Haldir began uncorking the bottles of wine on the table while Tamurile grabbed Alasse by the sleeve and tugged her toward the buffet table.

"Let me get Julien his plate first?" Wendy begged.

Tamurile rolled her eyes. "Oh, do forgive me. How could I have forgotten poor Julien? By all means--" She swept an arm toward the laden tables. "Feed the whinging baby first."

Others murmured agreement as they lined up for their turn at the buffet. All seemed quite content that Julien was not joining them this night, though Ivy was certain her relief surpassed everyone else's. With Elrond in front of her, Erestor at her back, and the promise of no Julien at all, she relaxed and was contented to listen to the idle conversation surrounding her.

"You've truly outdone yourself, Erestor," said Verce from further down the line. "Everything smells divine."

"And the room is actually warm," said Alasse.

Tamurile snorted. "Given the size of that ongoing bonfire in the corner, I doubt it would dare get cold." Standing on tiptoe near the end of the line, she tried to see the food spread out on the sideboard. "Wendy and Haldir are certainly taking her time, aren't they? I can't see anything, and the smells are sheer torture."

"Would you like me to toss you a dinner roll?" asked Erestor. "Or a bit of cheese? We brought much from Warra."

"You'd think Lairg couldn't provide its own dairy products," Legolas groused from the end of the line.

"I don't care where the happy cows came from. Pass me that cheese," Tam begged in mock desperation. "Famished back here. Growing faint...."

Elrond thrust a napkin into Ivy's hands that contained the promised cheese. She in turn passed it to Erestor, only to watch it walk its way down to the supposedly swooning Elf. A grinning Legolas stood behind Tamurile with his arms held wide, apparently ready to catch her should her knees actually buckle.

The host eats last, Ivy contemplated, feeling a twinge of regret she wasn't back there with him.

"Lovely, lovely cheese," she purred as she received her bit of sustenance. "Almost as good as the Wensleydale."

"Almost?" Legolas bristled, but was ignored.

"What else is on the menu?" demanded Tamurile.

"Prime rib - also from Warra - and rabbit from Lairg," the chef dutifully relayed. "You requested sweet baby carrots and twice-baked potatoes, so they're up there, too."

"Oh, goodie! That's what I wanted to hear." Darting up the line, she gave Erestor a quick peck on the cheek. "You're absolutely fab."

"Glad to hear it. Don't do that again," he growled, swiping at his cheek.

"What, no roasted boar or swan?" asked Glorfindel. "No one consulted me about menu preferences. How is it that Tam gets all of her favorites, and I get none?"

"Boar and swan?" Ivy repeated.

"Sounds like the name of a pub, doesn't it?" said Glorfindel.

"Or a band. Please tell me you're joking about eating it?"

"He is not," said Tamurile, still hovering out of line. "Both were on the table a hundred fifty years ago, but the wild boar are all gone, and only the Queen of England is allowed to eat swans now."

"That applies only to certain parts of the Thames." Legolas wandered up to join the conversation. "Swans proved difficult to domesticate in Ithilien, and the wild ones are far too rare to kill."

"Personally, I'm not sorry. Swan is just dreadful. Greasy and far too gamey." Tamurile wrinkled her nose at the memory.

Legolas nodded in agreement "Rabbit and chicken are imminently more practical. To eat, that is. And I should like to point out that the fresh apple cider is also from here."

"Buckets of applause for the provider in Ithilien," answered Erestor. "It makes one less thing to ship from Warra."

"It's very good cider," said Legolas, sounding mildly hurt.

"I'm sure I'll like it," Ivy jumped in, "because I've never had anything like it before. Everything we get is homogenized and pasteurized and reconstituted and really, not very appley by the time they get done with it."

"Then you certainly must have some of ours while you are here."

"I will, and thank you. And with it, I'd like Diet Coke. Is there any left?" asked Ivy.

"I brought out enough for Legolas," said Erestor. "You father requested fresh milk for you."

"Oh. Great." What am I? Ten years old and can't hold my caffeine?

Turning slightly at her tone, Elrond locked his gaze into Ivy's. "There is the cider you were praising only moments ago."

"No, no. Milk's fine. And cider after that." I wouldn't argue in a million years with the look he's giving me.

"Sweet Elbereth," said Haldir as Wendy finally left the buffet line. "Two plates? I've never seen you eat like that."

"You can't seriously think this is all for me!" She waved the plates about. "Did you not hear me say I was taking something up for Julien? I don't want him coming down here tonight looking for seconds. Hence, all the food."

Tamurile danced up to Legolas. "I simply love how you broke his nose, just like that!" Swinging her arm wildly, she mimed the fierce backhand that had laid Julien low and caused Legolas to lean away to avoid being slapped.

"It was my pleasure," he deadpanned.

"How is Julein?" asked Verce.

"Oh, he looks horrible! Horrible!" Wendy hissed. "Not the least bit Elven any more! His nose is all swollen and funny-shaped, and his eyes are going all black, like a raccoon's. It's just awful," she added with a giggle.

"Wendy is right," said Elrond. "Glorfindel and I looked in on him earlier when the electrics went out. The bleeding has slowed, but both his eyes are going bruised. I believe his nose is broken in three places."

"Totally smashed," Glorfindel added cheerfully.

Tamurile beamed. "Oh, well done, Legolas!"

"No effort at all," he dissembled, but added a bit of a bow and a shy smile.

"It will be at least forty-five days before a physician can properly evaluate the injury, as the swelling must ease first," Elrond continued, "but I have packed Julien's nose with wet gauze. Tomorrow morning, I will try to straighten his nasal bridge and septum."

"You don't want to wait for the swelling to go down?" Legolas asked.

Elrond turned his way. "Did I wait when that stallion threw his head and broke your nose?"


"Nor will I wait now. We must get the bones back into their approximate places as soon as possible. The final correction will be left to the surgeon."

"You have the proper equipment with you to fix his nose?" asked Glorfindel. "I didn't think you traveled with such things anymore. And what about some sort of anesthetic?"

"I have neither," replied Elrond in a tone so offhanded that it startled Ivy. Concern for the comfort of his patient did not seem to be this healer's top priority. "There is a generous assortment of table knives in the kitchen, and Julien may have one to bite down on if the pain is too much. I can find other implements that are approximately the correct shape for levering the bone fragments about, so we shall simply work with what we have on hand."

Ivy winced. "This really sounds painful. Like something the Inquisition would do."

"Does it?" Elrond's voice was eerily calm. "I am attempting to help Julien, for delaying treatment will not serve him in the slightest. If he refuses to let me reset his nose, he is free to seek reconstructive surgery later."

Ivy looked up at him. "Would that be any less painful?"

"No. Surgery on noses is always extremely painful."

"Good," murmured Legolas.

"So that's settled." Turning back to Haldir, Wendy gestured with a plate. "Do you have a bottle of something very strong that I might take up to my brother? He wants his ruffled feathers soothed."

"Of course. The Vinotemp in here is empty, but I believe the one in the kitchen has been restocked. Wine or stronger spirits, do you think?" Haldir headed toward the door closest to the kitchen.

"Oh, the stronger the better." Wendy trailed after him. "And there should be lots of it."

"I am willing to sacrifice a bottle of twenty-year-old, biting scotch if you think that will do?"

"Is it very strong?"

"Very. But deceptively so when one drinks it."

"Oh, that sounds perfect. Let's put the baby to bed, please?"

Laughter followed them as they left the hall, and the buffet line moved much more quickly with Wendy gone. Waiting for Ivy as she finished making her selections, Elrond then escorted her to the table. Taking his place at its head, he indicated she should have the seat on his right.


He stepped closer, and she quickly slid into the chair, half afraid he was wanting to hold it for her. If Elrond intended what to Ivy was an awkward and unfamiliar courtesy, she made certain her behind was in the chair and scooted it forward before he could lay hands on the thing. Smiling up at him in satisfaction and no small relief, she watched as he moved back to his own seat.

Glorfindel took the chair opposite hers, and Legolas claimed the one beside Ivy and next to Erestor, which suited Ivy just fine. Joining them within minutes, Haldir seated himself across the table, beside Glorfindel. The ellith made up the rest of the party, with Alasse placing a glass of red wine at the empty setting that Ivy assumed was for Wendy when she returned.

Bemused at the seating arrangements, Ivy touched Elrond's hand. "I see what you've done here."

"Done, where? What have I done?"

"How neatly you've surrounded me with three - no, make that five - Elven warriors," she amended to include Erestor and Haldir.

The warriors in question were clearly eavesdropping, and Elrond's warm smile made the corners of his eyes crinkle. "I did not realize we were being so obvious."

"Just a little," she teased. "But I don't understand why you think it's necessary since Julien's lying all broken upstairs."

"It's always best to be prepared." Legolas helped himself to a handful of nuts and dried figs from the large bowl at the center of the table before pushing it toward Ivy and the others.

"Prepared for what? Julien sneaking down and bleeding on us? Whining at us?"

"For anything," said Legolas. "He has strange ideas and even stranger timing."

Glorfindel shrugged. "It's a strategic habit, Ivy. Humor the ancient Elven warriors." Holding up a fig, he examined it in the candlelight. "As a new student of all things Elven, you may be interested in knowing that dried figs are a special treat for us. The twins originally brought these little delicacies from the Middle East into Scotland, and I remember the day when Legolas first tried one. He thought he'd never tasted anything so good." Looking across at his son, he grinned. "Do you remember that day?"

"I do. Erestor tucked some into my satchel before you and I left for a hunt. I ate my first fig sitting in an oak tree, waiting for the deer to come."

