Title: The Long Way

Author: tarotgal

Fandom: Lord of the Rings

Rating: PG for violence

Pairing: Legolas/Gimli

Disclaimer: Legolas, Gimli, and all of Middle Earth was created by Tolkien. I have no rights to any of that and do not get paid for this. Orin, however, is mine and only mine.

Summary: Orin, elf messenger, is sent out on an errand of vital importance and must contend with the weather and a stubborn dwarf, among other things.

Many Notes: This is the prequel to 'The Uncontrollable' and was inspired by Lady Korana in her feedback, though it took quite a while to get the bunny to properly cooperate. It is heavily concentrated on an original character of mine, Orin, who is featured more prominently in an unfinished non-sneezefic of mine (tentatively titled 'Secret Letters'). Hopefully he comes through well enough not to need to read that fic before this one, but if you have any questions or comments about him, I'd certainly welcome them. In addition, there isn't much sneezing in this story. Sorry about that!



The Long Way


     The meeting was not dull by any means, but Orin found himself distracted by the trees throughout the entire second half. The wind had picked up and had been caught in the branches. It made the leaves twitch and the trunks sway. It made the elements dance together, resisting and opposing but almost certainly signaling rain to come within the next few days. He could not help but watch their dance, keen to determine the direction and speed of the wind.


     A very unnatural sound caught his ear, and brought him back. He could not quite make out what it had been. When he looked around, however, there was nothing new and nothing at all making the sound. The only strange, equally out of place thing, Orin noticed, was how Legolas Greenleaf looked to be as unfocused as Orin did. But while a messenger had the luxury of missing a few parts of a meeting, the Lord of the Ithilien wood certainly should not.


     Legolas nearly missed the closing of the meeting, but he rose to his feet along with the rest and smiled warmly at them all for their attendance. Meetings such as these, to discuss the general goings on of the woods and their dealings with those in the surrounding lands, were followed by a good meal in the dining hall. As of late, Legolas had held these meetings daily and, thus, Orin could always count on a particularly good meal every night.


     Orin stood as well and started down the hallway, moving quickly to catch up with the rest of them. A few footsteps down the hallway, he heard a throat clearing and looked over to see his Lord standing in the shadows. Legolas beckoned to him and Orin went right over. Even in the shadows, the elven prince seemed to glow regally, with pale skin and beautiful blond hair. There was something more to him now, though. Something in addition to an air of uneasiness and uncertainty. Orin wanted very much to ask whether Legolas was all right, since he had never seen the elf act like this. But he also thought the answer was rather obvious, whether Legolas would have been honest with him or not.


     "I must send a message to Gimli," he said, pulling a folded slip of paper out from a pocket of his robes. "Would you mind very much leaving now? At this very moment?"


     Orin took the letter from him and tucked it safely into his own pocket. "Of course I would not mind, My Lord. I would be happy to. Though I may swing by the kitchen for some food. After the meeting, I am famished."


     Legolas smiled. "Of course. Be safe and go as swiftly as you can. And..." he leaned close, not wanting any of the stragglers passing by to hear or see. He rubbed a slender finger beneath his nose and sniffled very lightly. "Please bring him back for me. He may resist, but I need him yesterday."


     Nodding with understanding, "I shall ride like the wind, Legolas." He patted the pocket.


     Legolas reached out and cupped Orin's hand between his. "I know you shall. I appreciate this more than you know."


     Orin squeezed Legolas' hand then pulled away, heading straight for the kitchen for food and water for the journey. Usually he would get more when he reached the caves, but clearly the journey was urgent and he would not be able to spend time doing this on both ends. He had a bit of bread and cheese as he walked down to the stables.


     The horses had already been fed and several of the stable elves were busy brushing them and mucking the stalls. He walked over to a chestnut mare named Edlothia. Two stalls down, Dr snorted. Orin glanced down, catching the black stallion's gaze. "I am sorry, Dr," Orin told the horse he usually rode. He walked over and patted the side of its face, but when he went to pet its soft nose, it pulled back, affronted. "I'll be bringing the dwarf back with me and he will be terribly uncomfortable as it is. Edlothia is fast and smooth and motherly. Next time I will take you, I promise." When he asked for forgiveness in the form of a sugar cube he'd taken from the kitchen, the horse ate it in a blink of the eye. Then Dr nuzzled his upper arm affectionately and snorted again which blew the ends of Orin's black hair. Then Dr took his leave and headed to the back of his stall.


