Too Many Tooks by Kathryn Ramage
Summary: Frodo, Merry, and Pippin attend their cousin Melilot's wedding in Tuckborough, but the nuptials are interrupted when the bridegroom stumbles upon the body of a close friend.
Categories: FPS, FPS > Frodo/Sam, FPS > Merry/Pippin, FPS > Pippin/Merry, FPS > Sam/Frodo Characters: Frodo, Merry, Pippin, Sam
Type: Mystery
Warning: None
Challenges: None
Series: Frodo Investigates!
Chapters: 32 Completed: Yes Word count: 51402 Read: 373645 Published: March 22, 2008 Updated: March 22, 2008
Story Notes:
This is fourth mystery in the A Frodo Investigates! mystery series.

Like my previous mysteries, this story takes elements from the book, but also uses two key points from the film version of LOTR: the Shire is untouched, and the four main hobbits are all around the same age.

Many of the names used in this story are taken from the Took and Brandybuck family tree in Appendix C, but the characterizations are mostly my own.

This story takes place in September of 1420 (S.R.), nearly a year after the boys have returned from the quest (and a week or so before Frodo's 36th birthday).

Disclaimer: The characters and overall storyline are certainly not mine. They belong to J.R.R. Tolkien's estate, and I'm just playing with them to entertain myself and anyone else who likes this kind of thing.

Special thanks: to Karen.

June 2005

The Frodo Investigates! series

1. Chapter 1 by Kathryn Ramage

2. Chapter 2 by Kathryn Ramage

3. Chapter 3 by Kathryn Ramage

4. Chapter 4 by Kathryn Ramage

5. Chapter 5 by Kathryn Ramage

6. Chapter 6 by Kathryn Ramage

7. Chapter 7 by Kathryn Ramage

8. Chapter 8 by Kathryn Ramage

9. Chapter 9 by Kathryn Ramage

10. Chapter 10 by Kathryn Ramage

11. Chapter 11 by Kathryn Ramage

12. Chapter 12 by Kathryn Ramage

13. Chapter 13 by Kathryn Ramage

14. Chapter 14 by Kathryn Ramage

15. Chapter 15 by Kathryn Ramage

16. Chapter 16 by Kathryn Ramage

17. Chapter 17 by Kathryn Ramage

18. Chapter 18 by Kathryn Ramage

19. Chapter 19 by Kathryn Ramage

20. Chapter 20 by Kathryn Ramage

21. Chapter 21 by Kathryn Ramage

22. Chapter 22 by Kathryn Ramage

23. Chapter 23 by Kathryn Ramage

24. Chapter 24 by Kathryn Ramage

25. Chapter 25 by Kathryn Ramage

26. Chapter 26 by Kathryn Ramage

27. Chapter 27 by Kathryn Ramage

28. Chapter 28 by Kathryn Ramage

29. Chapter 29 by Kathryn Ramage

30. Chapter 30 by Kathryn Ramage

31. Chapter 31 by Kathryn Ramage

32. Chapter 32 by Kathryn Ramage

Chapter 1 by Kathryn Ramage
The marriage of Miss Melilot Brandybuck to Master Everard Took was a long-awaited event, for the two had been sweethearts from childhood. Their respective families--and indeed most of the Shire--believed it was only a matter of time before the courtship came to a satisfactory conclusion. After the tragedy at Brandy Hall that spring, Melilot left her home to stay with Everard's family in Tuckborough and the wedding was at last announced for September. As the eventful day drew near, relatives from all over the Shire made plans to attend.

Two days before the wedding, Frodo, Merry, and Pippin set out together for Tuckborough. The journey from Hobbiton wasn't a long one and would not normally take more than a few hours, but Pippin and Merry insisted on stopping at every tavern, farm, or roadside well along the way to "rest the ponies" or have a half-pint of ale. Frodo realized that it wasn't an unquenchable thirst that created these delays: after a long and peaceful summer spent with him at Bag End, his cousins were not eager to be among their own families again.

That summer had been one of the most pleasant times in his life, certainly the best since his boyhood, before the Ring had come into it. The days were beautiful and sunny, with just enough rain to keep the crops growing and the hills of the Shire green and in flower. He had rested, and had no nightmares or bad spells for weeks. His writing was coming along splendidly; he'd gotten as far as the gates of Moria before he'd put down his quill to take this trip. His dearest friends were about him. He had the love of the most wonderful hobbit in the Shire, and they had almost settled Sam's difficulties with Rosie Cotton. Plus, no mysteries involving death or danger had come their way. The only matter Frodo had investigated, at the mayor's behest, had been a curious little romantic adventure that had ended in a hasty wedding.

While he didn't yet feel as if these pleasant days were at an end--what could be a happier conclusion to this summer than the marriage of two cousins?--he could understand why Pippin and Merry felt differently.

"You don't have to go to Melly's wedding if you don't want to," Frodo told them at their last stop, the Green Hill Inn, which lay at the juncture of the road from Bywater and the road to Tuckborough. They were barely five miles from Pippin's home, and would be there within an hour... if only his cousins would move. Pippin and Merry, however, seemed content to sit in the inn's common room with their feet up and mugs of ale at hand. "I'll go on by myself, and you two can stay here for the rest of the afternoon, then go back to Bag End. Better to turn back than drag your feet every step of the way."

"No, we'll come with you," Merry sighed and sat up to put his empty mug down on the table between them. "I told Melly we'd come, and I won't disappoint her--but it's going to be awkward for us all around. All the Tooks will be there, and most of the Brandybucks too. An alliance of the two families is always a cause for great celebration, except in our case, of course." He lay his hand on Pippin's arm. "You know how Father feels about Pip 'n' me, and Uncle Paladin isn't much better."

"I haven't really been home since we've come home, if you see what I mean," said Pippin. "Right after we returned to the Shire last year, I went to Tuckborough for only a day or two to show the family that I was still alive. Father asked what sort of silly costume I was wearing." Frodo and Merry knew how crushing this remark must have been; Pippin had been so eager to wear his Minas Tirith citadel uniform home, to show his family that he had for once done something they could be proud of. "I went straight off to Crickhollow after that." He took a deep drink from his own mug. "That was before they knew about me and Merry, but I haven't spoken to him or Mother since. I hadn't had a word from them, not 'til Mother wrote last week and asked me to come. I've been summoned. I can't put it off any longer."

"No," said Frodo. "The only thing to do is go on. Be brave, Pip. After all, you've faced worse things than your parents."

"Even a whole army of orcs doesn't seem so terrible right now." Pippin drained his mug, and set it down on the table with a decisive thump. "All right then. Let's go."

As they went out to the stableyard at the side of the inn to get their ponies, they heard a carriage rolling past on the main road. When they emerged onto the road a few minutes later, they glimpsed the carriage itself disappearing down into the westward valley.

"That'll be Mother," said Merry, and gave his pony a nudge with both heels to urge it into a trot. Frodo and Pippin followed.

They did not take the road, which wound through the valley and curved to the south around the foot of the Tuckborough hills, but rode across country on the ridge of hilltops. From the crest of the hill on the outskirts of Tuckborough, they could see the open carriage on the road below. The three ladies from Brandy Hall seated within were easily recognizable even from this distance: the bright, strawberry-gold curls of Esmeralda Brandybuck, Merry's mother; the graceful upright figure and long, dark ringlets of Melisaunte, the bride's mother; and the smaller, plumper form of Aunt Hilda, her head covered by a flowered bonnet. There were two young lads riding on ponies a little ahead of the carriage, Hilda's sons Doderic and Ilberic.

"No sign of Father," Merry observed with some relief. "Maybe he isn't coming. It won't be so bad if it's just Mother and the aunties."

"Aunt Esme's always been decent to us," Pippin agreed.

Doderic was the first to spot his three cousins on the hill above. With a shout of, "Hoy there!" he waved to them eagerly. The ladies in the carriage looked up, and called out and waved as well.

The three on the hill exchanged glances, then went down the slope to join the Brandybucks.

"Merry, dear!" Esmeralda cried, leaning out of the carriage and reaching out with one hand toward her son. "Frodo, darling! And Pippin too. How wonderful to see you. I was so hoping you boys were going to come." She looked around, expecting a fourth boy to be accompanying the trio and not finding him. After greetings had been exchanged, the carriage rolled on and the lady sank back into her seat with a small, puzzled frown. The boys all rode behind and talked together, until they arrived at the Thain's Hall.

In front of the Hall, Frodo jumped off his pony and took his aunt's hands to assist her out of the carriage; as she gained the ground, Esmeralda gave him a kiss on the cheek. "How well you look, dear boy--so much better than when I saw you last."

As Esmeralda turned to her son and nephew to bestow more hugs and kisses, Frodo assisted the other ladies out of the carriage, and each in turn kissed his cheek and agreed that he was looking much better than when he'd left the Hall last spring. The ladies of Brandy Hall had doted on him since he had been left orphaned at a young age; although Esmeralda was most like a mother to him, all three aunties had had a share in his upbringing.

Esmeralda took his arm. "Come with me, dear. Let the other lads get the luggage and see to the ponies." As they stepped away from the others, she asked him in a lowered voice, "Where is your friend Sam? Isn't he with you?"

"Sam? No, he didn't come with us." Frodo hesitated, then added, "I don't suppose you've heard: Sam's going to be married."

"Is he? I hadn't heard." Esme's eyes were full of sympathy. "I'm so sorry, Frodo. I know how very fond you were of him."

"It's all right, Aunt Esme. It was what I wanted. It's best for Sam, you know."

"I'm glad you feel that way about it." Arm in arm, they headed toward the front door of the Thain's Hall.
Chapter 2 by Kathryn Ramage
After their investigation of Lotho's disappearance, Frodo couldn't help noticing that Sam had stopped visiting the Green Dragon, where Rosie Cotton worked.

Sam hadn't told him about the quarrel he'd had with the Cotton brothers at the Dragon, but news of it reached Frodo eventually through the circuitous routes of country gossip; the story had traveled around the town, passing from the pub through the Bywater market, until it came to Merry's and Pippin's ears. They told Frodo what had happened--how Sam had nearly come to blows with his childhood friends while defending Frodo's honor. Frodo wondered if Sam had broken off with Rosie at the same time. Sam never mentioned Rosie's name, and he vehemently denied that anything was wrong when asked, but Frodo could see that he was miserable.

This situation had gone on through the summer months, until one morning at the beginning of September, when Rosie had shown up at Bag End. Frodo, who was home alone and answered the door, told her, "I'm sorry, Rose. Sam's out at the market."

"No, Mr. Baggins, it was you I wanted to talk to," Rosie answered. "I waited to come particular when I knew Sam wouldn't be about. I don't want him hearing what I have to say."

Frodo was immensely intrigued at this announcement. "Yes, of course. Please, come in." He showed her into the front sitting-room, next to the kitchen, and offered her a cup of tea.

"No, thank you," Rosie refused. "I won't be long, Mr. Frodo. It's Sam I've come to speak to you about, and once I've done, I'll be on my way." She seemed shy about confronting him, but determined to say what was on her mind. Bracing herself and boldly meeting his eyes, she told him, "I know how it is between you and Sam, Mr. Frodo. 'Tisn't gossip--Sam told me the truth of it himself."

Frodo felt his knees grow weak. "Sam told you..."

"That's right. Now, I won't go about carrying tales," Rosie assured him. "You've no need to fear for that. I wouldn't see Sam harmed for the world--that's how I love him, in spite of it all. But if you love Sam as he says you do, then you mustn't want to hurt him either."

"No," Frodo had agreed, "I don't wish for Sam to be hurt."

"Then you'll do what's best for him?" Rose asked eagerly. "You'll let him go?"

Her hopeful frankness was touching; Frodo respected her bravery in coming to him to ask such a thing and her desire to fight for the boy she loved, but he answered, "No. I'm sorry. I can't."

"Why not?" Rosie protested. "'Tis selfishness, pure and simple! You want to keep him for yourself."

"Maybe it is selfish of me," Frodo admitted, "but I have my reasons." And he had explained his illness to her, telling her what Sam was not ready to hear. He felt horribly cruel as Rosie's mouth dropped open, and tears welled in her eyes, but if she was to understand his position, she had to know the truth.

"It may be years before anything happens," Frodo had finished, "but I won't ever be well again. One day, the pain will become too much to bear." Rosie sobbed at this. "I don't know how much time I have, but I mean to spend every minute of it with Sam. It's my one chance at happiness, and I won't give it up. You see why, don't you?"

The girl, who sat with her hands twisting her apron and tears trickling down her cheeks, nodded. Frodo offered her his handkerchief.

"But, Rose," he said, "I don't mind sharing. Sam is free to marry, if that's what he wishes to do. If you understand how it is between him and me, then I won't stand in his way with you. I've told him so before."

"Sam said as much," Rosie told him.

"But you wouldn't agree to it? You'd rather be selfish about him yourself."

Rosie paused in the midst of blotting her dampened face and stared at him.

"What if I give you this choice?" he asked. "You can wait until I've gone and marry Sam then--or you can begin your life with him a little earlier. Which would you prefer?"

But before Rosie could give him her answer, Sam came home. He looked bewildered at the sight of them together: Frodo crouched before Rosie's chair, and the girl in tears. "Here, what's wrong?" he demanded. "What's happened?"

Frodo climbed to his feet. "I think that Rose has something to tell you."

The pair had gone out into the garden to speak privately. Frodo didn't know exactly what they'd said to each other, but when Sam had come back indoors after Rosie had gone, he'd asked, "You don't mind, Frodo? You truly don't mind?" And Frodo had assured him that he didn't.

In the two weeks since then, Sam and Rosie had begun to keep company. Sam was visiting the Dragon regularly again, and even went to dinner at the Cotton farm one evening at Rosie's invitation. Once Sam and Rosie were seen to be courting, the gossip about Frodo's own relationship with Sam began to die down.

Frodo had wanted to get away from Hobbiton for awhile, to give Sam and Rosie an opportunity to settle matters between themselves without him around. Although he'd made plans to attend Melilot's wedding months ago, its timing gave him the perfect chance to make a graceful departure.
Chapter 3 by Kathryn Ramage
The town of Tuckborough was primarily built into the southern side of a long U-shaped ridge of a hill. The main road curved around the foot of the hill before passing into the tunnel that led to the neighboring village of Tookbank. The Thain's Hall, at the southern-most point of this curve, was not as large nor grand an establishment as Brandy Hall in Buckland, but it was impressive in its own way. The main door was a circle of the finest oak, richly carved, with hinges and knob of polished brass.

As the Brandybuck ladies disembarked from their carriage, Thain Paladin Took and Lady Eglantine, Pippin's parents, came out to welcome them. They were a handsome couple: Paladin was more trim than a hobbit of his age and prosperity was normally expected to be, with fox-red hair that was turning gray at the crown and temples. His wife, a Banks by birth, was half a head taller than he, with dark chestnut hair held back from her face by two golden combs.

They greeted Esmeralda first, for she was not only the highest-ranked personage among their guests, but was Paladin's younger and favorite sister. And, even though Frodo had accompanied his aunt to the door, the Thain and Lady paid their respects to Melisaunte and Hilda next, as was befitting, before turning to him.

"Frodo, dear lad, how good of you to come." Eglantine took both his hands and bestowed another kiss. Paladin patted his shoulder and added his own words of welcome. "And Merry Brandybuck." The lady's smile grew stiff and frozen as Merry came forward. "Welcome to the Hall."

"Didn't Pippin come with you boys-? Ah, there he is." Paladin looked across the lawn to find his son hanging back by the carriage, helping Doderic and Ilberic hand down the luggage. "Never mind that, lads!" he called out to them. "The porters will take care of those bags. Come along!"

"Yes, please, come in, all of you," Eglantine added. "We were hoping you'd arrive by tea-time. There are refreshments in the drawing-room. Much of the family is already there--they'll be so happy to see you."

She led them to the drawing-room, which was already crowded with Tooks: The bridegroom, Everard, and his elder brother Reginard stood with their father Adelard. Their sisters, Ada, Flora, and Isalda, were in a giggling group around the tea-table at the center of the room with a cousin, Ferdibrand, and two of Pippin's sisters, Pimpernel and Pervinca; Pim was ginger-haired like Pippin, and Peri strawberry-curled. The other three girls were brunettes, and Ferdi's tow-head was bright among them as he leaned close to whisper in their ears and made them laugh. Pippin's eldest sister, Pearl, took after her mother with her dark chestnut hair; she and Reginard had married over a year ago and had an infant son, Peveril, whom Pearl sat dandling in the window-nook. Old Archambalt, from another branch of the family, sat in a chair by the fire conversing with an elegantly dressed lady.

As the Brandybucks entered the room, vociferous cries of welcome rose from the gathered Tooks, and the elegant lady rose from her seat with a cry of delight, "Esme! Darling!" She came forward to embrace Esmeralda affectionately. This was Diamanta, Paladin's and Esmeralda's elder sister, who had married into the North-Tooks and had not been home in over twenty years. "How wonderful you look! So lovely--no different from the young girl who attended me at my own wedding. And Melisaunte and Hilda, dears, I would know you anywhere."

"I daresay we haven't changed so much, Diamanta, but you won't know our boys at all," said Hilda. "You haven't seen them since they were small. These two are my sons--Doderic, the eldest, and this is Ilberic." She gestured to bring them forward to be presented to their aunt. "The fair-headed lad is Esme's Merry. And this Frodo Baggins."

"Baggins?" Diamanta murmured and regarded Frodo as if she wondered how someone who was neither a Took nor Brandybuck could possibly have found his way into their midst.

"Primula's son," Esmeralda explained. "You remember."

"Oh, yes. Yes, of course. I can see the resemblance. You look very much your mother, my lad." The lady gave him a warmer smile of welcome, then looked around the room. "And where is Peregrin?"

Pippin had come in with the other boys, but after saying hello to his favorite uncle Adelard, then stopping at the tea-table to greet Pim and Peri and his cousins, and to grab a seed-cake, he had gone over to see his new nephew. He sat with Pearl, practically hiding in the window-seat behind a potted fern. He wasn't avoiding Diamanta as much as trying to stay out of his parents' sight.

