Lyria worked over Brendilac for two hours, and Pippin set kingsfoil to steep for him, singing the invocation he had learned from the King during his time on guard. Lyria was uncertain about using the leaves in her ministrations, but changed her mind as she saw the Brandybuck begin to relax as the pain began to ease. His brains were seriously rattled, and he had a cracked rib, but there was no sign of a punctured lung; he also had, however, serious bruising on his side and chest. She strapped his chest over a poultice to reduce the bruising and swelling, then gave him willowbark and other herbs to ease the pain and further ease the swelling.
The Thain at the same time had sent Reginard to summon Dormo Gravelly and Emro’s brother and sister as well as Gander Proudfoot. By the time Brendi had begun to fall asleep at last, those summoned had arrived, and the Thain began his official inquiry. Bedro, his father, the other Bracegirdle and Ted Sandyman had been placed in an inner bedroom under guard. Emro sat in a chair at the dining room table, being fed mugs of strong tea and slices of dry toast to help with the near stupor. The Thain sat nearby, watching him closely as the last of the Gravellies was shown in by Fosco.
“And what is this one been up to?” asked Delko, Emro’s younger brother who shared in the working of the farm.
“That is what we are here to determine,” Paladin Took said, sighing as he signed for Reginard and Pippin to bring the four from the bedroom.
Dormo Gravelly, family head for the Gravellies, glared at Emro. “I don’t know what’s been done that the Thain himself has to call me away from my luncheon, but it had best be worthwhile. Lavender cooked a ham, and I’m not happy knowing I’ll get little enough of it once the rest of the family takes its share with me gone.”
Emro looked at him out of the corner of his eye, then looked down at the floor.
Reginard stood beside the Thain, his bow and an arrow loosely at the ready, reminding Narcissa strongly of the King’s cousin Lord Hardorn on duty guarding the King or Queen themselves. Pippin and Coridin again herded those from the bedroom into the room, and indicated they were to line up across from where the Thain, Westhall’s headman, the Gravelly family head, Delko and Daylily Gravelly, Narcissa Boffin, and the twins sat. Reginard raised his bow, apparently fully willing to aim it at the four whom Pippin and Coridin had brought into the room, while Pippin now stepped behind the line and stood, also ready to use his weapon if it should prove necessary, while Coridin stood on one end of the line and also watched.
Paladin Took looked at the four opposite him with a growing level of disgust. “I asked to see the marriage contract you had prepared for Bedro and Forsythia, and you were not precisely forthcoming with it, even after I explained I must sign such for it to be valid prior to Forsythia coming of age. Now, do you have such a document, or do you not?”
The others glared at Bigelow, who reluctantly produced it from a pocket. Paladin looked at the folded document with distaste, and carefully opened it out and smoothed it, then read it through. He at last shook his head as he straightened and put it in front of Gander Proudfoot. “Lothario’s writing, definitely, although it reads as if Timono had written it.” He looked at Emro Gravelly. “What on earth convinced you to entertain a marriage between Forsythia and Bedro here?”
Emro looked up at him under his brows, then looked again at his lap. He mumbled something unintelligible. The Took gave an impatient grunt. “You’d best speak up and speak clearly, Emro,” he warned him.
Emro glanced at him again, then looked off toward the kitchen, then looked back. “It was a wager.”
All straightened, and Dormo Gravelly’s expression hardened. “A wager?” the head to the Gravelly family demanded. “How would your daughter’s marriage come to be the result of a wager?”
Again Emro mumbled until Reginard kicked his chair. He glared at the Thain’s escort, but again spoke more clearly. “I’ve lost everything,” he said. “Lilac’s jewelry, the furniture, the smial, the farm, and now Forsythia.”
“Gambling?” asked Gander, shocked.
“Yes, playing at dice. I’d win at first, and then I started to lose. Then I’d win some of it back....”
Reginard gave a deep sigh and shook his head. He looked to the Thain. “Isn’t that why Bigelow had to leave Hardbottle, Paladin, because he had been gambling with weighted dice?”
Emro straightened, his eyes wide with surprise. His brother and sister, however, rounded on him. “You can’t gamble away the farm and the smial!” Daylily shouted. “You don’t own the deed outright, and you know it! You utter, utter fool!”
