Bartolo Bracegirdle lounged in the window of the room given to himself and his wife Delphinium in Malco Chubbs’s house, one hip situated on the sill, watching with satisfaction and appreciation as Delphie prepared herself for bed. She’d removed the combs and ribbon from her hair and loosened her braid, and her hair now hung about her bared shoulders, perhaps more beautiful with the silver now in it. The lines that had begun to form around her mouth and between her brows during the Time of Troubles now appeared to be smoothing away, leaving just enough depth to add character to her features.
"It’s so wonderful to have this back," she murmured as she unfastened the pendant she wore, an elaborate silver chain from which a sapphire rose hung. Bartolo had bought it for her as his promise gift. As she carefully replaced it in the velvet-lined box in which it had been returned to her she added, "I still find it so very difficult to understand how Timono could have taken and kept this, knowing it was mine. I remember how he looked when I told him the Gatherers and Sharers had taken it--how he was so angry on my behalf. I wonder if he had it even then, Barti. And then to be found as he was, hiding in a cupboard in a leaf drying shed with a whole bag full of other people’s jewelry, like a teen playing at I’ll-hide-and-you-seek-me."
For the first time since Frodo’s visit earlier in the day Bartolo gave a snort of laughter. "He used to hide there the summer Aunt Lilac Hornblower had that house party she invited so many of us to when we were teens and tweens. No one would bother looking for him, either--he thought he’d found the best place to hide on the whole leaf plantation."
She looked at him with surprise. "And he thought he could hide there and never be found now, did he? Why did they look for him there this time?"
He shrugged, and his face grew sour again. "I suspect Frodo thought of it. He was at that house party, after all."
"Well, at least he recognized this and the other pieces and sent them back--all except for your father’s ring and my amethyst I had from my grandmother."
"From what Isumbard Took told me last time I asked him, they haven’t found a single ring that was taken--not from anyone anywhere in the Shire."
"I wonder if they took Frodo’s ring?"
"I didn’t know he ever had one--he’s never worn a ring to my knowledge."
"Well, I suppose I can understand why he doesn’t--it was his father’s, and it was on Cousin Drogo’s hand when they found him after he’d died. I suppose Frodo probably has bad memories from it." Delphie slipped out of her shift and reached for her nightgown.
"Well, he’s not likely to wear a ring now, now that he’s lost his ring finger," Barti said with a sniff.
She turned back to look at him, her eyes wide. "He lost a finger? How?"
He shrugged again somewhat uncertainly. He supposed he ought not to have spoken of that, although as it was visible to anyone who had eyes to see who managed to notice he supposed that probably wasn’t covered under the oath he’d taken. "How am I supposed to know?"
"What did he want?"
"He found a situation where a Hobbit needs a lawyer capable of writing a contract outside the Shire."
"And he had to approach you himself? Why didn’t he send the Hobbit who needs the contract written?"
"You know Frodo Baggins."
"Did you suggest anyone else?"
"And whom am I supposed to suggest, Delphie? Timono? Balco Hornblower? Those are the only other two who have been allowed to write contracts outside the Shire for six or seven years, love."
"Timono’s out, of course," she sighed, "as he’s sitting in the Lockholes until they finish the investigation and do whatever they’ll do with him. But what’s wrong with Balco?"
He shook his head as he helped her don her nightgown and put his arms around her shoulders. "It appears he was part of the whole thing--that he was helping divert leaf and potato crops out of the Shire by altering contracts after they were written to send them to Lotho instead of their proper buyers."
She shook her head in disbelief. "I had no idea. That Hobbits could do this to other Hobbits is impossible to believe." She reached up and brought down his face and kissed him. "I do love you," she whispered.
His smile was pensive as he kissed her back. "I sometimes wonder how in Middle Earth I managed to win you, beloved.
"It was seeing you standing there at the Free Fair, looking so tentative and suspicious and defiant. Dremma can say what she likes about how Bracegirdles are sullen and bored--I know you’re all like hedgehogs--prickly where folks can see, but soft and warm underneath."
