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14
In Bree

In Bree


“Da, will we have to stay here?” asked Lyssa, much subdued, as she stood in the inn yard, once coach and ponies were entrusted to Bob in the stable. “It’s so—so big!”

He gave her a hasty smile of reassurance. “They have Hobbit-sized rooms on the north side of the inn, and I think you’ll find them comfortable enough, lass.”

A Hobbit named Nob opened the door for them and led them to where Barliman Butterbur sat over his ledgers. “Mr. Butterbur, sir—Hobbits from the Shire here to take rooms, please. Mr. Bracegirdle, sir, as has been here afore.”

“And which Mr. Bracegirdle is that?” growled Butterbur. Then, on recognizing the lawyer he smiled. “Oh, that Mr. Bracegirdle, is it? Welcome, sir—it’s been a time since we saw you last here at the Pony, sir. So, you’re the one as the lawyer from Gondor is to see at this time? And this is your family? Good, good. Mr. Alvric let me know you would need rooms, and we have them and the private parlor in the north wing ready for you. Nob will take you. Your sons, and daughters—very likely lasses they are, at that—and your wife? Welcome, Missus Bracegirdle; welcome to the Prancing Pony. And I hope you will find all comfortable for your stay. Well, Nob—take them on, why don’t you? Off with you. And we’ll be bringing a tea in for you in half an hour’s time, if that suits you.”

Feeling a bit ruffled by the innkeeper’s bustling talk, they gratefully followed Nob down the passage to the private parlor and the rooms beyond. “I think as you’ll find all in order, Master, Mistress. The bathing rooms are along that corridor—just let me know if you’d like to use them and I’ll get the fire lit under the boiler for you and bring you towels. Privy is next to it, and you have basins in your rooms for the washing of hands and faces. There are two rooms here, if that’s acceptable for you—Mr. Bracegirdle—one for you, your wife, and a truckle bed for the youngest here, and one for the other childer through there—four narrow beds there are in there. Although perhaps the little lass would like to sleep with one of her sisters rather than in your room?”

Lyssa chose to sleep with Begonia, and shortly a tea was brought and all sat down for it. “Well,” Bartolo noted over the cucumber sandwiches, “It appears we made it in good time. I’ll send a message around to Master Alvric and arrange for Persivo and me to meet him in the morning shortly after second breakfast. For today, would you like to do some exploring of Bree?”

An hour later they were out going through the lanes of the bustling crossroads town, and Delphinium and the lasses had already noted six shops they wanted to go through the following day, while Ricki had found the sweets shop and a shop he was dying to visit that sold wooden toys, and had spotted a group of lads in a lane playing at roopie. He looked up at his dad. “Do you think as they’d let me play tomorrow, Da?” he asked.

“Well, you won’t know until you ask, will you?” his father answered him. “But don’t be too disappointed if they don’t. Townshobbits are often suspicious of newcomers, I’ve found.”

Enrico nodded, thinking on his father’s words, and noted where the lane was in relation to the inn so he could hopefully find it the faster in the morning.

Supper was excellent, and soon Delphie had the two youngest, grumbling through their yawns, into their beds with the promise the other three would follow them soon enough.

“It was a fine enough trip,” Delphie noted as she collapsed into a chair in the parlor. “And the rooms are very comfortable. Although the town feels so strange, what with all the houses with upper stories and all.”

Bartolo nodded. “I know,” he said. “First couple of times as I was here I felt terrible out of place. But the folk are decent enough, most of them, at least. So far I’ve not had trouble with any here, Big nor Little.”

Persivo began, rather tentatively, “What did he mean, Mr. Butterbur, that is, about you being that Mr. Bracegirdle, as if there was another Mr. Bracegirdle he didn’t like?”

His father’s face became stern. “You have to remember, lad, that Lotho and Timono both came out here on occasion, and I doubt as either would be remembered happily here any more than they are in the Shire. Lotho was always an arrogant ass, and Timono probably cheated folk here in Bree as much as he did folks at home.”

Petunia looked at her father, shocked at his use of such a description for Cousin Lotho. Delphie sighed, advising her daughter, “I know you didn’t have the chance to come to know Lotho well, Pet, but he took the Bracegirdle abruptness to lengths no other member of the family even dreamed of. When you think neither Benlo nor his father could stand him, much less your father, that’s an indication he was a truly horrid person. Even Frodo couldn’t bear him, and Frodo could get along with almost everyone. Not, of course, that either Lotho or Lobelia either one ever gave him much of a chance.”