"As I recall," said Glorfindel, "your raptures frightened away the deer, so we brought back rabbits instead." He flung out his hand to salute the now-embarrassed Elf. "My son, the mighty distracted hunter."

"That morning, at least." Legolas was suddenly very interested in his plate, and even Erestor joined in the subsequent laughter.

"Oh, this is heaven," Ivy murmured, savoring the succulent prime rib that Warra's fierce chef had prepared. "I swear, I've never tasted anything so good as this."

Erestor beamed at her. "I thank you for the compliment, little one."

"Now you've gone and done it," said Haldir.

"Done what?" asked Ivy.

"Ensured he'll feed you only the best while you're in Warra."

"That, I will," said Erestor.

"Gee, won't that be a terrible thing to endure?" Reaching across Legolas, who had yet to recover from his embarrassment and begin eating, Ivy dared pat Erestor on the arm. "I'm really looking forward to sampling more of your goodies."

There was a momentary lull in the conversation as all savored the midwinter feast, until Ivy looked up from her dinner to find the former marchwarden of Lothlorian.

"Haldir," said Ivy. "The tapestries are wonderful. Thanks so much for going to the trouble of digging them out."

"You are certainly welcome." He beamed at her. "We've not had them up in literally ages, and after our discussion earlier I thought you might enjoy seeing them. You're the first Queen's Daughter who's cared what few Elven marvels might remain here in Lairg Castle. Besides which, they greatly help warm the room when it's cold." He looked at Legolas. "Did you give her a proper guided tour of them?"

"If I had, we'd still be at it. They do, after all, span hundreds of years. Besides which, this Queen's Daughter proved herself particularly susceptible to the collective emotion and memories contained in them."

There was an air about the way this information was imparted that gave Ivy the feeling that something significant was contained within that remark. That nasty feeling of uncertainty returned as she tried to figure out if she'd done something wrong. Again.

This is starting to become a really annoying sort of habit here, she thought, as the frown on Elrond's face did little to reassure her. What did I manage to do this time?

Setting down his fork, Elrond looked at Legolas. "Susceptible, how?"

"Perhaps Ivy might explain?"

Oh, yeah, put me in the hot seat again. What is it with these Elves? "It was nothing. Really."

Elrond was having none of it. "Ivy, what happened when you looked at the tapestries?"

"I don't know if I can explain, because it's nothing I've ever felt before. It was just kind of...big."

"Please do try to explain, if you will."

"I don't really have words for it., it felt like I sort of fell into them. Like you'd fall into a lake or swimming pool. You know, more there than here?"

"Like being immersed in them?" Glorfindel ventured.

"Yeah. In over my head would be a good description." Kinda like now, only different.

"It was strongest when she looked at the panel containing Aragorn and our collective Elven memories of him," Legolas relayed. "I have warned her not to explore the tapestries again - or, indeed, any Elven artwork - without a guide."

With that, every Elf on her side of the table stopped eating and exchanged silent glances.

"Did I do something wrong?" Ivy asked.

"Not at all," Elrond said immediately. "Your reaction is understandable as you are directly related to Aragorn. You've also never been exposed to any of our art before. Had you grown up with it, you would already have learned how to separate your emotions from those embedded in it, and how to control your reactions to it."

"Elrond, are you aware that Ivy has already been weaving emotions into her horse paintings? said Legolas.

"Yes, indeed." The Elf-lord's expression spoke of pride, which only served to confuse Ivy further.

"I've done what?"

"Where did you encounter her work?" Elrond asked Legolas.

"I showed him Ivy's website the day he arrived," said Haldir.

"Hey, still here, Elven people," Ivy interrupted. "What did I do? And how do you know about my website?"

Feeling more bewildered by the minute as the conversation evolved around her, Ivy glanced from Elf to Elf, all of whom were looking more than a bit amused at her expense. "Okay, it's time to confess, guys. How many of you have been watching me without my knowing it?"

"Oh, let me see," said Haldir brightly, in that tone she was coming to recognize as preceding much detailed information. "You know of Dan and myself. Elrond, didn't Ivy's violin teacher relay information to you from Montana?"

"He did," Elrond confirmed. "And her neighbor in San Francisco, as well."

"Oh, please tell me it's not Mrs. Agnes from across the street? That crazy lady who is always peeking at me through her blinds? You can't tell me that creepy little woman is an Elf!"

They all laughed at her dismay.

"No, it was another neighbor," said Haldir. "You don't know them, I'm sure, they're quite discreet. The rest of your watchers are an odd assortment of various, unseen guardians who escorted you over the years, to and from school and on your adventures about the town. Rain or shine."

Her eyes grew wide at the news, and she shivered. "I had stalkers?"

"Not stalkers," assured Elrond. "Protectors. There is a very great difference."

She shook her head. "Not seeing it."

"Stalkers act on their own, with their own agendas which are usually unpleasant in the end," said Elrond. "Guardians act under my instruction and are there to protect you from dangers - including stalkers, should they happen into your life. Large cities are not the safest of places for little girls, and San Francisco is no exception."

"I wasn't a little girl when we moved there, and I would have been fine on my own!" she protested. "I was fine on my own."

"You were, with their help," Elrond agreed, "and I thank Elbereth for that."

"Not to mention thanking the retinue of Elves he had watching you," said Glorfindel. "You mustn't think badly of him, Ivy. Your father means well, and he's not singling you out for this treatment if it makes you feel any better. Given half the chance, Lord Elrond takes over everyone's life."

"I did not take over her life!" the Elf-lord snapped. "You know very well that Marian refused to protect her child from the dangers inherent in the Mortal world. I am sure your son would have assigned the same guards, had he not been away in Alaska. It is not as though I appeared on Ivy's doorstep, swept a black hood over her head, and carted her off to Warra."

Glorfindel grinned. "I know of numerous times when you wanted to. I heard your fretting, remember?"

"There were times I wish you had carried me off," Ivy muttered.

"There, you see? She not only needed us, she would have welcomed us. And now, she has welcomed all of us into her life. So let there be no talk of my taking over her life."

"No, that'll come later," quipped Glorfindel.

"Daro i!" Elrond commanded. Stop now.

Flinching at his fierce tone, Ivy chewed her lip and stared at her plate. Leaning surreptitiously against her, Legolas slipped his hand beneath the table to find hers and squeeze it, much as he had done earlier upstairs during the final moments of the board meeting. His thumb caressed the back of her hand.

"Are you all right?" he murmured.

"Fine. I mean, he's not yelling at me this time, is he?" she whispered back. "But it's about me, which isn't much better. I don't think he has much of a sense of humor where I'm concerned."

She could feel Elrond's gaze on them, yet hadn't the nerve to lift her head and meet whatever disapproval those grey eyes might contain.

"I enjoyed seeing the artwork on your website." Legolas spoke loudly enough for all to hear, and in a voice so smooth that Ivy had a sudden glimpse of the diplomacy necessary to handle Greenwood's subsidiaries, not to mention Greenwood's own volatile Elven officials. "I believe I reacted to your Shadowfax much as you reacted to Aragorn."

Stunned, she lifted her head. "You did?"

A brief nod, and the reassurance in his warm blue eyes held her every bit as tightly as his hand still held hers.

"Shadowfax easily drew me into his presence," said Legolas, "I felt as though I were running with him on his beach."

"And so you learned our Ivy is as capable as any Elven artist to layer emotions into her art, and you were touched by it?" Elrond sounded far calmer than before, and lifted his wine glass in a brief salute. "Such sensitivity only proves once more to me that you belong among us."

"Because I cried over a woven panel featuring Aragorn?"

Elrond smiled and nodded.

"If the scene featured me," muttered Glorfindel to his own glass of wine, apparently still annoyed by Elrond's snapping, "I doubt it would have moved you to tears."

"That depends on if you looked absolutely miserable in it like Aragorn does in his," she remarked.

"Miserable?" Elrond pursued.

"Yes. I mean, look at Aragorn." She gestured shortly toward the tapestry. "Can't you feel it? He isn't wearing a crown, and didn't he want to be remembered as a ranger and not as king? Wasn't he sick at heart with having to be king? And you--" She turned to Legolas. "You're not standing beside him as Lord of Ithilien, are you? You're standing beside him as his friend, like you did all the way to the Black Gate."

"The way he is still doing now?" asked Glorfindel.

"Yeah, exactly," Ivy agreed. "You trusted each other, and Aragorn loved being with you a lot more than he liked being King of Gondor."

"She is right," Legolas said softly. "She is correct in all of it."

"Yes, she is." Elrond considered Ivy for so long a moment, she squirmed under his scrutiny. "Once in Warra, I believe we must devote some time to teaching you how to shield yourself from absorbing too many Elven emotions, whether they are contained in our art and music do you say it? real time."

"Sounds good to me," she grumbled. "Are these sorts of emotions woven into everything Elves do?"

"It's not woven into my prime rib," said Erestor.

Haldir snorted. "I should hope not, as I believe Ivy already feels she's been force-fed something she didn't ask for this night."

"I love your prime rib, and it makes me happy," she assured Erestor, "and I think you were happy when you were cooking for us, so I'm sure what you felt is in there, too. But Haldir is right, in a way. Part of me is resenting duties that I don't think were ever mine, and...and I want to go play in some moonlit meadow, which is something I don't understand at all."

"Aragorn and I hunted by moonlight throughout the summer and fall," said Legolas. "He enjoyed the peace of the night, the silence between us, and falling asleep to the song of crickets. Gondor offered none of that."

"You picked up on all those things just by looking at a tapestry?" Glorfindel whistled low. "Elrond, if your new daughter's that sensitive, you're going to have your hands full teaching her to shield herself."

