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Pitfalls of the Palantir  by Haleth

Inglor brought Haleth back to the inn, almost running in his hurry. The crowd parted before them and closed after them like the ocean.

The Innkeeper met his guests in the courtyard. He took one look at them and quickly led Inglor through the kitchen to his family's living space. They went to the parlour, the carefully decorated room where the Innkeeper's wife hosted meetings with the important women of the town. Sunlight poured through the wide windows which overlooked the Inn's kitchen garden. The room was tastefully decorated with horsehair furniture, a small, round table and hard-backed wooden chairs.

Inglor lay Haleth on the couch, grasped her cold hand and called her name. She gave no response, not even fluttering her eyelids. Her skin was beginning to turn blue beneath the ashen white. He placed his hand on her neck to find her pulse.  The beat was erratic and far too weak.

"I need a bath of cold water and ice, if you have it," Inglor told the Innkeeper. The man hurried away, loudly issuing orders to his family and the workers who had remained discretely out of sight.

Inglor hauled Haleth to her feet and draped her limp arm over his shoulder. Her cold cheek brushed against his.

"You must try to walk," he said with quiet urgency. He might as well have spoken to a corpse. He dragged the unconscious woman around the room, the only sound the scraping of her boots as they trailed along the wooden floor.

"Please, Haleth," he said in desperation, propping her against a wall and holding her chin so that her closed eyes watched him. "Come back." Had her eyelids fluttered? He felt for her pulse again. It was still there but weaker than before.

The Innkeeper found Inglor hauling the unresponsive Haleth around the room. The elf's fair countenance was unreadable. Haleth's face was as white as a china doll's.

"Excuse me, sir," he said. "It's ready. This way."

Inglor effortlessly swung Haleth into his arms. She hung there as limp as a ragdoll.

"I've called for the healer," the Innkeeper said as he led Inglor down the hall.

"Thank-you, but there is no need for that," Inglor said.

"She isn't..." the Innkeeper asked, unwilling to finish the question.

"No," Inglor answered in a hoarse whisper as he forced himself to not hold her too tightly. "Not yet. She may live, but few have the skill to save her. She has been poisoned."

He followed the Innkeeper down a hallway towards an open door. Several people stood there in a line, feverishly passing buckets of water into the room and empty pails out as though they were trying to douse a fire.

The bathing room itself was designed to be welcoming and comforting. It was softly lit by twinkling lamps which flickered on hangers set on walls made of fragrant cedar. There was a rack of large, fluffy towels and a shelf lined with lightly scented soap and bath oils. A long, half-filled ceramic tub sat in the middle of the stone floor.

Stepping around the bucket brigade, Inglor lowered Haleth into the cold water, resisting the urge to simply drop her and see if the shock would force her to respond. She lay completely still, unprotesting and unaware.

The young man at the end of the bucket brigade stood at the bottom of the tub. He held a full pail before him, a question on his face. Inglor took the bucket and poured it over Haleth, silently willing her to give a sign that she was somehow aware of what was happening. There was no reaction.

The Innkeeper intercepted a young man who was hauling a large bag into the room.

"It's ice," he explained as he placed it on the floor and opened the sack. He drew an ice pick from his belt and began to hack at the block. Frigid splinters flew about, sparkling in the lamplight.

"Allow me," Inglor said, holding out his hand. He took the pick shattered the ice block with three quick blows. Oblivious to the cold, he threw the frigid slivers into the tub while silently willing Haleth to react; to shiver, to flutter an eyelash, to stand up and punch him for dropping her into a tub of ice water. Anything.

Inglor, the Innkeeper and his two sons gathered around the tub, watching Haleth slowly turn from blue to grey in the gentle light of the lamps.

"You may go," Inglor told them softly, his voice gentle and comforting in the face of disaster. "There is nothing more you can do for her. Thank-you."

They reluctantly went, leaving Inglor alone with Haleth's still body.

He knelt next to the tub and grasped her shoulders.

"Get up," he whispered shaking her gently. Water splashed onto her face. If he listened very closely, he thought he heard her make a noise. A whisper. A sigh. A sharper inhalation when the cold began to pierce her.

He reflexively reached for her spirit to pull her back from the unlit road she walked. An impenetrable wall of darkness kept him at bay. There was no reply, no sign that she had heard him or even of her continued presence.

"Please, Haleth," his voice rose and was coloured with desperation.  He shook her with more force. Her head lolled sideways and backwards, almost hitting the hard sides of the tub, but her spirit remained stubbornly absent.

