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5
Mayor's Orders

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 two inns of Michel Delving, the Princess Mee and The Stone Troll are my invention and were, of course, named after two characters from Tolkien’s poems. As those poems are considered as Hobbit folklore, I thought it would be only authentic to take the names from them.


~~~

PART FIVE – MAYOR’S ORDERS

The news that young Mayor Burrows would announce the results of his investigations about the identity of Mr. Bilbo Baggins spread throughout the shire like wildfire. The announced event attracted so many spectators ad only the Free Fair would, under normal circumstances. The smials of each and every family in Michel Delving were bursting, full of relatives who had suddenly decided that the fifth of Afterlithe would be the best time to pay them a visit, and on the second of Afterlithe, there were no rooms free either in the Stone Troll or in the Princess Mee, the two modest inns boasted by the village.

This, of course, meant excellent business for both innkeepers and for most of the local shopkeepers – feeding a great crowd of excited Hobbits always is. Therefore, whatever their opinion might have been of Mr. Baggins and his questionable actions – assuming that they had one to begin with, which was highly unlikely, as he hardly ever visited Michel Delving, and thus most people didn’t even knew him – they certainly thought the world of him now.

A very respectable audience had gathered for the announced hearing, which was to be held in the largest chamber of the Town Hole; the same where usually the family heads held their regular meetings. The Thain was the first to arrive, of course, accompanied by his wife, who seemed to have grown to unbelievable proportions since he’d last made a public appearance, and their son, Ferumbras, a handsome yet somewhat sour-faced young lad who seemed considerably older than his twenty-six years. But that was perchance not surprising, considering that he had Lalia for a mother.

Several of the Thain’s cousins had also chosen to come, among them Adalgrim, Flambard and Sigismund, who’d always been close to their cousin Bilbo and now formed a protective circle around him to show everyone that they never for a moment doubted his identity. There was a somewhat older Hobbit with them, a stout fellow probably in his seventies or eighties, with a literal thornbush of wiry, greying straw-blond hair upon his head, a broad, weather-beaten face and a strange, rolling gait, as if he’d been used to walk on boat planks rather than on solid earth.

Very few people outside the Tooklands knew him, for he didn’t live in the Great Smial but in a little cottage beyond the tended fields, and usually avoided people. ‘Twas said that he couldn’t bear to dwell under the earth anymore, not after he’d spent years on the Sea and got used to always have the wind in his face. Some of the old gaffers and gammers realized him nonetheless, and soon, a whispering and murmuring rose among the onlookers, like an autumn breeze, and it took only moments for everyone to know that the infamous Mad Isengar Took had apparently left his hermit life to witness today’s extraordinary event.

“Well, it’s not truly surprising, is it?” commented Bruno Bracegirdle, Lobelia’s brother, just a tad too loudly, making sure that Isengar Took would hear it. “He must be glad that finally another member of the family has cracked, too, and he shan’t be considered the only mad Hobbit in the Shire any longer.”

His friends and cousins on the Boffin side laughed uproariously. But when the former seafarer glanced at them and gave them a long, intense look, the laughter caught in their throats, and they turned away uncomfortably. Everyone knew that it was not wise to tease mad people. They could be… unpredictable in their reactions, and the Mad Took was known to have set his dogs on people who came too close to his solitary cottage.

Needless to say that Gorbadoc Brandybuck, the Master of Buckland – generally nicknamed Broadbelt, due to his impressive girth, although he wasn’t precisely fat, rather broadly built and almost shockingly strong – also made an appearance, with his wife, Mirabella Took, and six of their seven children. Only Rorimac stayed at home, partly because his second son was still but a babe on arms, and a rather sickly one, partly to run things in Brandy Hall in his father’s absence.

However, the Master’s brother, Orgulas, also joined them, and was currently glaring daggers at the Sackville-Bagginses. As the Stoor blood all Brandybucks shared to a certain extent made itself exceptionally predominant in Orgulas, and thus he, too, was fairly large for a Hobbit and had a somewhat dangerous air about him, this did not serve to make the Sackville-Bagginses particularly comfortable. Which, most likely, had been Orgulas’ intent to begin with.

For the remaining Bagginses, there was Linda with her husband Bodo Proudfoot and their son, Odo; Bingo with his wife, Chica Chubb, and their son Falco; Posco and Prisca, Polo’s children, and, of course, Fosco, with his two sons. Missus Ruby was pointedly absent, as was her daughter Dora. With the exception of Fosco and his sons, who openly sided with Bilbo, the Bagginses warily kept their distance from both parties involved, and seemed to limit their role to that of witnesses.

