“What will you be doing today?” asked Delphie at first breakfast as she split a roll and spread some butter and honey on it.
“I suppose as I’ll be going over this lease agreement with Master Alvric to see if it’s properly written,” Barti said, then found himself stifling a yawn. “Did the children behave properly?”
“Well, I heard no bad reports on them. Enrico was playing with the other lads again, and Begonia and Pet went to the Sandheavers’ hole for the day. Gonya seems to have made a good friend with their Agatha, while Petunia and their Ronica appear to be thick as thieves. I’m told all three of our children helped theirs with chores, if you can imagine. Carnation was most impressed with their manners when she arrived at Mistress Gorse’s place. How about Alyssa and Persivo?”
Barti eyed their youngest briefly, then returned his attention back to his wife. “It appears Alyssa was quite well behaved yesterday, and even assisted the Hedges lasses as they saw to a meal being ready for when we returned from riding the boundaries, and she helped them with their chores, too. Mr. Hedges has two lasses and two lads, and apparently they are all pretty industrious and responsible about this farm as they’re putting in and helping with the digging out of the smial.
“It’s quite a place,” he added. “It appears there used to be a large farm house of Men there, and parts of the walls are still standing, buried beneath the earth as has built up around them. They’re using those walls still standing to help support the inner walls of the smial.”
“They found one floor as has a picture made of tiny tiles, or maybe colored pebbles,” Lyssa said. “It’s a branch with a bird on it. Anemone showed me. It’s very pretty.”
Surprised, Delphie looked back at her husband, who nodded. “I’d have never thought to see such a thing. Master Faradir calls it a mosaic, and says as one sees such floors here and there in the ruins of some of the oldest buildings done by the Sea Kings’ folks. He appeared to think as it was odd to see it in a farm house. He seems to think as this might have been more a retreat than just a simple farm--somewhere for the lords to go to away from having to be rulers all the time.”
“And they found a comb as was made by Elves--that’s what Master Faradir says, at least,” Lyssa added. “I’d like to have a comb like that. It was light and had lots of colors to it.”
Delphinium was impressed. “It sounds as if they’re finding quite a few things the Men who used to live there left, then.”
“And there’s a pot with a picture on it of the fire mountain as Cousin Frodo Baggins----”
“Alyssa!” warned her father.
Lyssa gave a huff of disgust. “It’s not fair!” she pouted. “It’s not like he did something bad! Why doesn’t he want folks to know?”
“Who? Frodo?” her mother asked, intrigued. “What doesn’t he want folks to know?”
“What he did to get to be a lord,” the child explained. “Master Alvric says as it was harder and more dangerous even than fighting in the war like Captain Merry and Captain Pippin did. But why doesn’t he want folks to know?”
Barti’s face was flaming. “How would I understand?” he demanded rather hotly. “All I know is that he’s made me take the oath, and we can’t speak of it.” He set his napkin on the table by his plate. “I’m going to the privy,” he said. “You might call Persivo and see if he’s going with me today.” So saying, he walked stiffly out of the room.
Delphie watched after him, then rose and went the other way to knock at the door to the room where the older children were still sleeping, then opened it to call Persi’s name and tell him his father would soon be ready to go see Master Alvric. As she returned and resumed her seat Lyssa looked up at her. “I just don’t understand, Mum.”
The Hobbitess sighed as she poured herself some more tea. “I very much fear I don’t quite understand either, dearling. Cousin Frodo’s always been rather quiet about what he’s been doing. But, then most folks in the Shire don’t care to hear how many invitations he might have copied for folks last week or what books he might have read.”
“I like books,” Alyssa said. “I’d like to hear that, I think.”
Delphie smiled at her youngest. “Well, you’re rather special in many ways. But lots of Hobbits never learn to read and write as you and the other children have, and talking about things they haven’t done and can’t do themselves makes them uncomfortable and bored.”
“Is that why Cousin Frodo won’t talk about going to the fire mountain, ’cause no other Hobbits did it ’cept him and Sam Gamgee?”
“But why would they go to a fire mountain?” Delphie asked.
“Someone had to, ’cause there was nowhere else they could take what they had. Only, I’m not supposed to say what that was.”
“Did they get it there?”
“I guess so, only they almost died. It must of been terrible hard to do.” Alyssa was quiet for a time, then sighed. “Do you know as how much pocket money I have left, Mummy?”
“I’m not certain. Why?”
“I think as I ought to buy Gonya some new hair ribbons is all, to make up for the ones as I ruined. Can we do that today?”
Delphie smiled. “I suppose we can. Go and tell your sister that you’re sorry and that you want to replace the other ones, and have her brush your hair for you--after you wash your face and hands.”
The lass made a face, then said, “All right, Mummy.”
Shortly after she’d disappeared into the children’s room Bartolo returned. Not seeing Alyssa still in the parlor he sighed. “She off getting ready for the day?”
“Yes--she wants to make it up to Begonia today, and plans to spend her pocket money to replace the ribbons.”
