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Might Have Beens
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Lotho Sackville-Baggins stalked up the lane toward Bag End, furious beyond telling. He’d just finished going over the sales documents for the smial with his cousin Timono Bracegirdle, and realized that he’d been cheated. His cousin Frodo had not conveyed to him the position of family head for the Bagginses; nor had he sold Lotho the smials fronting on Bagshot Row along the base of the Hill--the titles and deeds to those properties Frodo had retained to himself. Apparently Frodo was not as desperate for money as he had let on.

Well, Lotho intended to confront his loathsome cousin and let him know precisely what he thought of him. He’d show Frodo Baggins that the foul orphan couldn’t make a fool out of Lotho Sackville-Baggins and get away with it. So when he opened the picket gate in the hedge surrounding Bag End’s gardens he almost pulled it off its hinges, slamming it behind him so hard it failed to latch at all. Up the stone steps he went until he reached the front door, and pounded on it, but got no response.

Curse his cousin! Where was he? He tried the knob and realized the door was locked. Yet the small window by the door was open to allow a breeze into the hole--when not at home Frodo never left that window unsecured. He turned through the gardens along the length of the smial, and noted that the window to Frodo’s study was open--no good for him, with the high back of Frodo’s writing desk to it and nothing of value kept upon it save for whatever vase of flowers that gardener placed there. The two windows for the dining room were also open, again with nothing close enough to them to take. The kitchen window over the stone sink was also open--and when he tried the kitchen door he found it unlatched.

For the first time he felt a moment of triumph--Frodo had secured the front door, but not the back one. Well, Lotho wasn’t averse to taking advantage of whatever chance showed itself, and he had long ago decided that anyone foolish and trusting enough to leave anything of any value unsecured where Lotho might get his hands on it deserved to lose it. He would go in and see if he could find anything of any worth, or perhaps some papers in that study of Frodo’s he could use to his own purposes. He opened the door quietly and slipped inside, closing it behind him also as quietly as he could, crossed to the passageways to the front of the smial on one side and deeper toward the bedrooms and privy and bathing room the other, and listened.

Down the passage he could hear Frodo singing, and realized why his cousin hadn’t heard the pounding at the door--the fool was taking a bath! Down the passage Lotho crept, and pressing his ear to the closed door of the bathing room he realized he was correct--Frodo was indeed inside, and he could smell steam and rose oil, and hear the sound of sloshing water and Frodo’s voice raised still in the song Lotho’d heard from the kitchen. Lotho’s lip curled in a satisfied smile. So, he could do some poking! He turned toward the far end of the hall.

Frodo had never moved his own things into the master bedroom--no, he’d continued to sleep in the room he’d always slept in--that next to what had been Bilbo’s room before he’d left Bag End and the Shire, and it was there Lotho went next. The door was open, and peering in Lotho could see Frodo’s trousers lying across the bed along with fresh small clothes to go underneath and a shirt recently pulled from his wardrobe. His vest, a neat one of textured green and gold with a soft brocade backcloth and edging, hung from the valet stand, and something drew the interloper there. Baggins carried a pocket watch Lotho had ever coveted, and now Lotho meant to take it. It would be in the watch pocket, he realized--except, when Lotho examined the vest he realized the watch wasn’t there. There was no watch there, nor hanging from the watch hanger sitting on Frodo’s dresser.

Lotho growled with frustration. This was no good, and Baggins was likely to be finished soon--he needed to find something to make this illicit visit worthwhile. But as he started to let the vest go he realized there was something of weight in the right pocket. Something small, but surprisingly heavy for its size. What in Middle Earth could it be.

Who is there? Lotho looked about, almost expecting to see that Samwise Gamgee or perhaps one of his sisters looking in through the bedroom door; but no one was to be seen. In the distance he heard the scrape of the tub--Frodo was finishing his bath, and was likely to come out at any moment. He thrust his hand into the pocket and found----

----Well, it was small, and round, and indeed weighty. He started to pull it out, and found it was a--a ring.

A small, rather plain gold ring.

It had no stone, no figuring, no etching.

Quite a plain thing, really--nothing special--except...

...Except it was somehow remarkably perfect in its golden brilliance and simplicity.

What? Oh--yes--oh, I see you. I’ve felt you. Yes, an orc in all but body. Yes, you will do--you will do nicely.

And Lotho realized that one of the things he’d always felt calling to him whenever he’d seen Frodo over these past almost seventeen years could be his now. He pulled it completely out of the pocket--except----

----Except it was fastened to a loop sewn within the pocket by a strong chain. It cost him precious seconds to locate and examine the clasp for the chain, and he undid it, slipped the Ring off of it. Then, prompted by some impulse he didn’t understand, he fastened the clasp once more and slipped the chain back inside the pocket, turned, and hurried back up the hall as fast and quietly as he could go. He’d just made the kitchen when he heard the door to the bathing room open, and a stronger scent of rose oil filled the smial. Almost Lotho remained, suddenly urged by quite a different impulse to stay and talk to Frodo about what he’d found.

It is dangerous, child--very dangerous. He understands It--you do not. Let him take back the burden before It takes you. He won’t blame you--but once you take It away from his influence you will lose whatever personal will you have ever had.

Nonsense. There’s nothing ominous here--merely a simple ring, a plain one, but of lovely gold, something of value, something he owes you for not giving you all he was supposed to surrender. Oh take me with you, clever one. Don’t leave me to that one!

There was no real contest in the end--Lotho slipped out of the door, closing it as quietly as he could, and ran to the side gate and through it, fled down the steps and toward Hobbiton, one hand jammed into his jacket pocket where he held in it the Ring he’d just stolen--not realizing he himself had just been commandeered.

“Sam? Is that you?” were the last words he heard before he was out of earshot of Bag End.


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