Trials and Tribulation
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. The slow swing of the pendulum on the large wall clock in the office was the only noise inflicting itself on the lone Hobbit now sitting at the Mayor’s desk just inside the door to the large room, reviewing the last will and testament of Milpo Burrows. Tick. Tock. Tick. Then the clock gave a soft grind and whir, then creakily it began striking the hour, not with a nice clear tone as once it displayed but with a decided clunk to each sounding of the chime.
TONK! TONK! TONK! TONK! Whirr. Grind. Click.
Tick. Tock. Tick.
Frodo continued reading, glad at the moment that old Ferdinand’s birthday had drawn his Took aides away from Michel Delving, back to the Great Smial for the rest of the day. It was nice at times just to be alone, and Milpo’s will, which he’d obviously written himself, was a wonder. So far the old Hobbit had left seven half-shares of his property to this one and that, and had left the bulk of what allegedly would be left over separately to his son, his younger brother, and his granddaughter. How they were to sort it out was anyone’s guess. He reached for a piece of paper from the stack to the right, set it in front of him; then pulled over the inkstand and uncapped the bottle of black ink, preparing to put down the list of bequests and intended recipients so as to prioritize who appeared to be intended to receive how much. It was at that point that he heard voices approaching the Council Hole out on the village square, and sighed. Apparently the peace of the afternoon was not to continue.
The voices were coming closer and were entering the Council Hole. "You have the lass, Barti? Good enough, then. Oh, no, you don’t, Greencap my lad--you put that picture right back as where you found it. I’ve my eye on you."
Greencap? Not Greencap Broadloam! Frodo gave a distinct groan.
There simply couldn’t be as improperly named a family in the Shire as the Broadloams--certainly the one who had first taken the name had indulged in wishful thinking to the point of criminality. No Broadloam in the history of the Shire had managed to own much more than the half-acre or so outside of Whitfurrow in the East Farthing that supported the family hole and its meager kitchen garden--and the collection of "useful items" that appeared to be the hallmark of the family. Even Lotho’s Big Men must have stood in awe of the sheds which dotted the property, for they were constructed of a variety of materials to beggar the imagination. The "useful items" filled each shed and lay in heaps between--buckets with holes to be mended; the staves of ale casks shrunk from having been allowed to dry completely with the iron bands lying stacked carelessly nearby; rusted dippers and dented pans; lamps with shades broken or missing; oil pots; chipped stone water jars....
"Watch your step there, lad. No, Greencap, you put that back right now!"
Then he could hear Greencap’s own obsequious whining: "Och, ye can’t be begrudgin’ me the try, Master. A Hobbit’s got to do a livin’ for his own family, ye know."
"But not at the expense of the entire Shire, Greencap. Now, put the other one back as well."
Hardly anyone remembered that Greencap’s rightfully given name was Guido. He’d earned his title for the soft green cap he’d been given by his gammer on his mum’s side when small that he’d worn all these years, a cap which remained cheerfully green in spite of all the handling and wear it had endured since it came into its master’s possession. As a lad living in Whitfurrow with his parents Frodo had been fascinated by both the cap and the older lad who’d worn it; now it appeared that Guido Broadloam had somehow earned the concern of the Shiriffs and was being brought into Michel Delving for the deputy Mayor’s evaluation. What had he taken this time? Or had he again been bottling water from the spring at the back of the property and trying to sell it as a sovereign remedy for the ills that might plague his neighbors or (more likely) those who traveled the West Road to and from the center of the Shire who didn’t yet know just what a fraud the wiry Hobbit was? Or was he painting chain links gold once more and trying to convince lads they were fully gold, selling them for a Shire penny apiece?
The door opened, and four Shiriffs entered, escorting Greencap and his wife and two sons into the office, followed by a fifth gently carrying a small lass in his arms. Greencap removed his hat and gave a series of bobs and twists that for him passed for bows of respect. "Master Baggins," he began, "ye can’t think as I’d ever do as what they says...."
"Oh, be quiet!" Robin Smallburrow said, obviously annoyed. "Mr. Frodo, sir," he explained, "we found the Broadloams comin’ here to Michel Delving, bringin’ with them their lads and their daughter Tribulation here. Course, Greencap’s been scavengin’ all along the way, includin’ a lot as was never intended to be set aside. We had to ease ’im of a good deal as ought not to of been on his person, you know."
