Brendilac Brandybuck sat in the Bridge Inn with a drink in front of him, his feelings decidedly mixed. When a form passed between him and the light from the front windows of the place he looked up to see his cousin Frodo approaching him carrying a plate and mug.
“Mind if I join you, Brendi?” Frodo asked.
“Feel free,” Brendilac said somewhat distractedly, indicating the chair opposite him at the otherwise empty table. “Been visiting Sara and Esme?”
“Yes, and Merry, of course. I understand that Old Flour Dumpling has accepted you to practice law now.”
“Yes, just yesterday, in fact. It’s quite an honor--I’m the youngest to be accepted to write contracts and so on in over a hundred years.”
“Merilinde must be very pleased. When’s the wedding?” Then, at the change in expression in his cousin’s eyes, Frodo’s own expression became concerned. “What is it, Brendilac? Is she still ill?”
Brendilac’s shrug was studiously practiced. “Yes, she is.” His attempt to look calm didn’t hold, however. The dark circles under his eyes were now obvious, and there was no disguising the pain he felt.
Frodo was around the table and crouching at his cousin’s side immediately, putting one hand on Brendilac’s shoulder and taking the young lawyer’s near hand with the other. “It’s that serious, then?”
Brendilac nodded, his face set with grief. “Yes. There’s a growth in her belly, and they can’t do anything for her, Frodo.” He raised his hazel eyes to meet Frodo’s blue ones. “They say she won’t make it till Yule.”
Frodo held his cousin to him as he finally broke down. He dragged a stool closer and sat down, and pulled his friend’s head onto his shoulder.
The two had been friends when they were small. Much of an age, they’d played together when the Bagginses came to visit Brandy Hall and later when Drogo moved his wife and son into the smial near the river. Brendilac was one of the few near their age who approached Frodo’s own level of intellect or shared many of his interests. One of Sadoc’s descendants, Brendilac was Brandybuck through and through and had lived in the Hall most of his life. It looked as if Frodo and he would become close friends until the death of Frodo’s parents. Suddenly Frodo was being surrounded by rules and strictures, was forbidden to do anything strenuous or that might cause him worry, and the lads his own age were actively discouraged from including him in their activities, which were seen as too rough and dangerous.
For three years as a rebellious teen that had changed, until the fateful day Frodo targeted Maggot’s mushrooms one too many times and got caught with the goods and run off the farm by Maggot’s dogs. After that the strictures were back with a vengeance until Bilbo stepped in and took Frodo as his ward, after which Brendilac seemed to rarely see him, particularly as at the same time his own family had moved to a smial of their own north of Crickhollow. But they still exchanged letters on occasion, and Frodo always sent a small gift at the time of his birthday.
Brendilac had loved Merilinde Goodbody since he was in his late teens, and the two had been looking forward to the time when they would marry for years. But when Merilinde came of age she’d become ill, and had stayed ill for most of three years. No one seemed to know precisely what the problem was, but she could not keep down her food and often suffered from blood loss and weakness. Menegilda had finally been prevailed upon by Bilbo to summon a healer from Bree who had studied diseases of the stomach, and she had suggested a complete change of diet. Finally Merilinde seemed to be responding satisfactorily, and she began to put on weight at last, and her face began to take on color. She and Brendilac began to plan for their wedding, and then suddenly she was ill again.
Now they knew--a growth, one of those which would not respond to draughts or diet.
Frodo stayed with Brendilac that night and through the next day. When at last Brendilac appeared to be ready to talk of plans for the future, Frodo asked, “Do you still love her in spite of knowing she is dying?”
The young lawyer considered for a time, then looked into Frodo’s eyes and said, “Yes.”
“Do you wish to spend what time you can with her as her husband?”
“What about her?”
“I don’t know.”
“Shall we go and ask her, then?”
After speaking with Merilinde, Frodo had next gone to see Master Saradoc and asked him to come to Merilinde’s family’s home to discuss things. Both Brendilac and Merilinde wanted to make the most of what time was given to her, and wished to marry and live as husband and wife. Finally, after much discussion, the small wedding was planned and executed.