"I am well aware of that."

"I don't want to block all of it," Ivy protested, "because I think you're right - I've always tried to merge somehow with the horses I paint. To feel what they feel and transfer it to the canvas. I didn't know I was doing some Elven thing; it's just how I work. And I need to keep doing that. If I can't look into their eyes and know them like I did with Aragorn, how am I supposed to paint?"

Elrond patted her hand. "Never fear, we will teach you to channel and control what you feel. Not to dam it up completely. All little Elves must learn this as they grow up."

She nodded in response and put the 'little Elves' comment aside to examine later, as she had more pressing concerns at the moment. "I take pictures sometimes and make preliminary drawings from them, so does this Elven emotion thing work with photography, too?"

"It does not," said Elrond. "It works only on that which we create with our voice, intellect, or touch."

"Song, writings or art," Glorfindel clarified, "and variations thereof."

"We cannot saturate mechanisms such as cameras - whether they use film or pixels - with emotion or memory. And so, a photograph is only a photograph. A mere image of reality created through machinery and chemicals. It may evoke emotions in the viewer, but it cannot store those of the creator."

"What if an Elf takes an image into a computer program and manipulates it? Does it get layered emotionally and transmitted then?"

Elrond shook his head. "The transference works only when an Elf acts upon the medium that becomes the message. In the example you have put forth, the emotions and the art are being filtered through a mortal machine or mechanism. A keyboard or mouse or some other device - not to mention a computer - is set between the Elven artist and their creation, and the transfer of emotions is blocked. Do you understand?"

"I think so. You have to channel your emotions into whatever you're working on, so it only works if you're touching or interacting with the art in some way?"

"Exactly," said Elrond while the others nodded their agreement. "Though I must admit to becoming quite emotional upon seeing a photo of you after you were born."

"You...what? You saw a baby picture? Why would that make you emotional?"

Hesitating a moment, Elrond looked away. "That is a discussion for another time, I think."

"Elrond was so frantic to see you," said Glorfindel, "your first watcher's assignment was to go to the hospital and take a picture of you in the nursery. That photo's still on his desk in Warra."

"Why send someone? Why not just ask my mother for a copy of the hospital photo?"

Elrond looked back at Ivy, but did not reply.

"Are you saying Mom wouldn't send you one?" she demanded.

"Marian never sent him anything, nor would she discuss you at all when she was with us here in Lairg," Glorfindel said quietly. "As far as your mother was concerned, you were not to exist to Elrond any more than he existed to you. She never so much as mentioned your name. Hence, the stalkers."

"I'm so sorry," she said to Elrond, and meant it. "My mother's not here anymore, though. We're finally face to face, and she has no say in the matter anymore. We can make up for lost time now, right?"

Elrond's eyes were filled with a deep sadness. "I hope so."

"It'll be okay. You'll see," she tried again. Anything to make him smile, or at least stop looking like that. "You know I'm really looking forward to seeing Warra and meeting your artisans and learning whatever you're willing to teach me."

"There are plenty of them to meet," said Elrond, "and I've no doubt they are eager to meet you as well."

"Voice an interest in something - anything," said Erestor. "We guarantee someone will be about to help you learn it."

"Yes, they will." Forcing a smile, Elrond returned to his meal.



Stalking into the room, Wendy went to the sideboard, got her own plate, and sat with the ellith, who seemed determined to ignore Ivy and the rocky conversation on the other end of the table. Taking a great gulp of wine, Wendy she shuddered slightly before settling down to eat.

"How is Julien?" Elrond called down the table.

"Sulking." Wendy cut up her prime rib with a vengeance. "He says his looks are ruined, probably permanently, and he's whinging about having to sit alone in the dark, as though we're forcing him to do so. He's saving the wine for later and swears you're spiking it with some diabolical drug, but he doesn't care because his face hurts and it'll let him sleep. And Legolas is the embodiment of evil, and an unbelievably poor host."

"I do try," Legolas replied.

Sighing, Wendy took another sip of wine and waved about her goblet. "It's so hard having Julien for a brother."

"And why is that?" asked Haldir. "I know he's difficult, but what specifically prompted that comment? Other than his turning on you without the slightest warning as he did earlier today?"

"As the t-shirt reads..." Grimacing, Wendy saluted her absent tormentor. "He smiles because I'm his sister. He laughs because there's nothing I can do about it. But since he's decided to deprive us of his wonderful presence, we can have a lovely meal now."

Forcing a smile, she waved her fork in some sort of invocation. "We shall now stop talking about my brother and enjoy the night, the lovely food and drink, and the company."

"Agreed," answered Verce, refilling Wendy's near-empty goblet.

"Oh, I don't know." Tamurile sighed. "I'm feeling very deprived by Julien's isolating himself that way." Pouting dramatically for a moment, she grinned. "Not! I think this is the start of a wonderful year. Oh, Wendy, you must try the potatoes. Erestor has outdone himself by melting some lovely cheese in them."

"Elrond?" Haldir said low after the ellith began chattering once more among themselves. "Might you have a sedative waiting for Julien the night of the ceilidh?"

"I had already thought of that, yes. I refuse to allow him to disrupt anything else."

"Are you and your father still planning the ceilidh?" Erestor asked Legolas.

"No, we're done. We finished earlier this afternoon."

"So when do you plan on delivering the menu and attendance numbers?" Erestor pursued. "Tonight sees the last of the beef, though there's plenty else for the ceilidh. I have my own planning and cooking to do, you know?"

"He knows," Glorfindel inserted. "You say this every year, and we run out of meat at the same time every year, so how could he not know?"

"He's been gone for awhile, he might have forgotten."

"I'll see to it tomorrow," said Legolas.

Glorfindel pointed his fork at his son. "I saw to it earlier that the horses are all fed and bedded for the night. The lad down the hill who usually feeds twice a day called to say the snow was a bit much for him and asked if I could take over for him."

"I don't blame him," said Legolas. "It's still snowing heavily and it would be a long, icy hike for him."

"I'm well aware of how it's snowing," said Glorfindel, "as I'm the one who went out in it for you. It should clear by morning, so it will be that much easier for you to tend to them."

"Oh?" Legolas arched an eyebrow. "I'm feeding?"

"Why not? It's your turn and they're your horses, aren't they?"

"For the moment," Legolas muttered, dropping his gaze to his plate.

Glorfindel abruptly decided that eating his own dinner required all of his attention.

"For the moment?" Ivy ventured as Elrond began conversing softly with Glorfindel in Sindarin.

"Each December, Elrond takes half of my yearlings back to Warra with him," Legolas explained.

"At the time Legolas left for Alaska, Elrond would hire a few lads down the hill to drive them into Edinburgh to take shipping to Sidney from there," said Haldir. "We'd then drive them down to Warra. Nowadays, Elrond brings a great, noisy jetliner in over the loch, loads up the yearlings, and flies them away like a proper, modern robber-baron."

"I am not a robber-baron," Elrond objected. "My taking the yearlings is a business arrangement of long standing, agreed upon by all parties."

"But why?" asked Ivy.

"It's part of a very old debt," Legolas said mildly.

"It's because Legolas has a habit of opening gates he shouldn't," said Elrond, less mildly.

"I do not. It was only one gate, and a very long time ago."

"And the Valar made him do it," says Glorfindel.

"Yes, I've heard that excuse many times over the years, but that isn't the issue, is it?"

Setting down her fork with a clatter, Ivy leaned back in her chair. "Okay, color me confused. Again."

"As an Elfling growing up in Imladris, I opened a gate," Legolas explained. "This resulted in a breeding between a stallion and a mare that Elrond did not approve of. My actions indebted me to him."

"But that was thousands of years ago. Adar is still exacting payment?"

"Oh, yes."

"Because you opened one gate?"

"As I said, the opening of the gate isn't the issue," said Elrond. "It is because Legolas disobeyed and deceived me. He suggested the breeding, and I forbade it. Not only did he then go behind my back to facilitate that breeding - yes, ostensibly for the Valar--" Elrond held up a hand to ward of Glorfindel's protests. "Legolas also failed to confess what he had done, regardless he had eleven long months while the mare was in foal, and he could have made that confession easily.

"By opening 'only one gate,' Legolas put my reputation as a breeder of horses at risk," Elrond continued. "He also attempted to taint the purity of my horses' bloodlines and the accuracy of my breeding registry. Had the product of this wretched coupling been born grey or chestnut rather than black, I would not have discovered his treachery. The integrity of my stables would have been permanently ruined, and that is exactly what he intended."

"That is not what I intended, and you know it."

"Do I?"

Ignoring Elrond, Legolas concentrated on Ivy. "I believe my sabbatical has only served to reinforce your father's claim."

"My claim needed no reinforcement."

"It must shatter you to have to give them up every year," Ivy sympathized and braced for Elrond's explosion. When it didn't come, she stole a glance at the Elf-lord, who seemed to be seething where he sat.

"The hooved friends I had are all gone," Legolas pointed out. "My father bred the horses we have now, so they are mine only in name. I am only just acquainting myself with them, and we have always bred more than is needed. So, truth to tell, I do not mind the payment. Your father is also more than entitled to additional payment for his efforts to keep things going while I was gone. Haldir had no idea where I had gone, and it took six months for my first letter to reach him here."

"And why is that?" Elrond snapped.

"I had to negotiate for a stamp," Legolas said mildly. "I had spent all my money getting there, you see? It was before credit cards existed, after all."

The former Lord of Imladris narrowed his eyes. "You also didn't particularly want to be found, did you?"

