Title: Ceremonial

Author: Pentangle

No warnings

Rating: K

Aragorn, Legolas, Elrond, Twins, etc.

Summary: Before he wore the Evenstar, what gave Aragorn solace during his many journeys far from home?

A/N: Total AU. Completely off the charts. Made it all up. Tolkien is spinning.

Aragorn prepares to leave Imladris for his first long journey alone (aprox. 20 years old).

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Chapter 1

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Two friends stood on a balcony of the Last Homely House. It was early spring and the air was redolent with the scents of flowers, moist earth, and the mineral tang of the spray from the falls. The sun shown warmly and no matter how mundane the task they were engaged upon, elves throughout the valley could not keep from singing and laughing. Most unfortunately, all this loveliness was wasted on the friends who were engaged in an argument.

"Aragorn, I fear I must agree with your father. Why do you want this? You are the son of Elrond Peredhil! There can be no finer credential, no greater protection in all elvendom. You have only to say 'I am Estel Elrondion' and horses, weapons, comforts, treasure, warriors—anything the elven kingdoms can provide will be freely granted you."

"Am I unworthy in some way?"

"Of course not! But…." Legolas searched for a way to explain to his stubborn friend. "It is like asking for a canoe when you have been given a swan ship from Aqualonde!"

"That is not entirely true. They do posses some power; you are the one who told me so."

"It is not a power that will give you a horse when you need one!" snapped the warrior born and bred. When Aragorn did not reply in kind, Legolas looked carefully at his friend. As he suspected, Estel would not completely meet his eyes. His voice gentled to the tone that always calmed his brother-through-love and could coax confidences from him whether he would or no.

"Estel, what is behind this desire? Why should a human raised and loved by elves have need of this?"

Aragorn turned and walked to where the balcony railing made a sharp bend and braced his hands against it. With his back to Legolas he whispered, "I am afraid."

Legolas stepped lightly to his side and sat on the balustrade, pulling one foot up upon it and wrapping his hands around his knee. He watched Aragorn's face intently. "What do you fear, mellon nin?"

Aragorn hesitated long moments before the need to confide and the concern of his friend overcame his reluctance to appear weak. It all came rushing out in a torrent. "In a few weeks I will leave. Alone. Without you or Glorfindel or my brothers. I will live in the world of men. It may be years before I return. It will be loud and dirty and I will know no one and have to prove myself every single day just to keep my rations and bedroll for myself. I will have few opportunities to read. I will dwell in places where there are lights and smoke all the time and I will hardly be able to see the stars. My horses will have mouths of iron and deadened sides and flanks from years of abuse and Legolas, I will have to watch that abuse and keep still or give myself away! I will hear no elven-song and I think that will be the worst of all."

Legolas sat up straight and lowered his leg. "Do you not want to go? No one will force you, Estel. You have been urging this for years. We all believed you were determined to go."

"I am…I am. It is time. All I said was true. It is just that…now that the time to depart approaches I begin to realize what I am leaving behind…and I…I will miss you all so much…Ai, Legolas, I am sorry to burden you once again with my foolishness."

Legolas sighed and wrapped one long-fingered hand around the back of Aragorn's neck. He pulled his friend's head close to his until their foreheads touched. "It will be well, Estel. I do not say it will be easy, but your strength is far greater than you know. You will find that the respect of men will come to you naturally. If you must fight for your bedroll you will not have to do it twice. The abuse of children and horses will go hard with you, but you will improve their lot wherever you stay."

Aragorn smiled. "Thank you, gwador, your confidence in me is like a warm fire against winter's chill. But…do you now understand my desire?"

Legolas stood and replied, "Yes, I think I do. And if it would give you strength and comfort during the times you must be separated from us, then for my part I would give it you."

"Will you speak to Ada?"

"You must try to understand him, Estel. You have hurt him by asking for that which seems to him so much less than what he has freely offered since he took you in. It is intended for those who are on the outside, not one who has had this – " Legolas gestured to indicate the house and the valley "- his entire life."

Aragorn snorted. "I have hurt him? You must forgive my ignorance. I mistook the frozen silences and flaming eyes for anger!"

"Yes, you have hurt him, Estel. The Lord of Imladris does not show his heart's wounding with pouting lips and pained sighs. His back stiffens and his chin rises just like those of another I know!"

Estel raked a hand through the hair that constantly threatened his vision, pushing it back for a few moments. "I never meant to hurt him—you know that. Very well. I will cease to plague him and set about mending the breach between us. I do not want to spend these last weeks at odds with him."

"You could try one more tactic. Ask Glorfindel to speak with him. But he is your last hope."

"Agreed. If Glorfindel cannot talk him round, then I will yield."

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(Three days later, in Glorfindel's study)

The Eldar shook his head. "Elrond will not hear of it."

