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The Acceptable Sacrifice
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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62
62: Meetings with Rangers

62: Meetings with Rangers


“Mr. Barliman, sir, you asked me to tell you if any of them Rangers showed up. Well, some just come into the common room. Three of them. Black Glove, the Scribe, and a younger one what has a hound with him.”

Butterbur looked up from his accounts with a feeling of relief. He was a lettered Man, he was, but had to admit he didn’t read as fast as some did; the distraction of knowing some of the mysterious Rangers were once again in his establishment he found welcome. He set the papers on which he’d been figuring inside the account book as he closed it to keep his place, and hurried after Jape the barman back to the common room for the Prancing Pony.

The Rangers tended to favor the corner table. Sure enough, there the three of them sat. Black Glove hadn’t been seen in Bree for about two and a half years; the Scribe had been a frequent visitor for at least the last seven or eight years; the one with the hound by his chair the innkeeper had never seen before. A younger one he was, although Butterbur had seen enough of the Rangers to know that with them folks you couldn’t judge age by looks. According to his father, that Strider had been coming into the Pony on and off for at least sixty years, except for about twenty or so when no one saw him at all; yet he certainly wouldn’t have been taken as over forty by most folks.

Most folks didn’t have a lot of truck with the Rangers, and certainly Butterbur didn’t trust them under ordinary circumstances--not that they were untrustworthy, mind you. Their coin was always good, and they always paid the bill immediately and without complaint, which couldn’t be said for all visitors to the Pony’s common room, not even for a few of the locals. Certainly they were handy to have around if someone tried to start a row of some kind. More than one fight that might have become serious had been stopped by a Ranger. They tended to wear long swords and sharp knives and carried supple bows, and knew how to use them. Let some hothead find the tip of a knife set to his ear or the flat of a sword to his throat with the indication the wielder wasn’t adverse to using the blade, and he’d usually cool down right quick.

But until the last year no one had ever given thought to the possibility that the Rangers were actually good for anything. Last winter all the ones that had been semi-regular customers at the Pony had disappeared, and all of a sudden trouble had poured into the Breelands in the persons of rough strangers from the South who appeared to think they could move in and take over the area. Well, they’d learned that wasn’t so, for the folk of Bree had stood up to them. It had cost some local lives as well as some of the lives of the brigands, but it had been well worth it; except it appeared that those who’d been rebuffed here had only gone as far as the Shire where they’d managed to do rather better for themselves. What exactly had happened in the Shire no one knew, but the rumors of what was going on among the Hobbits there didn’t sound good for the Hobbits.

But the concerns left behind by the troubles and the battle had been costly. The folk of Bree had been left suspicious of strangers as well as fearful there might be more attacks, so gates and doors were now locked, and there were few visitors to the Pony from outside the Breelands. The fact that they’d never had any such problems while the Rangers were still around beyond the time the preceding fall when the four folk from the Shire stopped there for the night was duly noted, and one certainly couldn’t blame those four, as the murderous assault on the Pony had been directly focused on them, after all. After the four Hobbits and Strider left, there’d been more Ranger activity for some weeks and no further problems until the Rangers up and disappeared.

Then the four Shire Hobbits were suddenly back, accompanied not by Strider again but by old Gandalf, and they were speaking comfortable words about changes for the better, and somehow it seemed their visit had managed to infect all of the Breelands once again with hope. They’d said that they’d been accompanied back North from wherever they’d gone by the Rangers and that the Rangers were really the King’s folk and would be resuming their regular guarding of the borders of the Breelands and the Shire once more, not letting any more problems through than could be easily handled by the locals themselves.

But other than rumors of sightings of a few Rangers once more around the edges of the place there’d not as yet been any substantial proof that they’d in fact come back--until now. And, heartened by the Hobbits’ and Gandalf’s reports and the official dispatches that Took had formally presented as messenger for the King (or so he’d said), Butterbur was going to do something he’d never done before--he was going to ask the Rangers who’d showed up here at the Pony tonight some questions.

Barliman and Jape paused at the bar where Jape drew the desired drinks ordered by those who now sat at the corner table, and the two of them exchanged looks before Jape took the mugs up and headed in that direction, followed by his employer. The cost of the drinks already lay on the table as he set the mugs down on it, although at a nod from Butterbur Jape left the coins lying there as he returned to the bar once more; the three Rangers were exchanging bemused looks at that as Barliman pulled another stool up to the table and sat himself down, which earned another round of questioning looks shared before they turned their attention to him.

