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4
Kin-strife, Hobbit Style

Doro Burrows is an OC, borrowed from the generous Larner. I made him the brother of Rubia Burrows-Grubb and Rufus Burrows, who – aside from Druda Burrows Boffin – is the only canon character of this particular family.

The dialogue between Gandalf and Holman Greenhand originates from the “Unfinished Tales”, with a few changes. We don’t know anything particular about the Old Farm, aside from the fact that it was turned into a workshop during the Time of Troubles, so I took the poetic licence to make it the ancestral home of the Burrowses.


~~~

PART FOUR – KIN-STRIFE, HOBBIT STYLE

Doro Burrows glared indignantly at the official request to verify the identity of the person who pretended to be Bilbo Baggins – a request composed by a very reluctant Godilo Grubb (according to Doro’s own sister, Rubia) and submitted by Longo Baggins and his wife, Camellia. That these two had actually had the cheek to have such a request composed made Doro wonder why he had ever agreed to run for the office of the Mayor two years ago. He was a lawyer himself, just like his brother Rufus; he could have joined the same firm and lived in contentment and wealth, like their father had done ‘til his retirement.

In truth, he had chosen to run for the office as it challenged his sense for proper order. To keep all those documents organized, to keep the Quick Post running, to see that the Shiriffs kept the peace on a daily basis, to preside at banquets… all those were things he was eminently suited for. And his farm shares more than adequately fed him and his family. Admittedly, said family only consisted of himself and his recently wed bride at the moment, but nonetheless, his personal wealth allowed him to focus his energies on Shire business. Certainly, being he youngest Mayor in the history of the Shire was something he was also very proud of. It showed, in his opinion, that his fellow Hobbits trusted him, despite his age.

He’d never have thought, however, that one day his office might make him the unwillinf agent and accomplice of the Sackville-Bagginses. The whole affair was every bit as ridiculous as it was disgusting. Trust Camellia Sackville-Baggins to make her husband do such thing to his own nephew! As if there truly was a chance that Bilbo Baggins was, in fact, not Bilbo!

Admittedly, the fact that Bilbo Baggins had run off with thirteen strange Dwarves – not to mention that old grey conjuror, Gandalf – a year ago, without as much as by-your-leave, greatly disturbed Doro’s sense for proper order, too. No self-respecting gentlehobbit would do such thing, not even most of the Tooks; in that, Doro was in complete agreement with his brother-in-love, Godilo Grubb. But that did not mean that Bilbo was not Bilbo; after all, this would not have been the first time Bilbo had walked off by himself and met strange people. And besides, Doro was fairly certain that Gandalf was to blame for the whole unfortunate affair.

No, Mayor Doro Burrows did not intend to help the Sackville-Bagginses to lay their grubby hands on Bilbo Baggins’ beautiful smial. Granted, he had signed the document that declared the Master of Bag End presumably dead, but he was also more than certain that it was indeed Bilbo who had returned just before the one year and one day limit had completely run off. What had first seemed improper greed from Longo Baggins’ side, to hold the sale on that very day, turned out to Bilbo’s advantage, as he had managed to return before the last day would have been spent. That fact gave Doro some leeway to make his move carefully.

For carefully he must move, that much was certain. Even if he’d intended to decide on the Sackville-Bagginses’ behalf – which he certainly did not – he’d have had to counsider the opinion of the Thain, who was, after all, the highest authority in the Shire. And Thain Fortinbras would likely to react rather… impulsively, should the young Mayor allow the most luxurious smial in the Westfarthing (and, most likely, in the entire Shire), built with Took money – it had been built from the dowry of his own sister, Belladonna, after all – to come into the hands of the Sackville-Bagginses.

Not to mention the Thain’s overbearing wife. If Fortinbras was a power to be reckoned with, Lalia Clayhanger Took was definitely a force of nature – and a rather destructive one, at that. Doro Burrows did not intend to raise her ire. No-one in their right minds challenged the Thain’s lady where Took interests were concerned.

