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7
7: Heirs and Codicils

7: Heirs and Codicils

“Pearl?”

Pearl Took looked up sideways into the eyes of her husband. He looked as shaken as she herself felt, his face pale and his brow furrowed. “What is it, Bard?”

He stopped and pulled her to one side. “Would you mind going home with Pimmie and Vinca and your parents without me? I mean, I’ll be along—I’m not planning to stay anywhere, mind you. But I wish to speak with Brendilac.”

“About Frodo?”

He gave a solemn nod. “If anyone had tried to tell me four years ago I’d be devastated to hear Frodo Baggins had chosen to leave the Shire forever I’d have looked at them amazed, Pearl. But now—after working alongside him in the Mayor’s office and seeing how deeply he cared for the entire Shire and how—how decent he was----“ Words failed him. Finally he continued, “I know at the Free Fair he looked as if he were already halfway somewhere else; but he looked so much more—solid when we saw him at Budge Hall in late July. I want to ask Brendi what he knew and all.”

Pearl looked at where the rest of those who’d left with them had paused at the end of the lane, looking over their shoulders to ascertain if she and Isumbard were coming or would follow after once they’d finished speaking. She found herself again fighting tears as she looked up into her husband’s face. “I see. He may tell another trained in Shire law what he wouldn’t the rest of us, I suppose. Or is he still held by his oath, do you think?”

Bard shrugged. He helped write many of the documents and contracts and so on for the Thain’s business and for many of his relatives within the Great Smial. As he did very little for any living outside the Tooklands, he’d never been required to take the oath himself, for among Tooks there were almost no secrets, such things proving almost impossible to keep in such a tight-knit clan. “I’d just like—I’d like to understand a bit better, is all.”

She nodded. “I’ll be all right with the rest of the family. We’ll probably remain at the Green Dragon until Mum and Da join us. If you decide not to return home tonight, just send a message, though.”

He nodded, leaned down and kissed her gently, then patted her shoulder and nodded toward those waiting patiently at the end of the lane. He watched after her until she joined the rest and they turned toward Bywater with a few scattered looks toward him; then he turned back to Bag End and sat down on the bench outside the door, taking out his pipe and wallet for leaf and his striker, preparing to wait until the more private talk among Frodo’s nearest and dearest was finished.

Oridon and Ordo Goodbody were the next to leave the smial, followed closely by the Cottons and Gamgees and their families. The Proudfoots and Daddy Twofoot had already left with Missus Rumble and the Chubbs. The Baggins and Boffin relations had been among the first to leave. Now only a few remained with Brendi to speak with the new Master and Mistress of Bag End.

Bard remembered the first day he worked with Frodo in Michel Delving, and pausing outside the door to the Mayor’s office to hear Sam Gamgee insisting Frodo accept his medicinal tea. The servant’s address had still been there in part—indeed it lingered to this day, even with Frodo gone; the servant’s manners were no longer even pretended at. At the birthday of Sam Gamgee, which had also served as a housewarming for the return of the rightful Master to Bag End, there had been no patronization of Sam by Frodo, Merry, or Pippin; and when Sam spoke all had listened respectfully. Again at Sam and Rosie’s wedding the equality was obvious between Sam and Frodo; Frodo had not only publically announced Sam's rank in the outer world (not that many realized this wasn't a strange private joke between Frodo and his gardener), but he'd even withdrawn for a time, apparently so that he not draw attention unduly from his friend, whose day that had been.

And today the gardener had been officially elevated to the status of landholder and Master of the most prestigious home outside the Great Smial and Brandy Hall. There would be those who would take offense at this turn of events, Bard knew. Knowing the great respect Frodo himself had held for Samwise Gamgee, Isumbard Took had determined he would do all he could to support Sam however he was able; and felt he could best learn how this might be done by consulting with Frodo’s lawyer. That and learning more about Frodo and his decision were his main reasons for lingering as he had. Now, if he could only be certain Brendi would talk.

At last Marigold Gamgee returned with little Elanor in her arms. Not long after, Brendilac Brandybuck came out, carrying a large box. The Took coach was now coming up the lane, ready to take on the Thain and his Lady and those bequests Frodo had made specifically to the Tooks of the Great Smial; Brendi found himself forced to step aside and wait before he would be able to continue on into Hobbiton to the Ivy Bush.