“I hope you don’t think I’m too forward,” Barliman Butterbur said without further preamble, “but I have a few questions to ask of you.”

The one the folk of Bree called Black Glove, the one who wore his sword on his right rather than his left hip and who never removed that glove he wore on his right hand, appeared to be the most senior of the three, and after subtle motions of deference from the others he answered for them. “Then go ahead, Mr. Butterbur.”

Butterbur took a deep breath. “Where have all of your folk been this year past?”

“Most of us have been fighting on the borders of Angmar and along the Misty Mountains. A goodly party of those of us who used to spend time around here, however, went South to the aid of our Chieftain.”

“What was he doing down there?”

“Fighting the Enemy of us all, Mr. Butterbur, who was attacking Gondor and who would not have stopped there had he been successful in his assaults on that land.”

“Why would he be concerned about Gondor?” Butterbur had heard of Gondor before, of course, but had failed to truly believe in its existence until now.

“As I said, had the Enemy been successful there he’d not have stopped this time but would have rolled North and West from there until he’d managed to once again cover all of Middle Earth with his darkness. Gondor was the last bastion against his envy and malice and hatred of all life.”

“Who’s your chieftain?”

“One you know fairly well from his previous visits here, Mr. Butterbur, the one of us you know as Strider.”

“Where is he now?”

“He’s remaining in Gondor for now, for he must consolidate his power there before he can return to us here in the North, although he plans to come North in a few years that we of Arnor can come together to iron out how we will behave toward one another now that Arnor is once again a realm under his rule.”

“Where have you been these last few years, if you’ll pardon me for asking?”

Black Glove smiled. “Mostly I’ve been stationed in the Northeast, guarding against assaults from the Misty Mountains there and from the folk of Angmar in the North. But for the moment the folk of Angmar have concerns of their own to deal with, and the last assaults from the orcs and trolls of the Misty Mountains fell apart when the Enemy’s weapon was destroyed last spring.”

“Since when have you Rangers been worried about the folk from Angmar or orcs and trolls in the far mountains?”

“We’ve always been worried about them, for the past over three thousand years we’ve dwelt here in what was Arnor, my friend.”

“They said as Strider was King now.”

“Who said such things?”

“Them four Hobbits from the Shire and old Gandalf.”

“They passed through here, did they? Good, although I’d hoped we’d arrive before they came from Rivendell. When?”

“Four-five days ago.”

“Have they returned on to the Shire, then?”

Butterbur nodded. “They stayed two nights here and went on.” He took a deep breath. “There’s trouble in the Shire.”

The others exchanged looks again, now all equally concerned. “What kind of troubles?”

“Have you heard of the troubles we’ve had here?”

“Rumors only that brigands from the South caused some problems but were rebuffed. Will you tell us what truly happened?”

Butterbur told all, and they listened intently. He was asked to name those locals who’d taken part in the attacks and describe the ones who’d come from the South. Then they asked for specifics of what was known to be happening in the Shire, but he could tell them little enough save that it was said to be pretty bad.

“This Chief of theirs put up a gate at the Brandywine Bridge, and few gets in or out o’ the Shire that way without his say-so, it’s said.”

“What of the Thain and the Master and the Mayor? They’d not allow such things, surely.”

“We don’t know, although the few who’ve managed to slip away and hide out here say the Mayor was locked up or something like.”

“You have folk of the Shire hiding out here in Bree? Who are they? May we speak to them?”

It took some time for Bob and Nob to convince the two Shirefolk from Buckleberry who were hiding out at the Appledore place to come to the Pony to speak to Butterbur and his friends, and at first they’d almost bolted when they realized that the ones Butterbur wanted them to speak to were themselves Big Men. But as they saw all signs of sympathy and increasing anger directed at their assailants growing in the eyes of the three Men before them in the private parlor to which they’d been brought, their confidence had grown. They continued to speak in greater detail.

“When did the troubles start?” one of them repeated. “Oh, about a year ago, just after Frodo Baggins and his gardener and his cousins disappeared into the Old Forest. Frodo ought never to have sold Bag End to that Sackville-Baggins cousin of his. Lotho’s been far too above himself for far too long.”

