"Tell me what you are to do."
"Legolas, I have told you twenty times! Starting from tonight, I will fast for the next three days and spend as much time alone as I can. I am to read the texts you gave to me and ponder them."
"Now recite your part."
Aragorn quoted archaic Quenyan and Legolas corrected him here and there, but overall was pleased. "Very good. The accent is giving you trouble; try to lose the Gondolinian twang."
"Glorfindel was helping me learn the phrases."
"That much is obvious!"
"Legolas, will he wear his coat of arms and such?"
"Yes. It is required of him."
"I have never seen them. He has always refused to show them to me. He does not like to remember Gondolin…and what happened there to all his House. I am loath to cause him pain."
"Do not fret for him. He wants to do this for you."
(Three days later)
Far (very far!) from the Last Homely House, downstream of the falls and torrents, a long procession made a slow, winding way through open stands of river birch just coming into leaf. They carried no torches, nor needed them, for Ithil rode high in the sky, showing a full, round face. The ground was carpeted with spring grass and small white flowers. Blooming brambles shed a heady fragrance upon the air.
The procession began with gonfalons embroidered with symbols that represented Elbereth, Ulmo, and others of the Valar whose favor would be petitioned that night. Behind them came Glorfindel, who would induct Aragorn into the select company of Elvellyn (elf-friends). The lord of the House of the Golden Flower wore a dull yellow robe with a standing collar. It fit snugly through chest, waist, and hip before flaring to the ground. The sleeves were loosely fitted. They were embroidered in green with fanciful scrollwork. Over the robe was a straight sleeveless tunic in a matching green, open at the sides. The back was cut wider than the front which fell smooth and straight to the hip. The back fullness was gathered and secured on each shoulder with palm-sized brooch pins in the shape of stylized flowers. The entire tunic was embroidered with a three-inch border in gold, also scrollwork. On the front, stretching from side to side and the same height up and down was a golden flower. There were fourteen petals in total but the four petals that made an 'x' on the tunic were longer than the others and seemed more like sword blades than any petal that grew in Arda. The golden embroidery was so dense that the entire front of the tunic was stiff with it. Upon his head was an old-fashioned heavily chased circlet in gold composed of flowers that matched the pins on his shoulders. He held one hand before him, carrying in it a small wooden casket.
Behind Glorfindel paced Erestor and Lolindir, side by side. They wore black robes with the hems turned well back to expose pearl colored silk under-robes. They wore ornate silver circlets with the four phases of the moon represented in mother-of-pearl. Each elf carried a pole to which was fastened one side of a very large banner. Upon the banner were symbols of Ithil in silver and pearl colored embroidery. Many tiny river pearls increased the brilliance of the banner.
Next came Elladan carrying a mithril chalice. It was held in both hands at the level of his heart. He wore heavy robes of soft grey and palest blue and aquamarine that were covered in tiny silver and crystal beads, hundreds of them, none larger than a grain of rice. The outer robe was turned back at waist and sleeves to show the under-robes and linings, all of highly embroidered silk. More crystal drops adorned the finely turned circlet he wore on his brow and around his head. Like all the elves in the procession he wore no braids and his dark hair flowed down his back.
More elves carrying ensigns of elven houses followed Elladan and then came Elrohir. He was dressed in black robes of dull silk that would have faded into the night except for the sleeve turnbacks of silver and the multitude of stars embroidered in silver from from collar to hem. Ithil blessed the earth-bound stars with light that made them blaze and twinkle to rival their brethren in the sky. His circlet was made of silver wire nearly too fine to be seen; it served only to secure a glittering silver star to his forehead.
Behind Elrohir came Aragorn.
Aragorn walked slowly between two elves who carried banners depicting symbols of the House of Elrond and the Dunedain. He wore leggings only, topped with an open robe that was loosely tied at his waist. The leggings were a dove-grey and the robe was unembroidered white silk. His feet were bare and like the backs of his hands, bore runes of green, blue, and gold paint. As those on his temples and forehead, they had been drawn with a fine brush and were beautiful in their intricate interwoven designs and subtle shadings. The man kept his gaze lowered and tried to control his breathing and heartbeat.