They kissed, then kissed again before Delphinium took him by the hand to lead him to bed, pleased beyond telling that she might rejoice in him whenever she pleased.
When they were done and lay relaxed and sleepy by one another, Delphie asked quietly, "Will you have to go outside the Shire to see this contract signed and all?"
"I’ll need to do so probably a couple times in the next few months, once the first individual I need to see to make certain the contract is written properly is available."
After a moment, Delphie said, "Barti?"
"You always said we might go with you someday when you left the Shire to go to Bree. Do you think the children and I could go with you this time? According to what the Thain said at the last party we attended the Road is now watched by the new King’s folk. It should be safe enough, don’t you think?"
Bartolo thought for a few minutes. According to what Merimac Brandybuck and Isumbard Took had told him the King’s Men were indeed reported to be keeping a close watch on the borders of the Shire, and reports were that Rangers of Eriador with silver stars on the shoulders of their cloaks had been riding attendance on those who traveled between the Brandywine Bridge and Bree since before Yule to assure that no one would molest them. "Yes, I’ve been told the same."
"Do you think your client would mind if we went with you, Barti?"
Bartolo considered. From what he knew of Frodo Baggins he would mind a good deal, but Barti was feeling rebellious enough to feel that the Baggins would deserve it if his distant cousin Delphie were to learn more about Frodo’s business than he’d find comfortable. He smiled at the thought of how distressed Frodo would feel once he found out as he murmured, "Certainly, sweet one, if you wish of course you and the children may go with me."
"Good," she murmured as she turned and nuzzled her head against his chest.
Boboli Hedges sat in the common room of the Green Dragon, nursing a small beer and peacefully enjoying a sweet bun. They’d had another long day of driving yesterday, going up toward Tighfield in the North Farthing to a nursery Mr. Baggins had directed them to, and there they’d found the seeds, plant starts, and even a few fruit trees they’d wanted at a more than fair price, returning rather late last evening to spend one last night in Bywater. A message had been left for him by Frodo telling him that a farmer who raised chickens in the Tooklands would be there about an hour before noon to bring him a dozen chicks, so while they waited the children had taken Lister out to explore the village with Pando Proudfoot and his foster sister Cyclamen.
It had been a very profitable trip after all, Bob concluded, in spite of the frustrating day they’d spent chasing reports of Frodo Baggins. That his new landlord should turn out to be such a self-effacing soul had been a surprise, but he certainly could tell stories in a manner to keep one enthralled; and the tentative terms they’d worked out between them were definitely more than fair, although Frodo had warned him that the laws of Arnor might require more than they’d agreed on so far.
It was as he reached down to take his final bite of his bun that he heard the voices approaching the common room from the entrance hallway.
"I swear that if Da does anything like that again I’ll do well to keep from taking Troll’s Bane to him!" Now, that was enough to get anyone’s attention, Bob thought as he and the barman both straightened to look at the door.
"He just doesn’t understand, Pip," came the reply.
"It’s not just a matter of not understanding, Meriadoc Brandybuck--he is so intent on not believing a word any of us tell him it’s a wonder he doesn’t insist that the Sun was shining at night and the stars a-gleaming in the daytime."
The two newcomers entered with that statement, quite the tallest Hobbits Boboli had ever seen. Why, they both had to be well over four feet tall! Not only were they exceptionally tall, so much so they had to duck to get through the rounded doorway side by side, but both wore swords hanging from belts made of green-tinted links shaped like leaves, although the sheaths to the swords didn’t match.
Both wore a kind of shirt apparently made of metal links, the one with the warm brown hair with a sleeveless leather garment over it finished with bright greens and golds and browns with a pair of white horse heads muzzle to muzzle, the auburn-headed one wearing over his a vest of sheepskin with the pelt to the inside. They approached the bar in a familiar manner.
"Tell me, Rubo," asked the one with the brown hair, "are there any pasties to be had?"
