Frodo, as Merry had predicted, refused to elaborate on the visit from his new tenant. All he would say was, "Apparently Faradir told him to work it out with me."
"You won’t make him leave the property, will you?"
"Of course not!"
Pippin commented, "Nice shirt and surcoat his son was wearing. Found it in Bree, did he?"
Frodo shook his head stubbornly.
Merry asked, "And who will be writing the lease agreement? Or are you going to sell the land to him?"
"I have the matter in hand."
Frodo pointedly changed the subject. "Where," he asked Pippin with an upraised brow, "has your tabard gone? Or have you torn it so badly you can’t wear it any more?"
Pippin shrugged. "I’ll admit I’ve been stressing it a good deal. So when old Toby suggested I’d do better wearing a sheepskin vest over my mail while having to push through hedges and thickets, Pervinca decided he was right and had it made for me. It took an entire pelt, I’m told. At least there’s no thread from embroidery to hang up on brambles. I’ll save the tabard for those times when I must impress someone or am on Aragorn’s business."
But when he tried to bring the conversation back to the Hedges, Frodo refused to cooperate, letting it be known he didn’t wish to discuss it further, and with a sigh the two cousins dropped it, shaking their heads at their beloved Frodo’s obstinacy lately.
Boboli Hedges and his family headed home, their wagon filled with seeds, starts, and chicks. They made the Floating Log and spent the night, setting off the following morning immediately after an early first breakfast for the Brandywine Bridge and beyond, stopping a couple times to make certain the chicks were continuing to do well.
All seemed designed to speed their return to the outer world--the weather was again mild and warming; the road dry and smooth; and they seemed to have a following breeze that helped ease the load on Poppet.
There was a market when they went through a village called Whitfurrow, and they were able to pick up some food from the market stalls to tide them over much of the rest of the ride until they reached Bree, well after sunset on the second day after they left Bywater. The following morning they set out again for the farm, happy to know they were on the last leg of their long journey. A horseman approached them, proving to be one of the Rangers, and quietly escorted them a good part of the way, turning away only when they turned up the track Boboli himself had blazed as they finally approached their farm.
Holdfast met them at the place the track left the woods and entered the clearing that served as the door yard. He watched as his father and brother dropped wearily from the wagon seat, Teoro going around the side of the wagon to take Lister from Lilia and set him at last down on the ground, and his features lightened in relief. "I was hopin’ as he’d managed to catch ye up," he admitted, "but it’s been terrible lonesome here by meself."
They examined the work he’d finished--a proper hen house and cleverly designed coop for the hoped-for chicks; the finished paddock; the garden plot spaded and ready for the starts and seeds. More of the front parlor was cleared now, and a third bedroom had been started.
"What’s the Lord Iorhael like?" Holdfast asked them as they ate an early dinner.
"Him’s nice," Anemone assured him. "Him’s very tall and thin, and his hole is quite grand. He loves to tell stories, too, and we played with his cousins as lives down the Hill from ’im."
Bob smiled at his younger daughter’s description, then turned to his older son. "His right name’s Frodo Baggins, and he is the one as was adopted by old Mad Baggins as we’ve heard tell of. Like your sister said, he’s rather on the tall side, though his cousins what went with ’im’s taller ’n him now. Fact is, I don’t think as there’s been anyone taller’n his cousins ever in the history o’ Hobbits.
"We talked a good deal, and I think as we have a proper agreement worked out atween us. He admits as he’s all new at this lord business hisself, and lets on as it was the King’s idea to give ’im all the land as he controls now. He’s been servin’ as deputy Mayor for the Shire since the four of ’em come back from the war, and what we hear is he’s right good at it. Has a good sense o’ humor from what we could tell, but mostly he’s rather retirin’. He don’t seem to be all that well right now. Guess as him was terrible hurt in the war, and don’t like talkin’ ’bout it."
"Hard to think on Hobbits fightin’ in no wars," Holdfast said, shaking his head.
"I agree," his father replied.
"He was afraid o’ Lister," Teo said, "but he treated ’im well enough."
Holdfast looked at his brother in surprise. "Him fought in a war, but is afraid of a little dog like Lister?"
Bob shrugged. "Says as he was never around much in the way o’ dogs growin’ up."
"What happened to his folks what made him need adoptin’?" Holdfast asked.
"Died when he was a little’un. Stayed with family in Buckland for a time afore his Uncle Bilbo took ’im in. He said as he’ll have a Shire lawyer study with one as knows the laws about lords’ lands ’n see to it as the agreement’s writ up proper ’n all. Give us decent meals and spoke to all of us as if we all mattered." Then after a moment’s reflection Bob added, "I think as we’s come into a sight better situation than we’d realized. He appears a mighty fine soul, lad--a mighty fine Hobbit. I doubt as we could o’ done better if’n we’d tried."
Soon after the meal they all went to bed. The chicks were safely bedded down, and tomorrow they had a hundred things to do--starts and young trees to get into the ground, a few bushes to plant, stock to take on what would be best to tackle next, a couple trees to fell for use in reinforcing the walls of the smial. It could be over a month before they’d see the Shire lawyer, or so they’d been warned. But in the meantime they’d do what they could to make this even more their home.