Bard looked at the coach, then at the lawyer. “Do you feel like escaping out of the side gate?” he suggested.

In moments the two of them had done just that and were making their way as rapidly toward the Ivy Bush as Brendi could go carrying his box. As they walked Bard asked, “Is that Frodo’s bequest to you?”

The Brandybuck nodded, then after a moment added, “I’d certainly not expected Frodo to leave me anything.”

“Why not?” the Took asked him. “Haven’t you known him much of your life?”

It was a moment before Brendi gave a nod in reply. “Yes. His family was visiting Brandy Hall when I was born in November after he was born in September. We’d play together after his family moved to Buckland, and would have done so more after his folks died had he been allowed.”

“Why wasn’t it allowed?” The comment had roused Bard’s curiosity.

Brendi shrugged as well as he might while carrying the box. “We never really knew why Frodo wasn’t allowed to play with the rest of us a lot of the time. But if it looked as if we were planning anything particularly rough at all Menegilda would make certain Frodo was removed from our company. I never understood why. Many of the lads were convinced he was sickly or something and made fun of him, or sought to make him the butt of their pranks—or at least at first they did.

“However, he became very good at retaliation for simple pranks. Even then he showed a fine mind for detail and planning—and appreciation of Hobbit nature. Boridoc once slipped into Frodo’s room and put glue on one edge of the book Frodo had been reading lately; he woke to find his room filled with rats in cages, and a similar cage in the room of each of his sisters, his aunts, his female cousins, and the lass he at the time was head over heels about. These cages were constructed of twigs tied together—rather ingenious, really. And, being made of twigs it was relatively easy for the rats to chew themselves out of them. There were rats all down that wing of the Hall, and of course Bori was blamed. They thought the other rats were intended to go into his friends’ sisters’ quarters. As Bori had let rats and mice loose in their rooms before it was easier for the grownups to believe he was at fault this time, too. Also, Bori wouldn’t tell them what he’d been doing that week during his free time.

“At the time, all of the traps set for rats and mice in the cellars and pantries and the glass house and stable for Brandy Hall disappeared for a time, as did most of the cats, while the terriers all seemed to be terribly sleepy for better than a week. In all Frodo must have managed to capture close to thirty rats for that one; and his hands had gouges on them from working with the twigs from which he made the cages. I never did find out where he kept them while he caught enough, although I learned he’d kept the cats in the old mill building, letting them go only after he placed the cages. They were all rather fat when they returned home, really, for Frodo had fed them well. He’d got the idea for how to construct the cages apparently from helping with old Jessup’s fishing weir on the river. Frodo pilfered Jessup’s weir all the week he was capturing the rats, and was feeding the fish he took to the cats; and he found out an herb that would make the terriers sleepy and was mixing it with minced lamb and feeding it to the dogs twice a day. I’m not certain how he managed that, for he never really did like dogs, you know.

“Believe me, after that one Bori never again tried any pranks on Frodo Baggins.”

Bard’s eyebrows lifted at the ingeniousness of the retaliation. “How did you find out Frodo had done it?”

“Well, you see, he had me help gather the twigs and cut them to size, although he constructed the cages himself. Of course I recognized who must have made them. And he asked me to let the cats out of the mill, as at the time Bori and his closest friends were watching him closely, trying to figure out how he’d done it. They knew what Bori had really been doing that week, of course.”

“What had he been doing?”

“He and his friends had been spying on the lasses from hiding, and had even stolen some of their clothes while they were swimming in the river. We all knew he had Merilinde’s undergarments. Merilinde never spoke to him again after that one and the rat in her room.”

Bard was laughing out loud. “I never knew,” he said when at last he got control of himself, “that Frodo was all that ingenious.”

“You never plundered the fields, gardens, glasshouses, smoke houses, dairies, and mushroom patches of the Marish at his side, Bard,” Brendi said, his own expression lightening. “He’d think up the most interesting ways of getting the farmers out of the way so we could get in and do a right job of it. There was one time when he decided we’d go after the Brownloam’s carrot crop. Polo Brownloam had three daughters, but no sons; and he was certain all the lads were out to despoil the lasses. Of course, no one gave them much of a look, for first they were quite young yet, and second, they were each built like a wagon. None of us lads were the least interested in them. But he was certain we were spying on them and pawing at them behind the barn, and was always threatening us. Now, I ask you, if you could spy on Merilinde, would you wish to spy on one of the Brownloam lasses?