"No." Legolas shrugged. "A childish reaction to be sure, but it's how I felt at the time. Haldir, I apologize once again for leaving you in the lurch. I quite understand why you had to summon Lord Elrond."

"It was the best I could do at the time." The marchwarden's voice was filled with regret.

"You did well." Legolas then turned to the head of the table. "And Elrond, I apologize once more for my irresponsible behavior."


Glorfindel endeavored to draw the Elf-lord into quiet conversation, but Ivy saw the scowl of irritation aimed solely at Legolas, who still seemed unperturbed.

"Why is my father behaving as if this gate-opening business happened just last week?" she dared whisper to Legolas.

"Because it shattered the trust between us, and he hasn't trusted me since," came the quick explanation.

"How can he not trust you, when you've kept Greenwood going and everyone safe for whole millenniums?"

"Things sometimes happen between people," Legolas murmured low, "and nothing is every the same again. I long ago accepted his mistrust and that nothing I might do will ever change his mind. Regardless Elrond's feelings, I have a gift for you, if you will accept her."

"Her?" Ivy puzzled.

"There is one particular filly out in the barn," Legolas said low. "She's going to be a beauty, and she's perfect for you. May I give her to you?"

"What would I do with a yearling filly?"

"I might train her for you to ride. In a few years of course, whenever you come to visit. Or you could take her with you," he added after a glance toward Elrond.

Ivy couldn't help but be amused at his wheedling tone.

"That's really generous," she said carefully, not wanting to offend Legolas or draw the attention of the Elven volcano to her left, "but are you sure this filly isn't just someone you don't want my father to have?"

"Of course not. She is my gift to you, so why would he be upset?" Legolas pointed out. "She would belong to neither to him nor to me, so what complaint could he possibly have? We can already see that he would deny you nothing."

"What are you two talking about?" Elrond broke into the conversation.

She flashed a significant look Legolas' way. Now you've gone and done it. "He wants to give me a beautiful little filly."

"Why are you giving my daughter a horse she cannot ride?"

"Because she will need something to ride in the future, and the mare I have in mind will be perfect for her."

"You wish to hide the filly before I make my selection, don't you? Is she the best this year's get has to offer?"

"No, and no." Legolas' blue eyes smoldered. His temper was still under control, but Ivy thought it might not be for long.

"Why would I need to hide her from you?" he growled. "You haven't yet made your selection, so the filly is still mine to give to whoever I please."

Elrond's quick reply came in hard, sharp Sindarin. Ivy didn't bother trying to catch any of it, for the meaning was clear enough from the biting tone.

They're going to fight, I'm sitting between them, and this one sounds serious, she thought. That's just great.

Catching Glorfindel's gaze across the table, she called over the argument that was fast become two-sided as Legolas answered in kind. "Save me?"

"Not to worry," Glorfindel called back. "They do this every year."

"Not a comfort. Or comfy!"

She apparently wasn't the only one thinking so, for Erestor rose from his place on Legolas' other side. Picking up Legolas' plate, the chef stacked it on top of his and left carrying both.

Neat escape, she thought. Wonder if he wants help clearing the table before Legolas and Elrond start breaking the crockery? Or is that why he's removing it so quickly?

The ellith and Haldir were next. Grabbing the half-full bottles of wine, Verce and the others proceeded like goslings, two by two, out of the dining hall as the argument between the two Elves quickly escalated in strength and volume. Verce gave Ivy a smile as she left.

Was that supposed to be reassurance or commiseration for being trapped at ground zero? Casting another look Glorfindel's way, she mouthed, Do something.

Giving a wry smile in return, the golden Elf nodded and left his chair to come round the table. Moving Ivy's chair back, he accommodated her escape and laid a hand on his son's shoulder. Murmuring something unintelligible, he urged the younger Elf to take the chair Ivy had just vacated.

Not missing a beat in the argument, Legolas slid into the empty seat. Leaning forward on one elbow, he began tapping on the table to enumerate each point, only to have Elrond throw himself backward, shake his head with much vehemence, and interrupt whatever Legolas was saying.

Retreating with Glorfindel to the desserts at the far end of the sideboard, Ivy shook her head. "I can see where joining this family can be like walking through a minefield."

"Sometimes," Glorfindel agreed. "But as I said, they have this argument every year, so it's all for naught."

"But why?"

"Because neither one is willing to concede a single point to the other. Both believe the other is wrong, and have for centuries."

"What do you think?" Ivy asked.

"I think the Valar made Legolas open that gate, so they're the ones responsible for the ensuing mayhem, not my Elfling. Legolas was, at best, only twenty years old at the time - roughly the equivalent of a ten-year-old Mortal child. Far too young to recognize or understand being compelled to do something by beings far stronger of will and greater than him."

Ivy considered that for a moment. "Why did horse breedings matter to the Valar?"

"They didn't, and they don't. That particular breeding is what mattered."

"But why?"

"That, my dear, is another story for a long and stormy night," he replied with a chuckle.

"More secrets?" She sighed. "Why am I not surprised?"

Observing the fight from the safety of distance, Ivy couldn't help but be glad she wasn't the one under attack by Elrond. Nor could she fail to notice how beautiful Legolas was in profile.

"You know, I've been wishing for days that I could draw him," she confessed.

"Which one?"

"Your son."

"You too?" Leaning down, he gently nudged her. "I've made childhood drawings of him. Still have them. Elven equivalent of school photos," he added with a grin.

Ivy widened her eyes. "You got him to stand still long enough to sketch him?"

Glorfindel nodded. Gesturing to illustrate the story as he went, the Elf-lord said, "I lined Legolas up against the same wall every fall and drew him. Got the same scowling expression every time, too. His hair got longer, and he got taller, but those fierce blue eyes didn't change."

Folding his arms, he considered the beautiful, glowing Elf before them who was shaking his head so hard, his hair was flying everywhere. "Those eyes are still the same."

"Are your drawings here or Oversea?"

"They're not here as in Lairg, but they aren't Oversea. They're in my rooms in Warra."

"May I see them?" she squeaked.

Glorfindel laughed. "You're not willing to wait until I invite you up to see my etchings?"


"All right, then." He gave a decisive nod. "Remind me when we get to Warra, and I'll show them to you. But you can't tell him about it."

"Which him?"

"Legolas, of course. Why in the world would your father care if I lure you into my rooms to see my etchings?"

She belatedly realized the Golden Elf of Gondolin might be flirting with her, but that was all right. There was nothing predatory about The Legend.

"You know," she remarked, "it's kind of amusing that we can do this - stand around talking about Elrond and Legolas while the two of them are sitting right there, oblivious."

"Ah, child. Don't ever make the mistake of thinking your father is oblivious."

Ignoring the argument, which seemed to be winding down as only the occasional growl interrupted what was turning into more of a conversation, Glorfindel surveyed to the sideboard.

"Will you look at the tasty desserts Erestor has for us? And the ellith even left us some."

Attacking the shortbread, Glorfindel wandered back to the table as Legolas left it. Coming up beside Ivy, he solemnly regarded the sweets with her.

"It all looks so good, I don't know what to choose," she admitted.

"You might try mixing the chocolate cake with the baked apple crumble," he advised.


He shook his head emphatically. "It's superb."


"Now that supper is over," said Legolas, "your father has given me leave to walk you to your room. We might gather our desserts and retire there, if you like. To talk."

Whirling, she stared up at him in disbelief. "Adar's agreed to let you talk to me? In my room? In the dark?"

"I assume so, as the lights are still out."

She wasn't certain, but she thought he was laughing at her.

This is too good to be true, she thought. I'll bet you anything that my father will show up to decree it's past my bedtime, and Legolas will have to leave while my father offers to tuck me in.

More than a little suspicious, she asked, "Where did Haldir and the girls go?"

"Hmm?" Legolas pulled his attention back from the apple crumble he was piling onto his plate. "Back to the screening room, I believe. He has laid in a great many films for them. If you don't want me--"

"I do!" she hissed. "It's just...only a few minutes ago, you were worried my father would kill you for hugging me. But now it's all right for you and me to be left alone in my bedroom?"

"Elrond knows I am no threat to you. And I am on my way to retire, as well."

Yeah, right. What the hell is going on? Still, she wasn't willing to examine this miracle too closely, for fear it would dissolve for the looking. If Legolas wants to walk me up to my room and talk while we eat dessert, that's fine with me. But I'm locking my door, and we're not answering if Elrond comes to call. He'll just have to break it down.

And he will, another part of her warned.

Yeah, well... There was no time to ponder the weirdness of the night, just as there had been no time to ponder the weirdness of the entire week. So far.

Pouring herself a glass of milk from the pitcher provided, Ivy took Legolas' advice and combined a slice of chocolate cake with the apple crumble.

"Eat dessert first, for Elven Lords are unpredictable and quick to anger," she muttered.

"That we are," Legolas agreed.



Legolas continued to prowl the length of the desserts, searching for a specific treat while surreptitiously watching Ivy. She was waiting with her slice of cake at the end of the sideboard, evidently for him to finish up so they might go upstairs. As he finally found the cheddar wedges, which he dumped atop his apple crumble, he noticed a very wide yawn coming from their young guest.

She does look weary, he thought. Even in the candlelight, I can see dark circles beneath her eyes. As they are no doubt still beneath my own.

Moving to stand beside her, he asked, "Would you like some milk to go with your cake?"

Ivy took a moment to recover from the half-doze she'd assumed while waiting for him, and nodded.

He poured her a glassful. "Are you awake enough to carry this?"

"What?" She blinked at him and stifled another yawn. "Of course."

"Come, then. Let us go to your room." Handing her the glass, he also placed a fork on her plate. "Glorfindel has already lit the wall sconces, so we needn't bother with candles."

