Gimli rested his head on Legolas' back as they rode double through the Gap of Rohan and Legolas sang of yesteryear. Somewhere behind them, Aragorn and his entourage also made their way north, but Gimli paid them no mind. They would meet again as the sun set, and for now Gimli was well content putting his ear to Legolas's heart and listening to his song thrum though both their bodies.
The song was a sad and mighty piece about an elf maid and a man in love, which Legolas had taken up with the dawn and now seemed to be rolling towards its conclusion. Gimli knew enough Elf tongue to tell that the couple had just met with her father, and some condition having been satisfied, were now permitted to wed. They took hands before the father, and then Legolas's cadence dropped and he began to sing of a great mad wolf threatening the kingdom.
Gimli sighed, causing Legolas to break off mid-rhyme and ask what ailed him.
"Naught," Gimli said, then paused. "I would hear you sing all day. Do not pause on my account."
Legolas took a breath, Gimli thought to renew his song with the hunt for the wolf, but instead he sighed himself. "I could choose another tale, if this one does not please you."
Never let it be said that Elves did not sulk. As they'd already engaged in an argument, Gimli asked, "Is there aught that sings of what happens after the lovers pledge their troth?"
"So like a dwarf!" Legolas exclaimed, but with so much fondness that it did not sting as it would have eighteen years before. "Among our people, what happens between lovers under the stars is a private and holy affair. We do not sing of it."
"My people do," Gimli countered, momentarily distracted. "Though not often under the stars."
"So I have heard!" Legolas replied. "Last time we met with your cousins."
The memory of that evening made Gimli shift in the saddle and think wistfully of dismounting and perhaps having a brief tumble in the long grass beside the road. Aragorn had other outriders though, and Legolas would never risk it, even if Gimli would. Instead in returned to his original point. "Yet I did not speak of conjugal affairs, but of the wedding. All your songs spend hours describing the colour of the leaves and the nature of a prince's love, and that's as it should be, but when it comes to the wedding, they leap from the couple taking hands, either before the girl's father or on their own under the stars, to whatever doom is to befall the joyful married couple. No wedding, no wedding feast, and, as you have already spoken of it, no wedding night."
Legolas turned in the saddle so that he could study Gimli's face. The horse continued easily beneath them, unperturbed by anything such a rider might do. "You ask this truly?" he demanded.
Gimli blinked. "Certainly. I did not realise that wedding feasts were also a private and holy matter between the lovers and several hundred of their friends and relations."
A frown creased Legolas's brow, and after a moment more he turned away. "Taking hands and promising eternal life together is the extent of our custom," he said shortly. "We are not Men; we do not need to gild and fête an occasion already sacred."
"But...," Gimli started, but realised that bringing up the only Elf wedding he had attended would not signify. The Lady Arwen had married into the world of Men, and been coronated Queen of Gondor and Arnor besides. It meant nothing to the customs of Elves. "Joining hands and promising a life together," he said. "By the customs of your people, we have been in a state of matrimony these seventeen years gone!"
"Clearly," Legolas said. His back was rigid now, and his gaze fixed at a point on the horizon. "Did you not consider us thus?"
Gimli was about to echo that Clearly, but realised that it would be a blow too close to the heart. "I had considered us promised," he said. He'd been meaning to ask when they were to wed in truth, but it hadn't really mattered, and he assumed that the undying followed a custom of lengthy engagements.
Legolas's spine was a rod of iron, and Gimli could feel him trembling slightly. Gimli could not tell if it was from shock, anger or some mixture of the two. "My people do not engage in 'conjugal affairs' before we are wed."
"Ah." Gimli could think of nothing else to say, and they rode in silence for a space, not a muscle of Legolas's body relaxing. Finally, Gimli ventured, "It would have been no offence to your honour .Such things are no dishonour among my people, we..." he trailed off. He didn't suppose that a discussion of Khuzd mores would assuage Legolas's hurt. "If that is your custom, we must be wed. Truly I wish I had been informed."
"I believed that you had," Legolas said stiffly, a dozen other meanings and emotions layered below the words. "What are your customs at such times?"
Gimli thought it over. It was quite a long list, now that he considered it. "We take hands, as you said, and exchange true names, as we did, then we are promised to wed. You give a boon to my family, I give a boon to yours, usually gems of our own crafting." He frowned. "Properly, we ought to delve together, and forge rings together, an exchange of craft secrets. Then when the season is right"—Gimli was not about to explain how Khazâd listened to the voice of the Earth to tell them that—"all of my kin and all of your kin would gather together and feast for seven feasts, and there would be a great exchange of gifts and promises, and many smaller signs and ceremonies that symbolised the forging of our bond." If Gimli were to be perfectly honest, he had not pressed the question of a proper wedding because of the image of the King of the Greenwood and the King Under the Mountain in drink together for that long.
He had a glimmering thought that Legolas was considering the same situation, for his silence before replying was long. Finally, he ventured, "We might delve together. I have gems I could grant unto your father."
"We could remain promised in my custom and married in yours. It is little consequence save for inheritance, and..." and Legolas was called to the Sea. He would outlive the Mountain, but he would not remain to inherit it. Yet, in the same moment, the image of Legolas dancing in torchlight, gems braided into his hair, and Gimli waiting with a cup and promises. To take him to husband, as Gimli's people did. It was in truth no small thing. "Would you do this?"
Again Legolas turned in the saddle. "Gimli son of Glóin"—here he added Gimli's true name—"there is naught I would deny you. I would walk into Mordor, nay into Angband for your sake, were they still standing, and take all the curses of all the Dark Lords if that stood a chance of sparing you a the least wound."
Any other day, a sharp reply about the comparison between his father's halls and Angband would be on Gimli's lips, but his heart filled and overflowed with joy at Legolas's words and at his implied promise, and he could not think of a word to say. He tightened his hold on Legolas's waist and kissed the side of his neck. They need say no more between them. When they arrived in Bree they could send letters to Mirkwood and to the Mountain, and spend the next few years in happy preparation.
Gimli rested his head against Legolas's back, content in his considerations of delving, and Legolas once again took up his song as they rode north.