Both Petunia and Persivo noted the sour look on their father’s face that always seemed to appear when Frodo Baggins’s name was mentioned. Their mother and Begonia didn’t seem to notice, as Begonia noted, “Mr. Baggins seems a nice enough person, although from what Persivo says he was rather short with Cousin Lothario.”

“Lothario was trying to change Gammer Alma’s will to be different from what she wanted, Gonya,” Persivo said rather primly. “He could have said far more than he did, but he was trying not to upset us.”

“He is quite a nice person, our cousin Frodo,” Delphie said. “One of the nicest, really.” She gave her husband a sideways look of defiance, and his expression became even more stonelike.

“I’m going to bed,” he announced, and went into his room and shut the door behind him.

Petunia watched after her father, then asked in a very soft voice, “Mummy, why doesn’t Daddy like Cousin Frodo?”

Delphie shrugged her shoulders helplessly as she looked at the closed door. “I’m not completely certain, for Benlo respects Frodo a good deal, as did his father. Not, of course, that Benlo will ever be a friend to Frodo, if you understand me, for they’re not the type of folks who will ever be close to one another. Frodo is very intelligent—perhaps the smartest Hobbit I’ve ever heard tell of. Perhaps it’s only that Frodo’s smart but has never wanted to do anything besides studying Elvish. I don’t think your dad feels that is a particularly useful occupation.”

“I didn’t ever think I’d ever meet an Elf,” Begonia said. “No wonder Cousin Frodo likes them. And they seem to like him a great deal.”

Persivo said quietly, “They do more than like him. Glorinlas Gildorion called him Lord Frodo. He said Cousin Frodo did something more important than we can understand, but no one in the Shire seems to know what it was. I know he isn’t as happy as he used to be, Cousin Frodo, not like he was before the Time of Troubles when he told stories at the Free Fair. And he keeps rubbing at his shoulder when I’ve seen him, like it hurts.”

Delphie dropped her eyes to her lap. “I don’t know what happened out there, but it’s plain that Frodo and his friends managed to impress a great many people.” She sighed. “Well, perhaps the rest of us should follow your father’s lead and go to bed. Persivo, you and your father have to meet with the King’s lawyer in the morning, after all.”

“Yes, Mum,” Persivo said. “Come on, Pet, Gonya, the sooner you’re in bed, the quicker I can follow.” Once they had gone into the children’s room and shut the door he turned to his mother. “Mum, has Cousin Frodo ever been rude to Dad?”

“Not that I’m aware of. But your father is all Bracegirdle, lovey, and Bracegirdles aren’t the easiest folk to get along with, you know. Your father is a very sensitive person, and sometimes----” She glanced guiltily at the door before continuing, “Sometimes I think he sees criticism where there is none. It’s just he’s so different from Frodo—intelligent, but in a different way; quick to see how someone could take advantage of someone else, although that’s not his own inclination; very practical. I think he just doesn’t understand Frodo anywhere nearly as well as Frodo understands him, and realizes that’s true and resents it.”

“I don’t think he needs to resent it,” Persivo said thoughtfully. “I get the feeling Mr. Frodo envies Dad. At the banquet for the lawyers, as we were leaving, he was watching Dad and me leaving with Dad’s hand on my shoulder, and I could see grief there that it wasn’t him with his hand on his son’s shoulder. Why didn’t he ever get married?”

She shrugged again. “I don’t know, not for certain. He and Pearl Took—everyone once was certain they’d marry, but she threw him over. Then he seemed to be opening up to Narcissa Boffin—and then Bilbo left, and that was that. I don’t know if he just didn’t bother to follow up on any other love after Bilbo left or if it was something else, but since then he’s not looked at a lass with anything more than courtesy, not that I’m aware of.”

He nodded his understanding just as Pet, dressed in her nightgown, opened the door. “We’re changed now, and are getting into bed. You can get ready now, Persi.”

“Thanks,” he said over his shoulder. “Will be right in.” He sighed as he rose and came to stand by his mother’s chair. “I’ll go to the privy first. Thanks, Mother. I do love you so.” He leaned down and kissed her cheek, then turned away toward the corridor Nob had indicated led to the privy. Delphinium watched after him, secretly glad he had so much Baggins to his nature. She had the feeling Persivo wouldn’t spend anywhere near as much time as his father did fighting enemies and criticism that existed only in his imagination.