Barti straightened some in surprise and pride. “Well, perhaps she’s beginning to grow up some after all.”
“Did she start in on you with questions?”
“I take it she’s been doing that with you?”
“Yes. I had her ride with me part of the way back, and she was asking all kinds of questions--questions I couldn’t begin to answer. She--she even asked me if any Hobbit could have an adventure, or if you have to be a Baggins? Then she stopped and said, no, she guessed they didn’t have to be, as Sam Gamgee certainly wasn’t a Baggins, nor were Captain Pippin or Captain Merry.”
“Why did you have her ride with you?”
“I was trying to explain about the oath and why we sometimes have to take it.”
“Has anyone else ever had you take the oath?” his wife asked.
“No--no one except Baggins.”
“Why did he say he wanted you to take it now?”
“He says he’s made Brendilac Brandybuck take it, too, and his bankers of discretion. Says it’s nothing personal--just hates having his business gossiped about.”
“Well, she asked me if part of the reason why he doesn’t want to talk about going to some fire mountain is because he and Sam Gamgee are the only Hobbits to ever do something like that. What else did she ask you about adventures?”
“What they are and why anyone would want to have one.”
Delphie smiled. “And what did you tell her?”
He shrugged, obviously a bit annoyed. “What can I tell her? When was the last time you heard of someone besides the Travelers and old Bilbo having such a thing?”
“Well, before it was Bilbo it was the Tooks.”
Barti sighed helplessly. “Some of them, at least. I told her to have an adventure was to do something odd or different, and usually dangerous as well. I told her respectable Hobbits don’t do things that are dangerous, odd, or different unless we can’t keep from doing otherwise, usually. And I warned her that adventures are uncomfortable things that tend to make one miss meals.”
Delphie laughed. “That ought to deter her from looking for one of her own!”
She noted that a corner of his mouth twitched slightly at the thought. “I would hope so. I don’t want the Bracegirdles developing a reputation for flightiness such as the Bagginses now have done.”
“Not that there’s much truly flighty about Cousin Frodo.”
Again Barti shrugged. At last he said, rather quietly, “Actually, from what I can tell he didn’t go on his for the enjoyment of the thing.”
“Not if having to travel to a fire mountain was part of it.”
Barti looked away, but finally responded, “Doesn’t appear he enjoyed that any.”
At that Persi came out, his legs rather stiff. “And the Travelers rode all the way back from Gondor on ponies?” he asked, rubbing at his thigh. “However did they stand it, coming all that way?”
“Your cousin Frodo’s been riding to Michel Delving and back every week since they returned,” his mother pointed out. “When you ride regularly your body grows accustomed to it.”
“I suppose. But I think I prefer driving to riding, myself.”
“Is Begonia accepting her sister’s apology?”
“She seems to be doing so. At least she’s not glaring at her as she was the other day.”
Soon Barti and Persi were off to the Gorse house with the packet of deeds while the girls and Rikky consulted with their mother. “Bedlo’s cousin’s going to teach him and me to play golf,” Enrico explained, “if it’s all right with you.”
“That ought to be fine, lovey,” Delphie returned. She counted out some coins. “For any meals you have while you’re playing. Whose clubs will you be using?”
“The Sandheaver lads all use the ones from their gaffer,” the lad informed her. “They said as we’ll all share.”
“We lasses will be off to the shops, then,” Delphie began, but Pet interrupted.
“Mum, would it be all right if I were to stay here? I don’t want new hair ribbons, after all. And I was rather hoping to speak to Mr. Gilfileg or Mr. Erengil, if either of them is still in Bree. You see, Ronica’s uncle has a scroll as he’d like to see properly translated or something, and it appears a Ranger might be able to help do so. Persi said Mr. Gilfileg was the one what helped translate Da’s deeds, you know.”
“I don’t know about having you speak with Rangers...” her mother began.
“We spoke with him the other day, Ronica and me,” Petunia explained. “He’s really quite a nice person. And if he’s not here, I suppose as the Greenwillows might help--they live near the market, and he used to be a Ranger. I guess Mr. Greenwillow helped those what--who fought against the Big Men here when they tried to take over. Missus Greenwillow knows Ronica’s mum and was asking to make certain she knew where we were, there the day of the luncheon when we went to the market.”
“Well,” her mother said thoughtfully, her brow furrowed, “if you go to see these Greenwillows I want to know. You know to look for us in one of the dry goods shops, although you might find us at the tailor shop, the one closest to the way to the East Gate we visited the other day. Alyssa’s growing so fast I commissioned some new vests for her, and we’re to pick them up today.”
“And if you’re not there and it’s near elevenses I’ll check the tea shop we all like,” Petunia promised.
Her mother smiled at her. “All right, sweetling. Then once your sisters are ready we’ll be off.” Immediately Lyssa and Gonya scurried off to make ready, and with a kiss to their mother Enrico was out the door to go join the Sandheaver lads.
