't see a thing."

"Not to worry," that voice purred in her ear. "Allow me to guide you, and you'll not so much as bump a toe. I promise."

"I trust you."

She was surprised to find that she actually meant it. Legolas would guide her, guard her, and take care of any nasty surprises. With alacrity, I'll bet. Giving a sigh of relief, she deliberately sank down into the unaccustomed, absolutely marvelous luxury of being cared for - and about.

Tonight, anyway, she thought, cautioning herself to not get too used to being taken care of. I'm a big girl, I can look after myself - as long as I'm not alone in a pitch-black castle with a psychopath like Julien sulk-pouting in a bedroom just back there. Thank heaven for the lords of Imladris and Ithilien.

"Turning here," Legolas murmured, guiding her around a corner before halting. "We are at the head of the stairs. The balustrade is to your right, and the first step is here. Put your left hand on my shoulder and follow me down, yes?"

"I'm sorry, but I can't see your shoulder."

"Here." Long, callused fingers took hers and guided them up to his shoulder before Legolas stepped slightly in front of her and down. His hair shifted across the back of her hand, and Ivy was careful not to clench her fingers. "And so we go. I step down, then you."

"Okay." She grinned to herself, now trying hard not to caress the hard muscles moving beneath her fingers. Very okay.

The stairs were negotiated with surprising ease, as Legolas proved to be a fine guide.

I'm not nearly as scared as I was, thought Ivy.

"I wish I had a flame of some sort," he murmured as they went. "I could light the wall sconces for you on the way by."

"Do the lights go out all the time?" she asked.

"No, only when the snows and winds combine, usually in December and January. Generators kick in automatically when the power fails. They are housed in the dwarven tunnels running beneath the old house, so their noise does not reach us."

"But it's still dark," Ivy pointed out. "Maybe the generators aren't working?"

"I'm afraid their service is limited, for this is a large castle. The kitchen's needs are served, as are certain other rooms, but we haven't power enough to light the entire house."

"So there are really no medieval nights after all?" Ivy felt acute disappointment.

"You are a fan of things medieval?" His voice told her he was laughing at her again. "Rest assured that this night - as well as no few to come - will be authentically medieval. No matter the season, our Highland nights have been dark more often than not over the past centuries. Electricity is a new invention and quite fickle during storms. We cannot run the generators constantly, but must dole out the energy as best we can until power is restored."

"What if the electricity is out for more than a few days?"

"We and the village revert to living as we did before the wires reached us."

She pondered what that might mean. "Which rooms besides the kitchen get the power? The bedrooms?"

"I'm afraid not. Upstairs, we keep the lights going only in Haldir's library and the screening room, for our modern Elves are spoiled and find entertaining themselves in this dreary place to be quite the chore. Ruff and honours, charades and whist have long gone out of fashion - for which I am actually quite grateful," Legolas added hastily, "but that leaves everyone the choice of reading by candlelight or conversing, both of which become quite the chore for everyone after only a few days of enforced companionship.

"The poor darlings," he added in a tone that was far from sympathetic. "No phones, no computers, no blueberries--"


She felt him shrug as he took the next stair. "Some handheld device that Julien seems to think is most important? He called it his link to the outside world."

"I think that might be called a Blackberry," she ventured. "Mind you, I'm only offering the contradiction in the interests of catching you up on some modern terminology."

"I have no real idea, nor do I care at this point," Legolas said mildly. "Still, I thank you, as Lee Greenwood will have to care in a week or so. Julien called his device some sort of fruit, and now it cannot be recharged. As for the remaining modern technology favored in this castle, it can be extinguished at my whim. What a delicious sense of power that lends," the Elf added, and Ivy couldn't help but hear the note of gloating in his tone.

I'm really looking forward to this medieval living, she thought.

"And, we've arrived," Legolas announced as they reached the lower level.

Peering down the long corridor before them, Ivy saw the faint glow of candles - bright against the blackness - and heard the distant murmur of voices.

"And so you see, it is candlelight and firelight only for us downstairs." Again Legolas gave the ghost of a laugh.

Stepping once more beside Ivy, he slipped a companionable arm about her waist. Moving closer and bending slightly, he all but nuzzled her ear to whisper, "Welcome to Ithilien, Queen's Daughter."

"Oh, wow," was all she could manage. Gripping his fingers where they rested across her hip, she stared down the hallway and gave a slight shiver. "This is beyond awesome."

A candelabra floated toward them, held high by an illuminated hand, but the Elf behind the light was thrown into strangely shadowed relief, all but invisible to Ivy.

"That looks like something out of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland," she murmured, pressing a little bit closer to Legolas.

"There you are, younglings."

Coming closer, the Elf behind the candelabra grinned at them, his straight white teeth shining in the flames, and Ivy relaxed as she recognized Glorfindel.

"I was just coming to look for you," the warrior from Gondolin continued. "Thought you might like some light for the journey down here."

Legolas inclined his head. "We made it down intact, but thank you for the thought."

Glorfindel nodded, then pulled one of the lighted candles from its mount before handing the candelabra over to Legolas. "Erestor's latest feast is very nearly ready, and I nicked this off of the sideboard, so best you hurry and get it back. And if he asks where you got it, I had nothing to do with it."

He gave Ivy a friendly pat on the arm as he passed. Continuing down the dark hallway, Glorfindel paused to light the candle in a wall sconce at the foot of the stairs leading up to the second floor.

"Erestor is quite particular about his décor," said Legolas, gesturing with the candelabra even as he kept a tight grip around Ivy's waist. "Here's hoping he is still occupied in the kitchen, so we can reach the sideboard in the dining hall. I really don't want him displeased with me."

"But you didn't take the candelabra," protested Ivy.

"Makes no difference to Erestor. I have it now, and I intend to put it back as swiftly as possible." Legolas scowled. "Though I'm not sure what I can do if he's already noticed it missing."

