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9
Grief and Relief

Relief and Grief

“How in Middle Earth did this happen?” Iris was wailing as Narcissa Boffin came into Iris and Ponto’s smial. “How on earth did Lotho find out, first, that Frodo had offered to sell Bag End to Ponto and me, and then how did he end up with the deed to our hole as well?”

Ponto and his brother-in-law Milo Burrows were both standing over the chair on which sat Peony, whose face was stark white. “Did you have anything to do with this, Peony,” asked Milo ominously.

“I swear, I didn’t realize anything would happen like this!” Peony whispered. “I only thought Lobelia should know that Frodo was selling Bag End, for she’s waited so long to live there, so very long. And--” Tears were rolling down her face. “Yes, I told her, I told her, and that you were taking out a mortgage on Pippingdale here so you could pay him. How was I to know she’d tell Lotho and he’d not only pay cash for Bag End, but he’d send his lawyer and banker of discretion to convince you that you were getting the money to buy it when it had already been bought, but to write the terms of the mortgage contract the way they did? How was I to know, Iris? How was I to know, Milo? How was I to know that Lotho would do this to cheat you two out of your own home, that he would write the mortgage so that you had to wait a year and a day to pay him back and pay rent on a weekly basis in the meantime? How was I to know I was helping Lotho cheat my own brother?” She was absolutely in shock.

Ponto, himself pale as a sheet, sat down heavily on a kitchen chair. “I should have known better than to tell you, Peony. I should have known you’d tell Lobelia immediately. Why you have always insisted on kissing her feet the way you have since she came to Hobbiton is absolutely beyond me. This is horrible.”

Milo shook his own head. “I have begged you to stay away from her, Peony. I have warned you she will use whatever information you’d give her to hurt others. You’ve seen it time after time, and you’d think you would have learned by now.”

Olo Proudfoot shook his head. “How did Lotho end up with so much money to begin with? Have you any idea how many properties in the area he’s purchased in the last three years? How did he end up with money to pay cash to Frodo?”

“And what is this about Frodo having spent all his money?” demanded Leto Chubbs. “It’s awfully sudden that he has nothing left, when just two months ago he was upgrading the press at Old Winyards. Didn’t appear he was suddenly out of funds then. Has Lotho managed to get his hands on Frodo’s partnership agreements or something?”

Milo shook his head. “I’d like to know why my shares in the Hornblower pipeweed farm are suddenly no good any more, and where all the pipeweed that grew there last season disappeared to?”

“And my Longbottom Leaf?” added Olo. “I’ve always received at least two barrels every year for eighteen years--and this last season I was told that the whole crop was bought up by some unknown individual and sent off, but that my share of the proceeds was less than what I would have paid for two barrels had I bought them outright.”

This was the first realization that the folk of Hobbiton had that the Time of Troubles had begun. Partly through buying property and partnerships at a rapid pace, but increasingly through progressively questionable contracts, bluster, and the threat posed by his sudden acquisition of what had to be recognized as an army of Big Men, Lotho Sackville-Baggins suddenly had made himself the tyrant of the Shire; and anyone foolish enough to speak out against his sudden rise to power was intimidated, openly threatened, and stripped of everything, including dignity. Suddenly previously trustworthy lawyers were presenting contracts that had clauses written into them that required exorbitant interest payments on simple loans; property leases were written in such a manner that the property owners found themselves losing their property altogether as a result of defaulting on promises written into the contract that no one could begin to satisfy; second mortgages caused the deed to pass immediately into the hands of the mortgage holder and rent had to be paid until a future date at which time the loan had to be repaid in full. No one could understand how they could have been foolish enough to sign such agreements; no one could understand how any Hobbit could ever have thought to have written such contracts to begin with.

Lotho found himself very happy with his cousin Timono Bracegirdle and the suggestions made by his not-so-silent partner from the South. Accustomed as they were to contracts which for all their verbosity were nevertheless simple and straightforward, most Hobbits didn’t bother first carefully reading the wording of what they were signing. Now they were finding they were consistently on the losing end in these new contracts. Timono was writing most of the contracts, but Lotho was using a party of more familiar lawyers to actually present them, lawyers who had in many cases been set up by Lotho and Timono in such a way he could blackmail them into cheating good, common Hobbits out of their property and their money, often both at the same time.

Ponto and Iris Baggins found the rent they must pay on their own hole in the next year would add up to three times the amount of money they’d borrowed on it in hopes of purchasing Bag End, and at the end of the year and a day period they would still have to pay the full amount they’d borrowed or they would only have the contract extended automatically another year at an increased rent.