Today, however, it appeared there were no Rangers about the Prancing Pony at all. Pet was able to ask Nob, who explained they’d all left the day before. Even Master Faradir hadn’t stayed over last night when he’d returned with Petunia’s father, she learned. As for the King’s Messenger, he’d left first thing this morning on his great horse.
It appeared that she would have to visit the Greenwillows after all. Petunia sighed, and went in to brush her hair nicely and to tie it away from her face--today promised to be quite warm, the warmest yet, she thought as she set off.
Most of the marketplace was empty, it not being a regular market day; but there were a couple stalls of food vendors there that were doing a lively business. The shops about the square were all open, and she started toward the dry goods shops to search for her mother when a shadow fell on her. She looked up to see a strange Man she didn’t know looming over her. “What have we here?” he said in a tone of voice that reminded her far too much of those of Cousin Lotho’s Big Men. “A ratling gel all on her own? Oh, Bert, we could know at least a bit of fun today.”
“We’d best not get caught ’fore we get them supplies we need, Ternish. Best leave’er alone.” The one called Bert was taller than the first one, and his coloring was more that of the other Men and Hobbits of Bree than his companion. Even looking at Ternish Petunia was reminded of the ruffians who’d taken over the Shire, his skin almost greyish, his eyes an unlikely, muddy dark brown, with that all too familiar sneer on his face.
“She’s not from ’ere in Bree,” Ternish pointed out. “Southfarthin’, if I don’t miss m’guess.” His sneer was fast developing into a leer. “Seems t’me as them Hobbits o’ the Shire owes us for lost goods ’n’ wages; an’ me, I plans to make up for it out o’ this one.” He was leaning down over her now, and Petunia found herself petrified with fear.
Only it appeared that these two were being watched, and a stick caught the one called Ternish alongside the head while Bert jumped aside in alarm as the point of a blade pricked the side of his neck and a strong arm was flung about his shoulders. Petunia gave a cry of shock as she was pulled back away from the ruffians into the protective arms of a woman among Men. She heard the woman holding her ask, “Are they leftovers from Saruman’s machinations, think you, Lindor?” Recognizing the voice of Anelisë Greenwillow, Pet relaxed back against the woman in relief and reaction.
“It would seem so,” the Man with the great walking stick in the crook of an elbow said as he knelt down to feel the side of the neck of the one he’d clubbed. “Good thing you saw them lurking outside the gates, Tergion,” he said to the one with the long knife in his hand--not much more than a lad, Petunia judged. “Once Berenion gets hold of you you’ll shape quickly into a Ranger, I’m thinking. Well,” he said as he rose, “this one’s out for the moment. Vanimelda, will you go fetch one of the gate guards? I think these two are for the gaol.”
The woman holding Petunia nodded, saying, “Gladly, my heart’s own.” She looked down into Pet’s face. “Would you go with me?”
“I don’t know as I could walk right now,” Petunia said, feeling a bit better nonetheless. “I’ll be all right if I bide here, I think.”
The elderly Man smiled at her. “A game one you are, young lady,” he commented.
The young one--Tergion, she remembered, asked, “Another half-orc?”
Looking down on the stunned Ternish, the Man nodded. “So it would seem.” He suddenly turned his keen eye on the other. “So, Sharkû had you come to this region, did he?”
His face pale as he felt the point of Tergion’s knife again prick his skin, Bert answered, “Yes--but we done nothin’ wrong, I swear!”
Lindor’s laugh was mirthless. “Nothing wrong? Nothing besides seeking to overwhelm the Breelands and invading the Shire and terrorizing a population long unaccustomed to guarding itself, you mean? And then accompanying this abomination as he threatens a helpless lass less than half his weight or strength?”
“Was only followin’ orders, I was!”
“And you--did Saruman have a hand in breeding you, too?”
Bert paled the more, then flushed an angry plum color. “I ain’t got no goblin blood’n my veins,” he insisted. “I’m from Dunland.”
“How did the traitor wizard convince you to come here to the northlands?”
“Said as there was lands for the taking, and--and....” Again he went pale.
“And slaves and plunder for the taking, too, did he? The enjoyment of terrorizing those believed unable to protect themselves? Ones to warm your nights and then discard once they were spoiled?”
Again the ruffian flushed, but he held his tongue. Lindor Greenwillow again laughed that mirthless laugh. “And what do you have now? Less than you came here with, I’d wager. Little more than the clothes on your backs and whatever valuables you were able to secrete on your persons before you fled the Shire when its warriors assailed you, led by knights of Gondor and Rohan.”
“Didn’t see none o’ the Stonelendings here,” muttered Bert, “nor none o’ them horse blokes.”
“Perhaps not--but did you not recognize the devices carried by the two Hobbits who directed the actions against your folk? The people and lords of the South Kingdom and the Mark recognized the great courage of those two and honored it, and then saw their skills finally honed to perfection. One fought on the field of the Pelennor, and the other before the Black Gate itself. Such as you two--what would you be seen as by such as those, one of whom faced Angmar himself and the other of whom refused to answer the Eye?”
