Frodo sat at the table in the old cold room, looking across it at Oridon and Brendilac, his hand on the gem at his throat. "I need a final accounting, Oridon, to attach to my will. I must file it--as soon as I can." His face was so very thin and pale, it was obvious he would not remain much longer, and Oridon nodded.
"I’ll give it to you or Brendilac by the end of the week," he said quietly.
Frodo nodded. "And remember to include the matter of the one in the Eastfarthing. Sam is not going to thank me for that one." He turned to Brendilac. "You have the papers for the adoption finished?"
"Yes, I do." He set them down before Frodo, who picked them up and checked through them. "Will is not going to be particularly happy to see that."
"I think--I think he will appreciate it in time." Frodo reached down and picked up the mug he’d brought in with him and drank from it. He set it down again and once again touched the jewel, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. After several moments he finally looked at the two of them again. "I’d certainly never have thought, back when Bilbo was introducing you to me, Oridon, that I’d be coming to this so soon." He shivered.
"Perhaps we ought to have met in your study where it’s warmer," Oridon suggested.
"No, more privacy here."
Brendilac cleared his throat. "It’s quite a different will from the last time."
"Situations have changed. We--we made it only because of him. You cannot believe how much we all owe him. He deserves--deserves more than I--than we can give him. He’ll be good for the Shire. You will see." He again briefly closed his eyes. "I wish the will read on the eighth of October, here in Bag End. Can one of you pick up clothing from Moro and Daisy’s tailoring shop for delivery here that morning?"
Lawyer and banker of discretion looked into one another’s eyes. "Yes, I can," Oridon said, "or I can have Ordo do it for me, actually."
Frodo nodded. "Good." He handed Brendilac a small box tied in ribbon. "This is to be given to him when the will is read, at the official declaration of him as my adopted heir. There are other things there, and they’re all properly marked." He nodded to a number of sealed boxes against the wall. "I’ve--I’ve been preparing them for months, as my health has permitted."
Brendilac sighed. "And have you made arrangements--arrangements for----"
"For my funeral?" Brendilac paled at the blunt words, but nodded gamely. "There will be no need of such."
"You aren’t planning--planning to----"
Frodo laughed, a surprisingly cheerful laugh, though brief. "No. It’s just--just I’m leaving first. They hope I can be helped, but once I go, even--even if they can help me, I won’t be able to return." His eyes became solemn. "It’s as irrevocable as my actual death would be, and there’s always the probability I will die in spite of all. No, if that happens, they will see to the disposal of--of what is left, which I suspect won’t be much."
Brendilac sighed again, and swallowed to keep from weeping. "I see."
"Remember, you are both sworn to secrecy on this, until the eighth."
"Yes, we know."
"Thank you." He again drank from the mug, then looked at it thoughtfully. "Uncle Sara and Aunt Esmeralda will be devastated--but they have already realized----" He didn’t finish. "I wish I could have seen Aragorn once more, just to tell him how much I love him." Again he looked to both of them. "I wanted to thank you both for all you’ve done for me over the years. And please, stand by him."
"Who is family head after you?" asked Oridon.
"What little family remains," Frodo said with a sigh. "Fosco." They nodded, started to stand to leave. "Brendi, can you stay a few moments more?"
"I’ll see myself out," Oridon said, his face pale but set.
"Thanks," Frodo said, rising to accompany him to the doorway. The banker of discretion paused, and then suddenly reached out to embrace his employer. Frodo just closed his eyes and embraced him in return. Oridon finally pulled away and let himself out of the room, closing the door behind him. Brendilac was certain he must be fighting to hold the tears in. Both of them had come to love Frodo Baggins greatly over the years.
Frodo wavered, then came back to the table and sat down heavily in the chair Oridon had just vacated. He clutched at the jewel, then looked into Brendilac’s eyes earnestly. "I have one more favor to ask of you, and it’s not one you are likely to understand. When--when they finally finish the review of what was done, there will undoubtedly be--be a trial of--of Timono and the rest. And I suspect Timono will be sent to Lord Halladan, or perhaps to Minas Tirith itself. Will you please go with them, represent their interests?"
Brendilac Brandybuck looked at his cousin in amazement. "Represent their interests?"
