the pedlar

“You have another patient, Master Dínendal,” said Haldir, holding the door open.

Two border guards carried a sleeping elf into the Healing Room and carefully laid him on one of the beds; the March Warden dismissed them with a nod.

“We found him,” he continued, “on the road to Pelargir. I have no idea how long he had been lying there.” He sat down, heavily. “And there are reports of others,” he added, quietly.

“Where?” Dínendal bent over the sleeping elf, and gently lifted each of his eyelids.

“Three between here and Doro Lanthron, two more on the Pelargir road.”

“So, in a straight line, with Lord Legolas somewhere near the middle?”

Haldir frowned. “Yes, more or less.”

The healer nodded. “I have been speaking to Lord Fingolfin—as you know, he is well-versed in Mannish lore.”

“And?”

“It seems that Men believe this condition is not a disease, but an affliction.”

“Meaning what?”

The healer sat down beside him. “Usually, when a disease spreads,” he explained, “one person passes it to many, and each of the many passes it on to many more. If you were to trace the path the disease has taken, it would look like the branches of a vast tree. Do you see?”

Haldir nodded.

“But this condition is spreading in a straight line.”

“So,” said Haldir, “one person, travelling east to west across the colony, is giving it to the people he meets along the way.”

“Yes. But those people are not passing it on.”

“Because it is not a disease.”

“It is some other affliction.”

“What is he doing to them?”

“I have no idea.”

“Then I will follow the path,” said Haldir, rising, “and find out.”

No!” Dínendal caught the March Warden’s arm. “We know that contact with him is dangerous.”

“Not as dangerous as his contact with me will be.”

...

Since taking the Elven locket, the pedlar had grown used to ignoring its seductive call, but now—as he stuffed his latest victim’s meagre wealth into his pocket, and his fingers brushed its cold edges—curiosity suddenly overcame him.

He took it out and, with long, dexterous fingers, pressed its tiny catch.

The locket sprang open, and its contents were revealed.

The pedlar’s cry was terrible—worse than the wail of stag, pierced through the heart by an arrow; worse than the screech of a fox, trapped in its mate—and he fell to the ground, clutching his breast.

It was many minutes before he was able to move.

When, at last, he did, it was only to grope for his pack, find one of the crystal bottles, wrench out its stopper, and gulp down its contents.

 

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