"What about Melly?" Doderic asked, to divert attention. "Where is she?"

"In her room next door," Ada reported with a giggle. "She's been shut away there since the morning. She bought yards of ribbon yesterday to trim her bridal dress, and she's been cutting them into lengths to sew on."

"But she ought to come in soon," added Pim. "She must have heard the carriage."

Melilot did come in a few minutes later. She was a small, plump, pretty girl with large brown eyes and brunette curls, and Frodo thought she looked more rosy-cheeked and certainly much happier than she'd been when he'd last seen her during the family tragedy at Brandy Hall that spring. He felt shy at seeing her again--he was afraid that she blamed him for how his first investigation into the death of their cousin Berilac had ended--but when Melly noticed him after hugging her mother Melisaunte and aunts, she smiled and said, "Frodo! I was hoping you'd come." She took his uninjured hand and gave the fingers a squeeze.

After greeting her family, Melilot went over to Everard and, with a whisper and playful tug on his sleeve, drew him away from his father and brother. Reginard joined his wife at the window. Great-Uncle Archambalt offered Adelard the chair Diamanta had vacated, but Adelard refused it and instead went around to the other side of the tea-table.

"It's been a very long time since we've had so much of the family together," said Eglantine. "I'm sorry to see that Celandine and Merimas didn't come with you."

"Celie's expecting her baby next month--her first, you know--and I'm afraid she's having a difficult time of it, poor dear," Hilda explained. "She didn't feel up to the journey, and Merimas has stayed with her."

"And what about Father?" Merry asked his mother. "Isn't he coming?" He sounded very hopeful that it was so.

"Your father's been detained," Esmeralda answered. "He and your Uncle Merry hope to come later, in time for the wedding."

Frodo met Merry's eyes and gave him a small, encouraging smile. It wouldn't be so bad if Merry had to be in his father's company for only one day. Poor Pippin, on the other hand, was in the midst of his whole, enormous family.

Old Gerontius Took had fathered twelve children; all of the hobbits present--with the exception of Hilda, who was born a Bracegirdle--were descended from at least one of this prolific brood. Branches of the Took family were spread all over the Shire, although most of them remained in the Southfarthing in and around Tuckborough. The Thain's Hall was the principle residence of the Thain himself, but only his immediate family lived there, for the Tooks of Tuckborough were far too numerous to fit into one house. Adelard and his five children occupied the smial next to the Thain's Hall, connected to it by tunnels; Ferdi and his parents lived in another smial in the same hill, and more Tooks made their homes on the opposite side of the road.

After the guests had refreshed themselves with a cup of tea and a bite to eat, Eglantine announced, "We have rooms ready for you all. I'm sure you'd like to rest and wash up before dinner. The porters will show you up. Pippin-" she plucked her son out of his hiding place with a glance, "your bedroom has been kept just as you left it. Doderic, Ilberic, we've put you two together, and Merry, dear, you and Frodo won't mind sharing, will you?" she asked pointedly. "I'm afraid we're rather crowded with so many visitors."

"No, Aunt Eglantine," said Merry, "that's quite all right. I've bedded with Frodo before."

Dodi and Ilbie grinned, and Frodo tried to suppress a surprised laugh.

Eglantine's expression did not change as she answered, "Good. Then you boys will be comfortable."

As they left the drawing room, Pippin tried to slip out among the other boys, but his father said, "Wait a moment, Pip. We'd like to have a word with you."

Pippin cast an anxious glance at Merry, but there was no help for it; he had to obey the summons. Paladin held open the door to his study, across the hall from the drawing room, and gestured for his son to enter. Pippin ducked his head and went in. His parents followed. The door shut. Frodo and Merry went with the party from Brandy Hall to their rooms.

"Poor old Pip," said Ilbie. "I expect he's in for as awful a time as Uncle Saradoc gave you when you came home, Merry."

"It can't be as bad as that," Merry replied. "His father can't have him locked up 'til he behaves himself. At least, I hope he doesn't try it."
Chapter 4 by Kathryn Ramage
Once Frodo and Merry were shown to their room at the back of the Hall, they shut the door, but they could hear other members of the family in the hallway outside, calling happily to each other as they sorted out their baggage and settled into their own nearby rooms.

Merry flopped down on the bed. It was the only one in the room, but was wide enough for two to sleep in without crowding. "Aunt Eggie doesn't know it--and I certainly won't tell her!--but I don't think I've actually shared a bed with you since I was about ten years old. You don't snore, do you?"

"You know I don't." Frodo was busy putting away his things in the wardrobe and thinking of Sam as he tried to sort out which articles of clothing went where; Sam would know. He'd been careful to hang up his good shirt and suit coat, as Sam had repeatedly reminded him to do before he'd left Bag End that morning.

A loud knock startled them both--it was not on the bedroom door, but on the window casement. Pippin was crouched outside; Merry leapt up and unlatched the window to let him in.

"I'm just two rooms down," Pippin reported as he climbed in over the sill. "Dodi and Ilbie are in the one between us, and they won't carry tales."

"Your talk didn't take very long," said Merry. "Did they give you a terrible scolding?"

"No. They didn't scold... That's not why they wanted me to come home." Pippin sat down on the bed, fidgeted, then announced, "You might as well know: I'm going to be betrothed."

"To who?" Merry demanded.

"You don't know her," Pippin explained rapidly. "I don't either. We've never met. She's one of the north-Tooks, Aunt Diamanta's niece. She's only five and twenty, so it'll be years before she's old enough. I think it's Mother's idea. She and Aunt Di are old friends, and they must've been planning this for awhile. She says they'll have the girl down for a visit next summer, and won't I please come to meet her and be nice to her, and see how we get on. But, you know, it didn't seem to me that Father was pushing very hard for it. He says they won't settle anything until after that, and in any case we'll have to wait ten years before there's a wedding--that'll give me plenty of time to grow up and get over this foolishness." He gave Merry a pained and apologetic smile. "Father says that's more than fair."

"As fair as we can expect," Merry agreed. "It's certainly more understanding than my father's been. And a lot can happen in ten years. Maybe this girl will run off with somebody else."

Pippin's smile grew brighter. He held out his arms, and Merry went to him.

The window was still open; Frodo climbed out, leaving the two alone.

He stood on the northern slope of the hill, looking down into the long, wide dell--almost a valley--below. There were carefully tended kitchen patches against the back entrances of the Took smials, but the central part of the dell had been groomed into an ornamental garden with pebbled paths between flower beds, broad green swards of short-trimmed grass, climbing-rose bowers, and fruit trees that would bloom in spring. Frodo thought that Sam would love it. Long trestles and benches had been set up on the grass at the far end of the garden, and a small, circular pavilion had been set up in the middle of the lawn, for the wedding--and subsequent celebration--would be held here the day after tomorrow.

Less formal paths wound along the slopes of the hillside, leading to terraces, other, smaller gardens, and copses atop the Took's homes. Since it was more than an hour until dinner-time, Frodo decided to take a walk. He knew from his previous visits to Tuckborough that the hill eventually sloped down at its northern end at a stream that bordered the end of the dell. When he arrived at the stream, he turned onto the footpath that ran beneath the trees beside the water along the bottom end of the garden, then crossed a small wooden bridge into an empty meadow beyond.

He walked out into the meadow, following a faint, foot-trodden path through the tall grass. The path led him toward the eastern edge of the meadow and, as he passed by a grove of trees, he heard voices speaking before he was aware that anyone else was nearby.

"Can you do it, Evvy? Can you end it this way?"

"Yes, I can! I have to."

Someone emerged from the grove--a handsome dark-haired boy. Since he had just heard Everard's voice, Frodo first thought that this was his cousin, but when the boy turned, his face was visible in the fading light; Frodo could see that it was a stranger. Everard emerged a moment later.

The boy stared at Everard with wide, softly brown eyes, and said, "This isn't finished, Evvy."

"It is finished," Everard answered. "I'm sorry, but it is."

The soft brown eyes looked hurt and angry, then the boy spat, "That's what you think! You will be sorry, as sorry as I am to ever have met you. What a fool I was to trust a Took!" Then he whirled and stormed off.

"Toby-!" Everard called out, but the other boy did not turn back. Everard was about to go after him, but when he noticed Frodo standing there, under the long shadows of the trees, he stopped and blushed.

"I beg your pardon," said Frodo. "I didn't mean to eavesdrop. I didn't know anyone was here until it was too late. Who was that?"

"Oh, just a friend," said Everard. "A boy I know. His name's Toby Clover."

"I don't think I've met him."

"Probably not. His family aren't gentlefolk. His father's only the local butcher. You mustn't mind his manners--he sometimes loses his temper, and says things he doesn't mean. We're the best of friends, really." Everard turned to watch as Toby, who had reached the far end of the meadow, climbed over a low stone wall to reach the westward hills and head toward Tookbank. "It doesn't matter. You won't see him again."
Chapter 5 by Kathryn Ramage
The next day was brilliantly sunny, with bright blue skies and only the slightest touch of autumnal coolness in the breeze. Frodo was reminded of his last September in the Shire--was it only two years ago?--and another beautiful early autumn day. And he remembered the night that followed, when he'd been forced to flee for his very life and the safety of all Middle-earth, never knowing if he'd ever see his home again.

Sometimes, now that he was actually home again, all those months he'd been away seemed like an incredible dream. And sometimes, this seemed like the dream. After all he'd been through in the greater world, beautiful days like this had a particular dream-like quality. How could he be here, walking the green hills of Tuckborough with his Took and Brandybuck cousins, doing something as innocuous as gathering armloads of flowers?

Today, everyone was busy with last-minute preparations for the wedding. The local farm-hobbits and laborers who had been hired to set up the tables and benches hastened to finish their work. Cooks and maids were busy in all the Took kitchens baking and stewing foods for the feast. Melilot and her mother and the girl-cousins who would stand with her at the wedding ceremony fussed at their finery. The boys, too, had been pressed into service, and had been sent out to gather as many flowers as they could collect from the fields beyond the town for garlands to be hung around the wedding pavilion.

"I don't see why we couldn't get all the flowers we need from the garden," Ilberic grumbled as he hacked at a handful of long-stemmed Halimath daisies with his pocket-knife. "There are plenty there already."

"Yes, but Aunt Eglantine didn't want the flower beds all chopped to pieces and trampled down before the celebration tomorrow," said Everard. "I don't care so much myself. I can do without the flowers, but you know how ladies are. A wedding ceremony's got to be perfect in even the smallest details. If it makes Melly happy to be surrounded by every flower we can find, then we'll find 'em."

As Everard and the younger lads went off in quest of more wild-flowers in a nearby dell, Frodo sat down in the grass to gather up the cut daisies into sheaves. As he knotted a long stalk of wild grass around each bundle and set it aside, the sweet, sun-warmed scent of the flowers seemed to fill his senses. He shut his eyes and, holding the last bundle in his arms, breathed in the scent, then sighed.

When a shadow fell across his face, he looked up to find Merry standing over him, frowning down with concern. "You not getting tired, are you, Frodo?"

"No, I'm fine."

"Never mind the flowers. We can go back to the Thain's Hall if you want to rest," Merry persisted. "Pip and I promised Sam we'd look after you."

"And you're doing a splendid job." Frodo smiled up at his cousin. "Honestly, Merry, I haven't felt so well in a long time. It's just that I was thinking of Sam myself. These remind me of him." Flowers and gardens often had that effect on Frodo, so closely associated in his mind as they were with his lover. "I've been missing him terribly, more than I expected to."

"I could have told you that," replied Merry. "You spoke his name last night in your sleep."

"I didn't!"

"You did." Merry grinned. "You threw your arm across me in the middle of the night, snuggled up, and mumbled 'Sam.' I didn't have the heart to tell you you had the wrong person."

Frodo remembered waking up that morning curled close to Merry. He had to believe that the rest of it was true. "I hope I wasn't too troublesome."

"Oh, it's quite all right," his cousin assured him. "I missed having someone to cuddle up with too. Poor Pippin doesn't have anyone."

"You can go and join him tonight if you like," Frodo offered.

"But that'd leave you alone," answered Merry, still smiling. "I couldn't do that. Sam would never forgive me if you had a turn and nobody was there to take care of you. Maybe we could have Pippin come in with us? The bed might be a little crowded, but I'm sure we could manage."

At midday, the boys brought their bundles and basket-loads of flowers to the garden to be placed in tubs of water to keep them fresh. As a reward for their morning's work, Everard invited the others to lunch at his father's house.

Pearl, who was lady of the house since her father-in-law was a widower, was not expecting a half-dozen hobbit-lads to turn up for a meal, but there was sufficient food in the larder to feed them all. She set out lunch for them on a small, half-moon terrace cut into the hillside overlooking the garden. Reginard was already there, seated at the table, and the baby was on a blanket on the grass. While the other lads took chairs around the table, Pippin sat down on the ground to play with his nephew.

"You're very good with babies, Pip," his sister said after watching him babble and coo at little Peveril. "You know, you could have one of your own."

"Me?" Pippin laughed, and the baby, whom he was bouncing lightly on one knee, laughed too. "I can't see it."

"Give yourself time. You're still half a child yourself. You'll change your mind when you're a bit older. It's only what every hobbit wants."

"Not every hobbit," said Merry.

"Most hobbits," Pearl responded. "It's only natural." She turned to Everard. "At least, you and Melilot will begin having your own children soon enough. I expect that within a year of your wedding day- Oh! I forgot!" And she leapt up and went into the house.

Pearl returned a few minutes later with a small pile of letters and notes, posted or hand-delivered, which she placed on the table before Everard. "These came while you were out," she explained. "There were more, some with gifts, but Melly and Aunt Melisaunte have taken charge of those. These were addressed to you alone, so I set them aside. They must be from your particular friends."

Everard picked up the letters and began to open them one by one with his pocket-knife. "Yes, they're from my friends," he said after reading the first few, "mostly from the ones who won't be here tomorrow, but want to offer their congratulations and best wishes."

"You'll have to answer them all," said his brother.

"Oh, I will, but I think that can wait 'til after tomorrow," Everard laughed. "My friends will understand that I've too much to do to keep up with my correspondence." He stopped suddenly at one folded, sealed note; Frodo, who was seated at Everard's right, noticed that it was directed simply to 'Everard Took,' without any address or indication of whom it was from. But Everard must have recognized the handwriting, for his face went pale, and he hastily tucked the square of paper into his waistcoat pocket without opening it, then went on to read the rest of his letters.

Later that afternoon, after tea, a group of young hobbits went into the garden: Everard, Merry and Pippin, Pim and Peri, Doderic, Ilberic, Ada, Flora, Isalda, Ferdi, and Frodo. They were to make garlands from the flowers the boys had gathered and hang them up to create a bower around the pavilion. The work had to be done this evening, for the wedding ceremonies would begin at 9:00 the next morning.

While the other boys sat on the lawn some yards from the pavilion, fishing flowers from the tubs of water and trimming and weaving the long stems to form chains, Ferdi helped his five unmarried girl-cousins to string up the finished garlands on the pavilion and in the trees around it. He flirted with all of them simultaneously, but if he had special feelings for any one girl, he did not show it.

At intervals, Ferdi came over to the other boys to collect finished garlands.

"It's quiet," he observed during one such trip, and looked around. The group of young hobbits was alone in the garden. The laborers had finished the last of their work--hanging up little tin lanterns containing candles--and had gone home to their dinners. No other members of the family were around.

"What?" Everard asked, and looked up at his cousin. Although his fingers worked nimbly on the flower stems, Everard seemed distracted; he kept an eye on the sun as it sank lower over the western ridge of the hill, and would probably have spoken little if the constant chattering of the other lads did not draw him in.

"It's quiet," Ferdi repeated. "Where is everyone? You'd think they'd all be out enjoying a lovely afternoon like this. There won't be very nice afternoons in the coming months. And yet the old folks are staying indoors: My parents. Your father. Aunt Eggie and Uncle Paladin, and our Brandybuck guests--you lads excepted, of course," he added to Merry, Dodi, Ilbie, as well as to Frodo, for the Tooks counted him as a Brandybuck. Ferdi glanced up over the heads of the other boys to the hillside and smiled. "Pearl and Reg."

"Surely Pearl and Reg aren't 'old folks'?" said Everard.

"They certainly are! It happens the instant you marry, my dear Ev. You'll sit home by the fire, smoking your pipe."

"I do that now."

"But that's all you'll do," Ferdi went on teasing. "Every evening, from dinner 'til bed-time. No more fun. No more going out to the pub or meeting your friends." Everard's face colored, and he ducked his head. "And Melly will spend all her days looking after the little ones and gossiping with the other ladies... Do you suppose that's where the ladies are now? Gossiping?"

"I couldn't say about the other ladies, but I'm certain that Mother and Auntie Di are discussing 'the problem,'" said Pippin, referring to himself. "They've been on about it since last night. They'd like to find some way to make me like girls, or at least one girl in particular. I've been a great disappointment to them. It's what they wanted me home for."

"Pearl's baby hasn't made you change your mind?" Merry asked him.

"No..." Pippin shook his head. "But, you know, I've been thinking: If I ever do have a little boy of my own, I'd like to name him after Faramir. Is that silly?"

Frodo smiled, for he knew what a powerful impression Faramir had made on Pippin during his stay in Gondor; he had hero-worshipped the young captain from the first time he'd seen him, even before he'd had the chance to save Faramir's life. "No," said Frodo, "it's not silly. I think he'd be very pleased if he knew."

The other lads looked nonplussed and Peri, who had come over to see why Ferdi was taking so long, laughed and said, "Faramir? What an odd name for a hobbit!" as she gathered up the finished garlands and returned to the pavilion.

Ferdi lingered to continue the conversation. "Do you think your father's with them, Pip?"

"Probably. I must be as worrisome to him as to Mother."

"And Uncle Adelard?"