"Yessir, Master Merry, sir--pork pasties as was just made this mornin’. My wife was up early to see them done for luncheon; but I suppose as they’ll do as well for elevenses, sir. Would you like an ale with it, or mayhap a mug of tea?"
The two tall Hobbits looked at one another, then the one called Merry turned back to the barman and told him, "Two each, and make that your dark tea for both of us--and large mugs, mind."
"Yessir--a bowl of sugar by it for you to add as you please, and milk and a dollop o’ honey for Master Peregrin."
"You’re becoming all too predictable, Peregrin Took," Merry said to his companion after he’d tossed a coin to Rubo and they came to take the table next to Boboli’s. "I swear that every server in every inn throughout the entire Shire now knows precisely how you like your tea."
"Considering how many we’ve visited just in the last few months chasing reports of brigands here and there, I suppose that’s to be expected," Pippin replied. He sighed, then went back to his former subject. "I just don’t understand why Da and Mum keep trying to insist we did nothing dangerous out there, Merry, or why Da keeps being so contrary. Talk about predictable! Did you know that they lay wagers every time I enter the Great Smial as to how long it will be before Da says something so outrageous I’ll stalk out again? Now I understand just how Aragorn felt when he realized we were laying them on how soon he’d break down and bolt right out of the Citadel for an hour or two, just to get away for a while from all the strictures of protocol."
"They are betting on how long you’ll last?" Merry asked, his eyes wide. "Do you have any idea who won this time?"
"Hillie, I think--I saw him grinning as we went through the Great Hall on the way toward the main door, and holding out his hands toward Everard and old Ferdibrand as they dug through their pockets. Alinard was looking a bit put out as he handed Jewel’s reins to me."
Merry laughed. "Well," he finally said, "you must be making some progress. We were there for a full day and first breakfast before Uncle Pal went too far this time."
"Probably only because he was busy all day yesterday dealing with the correspondence from Long Cleeve," Pippin said, sighing and shaking his head.
The barman had disappeared into the back room, and now came out carrying a tray with a couple of plates and mugs and a sugar bowl and spoon. He set them down before his guests with a smile and a "Here you are then, Captains, sirs," before returning behind the bar, disposing of his tray, and going back to the accounts he’d been working on before these two came in.
Pippin applied himself to his first pastie while Merry sipped at his tea and looked over at Bob, who was the only other patron in the room. The Brandybuck was examining Bob with interest over the rim of his mug, and at last as he set it down he smiled and asked, "And what brings you to the center of the Shire from the Breelands, sir?"
The farmer was surprised. "An’ how is it’s you know as I’m from the Breelands, sir. Is it writ ’cross me chest or sommat?"
Merry gave another short laugh. "No--it’s the fabric for your vest. My Grandda would buy loads of that fabric each year to provide for all the folk in the Hall who looked to him to provide for clothing, and my dad did the same until it began to become dangerous to leave the Shire at all. But welcome to the Shire anyway. Meriadoc Brandybuck of Brandy Hall and Peregrin Took of the Great Smial at your service, sir."
"Formerly of the Great Smial," muttered the auburn-headed Took.
"Boboli Hedges, formerly o’ Staddle at yours and your families’," Bob replied. "So, ye’re the Captains, then."
"Yes, that’s us. Exterminators of ruffians, orcs, and any spare troll that might be bothering you--I leave those last to Pippin there, though."
"He handles Black Riders, you see," Pippin said cheekily to Bob. Then, noting a brief look of discomfort on his friend’s face he said, "Sorry, Merry. Should have kept my mouth shut, I suppose."
Merry shrugged, then turned decidedly back toward Boboli. "And what brings you all the way to Bywater, Mr. Hedges, sir?" he asked. "Are you moving into the Shire now?"
"No--had to meet with a Hobbit as lives in Hobbiton as holds the title to the land where me and mine is lookin’ to buildin’ up a farm."
"And what Hobbit in Hobbiton owns property outside the Shire?" Pippin asked, but Merry had gone rather still.
