Written for the February LOTR Community Letters challenge. For Ansostuff's birthday. Beta by RiverOtter.
Before she shut it after a departing customer, Daisy looked out the door of the tailor shop that she and her husband ran in Hobbiton to see her father stumping toward her, a letter in hand.
Moro looked up from a suit he was making for Olo Proudfoot. “And what is it, dearling?” he asked.
“It’s the Gaffer--he’s on his way here, and he’s not lookin’ too happy.”
Moro laid aside the suit to accompany her to the door. “Welcome, Dad-Hamfast,” he said as Daisy reached forward to take his cap. “Don’t see you here near the Commons often.”
“It’s this,” Hamfast Gamgee said, shaking the envelope in his hand. “Need this read t’me.”
“Couldn’t Missus Rumble read it to you?” Daisy asked as she reached out to take the missive.
“Not at home--gone over t’Bywater t’help the Crofters. Their dad’s not come home from a trip t’Michel Delving. No one seems t’know as what happened. It’s all wrong--the whole Shire is all upside down since our Sam and his Master left Bag End.”
As she unsealed the envelope Daisy asked, “So, did this come by the Quick Post? Mebbe it’s from Sam.”
But the Gaffer was shaking his head. “No--wasn’t brought by the posthobbit. Was nailed t’my door by a Hobbit--little, thin, weasely sort--one what was there when the young Master sold Bag End t’that Lotho Sackville-Baggins. Big smirk on his weasely face, this one had. And had two Big Men standin’ ahind him, him did. Was nailin’ letters like this t’every door on the Row, they was.”
Daisy glanced uncertainly at her father’s face, then finished pulling the letter out of the envelope. There were two sheets here, both closely written in a small, cramped hand. Her expression became confused, and then alarmed. “No!” she exclaimed.
By this time Moro was peering over her shoulder, and his face was as upset as her own.
“What is’t?” insisted her father.
“It’s from Lotho Sackville-Baggins, only he’s signing himself Chief Shiriff,” Daisy said, scanning to the end of the first page. “Chief Shiriff and Master of the Hill.”
“He’s no right to name himself Master of the Hill!” insisted Moro. “Mr. Frodo assured me before he left Hobbiton that he’d kept title to the holes on Bagshot Row--didn’t want Mr. Lotho lording it over the Gaffer and the others as live there!”
Daisy’s voice was stiff with anger and alarm as she said, “Well, it appears that he’s claimin’ t’be Master of the Hill whether or no.” She was rereading the whole first sheet and shaking with emotion before looking to the second, at which time she turned absolutely white.
Impatiently, the Gaffer insisted, “Well, read it t’me, lass! Let me hear what the great git has t’say!”
“Well, what he says is that you have to move. Says as the law reads only family can live in holes in the same hill or ridge, and since you ain’t family to him, you have t’go!”
“What!?” exclaimed Moro and the Gaffer at the same time.
Speaking with difficulty past the lump in her throat, Daisy began to read the second sheet aloud:
From the Offices of Bracegirdle and Sackville
West of Commons, Hardbottle
Southfarthing, the Shire
10 January, 1419 S.R.
To the Residents of what is known as Bagshot Row under the Hill, Hobbiton, Westfarthing, the Shire
Let all Hearken and Attend!
It is written in Shire Statutes c. 1350 S.R. that:
“In the interests of Privacy and Decorum, hereby let it be Established that only those who are Related by Family Ties are to Dwell within Holes that might Communicate within the same Hill or Ridge or Bank.”
In light of this Statute, it is therefore within the Legal Rights of Mr. Lotho Sackville-Baggins, as owner of Bag End and the Hill, to insist that all living along Bagshot Row, none of them kindred by blood closer to third cousin twice removed, may continue to dwell in the holes therein and thus Must Depart by 1 February, 1419. Realizing that this could well cause Hardship to the tenants of these holes, let it be known that Mr. Sackville-Baggins, in keeping with his Generous Nature, is having built at His Own Expense Modern Houses of the most Efficient and Comfortable design, for these individuals to remove to. Each will have an established privy and pumps and pipes and appropriate drains. Thus these residents shall be in Better Circumstances than they are likely to know at this time as Tenants of an Absentee Landlord who by repute is in No Position to respond to complaints by his tenants.