The rest of the audience was made up of various Boffins, Bolgers, Burrowses, Chubbs, Grubbs, Hornblowers, Goolds, Sackvilles, Bracegirdles, and a good number of working class Hobbits who hadn’t even gotten a seat in the Town Hole and were now waiting before it, burning with curiosity. It took Doro a moment to discover his own parents and siblings among the onlookers, but in the end, he did find them. They were sitting with the Brandybucks, Rufus and Asphodel holding hands but still attentive and alert to all that might be happening around them.

The young Major rapped his gavel on the table, and the large chamber became eerily silent. He couldn’t remember having been in such a gathering of Hobbits that had ever been this silent. For some reason, it made him a little uncomfortable. It just wasn’t natural for Hobbits, really. Apparently, all important people in the Shire found today’s events – and especially Doro’s final decision – a most significant one… something that made him feel even more uncomfortable, to tell the truth. This was not why he’d chosen to run for the office… to push himself forth in such a way.

But whether he wanted or not, it was now up to him to bring this unfortunate process to its end, and he was determined to do the right thing, as his wife would say.

“Greetings and thanks for having such interest in public issues,” he finally said, more to break the uncomfortable silence than for any other reason. He certainly wasn’t looking forward to the scene he knew would soon follow.

“As you probably all know by now, on the twenty-fourth of Forelithe Mr. Longo and Mistress Camellia Sackville-Baggins have submitted an official request to investigate the identity of Mr. Bilbo Baggins, who’d been declared presumably dead, two days previously,” he continued. “Such investigations are rather unpleasant and time-consuming, as a rule, and it’s usually hard to find any proof in the defence of the person accused of being an impostor that couldn’t be questioned.”

The deeply satisfied expression on the Sackville-Bagginses’ face made his stomach churn. He felt an almost… improper amount of delight at being able to disappoint them utterly. That wasn’t right. Strictly seen, the Mayor should have been impartial – and Doro usually was. But this whole twisted affair of greed and malevolence had left him feeling sick to the stomach from the beginning.

“Fortunately,” he went on after a short pause, “this time, we do have proof, which we can investigate before all those here present as witnesses.”

“What proof?” demanded Otho. “We know of no proof!”

All eyes turned to him in disapproval. A tween who wasn’t even of age yet, was not supposed to speak up when there were enough respected adults to discuss the issue. Camellia Sackville-Baggins elbowed her son sharply in the ribs; it wouldn’t do any good to turn important people against themselves by the mere lack of proper manners.

The Mayor, too, turned to Otho now, and there was a certain smugness upon his usually so open and friendly face.

“Oh, I’d say it’s hard enough proof,” he said. Then, turning to the Master and the Thain’s family, he asked. “Mistress Mirabella, Thain Fortinbras, can you tell me – and all these good people here – about that special birthmark of the Old Took and how it was inherited by his descendants?”

The Master’s Lady nodded. “Oh, yes, Mayor. ‘Tis a dark red mark in the shape of a small trefoil. Quite unmistakable, actually, and only the descendants of Old Gerontius have it.”

“Like the Thain himself?” asked the Mayor.

Fortinbras shook his had. “No, only his daughters inherited it – and the sons of his daughters.”

“Did Bilbo Baggins have such a birthmark?” continued the Mayor with his inquiry.

The spectators leaned forward in their seats with excitement, waiting for the answer. No-one of them was foolish, and thus they understood the significance of such a mark at once.

They were disappointed at first, though, for the Thain shrugged.

“That I cannot say,” he admitted. “I never saw him as a babe.”

“But I did!” cried a voice, and Old Missus Crabtree, whose presence no-one had noticed until now, stepped forth, her blue eyes blazing.

“I did,” she repeated forcefully. “I have worked for the Bagginses of Bag End ever since Master Bungo married Missus Belladonna, may they rest in peace, and I changed Master Bilbo’s diapers often enough when he was but a babe on arms.”

The gathered gentlehobbits and their wives looked quite offended that someone from the simple folk would put herself before her betters that way. Such things were just Not Done in the Shire… not under normal circumstances, that is. But these circumstances were certainly far from normal – never before had any Hobbit tried to get close kin declared dead, just to get their hands on his wealth – and thus the Mayor looked at the gentle-faced old Hobbitess kindly and did not reprove her.

“May we know your name, goodwife?” he asked.

