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Pitfalls of the Palantir  by Haleth

The sun was low in the west when the two travelers passed through the west gate of Bree. The Breefolk, as accustomed to travelers as they were, still paused to watch this pair. The first could only be one of the First Born, the immortal elves, fair of face and proud of bearing. Men on their way home for the evening meal watched him in barely concealed amazement. Women either watched from the windows of their homes or found some slim excuse to race into their front yards as he passed by. Children stared in open-mouthed wonder, their games momentarily forgotten.

The second traveler, if she was noticed at all in the shadow of her companion's splendour, was a sandy haired woman in rumpled clothing.

If anyone had bothered looking closely, they might have noticed a slight, intermittent tick in the woman's left eye. It can safely be said that no one cared to pay her that much attention. All eyes in the village were trained on the elf.

Without exchanging a word the badly mismatched pair made their way to the Prancing Pony. 

Barliman Butterbur, the Innkeeper, welcomed them cheerfully. Business had been steadily improving since word of the new king had spread northwards. There was a group of dwarves at the inn that evening and the presence of an elf would likely attract more than a few of the local people. He was busy behind the bar when his newest guests arrived, a bottle of expensive Dorwinion wine in his hands.

"You'll be wanting..." he began.

"Two rooms," Haleth said quickly, still chilled from her swim in the stream. "A hot bath and this."

She plucked the bottle of wine from the Innkeeper's hands and took a quick swallow.

Butterbur watched the display with some dismay and turned to Inglor for help.

"That should do," the Elf said wearily.

"Nob!" Butterbur shouted, making a mental note to keep the expensive alcohol away from the woman. "Take our guests to the rooms in the eastern wing."

A curly-headed hobbit appeared out of nowhere and beckoned for them to follow. He led them down a wide, candlelit corridor and ushered them into their rooms.

"Will there be anything else?" he asked Inglor in his piping voice.

"A very large flask of wine when my bath is ready," Haleth said. She marched into her room and very deliberately shut the door.

Nob examined the closed door and, like his employer, turned to Inglor for guidance. 

"Some food would be appreciated," he said. 

"I'll bring it to the parlour, sir," Nob said, "It's the room between the two of yours."

"Thank-you, Nob," Inglor said as the hobbit scurried down the hallway.

He took a deep breath and knocked politely on Haleth's door, wondering at the reason for her current display of pique.

"Is my bath ready yet?" her muffled voice called.

"Not yet," he answered. "There are a few things we should discuss."

"I'm listening," Haleth's voice sang through the closed door.

"I'd rather not shout them in the hall," Inglor said, his voice edged with what might be annoyance.

The door abruptly popped open. With more faith than sense, Inglor crossed the threshold into Haleth's room.

"What?" she demanded, the open wine flask in her hand. An alarming amount of the beverage had already vanished.

"I've got enough gold to pay for several weeks accomodations," Inglor said after closing the door behind him. "We can go to the common room and find a way to contact the Rangers to get a message to the King. They may wish to take the palantir to him."

"Good," said Haleth shortly. She gave the door a significant look which would have told anyone else that the interview was over.

"Or we may have to bring it to Gondor ourselves," he said, oblivious to her foul mood.

Haleth gave him a look that would have made the Nazgul pause.

"What do you mean we?" she finally said.

"You wouldn't go with me?" He seemed surprised. "You've always completed all of your tasks, no matter how unpleasant."

Haleth placed the wine on the table, threw herself onto a chair and rubbed her face with her knuckles. She had no wish to discuss the matter, especially in her current frame of mind.

A discrete knock on the door delivered her from the temptation of screaming at Inglor. 

"What is it?" she shouted, unreasonably annoyed by the interruption.

"Excuse me but the bath is ready," Nob's voice fluted through the door.

Haleth got unsteadily to her feet and retrieved the bottle. 

"We can discuss this later," she growled to Inglor as she marched out of the room.

Several minutes later, Haleth sank up to her neck in hot water and soapsuds and very deliberately took another deep drink from the bottle of Dorwinion.  There were several empty tubs in the Prancing Pony’s bathing room.  They were just visible through the steam of Haleth’s bath. 

The logical, sensible part of her mind knew that the alcohol would not solve her current dilemma. Unfortunately, the pragmatism that had ruled her every action and thought for as long as she could remember had been throttled into submission by the completely illogical, angst-ridden part of her that Inglor had unwittingly unleashed.

It was the second most uncomfortable situation in which she had ever found herself, and that was saying at great deal. After months of trying to be rid of him, Haleth found herself desperately attracted to an immortal who had absolutely no interest in her. Inglor would never consider her as anything other than the nuisance he had to watch.

What was worse, the change in her sentiments had come so gradually that Haleth could not exactly pinpoint when the entire mess had begun. She had been blindsided by her emotions and this troubled her to no end.

Tired of trying to map the history of her feelings, she grasped frantically at straws to salve her badly damaged pride.

Elves and Men had completely different sensibilities and social cues. Inglor could not have read her thinly veiled interest in him if he had wanted to and there was no indication that he desired to do so. He would probably find the entire idea vaguely revolting.

The bottle was empty. Haleth placed it on the stone floor next to the tub and reached for the second one. It was an inferior vintage to the Dorwinion, but her taste buds were hardly in a position to notice, much less care.

The situation would not have been so bad if Inglor did not occasionally do things that falsely raised her hopes, like he had today at the side of the pool and all of those stupid, pointless conversations about love.

The practical part of her mind reasserted itself and took the opportunity to point out that she was being ridiculous and wasting time.

Haleth leaned back in the tub, staring blankly at the ceiling. Through the fumes of drunkenness she vaguely realised that this no way to exist and that she was going to have to find a way of putting aside her futile attraction and getting on with things.

The challenge now was to find a way of doing that. Wallowing in drunken self-pity certainly had not helped in the way that she had hoped.

Haleth had just reached the wine-soaked determination to deal with her own emotions as soon as she sobered up when there was a polite, almost apologetic knock on the door.

 





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