Isumbard arrived first on the day Frodo was to return to work in Michel Delving, and unlocked the door to the Mayor’s office. He’d stopped by the Whitfoot’s house, and learned that Frodo had sent word that he would return this morning, which meant he was likely to arrive at about eleven. He scanned Frodo’s desk to see what new items might have been added in the three days Frodo had been gone to Hobbiton, and saw that the pile of claims for reparations had once again grown appreciably and that there appeared to be three new contracts--it looked like a crop sales contract, a partnership agreement, and the transfer of a deed.
He saw that Frodo’s mug had been cleaned, and a pitcher sat ready to hold fresh water. He set the covered plate Mina Whitfoot had sent over with him and checked under the napkin. She’d sent a bowl of sauce of apples and a pewter spoon to eat it with; thin slices of ham and cheese, two pullet eggs, and a buttered scone. He replaced the napkin back over the plate, glad that Mina continued to be so thoughtful toward their cousin.
He’d just come back into the Mayor’s office with the water pitcher filled when he heard voices in the outer hallway from the entrance. "Is this where Gammer has her will signed, Uncle Lothario?" A lass’s voice.
"Yes, Alyssa. The deputy Mayor will sign it and register it."
"Is he nice?"
"The deputy Mayor? Oh, nice enough, I suppose."
"What is his name? It isn’t Mr. Whitfoot, is it?" They were entering the room--Lothario Bracegirdle, a small lass beside him, a lad in his late tweens and one in his early teens, and old Alma Grubb from Hardbottle. And what were they doing here so early?
"Will Whitfoot is the regular Mayor, but he’s still recovering from his imprisonment. Frodo Baggins is deputy Mayor."
"Oh, I know him--he tells the stories at the Free Fair!"
"Does he now?" Lothario asked as he glanced around the room. Bard noted the brief nod of satisfaction and relief the Bracegirdle lawyer gave when he realized Frodo hadn’t yet arrived, although he schooled his expression quickly enough when he realized he was being observed by the Took. "But it appears that Mr. Baggins isn’t in at the moment. That’s really too bad! Perhaps Mr. Took will sign and register your Gammer Alma’s will, then."
Bard was glad he could offer a valid excuse, for even if he’d been authorized to sign valid wills he would have thought several times about this one, considering the expression he’d caught in Lothario’s eyes. "I’m sorry," he said, "but both the Mayor and the Thain have agreed that no one is to sign and register valid wills save for the deputy Mayor. And Frodo sent a note that he would be riding over this morning and will undoubtedly be here by eleven o’clock. I would suggest you visit the Mathom House or something similar to entertain yourselves until his arrival."
Lothario was clearly thinking the situation through. "Mr. Baggins isn’t here, yet, then?"
Bard found it hard to keep apparent warmth in his voice. "As I said, not yet. He is riding over from Hobbiton this morning. He undoubtedly had business to see to late yesterday or early this morning. There is a wedding he’s helping to prepare for there, you realize."
"I see," Lothario said. "Well, children, Mistress Alma--we’ll return in a while and see if Mr. Baggins has arrived yet."
As the group left the room the older lad stayed back. "You go on and I’ll meet you at the Mathom House. I need to use the privy."
Lothario shrugged. "Don’t take any longer than you need," he suggested, and he led the others out of the hole.
"Pardon me, Mr. Took," the lad said, "but if you could show me where the privy is?"
Perhaps if the lad hadn’t in many ways reminded him of Frodo himself Bard would only have pointed the way; but something in the earnest way the young Hobbit looked at him inspired Bard to say, "It’s over this way--I was heading that direction myself."
Once they approached the door the tween looked out toward the main entrance to make certain the rest were indeed out of the hole, then turned to the Took. "Thank you for showing me, but I doubt Uncle Lothario will give me much time."
"He’s your uncle?"
"Second cousin twice removed, actually. It’s this will he’s brought--it’s for Gammer Alma, but I know as she don’t--doesn’t need a new one presented. It’s just not that long since my dad wrote her last revision, after one of our Grubb cousins as was in it died a few months ago."
Bard nodded, then asked, "Why did Lothario write and present one this time?"
"I can guess. The farm as she was leaving to Cousin Bredo Grubb in all the other wills this time has Bester Grubb’s name by it. Now, Cousin Bredo’s always lived on it and worked it, and it’s always been understood as he and his family would get it. But Cousin Bester’s wanted it for a long time. I suspect that once Bester knowed--knew that Dad was to be in Overhill at Mr. Malco and Missus Dremma’s house party for a week Bester thought as he’d get a new will writ and signed making him the one as gets the farm, and paid Uncle Lothario to write it that way and convince Gammer to sign it. She can be easy to persuade sometimes."
"And how do you know what was in her last will?"
The lad again glanced back toward the door to make certain none had returned. "Well, I’ve wanted to be a lawyer myself for a time, and my dad, he’s been teaching me. He had me go with him after Cousin Lester died so she could decide as what she wanted done with the portion as she’d been leaving to him, so I was there as he made sure the rest was still all the way she wanted it. And now and then he’d show me how it was writ and explain to both of us, me mostly, as why it was writ that way. It’s just that nothing’s changed, and it’s not been that long. As we were walking home across the village he explained he has to sit real still and not speak while she’s thinking, or he could maybe talk her into changing something as she really don’t--doesn’t want changed, she’s so easy to persuade. She just likes to be agreeable, you see."
