"What's with the limp bunnies?" asked Ivy. "We just brought home a deer to feed us all."

"Lunch is coney stew, the deer is for supper." Glorfindel set the bucket on the ground and draped the rabbits over it.

Ivy glanced back to where Legolas was standing in the early morning light and staring down at his deer. He seemed oblivious to his father's presence as well as to the conversation.

Is he lost back in Moria with Mithrandir and the others? she wondered.

"You got up early enough to snare some rabbits?" she asked Glorfindel. "Elves must be really early risers."

Glorfindel's grin warned her that her assumption was in error. "Noooo, I snatched them from their little wooden hutch behind yonder old tool-shed." He gestured to a low stone building across from the stable.

"Elves raise rabbits?" she asked, incredulous.

"We have for years," Legolas inserted before abruptly heading off across the snow.

"But I thought you hunted for everything." Bewildered, she looked from father to son and back again after Legolas disappeared inside the tool-shed in question.

Glorfindel snorted. "I think you've taken the Professor's books too much to heart. Why bother to go out and hunt something down when we can have the convenience of raising and snatching it? Your father sells much of the cattle we raise in Warra, but they are also for our own use."

"Oh, right. I forgot about that." She looked down at the fat, obviously domestic rabbits who were staring back with their shiny eyes. "They look...nice." Lame, Ivy. Has your brain frozen with your fingers?

"They should be. They're fed only the best, and they live in bunny luxury right over there. Happy bunnies, these, until I said hello to them just now."

"But why are you out here with the bunnies if Erestor's the one making the rabbit stew?"

"Erestor is starting lunch early, and he wants all his meat cooking-pot ready." Arching an eyebrow, he walked round Ivy to study the quiver and longbow she was still wearing. "I see Legolas lost no time making you his pack-horse as he did Aragorn."

"The king carried Legolas' stuff?"

"No, Legolas' friend carried his...stuff." Glorfindel tilted his head. "Would you like some help climbing out of my son's weaponry?"

"Yes, please?" Standing quietly while he maneuvered the bow over her head, Ivy gave a heartfelt sigh of relief when the last buckle was undone and the quiver's harness finally fell away. "Oh, thank you. The bow's not bad to carry if you avoid running into trees, but that quiver is a lot heavier than it looks. How in the world does Legolas hike over hill and dale with it?"

Glorfindel set the quiver and bow beside the bucket graced with rabbits. "Haldir custom-fit it to my son and his muscles, not to a scrawny child like you are. Pack-horse duties aside, how did you enjoy your first outing with him?"

"It was lovely." She watched Legolas return with a hand-saw to casually remove the deer's hind legs. The saw bit through the slender bones in two strokes, and Ivy repressed a shudder. "He shared his bow-hunting techniques with me."

"Excuse me for a moment."

Ivy sensed Glorfindel's attention was long gone from her before he'd so much as taken the first step toward Legolas.

"Here, now, let me help." He laid a hand on Legolas' shoulder to get his attention.

Legolas nodded his assent. Flanking the deer, they lifted it easily onto a gambrel imbedded in the back stone wall of the shed.

So much for that conversation. Ivy thought as father and son set about skinning the stag while she fidgeted and wished she had more to do than stand around and watch. Turning away, she surveyed the snow-covered shrubbery surrounding a flat, sloping expanse that hinted a garden might be hiding behind the old house. Complete with statuary from Imladris, I think Legolas said earlier?

But what might be in glorious bloom next summer was only dreary, skeletal remains at the moment.

I wish I could at least see the statuary, she thought, but that's hopeless without a broom to knock away the snow. It's just too much effort right now. Very cold work, too. I've had enough cold for this morning.

Her gaze wandered across the snow to the buildings surrounding her. The back walls of Castle Lairg loomed over her, and Ivy looked up at the second floor to locate the balcony attached to Legolas' room. Her own room was beside it with its small, inaccessible window. Abutting the back of the currently occupied wing was a sprawling one-story, gloomy behemoth made of darker stone graced with haphazard concrete patches.

Is that the old house, where Aragorn and Gimli slept? she wondered. Wood-shuttered windows had been fitted with iron bars and allowed no glimpse of the ancient rooms beyond them.

Can't tell much from a pile of stone, she thought, except that it's big and closed off, just like Haldir said. And which part of it am I looking at? I can't even tell where the front entrance used to be. Maybe it was destroyed when Legolas added onto the front?

Distant and forbidding, the old house seemed full of memories and mysteries she'd never know.

"Ivy, if you'd be so kind?" Glorfindel called, startling her out of her musings. She whirled around, and he nodded at the door of the gameroom attached to the kitchen as he and Legolas pulled down the now-naked meat.

Delighted to have some means to contribute, Ivy leaped to hold the door open while they passed through. She went back for the abandoned bucket of rabbits as well as Legolas' quiver and bow. Coming into the cold gameroom, she was in time to watch the Elves dump the deer into a large stainless steel sink.

Glorfindel cast a look over his shoulder as she propped the bow and quiver next to the kitchen door. "Were Legolas' efforts with the bow as fantastic and romantic as you hoped they'd be?"

"No." Wrinkling her nose at Legolas' back, Ivy banged the bucket down next to a smaller sink on the bright steel counter. "Romance is dead to the Elven archer."

Laughing outright, Glorfindel retrieved a pair of knives from beneath the counter while Legolas cast Ivy a mock-hurt look.

"You wound me to the soul," he murmured on his way back out into the courtyard to retrieve the hand-saw.

"Don't let my son's cold analysis of bow-hunting fool you. He was a beautifully intuitive archer as a child, and he remains one. Shooting instinctively is a gift to a great bowman, just as being an instinctive painter is a gift to a great artist."

Legolas gave his father a fierce look and ducked his head on his way back into the room. He remained silent, but as Ivy watched his ears go pink she thought Legolas might have been blushing at the compliment. The two Elves then set about processing the deer, while Ivy stared balefully at the dead rabbits in the bucket.

Bunnies are easy to process, she thought, removing her mittens. I can certainly manage these, so why don't I spare Glorfindel the work?

Pleased with the idea, she gave the nearest rabbit a pat. Invading the same cabinet beneath the counter where the legend of Gondolin had found his knives, Ivy discovered a skinning knife and held it up to admire it.

Elves do know how to get an edge on a blade, don't they? I'll bet this thing is sharp enough to compete with any scalpel. With a mental note to self to Respect The Blade, Ivy gripped it with fingers made stiff from spending the morning out in the cold, and a slight niggle of anxiety served to make her extra cautious. Please don't let me cut myself and look like a total amateur at this.

Ivy tried not to look the rabbits in the eye as she got to work. Head first and then the feet, she remembered her grandfather's lessons. Both were easily removed and set aside. Skin and entrails and other discards came next and went into the bucket. The sharp blade all but glided through the actual cutting-up process, so that in no time Ivy had finished and went to the small sink nearby to rinse the pieces.

Cooking-pot ready, I think Glorfindel said? She hummed to herself, pleased with her efforts and anticipating that she'd manage to complete the job in a style that would please Erestor.

She was entirely unprepared for the cold water that gushed from the spigot, and she hissed as it hit her hands which were already chilled. Wincing and stamping her feet against the icy, burning needles of pain, she continued holding the rabbit pieces in the stream of water and toughed it out as the freezing water continued biting into her skin. All of her fingers had gone numb and gray by the time she rinsed the last pieces of meat, and the rest of her hands tingled and burned.

Spying a small metal tray on a shelf over the counter, she thought to use it to carry the pieces in to Erestor, but it was back against the wall so that she could only see the edge of it. Stretching, Ivy slapped her hand flat on the tray to slide it forward, only to discover when she tried to shift her grip to the edge that her fingers wouldn't move. Trying to pull her hand away made her yelp in surprise as her fingers remained stuck to the frozen metal.

Legolas and Glorfindel spun from their task, but the older Elf-lord reached her first.

"Here now, child. What have you done?"

"I can't get loose," she managed through gritted teeth.

"Of course not, you've gone and frozen your hands to the metal." Grabbing a rag to prevent his own wet hands from sticking the same way hers had, Glorfindel lifted the tray and guided Ivy to the sink that was still full of rabbit parts. "You took it upon yourself to take off your mittens and deal with my rabbits?"

"I didn't have any problems until I was done and got stuck to this stupid tray."

"Obviously, since the sink's filled up with pieces of coney. However, I think having a flat piece of metal affixed to one's fingers is usually considered a bit of a problem. No, let me do the moving here. You just follow along with me."

Glorfindel held the tray at waist level, gently guiding it and Ivy's hand down into the sink. Wetting both under the icy water, he tenderly separated metal from skin, only to have Legolas slide in and take Ivy's cold, wet hands in his own.

"This is not good," he murmured, pressing her fingers lightly with his thumbs.

"Well, if you'd rinsed your hands first--" said Glorfindel.

"That's not what I mean, Adar. Ivy, can you feel my touch?"

" Not really."

Father and son exchanged a look, and Ivy watched as all amusement left Glorfindel's expression. Taking Ivy firmly by the shoulders, the older Elf whirled Ivy about and steered her toward the kitchen door.

"You are going inside. Right now."

"But the rabbits--" she protested.

"Never mind them. Lord Elrond Peredhil is going to have a fit and fall into it when he finds out what's happened." He glowered at her. "An artist needs her hands, you shouldn't risk yours." Pulling open the door, he shoved her inside. "Get in there and find your father. Now!"

She whirled back around to face him. "Why are you yelling at me because I've got cold hands?"

"You haven't cold hands, you're working on having frostbitten hands!" Glorfindel slammed the door.

"Oh." I guess that's why they're numb and have gone white? And part of them are burning? Turning, she discovered Erestor was looking back at her mildly from where he stood at the central counter. "Do you know where my father is?"

"I'm right here." Elrond pushed through the swinging door into the kitchen. "What, pray, is all the shouting about?"

Going to stand before him, Ivy bowed her head. "All I wanted was to go hunting with Legolas and help with the rabbity lunch, but I think I messed up."

"How is that?"