"I see, Robin." Frodo looked at Greencap, his wife Quince, his sons Tito and Torto, and the small lass Bartimo Tunnely carried. He’d not been aware that Greencap and Quince even had a daughter. He couldn’t see the girl’s face, for she kept it pressed to Bartimo’s vest. He looked at the child’s parents. "You named her Tribulation?" he asked. "It’s not precisely a common name for any child. Why did you name her that?"
It was Quince who answered him. "It was ’cause of a story you told at the Free Fair the year afore she was born, Master Frodo, sir," she said. "You was tellin’ o’ the trials and tribulations facin’ Turin and Nienor, and you said as tribulation meant troubles faced and overcome. I liked the word, I did, sir. It’s a strong word, a beautiful word. And when my little lass was born and I looked into her face, I knew as this was one trouble as we was goin’ to overcome, sir."
Frodo looked from her to the back of the child’s head and then to Bartimo’s face in question. Bartimo gave a slight shrug, and then gently set the lass on her feet there by the door, then turned her toward the deputy Mayor. As he looked into her face, far rounder than the faces of Hobbits usually were, her eyelids with an odd fold to them, her eyes opened wide with an expression of constant surprise to them, Frodo realized this child was moon-touched.
He’d seen moon-touched children before. Among his Took relatives there was a daughter who was moon-touched as this child was; and in Minas Tirith he’d seen a boy born to a couple in the Fifth Circle who was the same. They tended to be smaller than other children their own age; had soft bodies; had an odd set to their fingers, which tended to be exceptionally stubby; had tongues which were abnormally large and almost swollen looking; and their minds tended to be simple, he knew. Other than that he knew little of them, save that they tended to look much the same whether they were born to Hobbits or Men.
He saw no sign of fear in the lass’s eyes as she looked at him with that expression of surprise in her eyes. "Hello, Tribulation," he said gently. "I’m glad to meet you."
The child’s face broke into a smile. "’Lo," she said.
"Your parents were bringing you here to Michel Delving?" he asked. She nodded her head. "Why?"
She answered, but he didn’t understand what it was she said. Quince explained, "She saw you fortnight ago, Master Frodo, when you and the others was marchin’ the Shiriffs along the road from there by the Bridge toward Hobbiton. Tribbals saw as how serious you looked, and she said you was sad and needed cheerin’ up, she did, and she’s been after us to bring her here so as she could do that. Now, she don’t get her mind fixed on a thing often, but when she does, it’s best to just give way, as she can’t think o’ nothin’ else till it’s done, you see."
Frodo looked from mother to daughter, then at last stood and approached the lass and knelt down to look into her eyes. "You thought I looked sad?" he asked her.
"Yeh," she said, nodding to make certain her meaning was clear.
"And you wanted to cheer me up?"
"Yeh," she said again.
"And how will you cheer me up?" he asked.
"Here," she said, holding out her arms, and she gave him as strong a hug as she could. "You fee’ better?" she asked.
Frodo was touched. "Yes, Tribbals," he said. "Is it all right for me to call you Tribbals?"
She smiled. "Yeh," she answered. Then she added, "I come ’gain, hug you when you need it." She spoke very slowly and carefully, doing her best to make her words clear.
He smiled. "Then I’ll look forward to it." He caressed her lank hair. "I’ll be glad to see you any time you wish to come to the Council Hole. Now, if you’ll go out to the banquet hall with Bartimo, I need to talk with your da. Is that all right?"
She nodded, and reached up to take Bartimo’s hand. Once she was gone and Bartimo had closed the door behind them, Frodo turned his attention back to her parents.
Quince had been born a Gravelly from near the western marches; she and Greencap had met at the Free Fair in Michel Delving. Her parents had, of course, tried to discourage her interest in Guido Broadloam, but she was a willful lass and of age, and he was the first lad to ever pay her much mind. She left home and moved to Whitfurrow; within months the two of them were married and she found herself living in the rather ragged Broadloam smial.
How such an orderly one as a Gravelly born and bred could find comfort as a Broadloam no one could say. Yet it appeared Quince had managed to do so.
"So," Frodo said to Greencap. "You’ve been scavenging along the way, have you?"