“The Brownloams had been to the Hall attending a wedding, and Polo was talking about how all us lads were after his daughters, and Frodo had enough of his talk. Now, Polo’d always grown excellent carrots, and they’d always won prizes at the Free Fair for their size and quality, and that was another of Polo Brownloam’s vanities. So Frodo wrote a letter and enclosed it in a letter he was sending to Freddy Bolger, and asked Freddy to put his dad’s seal on it and send it through the Quick Post to Polo’s. It made it look as if Odovacar was interested in buying a goodly number of carrots for his upcoming birthday party, and asked Polo to bring some samples and meet him at Waymeet to discuss the matter.

“Well, on the proper day Polo dressed himself and his family all up especially well and headed out for Waymeet, and sat there all day and that night, only realizing he’d been tricked the next morning. They came home to find the best carrots they’d grown that year had all been harvested.”

He laughed, then his face saddened again. “We’d hide our excess in Fred Oldbuck’s parents’ shop in the hidden bolt holes and all. Fred’s parents never used them, but Fred had found them all out, of course. Frodo remembered where they were, and had them searched when he was deputy Mayor. Marco Smallburrow had a goodly amount of goods that he’d claimed as his share of the ‘gathering and sharing’ hidden there, taking advantage of Fred being his brother-in-law.”

They were now near the Ivy Bush. Isumbard opened the door so Brendi could go in. Timmins sat on the stool behind the counter, his face still pale, looking through the small book of tales that had been Frodo Baggins’s bequest to him. Mags had received a book of recipes by Dwarves and Elves, one Frodo had once copied out for his Aunt Menegilda and which had been given back to him as a keepsake after Gilda’s death. Bard could see where she sat at one of the tables, going through it, her face pale. She looked up as the two lawyers entered. She sighed. “Knew as he wasn’t right well and losin’ weight, once he got back. Always wanted to feed him up again,” she said sadly. “Don’t know as where it was he went when he left the Shire or what he done, but it seems it was fearful. But no Hobbit deserves to look as he done, to lose so much.” She looked at Brendi closely. “Was he truly dyin’, Mr. Brandybuck, sir?”

Brendi shrugged simply, again as well as he could, as he set the box down on one of the tables. Finally he looked at her, his own face still. “He was close to doing so, Missus Broadbelt. But I suspect he’s finally beginning to feel better now. He’s been with them since the twenty-second, after all.”

“He shouldn’t ought to of had to go away to get better,” she said fiercely.

Brendi sighed, his posture almost stiffly erect. “Perhaps not, Missus Broadbelt, but the fact remains that all that could be done for him here was being done, and it simply wasn’t enough. He was so badly hurt, you see.”

“He ought to of stayed at home instead of goin’ off outside the Shire three years ago, I think.”

Bard responded, “If he had stayed, we would’ve known worse than Lotho’s Big Men, Mags. He was doing his best to protect all of us as he could, and he did a fine job of it—a finer job of it than we ever realized. He’s honored by the King himself for what he did.”

“How you know that—that the King hisself honors Frodo Baggins?” Timmins demanded.

“I’ve seen the letters he sent to the Thain about the Lord Frodo Baggins and the Lord Samwise Gamgee and how they are honored throughout the lands of Men, Elves, and Dwarves for their service to all of Middle Earth. That first summer after the Time of Troubles, were you there at the Free Fair when the Elves sang?”

“Yes,” Timmins admitted. “What of it?”

“That song was written specifically in honor of Frodo and Sam and how they almost died to save all of Middle Earth. We would have known so much worse than bully-boys and ruffians had they failed in their task. It’s likely the Shire would have been burnt to the ground and its fields ruined and the survivors enslaved forever had they not done what they did.”

Will Whitfoot entered from the back. “I have my trap ready,” he said. He tossed the stabling fee onto the counter. “Thanks to both of you for all you did today.” He looked at Brendi. “You said you were coming with me?”