"My fingers are numb, but other parts are all tingly, and Glorfindel says I've got frostbite."

Elrond's hands dwarfed hers, and he was careful not to rub the skin as he examined them. Ivy felt his worry wash over her every bit as clearly as she'd felt his outrage over Julien and subsequent sadness the day before.

He turned over her hands, and for the first time Ivy noticed they had turned a strange grayish-white.

"Glorfindel is right," murmured Elrond, all concern. "We must see to your hands immediately."

Taking hold of Ivy's wrist, he moved toward the kitchen sink.

"You can't tend her here," Erestor warned. "I need all of my kitchen this morning if I'm to be ready for the ceilidh, and you'll take too long."

"Then we shall tend her poor hands upstairs. Come, Ivy." Sliding an arm around her shoulders, Elrond ushered her out of the kitchen and headed with all speed down the long corridor.

"Wouldn't it be easier to take the back stairs like you did last night?" Ivy whispered, not sure who might be within earshot and mindful of Legolas' warning that the others didn't need to know about the secret passageway.

"That stairway is accessible only through the gameroom, and I don't want you back out in the cold." Sweeping into the elevator which seemed to have been waiting for them, Elrond held open the door for Ivy before punching in a series of numbers and setting the car in motion. "Legolas knows you are not accustomed to such harsh weather. He assured me he would bundle you properly against the cold, but obviously he failed to do exactly that. I should never have trusted him with you out there."

"He did so bundle me," she challenged, completely taken aback by Elrond's growling. "He gave me his warmest clothes and Aragorn's cloak, and a pair of really heavy mittens but I took them off when we came back." She had to take a breath then, much to her dismay. "I took off the mittens when we came back because I wanted to get Glorfindel's rabbits ready for Erestor. But I'm still wearing the cloak and other stuff, see?"

The elevator door opened and Elrond slapped his hand against it to prevent its closing once more. He gave her a look - the look, regardless those dark eyebrows went up instead of down this time - and Ivy rushed to further defend her sworn protector.

"It's not Legolas' fault!" she insisted. "I cut up the rabbits behind his back while he and Glorfindel were cleaning out the deer. I wanted to help."

"I'm sure Glorfindel appreciates your efforts, but I am not sure dressing rabbits in a sub-zero room and plunging your hands into ice-cold water is the best way for you to help."

He motioned for her to exit the elevator, and Ivy very nearly jumped to do his bidding. Sliding a hand across the small of her back, Elrond propelled Ivy down the hall until they reached the door directly across from Legolas' suite of rooms.

"These are the rooms Haldir assigned to me," Elrond explained in answer to her obvious confusion as he opened the door for her.

Ivy looked around eagerly but saw only another gigantic four-poster bed and the by-now familiar assortment of medieval furniture she now realized had probably been made by Legolas himself. Absolutely nothing was out of place, and no items belonging to Elrond were out of suitcase, drawer or closet to indicate anyone was even staying in the room. The room might not have been being used at all.

Oh, great, Ivy thought as the Elf-lord swept into the bathroom and waited for her to catch up. My father's a neat-freak.

Ivy was astonished to discover that the bath did not tell the same tale as the outer room. Here, a pile of towels had been kicked into the corner and an assortment of toiletries lay scattered about the narrow, black marble-topped vanity housing the sink.

Shampoo, toothbrush, and toothpaste without its cap, she noted. There's even a hairy comb. But wait, it's got blonde hair in its teeth, not black. Darn it!

Elrond turned to a black satchel that very much reminded Ivy of an old-fashioned doctor's bag. "I apologize for the disarray. My roommate is rather messy."

"Roommate? You have to share your room?" Belatedly, Ivy noticed the second door that likely connected the bathroom with a another bedroom, much as Legolas' own did. "Oh. You and Glorfindel share the bath?"

"Unfortunately." Elrond retrieved a bottle of pills and tapped two into the palm of his hand. Rinsing a nearby mug, he half-filled it with water before turning the hot water full on.

"Glorfindel is just as messy at home, I'm afraid. Everything is everywhere in his rooms, and it sometimes crawls elsewhere as well. He is very casual about most things." Elrond sighed. "But it is a different matter in the stables. There, everything there must be perfect, and I hear, 'Elrond, no. Why can't you see that the lunge line goes here, while the lunge whip goes there?' He is a totally different Glorfindel there." Elrond lifted the mug of water. "Open your mouth."

Ivy blinked at the sudden order, which came apropos of nothing. "I beg your pardon?"

"Your fingers are surely numb, so you can handle neither pill or cup," Elrond pointed out. "If you open your mouth, I will drop in the pills and hold the water so you may swallow them."

"What are they?"

"Acetaminophen, as the re-warming of your hands may prove somewhat painful."

Feeling stupid and infantile, Ivy opened her mouth and accepted the pills like a baby bird accepted food from its parent.

Please don't let me choke and embarrass myself further, she prayed as Elrond put the mug to her lips and gently tilted it.

"Good girl," Elrond murmured as she drank, and Ivy had to wonder if the Elf-lord was as sensitive to her discomfort over this as he was to the pain throbbing through her upper hands.

The ordeal with the mug was over in seconds, whereupon Elrond tested the temperature of the water before filling the sink. Moving behind Ivy, he enfolded her in his robes before taking hold of her wrists to plunge her hands without warning into the water.

The sudden explosion of pain made Ivy scream and rock back violently against the Elf-lord's much larger frame, but he only tightened his grip.

"No, daughter. You must leave your hands in the water."

Turning her face against his sleeve, she gasped in pain and continued pushing backward as if the very motion would ease the raw agony tearing through her hands. "Please, Ada! It hurts!"

"I know it does," he murmured, continuing to shelter her even as he continued torturing her. "I am sorry it hurts, but you must let the warm water work its magic."

"Warm? It's scalding!"

"I assure you the water is nowhere near that hot."

Shuddering, she subsided against him and closed her eyes. Slowly, Elrond's powerful aura enfolded her to help ease the throbbing in her hands. She gasped as a wave of protectiveness and worry unlike anything she'd felt before engulfed her. Twisting slightly, she struggled to see the Elf-lord's face, to try reading his expression and find out if he looked as distressed as he felt.

He did.

"How badly have I hurt my hands?" Ivy ventured to ask.

"It is a good sign that you are feeling pain, for it means the nerves are little affected." His smile was reassuring, but Ivy noted his words neatly sidestepped her question. "I am sorry it hurts so badly, but you must leave your hands immersed for a time."

"How long is that?"

"Until the blood vessels dilate once more and your circulation improves. Until your skin is no longer white, but has returned to its healthy, pink color. We are warming the affected area as quickly as possible, but you must not rub your hands together as that could further damage your skin."

She thought about that for a moment before hesitantly asking, "Am I still going to be able to do my art?"

"I have absolutely no doubt that you will, if you follow my directions."

Sniffling, she looked down and considered that serious warning for a long moment. "I guess I should be grateful I didn't mess them up even more."


Her hands still throbbed, and she felt like stamping her feet in sudden fury and frustration. "This is really just too much."

"What is too much?"

"This!" She slapped the water, only to wince and have Elrond tighten his grip on her wrists again. "I'm still jetlagged, and I've had the barest sleep, and...and I go and do this to myself on top of getting through everything else this week, and--"

"And you wanted only to accompany Legolas on his hunt, and you are now frightened you will never draw or paint again." She felt him nod behind her. "I completely understand your upset."

His thumbs caressed her wrist. "Your hands will heal, and the week is nearly over. We'll be leaving for Warra in no time at all, and I do not think sleep will evade you there."

"But what do I do in the meantime?"
"You take several deep breaths and know that this too shall end. You might also look about and realize you are far from alone."

She found herself tucked tight beneath the Elf-lord's chin, and he rocked her gently in his tight embrace.

"The stress-filled meetings have ended," Elrond continued, his deep voice rumbling and soothing her. "You and Legolas seem to be forming a firm friendship, which is an unexpected event given what Isabel subjected him to. Glorfindel was also yelling at you earlier, and that is a solid sign of his affection."

Her hair was tangled with his, and she pressed even closer as his robes all but engulfed her, craving the contact and the comfort he so openly offered as the initial agony in her hands subsided a little. Closing her eyes, Ivy let herself sink into his comforting strength.

"I am also here to offer whatever is necessary to ease your way, now and in the future. You have only to tell me what you need, and I will do my utmost to help."

"It's so weird..." she murmured as Elrond continued gently rocking her. "I could feel your anger so clearly after Julien wanted to hurt me. Now here you are, holding onto me again, and I can feel your...what is that? Are you doing something?"

"Doing something?" Elrond's voice vibrated against her back.

"To make my hands hurt less?" Part of her was shocked to realize she was snuggling even closer to him. Another part seemed willing to take up permanent residence. "You feel so big and overwhelming, I thought maybe you were overwhelming the hurting, too."

"Perhaps I am. Or perhaps you are merely becoming adjusted to the temperature of the water." He patted her fingers. "Can you feel that, or are your hands still numb?"

"They're still a bit numb."

"Then we must make the water a bit warmer."

He refilled the sink and moved away from her afterward, but Ivy was somehow still left feeling as if she were still being held in his embrace.

Neat trick, she thought, making me feel all safe and loved even at a distance. Is that his experienced-healer aura at work or some sort of Elven mind-trick? Maybe I'm just imagining things. He obviously won't tell me even if I were to ask again.

Ivy was startled when Elrond reached for the greenleaf broach at her throat to release it and pull the cloak from her shoulders and set it aside after folding it carefully. He then carefully pinned the broach to the cloth for safekeeping.

"Legolas was really casual with that cloak," she said. "I'm glad to see someone besides me thinks what Aragorn left behind should be treated with reverence."

"You are Estel's daughter as well as Arwen's, and so his things are yours by right. He would have been the first to say the cloak was meant to be useful and therefore should be used."

"But it's a Fellowship relic, isn't it?" she protested, feeling a sense of déjà vu as she'd already had this conversation with Legolas. "And it's a reminder of Aragorn for those who loved him, so shouldn't it be preserved?"