Directly behind Aragorn walked his sponsor, Legolas. As the one chosen to represent the Forest, he alone was not robed but instead wore tight leggings, boots, sleeveless tunic, and a fine linen shirt with full, gathered sleeves which cascaded over his wrists. His colors were the colors of Mirkwood and so were naturally those of the woodlands. Over all were sewn leaves of embroidered silk in every shade of green. They were raised above their host fabric so that it seemed they grew from their elven wearer. Velvet vines stiffened with wire secured the fullness at his wrists, twined around his waist, and curled down one thigh and over his boot. The vines, too, bore silken leaves. He wore his crown of princely office although to it had been added leaves carved from emerald and peridot; curved and delicate.
Behind Legolas danced Lindir, though his feet trod a solemn measure in keeping with the occasion. In one arm he cradled a long silver flute while the other gestured in the dance. In that hand he carried a spray of silver wires to which were fastened small gems in the shapes of diamond, rectangle, and oval that the elves used when committing music to parchment. They were made of ruby, amethyst, sapphire, and topaz. On his forehead, in gold, was painted the curling representation used to indicate music in the higher ranges and likewise on his ears the symbol for the lower. His robes, a little shortened and divided for dancing, were multicolored and broidered with gold. Behind Lindir came the rest of the elves, carrying more staffs and blazoned banners. They sang the music to which Lindir danced.
Above and around the procession the elven song "A Elbereth Gilthoniel" swelled as the elves slowly made their way to the place prepared. On flat, open ground next to a smooth running section of the Bruinen, the elves with banners made a large circle, leaving a path to the water. The other participants stood to the side and the song dwindled to a soft murmur. Next to a beech tree stood a small table made from a thin quartz slab set on a wondrous open-work pedestal. Glorfindel placed the casket that he carried on its shining surface. The little box—uncarved and unpainted—was made of a beautifully grained and polished wood. Erestor and Lolindir took up a position such that when the two poles were moved apart, the banner stretched smoothly side to side and cut off the light of Ithil. The table, Glorfindel, and a large patch of ground fell into shadow.
Then Glorfindel moved forward one step and intoned, "Mana nalyë? (who are you?)"
Legolas moved to meet him with Aragorn at his side. The elf responded. "I am Legolas Thrandulion, Prince of Mirkwood. I bring one who is worthy."
Glorfindel repeated, "Mana nalyë?"
Aragorn said softly, "I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn."
"Why have you come? You are Atani; we are Quendi. What have we to do with you?" (Secondborn, Firstborn)
"I am also Elrondion. I have spilled my blood in defense of the Quendi. I crave a boon to ease my travel and my spirit. I wish to be named Elvellon." (elf-friend)
"Why may your spirit not receive its nourishment from Ithil and Elanath as it has heretofore?" (moon and stars)
"I must leave my cradle. I must leave the Forest and the Song; the Moon and Stars will not speak to me without my family beside me."
"We have heard of you, Elrondion. Your blood has been shed in our defense; you have kept our ways and respected our history. If you are shriven, you are worthy."
Legolas spoke up. "Food has not passed his lips these three days past. He has cleansed his soul and bears no enmity to any. He has worn the runes of Nienna and has contemplated the meaning of what we do here. He has slept beneath no roof, and has prayed three nights to Elbereth. His body is prepared. His spirit is purified. He is shriven."
"A lasta! (Listen) You will be given that which is held by few at any time. It has been made by one who is the brother of your heart." Aragorn dropped his eyes and smiled, brushing his fingertips against Legolas'. He had not known who would make it for him. His friend's fingers gripped his for an instant and then gave him a pinch to recall his attention to the solemn rite.
