Frodo was sitting in the sun room at the front of Brandy Hall, a mug of soup beside him along with bread-and-butter and a cup of juice, when Merry came in carrying letters. "I was up to the Bridge when the Kingís messenger arrived, and I thought youíd appreciate having this letter as soon as possible. It appears to be from Lord Halladan," Merry commented as he handed the thin missive to his older cousin.
"Whereís Pippin?" Frodo asked, looking about as if the Took would pop out from behind one of the pieces of furniture in the room.
"Heís out with Mac today, going over the stable records. Says that since his father wonít give him any proper training at home in Tookland heís going to have to search it out here, apparently."
Frodo sighed as he slipped his finger under the seal and opened the document heíd been given. Merry positioned himself to read over Frodoís shoulder, but was disappointed to realize it was in Tengwar script rather than Westron. Frodo gave him a sidelong look and a shake of his head, then turned his attention back to the letter. Finally Merry asked, "Is it anything important?"
Frodo looked up, then gave a small smile and a shrug. "No, just an answer to an inquiry I made of him a few weeks back. Iím rather surprised to receive it so quickly--itís not been that long since I wrote to him."
"Whatís it about, Frodo?"
Before answering Frodo took a deep breath. "Oh, itís mostly about the request I made for a lawyer of the outer realm to work with our Shire lawyers. Aragorn has sent one to us from the Guild of Lawyers in Minas Tirith, apparently. Of course he wonít work only with Shire lawyers, for heíll be working with Halladan and what experts in the law they have in the North Kingdom to do a review of the laws of Arnor."
Merry sighed. "Iím glad I wonít be a part of that, then," he said. "Itís bad enough trying to figure out how Dad receives all of his rents. Did you know that the rent from the folks at Haygate Farm is to be paid in poultry? They must give the Master ten hens ready for the pot once each quarter. And the tenants of Greenbriar House must present him with five ells of cloth each Yule, while the Redbluffs who live down near the road to the Sarn Ford send him two barrels of salted fish on Midsummers."
Frodo smiled. "The hall must be fed, after all."
"When do you need to be back in Michel Delving again?"
"Youíre not walking home, Frodo."
Frodo remained quiet for a moment, then asked in a carefully neutral tone, "Iím not?"
"I need you to ride Berry home to Sam."
"You could just lead her."
"I could, but why when you can ride her?" Then when Frodo looked somewhat moodily down at his lap he stated, "And after all Pippin and I will be riding with you. Keeping up a conversation with someone so far below us once the two of us are mounted and you are walking can be trying, you realize. Besides, one would think that as far as youíve walked in your life you would have had your fill of it."
At last Frodo looked up to meet his eye. "That was out there. This is here, at home in the Shire."
"I understand, Frodo. You know, we can make a point of taking bridle trails and avoiding the road if you still wish to see the Shire in the wilder places. But I promise you, Iíll not be led off any proper trail on any shortcuts through the forest or marshes. After hearing the tales of how you three got lost and ended up on Bamfurlong Farm I have no intention of coming up on the wrong side of the dogs of some farmer I donít know."
Merry was gratified to see heíd managed to evoke a laugh out of his favorite older cousin, and that Frodo was reaching down to take a drink from his soup.
On his arrival at Michel Delving the following Monday Frodo learned that a letter from Bree had managed to escape the vigilance of both Merry and Pippin and had been delivered here and set upon the Mayorís desk. The writing on it was unfamiliar, and it was written in a green ink on a writing paper of a soft grey color, folded and sealed with a blob of green sealing wax into which the shape of a holly leaf was impressed. He found himself thinking of the great gate trees that had once stood on either side of the doors to Moria with a feeling of regret, and broke the seal rather slowly.
Everard was watching him with curiosity, he realized when he was done reading it. "And who do you know in Bree?" the Took lawyer asked him.
"It is from the lawyer Aragorn sent north from Minas Tirith," Frodo explained. "Heís arrived in Bree and has taken rooms in a home on the west side of the village, apparently. He sought to let me know of his arrival and that he is available to meet with whomever I please to send out to him. Heís not to go north to Annķminas for some weeks yet, apparently."
"Well, that appears to have been a swift enough journey," Everard noted.
Frodo gave an abbreviated nod of agreement. "Of course, he was traveling only with Dķnedain Rangers intent on getting home as swiftly as possible, not with a group that was dawdling along the way as we appeared to do," he said thoughtfully. "He speaks of being relieved to be off a horse for a change."
