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Pitfalls of the Palantir  by Haleth

 Inglor shifted uncomfortably at the parlour table as he waited for Haleth to join him. His legs were a shade too long to fit the Breefolk's furniture.

A feast of fresh bread, cheese, meat and fruit lay before him. A fair amount of it was gone, having been eaten by Nob. Inglor, hoping to gain information on the whereabouts of the Rangers, had casually asked the hobbit if he was hungry. Nob, who seemed to be well fed, had cheerfully seated himself and torn into the food with the enthusiasm of the starving. Between bites, he had divulged a merry torrent of information about the doings of the folk of the Bree hill.

Inglor was fascinated but somewhat puzzled by the tales of hobbits and men. The stories were so interesting that the elf forgot to enquire about the Rangers.

Half of the food had made its way into Nob's stomach when a polite knock at the door interrupted them.

"Excuse me, sir," Barliman Butterbur said as he bustled into the room, "I was just wondering..."

The Innkeeper suddenly noticed Nob. His frown made the hobbit jump to his feet, his cheeks bulging with bread and cream. Bowing quickly to Inglor, he scurried out of the room.

"He was answering my questions," Inglor said quietly.

Butterbur shook his head and smiled. "That's alright, sir. Nob wouldn't help himself without an invitation. "

He surveyed the damage to the meal. Half of the bread was gone. A large chunk had been carved from the roasted chicken. A few, lonely crumbs remained on Nob's plate. The dish before the elf was still clean.

"I reckon you didn't know how much a hobbit could eat," he sighed.

"It did surprise me," Inglor chuckled.

"Is there something lacking with the food?" Butterbur asked, eyeing Inglor's empty plate.

"The food, I am certain, is wonderful," Inglor said. "I was just waiting for my companion."

Butterbur considered the rumpled woman who was currently monopolising the bathing room.

"Beggin' your pardon, sir," he said. "She might be some time. I wouldn't wait."

He was almost out of the room before Inglor remembered his original question.

"Excuse me, but is there any news of the Rangers?" he asked.

"The Rangers," Butterbur echoed, frowning with thought. "You mean the King's men, as some call them now, though they don't seem much different to me. The last passed through Bree two months ago."

"Thank-you," Inglor said as the Innkeeper hurried away to look after his other guests.

Alone once more, he considered the next course of action. They could wait for the Rangers, or head down the Greenway towards Gondor and hope to meet one or more of the Dunedain along the way. This was assuming that he could convince Haleth to go south.

Hunger eventually overcame good manners.  Inglor ate a solitary meal and wondered why it was taking Haleth so long to bathe; she was not that dirty. Her reaction that afternoon had convinced Inglor that approaching her while she was bathing was an extremely bad idea. It was not quite as dangerous as the bug repellent situation, but it certainly rivaled it.

Since their time in Fornost, Haleth's behavior had worried Inglor. He attributed her dark moods to the ghosts that dogged her steps. Her pain caused him grief, and he could find no way to alleviate it. For a time he had attempted to draw her out by asking her about her past life, but that had only made the situation worse. More than other mortals, she was a complete enigma to him.

When he was done his meal, Inglor considered the current situation. Haleth had still not appeared. The Innkeeper, who seemed to understand her, was convinced that she was likely to be busy for some time. Inglor decided to go to the Common Room and learn what he could of the Ranger's movements.

The Common Room of the Inn of the Prancing Pony was busier than it had been in months. A party of dwarves was heading from the Ered Luin to some point east. They were deliberately vague about exactly where and no one pressed them. There were extra patrons beyond the usual regulars, among them several young women who had caught a glimpse of Inglor. They had liked what they had seen and were hoping for more.

One of them squealed when she saw the elf enter the common room.

"Oh look!" she sighed. "There he is."

"Isn't he gorgeous?" her friend whispered.

The young women of Bree stared at Inglor in frank admiration. The elf, who was asking the local men for news of the Rangers, was completely oblivious to it.

Others took note of it, though.