"Yes, I see." Bard examined the earnest tween. "You’re Delphinium and Bartolo’s eldest, aren’t you?" At the lad’s nod, he smiled. "That you’re looking out for your great-gammer is wonderful. I’ll advise Cousin Frodo when he comes, and he’ll give your dad time to see it sorted out properly. We found the copy of the last will amongst all the documents that had been left while Will was locked up, and we know it’s not that long since Frodo signed and registered it as a valid will and sent it back to your dad. He’ll question another so soon, and written by a different lawyer when the original lawyer’s still alive and close to her."
The younger Hobbit looked relieved. "That’s good," he replied. "She’ll be upset once she really understands that she was talked into giving the farm to Bester when she really wants Bredo to have it, you know."
"So you’re apprenticed to your dad, are you?"
The expression on the tween’s face twisted. "Well, he’d like that, but we both realize as it’s not working out with him trying to teach me. I don’t know--maybe it’s because I have so much Grubb and Baggins in me or something, but I read something and notice how easy, the way it’s been written, for someone to take advantage of the contract; but when I try to tell Dad he just doesn’t understand what I mean. He knows what was meant and he just thinks as it could only be done as it was meant--or the way he thinks as it was meant, at least. We argue all the time, we do. And since the Time of Troubles got over he’s allowed as perhaps we should find another lawyer what would accept me as a prentice, and I think he’s been considering Cousin Rico."
"Rico might be good, I’d think, although I’m not certain he’d understand about the problems of wording you mentioned either. But you’re very right, for it was just such phrases as you’ve described that gave Timono and Lotho the idea to change wording just slightly to give them all kinds of advantages that weren’t meant, or to write in common requirements that weren’t needed just so they could declare a contract broken by the other party so Lotho could just take what he wanted. They wrote several contracts to purchase smials requiring the seller had to thatch the roof freshly, then called them broken when his agent arrived on the day the conditions were to be examined when the seller tried to point out the roof was sound, what with it being a smial and all, and there was no way it could be thatched, explaining he thought that clause was only intended to indicate there should be no leaks into the hole. We’ve been amazed at some of the ploys we’ve heard Lotho and Timono used."
The lad’s eyes opened in dismayed amazement. "They did things like that?" At Bard’s nod he shook his head. "That’s disgusting. No wonder Timono’s in the Lockups." Again he glanced at the doors. "I’d best use the privy quick and get out there, or my little sister will come looking for me--or Lothario hisself--himself. Thanks for listening. I don’t want Cousin Bester taking advantage over my gammer like that, or to see Cousin Bredo cheated out of the farm he’s always worked and loves."
Once he returned to the Mayor’s office Bard called Hillie, who’d just arrived, over and asked him to go wait for Frodo’s arrival at the public stable. "Tell him Lothario Bracegirdle is here with a questionable will, and suggest he find some reason why it can’t be filed today to give the lady’s regular lawyer time to find out just how Lothario managed to convince the client she needed a new will so soon after the last one was filed."
Hillie nodded and hurried off, taking some of his own paperwork he’d been working on with him so that his wait could prove productive. Satisfied he’d done the best he could to allow a potentially difficult situation to be diverted before it went too far, Bard took the top ten claims for reparation off to read them.
My home in Little Delving was always being gone through by Lotho Sackville-Baggins’s Gatherers and Sharers. I don’t know why they kept coming back to my house, because my wife and me, we haven’t had much of nothing since they first started coming round. They took everything worth anything their first time, even.
They took my wife’s gold promise bracelet--it was from my gammer Jodacia. They took my Dwarf-made silver shirt studs as my wife gave me--they was from her dad....
Every time Frodo read one of these requests and knew it to be honest, Bard knew, it seemed to wound him that much the more inside. Many didn’t truly want to receive any money or property back--in most cases all they truly wanted was to be able to share the pain and grief. And Frodo wrote to each and every one, wrote his understanding of their loss, wrote his compassion for their grief, wrote his hope that they could help to ease their pain. An heirloom pocket watch taken here; all the family porcelain there; a silver tea service reportedly made by Men somewhere else; a missing child; a business’s inventory wantonly destroyed; a set of silver spoons stolen--the only item of any worth the family had; a china figure smashed because there was nothing worth taking from the hole; the family dog beaten to death because it had had the temerity to bark at these invaders of its family’s home; the herd of dairy cows taken and slaughtered to give Lotho’s Big Men and the Hobbits who helped them a feast; bales of fine wool destined for the spinners and weavers of the North Farthing purposely broken open and fouled because it was believed treasures must be hidden within; larders emptied; cellars stripped clean; barns set afire....