"Then you didnít come home swiftly," Everard noted.
"We had but a single mount each, and had been advised by Aragorn to take it as easily as we might. We were still recovering in part from our exertions from the quest, after all." Frodo sighed, then looked at the pile of requests for reparations and the second of documents to be signed that had built up during his absence. "I see I have work to do." And with an absent nod of acknowledgment to Bard as the taller lawyer entered with a plate on which sat a half a pastie and a mug of small beer he reached for the first claim.
When on Hevensday Bartolo Bracegirdle arrived with a new partnership agreement to file on the part of his cousin Hyacinth he was rather surprised when Frodo handed him a letter in return. He opened it, then looked up with suspicion. "Itís addressed to you, not me," he noted.
"I know, but I felt you needed to know that the lawyer from Minas Tirith has arrived and you can arrange to meet with him at any time within the next few weeks. This leaves me with the distinct impression that after the weeks of his journey from Gondor he is eager to be about his more usual pursuits for a change."
So advised, Bartolo read the letter closely. "So, Iím to be the first to be sent out to him?"
"Yes, naturally. Timono is not in a position to be sent, of course; and Balco has been placed under house arrest by his family head as the evidence mounts that he did indeed alter sales agreements in order to send leaf and produce south to Isengard. Plus there is the agreement you have accepted you should write to consider. When do you think you could look to meet with Master Alvric in Bree?"
"Perhaps in four daysí time," Bartolo said. "Iíll need to go home and advise Delphie, of course."
"Of course," Frodo nodded. "Thank you, Bartolo."
The Bracegirdle examined Frodoís eyes with some suspicion, but saw no sign of disparagement or hidden meaning there. He almost wished he did, for accepting the thanks of this of all Hobbits seemed unnatural to him. "Iím only doing my duty, Baggins," he found himself saying roughly, and he started to leave, then turned back. "Will you advise this Alvric, or shall I?"
"Iíll leave it to you this time," Frodo said, his expression rather wary again. He reached for his mug of tea and sipped from it, watching after Bartolo as he left the Mayorís office.
"Thereís a letter for ye," Carnation advised him as she entered the parlor where he worked examining the volumes forwarded by Lords Halladan and Berevrion. She set the tray down on one of the lower tables, and he saw she provided a cosied pot of tea and a tray of cakes common to this land as well as a mug and spoon, and the bowl of sugar sheíd learned he liked to have come with the tea.
The letter lay on the tray beside the mug, apparently inside an envelope of cream-colored paper. He rose from behind the table he used as a desk and came around to pick up the envelope, examining it closely as he returned to his chair. The lettering was in a straightforward hand, remarkably lacking in embellishments. One who considered himself a "plain" soul, most probably, but who yet found simple white in his stationery to be somehow offensive. Too plain, perhaps?
Alvric examined the wax used to seal the envelope--a simple beeswax, unadorned by any impression of a seal. He sniffed the pleasant odor of the wax--the bees had apparently fed primarily on clover, he judged. One of his younger uncles had kept bee hives on his farm, and during one memorable summer had taught a young visiting Alvric much about determining what nectars the bees had been feeding on by the scent of the wax and taste of the honey.
Having broken the seal, Alvric slipped out the paper within and unfolded it.
24th May, 1420
My name is Bartolo Bracegirdle, and I am a Hobbit from the Shire. Deputy Mayor Frodo Baggins has appointed me the first of the Shireís lawyers to avail myself of your teaching. This is to advise you that I will be arriving in Bree with my family on May 28, where we intend to take rooms at the Inn of the Prancing Pony. We will be available after that to learn what you would teach us. As directed by Mr. Baggins I bring a variety of the contracts and agreements we are accustomed to write to teach you the manner in which we customarily write them, although we are now engaged in studying new wording for some phrases that were abused by those who caused the most trouble during the time the Travelers were absent from the Shire.
I will send a messenger to you when we have arrived so that you may make ready for our coming. The one form of contract I am in most need of writing at this time is the form of writing an agreement of tenancy for one living on land granted to one for purposes of maintenance. Indeed, I am at rather a loss in understanding first why such lands are granted much less why this form of support would be necessary.
Hardbottle, South Farthing
As he was reading there was a knock at the door to the house, and he could hear Mistress Gorse answering it, then a discussion between Denra and another, apparently a Hobbit, he judged from the timbre of the voice. A moment later she came to the door to his parlor and knocked. "Master Alvric, Nob has come from the Prancing Pony with another letter for you."
