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16
Whining

Whining


"Oh, sunshine and shadows!" sighed Mags Broadbelt to her husband Timmins. "If he ain’t here again!"

Timmins stood up from where he was working on his account books and looked across the Common Room of the Ivy Bush. It was easy to spot the object of his wife’s concern as Ted Sandyman stood near the newly-closed door and looked around the room for someone likely to allow him to share a table and bend an ear. Tim shook his head. "He’ll drive off the payin’ guests yet," he growled.

Meanwhile Ted appeared to have decided on which patrons to approach. There was a table full of Dwarves who’d come a bit further off the Road than usual in order to have a meal and a few half-pints among them. Mag’s cooking was well known across the Shire, and they’d said as they entered that the Ivy Bush had come well recommended. It would be just like Ted, Timmins thought, to move in on the Dwarves, as they’d not have had the chance as yet to hear Ted’s story and avoid him.

"Can you spare the price of a half for a poor Hobbit what’s down on his luck?" Ted asked, ducking his head ingratiatingly toward the party of Dwarves.

The apparent leader of the group was a Dwarf with russet-colored hair and beard, neatly braided, each braid finished with a fine golden bead. The leather harness over his mail was richly colored and decorated, the blade of his axe intricately engraved with runes. Indeed all seven appeared prosperous looking and well equipped. The leader didn’t appear certain whether to grant the boon asked of them, but another, slightly taller, with hair and beard of a darker color, shrugged. "We may as well, Gimli. After all, we all owe so much to his people...."

"Since the return of the Travelers the Shire’s done well," objected the one addressed as Gimli. "If there’s a Hobbit, particularly one here in Hobbiton, that isn’t doing well, I tend to think it’s most likely his own fault."

A slightly shorter Dwarf shook his head. "I’ll pay it, for the sake of Frodo Baggins."

The face of the Hobbit darkened. "For the sake of Frodo Baggins, eh? Well, Frodo Baggins certainly owes me more’n I can look forward to collectin’ in my lifetime. After all, it’s ’cause of Frodo Baggins I’m in the state I am!"

The faces of all the Dwarves grew stern, particularly that of the one called Gimli, which appeared outright grim. "And how is it," he demanded stiffly, "that Frodo Baggins is to blame for your current condition?"

"Frodo Baggins cost me all I’d ever hoped to have," the Hobbit declared, "and most I ever did."

Those Hobbits sitting nearby grew quiet and looked around in apparent disbelief at that pronouncement. The shorter Dwarf looked at the rest of his companions. "This is one story I feel I need to hear." He turned toward the bar, signaling to Timmins. "A half-pint and a chair for this one, although I doubt anyone will agree to more. But we’ll grant him our company just to hear him out--once only, mind," he added sternly to the object of their attention. "Just who are you?"

"Ted Sandyman, although I’m not goin’ to declare myself at the service of any o’you," he said, raising his chin in defiance.

The one with the darker hair gave an abbreviated grunt and shake of his head. "Ted Sandyman, is it? And how did the likes of Frodo Baggins manage to steal so much from you? Was he known as a thief?"

"How is it you know of him at all?" Sandyman asked suspiciously.

"First," the smaller one said, "every Dwarf who’s ever visited either the Iron Hills or Erebor knows the fame of the esteemed burglar Bilbo Baggins; and I doubt there’s a Dwarf dwelling anywhere in Middle Earth who’s unaware of that of his chosen heir, Frodo Baggins."

Ted licked his lips and examined his audience, not only of Dwarves but of many of the Hobbits who’d also come in for a meal and a half or two. It was an audience he realized would be less than sympathetic to his tale. But then Timmins was reluctantly setting a mug of ale by him and pulling a chair over from another table; and after taking a deep pull he felt the equal to the task. "So you folk see him as some kind o’hero, eh?" he asked after he’d wiped his mouth with his sleeve. "Keep hearin’ talk about dark journeys and all, but it don’t change the fact as he was the worst thing to hit these parts." He managed to pull a sneer at the one who was the leader, then thought better of it and let his face go slack.

"My dad was important here in Hobbiton and Bywater, you see. Sandyman the Miller he was, the one what run the mill. If’n it weren’t for him, there’d of been no bread for anyone, and us Hobbits appreciate our daily bread."