Looking up at the Elf, Ivy nearly stopped breathing to see he was lit by the golden glow of the candle flames. His silvery hair was highlighted in orangy-reds, and Legolas' eyes were such an intense blue that Ivy felt her sense of reality tilt once more.

"I don't believe this."

Legolas looked down at her. "What don't you believe?"

"Look at the situation from my point of view for a minute, okay? I'm going to have dinner with the Elves in a dark, not-so-creepy medieval castle, and it's like we've gone back thousands of years. I'm walking with Legolas the warrior - one of the fearless Nine Walkers - and he's worried about getting in trouble for taking a candelabra in his own castle." Try though she might, Ivy couldn't help the giggle that escaped.

"I see your point." Tilting his head, Legolas regarded her silently for a long moment, until Ivy began worrying that candle-wax might drip on the arm of his sweater.

The surrealism of the situation completely outweighed the fears and concerns that had weighed her down earlier. Taking Legolas' free hand, she tugged lightly.

"Come on. Let's get that candelabra back, and then maybe we can help Erestor. I'm starving, aren't you?"

"I am, at that." Sounding surprised, Legolas lengthened his stride to accommodate Ivy's request.



The voices continued their murmured conversation down the corridor and the words became clearer to Ivy as she and Legolas approached. Wan candlelight spilled from the dining hall to reveal Haldir and Erestor in deep discussion just beyond its door. Actually, it seemed to be Haldir discussing - in hissed Sindarin and with broad gestures - while the Elven chef's upturned nose and closed expression made it clear he was having none of it, whatever it was.

Whirling as Legolas and Ivy approached, the marchwarden made a final, sharp motion toward Erestor.

"You talk to him, will you? I've given up." Sparing one further glare at the chef, Haldir turned away. "Sour old hermit, you are."

Still holding aloft his candelabra, Legolas watched Haldir disappear into the shadows before turning back to Erestor. "Are you still refusing to join us?"

"Yes." Leaning back, Erestor crossed his arms and gave a petulant scowl. In the odd, flickering candlelight, he reminded Ivy of nothing so much as the green ogre from a popular children's movie. "You know I don't enjoy that group, and I've other things to attend."

"I understand, but wish you would reconsider," Legolas soothed. "You have worked many hours to ensure everything is perfect for us. There's no need to hover in the kitchen any longer, so I do wish you would join us. Share in the wonderful bounty you have provided."

"I appreciate the invitation, but that doesn't improve the company." Erestor glanced at the kitchen door as though he might start edging that way.

"The company is mostly old friends tonight," Legolas said quietly. "The ellith will of course chatter among themselves, but I doubt Julien will be joining us. Between Elrond, my father and myself there should be only agreeable conversation - even with Haldir, if he has finished fussing with things."

"Hmphm." Erestor looked down at Ivy, who stood silently at Legolas' side. "This little one will be joining us as well, won't she? You do intend to feed her? She certainly needs it."

"Hey!" Does he think I'm an infant, too skinny, or too dumb to feed myself? Ivy wondered.

Legolas smiled mildly in agreement. "She does need to be fed, doesn't she? And I heard her say not two minutes ago that she is staving. She does enjoy what you've set before her, don't you, Ivy?"

"I love your cooking," she admitted, determined to help Legolas any way she could in this very strange conversation. It's nice one of them remembered I'm standing right here while they talk as if I'm invisible.

I've no idea what the problem really is, she realized. Grief, but it seems like some of these Elves are walking minefields. Emo much?

"You are family, Erestor," Legolas further coaxed. "I've missed seeing you these past years. Please at least consider sitting at table with us?"

"Please?" Ivy echoed, giving the older Elf her most beseeching look. "You could sit by me."

Her reward was a slow smile of wonder from the older Elf, which entirely altered his features. Gone was the austerity she'd come to recognize as his usual appearance. The Elven chef relaxed visibly, while his eyes set to dancing.

"If it's for you, little one, then I will. I needn't even bring in another place setting if that beastly brat is not joining us."

"I think we've just gone from the worst to the best of company." Ivy dared lean forward to pat his arm. "Thank you."

"Then it's settled. If Julien comes down late, there'll be no place for him among us." Nodding his satisfaction, Erestor glanced over her head and down the hall as new voices reached them. "Here they come, then. Legolas, you'll be putting that candelabra back. Light the other candles in the dining hall as well. The buffet is laid and the latecomers are on their way, all that is needed is your light. I'll join you shortly."

With that, Erestor headed back through the glowing archway guarding the kitchen.

"So even dinner is a squabble?" Ivy observed with some amusement. "Is that all you Elves do? Eat and sleep and fight?"

"We've given you an awful impression, haven't we?" said Legolas. "No, the fighting should be over and the rest of your visit should be peaceful - except for the ceilidh, of course."

Ceilidh, ceilidh...there's that word again, she thought. I'm going to have to ask him what, exactly it means. And I can't tell if he's serious about Elves fighting all the time. At least they're serious about eating regularly, and it's not porridge. Ivy was surprised by a wide yawn that came on far too fast to stifle.

Her guardian gave her a sharp glance. "We've never given you the chance to rest from the long journey here or the stress of meeting all of us. You should retire to sleep after the meal."

Ivy shook her head. "No, I'm good. I just woke up after falling asleep during the movie - on my father, no less. Literally on Elrond. I'm still appalled at the thought of doing that to him. Not to mention boggled that he let me."

Legolas was trying not to smile as he pushed through the heavy wooden door guarding the dining room, but the corners of his mouth were still creeping upward just the tiniest bit. "You'll need more than a quick nap after being dragged halfway across the world and enduring all we've put you through."

"I'm fine," she insisted. "I don't want to miss a moment of--" Stopping short just inside the door, she gasped. "Oh, look...."