Most had made it through the Time of Troubles, and most were putting their lives together again. But the Goldworthys of Pincup would never have their son back again; nor would the Tunnelys from near the beginnings of the Westmarches rejoice to eat the Yule feast from the fine plates they’d used for the past three hundred years; and little Geranium Smallfoot from Budgeford would never again sleep the sounder knowing that their family’s ratter slept in his basket at the foot of her bed and would run and play with her in the fields when they both awoke in the morning. It was such happenings as these that distressed every Hobbit who helped in the Mayor’s office and that tore at the heart of Frodo Baggins.
Two of the claims he read he marked as totally unlikely; and one he knew to be false but was tearfully written he simply placed in the basket to be investigated to spare Frodo the pain of reading it and then the realization his own compassion had been used against him in order to try to get something more than the family deserved.
By the time Frodo arrived Lothario had already returned with his party and was waiting impatiently, barely masking his anxiety as to whether or not Frodo would agree just to sign and register the will. Frodo was carrying his saddlebags as he entered the Council Hole, and Everard hurried out to take them from him. "Shall I take these to the Mayor’s house for you, Frodo?" he asked.
"I can carry them myself when I go for luncheon," Frodo protested.
"Certainly you could--although knowing you you’ll probably also be wanting to take a number of documents or claims for reparation with you to review," Everard pointed out. "A couple letters just arrived a few minutes ago for Will, and I see there’s one for you as well as a couple of invitations to spring festivals or balls."
Frodo reluctantly surrendered his saddlebags to the Took, then hung up his cloak and two of his water bottles, bringing the third into the office with him.
"Nice ride?" Bard greeted him.
"Beautiful this morning. It’s nice to see the Sun again after the last week of colder, wet weather. And Sam’s trees are absolutely springing up! I’m amazed--that dust the Lady gave him has so blessed the Shire!"
"You look rested."
"Rested?" Frodo commented as he took his seat behind the Mayor’s desk. "I suppose so, although I seemed to have had more to do than I’ve had to do for weeks there in the region around the Hill." He looked at the Bracegirdle with interest. "You have a document to have reviewed and registered?" he asked Lothario as Hillie entered and returned to the table at which he generally worked.
Lothario shrugged and held out his packet of papers. "Only a will to see signed and registered," he said dismissively.
"I see," Frodo said as he took the will and began scanning it. He turned the page, then got to the third page where he paused, reread something more slowly, then looked up. He turned the document where it could be read by Lothario and asked, "What does this mean?" as he pointed to a paragraph about three quarters of the way down the page.
Lothario looked surprised, read it, then shrugged. "It’s only a standard notation that the individual for whom the will is written has asked it be written of her own free will," he explained.
Frodo reread part of the first page, and then the third page, then looked at the elderly Hobbitess who was sitting in a chair near the desk where Hillie was working. "Mistress Grubb," he said, "this will was written for you, was it not?"
Gammer Alma looked up as if surprised to find the deputy Mayor was addressing her. "Oh, yes," she admitted. "Young Lothario here offered to write it up for me."
"Did you ask him to write this revision of your will?"
"No," she said, "He offered to do it."
"Did you want your will to be rewritten now?" he asked.
"Well, I don’t think it will hurt anything," she temporized.
"Did you wish to change any of the bequests you’d written into your last revision, one which was written only a few months ago?"
"No, not really."
"Who decided then that the will should be rewritten?"
She seemed to be thinking, then said, "Well, Bartolo suggested I’d best do a revision then since Lester had died and what I’d intended to leave him might get fought over by the rest."
Frodo nodded slowly. "I see," he said. "And did he suggest the one you ought to leave that portion to?"
"Oh, no, he never suggests anything. He’s always saying it’s my will and so it’s my decision. Sometimes he’ll ask me after to make certain as I meant what I said, but he never suggests ahead of time."
"And has anyone died or been born since you had that last revision made, Mistress Grubb?"
"Oh, no--no one."
"Were you unhappy with anyone in your family to the point you wanted to change a bequest?"
"Did you wish to make any changes?"
"No, not really."
Frodo gave Lothario quite a long, searching look. "I see," he finally said, his voice cool. He returned his attention to Gammer Alma. "Then you didn’t request this revision be written of your own will--instead it was due solely to the suggestion of Mr. Bracegirdle here?"
"Well, yes--but he was so nice to offer to do it...."
Frodo gave a single small nod. "Oh, yes, I see just how nice he was to offer to do it," he said with barely disguised irony. He straightened the sheets to the will and handed it back to Lothario. "It appears that the ‘standard notation’ on page three is not accurate, then," he said. "Until it accurately reflects the conditions under which this will was revised I cannot sign it; and I will not sign or register a will I suspect was not accurately represented as having been written at the request of the one for whom it was constructed. I wish you a good day, Lothario. Oh, and carry Bester Grubb my hopes he is enjoying good health and a clean conscience."
Lothario flushed, mumbled something indistinguishable, grabbed at Gammer Alma’s hand, and drew her rapidly out of the Mayor’s office, followed by the two younger children, both of whom appeared surprised, and then by the older tween, who gave a smile of admiration to Frodo as he exited.
Isumbard watched after Lothario and shook his head, then turned to Frodo. "Now, that was masterfully done. Glad Hillie was able to warn you."