     Orin saddled Edlothia and took off on her towards the west. Once they were away from Ithilien and the woods had thinned enough for them to move very quickly, he leaned forward, flattening himself against the horse's neck and mane to keep the wind from slowing them down. It caught in his dark brown cloak and his black hair, and both waved behind him. The wind from the rising storm worked against them, nonetheless, and Orin became concerned that it might take longer to reach the Glittering Caves.


     In good weather and a moderately swift pace, it took three days to reach the caves. Having made the trip at hundred times at least, Orin knew a few short-cuts. At top speeds and with minimal stops to rest, he was confident he could reach there in two days' time. He only hoped that would be soon enough.


     Orin reached out and patted Edlothia in front of him as he made encouraging noises to keep her spirits up and keep her galloping fast. He smoothly moved with her, zigzagging around trees and stumps and rocks. He planned to clear the woods by nightfall and then they would be able to see more clearly in the dark and move more swiftly over the hills and plains.


     Edlothia seemed to understand Orin's urgency. She slowed slightly at times to catch her breath, but at one cluck from the messenger elf she sped back up again. Orin let her rest several times, especially when they followed the river Entwash. They both drank and waded in the sweet, cold water that had helped bring down the evil that once reigned in Isengard.


     During one of their rests the second night, during which Edlothia grazed and Orin ate from the food he'd packed, Orin took out Legolas' letter. It was common practice for him to read the correspondence between Gimli and Legolas, in case something happened to the letter and he needed to deliver the message orally. Knowing the tricks they usually played, he always read the messages at night. This one was brief, but convincing, and it pulled strongly at Orin. "We need to go," he told the horse, glancing over his shoulder and then rising with the bridle, pads and saddle. Edlothia snorted as a sort of sigh but swallowed her mouthful and raised her head. Moments later, they were on there way again.


     It was late at night on the second day when they reached the eastern entrance to the caves. The dwarves on guard there did not know Orin by the horse, but greeted him with smiles when they saw him and moved away from their weapons.


     One of the three, by the name of Gallof, reached up and firmly clapped him on the back. "Lord Gimli has retired to his chambers for the night," he told the messenger. "He was not expecting you. I can get a room made up for you if you'd like to rest the night and speak with him at breakfast in the morning."


     Much as Orin would have liked a rest and something good to eat, Orin shook his head. "I appreciate the hospitality, but I am afraid this matter cannot wait. I must see your master right away."


     The dwarves only stood guard heavily at night. There were few threats left in Middle Earth, but they were not naive enough to think they could leave the entrances to their homes and palaces completely unguarded. He tapped a dwarf on the shoulder as they walked down the narrow passage. The dwarf nodded and quickly went to take Gallof's place on guard.


     Orin knew his way around this portion of the caves nearly as well as he knew the woods where he now lived. But he had only been to Gimli's chambers a few times and was glad Gallof was there to guide him as well as announce him to help soften the blow of surprise at his arrival. He was sure Gimli would not much like being interrupted with such news on his way to bed.


     When they reached Gimli's chambers, they found the lamps and candles extinguished. Orin felt even worse about the intrusion, but it really could not be helped. "Gimli?" called Gallof, sounding just as sorry as Orin felt.


     From the direction of the bed came a grunt. The room filled with the sound of a match being struck and the lamp beside the bed glowed faintly then brightly. "You just caught me before I drifted off." He swung his legs over to the side of the bed and rose, wearing a long, grey nightshirt. Gimli rubbed at his face and shook off a yawn.


     Orin motioned that Gallof could leave them, then walked over to Gimli. He bowed his head slightly out of respect. "I am terribly sorry to disturb you so late, but the matter simply could not wait. I'm here to take you back to Ithilien with me."


     Tiredly, Gimli nodded. "I will pack and we can leave at first light, so to speak." Deep in the caves, there was really no way to know the time of day without watches. Dwarves slept in timed shifts instead of on a routine based on day and night.


     Shaking his head, "We must leave right away. I promised Legolas I would get you there as fast as possible. There is time for you to change, but that is all."


     Gimli, who had been walking over to him, stopped in mid-step. "What exactly is wrong? Tell me now."


     Orin pulled out the letter and handed it over.


     Gimli unfolded it at once and read every word. He flipped the paper over, inspecting it more closely. "Is there--"


     "That is all the message there is," Orin replied, knowing what Gimli was asking. "Except that he wants me to bring you back immediately."