Bert went beyond pale--became grey and pasty looking, his upper lip sheened with sweat. “They didn’t--they couldn’t of!” he whispered through a dry mouth and nearly nerveless tongue.
“And the other two--the ones who refused to lift arms against you, finding you worthy only of pity--those are the ones who saw to the felling of Barad-dûr itself, who faced all of the Nine and even bested a Morgul blade. You have no idea how fortunate you are that the will of the Ringbearer himself spared your sorry excuse for a life!”
“Don’t know nothin’ from no Ringbearers....”
With great contempt Lindor spat upon the ground. “No, I don’t suppose you would. So, you came here for supplies? With what funds?”
The gate guards arrived then, and quickly the two were disarmed and their hands bound behind them, and Tergion quickly turned out their pockets and belt purses. There were a few coins--brasses and a couple of coppers from Bree and the Shire; and there were a few pieces of jewelry as well. Petunia looked at a pendant hung on a fine golden chain, then turned to look up into Lindor’s eyes. “But I know that one--it was my dad’s Aunt Lobelia’s! It was her promise necklace when Uncle Otho Sackville-Baggins asked her to marry him! We all have seen it when they came to Bracegirdle parties--she was born a Bracegirdle, you see.”
“Yes. Lotho Sackville-Baggins was her son.”
Lindor’s face grew stern. “Then it appears this one, at least, was attending on Lotho himself, and then Saruman when he arrived. It must have been taken from her goods after Mistress Lobelia herself was taken to the Lockholes.”
“You know all about that?” Petunia asked, examining his face.
“Your Frodo Baggins made a full report to both our Lord Kinsman Aragorn and to Halladan as Aragorn’s Steward here within Eriador; and the story was shared with me. We will see this sent to Lord Frodo that he might return it to her.”
Petunia shook her head. “She’s dead now. She wasn’t young, you know; and knowing as her son had gone so wrong her heart was about broken. At least she died free, and with cousin Hyacinth, who cared for her in spite of herself. My dad--he was her lawyer.”
“I see.” Lindor again examined her thoughtfully. “Then I will attend on your father tonight and entrust it to him that he might make such disposition of it as would seem best to him. I’ll request a list of such goods as Lord Frodo has been putting together as missing from the folk of the Shire, and then speak to Butterbur--he might know if any goods are missing from those Hobbits of the Breelands whose homes and farms were entered and burned. And what is it that has brought you out today alone?”
“I was--I was going to come to see you and your wife. I thought as since Master Gilfileg knows Elvish perhaps you did, too.”
Lindor straightened with surprise. He gave a quick glance at the two gate guards who were now looking at him with marked interest. “Best take these two off and see them locked up,” he directed them. “When Lord Halladan returns to Bree he will be glad to see them and question them. And be certain to remove their boots and examine them closely before returning them--such often carry extra knives and other things in them, and the heels are often not as innocent as they might appear.”
Reluctantly the two guards moved off with their prisoners, casting interested glances back at Lindor and those with him. Once they were well gone Petunia turned back to the former Ranger. “Actually, I wasn’t looking for you yet--I promised Mummy I’d let her know if there weren’t any Rangers at the Prancing Pony and so I was going to try you next, so I was coming to the dry goods shops to find her. She’s helping Alyssa buy new ribbons for Begonia, to replace the ones she ruined.”
“And why do you need someone who can read Elvish?”
“It’s to translate a family scroll as Ronica’s Uncle Ned has. The first part appears to be Elvish, you see. He was showing it to us yesterday....”
Lindor exchanged looks of wonderment with his wife, although Pet could see the woman was also highly amused. “A Hobbit of Bree owns a scroll, and one with Elvish in it?” the Man said. “I must say this sounds intriguing. Well, shall we seek out your mother and then, perhaps, find a place to sit and talk a bit about this scroll of Uncle Ned’s?” He turned to the young one who’d used his knife to threaten Bert. “You--off with you and find your adar, and tell him what was found here today. If there are any others hiding out, waiting for these two to return with supplies, they need to be found--immediately.”
Tergion gave a salute, then a brief bow to Petunia, and turned toward the north gate.
They found Delphie, Begonia, and Alyssa coming out of the second dry goods store, and soon the six of them had retreated to the Greenwillow home where Analisë bustled about efficiently putting together elevenses for their guests while Petunia explained about the Baggers family scroll now in the possession of Ned Underhill. “From what I can tell, it’s like a family book within the Shire,” Petunia explained. “Apparently the Baggers and the Sackinses and the Bagginses and the Sackvilles are all related, and possibly the Bracegirdles as well. It’s supposed to tell about the families coming over mountains and building homes along a river, then after a time they were made to move to Bree when there were wars or something like.”
“There have been many wars throughout Eriador for almost the entire three thousand years our people have dwelt here,” Lindor sighed. “Yes, according to our annals once Hobbits lived east of here, mostly along the banks of the Mitheithel and the Bruinen; but that’s been fifteen hundred years ago. But when we were suffering many attacks to the east from southern Rhuadar and Angmar we had to shift whole populations westward to offer them what protection we could before the enemy’s armies rolled over their villages and farms to leave them dead in their wake.