"I saw my father awhile ago," Everard said, "sitting in his study. He's always there these days--working on his carving, as he does when he's got something on his mind. He's been thoughtful since he heard about my wedding plans."

"He doesn't object, does he?" asked Merry. "He likes Melly?"

"No, it's not that. He's fond of Melly. He was very glad when I told him I was going to settle things with her, and he welcomed her when I brought her back to Tuckborough, just as if she were his daughter-in-law already. Only..." Everard frowned, puzzled. "He isn't sad, exactly, but he's been brooding. I think he wants to tell me something, and hasn't worked himself up to it yet."

"If it's the talk about how little hobbits are made, he's left it rather late," Doderic joked.

"You do know that you don't find babies under the rose bushes, don't you, Evvy?" Ilberic asked with mock solemnity. "We can't have Melly disappointed on her wedding night." And the boys burst into laughter.

These were common enough japes from a bridegroom's friends, but Everard blushed deeply. "Where is Melly?" he wondered. "She's not with the other ladies, is she? I haven't seen her in hours."

"She must still be fixing her wedding dress," said Ferdi.

"Still?" asked Pippin in surprise. "How long does it take to fix a dress?"

"It's the ribbons," Ferdi explained. "The girls have offered to help her with the sewing, but it's a very delicate piece of work and she wants to do it all herself. You'll have to see it to appreciate it: there's a sort of weaving of colored ribbons on the front of the bodice-" he demonstrated with his fingers over his waistcoat, "and the ends all tie around in the back. She picked out special ribbons for it. We went shopping with her in Tookbank for them--Pimmy, Flora, and I. We each bought her a different color."

The other boys gaped at him.

"I think you've been spending too much time with the girls, Ferdi Took," said Doderic.

"I don't mind," Ferdi responded, unabashed. "I like girls." And, with that, he gathered up the garland the other boys had just completed and returned to the group of girls who were waiting for him at the pavilion. He said something to them, so softly that the boys couldn't hear it, but they heard the delighted giggles that followed. Doderic's ears turned bright red.

"Has he picked out any one of 'em in particular?" Pippin wondered. "If Ferdi's going to be my brother-in-law, one way or the other, I think I ought to know about it."

"I've no idea," said Everard. "He might marry one of my sisters just as easily as yours. I expect it'll be up to the girls in the end. I hope there won't be any hard feelings when they come to the point."

"He's right about one thing, Dodi," Ilbie told his brother. "You won't get any girls to like you if you don't spend time with 'em."

"How would you know?" Dodi retorted.

"At least, I've been out boating with a girl-"

"And look how that turned out!"

"How did it turn out, Ilbie?" Frodo asked. He knew that the two were referring to an adventure Ilberic had had this past spring at Brandy Hall, when he'd run off for an hour with Estella Bolger, escaping the watchful eyes of her Aunt Beryl long enough to tell the girl how he felt about her. Estella had thanked him, but informed him that her affections were already bestowed elsewhere.

"Oh, I haven't seen 'Stella since she left the Hall," Ilbie said glumly. "I've written to Fatty once or twice, asking after his sister, but don't want to bother her. I won't push myself at her. I want to give her time to get Merry out of her mind."

"I'll be happy when she does!" Merry said with blunt sincerity.

"Me too!" interjected Pippin.

"She's a nice girl," Merry continued, "and she ought to have the right sort of boy for her. I'm entirely the wrong sort. If I married her as Father wanted me to, I'd only made her miserable. If you can win her over, Ilbie, I'll wish you both the best."

"Don't you think about marriage at all, Merry?" Everard asked him frankly. "I've heard, of course, about you and Pip and all the trouble you've been giving the family. Don't you ever think of how much easier it'd be to do what the family wants--for your own sake, if not for theirs? Have you never thought about having children?"

"You mean, what every hobbit naturally wants? Oh, I suppose I'll have to think of my responsibilities to the family one of these days," Merry admitted with equal frankness. "I'll have to provide the next heir to the Brandybucks. But not for a long time yet." He flashed a smile at Pippin. "Not for at least another ten years. When I do marry, it won't be to some poor, innocent girl who doesn't know why she won't be getting... well, what any girl has a right to expect from her husband. I can't pretend to feel something I don't, and I won't lie. Whoever she is, she'll have to understand just what she's in for when she marries me. That's only fair."

"I don't think you'll ever find such a girl," said Everard. "She doesn't exist."

"Perhaps you're right. All the same, I prefer to wait." Merry got up and walked a little distance from the group. He leaned against a tree in the deepening shadows, fished his pipe out of his waistcoat pocket, and lit it. Pippin went over to join him and the two began to talk quietly.

"I hope I didn't upset him," Everard said to Frodo. "I didn't mean to. I only... well, wondered."

"It isn't your fault," Frodo assured him. Everard had only happened to strike a sensitive nerve. Neither Merry nor Pippin was at ease being among their families again. All summer, Frodo had watched the two enjoy themselves at Bag End, forget their problems, and become almost the same careless, fun-loving boys they had been before they'd gone off with him on their adventures. The news of Pippin's planned betrothal had put an end to that. Since they'd come to Tuckborough, both were growing tense and unhappy. Merry, oddly, seemed to feel it even more deeply than Pippin did; it reminded him of what he already knew, but didn't like to think about: they could not go as two carefree boys in love forever. They might put it off, even by as much as ten years, but eventually, they would have to give in to family pressure.

The last chain of flowers was finished as the sun went down behind the crest of the hill. Ilbie and, at his brother's urging, Dodi, carried it over to the girls to help hang it up. Everard, who had been working swiftly to finish the final garland by sunset, set down the knife he'd been using to trim the flower-stems, washed the green stains from his hands in the water from one of the tubs, and hastily left.

Frodo flopped back to lie on the grass and stare at the sky overhead as twilight settled in. With the sunset, the color had waned from bright, cloudless blue to a dusky lavender, and was beginning to darken. It was indeed a beautiful evening, still, clear, and quiet. He could hear Merry and Pippin whispering together, and he could smell the smoke from Merry's pipe on the cooling air; he wished he had his own pipe with him.

There was some animated discussion near the pavilion, and then Ferdi, Pim, and Peri came to stand over him.

"The girls," announced Ferdi with a grin, "have a proposal."

"A dance!" cried Pim.

"Come on, Frodo!" said Peri, and reached down to take him by the hand and pull him up. "There'll be a lot of dancing tomorrow. We need the practice, and we need enough boys!"

"We can't all dance with Ferdi," Ada added with her customary giggle as she came over, but she managed to claim Ferdi for her partner just the same. On the green lawn before the pavilion, the others had also paired off--Flora with Dodi, Ilbie with Isalda.

"Merry, Pippin, come and join us!" Pim called out to the couple under the tree. "Pip, where's your banjolele? Do you still have it?"

"It's somewhere in my room," her brother answered. "It's been so long since I've played it, I'm sure I've forgotten how. I'll sit your dance out, just the same."

"Oh, no, you won't," said Merry and pulled Pippin after him into the circle the others were forming.

"Merry Brandybuck, that's not very gentlemanly of you!" Pim protested. "There's a girl left over now, and we ought to be in proper pairs. If Evvy were still here..."

"Evvy isn't here?" Melilot emerged from a path between the deep-shadowed clumps of shrubbery. "I thought he was out in the garden with you."

"He left a few minutes ago," said Ferdi. "We thought he was going to see you. You've finished the work on your dress?"

"Yes, finally!" She looked up at the garlands strung overhead. "What a lovely job you've done. Thank you, all of you. If Evvy was going into the house as I came out and we missed each other, he'll be out again in a minute or two. If you need a partner, Pimmy, I'll stand in." She offered a hand, and the other girl took it. "It won't matter when everyone gets mixed up."

The hobbits formed a wide circle on the grass before the pavilion--standing boy-girl-boy-girl for the most part--and then clapped their hands and counted aloud to set the beat: "One! Two! Three!" They all ran into the center, finding their chosen partners, and started the dance, singing a wordless melody to provide their own music.

Paladin came out through one of the back doors of the Hall and, seeing the young people dancing, came closer to watch. When he realized that Pippin and Merry were paired, he looked surprised, but said nothing. He did not interrupt the dance.

It was only when Pippin noticed that his father was there, and stepped quickly away from Merry, that the dancing circle was broken. "I'm sorry," he mumbled as he walked quickly away. "Merry can dance with one of the girls. I should've sat out." He headed toward the cover of the shrubbery.

"Pip!" Paladin called after him and was about to follow, when a sudden, shrill, horrified cry cut across the still evening. It came from the meadow beyond the garden.

The next few minutes were a riot of confusion as everyone ran in the direction of the scream. The meadow was full of hobbits searching the tall grass in the fading light for a fallen or injured person. Their voices babbled, running together, as they all asked questions at once: "Who was it?" "What's happened?" "Has someone been hurt?" "Is it Evvy?" But no answers came.

Ferdi cried out, "Over here!" and ran toward a clump of trees, the same grove where Frodo had stumbled upon Everard and his friend Toby the day before. The others followed.

Everard was kneeling in the grove now, over Toby, who lay still and waxenly pale in the crushed grass. His hand was on Toby's chest, and when he lifted it, the fingers were smeared with blood. The front of Toby's white shirt was dark with it.

Everard looked up at gathering crowd, dazed to find so many people there. Reginard, who was already at his brother's side, took his arm and tugged to urge him up. "Come away, Evvy!"
Chapter 6 by Kathryn Ramage
Commotion followed the discovery of Toby's body. Everard was in hysterics. The girls were screaming too; the fading light and trees had blocked their view of the dead hobbit, but they had seen enough. Melilot stood pale and silent, staring in bewilderment after Everard as his brother half-dragged him away. One of the younger boys was sick.

Paladin shouted over the chaos, trying to master the situation and restore order. "Ferdi! Get hold of yourself." He gave the stunned boy a shake to bring him to his senses. "You know where the High Shirriffs' home is, don't you? Run over to Tookbank and bring him here. Tell him there's been an... accident. The rest of you, go back to the Hall. There's nothing you can do. Pimmy, dear, don't come any nearer. You shouldn't be here at all." But the young hobbits remained where they were. "Go on! Pip, lad, take your sisters and the other girls in. See that the boys go too. Help Dodi- Ilb- whichever one that is."

Melilot moved slowly to help up her cousin, who had fallen to his hands and knees. Pippin took one of the girls by the arm and tried to shepherd the rest of the party in the direction of the bridge. As the young hobbits left the meadow, Paladin turned to find that Merry had crouched to examine the body. Frodo too had stepped closer. "What are you two up to?"

"I've been in battle, Uncle," Merry told him. "I've seen plenty of bodies before, much worse than this."

Frodo felt a little queasy, but he also wanted to look over the scene. In spite of his previous experience of murders, he had never before been on-the-spot like this.

Paladin knelt to have a look at the body himself. Night had fallen by this time and the grove was dark; he lit a match, which gave them a few seconds of light to see by, and then he had to put it out before he burned his fingers or dropped it in the grass. "Yes," he said. "He's certainly dead." He touched one cheek with the back of his hand. "Dead and cold, poor lad. I'll have to send a message to his family too. They'll have to know of this tragedy. Oh, by the stars! And they'll hear about it from a Took!"

Frodo didn't fully understand this last remark, but he was more surprised when Ferdi returned with Chief Sherriff Thornbreak, and Paladin said, "It's Toby Clover, the butcher's son." He hadn't realized that Paladin knew who the dead boy was.

Sherriff Thornbreak listened to what they had to say about how the body had been found, and by whom. "And Mr. Everard," he asked, "where is he now?"

"His brother's taken him home," Paladin answered. "He'll be there if you want to speak to him." He drew closer to the shirriff for a private conference. When he said, "You lads can go," Frodo, Merry, and Ferdi went obediently.

"It looks bad for Evvy," Merry said as they walked back to the Thain's Hall. "But I don't think..."

"No." Frodo believed that Everard's shock and grief at finding his friend dead was genuine. It might have been pretense, but if that were so, then Everard was a much more cold-blooded hobbit than anyone would have guessed. And there were one or two odd things Frodo had noticed concerning Toby's death; he and Merry would have to discuss them when they had a chance.

"It's going to be awful for him, and for Melly too." They were in the garden now. Ferdi looked up as they passed under the garlands. "I wonder if there'll be a wedding tomorrow."

As the trio passed the water-tubs, they caught a glint of something metallic in the grass before their bare toes. Ferdi stooped to pick it up and held it up to see. "It's Evvy's pocket-knife."

Frodo and Merry exchanged a glance.

Inside the Thain's Hall, they met further commotion, for the young hobbits had brought back the news of the dead boy in the grove, but could only report the little they had seen before Paladin had sent them away. The ladies were all shocked and distressed, but they were also eager for more information; they turned to the three boys with a multitude of questions as soon as they came in. Hilda, who was coddling her sickened son, wanted to know what had upset him so, and Ferdi's mother likewise fussed over her own son as she asked him what had happened. Eglantine demanded to know where her husband was. Some of the girls were weeping, but Melilot was notably absent from the group, and so was Esmeralda.

There was to be no formal dinner that night--most of the household cooks had been busy all day preparing for tomorrow's feast--but platters of fresh fruit, bread, and cold foods were set out on the dining-room sideboard in the Thain's Hall for the Tooks and their guests to eat as they chose. In light of this unexpected tragedy, most of the company was too disturbed to think of food at all. Frodo, after having a little bread and an apple, went up to his room. It was still early, but he wanted to be by himself, out of the noise and crowd, and to think.

The tunnel that led to the guest bedrooms took a sharp, steep, upwards turn; at the top, a small, round window had been cut into the wall to look out over the garden. Here, Frodo paused, for he had caught a glimpse of flickering firelight in the darkness outside. When he peered out of the window, he could see a procession of hobbits was walking across the distant meadow, some bearing torches, and others bearing a makeshift stretcher between them. The sherriffs were bringing Toby's body in.

The door to the nearest bedroom opened, and Esmeralda peeped out. "Is that-? Oh, Frodo, good. I was hoping it might be you. I've been waiting for you to come. Will you step into my room for a moment?"

"Yes, of course, Aunt Esme."

When he followed his aunt into the room, he found Melilot there, curled in a chair by the hearth. She clutched a handkerchief in one hand, and looked as if she had been crying.

"There was such a lot of screaming and to-doing, I thought it best to take poor Melly out of the bustle," Esmeralda explained. "She's told me what happened, how Everard was found with this dead boy. Frodo, this is awful! I never thought we would have to endure anything so horrible again--and it hasn't even been six months! You don't think Everard's done this dreadful thing, do you?"

"No," Frodo said. "I don't believe he did."

Melilot lifted her eyes to him. "Do you really?" she asked. "You aren't just saying so to be kind and comfort the ladies? Tell us honestly, Frodo, please."

"I don't," Frodo answered sincerely. "I have some reasons to doubt."

"Good!" said Esmeralda, and gave her niece a triumphant look. "I told you, Melly, didn't I? Frodo, I want you to investigate this murder. If Everard isn't responsible, there must be some proof of it--or proof that someone else killed that poor boy. I want you to find it."

"Me, Aunt Esme?"

"Yes, of course, you, dear," his aunt responded. "Who better? I know you've done it before. It was wonderful how you saved Merry, and he's told me that you boys had a hand in solving that awful business with Lotho Sackville-Baggins. Will you look into this, please, for Everard's sake?"

Frodo turned to Melilot. "Do you want me to, Melly?" he asked. "After how badly it turned out the last time I intervened?"

"I bear you no grudge, Frodo," Melilot answered. "What happened to Mentha wasn't your fault. I think that it would have ended just the same sooner or later even if you hadn't been there--except that you helped Merry, and helped me. If you can help Evvy now, I will be grateful."
Chapter 7 by Kathryn Ramage
The night was a long and unrestful one for most of the household. Frodo and Merry stayed up late talking, and they went down to breakfast the next morning later than the usual hour. Paladin was just coming out of the dining room as the two arrived, and his expression brightened at the sight of Frodo.

"Ah, Frodo lad," he said. "I want a word with you."

"Yes, Uncle." When Paladin took him by the arm, Frodo let himself be led down the hall to the Thain's study. Merry--since Paladin was not interested in speaking with him--went on to get his breakfast alone.

Once he had brought Frodo into the study, Paladin shut the door. "I've just been talking with your Aunt Esme," he began. "She tells me she's engaged you to look into this- ah- unfortunate incident."

"Not 'engaged,' precisely," Frodo answered. "She and Melly have asked for my help. They want to see that Everard isn't falsely accused of the other boy's death. I've agreed to do it for Melly's sake, and for Evvy's, and for the sake of the family."

"Ah, I'm pleased to hear that you look at it that way," Paladin said with keen appreciation. "It is indeed the family we have to think of, and not only Everard. After the scandal at Brandy Hall with Berilac's tragic accident and Merry's being arrested for it, I won't have the same repeated here in Tuckborough. I don't wish to speak slightingly of my sister's own husband, but anyone can see that Master Saradoc handled that whole business very badly and made matters worse than they had to be. I want no arrests made 'til we're certain we have the right culprit--and I want to be quite sure. I've had a word with Sherriff Thornbreak, and he's agreed to leave Everard free on my say-so. We'll keep an eye on him 'til the matter is cleared up. The lad was very upset last night. You saw how he was. Adelard tells me that Reginard sat up all night watching over him. They had to dose him with poppy syrup to make him sleep." He considered Frodo for a moment. "Well, to come to the point: Esme says you've done this before. You were the one who saw Merry out of his troubles, isn't that so? And you've been involved in one or two other odd problems. She seems to think you can do some good here too." He leaned closer to the young hobbit and asked in a lowered tone, almost as if it were an extremely personal inquiry, "Can you, Frodo? Do you see any way to learn who's responsible for what happened to Toby Clover?"

This was a strangely roundabout way of asking the question. "Isn't that for your sherriffs to investigate?" Frodo asked. "Can't they find out who killed Toby?"

"Oh, they'll do their best," said Paladin, "but they've never had a murder before. You've more experience in this sort of thing than they do."