"Estel wants it badly. And he has convinced me there is no wrong in his desire. What if someone else would agree? Perhaps my father?"

"You think he will do it?"

"He might do it for me, if I beg him and promise to stay home for a few centuries."

"That is a high price to pay for one of Estel's whims, Legolas!"

"What is a high price to pay?" asked Erestor as he entered and joined his friends.

"Thranduil might do it if Legolas signs his life over to him."

The dark-haired counselor raised his eyebrows and gestured with a graceful hand. "A high price, indeed. There are no other alternatives? What of Celeborn?"

Glorfindel shrugged. "I doubt he will do it knowing Elrond disapproves. He is in an unusual position as Elrond's father-in-law. He will think he is interfering between father and son."

"One wonders how he could think that? After all, we are only trying to interfere between father and son!" Suddenly Erestor laughed. "Ah, what a fool you are Glorfindel!"

"So you say. Frequently. Though I fail to see why I am a fool on this particular occasion, mellon brun."

"What is your name, buffleheaded one?"

"Glorfindel. As you have known for Ages." He tapped his temple and then pointed at Erestor. "'Tis rare and tragic to see senility overtake an elf." Legolas turned his laughter into a cough.

Erestor riposted with surprising gentleness for one famed for an acid tongue. "That is not all your name." He waited impatiently like a teacher with a wayward student.

At last the golden-haired warrior understood. He spoke stiffly, as though the words bruised his mouth. "I am Glorfindel, Lord of the House of the Golden Flower."

Legolas sat up sharply. "Of course! I should have remembered! You can do it. Will you?"

Glorfindel said grimly, "Elrond will have my head on a pike in the courtyard."

"But you will do it?"

"Blast that boy! Why a poor elf who just wants a little peace in his dotage should be plagued with a pestilential human whelp...Yes, I will."

Erestor pulled a piece of parchment from the mess on Glorfindel's desk. He discarded two broken-tipped quills before finding one that would write. "We need to make a list (Glorfindel rolled his eyes) of who will do what and what we will need. It has been a long time since I have been in attendance at such a ceremony. We must make certain all is correctly done. Now then, I assume you will be sponsor, Legolas? You will have to prepare him, watch out his fast, and so on."

The prince nodded but looked a little puzzled. "Glorfindel I understand. Estel has always been able to wheedle him and he has that odd kick in his gallop that must run contrary from time to time. But why you, Erestor? If we are found out, Glorfindel's is not the only head that will greet visitors to Imladris!"

"And I am the perfect councilor and never 'run contrary' as you so charmingly put it? It so happens that I am fond of Estel and I think that Elrond is being unreasonable about this. He has not truly dealt with the fact that his son is leaving and going into a very perilous world. By refusing Estel this comfort, he puts off acknowledging that his son will have need of it." Erestor continued writing, his quill rasping on the parchment. "Further, I am not a vassal to Elrond but a lord in my own right, though we make little of that here. My decisions are my own. So! As chief of the Golden Flower, Glorfindel officiates. I will stand for Ithil; who should stand for Water, Stars, Forest, and Song?"

Glorfindel leaned back in his chair, the front legs coming off the floor. Erestor sighed. He almost doubted the existence of Eru after an Age of praying the golden elf would go flying backwards one day. Glorfindel heard him and grinned, then looked at the ceiling and bit his lower lip in thought. "Lindir is obvious for Song. The twins will be back soon and can fight over who does Water and who does Stars. Even though you are sponsor, Legolas, I see no reason why you should not do for Forest. Who could be better than a Silvan? In addition to those, we will need a representative from each House. Taunil for the Arch. Galdor for the Tree; he has seen more Elvellyn created than any of us so he will be a great help; for the Horse, well, just try to keep Lolindir out of it." The ancient elf went on through the genealogies of those who made their homes in the valley, selecting elves who would be both suitable representatives of the major clans and willing to keep a secret.

When he was finished, Ersestor spoke briskly, "I will contact everyone. Now that we know who will perform the ceremony, we must decide who will make the Ithilvír (moon treasure). Who among us has any smithing skills?"

Each looked at the others, hoping some hidden talent would be brought forward. When no one spoke for long minutes, Legolas groaned, "I will do it. It will look like something an Orc would make, but Estel will not care for that."

Glorfindel nodded and said seriously, "You must make it anyway; you are closest to him—it will have more power. Are you going to tell him?"

Erestor interrupted, "No! Estel must not know who makes it until the ceremony."

Legolas protested. "He always knows when I am keeping something from him!" Erestor glowered at him and he made a placating gesture. "Very well! I will do as best I can."