"Most of them--were coerced. They didn’t deserve what Lotho did to them, what is happening now. But Timono--no one else will stand by him, not even the other Bracegirdles. Even he--he needs some support."
"How can you speak of support after he’s betrayed the Shire as he has?"
Frodo was shaking his head. "I--I did worse. I was saved--saved from betraying all of Middle Earth only because I was not alone." He was shivering again, and not just from cold. Brendilac reached forward, pulled Frodo to him, held him close. "Oh, Brendi, I did worse," Frodo whispered in his ear. "Don’t let him stand alone, please, Brendi, for my sake."
Unable to speak further, the Brandybuck lawyer nodded, and felt Frodo’s slight form relax in his arms.
The Council Hole banquet hall was full, but not this time of feasters. The full population of Michel Delving was here, along with most of the denizens of Hobbiton, Bywater, Overhill, and surrounding areas. The Thain and Master sat on either side of Will Whitfoot, their sons, each in his uniform from the outer world, standing behind them, each at attention. At the right hand of the Thain sat Samwise Gamgee, pale but calm and considering, his hands lying folded together on the table before him. To the left of the Master sat his brother Merimac as scribe for the event.
In the center of the room stood those on trial--Timono Bracegirdle, Ted Sandyman, Bedro Bracegirdle, and six other lawyers, eight other former shiriffs, three bankers of discretion, two farmers, ten merchants, the secretaries of three of the pipeweed plantations, and six others who had happily collaborated with Lotho and his Big Men. Standing by them, obviously uncomfortable but bravely doing as his cousin had asked of him, was Brendilac Brandybuck. The Master of Brandy Hall looked at his younger cousin with an air of concern on his face.
"And why are you there, Brendilac?" he asked.
"I was--begged--to stand by these and see to their interests, to make certain that what they did to others was not done to them."
Brendilac stood straighter. "By my former employer," he said quietly.
Master and Thain looked to one another across Will Whitfoot. Sam looked up into Brendilac’s eyes searchingly, and then, the lawyer realized, was giving him a slight nod of approval. Will just looked at him uncomprendingly.
"He asked this of you? He’s done a good number of unexpected things lately, but this is one I’d never have anticipated."
Sam Gamgee looked across the Thain at the Mayor. "He knew as what he was doing, Will," he said quietly. He looked back at the group in the center of the room. "You folk will get far more than what you give others when your Chief was in control. Even you will know you are getting justice."
The questioning began. Five of the six lawyers confessed to having presented contracts they knew to be improper and which were intended to cheat those who signed them of their proper rights, goods, property, and money. In each case they had been set up by Timono Bracegirdle, Lotho Sackville-Baggins, and others and then threatened with exposure if they didn’t comply. Their stories were not all that sordid, were pathetic, really. But each had been trying to hide his misdeeds from everyone else. The sixth tried to excuse his own behavior and blame it all on Timono’s influence and the authority of the Chief, but the facts presented by the lawyer and shiriff who’d investigated his case said differently. He’d enjoyed the exercise in coercion and legal theft, and had profited well by his cooperation. As for Timono....
The influence of the Big Men was examined and questioned thoroughly, the nature of Sharkey investigated. Pippin and Merry were asked to explain his role in the outer world, what his plans had been evaluated as being, how he had been influenced by Sauron, how it appeared he had hoped to take Sauron’s place, if he could only get hold of the Enemy’s weapon.
"That weapon," asked Will, "can anyone get hold of it now?"
Sam answered, softly but with finality, "No. It’s gone, gone for good."
"How do you know for certain?"
Sam just looked at him for some minutes. It was so quiet almost all felt they could hear the watch in Sam’s waistcoat pocket ticking. "I was there, Will," he finally said. "And these here," he added, with a backward gesture to Merry and Pippin in their uniforms, "they serve as witnesses as well. They saw what happened the moment as it hit the fire, the one there on the battlefield, the other from Minas Tirith-although I believe Mr. Merry has a better memory of it."