She’d lived six months beyond Yule, and had been extremely happy for the time she’d known as Brendilac’s wife. One morning she’d not been able to rise, and by nightfall she’d fallen asleep again, and then slipped away. It had not been easy for Brendilac, but at the same time he had no regrets for having shared that time with her. By that time, he was Frodo’s personal lawyer.
They were not friends as they had been as children or the companions they’d been as members of the same gang of lads as teens, but Brendilac developed a respect and regard for his Baggins cousin that he knew for no one else. Frodo was quite the best and most decent Hobbit the Brandybuck knew, and his discernment toward others was well worth honoring.
Only one thing he seemed incapable of discerning any more, and that was the love offered him by Narcissa Boffin. Why Frodo Baggins ignored this Brendilac simply could not understand, and when he tried to discuss the situation with him Frodo just looked at him as if he could not understand the language Brendilac was using. Something had changed in Frodo since Bilbo left the Shire, something that seemed to make Frodo incapable of knowing the love of a lad for a lass, and it puzzled the lawyer terribly, trying to understand why this was so.
Then came the day when Frodo quietly summoned Brendilac to Hobbiton to meet with him. “I need to make a will, and to write up a bill of sale for Bag End. I also need to make provisions for what might happen if I don’t come back.”
“Come back? Come back from where?”
Frodo looked at him closely. “I have to swear you to secrecy, Brendi. Do you understand?”
This was one of the parts of being a personal lawyer that Brendilac was aware of that had not been asked of him before. “I understand.”
“The only one you can discuss this with will be Oridon, and even then it will be limited strictly to my business partnerships and all, or the execution of my will if I don’t come back.”
Brendilac Brandybuck swore the oath required by those who were to keep their clients’ business strictly confidential. Finally Frodo, having assured that no one was outside the windows or anywhere else around, explained as best he could.
“Bilbo left one--object--for me when he left the Shire that we have learned is dangerous, terribly dangerous. I must take it outside the Shire and give it into the hands of those who will, I hope, know what to do with it to contain the danger it holds. If I remain here with it, there are those who will come seeking for it, and probably soon. They are, I am assured by Gandalf, deadly. I will not risk that for the Shire I love.”
“You believe Gandalf really understands the danger?”
“I am certain. I’ve studied enough under Bilbo and on my own in the years since to know that the danger of this thing cannot be exaggerated.”
“How did Bilbo come by it?”
“He found it in the caverns of the goblins during his travels.”
“Why did he bring it here?”
“It looks terribly innocent. There is nothing to indicate what it really is and how dangerous it is unless you know the one test to prove its nature. Gandalf had to look hard to find that test, but he found it and performed it. There is no question.”
“Can you tell me what it is?”
“No. It would be too dangerous for you to know.”
“Why are you selling Bag End?”
“I have to convince others that I have reason to leave Hobbiton. I’m putting it out that I’ve run out of Bilbo’s treasure and come to the end of my money.”
“No one will believe that.”
“Don’t be so certain, Brendi. People will believe what they want to believe. And there are those who think I have had too much good luck and that it is time for the bad luck to start, and they will be fully glad to believe me poverty stricken at last.”
“Like the Sackville-Bagginses?”
“They aren’t the only ones, you know.”
He had to agree with that statement.
Oridon was also sworn to secrecy, although Brendilac didn’t believe that he was given as much detail as Frodo had given the lawyer. The will was surprisingly simple--if he died or did not return in two years time, everything Frodo now owned was to be left in trust for Fosco and Forsythia Baggins for when they came of age, save for the properties he still owned on Bagshot Row, which were to come under the ownership of the residents. The house that he would purchase with the proceeds of the sale of Bag End would return to the ownership of the previous owner if he failed to return to it in two years time. The next family head for the Bagginses would be Ponto Baggins, and after him Fosco Baggins. All partnerships were to remain in trust for Fosco and Forsythia until they came of age, and the one to guarantee their interests was Saradoc Brandybuck, Master of Brandy Hall, but not unless Frodo failed to return to the Shire within two years of his fiftieth birthday or proof was brought that he was dead.
It was when the time came to write the bill of sale and deed for the sale of Bag End that Brendilac began to wonder about Frodo’s sanity. “You are selling it to whom?”