"Good thing, 'cause our hands are full." Ivy gestured with plate and glass and gave a shy smile. She had chocolate smudged along the edge of one fingernail - fair evidence that she'd already been sampling some of the cake - and Legolas couldn't help but smile in answer.

Leading the way across the room, he paused beside Elrond to take their leave.

"Look after her, and keep me advised," Elrond requested in Sindarin after exchanging good-nights.

"Always," said Legolas.

Glorfindel nodded his good-night and bestowed a most serious look on both his son and Ivy. Legolas bowed slightly in acknowledgement, though he wasn't sure whether his father's sober expression was a warning to keep Ivy safe or to avoid anything that might set Elrond off. The girl was too absorbed in picking at the icing on her cake to notice.

Or too tired to care, Legolas noted. We have abused her good nature too far this week.

Ivy trailed silently after him out of the hall and down the corridor. The darker it got, the closer she seemed to creep until her arm was in solid contact with his by the time they reached the base of the shadow-laden stairs leading up to the second floor.

"Please try not to worry," he murmured. "Julien will not cause you any further problems tonight."

"Oh, I know." The false courage reflected in her voice didn't make her leave off leaning against him. "He's all bruised up and feeling sorry for himself and not accepting visitors. As if anyone would want to visit him."

"Julien is no fit company on any night, so I doubt he's at his best right now. He's either moaning and complaining or sodding drunk, which is really a disgusting thing to behold. And on Haldir's good Scotch malt, too. What a waste. Ah, here we are." Legolas interrupted himself, pushing open the door to her room. "In you go."

"It's really dark in there," Ivy protested, refusing to budge from where she stood.

"My apologies." He neatly removed the plate from her hand and moved into the chamber as the darkness gave his Elven eyes no difficulty at all. The plates set safely on the table, Legolas reached back to catch Ivy's hand and pull her into the room with him. Shutting the door behind her, he took an extra moment to secure the lock.

"If you'll sit on the bed," he said, setting his hands on her shoulders so as not to alarm her as he slid past, "I'll see to the fire and some candles for you."

"And the bed is where, exactly? It's like the inside of a coal bin in here."

"Two steps back, then sit."

"You'd better be right because my landing on the floor with a glass of milk will not make Haldir happy. Sour carpet is nasty."

Legolas couldn't help but laugh. She worries about the oddest things.

"I'll take the milk." His hand closed securely around the glass. "There now, let go."

She did, but didn't move otherwise.

"I promise you will not end up on the floor," he reassured, moving past her to find the bedside table and set the milk safely on it. "Take two steps backward, and you will feel the foot of the bed against your legs."

"That's great, but what if Julien's lurking somewhere in here?"

"He is not." Legolas came up beside her once more.

"How can you be so sure?"

"If he were here, I would hear him breathing as his nose and sinuses are seriously compromised at the moment. He would be snorting and snuffling like a French bulldog."

"Oh. Right." Legolas heard her step backward and sink onto the bed, and then she giggled. Apparently her tired brain had processed the image of Julien with bat ears. "He certainly does have the flattened nose tonight."

Moving to the fireplace, Legolas laid the fire and groped for the kindling in its box. Settling the wood behind the grate, he encountered the ashy remains of the last fire. There was no housekeeping to speak of with Bridie banished, and the firebox wanted sweeping, but the bedroom was dark and chill. Judging from Ivy's tone of voice, she was not enjoying being isolated in the darkness, so Legolas merely shoved the ashes to the back in favor of speed.

It took only a moment for the kindling to catch, and a small blaze began in earnest. Glancing over his shoulder, Legolas caught his charge watching him intently.

Having light and heat again should reassure her somewhat. Poking his tiny fire, Legolas judged it a success as the edge of the first old oak log caught, and a true blaze began. Within moments, the room was bathed in a golden glow and had a more cheerful look about it.

He dusted his hands free of the ash before wiping them on his jeans. Reaching gingerly into the firebox, he then collected a sliver of burning bark and moved to light the fat candle in the wall sconce, which improved the lighting considerably. A quick glance showed that Ivy was sitting cross-legged on the bed, her anxious gaze still following his every move. She obviously still needed reassurance, but there was more to be done.

Approaching the French doors that opened onto the balcony, Legolas pulled aside the curtains and gazed outside. The snow had stopped and the clouds were clearing, skittering across the half-moon to reduce the landscape to a series of gently rounded, shadowy lumps in an otherwise silver sea.

It will be good weather for hunting in the morning, he thought, but it is going to be very cold tonight. He ran his fingers over the door latch before letting the curtain fall.

"And so concludes another exciting evening at Lairg Castle," he offered, turning away from the doors. Going to the small table by the door, he collected their dessert plates.

"Thank you for the fire," Ivy said softly, taking the cake he offered.. "I know how to build one, but am not so good at it in total darkness."

He shrugged. "I've built fires in all conditions. Everything sits next to the hearth in these rooms, so it's not hard to find what you need."

"Still, thanks."

"You are welcome, Queen's Daughter."

Moving around the bed, Legolas folded his long legs to sit on the floor between it and the wall. Leaning back, he rested his back against the wall and balanced his plateful of baked apple slices, cheese, and chocolate cake atop his knees.

Taking up a wedge of cheese, he dipped it into the apple crumble until pieces of apple and sweet, thick brown syrup stuck to the cheese. Nibbling at it, he caught Ivy looking down at him with a somewhat startled expression.

"I forgot my fork," he offered by way of explanation for his ill manners and offered her the plate. "But apple and cheese are very good this way. Would you like to try it?"

"Uh, no. Thanks." She wrinkled her nose. "I think I've had enough new experiences for one day. Let's save that one for tomorrow, okay?"

Sighing, he eyed his gooey cheese wedge. "I understand. But it is good."

The sadness in his voice must have amused Ivy, for she giggled at him, which had the effect of making the Elf feel warmer and happier and even more protective of her.

Ivy picked at her cake before sighing and setting the plate aside on the bed.

"Is it not good?" Legolas pursued.

"It's great, but I've had a bit too much of Erestor's rich cuisine today." Leaning against the headboard, she folded her arms over her stomach and closed her eyes. "I think I've eaten more today than I have most weeks."

"And why is that?"

"My student loans weren't meant to pay for food's just say that some weeks it was ramen noodles and dollar-store tuna - when it was on sale."

Legolas nodded and captured another apple slice between his fingers. "I do believe that. I also believe you could afford to continue eating this way."

"What does that mean?"

Ouch. He winced at the sudden defensiveness in her voice.

"It means only that you look a bit underfed." He made his voice as offhanded as possible. "It's actually nice to be able to be able to say that to someone else," he added casually. "I hear it all too often myself."

Her glower told him she was not reassured by his answer. "I've always been thin. It doesn't mean anything."

Ah, so people have insulted her physical attributes? Legolas wondered. I must tread carefully here.

"I have always been thin as well," he confessed, "but that has never stopped people in general and Erestor in particular from trying to force-feed me. You saw how he was about pressing the bread and honey on me, and he's been that way for centuries. He cooks almost exclusively for our fathers in Warra, so you'd best get used to it. But he means well."

"I know." She sounded amused, and Legolas felt his spirits lift with hers. "He's also one great chef, so I think I'll be able to deal with it." Sitting up and swinging her legs around, Ivy sat on the edge of the bed so that she and Legolas were almost knee to knee. "Can I still try your sticky apple cheese thing?"

Holding up the plate as if to serve royalty, Legolas said most solemnly, "It would be my honor to share this with you."

Laughing, Ivy smacked him lightly on the arm before gingerly picking up one of his cheese wedges.

"Dip it into the syrup," he encouraged, "and see if you can catch some sweet crumbs on it. That's best."

"The brown sugar bits keep hiding under the crumbly bits," she complained after a few seconds of pursuing them.

"Keep trying."

She did for a few seconds more, but sighed in frustration when her last target dove under the chocolate cake. "I give up. They're too quick for me. Thanks for the cheese, though."

Nibbling warily at the edge of the wedge where a bit of thick syrup clung, she widened her eyes in surprise. "Oh, it is good! How did you ever come up with this weird combination?"

"Apple and cheese is not weird," he defended. "It was my primary source of nourishment growing up. It's good to eat, easy to stick into one's pockets and carry away from the kitchen, and it doesn't go bad. The baking of it only improves it as well."

She eyed the swirled mess she'd made on his plate. "And the chocolate cake? Did you eat that as a child, too?"

"Alas, no. Cacao did not grow in Middle-earth." He rebalanced the plate set on his knees before liberally coating all of the remaining apple slices with chocolate cake and icing.

"Hmm..." said Ivy, watching him. "For some reason, this reminds me of your trying to make a meal of the chocolate from the gift baskets in New York."

"That would be an unfair comparison," he protested, "for a bar of Ghirardelli chocolate isn't nearly as good as Erestor's homemade chocolate cake."

"Maybe not, but it's made me realize something about you."

Distracted, Legolas set about capturing the last bits of cheese with the last chocolate-smeared apple slices. "What's that?"

"You really love sweets."

"I do." He nodded in agreement. "We all have weaknesses, and I'm afraid you've discovered mine."

A silence stretched between them then, broken only by the comforting crackle of the fire. Dessert finally consumed, Legolas watched Ivy run an idle finger down the frosted glass of milk sitting on her bedside table. Giving another soft sigh, she stared off into the shadows of the room, only to look back when Legolas set aside his plate.

"Are you going to lick your fingers now?" she asked.

"It's either that or wipe them on the bed skirts."