Again they returned to Timono, and along with the other lawyer the evidence was damning. No matter how much influence the Big Men and Lotho had wielded or what manipulation and advice he’d accepted from Sharkey, in the end he himself had come up with most of the strategies by which Lotho had been able to purchase and swindle control of at least half of the properties to which he held title by the end of his career. What was more, in reviewing contracts he’d negotiated up to six years prior, they had found impropriety after impropriety in the contracts and sales agreements he’d written and presented in the behalf of his family and other clients. No, Timono was into this business up to his neck, and all knew it.
In the end the five lawyers were stripped of their right to serve as such for six years, and they were ordered to pay reparations in their own right to certain specified individuals, usually their own clients to whom they’d presented contracts on Lotho’s behalf. One was made to labor for two years as well, as he’d betrayed more than the expected number of his own clients.
Charges against three of the former shiriffs were finally dropped, although they were given strict warnings against allowing themselves to be manipulated into doing things they knew weren’t right.
Will looked at them sternly, his high voice deeper than usual as he spoke. "You just remember what all our mothers said to us when we did stupid or dangerous or just plain wrong things when we were young: Just because everybody else is doing it is not sufficient reason to do it yourself! If everyone else is climbing trees and leaping out to break their legs or worse, would you do it then?"
Bedro Bracegirdle and two of the other former Shiriffs were made to pay heavy reparations to specific victims. The rest were made to pay reparations and were given varying periods of servitude within the Shire, with the bulk of the money they would ordinarily receive in wages going to the reparations ordered of them.
One of the farmers, two of the merchants, and one of the secretaries were let off, again with warnings. The others and the bankers of discretion were given periods of servitude, and the farmer lost his farm to provide for reparations to be made to those who were forced to labor for him as slaves during the occupation. Ted Sandyman they looked at with disgust.
"You were in collaboration with Lotho and his Big Men," the Thain said, "and you were pleased to serve their will and to spy on your neighbors for them. However, as your own cooperation has robbed you of your proper place in Hobbiton as miller, of your property, and all status, there isn’t much we can see that would serve as proper punishment further to what your own foolishness has done. Your claim for return of the Mill has been dismissed, for you sold it full willingly, then worked there for pay, again full willingly. You also full willingly accepted food and goods you knew had been wrongfully taken from others within the Shire, even though you knew that there were Hobbits about you like Gaffer and Marigold Gamgee and the Widow Rumble who were in true want and yet you did nothing to see to it that their needs were met. The alleged reason for the ‘gathering and sharing,’ after all, was supposed to serve to help those in need." He glared again at Sandyman. "You will further serve one weekend a month the needs of the village headman for Bywater for the rest of your life."
Brendilac here stood for Ted’s interests and questioned the punishment, as it was in stark contrast to those who’d been given two to six year’s servitude for their own actions.
Sam was the one who answered the protest. "For the rest as have been given servitude--they are all far smarter’n Ted Sandyman--smarter and far more capable. They’ll finish their terms and will member as what they did. As for Ted--" he gave Ted a disgusted look, "--as soon as his time is over he’ll do his best for to forget it all, as if he’d done nothing. No, he’ll need constant reminders as to what he’s done, and that it’s a fair sentence."
With the agreement of the rest of the room, including that of several of those who still stood before them, Brendilac withdrew his objection.
Three of the other six collaborators were given seven years’ servitude, while the other three would be sent with Timono and his fellow to stand before the King’s Steward Lord Halladan for final judgment. At last the trial was over, and Timono was escorted back to his cell, and the other four also were taken to prepared cells in the Lockups.
The Lord Halladan sent word he would question the remaining prisoners in Bree. A grange hall on the north side of the village was rented, and on the appointed day Brendilac Brandybuck accompanied the five of them out of the Shire. Meriadoc Brandybuck and three of the Great Smial’s best archers served as guards, and once they crossed the Brandywine Bridge they were joined by four Rangers of Arnor, their swords and bows equally ready to hand. Each bowed to the company surrounding the prisoners, especially to Merry and the Thain and Isumbard Took. They took up positions on the outside of the party, and all rode in quiet to Bree. The five prisoners were taken to the town lock-up for the night, which was in no way as comfortable as they’d known in the Shire, and the next day all were escorted to the grange hall.