“Why ever for?”
“I didn’t want to do so--I’d offered it to Ponto and Iris, for I knew if I returned I could purchase it back from them. But Lotho was up here with cash in hand with the amount I’d asked from them, and I couldn’t say no and still look credible as a newly impoverished individual.”
“This is too much, Frodo Baggins. Too much!” With much grumbling, Brendilac finally wrote out the bill of sale and saw the deed signed over to Lotho and Lobelia’s names. Then he went to Michel Delving, after getting the signatures of mother and son, to file it all. It was one of the last proper bills of sale to be filed in the Shire for a year.
As he prepared to leave the Shire, Frodo remembered the last day he spent as a rebellious teen, the day he’d been caught by Farmer Maggot and had been run off the farm by his dogs. After a time all the dogs but one turned around and went back to the farmhouse, once Frodo was past the boundaries of Maggot’s property. One, however, stayed after him. At last Frodo had spotted an abandoned byre and ran toward it, falling as he approached it, twisting his ankle and barely making it inside a former stall and banging closed the door before the dog caught up with him. Frodo had never had much to do with dogs, and was frankly terrified of those belonging to Maggot. He was in a good deal of pain from his ankle, and more from sheer terror. At last he’d pulled back into a corner, weeping with the pain and fear, and hid his head under his arms. He could hear the dog out there, its breathing and its occasional growls every time he made the smallest sound. He knew he would never get back to the Hall, that they’d find his body here after days’ of searching, and the flesh would have been gnawed off his leg bones....
He woke suddenly, realizing he’d slept and was no longer alone in the byre, that someone was speaking to the dog, and the dog was whining. There were thuds of something heavy hitting the wood of the stall wall, then the voice giving direction to the dog, telling it to return to its master, its duty had been fulfilled hours ago. But this was not being said in the Common Tongue. How he was understanding it, he didn’t know.
The sky had been darkening toward dusk, but there was a light in the byre as if someone had brought in a lantern. Now it was coming closer, and a form was leaning over the rail of the stall where he cowered. “What have we here?” asked an amused voice in Westron, and deep grey eyes looked down into Frodo’s. “And what did you do to provoke Master Maggot into setting his beast after you?”
It was a tall figure, but not one Frodo had ever seen before. He was tall and slender, heavily bearded, clad in dusty brown, his eyes distant. He reached out to Frodo, placed his hand on his shoulder, compelled him to stand and come out. Seeing his wince with pain he’d lifted him as easily as a parent lifts a small bairn out of the bath, sat him gently on the edge of a still sturdy manger, knelt to check his ankle. He’d felt the warmth of the stranger’s intent fill his leg as he gently touched it and began to sing, and the pain was relieved, the muscles eased, the swelling diminished.
At last he had risen, and led him out of the byre under the early stars, out to a fallen tree. There they sat, side by side as he shifted his examination to the rest of Frodo. Finally he said quietly, “You were never intended to be a thief, Cormacolindor.” He reached out and took Frodo’s hands, held them palm up on top of his own, examined them. “It was a different purpose that was intended when you were gifted with your Light.” He looked again into Frodo’s eyes. “They mean well, but do it wrongly. You will need other nourishing, other teaching.”
“What do you see when you look at my hand?” he’d asked.
“A gap, intense pain, but it will be relieved. Much will be needed from you, perhaps all you have. I see, however, that the love you will need to have surrounding you will be there, freely given. But such cannot come to one who lives as a thief.”
He examined him again. “A long-contained problem has awakened in you. You need your own people about you now. It is time for you to go home.” The stranger had then risen and walked with him to the river, helped him across in the rowboat he’d left hidden, saw him to the kitchen doors of the smial. Who he was Frodo had no idea, and he never saw him again in Middle Earth—not that he knew of, at least.
He’d not taken part from there on in any raids on farms or pantries, had never taken anything not intended for himself. He’d even gone out of his way to try to recompense those from whom he’d stolen by working secretly on their farms, weeding fields and gardens, preparing cows for milking, cleaning stalls. He’d decided no one would ever be able after that day to call him a thief.