*******


Alvric woke early. A message had come from the Prancing Pony to advise him that Bartolo Bracegirdle of Hardbottle had arrived yesterday, and he wished to meet shortly after second breakfast. Alvric had been observing Carnation Sandybanks with great interest, and had decided that Berevrion’s advice not to stand between a hungry Hobbit and food had not been as lightly given as he’d first supposed. How she could eat as much as she did he couldn’t tell; but there was no question that, small as she was, she ate more per meal than himself, and far more times during a day. Yet she was not a lazy soul by any standard, and often would continue on with the work of the day when a woman from among Men would have flagged.

He’d advised Denra and Carnation of the impending meetings with Mr. Bracegirdle, and immediately Carnation had begun planning menus. “How long will he be meetin’ with ye?” she asked.

“I’m not truly certain, but probably at least three hours a day for several days.”

“He be meetin’ with ye alone, or with others?”

“I’m not sure, although it would be customary, as his family has apparently accompanied him here to Bree, to host him and his wife and children at least once for a formal meal, perhaps on the second night of our meetings, and then again on their last night here. Or, so it is done in Gondor. As to whether or not others from his family will attend on him during our meetings—well, I hadn’t thought to enquire.”

She nodded. “Mayhaps one ‘r more of his childern’ll be with ’im on some days, although probably not on all days. I’ll prepare for at least two a day, then. He’ll be a’comin’ when? After second breakfast? Well, that’ll leave elevenses, luncheon, and p’rhaps tea to ready each day.”

“If you’ll give me a list of what provisions you’ll need, I’ll purchase them at the market.”

Denra laughed. “You’d do better to give the coin to Carnation and let her get them—they’ll give her a better bargain than they will you, bein’ a Man and an outlander and all. And with all her family to help, they’ll get it here in a timely manner as well.”

Now he waited rather impatiently, wondering just what type of person he’d be faced with, fussing with the copies of maintenance agreements with which Prince Faramir had provided him. When he heard the knock at the door, he felt relieved, for it appeared that at last Mr. Bartolo Bracegirdle had arrived----

Except, the voice he heard answering Denra as she opened the door was not that of a Hobbit, or at least unlike those of any Hobbit he’d as yet heard, whose voices tended to be higher in tone than most Men. No, this voice was low, that of a big Man, he judged; and the tone of voice of the response given by Denra indicated a level of mixed anger and distress. Alarmed, Alvric hurried out of the second parlor toward the front door. Holby, waking to find his master leaving the room, rose and ran after him.

“But you can’t think to keep this place up all on yer own, Denra Gorse. It’s way too much fer a woman alone….”

Alvric found himself full of fury on Denra’s behalf, and decidedly controlled his anger. He straightened and stalked to Denra’s side at the door. Peering through his lens over her shoulder, he saw a broad Man with wiry ginger hair and beard standing on the walk to the house, hands on his hips, a sardonic look on what could be seen of his face. The lawyer considered the situation. He’d seen such individuals in the magistrate’s court in the Fourth Circle often enough, Men who considered themselves both irresistible to women and capable of convincing solely on the basis of brawn. “I take it, Mistress Gorse,” he said calmly, “that this is Bender Cotman.” Holby peaked his head around her leg and yapped at the Man.

Denra looked over her shoulder, apparently surprised to find him there. “Yes, Master Alvric,” she said.

Alvric nodded, pushed his dog back inside gently with his foot, then gently pressed past his hostess, shutting the door behind him and stuffing his lens back into the pocket he’d had sewn into the seam of his surcoat. “Well, Master Cotman,” he said, “I beg to inform you that Mistress Gorse is not, at this time at least, alone. She has accepted me as a boarder, and while I am residing in Bree I will be assisting her as I am needed, and she resides under my protection and that of the Lord King Elessar.”

“Under yer protection?” Cotman asked. “And who’s this King Elessar?”

“You hadn’t heard the news that there is once again a King over both Arnor and Gondor? I assure you there is, and he will not tolerate his subjects being bullied.”

“Bullied? And who’s it as ye’re accusin’ o’ bullyin’ folks?”

“I’m accusing you of trying to bully this woman. Must a woman be married to the likes of you in order to hold the property she’s inherited? It has never been so in Gondor, and I doubt such is tolerated by the Dúnedain of Arnor, either. And now that the Lord Elessar has claimed all of Eriador once again as his lands within Arnor, insisting that this woman must accept your protection solely because you say she must do so it is not lawful.”

“And what do ye know o’ the laws o’ Arnor?”