"It is made of Ithildin and has gifts unknown in the world of men. It may be seen only by Ithil's rays; even you will not see it in daylight though you will feel it. None but you may touch it. It will evade the hand of a stranger. Because it carries the blood of your brother within it (Legolas grimaced; it did indeed!), he has gifted to you that it will try to return to you if lost. Though that," Glorfindel said, frowning awfully, "would be a dire thing. Ma hanyalyen?" (do you understand?)
"Then take your place." Glorfindel made a graceful, sweeping gesture.
Aragorn stepped to his mentor's side and like him faced the river. Legolas turned and walked to where Lindir, Elladan, and Elrohir waited.
Elladan stepped from his place and moved to the bank of the Bruinen. He dropped gracefully to his knees, his skirts pooled about him, and dipped his chalice into the water and raised it. Ithil's light blessed the droplets that returned to the river, turning them to diamonds as they fell. Elladan stood and walked slowly to stand before Aragorn, his robes hissing softly on the grass. He held the chalice high to receive Elbereth's blessing and then returned it to the level of his heart. He began to speak very solemnly, though he dared a quick wink at his brother.
"You are Elvellon. We give you gifts to sustain you when you are far from us, that you may fare well and safely return."
Elladan handed the chalice to Glorfindel and untied the sash that secured Aragorn's robe. He pushed the robe off Aragorn's shoulders and it fell to lie at his feet, in the shadow of the large banner. Glorfindel nodded to Erestor and Lolindir and they slowly lowered the poles so that the light of stars and moon touched first the man's head, then his bared chest, then his entire body. Then Glorfindel handed the chalice back to Elladan and said to Aragorn, "You now receive the blessing of Elbereth and her stars, as well as the light of Ithil, first to shine upon elves after the stars."
Aragorn spoke fervently. "Hail, Elbereth, star-kindler! A laita ni!"(bless me)
Elladan dipped the first two fingers of his right hand into the water, curling the rest against his palm. He touched his dripping fingers to the pulse in Aragorn's neck, then to his lips, and finally touched him over his heart. "The waters of Ulmo will nourish you, refresh you, and never harm you. They will lead you when you lose your way and carry you from danger. Offer thanks to him always."
Aragorn lowered his head and touched his heart.
Elladan stepped to the quartz table. He dipped his fingers again and spattered the cool surface with shining droplets. He dripped several on the casket and murmured softly. He then walked back to the circle of elves. Glorfindel gestured and Elrohir stepped forward to stand before his brother, his robes twinkling and glistening.
"You are Elvellon. The light of Earendil is your birthright. The stars were the first light of the Firstborn and we gift them to you. They will guide you, light your path, and never harm you. They will remind you of who you are, and strengthen your spirit when you are worn and weary. Give thanks to Elbereth always."
Aragorn again bent his head reverently and pressed his fingertips to his heart. Elrohir touched the bent head and whispered, "Muindor nin." He turned to the marble table, raised both hands, and removed his circlet to place it atop the drops of water. He touched his fingers to the casket and whispered fervently before he, too, returned to the circle of elves.
Song arose in the clearing as Lindir danced forward. He circled the glade twice, weaving in and out of the young birch trees. He was ethereal in the moonlight, his body hardly tied to the earth. His robes, lighter than those of the others, fluttered and swirled as he spun and moved his arms in graceful sweeps. The silver flute flashed in the moonlight as it was incorporated into the dance. He came to a stop before Aragorn. He raised the flute and played so dolefully that tears sprang to the man's eyes. Lindir spoke over the shining instrument.
"You are Elvellon. We will miss you, Elrondion. I play our sorrow. We gift you with elven Song. Not to be heard with your ears in your journeying, but always in your heart. May it lighten your feet when they are weary." He blew across the embouchure and sounded a lively reel for several measures. He spoke again. "May it strengthen your spirit when you are sorely tested." Now he played a stirring air that sang of courage and honor. He modulated the air into one of Aragorn's favorite haunting lays. "Sing our songs when it is safe for you to do so; it will give you ease, I swear it." He smiled warmly at Aragorn and went to the table as the others had done. He played the "Song to Elbereth" while resting the end of the flute on the casket. Then he laid the silver flute upon the table.