The huge, drab grey dining hall of the night before was no more. From wood-beamed ceiling to carpeted floor and all the way round the room, someone had covered the bare stone walls with brilliantly colored tapestries. An art form all their own, Ivy was acutely aware of the many hands and many years it had to take to create such beauty.

Legolas lost no time in crossing to the far end of the hall to return the candelabra to its place. Returning to Ivy's side, he stood and watched her silently as she studied the tapestries. She found herself smiling at the four tall, slender dogs that looked like rough-coated greyhounds, standing with great dignity alongside some long-gone Mortal gameskeeper.

"Do you like them?" he finally asked.

"Like them?" Ivy had to remind herself to breathe. "I've never seen anything like them. Not in books or museums, or...oh, Legolas, they're exquisite!"

So exquisite, she thought she might cry. Stepping closer, she ran her fingers over the leaves of the nearest tree. "Look at how these shimmer in the candlelight. And I swear the deerhounds are going to come bounding out to greet us. It all looks so real."

"I am pleased you are enjoying them. It's good to see they've lost none of their original brilliance. I am still fascinating that dirty sheep's hair and dyes made from squashed bugs, berries and roots can be used to produce such splendor."

"Did your people make these?"

"They did." He walked beside Ivy as she began wandering the length of the tapestry. "Shortly after settling in Ithilien, Elven artists and weavers from Mirkwood worked to create the scenes you see, to remind us all of our common history and what everyone here was working to create for generations to come. Eventually, what we envisioned became reality." His smile grew shadowed. "For a time, any road."

Ivy stared up at him, incredulous. "These wall hangings are all original?"

"They are."

"But that would make them thousands of years old!"

"Of course they are, for wool lasts as long as you keep the moths, moisture and vermin away." He stroked the trunk of the nearest woven tree - a huge, ancient-looking oak - with evident affection. "Haldir thought you might enjoy seeing them, and so he brought them up out of storage in the dwarven tunnels."

"But Haldir said everything Elven left here"

"In the aftermath of Culloden?"

Ivy gave a timid smile. "I'm not sure I should have told you that."

Legolas shook his head. "It is no secret. I am only surprised that you and Haldir had occasion to discuss our Scottish history. The tapestries remained behind only because they lay rolled up and forgotten in an airtight stone...sarcophagi, for lack of a better term...that Gimli and his friends fashioned long ago as a favor to the Elves who wove them. It was the easiest way to keep out the destructive elements, you see?"

"I'm glad they were left behind. I couldn't see them otherwise, could I?"

"I'm sure you could, as Elrond has preserved every other relic he took with him. I also believe the Elves who created these wall hangings are still living in Warra," he added thoughtfully.

"Warra?" she squeaked.

"Yes, unless they left for Valinor while I was in Alaska. But they have been quite contented to remain in Australia over the centuries, so I do not think they would leave quite yet. Their workshop has always produced much more than tapestries."

"Are they the Elves who make my father's robes?" Ivy asked.

"I believe so."

"I can't sew a stitch," she admitted, "but if I ask nicely, do you think they'd let me watch them weave?"

"Undoubtedly. They would probably also put you to work, if you wish it."

Ivy knew he was laughing at her again, but she didn't care. She had eyes only for the elaborate pictures they were passing. Pastoral forest gave way to a hunt scene; Elves and Mortals rode out together from a stone castle Ivy thought might resemble the one she was in - if she ever got a good enough look at it from the outside.

Reaching the far corner where the first woven scene began, she was delighted to discover Legolas had been included in it.

Of course he is, she thought. North Ithilien began with him, didn't it?

Dressed in his Fellowship finery - right down to a moss-green cloak and soft-looking leather boots Ivy would have hoped to find him wearing - he carried a warrior's bow and wore a quiver full of arrows in the same style as those she'd seen on the plane.

Beside Legolas stood a broad-shouldered man wearing what looked like a ranger's rough-woven tunic with dirt-smudged trousers tucked into serviceable boots. His beard was close-cropped, and his blue eyes were kind, if sad, and while the man was every bit as dignified as the deerhounds Ivy had met further down the panel, his bearing was far from regal.

He looks exhausted, she decided.

A heavy sword hung in its sheath at his side, and his long fingers gripped the hilt. That hilt was bright - so bright that the firelight from across the room illuminated it in a scintillating display of alternating golds and reds. From the brilliance of the metallic thread, Ivy had no doubt the Elves had used real gold.

"Is that Aragorn?" she whispered.

"It is." Legolas stood very still while Ivy looked from the image of Aragorn to Legolas and back again.

"The Legolas in the tapestry is the same height you are," she observed. "Are the proportions true to life, then?"

"They are in this particular panel."

"So you and Aragorn were about the same height?"

"Yes, though he was more strongly built." Legolas considered the weaving. "He was drawn from life for this panel, and everyone agreed at the time that the finished image bore a remarkable resemblance to him as he appeared at the end of the War of the Ring."

"This is as close as I'm ever going to get to the real man, isn't it?"

Legolas hesitated a long moment before answering. "I will tell you what I have always told myself. We do not know where Mortals go when they die, and so it may be that we shall one day see him again. I hope so, for I miss my friend."

Immersed in the woven Aragorn's gaze, Ivy sensed the long-dead king's destiny and felt the heavy mantle of responsibility as if it were her own. She yearned for something much more and considerably less than what Minas Tirith and the United Kingdom of Arnor and Gondor had to offer. She wanted the free and open life of the ranger where her life and her thoughts could be her own. She desperately needed to go back to the time when her trust was bestowed more easily, and when her greatest happiness as a young, lanky ranger from Rivendell could be distilled down to a campfire shared with an old wizard named Mithrandir, and an agile, quiet Elf named Legolas. And impossible it was to ever satisfy that need again, now.

The image and the memory entwined in Ivy's mind as it shimmered in Aragorn's sad eyes, and she drew a shaky breath.