"Especially if they’re Tooks!" grunted the Dwarf called Gimli. The others laughed.

Ignoring the interruption, Ted continued, "My dad was important here, like I said. Could of been village head, he could, but when old Chubbs died, instead of my dad they chose Griffo Boffin. Broke my mum’s heart, seein’ Dad passed over like that."

"What does Frodo Baggins have to do with someone else, not even of the same family name, being made village head over your dad?" demanded the taller Dwarf with the darker hair.

"Griffo’s kin to Frodo twice, you see, a fifth cousin on the Boffin side and married to Frodo’s first cousin, Daisy."

"More than twice," snorted one of the other Boffins who was listening in. "Griffo’s a second cousin to Folco Boffin, who’s another of the great-grandsons of old Gerontius Took and thus at least a second cousin to Frodo."

Gimli was shaking his head. "But then it’s probable that, being a Boffin, Griffo’s related to half the Shire in his own right--but that’s true of almost every Hobbit between the Westmarches and the Old Forest, I think."

"Us Sandymans ain’t related to the Bagginses!" Ted insisted.

"Your loss," grunted another of the Dwarves as he reached for his mug.

One of the other Hobbit patrons was looking thoughtfully at the Boffin. "Yours and Griffo’s folks’ve been amongst the gentry here in Hobbiton time out o’ mind," he said. "Griffo’s run his family farm since two years after he come of age; has a fine education courtesy o’ old Bilbo and Missus Carnation, his aunt; holds farm shares and business partnerships across the Shire; knows his land and Hobbits well. Frodo Baggins had little enough to do with Griffo Boffin bein’ chosen as village head, ’ceptin’ he said as he thought it was a good idea when Milo Burrows suggested him."

"And look who Milo’s related to, married to Peony Baggins as was," Ted insisted.

"Who was an older cousin and had little enough to do with young Frodo--and look at whose apron strings she was tied to. Runnin’ after old Missus Lobelia the way she done all those years, agreein’ with all the rumors she’d make on all and sundry, especially those she’d make up on the Bagginses. Come to think of it, until he come of age Frodo spent almost no time with his Baggins relations, ’ceptin’ old Bilbo hisself."

Another Hobbit added, "Face it, Ted, your dad was never considered as village head. He had a bit of a mean streak to him, and the way he treated your mum and you----"

"Don’t you say nothin’ against my dad!" Ted growled.

"Why not? He was a fine miller--no one’ll question that. But he wasn’t no kind o’gentlehobbit. And in spite o’ him bein’ a decent businesshobbit, none o’us would of cottoned to him bein’ made village head." There was a general grumble of agreement around the room.

"Well," Ted finally continued, his look defiant, "my dad could of been village head, but once Frodo Baggins come here to Hobbiton that was put paid. He was complaining about my dad, and then none would look at Dad serious no more. Then he began hittin’ Dad and others with no warning."

Timmins Broadbelt gave a sharp laugh. "I wouldn’t say exactly no warnin’, Ted Sandyman. Those first years as Frodo lived with old Mr. Bilbo you and Lotho both did your best to make his life miserable, although he’d stand up to the two o’you; then that Brandybuck cousin of his broke his leg, and he come back from Buckland knowin’ how to throw a proper punch. He just wouldn’t tolerate seein’ anyone beatin’ up on anyone else, and especially not young’uns or animals. He stopped your dad beatin’ on you more’n oncet. Or are you sayin’ as you’d be better off if’n he’d let your dad beat on you and your mum whenever the mood struck him?"

"Which it did ever’ time he’d come home from a late night here or at the Dragon Bywater way," another Hobbit patron sniffed. "Old Marsipo, he’d not cut folks off when they’d had too much, not like Timmins and Mags here."

"You won’t be talkin’ ’bout my dad that way," Ted insisted.

"Sounds as if old Sandyman was a sour one," the small Dwarf said.

Again the rest of the patrons indicated their agreement.

"My mum’s heart was broke when Dad was passed over for village head. She died not long after."

"Mebbe the fact as she had a swellin’ in her leg as wouldn’t get better no matter as what was done for it might of had somethin’ to do with her dyin’ when she did," commented Addis Twofoot. Ted glared at him.

"Then my dad lost hope. He kept workin’, but his heart wasn’t in it. Just afore that Baggins left he died, left the mill to me."