He looked to see the smiling face of the Hobbit who worked as house servant to Barliman Butterbur, and inclined his head in acknowledgment. "Master Nob? It is good to see you. How might I help you?"
"Itís a letter to you from the Shire, sir," the small Hobbit answered. "Mr. Baggins oí Bag End has sent a letter to old Barliman, and this was included inside and Ďtwas directed as it ought to be forwarded to you."
The stiff paper was a simple white, although the quality was excellent; it consisted of two sheets folded in threes and sealed with a blob of reddish wax into which a jeweled star had been impressed. It was a most unusual signet, and Alvric found himself curious. He turned it over to see the address written in a most graceful and familiar hand, for several of the Kingís earliest circulars had been copied in it. The King had employed Lord Frodo to copy documents and advisements during the Hobbitís stay in Minas Tirith? Well, he could certainly see why--a most graceful hand he had, after all. He turned the paper over again and lifted the seal carefully, wanting to preserve it. Then he unfolded and smoothed the papers.
from the Office of the Mayor
Council Hole, Michel Delving
May 23, 1420 S.R.
Dear Master Alvric,
I believe we met briefly in Minas Tirith during one of the conferences our Lord Aragorn Elessar held regarding how legal records are kept, although I admit I do not recall you clearly. Please forgive me, but I have found my memory is not what it once was.
As I believe you are aware, at the time my beloved friend Samwise and I were ennobled, Aragorn granted us some lands both in Gondor and in Arnor for our maintenance. He has told us that this is customary for those who have been made lords of the realm. It seems an odd custom, but it appears we have little choice in the matter. Most of the lands granted us in Gondor were well established and tenanted and already had in place individuals to receive the rents or fees or lordís portion of the enterprises due us, and it was simple, with Aragornís guidance and that offered by the bankers he recommended, to appoint an agent to regularly examine the properties and carry the monies due us to Minas Tirith to be added to our accounts.
Aragorn had indicated the lands he was granting us in Arnor were far to the north and vacant. To learn that one of them is immediately adjacent to the Shire itself was a surprise; and that one had settled there believing it unclaimed and was now learning he needed my permission to do so was a shock. Mr. Hedges entered the Shire to seek me out, and together we have attempted to work out an agreement regarding how the tenancy and its rents should be met. I have little need for coin at the moment, and Mr. Hedges has little enough to spare; and so both of us have agreed it would be more convenient and beneficial to accept rents in the form of produce, or at least for the next seven years. My cousin Saradoc, who is Master of Buckland, oversees a special benefit intended to serve those Hobbits dwelling in Buckland and the Marish who cannot provide for themselves due to illness, disability, or the loss of family members who customarily worked the land for their sustenance, such as father, brother, husband, or cousin. I wish my portion of the produce of the Hedgesí farm added to that store as anonymously as possible.
The lawyer I have chosen to represent my interests in this matter and to oversee the writing of the agreement is the husband of a second cousin on the side of my fatherís mother. Bartolo Bracegirdle is also related by marriage to my cousin Bilbo, whom I usually address as an uncle, although he is actually my first and second cousin once removed on each side. It was my Uncle Bilbo who adopted me as his heir when I was still a lad of not yet twenty-two. Bartolo was a nephew to Bilboís cousin Othoís wife Lobelia, and thus first cousin to our lamentable cousin Lotho. Bartolo is, however, as strictly honest as Lotho was a scoundrel.
I would advise you of certain facts regarding Bracegirdles in general and Bartolo in particular. The family tends to be very literal-minded, and is straightforward to the point of bluntness. Please do not take offense, therefore, if Bartolo appears abrupt or to have little patience with discussions of reasons for why things are done as they are--it is simply a common feature of being a Bracegirdle. Please bear with him as patiently as you can, for it will prove worthwhile in the end, you will find.
The other fact is likely harder to accept--Bartolo loathes me. He has always loathed me, in fact. He has found me impossible to understand over the years, and so he detests me. His wife Delphinium, on the other hand, being a Baggins through and through for all her Grubbs and Chubb and Boffin and Bolger relations, is as sweet, kind, thoughtful, and responsible as one could ever hope to meet. She loves Bartolo deeply and brings out the best in him, and together they have five delightful children--or at least I hope they are delightful, for Iíve seen little enough of them over the years.