"As I said, sir, a Hobbit’s got to look after his family. And if it’s just a’lyin’ there, how’m I to know as it belongs t’someone?"
Robin Smallburrow snorted. "Perhaps the fact as it was a’lyin inside the fence of a smial ought to of give you a clue, or the fact as it was sittin’ on a table in the entranceway. Or," he added, "that it was a’lyin’ on the Mayor’s desk. Put the quill and inkstand back, Greencap."
Frodo gave a quick, surprised look at the desk he’d quitted and added, "And the penwipe, if you please." He returned to his seat and watched as Guido returned the named items, each one from a different pocket about his person. Then, as Frodo kept him fixed with a stare he finally returned the blotter as well. Finally assured the items on the desktop were as they’d been, Frodo turned his attention to Robin.
"It ’pears as he’s been teachin’ the lads to scavenge also, Mr. Baggins, sir," Robin said.
All turned their attention to Tito and Torto, both of whom stopped, flushing and yet doing their best to look innocent as Tito sought to pocket the paperweight taken from the table and passed to him by his brother. Automatically Robin reached out and clapped his hand on Greencap’s wrist as his hand shot out to try to reclaim the inkstand once more. Quince gave a great, patient sigh and rolled her eyes. "I tries to teach them right, Master Frodo, sir," she explained, "but I’m findin’ as it’s just too difficult tryin’ to get past the Broadloam blood, sir."
"Apparently," Frodo commented, reaching out to slap Greencap’s other hand as he reached again for the blotter.
Greencap didn’t look the least abashed; indeed, he looked impressed. "It’s a good eye as ye’ve got, Master Baggins, sir."
Fendi Buckets, one of the other three Shiriffs who attended on the party of Broadloams, cleared his throat. "And there is another problem, Mr. Deputy Mayor, sir," he said, pulling a thick folded pack of papers out of his pocket and presenting them. The roll would have appeared impressive if Fendi hadn’t folded them over crossways and apparently sat upon them at some time since he placed them there. "This here’s a complaint from Mallard Smallburrow as is village head for Whitfurrow," he said with a respectful look at the missive with which he’d been entrusted. "Part o’ the reason as the Broadloams come away from Whitfurrow right now’s ’cause o’ the repeated disappearances of poultry from the Smallburrow’s chicken coop followed always with chicken bones bein’ tossed out the back door at the Broadloam’s place. Old Mallard’s more’n a bit upset, don’t you know. It ’pears Greencap here left Whitfurrow right now to get away from Mallard for a time."
Frodo took the large packet and fastidiously flattened it, slipped his finger behind the wax seal, opened it, and laid it out flat on the desktop, absently slapping Greencap’s hand away from the steel pen that sat in front of him as he began to read.
Mallard had begun writing and apparently continued for as long as the paper held out. What it came down to in the end, however, was that of the ten hens and one rooster left him by the gatherers and sharers he now had only three hens left, and each time one of his chickens disappeared Greencap Broadloam or his sons were implicated.
"I don’t understand as to why he’s so upset, Master Baggins, sir," Greencap said obsequiously. "It’s not like he don’t have others. He’ll have more soon."
"Not since you took his rooster," Frodo said, looking at the Broadloam with a degree of unbelief.
Greencap looked thoughtful. "Never thought t’tell the lads not t’take the rooster," he said.
"Then you admit to taking the chickens?" Frodo asked curiously.
"A Hobbit’s got t’provide for his family, Master Baggins, sir. I do believe that, ye know."
"So you told me already." Frodo’s tone of irony was lost on Greencap, he noted. He sighed. "So now," he said slowly, "the question is to decide just what to do about the situation." He contemplated the three male Broadloams carefully, then indicated to one of the Shiriffs that he might check the trousers pockets of Tito. Hildigar Took’s seal was retrieved and given to Frodo, who in turn slipped it inside a drawer on his side of the desk to safeguard it for his cousin. The lad gave a patient sigh, and shrugged when his brother looked at him disparagingly.
