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Pitfalls of the Palantir  by Haleth

Two figures sat on a desolate, rocky beach. Cold, grey waves lapped upon the stony shore.

The first was tall and fair. His golden hair shone in the sun, his bearing was straight and proud, his clothing immaculate.

The second was completely obscured by a cloud of biting insects.

"This had better be really, really important," Haleth growled as she waved her hand about her head in a vain attempt to drive away the flies. The cloud expanded slightly and then contracted, drawn by the scent of fresh blood. In all of her years of wandering over mountains and through marshes she had never experienced such torment from insects. They buzzed around her at every hour of the day and night, the only variance the pitch of the whine of their wings. Every bit of exposed skin had been bitten ten times and some of the more intrepid bugs had crawled beneath her clothing to inflict damage on her covered flesh.

The misery of flies could only be alleviated by sitting in the thick, pungent smoke of a fire fueled by damp peat. Even this relief brought misery as Haleth would immediately become aware of the itching and burning of her well-chewed skin. In spite of the discomfort, she would stoically sit within the smoke until her eyes almost swelled shut.

The elf was the only target for her unhappiness and Haleth was in the mood to share.

Inglor, however, was his usual mild, polite, completely oblivious self. His attitude did nothing to temper Haleth's increasingly foul mood.

"Are you certain it is this particular beach?" she asked for the twelfth time that hour.

"My messenger is seldom wrong," Inglor replied calmly. The wind gently ruffled his hair, then thought better of it and set it back in its usual perfect position.

"I'm going for a walk," she announced, jumping to her feet. The cloud of flies immediately buzzed upwards.

"I shall accompany you," Inglor said mildly.

"I'd rather go alone," she snapped.

"I would rather you did not," he answered calmly.

Haleth glared at the elf who looked back at her impassively. 'He thinks I'll find it, whatever it is, and run off with it.'

She had to admit that the lack of trust was well deserved. She had abandoned him on three previous occasions and the last one had been a particularly bad episode.

Inglor strode along the beach, easily keeping pace with Haleth, who was jogging in a futile attempt to outrun her entourage of insects.

They reached the headland of the stony beach. An icy blast of north wind stole away Haleth's breath and scattered the flies. She faced the open sea, relishing the absence of insects, the cold wind soothing her inflamed skin.

Elf and human stood together in silence, the lonely cries of the seabirds playing counterpoint to the steady rhythm of the waves.

At length Inglor looked the way they had come.

"We should go back," he said firmly when it became obvious that Haleth had no intention of moving.

"But maybe it's on the next beach. We can at least go and look," Haleth wheedled. Despite the onset of hypothermia she was loath to return to the protected bay and the biting flies.

"We can look tomorrow," Inglor said uncomfortably.

Haleth said nothing, her attention captured by a tern that spun and dived for fish on the sparkling waters.

Suddenly something small scampered over her foot. Haleth looked down to see a small, brown, mouse-like creature running full tilt for the edge of the headland. It charged straight over the edge and disappeared from sight.

Startled, she spun and drew her weapons, expecting to find a predator following the mouse. Instead, there was a large troupe of mice, all scurrying toward the edge of the cliff and disaster. Before she could move they were all around her. Dozens of tiny claws scratched the tops of her boots, trying to buy purchase. Then they were beyond her and gone, vanished into the water beyond the edge of the point.

"What†was that all about?" Haleth asked.

"There are many mysteries in Middle-earth," Inglor answered. "I have no answer for this one." He began to walk towards their original beach, Haleth reluctantly trailing behind him.

The cluster of flies settled over her the instant she was out of the wind, eager to continue their interrupted feast.

"I can't blame the mice for throwing themselves over the cliff," Haleth snapped, waving her hands about ineffectually. "They were probably trying to get away from the flies."

"The creature that live here are accustomed to the conditions," Inglor said calmly. "The insects do not bother them to any great extent."