“Heather Crabtree is my name, Mr. Burrows, sir,” she answered readily. “I was born a Goodchild, you see, and am from Gamwich, I am. I used to work there as a seamstress, I did, and was mightily good at it, or everyone said so. But then I married that Jape Crabtree, the tailor from Hobbiton – I wish I hadn’t, not that I’d want to speak ill of the dead, but he wasn’t an easy Hobbit to live with, Jape wasn’t – and as the bairns came, one after another, I couldn’t keep sewing for a living no more. Sadly, Jape, good enough as he was as a tailor, wasn’t an easy one, as I’ve already said, and customers kept leaving him. That’s why I hired on to help Missus Belladonna at Bag End, so that I could earn some coin for our household. And a generous mistress she was, kind-hearted and always concerned with the well-being of those as did for her, she was…”

“I see, I see,” Doro Burrows had some difficulty interrupting the talkative goodwife before she could tell them the entire story of her life, that of her children and whatever occurred to her. “And you can tell us whether Mr. Bilbo Baggins has such a birthmark as was described by Mistress Mirabella?”

“Oh, indeed, he does,” replied the old Hobbitess. “Missus Belladonna was right proud of it, she was. She said it was the mark of the Old Took, and that Master Bilbo would one day outdo his Gaffer, he would. I saw that mark with my very eyes, more than once.”

“In that case,” said the Mayor, “it will be very easy to see whether Mr. Bilbo Baggins here is, in fact, himself, or not. All he has to do is to show his birthmark everyone here, and all doubts will be erased.”

To general surprise, the Took ladies became beet red all of the sudden, and Isengar, also known as the Mad Took, began to grin evilly. Old Missus Crabtree, though, seemed not so easily embarrassed; she gave the Mayor a rather shrewd look.

“I don’t think that would be proper, sir,” she said. “You see, that mark is in a right specific place… in a place where the Sun never shines, if you catch my drift.”

The Mayor very obviously did, because he blushed a little, too, but didn’t let such small inconveniences get into the way of finding the truth. After a moment of hesitation, he looked at Isengar, feeling it safer to aim the somewhat… delicate question at him rather than at any of the Took ladies.

“Is the location of the birthmark the same by all those who bear it?” he asked, phrasing the question as diplomatically as possible.

The Mad Took shook his head.

“No, it could be anywhere on a person,” he said. “As far as I know, our father had in on one of his shoulder blades.”

He tactfully refrained from saying anything about his sisters, although the glittering of his eyes made it clear that he knew all too well there they had theirs, too.

“However,” he added, his already wide grin becoming positively evil, “I don’t think we need to embarrass all these fine gentlehobbits and their ladies here. If I may suggest… ‘twould be enough if those who have any doubts about Mr. Baggins’ identity witnessed the proof – before all else Mr. Largo and Missus Camellia, I’d say, as have requested it in the first place; and mayhap Missus Druda, too, who’d first raised the doubt. That would make half the required witnesses; and then there’s Miss Lobelia, too – not to mention Mr. Otho, who – as the next heir of our dear Bilbo – has a vested interest in finding the truth.”

For a moment, even Bilbo seemed to be shocked by the idea that he should drop his breeches in front of seven people, some of them well-bred ladies, so that they could examine the birthmark he happened to bear on a spot most people would consider rather… private. But seeing the stark white visages of his aunt Camellia and Druda Boffin, that dark glint appeared in his eyes, too.

“Oh, I absolutely insist,” he said with deceiving sweetness. “I don’t wish my identity to be questioned any longer. This ridiculous farce has to end, here and now.”

“You can use my office,” offered the Mayor calmly, even though his cheeks were flushed. “I’m sure that enough witnesses can be found among the family heads to make this official. But I, too, must insist that all those who’ve raised doubts about Mr. Bilbo Baggins’ identity examine the proof with their own eyes, in order for all malevolent gossip to stop.”

If at all possible, the ones in question became even whiter, and the family heads, too, seemed decidedly uncomfortable. Hobbits were decent people, as a rule, who preferred to keep their private issues, well… private. No-one seemed particularly eager to see Bilbo’s proof, which was exactly what Doro had counted on.

“Unless…” he continued, when he could see that general embarrassment and uneasiness had reached their limits, “unless Mr. Longo and Mrs. Camellia Sackville-Baggins agree to withdraw their accusations and declare in an official writ that they have been mistaken. I can have the document constructed, signed by the usual seven witnesses and filed in the Town Hole archive within a couple of hours; it’s a fairly standard one as verbal reparations are.”

There was palpable relief in the council chamber. Everyone seemed all too eager to prevent the necessity of examining Bilbo’s proof all too closely. As much as Camellia Sackville-Baggins wanted to lay her hands on Bag End, not even she would want to do that… she’d never hear the end of it, once world had spread throughout the Shire, that she’d had to… no, the mere thought of it made her wish to hide in the cellar under their smial for the rest of the year.

