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Pitfalls of the Palantir  by Haleth

“This is not a good idea," Inglor whispered to Haleth as they walked the streets of Dale towards the King's hall.

"It's an even worse idea to keep a king waiting," Haleth replied. She leaned heavily on his arm and moved slowly. "Trust me. Mortal kings can be very different from Elven kings."

"Which Elven kings do you know?" Inglor asked quickly.

"The King of Mirkwood…or whatever they’re calling it these days.  And the ones in the songs," Haleth offered after a moment's hesitation. Inglor was beginning to learn a bit too much about her speech patterns. Her companion looked straight ahead and did not comment. She sadly reflected that the latest experience had changed him; his endearing innocence had been stripped away. She resented this far more than she did the attempt on her life.

They passed a group of workers repairing an awning outside a storefront. Several of them stopped to watch the unlikely pair pass by. Most wore a look that Haleth recognised as grudging admiration. She assumed the expressions were directed at Inglor.

As they went through the streets, she sensed that the mood of the town was angry. People grumbled at the market stalls, several of which appeared to have sagging roofs. Haleth wondered about that. The people of Dale were proud of their town and had only recently reconstructed it after the attack of the Easterlings. What had happened to their roofs? The good folk of Dale threw dark looks at Inglor and Haleth, but these quickly dissolved into faint grins after they had watched the elf for several seconds. The change was especially noticeable among the women. Occasionally one of them would look again at Haleth and frown. She felt a twinge of uneasiness and tried to hurry her steps.

"Slow down," Inglor told her firmly. "You are still far too weak to be running. You should not even be walking."

"We may have run soon," Haleth murmured. "I don't like the way the women are looking at you."

"They seem friendly enough," he said, flashing a grin at a group of women who surrounded a stall of flowers.

"To you, yes," Haleth said. "I think their feelings about me are somewhat different.

A young girl ran in front of them and stopped directly in their path. She was about nine years old with chestnut brown hair and wide brown eyes. She shyly held a bouquet of flowers to Inglor, who left Haleth wobbling so he could crouch down and accept the crimson red asters and bright yellow mums. The girl's face blossomed into a brilliant smile as he accepted the flowers and pressed something into her hands before rising again.

Holding the bouquet in one hand, he extended the opposite arm again to Haleth, who took it with great reluctance. She had watched the exchange, her face unreadable. The tableau revealed Inglor's inherent kindness even as it underlined how humans would try to make him into something they could possess. It was a terrible association for a small bunch of flowers given by an innocent child, but Haleth's mood was too dark to miss the undercurrents of the exchange.

"We'd better hurry or everyone will be trying to give you flowers," she whispered. Indeed a small riot of haggling had suddenly erupted at the flower merchant's stall and several other women were hurrying in its direction.

"There is a way to stop that," Inglor said. Handing, the flowers to Haleth he swung her into his arms.

"Don't you usually ask permission before sweeping a woman off her feet?" Haleth squeaked.

"Not in emergencies," he said truthfully.

"This isn't exactly an emergency," she said uncomfortably.

"Not yet," Inglor said with a wry smile.

Haleth sadly reflected that Inglor was beginning to gain an understanding of how humans behaved, at least in relation to himself. She tried to force herself to relax and to look ill and tired so as to not attract more misplaced jealousy. It did not require a stretch of her dubious acting skills.

They left the market square, where all of the activity was concentrated around the flower stalls, and entered a street of tall, stately, stone buildings. Pieces of slate roof tiles littered the ground. Several men and women were piling the fragments into wagons and wheelbarrows. They watched their passage with shaking heads and muffled oaths.

"Inglor," Haleth asked as they made their way towards the King's home, "Was there a wind storm yesterday? I don't remember the wind blowing, but I wasn't feeling my best. There seems to be an awful lot of damage to the roofs."

Inglor glanced down at her quickly, nothing readable in his bright blue eyes. "You do not remember?" he asked.

"A windstorm? No," said Haleth in confusion. "Was there one?"

"I'll explain later," he said.

A baffled Haleth remembered all of the times she had dismissed Inglor's questions with the same statement. It was not a pleasant feeling; she resolved to try to avoid doing it the future.

In the meantime, it was pleasant to be carried in his strong arms on a beautiful late summer's day like a princess at the end of a fairy tale. Haleth caught her wandering mind as Inglor reached the foot of the stairs of the King's home and tried to force her thoughts back to the matters at hand. Unsurprisingly, she failed.

"Maybe I should walk," she said, wriggling in Inglor's grasp.

"When we get to the top of the stairs," he said firmly. Haleth looked at him, startled by the tone of command in his voice.

"But..." she said.

"You are likely not strong enough to reach the top without assistance and it would take a very long time for you to climb even half of the stairs in your current condition. King Bard knows we are here, and, as you said, it is impolite to keep him waiting. Your weight is nothing to me and no one in Dale will ever doubt your physical prowess so please just lie still and allow me to carry you."

Haleth blinked in surprise. Most of what Inglor had said made perfect sense but none of it dealt with the main reason for her wanting to walk. That was understandable. He likely took her insistence as a sign of stubborn pride. He still had no idea how distressing his close physical proximity was for her. As she lay stiffly in his arms, she vowed that, if she could help it, he never would know.