“Above himself?” the other scoffed. “Lotho Sackville-Baggins is far too much above everybody, you ask me. Calling himself Chief Shiriff and all, and throwing the folks out of Bagshot Row as he did. Then doing his best to cut the Tooklands and Buckland off from the rest of the Shire--far, far too above himself.”

“This Lotho Sackville-Baggins--you say he’s related to the Ringbearer?”

“Related to what?” The expressions on the faces of both Hobbits were totally baffled.

“Related to Frodo Baggins.”

“Of course he’s related. Was related closer to old Bilbo, of course, and ought to have been his heir, or his dad ought to have been so, really. But Otho’s been dead some years now; and Bilbo Baggins adopted young Frodo as his heir and all and left it all to him, and the Sackville-Bagginses have never lived down the fury at that, they haven’t.”

“You seem to know a lot about it.”

The two of them looked at one another. “Well, after all, Frodo’s pretty much related to almost everyone in Buckland, Tookland, and the Westfarthing at least, so of course we all know.”

“You’re related to him as well?”

“Yes--we’re Chubbs, my brother and me, and his paternal grandmother was our mother’s second cousin once removed while his mother’s mother’s mother was our Aunt Hattie’s first cousin.”

The Scribe laughed. “Hobbits!” he said admiringly. “They sound just like Captain Peregrin when he’d get started on our way North from Rohan.”

“Peregrin? You mean Peregrin Took? You’ve seen Pippin Took?”

The Scribe nodded. “Yes, he returned North from Gondor with us, and we’re told returned to the Shire a few days ago with Sir Meriadoc, Lord Frodo, and Lord Samwise.”

Lords?” The two Chubbs looked at one another in even more confusion.

The Man laughed. “Yes, Lords Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee. And full worthy of it they are, too.”

The two Chubbs again exchanged disbelieving looks. “I don’t know about that,” one of them said.

Black Glove asked, “Why did you flee the Shire?”

“One of the new Shiriffs was harassing us,” the smaller of the two said. “Some lunk from the far Westfarthing, and a Bracegirdle at that--Bedro Bracegirdle. A bully he is, too. We wanted to start a tailoring shop, and were able to find a silent partner who’d supply the start-up costs, and his banker of discretion suggested that there near the Bridge Inn would be a good place to set up shop, for the old tailor there had died and none of his children had wanted to follow his trade. Got the rent on the place reasonable and all. Then this Bracegirdle comes in, says he’s the Chief’s representative and so he needs a suit worthy of his status. We made it for him, but then he wouldn’t pay us, said the honor of making it for him was enough payment. So we sent a formal complaint to Benlo Bracegirdle, who’s his family head.

“This Bedro, he was furious and started making things hard for us. Got us closed down for two weeks, then would stand outside our shop and refuse to let folks come in to get their clothes or bring things for repairs, then started throwing things through the windows of the shop at night and forcing us to have the glass repaired before we could open up again.

“So we sent another letter to Benlo Bracegirdle, only now Lotho’s Shiriffs had taken over the Quick Post, and they gave the letter to him. Came in threatening us if we tried to embarrass him with his family head again, he did. Then one night our house was set on fire, and the only one anyone saw around the area was Bedro Bracegirdle. Next night the shop is broken into and all our best fabrics were stolen. We found a crudely written note threatening that we’d best clear out or we’d be for the Lockholes, and we rather got the idea we’d best get out before they finished with those gates they were building.”

“Gates?”

“Yes, gates on each end of the Brandywine Bridge.”

The three Men looked to one another. “This is totally against Hobbit nature,” the Scribe commented.

Black Glove nodded. “I know. I’ll have to send a full report to Halladan. Eregion,” he said to the one with the hound, “I’ll write it out and have you take it tomorrow to Halladan at Annúminas.”

“Yes, sir,” the young one said.

The Scribe and Black Glove looked at one another. “Do you think we should investigate further?” the Scribe asked.

Black Glove nodded thoughtfully. “We’ll go to the Bridge Inn tomorrow and ask them to send for the Master. Sir Meriadoc ought to have communicated with his father by now, I would think.”

The Scribe looked at the taller of the two Chubbs. “What of the Mayor and the Thain? I understand from what you’ve said that these Shiriffs and Big Men were set to watch the River once they realized they couldn’t easily get into Buckland any more, but how about everyone else of authority?”