Bard caught the Mayor’s attention. “Would you mind if I accompany the two of you also?” he asked. “I was wanting to speak a bit further with Brendi here.”

Will shrugged and looked at the Brandybuck lawyer. “If it’s all right by him.”

At Brendi’s nod they all smiled at one another. Brendi went on to his room to get his things while Bard said, “I’ll be back shortly with my pony.” At Will’s nod he hurried off back toward Bywater, and saw Hildibrand headed his way with Bard’s pony in tow, already saddled.

“Pearl suggested you might appreciate having Dirgo brought to you,” Hillie said with a brief lightening of his grief.

“Thank you,” Bard said. “I should be there fairly late this evening.”

Soon he was back at the Ivy Bush and turning Dirgo to travel alongside Brendi on his mare, Thrush. For a time they rode in silence. Finally he asked, “Where’s the box?”

Brendi nodded at Will’s trap. “Will offered to carry it for now, alongside the box for his family.”

Bard nodded. Then, after a brief quiet he asked, “How much did he ever tell you?”

“Most of it, I think. About the Ring and the reason why they allowed a Hobbit to carry It instead of one of the great Elves or the King taking It. About how he felt like a failure because at the last It took him and he couldn’t stop It, and found himself contemplating how he should kill Sam. About how his finger was bitten off….”

Bard looked at him in shock. “His finger was bitten off?”

Brendi nodded. “By that Gollum Bilbo used to speak of. He tried to take the Ring back from Frodo, biting Frodo’s finger off to get It, and then fell into the fire himself. Which was another thing Frodo felt guilty about.”

“When did he start thinking he was dying?”

“When do you mean? During the trip or after he came back? He almost died several times out there, you see. Said he was shocked to wake up after he and Sam were rescued and the Ring was destroyed and found they were still alive. I think he was more than a bit disappointed about it, in fact.” Then, looking into Bard’s eyes, the Bucklander added, “He didn’t think he’d ever come back, once he’d accepted the burden of taking It to Mordor for Its destruction. Part of why he left the others, to try to give them a chance to survive.”

Bard thought on this for a time. “But Sam wouldn’t let him go on alone?” he asked. At Brendi’s nod he asked, “Did Frodo write a will before?”

Brendi again nodded. “A much simpler one. Left the bulk of his estate to his young cousins Fosco and Forsythia Baggins. They’re the children of his Uncle Dudo by his second marriage to Emerald Boffin.”

“Yes, Everard and Paladin have told me of them.”

Brendi indicated he understood. “That time he still left the smials on the Row to those who lived there. A few personal bequests. Left the vineyard and press to Lotho and Lobelia. Named Ponto to follow after him as family head.”

“But then he came back.”

“Yes, he came back, and it was all changed. He felt Sam was the real hero of the trip to Mordor, and wanted the whole Shire to realize just how wise Sam is, so he made certain Sam inherited Bag End.”

“Why didn’t he leave it to these younger cousins this time?”

“I asked him that. He reminded me they’re already going to inherit Daisy and Griffo’s smial and the farm as well as the hole belonging to their parents in Westhall and their foster parents’ portion of the Gravelly farm and their folks’ farm shares. Said they didn’t need Bag End as well. As it is they inherit Frodo’s holdings in Gondor and Arnor as well as his title.”

Bard again was surprised. “What holdings?”

Brendi smiled. “Well, he and Sam were named Lords of the realm, and were awarded lands whose deeds and incomes are granted to them. Sam will undoubtedly leave his title and lands to his primary heir, while Frodo left his title to young Fosco. Said Sam certainly didn’t need two titles and such grants.”

“To go back to a former subject, when did Frodo realize, once he was back here in the Shire, that if he stayed he would most likely die?”

The Bucklander shook his head. “I’m not certain, but I suspect by May. Sam was beginning to despair then, I think.”

“There are going to be quite a few who won’t understand why Frodo adopted Sam.”

“Frodo knew that, and didn’t care any longer.” Then after a moment Brendi added, “He’d actually transferred title before he left the Shire, you see. Asked Sam if he had a coin, and when Sam gave it to him he gave him a model house in token of the fact he’d just purchased Bag End for it. The coin was in the envelope I gave him.”