“I am first assistant to the Master of the Guild of Lawyers for the realm, a legal advisor to the Citadel of Minas Tirith and the houses of the King and his Stewards, and a magistrate of the King’s justice for civil law. I assure you that I am well versed in the laws of Gondor and have been advised my brief runs to offering judgments within Bree and Annúminas during my tenure here. Would you like to see my letters patent?”

“Yer what?” The farmer was taken aback by such a speech.

“The letters of authority sent by the King himself authorizing me to represent the laws of both realms.”

Cotman considered for a moment, then asked, “And who is it, then, as’ll see to it as these laws as ye’re on about is upheld?”

“I believe Lord Berevrion left three of the King’s Men here at the Prancing Pony. Shall I summon them?”

Alvric watched the farmer closely, and noted with satisfaction the growing level of confusion and uncertainty the Man’s demeanor reflected. He’d learned early in his service as a clerk in the magistrate’s courts that speaking confidently was enough to establish his authority with most folk. However, he decided he would visit Butterbur’s inn and speak with whatever Rangers might be there to see to it Denra’s home was seen being visited by one of them, for such would add more deterrence against further visits from Cotman and his ilk.

“Ye’re plannin’ on stayin’ here in Bree long?”

“I will be here in Arnor for some time, most likely for at least a year. During that time I will be traveling at times between here and the northern capital of Annúminas and most likely the King’s fortress of Fornost as well. However, when I must be away I will see to it that the King’s kinsmen who patrol the lands surrounding the Breelands and the Shire see to it Mistress Gorse remains unmolested. And now, unless you have specific business with Mistress Gorse or wish to visit with her as a neighbor, it would perhaps be advisable you leave.”

Bender Cotman was standing indecisively, his head slightly turned away, examining Alvric out of the corner of his eye. At last he straightened. “I’ll be leavin’, then, but not only ’cause o’ the likes o’ ye,” he said, his fury barely suppressed. “But with yer interference----“

Alvric allowed himself to laugh. “My interference? Mistress Gorse, do you wish this individual to remain on your property?”

“No!” Her voice was determined. “I wish him to go.”

Alvric turned back to the Man. “It appears I’m not interfering at all, and that it is Mistress Gorse’s own desire you should leave. Please do so, or I shall send to summon one of the King’s Men to escort you away.”

The face between beard and hairline was heavily flushed, but Cotman at last turned and stomped away. He had no idea who might be the King’s Men the stranger spoke of, but he had no stomach for more of a confrontation that day.

Denra watched after her unwelcome guest, delighted. “Well,” she said softly for Alvric’s ears only, “there’s no question that Barliman was right. Thank you!”

He turned to briefly smile at her, then pulled out his lens again, looking down the lane toward the high street through Bree, for he thought he’d seen a couple unfamiliar Hobbits headed their way. Yes, there were two Pheriannath following Nob toward Denra’s house, one perhaps of middle years with a rather closed expression on his face, and what appeared to be a youth of the race, taller, and very familiar in appearance—until one saw his eyes. Instead of the remarkable blue Alvric expected to see, the eyes of this young Hobbit were a dark brown and openly curious as his attention was caught by the obviously angry Bender Cotman, watching after the Man as he disappeared back toward the center of the town. Nob’s expression brightened as he saw Alvric standing outside the door to the Gorse house, and he stopped to gently nudge his older companion, pointing their way. Bartolo Bracegirdle gave a nod of understanding, started forward, then paused to reach into a pocket in his trousers for a money purse from which he pulled what appeared to be a copper to give Nob. He said something to the youth, ignoring Nob as he knuckled his forehead, then came forward purposefully, returning the purse to his pocket.

So, these were the Lord Frodo’s relations by marriage. From what he’d seen of the clothing worn by Hobbits in Bree, both were well dressed indeed, the clothing well cut of excellent cloth. The father wore a shirt of dusky green, his other garments different shades of brown. The son, who carried a documents case, wore a gold shirt with careful embroidery about the placket and on the cuffs, the rest of his garments green. Alvric returned his lens again to his pocket and bowed respectfully. “Master Bartolo? Welcome. I am Alvric son of Maerdion from Lamedon in Gondor, and this is Mistress Denra Gorse, whose house this is.”

“Welcome to Bree, Mr. Bracegirdle,” Denra greeted him.

The older Hobbit paused, looking from one to the other. “Mister----” he began, obviously uncertain how to continue.

“You may address me as Master Alvric, sir,” the Man responded.

“Thank you, Master Alvric. You don’t use surnames in Gondor?”

“No, although many are further identified by their professions.”

“I see,” the Hobbit said, although it was plain he didn’t truly do so. “My older son, Persivo.”