“Lotho’s folks at last report had the Tooklands surrounded, for the Thain wasn’t having anything to do with Lotho and certainly wasn’t going to recognize Lotho’s claims of authority. As for the Mayor, word is Lotho has had him locked up in dungeons he’s made out of the storage tunnels in Michel Delving since sometime last winter.”

Again the Men looked at one another.

*******


Late the next morning the Hobbits on guard at the gate on the Bree end of the Brandywine Bridge looked up with concern as they heard hoofbeats approaching down the West Road. The two archers assigned to the duty by Pippin hid themselves behind shrubs, and the two Bounders set themselves behind the gate where they could be seen between the bars.

Three horsemen approached the Gate from Bree, tall Men, one cloaked in silver, one in grey, and one in green, each with a star holding his cloak closed on his left shoulder, one followed by a large hound. They stopped several feet back and dismounted. The one with the hound held the bridles of the other two Men’s horses, then accepted their sword belts as the two made it plain they were divesting themselves of their weapons before approaching the gate. Finally they came forward, their cloaks flung back and their hands raised to show they were weaponless.

“We come in peace,” said the one who wore a black glove on his right hand. “We are kinsmen of the Lord King Aragorn Elessar, and representatives of his Lord Steward Halladan. We’ve come to investigate reports of incursions by brigands from the South.”

“You’re a bit late for that,” growled one of the two Bounders. “The ruffians have been mostly found out and captured and thrown out of the Shire, and we certainly aren’t going to allow any other Big Men inside our borders for any reasons you can give us.”

“When did this happen?”

“As of three days ago. Mr. Merry suggested his dad set guards here at the gates to make certain that no other ruffians make tries to enter the Shire.”

The other Man who’d come forward smiled. “So,” he said, “Sir Meriadoc is demonstrating what he’s learned of strategy, is he? Excellent! Capable Hobbit as he is, I’d expect no less from him. Are the others in good condition--Master Samwise and Master Frodo and Captain Peregrin?”

“You know of them?”

“I met them while they were at the King’s side in Minas Tirith and accompanied them back through most of Eriador. Are they well?”

“They are said to be well. Frodo’s been made deputy Mayor while Will Whitfoot recovers. Lotho’s folk kept him locked up in a storage hole for months.”

“Frodo is deputy Mayor? Good.”

The one in the black glove looked from one face to the next until he was back at the face of the first guard just inside the gate. “You can call off your archers. Is there any way we may speak with the Master of Buckland or his representative?”

“He’s not available at the moment. He’s making a survey of the damage done to our fields and farms by Lotho’s folks. They fired several of the farms.”

“Where is this Lotho?” asked the Man grimly. “I suspect that the Lord King will wish to question him.”

“He’s dead, apparently. Seems that this Sharkey fellow had him killed.”

The three Men looked at each other in question, then returned their attention to the Bounders. “Sharkey? Who’s that?”

“Biggest ruffian of the bunch. Showed up toward the end of September and took over from Lotho. Vicious soul, he was.”

“Where is he?”

“Dead, we’re told. His Worm creature killed him.”

“Worm?”

“Yes, a pale Man the Travelers called Wormtongue.”

The second Man who’d come forward straightened with surprise. “Gríma Wormtongue came here? The last time he was seen was in the company of the fallen Wizard Saruman!”

The one in the black glove looked at his fellow with concern. “Saruman and Wormtongue? I’ll have a second report to send, then, to Elrond in Rivendell. Gandalf will need to be notified. Saruman, after all, would be his affair.”

“You know that old Wizard Gandalf?”

“Certainly.”

The one holding the horses suddenly said, “Sharkú, Old Man. Black Speech.”

The one with the glove looked over his shoulder and nodded. “Makes sense. After all, Saruman was emulating Mordor and kept and bred orcs.”

The other shuddered. “I hate to say this of any sent originally by the Valar, but Middle Earth is better off without what he’s made of himself.”

The other two Men indicated their agreement.

The one in the black glove looked back to the Bounders. “I still ought to meet with at least the Master. Say a week from today, at noon, here at the Bridge.”

“I’ll promise nothing,” the Bounder said warily. “Who shall I say is asking for a meeting?”

“Lord Gilfileg, cousin to the Lord King Aragorn Elessar, and first lieutenant to the Lord Steward Halladan of Arnor.”

“I’ll tell him, sir,” the Bounder said, and with bows the two who’d come forward reclaimed their swords from the third, and then their horses. The three mounted and turned East once more.