On the other hand, there were all those – among them his own relatives, like Aunt Druda – who would be most displeased to hand back Bilbo’s belongings that they had purchased at such bargain prices on the sale. And even if they didn’t give them back, in the end, everyone would be cross with Doro for even suggesting they do so… which he would have to do, whether he liked or not. If only Longo Baggins could have waited one more day with his foolish attempt to sell Bilbo’s things, this whole mess could have been avoided. But greed often made people do foolish things, and now Doro was the one to right things again.

“Whatever I do, it will earn me nothing but trouble,” he complained to his young wife who’d come over from their home to bring him luncheon to his office in the Town Hole. “Aunt Druda isn’t the only one who’s less than pleased over the miraculous return of Bilbo Baggins.”

Arnica patted his arm reassuringly. Born a Hornblower – in fact, she was a niece of Amethyst Hornblower Bolger, the one who had been considering buying Bilbo’s porcelain lamp – she was an ambitious, strong-minded Hobbitess with a very clear opinion about right and wrong. She was also a much-respected person, for not only had she brought considerable wealth into their marriage but also knew a great deal about how to manage her father’s pipeweed business. She had been raised more as a lad than a lass, having had no brother for so much of her life, and as she was the oldest of five sisters. Only recently had their parents been blessed with a late-born son; Arnica thus was used to speaking her mind and being involved in all important decisions, a fact that her husband found most helpful.

“You needn’t worry, beloved,” she said confidently. “’Tis an unpleasant business, to be sure, but I’m certain that you’ll do the right thing – and not only for fear of the temper of Lalia the Great.”

Doro looked at her in mild exasperation. “Are you reading my mind now, dearling?”

His wife laughed and kissed him on the top of his head.

“No,” she replied. “I just know you well enough. We both know what the right decision is, don’t we? You just have to find the right way to do it, so that it will cause the least uproar and trouble.”

“The how is exactly my problem,” admitted Doro.

Arnica thought about that for a moment, her smooth brow creasing with the effort of thinking so hard. It was such an endearing sight that Doro almost forgot about his worries; they had only been married for a year, after all.

“Why don’t you ask your father?” she finally suggested. “He has been doing lawyerly things all his life and has a great deal of experience in dealing with these people. Surely he’d be able to give you some useful advice.”

Realizing that his wife was right, Doro put the document back into his file and called for the keeper of the Town Hole who was generally referred to as the bailiff – even though he had nothing to do with the law – to have his trap readied for a trip to Hobbiton.

“Would you like to come with me, dearling?” he asked his wife, who was prominently pregnant and less eager to leave their home these days.

After some hesitation, Arnica decided to do so, as she longed to see Rubia once again, and Doro felt immensely relieved. They would drive to Hobbiton, and he would discuss the problem with his father. Old Albus Burrows was a wise Hobbit and had been a shrewd lawyer in his time. He would know how to handle such a… delicate situation.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Bilbo Baggins, in the meantime, was mildly irritated. He had a terrible week behind him, having been hunting for his already sold (or, on occasion, stolen) property ever since his return, and in his most upset moments he felt that things would never return to normal. Also, it had only taken him two days or so to realize that public opinion had changed a great deal about his person – and not to his advantage.

Before the Unexpected Party a year ago, when thirteen Dwarves and one wizard had all but taken over his beautiful, comfortable Hobbit-hole, he had been the epitome of the responsible, predictable Baggins everyone expected him to be (even though he’d always had those strange longings for adventure he wouldn’t even admit to himself). True, his mother had been a Took – one of the Old Took’s own daughters at that – but everyone had been in agreement that Bilbo took after his father’s people, and that it was good it was so. Bagginses, like every other self-respecting gentlehobbit, never did anything unexpected, which was why people generally valued and respected them… aside from their wealth, that is.

As things seemed now, Bilbo was on the best path to lose all the respect that kinfolk and neighbours traditionally paid a Baggins – especially the Baggins, the esteemed head of the whole esteemed family. For a Baggins – especially for the Baggins – to do something as outrageous as Bilbo had done in the previous year was simply unforgivable. Even if Bilbo had tried to win back the good opinion of his relatives and neighbours through profound apologies, it would have taken a long time ere he’d have been accepted again.

The fact that he refused to apologize for his actions and for trampling time-honoured Hobbit custom underfoot, in fact, that he no longer seemed to think that he ought to apologize, only made things worse.