"Frank, isn't that Daisy?" one of the regulars poked his neighbour and pointed over his beer mug towards the shiny-eyed knot of young women.

"What's she doing here?" a second voice piped up. "She's never been here before."

"It sure is Daisy," Frank said. He was a very easy-going fellow. "She's not hurting anything. Why shouldn't she be here?"

"My Aster would never come here," the fourth man said solemnly.

"Wanna bet?" asked the first man as Aster joined the other women at their table.

"Well I'll be."

Inglor thanked the men he had been talking to and found an empty table. A young woman approached him almost immediately, three others giggling and trailing in her wake.

"May I sit here?" she asked, smiling prettily. Daisy was, by common agreement, the most beautiful woman in all of Breeland. She was very aware of this, too. She had long ago decided to find a husband worthy of her; someone higher than a common farmer or even a wealthy local merchant. From the instant she had clapped eyes on Inglor, she had decided that he would do quite nicely. Daisy was accustomed to getting what she wanted.

"Certainly," Inglor said, he stood up to go to a vacant table.

"Oh no," Daisy grasped his arm and tried to push him back into his chair. She was rather surprised to find that he would not be pushed.

"I meant may I join you?"

"But there aren't enough seats for all of you," Inglor pointed out.

"That's all right." Aster took this as an invitation. "I'll just grab a chair from another table."

Daisy glared daggers at her closest rival. Aster was not as pretty as Daisy, but she was certainly more clever. She had ruined a few of Daisy's schemes in the past. Daisy silently vowed that she would win this battle.

Inglor did not notice any of the emotional undercurrents that swirled around him.

"Do any of you young ladies know of the Rangers?" he asked, still hoping for news.

"They're the men of our new King," Aster said quickly. "They've always come through Bree now and again for as long as anyone can remember."

"Have any been here recently?" Inglor asked.

"Not for a few weeks," Aster answered.

"But please," Daisy interrupted with her best, dazzling smile which had never failed to reduce men to babbling idiots, "Tell us about your journey. I'm sure you are very heroic." The other young ladies leaned forwards expectantly.

Butterbur looked from the table with the elf and the women to the tables of his regulars with growing trepidation. The men were casting dark looks towards the congregation of giddy, giggling young women and some of the women were beginning to fire dirty looks at each other.

The Innkeeper grabbed Nob and ordered him to discretely put away the breakables.

It was while casting about for a way to stop the impending havoc that Butterbur remembered Haleth. He raced down the hallway towards the bathing room. Given her rate of alcohol consumption, it was unlikely that she would be the voice of reason. But sometimes reason was not what was needed.

Even the dwarves could see which way the wind was blowing. All together, they left the Common Room by silent, mutual consent.

"There is not that much that I can tell," Inglor said.

"Oh, he's mysterious, too," tittered one of the women.

"Maybe he simply doesn't want to tell us," Aster said, glaring at Daisy.

"Or maybe he's on a secret mission from Riverdale," Daisy said, her eyes shining. "I should dearly love to see Riverdale and meet Lord Elrond."

Five pairs of eyes watched Inglor expectantly.

"Master Elrond went to the Havens two years past," Inglor informed them.

Daisy's face fell, but she quickly rallied. "But his sons are still there. Ellahir and Elrodan."

"You mean Lords Elladan and Elrohir," Aster corrected her.

Daisy's face contorted into an unflattering frown. She immediately controlled herself and smiled winsomely at Inglor.

"The sons of Elrond remain yet in Rivendell," Inglor had noted the expression on Daisy's face. From his experience with Haleth, he recognised it as the harbinger of unpleasantness. He quickly decided that it was time to leave.

"If you ladies will please excuse me," he said, standing and bowing, intending to walk in the fresh air. There was a collective sigh from the women and a collective growl from the men.

"Are you going to walk under the stars?" Daisy asked. "It would be a wonder for me to walk under the stars with an elf." She stood up and reached for his arm, which he quickly but delicately pulled away.