Last of all Legolas came to stand in the place before Aragorn. He carried a life-sized spray of leaves made of precious stones with twigs and stems of gold. He could not resist breaking from the proper order of the ceremony to rest his hand gently on his friend's cheek. He withdrew it quickly at a soft cough from Glorfindel and spoke in his turn.
"You are Elvellon. The Forest is your home as it is ours. It will shelter you, feed you, and never harm you. It will confound your enemies when they search for you. Yavanna and Orome will bless you. Thank them always."
Aragorn bowed his head even more than for the others and touched his hand to his heart with reverence.
Legolas carried his offering and placed it on the table with the water, flute, and star. He too laid his fingers upon the casket and then sang very softly. He returned to stand beside his friend.
Glorfindel said to Aragorn while gesturing to the table, "You see before you the Water, Stars, Music, and Greenwood that have been gifted to you. Now, Legolas Thrandulion, give him our token." Glorfindel lifted the casket, spoke firmly to it as though instructing it, and held it on the flat of his palm toward Legolas. The prince slowly lifted the lid and then took the casket and raised it high. He walked around the circle and all the elves looked into it, touched that which it held, and gave it their blessing. He came back to stand before Aragorn and spoke in a clear, ringing voice.
"You are elvellon."
(All the elves repeated: "You are elvellon.")
"We pray for you the blessings of the Valar."
"You are elvellon."
(You are elvellon.)
"Accept what we offer for your protection and strengthening."
"You are elvelon"
(You are elvellon)
"May this gem lead you ever home to us."
Legolas took from the casket the Ithilden charm he had made. He laid it on his palm and showed it to Glorfindel who smiled admiringly and nodded his acceptance. He moved his hand so that Aragorn could see what it held. The man gasped and his eyes widened. Upon Legolas' hand lay a wondrous thing a little larger than a capped acorn. It consisted of a half moon decorated with stars and miniscule droplets of water. A leafy vine twined around it, holding it in a loose and airy embrace. Finally, a tiny flute crossed it at an angle, beneath one curl of the vine. Aragorn looked from the beauteous thing to his friend's face.
"You made this? For me?"
Legolas smiled and nodded.
"It is exquisite! And – " He broke off as he turned to the table and saw nearly the same arrangement of objects as the one Legolas held. "It is the same! What…Legolas, what does it mean?"
Glorfindel answered. "When we go from here this night, you will carry these gifts that lie upon the table. You will place them, all together, where they will be safe while you are gone. They will tie you, the charm, and your home together. You will never be alone, Estel. Your friends and your family will rest against your pulse, where they can best touch your heart. Legolas, continue."
Legolas suspended the Ithilvir from its fine silver chain. He motioned for Aragorn to bend forward and the man did so, tears beginning to run down his cheeks. He felt the elf's cool fingers slide around his throat beneath his hair, and meet at the back of his neck. It only took a moment to fasten the chain and then Legolas lifted his friend's chin and turned it a little so that the light of Ithil could strike directly on the Ithilvir. It blazed with light as it found its home in the indentation of Aragorn's collarbone. It seemed to nestle into place and lay, softly gleaming.
All the elves clapped their hands softly and processed forward to pass before the man and view the delight he now wore around his neck. They sang songs of joy and praise.
(back at the camp, years later)
Aragorn rolled over, pressing his face into his arms, weeping for the loss of his Ithilvir. He tried to tell himself it was only a bit of metal, that he needed nothing to help him remember, but his heart recalled the effort made by so many that they might give him that bit of metal. He thought of all the times his hand had grasped his pendant and how it had soothed his mind and soul with the faintest echo of elven-song. Any man he had ever companied with had noticed by the end of the first few days that this young one had a 'nervous habit' of briefly touching his throat from time to time. Now he would still touch, but his fingers would find emptiness.