“But tell me,” he continued, “what is your interest in this?”
Petunia looked from her mother back to the former Ranger. “Well, Mum was born a Baggins, and Cousin Lotho was a Sackville, and we’re Bracegirdles. If this is a type of family book it could be the oldest we’re aware of. I’m certain as the Thain and Cousin Frodo Baggins and Cousin Roto and Cousin Benlo would all be interested to see maybe relatives as aren’t in our books. And--and it’s our history, maybe.”
Lindor smiled. “I see. Yes, we all like to know our own history--and with reason. All right, I’ll visit with Ronica’s Uncle Ned tomorrow. And certainly it’s amusing that the family history of the Ringbearer could well be held by an Underhill. If I were to translate these and see them copied, would you and your family like to have a copy to keep for yourselves? Although I’ll warn you the copies would be made into a book rather than into another scroll--I haven’t the means to reproduce it in scroll form.”
Delphie answered, “Oh, but we would love to have a copy for ourselves, and I’m certain the others Petunia named would love copies, too. And my Cousin Frodo would be thrilled no end to have such a thing, as would the Thain, to have more of the history of our people before we came to the Shire itself. Roto might be surprised at such a thing and be uncertain about it, but for the Bagginses themselves and the Thain as the King’s representative--well! And both Bilbo and Frodo have studied our own history so much--I understand that was part of the reason Cousin Bilbo corresponded with Elves--trying to learn more about us Hobbits.”
“And if I know our Lord kinsman--Aragorn himself would welcome such a volume. The original I would return to Ned Underhill when I was through translating it.” He nodded. “So it shall be--a translation for Mr. Underhill, one for the Thain, one for the Ringbearer, one of the family head for the Sackvilles, one for the family head for the Bracegirdles, and one for your own family, plus whatever copies Aragorn and Halladan request for our own archives.”
Petunia was fairly glowing. “Oh, thank you so much! I hope it’s not too difficult.”
Lindor smiled. “It is not the kind of knowledge, perhaps, my Lord Arathorn expected for me to gather when he purchased this house and gave it to us to dwell in; but our beloved King Aragorn Elessar will be fully pleased. He’s always been a canny one and interested in so many different things. To add this to the knowledge of the history of Arnor....”
Alvric and Bartolo worked long over the lease agreement that day, assisted by Persivo and Ora Watercress. “And the produce to be accepted as rents is to be turned over to the Master of Buckland to be added to those goods distributed at need to those who dwell in Buckland and the Marish,” Ora read. “Odd sort of rent to pay, I must say.”
Barti shrugged. “I’m told that many of the rents paid to the Master and the Thain are in kind, usually food but occasionally cloth or a certain quantity of whatever goods are produced by the tenant. It’s how the folk of the Hall and the Great Smial are provided for, after all.”
“Which is the entire reason why lands such as these are settled upon those made lords of the realm,” Alvric explained. “Often in their service to the realm they are left with no time or energy to provide for themselves and their dependents--family, servants, those who served them in the past but who due to age or infirmity may not do so now and who must now be cared for, and so on. And certainly the service given all by Lord--Master Frodo--was beyond mere accounting; it is only right he should want for nothing in the future--or at least nothing that we who dwell here within Middle Earth might provide to him.”
The Bracegirdle’s expression became very stiff, and again Alvric found himself glad to have prodded once more at the antagonism Bartolo held for his wife’s kinsman.
At last all was done to the satisfaction of all involved--or at least as much to Bartolo’s satisfaction as it was possible to do; and Barti set the steel pen he’d been using down on the inkstand, capped the bottle, and sat back, his eyes still fixed on the thing. “Well, that’s that--or at least for the time being,” he sighed. “Now--to get the thing signed and witnessed. But with whom do I register it?”
“With Lord Halladan, I must suppose,” Alvric said, smiling as he rubbed the back of his hand against his eyes. “You can register it with him when he comes here on his rounds.”
“At least,” Barti muttered, “I don’t have to go all the way to his own place. Where is it he lives, by the way?”
“Lord Berevrion told me Halladan was born in Fornost, the walled keep that was the foremost fortress of Arnor and Arthedain in the days of the King, but that he has rebuilt one of the great houses on what was once the outskirts of Annúminas, the peacetime capital on the shores of Lake Evendim. Even now they are rebuilding the ancient city and have begun work on the King’s House and Citadel.”
“And how long would it take to get there?”
“I’m told between seven and nine days on horseback--probably quite a bit longer if you tried to go by coach, particularly as I doubt the road is quite up to the quality one sees here in the vicinity of the Breelands. There were several places between Rohan and Gondor where it would have been impossible for a coach to travel, after all, and I doubt the road is any better between here and there, although that will be changing.”
“Changing? Why?” asked Ora.