It had been expected that old Bolo Goold would sell the Green Dragon, for his daughters had married lads from the Southfarthing and there were no other kin to run the place. All had thought he was selling it to Rubo, who’d worked for him managing the inn for the past ten years; certainly Rubo thought that. But suddenly Bolo announced he’d sold it to another buyer for cash and left the Westfarthing so rapidly everyone was shocked. When it was closed within a month of Lotho moving into Bag End they were even more shocked. How Lotho had managed to purchase almost every inn and tavern within the Shire with no one the wiser as to who was making the purchases no one could explain; but it was shown to be the case.

Same with the purchases of the majority of the mills in the Shire--they, too, were later shown to have been purchased quietly by Lotho over a period of three years, sometimes apparently under threats of various sorts, but often for amounts that appeared on paper to be substantial until it proved that some of the ancillary promises were in fact empty air.

In the end, it was found that the majority of the contracts presented by Lotho Sackville-Baggins in the last three years of his life were specifically designed to bring him the greatest amount of income while allowing for the least amount of outgo. The only reason why Frodo hadn’t been cheated as well was because he had insisted his own lawyer draw up the bill of sale for Bag End; and even then Frodo had accepted substantially less than Bag End was worth from Lotho--but then he’d accepted what he’d already asked from Ponto and Iris.

So many family heads and so many close to Frodo Baggins, the Thain, or the Master were dispossessed that year, their holes dug out, their houses torn down or burned to the ground, as the greater bulk of their possessions were confiscated in the name of “gathering and sharing.”

Ponto and Iris weren’t forced to move out, but they were forced to pay such exorbitant rent that they were barely surviving. Will Whitfoot was imprisoned early on, and it was the judgment of most that a good part of the reason he was imprisoned was so he wouldn’t have sufficient time to review contracts to see how unfair they were--as well as symbolizing the authority that Lotho wished to flout and appropriate for himself.

Ivy and Narcissa Boffin were not forced out of their home as so many others were, and it was the judgment of many that the reason they were allowed to remain was because Lotho had enjoyed the spectacle of Narcissa following after Frodo for so many years and being totally ignored by him. However, it appeared that their home was a regular stop in the routes of those who “gathered and shared”--their home was targeted at least once every two months. By the time the Travelers returned to the Shire, Narcissa and Ivy had very little left in the way of possessions in their hole, and most of what they were able to hide had been squirreled away by Folco and his mother on the family farm their fathers had once worked together. All their books were hidden, and their better furniture and part of the family jewelry the same.

Part of what had been taken from them was found in the sheds there by Bag End; some was never found, although none of what was still missing was anything that they would need or had much meaning to anyone but Lotho. It appeared that Lotho had the nature of a magpie, liking things that were shiny and bright, while most of the valuable items most Hobbits owned were actually substantial items such as fine furniture that had stood up to generations of Hobbits already and would likely stand up to several generations more ere they finally gave way to the effects of time.

Griffo and Daisy Boffin were not particularly bothered--somehow Lotho had apparently not realized Daisy was Frodo’s first cousin.

Peony Burrows had died, apparently of grief, while Frodo was gone, and Ponto had suffered a severe heart seizure and was unlikely to ever recover properly. Milo and Iris both looked very old as well, although they appeared to be recovering a measure of their native vitality now that hope had been restored.

The investigation into how Lotho Baggins had managed to gain so much property and power so quickly lasted beyond Frodo’s term as deputy Mayor--that Timono Bracegirdle was at the heart of most of the extraordinary contracts that Lotho had negotiated certainly was made plain early on, as were the betrayals of other lawyers which led to their having been blackmailed into presenting the majority of them. Timono Bracegirdle found himself ostracized from his own family, and was taken himself to the former Lockholes where one larger section was made into a prison suite, a far more comfortable and commodious cell than most of those imprisoned under his cousin had known, and there he stayed under special guard while the investigation continued to go on. He at least had a bed with a mattress and proper linens, two comfortable chairs and a small table, a proper privy, and decent meals four times a day--bland food, perhaps, but at least decent amounts and nutritious enough, if not precisely the best in Shire cooking. He had everything but freedom and respect. It was decided in the end he would face the King’s justice.