"I wish I had known him. And yet, I feel as if I do know him." Her voice was choked with tears.

Stepping closer, Legolas laid a hand over her eyes. "Come back, Queen's Daughter."

His cool touch shattered whatever spell had been woven by the tapestry. Turning in to Legolas and away from the tapestry, Ivy shivered violently when the Elf removed his hand.

"When did I start crying?" she asked, brushing away tears. "And what just happened?"

The Elf offered a melancholy smile. "You must guard well your heart before gazing too deeply into any part of our Elven past, Queen's Daughter. And you must never venture there, whether in tome or tapestry, without your father, myself, or another whom you can trust as your guide."

"I don't understand."

"Our emotions are woven into the art we create," Legolas explained, "whether it be song and dance, painting and sculpture or anything else. Those emotions embrace all who experience our art, and this is is only one of the many ways in which Elves deliberately touch other Elves. Ithilien Mortals called it magic and some men feared it, for they could lose themselves in our creations for literally years if we allowed it."

Ivy sniffled indelicately. "Like the folktales of mortals who were carried off to Tir na Nog? Men would think they had stayed with the fairies only a few months, but when they set foot in their own world again they turned to dust because hundreds of years had passed?"

"Yes." He gestured at the tapestry now at their backs. "Those who lived through those events and created these panels poured their collective love and despair into them because we all knew that many of our loved ones and the lives we lived would pass into death and memory and myth, as all things alive in this world must do."

"So staring at Elven pictures for too long is like staring into the sun? I'll go blind or mad?" Ivy's attempt to lighten the mood fell flat, even to her. Just as if I'd stared too long into the sun, I know Aragorn's eyes are going to haunt me for a really long time.

"You will go neither blind nor mad," Legolas assured, "but because of your blood relation to and obvious compassion for Aragorn, I think we have discovered you can all too easily become lost in our collective memories of him."

"Like getting sucked into one of your waking dreams?"

"Exactly like." Legolas gently entwined his fingers with Ivy's before deliberately leading her away from the tapestry. "It is well this scene is hidden away in the corner. We shall place a chair before it, just so, to block your line of sight. The effect is also lessened with distance and distraction, and the evening ahead promises a fine distraction, does it not?"

"I hope so," she whispered.

But what I need right now isn't exactly a distraction, she admitted to herself as her protector led her across the room. I feel really rattled and vulnerable, and I'm not all that certain why. Maybe having a long-dead relative's emotions rattling around in my psyche isn't such a great idea?

She dragged back on his hand. "Legolas?"


"Um...this is going to sound really stupid, but would you mind if I asked for a hug?" She stared at the floor.

"Not at all. Let me call Elrond--"

"No!" Jerking up her head, she met his startled gaze, only to drop hers once more in embarrassment. "I mean...I can go find him if you don't want to hug me yourself. I mean, I understand if you're..." She released his hand and stepped back. "I shouldn't have asked, so I'll just go and find Adar, okay?"

"You most certainly will not." Legolas' fingers at her elbow had a touch of the steel she'd sensed from the moment she had laid eyes on him. "Come here."

His arms slid around her easily and she was pulled against him, enveloped in his strength. And oh, he was warm and his chest was hard. Her world contracted suddenly to only the Elf holding her, and she sank against him as if she'd been waiting all her life to feel his touch. It was just a hug, only a hug, and yet it felt like heaven.

Why didn't Dan's hugs ever feel like this? she wondered. Oh, feel all warm and safe. So delicious, like sinking down into hot bath water on a cold winter's night, and do you think I could stay here forever?

She buried her nose against his neck and breathed...just breathed...and discovered how good he smelled, and how much better the real thing was than the stale scent of a bearskin parka. Her hands slid up his back tentatively, and she felt hard muscles moving there as he slid his fingers into her hair to cradle the base of her skull and urge her even closer. He murmured reassurances too low for her to understand the words, but the emotions were clear enough.

There may have been shadows in Aragorn's life, shadows woven into the tapestry forever holding a window open into his life, but Legolas felt like nothing but pure, glorious light. Ivy breathed it in as she breathed him in and never wanted to let him go.

"Be at peace," he whispered, his Sindarin suddenly coming clear in her mind. "Be still and know that you are not alone. Never alone."

Closing her eyes, she clung even closer as his voice dropped to a whisper, and she strained to catch the words.

"Know that you are safe," Legolas murmured, his lips pressed against her hair. "And know also that if your father walks in and catches me touching you like this, he will surely geld me."



Still pressed tight against Legolas, Ivy heard the door across the room creak open. Flinching, she pushed against his chest to escape the apparently damning hug, only to have Legolas hang on that much tighter.

"Peace," he murmured. "It is only my father."

Glancing over her shoulder, Ivy saw Glorfindel take two steps forward and do a double take at the two of them. He then backed up to lean a hand on the heavy door into the dining hall and make sure it closed completely behind him.

"Best not let Elrond see the two of you like that," said Glorfindel, sotto voce, in a tone as serious as Ivy had ever heard it. "Else he'll have your guts for garters."

"Elrond doesn't wear garters," growled Legolas, not easing his grip in the slightest.

"He'll start."

Ivy was startled into the breath of a laugh, and then a sniffle as she struggled to overcome the remnants of her tears. Coming round the table at speed, Glorfindel reached the still-clinging couple in what seemed like only a few steps. Leaning over, he looked Ivy straight in the eye. "Has my son been making you cry already?"

"No! He didn't do anything. Well, he hugged me--"

"So I see."

"But that was to make it better!"

Rambling here, not imparting info, the still-functioning part of her brain advised. Taking a deep breath, she freed a hand and pointed into the darkness lurking in the corner of the hall, and tried again.

"I looked at Aragorn...over there in the woven scene thing...and went all weepy. I didn't mean to. It just happened."