"That's easy for you to say," she hissed. "How would you know anything about it? The stupid, blood-sucking flies don't even know you're here! I've never even seen one land on you much less bite you. They ignore you while I'm weak from blood loss. And you have the nerve to say the mice aren't bothered by the flies. I wish I was an elf so that the flies wouldn't notice me, either."

Inglor blinked at the verbal attack. It was as much of a reaction as she was likely to get. He thrust his hand into his belt-pouch and pulled out a small, delicately carved vial.

"What," Haleth asked, already suspicious of the answer, "Is that?"

"It is insect repellent," he answered mildly. "I have been using it since we entered the area. Do humans not have it?"

Haleth stared at the vial. An evil smile spread across her lips as she took the salve.

"Inglor," she said calmly, "Look up there." Grinning maniacally,† she stared at the elfís face and pointed upwards.

The unsuspecting elf did as she had suggested and immediately went tumbling upwards and then backwards, from a vicious uppercut delivered to his jaw.

Several hours later.

The westering sun was quickly approaching the northernmost peaks of the Ered Luin. Still on the headland, several feet away from the edge, a tall figure was lying spread-eagle. Mildly confused and with a sore jaw, Inglor awoke to find himself tethered to the ground. His sensitive ears harkened the approach of hundreds of tiny, scampering feet that scrambled and scratched their furious way towards the sea.

Haleth sat cross-legged on a nearby flat rock. She watched the approach of the lemmings with the calm interest of a maniac contemplating a razorís edge. Inglor's brief, confusing experience with the woman cautioned him that this was no time to attempt a reasonable discourse.

The scrambling grew louder. The elf turned his head in the direction of the sound. A three-inch wall of furry flesh was barreling down on him.

Haleth, insect free for the first time in days, had briefly considered freeing Inglor before he awakened. Other than immediate, pure, hot-tempered revenge, there had been no reason to slice her fist into his jaw.

Shortly after the insect repellent had taken effect, she had realised that being in the middle of nowhere with an angry elf was probably not the safest of locations. Several other places, including an angry dragon's den, presented themselves as more secure environments. For lack of a better idea, she had carefully tethered Inglor to the ground, fiddling with the bonds until she was certain that he would eventually free himself. She would use that eventually to run as far away as she could. He would likely have calmed down by the time he caught her.

She had been ready to leave when, against her better judgment, she had turned back for one last look at him stretched out on the rocky bluff. An unwanted but not unexpected pang of conscience had assailed her. It was neither fair nor right to leave him there. After all, he had not intentionally done her any harm. He had innocently left her to be slowly eaten alive by millions of bugs while on a fool's errand of his own invention. But he had been quick enough to share the insect repellent once he knew she did not have any and was not suffering out of some perverse choice.

She had plonked herself unhappily on a flat rock and reflected upon the entire situation. It was Inglor's complete lack of understanding of what, to Haleth, was completely obvious, that so often drove her to hair-ripping distraction.

For example, Inglor was completely obliviousness to the effect he had on human females. At first, and when it did not involve her, Haleth had found this extremely amusing. But more and more often it was becoming a source of silent, screaming frustration. She had spent more nights than she cared to count staring into the velvety blackness of the sky, alternately wishing things were different, then calling herself a fool for harbouring the wish.

She glanced again at the elf's slumbering form, shaking her head sadly. His utter lack of interest in her, at least in that way, was plain enough. Haleth was too proud to embarrass herself by announcing her affection.

She could try to leave, but she had tried that before and he had always found her. There was always a perfectly reasonable excuse for his continued, distracting presence. Haleth narrowed her eyes, trying to think of some defense against her own frustrating reaction to Inglor.

A movement in the corner of her eye distracted her from her thoughts.

A large group of lemmings were charging toward them. Haleth glanced at Inglor. He had turned his head toward the onrush of rodents. She briefly considered attempting to free him before they charged over him, then decided it would be more interesting to watch his reactions to being trampled by a herd of suicidal rodents.