At last they reached the hall of King Bard the Second of Dale. The imposing stone building still showed the marks of recent damage and repair. The walls of the main audience hall were cold, bare rock, albeit stonework of intricate and delicate patterns for those who appreciated the aesthetics of it. To Haleth, the room was cheerless and imposing. Any tapestries that had once adorned the walls had been burned four years ago when Dale had been overrun and the population had had to either retreat to the Mountain or perish.

King Bard the Second had taken the throne of Dale at an early age as his father had fallen in the Battle of Dale in the War of the Ring. He was tall and grim, as his father had been and his father before that. An advisor was whispering into the King's ear when he noticed the elf and the woman enter the hall.

They slowly approached the throne, moving at the pace set by Haleth who was unsure of her legs. Inglor bowed gracefully. Haleth unsteadily echoed his movement.

"Kind guests," King Bard said, rising from his throne, "I thank-you for accepting my invitation. Please come with me." He led them to a private room off the main hall.

The King settled himself in a tall-backed chair. Inglor helped Haleth to one of the smaller seats. She dropped into it with exhausted gratefulness. Bard watched her with a steady gaze. So this was the one who had danced along the rooftops of Dale, kicking down the awnings, eaves troughs and roof tiles in her path. She was not nearly as physically imposing as Bard had been led to believe. In fact, she looked quite ill if not frail. He turned his attention to Inglor.

"It is not often one of the Eldar visit Dale," Bard said, studying Inglor carefully. "You do us great honour. And yet I do not believe you to be one of Thranduil's people."

"No, Your Majesty," Inglor replied. "I am a Noldo of the House of Finarfin, what some might call a High Elf. This is my companion, Haleth."

"You are most welcome in Dale," the King said, reflecting that high as far as elevation might be better applied to the cyclone on legs that had accompanied him. "It is unfortunate that your companion was the target of murderers."

The implicit, unspoken question was why, exactly, she had been targeted.

"We carried something for the King of Gondor," Inglor replied. "Something that he would have been anxious to have."

"Would have been anxious?" the King asked. "Is there some reason he would no longer be anxious?"

"Because it has been stolen, Your Majesty," said Inglor.

The king's face darkened.

"I believe we may have a common enemy in this," Bard said gravely. "Have either of you heard of the Hosluin?"

Inglor and Haleth exchanged a quick glance. Haleth shook her head.

"No, Your Majesty," said Inglor.

"I know little enough," Bard said, getting to his feet to pace the floor, his hands clasped behind his back. "I will tell you what I do know.

"The Hosluin come from the East. There are those who say they were not always evil and that there some who are still not evil. I do not know if this is true, but those who came to Dale carried an unwholesome air.

"They presented themselves as merchants and sold an aromatic, hot beverage. It tastes pleasant and increases people's energy levels. But there is a darker side to it. It seems to be addictive. Consumption gradually increases and the addict becomes nervous without it. Many complain of headaches when they have tried to stop imbibing it.

"The Hosluin set themselves up here in the spring. At first we welcomed them as honest merchants, though there were those who did not trust them. More and more people began to drink their beverage. It looked as though the fears of the nay-sayers were unfounded. And then some of the townspeople joined them. They were, of course, free to do so, I am no autocrat who tells people what to think and how to behave.

"It may have been better if I had been. Only the Hosluin have access to the beans used to brew the beverage. As more and more people found they could not get along without it, the merchant, Adedrid, grew in influence. He never demanded anything outrageous, but he was becoming more and more insistent, as if he was testing the limits of what he could accomplish. And more and more members of the order were moving into Dale as his influence and business grew.

"There was nothing that I could do to check his growing power. If I had exiled him it would have been for no apparent reason and the people would have named me a tyrant.

"And then you came," he looked at Inglor and Haleth who were both watching him with great interest. "And now it seems as though the problem is gone because Adedrid has exiled himself. He and his followers have disappeared down the River Running."

Haleth shot a furious look to Inglor. They would have to pursue this Adedrid as soon as possible.

Inglor caught her eye and shook his head ever so slightly.  Then he stood and bowed to King Bard.

"Your Majesty, I thank-you for your help," he said. “Our path is now clear.  We must find these people.”

“So you can reclaim the palantir for the King of Gondor?” King Bard asked, watching his guests’ reaction. 

The revelation did not surprise Haleth who strongly suspected the King of Dale had ways of knowing what happened under the Lonely Mountain.

“We cannot allow the palantir to fall into the hands of those who would do evil,” Inglor said, barely batting an eyelash.  “However, we also cannot leave immediately as my companion is still too weak to travel." He shot Haleth a warning look as she drew breath to protest.

"You shall be my guests until her strength returns," Bard said. "I shall send messengers to Beregnil, the Master of Esgaroth."

"Excuse me, Your Majesty," said Haleth. "But the Master of Esgaroth and the people of Esgaroth itself. Have they fallen under the influence of this Hosluin?"

Bard paused, weighing his answer carefully.  Then he shook his head.

"No," he said. "Not the Master himself. Not yet." He looked as though he was going to say more but then thought better of it.  He rang a silver bell.  Its sweet, silver tone echoed against the stone walls.  A dour looking man dressed as a noble entered the room.  He bowed deeply to the King.

“A house and servants will be provided for you.  Lord Brithon will see to your needs.”  He favoured them with a polite if somewhat forced smile.  As they rose to bow, he left them in the care of his advisor.


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