She laughed outright at that and watched, delighted, as he did actually proceed to lick each finger in its turn. "And here we have Legolas - the great warrior and legendary member of the Fellowship - behaving as if he were ten years old."

"We do," he said, unashamed. Is she gently teasing me? he wondered, unlike her grandmother who would have chastised me for not getting up and washing my hands properly, or mocked me openly? "Erestor's treats are simply too delicious to waste."

"And you've not had any in fifty years," she mused. "Not to mention I know how much you didn't eat over the last couple of days."

"I promised I would eat after the meeting, did I not?" he reminded her.

"And you always keep your promises?"

"Yes. Are you going to drink that?" He indicated the glass of milk languishing on her bedside table.

What?" She blinked at the sudden change of subject. ""

Reaching for the glass, he quickly drained it before setting it on the floor beside his plate.

"So how are you faring here?" he asked. "With us."

"Faring?" Her green eyes grew wary. "How, exactly?"

Legolas could practically hear her thoughts: What happens after I tell him what I'm feeling? How honest dare I be with him?

"Ivy." Leaning forward, he captured her hands between his own and was shocked to find them stiff and very cold. "Your fingers are freezing."

"They are? Um...sorry?"

He rubbed her hands in an effort to impart some of his own warmth. "You have no doubt found all of us unbelievably strange and frightening. So I am wondering how you feel about being forced into joining our world?"

"I don't feel forced," she defended. "I mean...okay, maybe Mom did set me up and Haldir lured me into sharing that plane with you, but Elrond isn't making me go to Warra, and you haven't forced me to do anything. I'm doing all right, ready for whatever comes next. Unless Julien corners me again, but you've got that covered, so it's all good."

He made a non-committal sound and released her hands. Scooting closer, he turned slightly and brought up his arm to lean against the mattress Recapturing her hands, he held them between his own. I think they're getting warmer.

"You don't have any worries at all about what comes next?" he prodded. "No uncertainties? No questions or concerns? I promise whatever you share will be kept between the two of us."

He got a hesitant smile and an unconcerned shrug for his trouble. "You're asking me to get all comfy and confide in you?"

"Only if you wish to."

"Hmm...." Ivy regarded him steadily for a moment, seeming to search his gaze. Whatever she sought, she must have found it, for in the next instant she pulled her hands from his, toed off her boots, and flopped over onto her stomach. She lay with her feet on the pillow and her face close to his.

"Mostly, I'm just tired," she began softly. "Kind of worn out because it seems like everything to do with Elves is wonderful or scary or amazing or confusing. Nothing just is, if you know what I mean? Everything so far has been either a great high or a crashing low, or I'm about to be eaten by a tiger or something." She chewed her bottom lip and scowled. "Isn't anything ever ordinary in your world?"

Legolas laughed outright to hear the question, which actually sounded more like an frustrated accusation.

Ivy reared back. "Are you laughing at me?"

"Not at you," he reassured. "Never at you. I laugh at the irony of my having spent thousands of years with the Elves you only just met, yet this is one of the most puzzling, maddening and messiest weeks I can remember in centuries. We Elves tend to be more intense than Mortals, but this weekend has been ridiculous, hasn't it?"

"So this isn't normal?" She sounded wary.

"Nowhere near," he assured her. "I know I have contributed your emotional turmoil. In point of fact, my initial mood on the plane began this frightful experience for you, didn't it? For that, I do apologize."

"It's not you," she protested. "We just got off to a rocky start, and I get where you were coming from with the whole uptight-warrior act. I know now that you're someone I can trust. It's weasel-boy over there who's making me all twitchy." She flung a hand toward the door. "He's positively creepy, and the only thing I can trust about him is that he hates me."

Her eyes were filled with worry. "I've never had an enemy before, and what Julien makes me feel is just awful. All he's done recently is look at me, and it feels worse than being attacked by that mountain lion."

"You were attacked by a mountain lion?"

"Yeah, once. Long story, but it doesn't matter now, my pony got me out of it. That cat was just hungry. This guy feels like he'd enjoy hurting me, and he's making plans to do just that."

"He will not touch you," Legolas insisted, laying his fingers across her arm. "He will never touch you. I have sworn this, as I am the protector of Aragorn's child, the Queen's Daughter. I swear it as your friend as well," he added softly.

Ivy stared at him for a moment, only to blink hard and swipe the back of her hand across her eyes.

Legolas peered closer when she ducked her head. "You are crying? But why?"

"Because I've never had anybody to count on like that. I'm not sure I deserve it, but I know you mean it."

"Forever," he avowed solemnly, affection surging in his heart to echo the sincerity of his words.

"Thank you. Sincerely, thank you."

Nodding acknowledgement of her gratitude, Legolas stroked her arm while she recovered herself. Already - and some like her father might say far too soon and much too forcefully - I care for this one. I will defend and protect her most willingly all my days. But explaining that, I think, is for another day. She already has much to contend with this night. I need not add my affection to it.

"Now, have you any other concerns?" he asked as she subsided back on the mattress. "How are you getting on with Elrond?"

Her gaze met his in open astonishment. "How did you know to ask that?"

"Because I know Elrond."

"Yeah, after all this time I'll be you do," she said slowly. "I wish I did. You know his wanting me to be his daughter is the biggest, most wonderful surprise, but he kind of scares me too," she admitted. "He wants to be my dad, and that is just the most super cool thing ever because he really seems to mean it, and I've never really had a dad."

"So what is frightening you?"

"He's - he's so intense about it all of the time!" she exclaimed. "And what's with the hot-cold, trust-mistrust thing between the two of you? I know he doesn't want me spending time with you for some reason I can't possibly fathom, yet here we are tonight, all alone in my room. Mixed messages much?"

She hurtled on before Legolas could draw breath to comment. "I could understand his being upset if I was trying to hang out with Norman Bates across the hall, but Elrond doesn't like me being with you? How weird is that? You and Julien are nothing alike."

Sighing, she fell silent and studied the fire intently as she groped for words. "Elrond seems to have these fits of intense paternal protectiveness that I just don't understand, and they kind of scare me. Dan said his father can be really protective, and that I would learn. Now, that was a scary thing for him to say, especially since he left before explaining what he meant."

Turning her head, Ivy was suddenly nose to nose with Legolas. She has the longest eyelashes, he thought.

"What if I get to Warra and Elrond gets really suffocating?" she asked? "What if I become the daughter he stuffs into an ivory tower, the one he only lets out for lessons in Elvish or something? What if I'm trapped up there, and he won't ever let me out, like some short-haired Rapunzel?"

"You think Elrond would hold you prisoner?"

"Noooo, I guess not. Not like that." Flopping over onto her back, Ivy sent her hair cascading over the edge of the bed. A strand landed across the dessert plate she had discarded, snuggling against the smears of icing and other chocolate leavings.

Gently picking out the affected strands of hair, Legolas set the plate safely on the floor before examining the sticky residue on the long curl of auburn hair. Straightening it with much care, he wiped it against his knee. Ivy continued on, unaware of Legolas' actions as she stared up at the ceiling.

"I know Elrond's kind and gentle and loving, I can see that already. I don't think he'd do anything deliberately to hurt or frighten me, but what if he really gets serious about something we disagree on? I'm going to be stuck on a cattle ranch on the other side of the world with no way to go home if I decide I can't hack it. What do I do then?"

Legolas smiled, released the curl, and watched it snap back into its original spiral. "That's a simple matter. Firstly, you talk to Elrond and explain what you consider to be a problem. What you're feeling, what you want. He is not unreasonable - except with me, of course, but I'm certain he will be far more amenable to discussions with you."

"You think that would work?" She turned her head to look at him, her tone begging for reassurance. "What if it doesn't?"

"It should work. If it doesn't, go to my father. He lives there as well, you know." Stretching out the strand of hair once more, Legolas let it coil around his finger and found himself fascinated with the way it glinted like fine burgundy wine in the candlelight.

"Glorfindel would help me?" she asked. "Really? He'd take my side against his old friend? Isn't that asking a lot?"

"Not at all. My father will help you in any way that he can, just as I would." Legolas stretched the strand of hair out once again, simply to watch it wrap insistently round his finger again.

It's like a little tendril of ivy, he thought, seeking support and a safe place to grow. Not unlike my Ivy.

It was also soft and only a little sticky and so beautiful that he helped it around his finger yet again. It also smelled slightly of chocolate. It was wonderful.

"--still seems like a lot to me. What are you doing with my hair?"

Legolas snapped back to awareness, realizing he had missed some of her words as he played with the strand. Reluctantly, he released it.

"My apologies. It fell into the cake and had frosting on it, I was merely wiping it off." He was suddenly glad of the darkness, as he felt sure his embarrassment had to be obvious.

Ivy didn't seem to notice his discomfort as she rolled onto her stomach once again and took up the lock of hair he'd had in his possession. "Stupid hair. It gets into everything, especially when I paint. You should have told me, I could have sucked the frosting off rather than getting your fingers all sticky, too."

Examining the hair, she apparently decided it wasn't worth mouthing after Legolas' clean-up efforts. Shrugging, she began separating the hairs one by one, coaxing them free of the invisible hold of sugar residue. "Anyway, I don't want to be the source of conflict between your father and mine. Gee, that sounds so weird, doesn't it?"

"It does sound odd," he admitted, "but you may find yourself in an unusual situation while in Warra. I've no doubt Glorfindel can deal with it, and all of Lord Elrond's moods. They've been friends for a very long time, and my father is probably the only one who can break through some of Elrond's moods. He will help you."

"That's good to know. It helps a lot."

"And if, by some strange turn of fate, my father cannot redirect yours, he can get you out of Warra - if that is what you truly wish. He does have his own plane."