"So why’d you sell it to Lotho?" demanded one of the patrons.

"Why not? He offered me a good price for it."

"Did you ever get it all? Most as did business with Lotho Sackville-Baggins was flat cheated. Look at what he done to Ponto and Iris Baggins! They thought only to borrow some money, and him’n that Bracegirdle cousin of his wrote a contract that took their deed--couldn’t pay Lotho back for months yet, and had to pay exorbitant rent on their own hole, they did."

"Course I got it."

"Then what happened to it all?"

"Bought myself one of those houses as Lotho built."

Timmin’s sniffed. "Oh, so you bought that box as you was livin’ in? You’d pay good money for one o’them things? Roofs leaked, windows wouldn’t close--if’n they was there to begin with, no inner walls, pumps didn’t work or was bringin’ in water from the marshy areas...."

One of the dwarves sniffed. "Doesn’t sound good even for homes made for Men."

Gimli nodded. "I’ve seen Men’s houses in Gondor, Rohan, and Eriador, and all have been more substantial than what you’ve just described."

Ted paled at the perceived criticism.

One of the other Hobbits commented, "At least the place as you’ve got now is comfortable and sound, and you have a pump attached to a fine well."

The taller Dwarf asked, "And how did you go from a poor house built by Men to a sound one built by Hobbits again?"

"It was that Sam Gamgee, come in and looked the place over, said it would never do. Saw this place built and made me move into it, there where those as’d lived in Bagshot Row was made to move to by Lotho. Then he tore it down--the house what I’d paid good money for!"

Carlo Bunch, a lawyer who practiced in Hobbiton, sighed. "So you paid good money for it? So what? Part of the roof had blown off already, and the south wall was cracked and like to fall down at any time. And the pump in that place wasn’t hooked to anything--you were having to fetch water from the Water, which was getting mighty fouled there at the end, once that Sharkey came."

Addis Proudfoot was nodding. "You’re far better off now, livin’ in a proper Hobbit house rather’n that pile of bricks."

"But it was new--modern!

"New and modern don’t stand for nothin’ when instead of makin’ things better they make ’em worse. Took nothin’ at all to bring that thing down, you know. Poor young Tom Cotton just leaned on the wall near the crack and down it come. Had bruises on him for weeks, once we dug him out from under the pile. His sister’n his mum had to slather him in arnica."

Daddy Twofoot nodded his agreement with his younger son. "You’s far better off now’n when you was livin’ there, you know. At least you have a proper house, good larders and pantries, a hearth as draws. And you was able to bring all your goods with you, which was more’n we was able to do when we was made to move to them shacks as Lotho forced us into. Besides, the house as you’re in now is newer’n the one as you bought from Lotho."

"And then you started working for Lotho in the Mill where your father was miller in his own right," commented the Boffin. "You could have been Miller after him, been important, like your dad was. Instead, you toadied up to Lotho and his big Men."

"I was treated good by Lotho; was give respect."

"And who respected you? Lotho’s big Men?"

Ted’s expression was stern. "The Hobbits o’Hobbiton and Bywater respected me when I walked down the street."

The Hobbits who filled the room looked at one another amazed. "Respected?" asked Addis. "Who respected you? We might of been afraid of you settin’ Lotho’s Big Men on us, but none of us respected you! What’s there to respect in a toady to one such’s Lotho’d become?"

Carlo Bunch gave a single nod to his own head. "And if you think we respected Lotho or his Big Men, you’re mighty mistaken. We were careful around them, like we’d be if we had to deal with a wild dog or a snake; but we didn’t respect them."

"Most of us didn’t particular like your dad," commented Timmins, "but we mostly respected him. At least old Sandyman never bowed down to the likes of Lotho, or sold his birthright away, or toadied to villains and ruffians, or cheated his neighbors."

"And I don’t know of his dad ever stealin’ or acceptin’ nothing what wasn’t his due," Daddy Twofoot said to the innkeeper.

Ted’s face went first pale, then dark with anger. "You callin’ me a thief, Twofoot?" he asked.