Frodo had to concede that this was so.

He wondered at Paladin's odd, reticent manner. What, exactly, was his uncle asking him to do? Did he simply want the murderer found, or was there something more? Perhaps Paladin had some suspicions of his own about who had killed Toby, and wanted them confirmed--not by the sherriffs, for whom justice was the first priority, but by someone who was also considering 'the family.' Did he believe that one of the Tooks was responsible? "You don't think it's Everard, do you?"

"No, I don't," Paladin answered so promptly that Frodo was sure he was speaking the truth. "There are already some points in Everard's favor. You may have noticed them yourself."

"Yes, I think I have." He and Merry had discussed the scene of the murder at length the night before, comparing their observations. "For one thing, Toby had not just died."

"Exactly! The blood was already drying. Now, I've never seen a murdered hobbit before, but I've seen enough accidental cuts with knives and scythes and so on, and I know how quickly blood dries. Toby's shirt was stiff with it when we saw him last night. It was quite thick, not fresh. I'm sure Merry, with his vast experience of bodies on the battlefield, might tell you just the same."

Frodo had to smile. Merry had told him precisely that.

"I touched the poor lad's cheek myself, you remember, and he was growing cool then. They tell me that his body was quite cold and stiffening when they carried it in to be washed and laid out," Paladin went on. "I'll wager that Toby died a good half-hour before we saw him. And Everard was in the company of a number of people, yourself included, at that time. You all went out to the garden together, didn't you?"

"Yes, right after we finished our tea," Frodo confirmed. "Everard was with us all the time, until he got up and left..." To meet this boy, just as he'd done the night before? From what Frodo had overheard, it had sounded as if that last meeting was indeed their final one. But why else would Everard had gone there again? "That was at sunset, just before Melly came out and we began dancing."

"And how long after Everard left did we hear him scream?"

"I don't think it could have been more than ten minutes later."

"There, you see!" said Paladin. "It isn't possible for Everard to have done this. And then there's the knife."

Frodo nodded. "Evvy had none with him," he said. "He left his in the garden. There was no knife in the wound--I wondered if it might have fallen into the grass, but it was growing dark and I didn't see one anywhere. Has it been found?"

"No," Paladin answered. "The sherriffs are searching for it now it's daylight. They wanted to go out with their torches in the night, but I wouldn't have them risk setting the whole meadow afire. Mind you, I don't think they'll find it. It seems to me that someone must have taken it away."

"Do you have any idea who?" Frodo asked.

"That'll be something for you to find out!" Paladin gave Frodo a brisk pat on the shoulder, and opened the study door to guide him out. "Breakfast has been set out for those who want it. Why don't you get a bite to eat, lad, and then we'll begin this investigation of yours. You'll have all the assistance I can provide. I want to see this matter conducted properly."

Even though Paladin had mentioned speaking with Esmeralda, Frodo hadn't expected to find very many people in the dining room, but when he went in, a number of the family were there: Esmeralda had gone, but Hilda and Eglantine were still at breakfast, as were Pim and Peri. Great-Uncle Archambalt sat at the far end of the table, near the fire, and Merry was at the other end, nearest the sideboard where the platters of food were set out.

After missing their dinner, the ladies were ravenous, and as eager to talk about the death of the boy in the meadow as they'd been the night before. All were quite certain that Everard could have nothing to do with it. But who did? The initial shock had faded; none of them had known Toby Clover well, if they had known him at all, and their distress at his murder was more a feeling of general horror and astonishment than personal grief. As they so often repeated to each other over their breakfasts, to think that such a thing could happen in Tuckborough!

"Honestly," said Eglantine as she encouraged Frodo to help himself to bacon and eggs from the sideboard. "I don't know what we are coming to. It's as if all the odd goings-on outside the Shire have come in and made everyone behave in the most strange ways. Girls demanding that boys marry them-" At first, Frodo thought that the lady was referring to his cousin Angelica and her recent, hasty marriage to Lad Whitfoot, until Eglantine added in a lower, confidential tone, "Melilot wrote to Everard, you know, and told him to come for her, rather than wait for him to propose. Most forward, I call it, even for a Brandybuck. And boys-" She glanced at Merry and her face colored; she couldn't say it aloud, but Frodo understood very well what she was alluding to. So did Merry. "Not even in secret, but out in the open for everyone to talk about! And now there are these terrible murders! It'll be the end of decent hobbit society as we know it!"

Frodo was trying to think of a tactful reply, when Merry said, "I can't approve of the murders, Aunt Eggie, but I don't see anything wrong with the rest of it."

"You wouldn't, Merry Brandybuck!" Eglantine retorted. "But it's the end of the proper way of doing things. Who knows what will happen next?" And, having delivered this dire warning, she left the room.

Archambalt, who had been quiet, suddenly looked hard at Merry and announced, "I can tell you one thing--these fancy-lad doings of yours wouldn't have been allowed in my day."

"Oh, I'm sure it went on even then," Merry rejoined.

"It may have done, but we would've put a stop to it," Archambalt told him with fierce severity. "In my day, a young hobbit knew his responsibilities. He knew what was right--and if he didn't, his family saw to it he learned it soon enough!"

Another young hobbit might have been intimidated by Archambalt's ferocity, but Merry had met with enough disapproval this past year to feel equal to anything. "Then I'm very glad we aren't living in your day anymore."

The elderly hobbit glared at him, deliberately put down his fork on his unfinished plate of eggs, and left the room in disgust. The ladies looked extremely uncomfortable.

"Thank goodness that horrid old hobbit's leaving us this morning!" said Hilda. "Going back to his cottage, Eglantine tells me. It would be unbearable to sit at the same table with him for every meal, especially if he was always speaking that way to you or to Pippin."

"Where is Pip, by the way?" asked Merry. He and Frodo had knocked on Pippin's door before they'd come to breakfast, and there'd been no answer. "And where are the other lads?"

"Oh, they're helping the sherriffs," said Hilda, relieved to change the subject. "Your Uncle Paladin said he needed as many people as could be found to search the fields."

"Search the fields?"

"For the knife," Frodo said. "It hasn't been found yet."

"Yes, that's right," Pim agreed. "Pip was up much earlier than the two of you this morning. When he heard Father say the sherriffs needed assistance, he was eager to go. Dodi and Ilbie went too."

"You'd think they'd never want to be near that awful place again!" cried Hilda.

"Aunt Esme's gone out," said Pim.

Merry laughed. "Mother's joined in the search?"

"No, silly lad!" The girl laughed too, and so did her sister and Aunt Hilda. The discomfort caused by Archambalt's outburst was dissipating.

"Imagine," said Hilda, "the Mistress of Brandy Hall wandering the fields like a dairy maid! No, dear--Esmeralda said she wanted to watch the proceedings. I'm sure you'll find her in the garden. Melisaunte might be there too. She spent last night with Melly over at Adelard's house, you know. The poor girl's so terribly distressed by all of this, and who can blame her? We've been busy already this morning, sending notes to the wedding guests who wouldn't have heard the news yet. Esmeralda's written to your father, saying he needn't come."

"Have you heard?" Peri asked Frodo and Merry. "There's to be no wedding today. It's been put off."

"Postponed, Father's said," Pim added. "Melly and Evvy can't think of marrying while he's under this awful suspicion. They'll have to wait. Poor Melly."

"Poor Evvy!" said her sister.

Merry and Frodo had not heard this news officially, but both had assumed that the wedding would be cancelled or delayed under the circumstances.

The others finished their breakfasts and departed, presumably to watch the search from the garden themselves. Merry remained to wait for Frodo. "Shall we join the lads when you're done?" he suggested. "I don't know if we'll do better than anybody else in finding the knife, but it's as good a place as any to start if you're going to do as Mother asked."

"I'm going to do more than that," Frodo answered. "I've been given a special job: Uncle Paladin wants me to investigate Toby's murder as well... only, I'm not sure it's for the same reasons as Aunt Esme and Melly." He would have said more, but Paladin popped his head in at the door just then, and asked if Frodo was ready.
Chapter 8 by Kathryn Ramage
They went out to the meadow. Merry accompanied Paladin and Frodo as far as the bridge, then left them to go find Pippin. Paladin took Frodo to the center of the field to meet Chief Shirriff Thornbreak, who was directing all his shirriffs, the lads, and a number of local farmhands to search the grove, the tall grass, and the creek for the missing knife.

"Find it yet, Mr. Thornbreak?" Paladin called out to him as they approached.

"Not yet, your Thainship!" the Chief Shirriff shouted back. "There's not a sign of it."

"This is Frodo Baggins," Paladin introduced him. "A relation of mine from Hobbiton. He's had some experience of murders and investigations, and I've asked him to look into this. You're to give him whatever assistance you can."

"Yes, sir." Shirriff Thornbreak gave his red-feathered cap a respectful tug and regarded the Thain's young companion with curiosity. If he resented this intrusion into his professional domain, he did not show it; Frodo thought he was probably used to deferring to the Thain's authority, as anyone who lived around Tuckborough must be. "Now then, Mr. Baggins, how can I help you?"

Frodo had no idea, but Paladin was watching him expectantly, as if he were hoping to see some display of brilliant detecting this very minute. "I suppose you can begin by telling me what you've learned so far," he said. "I wouldn't like to go over the same ground twice."

Shirriff Thornbreak chuckled. "Oh, we've been over the same ground more'n once this morning, to be sure!" He seemed to think this a very good joke. "But I take it you mean in the facts in the case, not in this here field, Mr. Baggins? Very well then! What we've got so far is that the lad who was killed was Tobold Clover, aged three and thirty--he'd just come of age this midsummer past--and the eldest son of Mr. Togold Clover, who's our butcher in Tookbank. He was killed last night around sunset in that patch of trees over there, though what he'd gone there for, I couldn't say..." The shirriff cast a wary glance at Paladin.

"Never mind that yet," said Paladin. "You'll have your chance to speak to Everard about it shortly. His father agrees he's fit to answer questions this morning."

"Yes, sir, thank'ee," Thornbreak nodded deferentially, then continued to Frodo, "The ground's dry, and there've been more'n enough folk on the spot since, but it looks as if there was some fighting in the trees. We've had a look over the poor lad's clothes--there's grass stains on his trousers and some dirt, and his shirt's torn as if he'd been knocked down and was scuffling before he was stabbed. We've had a look at his body too. I can tell you that Toby was stabbed to the heart by a short, sharp knife, the kind you'd use to carve fine work on a bit of wood, or cut up a piece of fruit. Not bigger'n that. That's all we can say about it 'til we see it for ourselves."

"Do you think that when you find it, it will give you an idea of who it belonged to?" asked Frodo.

"That's our hope, young sir. And it's my thought that this same knife might've done another job last night too." Shirriff Thornbreak turned to Paladin. "You ought to know, your Thainship, that there's another boy missing--Fenny Ragwort, the butcher's 'prentice. He never came home last night from his work, and no one knows what's become of him. He might've been killed just the same as this one, only he hasn't been found yet. If Mr. Everard hadn't happened upon him, who knows how long Toby Clover would've laid out here before he was noticed?"

That the butcher's son should be killed on the same night as his apprentice had disappeared certainly seemed like more than coincidence; Frodo wondered just how the two were connected. "Thank you, Shirriff," he said. "I don't have any other questions for you right now. I'd like to have a look about, if you don't mind."

"That'll be fine," the Chief Shirriff consented. To Paladin, he said, "I'll go talk to Mr. Everard now, your Thainship, if you've no objection."

Paladin had none. The two of them went away, leaving Frodo in the middle of the meadow.

He looked around, picking out people he knew among the searchers: Merry and Pippin were hunting along the westward wall, not far from the place where Frodo had seen Toby climb over less than two days ago. Reginard was wandering the grass near the grove, but he didn't seem to be looking very hard. Frodo wondered if he were afraid that finding the knife would implicate his younger brother, or if Reg believed, as Paladin did, that the knife wasn't anywhere here to be found. Ferdi Took was on the other side of the grove with Dodi and Ilbie--all three boys were crouched on their hands and knees, but that tow-head was bright in morning sunlight amid the tall yellow-green grass.

Frodo decided to consult Ferdi, as perhaps the one person he could freely discuss a certain delicate aspect of this case with. There were some questions he wouldn't dream of asking Paladin or the Chief Shirriff, but Ferdi might be able to answer.

The boys looked up as Frodo approached them. "Good morning!" Doderic greeted him cheerfully. "We were just watching you talk with Uncle Paladin and the Chief Shirriff. Are you looking into this?"

"Yes, both Aunt Esme and Uncle Paladin have asked me to."

"You aren't going to go around accusing all your nearest relations of murder again, are you?" Ilbie teased.

"I hope not!" Frodo tried to match his cousins' joking tones, but he meant it most sincerely.

"It ought to be easier for you this time, having official approval and the Chief Shirriff's help," said Ilbie. "No one can refuse to answer your questions without looking odd in Uncle Paladin's eyes."

"Is there anything you want to ask us, Frodo?" added Dodi. "You know just where we were when all this happened."

"Actually, it was Ferdi I wanted to speak to."

The two brothers exchanged exaggerated looks of alarm. "Have a care, Ferdi!" Dodi warned him.

"You're Everard's closest friend," Frodo explained to Ferdi. "I thought you might be the best one to ask about him and this Toby."

Ferdi nodded. "Yes, certainly. I'll be glad to help. Ask away. Don't worry," he told the other two, "I'm sure Frodo won't have me arrested. He knows where I was when poor Toby died too." He let Frodo take his arm and they walked a little distance away from Dodi and Ilbie so they could speak privately.

"Did you know Toby Clover?" asked Frodo.

"Yes, better than anyone--except for Evvy, of course. I was with Evvy when he first met Toby, as a matter of fact. That was about three years ago. We'd gone to the pub at Tookbank, and Toby was there with his brother. They'd just come to town."

"Are they a new family? I'd heard that Toby's father was the Tookbank butcher."

"He is," answered Ferdi. "There are Clovers all around Tookbank, and have been for ages, but the butcher and his family only came to live here recently. When we first met the lads, we went out of our way to make them feel welcome--bought them rounds of ale, played darts, that sort of thing. They said they'd heard some awful tales about how high-and-mighty the Tooks were, and we tried our best to show them it wasn't true."

"Evvy and Toby became friends right away?"

"Oh, yes, great friends." Ferdi paused, then added in a lower voice, "More than friends."

Frodo nodded. "I wondered if it weren't so. I discovered them, by accident, in that grove when I was out for a walk the first evening I came here."

"Yes, they used to meet there often. I didn't realize that they still were."

"Did you know about it from the beginning?"

"Evvy's never kept secrets from me. It wasn't a great secret even among the rest of the family, but there was no fuss about it before Ev decided to marry Melly--and then Toby began to be troublesome." Ferdi shrugged. "You know how it is among the lads. Everybody does it. I think girls are nicer myself, but there'd be such a lot of trouble if we tried to play around with them the way we do with other boys! The most you can respectably do with the girls is try to get kisses. At least with the lads, it's accepted as long as it's kept quiet, and it doesn't go on too long. All the lads play, but unfortunately, some take it more seriously than others."

"And Toby took it more seriously than Everard?"

"Oh, yes, certainly. Evvy was the one getting married, and Toby didn't like it. Why would anyone want to get rid of him otherwise?" Ferdi shook his head. "I can see why someone would want Toby out of the way to avoid a scandal--but to kill him! That seems an awfully cruel way of doing it. Whoever did must have wanted to be sure he was gone for good."

This confirmed Frodo's impression that whoever had killed Toby might very well be one of the Tooks. "I'd like to talk to Everard. Do you think he's up to it?" If Paladin had allowed the Chief Sherriff to see Everard, then surely he would not be barred.

"I'm sure they won't say 'no,' not to the Thain's own official investigator." Ferdi smiled. "I'll go with you."
Chapter 9 by Kathryn Ramage
The ladies were in the garden when Frodo and Ferdi left the meadow. Esmeralda, who was watching for Frodo, came to meet them at the bridge. "I see that Pal's asked you to look into this too."

It took Frodo a moment to understand that she was speaking of Thain Paladin; 'Pal' was a pet name that only his sisters and Adelard ever used. "Yes," he answered, "he thought I could be of help. He agrees that Everard couldn't have killed his friend Toby, and wants to be certain that the guilty party is found."

"Melly will be relieved to hear it. Pal's patronage will be of enormous help in clearing matters up. His authority will make it so much easier for you to ask questions of people, but..." she hesitated, then took Frodo's arm. The two walked more slowly and let Ferdi go on ahead. "I'm afraid that my brother has always been a little too concerned with the appearance of things," Esmeralda said softly. "He might not be as interested in the truth behind this boy's death, as in how it looks."

"I think that he thinks it's one of the family," Frodo murmured in response, "and it does look as if it might be so. Not Everard, but someone else. I can't yet tell who."

His aunt looked alarmed. "I hope you and Pal are wrong, Frodo. It would be too terrible if you were right!"

Melilot, who had been sitting with her mother on a bench near the pavilion, got up as they approached and came toward them. "Did you see?" she asked. "The High Sherriff has gone in to question Evvy, but Uncle Paladin says I mustn't worry. Do you think that means it'll be all right?"

"I don't believe Everard's in as great a danger as we feared," Esmeralda informed her. "Your uncle will see to it that he isn't falsely accused."

The girl looked greatly relieved at hearing this, and glanced at Frodo. "But surely you couldn't have done so much already!"

"I've barely done a thing," Frodo admitted. "As it happens, Uncle Paladin is certain that Evvy is innocent, and wants me to find the murderer." He didn't tell her his suspicions about the murderer; it must be enough for Melilot to know that Everard was safe. "I'm sorry about your wedding, Melly."

If this day had gone as planned, the ceremonies would have been concluded by this time. The wedding breakfast would have followed, and then there would have been hours of celebration afterwards: age-old customs to honor the new marriage, music, more food, and dancing that would go on through the afternoon and into the night, long after the newlywed couple had departed for their honeymoon cottage.