     Gimli grumbled unhappily, then he looked up, showing his distress and concern. "How ill is he exactly?"


     Orin shook his head. "When I left him, he was looking tired and acting... unusual. But he could tell something was coming. I know not what, but apparently it must be bad if he called for you."


     Gimli snorted and chuckled, then headed a darkened portion of his room which his dresser stood. "He would have called for me even if it were only a little sniffle. He is a formidable warrior, but I have never seen anyone so needy when ill."


     Orin turned, giving the dwarf privacy to change his clothes. "I have never seen him ill," Orin admitted. Though it was possible for elves to fall ill, it was a rare occasion. Indeed, in all his years, he had only been sick once and that experience had only lasted a few days.


     "Count yourself lucky," Gimli called, his voice muffled due to the shirt he was pulling over his head. "He is a terror." He cleared his throat and shook his head vigorously to wake himself up. He stuffed a few clothes into a small bag. Then he picked up one of the axes which lay across the trunk at the base of his bed. "But I am ready to go to him. Now the ponies are--"


     Cutting him off, "Actually, we must go as quickly as possible. I brought a horse to carry us both."


     Gimli stared at Orin as though the elf had gone mad. "There is only one horse I will ride, and only one elf I will ride behind."


     "Then you may ride in front of me. But we must go on horseback. Even at that rate our journey will take days with our combined weight and the storm which is nearly upon us. I rode for three nights and two days to reach you. By the time we reach Ithilien I fear that Legolas will not be in a good state at all."


     Gimli sighed and stuffed the letter into his pocket, then grabbed his handsome grey Lórien cloak. "Well, then, we'd best go at once."


     Orin nodded and let Gimli lead the way out. He already felt a bit turned around, being in this relatively new area of the caves. Gimli boldly led the way with a determined air. But when he emerged from the caves and caught an eyeful of the horse, he looked quite hesitant.


     "Worry not," Orin said, putting a hand on Gimli's shoulder to reassure him. "Edlothia's very sweet and very smart." She was not Arod by any means, but she was definitely a good fit for what they needed right now. Orin dug another sugar cube out of his pocket and handed it to Gimli. "Give this to her. But keep your palm flat."


     With the horse towering over him, too many hands high for his comfort, he reluctantly did as the messenger elf suggested. He closed his eyes, gathering courage, then lifted his hand. He squinted up at the horse, bracing himself. Edlothia eagerly took the cube from him, her tongue and mouth wet and her breath hot against Gimli's palm. The sensation tickled and the stubborn dwarf tried not to smile as the horse lowered her head and nudged at him, wanting more.


     "Not so bad, is she?" Orin asked, knowing Gimli agreed but also knowing he'd never admit to it.


     With a shrug, Gimli patted her muzzle. Orin tried not to smile at that. Instead, he walked to the side of the horse, tightened the girth, then knelt on the ground with one bended knee. Gimli looked at him funny. "I assumed you would not like me to lift you up."


     "Oh." Gimli cleared his throat and headed over. "Of course I wouldn't." Accepting the leg-up, he managed to climb up on top, though he slid around on the saddle a little as he tried to scoot back so there was room enough for Orin. Orin managed to jump up and take his spot rather gracefully. He picked up the reins and told Gimli to ready himself. Gimli muttered something about how he wouldn't be doing this for anyone but Legolas. Orin smiled, and then they were off.


     Edlothia went from a walking pace to a gallop in a matter of seconds. Gimli found himself holding onto Orin at the waist to keep himself from falling off from all the movement and bumping. It was not at all how he felt on Arod with Legolas. He shifted and slid around and Orin was the wrong size somehow. Gimli felt unsteady and uncomfortable. He closed his eyes.


     "You should get some rest if you can!" Orin called to him, looking back over his shoulder and watching Gimli out of the corner of his eye. "It is late and only growing later." The fact that Legolas was going to need Gimli awake and well when they arrived went unsaid. "I will be sure you do not fall off."


     Gimli gave a grunt but nodded. "I know you will." He slumped a little, but kept his hold as he attempted to fall asleep in the saddle.


     Orin smiled and turned his attention back to the way they were heading. After years, he and Gimli had grown to know and trust each other, and that went unsaid as well. But Orin could see what his master saw in Gimli, elf friend. And he would do his best to help them all he could now that the two lived apart most of the time to look after their own.