Hillie looked up from the report he was reviewing on what some of the Big Men had done in the East Farthing. "Actually, Bard, I missed him. Gordo saw me waiting for Frodo and thought I was only taking a break before I headed in to start working, so he got to me and started telling me all about the new bull he’s added to his herd on his farm west of the village. You know how Gordo is--once he starts talking about something he’s truly interested in he won’t stop talking until he’s exhausted himself--I could barely get away when I pointed out Frodo had arrived and I needed to speak with him."
Bard looked at Frodo with even more approval. "So, you recognized on your own that Lothario was trying to slip a change into that will, eh? Good for you!"
Frodo shrugged. "As Alma Grubb’s will was the first one we examined when I started working for Will, it rather stands out in my mind. Bartolo and I might not like one another, but the fact remains that he’s almost brutally honest in his work, while Lothario isn’t particularly. When we have that meeting with all the lawyers of the Shire next week there will be several points that will be aimed directly at him. He’d best realize that convincing vulnerable old Hobbits to allow him to rewrite wills to benefit his true clients will not be tolerated." He turned to Tolly. "Will you check the will registration book and see how many revised wills he’s submitted that were originally submitted by other lawyers or by the ones for whom they were written? It looks as if we have another trail of corruption to follow."
Tolerand nodded. "Certainly, Frodo. That a lawyer of the Shire should take advantage of folks that way is intolerable."
"I agree." Frodo uncapped his water bottle and poured some of his tea into his mug, capped the bottle and hung it over the back of his chair, and took a sip.
Isumbard was sharing a look with the other Took lawyers in the room, and they were all nodding, while Tolly was actually making pushing movements as if advising Bard to go ahead and do something. Bard nodded and took a deep breath as he turned to Frodo. "Cousin Frodo, there’s something else we’ve been asked to share with you."
Frodo looked at the four of them over the rim of his mug. "What?" he asked as he set his mug back down.
"Old Uncle Bernigard was grilling us about what’s going on here at the Council Hole and how the law was perverted and all----"
Frodo nodded as he drank again from his mug.
"----and he’s been very impressed by what we’ve told him about how often you will be the first to notice a questionable clause in a contract."
"Only," Frodo said as he set the mug down and wrapped both hands about it, "because I’m generally the first to read a contract."
"That might have been true," Tolly said, shaking his head, "if you didn’t notice them in contracts one of us had already reviewed first before you got here and set it on your desk only because you’d asked us to do so because we hadn’t noticed the hidden clauses or how just minor changes in how it was worded gave it an all new meaning."
The rest all were nodding and making noises of agreement. Frodo looked at each of them in turn before he asked, "So?"
Bard continued. "Bernigard sounded more and more pleased the more he heard, and finally he reached for his cane and just held it to him the way he does when he’s contemplating taking the effort to stand up any more, but he was smiling quite widely. ‘I always knew that lad was special!’ he says. ‘Always knew he had the makings of a good lawyer in him! Tell him this--I’ve been contemplating taking just one more batch of apprentices before I die, and I’d be pleased as could be if he’d agree to be one of them. We always need good ones not only to write contracts and wills but also to review them. If he’s considering accepting Will’s nomination as next proper Mayor of the Shire, and I sincerely hope he is, then I think he’d do well to accept my offer. Even if he doesn’t accept the nomination, the Shire would be superbly served with him advising and assisting whoever follows Old Flourdumpling. And after all the years he’s just sort of hidden out there in Bag End when he ought to have been serving more of the whole Shire, we need his assistance in Michel Delving.’
"I think you ought to take him up on it, Frodo. You’re already very sensitive to just how odd wording can affect meaning as well as how to carefully write a clause to make it mean precisely what it ought to say. Some of the changes in wording you’ve suggested Berni agrees ought to be implemented, and he’s intending to make the suggestion at the meeting of the lawyers next week that they should become the standard wording rather than what we’ve tended to use before. As he’s both the senior legal mind in the Shire and the head of our guild, his word holds a lot of weight; and in six months’ time that will be the standard wording, you’ll find."
Frodo looked surprised. "But I’ve never wanted to be a lawyer," he objected.
Hillie shrugged. "So? Doesn’t change the fact you’re probably the second most astute legal mind in the Shire, Frodo Baggins."
Again the rest were nodding their agreement. Frodo appeared troubled. "But...." He didn’t finish, but took another sip from his mug. Finally he looked up. "I don’t know if I have the time," he said, "much less whether Sam would agree to let me spend so much time as would be needed at the Great Smial dancing attendance on old Berni, although of course I’d welcome any advice I can get from him. Bilbo always had Bernigard write his own most serious contracts and revisions to his wills; and he’s the one who saw to the adoption, of course. I know that for most things Bilbo used Beslo Grubb after he adopted me, but then Beslo was one of Berni’s apprentices, as was Brendi, who’s my personal lawyer now. But I’m not certain I want to study any more about the law than I’ve had to learn just to deal with matters as we do now."
Bard sighed. "Think about it, Frodo. Just think about it. Berni started studying the law under Fortumbras, you know, and he’s taught all the Took lawyers for generations, not to mention the occasional Grubb, Brandybuck, and even Hornblower over the years. Old Geron, who was master to most of the rest of the Hornblowers and Bracegirdles, was one of his students, after all."