As a lawyer, Carlo Bunch traveled regularly to the Mayor’s office in Michel Delving, and had been there when reports on Sandyman’s activities had been brought to old Will Whitfoot. "You denying it, Sandyman? Or are you saying all those things taken from your place that had belonged to Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, my brother and dad and cousins, the Tooks and Brandybucks and Bolgers that would come visit Bag End and Green Hall, old Miss Dora, Mr. Ponto, the Burrows lads, and so on, that you just managed to find them lying around or something? Or are you something worse than the Broadloams of Whitfurrow? And how about all the swag you got as your share of the loot taken by Lotho’s folks during the ‘borrowing and sharing,’ all the fine furniture from Ponto and Iris’s place or Ivy Boffin’s hole from Overhill, the good china taken from the Gamgees and the pillows stolen from the Widow Rumble? You had jewelry stolen from Will and Mina Whitfoot, even.

"I’ll say this--if you weren’t a thief, neither were you an honest Hobbit! Or is that also supposed to be somehow Frodo’s fault?"

"It wasn’t fair," Sandyman said through clenched teeth, "how Frodo had ever’thin’ just give to him while the rest of us had to work for a livin just to scrape by."

Nate Boffin gasped with shock at the statement. "Everything was just given to Frodo, you say? Now, I’m not saying as Drogo and Primula hadn’t been comfortable, if not anywhere as well off as old Bilbo; but if you think Frodo Baggins lived a life of luxury you’ve another think coming. Until his folks died he had to do all the same work as any other lad his age, and his folks made certain he learned to do it well and thoroughly.

"Then they drowned in Buckland, and he found himself staying in Brandy Hall. Oh, they loved him well enough, but sometimes they had an odd way of showing it."

"You know what they say of him as a teen in Brandy Hall," Ted insisted, "runnin’ wild like and thievin’ all throughout Buckland and the Marish."

"I’m not disputing that," the Boffin insisted. "After all, we’re kin several times over, being third, fourth, and fifth cousins, once removed each time, you know. No one’s arguing that Frodo Baggins was a perfect lad when young. But he never took anything that truly mattered, for he didn’t do anything that each and every one of us at one time or another didn’t do, too--he raided fields, dairies, smoke houses, gardens, and glass houses for extra food. Now, of course, being Frodo he did it thoroughly and with a definite flair--but at least he quit it on his own, and never did it again once he came to Hobbiton."

Carlo Bunch laughed. "Now, he did advise us from time to time, didn’t he, Nate, about how to do our own raiding? But he stopped stealing himself well before Bilbo brought him here. And he would have given the shirt off his back to anyone he thought might need it more than he did. I can’t think of a family in Hobbiton, Bywater, and Overhill, as well as a good number much further afield, who didn’t benefit from Frodo’s generosity. And old Bilbo readily encouraged it--said wealth is worth nothing if it just stays in a hole gathering dust when it should be better put to use raising the tone of the whole Shire."

Addis Twofoot looked from the lawyer to Ted. "When your mum was sick, Frodo paid for the visits from the healer, and provided many o’ the herbs from his own garden. Many was the time as he’d send Sam Gamgee down with herbs, or would add his own pies and bowls of mushrooms to the baskets May or Marigold would bring her. And then he did the same when your dad started goin’ poorly, just as he did when Otho Sackville-Baggins died."

Carlo continued, "Nor did Bilbo allow Frodo to stay idle. Frodo had to do a lot of the cleaning about Bag End, and even helped out in the gardens when the Gaffer would allow it. He helped with the copying and binding Bilbo did, did most of the marketing, and still found time to help folks who needed it. Many’s the time he’d be up there helping thatch roofs or replacing tiles; he even went out to both the Cottons’ farm and Griffo’s to help with harvesting and haying; and he was the best at harvesting from Bilbo’s orchard because he wasn’t as afraid of heights as the rest of us were. No, I wouldn’t say Frodo was just given everything, Ted Sandyman."

Ted glared, but held his tongue.

"So," the shorter Dwarf asked, "how is it that Frodo Baggins brought you to the condition you’re in now? Are you badly off?"

"No, he’s not," insisted another patron. "Not really, he ain’t. His house ain’t large, but it’s snug and warm and comfortable. He don’t have the nice furniture as he had in it when he moved in, but what he has is strong and comfortable enough, for much of it come from my cousin’s place, the one what died durin’ the Time of Troubles. I never begrudged the offerin’ of it till now.

"He’s had a good kitchen garden, too, although he don’t pay it the mind it needs. And Sam Gamgee and Frodo Baggins together planted the fruit trees about it."