     Though Gimli did not complain in words, the dwarf did grunt occasionally when he was too uncomfortable or needed a break for whatever reason. Orin saw to it that Gimli ate and drank enough. He also kept close watch on the horse, making sure she did not exhaust herself. But there was nothing but love and caring towards Legolas among all three of them, and they moved along as fast as they could possibly go no matter what else they wanted.


     Upon leaving the caves, the weather had been fair. They were riding with the wind now, rather than against it, which was certainly an advantage. But the cold wind against their backs made Gimli shiver.


     "Did I hear you mention a storm?" Gimli called not long into the first morning of their journey.


     Orin had taken a moment to asses the weather. "I believe it will start this afternoon," he called back. "We should catch the brunt of it during the journey."


     Gimli grumbled unhappily but there was nothing he could do about the weather. He closed his eyes again. The unfamiliar sensation of riding on the back of a horse behind an elf that was not his had not been conducive to sleep. Gimli was exhausted and the fact that the sky was covered in grey clouds to prevent a sunny morning had not helped to wake him up any. The clouds were thick and threatening, setting the mood for the morning.


     It only got worse as the day wore on. A light drizzle cut their already short break even shorter. As they rode on, following part of the Entwash river again, the drizzle turned into rain. Orin thought he felt Gimli shiver greatly behind him.


     "How are you holding up against the rain?" he asked, not looking back this time because the hood of his cloak he had up over his head would prevent him from having as clear a view as he needed.


     "I'm wet and chilled," Gimli grumbled.


     Orin thought for a moment. "You can slip under my cloak," he offered, loosening the clasp at his chin. He felt Gimli stiffen behind him, resisting the offer. "You will not be any good to Legolas if you are ill yourself."


     Reluctantly, Gimli accepted. He lifted the elf's cloak and scooted closer to Orin's back before pulling the cloak down over his back. His Lórien cloak was tough and could withstand anything quite well. But with all the bouncing and the wind, he hadn't been able to keep dry. With Orin's covering him down to his thighs, he was much warmer, admittedly. He had fresh air enough to breathe, but the warmth succeeded in putting him to sleep.


     The rain continued without stop all night and into the next day. When it went from light to heavy, the wind picked up such that the rolling hills they were traversing did not provide cover. Gimli slept on and off, requiring them to take fewer breaks. Orin did not need to sleep but he welcomed the sound of Gimli's snores because those meant Gimli was getting much needed rest. Orin still felt some guilt about pulling Gimli from his bed in the middle of the night.


     During the second night, his elf ears could hear, over the sound of the rain and the roar of the wind, something hiding in the darkness. He encouraged Edlothia to gallop even more quickly and keep up her pace. And he reached down to pull a dagger from his boot. If it came to fighting, he knew Gimli could more than hold his own. But Orin would gladly die if need be to protect the dwarf lord. He simply hoped it would not come to that. They could not spare the time.


     As the matter was beyond their control, the time had to be spared. A troll burst out from behind a large cairn. Its arms were up and spread wide, spanning the gap between a large rock formation on one side and the cairn on the other. There was nowhere for Edlothia to go. The horse reared and Gimli grabbed hold of Orin's waist tightly to keep from falling off. Before they could get a sense of their situation, a second troll appeared, just behind them, cutting off an escape route. They were huge, towering creatures, who barely noticed the heavy rain that was falling.


     Gimli slipped out from beneath the cloak and sized up their two opponents. "We can take them," he said to Orin, reaching for his axe.


     "Two trolls against the two of us?" Orin said, sounding skeptical. He kept his bow and arrows with the saddle bags, and reached for them now that they were at a standstill and he had a larger range of motion with Gimli out from beneath his cloak. "We may have heart and skill, but it will take cunning as well for us to win."


     "I don't suppose keeping them talking until the dawn will be much of a plan if they are not talking already." Gimli replied.


     Orin agreed. "No, but we may be able to do the next best thing. If we can make a break for it, we shall either lose them in the chase or keep them busy until dawn. One way or the other, we shall escape."


     "Assuming we don't get caught," said Gimli, not entirely optimistic about the plan.


     "Assuming that, yes." The first step to the chase entailed getting past one of them, and right now they were blocked on all sides. The trolls were coming nearer in front and behind them, and their time to think was growing short. Orin tightened his grip on his bow. "Take the reins, Gimli. I shall jump down and lure one over to the side, slip by him and join you past the bend, just behind the rocks."