Straightening, Glorfindel glanced balefully at the panel in question. "I see. Well, that explains everything to my satisfaction, but I doubt it would to Elrond's. A word of advice, if I may? The uptight Lord of Imladris and everyone else are about to walk in here, so you two may want to put a bit of space between you. Now."

The door opened on the golden warrior's last word, and Legolas and Ivy let go in the same instant. Leaping backward violently, they put at least five feet between them. Legolas stared at Ivy who stared back, her heart pounding as she watched his expression close, his blue eyes become guarded.

He looks as if he expects me to accuse him of attacking me, she thought. I hope I don't look that guilty, else Adar will definitely know something's up. You'd think Glorfindel caught us necking in the back seat of a car or something. But nothing happened! All Legolas did was hug me!

And a fine hug it was, too, a happy part of her purred. We're definitely taking out that hug and reliving it later. Oh, yes, rewind and replay. Repeatedly.

Yeah, but now is not the time. She slammed the door on those thoughts as the ellith spilled through the doorway.

Laying a hand on Legolas' shoulder, Glorfindel turned his son carefully, deliberately away from Ivy. Moving to the wall next to the sideboard containing the buffet, father and son began working together to unwrap the heavy iron chain locked around a winch embedded there.

Not knowing what else to do, Ivy stayed where she was, hovering halfway between the buffet and the dining table and feeling decidedly awkward and unsure.

With his arms spread wide, Elrond herded the ellith like a gaggle of geese before him. Chattering excitedly, they scattered just beyond the main door to descend on the dining table while the Elf-lord strode, silver robes billowing majestically, toward the tall chair at its head.

Dignified Erestor followed in Elrond's wake. Heading for the sideboard, he gave the buffet a final inspection before coming to stand beside Ivy. Giving him a nervous smile, she got a neutral stare and silence in return.

Oops. No warm fuzzies tonight. She sighed quietly to herself. Why do I feel like I'm in trouble when I haven't done anything?

Haldir trailed in last to claim a place next to Verce. Ivy noted that everyone remained standing behind their chairs rather than sitting down, and the ellith grew silent as they glanced about the room. Even Tamurile's giggling faded as she took in her surroundings.

"Sweet Elbereth, we're in Ithilien." For the first time, Ivy heard the irrepressible Elf speak without a trace of a California-girl accent.

"We've been in Ithilien all week." Wendy sounded bored.

"Not like this, we haven't," Tamurile said. "This is old Ithilien. Just look at the walls."

Glancing casually about the room, Wendy went wide-eyed and slack-jawed as she was struck by Ithilien's tapestries, but they were only a portion of the dining hall's total effect. The enormous fireplace with its roaring fire was working hard to warm the vast room, and the candelabrum on the heavily laden sideboard burned bravely on, but only shallow pools of light reached the stately table in the middle of the hall. As for the flickering shadows cast by the weak light, they only made Ithilien's presence all the more real.

Iron chains clanked ominously while darkness and Elven memory pressed against the cold windows. Both crept in to inhabit more than mere corners. The broad wooden beams overhead seemed to press lower this night, while Ithilien's early tapestries and their woven emotions transported everyone into the distant past.

The heavy chains rattled again, and Ivy glanced over her shoulder to see Legolas throw his weight into cranking the obstinate winch while Glorfindel stepped away and stared up at the ceiling.

Giving a shiver, Alasse wrapped her arms about herself. "I know this is an old hall, but tonight it feels absolutely ancient."

"Have you forgotten how far back this house reaches?" Verce all but whispered. "It is ancient."

"As ancient as memory," said Elrond.

"It's also so dark, we won't be able to see what we're eating, let alone one another," Wendy protested. "Those tapestry people are watching us, and are we really going to have to wait while that groaning monstrosity overhead is dealt with? Haldir, I thought you added another generator last year?"

"I replaced a generator last year, and how very spoiled we sound." Haldir himself sounded not at all concerned with Wendy's growing irritation. "The only time we live without electricity blinding us at every step is when we're all together here, in the dead of winter."

"That's quite enough for me." Wendy worried the slender wooden spindles atop the back of her chair. "I like being able to see, and I grew tired of candlewax in the eighteen hundreds - always dripping and smoking and stinking, spilling onto my clothes and running over the tablecloths. Honestly, some progress is very nice."

A heavy creaking sounded up above, and Legolas' irritated muttering in Sindarin shifted into satisfaction. A moment later, something huge began lowering itself out of the gloom.

"Here it comes. Everyone, please step away from the table." Glorfindel's hand on Ivy's shoulder urged her back a few paces.

A great round thing was creeping down from the shadowed rafters. Looming larger as it descended, the wrought-iron chandelier was absolutely huge, with two tiers of fat, half-burned candles running its circumference. Halting a few inches over the table and its chairs, the chandelier creaked and swayed slowly in the flickering shadows.

"This hall is so Middle Ages," Ivy whispered.

"Updated to be one, actually." Suddenly Legolas was at her elbow, slipping in between her and Glorfindel. In his hand was an unlit candle. "We built this dining hall stone by stone, long before the medieval age began."

"And now," said Haldir with a patient smile, "the Lord of Ithilien will tell how he planted, from seedlings and with his own bare hands, the oak trees forming the beams overhead."

Tamurile nodded. "Oh, yes, we've all heard the tale."

"Repeatedly." Wendy sighed.

"Not to mention the story of how, even now, a certain portion of Ithilien's forest is growing replacements for the three-hundred-year-old beams just up there." Tamurile pointed them out. "Because they will go all beetley. All oak gets beetley in the end, so--"

"Sooner or later, Legolas will once again have to replace the beams." Elrond's robes caressed Ivy's arm, and she jumped as he slipped in between her and Erestor.

"Quite so." Giving a slight bow, Legolas accepted their gentle mockery and teasing in the spirit in which it was meant. "Replacing those beams is not a task I look forward to, but I needn't think of it tonight."