"Get back up!" he shouted. Then he released her and she slumped in the icy water while he buried his face in his hands, willing away the reality of her death.

He forced himself to look at her lifeless body again. She had sunk beneath the water, her hair floating freely around her face.

And then her eyes fluttered open.

~*~


It was a freezing, wet, penetrating cold of the kind Haleth had not felt since the night in the rain on the Cold Waste. Its icy fingers clawed into every fiber of her body. She tried to wrench herself away, but there was no escape from either it or the darkness surrounding her.

"Get back up!" A voice rang in her world of nothingness and ice.

"Help me," she tried to say and opened her eyes.

The darkness was replaced by a vision of Inglor's worried face, just inches from her own. It was a big improvement over darkness, even if the frigid cold still grasped her helpless body.

The rest of the world came into focus. She was lying, fully clothed, in a tub of ice and gelid water.

"Get me out of this!" Haleth tried to say. It came out as a soft groan punctuated by the sound of chattering teeth.

She tried again. "C-c-c-cold!" she shivered, dragging her hands ineffectually on the sides of the tub.

"Thank-you," Inglor whispered with grateful intensity. Heedless of the cold, he pulled her out of the tub and into his arms. Even in her state of half-awareness Haleth knew the comment had not been directed at her.

"W-w-w-w-wet," she said, shuddering violently. "H-h-how?"

"I put you there," he said. "It was the only thing I could think to do."

Haleth vaguely wondered if this was some strange form of elvish humour. They were in the stone-floored bathing room of the inn at Dale and she had no idea how she had gotten there. Her last, clear memory was of bartering for rope. Everything from that point onwards was fuzzy. There were shattered recollections of arial dances and balancing on rooftops, but those must be dreams. Maybe the new gap in her memory would fill itself in later, when the icy chill was not frightened it away.

"W-w-why?" she asked, still shivering as she huddled into his warmth. He carried her up the hallway leaving a trail of wet, cold puddles behind. They met no one.

"Shhh," he said as he opened the door to her room. The covers on the bed were pulled back. Extra blankets had been piled high on it.

Inglor stripped off her drenched clothes, put her onto the bed and covered her.

"Now you must sleep," he said softly and he quietly left the room. She could hear him speaking to someone outside the door.

Haleth lay shuddering weakly under the layers of blankets. Sleep refused to come, driven away by the cold.

The door opened and Inglor once again slipped silently into her room. He had changed into dry clothes. Haleth watched him through her barely opened eyes as he pulled a chair next to her bed and settled himself beside her.

"You must sleep," he said sternly.

"C-c-c-cold!" Haleth protested. She wanted to say a fair amount more but the effort was too great.

"Sleep!" he ordered.

"C-c-can't!" The weight of the blankets pressed down on her but did nothing to warm her.

"Haleth, I cannot sleep with you!" Inglor sounded genuinely upset.

She tried to tell him that she had made no such request, but her mouth stubbornly refused to obey.

"S-s-stay," was all she could manage. She curled into a tight, shivering ball and lay trembling uncontrollably under the mound of blankets.

There was a long silence. Then she felt the blankets being pulled away as Inglor crawled into bed beside her. He gently unwrapped her and then lay against her back, pulling her close to him.

With agonising slowness his warmth spread through the blankets he had left between them and into her body. The shivering abated. Sleep at last took her to temporary oblivion. Her final thought was to wonder why Inglor was not singing.


~*~


Long, golden rays of sunlight flooded the room when Haleth awakened, alone and weak as a newborn kitten under a mountain of blankets. Her arm had fallen asleep beneath her. She tried, without success, to roll over.

"Lie still." Inglor's voice was kind but weary. He watched her struggle ineffectually for several minutes before accepting that she would not obey him. He reached for her and gently helped her to roll over.

Haleth studied his face with her bleary eyes. He looked exhausted, as though he had been fighting for several months with no pause or rest.

"What happened?" she asked. She had never seen him look like this. She had not believed Inglor could become tired.

"Several things," he replied, a sad smile on his face. "The king of Dale has summoned us, the town is in a complete uproar, the palantir has gone missing again, several people have disappeared, someone tried to kill you and I have been thinking."

The list was too long for her to comprehend.  Haleth considered asking him to repeat himself, but experience told her she would be none the wiser if he did.   She chose one point and focused upon it.

"I guess we should visit the King," she finally said, struggling ineffectually with the blankets.

"Tomorrow," Inglor informed her in a tone that left no room for discussion.

"But..."

"Tomorrow," he insisted.

 





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