     "Nay," Gimli said, resting his hand on Orin's shoulder. "You have better command of the horse, and I can slip beneath a troll easily. I will join you past the bend."


     Orin looked doubtful. "I cannot allow you to endanger yourself--"


     "I do as I like, and I'll not have you doubting my abilities. I'm getting down and that is final!" And with that, before even Orin with his quick reflexes could stop him, Gimli tumbled over the side of the horse, managing to avoid falling on his axe.


     Orin hesitated, not wanting to leave the dwarf behind amidst such peril, but the trolls were closing in and leaving a bit of a gap on one side, just where Orin intended to slip past. With a deep breath, Orin dug his heels into Edlothia's sides and clucked. The horse, well aware of the danger, sped up. Swiftly and gracefully, she just slipped past the troll, though the troll's fingers grazing Orin's side during a swipe left the elf feeling that it had been a little too close for comfort.


     Commanding the horse to stop at the bend, Orin whirled around to check on Gimli. The dwarf was swinging his axe as though it were an extension of his arm. One troll was roaring with pain as it had sliced into his arm, but the other, the one Orin had slipped past, was practically on top of him, leaving Gimli no way to escape. Orin immediately grabbed for his bow and pulled two arrows from his quiver. Speedily, he pulled both back with the string and released them. They struck the troll right in the back of the neck and it cried out and wheeled around to face Orin.


     That was all the distraction Gimli had needed to dart between its legs and pass it on the way out of danger and towards the horse and messenger. Despite Edlothia's desire to leave, the horse followed Orin's command and backed up a few paces to close the distance between them and Gimli. Orin extended his arm just as Gimli reached up. With a good jump and a strong tug, Gimli was up on horseback, firmly planted behind Orin. Edlothia immediately took off as fast as she could, sensing the two trolls behind her.


     Neither Orin nor Gimli spoke much Troll, and these two were not speaking in the common tongue, but it was clear what their shouts and roars meant. The trolls were slow but large enough that their strides allowed them to keep up pretty well. They tore after the elf, dwarf, and horse, their arms outstretched and trying to grab at anything they could get close to. But Gimli, who had tucked his axe back in place, sat flush against Orin and Orin sat forward in the saddle. They could not be reached and Edlothia moved too quickly, winding from side to side as she ran forward towards her home.


     After a while, the distance between the riders and the trolls increased. The injuries the trolls had sustained surely had something to do with that fact, as did Edlothia's incredible amount of energy, even after the tiring journey she had been put through already. Soon, the trolls' shouts could not be heard over the relentless wind and rain. And, not long after that, there was no sign that they were still being followed. As dawn approached, and they felt they were safe, Orin allowed Edlothia to slow down a little. The elf promised her his last cube of sugar when they were sure it was safe to stop and rest.


     "Are you all right?" Orin asked, turning back to the rather drenched Gimli. His own hood had fallen down during it all, and his cloak, loosened as it was, had been tossed by the wind so that he was wet as well. His long black hair fell heavily past his shoulders, sticking to his back, shoulders, and chest. Rain drops hit his pale skin and slid down his face and neck onto his clothes and beneath his tunic. But somehow he did not feel so wet and he was certain Gimli did.


     "Not a scratch on me," Gimli replied coolly. "So you've nothing to worry about."


     Orin's eyes smiled at how easily the dwarf had read him. Not that he should have been surprised. "Will you tell Legolas everything, then?" he asked worriedly.


     "Of course," Gimli replied casually. "It is too good a story not to tell, and I shall tell it honestly and entirely. And for your part, I shall tell how you were clever and skilled and provided for me just when I needed it. Legolas would have expected no less and will be as grateful as I am."


     Then Orin felt the dwarf tighten his hold around the elf's waist in what could only be described as an affectionate hug. Orin smiled proudly. "I only wish I..." His voice died down as the tips of his ears twitched.


     From directly to their left, there came a loud thump and, charging over a hill came one of the trolls, holding his arm and bellowing out in triumph of finding them.


     With urgency, Orin's heels dug into Edlothia's sides and the horse took off again. The troll was close on their tails, and on Edlothia's literally. They tried jumping across a narrow point in the river, the water in the river and the rain splashing all around them.