Tamurile picked at the wick of the candle closest to her, only to pull back her hand and shake it violently. "Oh, ew! Legolas, there are cobwebs on these candles, and now I can't get them off of me! No housekeeping?"

"Housekeeping has been Haldir's responsibility as of late, take it up with him," Legolas said dismissively. "Is everyone here?" He glanced round the circle of Elves standing just beyond the gently swaying chandelier.

"Everyone but my brother," said Wendy. "Julien is sulking mightily up in his room, and he's ordered me to deliver his supper to him." She sniffed. "He can wait."

Verce eyed the candle in Legolas' hands. "Is it your intention to bring back the illumination ceremony? Or shall we all just leap in and light whatever we can reach?"

"Bring it back?" echoed Legolas. "I didn't know it had gone."

"Haldir and Elrond tried keeping it up while you were away, but my sweet brother smirked and belittled us all until no one wanted to participate. Even Elrond gave up."

"I did," the Elf-lord acknowledged. "Better to forego the ceremony than have it mocked."

"I miss the candlepassing," Alasse said quietly.

"I miss it as well," said Haldir, "and I definitely think we should revive it. We're all here, and this monstrosity is conveniently dangling dark before us."

"I've missed it too." Squaring her narrow shoulders, Tamurile met the gaze of any who might laugh at her as Julien had. "I also think it's time to bring it back since Legolas has returned to us, we have a new Queen's Daughter, and Julien isn't here to wreck things. And isn't the ceremony all about new beginnings? I know I want a new beginning after this week of Julien hell."

"Very well," said Legolas. "I am bringing it back."

Leaving Ivy's side, he headed off down the room toward the fireplace.

"Where's he going?" she asked.

"To light his candle at the fireplace." Brushing away the nearest cobwebs, Elrond scowled as the dust disturbed by their removal sifted downward toward the table. "All right, everyone. I'm afraid we'll have to add a new part to the ceremony. Please pick off the webs on the candles nearest you. We don't want their silk to burn and drop onto the tablecloths or into someone's hair during the meal."

Everyone busied themselves with the cobwebs as directed. Following their lead, Ivy rolled the tenacious webbing into little balls and surreptitiously dropped them onto the floor.

Nobody said what to do with this stuff, she thought, but somebody's bound to be sweeping up later. Maybe it'll be bitchy Birdy or Bridie...or whoever she is.

Leaning closer to Elrond, she whispered, "What's an illumination ceremony?"

"How remiss of us not to explain," he murmured. Reaching into Ivy's space, he used his long arm to sweep away the cobwebs in the chandelier's second tier that she could not reach. "The winter illumination ceremony is an Elven custom dating back to our earliest days in Arda. This day is the shortest, this night the longest of the year, you see? Thus it is that the waning year dies in darkness tonight, and a new year is born with the dawn. Tomorrow, the days begin growing longer, and so we celebrate the return of light and warmth to our world."

"Death and rebirth are together on consecutive nights," Glorfindel pointed out, "so our little ceremony also reminds us that there is life in death and light in darkness."

Said Erestor, "Now is also the time for all of us to do some mental housecleaning. Get rid of the past and plan for the future."

Haldir snorted. "How appropriate is that, given what we've endured today?"

"So what, exactly, is going to happen?" asked Ivy as Legolas returned to her side, guarding well his new candle-flame. "Do I need to do anything? I don't know what to do."

"I will offer some words to Elbereth and light the first three candles on the chandelier," said Legolas. "This candle will then be passed round the circle so each of us may light our own. Those wishing to say a few words may do so."

"But keep it short," growled Erestor with a glare toward the ellith to his left. "We're all hungry, and supper's getting cold."

Part of Ivy was panicking, and not over the gravy congealing on the sideboard. Am I expected to say something? Leaning against Elrond, she tugged lightly at his sleeve.

"What does everyone talk about?" she whispered.

"The things of the past they wish to dissolve in the darkness, or what they hope to celebrate in the new light to come." Turning to meet her anxious gaze, he offered a reassuring smile. "Follow your heart, daughter, and you might worry less in the coming light."

She offered a small smile in return, but his words did little to stem the apprehension sending her stomach into flip-flops.

I'm happy to be kind of Elven, and I'm happy to be with them, but I'd love a script giving a teeny idea of what's going to pop up next and maybe -- just maybe -- give me some tiny clue as to what I'm supposed to do. This is way worse than figuring out which fork to use.

The Elf-lord took Ivy's hand as Legolas lit the first wick. The Elf-lord's hand easily engulfed hers, and its warmth and reassuring grip went far toward banishing her fears as the first light began to glow.

The atmosphere in the room changed abruptly, as though the entire room was holding its breath, poised for what was to come. The others shifted in the candlelight, and Ivy noted they were taking one another's hands as well. Glancing up at Legolas, she wondered if she ought to take his hand, but they seemed to be busy.

Twelve candles on the upper, inside ring of the chandelier, and twenty-four on the outside, she quickly counted. How very neat. Thank you, Julien, for not coming down so I can see my first official Elven ceremony, she thought with a shiver. And they're letting me join in their celebration as one of them?

"Elbereth who lit the stars, watching from afar," Legolas began, holding his candle steady. "To you we cry, beneath the shadow of a world that dies. We give thanks that we are all together this midwinter night and able to celebrate the returning of the light. We ask you to dispel the shadows in our lives and grand us the new beginning we seek."

Reaching across the outer ring of candles, the Elf surreptitiously swept clean the next two candlewicks before touching his flame to it. As the fire struggled to catch hold, he turned and offered the candle to Glorfindel, who in turn set alight his first wick.

"The shadows in my heart and mind are gone now that my son has returned safe from Alaska." Handing off the candle to Haldir, he warned, "I'm not finished talking, so hang about."