Gilfileg turned to Berevrion. “Pass the word to those who are watching the borders of the Shire--any further Men found being ejected from the Shire or fleeing it I want taken and brought to Bree to be put into the gaol there until Halladan or I can question them. Same for anyone who is seen creeping around the borders of the Breelands.”

“Yes, my Lord. Tell me, Gilfileg, do you think it could be Saruman after all?”

“Who else would this Wormtongue follow?”

Eregion shook his head. “How could a Wizard fall so low?”

Gilfileg sighed. “Remember, Morgoth himself started as one of the greatest of the Valar, and Sauron as one of the greatest of the Maiar. Even beginning as one of those who have seen the face of Iluvatar Himself is not proof against falling.”

*******


A week later a single Ranger approached the gate at the Brandywine Bridge through the rain. He dismounted from his horse, removed the saddle and set it over his shoulder, and looped the reins over a branch. He approached the Bridge. “I am Lord Gilfileg of Arnor, cousin to the Lord King Aragorn Elessar and first lieutenant to his Steward the Lord Halladan,” he said to the single Bounder who could be seen inside the gates. “I asked for a meeting with Master Saradoc of Brandy Hall and Buckland.”

The Bounder examined him closely. “The Master is inside the Bridge Inn and asked I bring you there. Your horse can also be brought in through the gate; there’s an empty shed with a roof high enough to accept it.”

“We were told the Bridge Inn had been closed.”

“We’ve had time to unbar the doors and do some repairs to the roof. There are more repairs which are needed, but at least the common room is intact and large enough to allow meetings outside the Hall.”

The tall Man nodded. “Thank you,” he said.

The gate was opened and he led his horse through it and across the bridge. As some of the vendors who regularly had come to the Bridge Market at certain seasons had been Men and Dwarves, the Bridge Inn had been built with a roof high enough to accommodate its larger guests, and even had boasted rooms with Man-sized beds.

Part of the inn had been pulled down, and there were signs a fire had been put out on the back side near what had probably been the kitchens. He was shown the shed where he led his horse, who shook himself gladly once he was under cover from the rain, obviously happy to be free of it for a time. A tub of water was brought and some hay, and after the Man had his saddle secured and the horse given a brief rub down, he turned to follow the waiting Bounder into the Inn.

A tired-looking Hobbit with thick greying hair sat at a table, his pipe in his hands and a tankard before him. Nearby sat a younger one of early middle years in appearance, also with a tankard before him as well as a couple thick packets of papers. The two of them rose and bowed. “Saradoc Brandybuck, Master of Buckland, at your service,” the older one said.

“Brendilac Brandybuck at your service,” the younger one, who was more slender than the Master, said.

“Gilfileg son of Gilthor, a Lord of Arnor and cousin to the Lord King Aragorn Elessar, and first lieutenant to the Lord Steward Halladan, at the service of you and your family,” the Man responded. The Master indicated a bench, and with a bow of thanks the Man sat on it, noting it was indeed strong enough to support him, if it was on the low side for his stature.

“I’m sorry we don’t have proper accommodations for you, my Lord Gilfileg,” the Master said. “Lotho’s Big Men took everything appropriate for Men for their own use out of the inn when it was closed. We’ve found some of it, but it was so badly used and in such condition it’s best to burn it and start anew.”

Gilfileg nodded. “I can imagine,” he said seriously. “I’d wondered if this was your son, but I see it’s not.”

“No, Brendi is a cousin and nephew of ours. Merry is sweeping the Northfarthing for ruffians with a group of Took archers, although he is due home in a few days, I believe. Brendi has just returned from Bywater and Michel Delving where he’s spent some time with Frodo, and on learning I was to meet with you he asked he be allowed to accompany me, as he was entrusted with some reports to be forwarded to the King and Lord Halladan.”

“From the Lord Frodo? It will be an honor to do so, and I know Aragorn will be glad to receive them. His praise for his friend has been exceedingly high, as is that told me by Halladan. In fact, both wax poetic about all four of your folk.”

“I see.” Master Saradoc looked surprised.

“I was asked by Halladan to inquire as to the well-being of the Lord Frodo.”