"Thank you, Frodo." Melilot's lips quivered, but she gave him a small, grateful smile. "I'd marry Evvy today regardless, to show I haven't abandoned him in his troubles," she declared, "but everyone says it's best to wait. We shouldn't begin our lives together under a shadow."

"Let's hope you won't have to wait too long, my dear," said Esmeralda encouragingly. "Once this matter is cleared up-"

A sudden flutter of excitement went through the group in the garden as a back door to Adelard's smial opened, and Paladin and the Chief Sherriff emerged. The Took girls and Brandybuck ladies did not dare to ask the outcome of Everard's interview, but Eglantine went to speak to her husband; after a few words from Paladin, the lady smiled.

"It's quite all right!" she announced. "Everard won't be arrested."

Soon after this, Everard himself came outside with his father. The young hobbit was pale and shaken and, as he looked out around the garden, seemed uncertain, as if he were afraid the people gathered there would shun him.

"Evvy!" Melly ran eagerly up to him. She would have thrown her arms around him, but Everard drew back from her attempted embrace. "Evvy, darling..." She hesitantly reached out to try and take his hand instead. "Don't be afraid. It's all right."

"Is it?" he asked back.

"Yes, of course. None of us believes it." She glanced at Frodo and Esmeralda. "We're doing all we can to prove it isn't true. We will prove it, and then no one can say a thing against you."

Everard let out a strange, hard laugh. "Oh, you mean Toby's murder!"

"Yes." Melilot looked even more puzzled. "What else?"

"You haven't heard it all yet," said Everard. "It's not so bad as saying I killed Toby, but it's awful in its way. And it'll be just as bad for you, being tangled up with the likes of me. You'll hate me for what I've done."

"Evvy, I couldn't! No matter what!"

"But you don't know! If you haven't heard the gossip about me and Toby, and what I was doing there in the grove with him last night, you will soon enough. Didn't you wonder about it yourself?"

"Well, yes, I did," she admitted. "But-"

"Then you needn't wonder any longer!" cried Everard. "People will talk. They must be talking already. I might as well give you the plain truth: I was in love with that boy! Do you understand? I've been seeing him, in secret. They'll say I killed him because of that, to keep it quiet--but there's no keeping it quiet anymore!" Indeed, his voice was rising, shrilly, hysterically. If anyone had not been listening to him and Melilot before, they couldn't help it now. "There, you know! You've had a lucky escape. Just think, we could be married this minute, and what a trap you'd be stuck in!" Then he moaned, "Oh, Melly, please go away! I can't bear you to look at me."

But Melilot continued to stare at him, eyes wide in disbelief. Since she did not go away, Everard did. He put up one arm to cover his face, and whirled to run from her and flee back into the house. Melilot stood where she was for a long, stunned minute. The garden was absolutely quiet. The girl turned to look around at all the people who had witnessed this, and then she began to cry.

"Melly!" Melisaunte rushed to take her daughter into her arms. "Hush, dearest. Come with me." And she led Melilot away.

"Oh, that ridiculous boy!" said Esmeralda in exasperation. As she followed the mother and daughter into the Thain's Hall, Frodo went into the neighboring smial to see Everard. Ferdi went with him.
Chapter 10 by Kathryn Ramage
They found Everard in his bedroom, sitting on the bed with his head down on his drawn-up knees and his arms hugged around himself. He looked up, startled and almost frightened, when Ferdi tapped lightly on the ajar door and said, "Evvy? May we come in, please? Frodo wants to talk to you."

"What about?" Everard asked hoarsely as he looked from one boy to the other.

"He's investigating Toby's murder," Ferdi explained, and ventured into the room. "Uncle Paladin's engaged him specially to find out who's done this."

Everard made a laughing, sobbing sound. "And you've come to accuse me, Frodo?"

"No," Frodo assured him. "I only want to know more about your friend, Toby. Ferdi's explained things to me."

"Yes, everyone knows now." He sobbed again. "It was all in fun! That's all. Boys together. I was very fond of Toby, but I meant to marry Melly. We always said we would marry, since we were children. I knew we would come to it, one day. I never concealed that from Toby. He knew it couldn't last. I broke off with him the day I received Melly's letter, told him we had to end it before I rode off to Brandy Hall to settle things with her. I've had nothing to do with him since."

"But you have been meeting with him," said Frodo.

"To talk!" Everard insisted. "I wanted to explain it to him. I hoped we might still be friends, but Toby wouldn't understand. He only got angrier." He looked up at the two standing over him. "Do you think he expected me to continue seeing him after I'd married? Or that I'd go on with him and never marry--that we'd be like Pippin and Merry, but worse? A Took and the butcher's son. Imagine the scandal!" The young hobbit's eyes grew wide as he considered the more horrific scandal he was actually in the midst of, and he let his head fall into his hands. Ferdi sat down beside him and patted his back to try and soothe him.

When Everard lifted his head and wiped the tears from his face with the back of one hand, Frodo gave him a handkerchief and asked, "Did you arrange to meet Toby last night? You went out to the grove, knowing he would be there?"

"Yes, I had a note from him. I still have it." Everard felt vaguely at the pockets of his waistcoat. "I showed it to the sherriff..." He looked up suddenly at a folded piece of paper lying on the table at his bedside.

Frodo picked it up. On the outer side of the folded square was written Everard's name; Frodo recognized it as the same note he had seen his cousin receive at lunch yesterday. He unfolded it to read the message inside: 'At sunset. Please, one last time.'

He read the words aloud, and Everard explained, "I knew just what that meant. It was our usual time and place, you see. But when I went there... I found him. My Toby, dead! I thought he'd done it himself, because of me, 'til Reg told me that they couldn't find any knife." He blotted his eyes and blew his nose. "I could see the looks on their faces--the sherriff's and Uncle Paladin's--when I told them. They despise me now. I suppose you despise me too."

"No," said Frodo, although he couldn't help thinking that Everard hadn't behaved very well toward either Toby or Melilot.

"I do love Melly, you know," Everard told him. "I'm not like Pip and Merry. I want to be married to a nice girl and have children and all the rest of it. I meant to be a proper husband to her, though she'll never believe that now. It wasn't bad enough that I deceived her--I've humiliated her. She'll never forgive me. It was best I let her go. She's much better off without me."

"Ev, honestly, I don't think Melly would mind so much if it had ended when you said it did," Ferdi said comfortingly.

"Did it?" Frodo asked.

At this, Everard began to weep again.

"That's enough of that, Frodo Baggins!" Reginard was at the door, glaring at him furiously. "Father told me that you'd come up here after Evvy, but I had no idea you were prying at him with questions this way! What do you think you're doing?"

"Uncle Paladin has engaged me to investigate this murder," Frodo answered.

"Well, my brother didn't do it!" He pulled Frodo out into the hallway and shut the door to his brother's room, leaving Ferdi to deal with Everard as best he could. "Do all the investigating you like, Frodo," Reginard hissed, "but leave Evvy out of it! Hasn't the poor lad suffered enough, finding that boy dead, and being suspected of killing him? And now I've heard that his marriage to Melly has been cancelled. The Tooks have never seen such a scandal--and all over that Toby Clover! If that miserable little common wretch had known his proper place and kept to it, we wouldn't be in this mess."

"If he got ideas above himself," Frodo said dryly, "are you sure Evvy didn't encourage him?"

"What if he did? These things will happen, and Toby should have had the decency to go away once he saw that Evvy was done with him. I don't say the boy deserved to die, but he only has himself to blame for it. He was a trouble-maker, hanging about when he wasn't wanted, making threats..."

"Threats?" echoed Frodo.

"Didn't you know? He meant to spoil the wedding, to make a scandal of his friendship with Evvy. Evvy told me so last night. He said that Toby had promised to put a stop to the marriage if he could."

"He seems to have done that," Frodo murmured. "Very well. I only have one last question, Reg, and then I'll leave."

"I told you, enough!"

"Not for Everard--for you."


"The rest of us were in the garden when we heard Everard scream," said Frodo. "We all ran at once into the meadow and found him at the same time. But you were already there with Everard, ahead of everyone else. How did you reach him so quickly?"

The flushed, angry red color drained from Reginard's face, and then he turned suddenly and paced away down the hall.

"If you don't wish to tell me," Frodo called after the retreating hobbit, "I'm sure Sherriff Thornbreak will be interested."

Reginard stopped. "You wouldn't."

"I told you: I am acting as the Thain's special investigator," Frodo said as he walked swiftly toward Reginard. "Uncle Paladin wants this done discreetly, and I mean to be discreet. If there's no reason for the shirriffs to know about it, then I won't tell them--but I must have the truth from you." He had not intended to use the authority he'd been given this way, but he was not going to let Reginard walk away without giving him an explanation. This curious point had been puzzling him since last night.

Reginard gaped at Frodo, as if he had never seen him before. Then he pulled himself together, shut his mouth, and after a moment, said, "There's no reason you shouldn't know. Tell Uncle Paladin. Tell Sherriff Thornbreak too! I was there with Everard ahead of everyone else because I followed him. While you were all making merry in the garden, I was up on the little terrace above our kitchen, watching you, watching Evvy. When I saw him leave the garden, I went after him."

"You knew where he was going?" asked Frodo.

"I knew he meant to meet Toby. I saw him get a note from Toby at lunch yesterday. You did too, didn't you? I saw you read the direction, sticking your nose into other people's business even before you had an excuse to go investigating. You didn't know what that note meant, but I did. I've seen others like it. When Evvy went off last night, I knew exactly where he was going, and I meant to stop him."

"Stop him?"

"Oh, nothing like that!" Reginard insisted. "I didn't kill that boy, if that's what you're thinking! I wanted to convince Ev to come back with me, not to see Toby again. What was he thinking of? On the night before his wedding! But Evvy was already at the grove before I caught up with him. I saw him go in among the trees. Then I heard him scream." He laughed sourly. "At first, I thought that Toby had hurt him. I ran in to help my brother... and I found them, just as you saw, with Evvy kneeling over that boy's body."
Chapter 11 by Kathryn Ramage
The other boys came in from the meadow at midday, when Paladin called an end to the unsuccessful search. Frodo, returning from Adelard's house after his confrontation with Reginard, met Merry and Pippin entering the Thain's Hall, and the three went to wash up and to have a brief, private conference in the bathroom across the hallway from Pippin's room. They had neither the time nor the hot water to take a full bath before lunch, but the two younger hobbits stripped to the waist and splashed themselves with cool water from the basins on the washstands.

"You've had a much easier job this morning than we had," said Pippin as he shook droplets of water from his hair and reached for a towel. "I hope it was more successful."

"It was a beginning," said Frodo. Since he wasn't as dirty and sweaty as his cousins, he sat in a basket chair between the empty tubs and towel rack while the other two washed.

"We're going to work with you this time, aren't we?"

"Yes, of course," Frodo promised him. "I couldn't manage without you." But he felt a sad little pang when he realized that this would be the first time he'd conducted an investigation without Sam. "You'll be the greatest help in figuring out who's the most likely person to have done this. We've got quite a list! If Uncle Paladin is right and one of the family is involved, then there's only a small group that's completely exempt from suspicion: Dodi and Ilbie, Ferdi, and the five girls, since we were all in the garden together. I think we can also exclude the Brandybucks and the other guests who have only come to Tuckborough for the wedding. They've no reason to murder Toby Clover. I doubt that any of them even knew he existed before last night. Now, who among the Tooks might have wanted Toby dead?"

Merry considered the question while he dried himself off. "Aside from Evvy, I suppose Uncle Adelard and Reg would be the ones most interested in seeing Toby gone for good. Their family reputation was at stake. I don't say they did it deliberately--they might've only wanted to prevent Toby making a scene at the wedding, and then it went wrong."

"I can't see Uncle Addy doing it," said Pippin. "He's the most sweet-tempered hobbit I know."

"Reg does seem more likely," Frodo agreed. "We know he was at the grove. He says he followed Everard... but what if he actually went on ahead? He knew that the two would be meeting there--he admitted as much. He had only to find Toby waiting, kill him, then slip out of sight before Evvy arrived."

"But would he do that to his brother, let poor Ev stumble on his friend's body?" Merry wondered. "You saw how upset Everard was. I know how I would feel if it was me."

"I don't see how he could avoid it without giving himself away. He's done his best to look out for Evvy and protect him since then. And it only makes sense that if Uncle Paladin suspects Reg, he'd want to shield him--his daughter's husband, father to his grandchild."

"Do you think he knows it's Reg, or somebody else?"

"No," said Frodo. "If he knew who'd killed Toby--if he were certain of it--I think he'd prefer to take care of it himself. He'd want the matter cleared up, and hushed up. No, he only suspects. He's afraid, and I think he wants to find out if what he's afraid of is true."

"Have you considered it might be Uncle Paladin himself?" Merry ventured. "The family reputation means as much to him as Reg and Uncle Adelard, if not more. He'd go to great lengths to protect it."

"It's possible," Frodo admitted. "I'm certain he knows... well, more than he's told me about this business, but I don't think he's responsible for it. He wouldn't have brought me in to investigate if he did."

"Maybe he had no choice," countered Merry. "Once he knew that Mother had asked you to look into things, he might've thought it looked less suspicious to help you than to stand in your way. That way, he can keep an eye on what you find out, and know how much you know."

They both were suddenly aware that Pippin stood staring at them, clutching his towel to his damp chest, and they felt ashamed of themselves for their tactlessness. They were, after all, discussing his father.

"Pip," Merry began. "It's only guessing games."

"Father might do it for me," said Pippin, "but I really don't think he'd do it for Evvy." Then he added, joking, "If you were stabbed, Merry, I'm sure Father and Mother would be at the top of our list. Besides, there are other people more likely. What about that other boy you said has gone missing? Could he be the murderer? That'd explain why he ran off the same night as Toby was killed."

"I don't know," Frodo admitted. "I don't know a thing about him, except that he's gone. He might have killed Toby, or perhaps he's dead too, as the Chief Sherriff believes. Perhaps he saw something that made him a danger to Toby's killer. Or perhaps he's simply run off and it's only a coincidence. I'd rather leave that mystery for the sherriffs to dig into. I don't want to intrude into their jurisdiction more than I have to and make a nuisance of myself. Uncle Paladin's asked me to look into Toby's death because of the family, and that's where I mean to concentrate my attention."

"If Ferdi hadn't been with us, I'd say he might've wanted Toby out of the way," Pippin suggested.

"Ferdi?" asked Merry. "Why him?"

"Well, he's Evvy's best friend. Maybe he was jealous."

"Of Toby? But Ferdi likes girls."

"So he says," Pippin responded, "but I know Ev and Ferdi better than either of you do, and I can tell you that they used to play about with each other before this Toby came around. Whether he likes girls better or not, Ferdi must've been a little jealous when Ev started playing with someone else, don't you think?"

"Maybe he was--but it isn't possible. Ferdi was never out of our sight all afternoon." Merry paused, then added, "But Melly wasn't. I don't like to think of it, but there it is. And you must admit that she had very good reasons for wanting rid of Toby."

Frodo nodded solemnly. "We must consider it," he agreed. "You know what Sam would say: we have to look at everyone, like it or not. And, for the same reason, we have to consider Aunt Melisaunte. I don't think she knew about Toby, but if she did, the last thing she would want is her daughter's wedding day spoiled by scandal."

"Melly's and Evvy's marriage is spoiled just the same. We heard about that when we came in," Merry said darkly. He was very fond of Melilot, and didn't like her being subjected to such a brutal public humiliation.

"Everard has to bear responsibility for that," said Frodo, also thinking of how stricken Melilot had looked. "But I promised her I'd do my best for him, just the same."

"Where do we begin?" asked Pippin.

"We must learn where everyone else was between tea-time and the time Everard left us to go and meet Toby. Can you find out where they were? Merry, can you inquire about the ladies? Your mother will be happy to help. Pippin, I want to know more about Reg. We know where he was, or at least where he says he was. Can you verify that? Perhaps Pearl or Uncle Adelard saw him on the terrace. They mightn't tell me--especially not Reg--but they might tell you. And see if you can confirm that Melly was in her room."

Pippin nodded solemnly at this last injunction.

There was a rap on the door, and Dodi called out, "Can we get in? You're not the only ones a grubby mess from crawling in the grass half the morning, you know!"

"We're almost done!" Merry called back, and picked up the clean shirt he had brought in with him. He was buttoning up as his cousins came in.
Chapter 12 by Kathryn Ramage
Lunch was a more subdued meal than that morning's breakfast. The death of a boy that none of them knew well had been alarming, but exciting; the cancelled wedding and the painful scene they had witnessed between Melilot and Everard was more personally distressing to the families of both. The foods set on the table, meant for the wedding feast, were an additional reminder of what today should have been. No one wanted to talk about it and conversation between the Thain's family and their Brandybuck guests faltered, until Melisaunte arrived late to join them.

"I've gotten Melly to rest," she reported as she took a seat at the table. "The poor girl's so terribly distraught, she couldn't think of eating, but we ought to send a tray up to Esme. She's been so kind to sit with Melly and let me come to eat. Eglantine, can you please see that Melly's things are brought over from Adelard's house and put in my room? I won't have her staying another night in the same house as Everard Took, not after this."

"You mayn't have heard that Everard's been cleared of suspicion," said Paladin. "He couldn't possibly have killed that boy."

"Yes, I know. I don't mean that. Everard has behaved like a beast to my daughter today. He mayn't be a murderer, but he's indisputably done that! We were all there to see it." Melisaunte stabbed a fork angrily into the food on the plate set before her. "Well, he was quite right about one thing: Melly's had a lucky escape. If I'd known what that horrid boy was truly like, I would never have let her come here to him, whether she was of an age or not. Filthy, I call it. Disgraceful."

There was an awkward silence; several people at the table cast embarrassed glances in Merry's or Pippin's direction. "Melisaunte, dear," Hilda murmured gently. "You forget..."