Turning to Legolas, Glorfindel laid his hand over his heart and gave a slight bow. Watching them so close together - almost in profile as their eyes met - Ivy barely managed not to gasp at the scene before her.

Oh, how beautiful they are in the candlelight, she thought. I have to remember, have to draw this. They look even more alike when Glorfindel's not smiling, Ivy noted, but I think he's a bit taller than Legolas.

"My wish this night is for all your sadnesses to melt away," said Glorfindel, "and for the light of the new year to give you hope. I love you," he concluded simply, "and I'm glad you've come home."


The two shared a tight embrace while Ivy blinked furiously to clear the tears from her eyes. Stop that! You'll miss something if you cry. Besides, you just dried up from your last fit of Aragorn-inspired tears. They're going to think there's something wrong with you, and you've got no Kleenex, either.

Glorfindel stood with his arm draped companionably around his son's shoulders. "All right, Haldir. You're next."

"And you forgot to light your last two candles." The marchwarden did so before turning to his own three. "I, too, am glad at Legolas' return. For some months, I've felt a looming dissatisfaction and a vague despair. Both are dispelled now that you're back, and I assure you it is not only because you've taken the reins to Greenwood once more, and I can give Halden the dignified funeral so worthy an executive deserves." Haldir deepened his voice with mock solemnity at his impending demise.

"I missed you, my friend," he added simply and sincerely, "and I celebrate your return. Like your father, I wish you all happiness in the coming year. And the rest of us as well. May this new year bring us all peace." He looked abashed as he handed off the candle to Verce.

"Awwwwww," Tamurile and Sindohte sounded as one.

"Hín..." Elrond spoke low in warning before they could even get started.

Children, Ivy's brain interpreted after a moment. And he's not looking or growling at me, for which I am deeply grateful.

The two quieted instantly, but still exchanged amused smiles.

Verce cleared her throat. "I agree with Haldir. We could all use a few years of peace among us. I am also grateful for the huge relief I feel this night because Lords Elrond and Glorfindel, Legolas and Haldir have helped dissolve the dark sense of shame I've had for a number of months at having deceived all of you - most especially you, my Lord Elrond."

He acknowledged her words with a solemn, formal nod.

"I celebrate our finally working as one, however belatedly, this afternoon," Verce continued, "to set everything to rights. No matter our troubles, the four of you have offered nothing but wise counsel and solace, and none of the chastisement I feared in my humiliation. My hope for the coming year is that we all remember what a loving family we have, and that we need fear nothing if we face our problems together."

She turned to Tamurile, who quickly lit her three candles before beaming at the Elven lords gathered on the opposite side of the chandelier.

"I, too, am celebrating your collective generosity and the gift of your forgiveness. Thank you." Shifting her attention to Erestor, Tamurile hissed, "Short enough for you?"

Sindohte poked her with an elbow as she took the candle, breaking Tamurile's impudent gaze before Erestor could respond. Lighting her first candle, Sindohte paused a moment to collect her thoughts.

Running a finger contemplatively through the flame, she said, "For months I've been very afraid that I'd have to sell my theatre. That my young ones - the Mortal actors who are like a second family to me - would have to find another space to play in because I didn't know when to give up on a silly dream and stupidly trusted Julien to help us. Tonight, I am grateful for the hard lessons I've learned and that my young ones' playhouse is safe."

Awkwardly taking the candle Sindohte offered, Alasse lit her candles.

"What everyone else has said," she whispered, focusing on the flames to avoid meeting anyone's gaze. "Times a thousand."

Alasse passed her candle to Wendy, and Sindohte slid an arm around the shy elleth in a quick hug. As for Wendy, she lit her wicks without saying anything and handed the candle on to Erestor. Ivy chewed her lip, watched that candle creep closer, and anxiously awaited her turn.

"So." A stern Erestor peered at everyone from between the two levels of the the chandelier. "You've all been out of sorts this weekend, and I give thanks to Elbereth that you've finally made your peace."

Shaking his head, the chef continued. "Each of you has been troubled with something for a long time, and this weekend we found out what that something was. It's been hard for me to stand back and watch while some of you got lost in the shadows and hurt yourselves because you've been too shy or fearful to ask for help. So my hope for the new year is that you'll find the light and stay in it. See your troubles through together, like Verce says, and not keep any more secrets."

"Secrets breed division," he continued, "and we all need to draw together. This is all the more important as our numbers lessen in this world and our family grows smaller. I also hope you enjoy the food I prepare for you."

He handed the candle on to Elrond, and Ivy tried to ignore her nervousness, knowing she was next.

"Elbereth." With only one word, the Elf-lord seemed to evoke the very presence of Valar he addressed. "Elbereth, hear me."

A log cracked and fell in the fireplace behind them, and Ivy jumped. A powerful, benevolent presence swept in to fill the room, and it seemed to Ivy the candle flames grew stronger and brighter.

Does being a master of lore and the great-great-grandson of a Maia mean he can summon, at will, the queen of the Valar and the direct representative of Eru Iluvatar? she wondered, knowing she'd never have the nerve to ask that particular question. Standing next to Elrond Peredhil was awe-inspiring enough, and Ivy watched, spellbound by his power as his deep voice effortlessly filled the hall.

"Watch over and protect my children, especially those who cannot be with us this night. Keep them always surrounded by your light, no matter what shadows they encounter."

I hope Dan calls soon, Ivy fretted, and that Rogue's safe in Russia. And Arwen...I don't know her yet, but Elrond's prayer should keep her safe too, right?

"May this new year bring love and light, lasting peace and happiness to each of them." Turning, Elrond held Ivy's gaze as he passed the candle to her. "Especially to you, my daughter."

Oh, sweet Elbereth, he's including me as one of his children - his Elven children! she realized with a jolt that made her heart lurch and her hands tremble. Overcome with emotion and entirely unable to speak, she stared up at him in shock. He really means it. And - and it feels like he really does love me. But how can he do that when he doesn't even know me?