Brendilac said carefully, “He appeared well enough when I left him. He is working in the Mayor’s office to sort out all of the legal affairs that went without review and proper filing after the imprisonment of Mayor Whitfoot, and his friend Samwise Gamgee is now traveling about the Shire assessing the physical damage done. Thousands of trees have been cut down and left to die wantonly, and we don’t yet know how many lost their homes.”

“I am told that the one named Lotho is dead.”

“So this Sharkey, this Saruman told them.”

Gilfileg went very still. “So, it was indeed Saruman,” he said. “How far those who were intended to be great do fall when they make the choice of evil.”

“Yes,” the younger Hobbit answered, “Frodo and Merry both recognized him. Frodo told me of the encounter with Saruman and the one they called Wormtongue along the way, there in the wilderness six days this side of where they parted from the King.”

The Man nodded. “Yes, Berevrion has told me of it also, for he was one of those who rode with the party. Berevrion rode with me last week when we approached the gate.” He straightened. “I wished to discuss in more depth how it was this Lotho was able to gather power so quickly once Lord Frodo sold him his family home. How long before he left the Shire did Lord Frodo announce he was doing such a thing?”

By the time the interview was over Saradoc and Brendilac were both feeling drained. But the two of them were beginning to realize that what little they’d been told was true, that the four Travelers had indeed been to Gondor and had done extraordinary things, and that all there held the four of them, and particularly Frodo, in great esteem. Also, the chronology of how Lotho had managed to gain control of so much was now much clearer in the minds of all.

Saradoc said, thinking as he tried to explain, “The first I became aware that Lotho was presenting abnormal contracts and such was shortly before the four of them left. A Brandybuck came to me with a contract for a loan taken out on some of his property, a loan intended to be used to buy a new pair of oxen. It included a clause for improvements to be made to the house. It is usually indicated that if the one taking the loan was already in the process of making a particular improvement at the time he took the loan he is to see it through in a timely manner; or if there is a particular improvement that is needed that he’s put off that he must see it done as soon as possible after the money is received.” The Man nodded his understanding.

“There was such a clause in this one, for the windows to be fitted with new shutters to be painted an unlikely pink color, both shutters and paint to be purchased from families who did such things in distant villages on the West borders of the Shire. The house didn’t need new shutters, it had far better shutters already fitted painted a common green, in fact. But the contract was so written we had to see it done as required.

“I myself sent out swift messengers to the Westfarthing to see to the purchases, only to find the ones who did the construction of the shutters on the one hand and the mixing of the pigments on the other were both ill and dying; a Took who knows about pigments and making of paint had to be summoned to the one family, and a carpenter to assist in the construction of the shutters to help the family of the other see to it the items were finished in time; then they had to have them brought back across the Shire to have them hung in time. We made it only hours before the time period stated, and Lotho’s folk were there to inspect them to be certain the clause had been met precisely at the time set in the contract. But we had the bills of sale and the shutters in place and the colors as specified, and the looks on their faces as they realized that this Brandybuck wouldn’t lose his property were well worth the trouble, I think.

“But similar odd clauses began to be found in many contracts, we learned. Frodo’s cousin Ponto Baggins and his wife Iris almost lost their smial in Hobbiton due to not reading their contract clearly--instead of the usual provision that the money they intended to borrow be repaid over time for up to five years, they learned that their contract was written so that the deed for their own smial against which they were taking the loan passed immediately into Lotho’s hands and they had to pay an exorbitant rent to remain in their own home.”

“I’m told your laws regarding documentation for transfers of property, adoption, wills and such are quite definite and even complicated here in the Shire. There had to be one who was helping to write these contracts in such a manner that the odd clauses and requirements wouldn’t be noticed and yet would be seen as binding.”

“The one who wrote the contract for Ponto and Iris was Timono Bracegirdle, one of Lotho’s cousins. The one for Barodoc’s loan was supposed to be by his family lawyer; but Ando admitted that Lotho already had this other contract written up and that he forced him to present it as if he had written it himself.”

“Then it would be well to forward this information to Lord Frodo as deputy Mayor so he can follow up with the search for others who took part in this Lotho’s conspiracies.”

Gilfileg finally took his leave, explaining he needed to return to Bree so as to be there in the morning when he expected a response from the Lord Steward Halladan on the dispatch he’d forwarded the preceding week. After he was gone Saradoc looked at Brendilac, shaking his head. “Thanks be you were the one who wrote up the bills of sale for Bag End and the Crickhollow house,” he said.

Brendi nodded.

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