"Frodo didn’t do much o’ the plantin’," muttered Ted. "Give up soon enough, he did; sat back and watched that Gamgee, talkin’ about someplace Elven as they’d visited while they was gone, gold leaves and silver trees. Ought to of brought back some o’ them gold leaves to share with the rest of us, I’d think."

Gimli had gone quite still. "Have you not looked at the tree planted in the Party Field in place of the old oak that once grew there? It’s a mallorn, the only one of its kind between the Misty Mountains and the Sundering Sea. Its seed came from Lothlorien, the gift of the Lady Galadriel herself to Samwise the Faithful."

Carlo Bunch thought for a moment, then gave a twisted smile. "So we do have a silver tree with golden leaves such as they were discussing, do we? I know that Frodo wasn’t anywhere as strong after they came back as he wanted to appear. There were times when he was deputy Mayor he’d be exhausted by the time he’d be finished with all the business to be done, and would need to take a breather before he went back to the Whitfoot’s house for the night. Whatever he did out there left his health damaged, I think."

All the Dwarves indicated their agreement. "You can’t begin to understand," the leader Gimli said softly, "what it cost him."

The shorter Dwarf brought the discussion back to its main topic. "So, apparently you’re not as badly off as you’d like folks to think. What happened to the furniture from your old home you’d lived in with your parents?"

"Gone, it is--gone long ago. Lotho’s Big Men took it and burned it!"

Daddy Twofoot was shaking his head with disbelief. "You makin’ out as they stoled it like they did so much of? Have you forgot as how you helped carry it out and tossed it in the pile when they brought you a cartload o’ stuff as they’d stole from other holes, and that you was drinkin’ and whoopin’ and hollerin’ with glee as it burned, shoutin’ as how you could live rich now? And do you deny you yourself set fire to the roof o’ your old place when you moved into Lotho’s big shack? I think as you have a bit of somethin’ for fires, as many o’ the places as you helped burn down alongside Lotho’s Big Men. You was one o’ those as was carryin’ the torches the night as they set fire to the Green Dragon in Bywater--I seen you myself, I did!"

"Good thing as it’d rained," Addis added, "for the roof was too wet to do more’n smolder; and then it rained heavier and put the rest of the fire out. Didn’t take near as much work to rebuild what needed it and repair and repaint the rest as Lotho’d intended, I think."

"You have to remember," Ted insisted, "it was bad in the Time of Troubles--you could get in trouble so easy--end up in the Lockholes...."

"So all we had to do was be good little Hobbits and help burn out folks’ holes and we could of had shares of other folks’ furniture and jewelry and clothes and all?" asked Addis in a low, dangerous tone. "You was only hangin’ on Lotho’s trouser pockets ’cause you was scared of endin’ up in the Lockholes? The Lockholes where Sharkey’s people took even Lotho’s own mother, just afore they murdered him? How long, do you think, would it o’ been afore Sharkey ordered you murdered, too? You wasn’t people to them, you know--just another Shire-rat maggot. Hadn’t been for the Travelers comin’ back as they did, they’d of done for you soon enough, I’ll be bound."

"So," the shorter Dwarf persisted, "just how is it that you’re worse off now than you were before, and how is that due to Frodo Baggins?"

"I could of been important--could of been village head myself. I could of been somethin’ better’n the miller’s son. After all, if’n old Mad Baggins really wanted a different heir, he could of adopted someone a lot closer to home’n Buckland."

Timmins exchanged looks with Daddy Twofoot, then asked, "And why should he of looked at you as an heir? As Frodo’s family head of name, Bilbo had a responsibility toward Frodo, but certainly not toward you, particularly as your mum and dad was still alive at the time. And, after all, you was glad enough earlier to say as how you aren’t kin to no Bagginses. Frodo needed folks o’ his own, while you had’em. And if’n he’d of wanted an heir like you, old Bilbo had Otho and Lotho to pick from. And it was precisely ’cause he didn’t want the likes of you as an heir he went lookin’ so far afield."

"But it ought to of been Lotho as Master of Bag End, and not Frodo Baggins!"

The Dwarves exchanged glances. "I remember Lotho Pimple from the days before the Party when Bilbo left with us," the tall Dwarf said. "He was shouting over the hedge about what a poor specimen of a Hobbit Bilbo was, and how Frodo was worse, and how one day Bilbo must die, and as his closest living relative he had the right to inherit Bag End and then he’d show everyone just what a real Baggins ought to be like."