"He'd do that for me?" Again, those huge green eyes turned toward him, seeking verification of promises.

How many promises has she seen broken in her few years? he wondered. How many protectors have failed to follow through for her?

"Glorfindel would. And you can always call me," he added softly.

She sat up at that. "You'd face down Elrond to help me? Are you crazy?"

"Your father would say so, but my sanity has nothing to do with it. I have sworn to be your protector, and you have only to ask. For anything. At any time."

Giving a whimper, she lunged awkwardly and half off of the bed to wrap her arms around his neck and squeezed tightly.

"Thank you so much!" she exclaimed, her nose buried against him. "I mean - you don't know, but it's been hard being alone after my Mom - after she...this means so much to me."

Smiling into the fragrant hair that was now curling about his nose, Legolas very nearly pulled Ivy the rest of the way off the bed to hug her in return. She squealed in alarm but didn't let go, so he didn't let go either.

"It is my pleasure." He loosened his grip only enough to lean back and touch his nose to hers. "I know what it is to be alone as well. Starting in this moment and wherever you might be in this world, please believe that you are never alone."

Wriggling closer, she snuggled even harder against him. Pure joy filled Legolas as this slight girl in his arms, feeling her close against him and knowing he was welcome in her life.

Legolas tried hard not to react when from behind them came a soft sound, a faint rattle and shift of the bedroom door. Not wanting to turn toward the sound and end the moment between them, he prayed Ivy hadn't heard it, but she stiffened abruptly in his arms.

"What was that?" Ivy hissed into his ear.

Rolling the rest of the way off the bed, she didn't hesitate to hide behind him. Sliding her arms around his chest, she held on. Shuddering at her closeness, Legolas didn't think she was even aware of the intimacy it created.

"That was the door, wasn't it?" she whispered. "Is it my father?"

"It was probably just the wind," he whispered back, aching at her closeness and wanting more than anything to hold her in his arms once more. "Drafts in the hallway can cause the doors to shift."

"Yeah, right." Tightening her hold, she asked, "Why are you in my bedroom tonight, exactly? Why did Lord Elrond, the Grand Supreme Protective Father, decide to let you up here with me, all alone in the dark?"

"You were tired, and we didn't want you to be alone on this floor with Julien," he replied casually, but his focus was not on her any longer.

His Elven ears heard the faintest of footsteps moving away from the door, and Legolas turned his head in an attempt to discern where their owner was going next. He tensed as he heard someone enter Elrohir's empty room next to Ivy's.

"What?" she hissed, shaking him slightly as she sensed his distraction. "What is it?"

Where can they be going? He didn't answer her as he focused on faint, squeaking floorboards and considered the possibilities. Turning his head slightly, he regarded the balcony outside the room.

"What are you looking at?" Ivy pursued. Tracking his gaze to the French doors, she rose up on her knees slightly to get a good look at them over the bed, only to gasp and drop back down beside Legolas when a scuffling sounded outside.

"That wasn't you checking my doors the other night, was it?" she whispered.

Legolas could feel her heart pounding hard as she leaned into him.

"Hush, now," he soothed, peeling her fingers off of his arm and touching her cheek by way of reassurance. "No, it was not me checking doors. But I think we're about to find out who it was, and that's all to the good. Stay here."

Rising to his feet, Legolas went to blow out the candle in the wall sconce by the door. He then stood waiting in the near-dark through another moment of silence, and was not disappointed to hear a soft thump on the balcony, followed by a shadow looming up on the doors. They rattled softly, and Legolas grinned at a horrified Ivy.

Legolas glided past the fireplace and up to the doors which were now ever so slowly and carefully swinging open. A blast of cold air invaded the room, and Legolas put his head around the edge of the left door before it could complete its journey.

"Good evening, Julien," he cheerfully greeted the intruder. "Or should I say good morrow, as it is past midnight?"

Julien stared back at the Elf in horror, his face a frightening thing to behold in the moonlight with bruising marking his eyes and his nose swollen and shining red in the moonlight.

"YOU!" The younger Elf gasped. "What are you - how - NO!"

Legolas lunged for the Elf's shirt front, but Julien threw himself backward. Legolas followed a half-step behind, while Julien scrambled on the balcony made slippery by the snow.

Leaping up onto the railing, Julien made ready to jump back onto the balcony of Elrohir's room - a leap of a mere three feet - but Legolas wondered if the other Elf's haste, not to mention the icy railing, might betray him.

He watched as Julien balanced fitfully on the narrow rail, wildly flailing his arms as he sought to evade the grip of gravity. Julien's desperate launch toward safety went awry as his slippered foot lost purchase on the ice-coated iron.

Reaching the railing far too late to grab Julien, Legolas did arrive in time to watch him land with a muffled 'plumf' in the deep snow below. Lying still, the fallen Elf moaned in what sounded like real pain.

A shivering Ivy appeared beside Legolas on the balcony, and he automatically gathered her in to wrap his arms around her. "It's far too cold for you to be out here."

"I want to see what's happened," she said through chattering teeth.

Legolas pointed down at the area beneath the balcony. "Julien happened."

She leaned forward cautiously to peer over the railing. "Did you throw him again?"

"No. I think he was trying to fly." Legolas tried desperately not to laugh. "He perched there on the rail for a moment and flapped madly, but never got airborne. And then, he fell."

"Huh. That was stupid."

They both watched Julien roll over slowly, his hands cupping his face. Blood stained the snow where his face had been.

"Oops, there goes his nose again," said Ivy. "Is he trying to ice his face or something?"

"Or something," Legolas agreed.

"What's this?" Bending, Ivy picked up a small, square piece of plastic and shook the snow from it. "It's a credit card."

Taking it, Legolas turned it over in his hands. "Julien must have used this to open your door."

"How's that possible?"

"It's not difficult, for these are very old doors with very old locks. He had but to slide the card between the doors, and then tilt and bend the card until it made the tumbler shift over." Legolas considered for a moment. "How very modern. I'd have used a knife."

"I'd have left my balcony alone," said Ivy through chattering teeth and lips that were already turning blue.

"You are freezing, we must get you inside." Pocketing the credit card, Legolas ushered her back into the room.

She whirled around as Legolas once more secured the French doors. "Okay, scared now. Really scared. Julien tried to break in here last night, and he actually did break in tonight, and--"

Ivy shook her head and stared at him, her terrified eyes beseeching him to help, and Legolas realized she was shaking from more than the cold.

"You need to warm yourself," he murmured. "Come stand by the fire."

She went willingly enough when he took her hand and towed her to stand in front of the fire screen, but it was obvious her mind was elsewhere.

"He could have been hiding in here, waiting for me. Elrond could have walked me to my door the way Dan did last night, and I could have come in here all by myself." She stared up at him, her eyes narrowed in accusation. "You knew, didn't you? You knew Julien was going to do this, and that's why you're here. You wanted to use me as bait, and that's why Elrond let you in here with me."

Her shaking was increasing. Whether with cold, fear or fury, it needed remedied. Stepping closer to encircle her once more with his arms, Legolas fought through her hair to reach her back and begin caressing it.

"I did not know this would happen," he contradicted, "but when you told me someone tried your doors last night, I feared it might be a possibility. Your father and I did discuss it, and I was here to prevent it. You are safe."

"Yeah, for now." Her hands were hesitantly inching around his waist, but her body was stiff against him. "But you can't sleep in here, and what if Julien comes back? He could, unless he broke something really vital this time. He was still moving down there, so I have my doubts about that. He's crazy and he hates me, and he could credit-card his way in here again!"

"No, he won't," Legolas insisted. "Or, rather, if he returns you will not be here." He shook her slightly to get her attention. "Listen to me, please. While I regret frightening you while Julien revealed his intentions, I will also continue making certain you are beyond his reach. That is, if you do indeed trust me."

"Of course I trust you!" she protested. "If I didn't trust you, I'd have run downstairs shrieking for Elrond."

"I'm glad you're not. Screaming for Lord Elrond, that is." He surveyed the room over her head. "Now, where are your personal things? I want you to pile them all on the bed, please?"

"My what?" She leaned back to stare up at him blankly. "You want my stuff? I don't have much, you know what I brought with me. Oh, and I have Dan's hair dryer now."

"Then gather it all up," Legolas repeated, gesturing toward the bed. "I want you to be out of this room before Julien gets back inside the house."

"Oh. OH! I get it now. No problem." Still, she stood staring up at him, and he down at her.

Why isn't she moving? he wondered.

"No problem," she repeated with a hesitant smile, "if you'll let me go."

He shook his head. "Let you go?" When I've only just found her?

"So I can get my stuff together?" Ivy's fingers played with the belt loops of his jeans, and Legolas suddenly realized what she meant.

"I...erm, that problem, as you said." Sliding his hands away and disentangling his fingers from Ivy's hair, he stepped away from her.

"No problem," she repeated, looking bemused as she went to open the top drawer of the clothes press, only to turn back toward him. "Could you, um, close your eyes? Some of this is kinda personal."

Grateful for the reprieve, Legolas obligingly turned his back to her efforts. She continues to be a constant surprise.

"Okay, all there," came the announcement only a few seconds later.

He turned around to find the meager pile of her belongings, crowned with the purloined hair dryer, in the middle of the bed. As for Ivy, she was staring fearfully toward the balcony once more.

"I promised to keep you safe, yet here you are in peril again," said Legolas, his anger rising rapidly toward rage. The Elf fought to keep it down, remembering all to well his companion's reaction to Elrond's fury.

"Hey, it's okay--"

"It is far from all right!" He clenched his teeth. "Julien has dared threaten you repeatedly under my watch. And in my own home. This is unacceptable. It will not happen again."