The Residents of the holes on Bagshot Row shall therefore be able to dwell in Homes under the Benevolent Supervision of Master Lotho Sackville-Baggins, who hereby takes upon himself the Responsibilities so Wantonly Abandoned by his Errant Kinsman, Frodo Baggins.
Written by the Hand of Timono Bracegirdle, Legal Representative of Lotho Sackville-Baggins, Master of Bag End and the Hill, Chief Shiriff.
Moro was outraged. “And just how is it that the Chubbs in Number One or the Proudfoots of Number Five have no family ties to call upon?” he demanded. “They are both relatives of the Chubbs-Bagginses and the Bagginses, after all! And not only do the Proudfoots have Baggins blood in them, but Missus Geli’s sister is married to Lotho Pimple’s own cousin!”
The Gaffer’s face was grey and drawn. “They’d drive me from me own hole?” he whispered. “I’ve lived there for more years’n I could count! I lived there with Uncle Holman, and that was where I brought my Bell when we was married! All our childern was borned there!”
His expression begged his daughter to tell him that this was but a sick joke; but she could only shake her head.
Moro took the notice from her hand and read it over to himself, then crumpled it in impotent fury. “It’s not right!” he declared. “Master Frodo would never countenance this!”
Daisy found herself crying. “No, he wouldn’t, and that’s a fact,” she managed to say. “He’d be right there to tell old Pimple a thing or two, and you know it! And our Sam would be there right behind him, backin’ him up!”
“I won’t go,” her dad was muttering stubbornly.
Outside there was rough laughter, and they looked out the door, which would fall open at untoward times, to see a group of rough-looking Men, one with a particularly cruel face, passing by. All had cudgels at their belts, and the cruel-looking one had his in his hand, slapping it against the palm of the other hand audibly.
“Did you see the look on that ratling’s face when he read the notice the Chief’s flunky had nailed to his door?” laughed one of the others. “Oh, this is sport! Now, to see how many decide they ain’t goin’ t’leave their holes! I can’t wait t’watch them squirm!”
“I can’t wait,” grunted the one with the club in his hand, “t’let ’em as won’t leave feel this!” With that he gave a particularly hard slap to his palm, and there was a smile of such savagery on his face that Daisy felt faint. “We been holdin’ our hands way too long. Be good to break a head or two, don’t ye think?”
The three Hobbits within the tailor shop stayed still instinctively, not willing to let the ruffians know that their threats had been overheard. Only after they were well out of sight did Moro straighten and look again at the notice he was holding so tightly. His hands shook as he straightened it out and read it once more. At last he said, “They have no real right, but apparently Pimple has it in mind that the might of his Big Men somehow gives him the right to do as he pleases.” He gave a ragged sigh, looking after the way the Men had gone. “We don’t want you or Marigold hurt, Gaffer. You’d best be ready to do as they say. Otherwise….”
The three shared worried looks. There were tales told of Lotho’s bully-boys having waylaid Mayor Whitfoot when he was on his way from Michel Delving to Hobbiton to confront Lotho about his actions in naming himself Chief Shiriff; and there were others who’d disappeared recently. Daisy said in a near-whisper, “You say as Mr. Crofter didn’t come back from a trip to Michel Delving?”
Slowly, the Gaffer nodded his head.
Moro shivered. “Who’s to say as what they might have done with him?” he asked.
Hamfast Gamgee said, “Him was right upset as them Gatherers and Sharers o’ Pimple’s had taken his milk cow. What’ll him have for his childern t’drink without no cow, and what about butter and cheese?”
Somehow the days ahead seemed darker now.
Moro shook his head. “It’s a time of troubles, it seems.”
Daisy and her father had to agree.