Merry examined Bob more closely as he rubbed at the back of his right wrist and commented softly, "I must suppose it has to do with that maintenance business Strider was going on about." He then asked Bob directly, "Did you have to see Sam or Frodo?"
"Mr. Baggins. So, you know about it, then?"
"Some, although none of us truly understands much of what it means. Seems to be due to some custom of Gondor and Arnor, though--probably going back to when the Kings came back to Middle Earth from Númenor."
Pippin was again nibbling at his second pastie as he also eyed the Breelander. "But I understood," he said as he swallowed, "all the lands given Frodo here in Arnor were up somewhere around Dead Man’s Dike or something."
"Well," Bob told them, "one of ’em lies right north o’ the Shire near the Brandywine, and that’s where we was fixin’ t’settle when a Ranger come in and told us as we’d have to settle with Lord Iorhael in order t’stay there, as he owns the land atween the two standin’ stones as marks the north corners’n the rock slip as marks the south."
"I see," Merry said consideringly as he picked up one of his pasties and began eating it.
"Oh, and I was asked to bear the regards o’ Mr. Faradir ’n his son and another Ranger called Eregiel to the two o’ ye if’n I should see ye, like."
"Faradir?" Pippin said. "Wasn’t he the one who always called Frodo and Sam by their titles and Elvish names, Merry?"
Merry was nodding as he took a sip of his ale to wash down his bite of pastie. "Yes, that’s the one." Suddenly he was smiling. "And I’ll wager he didn’t tell you Frodo’s right name, did he? Had you going all over the Shire looking for ‘Lord Iorhael’ with no one having a clue as to whom you meant?"
"There ye have it right," agreed the farmer. "We was in a right state tryin’ t’figger it out, and chasin’ after Mr. Baggins in hopes as he’d tell us."
Both Merry and Pippin were laughing, Pippin holding a napkin to his mouth to keep from losing the last bite of pastie he’d taken.
Merry managed to choke out, "Oh, I can just imagine you showing up on the doorstep of Bag End, and Frodo opening the door to your question, ‘Beg pardon, Mr. Baggins, sir, but are you Lord Iorhael?’ Bet his face was totally white except for the bright pink spots on his cheeks."
"Oh, you might as well of been there t’see," Bob assured him.
"How much longer will you stay, Mr. Hedges?" Merry asked.
"We’re to meet with a farmer o’er a matter o’ some chicks afore we leave. Should be here any time now, I suppose. Hope to make it t’ the Floatin’ Log for the night, and make it the rest o’ the way to Bree tomorrow. At least now we know the way proper."
It was at that moment a number of children, among them Frodo’s young cousins Pando and Cyclamen, dashed into the common room. "Dad!" Teo said. "The Took farmer’s here with the chickens."
"That’s that then," Bob said, rising and reaching into a pocket for a small coin to leave.
Merry and Pippin’s eyes were fastened on the garments the lad was wearing. Merry asked, "Frodo gave him that?"
Pippin, however, was shaking his head. "No, Merry. He left a number of things back in Bree, remember?" He looked at the lad. "Did Nob give you that?"
"Yes, ’n Mr. Frodo said as he was glad I could fit ’em."
As he wiped his chin Pippin said quietly, "Well, it will be interesting to see what Frodo has to say about all this, Merry."
Merry made a face. "Phht--he’ll not say a word and you know it. He’ll not allow anyone else to know about it or admit anything about it if I know my Frodo--and you know I do, Pip." He turned to Bob. "Well, it’s always a pleasure to meet a new neighbor, Mr. Hedges, sir. One day we’ll ride out to visit you if we may."
"Ye’re welcome at any time," Bob assured them. "Well, I must be off." He shook hands with both of them, then walked to the bar. Rubo looked up with question from his accounts, then smiled and went into the back room and fetched out the large hamper. Bob took it with a nod of thanks and left, followed by the children, Cyclamen Proudfoot waving at the two Captains as she exited.