As a result of Bartoloís long-time antipathy toward me we have had very little to do with one another. Yet I respect Bartoloís integrity and discretion greatly.
It is a difficult concept for others to appreciate, but I have always been a very private individual. As a child I was a constant topic of Lobeliaís gossip as well as the gossip of Brandy Hall and Buckland, particularly after my parents died when I was so young. As a result I have little patience for others seeking to know my business now I am an adult. The folk of the Shire donít appreciate fully what we did in the outer world during our sojourn to the south and east, and to be frank I am just as happy this is true. That I would choose Bartolo to oversee my business dealings with Arnor no one will believe at first, although in time Merry and Pippin will appreciate the humor in the situation.
Please do not bother trying to explain why I have had these lands granted to me--Bartolo Bracegirdle is not going to appreciate it, and I donít wish to have to try to explain how it is that in the outer world I am Lord Frodo to all and sundry, from the dairyman from whom I purchase my cream and butter to those of the Quick Post who deliver the letters addressed to me here in Michel Delving or at home in Bag End. I wasnít going to write you myself, but feel honor-bound to try to explain the situation before you find yourself totally confused as to why my representative appears resentful once you meet him.
I welcome you to the North Kingdom. I regret it is unlikely I will meet with you during your time here, but I hope you find your visit in Arnor pleasant and productive. And bear my greetings to Faradir, Lord Halladan, and Lord Berevrion.
Alvric smiled as he finished the letter. He looked at Nobís honest face. "Thank you, Mr. Haywood," he said, to which the Hobbit flushed with pleasure. "It appears Mr. Bracegirdle will be here in Bree with his family on the twenty-eighth. I therefore ask you to advise Mr. Butterbur of this fact, and try to make him as comfortable as possible." He pulled out a brass farthing and tossed it to Nob, who smiled to receive it.
"Thank you, Mr. Alvric, sir," Nob said, knuckling his forehead. "Iíll be off and let old Barliman know then, sir." So saying, he turned and went scurrying off with a "Thank you, too, Miss Denra," addressed to the woman as he left.
Denra smiled after him, shaking her head, before turning again to her tenant. "Youíll be meeting soon with some of those youíre meant to deal with, then?" she asked.
He nodded. "A lawyer of the Shire, apparently, regarding a tenancy agreement for lands granted for maintenance, or so Iím told. Iíve never written such before, so Iíll have to examine some of the documents our Lord Prince Faramir sent me as examples of the various document types I might be required to assist with so as to assure myself of the proper form."
"What does it mean to be granted lands for maintenance?" she asked.
"When an individual has been ennobled it is customary for the Lord of the realm to grant that individual the livings of lands and properties and even businesses here and there throughout the realm to give him an income for his service to the realm. Usually it takes the form of being granted the formal deeds to properties held either by the Lord of the realm or in the name of the realm itself.
"After the downfall of Sauron the two individuals who made the dark journey to and through Mordor to see to the destruction of Sauronís great weapon were made Lords of all the Free Peoples of Middle Earth, an unusual situation as Elves and Dwarves honor them as much as do we Men of Gondor, Arnor, and Rohan. Our Lord King Elessar granted lands both in Gondor and in Arnor to them. If the land is leased out or rented to tenants, they pay their rents to the Lord holding title to the land. If there are businesses on the property, then a portion of the income generated by the businesses is paid to him. If the land is farmed a portion of the produce or the money for which it is sold goes to him. In this manner the lord granted the living is able to pay for his own needs and the services of those he employs, and to pay for the weapons or tools he needs to use in the specific service he offers to the realm. In return he helps pay for those improvements to the land that benefit him in the long run and he offers his protection to those who live on the property."
"And folks here in Bree are lords of the realm?" she asked, still uncertain what it meant to be such a one.
"No, not here in Bree--there are two such inside the Shire, though. And I must meet with the lawyer for one of them."
She was again shaking her head in the wonder of it all. "Hobbits of the Shire, lords of the realm? Wonder what their own folks think of such an idea?"
Looking at the letters lying before him Alvric found himself shrugging. "I have no idea," he answered her. "Apparently, neither Lord Frodo nor Lord Samwise intend for their own to know."
Her eyes widened as she looked at him. "Theyíre not telling their own? Oh, the more surprise when at last others must find out, then. You canít go on forever hiding such things, after all--or can you?"
Alvric found himself looking down at the two letters a bit uncertainly. It was the question of the moment. Just how long could Lord Frodo Baggins hide the fact he was a lord of several realms?