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The Rose, The Thorn, The Blood, And The Moon

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The war was over and they rode away.

Having seen many things, Legolas and Gimli Glóin's son took leave of their companions and went off together, the two upon one horse, to such adventures as were fated to them.

Many miles later, they sat together, as the coals of their fire lay dying and the flower of Telperion shone silver down upon them, and did not speak into the silence of the night.

After a time, Legolas reached into his pack and drew forth something wrapped in silk. He took the cloth away and it was a rose, dew-kissed and fragrant in the evening air. "For you," he said and handed it to Gimli. "It is a customary gift of my people between two friends such as we are."

"It is a marvel," Gimli said and turned it between his fingers. "How came you by this here? Such a thing might grow in the gardens of Gondor or else in the blessed wood of Lothlórien, but not upon these lands." For it was fresh and sweet, as though new-plucked.

"From Gondor indeed, friend Gimli, and set about with charms so that it will not fade for many months. I have carried it for days; such a gift is between us alone."

Gimli's heart was touched and and he took Legolas by the hand. "There is a custom of my people too when friends are pledged as true as you and I. We ought to have a knife of stone that never saw the light of day, but here this will suffice." And he took the rose and drove one thorn deep into his comrade's thumb, then likewise into his own. He pressed them together where the blood ran down so that it mingled, Dwarf and Elf, in love and duty. "Now we are one, Legolas, bound by heart's blood."

A smile sat brilliant upon Legolas' face. "One in truth, one in deed. But my gifts to you are not yet done. I have another token, such as fair friends exchange. But you must do as I do, in order to receive it." And he put off his tunic and stood bare-chested to the cool night breeze, a single jewel gleaming at his breast.

"Where you lead, I follow," Gimli said. He stripped to the waist and stood to face his friend. Legolas lifted the silver chain from round his neck and placed it over Gimli's, setting the pendant on his chest. "I thank you," Gimli said, "and more I have for you as well, in the rites of concord."

So Gimli took dust of the earth and mixed it with wine. He daubed a mark on Legolas' brow and painted others on his chest and arms, then bade the Elf do likewise to him. So decorated, they embraced a while, then Legolas drew back.

"In the ministries of love, I have not yet finished. For close as we are, we may yet be closer. We must share bond-food of the forest folk." And he placed into his mouth a wafer and bid Gimli take half from his lips. Gimli took his piece and swallowed it and if it was more sweet than was to his liking, no one could know that from his face.

"Nor am I done, Legolas, for you must join me in the black draught, brewed deep underground and aged in darkness for a score of years, as is the practice of loving friends." Gimli took a long pull from his leathern bottle and passed it to Legolas. The smell caused the Elf to pale, but he drank and swallowed bravely.

"Now, Gimli, we must fashion crowns of leaves for each other, in the manner of the Silvan folk." A small bush to hand lost its coverings and they began to weave them together. Gimli was game, but he had not the knack and soon was swearing under his breath. Legolas also fumbled a little, for a wonder, though he finished both crowns in the end. They placed them on each other's brows and spoke solemn words.

There was silence for a moment. "And another draught, Legolas. As is habitual." Gimli handed him the the bottle. The Elf took a sip, the Dwarf a great swallow. "What be the next Elf custom?"

"It is...mmm...it is to sing a song together, friend Dwarf. Know you the song of Nimrodel?"

"I know it not."

"The song of Fëanor and the Silmarils?"

"No."

"The Lay of Lethian?"

"No."

"Know you any song?"

"I know that song of Orcs and oak trees that Merry and Pippin used to sing."

So they joined their voices in the chorus:

Thirty dead Orcs
Hanging up in an oak tree
Strung up by their ankles
With the blood dripping down

"Another drink, friend Legolas!"

"No, dear Gimli, I cannot. I have...mmm...sworn an oath against strong drink."

"Then you must share a pipe with me, dear friend, for it is the custom of Dwarfs between two that love each other." Gimli lit up and the scent of pipeweed wafted through the air.

Legolas drew on the pipe. He coughed and handed it back, dizzy and reeling. "This puts me in mind of another practice of the Elves of Mirkwood, between two who have sworn themselves." He fell to his knees. "And of something I would rather have inside my mouth than that pipe."

After a space, Gimli shuddered and took his hands from Legolas' hair. The Elf rose, and kissed him. Gimli turned his head and spat.

A frown creased Legolas' fair brow. "It is the custom of my people, Gimli, to share the humours of love."

"And it is the custom of my people not to swallow. But, stay, friend, for I would share more with you. An Elf is happy in the open air, to play a tune upon his flute. But we Dwarves delve deeply into dark places, masters of the caves below."

Legolas would not say his comrade nay and so Gimli took what was needful from his pack and they moved together beneath the light of Isil and beneath the stars. In his ardour, Legolas cried out, "Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!" and so sent Gimli laughing into his bliss.

After, they lay together, unsleeping until Eärendil Halfelven sailed his ship into the heavens. Idly, Legolas stroked Gimli's chest. "I had always thought the axes of the Dwarves to be nothing but compensation for inadequacy, but I now bear witness that they are nothing but completely fair representation. Gimli, my dear companion, your beard must be shaven. It is more scratchy than a briar bush."

Gimli grunted but did not make an answer. Instead, reaching out, he found the rose and ran its soft petals down the Elf's smooth cheek. "Legolas, my heart, is it the custom of your people to cook breakfast on the morning after?"