"I beg your pardon," Melisaunte apologized to Merry. "I hope you don't think I meant you lads. I can't approve of your behavior, but at least you haven't lied and sneaked, and promised yourself to some poor girl to pretend to be something you're not. Your refusal to marry might be unpleasant for the family, but you've always been truthful about it. If Everard had been half as honest before today, when he couldn't hide the truth any longer, my daughter wouldn't be crying her eyes out on what was meant to be her wedding day. Can you imagine--he meant to marry poor Melly, and go on seeing that boy behind her back!"

"Everard told me that he had broken with Toby before he became betrothed to Melly," said Frodo. "He meant to end it."

"Then what was he doing running off to meet this boy the night before his wedding?" asked Melisaunte. "And I've heard he'd been seeing the boy all summer, since Melly came here. Say what you like about his intentions, but Everard's actions declare themselves beyond a doubt."

Pim looked around the table at her brother and Brandybuck cousins in wonderment, and asked them frankly, "Do all boys carry on like that?" Pippin was not the only Took who believed in asking direct questions.

"Pimmy!" her mother cried, shocked. The boys went scarlet.

"Young girls shouldn't ask such questions," Diamanta chided. "You shouldn't know about such things at all."

"Well, I don't know, but I want to," the girl protested. "Why shouldn't I? After there's been so much fuss about Pip and Merry, and now Ev and Toby Clover, I can't help wondering! I think Aunt Melisaunte is right: it's better to be honest. If I'm going to marry one day, I'd rather know beforehand what to expect. I don't mean to share my husband with anybody else, boy or girl."

"Pimpernel Took!" Eglantine insisted. "That's quite enough."

"Did you hear any gossip about Everard and Toby Clover before today?" Frodo asked the Tooks. He had been trying to think of a delicate way to broach the question, but since Pim had brought the subject up already, this seemed like the best time to ask. "Did you know that they met in the grove?"

"This is hardly a fit conversation for the dining table," observed Diamanta.

"I don't see why we shouldn't answer," Paladin supported Frodo. "I had heard something about it, yes."

"I knew Evvy was friends with Toby Clover--everyone knew that," said Peri. "We used to see Ev go off into the meadow of an evening all the time, but I never guessed there was anything... wrong to it."

"I did," said Pim. "I mean, I guessed. After all the talk about Pip and Merry, I began to wonder if it mightn't be the same thing. And still no one will tell me!"

Eglantine gave her daughter another sharp look, but the struggle to maintain a standard of decorum had already been lost. "I certainly hadn't the least idea of it," she proclaimed. "Such thoughts have never entered my head unbidden. We used not to acknowledge that such goings-on even existed, and now we not only permit them, we speak of them openly. What is the Shire coming to?"

"It's progress, Auntie," Merry answered. "Nothing to be alarmed about."

Toward the end of the meal, Paladin was called away from the table when the Chief Shirriff arrived to report on his progress. At Paladin's insistence, Frodo went with him. They met with Shirriff Thornbreak in the Thain's study.

"We've been asking questions in Tookbank," the Sherriff reported. "To find out who Toby's friends were, and if he had any enemies. I've had a word myself with the Clovers. They had- ah- one or two things to say, but naught we can take account of."

He was deliberately vague, but both Paladin and Frodo understood: the Clovers had accused Everard, or the Tooks in general.

Paladin nodded. "I understand that Mr. Clover must naturally be extremely upset at losing his son."

"Yes, sir, that he is!" Shirriff Thornbreak agreed. "It near broke my heart to see a great, hearty hobbit such as our butcher struck down by grief when he heard the news. And the younger lad and girl are little better."

"Have you found the missing lad, Fenny, yet?"

"No, sir. I've set a pair of shirriffs out to search for him."

After the Chief Shirriff had gone, Paladin turned to Frodo and asked, "And what about you, my lad? Have you turned up anything interesting?"

"I've only just begun, Uncle," Frodo answered. "I've spoken to Evvy, and we're trying to find out where everyone was when Toby was killed."


"Pippin and Merry are assisting me."

"Are they?" Paladin seemed surprised.

"They've done so before, and been of enormous help," Frodo told him. "They're really very good at finding things out. Since we are inquiring about everyone, Uncle Paladin, if you don't mind, can I ask: Where were you?"

Paladin was not offended, but chuckled at the question. "I was with Adelard, in his study next door. We were discussing Everard, as a matter of fact, and his infatuation with Toby."

"Uncle Adelard knew about Ev and Toby?"

"Oh, yes. We've both known about it for quite some time. Since Everard became betrothed, the problem has troubled his father deeply."

Interesting as this piece of information was, Frodo noted that both hobbits' whereabouts were accounted for. "Have you thought," he tentatively put forward his theory, "that Reginard might be involved in this?"

"Reginard?" Paladin looked interested.

"He was there ahead of the rest of us, at Everard's side when we found them. You noticed that too."

"Yes, I noticed."

"He says that he followed Everard out to the grove, to try and prevent him from seeing Toby again."

"But you doubt that?"

"I... wonder," Frodo admitted, but did not dare to go further until he knew what his uncle thought about it. Was Reginard the one that Paladin suspected? "I understand why you wouldn't wish to consider him, as close a relation as he is."

"I hadn't thought of it, but you're right." Paladin left the chair he'd been sitting in and began to pace. "I hope it isn't true. It would crush Pearl! And poor Addy would be heartbroken..."

He seemed sincerely disturbed at the idea of Reginard's guilt; Frodo was certain that Paladin hadn't considered it before. Reg wasn't the one he suspected. Then who was he thinking of?

When he finished his lunch, Merry took a tray up to his mother. He tapped lightly on the door to Melisaunte's room, and pushed it open to find Esmeralda sitting in a chair at the bedside. Melilot lay on the bed, her arm flung over her eyes.

"I've brought you some food," he said in a whisper as he set the tray on a nearby table. "Aunt Melisaunte thought you'd be hungry. There's enough for you too, Melly," he added, not certain if his cousin were sleeping or awake.

"Thank you, Merry." Melly lowered her arm and lifted her head from the pillow. "But I couldn't..." Then she looked over the tray of honey-cakes, jam-and-bread, apple and gooseberry tartlets, and other dainties, reconsidered, sat up, and took a tartlet. Esmeralda also had something to eat.

"When you're done, Mother, I'd like to talk to you," Merry requested. "I want to ask a few questions, if you don't mind."

Esmeralda smiled. "Is this part of Frodo's investigation?"

"Yes, it is. Pip and I are helping him. We always do."

"If you're worried about troubling me with your talk, you can leave me," said Melly. "I'll be all right by myself, Aunt Esme, honestly."

They went next door to Esmeralda's room. "What would you like to know?" the Lady asked as she sat down on the settee at the foot of the bed.

Merry sat down beside her. "Can you tell me where the ladies were yesterday afternoon after tea--particularly Pippin's mother, Aunt Di, and Aunt Melisaunte?"

"But not Hilda nor me? Well, it makes no difference. We were in the drawing-room, every one of us. All the ladies you've asked after, and Ferdi's mother too. We never left it after tea. We watched you children through the window, until it began to get dark."

"No one left the drawing-room?"

"No. We sat and talked until we heard the commotion outside, and the others came in. Pippin told us what had happened."

The ladies were unlikely murderers, but Merry was relieved to hear that they could be excluded from suspicion. "And what about Uncles Paladin or Adelard? Were they with you?"

Esmeralda laughed. "Goodness, no! There are certain things, Merry my dear, that ladies simply can't speak openly of when gentlemen are present. It would only shock and embarrass them."

"What on earth did you talk about?" Merry wondered if he would regret asking the question, but he was curious.

"You, dear," his mother told him. "You and Pippin. Eglantine is very worried about Pippin, you know. She and Di were discussing what to do about him all yesterday morning, and after you children and the gentlemen had gone out, they turned to me for advice."

Merry grinned. His mother had missed the lunch conversation, where some of the ladies had been very frank in front of gentlemen. It also seemed that Pippin had been perfectly right about his mother worrying over 'the problem'; Eglantine and Diamanta apparently had no qualms about the propriety of discussing these delicate subjects in the company of other ladies alone. "They wanted your advice? About Pip?"

"They wanted to know what I meant to do about you. Eglantine seems to think this is all your fault. Well, you know you've always been able to convince Pippin to do whatever mischief you had in mind, and she sees this as just one of your pranks that's gone too far."

"What did you tell her?"

"Oh, that you boys are young yet, but if you are considered old enough to be thinking of love and marriage and all that entails, then we had to accept that you were also old enough to know your own minds," Esmeralda reported. "I said that it'd do no good to push girls at you if you aren't interested in looking at them. After all, that didn't work when your father tried it. We can only wait, and if you never choose to marry.. ." She sighed. "It isn't an end to the Shire, or even the Took or Brandybuck families. I'm sure this has happened many times before to other hobbit boys, and even girls, only they weren't so unabashed about it as you and Pippin have been. They all lived quietly, in secret."

"That wasn't my idea!" protested Merry. "I would've been happy living quietly with Pip at Crickhollow, minding our own business and not bothering anyone. But once our secrets got dragged out for everyone to talk about, the only thing we could do was stand up for ourselves." It was his way of doing battle; when faced with disapproval, he put up his banners, met the enemy head-on, and refused to retreat an inch. "What else could I do? I won't try to hide, as if I were ashamed of loving Pippin. I'm not."

He had never imagined having such a conversation with his mother--and yet, here they were. And it wasn't just his mother. This visit to Tuckborough was not as horrible as he'd expected it to be. Since he and Pippin had come here among their families, everyone acknowledged their relationship and, with a few notable exceptions, accepted it as a fact even if they didn't approve. Six months ago, when they'd first become a public scandal, what they'd done was considered so shameful that it wasn't to be spoken of by decent hobbits except in whispers. But that had been months ago and hobbits, being eminently practical creatures, couldn't go on being scandalized indefinitely. As he and Pippin went on openly together, they ceased to be shocking. They would not change, and so the Shire had adjusted to them. It was progress, just as he'd told Aunt Eglantine, and it was no bad thing. It gave him hope.

He asked tentatively, "Are you ashamed of me, Mother?"

"Oh, darling, no!" Esmeralda reached out to place one hand lightly on her son's cheek. "You're not a conventional hobbit, my love. Neither is Pippin, nor Frodo for that matter. But we Tooks are used to having unconventional hobbits in our family from time to time. Two of my great-uncles went off on adventures, you know, one to sea, and the other never came home again. I think they must have been a lot like you. You've been out in the Big Folks' world, and done so many brave and wonderful things. This is just one more thing to be brave about."
Chapter 13 by Kathryn Ramage
When Pippin left the dining room, he went out of the back of the Hall and spotted Adelard, Pearl, and Reginard seated around the table on their terrace halfway up the hillside. Deciding to start on his assigned task, he went up the slope of the hill toward them.

"Hello!" he called out as he approached. "Still having your lunch?"

"Just finishing. The girls have gone, but there's still plenty left. Why don't you join us?" offered Pearl.

Even though he'd already had a good lunch, he sat down to help himself. Pearl was nursing the baby; Pippin, who was young enough to be embarrassed by this maternal activity, averted his gaze as he selected a cream bun from the platter and asked, "How is Evvy?"

"Worse since he spoke to Melly," Reginard reported, "and since Frodo Baggins came here poking his nose into things that are none of his business. That boy's got above himself, Pip."

"He's only doing as Father asked," said Pippin.

"Perhaps, but he doesn't have to investigate us!"

"Ferdi's with Everard now," said Adelard. "We thought someone ought to stay with him, keep an eye on him. I'm afraid the poor lad might do himself a harm."

"He's only made a bad lot worse for himself," said Pearl, and shook her head. "I know he's distraught over the death of his friend, but he needn't have made a spectacle of himself and poor Melly the way he did."

Pippin was normally a firm believer in the effectiveness of direct questions, but he realized that this time he would have to be more clever and circuitous if he wanted to find anything out. "It's a shame about the wedding," he began. "Everyone's been expecting Ev and Melly to marry since they were children, and now it's all come to nothing." He took a second bun. "And Melly worked so hard on that dress of hers."

"It is a shame," Pearl agreed. "It's a lovely dress."

"Ferdi was telling us about it yesterday, how she had so many ribbons to sew on. You must've helped her a bit, Pearl."

"No, Melly wouldn't have anyone's help. She wanted to do the whole piece of work herself. She shut herself in her room and hardly came out except for meals. We barely saw her for two days." She sighed. "I hope that once this awful matter is settled, she might have the opportunity to wear it after all. We might have a wedding yet."

"After the way Evvy behaved to her?"

"Oh, I know he's been a great fool, casting Melly off, but she's a sweet, understanding girl. She'd forgive him. I'd daresay she would even forgive his seeing that Toby... especially now that the boy is dead."

"It's only a matter of time before the murderer is caught," said Reg. "If the Thain's 'special investigator' doesn't find him, the sherriffs will eventually."

"Who do you think did it?" Pippin asked.

Reg peered at him suspiciously. "You're not spying for Frodo, are you?"

"I was only wondering," Pippin answered with an air of innocence. "Isn't that just what everyone's wondering about? Somebody stabbed Toby."

"Yes, but it's nothing to do with us," Pearl insisted. "He was Evvy's friend and was found on Took property, but I'm sure whoever killed him must have been a traveling ruffian, or some farm-lad he had a quarrel with, or something of the sort."

"You don't think it's one of the family?"

"Pippin!" his sister exclaimed. "How can you think such a thing?"

"I do," Adelard said quietly. "It wouldn't surprise me at all to find that Archambalt's behind this."

The younger hobbits turned to stare at him. "Great-Uncle Archambalt?" Reginard repeated. "Why him? He didn't even know Toby Clover, did he?"

"No," Adelard admitted. "But he's never liked that sort of boy. He had only to hear the gossip about our Everard and Toby to start him off. You don't know what that old wretch is capable of."

"Really, Father Addy!" Pearl murmured reprovingly, and sounded so remarkably like their mother that Pippin had to grin.

"My apologies, dear," Adelard bowed his head, rebuked. "You're quite right--I've said more than I should. If you'll pardon me, I'll go and see how poor Evvy is doing. We mustn't leave young Ferdi to bear all our family responsibilities." And he rose and went into the house.

"I never heard Uncle Addy speak so harshly of anyone," Pippin said in astonishment. "What could make him think Old Uncle Archambalt's had a part in this?"

"I couldn't say," Reg replied. "Oh, I know Uncle Archambalt talks rather fierce sometimes, but he's harmless. He must be nearly a hundred! But you know Father's never liked him. He doesn't even like to be near the old gent if he can help it."

Pippin nodded. He remembered that his father and Uncle Adelard had quarreled with the elderly hobbit not long after the Old Thain had died; he'd only been a small boy at the time. Archambalt had gone away to live in a cottage on the far side of Tookbank after that, but he seemed to have been restored to the family since. "Is Great-Uncle Archambalt living here now? Not at the Thain's Hall, I mean. In Tuckborough."

"No," said Pearl. "He only came for the wedding."

"He came for our wedding too," Reginard added. "He's always taken an interest in us, Evvy and the girls and me, though I admit I don't understand why. I remember once, when I was very small, he came to visit and asked to see me. Mother brought me out from the nursery--I was only a little lad, not more than three or four years old. Ada was just a baby, and the others hadn't even been born yet. Old Uncle Archambalt looked me over, and seemed pleased. He told Mother what a fine, strong boy I was. And then he told me, 'You have me to thank, my lad. You wouldn't have been born at all if it weren't for me.'"

"What could he mean by that?" Pippin asked. "It sounds very odd." He wondered if he should he tell Frodo about it.

"I've no idea. Uncle Archambalt's a peculiar old hobbit, even for a Took!" said Reginard. "But I don't think what Father's said about him can be true..." He and Pearl exchanged a worried glance. "No," they agreed.

"It's this terrible situation, preying on Father Addy's mind," said Pearl. "All this worrying about Evvy has given him some strange ideas."

Reginard went indoors after his father. Pearl finished nursing; Pippin took the baby while his sister fastened her blouse. He bounced the baby on his knee, until Pearl warned him, "Careful, Pip! Don't shake him so much. He'll make a mess of your shirt if you do."

Pippin brought little Peveril to his shoulder and cradled him gently.

"That's right," Pearl told him. "Give his back a pat or two."

He did so, cautiously, terrified that the baby would spit up all over him.

"There," his sister said approvingly. "You really are very good with babies, Pip. Reg looks scared to death every time he takes Pevvy in his arms, he's so afraid he'll drop him on his head. I expect you'll be a wonderful father one day."

Reluctantly, Pippin had to admit that the idea had some appeal. He wasn't at all ready for it yet, but someday, it might be nice to have a little boy like this of his own. His little Faramir...

Pearl watched his face, and said, "I've heard that you won't meet Auntie Di's niece. Mother's very upset about it."

"Oh, I don't mind meeting the girl," Pippin replied. "When she's here, I'll come home to see her, and I'll be as nice as you please, but I won't marry her. I don't even know her!"

"Mother and Father were an arranged match, and they've done very well together. Uncle Addy and Aunt Evaline were matched too." She paused, then asked, "Is it because of Merry that you won't think of it?"

"Isn't that reason enough?" Pippin asked back, and braced himself for an argument. He was never as good at these battles as Merry was, and it was especially difficult for him to face up to his family's disapproval. Pearl was ten years his senior, and could be almost as intimidating as his mother and father. "I love him, Pearl. Nobody thinks of that. You don't understand."

But Pearl answered with surprising sympathy, "I know you love him, Pip. Mother doesn't see--she thinks it's all silly boys' games--but I've watched you two lads together since you were small. Perhaps it's because you never had an older brother of your own, but you've always looked up to Merry. You'd do whatever he asked. He had only had to say so."

"You think he's led me astray?"

"No, but I think you're old enough now to decide for yourself. You can't tag after Merry Brandybuck all your life."