“Many of those who are brought before the King for judgment are being condemned to enforced servitude of one form or another, many of them assisting in the rebuilding of the King’s highways. They are paid wages; but the bulk of their earnings are being withheld until their terms are finished, and are intended to aid them in building new lives afterwards, for many will not be permitted to return to their former lands and positions.”
“So Men, too, have a form of banishment?” asked Persivo.
Alvric nodded solemnly. “Under Denethor there were a higher number of serious offenders who were executed for their crimes, particularly as his time as Steward proceeded. In time he grew rather--jaded, disillusioned. He came to believe that most of such would never change and felt that protecting our people from their future offenses was paramount. Under our Lord King Elessar it is proving different. He has had individuals executed, but prefers to use enforced servitude and resettlement under the watchful eye of a local governor he feels wise enough to catch them in wrongdoing, feeling such is preferable to seeing most hung. Only if their actions truly endanger the nation and its people and he is certain they had every reason to know what they did was wrong does he allow executions. I understand that Lord--Master Frodo found such doings to be objectionable, and he even had words with the King on the subject.”
Barti was surprised to find himself fascinated and even amused. “Frodo Baggins dared to try to tell the King how to run his business?” he asked.
Alvric smiled. “So I am told. He was most appalled, apparently, when he learned of the practice of branding. It is said he grew most upset and called the practice barbaric, although he came to appreciate the King’s experience that more among Men than among Hobbits will commit pernicious acts and continue to grow worse and more destructive in their behavior over time if there is no way most innocent individuals can distinguish them as malefactors.”
It was a most sobering thought, and Bartolo felt his skin crawl as he considered it.
Persivo was obviously as upset at the idea as had been Frodo, as he pulled back some in his chair and asked, “Branding? You mean with a hot iron, the way they do with cattle?”
“Yes--on the hand and the forehead.”
“But that would leave a horrible scar!”
“That is its intent,” explained the Man quietly. “The fact this is one who has been found guilty of horrible things must be recognized. Most individuals who are given enforced servitude aren’t branded, though, for most have been more selfish and foolish than truly dangerous--some minor spies, thieves, tricksters, and the like.”
Persivo exchanged a look with his father. “Dad,” he began slowly, “do you remember that one of Lotho’s Big Men who was always stealing sheep? Do you think as he might have been one of them--of those who’d been branded? It almost looked like a T on his forehead.”
Alvric nodded. “A T glyph is used to brand habitual thieves, usually those who have been caught stealing many times. So, some thief from Gondor came north with those brigands who sought to take over the Shire, did he?”
“At least one,” Persi said, shrugging.
“I’ll let the Rangers know when I see them again,” Alvric noted.
Bartolo nodded. “Do that.” They were quiet for a time as he gathered the final lease together into a folder. When it was all in order he looked back up at the Mannish lawyer. “Well, how much more do you think as I’d best learn before we return to the Shire?” he asked. “I’ve several clients who are farmers who’d be glad to have contracts written to provide foodstuffs for your folk.”
The lawyer from Gondor looked from Barti to Ora. “Well, as that is Master Watercress’s primary interest as well, shall we work on those over the next two days at least? Beyond that most of our legal studies have to do with advising those who appear before magistrates or lords for judgment regarding how they have offended against the law or their neighbors.”
With that their work for the day was done, and Bartolo, Persivo, and Ora took their leave and left together.
“Imagine--someone who’s so much a thief as he has to be branded for it!” commented Persivo as they left the lane where Denra Gorse’s house stood. “I can understand as why Cousin Frodo Baggins was shocked by the idea.”
“And he actually told the King it was a horrible thing to do?” Ora mused. “Now, I don’t know as I’d have the courage to do that! This new King of ours must think highly of Mr. Baggins to of allowed it.”
“Apparently,” Barti agreed grudgingly.
“Well, all of the Travelers seem to think quite highly of the King,” Persi said. “When they speak of him, it’s obvious they’re very proud of him. And certainly Master Alvric appears to respect him very much.”
“Well, it makes me glad as I’m not living there in the King’s city as where folks might get branded,” Ora returned.
“Are the Men here in Bree like to be that bad?” Persi asked him.
“No, not most of them. Oh, there’s a few bad apples in the bin, of course. That Harry Goatleaf as used to watch the west gate--he was one, as was that Bill Ferny. Now, there was a true bad’un if there ever was one. We weren’t surprised when he left with the ones as attacked Bree. We heard tell as he went into the Shire with the rest of the ruffians. He was a thief and a liar and one ready to steal the pennies off a dead Man’s eyes, he was.”
“They really do that here?” asked Persi, very interested.
“Yes, some of them. They say as you have to pay the one as opens the Gates of Death, not that any Hobbits or even most Bigs here actually do it.” They’d reached the place where his lane turned off the main street. “Well, I’ll wish you a good night, then. This writing of leases has been very interesting--certainly not as complicated as we’d do, although I think as in some places the language is a bit trickier than what we’d use here in the Breelands.”