"So," Pippin commented quietly to his cousin, "Frodo has learned he is a landlord. Wish he’d tell us about it."
"Well, we can go out and meet with the Hedges family when we have enough time free. Frodo won’t speak of it unless he’s pressed--we know that already."
"Yes, I know--close-mouthed Baggins that he is. Well, hurry up, and we’ll be at Bag End to surprise him in time for his elevenses."
"As if he wasn’t likely to have had second breakfast ready for us yesterday morning," Merry commented. "And you have room for more elevenses after two whole pasties?"
"That was just second breakfast for me," Pippin assured him, and he picked up his mug to finish his tea.
"So, you’re off now?" asked Dremma Chubbs as Delphie and Bartolo accepted their wraps from Bella.
"Yes," Delphie answered. "The children have been spending the week with their cousins, and we really must fetch them away before they drive the rest of the family mad. And Bartolo has some research to do in order to advise a client, as well as preparations to take care of the business of the client Cousin Frodo advised him of the other day."
"Who’s the client?" Malco asked.
Bartolo shrugged. "About the only thing I can say is that the other party was from the Breelands, and I’ll probably have to go out of the Shire at least twice this year to get papers written and signed properly. After that there’s a chance I may have to meet with each of the parties one or more times a year, and if anything happens to my client within the Shire I’ll need to consult with his designated heir or heirs."
"Sounds uncomfortable," Dremma said, folding her hands in her lap and settling herself more firmly upon the cushion of her chair. "I certainly wouldn’t want to have to go outside the Shire. Why, you might end up running into Men out there."
"Considering there are far more Men in Middle Earth than there are Hobbits, it’s almost a certainty I’ll have to meet Men once I leave the Shire," Bartolo said in a tone of disgust. "I’ve certainly had to meet them every other time I’ve gone to Bree. After all, the Prancing Pony belongs to Barliman Butterbur, who is very much a Man. However, most Men in my experience are nothing like those Lotho and that Sharkey brought into the Shire."
"And you have to remember that the new King is a Man, and everyone says it’s his kinsmen who patrol our outer borders," Delphie added.
"I don’t like the idea of us having to depend on Men to protect us from other Men," Malco muttered. "As for a King--well, we’ll have a new King when the King returns!"
All looked at him with upraised brows at that statement, and then Delphinium Bracegirdle broke out into peals of laughter. Even Bartolo appeared amused, an unusual expression to see on his face. "Well, it appears, Malco, as that particular unlikely event had occurred--only instead of the return of Arvedui Last-king we have his descendant Aragorn son of Arathorn."
"Is that his name?" Dremma asked. "I thought it was Elless or something like that."
Bartolo waved his hand. "You want his full name? Talk to Baggins or his gardener or his cousins--I’m certain they’ll all be happy enough to rattle it off for you. But the other night I was assured the King was born Aragorn son of Arathorn, and that he has a spate of other names or titles or something like besides." He wrapped his cloak about him and helped Delphie to don hers. "Thank you for inviting us," he said, his tone almost grudging. Then as he turned to the door and found Bella waiting nearby, her expression a bit wary, he added, "And Bella, thank you, too." He put his arm around his wife’s shoulder and together they headed for the front door, which was opened for them by a much surprised Bella.
Their trap had already been brought around and their luggage stowed. Bartolo helped his wife onto the bench and then mounted it himself, and with a nod of parting to those who watched from the window of the parlor he released the brake and gave a flick of the reins, and they were off.
Once they were out of sight of the Chubbs place Delphinium gave her husband a sidelong glance, then grinned. "I cannot believe that Malco said that!" she said.
"He certainly didn’t think it out before it popped out of him," the lawyer replied.
"I hadn’t really thought of it, but if we go out to Bree with you we will have to meet Men, won’t we?"
"You don’t have to go," Bartolo said, surprised to realize he felt disappointed.