Frodo had managed to identify those Shiriffs who had abused their authority under Lotho’s rule, and many of them were held under house arrest by their families while consideration went into how they were to be treated after. Some would, it was finally agreed, be sent to stand before the Steward Halladan for final judgment and disposition, for their crimes were such that they could not be forgiven; and the former punishment of banishment from the Shire was now recognized as possibly endangering those outside the Shire, particularly those in the Breelands, should these seek to settle there and continue in their careers. Frodo had demanded reparations from some to be paid to the families who most prominently had suffered from their misdeeds; some were set to labor in repairing roads or working as common laborers on poorer farms or in the quarries for several years as penance for their crimes and to help make up for the damage they’d caused. A few were set to rebuilding the proper water mills that Lotho had torn down, a labor that would keep them busy at this point for at least a decade.

Frodo’s refusal to run for Mayor took the entire Shire by surprise, although those who saw him more frequently were beginning to realize that his health and strength were impaired and possibly even starting to fail.

Narcissa Boffin had been thrilled to hear that Frodo was back, and had heard the initial stories of prisoners freed, his insistence that the captured Big Men be treated humanely until they could be taken to the borders of the Shire, and his appointment as deputy Mayor with a measure of pride that could not be calculated. Her shock when she saw him up close the first time and realized he had been changed and hurt by his experiences was the more profound as a result.

She’d seen him from a distance several times before Midsummer. Then came the day he’d come into the reopened Green Dragon in Bywater and shared a table with her. It was only when he sat with her that she began to see that his physical condition was not particularly good, and learned he was experiencing serious, ongoing problems with his stomach. She didn’t actually see where he’d lost a finger for another three weeks, when she saw him examining restoration on a house that had been seriously damaged by the Big Men and had only just now been repaired. He’d been checking the solidity of restored brickwork around the doorway when she saw the finger was indeed missing and not just folded against the palm of his hand.

She’d seen him frequently through September, and had made certain she was in Hobbiton when he walked into the village square to do his marketing, even ran into him in Bywater on occasion, and once was visiting with her aunt Wisteria and her cousin Folco in Overhill in the house that had been built to replace the family smial when Frodo came to call. Frodo was always polite, but looked at her with compassion, tended to greet her with a level of reserve. She recognized he saw her now as a lass and not just another Hobbit, but that at this point he wasn’t ready to try to sustain a relationship as a lover or husband with anyone, and mourned for him.

He had done some more frequent visiting as the summer progressed and appeared to be approaching reasonable health--and then something happened in October. He’d gone off to Budgeford to see their cousin Freddie Bolger, and came home looking gaunt again. He didn’t stir from Bag End for a couple weeks, and was quiet when he finally emerged and started rejoining the life of Hobbiton once more. It was several weeks before he began to walk into the village regularly again. He’d lost weight and his face had little color. As the winter closed in on the Shire the visits stopped for a time, and he didn’t come down to the Party Field for the Yule bonfire. In February as the weather improved he began to walk out again and looked better, but in mid-March he again seemed to have disappeared into Bag End.

It wasn’t until late in April he came into the village again, and his appearance was noted by all. He walked very slowly, as if he were very old; he was desperately thin; his eyes were haunted. He had new clothing made, in greys and silvers. His trips to the market were now intermittent, and he no longer purchased any meals in the Ivy Bush. He would still tell stories to the children in the Common, but the stories tended to be quiet and short, and often interrupted by periods when he looked off into the distance. He told mostly of Shire happenings now, although one day he told the story of the Dwarf Gimli and the Elf Legolas, whose fathers had not met under the best of circumstances, describing the arguments that were waged between them for weeks, until Legolas saw the greatness of the remains of the ancient Dwarf kingdom of Moria and saw the grief of Gimli as he knelt by his cousin’s tomb and heard the dying records of the attempt to recolonize Khazad-dum once more; and then Gimli saw the beauty of the Elven land of Lothlorien and came to love the Lady Galadriel. As he described how the relationship had changed, how friendship had risen between these two, and how they had forged bonds of mutual assistance between their peoples, Narcissa could see the pride in Frodo’s face.

The children had laughed as he’d recreated some of the earliest arguments, but had grown appreciative as they saw how deeply he respected both and their growing love for one another. When the story was over, Sam had come forward from where he’d been standing at the edge of the audience, smoking his pipe. He’d stowed the pipe and had smiled down at Frodo, who’d accepted his assistance to stand.

Pando Proudfoot had asked, “Mr. Sam, did they really sound like that?”