The others felt similarly. And thus, albeit with clenched teeth, Longo and Camellia Sackville-Baggins, Druda Burrows Boffin and all those who’d supported them in their intent to declare Bilbo an impostor had to sit down with the Mayor and Godilo Grubb to have the official document constructed. A document in which they withdrew all their accusations and declared that they now all firmly believed that the Bilbo Baggins who’d returned on the twenty-second of Forelithe in the Shire Year 1342 was, indeed, the same Bilbo Baggins as had left the Shire under such unusual circumstances a year before.

It needs to be mentioned here that – according to Shire law – there needed to be a certain amount of time ere anyone could be considered missing to begin with. Only when that time was up could the one year and one day begin to be counted, after which the person could be declared presumably dead. That amount of time was – just like in Bilbo’s case – usually three months, which was the longest time one could expect any self-respecting Hobbit to be visiting his or her kinfolk somewhere else in the Shire, or in the Breelands. After three months, even the most welcome guest was expected to leave (and told to do so if he or she wouldn’t move on their own), thus if someone didn’t show up after three months in their own hole, there was reason to be concerned about their well-being.

The family heads – with the possible exception of the Sackvilles or the Barcegirdles, although even those were mortally embarrassed by Longo and Camellia’s actions – signed the document gladly. They were all eager to forget the whole unfortunate affair as quickly and possible. After that was done, finally everyone could return to their homes, leaving the events for the rumour mill to run it down in due time.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“I hope this incident will warn everyone else not to raise such ridiculous accusations out of pure greed any time, soon,” commented Albus Burrows, after having signed it himself; he was the Burrows, after all. “I must say, though, I’m right proud of you, son,” he then added, eyeing Doro with parental pride. “I didn’t think you had it in you – to be facing them right down as you did.”

“Neither did I,” admitted Doro, countersigning the document, then filing it and storing it in the archive cupboard. “’Twas real embarrassing, it was; the tips of my ears were burning. But if we hadn’t done it, the Sackville-Bagginses would never cease bothering Mr. Baggins. And despite everything he’d done in the last year, he didn’t deserve that. He’s always been a decent person, even if a bit… queer. All that talk about Elves and Dwarves and dragons…”

“Quite the nonsense, indeed,” agreed his father. “But the important thing is: he never harmed anyone with his sometimes queer ways. Grubb, Grubb & Burrowes have been the lawyers of the Bagginses for generations, and I used to deal with Bilbo regularly in my active days, so I know that he’s as honest as the day is long, he is. And he’s always been most generous with his money, too. I’m glad you were able to prevent the Sackville-Bagginses from driving him out of his own hole.”

“So am I,” replied Doro, “although it would be too much to hope that talk would die down any time soon, I fear.”

“Of course it won’t,” laughed his father. “Tempers are running too high for that, and will be so for quite some time yet. This is the biggest scandal the Shire has seen for the last hundred years or so, and decent Shirefolk don’t like being scandalized. I’m afraid Mr. Baggins won’t be invited to many parties in the near future; nor will many people accept his invitations. But that’s his doing, isn’t it, and he’ll have to live with the consequences.”

“True enough,” admitted Doro. Then, glancing at his father, he asked shrewdly. “Would you accept an invitation from Bilbo Baggins, after all that has just happened?”

The older Burrows gave the matter some thought. Then he shook his head, slowly but with determination.

“No, I fear I wouldn’t,” he answered with regret. “Admittedly, what the Sackville-Bagginses did wasn’t right. But even though Mr. Baggins is – was – a respectable gentlehobbit, what he’s done is just… just unbecoming of a Hobbit of any decent breeding. I don’t want to be seen as someone who keeps company with adventurers.”

“And yet you’ve helped me to protect his interests,” pointed out Doro. “I’d never have known about the birthmark of the Old Took – or find old Missus Crabtree, for that matter – without your suggestions.”

His father nodded.

“Of course,” he said. “There’s what right and there’s what’s wrong; and what’s right must be protected. But there are also things that are done and those that are not done among respectable Hobbits – you should never mistake those two things for right and wrong, son.”

Doro nodded reluctantly. As the properly elected Mayor of the Shire, he knew his father was right. As a young and still somewhat impressionable Hobbit, however, he still wished that things could be different. Deep in his heart he had the feeling that the Shire might benefit from the service of the likes of Bilbo Baggins.

In his own defence, however, he didn’t share his thoughts with his father. The older Burrows was a great defender of time-honoured custom; he would never understand that times changed, and perhaps some customs ought to change, too.

~TBC~

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