Elrond caressed the soft gray material. "It is somewhat more than a reminder, for it still feels of Estel to those of us who knew him. But his spirit lives on in you, and he would be happy to know something of his was taking care of you.
She opened her mouth to argue further, only to rethink what she was about to say. "Okay, that's it. You look so sincere and so sad, I don't have the heart to argue any more."

"That is well." Taking her hands in his once more, Elrond examined them closely before nodding his satisfaction. "Estel's cloak aside, did Legolas take care of you out there?"

"Yeah. He even took the time to teach me how to walk on top of the snow. Adar, if I can kind of see in the dark and walk on the snow, why can't I be immune to the cold the way you and the others are?"

"Some Elven characteristics are learned from infancy while others are not. Immunity to cold is a skill you have not yet learned."

She chewed her bottom lip. "I wish Dan had taught me when he lived with me."

"I doubt there was much opportunity in balmy San Francisco."

"Balmy San Francisco?" She made a most unladylike noise. "It's not exactly tropical."

"Compared to winters in Scotland, it is. I don't recall hearing of below zero days occurring in San Francisco." He stroked a heavy hand down her hair. "It speaks highly of you that you should want to assist Glorfindel, but you are a guest within these walls. You do not need to help."

"It has nothing to do with needing to help. I wanted to." She moved her fingers idly through the water as Elrond gathered up her hair, the better to keep it from falling into the wet. "It feels wrong to stand around and watch while everyone else works."

"May I point out that I am not working? Verce and the other ellith are also not working?"

"Ada, please." She very nearly rolled her eyes at him. "You've paid your dues for thousands of years. I haven't. I don't even know how to pretend to be one of the idle Elven rich. And it feels bad, just standing around. There's not much I can do compared to all of you, but when I find something I can do, I want to do it! It makes me feel less...I don't know...useless?"

Elrond gave a deep sigh. "Very well. I believe I understand your insecurity regardless it is unwarranted. Perhaps you will be better able to help when we return in June, as the weather will be much less formidable."

Pulling Ivy's hands out of the water, Elrond closely examined one and then the other.

"They're pink again, aren't they?" she ventured. "They're certainly not numb anymore." She made her own examination of the hand Elrond was not holding, touching the pads of her fingers to her thumb. "They feel kind of hard, though. Swollen or something."

He nodded. "That is sometimes part of the process. Do not worry, for they look much better than they did. Do you still have your mittens, and are they dry?"

"I think so. They're in the pockets of the cloak."

"Now, blot your hands dry, and do not rub them." He handed her a towel and gave one of his fierce looks to underscore his instructions. "I will retrieve your mittens for you."

"Yes, Adar," she said meekly.

Elrond waited patiently for her to finish before very gently sliding the mittens over her hands.

"Keep these on for the rest of the day and do not let your hands become chilled again until winter comes to Warra."

He sounded so stern and looked so worried - as though she might refuse or his no-nonsense orders might frighten her - that once Elrond had finished reinstalling her mittens Ivy impulsively slid her arms around his waist and hugged him tight. It didn't matter at all that her mittened fingers felt far too large and awkward.

"You don't have to worry," she said. "I promise to be good."

"What makes you think I'm worried?" Elrond rumbled against her. "I know you want to draw again." He returned her hug full force until she gave a soft squeak. "I’m sorry, did I hurt you?"

"No! You're just kind of overwhelming. But it's nice."

"I beg your pardon?"

Leaning back but not letting go, Ivy smiled up at him. "I can feel what you're feeling right now and how much you care. Just as I could feel your anger yesterday."

His eyes widened into hers as she continued.

"You feel all big and fierce and gentle at the same time. It's...really nice. Nobody else has ever cared about me like that."

Elrond's fingers were caressing her hair again, and that honest gesture was another of the things she was coming to love about him. Giving a tender, almost sad smile, he untangled his fingers from her hair and held her face between his hands.

"I want you to do me a favor, dear Ivy."

"Anything," she agreed instantly. "What is it?"

His smile broadened. "I want you to remember this moment when I have done something in Warra that truly upsets you. When you wish to be rid of me, or at least well away from me."

"Never happen," she proclaimed.

"We shall see." He brushed her cheek with the back of his fingers. "Now, shall we find you a bit of breakfast?" Releasing her, he headed with all speed out of the bath.

"Legolas and I already ate." Not wanting to leave Aragorn's cloak behind, she snatched it up and trotted after Elrond. "In the tree while we waited for the deer."

"That must have been a satisfying meal," came the dry observation.

"Did I interrupt your breakfast?" she demanded, hurrying out of the bedroom as Elrond made ready to close the door. "Is everyone else at breakfast?"

"The ellith and Haldir have already eaten and are watching more movies in the screening room. Julien is still in his room, for I have drugged him senseless."

She had to trot again to keep up with Elrond as he swept down the hall toward the elevator. "Did Julien let you reset his nose?"

"Of course not. The moment I entered his room, he screamed for me to stay away. When I made to leave, he called me back and demanded painkillers. While I do carry such things with me and am licensed to dispense them in Britain as well as in Australia, I did not deign to share them with him, and he became...what is the word Kiki is so fond of? Julien became snarky when I made to leave."

Ivy giggled as her imagination staged the scene for her. "I imagine it would be a little difficult to stay away and give him painkillers at the same time, but you were only doing as he asked."

Elrond paused, startled, then smiled. "I do think you're right about that. I was only doing as he asked."

The elevator doors opened, and Ivy fairly leaped inside behind Elrond. Keep up or else! She thought. I could ask him to slow down, but there's nothing wrong with my legs, and it's a lot of fun seeing how magnificent he looks with his robes billowing around him.

The door closed, but the car did not move as Elrond solemnly regarded the numerical keypad.

"Did Legolas share the code that is necessary to make this elevator move?"

"Um, no. We were kind of in a hurry. Julien was coming," she added as he looked confused by that snippet of information.

"The code is the date of Aragorn's birth." Setting finger to keypad, Elrond relayed as he typed. "Three-one-two-nine-three-one, and then the pound sign. Or, if you would rather, it is March first in the year 2931 of the third age. And then the pound sign. The code on the back stairs door is the same."

"That's easy to remember." Ivy clutched the guard rail as the elevator lurched into motion. "So if you didn't give Julien a painkiller, why is he drugged senseless?"

"I offered a fairly strong sedative to be administered in Julien's tea. He deigned to drink the tea. That - along with a bottle of single-malt whiskey Haldir sacrificed in the interest of a quiet night for all - is sufficient to let Julien rest. And so, we are spared his annoying presence for some hours."

"Hmmm. Elves are sneaky. I'll remember that." She grinned up at him to show her approval of his and Haldir's combined efforts to sedate the patient.

Elrond smiled and clasped her hand in return. "Julien should not wake up until shortly before the ceilidh begins, and we will all of us be in attendance to deal with him then."

They exited the elevator only to nearly run over Glorfindel who was standing just beyond the door with Legolas.

"Hang about. Am standing just here."

"You might consider standing elsewhere," Elrond snapped, sliding past the golden Elf with only inches to spare.

"Very well, I'll stand closer to you, shall I?" Glorfindel's smile was as beautific as Elrond's expression was poisonous.

Legolas immediately slipped up beside Ivy to stand elbow to elbow. "How are your hands?"

"They're okay."

"Are they?" Legolas sounded doubtful.

Father and son both eyed the mittens Ivy was still wearing, and Glorfindel seemed suddenly subdued, at least at first glance.

"My hands will be fine," she insisted. "They are fine."

"They will be fine if she does not expose them again to the ice and cold for the remainder of our visit." Gone was the warm, companionable father with whom Ivy had spent the last fifteen minutes. Back was the ultra-serious, bristling Elf-lord whose thunderous look was directed at the Legend of Gondolin. "I am told this happened while my daughter dressed your rabbits for you."

"I had no idea she was so eager to get her hands on my coneys, but I still take total responsibility for Ivy hurting herself." Offering a formal nod to Elrond, Glorfindel then turned to Ivy. For the first time, she saw exactly how grim and foreboding an Elven legend could look. "Ivy, if in the future you wish to help me, please ask first."

She cringed, never dreaming she'd ever see Glorfindel leveling such a stern gaze her way. "I will, I promise. But everything's okay, really. Um...what happened to the deer?"

"Erestor has accepted delivery and is busy preparing it for us tonight." said Legolas. "What else should have happened to it?"

"I missed watching you bring it in?"

"There wasn't much to miss, missy," Glorfindel muttered. "Tuck it under your arm and mind the doorframe."

"There will be other hunts." The words were quiet, but Legolas' smile was warm and only for her, so Ivy chose to believe he'd let her go out with him again.

Turning to Elrond, Legolas offered an abbreviated bow and spoke with smooth formality. "My Lord Elrond, would you consider allowing your daughter to walk in with me at the ceilidh?"

Ivy's jaw very nearly dropped at the invitation. I get to go to the ceilidh with him? Or just walk with him somewhere? What exactly is he asking for me to do?

Whatever it is, it's with Legolas, right? Her mind raced on, and she barely kept herself from grabbing her father's arm and begging out loud. Oh please, please say yes, Adar?

Elrond didn't deign to reply for a long moment, but Legolas didn't so much as blink under the Elf-lord's silent, supremely severe regard.

"Were my daughter to walk in with you, she would require some apparel...something very warm and a bit more formal, much more appropriate to the occasion, than what she normally wears," he finally answered, with his words slow and measured.

"I believe I know something that might suit," Legolas said with equal ceremony. "An older gown that is being stored in the old section. It is fairly elegant and should suit her nicely."

"With my big fat mittens?" Ivy was horrified.

"Yes, what about her mittens?" asked Glorfindel. "Is her frostbite so severe that she must she wear them during the ceilidh as well?"

"Is not the Great Hall always overheated for these events?" asked Legolas.

"It is." Elrond considered further, and Ivy scarcely dared to breathe before he passed sentence. "Very well. Legolas, if the gown you speak of is appropriate, and Ivy is not kept waiting in the cold while the piper warms up, my daughter may walk in with you."