"Oh, I still want to go with you, Barti. I just think it’s time more folk get used to dealing with those from outside the Shire, and if we’re to be part of the restored kingdom we’ll have to learn to get along with those Men who are part of it, too. And I don’t want our children growing up terrified of meeting all Men if it’s true most are nothing like Lotho and Sharkey’s folk."
"I assure you they aren’t."
"What kind of folk would we meet at the Prancing Pony?"
He shrugged. "All kinds--good, bad, indifferent. Most Breelander Men are very much like Breelander Hobbits--more interested in farming or running market stalls and in their next meal than about anything else."
She took a deep breath and nodded, and Bartolo could feel her relax somewhat, reassured by his words.
They arrived in Hardbottle shortly after elevenses, and as they drove up to Bartolo’s sister’s smial all eight children, his and Delphie’s five and his sister’s three, poured out the door to greet them. The Bracegirdle children ranged in age from Persivo at twenty-six to little Alyssa who had just turned ten last month. Of the five of them, however, it was Persivo who both delighted and frustrated his father the most, for he was the one who had inherited the most of the Baggins nature from his mother.
He was taller and more slender than most of the other tweens in the village, with hair of the same striking dark brown his mother’s cousin Frodo had sported. His eyes, on the other hand, matched his hair, being the dark brown typical of the Bracegirdles, and his skin was less ivory and more peach in tone than was seen in Frodo. He’d inherited both his paternal line’s cleverness and his maternal family’s vaunted sensitivity and deep-seated intelligence. But it was the Baggins compassion that took precedence in Persivo Bracegirdle rather than the Bracegirdle taciturnity, and this was one thing to spark wonder and frustration in the heart of his father.
A windstorm tore the roof off Leno Brockhole’s place? Bartolo shook his head because he’d warned Leno it was probably going to happen as the thatch hadn’t been properly tied down in several years and needed to be replaced anyway; Persivo was found that afternoon up on the Brockhole’s house helping to replace rafters and supports, then came home all upset that not only was the Brockhole house still open in part to the rain expected that night, but he’d found a birds nest in the blown-off thatch with all its nestlings dead. Why the lad had to feel sorry for a bunch of birds Bartolo couldn’t fathom. When the Goold lass fell and broke her wrist Persivo had skipped his lessons in riding three days in a row to assist her family to take care of her. And he was always spending his free time at Gammer Alma’s place, helping her as he could and talking with her, listening avidly to her stories.
Persivo had inherited his father’s interest in the law and the writing of agreements and contracts, but so far their attempts to have lessons between them had been a failure. There was no question Persivo understood his father’s teaching, but he was constantly seeing more far-reaching consequences of proposed actions and specific wording than his father had ever thought of. Bartolo found this tendency to analyze everything taught both disturbing and confusing. Why bother so with trying to foresee possible future complications?
Well, there the five of them were, and even Persivo’s eyes were lit up to see them.
"Daddy! Mummy!" cried Alyssa. "You’re here at last!"
Begonia, twenty-two, and Pet, seventeen, were hurrying forward with their brother Enrico, thirteen, right behind them. "Dad! Mum! Can we go home now?" "Mum, can cousin Ladro come and stay with us next week?"
And then they were in the hole, dragged there by Alyssa and Enrico, being chattered at from all sides. "Did you enjoy yourselves?" "We went to----" "No, not yet, Ricki!" "Did you know that caterpillars grow up to be butterflies?" "Uncle Lothario says----"
At that last name a good deal of the pleasure he knew at seeing his children fled Bartolo Bracegirdle. Lothario hadn’t been here, had he? Of all his closer Bracegirdle relatives besides Timono, the one he had the least respect for had to be Lothario. Lothario was, for a Bracegirdle, quite charming in contrast to the rest of the family--charming and shockingly weak and easily turned by flattery or bullying. He’d not been right out there openly cheating folks and thus destroying the good name of Bracegirdle as had done Timono and Lothario’s brother Bigelow, but chances were he had been involved around the fringes of Lotho and Timono’s activities during the Time of Troubles. His brother Bigelow would most likely have been in the thick of it, but Bigelow loved gambling--just as long as the only one involved in the wager who wasn’t gambling was himself. His habit of using weighted dice and dosing rival ponies in races had finally led some years earlier to him and his son Bedro--as stupid and bullying a lout of a child as had ever been born--to being banished out of the South Farthing on the authority of Benlo Bracegirdle’s stern old dad Benbo as family head. They’d ended up in some obscure little village on the northwestern edges of the Shire, still uncomfortably close to Hardbottle as far as Bartolo was concerned. But to have Lothario here around his and his sister Lavinia’s children....