Brendilac Brandybuck looked at the tall Man with the grey eyes with deep interest. Here was quite a contrast to those who had served as Sharkey’s Big Men--here was intelligence, keenness of vision and understanding, and a nature that would tolerate no lies. Frodo had told him that the Lord Halladan was himself the King’s cousin; if so, then what must the King be like?
The Steward read through the reports presented him as copies were read aloud by one of his clerks so that none present could be in question as to the charges and findings to date. When all had been read, the Steward questioned how the information had been gathered, how those accused had been treated during the time of the investigations, and how the trial had been conducted. At last he looked at the five before him.
"I must say that the alleged backwater land of the Shire is far more genteel and refined in its treatment of those accused of crimes than the rest of the realm, including the King’s city of Minas Anor itself," he said. "The prison where you were held last night was luxurious compared to what most prisons within Middle Earth are like, and yet you were kept in cells with comfortable beds, tables, and full toilet facilities in your homeland. That is, of course, in stark contrast to what was found by those who released your ‘Chief’s’ prisoners after the Scouring of the Shire." He held out his hand and a letter was placed into it by another clerk, and the writing on it Brendilac recognized as Frodo’s. He read aloud the description of the cell in which Fredegar Bolger had been found, that in which Lobelia Sackville-Baggins had been incarcerated, the ones which had housed Will Whitfoot and Ferdibrand Took and three others. He read of the treatment of those Big Men who had given themselves up, and how they were given medical attention, food, clean water, and decent treatment until they were escorted to the borders of the Shire, then the copy of the interrogation of one of these who had been taken by those Rangers set to watch the borders on their return from the War in the Southlands which confirmed Frodo’s report. He read Frodo’s report of the preliminary findings of the investigation, which had been sent jointly to him and the King.
"And now we have the five of you." He looked at Brendilac. "You are clearly not one of the prisoners," the Steward commented. "Why do you stand by them?"
"It was asked of me that I see to it their own interests were represented."
"This is customary in your land?" asked the Man.
"This whole affair is anything but customary in the Shire," Brendilac said, simply. "I don’t think we have ever had any such situation ever in our history."
"I see," Lord Halladan said. "Then who asked this of you?"
Brendilac again straightened. "My cousin and former client, Frodo Baggins," he said.
The Man nodded. "I ought to have known," he said, sighing. "The Ringbearer himself. Well, as the Lord Frodo has requested this, you will be allowed to stand by them still."
Timono Bracegirdle straightened. "Lord Frodo?" he asked.
"Yes, Lord Frodo Baggins, the Lord Frodo Baggins about whom minstrels from Angmar to Umbar sing, whose deeds are told from Rhun to Harad, as well as within the Undying Lands. His elevation to Lordship has been ratified by all of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth, by Men, Elves, Dwarves, those Halflings who were there, and Ents. He and the Lord Samwise Gamgee are among the most highly praised and honored of individuals of all races within Middle Earth, as is true of Captain Peregrin Took and Sir Meriadoc Brandybuck as well. Do you have any further questions?"
Timono’s face, pale from his long period of incarceration, paled still further. He shook his head. The archers from the Great Smial looked to one another, and then glanced sideways at the Thain and Merry, both of whom raised their chins proudly.
All five were given servitude on the roads of Arnor, Timono and the other lawyer each getting sentences of seven years, the rest five years. "Afterwards, you will be given those wages saved for your use after release, and you will be free to return where you will." He looked at the Thain, asked, "Will they be free to return to the Shire?"
"No, sir, none will be welcome back within the Shire again."
"That is fair enough. You will be allowed to settle here in the Breelands if you choose, or find empty land to settle on if you prefer. However, if any of you ever offer any offense against the health or safety or integrity or possessions of any other soul, you will be retaken and most likely hanged. Do you understand?"
They nodded. Lord Halladan turned to Brendilac Brandybuck. "Do you believe the Ringbearer would approve of this justice?" he asked.
The Brandybuck lawyer nodded slowly and thoughtfully. "Yes, my Lord," he said respectfully, "I think that Frodo would definitely accept this."
The Man gave him a smile that showed his own grief. "Then that is good. I would not wish to disappoint him or my beloved Lord cousin." He stood, and all others stood hastily with him. "You will be taken to your work gangs in the morning. Tonight enjoy the luxuries of Bree, friends." The irony of what he said was lost on none.