"Oh, yes, he showed us," Daddy Twofoot muttered, "brought in his Big Men and ruffians to thieve on us, to threaten us and do their best to destroy the Shire itself. And then his pal Sharkey arrived, and he was worse, even. Fine friends Lotho Sackville-Baggins chose--the likes of you and that murderin’ fool as had him killed."

"I fail to see," commented another Dwarf, an older one with white hair and beard, "how this Lotho living in Bag End would have benefitted you. Or did he take you into his home as Frodo did Lord Samwise and treat you as an honored brother?"

Ted was affronted. "Lotho’d of never done such a thing! He didn’t never act as if I was his brother! Not like that Frodo did with that jumped-up gardener."

Two of the Dwarves made to stand up, stiff with anger, one balling his fists and the other reaching for one of the throwing axes at his belt, and had to be restrained by the rest; while every Hobbit in the room rose and took at least a step forward toward Ted, who sat, rigid and wary in his chair, holding his ale mug to his chest as if it offered him some kind of protection.

"You are a miserable soul, aren’t you?" Nate Boffin hissed in Ted’s ear. "You have no idea at all of what Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee, Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took went through out there, do you? No one, looking at the height of them since they came back, can question Merry and Pippin were profoundly changed; and certainly they never learned to wear armor and use swords and fight properly here in the Shire. Do you truly think Sam Gamgee didn’t change, too? No, he’s not taller, but he sees clearer and sharper than anyone other than Cousin Frodo himself did, and no wise Hobbit would consider questioning either his insight nor his authority--when he’s moved to exercise it, that is, something I’ve not yet seen him do lightly."

Carlo Bunch stood tall, his expression solemn. "If somehow the influence of Frodo Baggins has hurt you, it’s certainly not because he went out of his way to cause it. You admit your current house is better than the one you grew up in, that you yourself sold away your birthright to Lotho, that Sam and Frodo themselves saw to it you have not only a decent garden but fruit trees. Everyone here in the room knows what bullies you and Lotho were, and how you’d constantly tease and threaten and beat up on others, and in the end were stopped only when Frodo Baggins would intervene.

"When Frodo first came to Bag End he caught you two beating up on me, and he sought to stop it, and you two turned on him, two against one. I couldn’t help him, for you’d managed to break my arm; and when both of us were down you kicked and hit us both until my dad came along and threatened to call the Shiriffs on the two of you. Then Frodo came back from Buckland knowing how to throw that proper punch of his, and whenever he caught anyone beating on others he’d use it--and I don’t know of him ever striking anyone more than once."

The smaller Dwarf examined Ted coldly. "Frodo Baggins never stole from you, but items stolen from him and others were found in your possession. You burned down your own family home, and he and Sam saw to it you not only had a new and better one, but they themselves planted fruit trees around it. You have been exposed as a braggart and a bully, while Frodo doesn’t appear to have done anything but help make things better for everyone and to see all protected as he could--including you. You resent Frodo his choice of heirs; yet admit Lotho would never have honored you as he did Sam, even considering the years you followed in Lotho’s shadow, assisting him against all others and acting on his will. Frodo worked cheerfully doing whatever was asked of him, and you sold away the work proper to your family with your father’s mill."

From behind the wall of Hobbits another voice spoke. "This one complainin’ again, is he? And he’s blamin’ Mr. Frodo? You may as well forget tryin’ to make him see sense--I doubt as he boasts the brains to begin to understand."

All turned to face Samwise Gamgee, dressed tonight in one of the surcoats he’d brought back from Gondor. He’d entered with Griffo Boffin, Fosco Baggins, and Will Whitfoot, all of whom had been to the Grange Hall in Bywater for a meeting of family heads. Those who stood between now moved aside so there was no obstruction between the Master of Bag End and Ted Sandyman.

Sam looked at the party of Dwarves, smiled, and bowed deeply. "It’s a great honor to see you again, Gimli, Dorlin, Orin, Lord Gloin, masters. Samwise Gamgee son of Hamfast at your service and that of your families ever, sirs."

"The honor of offering service is ours, Samwise Gamgee," said the white-haired Dwarf. "All is well with you and yours?"