Then they were being drawn into Lavinia’s dining room where elevenses had obviously just finished up, and there sat Lavinia and her husband Balbo Hornblower, Balbo’s brother Milton, Delphie’s Gammer Alma Grubb, and Lothario himself. Bartolo forced himself to remain polite for the sake of family harmony, but he was feeling quite out of sorts by the time they’d managed to convince Lavinia they wouldn’t starve during the five-minute drive to their own place and gathered the children’s things and started for home.
The two lads went ahead on foot, and were opening the doors to the stable by the time Bartolo drove up with the trap. Then Delphie and the older lasses were hurrying away with luggage as Bartolo and the lads saw Dottie out of her harness and into the stall beside her brother Spotty and the trap wiped down and into its place by the small family carriage while Alyssa filled their feed buckets. The two spotted ponies may not have been given very original names, but they were well loved by the family and were always well cared for.
It wasn’t until they were in the house and settling down to a combination of late elevenses and early luncheon for Bartolo and Delphie that Alyssa said, "Guess what, Daddy?"
"What, Morsel?" he returned.
"Uncle Lothario took us to Michel Delving with him and Gammer Alma to see her new will registered."
"Who wrote a new will for her?" Bartolo asked, suddenly on the alert.
"Uncle Lothario did. Wasn’t that nice of him? He didn’t even charge her nothing for it."
"Anything. He didn’t charge her anything for it," Bartolo corrected her automatically, all the while thinking furiously. "Did the deputy Mayor register it right away?"
"No," Ricki said, shaking his head. "He said something wasn’t written right on the third page and it would need to be done over, so Lothario’s going to have to write it again."
Delphie was also obviously concerned. "To my knowledge there was nothing wrong with her old will, and there haven’t been any real changes in the family standings. What was he up to, do you think?"
Persivo gave a sideways shrug, then looking down at his plate he said, "I managed to look at it on the way there, and it seems to me it was giving Uncle Bester more of her farm shares than he’d had before."
Delphie’s face went a bit stiff. Her cousin Bester Grubb was an acquisitive sort. "So, Bester was behind this, was he? And Lothario was willing to help rewrite Gammer’s will just out of the goodness of his heart, was he? And just how much do you think Bester was paying him to convince Gammer Alma to leave more to him, do you think? I think, Barti, you and I will go over there this evening."
"Definitely," Bartolo agreed. "Gammer Alma can be talked into about anything."
He was in his study finding his copy of the last will he’d written for Gammer Alma when Persivo knocked at the open door. "Dad--can I talk to you for a moment?"
"May--may I talk to you," his father corrected him. "Yes, son--come in." He located Gammer Alma’s file, found the last will, and laid it on his desk while replacing the rest in the drawer where he kept his clients’ files. Once the drawer was locked again he sat down and faced his son expectantly.
Persivo sat in the chair that sat by the smaller desk where his mother often worked at accounts and where he and his brother and sisters had all learned to read and write. He was studying his hands, then looked up at his father. "When I heard that Uncle Lothario was taking Gammer Alma up to Michel Delving to register a new will for her, I insisted we go with her. I know you’ve always written her wills for her before, and I was worried for her. It didn’t feel right." At his father’s nod he grew more confident. "I managed to slip the will out of Lothario’s bag and read it, and when we got there I managed to get a moment alone with Mr. Isumbard Took and told him I thought this had been written at the request of Uncle Bester and not because Gammer really wanted it done herself. So he spoke with Mr. Baggins, who’d arrived a bit late, and Mr. Baggins suggested to Gammer she walk over to the Whitfoot house to pay her respects, and then when he came back he read the will through thoroughly and said as it wasn’t writ proper on the third page."