"And look at how many of them ended up working with Timono," Frodo pointed out.
"And look at how many of his students didn’t end up working with Timono," Everard corrected him. "Bartolo certainly never did, not that we’ve found any evidence of. In fact, all we’ve found indicates that he was actively trying to counter Timono’s influence. Lotho definitely had his Gatherers and Sharers targeting Bartolo and Delphinium’s hole."
"I suppose you’re right," Frodo allowed as he took another drink from his mug and reached for the mail. He smiled as he examined the thick packet from outside the Shire. "Ah, a letter from Legolas." He opened it and was soon absorbed in it, smiling as he read.
Bard, as he removed the napkin from the plate sent over by Mina and nudged it closer to Frodo, glanced at the text of the letter and found he couldn’t understand it at all. "Is it written in Elvish?" he asked.
Frodo glanced up briefly as if surprised to notice he was standing there. "Sindarin," he said as he returned his attention to the letter. "It’s the most commonly used Elven language in Middle Earth." Then with a smile he added, "After all, Legolas is an Elf, you understand. He writes he’s already headed back to Gondor, and intends to meet with Gimli in Anorien and travel south to Minas Tirith with him. He wishes now he’d come west to Eriador and the Shire when Gimli came in March with the rest of our things and the gifts from Lorien and Aragorn. And he wishes he could be here when Sam and Rosie finally get married."
"An Elf attending Sam’s wedding would certainly cause tongues to wag," Hillie commented.
"Too true," Frodo agreed, "although I wish he would come--him and Gimli. It would mean so much to Sam, after all. And if only Aragorn himself could be here to do the wedding."
"Sam Gamgee would allow anyone beside you to perform the ceremony?" asked Bard.
"You don’t know Aragorn yet," Frodo said, smiling. "It would be a difficult choice, but you’d best believe Sam would consider it seriously." He finished reading the letter quietly, his smile growing more pensive as he did so. At last he finished and folded the letter back into its packet. He then opened the two invitations and read them, and reached for paper to write replies, pulled envelopes out of his drawer and slipped the notes into them, addressed them, sealed each with wax impressed with his stick pin, and set them on the corner of the desk to go to the Quick Post. He finally picked up the spoon and began eating the sauce of apples Mina had sent as he began reviewing one of the claims for reparations Bard had returned to the stack earlier. Having finished he shared a look with Bard before setting the claim in the basket to be investigated by the committee that would be seeing to it that claims were valid and then deciding what form the reparations would take. Another day of work was progressing in the Mayor’s office in the Council Hole in Michel Delving.
When Bester Grubb had approached Lothario about the possibility of convincing Gammer Alma to allow a new revision to her will be written leaving him the farm Bredo lived on, Lothario had at first not anticipated any difficulties. Bartolo was the one who usually wrote legal papers for his wife’s maternal grandmother, and he was now out of the village, visiting with Malco and Dremma in Overhill for a week. It would be quite a triumph to put one over on Cousin Bartolo and steal such a march on him. Lothario wasn’t terrifically fond of Barti, for this Bracegirdle cousin was far too morally superior to all and sundry in Lothario’s opinion. He’d deserved all the harassment Lotho had aimed at him, as had Benlo as family head, the two of them constantly counseling others to avoid getting caught in Lotho and Timono’s schemes. Lothario had his suspicions that it was Bartolo who’d advised old Will Whitfoot first that Lotho had named himself Chief Shiriff and had begun issuing new Rules and Regulations for the Shiriffs to uphold.
The fact that Frodo Baggins was acting as Mayor during Will’s recovery both had believed would work to their advantage. Frodo knew nothing about the law, and would have no reason to question a revision of Gammer Alma’s will right now, none that either Bester or Lothario could think of, at least. They ought to be able to slip this change right by him.
And so, as soon as Bartolo and Rico Clayhanger were on their way to Overhill with their wives Lothario began his approach. The money was good, after all; and it wouldn’t do ill to have Bester as a permanent client as he could direct more Grubb business his way.
Cousin Lavinia, who always had a soft spot in her heart for her younger cousin, welcomed Lothario’s arrival in the village; and dear Gammer Alma had seemed surprised to find Lothario approaching her offering to help revise her will but had been just as agreeable as she ever was, succumbing to the Bracegirdle’s charm just as she’d done when younger and he was seeking to cadge treats his own parents had forbidden him at home. In no time at all the desired revision was in his pocket, and Gammer Alma had agreed to accompany him to Michel Delving to see it registered and filed, a move both he and Bester had agreed would make it more likely none would question any changes it contained. Then the idea had struck him to take along Bartolo’s two youngest, as Alyssa and Enrico’s presence would help make it appear that Bartolo was supportive of the changes. Knowing, however, that if Bartolo ever found out he’d taken his two youngest children on such a trip without family supervision he was likely to be the subject of complaints lodged with Benlo, Lothario had agreed to include Persivo in the ‘treat,’ reasoning this would leave Bartolo with no reason to be upset--until he learned Lothario had managed to change the will, and then it would be too late. If Bartolo tried to see the revision itself revised Lothario knew how to make it appear that Bartolo himself was accepting favors from Bredo. There were advantages to being the one Bracegirdle male in the Shire believed to have a somewhat pleasant disposition, after all.