She would have clapped her hands if she could. As it was, she settled for laying her hand on his arm and hoped he could feel her happiness. "Thank you, Ada!"

"Hmphm." He frowned, but Ivy thought the slantwise gaze he gave her might be hiding some amusement.

With careful dignity, Legolas turned to her. "Would you like to come with me into the old house to look for your gown?"

The invitation was issued calmly enough, but Ivy knew Legolas well enough by now to recognize the eager fire that was banked behind those blue eyes and their sometimes mischievous, always enigmatic owner.

"You're going into the old house?" she sputtered. "You mean...THE old house? The one you lived in with Gimli and where Aragorn held his meetings?"

Legolas nodded. "The very one."

Ivy whirled on Elrond and clutched his arm, regardless her mittens and the spiking pain in her hands that the action caused. "Oh, please, please say that I can go? I'll keep my mittens on, and I'll carry hot rocks in my pockets or something during the ceilidh - whatever you want. I'll walk where Legolas walks and absolutely nothing bad will happen, and--please please please say I can go?"

"Of course you may go." Elrond's sounded amused as well as magnanimous now. "Legolas, you will take a torch for Ivy to see by, and you will also be sure to take your cell phone so that we may contact you at any time."

"Do you seriously think such a fragile invention of Men will work inside stone walls?" came the skeptical reply.

"Just carry it with you, please?"

"And you're both to be back before luncheon," added Glorfindel, "else Erestor will fuss and no doubt come to find you himself. You both missed his breakfast this morning, he won't allow you to miss lunch as well. Not to mention, there's a ceilidh to get ready for this afternoon."

Startled, Ivy looked from Elf to Elf. "You mean the ceilidh's tonight?"

"Starts promptly at full dark in the Great Old Hall." Glorfindel cocked his thumb at the wall behind them, which Ivy knew all too well contained Ballroom D'Tacky.

They can't mean to hold the ceilidh in there, can they? The thought horrified her. "Um...have any of you looking in there recently? I mean, really looked in there? Because I think Haldir redecorated it too while Legolas was gone."

Some of the horror must have shown on her face, for Glorfindel laughed outright and shook his head, and even Elrond smiled.

Legolas gritted his teeth and shook his head so hard, his long hair flew. "You have my word, Ivy, no ghastly cherubs will attend the ceilidh. The Great Old Hall is part of the original house, and I think Haldir knows that section of my home had best remain as I originally built it, without so much as the addition of a single dimmer switch."

"That would be difficult," said Glorfindel, "seeing as there's not a smidgeon of electricity back there."

Legolas ignored his father's observation, choosing instead to address Ivy once more. "I see you still have Aragorn's cloak. That is well, for it is cold where we are going. Elrond, would you be so kind as to put it on her, and then we'll be off?"

"Let's leave them to it, shall we?" Glorfindel urged, laying a hand on Elrond's shoulder to urge him down the hall once the Greenleaf broach was back in place and Aragorn's cloak with it. He waggled his fingers at the couple. "Be back by lunch, remember? Else Erestor and Lord Elrond will both come looking for you."

The two Elven lords disappeared down the long corridor. Capturing Ivy's arm, Legolas leaned against her to whisper conspiratorially, "Did you tell your father I made you cry?"

"You did what? When?" She turned her head and nearly scraped his nose with the end of hers. "Oh, you mean when we were in the tree this morning?"


"Of course I didn't tell him." She waved away his concern with her mittened hands. "We resolved that between the two of us, didn't we? I haven't given it another thought."

"Thank you," he said quietly, almost humbly. "Your father would never forgive me for making you cry."

"Girls cry, it's okay." She butted his shoulder with her own and offered the warmest smile she could, wishing once again that she had the nerve to hug him the way she could Elrond. Or at least that I wasn't wearing these mittens and I could grab his hand. "It was just a miscommunication. No big deal. Really."

"Then let us find a torch and retrieve my phone as your father requested. And then, I shall introduce you to the old house."



Legolas watched the other Elven lords depart before leading Ivy down the hallway and into the kitchen. Erestor turned from the countertop, paring knife in hand, and watched in silence while Legolas checked several cabinets nearby. The younger Elf's search resulted in his shoving a large and serviceable flashlight into Ivy's hands.

"Here is the torch I promised to take."

Legolas disappeared through the swinging kitchen door while Ivy stared down at the heavy thing in her hands. She waited, excitement building, for her guide to reappear.

"He won't ditch me, will he?" she asked Erestor, who had returned to chopping up vegetables.

"Ditch you?" The austere Elf arched an eyebrow. "I am unfamiliar with the term."

"Run out on me,” she explained, “Leave me behind.  Legolas invited me to go with him into the old house, but he's gone away somewhere. There's no other time we can go before the ceilidh, so he's got to come back for me, right?"

"One would assume so," came the calm answer. "Especially since the Little Leaf is not in the habit of abandoning people."

"And he did promise," she murmured.

Erestor didn't seem inclined to continue the conversation while he worked, so Ivy tried to contain her mounting anxiety and anticipation by fiddling with the flashlight. Its large button allowed tender fingers wrapped in bulky mittens to operate it easily, so she turned on the torch and let the strong beam play across the walls and floors.

At least I'll be able to see where I'm going, she reassured herself. Elrond sounded really concerned about our getting lost, but Legolas can't get lost back there. I mean, it's his home. He built it, slept in it, and lived in it for years and years. No, he's not going to get lost.

But you might, said a little voice in her head. Legolas is going to carry a cell phone, but he could step away and forget about you. And then you'd be completely alone back there with all the dust and who knows what. Lost in the ancient stuff for who knows how long.


Ivy very nearly shrieked in surprise when Legolas popped up behind her, so absorbed she was in her paranoid fantasy scenario.

"Ah, um...yeah. I'm‑‑I'm ready. Sure, let's go." She tried to sound casual, as though her protector hadn't just scared her silly. He can probably hear my heart, it's pounding so hard.

Legolas offered an apologetic smile. "I didn't mean to startle you. I did not realize you were...thinking."

Ivy thought about trying to maintain her charade of dignity, but knew it was a lost cause.

"You're just so quiet." She didn't bother trying to hide her exasperation. "I didn't see you go, and then I didn't see you come back." She waved the flashlight at the doorway for emphasis. "I'm just not used to you guys yet."

"I am sorry." He looked genuinely contrite. "I will be more mindful of my comings and goings. Now, if you still have faith in me as a guide, shall we go and locate a gown for you to wear to the ceilidh?"

She hurried forward to keep up as he set a quick pace out of the kitchen. "Do we have time for me to look around? I mean, I know there's not exactly time for the grand tour, but I'd love just a little peek?"

"It is merely old, Ivy. There is nothing magical or special about the old house."

"How can you say that?" she demanded, stunned at his casual attitude toward their destination. "We're going into the original wing. Where Aragorn and Gimli stayed."

He looked down at her, his expression indecipherable. "Yes, Aragorn slept there. Gimli did too, as did I. But the old wing is merely stone and wood. The magic ‑ if indeed it ever had any - was created by those who dwelt there, not the stones themselves, and it is long gone."

He pushed through a heavy door opposite the dining hall and held it open for her. The temperature immediately dropped a few degrees, and she glimpsed a very broad tree trunk looming in the shadows to the right. Weak winter light crept through its high, spindly branches to barely illuminate where they were going.

"This way." Brushing past her, Legolas continued on.

That can't be right, she thought, because trees don't grow in the middle of houses. She abruptly dismissed what she thought she'd seen in favor of pursuing Legolas' claim that all the magic of the past was long gone.

"I don't agree. I can't agree," she protested, trotting to catch up with him. "I know it's your castle or manorhouse or whatever you call it, but the old wing is still Ithilien. It's history I can touch and see and maybe, just maybe, I can share a moment of it? It may be only empty stone and wood to you, but to me it's a window into the past. You're even wearing the same sort of hunting tunic now as you would have all those years ago, so you're like a bridge through time."

So caught up was Ivy in her speech and in staring at Legolas' profile as he strode along, she quite missed the fact they'd stopped in front of a wall - one she would have walked straight into had Legolas not caught her arm to stop her. He stared down at her for a long moment, long enough for Ivy to start squirming inside, embarrassed at her heartfelt outburst, but he finally nodded as though a decision had been reached.

"You are correct, it is indeed a window into our past. But while you are determined to explore whatever might remain, I will only see what is no longer there."

There the debate ended, and Legolas released her arm. As Ivy's eyes adjusted to the gloom, she realized the wall before them was covered with yet another huge, floor‑to‑ceiling tapestry. Peering upward in the dim light, she made out that this one featured happy Elves riding horses through trees. There were no battles, no one distinctive claimed the foreground, and Ivy felt no ancient emotions reaching out from the old wool to strangle her. No, she saw only pretty, pointy‑eared people on horses.

And we are looking at this, why? she wondered.

"This wasn't here before," Legolas muttered, scowling up at the monstrosity and shaking his head. "More redecorating by Haldir, I suspect."

Reaching in front of her, he swept the tapestry aside to reveal a rough, gray stone wall behind it. Set neatly into the stone was a Gothic‑arched frame with a scarred oak door suitable for any medieval fortress. Hand‑forged iron hinges and an enormous twisted-iron door pull helped bar the way.

Fifteenth century? she ventured, eyeing the ironwork and wishing she'd paid more attention to lectures on medieval and renaissance architectural design during a required art history course.

"We originally put up the tapestry a few hundred years ago to conceal this door should the Sassenach come for an unannounced visit," Legolas explained. "They moved on, and I grew weary of battling the cloth whenever we carted things into or out of the old house. I ordered it taken down some time ago."

"Huh," she acknowledged. "I'm glad your worries about the English eased, but that keyhole looks big enough for Cinderella's mice to scamper through."

"Why should the mice bother climbing any door when they are all well‑skilled at squeezing beneath the tightest door?"

Bending, Legolas ran a hand over the stones near the bottom of the wall before removing one and extracting an ancient‑looking skeleton key from the cavity. Fitting the stone back in place, the Elf then slid the key into the lock and used both hands to turn it. The wards hesitated and groaned, only to finally give with a loud clack that echoed off of the surrounding stone.

