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14
Scandal Overheard

For the birthdays of Lindelea, Nimue, and AinuLaire, with special honor to the Master himself on this, his birthday! Beta by RiverOtter.


~~~

Scandal Overheard


Primula Brandybuck Baggins took her market basket and headed into the center of Hobbiton, eager to fetch a nice fowl and some hazelnuts from the Marish for dinner. Plus there was some cloth at the tailor’s shop she wished to look at once more, as she now had decided just how she intended to design the shirt she was making Drogo for Yule. Tunic length, she thought as she turned at the lane on the north side of the Hill toward the marketplace, in a soft yellow with white and brown embroidery of apple blossoms about the hem and about the placket, and it would go well with brown braces upon which more apple blossoms and perhaps a scattering of green leaves were embroidered. It would be perfect for him to wear under his new waistcoat that her mother had had made for him, and would become him well.

She did love seeing her husband looking well, after all.

“Primula!” called out Cousin Iris, Ponto Baggins’s wife, as she entered the market square. “What—you didn’t bring the faunt?”

She smiled. “Frodo’s up at Bag End with his Uncle Bilbo, who is undoubtedly spoiling his appetite for tea.”

“Bilbo does appear to dote on the bairn,” Iris commented. “And did you see the Dwarf silver that Aldo has in his shop? There is such a lovely gravy boat—you will love it when you see it!”

“And who has Angelica today?” Primula asked as they headed for Aldo’s shop.

“Peony was watching over her nap. She’s been a bit cranky—I suspect she’s getting a new tooth.” Iris reached for the door and pulled it open, allowing Primula to go before her. Primula smiled her thanks and started to enter, only to stop dead with but one foot over the threshold. Iris shuddered as she heard a shrill cackle of laughter from within.

“And of course,” Lobelia was saying, “Bilbo refuses to admit it, but we’ve all seen how he hovers over the child, particularly in times such as now when Drogo must be away on business. I swear, he might as well raise a sign and proclaim it aloud!”

Iris could see how stiffly Primula was holding her shoulders, but at last she raised her chin and completed her entry. “And just what is it that Bilbo is supposed to proclaim?” Primula demanded. “That he loves how his Cousin Drogo’s son is devoted to him and so interested in everything there is to see and hear?”

Lobelia colored, but merely drew herself straighter. She would not allow others to see just how being overheard by the object of her latest gossip put her out of countenance. “Oh, is that how you are putting it about, then?” she asked maliciously.

“And what is there to put about?” Primula demanded as Iris entered after her and closed the door so that those on the square outside would not so easily overhear the latest confrontation between Lobelia Sackville-Baggins and her husband’s kin by marriage. “Bilbo is family head for the Bagginses, and was there to see Frodo the day he was born. The child has always delighted in Bilbo’s attentions, from the moment the two of them clapped eyes on one another, and Bilbo returns the affection. There is nothing more to it than that, I assure you.”

Aldo Strawflower, embarrassed to be caught listening to Lobelia’s latest poison, tried to interrupt, but neither Hobbitess was giving him any attention at this time. Lobelia spoke over the shopkeeper’s attempt to redirect Primula’s attention to the display of Dwarf silver, speaking between gritted teeth. “So speaks the conniving wench who sought so hard to marry into polite society!”

Primula’s mouth dropped in surprise, and then she inexplicably laughed aloud. “I am supposedly a conniver? And this from the one who chased after Bilbo for a year or better, and so sought to capture the attention of Drogo Baggins that he fled to Buckland to escape you, and who then put the dessert before the meal with Otho? And no matter how queer folk may think those of us who hale from east of the Brandywine to be, no one has ever accused us of being conniving!”

Lobelia went first white, and then a beet red in response to this. Neither she nor Otho had ever admitted that their first child had been conceived before their rather hasty marriage, and indeed in many ways the fact it had been stillborn had drawn sufficient sympathy that most chose to ignore that indiscretion. For Primula to speak aloud the truth she’d refused to admit in the years since she and Otho had failed to become Master and Mistress of Bag End and the Hill as well as Family Heads for the Bagginses was unforgivable. Primula could tell from Lobelia’s expression that she’d just made of her an implacable enemy. “How dare you,” Otho’s wife seethed, “accuse me of indiscretion?”

“What? It is permissible for you to accuse me of playing my husband false, even though we were visiting my family in Buckland at the time when Frodo was conceived, with no visits from Bilbo Baggins at the time, but not for me to point out the facts behind your marriage? At least Drogo and I were wed before any of our children were conceived.” Primula’s face was pale, and her eyes flashing. “You are a right fishwife, Lobelia Bracegirdle, and have been for years. About the only good thing to be said of you is that you did not play your husband false when you conceived Lotho—only Otho Sackville-Baggins could have fathered such a shameless brat.”

With that, Primula turned about and left the shop, banging the door shut behind her, catching poor Iris still inside.

Iris turned one last look at Lobelia, who was so furious she could not speak at all, and shook her head in disgust before she pushed open the door and followed Primula back away from the shop.

Aldo rolled his eyes toward the heavens, knowing he possibly had lost at least three good customers that day, and turned to herding the still speechless Lobelia out before he would be forced to hear what she might come out with next. “I do believe, Mistress Sackville-Baggins, that I neglected to tell you that the gravy boat is already spoken for. Should I be able to procure another such piece in the future I will be certain to let you know. But I must close up now, for I have just remembered I promised to close for the afternoon so the Missus and I can prepare to travel to Overhill for dinner—with friends.”

Iris, hurrying after Primula as Drogo’s wife stalked back toward the Hill, gave a glance over her shoulder just in time to see Lobelia Sackville-Baggins being thrust out onto the pavement before Aldo’s shop and the door closed behind her.

As for Primula—well, it was likely Drogo and she would move back to Buckland with this type of gossip floating about. Iris felt a wave of fury to match that Primula had entertained wash over her. Why on earth did Lobelia have to be so blessedly hateful? She turned her attention back toward her friend. “Primula, wait!” she called, knowing that there was little she’d be able to say to relieve Drogo’s wife of the hurt she’d received that day.



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