     Out of a cave on their left came the second troll, who seemed rather well off, despite the shafts of broken arrows still lodged in the back of his neck. Edlothia ran like the wind from fear and from duty. She ran so hard, so long, without faltering even though the terrain was harsh and rocky and she was exhausted. The trolls ran after them without stop, getting far too close for comfort. They could practically feel its breath upon their backs.


     Just as they feared they would be caught, they heard a deafening crackling sound behind them. As one, Gimli and Orin turned their heads to see the troll, in mid-side, reaching out towards them. It was, however, turned to stone. The other troll was just disappearing into a cave to wait out the daylight.


     Orin heaved a very heavy sigh and looked up at the sky where the sun was just streaming down through grey storm clouds. Once they had cleared the rock formation, Orin let them slow and finally stop to catch their breath. They dismounted and loosened Edlothia's saddle. She whinnied, then trotted around, looking for something to eat. She found a particularly green patch of grass.


     Orin dug out some bread from the saddlebags and tore some off for himself. He went to offer some to Gimli and found the dwarf a few paces away already. Gimli had gone over to inspect the stone troll. It towered over him, wanting to take its next step but forever frozen in a pursuit it would never complete. Orin placed a hand on Gimli's shoulder and forced the bread upon him. "I have never been so happy to see the dawn," Orin said, looking up again at the sky and thanking the sun for rising.


     "I have," said Gimli, thinking back. "But I am incredibly glad for it now." He took a bite of the bread and smiled. "If this will be the worst part of our journey, it is far from terrible, aye?"


     Orin nodded. "Yes, My Lord. Now come to have a bite to eat and a sit-down. We have another day or two left of our journey and cannot spare much time."


     Gimli nodded back. After eating a little, he headed to the horse and drank from the pouch of water hanging from the saddle. Orin took a few gulps as well, then wetted his palm and offered it to Edlothia. The horse lapped at it, then straightened nobly, her head in the air and her mane tossed in the wind. Then Orin tightened the saddle again and gave Gimli a bit of privacy behind some bushes. The elf knelt again for Gimli. Gimli stepped up, putting a hand on Orin's shoulder and using his other one to pull himself up. "Let us hasten, then, My Friend." After slipping beneath cloak again, Gimli tightly wrapped his arms around Orin's waist and hugged. He pressed his cheek against Orin's back and sighed deeply with a smile on his face as he tried to go back to sleep.


     Just like the day before, Gimli slept during the day after being up during the night. Asleep, he did not notice how fast they were going. So when their place slowed in the afternoon, Gimli was surprised when he shook off the elf's cloak and looked around to see they had already reached the woods. "So near already?"


     "The tangle with the trolls seems to have sped us along far more quickly than normal," Orin explained. "Not that I should wish for peril every time I needed to get somewhere fast."


     Gimli chuckled heartily and watched the trees go by in an almost blur. He felt peace at being in the forest again. It was only a matter of hours now.


     At the start of their trip, the weather had been decent enough. But it had steadily worsened throughout, with the rain heaviest now. Luckily the trees gave them some cover, but they could both tell thunder and lightning were on their way as well. So it was a great relief when they finally spotted the distant lights of the elf dwellings in the heart of the forest.


     They reached the stables before nightfall and practically fell off the horse. Their legs were stiff and stomachs hungry. The two moved almost automatically. Orin handed over the reins to a stable elf, then turned to Gimli. "You should change into dry clothes." He sank to his knees and put a hand on Gimli's boot. "We will dry your boots by the fire and warm up a little before we go back out."


     Gimli let Orin take his boots and then found an empty stall in which to change. Orin, too, was given dry clothing, though he looked like a stable elf rather than a messenger elf when he'd changed. He accepted one of the grey blankets usually used for the horses and pulled it around himself. He flung his wet hair back so that it rested on the blanket instead of his shoulders. Gimli settled beside him in front of one of the fireplaces, with a blanket of his own. "Much better now," Gimli said, staring into the dancing flames just as Orin was doing.


     A crack of thunder made them both jump with a start. Orin smiled and reached for Gimli's boots. "I must still deliver you to Legolas."


     Gimli nodded back and let the elf slide the boots onto his stocking feet. Then, with the blankets still wrapped around their shoulders, they headed outside again and towards the various places Legolas might be. It did not take them long to run into an elf who knew Legolas' location. Apparently the daily meetings were still being conducted, and Legolas was in the meeting room.