"Of course it won't." Ivy crept closer. "We'll both make sure it doesn't happen again, okay?" Reaching up tentatively, she dared to lay a hand against his cheek. "Wherever you're moving me, I'm sure it's somewhere Julien would never think to look. I just hope it's not down in those cold dwarven tunnels Haldir told me about."

Legolas' outrage was entirely undone by her half-smile and wistful tone, not to mention the look of tolerant understanding she was attempting. Tilting his head to increase the pressure of her hand on his cheek as his anger melted away, he closed his eyes for a moment and wondered, How is it she was so fearful of Elrond's temper, yet seems so accepting of mine? A question to ask on another winter's eve, perhaps.

She seemed to be stroking his jawline now, and Legolas gave a shiver. "Come. Let's get you out of here."

Stepping away from that unsettling touch, he grasped the comforter on the bed to gather the corners together and ushered Ivy out into the hallway. With her belongings under one arm and Queen's Daughter under the other, Legolas strode swiftly toward the staircase. Ivy was almost trotting to keep pace with him, but showed no reluctance to go with him.

She does trust me, he realized. She has no idea where I am taking her, and yet she comes willingly. How utterly amazing. He halted at the top of the stairs as another thought occurred.

Ivy paused as well, only to give him a worried glance. "Is Julien coming back in?"

"Not that I can hear. I was going to use the elevator downstairs, but the electrics are still out. Very well, let's go this way."

Turning about, he guided Ivy back the way they'd come. Passing her bedroom and Elrohir's, they left behind the screening room as well to continue down the narrow hallway. The last candle in its high sconce was passed as well, and Legolas towed Ivy further into the murky darkness.

"I don't know why Haldir is so attached to his modern improvements," Legolas muttered as they went. "The moment you need them, they fail you."

"Right." Ivy knew better than to argue.

"My own work is much better and far more reliable."

"Of course it is," she agreed instantly.

"Still, I suppose we should be glad the ellith are entirely occupied watching movies and that their little theatre is soundproofed, else we'd no doubt have them on our heels wanting to know what's going on." Halting at the end of the hallway, Legolas set down the bundled comforter and turned toward Ivy.

"What I am about to show you is not to be shared with anyone else," he warned, "because those who need to know about its existence already do."

"Okay." She watched him intently.

"I am about to show you a hidden passage into the private wing."

"Private wing?"

Ah, at last a question, Legolas thought with relief. Then I've not managed to frighten her into agreeing with literally anything I might say?

"My private wing," he clarified. "The wing where Erestor and our fathers stay when they are here. Haldir and your brothers have the right to enter as well, but the others do not. Our usual access is through a hidden elevator."

"Dan told me about the elevator last night," Ivy admitted.

Legolas let go a few soft curse words in dwarvish. "Your brother should not have done that. Not that I object to his sharing the information with you, but he should have left it to me. In any case, the elevator is useless in this power outage, so we must use a passageway that existed long before electricity was added to this house."

They stood at the end of the hall before a heavy tapestry that covered the wall from floor to ceiling. Grasping a corner of the cloth, Legolas pushed the banal hunting scene aside. Turning, he took Ivy's hand to guide her beneath the heavy cloth. "Come."

She pulled away, her eyes darting worriedly from him to the tapestry. "Legolas, are you sure...."

Given her emotional absorption with the last tapestry she had encountered, Legolas wasn't surprised she was reluctant to approach this one.

"You have nothing to fear," he assured her. "Mortals created this scene."

"Oh. Well then."

Ivy slid up beside him instantly, and Legolas guided her to stand against the wall in front of him. Letting the tapestry fall behind him, he enclosed them in a dark world where only the two of them existed.

"It smells musty in here," she observed.

"Neither the stone nor the wood paneling has seen the light of day in over five hundred years," he murmured.

A door slammed downstairs.

"Wed-deeee!" Julien wailed plaintively, his voice echoing throughout the house. "Weddy, I need dooo!" Groaning with pain, he began making his way up the stairs.

"Oh, damn," Ivy hissed. "He's back."

"And he's coming this way."

She stopped breathing for a moment. The shivering began once more, and her fingers groped for his. "Legolas...."

"Steady now, I'm with you," he murmured, slipping his free hand around her waist and pressing her close against him. "We'll move quickly, and he'll never know we were here."

Lifting Ivy's hand, Legolas pushed it flat against the paneling and whispered into her ear. "Feel here."

Her hand was shaking as she tried to obey, but she was moving far too slowly for his liking. "What am I feeling for?"

"The corner." Laying his fingers over Ivy's, Legolas marked the fact that Julien had reached the top of the stairs. Quickly sliding their hands sideways, he found the corner molding himself.

"Press hard at this juncture," he whispered, "and you'll feel a compartment spring open."

"Dammid, Weddy, where are doo?" Julien called. "I'b bweeding!"

Ivy was trembling so hard, her teeth were chattering again. Legolas thought Julien surely had to hear it, regardless he was still some feet down the hallway. Nuzzling his nose through her hair, he laid his cheek against hers.

"Find the lever within the compartment," he whispered.

"I can't!" She all but stomped her foot. "Can't you do it this time? He's getting closer!"

"You can. Listen to me, only to me. Find the lever. Now."

Her fingers fumbled over the wood. Julien lurched closer, and Legolas tightened his hold on her waist. "Now, Ivy!"

"Got it, you wretch!" She scarcely breathed the words.

"Good. Now pull. Hard."

She did, and something clicked over softly in the paneling in front of them.

"Good girl." Reaching past her, Legolas caught the edge of the hidden door and pushed. "Go. Hurry."

She needed no further encouragement, diving through the small space and whirling as Legolas' escape was delayed by his having to grab the recalcitrant comforter and shove it before him.

"Take this!" he hissed, thrusting the bulky cloth at her.

She did, fumbling with the trailing edges and clutching it to her while Legolas made sure the tapestry had dropped down completely behind them.

She waited for Legolas to secure the hidden door before asking, "Did Julien hear us? Did he see--"

"No. I heard him go into the screening room."

Turning, he nearly blundered into her and her comforter as inky darkness once gain engulfed them. Legolas stood very still and sighed then, frustrated at his lack of foresight.

"I'm sorry not to move away, but I can't see," she whispered in the absolute silence. "I'm sorry I keep saying that, too, but it's true."

"I am not upset with you, only with...the complexities of the evening. Here, give your things back to me and hold my arm." He took the comforter from her. "I will guide you."

Her fingers clutched his upper arm, biting into the muscle beneath the sweater, but he couldn't blame her for being frightened.

"You did well back there, with the hidden panel," he soothed.

"I almost got us caught."

"No, I almost failed you. I am guilty of frightening you repeatedly this week, certainly traumatized you beyond measure by subjecting you to Julien. And I am supposed to be your guardian."

"Legolas, don't."

"Some protector I am," he continued, more distressed than angry as he led her down the dark hall. "I cannot seem to keep you safe from one Elf in my own home. That is truly pathetic."

"It's not pathetic, because you can't deal with Julien like you could an orc, can you?" Her voice quavered, but Ivy still clung to him. "He's a thorn in everybody's side, but you're not allowed to wring his neck or behead him. Can't throw him in a pit full of snakes either and leave him there to starve."

"A bit of violence would solve the problem of Julien, wouldn't it?" he acknowledged. "But you are right, he has done nothing to warrant my killing him."

"If you killed him, wouldn't you be barred from ever entering Valinor?"

"That would depend on the circumstances surrounding his death," Legolas said cryptically. "But enough of Julien. I regret to say that your new accommodations will not be as comfortable as the ones you had before, but Julien will not be able to reach you there."

"Where's that, the attic? Legolas, it's scary dark in here."

"I apologize for that as well, and will have it fixed in just a moment." He halted before the dim outline of a door. "Here...we're turning into the room just here on your right. If you'll wait but a moment, I will ready the candles and the ever-necessary fire."

Ivy didn't respond as Legolas he set her belongings at her feet. Taking that as agreement, Legolas hurried inside the room to grab a candlestick and striker box.

"You're glowing again," she murmured softly from just beyond the room's threshold. "And oooh, is that me? Look at my fingers!" She held her hands before her, finally able to see the faint glow from her fingertips in the absolute darkness.

Legolas smiled back at her, delighted she was able to find joy, regardless she's been severely frightened just moments before.

Does this Queen's Daughter actually have some resilience in her? he wondered. Past Daughters I have known would have collapsed with the vapors while we stood behind the tapestry. Isabel would have made me find the release and would now be screaming at me, alternating between fear and outrage and making it well known that she blamed me for everything to do with the unholy weekend we're passing. But this one has courage, her heart and spirit are strong. Ah, Elbereth...this one may be special.

Matches were pulled forth from a small box, and a tiny flame was touched to the wick. The old candle sputtered to life, and a pool of light grew to surround Legolas. Guarding the fragile flame, Legolas carried the candlestick over to Ivy as she hovered at the doorway, looking pale and uncertain in its light.

"If you will hold this, I will start a fire. Again."

She eagerly reached out to grasp the comfort of the candle and its light. With a gentle pat to her hand, Legolas smiled sadly and turned to the fireplace. While he busied himself with the tinder and logs once more, Ivy held her candle high and surveyed her new surroundings with tentative curiosity. He heard her move further into the room, the shadows cast by her candle shifting around him.

"Legolas, where are we?" came the forlorn question as she ventured as far as the middle of the room.

Sitting back as the fire flared to life, he turned on his heels to face her. "We are in my private quarters above the kitchen. This is my bedchamber."

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