Persivo’s own interest in following in his father’s profession was common enough knowledge among the Bracegirdles of Hardbottle; and all knew that the lad and his dad quarreled frequently. If Lothario could convince Persivo to accept him as master in an apprenticeship, how wonderful that would be!
"So, tell me, Persivo--have you begun an apprenticeship under your dad as yet?"
"No--he and I’ve agreed as he’s not the best to serve as master for me. I think as he’s considering Uncle Rico."
Rico Clayhanger? Well, that wouldn’t be too bad a situation--he and Rico both lived in the same village a twenty minute walk away from Hardbottle, after all. "Well, that would be fine enough, I think. After all, Rico’s very capable, and writes a good agreement. He could certainly teach you how to write a good, binding contract. And I would be glad to share with you whatever wisdom I’ve managed to garner, of course."
Persivo considered the offer, then made his charming smile. "Why, thank you, Cousin Lothario," he said. Lothario considered--once he came of age Persivo would make two Bracegirdle males who would be seen as courteous within the Shire.
"Uncle Lothario," Enrico asked, "how much longer will it take to get there?"
"Another hour, I’d say. It will be too late to see anyone at the Council Hole today, of course; but perhaps we’ll see deputy Mayor Baggins and have him just sign the paper tonight and allow him to register it for us in the morning."
"How come Mr. Baggins is deputy Mayor? Isn’t Mr. Whitfoot Mayor?"
"Will Whitfoot? Well, of course he is, at least until the elections at Midsummer, of course. But he’s still recovering from his time in Lotho’s lockholes, you see."
"And why was he in the lockholes?"
Lothario shrugged. "I understand he and Cousin Lotho quarreled, and Lotho’s Big Men took exception to the threats he was uttering and locked him up to protect the Chief Shiriff."
"But Lotho wasn’t Chief anything. He wasn’t ever accepted as a Shiriff, after all," Enrico pointed out. "He only decided to make himself Chief Shiriff when he had the ruffians to back him up so no one would say no to him any more. Everybody knows that--I’ve heard Uncle Benlo talking to Dad and Uncle Rico about it."
Alyssa, eager to be included in the conversation, added, "Cousin Lotho had lusions or something like--Daddy said so. Said as Cousin Lotho always had too big of ideas. I didn’t like him and wasn’t sad when I heard as he was dead. He made my mummy cry, when his folk took Mummy’s jewelry, and especial her promise necklace. He said as Mr. Frodo shouldn’t of sold Bag End to Cousin Lotho. But why, if Daddy thought Mr. Frodo shouldn’t of sold Bag End to Cousin Lotho, why did he get mad when Aunt Lobelia gave it back to him?"
"I don’t know, Alyssa," Lothario responded, smiling to himself at the thought of Frodo reacting to that anger. No, Frodo wasn’t likely to worry too much over who had written the earlier will and revisions for Gammer Alma. As for that dear lady--she was napping as they drove. No, he shouldn’t have any difficulties at all....
But it turned out differently--completely differently. He didn’t think that Persivo or Gammer Alma had caught on, but Frodo had outright indicated he had no intention of signing any revision to Alma Grubb’s will unless Bartolo himself presented it. And there was a good chance that Lothario himself might end up being investigated by that batch of Tooks in the Mayor’s office. Lothario found himself shivering at the idea. And he certainly would never have expected Bartolo to have done a revision of Gammer Alma’s will during the Time of Troubles. He should have realized that as soon as Lester died Barti would have been right on getting the revision done, which meant that Frodo would have been properly aware there was no reason for a new revision to be written now.
And then there had been the visit to the new Lockholes to see Timono. He’d been trying to find out if somehow Largo Longbottom could be convinced to blame Lotho’s Big Men for the burning of his fields; but Largo had clearly seen several Hobbits among the Men, and couldn’t be convinced that he’d been mistaken about recognizing Timono. Timono had never gotten along with Largo, and had indicated he looked forward to paying the Longbottom family head off for several business deals gone sour when Largo had managed to catch discrepancies Timono had written into his contracts. He certainly ought to have been more careful to remain unrecognized the night they fired Longbottom’s field, but then Timono had convinced himself that there would never come a time when Lotho would be out of power. Well, that had been a stupid thing to convince himself of, hadn’t it?
Young Persivo had insisted on going with him to see Timono, although he’d not said anything, merely appearing impressed by how comfortable the room was where Timono was being kept. He and Timono had purposely kept their conversation vague, but when Timono had slipped him the note asking whether there had been any progress with Largo and he’d shaken his head the lad had certainly appeared to notice. He was glad when he was able to give Persivo the slip for a time so he could speak with Bester when the impatient Grubb showed up in Michel Delving to learn what had transpired in the Mayor’s office--he didn’t think Bartolo’s son had noticed; but after he’d given Bester the unwelcome news it had taken a time to find Persivo again.