Lifting the latch and leaning his full weight against the door, Legolas pushed hard and the iron hinges groaned with what was likely the weight of a thousand years. Darkness beckoned beyond the door, and Legolas offered a crooked smile and a slight bow before gesturing her forward.

"Welcome to the original Hall of Ithilien. I hope you are not disappointed."

Leaning forward, she peered into the gloom and breathed the scent of damp stone, dust and age. "I won't be disappointed, but I worry about getting lost. I know it's a silly fear, but please humor me and remember I'm here, okay?"

"I will not leave you," he said, his tone solemn. "And you seem to have forgotten that I glow in the darkness, so you will always be able to see me."

"Alrighty, then." Taking a deep breath, Ivy gathered her courage and stepped into the darkness.

She was much relieved to feel Legolas at her back, but then he let the tapestry fall across the doorway behind them and Ivy froze as she felt completely swallowed by the darkness. The air stirred as Legolas stepped past her to lead the way, and Ivy blinked hard, wishing desperately that her eyes would adjust and let her see the glowing Elf who was guiding her.

The first thing she noticed was the quiet. The old house wasn't just quiet, it carried a stillness so complete that it was positively eerie since Legolas' bootsteps made no sound on the stone floor. Quiet in Ivy's world was the temporary absence of civilized noises - no televisions or radios, cars hurrying past or neighbors using lawnmowers. In her world, there was always something to hear. Even when her Victorian behemoth in San Francisco was at its most still, the noises of an old house were still in the background. She was always unconsciously aware of the creaking of wood, the odd noise from the dodgy plumbing, and even the rumble of the motor in the refrigerator.

There was none of that here. The old house held a silence she had experienced only once before in her life, a silence that made her heart pound loud in her ears and made her aware of her own breathing as though she were asthmatic.

Silent as the grave, came the unbidden thought. I think I have a better understanding of that saying now. This isn't fun like I thought it would be. It's scary.

"Ivy? Are you all right?"

Legolas wasn't as close to her as he had been before, and the sudden return of sound made Ivy jump. Turning toward his voice, she the soft glow of him standing some feet away. Squinting, she tried to make out his features.

"Of course I'm all right. I just...I'm just getting the feel of the place."

His lack of an immediate reply hinted at disbelief, but as she couldn't see him clearly, she couldn't be sure.

"We had best be off to collect your dress."

Legolas' tone was definitely disbelieving and held the barest hint patronization. He moved off down the corridor at almost the same fast pace he'd used to bring them to the old wing, and Ivy felt a new and rising anxiety when his glowing form winked out abruptly.

Where'd he go? She whimpered softly to feel a blind panic rise inside her like a black tide. He promised not to leave me, and now he's gone just like that?

"Legolas?" she croaked, knowing her fears were unreasonable but unable to tamp them down.

He did not answer her, and the darkness seemed complete.

Maybe he's standing right in front of me and I'm just not getting it. She waved a hand in front of her, but her fingers groped blindly in the air.

"Legolas!" she yelled, wincing as her voice echoed off the stone enfolding her. She could hear the fear in her voice and hated it, hated being weak and fearful and girly, but it was dark and scary and she was alone in this place that was as old as time, and--

Strong hands closed about her arms, suddenly reconnecting her with the world. Legolas' calm voice was in her ear, warm and concerned and alive. "I'm here. Right here. What is wrong?"

Now she felt ridiculous, but raw panic made her spill the truth before she could stop herself. "I can't see down here and you went on ahead and left me and I'm scared. I don't want to be left alone in the dark."

The grip on her arms loosened into a gentle caress. "Forgive me. I forgot that you cannot see as well as I can. I never meant to frighten you and I was not far, just around the corner. And now I am only a few steps away. I will never be farther than that while we are in here. Would it comfort you to know that a door to the outside is just to your left? It used to be this hall's front door."

"But I can't see it." She felt near to tears. "I can't see you, either."

"Then turn on the torch I gave you."

"The torch." She could feel the heat rush to her face in a blush of embarrassment, and hoped his clever Elf eyes couldn't see it. "I forgot I had it."

Please don't let me look this stupid again in the next few minutes? she thought.Her mittened thumb pressed the button on the flashlight, and a reassuring beam of light shot out, making her wince slightly at its sudden brightness. But bright is what we want, isn't it?

Legolas was standing next to her, watching intently. Ivy could see his wonderful blue eyes, filled with concern. She could see the stone of walls of the old house as well. They weren't rough as she'd expected, but marvelously smooth and so cleverly joined that there was no need for mortar between the stones. Dust motes originating who knew how long ago swirled in the flashlight's beam, changing direction and pattern as Legolas moved away from her side.

"Oh wow," she whispered, staring at the floor as well as the walls in amazement. "I was expecting the stonework to be all rough, like in those Welsh castles that are falling down. Nothing like this." Approaching the wall, she ran a hand across the stones and felt the mitten's wool glide without a single catch over the smooth surface.

"Had the castles you speak of been built by Dwarves, they would not be the tumble-downs they are today," said Legolas. "Dwarven stone stays where it is put. Still, Gimli would be pleased to hear you speak so highly of his work."

"He built this?"

"He and his cousins and friends, and I think even a brother or two." Joining her, Legolas set his hand above hers to caress the stones. "Every stone was selected by them personally, brought here under their watchful eyes, and shaped by their capable hands. Gimli built this hall for me." He sounded almost wistful and more than a little sad.

"For you?" she echoed, hoping he'd continue.

"He said it simply wasn't seemly that the Lord of Ithilien didn't have a proper hall. I didn't care, you see? We build the stables properly, of course, but a hall?" He shrugged, and the dust motes floated upward this time. "We had wagonloads of trees to plant, fields to restore and cultivate, and countless homes to build for newcomers. In addition, we were desperately focused on surviving the first few winters. I was happy enough sleeping in the loft, and meetings could be held just as well under the trees or the sky, so I saw no need to spend our time and resources on building a formal hall."

Legolas paused to stare at the stone as if all of his memories were written there. "Gimli came to visit me, you see, and he was not pleased when I offered to share my hayloft with him, or to have one of the crofters move out of their home for the length of his visit. We quickly built him a small cottage, but my friend was still terribly offended, not only by the guest quarters but by the sad lack of a proper hall for Ithilien's affairs. And so, he announced that the Hall of Ithilien was going to be built. It would be started as soon as he could make arrangements, so I had best pick out a location right then."

When he stopped talking, Ivy hesitantly asked, "Why did you choose this site?"

"It seemed centrally located to the community we had begun, and we had a good view of the waterway should anyone adversaries come calling by boat."

She nodded. "I like it. Did Gimli like it?"

Legolas gave an amused, tolerant smile that revealed the dimples she was coming to cherish. "Gimli did, else he wouldn't have built on it. He and the other dwarves went away for quite some time - nearly a year, as I recall - but they came back to haul load after load of stone, and they dug and they worked long and hard upon this site. They didn't want my assistance, said I had no feeling for the stone and sent me away, so I would come of an evening and Gimli would show me their progress.

"They began by building their own quarters, for as Gimli said building my hall was to be a lengthy process and they deserved to be comfortable as they worked. Those quarters the Dwarves built deep in the rock, beneath where we are standing now. There, they fashioned an elegant stone underworld of tunnels and chambers comfortable enough bring their families and live for quite some time. After the tunnels were completed, Gimli and his friends began on the above‑ground part of the hall, where we are standing now. As you can see, it was not overly large, but it was enough to house our community gatherings and for me to receive foreign visitors and the king himself in proper style."

"Your people hid in the Dwarven tunnels during the aftermath of Culloden?" Ivy asked quietly.

"They did. I must soon inspect those tunnels to see if they are still intact."

She tilted her head and regarded him with some amusement. "Didn't you just say Dwarven stone stays where it was put?"

"Oh, it does. But the stretch out into the glen might have suffered. Stones may have shifted over the past sixty years, so I must make certain the exits are clear."

"Make sure the exits are clear?" Ivy echoed with some confusion. "But why? It's not as if you'll ever need them again."

The hand braced against the cold stone curled its long, beautiful fingers into a tight fist, and not even the shadows could soften the fierce, eminently cynical look Legolas gave her.

"When you have lived as long as I have among Men, you will know beyond any doubt that their violence and greed can explode at any time to threaten those you love. The shelter and escape afforded by Gimli's tunnels may yet be needed again." His gaze went distant, and Ivy knew he was no longer seeing her. “Even rabbit warrens have more than one exit should predators find them. Should we have any less?”

"Legolas?" she whispered, daring to lay a hand across his back. "The clans met their end almost three hundred years ago. Are you truly convinced something like that could land on your doorstep again?"

"Even your Professor's research notes recalled the centuries of terror and bloodshed we Elves have survived across the ages." He sounded bleak and bowed his head before the stone that seemed as ageless as he did. A curtain of shining blonde hair fell to obscure his features, but his voice told Ivy all she needed to know of his still-current terrors. "And surely you know this world's history as well as any other student of Mortal schools. Tell me, Ivy MacLeod, how can you have any hope of such cruelty and despair never happening again?"

A cold finger of fear traced its way up her spine as she recalled the centuries of terror and bloodshed that the Elves had survived across the ages, and all that Julien had warned might still happen at the hands of Men to those Elves remaining in this world. Chewing her lip, Ivy waited to see what Legolas might do next, as he showed no sign of returning to the present.

"I have seen the hounds of war and their thirst for blood," he muttered. "Drive the Gaels under, cleave them asunder...." His fingers were digging into the stone now.

Is he remembering something really ghastly that he saw, or is he only reciting bad poetry? she wondered. Maybe I wasn't wrong to feel scared in here since I swear these stones remember all the terror and uncertainty his people felt when the English were bearing down on them. Is Legolas communing with the rocks like I did with that tapestry?

"Okay, that's it." Her dutch-couraged voice echoed around the empty stone. "I think it's time you came back from whatever horrific memories you're falling into."

Reaching up, she deliberately wrapped her bulky-mittened hand around his arm to peel him away from the wall. Legolas jerked up his head to stare at her brazenness.