“Yes, that’s the truth of it,” Barti agreed. “We’ll probably be leaving, then, by the end of the week. Might we look forward to hosting you and your wife to a dinner at the Prancing Pony in the private parlor we’ve engaged, say on Mersday evening?”
And with the promise he’d speak of it with his wife and give their answer tomorrow, Ora headed for his home while the two Bracegirdles continued toward the inn.
After a few minutes of silence Barti said quietly, “I’d have never believed as a Hobbit would truly become friends with a king. I’ll tell you this, lad--this has certainly been beyond my experience, all as we’ve learned here.”
“I know, Dad,” Persi said. “But if he and Master Gamgee did what they say, went all the way through Mordor to throw the Enemy’s Ring into the fire mountain so as it could be destroyed, then I’d say as they’ve earned all the honors they were given as well as the King’s friendship. I know as I’m proud now to have Cousin Frodo as kin.”
Barti examined his son’s visage, and saw that the lad was speaking the honest truth. There was no mistaking the expression on his face, the light in his eyes. “I see,” he said as he turned back toward their way. But he was thinking hard as he approached the Pony’s front door.
Nob, who was shaking out the straw mat that lay before the door, greeted them. “Aha--Masters Bracegirdle--you’re back, are you? Then you wasn’t caught in the fuss in the marketplace, then? Oh, you didn’t hear? Well, they say as two of them ruffians was caught today, threatenin’ a lass, they was. They was took quick enough, with no harm done, ’tis said. Mr. Lindor and a Ranger lad done it, I understand--the ruffians was off to the gaol afore they understood as what hit’em, or I’d miss my guess. Mr. Lindor is right good with that walkin’ stick, he is. Well, come in, and you lot’ll be a-wantin’ your tea right quick, am I right?”
Delphie and the lasses had already returned by the time Bartolo and his older son arrived, and they were considering what they would do for tea. That meal hadn’t yet been ordered, however, before Enrico arrived with Bedlo Sandheaver. Rikky was smiling broadly. “I love golf!” he declared.
“I don’t,” muttered his companion. “Him’s a fair natural for it, him is. He’d of give me old gaffer a run for his money, him would. As for me--I think I’ll stick to roopie. Lots more fun.”
Bartolo, who’d never taken up the sport, looked at his younger son with interest. “Did you play a full game?” he asked.
“Yes--we did nine holes, although many run the course twice, it seems. I beat Bedlo’s cousin, even--forty-seven to fifty.”
“You got fifty points?”
Rikky had to struggle not to laugh, but still sounded a bit dismissive as he explained, “It’s strokes, not points; and the fewer strokes it takes, the better your score. He took three more than me for the same nine holes. He was better for the first four holes, but by then I was figuring out how to hold the clubs right, and I started doing better’n him.”
“I see,” Barti murmured. “Well, perhaps someday you might show me how to play.”
Persivo and Petunia shared an amused glance--both of them knew their father well enough to realize he’d probably never actually agree to play the game with their younger brother; and Delphinium caught both the glance and the unspoken comment, secretly agreeing with it. Rikky, however, was beaming. “Oh, I think as you’d love the game, Da.”
“Will you stay for tea with us, Bedlo?” Delphie asked him.
“Oh, yes, mum, if’n it’s all right,” Bedlo said, smiling. “Me da said as I could if I was asked.”
“Then what would you all wish I should ask for?”
Half an hour later the seven of them were sitting down to a meal, once the lads had returned from washing up and combing their hair after their morning on the golf course. The proposed invitation to the Watercresses was discussed briefly; and Begonia agreed the new hair ribbons were acceptable, although she still grieved they weren’t the ones Aunt Lavinia had given her. “I think as she’ll be glad as I have ones to match,” she said. “And I’ve let Alyssa know as I’ve forgave her.”
“Forgiven her,” corrected her mother. “And I’m proud of both of you. May she return to sleep again with you as of tonight, then?”
“Yes, Mum,” Gonya allowed. Then after a few moments of silence she asked, “When are you going to tell him about Mr. Greenwillow?”
“Who is Mr. Greenwillow?” asked Bartolo.
Petunia glanced at her mother briefly before responding, “He’s a Man, and used to be a Ranger, a long, long time ago. He lost his hand in a battle against goblins, I guess, and was given a house here to live in with his wife, Mistress Anelisë, to sort of keep an eye on things as happened here in the Breelands for Lord Arathorn, the King’s father. After Lord Arathorn died whatever he learned as might be happening that was worrisome he told to the Steward, and later to the King when he was only Lord Aragorn. Now he gives the information to Lord Halladan what’s the new Steward for the King, and Lord Halladan tells King Aragorn Elessar.”
“So, he’s a Man?”
“Yes, a Man of the Dúnedain--that’s the proper name for the Sea Kings’ folk. He’s always kept an eye out for problems, they say, and helped those as fought to chase away the Big Men when they came here.”