The lad gave a tentative yet respectful bow of his head. “Master, Mistress,” he said. His voice was still youthful, and had a different timbre to it than had Frodo Baggins. Alvric found himself inspecting Persivo with interest. Yes, very similar indeed to Lord Frodo—and yet different, also. More color to his face, the face indeed of that of a youth uncertain of how precisely he should respond to the apparent friendliness of this strange Man.

“Well, Master Bartolo, Persivo, if the two of you will come in. Mistress Gorse has given us the use of the second parlor for our consultations. This way. Oh, and don’t mind about Holby, my dog—he’s protective but friendly enough.”

While Persivo leaned down to allow Holby to smell his hand and administer a pat, Bartolo looked at the woman as she accompanied them to the door of the second parlor. “You are unmarried, Mistress?”

She gave a brief polite smile. “So far, Mr. Bracegirdle, sir. I lived here with my brother, but he died in the defense of Bree, when the ruffians attacked us and tried to take over.”

“I see,” he said, looking away. “We had our difficulties with ruffians as well, there in the Shire, although it apparently took us longer to rid ourselves of them.”

“So I understood from the stories as has come from the Shire this past few months,” she said. “Carnation as does for me was preparing some tea and cakes for your refreshment as you work—she’ll most like be in shortly. Nice to meet the both of you.” And with a brief near-curtsey she turned away, headed outdoors to work among her flowers.

Alvric had managed to acquire a low table appropriate to the stature of most Hobbits, as well as a few chairs, and now he saw his guests seated at it, and after making certain there was a large pad of paper on the desk as well as graphite, ink, and quill pens and associated items, he took up the examples of maintenance agreements and brought them to the table. He gave the younger Hobbit another examination as Holby curled up under Alvric’s chair. “I hope you won’t find this all too dry,” he cautioned Persivo. “Writing contracts can be boring, and discussing how to write them even more so.”

“Oh, but I like writing contracts,” Persivo assured him. “I wish to become a lawyer meself—myself, you see. Dad has been working with me, teaching me some, and he said I might come with him so as we both can learn how to write proper contracts for the outlands.”

“I see. How do individuals wishing to serve as Shire lawyers learn their trade?”

Bartolo answered, “They are apprenticed to an experienced lawyer, one who’s been approved by the Mayor and Thain as one allowed to accept apprentices. We’d thought to have Persivo apprentice to me, but….”

Alvric smiled. “I think I understand. It is often harder to accept being apprenticed to a family member than to an outsider, or so it has been found true in Gondor.”

Father and son were both nodding. Persivo asked, “Were you apprenticed?”

“Yes, starting when I was seventeen. I could not think prior to that time what I would wish to do with my life, and so only continued general studies until we began to study the controversies surrounding the coronation of Eärnil. Ondoher had died, having married his daughter Fíriel to Arvedui, then King of Arnor; and his son had died as well. It was then that Arvedui returned to Minas Tirith, claiming the Winged Crown for himself and Fíriel jointly as she was Ondoher’s remaining child as well as through his own claim as heir of Isildur, who, after all, was the elder of Elendil’s two sons. It was then that arguments broke out regarding the claim the descendants of Isildur might hold on the kingship of Gondor, which after all had always been passed down through the heirs of Anárion, Elendil’s second son; and I became fascinated with the various laws used in arguments by each side as to the legitimacy of Arvedui’s claim. In the end the Council rejected Arvedui’s claim and installed Eärnil instead, who was a descendant of Ondoher’s great-grandfather but who had lived all his life in Gondor and was properly an heir to Anárion, but Eärnil lived but two years more, leaving the crown to his unmarried son Eärnur, who disappeared into the darkness of the Morgul Vale some years later, leaving no one in Gondor with a claim of the blood of Anárion strong enough to be accepted as King.

“Had we only accepted Arvedui’s claim all might have gone well for both lands, for there was still might enough in Arnor and Gondor combined then to oppose the evil of the remnants of Mordor. Sauron might then yet remain in hiding in Dol Guldur where he was known as the Necromancer, but his Nazgul had taken Minas Ithil on the borders of his former realm of Mordor and there gathered armies that ever harried our lands and peoples. Instead the two lands remained divided, and when the Witch-king of Angmar came against Arvedui and the forces of Arnor almost he prevailed, and only the belated arrival of a fleet from the southlands led by Eärnur helped to win the day. However, Arvedui had died by then when his ship foundered in the ice floes of the far north, and so although his heir survived the peoples of Arnor had suffered so much loss no longer would Arnor hold itself a kingdom, and so Arvedui’s son became a king with no Kingdom; and a few years later Gondor became a kingdom with no king.