Bard thought on this for a time. “Wasn’t taking any chances, was he?”

“That’s right. Coin and adoption as heir and will. Wasn’t going to allow anyone to question the fact he intended Sam and Rosie receive title to Bag End. Although he didn’t tell Sam outright what he was doing at the time.”

“So,” the Took said, “he probably knew from last spring he was not going to last.”

Brendi nodded.

“And he probably knew before he visited the Great Smial and had that fight with Pal and Lanti.”

“Yes.”

“I saw him that night—afterwards. He was in a great deal of pain at the time.”

Brendi looked at him with interest. “Was he really?”

“White with it. Next morning he was much better, although he didn’t eat a great deal. Then at the Free Fair—did you go?”

“No, I didn’t. Had a death of one of my clients in the Southfarthing and business pertaining to that. What was he like then?”

“Pale and ghostly, he was. Hadn’t worn a jacket that day, just older pants and a fairly decent shirt and vest. His appearance shocked Pearl.”

“Yes, I suppose it would have.”

“Then he was at Odovacar’s birthday party and seemed to be fine, although I suppose he wasn’t, not really. Insisted Merry tell about how the song the Elves sang the previous year was written. He, Merry, and Pippin were all exchanging looks throughout the story, although he wouldn’t let Merry tell us that it was about him and Sam, that he and Sam were the Cormacolindor--the Ringbearers. Ferdi had it all figured out, though. Apparently Frodo had told him a bit about carrying the Ring and trying to destroy it.”

He gave a great sigh. “That last time Pippin was home—Brand was asking him more about the song and what and who it was about and all, and Pippin still was reluctant to admit it was written to honor the two of them. Afterwards Ferdi was almost ready to give up on us altogether because we just couldn’t seem to get it, that Frodo and Sam were the Ringbearers.”

“The Thain and Eglantine appear to finally have come to accept that Pippin needs to be treated as an adult, at least,” Brendi noted. “That was one of the issues that was bothering Frodo most—that and getting Merry to talk with Sara and Esme.”

Bard examined Brendi. “How are you doing with all this, though. You appear to be as much in grief as the rest of us.”

Brendi sighed, looking off the direction they were traveling. Finally he said, “I suppose I am. No one has ever really thought of me in terms of my friendship with my cousin Frodo before, because, after all, his strongest relationships were always with Merry, Pippin, Sam, Folco, and Freddy. I mean, they’re the ones who always visited him, you know.”

He glanced at Bard, then looked back at Will’s trap. “Yet Frodo’s always been my best friend, although I never felt I reciprocated all I ought to do. He’d visit with me every time he came to Buckland, although I almost never came here to the Westfarthing to see him after the Party. When we learned Merilinde was dying, he’s the one who asked all of us, ‘What will make you happiest?’ It’s because of him we decided to marry anyway for what time we could have together. He stood by me while I dealt with the fact the lass I loved most was dying, he saw to it we married, he stood up for me at our wedding, he stood by me during our marriage, and he saw to it we did indeed live as husband and wife, and he stood by me afterwards. He took me on as his personal lawyer and helped me get my start.

“He was always there for me, but I didn’t do much to be there for him until after he came back from almost dying himself.” He sighed deeply, and a tear fell. “At least I did my best to see him when I could once he got back.”

Bard looked at him, then turned his gaze somewhere between his pony’s ears. “At least you had a friendship already. I was so jealous of him during the years he and Pearl were so in love, and I felt so triumphant when she threw him over; although do you know I still don’t know why?”

Brendi’s eyebrows rose at that. “She’s still not told you?” he asked.

The Took shook his head. “I’ll tell you this, though,” he said at length, “she’s never indicated she ever wished she’d married him instead of me.”

“That’s something,” Brendi agreed. After a time he said, “So, although you had reason to not see eye to eye before, once he came back you became friends?”

Bard nodded. “Working with him when he was younger than me rankled at first—or it did until I realized just how good he was. I swear he knows more about the Shire than the Thain does—has traveled almost the entire place. He knows what kinds of crops grow where and what families are clustered in which areas. He can talk to the folk each as he or she is able to hear. It’s almost impossible to lie to him—even when he wants to believe you he won’t if you lie to him. Had a property dispute near Westhall—he even knew where the property markers would be found in spite of a stream changing its bed and covering one of them over.