The Thain was shaking his own head as he stared at Bigelow and his son. He turned to Coridin. “Empty out their pockets, all of them,” he ordered. Coridin gladly pushed first Bigelow forward and emptied out each of his pockets, finding a pair of dice in a trousers’ pocket; then ran his hands over the sleeves of his jacket, smiling with triumph as he dislodged a second pair from a secret pocket sewn into the right one’s cuff, then a third from the left sleeve. Coridin set each pair in front of the Thain deliberately. Experimentally Paladin Took threw each pair four times. The one from the trousers appeared to be true, while the one from the left sleeve fell always on threes while the one from the right sleeve fell repeatedly in double sixes. He passed them on to Dormo Gravelly, who tried each pair once and handed them to Gander. He also tried each once, then set them out in very deliberately separate pairs toward the center of the table.
Having emptied out Bigelow’s pockets, Coridin was now working on Bedro’s. A rather nasty knife was found, along with a necklace and a bracelet. Dormo straightened again, and looked at the Thain. “Well, it appears we have some theft here, then,” he said. “Remember the letter I sent you and Will two weeks past about the theft from Petro and Petunia Gravelly’s home?”
The Thain straightened. “A silver bracelet set with amethysts and a silver necklace to match, both with links shaped like starflowers, an amethyst in the center of each?” he hazarded. Coridin reached across the table to hand these, also, to the Thain, and the two of them examined them closely. At last they looked up at Bedro, whose face had gone very pale. Paladin nodded. “A crooked gambler and a thief we appear to have here, as well as a schemer and a Hobbiton fool.” He looked keenly at Ted Sandyman. “What are you doing here, Sandyman?”
He shrugged uncomfortably. “They said that they might need someone to help make certain as a wedding happened, and asked me to come along.”
“And you came.” Paladin shook his head in regret. He looked to his son, who shrugged and looked back. He looked at the third Bracegirdle. “What do you have to say for yourself, Malco?”
Malco wisely just shrugged and kept his mouth shut. Coridin was invited with a look and a nod of the head to make a clean sweep of it. Malco had only a dog chain in his pockets, other than a few odd coins. Ted started to protest when he was searched, but thought better of it. He had a change purse with a single silver Shire penny in it and a few brasses, and a pen knife that the Thain recognized well enough--long ago he’d given that pen knife to Frodo when he was a lad come to the farm for Paladin’s birthday. Frodo had lost it not long after he came to Bag End, and now Paladin knew where it had disappeared to. He took it and opened it, saw where the name engraved into its blade could still be barely made out, saw that the brass plate which he’d had engraved with FB had been carefully pried off. He looked at it, pathetic evidence of the envy held for Frodo. “Did you take this from Frodo, or did Lotho?” he asked.
Ted tried to brazen it out. “I’ve had it since I was a tad, I have,” he blustered.
“Since you were a teen at the earliest,” Paladin said. “That was when it disappeared from Frodo’s coat pocket while he was swimming. Not that it matters which of you pathetic fools took it, I suppose.”
There was little enough there besides that--some string and a piece of candle, a worn pouch for pipeweed, a pipe and a tinderbox--one which Paladin remembered seeing last in Ponto Baggins’s hands--yes, there was the PB still to be made out on the back of it under the deliberate scratches caused, probably, by someone rubbing it against rough stone or bricks to try to hide the evidence of theft. The little singing bird was still there, though, that Iris had commissioned on the gift she’d had made for her husband. He set the tinderbox beside the pen knife and the jewelry. “Wonder who used to own the pipe?” Paladin commented aloud, and Ted glared at him.
“Well, Emro, it appears your losses are remitted to you, save for any money or goods you might have given into the hands of Bigelow that he’s disposed of. I will have Pippin and a few Shiriffs go through the Bracegirdle house later today to see if there is anything else there that belongs to you. Had you given them any of the items you listed, such as the jewelry?”
“Yes,” Emro said, his eyes, full of hatred, fixed on the two Bracegirdles.
“How much of it was the jewelry that belonged to our real mum?” asked Fosco, his face white. Emro turned on him stupidly. “Frodo told us that Mum had been seen wearing some of the jewelry that was on our real mum’s inventory, and that we could give it to her when we were twenty-five and considered old enough to make such decisions. That jewelry was Forsythia’s, you know.”
Emro looked away again, embarrassed. “All of it was Forsythia’s, now.”
“Yet you gambled with it.”
After a long pause, Emro said, very quietly, “Yes. Yes, I gambled it.”
Paladin looked at the four before him. “Well, it will be no simple matter of you moving elsewhere this time, Bigelow; nor you, Bedro--nor you, Ted. Lothario will be summoned to the Great Smial as soon as we return home to answer his own charges.” He sighed. “I wonder if labor rebuilding the proper mills will get through your stupidity? Or do we need to send you, also, to stand before the King’s Lord Steward?” He looked at his son. “Where is he likely to be at this time, by the way?”
