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Pitfalls of the Palantir  by Haleth

The sun's rays shone golden over the edge of the world when Haleth gave up pretending to sleep. Inglor was nowhere to be seen. She did not feel inclined to search for him. He would catch up later. He always did.

She began walking west and north, beyond the lemming's suicide point and across two beaches. Voices pierced the morning air when she climbed the next bluff. She had found the Lossoth.

A familiar blond head shone among the short, dark-haired men. Inglor had arrived before her. Irritation followed quickly on the heels of Haleth’s surprise. She quickly stifled both reactions. A shout from the crowd in the beach brought her back to her surroundings. Inglor waved and beckoned her to join them. 

The Lossoth seemed to be having a celebration of some sort. Several children ran, shouting, along the beach. Most stood in a respectfully silent cluster around Inglor and a white-haired Lossoth. They stared in open wonder at the elf.

The adults talked, cooked or ate and glanced surreptitiously at the elf. As she approached, Haleth noted that some of the ice men were playing an unfamiliar game. It involved knocking over a set of thin rocks with a large round stone. 

Her arrival, if it was noted at all, was acknowledged by brief glances. 

The Lossoth elder shooed away the children who had crowded closer to get a better look at Inglor. He moved off, shouting at them, without greeting Haleth.

Inglor and Haleth stood in relative isolation. Haleth watched the entire tribe. Inglor's attention was fixed on the game. Haleth noted his rapt concentration.

"What are they doing?" she asked Inglor quietly.

"It's not so much what they are doing as what they are using to do it," he answered softly in Sindarin.

Haleth stared at the Icemen, the upright rocks which lay scattered in every direction and finally the round stone they were rolling at the others. It seemed to sparkle faintly with a dim interior light.

"Inglor," Haleth whispered in the same language, her face a careful study in mild interest, "Is that a palantir?"

"I believe it is," the elf answered.

"Maybe we could wait until nightfall and take it?" she suggested.

"No," Inglor smiled at a group of young Lossoth women who were openly staring at him. They immediately broke into a chorus of giggles. "They will only follow us. The Lossoth can be most unpleasant when provoked."

"Don't encourage them," Haleth snapped, easily believing that Inglor would be followed, palantir or no.
"Do not encourage whom?" Inglor asked.

"Never mind, it isn't important," Haleth sighed. The oblivious factor had struck again. With an effort of will, she turned her thoughts back to the palantir.

"How do you purpose we take it from them, then?" she finally asked.

"We win it," he answered.

"And how will you do that?" Haleth asked in the same tone of mild confusion that so infuriated her when Inglor used it.

"The Lossoth love to gamble. I will challenge them to a game and win the stone," he said.

Haleth considered this for a few moments.. She took it for granted that Inglor could win any physical contest against a human, but there was still a small flaw in his plan. 

"Just what will you wager?" she asked, still in Sindarin. She was rewarded by the blink that meant that Inglor had not considered this yet.

The children ran up and down the beach, getting closer and closer to the pair of outsiders while the young women pointed, stared and giggled behind their hands. The men continued playing their game and shouting. Several other male spectators watched the young women watching the elf. Haleth had seen this reaction to Inglor on previous occasions. It could end badly if it was not handled carefully. She decided that it would be well worth watching the lot of them. 

The white haired elder returned just as the current match ended. Inglor pointed at the game and indicated that he wanted to play. The elder nodded and led him to the victor. They immediately started negotiating in the universal language of pointing and grimacing. Haleth shook her head at the similarity between the two. 

The young women approached her slowly and purposefully. Haleth gave her best friendly smile, hoping they would not try to do her grievous bodily harm in a fit of misplaced jealousy. There were three of them dressed in skins, their dark hair free in the spring wind. They seemed quite comfortable in short sleeves while Haleth was huddled within her cloak. 

"You and the immortal one?" one of them asked haltingly in the common tongue.

Haleth considered her response. 

"I travel with him, for now," she said calmly, walking two fingers along the palm of her hand and then skidding them downwards. 

This confused the young women. They conferred quietly with each other for several minutes.