“Working with him I learned so much about how to examine things. We had to teach him to understand the language of the legal papers he was reading; but once he learned that he’d be the first to spot irregularities and understand the implications of changing just a word or two. I suppose a lot of that comes from the years he’s spent translating Elvish—the recognition as to how apparently minor changes can change meaning.

“At first we didn’t understand why he’d changed so, and why he ate so little. To learn it was due to not eating properly for so long during their journey damaging his digestion was a shock. He would admit so rarely how ill he’d been, much less how ill he might be.”

“Did he speak much of what he experienced out there?”

“No, barely anything, except how much he liked this one or that of the people he’d met. One day I’m going to meet this King Elessar of theirs, you know. He appears to be a marvelous individual. All four of them just light up when they speak of him.”

“Yes, he does sound to be a wonder,” Brendi admitted. “I saw a couple drawings Frodo did of him—very alert and competent. And his wife is remarkably beautiful. I can see why Frodo was drawn to her.”

Bard straightened with interest. “Frodo was drawn to our Queen?” he asked.

“Indeed so,” Brendi affirmed. “He told me that he found Queen Arwen, the Lady Éowyn, and a young lady he met in Minas Tirith to be among the most beautiful women he’s ever seen anywhere. That he could still find himself drawn to Narcissa Boffin in spite of that competition I found heartening.”

“Frodo was drawn also to Narcissa Boffin?” Bard was even more surprised. “I know she’s been fascinated by him for years….”

“From the same time Pearl was first drawn to him,” Brendi agreed. “Except Narcissa never would have dreamed of throwing him over—never!”

“How do you know Frodo was drawn to her in return?”

Brendi smiled, not certain what he should tell the Took lawyer. Finally he temporized somewhat, feeling that Frodo ought to be allowed to retain his privacy over the drawings he’d done of Narcissa Boffin. “Let me simply say that Frodo at last, now that he no longer carried Sauron’s Ring, finally began to respond once more to the affection he saw she held for him. However,” and his face again grew sad, “considering how he recognized his own health had been impaired, he never felt free to return her regard openly, and in the end realized the time had come he must either accept the grace offered him or die.”

Bard looked at him seriously. “He encouraged you to marry Merilinde for what time was given her, or so you’ve said?” At Brendi’s solemn nod he continued, “Then why didn’t he follow his own advice?”

Brendi shrugged and again looked down the road they traveled. “What can I say? He was Frodo, after all, and a bundle of contradictions. Vain and humble at the same time; intelligent and more foolish than I can say. To be the one to receive rather than the one to show compassion would be terribly difficult for him, I think.”

“But isn’t that basically what he’s been doing since he left the Mayor’s office, Brendi? Mostly he’s stayed hidden in Hobbiton and Bag End, from what I can tell being tended to by Sam Gamgee and his wife.”

“It’s one thing, I think, to accept compassion from someone who’s walked into the shadows of the greatest horrors you can imagine alongside you, Bard; quite a different thing to accept it from those who’ve never forgotten having to change your nappies or who only admire you for your dancing and your home.”

“Don’t quite understand what you mean by that, Brandybuck.”

The Bucklander looked back at the Took. “Don’t forget that two walked to Mordor together, went through it together, and were brought out of it together. Samwise Gamgee has seen Frodo at his greatest and his worst, and he honors him for it all. But for the rest of us—we can’t begin to imagine, most of us, what it was like for Frodo there. He really wanted to forget it and return to a normal life again, but found he couldn’t—he’d been too deeply scarred by what he went through. But to open up and allow others to do more than have glimpses of that horror….”

Brendi stretched as he took a deep breath. “Sam has known it all, and Merry and Pippin have a fair idea what Frodo went through, considering what they experienced on their own. But for those of us who stayed here, not even experiencing the terrors of the Time of Troubles is quite enough to fully understand what he felt and saw and endured. And to open up to accept a wife who has never seen anything of what he experienced—he apparently couldn’t imagine it.