"Save for the loss of my Master, yes."

"Middle Earth is the poorer for the loss of him and those who left with him, but the richer for what was done by all while they remained with us," Gloin said quietly.

The Hobbits in the room looked from one to another, intrigued by the exchange. Then all turned back toward Ted and the Dwarves. The small Dwarf looked between Sam and the miller’s son. "He’s still failed to explain how it is that Frodo Baggins made his life so miserable, save perhaps in comparison between the lives of the two of them. Frodo apparently never took more than food, while this one was found in possession of all kinds of things stolen from others, including Frodo. This one’s father apparently would beat on others when drunk; Frodo’s were, from what we can tell, loving until they died. Yet, in spite of his behavior when affected by drink, this one’s father was still mostly a supportive parent who was respected by others for his competency, honesty, and the level of responsibility he displayed toward the community. Do I not state it correctly?" he asked the company at large.

When the others indicated their agreement, he continued. "All praise Lord Frodo’s honesty and expressions of responsibility toward all, while exposing that this one is apparently not honest even with himself. This one struck out toward others to win the friendship of Lotho Sackville-Baggins and for his own pleasure, while all admit Frodo struck out at others from time to time, but only in defense and even then never more than was needed to stop the aggressor."

Sam nodded, "That’s so. Only time as I know of when he struck more’n once was there in Minas Tirith."

"Who was that one fixin’ to rough up?" Ted asked, his curiosity roused.

"So," the dark-haired one said, "you admit that Frodo Baggins only struck those who roughed others up?"

At Ted’s renewed flush Gimli gave a bark of a laugh. "It was a sot from Umbar, intending to lay hands on Frodo himself. Most nicely done, I must say--one blow to the stomach to get him to lean over, and the second one to the point of the chin. He was senseless long enough to get him to the prison in the Citadel."

"You put him in a prison for bein’ knocked out?"

"He was put into prison for being the depraved sot he was. Aragorn doesn’t hold with fools seeking to take advantage of those they see as being as vulnerable as children any more than Frodo did."

"Who’s Aragorn?"

"The King. And Frodo Baggins was the King’s Friend."

The Hobbits filling the inn again all looked at one another.

"So," began another Dwarf, one with lighter hair and beard, "so far you’ve accused Frodo of having somehow engineered the accession of his cousin’s husband he doesn’t appear to have had much to do with as village head in preference to your father, but admit he stopped your drunken father from beating on you and your mother, and he stopped you from roughing up others weaker than yourself. Doesn’t sound to me so far as if he made your life all that bad--unless you only have pleasure when you’re beating up children."

The Hobbits in the room all laughed as Ted’s face went dark with fury. "That’s not the truth o’me. Take it back!"

"Maybe," Carlo Bunch suggested, "maybe you felt you were better off before you were relieved of all the things found in your possession that hadn’t belonged to you to begin with. Folk who are deprived of ill-gotten goods I must suppose are worse off after they’re relieved of them as opposed to how they were when no one knew where those items were."

"And about the only thing," continued the smaller Dwarf, "that’s actually worse for you since Frodo Baggins came to Hobbiton is that now you are recognized as a bully and a thief and foolish, and so no one will trust you any more. Is that right?"

Ted glared at him.

"Is it your belief that somehow Frodo forced you to become a bully, a thief, and foolish?"

"Why did he have it all so easy, and me so bad?"

Sam looked surprised. "Easy? Bein’ left an orphan after his parents drowned when he was but a lad? Bein’ so private an individual havin’ to live in the warren of Brandy Hall? Needin’ recognition from others his age so much he become the scourge of Buckland and the Marish? I truly doubt as he considered his life easy. Your dad may of been difficult, but did you ever doubt his love, or face the loss of him or your mum when you was still a little lad?"

"No."

"Did you have friends here in Hobbiton?"

"Yes."

"Did anyone ever forbid you to work or play when you was a lad?"

"No."

"Were you ever give somethin' so dangerous it could lead to the destruction not only of the Shire but of the rest of the world besides?"

"When did that ever happen to Frodo Baggins?"

"The day he come of age, although the realization of what it was and what it meant wasn’t made till just afore he left the Shire, and was the reason as he left. Did you ever have to go for weeks with almost no food or water?"

"And when did that happen to Frodo Baggins?"