Inglor lowered his head and turned his face towards the water. The first of the lemmings charged over him, leapt into the air with a small war cry and landed on solid ground on the opposite side of the elf. The lemming scampered up to Inglor's face, chittering indignantly. Once satisfied that he had given the elf his opinion of those who deliberately impersonated cliff-edges, the rodent completed his journey to the bay.

The leader was immediately followed by a crowd of lemmings who swooped over Inglor's body, launched themselves into the air and landed a disappointing few, dry inches from where they had begun. There was lemming pandemonium for several minutes as the crowd pushed, shoved and cursed at each other and Inglor before hurrying off the edge of the bluff.

Haleth calmly watched the elf's face. The expected expression of confusion was mixed with a minute amount of surprise.

Again the only sound was the rumble of the surf on the shore and the shushing of the wind.

Inglor finally looked at Haleth with something that might be described as expectation.

She dislodged herself from the rock and, using her sheathed knife as a lever, pried Inglor free of the ground.

She handed him the vial and they wordlessly made their way back to camp with Inglor rubbing his wrists.

Haleth awakened in the middle of the night, fearing that Inglor would have taken the opportunity for some well deserved revenge. The elf sat with his back to her, his head tilted upwards, watching the stars.

He was singing softly in time to the beat of the waves. Haleth could not make out the words, but his song was plainly a lament for beloved things passed beyond recovery. He became silent when she approached, his eyes still trained upon the heavens.

Haleth sighed inwardly. It was lecture time. She felt like a misbehaving toddler who was about to be taken in hand by a strick but loving parent. It was utterly humiliating.

"Haleth," Inglor's voice was as close to stern as it ever got. "Why did you hit me?"

"I am sorry, Inglor," Haleth said, dragging the apology out of herself. "I did it without thinking."

Waves shushed along the beach.

"It is not a good thing to act without thinking, Haleth."

"I am aware of that," Haleth said stiffly. "But being a meal for every blood-sucking insect within a hundred mile radius for two weeks will often impair the Second Bornís ability to think."

He finally deigned to look at her. His expression could only be described as mildly interested.

"Especially when in the company of someone whom the flies do not attack,"† Haleth finished gruffly.

Interest turned to confusion.

"There's an old saying that misery loves company," Haleth explained. "The other side is that misery despises being in the company of anything but more misery. It only breeds frustration that leads to still more misery. And that can lead to far less pleasant things"

Haleth stopped and let Inglor digest the ideas. She fervently hoped it would take him some time. Having to explain her motivations was often uncomfortable and the probing questions he tended to ask often made things downright embarrassing.

"So it was misery and frustration that led to you hit me after I offered the salve to you?" He sounded confused and disappointed.

"Well, that and the fact that you could have given me the bug repellent two weeks ago and spared me a great deal of unhappiness," she said. "That was probably what really drove me over the edge."

"Speaking of edges," Inglor said when it was apparent that she was not going to continue without serious prodding. "Why did you restrain me?"

"Well...," Haleth stammered, "Directly after I hit you, I knew you would eventually wake up. And most people would not be very happy about being hit in the jaw unexpectedly by someone whom they thought was a friend. So I thought it would be a good idea to be a long way elsewhere when you awakened."

"But you did not leave."

"No," she answered sullenly.

Again, the conversation lapsed.

Finally Inglor faced Haleth. He placed a hand on either of her shoulders and looked deeply into her eyes.

"Haleth," he said, "You must promise to tell me when there is something between us that is making you miserable and frustrated. I do not want you to attack me again. From what you tell me, this sort of thing can be averted if caught early. So promise me."

Haleth swallowed hard. "I promise," she whispered, her fingers crossed behind her back.

"Good," he smiled. It was devastating.

"Well," Haleth said, moving away from his grasp, "I think I'll try to get some more sleep."

She lay wrapped in her blanket, staring at the rocks until dawn.

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