For quite some time Frodo pondered what he should do. Finally he said, "Torto and Tito, starting on your return you are going to go to Mallard Smallburrow’s henyard, one of you Sterdays, Mondays, and Hevensdays, and the other on Sundays, Trewsdays, and Mersdays. He’ll have to take care of them himself on Highdays. You will help to care for the chickens under Mr. Smallburrow’s supervision, but you will not steal them or their eggs, or take anything belonging to the Smallburrows. I will be lending Mr. Smallburrow a rooster and seven hens for a year’s time. If at the end of a year his flock increases as it ought to do, I will then give the rooster and the seven hens to you to start your own flock. If you eat them all up, however, you’ll end up with nothing in the end. If you manage them properly, in two years you should have a sizable flock yourself, and enough to sell eggs and to have a chicken dinner at least once every two weeks as well as each having at least one egg a day for tea.
"However, if I hear tell of any of you stealing anything from any of your neighbors, and that involves scavenging anything you have reason to know belongs to anyone else, then the one who does it will come and sit in one of the cells in the Lockups for a month and--and knit stockings to send to orphan children in Bree."
"What are stockings?" asked Tito, who’d never heard of such a thing before.
"They are a special garment Men must wear to help protect their feet," Frodo told him. "I’d have Mistress Mayberry from Buckland come in and teach you how, for she came from Bree to marry my cousin Madridoc and used to knit them to sell to help support her family."
The two brothers looked at one another, uncertain as to whether or not they wished to follow through on such a project. Frodo looked from one to the other, and then gave a sidelong evaluation of their father. He remembered what it was that had so fascinated him about Guido Broadloam when he was a child, new come to Whitfurrow. Guido had been a facile talespinner, and as such had often sent Frodo’s own imagination spiraling off through starfields and across fields and forests. His tales had been more of imagination and less of adventures and histories than had been true of Bilbo’s stories; yet Frodo had treasured them for the way they sought to explain in terms of fairies and pixies and sprites of several kinds how it was leaves turned gold and red before they dropped or how snowdrops would push up through the last remaining protected drifts to herald the early spring.
"For you, Mr. Broadloam," Frodo pronounced, "every market day for a year you will sit on a bench in the Common and tell three stories to the children, with your daughter in your lap. If you follow this program and will agree only to scavenge things clearly on rubbish piles outside folks’ gardens and farms, then you will be given a weaner pig each month for this coming year. If you slaughter them once you get them then there will be nothing for your family after; if you manage them correctly you will have a goodly number for next year, and will have bacon and hams enough for your own family’s use and have piglets to sell for money to help buy cloth for clothing and candles and oil for your lamps or other supplies; plus you will have fat for soap.
"I will have the Master of Buckland appoint someone to help you build a proper sty and henyard; you yourself can make houses for the chickens and pigs to shelter in during bad weather.
"But if it is proven you are stealing to support your family, then you will come to sit in one of the cells for a month and spend your time knitting stockings to send to orphan children in Bree. Is that understood?"
Greencap looked to his sons, and then all looked to Quince. Her face, always so tired-looking in the years since she’d married Guido, looked surprised, even hopeful. "I know as how to care for poultry and pigs, Master Frodo, sir," she said. "You’d do this for us?"
"For the sake of you and your daughter, Mistress Quince," Frodo assured her. "But you’ll have to watch to see that the poultry and pigs are not all spent before you even get them, of course. However," and again he straightened and directed his gaze to Greencap and his sons, "these three need to agree to these terms for it to happen."
Guido again exchanged looks with his sons and then his wife. Something in Quince’s expression apparently decided him for he twisted his cap in his hands and stood bent almost double, a remarkably crooked grin on his face before he looked again at Frodo. "Ye’re a hard Hobbit, Master Frodo, sir, but a fair one, I suppose. But I don’t understand as why ’tis ye’d wish me to be a’tellin’ stories on market days. It’s not what most would call proper work, after all."
Frodo looked at him solemnly. "No, perhaps not proper work, but at least it’s something that allows you to give rather than take from others that you do well--or at least you used to do it well when I was a lad in Whitfurrow. And one thing I learned along the way is how important it is to tell and hear our stories, for they’re a part of our identity--part of who we are. Some days it was only the memories of stories you once told that kept me from going insane."
All within the room looked at one another, sharing glances of wonder and concern--none as yet had heard any of the details of where the four Travelers had gone or what they’d done while they were absent from the Shire.
Frodo sighed. "You can take them out to the banquet room--and watch they don’t take anything more. By the way, turn out Torto’s pockets."