“And why, pray you, should I apologise, Aunt Ruby?” he asked tartly when he went to retrieve his fine tea service from Fosco’s home. “Why should I care what Uncle Longo and that vacuous wife of his think of me? Their opinions mean nothing! Why should I be worried about people who would have me dead, just to move into my home?”

Missus Rubinium opened her mouth to say something but Bilbo, too angry to listen, went on with his rant.

“Did you know that I’m still missing the beautiful silver spoons my mother brought with her from the Great Smial as part of her dowry? They were not sold to anyone, so Rufus Burrows tells me. I wonder if someone had searched Lobelia’s bodice what else would have been found?”

The mere idea of searching the bodice of a well-bred Hobbitess – even if it was Lobelia Bracegirdle – was so outrageous that Missus Rubinium failed to find the proper answer. She rose and left her own parlour with rushing skirts, trembling with righteous indignation, her daughter in tow, and refused to speak to Bilbo Baggins ever again.

The same scene repeated itself in the homes of various other relatives, and in the end Bilbo thought it better to retreat into Bag End for a while, unless he had urgent business with someone in Hobbiton. ‘Twas better to wait ‘til things calmed down on their own.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
All this had not gone unnoticed by the simple folk that lived in the Row. The Rumbles and Twofoots were greatly relieved that they wouldn’t have to suffer under Lobelia’s reign, although they, too, felt that it wasn’t really proper for a gentlehobbit to run off like that, and with such questionable people as Dwarves and a wizard, as Master Bilbo had done. But generally, they were just glad to have him back, as he had always been generous towards them.

Old Missus Crabtree, however, was positively fuming. While she, too, was overjoyed to have Bilbo back, the Sackville-Bagginses’ cheek to question his identity had raised her righteous ire. And an enraged Missus Crabtree was quite the sight, despite the fact that she was rather on the smallish side, even for a Hobbit. Her round, gentle face was red with anger, and his blue eyes blazed like the wizard’s fireworks.

“Far be from me to speak ill of any gentlehobbits or their goodwives,” she declared to her daughter and her son-in-love over luncheon, “but that kinfolk would do that to someone, out of pure greed, and now all the others snubbing Mr. Bilbo as if he was some kind of cracked adventurer, well, that’s just not right, it isn’t!”

Holman nodded darkly, Even though he did find his employer’s tendency to wander off on his own and talk to strangers – even Dwarves! – rather peculiar, he still liked and admired Mr. Bilbo a great deal and was saddened that he would be treated like that by his own kin and neighbours.

“I’m afraid I wasn’t entirely without blame in this whole sorry business, Gammer,” he said ruefully. “Had I not talked to the wizard right afore Mr. Bilbo ran off, mayhap none of this had happened.”

The cornflower-blue eyes of the Gammer turned to him, bright with curiosity and surprise. Usually no such event would have avoided her notice, but she hadn’t known about this until now.

“You’ve talked to old Gandalf?” she asked. “Why ever would you do so? ‘Tis not for us, simple folk, to talk to Big People, even if they’re of the friendly sort.”

“I surely wasn’t the one to seek him out,” replied Holman, just a tad indignantly. “’Twas on the fourth of Astron, last year. I was working in the flower garden when he showed up – like an enormous shadow in the bright morning sunlight. I got a real fright, I did, for I hadn’t heard him coming, which is strange, as Big People usually make a lot of noise with their booted feet. Not him, though; he was as quiet as any Hobbit you can imagine. But then I membered the old stories as are told about him and realized just who he was.

“‘I’m looking for Bilbo Baggins,’ he said, ‘but no-one would answer the door. Where on earth might he be, this early?’

“’Off again,’ I replied. ‘He’ll go right off one of these days, if he isn’t careful, Why, I asked him where he was going, and when he would be back, and I don’t know, he says; and then he looks at me queerly. It depends if I meet any, Holman, he says. It’s the Elves' New Year tomorrow! A pity, and him so kind a body,’ I told old Gandalf, for I membered Mr. Hildifons Took, and how it’s said had all begun with him, and now he’s gone and lost and all. ‘You wouldn’t find a better from the Downs to the River,’ I said.