Finally one of them said. "You slide on sticks?"

It was Haleth's turn to be confused. 

The young woman who spoke the common tongue finally smiled and motioned to Haleth to follow her.

"Come," she said. "I show."

With one backwards glance at Inglor, who was holding the palantir in one hand while intently studying the rocks at the opposite end of the course, Haleth followed the young woman.

Sliding on sticks proved to be something Haleth could never have anticipated.

The Lossoth woman led her through the narrow, twisting ways that ran between the skin tents.

She stopped to pick up four sticks and four boards that curved up at one end. They were leaning against the outside of one of the tents. Dogs barked and snarled at their passing. The Lossoth ignored them. She handed Haleth a pair of the boards and a pair of the sticks, then beckoned her to follow again.

Leaving the tents behind, they traveled inland until they came to a patch of late snow. To Haleth's amazement, the Lossoth strapped the boards to her feet, point end forward, and slid effortlessly across the snow and ice. She moved in a long arc, returning to Haleth who was watching with open admiration.

"Put boards on feet," the Lossoth said. "This way." she pointed at her own feet.

Haleth examined the foot harnesses on the boards. She wedged her foot into one and tried to secure the net of sinews to her foot.

"No!" laughed the woman. She undid her own foot harnesses and speedily retied them.

Haleth, who was beginning to feel quite the fool, unsuccessfully tried to imitate her.

"No!" laughed the woman again. She untied her harnesses and retied them, this time more slowly.

Once again, Haleth attempted to strap her feet onto the boards.

The woman looked doubtful as Haleth slid forward first with her left foot and then with her right. It was much more difficult than the Lossoth had made it appear. Haleth pushed awkwardly with her sticks to help propel herself along. Just as she thought she was starting to get the idea of it, one of her feet came loose from the board. The board continued on while Haleth landed on her backside, twisting her knee on the way down.

"All well? All well?" The Lossoth glided behind Haleth and offered her a hand up. Her dark eyes were sparkling with mirth.

"All well," Haleth answered, gingerly rubbing her knee. She hopped to retrieve her lost board and glared suspiciously at the foot harness.

"Like this," the Lossoth said, untying her own harness. This time she laced it very slowly, so that Haleth easily followed each twist and knot of the laces. They tied and untied them several times. Finally Haleth repeated the procedure several times alone. The Lossoth seemed to be satisfied with her efforts and they set out across the snow patch.

If the Lossoth's movements were a study in powerful grace, Haleth's were one in grim determination. After several more falls, she decided to attempt to turning while moving. This proved to not be difficult as long as there was plenty of space to manoeuvre. She looked around and was surprised to see how much territory they had covered.

The Lossoth pointed back in the direction of their tracks and headed away, Haleth huffing and puffing as she tried to keep up. Arms and legs pumping, head down, Haleth did not notice the large rock protruding from the snow until a cry from her companion made her look up. It was too late to turn and Haleth realised with a very brief, sinking feeling that she had no idea how to stop quickly. She grimaced as the boards hit the rock and she pitched forward, executing a perfect flip with the boards arching over her head. She landed, winded and staring up at the blue sky.

"All well? All well?" This time there was real concern in the Lossoth's voice.

"" Haleth took the offered hand, sat up and then fumbled to get her feet, still firmly attached to the boards, back beneath her.

"Stop," the Lossoth said. Haleth blinked stupidly at her, not understanding.

Her companion glided away, then returned. She pointed the front ends of the boards together and dragged the sticks behind her and gradually stopped.

They practiced stopping for several minutes, then they returned in the direction they had come.

Any bird that saw those two sets of tracks would have sniggered.  One set carved the snow in graceful, unbroken arcs and turns while the second set was often punctuated by face, backside and body prints.

They returned to the edge of the snow and removed their boards. Haleth, carrying her boards and sticks, followed the woman back to the encampment.

Only the barking dogs greeted them. The crowd at the beach had become strangely silent.

With a sensation of dread, Haleth dropped the boards and the sticks and rushed back to the beach.


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