“That started my fascination with the law, which is sufficiently complex in Gondor to keep my attention and earn my devotion. I was accepted as apprentice by one of the chief legal minds of Lamedon, who was, after all, a distant relative; later, he transferred my apprenticeship to the Master of the Guild of Lawyers in Minas Tirith, for my interest in legal arguments surpassed his resources. I fear my interest in writing proper contracts is probably not as great as your own, Persivo, for my first love remains the interpretation of law.”

Bartolo appeared totally confused. “What do you mean, the interpretation of law? What’s to interpret? There’s what’s right and what’s wrong, of course, and that ought to be plain enough.”

“Oh, but you are correct, Master Bartolo—right and wrong indeed ought to be plain enough; but I fear we Men are too devious to accept such simplicity. I am told your laws and the administration of them are simple indeed compared to the laws of the Dúnedain to which we outdwellers cling. I suppose all started innocently enough—someone did something that left someone else hurt, and so a law was crafted outlawing that action—except…. And there are always exceptions that must be taken into account.”

“I don’t understand,” objected Bartolo.

“There is a law against murder, the killing of another person. However, can you think of no case in which the killing of another person ought to be legal?”

Persivo answered readily, “When you are attacked or someone else is attacked, and you fight and kill the person to protect those who have been attacked, that’s not murder then. I mean, no one sought to accuse those who fought against Lotho’s Big Men to drive them out of the Shire of murder, for many of them had murdered our own folk.”

“Exactly, Persivo. Self-protection has become the first defense that may be offered that allows the one who has killed another to indicate he ought not to be found guilty of murder. But what of someone whose life has not be actively threatened, but whose happiness is threatened? A woman whose husband has habitually abused her and her children, or a farmer whose neighbor seeks to claim his cattle because his bull got through a hedge and covered the neighbor’s cows, and so the owner of the bull seeks to claim the calves as his own. Oh, I assure you that situation has indeed been argued in the courts of the realm of Gondor, for I served as legal advisor to the one who did kill his neighbor. Once it was proven the neighbor had purposely made the gap in the hedge in order to allow his bull access into his neighbor’s field so as to make claim on the calves, and had used the paternity of the calves to deprive his neighbor of his cows’ offspring to the increase of his own herd, I could show how it was my client was driven increasingly to distraction by the continual decrease to his own resources that in the end, when he caught the Man in the act of reopening the gap he came to kill his neighbor. He was not found guilty of murder and executed, but did spend some time imprisoned for overreaching his authority to protect his property by killing instead of bringing the neighbor before the magistrates to reveal his perfidy. Yet in the end he was able to return home to the comfort of his family, and once again he raises fine cattle.”

Bartolo Bracegirdle’s expression revealed revulsion, while his son’s expressed fascination. Alvric continued, “And so it was that I have chosen to study civil law and the claims of authority, and had become an advisor to Lord Denethor and his younger son Faramir, who was ever more interested in matters of administration than was his older brother Boromir; and when our Lord Elessar arrived to place his claim for the Winged Crown, it was to me that Lord Faramir as acting Steward turned to study our body of law to find the precedents on which to accept or deny Aragorn Elessar’s claim. In the end we chose to accept his claim, and I truly believe it was not only lawful that Arvedui in his day proffered his own claim, but also that law then more truly required us to accept it than to place Eärnil on the throne of Gondor. Certainly by rejecting the claims of Arvedui we placed both realms under far greater hardship than either would have known had the Kingship been properly resolved then.”

“Then,” Bartolo commented slowly, “lawyers in Gondor don’t write contracts and agreements and wills?”

“Oh, but we do, and as is true here that is the bulk of the business for most lawyers of the realm. But there are those such as I who specialize in other questions; and it is because of my broad knowledge of the law I was sent to Arnor to assist in the review of statutes here to assist in bringing the two bodies of law into alignment with one another. I have a thorough grounding in contract law, of course, although I will admit I’ve never written a lease regarding property awarded for maintenance before. However, Prince Faramir has provided me with several examples of such agreements for us to refer to so that we can develop a proper agreement to meet the needs of Lord Frodo.” So saying, he set copies of one agreement before himself and Bartolo, and they began to examine the contract.