"Thanks for not fighting me just now." She patted the arm she still had possession of. Sidling up beside him, she tucked that arm beneath her own. "I think you'll agree that the hounds of war are far from here at the moment? Nobody's bleeding, the sun is shining, and all of Lairg is going to be at your ceilidh in a few hours. We’ve got a party to attend, Remember?"

Even as she watched, Legolas' gaze cleared and he seemed to give himself a mental shake.

"You're quite right, such worries are for another for another day. For now, we should head to where I've stored things." With that, he slipped away from her and once again moved off into the gloom. He did not look back, evidently expecting her to follow with her torch and its reassuring beam of strong light.

Maybe I should give him a moment to himself to recover? she thought. I can always grab him again if he goes time travelling.

Ivy hung back a moment to turn left. Shining her light, she found the original entrance to the old hall, just were Legolas had promised it would be. Playing the light over it, she found herself transfixed by yet another gothic-arched, solid-oak door, framed by perfect stonework and crafted no doubt by a gone-to-Warra master woodworker. She felt quite small next to the massive wooden structure that was easily wide enough for two horses to pass side by side. This door, she noted, bristled with ironwork that both guarded and strengthened it from the inside.

Is that Dwarven too? she wondered. Was it hammered perhaps by Gimli himself? I don't think it's Elven because there's no ornamentation. At all.

Legolas reappeared beside her again, which again surprised her though this time she managed not to leap like a scared rabbit.

"Impressive," she murmured, playing the light slowly over the door, top to bottom.

"Yes, it is. But I've seen it before, and you can look more closely another time."

This time, he lifted one of her hands from its grip around the torch and closed his fingers around it. When he moved off this time, she had no choice but to come with him as Legolas was towing her behind him.

This is not the way I'd envisioned our trip out here, she groused inwardly. I'm sorry this place is getting to him, and I wanted more time to look, but he's touching me again...okay, he's touching my mitten. But that's nice too.



"Where are we going?" She whispered because anything much above that sounded abnormally loud, captured and hissed on as it was by the stone surrounding them.

"To the room where the dress is stored."

"Couldn't we slow down and look a little? Please?"

The pleading tone in her voice must have reached him, as Legolas slowed his pace. But not much.

"We are under a time constraint if you recall? Your father threatened to come in and drag us back if we are late, which is a scene I would rather not see played out. So, firstly, I would like to find the dress I am remembering and see if it is fit for you to wear it. Once that is accomplished, we can have a bit of a look about."

Ivy grinned then, as her excitement once again surged ahead of her uneasiness. Her fingers closed more tightly about his, at least as much as the bulky wool would allow. "Promise? You'll show me your room and maybe Aragorn's?"

He laughed lightly and pulled her without warning into a side room. Letting go her hand, Legolas moved away. "Let's see what we have in here."

Playing the light over the walls once more, Ivy felt as if she was being taken further into King Tut's tomb as the gray stone seemed unrelenting in the dark. Much to her disappointment, the chamber held no obvious treasures. A jumble of wooden crates and barrels were stacked high against its walls, seemingly at random and leaving very little room for her and Legolas to maneuver.

"This is a storage room?"

"Used to be a guest room." The Elf was peering intently at the various crates, only to climb up onto one for a better look. "Yes, that stack back there is the one, I think."

The thing he'd decided on seemed well-buried. Jumping lightly up onto the next crate, Legolas lifted the one he'd abandoned and stacked it elsewhere.

"Can I help?" asked Ivy.

"You can continue shining the light before me so that I may see."

She doubted he needed her help to see, but Ivy did as he suggested anyway. Probably just making sure I don't wander off or something.

Grabbing the box behind the original, Legolas shifted it aside as well.

"When we moved into the new house, we took what we needed with us," he explained. "These are stored items, too good to get rid of but not currently useful."

He paused to heave yet another box aside, scattering dust that looked like dancing fairy dust in the light.

"Items like your dress," he added. Another box followed before the bottom chest was revealed. "Ah, here. This should be it."

He pulled out the large wooden chest and knelt before it. Moving closer, Ivy saw it had been polished smooth by careful hands and wrapped round with strap iron work.

Iron and not leather? she thought. Oooh, I think it's another really old one? Maybe this one has real treasures in it.

Legolas lifted the heavy latch away from the bale, and the lid opened easily for him. Leaning over his shoulder and aiming the light down inside the chest, Ivy was eager for a look inside this bit of history. Her companion shied away from her, blinking and holding up a hand to push the torch away from the side of his face.

"Ivy, the light."

"Oops. Sorry."

She moved it away from his face, but that meant casting strange shadows over the parcels within. Careful to angle the bright light away from the Elf, she leaned further forward over his shoulder in her struggle to learn something - anything - about the contents of the chest. Instead of the musty smell Ivy expected, she was greeted with the scent of cedar while Legolas delved inside the chest, shifting various parcels and pausing to look inside the corner of several of them.

"Is that stuff wrapped in parchment or paper?" she asked.

"Parchment," he murmured, "for these things were packed away in the fifteen hundreds. No doubt an historical costumier could tell you the exact date of the style of the dress I am seeking, but I cannot remember so please do not ask me." He seemed to settle on a bundle wrapped carefully and tied with a harsh-looking twine.

"I think this is it," he announced with satisfaction, lifting the package to set it on the corner of the chest. Rocking back on his heels, he pulled away the twine and the parchment sprang back.

To Ivy's disappointment, all she could see was that the cloth revealed was green. Legolas pulled the parchment back further, and something fell from it onto the floor. Bending, Ivy picked it up and trained the flashlight on it to see it was a bundle of flowers. Very old, very dry flowers. She turned them carefully in her fingers. No telling how old this little thing is. I ought not even be touching it, probably.

"Is this heather?" she asked.

"No, it's lavender. We lined the chests with cedarwood to guard against insects and packed things away with dried lavender to keep them sweet." Legolas sniffed the fabric. "It still smells of cedar and age. It could use a good airing before tonight."

"Is it okay? Can I see it?" she begged. "Please?"

Rising to his feet, Legolas held up the dress, letting it unfold and send more brittle sprigs of lavender pattering to the floor.

"I think it will do just fine," he murmured. "It is still quite nice, and I don't believe it took any harm from being stored, but then the lady who wore it took great care with her things."

Before Ivy could get the light properly centered on the dress, Legolas' had whipped it about to give the back a cursory inspection as brief as the one he'd given the front.

"Yes, it'll do." He folded up the dress once again.

"Hey, I didn't get a chance to see it!" Ivy protested, frustrated and surprised. "Let me see!"

He looked down his nose at her, and she added a more humble, "Please?" at the cool look in his eyes. "I mean, I'm the one who has to wear it, and I'd really like a clue as to what I'm going to be wearing."

"I understand, but there will be time to see it later. I also think you'll appreciate it much more in daylight and after it's been aired out." He shook his head. "This isn't the best place to form an opinion." The dress remained folded and tucked under his arm.

"Please?" She was sincerely begging now. "It looked like a lumpy green blanket when you held it up before."

"A blanket?"

She nodded. "I'm not feeling good about it right now, and it's a long time until tonight."

"I promise you it's rather elegant. Or at least it was when Meave wore it. She was quite lovely."

"And just who was Meave, whose gown I'm stealing for the evening?" Being forced to wear a lumpy medieval dress was strange enough, but to have its original owner discussed made the frock sound more second-hand than something special and antiquarian, and somehow just a touch creepy.

Looking up from his efforts to restore to order the rejected contents of the wooden chest, Legolas spared a smile in response to Ivy's grumpy query. "Meave was a lovely lady from the village. She graciously agreed to be the lady of the house for a time."

"She was your wife?" Ivy hadn't meant to screech, but Legolas' announcement was a shock. "You said you've never married."

"And I haven't. But the Sassenach expected to see the Lady of Lairg from time to time, and there had to be one on official record for there to be sons to continue the line. So when my wife needed to be seen, to play hostess to visiting English, Meave would come up from the village and play the role beside me." He closed up the wooden chest. "She wasn't the only one, obviously. There was one for each generation of Greenwoods."

"Oh," she said more quietly. "I understand now. That's really clever. And of course she had to look the part, so you supplied her with pretty dresses, jewelry and all?"

"Of course." Legolas smiled again before sliding the wooden chest back in place.

Ivy stood watching him easily heave the heavy crates back where they belonged, though after the second one he seemed to think better of it. Sparing a scowl for the disarray he'd created, Legolas wiped his hands on his thighs and turned away.

"If it would make you feel better," he offered, "Meave was a gentle lady, about your size and very happy to help us. She had red hair as well, though not quite the deep auburn color of yours. That is how I know the green will suit you."

Oh great, she thought. He liked her a lot, I get a secondhand dress, and now my hair isn't even unique any more?

Legolas turned toward the door, and this time Ivy was wise enough to follow and train her friendly light source at his feet. "Red hair, huh?"

"Yes. The color of Alastair's, if you are interested. Meave was..." He hesitated, apparently mentally calculating the number of generations that had come and gone. "Yes, I think she was Alastair's great-great-something grandmother. Her portrait is in the library somewhere - my old library, not Haldir's upstairs one - and I believe she posed wearing the dress."

"Oh good. Maybe I can get a look at it that way." She was still feeling sulky but tried not to let it sound in her voice. "Can't you show it to me now? I hate surprises, and fashion surprises are the worst. What if I don't want to wear this dress?"

Legolas didn't so much as cast a glance at her over his shoulder as they moved through the darkness, but Ivy could feel his irritation building. She was being petty and she knew it, but couldn't seem to stop herself.

"You need not wear it, if you dislike it so. But it means you will attend the ceilidh as a guest rather than walking in with me. I must dress for this occasion. If you are with me, you must as well."

Not walk in with Legolas? The thought was too awful to contemplate.

"I'll love the dress," she back-pedaled hastily. "I'm sure it's wonderful. And I'll wear it, no problem. It's just a bit unnerving, the not knowing part. I just wanted a little look."

