Disclaimer: All recognizable characters belong to the Tolkien Estate. The plot and the original characters are the property of the author.
Warnings: Gen, some disturbing themes
Summary: Legolas and Gimli make a surprising discovery while traveling together.
"What is it now, you overgrown excuse for a twig?" the dwarf rumbled. "You can't be conversing with every tree we pass, elf, or we'll never make the inn before nightfall." His tall companion shot him a fond glance.
"I would prefer sleeping under the stars to a smoky taproom. You merely wish to sample the local brew." He paused, tilting his head and frowning slightly. He held up a hand, forestalling another barb from Gimli. Using gestures, he indicated for the dwarf to stay where he was. Silently, the elf began to move off in the direction the trees indicated.
The dwarf spent a few anxious moments waiting for Legolas to return, checking and re-checking his axes and trying not to make any noise. His friend's shout brought him running, but he was unprepared for the sight that met his eyes.
Legolas was kneeling by a small stream, an expression on mingled bewilderment and concern on his fair face. On the ground in front of the elf lay a tiny infant, no more than a day old. The baby had been cleaned and was dressed and swaddled in a plain shawl.
"Any sign of its mother?" Gimli asked, leaning over Legolas' shoulder to get a closer look at the child.
"Only a trail leading off that way, and hours old at that," the elf replied, reaching out to lightly stroke the baby's face with a fingertip. The child stirred at the touch and turned its head, trying to latch onto the stroking digit. Legolas pulled his hand back and looked up at Gimli, his surprise evident.
"He's hungry, most likely," the dwarf said, a slight grin forming on his face. "Mahal, Legolas, have you never seen a babe before?"
"Not this closely, and not so small," the archer said, his attention shifting back to the baby who was now wide awake and beginning to fret.
"Well, then you'd best move aside and let me handle things. Here, hold this," he said, handing his axe to the bemused elf. Stepping forward, he expertly lifted the baby, cradling it in the crook of his arm. "We'll need to cut up my spare shirt."
"Baby clouts, Legolas, baby clouts. From the feel of things, this little one needs changing." He resisted the urge to laugh at his friend's expression. He might need another set of hands before the night was out.
"Here, is this the correct size?" Legolas asked, handing a square of cloth, cut from the dwarf's spare shirt, to his friend.
"Aye, good job, lad. Now, let's see what you've got here, little one," Gimli rumbled, unwrapping the child deftly and unfastening the child's nappy. "Well, hello there young lass! You've made a great mess haven't you?" He glanced at the elf, unable to resist chuckling at the expression on Legolas' face.
"Forgive me, but I find it shocking that something so small could produce something so vile," the elf said, his nose wrinkling is disgust.
"All the more reason to appreciate our parents, don't you think?" the dwarf asked cheerfully, making short work of the soiled clout. "We'll have to wash this out and hang it to dry." He fastened the clean cloth around the baby's bottom and wrapped her back up in Legolas' spare shirt. "Of course, we still have the problem of feeding her." He glanced back at Legolas, surprised to see a look of admiration on the elf's face.
"How do you know how to do all this?"
"I may not have siblings, Legolas, but I've cousins aplenty. I've had a lot of experience with babies of my kind and from what I can tell, humans aren't much different from dwarves at this stage." He stood up and turned to the elf. "Here, hold her for a minute while I wash her clout." He rolled his eyes at his friend's reaction. "Legolas, she doesn't bite and you won't break her! Here, just put your hand under her head and neck like this. She can't support her head yet, so you have to do it for her. Now, just settle her against your chest like so. If she can hear your heartbeat, it may soothe her." He grinned at the expression of wonder on the elf's face.
"She is so small, Gimli! Look at her hands, have you ever seen anything so little?" He looked back down at the child, who was moving her open mouth back and forth against his chest. "She is trying to feed."
"Aye, we'll have to figure something out about that, too. I'll be right back, lad."
"Actually," Legolas said, a thoughtful look on his face, "I believe I might have a temporary solution. I will see about it as soon as you return." Gimli nodded and walked a bit downstream to wash out the clout.
Gimli gently bounced the baby girl on his shoulder, trying in vain to soothe her. He hoped fervently that Legolas' idea would work, because her howls were now reaching a volume that would draw any predator or, Mahal forbid, orc within miles. Not to mention the fact that Legolas had left his weapons behind when he had set out.
"If I am armed, Gimli, she will certainly not agree to my request. She will think I am hunting and I will not even get the chance to ask. Worry not, the trees will warn me in ample time to flee if there is trouble," the elf had assured him with a grin. He had refused to elaborate and Gimli hadn't pressed the issue due to the increasingly fussy infant.
Suddenly, the elf dropped out of the branches to land right in front of him. Gimli managed to stifle the urges both to startle violently and to throttle his grinning friend, especially when Legolas waved his water skin in front of his nose.
"Well?" was all he said.
"The doe agreed. Now, our problem becomes getting the milk into the baby. I have an idea for that as well." He grabbed his small pack and rummaged about in it until he drew forth a clean cloth. Removing the stopper of the water skin, he soaked one corner of the cloth with the milk. While he did that, Gimli shifted the child back into the crook of his arm. Legolas dabbed the milk-soaked cloth to the baby's lips. The child needed no further encouragement and proceeded to suck the milk from the cloth. The elf grinned at his friend again. "I thought that what works for a foal might work for a little human filly as well."
"Well, it's a good idea." The dwarf was amused to see Legolas preen a bit under his approval. "Once we get her filled up and changed again, let's set out for the inn. If she doesn't belong there, perhaps we can ask the local midwife to help find a place for her."
"Her mother must be frantic by now," the elf said softly, soaking the cloth again.
"Perhaps, and perhaps not, lad," Gimli mused, gazing down at the little one. At his friend's startled look he explained. "Legolas, she was likely left there intentionally."
"What! Why would anyone leave a child like that?" The archer's face was a picture of outrage.
"Calm down, elf. You'll frighten her." Gimli eyed him until he subsided. "I've read of some groups of humans who will leave unwanted babes out to be disposed of by the elements or predators. It's sometimes because the child is believed to be ill or sometimes because there are already too many mouths to feed." He sighed deeply. "Or sometimes, it's done because the father of the child has doubts that it's his, or because it was conceived by rape or out of wedlock. The men of Dale and Laketown don't do this, nor do the men of Gondor or Rohan so far as I know."
"That is barbaric," Legolas muttered, plainly sickened by the whole idea.
"I agree. No dwarf child is ever unwanted, regardless of the way they came to be, and particularly not a girl-child." He gave the baby a brief caress on the cheek. "And I know there's no such thing as an unplanned child among your kin. Humans are different, though."
"Poor little thing," the elf said softly, running his fingers lightly over the dark fuzz that crowned the baby's head. "Gimli, what if no one wants her? What shall we do then?"
"Take her on to Minas Tirith with us, I suppose," the dwarf mused. "Aragorn and Arwen might know of somewhere she'd be wanted and loved." He gave the elf a lopsided grin. "Of course, we'll have to lay in some supplies and we'll probably at least have to hire the use of a horse." Legolas returned the grin.
"I think that we can manage that between the two of us."