“One of the last times I saw him he commented he wished he had courted Narcissa and was chiding himself for his own vanity. But I don’t know that he could have found the—the intimacy needed for a good marriage easy to achieve. There would always be a part of Frodo Baggins held apart, the scars protected, if you will. He even tried to hide so much from Sam, a fact Sam recognizes.

After a few minutes Bard murmured, “His scars protected. Yes, I can see that in Frodo Baggins.” Again he went quiet, then commented, “I want to know more, Brendi. I want to understand as best I can.”

Brendi shrugged again. “Ask Sam to let you read Frodo’s book, although it may take a time before it’s available. He’s not read it himself, and then the Thain has asked for permission to read it as well.”

“I doubt Sam will let too much time go by before he allows Paladin to read it. I may sneak it away while it’s at the Great Smial to read it for myself. Is it very long?”

Brendi nodded. “From what I could tell it was indeed pretty long, looking at it in his study. Sam read a bit of what Frodo had written for it but hadn’t copied into it as yet after the rest of you left. Told of the journey to the Grey Havens, although it was very simple narrative without a great deal of detail. Sam said it was almost exactly what happened, and that apparently Frodo had foreseen what would happen and be said.”

“Did Frodo talk much on the journey?”

Brendi shook his head. “Apparently after the first he barely spoke at all.”

Bard sighed.

They remained quiet for most of the rest of the way, until they arrived finally in Michel Delving. They left their mounts at the stable and walked across the square to the Council Hole together. Together Will and Brendi went through the documents that needed now to be filed, and discussed how the remaining bequests were to be handled. “I’ll go back to Bag End with a cart when Sam and Rosie return to Hobbiton and take away what I can and see it delivered. Luckily most were present at the reading and have received what Frodo intended them to have; and anything Sam wishes to share of what’s left I’m certain he’ll deal with when he can handle it and as he realizes who would best benefit by the gifts.”

“Sounds like a reasonable plan,” Will grunted.

Bard found himself examining Will closely. The Mayor looked sad and thoughtful, his hair definitely greyer than it had ever been. For Old Flourdumpling to look this way didn’t seem right; even when he was first rescued from the Lockholes Will had looked surprised and hopeful in spite of his obvious pain and illness. For the first time Bard realized Will Whitfoot was indeed getting on in years, and had perhaps good reason to wish he were retired indeed. Will sat in his chair behind his desk, rubbing his forehead, his eyes filled with a level of pain Bard didn’t remember ever seeing in him before. “Are you doing all right, Will?” he asked the older Hobbit.

Will looked up at him from under his brows. “Nothing to worry about, Bard,” he said dismissively. “It’s just that----” He didn’t finish right away, and finally sighed as he turned his chair away slightly. “Who’d have dreamed,” the Mayor said quietly, half to himself, “I’d have come to love him as I did?” Then, after a minute he added, “It’s like losing Fenton all over again.”

Bard and Brendi looked at one another. Fenton Whitfoot had died so long ago, back when they were still in their tweens, the year it seemed everyone was becoming ill and so many had caught the ague or the lung sickness. There were those who referred to the lung sickness as “the Old Gaffer’s Friend,” but that year it had taken so many who were young and hale as well as those who were enfeebled already. Both could name several within the confines of Tookland and Buckland who’d died that year, or who’d come close to doing so. Frodo himself had been very ill, if they remembered rightly. And Will and Mina Whitfoot had lost their only son to it.

“We’ll all miss him,” Bard said quietly. “It’s as if an essential part of the Shire has left us.”

Will didn’t turn to look at him or Brendi, just nodded. “Yes,” he said slowly, “although most folks will just decide he was gone all queer the way old Bilbo had gone. They’ll be certain as he never truly liked the Shire to begin with, and won’t believe how fiercely he loved it. And once they realize as he was ill, they’ll just say he went as he did to leave all who loved him in confusion.”

Brendi said solemnly, “It appears you know your Hobbits, sir.”

Will swiveled to look up at him. “Been doing this job upwards of forty-three years now. Only took it because no one could convince Bilbo to run for it. Tried for years to convince Frodo to take over for me. No one realizes those two, for all their interest in outside the Shire, knew our land better than anyone else, knew and understood and loved our folk best of all. You can’t do this job without learning as how the average Hobbit thinks. You watch. Old Odo will say it out loud where all can hear soon enough--and by the time he says it you can be certain as much of the rest are thinking it.”