“And soon thereafter, the wizard returned with all those Dwarves, and in the next morn, Mr. Bilbo simply run off with them, without a hat or a kerchief or even a bite of food for the journey,” Holman sighed and shook his head in dismay. “You’re so right, Gammer. I should have kept that big mouth of mine shut, instead of setting a wizard on Mr. Bilbo’s trail.”

The Gammer smiled and patted his arm reassuringly.

“Don’t berate yourself about it, Holman my lad,” she said. “I, too, love Mr. Bilbo dearly – I’ve known him since he was but a faunt, after all – but let’s face it: he was already growing a bit queer, afore old Gandalf showed up. People in Hobbiton had already been shaking their heads over some of his actions. And the wizard would have found him without your help anyway.”

That thought seemed to calm Holman’s guilty conscience a little. He’d never wanted to harm Mr. Bilbo, he hadn’t.

“Do you think so?” he asked tentatively.

His mother-in-love patted his arm again.

“I know so,” she said. “I’ve met him - Mr. Gandalf, I mean - long ago, when I was a wee lass… and even then, people said that once he sets his mind to finding someone or something, there’s no way to hide them from him. Now, eat your luncheon, my lad, and tell me about this new root Mr. Bilbo has brought with him from the Elves. I’ve never in my life heard of a thing like that.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
For all its important status within the Shire – based mostly on its relatively central location and the fact that many of the oldest, most-respected (not to mention wealthiest) families had their seat there – Hobbiton was a fairly small village even as Hobbit settlements go, which tend to be not overly large to begin with. So small, indeed, that it had not even an in or a public house, and its residents had to walk a mile or more to Bywater, to visit The Ivy Bush or The Green Dragon – not that any thirsty Hobbit would find that such a great hardship.

Aside from The Hill, most of the residences were south across the bridge over the Water, on both sides of the Bywater Road. The entire village, like most Hobbit settlements, lay amidst the rolling countryside of well-managed fields, separated by neat hedgerows, where tree-lined lanes led to cosy cottages and holes edged by bright gardens.

As always, Doro Burrows felt a great wave of satisfaction when the trap crossed the bridge and turned northwards onto the Hill Lane, passing along the Mill Yard. The sight of the Mill alone – an old building, made of oak beams and wattle and crowned with a thatched roof, its large water mill turning slowly as the Water drove it – was enough to make him feel at home again.

As much as he liked his new, independent, not to mention married, life in Michel Delving – and he did like it very much – coming home to the Old Farm was always a relief. The place, as old as Hobbiton itself and in the possession of his family for almost as long, was full of childhood memories, all of them pleasant and gladly relived every time.

Doro had not been surprised when his father chose to retire to the Old Farm after that unfortunate riding accident three years ago. They might have lived in Roadside Smial for the previous fourteen years – and a nice and comfortable hole it was, one that would serve Rufus and his soon-to-be-family just fine – the Old Farm was something else. Something special.

When the trap turned into the courtyard, his father's grooms came forth from the stables to take care of the ponies, and Nubbins, the old manservant emerged from the Master’s Hall to greet them. The Old Farm was almost like a hamlet of its own, with several smaller smials and cottages aside from the Master’s home surrounding the courtyard and separating it from the fields and orchards beyond. It was such a peaceful place, with a nice view to the Old Grange on the West and the Mill on the South, that one truly wished to simply stay there.

At this time, aside from Albus Burrows, his wife and their tenants, also their daughter, Rubia lived on the Old Farm with her husband, Timmo Grubb, and their foster daughter, Ivy. Rubia and Timmo had moved there six years ago, right after they’d adopted little Ivy, and everyone found that a good move. The Old Farm was a good place for a child to grow up. Doro knew that once their first child is born, he’d encourage Arnica to come and stay with his parents as much as possible.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Albus Burrows was not the least surprised by the sudden arrival of his older son. In truth, he’d counted on it. Doro was a good, decent lad – had been exceptionally bright, he always had – but simply too young to deal with a social uproar of this magnitude. One had to tread carefully around upset Hobbits, even more so if they belonged to the gentry. That required experience and long acquaintance with the individuals involved, which Doro – due to his age – didn’t have as yet.