"But I have decided for myself," Pippin insisted, "only nobody likes what I've decided! You ought to be pleased I won't marry, Pearl. Then little Pev can be my heir." He patted the baby, who slept against his shoulder with tiny, furry toes curled contentedly, and a milky bubble on the rosy-pink pursed lips. "He'll make a good Thain, if he takes after you. You're the sensible one. You're most like Mother--a Banks through and through, not like the rest of us flighty Tooks." Of the Thain's four children, Pearl was the only one who had never been scolded for naughtiness. The grown-ups used to say that she could always be counted on to do the respectable and responsible thing. "Reg is a bit Bankish too, but he has his flighty moments."

Pearl laughed, and Pippin hoped he'd distracted her. Perhaps they wouldn't have to go on with this serious conversation about his private life after all.

"You'd be a better Thain than me," he said. "It should go to you."

If Pearl thought so too--and Pippin knew she did--she had the grace not to say so. "A daughter can't be Thain," she answered. "It has to be a son. As much as I'd like my son to be Thain after you, Pip, you have a duty to the family to produce your own heir. No one's suggesting that you have to marry tomorrow, or even next year--only, will you think about it, for Mother's and Father's sake?"

The conversation ended merciful at this point, when Ferdi came out onto the terrace. At Pearl's invitation, he had a sandwich or two, but did not sit down with them. "I'd better go home," he explained. "I've missed lunch, and Mother and Father must be wondering what's happened to me. How's Frodo's investigation coming along, Pip? Find anything yet?"

"I wouldn't know," Pippin responded. He felt his sister's eyes upon him.

"When you see him, tell him I wish him the best of luck. The sooner this murder is solved, the better for all of us!" Ferdi went away, following a footpath on the hillside to his own home, a smial on the other side of the Thain's Hall.

After he had gone, Pearl turned to Pippin. "You are helping Frodo, aren't you?"

Pippin didn't answer immediately--he could never get a lie past his eldest sister--but his embarrassed silence was enough for Pearl to divine the truth.

"I wondered at some of the questions you were asking," she said. "You wanted to find out what we knew. Did he send you here to ask us?"

Caught, Pippin nodded abashedly. "Frodo didn't think you'd talk to him," he confessed. "Well, not you, but Reg. You heard how he was speaking of Frodo's visit this morning."

"Yes. I don't know what Frodo said to him--Reg won't tell me--but I think he's afraid that Frodo suspects him. Will you tell me why? Is it because Reg didn't approve of Evvy's friendship with that boy? But that's nonsense! None of us did."

"Didn't you?"

"I did my best not to take notice of it," Pearl replied virtuously. "Mother says there are some things a lady doesn't acknowledge. But I heard Reg and Father and Uncle Addy speak of it. They were quite upset, but that's hardly a reason to kill the boy!" She regarded her brother anxiously. "Does Frodo suspect Reg? For goodness sake, why?"

"Reg was there with Evvy when we found Toby," Pippin explained. "He told Frodo that he sat up here and watched for Evvy to leave the garden, and then followed him. We- ah- wondered if he could have gone out to the meadow earlier."

"Is that all?" Pearl looked relieved. "As a matter of fact, Reg did sit here on the terrace while you were all down in the garden. I sat here with him, until I took the baby off to bed."

"When did you go?" Pippin asked her eagerly. "Was it long before sunset?"

"No, it was just at dusk." She smiled. "Reg couldn't have gone out earlier. He can't be suspected. Mind you tell Frodo that."

He left Pearl not long afterwards and returned down the slope of the hill; near the bottom, he passed the ajar door to Adelard's study, which opened onto the garden. The door swung open a little wider.

"Ah, Pip lad." Adelard was standing just inside, waiting for him. "Can you come in for a moment, please?"

Pippin went in. His uncle's study was smaller and less impressive than his father's, and Pippin had always found it more pleasant. He'd spent many happy hours of his boyhood here with Adelard when he was hiding from his own parents. No one had called him into this room for a scolding! There was the old writing-desk by the window, and the illustrated books he remembered on the shelves. The mantelpiece was crowded with wooden carvings, some familiar, some new. Like many hobbits, Adelard was a skilled craftsman. Pippin and his sisters had received many presents over the years of cleverly designed toys and elaborate little puzzle boxes that came apart to reveal hidden compartments; Pippin still had several of them in his bedroom. Adelard's latest, unfinished piece of handiwork and a small bone-handled knife sat on a table by the fire, next to his favorite chair; wood shavings were scattered on the hearth.

"What is it, Uncle Addy?" Pippin asked.

"You are investigating this murder with Frodo, aren't you?"

Pippin was dismayed. He had deceived no one with his attempts at subterfuge. "Well, yes..." he gave up and admitted.

Adelard sighed. "You must do what you have to, but I've been thinking that it might be best to leave this matter alone. Bury poor Toby, and let him rest. Looking into his death is only going to bring up other things that are better forgotten, and it'll be worse for us all in the end. It's turning ugly already, with Evvy's and Melilot's happiness ruined, and the family starting to wonder if that boy wasn't murdered by one of us. Oh, they'll say they wouldn't dream of thinking it, but think of it they will."

"You said you thought it was Great-Uncle Archambalt," said Pippin. Since subtlety hadn't worked, he might as well be direct. "Why?"

His uncle seemed startled, and somewhat flustered, by the abrupt question. "I said too much earlier, Pip, things I shouldn't have. It was inexcusable of me to make an accusation like that, without any proof. It was only a silly idea of mine. I'd better have kept my mouth shut."

Pippin didn't understand. Even if there was no proof, Uncle Adelard must have some reason for suspecting Archambalt. Why not say what it was? It wasn't to try to shield the old hobbit, not when Adelard disliked him so much.

"I hope you won't take too much account of it," said Adelard, "and don't go carrying tales. You won't, will you?

Even if he didn't understand, Pippin was fond enough of his uncle to say, "I won't. Unless it turns out to be important, I won't."

"It's not important. Thank you. You're a good lad." Adelard gave him an approving pat on the shoulder. "I always said so."

"Even when Father didn't," Pippin agreed.

Adelard laughed. "I know he and your mother have been giving you a difficult time since you've come home, Pip, but I have to tell you that I'm proud of the way you've stood up for yourself against their wishes. Don't give in, not if it isn't what you want. Your father will be more understanding than you think he'll be."

This unexpected encouragement was more surprising than anything else Pippin had heard from his uncle that day, and more baffling.
Chapter 14 by Kathryn Ramage
The three hobbits met in Frodo's and Merry's room later that afternoon to talk about what they'd learned.

"Everyone's been accounted for, except Melly," Frodo said glumly.

"Unless somebody's lying," said Merry. "That's possible. Uncles Adelard and Paladin are great friends. If Uncle Paladin thought Adelard had killed Toby, he'd say they were both in Adelard's study when he hadn't been there--or knew that Adelard wasn't. And Pearl would lie to say she was with Reg if it saved him."

"I hate this kind of talk," said Pippin. "I don't like you calling them liars, doubting them. Pearl's never told a lie in her life! I don't think she would, even for Reg."

"I'm sorry, Pip, but it's the way we have to look at it if we're to conduct this investigation properly--isn't that right, Frodo?" Merry answered. "You told us what Sam said the first time you did this: It's no good to say that somebody or other can't have committed a murder. We have to ask, 'What if they did?' We have to consider everyone. That doesn't mean we believe it's true."

"It's what Sam would say this time too," Frodo agreed.

"It'd be easy for him to say it," Pippin retorted. "He's never had to suspect his own family!"

"Not suspecting," said Merry, "only considering."

Frodo added, "You know your father believes one of the Tooks is involved."

"Just because Father believes it doesn't mean it's so," Pippin responded defensively. "He might be wrong. A Thain can be wrong, you know. Besides, if a Took's killed Toby, then it must've been to shut him up, right? They didn't want him to cause a scandal at the wedding. But if that's what they meant to do, it didn't work! Toby's dead body makes a much worse scandal than anything he might've said about Evvy if he was still alive. Nobody who wanted to kill Toby to keep him from making a scandal would've done it the way they did."

"Maybe they didn't think he'd be found right away," said Merry.

"No," Frodo said, "Pip's right. Whoever went to the grove that evening knew they would find Toby there, and must have known why. It was the place where Everard and Toby always met. That was no secret--half the family knew of it. Whoever killed Toby must have realized that Everard would soon come along and find his body. And once Everard did find him, everything after that would happen just as it has. The sherriffs would be summoned. Questions would be asked. The truth would have to come out. There was no way to avoid a scandal."

"They might not have intended murder," Merry suggested. "I've said so before, and I like that idea much better than one of the Tooks going there deliberately to kill him. Whoever it was only meant to send Toby away before Everard arrived. I think that's much more likely."

"But if that's so, why bring a knife?" asked Frodo.

"To threaten him, perhaps. Or they might've simply had it with them. Didn't you that say that the sherriffs were looking for a small, sharp pocket-knife--the sort anybody might keep about them for cutting fruit or whittling a bit of wood?"

Pippin, who had been glancing from one to the other, following their discussion, suddenly went very pale. Frodo and Merry did not notice.

"After all, every one of us had a pocket-knife with us yesterday when we were out cutting flowers and trimming the stems for the garlands," Merry continued. "There were a half-dozen of them about the garden last night. It's a good thing Evvy left his behind by the water-tubs. It'd be much worse for him if he'd still had it with him when he found Toby!"

"There might be something in what you say," Frodo said thoughtfully. "Pocket-knives don't draw much attention. Anyone might carry one. Toby was stabbed from the front, not behind. Whoever wielded the knife stood directly before him. Did he see it? If he was being threatened by it, certainly. Did he believe they wouldn't use it? And there's one other thing that's been puzzling me: Why didn't Toby scream? Sherriff Thornbreak says there were signs of a struggle in the grove. He must have fought. If he'd cried out for help, we would have heard him, just as we heard Everard. But he didn't. Why not?"

"He didn't realize that he was in danger for his life?" Merry guessed. "He wasn't truly afraid of the person he was fighting, until it was too late? But who could that be?"

"A friend," said Frodo. "Someone he trusted, or someone he didn't believe would do him harm. Merry, we really have to find out if everyone was where they say they were. Can you and Pip find out if anyone saw Pearl with Reg on the terrace? We were sitting with our backs to the hill, but the girls or Ferdi might have noticed them. I'll talk to Uncle Paladin. If I press him about Uncle Adelard, he might admit that that's who he's worried about-"

Pippin let out a sharp yelp.

Merry turned to him. "What's the matter with you, Pip?"

"I told you, I don't like this! It's my family you're talking about!" He was growing more upset by the moment. Merry sat down beside him and put an arm around him; Pippin leaned on him.

"Hush, Pip. Hush. We won't go on about it." He kissed Pippin's temple, stroked his hair, rocked him, then glanced up at Frodo over the other boy's head. "Will you leave us alone for awhile?" he requested. "We've had enough talk of murder for today."

Frodo nodded, and went out.
Chapter 15 by Kathryn Ramage
When he left Merry and Pippin, Frodo went into the garden. It was dusk--at this time yesterday, they had found Toby murdered--and the garden was quiet, seemingly abandoned, and dark. The lanterns that had been hung up for the celebration tonight remained unlit. Frodo made his way through the shrubbery and banks of flowers toward the lawn at the center; he thought that no one was there, until he heard the soft sound of sobbing, and quickly traced it to the pavilion.

Melilot sat on the edge of the pavilion, weeping under the garlanded canopy.


She lifted her face from her handkerchief and peered at the shadowed figure standing on the lawn before her. "Frodo?"

"Are you all right?"

"I'm fine... as well as can be expected. I only had to get away. I had to come outdoors and be by myself for awhile. Everyone means well, but I can't hear one more person tell me how lucky I am to be free of Evvy. I don't feel lucky! I'm so sorry about the flowers," she added nonsensically. "You worked so hard on them, and now they'll all have to come down before they wilt and turn brown."

Frodo ventured a few steps closer. "Do you want me to go away?"

"No," Melly answered after a moment. "Since you're here, you might as well stay and talk." She patted the wooden platform beside her to invite him to sit down. "Are you still investigating?"

"Yes," he said, and sat beside her.

"You needn't go on on my account. You've done what I asked you to. I'm glad that Evvy won't be arrested, even if..." She took a deep breath, and said deliberately, "Even if we won't be married after all. I've loved Evvy since I was six years old, Frodo. Did you know that? I never wanted anyone else. I wish he'd felt the same about me. It would have saved us this trouble. It hurts to realize that I wasn't the only one for him."

"I think," Frodo told her, "that if Evvy doesn't have the decency to apologize for the way he's treated you, and beg you to have him back, he's a greater fool than I already believe he is."

Melilot laughed bitterly. "Oh, Evvy's a great fool! I don't know if I'd have him back now if he asked me. But he won't. It's hopeless, after the things he said this morning."

"Did you know, before that, about Everard and this boy, Toby?"

"No," she answered. "I wouldn't have wanted him to marry me if I'd thought there was someone else. I wouldn't have kept him to his promise. It wouldn't have been much of a promise, would it, if he was still meeting with his boy-friend in secret?"

"But Toby is gone now." In spite of himself, Frodo remembered that there was no proof that Melly had been in her room all afternoon as she was supposed to be. Could she have gone out without being seen? He knew that she had more than enough reason for wanting to be rid of Toby: He was her rival. He had no intention of letting her be happy with her prospective husband, and had even threatened to spoil their wedding. Could she..?

It was too dark for Melilot to see the expression on his face, but he must have given his thoughts away, for she drew away from him and said sharply, "Don't you dare think it, Frodo Baggins! It was bad enough you suspected me of committing murder once--I won't bear it again. Must I be careful of every word I say to you? Are you offering a cousin's sympathy, or this is an interrogation?"

"I'm sorry," Frodo said immediately, deeply ashamed of himself. "It was meant to be one, but turned into the other. I didn't plan it so--please, Melly, you must believe that. The worst part of these investigations is that you have to consider everyone as a possible suspect, even the people dearest to you. And you do suspect them, like it or not. I am sorry."

Melilot accepted this. Calmer now, she said, "No, I didn't know. I saw Toby about from time to time. Evvy introduced us when I first came here, but he hardly ever spoke to me. I wondered if he might be jealous that Evvy was getting married and wouldn't have as much time for him, but I never thought- I mean, even if it occurred to me that he and Evvy were more than friends, I would have assumed that it was over and done with as far as Evvy was concerned. Most boys grow out of it once they're of an age to marry, don't they? They don't go on playing around."

"You know about that?" Frodo asked.

Melilot gave a small laugh. "I'm not so innocent, Frodo! Do you imagine any girl who's grown up in the same house as Merry Brandybuck can be ignorant of how boys play? Some girls do too. Not me, but if you knew the sort of things Celie got up to before she married-"

"I remember hearing some gossip about her and Berilac, when I was looking into his death."

Melly nodded. "Yes, that, and there were other boys from Bucklebury she used to slip out at night to see. She was getting to be almost as much of a scandal as Merry."

"Little Celie?" Frodo exclaimed.

"That's why the aunties and Mother got together and decided it was best for her to be married off to a suitable boy as soon as possible, before there was talk. My brother Merimas was the most suitable boy they could find." She crumpled her handkerchief between her hands as she confessed, "When I came here in the spring, I thought that Evvy and I might... well, that we might go on a little ahead of the wedding night. That's not unheard-of, when you're about to be married," she explained quickly. "It's more common among the country folk than we gentlehobbits, but I thought that as long as we were both living in his father's house, officially betrothed, and had only a few weeks 'til the wedding, we mightn't wait. I let Evvy understand that I was willing, if he wanted to." She laughed again, more hoarsely this time. "But Evvy didn't want to. He said we ought to wait. I thought he was considering my reputation or my maidenly virtue, or some such nonsense. I know better now."

Frodo felt uncomfortable listening to these extremely personal confidences, but as he grew older, he was began to realize that girls--even the nice, well-behaved ones--had these same feelings. If he could talk with Merry about love, why shouldn't he be able to speak with Melly as well? They had grown up in the same house together, in the same nursery; like Merry, she was only a few years younger than himself, and he had the same brotherly affection for her. Surely they could be friends in the same way?

"I knew how boys played, but I thought Evvy might be different. Some boys don't. You never did, not even with Merry, did you?"

Frodo shook his head. "No. Merry's too much like a brother to me. Besides, I never wanted to, not with anyone... at least, I didn't 'til I fell in love."

Melilot turned to him. "Are you in love, Frodo?" she asked.

"Yes," he admitted softly, and wondered if she knew his secret. Had she guessed when he visited Brandy Hall with Sam last spring? Perhaps she had heard the gossip, or Aunt Esme had told her.

His cousin was quiet for a long while; he could see the glint of her eyes in the darkness as she regarded him. At last, she said, "You're a very dear boy, Frodo. I never realized..." And then she kissed him.

No girl had ever kissed him before; Frodo was too startled at first to do anything, even kiss back. His only thought was that her lips were softer than Sam's and tasted sweet, and if she also smelled of flowers... well, they were sitting in the middle of a garden.

After pressing her lips to his for a few seconds, Melilot stopped suddenly and drew back. "Oh, I-" she said. "I'm sorry. I-" and she burst into tears.

What else could he do, but put his arms around her and hold her while she sobbed against his shoulder?
Chapter 16 by Kathryn Ramage
When Frodo returned to his room, the window was open and Merry was in alone, reclining on the bed and smoking his pipe. "Did Pip go?" Frodo asked.

"He's having a nap before dinner," answered Merry. "It's been a long, miserable day for all of us."

"Did he tell you what was upsetting him?"

"No," Merry said shortly, "Not really. Asking him only made it worse. Pip can be obnoxious and thoughtless, but for all that, he's as sensitive as you are when it strikes him. It must have struck him all of a sudden when we were talking about which of his family might be a murderer. It wouldn't surprise me if he had a bad turn over this before you do."

"We've all had to face suspecting our dearest relatives," Frodo said. He had spent more than one bad night over that himself. "None of us likes it."

"Yes, but it's harder for Pip this time. He's closer to everybody involved, and it isn't a game anymore. I think he's afraid." He looked up at Frodo. "Do you suppose he's learned something about one of them--about somebody he cares for, Pearl, maybe, or Uncle Addy--and he doesn't want to tell us? You'd think he'd at least tell me."