Over the next few weeks, Aragorn traveled and fought, spied and contrived. His commander saw great promise in the young man who was promoted quickly into the confidence of his superiors. But for Aragorn the world had gone grey and he smiled little, his eyes often regarding more of the past than the present. He did his duty and did it well, but the spring was gone from his step and he sat alone and withdrawn. When told that the company would turn their path back to the river where he had lost his precious jewel, he flinched but gathered his small command and obeyed.
They returned to the river several miles downstream from the place where Aragorn had taken that fateful bath. After camp was made and the men released to their own pursuits, Aragorn walked restlessly for a long distance. He was unable to bear to be near the riverbank yet unable to stay away. Just as dusk began to gather he saw an osprey hunting. It was flying up and down close to the surface of the water, scanning it with eyes that even an elf might envy. Suddenly it stooped and dived under the water, emerging a short distance away and flapping waterlogged wings hard to gain altitude. In its talons it grasped a large fish. It flew over Aragorn and the wriggling catch slipped from the claws. For the first time in days the man laughed, waving an arm and saying, "Thank you, noble bird, for my supper! I hope you find another for yourself!" He picked up the still flapping fish and stunned it on a stone. He took the fish to the man designated to cook for them all and then again sat apart from the others who were gathered around the campfire. He took no notice of them until they suddenly all sprang to their feet, exclaiming in amazement.
"Throw it in the fire!"
Mildly curious, Aragorn rose and strode to the men and asked what was wrong. It seemed the cook had found something hard in the fish with his knife. It could not be seen, but his blade could not penetrate it.
Heart suddenly pounding fit to break free from his chest, Aragorn demanded that the cook show him this wonder. The blade in the cook's hand shook so that it was hard to tell just where he was pointing, but Aragorn thrust his fingers into the fish and felt about with feverish haste yet a delicate touch. There was something! It seemed to nestle between his fingers as though it had found its home. He slowly withdrew his hand and was wobbly legged with joy as he felt the so-familiar gem he could not see. Bits of white flesh and fish entrails decorated his hand but his fingers stroked lovingly. He straightened and turned his head slowly, surveying the company. He collected the eyes of all, even his commander, with his own and none dared look away.
"This is mine. If you want to take it again you will have to kill me. It is of no value to you for its virtue departs when it leaves me. It is not evil, but rather elf magic of a kind that will neither serve you nor harm you."
When he was satisfied that all had heard and understood him, he turned and jogged to the river. He cleansed his jewel and offered thanks to Ulmo and Orome, the Valar of water and animals. He heard again the voice of Glorfindel in his mind.
"None but you may touch it. It will evade the hand of a stranger. Because it carries the blood of your brother within it, he has gifted to you that it will try to return to you if lost. Though that would be a dire thing. Ma hanyalyen?" (do you understand?)
"Hanyan," whispered Aragorn. "Hantalë, Legolas." (I understand. Thank you.)
The young man walked long under the stars in a haze of wonder, joy, and thanksgiving. When he finally lay down it was next to the river. He held tightly to the Ithilvir at his throat and fell into a deep and peaceful sleep, lulled by a whisper of elven-song.
This is the first story I have written that was inspired by one word! Ever since the first time I read about "elf-friends" in the Sil, I have pondered on what that would mean. It seemed it must have some function, otherwise why bother? So I decided that men who were named elf-friend would receive a token that would gain them access to and aid from any elven kingdom (Otherwise, how would Celeborn, for example, know that Elrond had named someone elf-friend. From the newsletter? I don't think so.). Next, of course, I wondered what the ceremony would be like.
The elvish for the ceremony is Quenya except for Ithilvir (moon treasure) which was lenited for me by the fine folks at CoE.