It was quickly obvious Persivo was far more astute regarding the vagaries of language than was his father, constantly noting how wording affected how the contract would be interpreted. His father was obviously impatient with these discussions at first, but managed to hold his impatience as they went forward, realizing the lawyer from among Men appreciated Persivo’s comments and was actively instructing him as to why he was right or wrong in his evaluations.

They accepted the tea and small cakes brought by Carnation, Persivo with a smile of recognition and thanks, Alvric with a distracted nod and murmured word, and Bartolo with a simple look before returning his attention to the document. They broke for elevenses and repaired to the dining room where Alvric sat nursing another cup of tea while the Hobbits ate heartily, Holby left complaining, shut into the parlor while they ate.

Persivo paused, halfway through a third scone, and asked uncertainly, “You are not yet hungry, Master Alvric?”

The Man smiled. “Men aren’t required to eat as much as Hobbits do, and do not eat as much during a meal. I will eat heartily enough at luncheon, which is not so long away, you must realize. But the cakes I ate earlier are still staying with me. Please forgive me I cannot join you thoroughly, but don’t be disturbed on my account.”

After finishing his scone, the young Hobbit asked, “Why have you and Glorinlas Gildorion spoken of Frodo Baggins as Lord Frodo?”

Alvric paused, trying to think how to answer, for Lord Frodo had indeed asked this not be revealed. He set down his cup, and sighed. “This title was granted to him for the service he performed for the lands while he was gone from his home. He has asked particularly I not discuss it further, as he feels it a matter that should remain private for he believes it has no bearing on his life within the Shire. I fear that to learn more, you will need to question him and his companions, all of whom know the details of what was done. But on granting such titles it is customary for lands for maintenance be granted at the same time, and such was done in this case, both within Gondor and within Arnor. I understand from Lord Berevrion the practice of granting lands for maintenance has continued here in the north as has been customary in Gondor, and that he also has had lands granted for his maintenance. And, by the way, Lord Frodo made the specific request he does not wish his title to be discussed within the Shire, again for the purposes of privacy.”

Bartolo searched the Man’s face. “But you know what he did?” he asked sourly.

“All within Gondor, most of the Dúnedain of Arnor, the Elves of Eriador, and the Dwarves of Erebor, the Misty Mountains, and the Iron Hills all know what he and Samwise Gamgee accomplished, and why they have been honored as has been done. I believe the Ents of Fangorn Forest and the Great Eagles also have had a part in recognizing their great deeds. Indeed I believe it was the Great Eagles who first insisted that they be honored, a request all others swiftly agreed to.”

“But, what did they do?” demanded Persivo, obviously frustrated not to understand.

“They were instrumental in seeing to it that Sauron was brought down, although all people of honor aided in that great struggle. That is all I am permitted to say at this time.”

“But,” Bartolo said, “they’re only Hobbits of the Shire!”

“One did not need to be as great a warrior as Boromir the Bold or as great a leader as our Lord Aragorn Elessar to do what was needed at the last. And we have learned the strength of your people in some ways exceeds that of the rest of the peoples of Middle Earth.”

Alvric looked up to see that Carnation stood in the doorway from the kitchen with a basin of stewed fruit held between her hands, and her eyes were shining with surprise and pride at his words. He gave a small smile, then looked back to the two Hobbits from the Shire. “You will find that the King’s kinsmen honor your people greatly for the honor the Hobbits of the Shire have ever shown forth. As we came north Lord Berevrion spoke with greatest pride of the service your Bucca of the Marish and his archers offered the realm during the last battles with the Witch-king of Angmar, and admitted that it is told others also came forth to aid the armies of Arnor in that war. And certainly what was done by Bilbo Baggins is greatly honored. Indeed, his integrity has become a watchword among the Elves of the Great Wood and the Men of Rhovanion and the Dwarves of Erebor, and they spoke freely of his great spirit and shining example when they came to show respect to our new King just after his coronation. Nobility is something that transcends racial barriers or accidents of birth.

“Now, while you finish your fruit, I will take Holby out for a short time and then go back to prepare the next set of documents we will discuss.”

As he went back to the second parlor he was aware of the three sets of eyes seeking to bore holes in his back, Carnation’s full of excitement, Persivo’s frustrated, and Bartolo’s with a level of resentment he still failed to understand, and all of them curious almost past bearing.