“If he didn’t break his journey at Bree, Lord Halladan will be between there and Lake Evendim.”
The Thain of the Shire sighed. “These four will be allowed to remain in the Lockhole cells used by Timono and his fellows, for now,” he said. “We will have to make a full investigation. Gander, can you summon about three of the Shiriffs to aid Pippin and stand witness for him?” He had a thought and turned to Forsythia. “Have you seen any evidence of things going missing in your folks’ smial? I understand you visit it regularly.”
“I had a feeling someone had been into it the last time I visited eight days ago, but couldn’t be certain.”
“Gander, do you still have the inventory?” Paladin asked.
“Yes, I do, and I’ll send one of the Sandheaver lads out to fetch three of the Shiriffs.” He looked at Emro. “Do you have some rope we can use on these?”
The farmer nodded and rose heavily. He stopped, part way to the door, and half turned. “You going to take the bairns, then?”
Paladin gave him a searching look. “What do you think needs to be done, Emro?”
“I think as I’d best find a smaller hole for me, and let Daylily or Delko have this place. I think I don’t trust my own reasoning any more.” He turned further to look at Bigelow. “I thought as you understood, being a widower yourself,” he said, “and instead I find you was just taking advantage of me. Gonna take everything as I had, and my daughter, too, and use it all up. I ought to have known.” He spat at the floor and left find the rope.
Paladin Took and Gander looked after him with pity, but their look to one another indicated they felt he was right in what he ought to do now. Gander rose and went out to speak to the Sandheaver lads. Dormo looked after him and gave a great sigh. He looked at the other two. “Plain stupid, he was, but I don’t think lasting hurt’s been done. Delko, you need a bigger place, now you have three and a fourth on the way. You think you can hold down the farm here? Maybe let him stay on, like?”
Brother and sister looked to one another, then spoke quietly. At last the two of them looked at their family head and nodded. “Yes,” Delko said. “I think as we could do that. He oughtn’t to be alone, not for a time yet. This is a big shock to him, and to all of us. The bairns’ll keep him involved, and help him get his head straight.” He looked at Fosco and Forsythia. “I hate to make you leave what’s been your home, but it’s time, I think. You is both Bagginses, after all, and not just farmers as we is. You're lettered and all, and have another farm that’ll be yours one day, although you will keep your folks’ shares and Emro’s. But we truly think as it’s time to make the break, to let yourselves be yourselves for a change. Hope you understand.”
Bedro looked at the two of them, and smirked at Fosco’s stricken face. “So, you’ve gotta leave, then? Poor little blind Baggins has to leave Westhall?”
Fosco stood up and moved toward the older Hobbit. “Actually, Beasty, you forget Forsythia and I own our own hole here. Perhaps we will move away, or perhaps we’ll simply stay here and enjoy our own property with a guardian of our own choosing until we come of age. And we retain our interests in the farm here as well. We can even continue to work the farm alongside our aunts and uncles and da if we please and they agree.” He came closer. “Unlike you, we haven’t been found with stolen jewelry or weighted dice in our pockets. You are the one who gets to leave Westhall, you know.” He finally stood in front of Beasty. “You have made yourself unpopular here all your life. You’ve have done your best over the years to make the entire village hate you.”
“You little....” said Bedro, drawing his arm back to strike Fosco--but Fosco was the faster. In a trice Pippin was leaping sideways out of the way and Bedro Bracegirdle, for the second time in his career, was taken by a faster and surer punch than his own and fell backwards, hit the wall, and slid into a sitting position. He looked up blearily, holding onto his stomach.
Fosco looked down at his shape against the wall. “Did I tell you about the lessons my cousin Frodo used to give me, Bedro? He taught me how to fish, how to hunt mushrooms, how to cook over an open fire, and how to dance--and how to throw a telling punch. Oh, and he taught me a few words of Elvish, too. Just thought you might like to know.” He stepped back, rubbing his knuckles.
Pippin smiled at him. “Yes, I can see Frodo taught you well,” he said. He looked up to meet his father’s eyes. “That, sir, was similar to how Tolman Smallburrow was felled, save Tolman was struck on the cheek.”
Gander Proudfoot looked on from the doorway as he paused on his return to the room. “Hate to see beating used on any soul, but that one had it coming to him, and for a very long time. But you did well to stop at the one blow, lad.”
Fosco nodded. “My cousin said the same--try to make it one blow, one blow that counts.”
Daisy and Griffo arrived as the three Bracegirdles and Ted Sandyman were led out of the hole, their hands tied behind them, to be lifted up into the farm’s wagon. Delko and Emro were harnessing Bet and Dot to it, and Emro would be driving it to Michel Delving.