And so it was he’d ended up wasting an unforgivable amount of coin hosting three of Bartolo’s children along with Gammer Alma to Michel Delving and back. Ah, well, he’d at least been able to dispose of a few items that had perhaps best not be found in his possession. He’d best take exceptional care in what contracts he write for some time lest he end up in one of those stone-lined rooms alongside Timono. And with that resolve he returned his guests to Hardbottle, intending to remain at Lavinia’s only long enough to convince her not to mention his visit to her brother.
Midway through the time between luncheon and tea Tolly was bringing a report to Frodo to show him an odd feature to find Frodo had fallen asleep in his chair. This had happened a few times when he was newly come to the Mayor’s office, and had resumed since he’d spent two weeks on the Cotton’s farm in March. The four Tooks exchanged looks, then went determinedly back to work. After a half hour Frodo awoke quietly, appeared embarrassed, and resumed his own reviews. Tolly shared his concerns on the report, they discussed it, and all went on with their work, Frodo working on the report he wished to make next week to the meeting of lawyers.
Mina Whitfoot came in to invite the Tooks to join them for tea and later dinner, but only Bard accepted. "Pearl is in Budgeford visiting with the Bolgers and helping them resettle in Budge Hall," he explained, "so I’ll be glad to come and avoid Pal and Lanti this evening."
"They are still driving poor Pippin to distraction?" she asked.
"Oh, yes. I think Hillie again won last week’s wager on how long he’d last, by the way."
Hillie laughed, "Ah, yes--I won the equivalent of six silver pennies this time. Our gigantic young cousin is proving very profitable for me."
As Frodo and Bard were walking across the square toward the Whitfoot house Bard asked, "Have you thought any more about Bernigard’s offer?" The grandson of the Old Took’s younger brother Peringard, Bernigard Took had been a fixture in Tookland and Shire legal issues for over sixty years.
Frodo paused, considering. Finally he faced his cousin directly. "I don’t see how I can at this time, Bard. If I were to accept election as Mayor I doubt I’d have stamina for both the work here and at Berni’s side; and if I don’t--well, I doubt that Sam would allow it."
"Is Sam your keeper now?" Bard asked.
Frodo gave a saddened laugh. "My keeper? Perhaps. You must understand, Isumbard Took--Samwise Gamgee has been as my brother for years, and even more so since we left the Shire. He’s stood by me through trials you can’t begin to appreciate, and has helped me keep grounded when it felt as if my very soul must be torn asunder. I only survived to come back because of Sam, Aragorn, Gandalf, and Lord Elrond; and at times it feels as if a part of me remains somewhere out there.
"And look at today--I fell asleep again. I simply find I don’t have the stamina I ought to have, and I still can’t begin to eat anywhere as much as I ought to do. Sam knows what I went through better than anyone else, although no one, not even he, can fully appreciate what it was truly like. I came away from the Mountain only because he carried me out and then begged me to crawl by him to such safety as we could find. I’ve remained as long as I have, I think, only for his sake."
It felt to Bard as if his own insides were twisting painfully. "You’d leave us so soon, Frodo Baggins?" he asked as lightly as he could.
Frodo looked off westward, not meeting his companion’s eyes. "And when the time comes, will I have any choice? Each time I’ve come back it’s been harder. I’m not as I was, Bard--nothing like I was, and I’m still wounded, inside where I live. And the calling grows stronger...." For a moment longer he remained still, looking west, his expression unreadable. Then at last his chin raised and he straightened, and he turned to continue to the Whitfoot place, leading the way, holding that pendant of his as he walked. Then, outside the Whitfoot’s door, he paused again, looking back across the square toward the inn. "You spoke again with Bartolo’s son?"
Bard followed Frodo’s gaze and saw Bartolo and Delphie’s children together near the door to the stable, apparently waiting for Lothario and Alma Grubb. He described what Persivo Bracegirdle had told him when he’d met the tween at luncheon at the inn, and Frodo listened without interrupting. At last he said, "It appears the lad is as honorable as his father."
Bard was surprised. "Bartolo Bracegirdle? Honorable? Since when?"
Frodo gave a twisted smile. "I’ll grant you Bartolo’s acerbic enough for six of his family, and it’s definite he doesn’t like me at all; but he’s honorable--far more honorable than most realize. He and Benlo are what Bracegirdles are supposed to be like and are more truly representative of them than was Lotho--much less Timono or Lothario. Lothario is far more clever than one would realize. He’ll cover himself by making certain he does only the evil suggested by others, and so he will always appear a follower rather than one who desires always to profit by others. But he’s as low a piece of work as any I’ve ever seen, hiding his detestation of the rest of the Shire behind courteous seeming. He and Sharkey must have truly appreciated one another while Saruman remained here.
"I’ll make this suggestion--Persivo Bracegirdle wishes to be a lawyer also, you say? Make Bernigard’s offer to him, Bard. Let him have my place. In the end you’ll have a lawyer with the lack of self-delusion the Bracegirdles are famous for, with the stubbornness and responsibility of us Bagginses, and who will serve the Shire faithfully for a lifetime--far more than I fear I could give it."
Isumbard Took looked for a moment into the eyes of Frodo Baggins, then gave a reluctant nod, turned, and walked back across the square to speak one last time with Persivo Bracegirdle, Frodo looking after him.