Sam had laughed. “If anything, he’s making them sound better than they was. The first few weeks they did nothing but bicker, and the words as they’d give each other always had a bite to them, they did. When we was looking for the place where the gates to Moria was hid, Legolas kept on about how only Dwarves would think to hide their doors, and Gimli was growling back about how the Elves had helped hide them and put the opening and closing spells on them and all. The two of them hardly had a decent thing to say to one another up till then. Was nice to have the arguing and all stop once we met the Lady Galadriel. And if Gimli wasn’t took from the first moment as he laid eyes on her!” He’d nodded at the children, asked something softly of Frodo who’d shrugged and smiled, and together they’d walked back toward Bag End, Sam carrying the basket.

Something happened in early June, and suddenly Sam was doing the shopping and looking very worried.

The Free Fair had been a great shock, to see how weak Frodo had become, to see how little reaction he was showing any more. She saw Sam’s tears, heard his admission that Frodo would most likely not live much longer, and had crept away to a corner of the Council Hole to weep.

She saw Frodo watching the dancing, no hint of regret on his face for the fact he wasn’t up there dancing, too. She’d fallen in love with him because of his dancing; now he didn’t dance at all--most likely couldn’t. Then the children found him, and he took a seat as usual on an empty ale barrel and began describing a Man he’d met in Minas Tirith.

“We lived in a guest house in the Sixth Circle, on the opposite side of the level from the Houses of Healing. Mistress Loren, who cared for the house while we stayed there, was shocked when we refused to sleep in the upper rooms, which among Men are usually set aside for bedrooms. I took the library, Sam slept in one of the two parlors, Merry and Pippin slept in the second parlor on the other side of the great day room with its balcony that looked over the parapet of the wall out toward the great fields of the Pelennor where the battle had raged. Gandalf, Legolas, and Gimli had rooms upstairs, and there was a room where the page Lasgon slept, only Mistress Loren slept there the one night a week Lasgon spent with his family.

“One morning I went out into the garden and was standing watching the sun rise over the Ephel Duath when an odd Man appeared, walking along the wall. He wore a great cloth bag over his shoulder and carried a brush in his hand, and he was sweeping the ash off the wall into the bag. The ash had fallen on the city during the dark days when Sauron had forced Mount Doom to pump out great clouds of ash and smoke to darken the sky to make it easier for his troops to march. Trolls, after all, cannot walk under the direct light of the Sun; and most orcs cannot bear her shining, either.

“I watched the Man with interest, and could not imagine what he was doing. He did not see me, so intent was he on seeing and gathering every speck of ash.

“Finally I asked, ‘Has the King set you to clean the grey ash off the walls of the city, then?’ He must have jumped several feet into the air, for he’d not noticed me at all.

“He turned and looked at me, then gave a deep bow. ‘I am Celebrion son of Celebmir, Master Glassblower,’ he told me. ‘I gather the ash from the volcano to add to my glass, for it does wonderful things when mixed with the sand.’ Then he invited me to visit his workshop in the Fourth Circle.

“Never have I seen such glass as he blew from the sand he’d mixed with the ash from Mordor. It shone with many colors--blues, greens, golds, oranges, even pinks.”

The story went on, describing Celebrion’s daughter Linneth and the young Man who loved her, and the beads he bought from her on Market Day in the Fourth Circle, only to bring them to set around her neck on the High Day, when he courted her.

And he described a great bowl he purchased from the glassblower to present to the King before they left the city, of the awe which the King and Queen had shown at its beauty, and how they’d set it on a table in their own quarters and kept it full of fruit. He’d also purchased a strand of the beads, and had given it to Mistress Loren on the day they left the city, in thanks for the caring she’d shown for them.

“It was odd,” he concluded, “to think of the hatred Sauron had shown to all who loved beauty, and how he’d forced the mountain to spew forth such great clouds of ash to support the troops he was sending against Minas Tirith, intent on destroying its majesty and glory from the face of Arda. Only, that very ash was the source of a form of beauty such as I’d never seen before. Sauron did not realize how the product of his hatred would be used to bring such glory into the world, or I doubt he’d have caused the Mountain to spew forth so much of it.”

He then smiled at the children and stood up. There were two in their late teens or early tweens who stood near her, their backs to her, and Frodo had approached them, smiled at them, and they’d followed him as he walked slowly toward the west end of the fairgrounds. Where they disappeared to she had no idea. She’d caught a glimpse of the face of the lad--he looked almost exactly the same as Frodo had looked the day she’d seen him dancing the Husbandmen’s dance behind the ale tent. She was so taken aback by the glimpse of this unknown lad, one whom Frodo appeared to recognize, that she just stood there as the three of them were lost to sight.

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