They couldn’t dispute him.

Brendi sighed as he rifled inside his waistcoat. “Do have one last thing,” he said. “Apparently Frodo realized he’d missed a few details while they were on the way, and had one of the Elves write out something for him. I suspect it has to do with Fosco and Forsythia Baggins, for he never indicated in the will what supervision ought to be given them until they come of age.”

Bard looked at him interestedly as the Brandybuck lawyer handed the thick packet to Will. It was comprised of several sheets of parchment folded loosely together and sealed with a blob of unadorned beeswax. Will examined it. “Doesn’t appear to of used that stickpin of his on it the way he always did.”

Brendi shook his head. “No, he left that to Fosco and Forsythia. It appears that was his official signet for the united realm, and Fosco’s inherited his role there. I suppose that’s part of why he wished the two of them to be part of any business with the outer world, preparing Fosco to become the Lord Baggins after him.”

Will snorted as he broke the simple wax seal. “Lord Baggins! Who in the Shire will realize there is such a thing from now on?” he asked. “And if the family fails completely, will the title die with it?” As he shook out the packet he sighed. “Now there’s a question to ask of the King, I suppose. Who’d of believed,” he added as he examined the inscriptions on the packets enclosed within, “that the King would indeed come again, and in our time?”

Will read the pages which had fallen open carefully, then went through them a second time. He finally handed them to Brendi. “You were right, Brendilac--it is a codicil to his will.” Bard noted he had a slight smile on his lips. “Doesn’t miss a trick, that one,” he said approvingly. “He’s appointing Narcissa Boffin as their independent guardian, if she’ll accept the post. He asks that the income from a particular farm share be used to afford her a traveling allowance for when she must go to Westhall or accompany the twins throughout and outside the Shire.”

“Which farm share is that?” Brendi asked, “His own shares in the Gravelly farm?”

Will smiled more broadly. “Of course,” he said. “If Lilac Gravelly knew she’d be furious. Please don’t tell her.”

Bard leaned to read over Brendi’s shoulder. “Not his writing,” he commented. “Not any Hobbit’s writing as I’ve ever seen.”

“Do you think it was written inside the Shire?” Will asked as Brendi finished it and returned it to the Mayor’s desk.

The Brandybuck nodded. “Merry suspected it was written one of the first two nights he was with the Elves, and that would be here within the Shire.”

Will was now examining the signatures of those who’d witnessed the document, then paused at one which was familiar from many years previously. He looked up at Brendi with surprise. “Bilbo? Old Bilbo served as witness?” he asked.

“He was granted the grace too, Will. He carried that Ring for sixty-one years, you know, and It hadn’t managed to corrupt him--not yet.”

“The stubborn old Baggins!” Will said, shaking his head in admiration. “So, Frodo’s not going alone, there among the Elves.” The relief he felt was obvious.

“No, he’s not going alone.”

“Well, we can certainly approve this,” Will said, his cheerfulness returning as he reached for the bottle of red ink and added his own signature. Then he looked at them. “Would you mind adding yours as well, just in case anyone objects that most of these might be meaningless as they’ve apparently left Middle Earth?”

“Not all that unusual with wills,” Bard commented as he accepted the papers and the quill. “Half the ones I see executed were written decades ago and were signed by friends, most of whom are gone by the time the will’s read.”

“I know,” Will nodded. “But in this case there’s bound to be someone somewhere who’ll object--very possibly Bartolo Bracegirdle. Was most upset when Lobelia returned Bag End to Frodo.”

Bard examined the signatures present. “Frodo’s own signature was pretty weak,” he said softly. He saw a firm hand, Elrond Eärendilion. In the same hand as that in which the rest of the codicil was written: Galadriel Artanis. He looked back at the previous sheet. Frodo had dictated this to one of the most legendary of all Elves, one who’d been born in the Blessed Realm and who’d come to Middle Earth following the revolt of the Noldor. He shivered. He didn’t recognize the other names--someone named Erestor, and another named Gildor Inglorion, and then others still. He took a deep breath, dipped the pen into the ink and inscribed his own name below those of immortals.

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