The two from Hobbiton had become worried when the innkeeper had told them that Brendilac hadn’t come back the previous evening, or that morning, either. They’d finally gone to Gander’s house to ask his advice, only to learn from his eldest that he’d been called to the Gravelly’s farm over some kind of trouble out that way. They watched bemused at the four prisoners were tied into place in the wagon. Daisy looked at the Tooks present with interest. “Tooks and Ted Sandyman and Malco Bracegirdle in Westhall? What is this about?”
Pippin smiled. “Da is within, if you would wish to speak with him.”
Intrigued with the further knowledge that the Thain himself was there, they approached the door, where Daylily Gravelly was on her way out. “Have you come about the twins?” she asked. “They are in the dining room with the Thain and Mistress Narcissa.”
“Have you news of Brendilac Bracegirdle?” Daisy asked.
“I’m more than a bit muddled as to what all has happened,” Daylily confessed, “except that those four did their best to cheat my foolish brother out of everything we own, and had him convinced he’d lost everything. The Thain is sorting it out, and has shown how the trick was done. He’s a decent Thain. Go on in, then.”
They proceeded into the house and down the passage, finally entering the dining room. The Thain was sitting at the table, a fresh cup of tea before him, the twins and Narcissa opposite him, the others about the table all involved in a quiet discussion. All paused and looked up as the two from Hobbiton entered, and the Thain smiled up at them.
“It appears we have almost all interested parties present,” he said. “It won’t be official until we take it before Will, of course, but I think we can iron out the details now.”
Griffo examined the party with interest, and said, “First things first--does anyone have news of Brendilac?”
“He’s here in one of the guest rooms, and Lyria Bottomly is with him. Bedro appears to have beaten him last evening, and he’s not in the best of condition. He ought to recover well enough, however.”
Fosco sighed. “Just to Bedro or the whole story?”
All looked to one another. “The whole story,” the Thain decided.
Forsythia began, “Since Mum died Da has been quiet. About two months after she died he began going to the inn twice a week, then after about a month more often. Then he stopped going at all for a time and seemed steadier around here.
“Apparently last summer while we were gone he began going again. When we got home, we found out he was spending most of his time there with Bigelow Bracegirdle, and no one could say why, because before he never seemed to like Bigelow at all. He used to come home always a couple hours after sunset at the latest; now he wasn’t coming home until much later, and he wouldn’t tell us what he was doing.”
“The first few weeks after we got back he was usually pretty happy when he got home, and was full of plans for how he was going to add to the farm and the house and all,” Fosco continued. “But then one night he came home terribly drunk, and he seemed to be scared of something. It got worse for about three nights, and then he came home relieved. He stayed home for about four nights, then started going to the tavern again, especially when we were at Daisy’s.”
“He didn’t want us to go to Daisy’s just before Yule,” Forsythia said. “Was complaining about how much it cost to rent the pony trap from the stable at the Blue Belle, although he’s never complained about it before. Then he told me I wasn’t to bake crumb bread or do a flaming pudding for Yule, and we always have those. Said we couldn’t afford it this year. Then, two days before Yule he came home with everything for the Yule feast, including the fixings to do the flaming pudding and crumb bread and more, and was pretending that what he’d said before was just a joke.”
“We started letting Brendi know what was happening last fall,” Fosco continued. “We were concerned about how Da would be so happy one day and so upset and worried the next. And when he started talking about Sythie marrying we were shocked, and we let Brendi know right away. Da had always told us that we were not to even consider getting married until we came of age, and that he held with Gander there, for Gander won’t agree to marry underage Hobbits unless it’s very special circumstances. But a week ago he came home and announced that Sythie was getting married, and that things were changed around here. We were pretty upset, and we sent another message to Brendi. Then Bigelow and Beasty moved in five days ago, and we realized Beasty was to be the husband. Sythie was insisting that she wouldn’t, so Da locked her in her room and me in mine. Only, we know how to get out of the doors when they are locked--we figured that out when we were still little ones. She took some things and went to Overhill to Cousin Narcissa’s, for we knew she was due home any time. I stayed here and locked myself back into the bedroom so Da wouldn’t realize right away that Forsythia was gone. I heard when Brendi got here, and he was demanding to see any marriage contract, and telling them that it wasn’t valid anyway because Sythie wasn’t of age. Then I realized that Beasty was beating Brendi, and he kicked him, too; then they took him and locked him into Sythie’s room--they’d already realized she was gone. I heard them talking about sending other Bracegirdles to Hobbiton, Bywater, and Overhill to find her and bring her back. When they went outside I was able to get out of my room, open the other door, and get him out of there. It was all I could do to get him out of there and to the hideout, but I was afraid to leave him here. What if Beasty decided to hurt him again?” Forsythia nodded agreement, and went out to the kitchen.