By the time luncheon was served Bartolo realized he’d learned a great deal about just how important it was to be careful of wording in writing a contract that it not allow one party to take undue advantage of the other. The second maintenance contract was so written that, if it were to be strictly followed, it allowed the lord for whose benefit it was written to take almost all proceeds from the smithy that had been established on the affected property. “That being true, the smith himself is left with insufficient to support himself and his family, much less to keep the smithy open,” Alvric pointed out. He examined the designation of the lord, and sighed. “I see—it was written for Lord Baldor of Anorien. A rather unpleasant Man he was, if I recall the story correctly. He was assassinated in the eighteenth year of Lord Denethor’s stewardship, and no one looked overly hard for the one who slew him. Not even the other lords of the realm worried too much over finding the assassin, although a number of Dunlending spies were arrested in Anorien and in Rohan, and no similar assassination occurred elsewhere in the realm.

“The problem with allowing such exploitation of tenants is that once the inequities of such a contract are found out, there is no incentive for the tenant to work hard, as he is allowed to keep so little for himself. Instead, such contracts tend to push tenants into dishonesty or sloth and loss of hope, and costs the one for whose benefit the contract was written the respect of honorable folk everywhere, to the point none grieved for the death of Lord Baldor.”

“The way no one mourns for Lotho Sackville-Baggins, except for Cousin Frodo,” Persivo commented. “At the banquet, every time he must say Lotho’s name he grieved—you could see it in his eyes.”

Bartolo appeared surprised by that observation by his son. “They never liked one another,” he said.

“Did Cousin Lotho ever give him the chance to like him, Dad? I know that until now Aunt Lobelia never said anything nice about Frodo Baggins, but everyone says that when Uncle Otho died he was very nice to her, and the two of them have been very nice to one another since he came back. She gave him back Bag End, after all.”

Something about that caused a wave of anger to cross Bartolo’s face, although it was swiftly masked.

As they ate luncheon with Carnation and Denra, Alvric brought up the subject of the formal dinner he had planned for the following evening. “I am uncertain how many there are in your family,” he explained, “but I would have all of you attend. How many more children do you have?”

Bartolo shrugged as he sipped at his soup. “There is Enrico, my younger son, who is thirteen, and three daughters, Petunia, Begonia, and Alyssa, who’s the youngest at ten. Ricki was going out to see if the local lads will allow him to play at roopie with them, while the lasses and their mother were going to check out the markets and shops today.”

Alvric nodded, exchanging looks with Carnation and Denra. “Then we will plan a meal for the seven of you, and perhaps one or more of the King’s Men who might be here in Bree. I was told by Lord Eregiel that Faradir, who has been given the task of surveying Lord Frodo’s holdings here in Arnor, should be here in a few days with the proper deeds and titles to be delivered into your hands, that you might deliver them further. When he arrives he will attend our meeting here.”

“Very good.” Bartolo’s face was carefully controlled, although the Man sensed the Hobbit was still angry. Certainly when Lord Frodo had noted in his letter that Bartolo Bracegirdle loathed him, he had been correct.

In the afternoon they considered the third and final maintenance agreement sent by Prince Faramir, one that had been written so much to the benefit of the tenant that the Lord received nearly nothing of value at all. “In this case, the tenant was the brother of the lord to whom the land was granted, and he would not have his brother give more than he felt his brother could afford to give. In the end his brother came to loath him for his very mercy, and he sought to betray him to agents from Umbar. It caused no end of trouble for some years, I regret to say.”

Persivo was obviously appalled. “Are there so many Men of dishonor in the world?” he asked as his father sipped from the glass of ale provided by Carnation.

Alvric shrugged. “Unfortunately, there are indeed many Men of dishonor in this world. However, there are also very many who are honest and decent. One will find in the end the type of Man you would seek, either true or false. Most Men, however, are a mixture of goodness and pettiness, much as I must suppose is true of most Hobbits. And with our Lord Aragorn Elessar as the great example of how Men are meant to be, I find myself anticipating that for the remainder of his reign we will know mostly honor and truth in both Gondor and Arnor, for that is the type of Man he will draw to the forefront, much as Lord Frodo seems to draw out the best in those he must deal with. He speaks highly of you, by the way, Master Bartolo.”

The Man was secretly pleased to see the Hobbit almost choke on his drink. However, Bartolo managed to control himself, and after wiping his mouth carefully he said stiffly, “Baggins said he would allow me to contact you.”

“And so he did, Master Bartolo. However, he has written to the King of the lawyers of the Shire whose honesty and virtue he most admires, and your name was on that list.”

Bartolo’s face flushed. It was a compliment he’d certainly not thought to hear spoken in this place. Alvric was amused he’d managed to so disconcert the lawyer from Hardbottle, and looked forward to pricking the antipathy Bartolo held toward his wife’s cousin at least once daily.

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