"Oh stop making a fool of yourself Daisy," Aster snapped as Inglor took his leave of them. "It's obvious that he has no interest in you."

"Speak for yourself," Daisy hissed. "If it hadn't been for your ugly face spoiling the mood he'd be asking me to marry him by now."

"Oh really?" Aster was as disappointed as Daisy, "He's an Elf, you idiot. They have no interest in human women. Especially those as pathetically stupid as yourself."

Daisy, shocked that anyone would be bold enough to insult her in public, picked up a mug of beer from a neighbouring table and poured it over Aster's head.

Aster picked up Inglor's unfinished cup and flung the red wine at Daisy's face.

There was a collective intake of breath while time stood still and everyone awaited the inevitable disaster and Daisy raised her fist.

Haleth was lying in the bathtub, glaring at the completely innocent and mostly empty wine bottle, when there was a knock on the door.

"Excuse me, ma'am," Butterbur's voice was extremely apologetic, "But there's a situation in the Common Room."

"What hash that idiot done thish time?" Haleth slurred.

"Nothing, yet," Butterbur said. "I don't think it's him will be the trouble, if you get my meaning."

"Oh, sure," Haleth unsteadily hoisted herself out of the tub. The rapidly cooling water sloshed across the floor. "He'sh behind it. I don't need to shee it to know it."

"Yes, ma'am," he said. "If you think there's any way you could keep him from causing a worse situation, it would be much appreciated."

"Yeah, sure," Haleth stumbled around the room, struggling to put on her clothing over her wet skin. After a great deal of fumbling and muffled curses, she had herself decently if somewhat haphazardly garbed.

She staggered down the hall in the direction of the Common Room, passing a group of somber dwarves headed determinedly in the other direction. She thought she heard one of them muttering about troublesome elves, but dismissed it as a product of her drunken imagination.

Finally she lurched into the Common Room, leaned heavily on a handy wall and peered through the smoke.

There was a small gaggle of women at one table. They were all dressed in their very best clothes and were twittering like a flock of brightly feathered birds. Inglor had to be in there somewhere. She wondered if he had any idea what all of this was about. Most likely not. A dark part of her mind told her that it might be enjoyable to see someone else be the target of his oblivious magnetism. She might find someone to share in her misery.

Judging by the black looks among the other patrons, though, everyone else in the room knew what was situation was about. This sobered her somewhat. Haleth supposed she should go and get Inglor before he inadvertently caused a riot. Excusing herself and clinging to tables for support, Haleth reeled unsteadily towards the table of Inglor-adoring women.

"Inglor, drat it all you're going the wrong way again," Haleth called as she finally reached the table immediately after the elf had vacated it.

Daisy's fist flew at Aster, who dodged out of the way.

"Inglor!" Haleth called again.

He spun around just in time to see Daisy's fist connect with the side of Haleth's jaw. Again time paused and a second awful silence filled the room.

Inglor stared in disbelief as Haleth crumpled slowly to the ground. He had never known Haleth to not successfully avoid such an obvious attack. He had also never known her to get falling down drunk before, either.

"Haleth!" Inglor's voice rang like a bell through the Common Room. Several people winced and pressed their hands over their ears.

"I'm so sorry," Daisy stroked Inglor's arm as he bent to lift her stricken companion from the floor. "I did not mean to hurt her if she is dear to you."

Inglor shook her off without speaking and strode out of the Common Room, Haleth's unconscious body cradled to his chest.

Daisy, Aster and the other women flocked after him. They stood at the edge of the Common Room, watching him march up the hall with his unconscious, wine-sodden charge. No one was brave enough to follow or even to call after him.

At last a distant door slammed and the spell was broken.

The women slowly wandered back to their table. The men had discretely returned to their drinking, for the moment willing to pretend that nothing unusual had happened.

"Why her?" Daisy suddenly wailed. "Why not me?"

"Oh, shut up, Daisy," Aster growled.

It was generally agreed upon by the women of Bree that Haleth was the luckiest woman in all of Eriador and that it was her own fault if she was too unconscious to be aware of it.

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