The Thain certainly looked as if this were pretty much what he’d expected to hear. “I think we have enough to go on. Well, Dormo, was it worth missing luncheon for?”
“I’ve a good deal to charge to Bigelow’s account. Who is family head for the Bracegirdles now?”
“Bartolo’s brother Benlo in Hardbottle.”
“Sounds as if he ought to be called to Michel Delving same time as Lothario.”
Paladin and Gander both nodded. The Took looked up as Forsythia came in from the kitchen with a platter of cold meats and cheeses and vegetables and a freshly sliced loaf of bread. Setting them on the table she disappeared back into the kitchen and returned with a tray with a pitcher of ale. Narcissa went to the dresser and brought out plates and mugs and knives and forks and set them out for those who were there.
“I hope,” Forsythia explained, “this helps make up for your missed luncheon.”
Taking a slice of ham upon his plate and cutting himself a bite of it, Dormo smiled. “As excellent as Lavender’s, Forsythia. Your mum was a good teacher.”
Gander looked at the twins with concern. “Do you understand why it would be best if you two were to leave the farm?” he asked.
Fosco and Forsythia looked one another, and Forsythia took her brother’s hand. “We understand,” Fosco said quietly, “but it doesn’t mean we like it, or agree.”
Forsythia sighed. “We can’t remain, Fosco, if others are going to use us to manipulate Da.”
He nodded reluctantly. “I hate this, Sythie.”
“I know.” She looked to the Thain. “Is it true that a dowry isn’t supposed to be used to pay the husband’s debts?”
Gander answered the question, “Of course it’s not supposed to pay the husband’s debts. The dowry is to assist the couple to set up well enough that if something happens to the husband, the wife will remain well provided for. The husband’s debts don’t become the couple’s debts unless the wife has a hand in incurring them.”
“So, first of all I’m too young to marry, even with permission. Then too many people have to sign for me if I marry if I’m between twenty-five and thirty-three for them to have been able to force me to marry Bedro. And finally he couldn’t legally use my dowry to pay his reparations because it doesn’t provide for me, too.”
“Was that the reason for the proposed marriage?”
“Yes, we heard them discussing it before I ran away.”
“Wise lass,” the Thain said with approval.
“Well,” Narcissa said, after several moments of silence, “what do we do now? Can I offer to take them to live with me?”
“Did you read the entire codicil that Frodo wrote?”
“No, Oridon and Brendilac only described it to me briefly.”
“He asked, that if something were to happen to Emro and Lilac, that you be considered as physical guardian first after them, and that I be considered after you.”
Pippin came in at that moment. “They are on their way, Da,” he said. “Emro is driving, and from the expression on his face, I suspect they will keep on until they reach Michel Delving. Now he realizes how they were feeding him drink and manipulating and cheating him, he is very angry.”
“Good, then it will keep him wiser for the next time. Anyone who believes the pronouncements of such as Bigelow Bracegirdle deserves to understand how gullible he’s been.” He looked back at the twins and Narcissa. “So, you are willing to take them on, are you?”
Narcissa nodded, and the twins looked very relieved. “The hole has seemed so empty since Mum died last year,” she said. “It will be good to have some life in there alongside me--that is, of course, if you will agree to come to Overhill. We could move into your parents’ hole here instead--or we could go back and forth some, if you wish.”
The twins looked at one another, then turned back to her. “For now, let’s go to Overhill, then talk to Da and Uncle Delko in a couple months about how we can still feel to be part of the farm,” Fosco suggested.
The Thain smiled. “Sounds as if we have a workable plan.”
“We’ll stay for a few days at least,” Narcissa decided, “until Brendilac is ready to travel and Delko’s family is ready to move in. It will give us the chance to pack and make plans with Delko and Daylily.”
Gander nodded. “That would be best--take care of what needs done while Emro is away and all.”
With agreement all around, the Gravelly family head and Gander rose and prepared to leave. “Glad to see you back, Narcissa,” Gander said. “Seems that Emro and Lilac did teach these some sense, if Sythie came to you.”
The twins saw all out the door, and the Thain and Fosco went into Brendi’s room to consult with Lyria while Narcissa and Forsythia started clearing away. Narcissa found herself looking at the lass beside her, and thought, Well, Frodo, it looks as if you have indeed given me a family. And I find I am glad.