Again Pet looked briefly to her mother before continuing, “There was a bit of a problem this morning. Some of the ruffians, those as were Lotho’s Big Men, come in to see if they could buy supplies at the marketplace. They--they saw me, and the meaner one--he----”
Bartolo was looking at her closely now, having caught the distress in her tone. If his daughter were threatened....
Pet continued, “Anyway, Dad, the meaner one realized as I was from the Shire, and meant to hurt me. Only they’d been watched from outside. There was a lad--a boy, I mean, named Tergion. I guess as his dad is a Ranger. He was outside the west gate when the ruffians decided to see if they could slip into the market to buy a few things for supplies, and he followed them, and went straight to the Greenwillows to let them know. They got to the market right away, and--and Mr. Lindor, he hit the meaner one with his walking stick and knocked him out. They took them away to the gaol, but not before Mr. Greenwillow and Tergion emptied out their pockets and took away their knives. They didn’t have much coin, but they did have some jewelry--and one of the necklaces was Aunt Lobelia’s promise necklace.”
“You’re certain?” Barti asked, surprised to find he sounded almost normal, considering the empty space he felt behind his navel.
She nodded. “Mr. Lindor’s going to come tonight to see you, to bring the necklace. I told him as Aunt Lobelia’d died, after all. He says as you could probably see best as to it going where it ought to go. Will you give it to Cousin Hyacinth, then?”
“Yes,” he said slowly. “And you weren’t hurt?”
She shook her head. “No--they didn’t have time to do anything, you see. Although I admit as it scared me--it scared me bad. I was so glad when I saw the mean one fall down, and then Mistress Anelisë was holding me and making certain as I was all right. But it’s two more from those as was in the Shire who’ve been caught, now.”
Bartolo Bracegirdle was taking deep breaths to calm himself. “Thanks to the Rangers.”
“You mean as it was Tergion as saved you?” Lyssa was asking. “Oh, I know him--we rode to the Hedge’s farm with him and his dad. He’s ever so nice.”
“Yes, I know--and Mr. Lindor says as he’ll be an excellent Ranger when he’s through his training.” Petunia was now smiling fully. “Anyway, I didn’t have to go looking for Mr. Lindor, for I’d hoped to speak with him about Mr. Ned Underhill’s scroll.”
“What’s a scroll?” Barti asked, feeling well out of his depth.
“It’s a big roll of parchment that records used to be kept on. This one’s the family scroll for the Baggers, and it’s sort of a family book for them, and tells the history of the Hobbits from when they come over the mountains far to the east into Eriador, and when they were moved by the King’s folks here because of the wars, and then I guess how the Shire was given to us. And it names the families that are all related--the Baggers, the Bagginses, the Sackinses, and the Sackvilles--and I saw the name Bracegirdle in it, too, the quick look as I had of it. Mr. Underhill doesn’t read or write, but he’s learned to recognize his own name, and I guess as he’s found other Neds in the family--one was his great, great, great grandfather.
“Anyway, he wants the scroll translated all to Westron, for some of it’s in Elvish, apparently; and I was going to ask Cousin Frodo Baggins if he could do it, but Persi suggested maybe a Ranger could translate it instead, since one of them helped translate the deeds for you.”
“Yes, I see. So you were going to ask a Ranger?”
Petunia nodded. “But they were all gone, so I thought to ask Mr. Greenwillow, seeing as he used to be a Ranger himself. I promised Mum that if I was going to ask him I let her know first, so as she’d know where I was, and that’s why I’d gone to the market, to find her and tell her.”
Bartolo looked to his wife. “They told us, Master and Mistress Greenwillow, although apparently this Tergion had left by then,” Delphinium explained.
“Mr. Lindor sent him to find his dad, who didn’t stay here in Bree last night, so as they can look and see if there’s any more ruffians waiting for these ones to come back with the supplies they was going to buy.”
“And these two are in the gaol now?”
“Yes--they’ll be taken north to be tried before Lord Halladan, and then probably--probably executed--or at least the one who tried to hurt our Petunia. The other might just have to work for the kingdom for a time--I understand that he tried to warn the other not to hurt anyone in Bree.”
“Men!” Barti spat through clenched teeth.
“But the one who tried to hurt me, he’s not all a Man,” Pet advised him. “Mr. Lindor says as he partly a goblin.”
“Goblin? Men can marry goblins?” Barti looked at his daughter, disbelieving what he’d just heard.
“It’s something Sharkey did to them,” Petunia said, “or that’s what Mr. Lindor said, there in the marketplace.”
“And most of the Men here are no different than Hobbits, just as you said before we left the Shire,” Delphinium pointed out. “Certainly none of the folk here at the Pony are, or the King’s kin, or Master Alvric.”
Barti took one more shudderingly deep breath. “True enough, beloved,” he sighed. “Can’t tar them all with the same brush, I suppose. And it was Men as saved our lass for us.”
“I guess as the King has reason to choose to set the Shire off limits to Men for a time,” Persivo commented.
His father nodded, reaching out to take his daughter’s hand in his and squeeze it, glad she’d come through it all unscathed.