Tales of the Innkeeper: 6. A Fine Balance

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6. A Fine Balance

It’s a difficult task, balancin’ the cold and the heat. Don’t want folks shiverin’, yet too much heat gets a man’s ire up. I’ve seen it more’n once: men sharin’ a drink, when one of ’em starts wiping his brow, another tuggin’ at the neck of his tunic. Next thing, these best of friends are throwin’ punches over some triflin’ matter. That’s why I spend a good portion of my winter days and nights keepin’ a roarin’ fire burnin’, then openin’ a door just a pinch to let out a bit ’o heat. It’s a fine balance, but after all these years in the inn, I’ve gotten right good at it.

That stretch of winter that the King spent under my roof was a harsh one, to be sure. The wife was feelin’ it; the guests were feelin’ it; the horses out in the stables were feelin’ it. When the King came walkin’ into the hall with one hand clutchin’ his pipe and the other holdin’ onto the blanket wrapped ’round his royal shoulders, I knew that even Elessar was feelin’ it.

“Sire, let me put another log on the fire while you settle yourself in for a smoke,” I suggested. “Silima, fetch the King some pipewide.”

Silima made an awkward curtsy in the King’s direction, and maybe it was just the glow of the firelight on her face, but I think the girl blushed a bit before leavin’ the room. I reckon she had a bit of a crush on Elessar ever since he’d come to her rescue when one of his men had gotten a bit too friendly with her. As Silima turned the corner, she ran straight into someone, and the flash of red hair on this guest told me straight off that the newcomer was that troublesome Carandol. He and the King had been at odds since they’d come knockin’ on my door, and sure enough, as he came struttin’ into the room to find the King sittin’ there, the arrogant smirk on his face turned into an outright sneer. I was tempted to go smack the disrespect from him, but who am I to interfere with one of the King’s company?

From what I could gather, seems the lad had fire in his blood since losin’ his father at the Pelennor Fields. I’m not altogether certain, but I reckon he might ’ave blamed Elessar just a bit. ’Course, you and I know that the only one to blame for the blood spilled at the Pelennor was Sauron himself. But you know how folks are: always lookin’ for someone or somethin’ right in front of them to take the heat of their resentment. I reckon that if a simple man like me can figure that much out, surely the King knew it, too. Still, if I had been Elessar, I would’ve lost patience with Carandol long before.

Now, I’m usually so busy rushin’ about, I tend not to feel the cold too much. But as soon as Carandol stood glarin’ at the King—with the King starin’ right back, mind you—I felt the chill in the air.

“I have finished the task you requested. Is there anything else you require at the moment, Sire?” spat the youth, tuggin’ on the neck of his tunic.

“That’ll be all, Carandol,” whispered Elessar, wipin’ a bead of sweat from his brow.

Carandol spun on his heels and fled the room as if the King were Sauron himself. I don’t know what task the lad was speakin’ of—none of my business, you understand—but whatever it was, the two had clearly butted heads over it.

Elessar sat there workin’ his jaw; then without warnin’, he sprung up from his chair, grabbed a cushion, and began beatin’ the life out of the table. I was more’n a bit stunned by that; thought maybe Carandol had finally driven the man insane. But just as quickly as he started, the King stopped, adjusted his tunic, and nodded at the table as if it’d put up a good fight. Then just as calmly as you please, he sat back down.

“Sometimes it does a man good to let out a bit of the fire burning within him,” explained Elessar. “The lad would not irk me nearly as much if I cared nothing for him. It would be easier at times to keep my heart frozen.”

Now what was I to say to that? I managed to keep my mouth shut for a moment or two, but you know me—I just had to blurt out the first fool thing that came to mind: “I understand, Sire. Warmth is a fine balance to achieve.”

The King—bless his patient soul—closed his eyes and sat still until I thought he’d drifted off. Just as I had in mind to leave the man to his rest, came a whisper: “That it is, Master Innkeeper. That it is.”

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: Allee

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Work in Progress

Era: 4th Age

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 12/01/07

Original Post: 09/13/06

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