"I understand, and I am not intentionally being unkind, but the issue here is time. Do you want to examine the dress by torchlight, or do you want to see more of this old house? We can't do both, for we haven't much time left before lunch."

Dress forgotten in favor of anticipation at the thought of seeing more of the old hall, Ivy bounced up beside her escort. "Explore, definitely. Please, could we see your room? And Aragorn's? And maybe Gimli's?"

"We'll see as much as we can," he replied, his fingers seeking her mittened ones again. "Now, let's move quickly, and I'll take you around as much as I-­-oof!"

Legolas' words, as well as his forward progress ended abruptly as he collided with something in the darkness. The thump was solid and very audible, as was the low cursing that followed the sound of impact.

"Are you okay?" Ivy whispered, trailing the light toward him. He was leaning against a large crate that was nearly as tall as the wall and perhaps two feet thick, all carefully framed in cracked wooden slats that totally obscured what was inside.

"I am fine." His voice was strained and he was gritting his teeth, so she knew smacking into the thing had caused him pain. "I was looking at you and my vision was somewhat muddled by the torch, and I forgot this monstrosity was here. I ran into it."

He sounded so annoyed, almost petulant in his irritation and offended by the crate's daring to be there that Ivy struggled to restrain the giggle bubbling up inside her. "What is it?"

"That accursed fresco your father painted."

"Fresco?" she echoed, bewildered. "My father?"

"Yes, the one from Imladris. Elrond left the thing on the wall outside his library. His sons and I went to retrieve anything we felt should be kept and to destroy anything that might be a problem if it were discovered later by Mortals. The twins couldn't bear to see the fresco destroyed, so we cut it free and hauled the thing back here.

"Some of the Elves leaving after Culloden tried to carry it to the ship," he continued, glowering up at the thing, "but there was little time and it was just too heavy. They abandoned the idea fairly quickly, set it down and went on without it. And here it still sits today, taking up space and accosting visitors."

"It's a fresco from the book...I mean, from your history?" she asked, incredulous. "What's it portray?"

"The confrontation between Isildur and Sauron."

"Oh, gods." Her heart was pounding and her brain was screaming, DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT IS???

Of course I know what it is! If time and humidity haven't ruined it, I'm standing less than two feet away from a huge piece of absolutely ancient, absolutely famous Elven art. Not only that, it was a fresco, the torturous focus of her own Masters thesis.

"I can't stand it, I want to pull away the wood with my bare hands," came the confession.

"Talk to Elrond and see if he'll take it to Warra for you. I'd be ever so if he'd get it out of my way."

She stared up at the thing, as if the wood might part just for her looking. "Ohmygod, Legolas, I think I'm hyperventilating."

"Do you mean to say we've discovered something that fascinates you more than my skill with the bow?" The tug on Ivy's hand became a pull as he urged her away. "Come on, Gimli's rooms is just down here."

"Later, maybe?" she said wistfully, patting the crate and snagging a mitten on the rough wood a second before Legolas yanked her away.

He reversed direction to travel back down the corridor they'd originally traveled. Resisting the urge to look back at the unseeable fresco, Ivy instead took the precaution of playing her beam of light along the walls, looking for other poorly stored booby-traps, but there were none.

"All clear," she informed him with a grin.

"Thank you," he replied solemnly before turning into a doorway beyond the storage room he'd shown her earlier. "This is the room Gimli used when he was feeling sociable enough to stay above with us."

Legolas pushed open the door and let it swing into the room. Ivy inched forward at his invitation to stand just over the threshold and work her flashlight beam slowly around the room.

Her mind was having a hard time with this. Yes, the books were real beyond any doubt, but once more a fictional character she'd met on paper as a child was becoming reality before her eyes. It was a moment that set her mind spinning. Gimli was real, he lived in here. Slept in that bed. Sat at that table.

The bed was of the same style she'd slept in herself, but this one was smaller and shorter and lower to the ground. It gave her artist's eye a visual reference as to the Dwarf's size which provided another interesting bit that made the Gimli of her childhood more real. A wide table, also build low to the ground, dominated the far corner of the room. Gimli's pipe was propped against a fist-sized rock next to tools. They weren't heavy tools for taming stone, but small and delicate ones, and they rested as though he'd only just stepped away.

But the thick coating of dust and cobwebs ruins that illusion, doesn't it? she thought.

"You can go inside, you know? This is not a museum." Sounding amused, Legolas laid a hand against her back and gently urged her forward.

Ivy stepped further into the room but was unsure of how bold she might be. She decided the bed might warrant visual inspection. The torchlight informed her the wood was a very dark, very old oak, and the workmanship looked familiar. She glanced back at Legolas.

"You made this for him?"

"It seemed only fair that while he provided the chamber, I provided the furnishings. Made to fit, of course, so that he could be comfortable."

"Did he leave anything in the wardrobe?" she asked. "Maybe an axe or something? I'd love to see Dwarven weapons. The book made such a fuss about them, and they seemed so important to him."

"That they were. So much so that no Dwarf would ever leave one behind. I think any axe Gimli carried was only slightly less important in appearance than the braiding of his beard." He grinned, probably at some memory he wasn't sharing. "My friend had few changes of clothing and I believe the wardrobe is empty, but this might interest you."

He stepped over to the low worktable and beckoned for her to join him. Ivy trained the light on the work surface, surprised anew at the small tools lying atop it and the pipe sitting within easy reach of the person who sat atop the stool, as though the craftsman might return at any moment. Bending, Legolas blew away the dust and brushed aside the cobwebs. Reaching past Ivy, he pulled a small box closer to her.

She gasped at his boldness, which earned her another strange look from him. "I'm sorry. I feel like this is some sort of shrine or something, and nobody should touch those."

He laughed outright at that. "No, this is my home, and the possessions of my old friend are not a display. These are merely possessions that he no longer needs, and I promise there will be no complaints from Gimli if we move them about a little."

"Don't," she protested. "If you move them, it's like...I don't's like wiping away part of him, the last touch of him on them."

"They are as he left them," Legolas admitted. "But look here. This is what I wanted to show you." Reaching into the wooden box, he lifted out several small items to settle them gently to the wooden surface.

Ivy could only stare, amazed, as the stones and metal glittered in the light of her torch. Precious stones twinkled up at her, some loose and others set into delicate, intricate metalwork. It was jewelry still in the process of creation.

"Gimli made jewelry? Oh, it's beautiful!" She sighed, bending down to look. "I've never seen anything like this."

"Nor will you again," came the sad reply. "Yes, some dwarves made such pretties in their spare time. They did love sparkly stones, and Gimli was no exception. He was a fine hand at it too, as you can see."

She sighed in disappointment as Legolas scooped it all up and returned it to the tiny chest, settling it all back where it had been initially. He headed for the doorway and Ivy, wise now to his speed, followed instantly. Once Legolas reached the doorway, he paused to give the room one lingering look. Ivy knew he was seeing his old friend again, bent over the short work table and totally involved in the intricate work of creation. Loath to disturb the Elf's memories, she waited quietly and tried not to wave her distracting flashlight about, but within a moment Legolas snapped back to the here and now, and turned back to the corridor.

"Where now?" she asked.

"My rooms, I think."

She nodded, feeling a new surge of excitement and this time following close on her host's heels. He headed straight up the hallway to the first door on the right - this one also well made and set into a stone archway, but utterly ordinary - and pushed it open for her. She ducked under his arm, not at all hesitant to leap into his old room now that she'd been given permission to shake off the holy museum feeling.

Her light eagerly swept the room to find...nothing. Nothing at all, just empty stone walls and much dust. And a stone bookcase, also empty.

A gift from some Dwarf, obviously, but why was it left back here? She walked over to it, hearing her footsteps whisper across the flagstones and watching clouds of dust rise in the shadows, to run a mittened hand across the bookcase. It was smooth, just like the walls. She gave the bookcase a nudge, and the answer to its being left behind suddenly seemed obvious. It was very sturdy, and regardless the shelves were of crumbling wood it was also very heavy.

She turned back to her guide, bewildered. "Why is it all empty in here? Where's all your stuff?"

"I moved it. You've already seen it all, it's in my rooms." He wandered into the room after her, and her ongoing confusion must have been obvious, for he continued. "When we built the new wing, we moved what we were using into our new chambers, remember? Haldir has refurnished his rooms numerous times over the millennia, but I see no point in abandoning furnishings I am comfortable using, and certainly no need to build or buy new ones.

"In our panic to get all the Elves safe away to Warra," he continued, "we also transported anything that could be identified as Elven. And so it is that almost everything back here has either been moved or shipped away. You can see it in Warra," he added. "If it is not being used, it is certainly in storage there."

"Oh." He's going to think that's one of my favorite words if I don't sharpen up some. Abandoning the search for what wasn't there, Ivy turned her attention to what was.

The room had a large window with heavy shutters built into the stone. It was now closed and had been bolted for how long she dare not think, and she remembered the stone and concrete façade on the outside stone, along with the heavy bars preventing any prying fingers or eyes from seeing what was inside. Turning in place, she noticed there was also another gothic-styled door.

"Where does that lead?"

He did not immediately reply, but crossed to it with seeming reluctance. Reaching up onto the stone lintel, he retrieved another, smaller iron key.

"I locked this room behind me," Legolas said softly, fitting key to lock. "This one, I wished left as it was."

The feeling in Legolas' old bedroom had changed from simple sharing to something else, and Ivy found herself pressing close to the Elf as her anxiety rose. He pushed open the door but did not move inside, and neither did she. She scarcely dared to breathe as she trained the light beyond the door. This room seemed to whisper to her in ways Ivy didn't quite understand. Glancing up at her guide, she was grateful when he nodded his permission to enter. Only then did Ivy dare to follow the light over the threshold.

For all of the dust covering everything, the room still looked occupied. More than that, it felt occupied to her. The furniture was in place and a man's clothing was still tossed across the foot of the bed. A bow and a quiver leaned against a corner and kept company with a sheathed sword - a simple one to judge by the lack of ornamentation on both scabbard and hilt. The table held simple items, personal items with moving shadows in the light of the torch.