     It was a bit of a climb up a stairway which wound around a tall tree. Gimli seemed hesitant at first, but determined to get to where he needed to be. After crossing a few bridges, the reached the room high up in the branches. However they heard nothing but silence as they walked to the door. Gimli held his hand out, stopping Orin as they stood in the doorway, looking in.


     There was indeed a meeting going on, and Legolas was indeed there. He sat at one end of the table, the chairs to his immediate right and left empty and the others scooted to the other sides of the table away from him. Confused, especially as to why Gimli had stopped them from entering, Orin started to speak. Gimli held a finger up, motioning for him to remain silent. He mouthed silently, 'Allow him a moment. He is about to sneeze.'


     Wondering how the dwarf could possibly know this, Orin cocked his head and closely watched Legolas. The elf lord looked tired, to be sure, but that was all. Or was it? Legolas' shoulders sagged and his head bent back as his chest inflated. A hand gripped the side of the table in front of him. "ihhh-hihhh..." He lifted the other arm and pressed his nose against his sleeve. "ihhhh..." He froze, then pitched forward. "yehhSchhhhhh! ehhh-KShuhhhh! Hh'KShhihhh!"


     "My Lord," one of the elves said, his voice quiet and hesitant. "Perhaps if we ended early so you could go to--"


     Legolas shook his head and coughed into his arm, then lowered it. "I odly deed a bit of water," he said stuffily.


     One of the elves got up immediately to get Legolas water, but Legolas shook his head again and gestured for them all to stay away from him. He stood. "I will get it. I'll dot have ady of you catchig... ehhh... catchig adythig..." Legolas turned and buried his nose in the crook of his arm once more. "ihhhhhhh-TCHUHhhhh!"


     Quickly Legolas poured himself a glass of water from the pitcher and glasses sitting on a table on the side of the room. He found his seat again and drank, then cleared his throat. "Dow thed... about the... the..." He tried hard to get the words out, but his nose twitched and breath caught. He looked around ashamedly, then closed his eyes. "ihhhh..." His mouth dropped open. "hihhhhh-Shooo!" He cupped his hand to his nose and mouth. "ehhhK'Shuhhhh! yihhhShhh! ihhhKSchhhh!" The elf stayed in the hunched over position his sneezes had tossed him into.


     "My Lord," sighed another elf sympathetically, obviously trying to rephrase their concern and reasons why he should go to bed and rest.


     Gimli pulled his blanket off and handed it to Orin. Then he withdrew a pocket handkerchief and marched into the room at once and over to Legolas. Orin leaned against the doorway and watched as Legolas' eyes sparkled happily as he recognized the hand. Legolas looked up and smiled to see Gimli, then rubbed his nose dry. He tilted his head, resting it against Gimli's chest with a soft, relieved sigh. Orin noticed that Gimli looked just as relieved as he soothingly stroked the back of his elf's head.


     When Gimli took Legolas' arm and tugged slightly, Legolas immediately rose. He let Gimli lead him out of the room. They passed Orin in the doorway and Legolas paused there. "As I said before... I truly abbreciate this."


     Orin smiled warmly. "I am glad to be of assist--"


     Before he could finish, Gimli had warmly caught him around the middle in a strong hug. "Legolas would do this himself, but he would not want you catching his cold." Gimli chuckled and pulled back.


     Legolas nodded in agreement, rubbing his nose, then burying it in the thick handkerchief. "ihhhSHUKkkhhhhh! Sniff! Oh..." tiredly he rubbed more at his nose. He muttered towards Gimli, "I very buch dislike beig sick."


     Gimli took hold of Legolas' arm. "I know, Love. Come with me. Up to bed right away."


     Legolas nodded at this as well and slowly walked forward, leaning a bit on Gimli for support as they headed up stairs towards another bridge to another tree.


     Orin leaned back against the outside wall of the meeting room. He crossed his arms over his chest and smiled at himself for a job well done. He listened to the elf and dwarf's conversation as they headed to Legolas' room.


     "I ab so glad you cabe dow," snuffled Legolas. "I deeded you."


     "That is why I am here. How long have you felt this bad?" Gimli asked.


     "A few days. But I dew I would dot start feelig better udtil I was uder your care, id bed with you."


     Another burst of thunder drowned out Gimli's reply, and when the rumbling died away, Orin had lost their voices in the storm. He pushed off from the wall and headed for the dining hall as he had been doing days ago at that same time. Only this time he felt much better, especially where Legolas' well-being was concerned.