"The March after we left the Shire. Was you ever stabbed, or bitten by a poisonous spider, or beaten? That happened to him, too."

"How’d he lose his finger?" asked Daddy Twofoot.

Sam shuddered. "When he almost lost his soul."

The taller Dwarf asked, "When he came to Hobbiton did he never try to be friends with you or this Lotho?"

"Well, he tried, but he didn’t mean it...."

"Didn’t mean it?" spluttered Gimli. "I never saw Frodo acting out a lie in all the time I spent by him."

"And when was you by him?"

"From the time the Hobbits reached Rivendell until the time we finally each headed our own way home the summer after the victory over Sauron, save for the few weeks he left us to finish his task."

"Why’d he leave you? Why didn’t he let you go with him?"

"For the same reason he left the Shire, to protect us from the danger. You think things were bad here while the Travelers were gone? You have no idea what you could have come to had he not left to protect you."

"And you know?"

"I saw Isengard and Mordor, and the heads of those caught abroad by Sauron’s folk shot over the wall to horrify the defenders of Minas Tirith. I saw the homes destroyed, the orchards burned, the fields cut by trenches in which oil was lit afire. I’ve had to protect my people against orc attacks since I was first strong enough to lift a battle axe. I’ve ridden with Elves who’ve fought the Enemy and his creatures for thousands of years. I’ve walked through lands Sauron destroyed, and where the leavings of Morgoth hide in the shadows. Oh, yes, Ted Sandyman, I know. I know, and Frodo Baggins and the other Travelers know, for we walked through many of those places together, and fought side by side against orcs, trolls, and horrors you cannot imagine. There was reason for Frodo’s eyes to be so shadowed when he returned, and for the eyes of the others to be often shadowed as well."

"Why’d he leave again? He too good to have to deal with the likes of us?"

"Just maybe he was, Sandyman. Just maybe he was. But that’s not why he left."

"Was he afraid of dyin’, then, that he had to run to stay with the Elves?"

It was Sam who answered him. "You think as Mr. Frodo was afraid of dyin’, do you? You obviously wasn’t by him on the mountainside, when both of us thought we was but a few breaths from death. No, Frodo’ll die there where he’s gone when it’s time for it, although hopefully that won’t come as soon there as it would’ve done here. Anyone as thinks Frodo Baggins was afraid of death never knew him at all--he was ready to die several times over, you know. No, he was one to face his fears, Frodo was. He didn’t leave ’cause he was afraid of dyin’, but because he’d become afraid of livin’ as life had become for him. He went so as he could learn again how to love life, embrace it and rejoice in it, afore he faces death the last time."

The room had gone quite still, as the Hobbits and Dwarves studied Samwise Gamgee.

The smaller Dwarf at last turned his attention back to Ted Sandyman. "Perhaps Frodo’s coming here to Hobbiton did somehow ruin your life; but if so, it was only because the contrast of his nature compared with your own showed just how shallow yours was, yours and this Lotho’s. I find I pity you, much as Frodo must have pitied you before me.

"I saw him only once before he left the Shire, and not again afterwards. But I knew the Shadow that he helped to defeat, and can see there were many here who recognized the shadow of that Shadow as it lay on the Shire while he was gone.

"I have advice for you--do as he did, and begin making the most of what you are offered in life instead of bemoaning how he supposedly made yours so miserable, and you’ll be amazed at how differently you’re treated. If not, you may find that in the end those who survive your leaving won’t grieve it, while there will always here be those who realize just how much their lives were enriched by knowing Frodo Baggins. You don’t have to appreciate precisely why Frodo left the Shire or what he did out there to realize even your life was better because he lived here.

"Well, you’ve had your half-pint, and you’ve told your story. Be off with you, then, if you can do nothing else to enrich the night besides removing your presence from the company of others."

Ted drained the dregs of his cup, and somehow wasn’t surprised to find they tasted bitter. He roughly dropped the mug on the table, got up, and left.

Twenty minutes later a trader from Buckland who’d stopped the night at the Green Dragon in Bywater was surprised as a strange Hobbit approached his table. "Beg pardon, sir, but could you spare the price of a half for a poor Hobbit as is down on his luck?" The trader looked around the room and saw the disgust aimed at the Hobbit who’d approached him and the pity focused on himself....

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