The older of the two lads looked affronted at being singled out, but in moments they had relieved him of a number of things he’d been quietly removing from Hillie’s corner of the office, and at a significant look from Frodo Tito quietly returned a mug he’d lifted and tried to hide behind his back. Once Guido had returned the quill and the penwipe again the remaining family members were led away to join Barti and Tribbals in the other room, and Frodo drew a clean sheet of vellum to him and wrote out the order for the Broadloams’ servitude, and tried to think from whom he could purchase seven hens and a rooster at this time of the day. At last he wrote that he’d send the promised chickens to Mallard the following day and rose to go out to deliver it to Cock Robin.
"You’ll see this into Mallard’s hands?" he asked quietly.
"Gladly, Mr. Frodo, sir," Robin assured him. "Must say as it’s a most unusual sentence."
"It will relieve Mistress Quince," Frodo said with a glance at the Hobbitess where she sat with her daughter in her lap, "and hopefully will give incentive to the lads to learn a skill or two regarding how to properly raise stock of their own." He looked at the Broadloam family with interest.
Greencap and the lads had been made to sit in the center of the room, away from anything they might be tempted to try to pocket, but they appeared cheerfully resigned. "We know as you don’t mean no insult by it," Guido assured those guarding the integrity of the room from this surfeit of Broadloams, then he looked at Frodo as he approached him, his characteristic wheedling grin fading as he examined the face of the deputy Mayor he’d seen so often as a lad, almost as if he were searching for something he remembered from that time. "Ye had a hard time of it, then," he said with uncharacteristic solemnity. "Mayhap ye’re not certain as ye ought to’ve come back, even. But I’ve the feelin’ as ye’ll be good for the Shire, Master Baggins, sir--good for the Shire. Old Flour Dumplin’--he’d of never thought to of done as ye have, ye know."
"No, Will would never have done what I’ve done; but, then, of course, I’m not him. Now, you keep your side of the bargain and I’ll keep mine. And your daughter will sit on your lap before all to hear with the rest."
"But why, Master Baggins, sir? Why let ’er see as how cruel the world is t’ those as is different?"
"Do you love her? Are you proud of her?"
Guido’s voice in response was almost derisive. "Well, o’ course!"
"Then let your own love for her be seen by all. Let all others know it; and if they realize you love and respect her, they’ll realize they should treat her well, also. Yes, some like Lotho Sackville-Baggins are cruel and will remain cruel toward such as she no matter what; but those whose opinions mean the most will respond as you show the way. And she has as much right to hear the stories as all the other children do."
Greencap Broadloam searched Frodo’s face some more, then with a touch of true respect such as he rarely showed he said, "O’ course, sir. Thankee, sir." He rose and addressed his sons. "We’ll go, then, but until we’s out o’ the hole we’re touchin’ nothin’, lads." And the lads, their expressions surprised, rose. At a look from their father Torto removed a small bridle brass that had hung on the wall from his pocket and set it on the table, and Tito solemnly handed Robin Smallburrow his wallet for his pipeweed. Then with a marked dignity Greencap set his cap on his head, reached down to take his daughter gently into his arms, and led his family out of the hole, accompanied by Cock Robin and Bartimo Tunnely. As they passed the deputy Mayor, Tribbals turned her head to smile into Frodo’s eyes, and he found himself smiling freely in return.
"Why do you want seven hens and a rooster?" Everard Took asked Frodo the following morning. "You’ve never kept poultry."
"Does it matter why I want them?" Frodo asked, annoyed. "They are an investment of sorts, and I never said I would wish to keep them myself."
"Well, as Lotho’s folks never got into the Tooklands properly, it does happen that three of the farm folk on the northern borders were able to keep their flocks. Maybe we can convince Borigrin to give you a few.
Frodo shook his head. "As I said, this is an investment, so I insist on paying a fair price. I do ask that the hens be good layers and young, though."
"He’s to be in here in about an hour’s time anyway--we can ask him when he comes, then."
And before mid-afternoon Borigrin Took was crating up nine chickens for a trip to Whitfurrow, the Took having decided to make certain that all Frodo had asked and more would arrive safely at the other end. It had been a time since Bori had seen Frodo Baggins, and he’d been shocked at the expression in his distant cousin’s eyes. Whatever he could do to ease Frodo’s worries and burdens he’d quietly determined to see to.