Of course, had Longo Baggins and that female dragon he’d married (a choice few people could ever understand) just accepted defeat graciously, none of this would have happened. But Camellia Sackville had never been one to give up easily aught that she considered – however delusionally – her due, and the longer they had been married, the more had Longo taken over her opinions. And now poor Doro would have to clean up their mess.

And a spectacularly ugly mess it was and no mistake! The older Burrowses had already been paid a visit by a terribly upset and outraged Rubinium Baggins, who was their kin by marriage, even though the Burrowses had not been related to the Bagginses for about as long as family trees could be counted back. But Missus Ruby was the sister of Rudibert Bolger, whose wife, Amethyst, in her turn, was the older sister of Albus’ wife Amelinda, thus they had no other choice than listen to Missus Ruby’s complaints.

About Bilbo’s irresponsible actions and how they would cast an unfavourable light on all Bagginses. About Longo’s greed and ruthless behaviour and how it would cast an unfavourable light on all Bagginses. About Camellia’s ridiculous accusations and how the scandal they had caused would cast an unfortunate light on all Bagginses. About her own husband, Fosco, who kept visiting with ‘that mad Baggins’, not caring about what people might say about such associations. About her elder son, Drogo, who kept sneaking out of the smial to see Bilbo, no matter how often she’d told him that Bilbo wasn’t the right company for him. And so on…

After three hours of this, even Amelinda, usually the epitome of patience and unwavering friendliness, was fit to be tied, and poor Briar, the maid whose turn it was to serve tea on that particular day, had a decidedly harrowed look to her. When Missus Ruby finally left, Amelinda had to lie down in their bedchamber, with a damp cloth over her eyes to get rid of her raging headache, and Briar had to be relieved from further duties to do the same.

This single visit had made Albus understand how important it was that the issue concerning Bilbo Baggins was solved as quickly as possible and laid to rest. Oh, to be sure, people would talk for a long time yet afterwards – after all, Hobbits liked gossip almost as much as they liked food – but once that was done, things would return to normal.

Thanking Nubbins, he rose from, his comfortable chair with the help of his cane – he'd never truly recovered from the riding accident that had forced him to retire; not that he minded the retirement itself much – and hobbled forward to greet his son and his daughter-in-love. He was grateful that Arnica had talked Doro into coming here. Sometimes the lad could be a tad too proud for his own good. Besides, a pregnant Arnica was a sight for sore eyes – motherhood very obviously became her, she was more beautiful and radiant than ever.

“Come on in, son,” he said heartily. “You’ve arrived just in time for tea.”

Doro sighed and accepted the chair offered to him, while his mother steered Arnica to the comfortable rocking chair in the corner and encouraged her to put up her feet onto the low footstool.

“I’ve actually come to discuss with you…”

“… the issue of Bilbo Baggins, I know,” his father finished for him. “’Tis all right, son. We will discuss it… after tea. You need to calm down and eat a bite. See, your mother has made an almond cake, and Rubia has promised to bring over some of her wonderful blueberry scones, the ones you like so much.”

Pansy, the other maid of the older Burrowses, chose this very moment to bring the tea and a huge plate of Missus Amelinda’s famous almond cake. She was followed by Rubia Burrows Grubb, who brought another plate piled high with blueberry scones, and her husband Timmo, who was holding the hand of their daughter, Ivy – a sweet, dark-haired child with bright, curious eyes.

Tea was distributed under the watchful eyes of Missus Amelinda, and the younger Burrowses relaxed in their chairs, glad to be here again, away from the high-strung tempers in Michel Delving, where Doro hadn’t really had a peaceful moment in the recent days. The tea was excellent, as always, the cake and scones delicious beyond imagination, and in the reassuring presence of his experienced father, Doro began to believe that he would, indeed, be able to solve the problems surrounding Bilbo Baggins.

He had been Mayor of the Shire for two years, after all. He’d dealt with the daily issues of his fellow Hobbits competently enough during this time. With some helpful advice from his father, he’d deal with the Sackville-Bagginses’ ridiculous claim, too, and then, finally, it would be business as usual in Michel Delving again.

Or so he hoped.

~TBC~

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