Arching an eyebrow at the way the flame lurched and bounced, Elrond cradled her elbow with one hand and laid his other hand over hers to steady the candle. "Are you all right?"

Not trusting her voice, she could only nod. Please don't let me say or do anything stupid and let him down.

"Would you like me to light your candles and pass the other on to Legolas?" Elrond asked.

His gentle patience nearly undid her. Shaking her head vehemently, Ivy closed her eyes against the naked affection and complete acceptance reflected in his blue eyes. The Elven lord's emotions enveloped her completely, much as Aragorn's had, and she struggled to separate her own feelings from the intensity of his.

Elbereth, please! she sent her own, desperate prayer to the presence she still felt filling the room.

Leaning down, Elrond murmured, "Daughter, what is it? What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong. It's just...what I'm feeling right now is enormous, and it's really getting to me," she whispered back. "I’m sorry. Everybody's being really nice, and this ceremony feels really intense."

Her voice broke despite her best interests. Bowing her head and closing her eyes, she struggled on. "Is there some way to back off what I'm feeling, so I don't embarrass us both?"

"I believe so. Breathe for me."

His broad hand rubbed the small of her back as Ivy drew a deep breath. Peace radiated outward from that warm, gentle touch, and the deep emotion Ivy was feeling retreated like mist over water, leaving a warm glow of happiness in its wake.


Nodding, she opened her eyes. "Thank you."

Turning to the chandelier, she drew another deep breath and struggled to hold her candle steady. It's your turn, do not screw this up. Her hand was still trembling when Legolas leaned over to whisper in her ear.

"Be sure to mind your hair and sleeves, if you will."

Grateful for the warning, she nodded, shoved back her hair with one hand, and made sure to light the candle on the inner ring first. Best get all of them out of the way first thing.

If any of the Eldar were impatient for her to move on with the evening, they were hiding it well. Even Erestor's hiding it well.

Glancing around the circle of Elves, Ivy barely noticed Legolas lifting the candle from between her stiff fingers. She was much more interested in the soft light radiating from far more than the candles.

"Oh, look!" she blurted, clutching Elrond's arm. "All of you are glowing, and it's so beautiful!"

Everyone burst out laughing, and Ivy blushed to the roots of her hair. Mortified, she bowed her head once more. I can't believe I said that. Of all things, why did I say that?

"Come now, Ivy," Glorfindel called over the ongoing laughter. "Whatever you planned to say, I'm sure that wasn't it?"

"You're right," she muttered as the laughter lessened. "Can I have a do-over?"

Legolas nudged her shoulder companionably with his own. "It was an honest observation."

"Yeah, it was," said Tamurile, "and you're right. We are glowing." Holding out her hands, she examined the soft luminescence around her fingers. "We forget sometimes, you know?"

"And, sometimes, we forget how," said Glorfindel. "But you are glowing, too."

"Me?" Ivy said, incredulous. "No way. I've never glowed in my life."

"It's very soft, but you must trust that it's there," said Elrond.

Yeah, right. "Okay." She sighed. "So do I get a do-over?"

"No," said Erestor, leaning out from Elrond's far side to scowl at her. "You get a continue-please."

She knew a none-too-subtle warning when she heard it. Never argue with a hungry Elven chef.

"So, um...I just want to thank all of you for being real. Really real, and not fake Elves or wannabes. Thanks for being in this world. And for letting me share it with you tonight."

That drew a dimpled grin from Legolas and a murmur of agreement from around the circle. "It is our pleasure."

Ivy nodded awkwardly. "Thanks. And I'm done."

A still-smiling Elrond held out his hand for her to take it once more.

Yeah, well, they're all still smiling, she noticed. Except for Erestor. Okay, so I didn't do as badly as I could have, but it wasn't great either. Maybe if they keep springing these impromptu things on me, I'll get better with some practice?

Lighting the last three candles, Legolas then blew out his own. Laying it on the table, he took Ivy's other hand, only to lift their hands overhead as Elrond and the others did the same.

"And so, Elbereth," Legolas said, "we remind ourselves this night that the darkness outside is nothing so long as we share the light."

"In light and love," everyone murmured, and Ivy did the same, if a little belatedly.

Lowering their hands, everyone stepped back from the chandelier. Returning to the winch, Legolas and Glorfindel released the chain to set about lifting the great, burning chandelier back to its place, high above the table.

The ceremonial circle broke up as everyone drifted toward the buffet and went back to talking amongst themselves. Ignoring them, Ivy stood entranced to watch the blazing circle of light rise, spreading a warm glow over the room that dispelled every shadow.

Even woven-Aragorn looks happier, she decided. Ivy also knew she had a daffy smile on her face, but couldn't squelch it to save her soul.

"What are you thinking?" asked Elrond, still standing beside her.

"That this is, without doubt, the most magical night of my life. And you say I'm glowing like an Elf." She spared him a delighted grin. "How wicked cool can one night get?"


Continued here


Return to Story List || Contact

DISCLAIMERS: Blood Ties and its characters/teleplays are the property of Tanya Huff, Insight Film, Chum TV, Kaleidoscope Entertainment and, their associates and license holders. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel the Series and their characters/teleplays are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, UPN, 20th Century-Fox and, their associates and license holders. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and all character names are the acknowledged trademarks of George Lucas and Lucasfilm. Lord of the Rings and all character names are the acknowledged trademarks of the J.R.R. Tolkien Estate and/or its licensees. Character and other creative elements from these respective works are used on this site without permission for entertainment, not-profit purposes only. This site contains only fan-produced fiction and artwork which intend no copyright infringement.No money is collected or made off of anything on this site. Everything here is fictional (this means it never happened). Any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental. By entering this site, you agree to hold the author and website owner completely blameless and liable for absolutely nothing.