"Written properly--it wasn’t written properly."
Persivo nodded his understanding. "He said as it wasn’t written properly on the third page," he corrected his former wording.
"Very well done, son." Bartolo sighed. "Does Gammer Alma have a copy of this will?"
"I’m not certain."
"I’ll go sort it out this evening, then. Thank you for watching out for your Gammer’s interests, son."
Persivo shone with his father’s expressed approval. Then his face grew a bit concerned again. "There’s one other thing, Dad," he said. "We stayed overnight at the inn there in Michel Delving."
"Who paid for it?" Bartolo asked, interrupting some.
"Uncle Lothario did. He seems awful flush anymore, Dad."
Bartolo indicated his own agreement. "So, what else happened there in Michel Delving?"
"Uncle Lothario went to visit Cousin Timono at the Lockholes. I know as Reggie Bolger as followed his cousin Fatty in the Time of Troubles said as it was all dark and horrid, but they aren’t that way at all. Cousin Timono has a comfortable room with bed and chair and table and desk and privy and all. The walls is all stone----"
"Are all stone."
Persivo sighed. "The walls are all stone and the floors, but the room is actually comfortable, I think."
"You went with him?"
"I was trying to keep an eye on him." At his father’s nod he continued, "Timono was on about how he hadn’t done nothing----" At his father’s look he changed it to, "he hadn’t done anything, and Uncle Lothario was saying as he understood and it was all too bad they were persecuting him so. But Cousin Timono slipped a note to Lothario while Lothario was standing close to the bars. Lothario read it and shook his head, and Cousin Timono looked all upset and just slumped down in his chair, and Uncle Lothario just shrugged. But Mr. Isumbard Took afterwards asked me if he could talk to me, and he said as Mr. Bernigard Took, what’s the----"
"Who is the."
The lad took another deep breath. "He said that Mr. Bernigard Took, who’s the oldest lawyer in the Great Smial and who’s supposed to be the best in the entire Shire, is going to accept three apprentices after Midsummer. He asked if I still wanted to become a lawyer, and said as he’d been advised to let me know that if I want it, I could be one of the apprentices. Do you think I could, Dad? I know that Mr. Bernigard is awful old now, but I’ve heard you say as when you was a lad--when you were a lad--he was the best and knew the most of any lawyer in the whole place, too. Do you think I could? It would be different from studying with you, I know, but maybe it would be easier, ’cause I’d not be as likely to quarrel with someone I don’t know so well."
"Did Mr. Isumbard ask you about the visit with Timono?"
"No, but I did tell him anyway, after." Then after a moment Persivo asked again, "Do you think as I could?"
Bartolo was considering. "Your mother and I will have to discuss it and think on it a time. I won’t say no now, for I know as it’s an opportunity not likely to be offered again. But it would be hard for us, having you go so far away and all."
Persivo nodded. "I know. But all the lawyers what’s--who have been helping in the Council Hole are all Tooks, and all trained by him. And then--then, once I’m accepted to write contracts and agreements, Dad, would you then teach me about writing them outside the Shire as well? Please, Dad?"
His father found himself smiling. "If you wish, son. I’d be honored to teach you about writing contracts for the Breelands; and it looks as if I’ll be learning what’s necessary to write one for Arnor in general soon as well. Would you like to sit in with me as I learn?"
Again the lad smiled. "Could I, Dad? That’s wonderful! I’d love to! But when will we do it?"
Bartolo shrugged. "Probably in a few weeks. The deputy Mayor will be sending a letter when he’s heard from the King’s Steward about when it’s to be."
"Will he come here, do you think?"
"No, we’ll probably go out to meet with whoever it is in Bree."
Bartolo Bracegirdle found himself very pleased to see the excitement in his oldest son’s features.