When all had been decided, Erestor walked over and firmly placed a hand on Glorfindel's shoulder, making the chair tip back down with a tooth-jarring thud. "You know what you are required to wear?" Glorfindel nodded. The hand squeezed again, but this time in understanding. "Do you want me to go through the things, repair them, and get them cleaned? There is no reason you must do it."

It was one of the rare moments when the two friends allowed their true feelings to show. "Nay, Erestor, I thank you, but I will do it. I should not be such a maudlin fool; it was long and long ago."

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A few days after the meeting of the conspirators, Legolas began to appear at meals with burns, bruises, and cuts on his hands. He made many excuses for the injuries, each more inventive than the last. He kept out of Elrond's sight as much as possible; Aragorn was a tougher proposition. After one particularly outrageous excuse the man got his friend alone and pinned him with a stern stare.

"What is happening, Legolas? Is someone hurting you? Are you feeding your hands into the cook's grinder for amusement? You are hiding something from me and… I wonder why you will not confide in me, gwador nin?" The stern eyes had turned beseeching and Legolas looked around the room in desperation. He saw Elladan go past the doorway in the hall and said in a dark and sinister tone, "Ask Elladan."

As Aragorn sprinted out of the room Legolas laughed with relief. Of course, he now had to avoid Elrond and Elladan.

As Legolas created the Ithilvir he worked alone by the light of the moon, and used spells and charms as he toiled. He crafted with love and (sometimes inadvertently) blood, and strong enchantments were wrought.

Meanwhile, Erestor moved about the Last Homely House like a palace revolutionary, speaking with this elf or that one in hidden corners and hushed voices.

Throughout the next three weeks the clothiers of Imladris had a sudden influx of orders for robes of unusual patterns. At the same time, many old and beautiful things were unearthed from trunks and storage rooms.

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(Years later, Aragorn is wandering Middle Earth.)

Aragorn waded into the river with an almost elven joy, completely absorbed in his senses. He delighted in the feel of the cool water sliding through his fingers, pushing against his thighs, chuckling sweetly as it made its way around his body and continued on its journey. Moonlight shimmered and glowed on the rippling surface. He carried a bit of soap but thrust it into his hair to free his hands. He reached down to the riverbed and scooped up handfuls of sand. He began to scour his body, relishing the sting as not only dirt but a little skin was abraded away. He had never been this dirty before in his life. That was the hardest thing about living with men. He could never get completely used to it. His companions in the river took a bath every few weeks and scoffed at Aragorn's prissiness. However, even they welcomed a bath tonight since the exigencies of their current mission had precluded anyone putting themselves in such a vulnerable position for a very long time. Aragorn had gone from ordinary dirt to ground-in dirt to dirt in as many layers as an onion. When he had sanded off the worst he retrieved the soap and began to lather himself. His companions had already finished and were now splashing and shoving each other down into the water (it was after dinner and bathing was not the only thing available after long abstinence: the ale had flowed freely). Two of them came over to Aragorn having decided that the man was more than clean enough. They laughed at his head full of lather but were suddenly still as the light of Ithil winked off an object lying in the hollow of his throat. He saw their gaze and quickly placed a hand protectively over the gleaming pendant.

"What is that, Thorongil?"

"Nothing. Just something I wear to remember my home."

"Your home or your leman?" Dolir smirked. He grabbed at it and Aragorn stepped backward, smiling.

"Think what you please."

"Let me see it! I want to see what some trollop would be daft enough to give you!"

They were catching the attention of the others and Aragorn was soon surrounded. The play grew rough and he began to fear for his jewel. Why had he not kept it in his mouth as he usually did when bathing at night? He had been tired and too focused on the delight of having a chance to get clean.

The rowdiness turned to anger when he continued to refuse to show them his bauble. He was seized from behind and held fast by two of the largest in the group. Dolir reached for the shining pendant. It slipped to the side. He grabbed yet again, and the jewel slid from his fingers. A third try and this time he knew he had firmly grasped it but he could swear he felt the blasted thing move by itself. He began to fear a little, certain there was sorcery involved. But when he backed away his confederates hooted and scoffed and pushed him forward again. He became determined to get the charm in his fist. He lunged and enfolded his entire hand around it and yanked hard. The silver chain cut deeply and then the clasp snapped. Aragorn gave a despairing cry and plunged violently in the hold of his captors. Dolir uncurled his fist to show everyone his prize and it immediately slipped off his hand and into the water.

With a fierce twist Aragorn broke free and dived into the river where his gem had disappeared, but the current was strong and the depth increased quickly. He searched all night and the next day until he was ordered to leave with his patrol. His fellow soldiers rode at a distance from him, chastened by his fell anger.

That night Aragorn bedded down far from the rest of the company and lay with one arm across his forehead. Streaks that gleamed in the moonlight ran from the corners of his eyes and memories assailed him.

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End Chapter 1