"This is where King Elessar stayed when he visited," Legolas said softly, still lingering at the entrance behind her.

"Aragorn..." She drew a shaky breath, unable to sort out any single feeling from the circling confusion of elation, sorrow and awe she was feeling.

"Yes. Your ancestor, and my friend."

He stepped past her finally, and Ivy edged along behind him, fearful of doing something to spoil what Legolas had so carefully preserved, had insured would remain just as it was when his beloved friend was last in this chamber. It was all she could do to keep breathing.

"Come and see," Legolas urged, his tone soft as he slid an arm about her waist and brought her close beside him.

This room is really important to him, she realized. He treats most things so casually - 'It's just a thing, it's only a thusandsuch, why cling to the past?' - but Legolas is doing exactly that with this. As though he desperately wants to keep this small chamber...this fragile, tangible his memories. The thought of how much the absence of his friend still hurt Legolas brought tears to Ivy's eyes.

"I must ask you not to touch anything in here," he murmured, his arm still around Ivy. "The fabrics will be very fragile and would likely crumble under your fingers."

"I won't even breathe near them," she assured, wrapping her arm around him and giving him a squeeze as best she could with her bulky hands. "I'll only look. Politely."

He summoned the ghost of a smile at that. "And look, you may. You'll find nothing kingly in here, though. Just simple furnishings for someone who wished to escape the weight of his office."

Unwilling to move away from Legolas' touch, Ivy gladly settled for training her light once more around the room. "You crafted his bed too, didn't you? I'm starting to recognize your style."

"I did. I wanted him to be comfortable, though he insisted upon staying in the loft with me every spring when he came to assist with the foaling. He never let go the wonder and joy of watching innocent new lives enter the world. Of hearing the mares chuff to their newborn foals, that low song of greeting they sing at no other time. Or of watching the newborns struggle to their feet and nurse for the first time. It was a time of joy and freedom for him."

I wish I could give moments like that back to him. Maybe I could at least do a painting of this room for him? She tried to note every detail, to remember everything she was seeing in the shadow-drenched light. I've got to paint this and put Aragorn back in it, but only if I can do it right.

The tapestry showed me what he looks like - sort of - and Glorfindel might help with the sketches. Maybe I actually could do it? Make this live again for Legolas like the tapestry does only better? Elrond said I had the skill, and oh, I somehow want to give Legolas back his friend.

But would he be offended? Is it rude or disrespectful or something? Would I be intruding on something really private? She considered the thought as she took a few steps forward to look at the clothes on the bed. I'll ask Glorfindel later, he'll know the right of it.

The clothes were simple leggings and tunic, not unlike what Legolas had worn hunting, and what he still wore.

A simple Ranger's gear, she realized. He really was just Aragorn when he came here.

The wardrobe door was ajar, and she dared peek inside to find more clothes carefully folded. A knife sat on a shelf. Not a long-knife such as those Legolas carried, but a simple knife, hardly more than a dagger. Boots were set neatly on the floor of the wardrobe, but obviously in decay as the leather had collapsed in on itself. Something on a shelf was caught in the beam of her light, sparkling dully through the accumulated dust.

What is that? She peered more closely at the object. It looks like some sort of crown, but I'm sure they wouldn't let that out of Gondor, so what is it? Standing up on her tiptoes, she tried for a better look.

Aragorn was tall, she decided abruptly. At least taller than me. Or maybe he just had long arms.

"It is a circlet," Legolas said quietly from behind her. "The everyday sort of crown he wore when being the king. The great winged crown was reserved for official affairs of Gondor." Coming up beside her, he stared at the shining bit of mithral. "He was wearing it when he left Gondor to come here last he visited, and did not wear it home again."

"He no longer needed it?" Ivy dared to ask.

"He no longer needed it," Legolas confirmed. "He came here to think things out, and while here he made his last decision. When he left here it was to be king no longer." The sadness was clear in his voice.

Aragorn sat in here and decided to die. That realization made Ivy back away from the wardrobe and turn with some desperation toward the next item to explore. Come with me, Legolas. Don't get lost in it like I did in that tapestry, come away from the sorrow, okay?

Now I know what Aragorn wore, but that crown thing is not going in the painting, that's for sure, She thought. Now, Legolas is going to show me the weapons Aragorn carried. Neither one of us needs to hear any more about how he died.

The bow was unstrung, leaning against the corner. It was a small bow, and in comparison to the great recurved monster Legolas used, Aragorn's bow was positively wimpy. The quiver Ivy saw was small and unadorned, simply functional and nothing more. The sword behind it was just a sword. Nothing special, probably a loaner.

Anduril is upstairs, so the king had a real sword if he wanted one, but I guess this is his weapon for slumming with Legolas, she thought. The king-sword carries weight with it, like Narsil did, keeping it on display. That thing is way too heavy to carry just because you need a sharp edge. I'd ditch it, too, if I were going hunting. I wonder how Anduril came into Legolas' hands, but I am not going to ask. Not right now.

I'm getting to know him, she realized. Just a little, but I can see that Legolas was right. Aragorn was just a man when he came here, just Legolas' friend.

There was still the table to explore, and it was the last item in the room. She moved toward it and Legolas followed her, much to her relief. I don't know what I'd do if he got lost in the wardrobe the way I got lost in that tapestry.

It was a lovely table, clearly made with great care, elegantly carved with leaves round the edges and the tops of the legs. The chair was wood also, but comfortable-looking. It was a chair for sitting and thinking, not just for parking your bottom while getting a job done. The arms were shaped and comfy‑looking, with more leaves hiding under the curved ends where Aragorn's fingers would rest. The leaves were smooth.

Were they polished that way, or did Aragorn's fingers wear them smooth over the years? she wondered. Her fingers crept forward, wanting to stroke those leaves, but she caught herself as she remembered Legolas' warning and her clumsy mittens. Curing her fingers inside the mitten, she pulled back her hand.

"That's a really nice chair," she said. "Did you make it?

Legolas inclined his head.

The table held only a few items. There was a silver inkpot, its interior dark with the residue of brown ink long dried. The quill - a real working quill pen, not one of those ridiculous modern decorative ones, like the totally useless, uncut goose feathers or wimpy ostrich plumes sold at bookstores these days - was appropriately stripped of its barbells most of the way up, while its nib was cut properly and stained from use. A small pen knife rested on the corner of the table, not far from the ink pot. A pipe - a tiny cobweb clinging between its bowl and stem - sat within easy reach of the smoker's left hand.

Remember the pipe, Ivy ordered herself. Remember the pipe and the pen and the inkwell and the ink-stains. Remember everything.

Center of the desk was a small stack of parchment, perhaps three curled, translucent skins.

More real parchment! her brain shrieked in excitement. Real honesttoGod, lasts forever unless you do something really, really stupid, parchment! And it's written on!

Again her fingers itched to touch, and Legolas must have sensed it.

"This, you can touch," he offered softly. "This will not crumble." Reaching down, he picked up the first folio and offered it to her. "These were the notes he made as he thought."

Now that she had been invited to touch, Ivy found herself reluctant to accept the parchment, to take responsibility for it even for only a few seconds. Her artist's mind apparently had other plans and made the decision for her, for in the next moment she found herself stuffing a mitten tip between her teeth and pulling free her hand. Handing Legolas the torch and the mitten, she took the parchment in return and cradled it across the remaining mitten. Even as she guarded the edge with her free fingers, she couldn't resist caressing the edge of the page.

He touched this, she thought.

The script was Sindarin, written in a neat and careful hand. Because of the gloom - not to mention her ignorance of the language - Aragorn's thoughts were still hidden from her, but the penmanship spoke of a careful man.

I'm holding something written by Aragorn, she thought, her fingers shaking. Last week, he was only a really neat character invented by some peculiar Oxford don. And now, he can't be more real.

"Here," she said, pushing it back toward Legolas. "Take it back."

"You can't hurt it," he assured her, though he did take the parchment and carefully settle it back onto the desk where it had been earlier.

"Don't care," she whispered. "It needs to be safe, which is anywhere but in my hands."

"You have very careful hands, you took great care in handling it."

Her gaze captured his. "He's real to me now. He's...he's just so real." She was near tears, and there didn't seem to be any chance of stopping them this time. Don't puddle on anything but the floor! she ordered herself.

Legolas held out her mitten so she could push her hand inside.

"Aragorn is real," Legolas agreed, but whatever else he might have said was cut off by the shrilling of the cell phone in his pocket.

Ivy felt a surge of anger that the modern world would dare intrude into the sacred past, into her immersion into Ithilien and Aragorn and the world of her childhood fantasies made real.

"Yes?" Legolas snapped.

"Lunch is ready, and you are late." Elrond's voice was clear through the tiny speaker, yet sounded eerily foreign in the absolute stillness of the room. "Erestor wishes us fed so that he might move on to finishing what is needed for tonight. We are all waiting for you. Do I need to come and find you?"


"You have two minutes to return my daughter to light and warmth, or I am coming in."

Legolas said nothing else, merely snapped closed the phone. "We are late and they are holding lunch for us. We must hurry, else your father will come to drag us out."

"He wouldn't," she growled.

"He would. By his command, we have two minutes to appear."

"The idea of Elrond in this private place feels so wrong..." Ivy gave one last glance around the room - at the bed, the table, the clothes, the man left behind - before looking up at Legolas and giving a nod. "Let's run."

"Yes, let's." Legolas turned, not back toward the door leading to his chambers, but toward the door leading into the corridor from Aragorn's room. Reaching it, he pulled firmly on the twisted iron pull, only to have it refuse to budge. He hesitated before turning back toward the other door.

"Forgot I locked it," he muttered.

Ivy scampered behind him through the open door and waited anxiously for him to relock the door and return the key to its lintel. Once done, Legolas settled Meave's dress more securely under his arm and reached for Ivy's hand once again.

"Run, you said?" His eyes were no longer quite so sad, and Ivy hoped she had something to do with that.

"Run," she agreed.

He tightened his hold on her and they took off, running pell-mell through the corridors of stone, heading for the tapestry, the light, and the modern world.

And lunch, thought Ivy. And Erestor's rabbit pie.


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