Frodo had to smile at this; he'd said something very like it once. "You've kept secrets yourself, Merry, when it might've gotten you hanged," he reminded his cousin.

"Yes, but that was different. I was protecting Melly!" Merry looked over him. "Where've you been, Frodo?"

"In the garden, talking to Melly as a matter of fact. It's been a miserable day for her too." He saw his cousin's eyes flicker to the tear-dampened patch on his shirt. "I didn't have a handkerchief with me," he explained. "I gave mine to Evvy earlier today. When she started crying, I didn't know what to do." Frodo dropped from his perch in the windowsill to sit down on the cushioned seat immediately beneath. "Merry," he ventured, "have you ever been kissed by a girl?"

"Once or twice..." Merry, who had been leaning back propped on one elbow, sat upright. "Melly kissed you?"

Frodo nodded.

"I suppose it was only a matter of time before some girl threw herself at you," Merry said in a contemplative tone. "You're a nice-looking boy, sweet, sympathetic. But I'm surprised it should be Melly. Before or after the crying?"

"Before. Just before."

"Your intentions had better be honorable, Frodo. That girl is like a sister to me."

"Don't tease, Merry. You know I'm in love with someone else, and so is she."

"To a boy who's been beastly to her. Evvy's behaved like a swine, to her and to Toby too. Aunt Melisaunte's right. He couldn't be honest with either of them, and serve him right if Melly has nothing more to do with him. She might very well do better with you. Why don't you marry her, Frodo?"

Frodo laughed nervously. "You are joking, Merry! I thought you said it wasn't fair for people like you and me, feeling the way we do about girls, to marry anybody?"

"It isn't, not if you lie about it as Evvy did. But if you tell a girl the truth and she knows before she agrees to anything, that'd be all right. Like Rosie and Sam. Rosie's going into it with her eyes open about you and Sam, isn't she? No nasty surprises about where her husband will be spending half his nights?"

"She knows, but she's only agreed to put up with it because she wants Sam and can't get him any other way. Melly wouldn't have me under those conditions, not after Everard. It's a ridiculous idea."

Merry's mouth dropped open, and then he laughed in amazement. "Frodo, are you actually thinking about it?"

"Shut up, Merry." Frodo's face was very red as he turned to climb back out the window.

He knew that Merry was only teasing him about marrying Melly, but the fact was that he was seriously considering it.

When he reached the bottom of the hill, he walked through the shrubbery to the edge of the central lawn. From there, he could see that the pavilion was unoccupied. Melilot had gone. Frodo sank down onto the grass with a sigh and, for the first time in his life, he thought about a girl.

He had agreed to take up this investigation primarily to help Melly. To have her wedding postponed under such scandalous circumstances must have been difficult enough for the poor girl--but then to add the pain and humiliation of being cast off by Everard in the sight of half the family! Frodo couldn't help feeling great compassion and a certain protectiveness for her. He still wanted to help. When he'd sat beside her in the pavilion tonight, he'd only meant to offer whatever comfort he could, but that kiss had thrown him into confusion.

He wasn't in love with her--he'd never been able to love any girl in that way--but he was fonder of Melly than any of his other girl-cousins. It would be easier if he could offer her the haven of his home, as he had welcomed Merry and Pippin during their troubles; they might live together comfortably at Bag End on brother-and-sister terms, but he knew that the rest of the Shire wouldn't see it in that light. The gossip would be worse than anything that was whispered about him and Sam. He couldn't subject Melilot to another scandal after this and the awful events of this past spring at Brandy Hall that had cost her a sister.

He'd never considered marriage, but most of his relatives would say that he was of an age to start thinking of it, thirty-six next week. If he was to marry, why not a cousin he liked very much and got along with? He agreed with Merry that it was fundamentally dishonest to marry when you couldn't give a wife everything in the way of love, or love-making, that she had a right to expect. But what if the truth was laid out plainly beforehand, and a marriage agreed upon for other reasons?

He was planning to create a household for three. Why not make it four?

What would Melilot say if he told her about Sam? After Everard, she might not understand, but at least he wouldn't be deceiving her about his intentions. And how would Sam respond when Frodo told him? He knew how jealous Sam could be, but if he didn't object to Sam's marriage to Rosie, then surely Sam could have no reasonable objection to his marrying too? Oh, Sam would make a fuss at first, but Frodo thought he would be able to bring him around. The whole matter would require some delicate explanations, and some extremely careful arrangements.

If he hesitated, it was for the same reason he couldn't ask Sam to spend his life taking care of him: He was ill, and was never going to be well again. There was an empty little ache that never went away, never forgotten even on his best days, a tiny, raw, sore spot at the core of his being like a wound that would not heal. There was nothing he could do about it. He might have many years before the inevitable end... but the end was inevitable.

But perhaps that might be an advantage in this case? He couldn't ask a girl he was fond of to bind herself to him in a loveless marriage for the rest of her life, but for five years, or ten? For that time, he could give her a respectable retreat from this scandal, and let her recover from Everard's treatment of her. She would very likely be left a wealthy widow with every prospect in the world, free to find another husband if she wanted one, while she was still young. Would Melly be willing to accept such an unusual offer?


He was startled at hearing the voice of the very person he was thinking of suddenly nearby.

"Am I interrupting?" Melilot asked as she stepped closer. "You looked lost in thought."

"No, it's quite all right. What is it, Melly?"

"I've been looking all over for you. I was afraid you'd gone in, and I wanted to talk to you before dinner. I thought we ought to, after what happened earlier."

Frodo blushed, and was glad it was too dark for Melilot to see him. "I've been-ah- thinking about that too. I was hoping to speak to you, Melly. There are a few things you ought to know about me-"

"Wait, Frodo, please." Melilot knelt at his side and laid a hand on his arm. "May I go first? I wanted to say that I'm sorry. I shouldn't have flung myself at you. I misunderstood. The way you were speaking, the things you said, I thought you meant-" she laughed. "I got it completely wrong. The instant I kissed you, I knew that it was a mistake. I wasn't the one you were thinking of. You've been so kind, but that's all it is, isn't it? Kindness."

"You are very dear to me, Melly," he told her.

"I'm glad." She took his hand. "I made such a fool of myself tonight. I didn't want things to become awkward between us. You're one of my favorite cousins." She gave him a quick peck on the cheek, then asked, "What were you going to tell me, Frodo?"

"Oh, nothing. It wasn't important." He couldn't do it, not after what she'd just said. He hadn't seen before how she'd interpreted his attempts to console her, mistaken his words of sympathy for a declaration of love. Although she had since realized her mistake, she wouldn't understand an offer of marriage from him now; even if he were completely honest, she might always be wanting more from him, that kind of love he couldn't give. It wouldn't be fair.

They both heard Melisaunte's voice from within the Thain's Hall, calling her daughter's name.

"Mother must be worried frantic," said Melly. "I've been missing for hours. I'd better go and tell her I'm fine, and make myself presentable before dinner. I must look a fright." And she rose and went in.

Frodo didn't know whether to be disappointed or relieved. He did not follow Melilot into the house immediately, but wandered up the slope, past his window, until he came to the top of the hill. From there, he could see down across the lawn, trees, and hedges in the front of the Hall, to the stable on the far side of the road. Someone was within; he could see the flicker of a lantern moving in the darkness. A late guest? Perhaps Uncle Saradoc had come to join his family after all.

The late arrival emerged from the stable and headed toward the Thain's Hall. When he recognized the familiar silhouette, Frodo's heart leapt and began to beat wildly. He flew down the front of the hill and raced to greet the visitor at the gate.

"Sam! I'm so glad you've come!" Frodo threw his arms around his startled lover, who had not been expecting to encounter him so soon. He gave Sam a kiss, then said, "But you shouldn't have."

"I couldn't sit at Bag End once I heard about this mess," Sam told him. "The minute Robin Smallburrows told me there was a murder at Tuckborough, I knew you'd be in the middle of it. I thought you might need me."

"Oh, I do. But didn't Rosie mind your coming?"

"She saw why I had to come, and didn't say no to it."

Frodo beamed at him and, arm in arm, they walked toward the front door of the Thain's Hall.
Chapter 17 by Kathryn Ramage
"Of course, any friend of Frodo's is welcome in our house," said Eglantine doubtfully once Frodo had introduced Sam to the party assembled for dinner, "but I don't know where we'll find room for another guest. There's not a bed to spare, even in the servants' quarters. Perhaps the grooms' loft at the stable..."

"Don't be ridiculous," said Esmeralda. "We must have him here. What about Uncle Archambalt's room? I thought he'd gone."

"He did," Eglantine answered, "but the room isn't fit for anyone to sleep in. The maids have been scrubbing the floor all day. Uncle Archambalt..." she paused delicately and looked disgusted, "he chews his pipeweed rather than smoke it, and spits at the fire. His aim isn't always accurate."

"Sam doesn't have to sleep there. He can share with me," Pippin offered. "I've plenty of room."

Esmeralda smiled. "There, that's settled then."

Even though he had arrived in time for dinner, Sam hadn't expected to be asked to sit at the Thain's table among the very best people in Shire society. When he'd visited Brandy Hall in the spring, he had acted as Frodo's servant and had spent most of his time with the Hall staff; if the Brandybucks had been aware of his presence in their household, it was as 'that boy who looks after Frodo.' Now, he was seen as a well-regarded assistant to Frodo in all his investigations, who had come from Hobbiton specially to be of help in solving this murder. They had no idea what he could do, but he was of great interest to everyone at the table, and every one of them, even the Thain, had questions about his work with Frodo. Sam, hastily washed and brushed and wearing a borrowed broadcloth jacket that was too tight at the shoulders, was gruffly shy as he answered, and Frodo thought he'd never been more adorable.

He was giddy with happiness, so delighted was he that Sam was here. Each time he spoke Sam's praises, or checked an impulse to lay his hand on Sam's arm, he knew that he was behaving foolishly, obviously so for anyone who had the eyes to see it. If he didn't take control of himself, he would giggle like Ada! Merry and Pippin looked amused, and whenever Frodo caught Esmeralda's eye, she smiled at him with more gentle understanding.

Melilot watched him over the dinner too with increasing interest. When the party left the dinner table, some for the drawing room, some for their beds, she took Frodo by the arm to draw him aside and whispered: "You told me you were in love, Frodo, but you never said with whom. I could see it in your eyes tonight, the way you looked at him." She glanced up toward the far end of the hallway, where Sam was accompanying Pippin up the sharply slanted tunnel to his room; Sam had noticed that the two had stepped aside, and was looking back at them curiously. "I never guessed. You're not in the least like Merry."

"I meant to tell you earlier this evening," Frodo tried to explain. "I thought it was best, after the way Evvy's behaved, for you to have the truth. I didn't want to lie to you."

"I see. Thank you." She studied his face thoughtfully before she asked, "That was one of the 'few things I ought to know' about you. What else were you going to say, Frodo? I stopped you before, but I'd like to hear it now if you still want to tell me."

Why not tell her? It would be easier now that he knew she wasn't going to accept. "You know that I'm not well," he said. "I haven't been since I came home."

She nodded solemnly. "Something horrible happened to you out in the Big Folks' world. Merry and Pippin told us their tales when they were in Buckland. They made it sound so marvelous and exciting, but it wasn't all fun, not for you. I can see that you were injured-" She glanced quickly down at his hand with the missing finger. "And I know you have nightmares. That night when you were last at Brandy Hall, you woke everyone with your screaming." Then she asked, as if dreading the answer, "Are you very ill?"

"I'm afraid so. It is very bad, and I think it will get worse before the end."

Tears welled in Melilot's eyes. "But, Frodo, why did you want me to know this? I mean, why especially tonight?"

"Oh, it was an idea I had," he admitted shyly. "A ridiculous idea. I thought that if Evvy was foolish enough not to marry you, and you didn't want to go home to Buckland, I could give you someplace to go to, another home. Mine. It wouldn't be what you were hoping to have with Evvy, but it's what I could offer."

"What about your friend? Wouldn't he mind?"

"He might, but he's getting married himself."

Her eyes were still glistening as she took his uninjured hand and squeezed it. Her voice was a little choked with emotion as she said, "I got a lot of things wrong tonight, Frodo, but I wasn't completely wrong: You are sweet." She kissed him for the third time that night. "I think you're the most wonderful, dearest boy I know."

Later that night, Frodo was in his room, pulling on his nightshirt in preparation for bed. Merry, who had not undressed yet, said, "You've been so good about leaving Pip and me when we wanted to be alone. We won't drive you out tonight. I was thinking of staying with Pippin in any case, but I'll be happier knowing I haven't left you alone." He grinned. "You wait here. I'll go." And he went out the window.

Frodo stood in the middle of the room, trembling in anticipation. A few minutes later, there was a tap on the window, and Sam came in. He did what he'd been aching to do since Sam had arrived--flung himself at his beloved and kissed him over and over, covering Sam's face with a flurry of swift, soft pecks. Sam tried to land some kisses of his own in return.

"I missed you terribly," Frodo murmured. "You've no idea how much."

"Oh, yes, I do!" Sam wrapped both arms around his waist to pick him up; Frodo laughed out loud giddily, joyfully, as his feet left the floor. He took Sam's head between both hands to deliver another more slow and passionate, deep kiss. This was all he wanted. How could he ever think of anybody else?

While they were kissing, he let one of his hands fall to Sam's chest to fumble at his shirt buttons. When he unfastened the top one, he bent his head to Sam's exposed collar to nuzzle, finding that ticklish spot in the hollow of his throat.

Sam let go of him with an astonished shout, then stood horrified as Frodo dropped, sprawling, onto the bed. "What if somebody hears us?" he whispered. "Who's in the next room?"

"It's only some of my cousins," Frodo assured him as he struggled to get out of his nightshirt. "If they hear anything, they'll think it's Merry and Pippin, unless they make more noise on the other side. Just in case..." he reached up to grab Sam by one brace-strap and pull him down, "we'd better be quiet."
Chapter 18 by Kathryn Ramage
At an early hour the next morning, Sam rose to get dressed and be out before daylight, but Frodo detained him awhile longer. Frodo lay in bed, flat on his back; Sam leaned over him, braced with his hands on either side of Frodo's chest.

"To think," Frodo said, "I've been away from you for three whole days! I can't remember the last time we were parted for so long."

"You'll have to get used to it. We won't have many nights like this after I'm married." Sam leaned down to kiss him, then said solemnly, "I won't do it if you don't want me to, Frodo. Me 'n' Rosie haven't settled matters yet, only talked about how it'd be if we married, sorting out the household business, you might say. That's all."

"Is that all, Sam?" Frodo recalled what Melilot had said about country folk getting on ahead of the wedding night. "You and she, you haven't...?"

"No!" Sam was shocked at the delicate question. "What d'you think? Rosie's a nice girl!"

"I don't doubt it. All the same, I wouldn't mind, you know, if you did."

"Well, we haven't--and we won't!" Sam insisted. "Not 'til we're properly married. That's only decent."

Frodo wondered if it was Rosie's sense of decency that had kept the two chaste, or Sam's. He was not unaware of the absurdity of Sam making such a firm declaration after having spent the night making love to him, and--without vanity--he understood that this was why Rosie had come to him to ask that he give Sam up. She was admitting defeat, and asking for mercy. If there was a rivalry between them for Sam, then he had already won. He had Sam as his lover, and that was something that a respectable girl like Rosie couldn't do without a firm promise of marriage unless she wanted to ruin her reputation.

"But you don't think it indecent to bed with me," he said, teasing.

"That's different! I'd've married you, Frodo, if it was allowed. I can tell Rosie I've changed my mind."

"She'll hate you if you do."

"She will," Sam agreed, "and she'd be right to. But I haven't made any promises that bind me to her. I was promised to you long afore she came into it. I won't marry her if you say you don't want me to."

"But I do want you to," Frodo said. "You have my blessings."

"Blessings!" snorted Sam. "Blessings, you call it? You pushed as hard as you could to get me and Rosie together. I'd almost think you were trying to get rid of me."

"Oh, Sam, no!" Frodo tried to sit up, but Sam was still leaning over him and the best he could manage was propping himself up on one elbow, and reaching up to wind his other arm around Sam's neck. Brow to brow with Sam, he gazed solemnly into his eyes. "Please don't think that. I only want you to be happy. Rosie loves you, and you care for her. Don't deny it, Sam. I can see it's so. You were miserable when you broke off with her."

"I was. But I had to choose between her and you."

"No, you didn't. You can have both--don't you see? You can live at Bag End and stay with me, and marry Rosie too." At a moment like this, with Sam in his embrace, the last thing Frodo wanted was to let go. He wanted to be selfish. He didn't want to think about either of them marrying anybody else, but to cling to Sam as hard as he could and not share his lover with anyone... but he knew what had to be done. "We'll have to adjust ourselves to having three in the household rather than the usual two, but we'll be happier for it in the end. And there will be children in the house. That's something you could never have with me, and I can't deprive you of that."

"I don't mind about children," Sam lied.

"Yes, you do," Frodo rejoined. "It's only natural. Just what every hobbit wants, and you're just the sort of hobbit who ought to have a dozen of them. You'll be a marvelous father and, you know, Bag End will belong to you and your children one day."

"Not for years and years!" Sam insisted, and Frodo could see that he didn't like the turn this conversation had taken. They still had not discussed the matter openly--Sam wouldn't hear a word of it, didn't want to think of it--but he was beginning to acknowledge the truth.

Sam sat back and regarded him with pained eyes. "Is that why you're pushing so hard for me 'n' Rosie?" he asked.

"I don't want you to be alone, Sam."

"But you've been so happy this summer. You've rested, and you're getting better every day. I can see it."

"Yes, I am feeling much better," Frodo admitted, "and if we're lucky, it will be years and years... but it will happen, Sam-"


"I don't want you to be alone, even for a day." Frodo sat up and laid a hand on Sam's arm. "It would be nice if you had your family about you instead of an empty house. And who's to say that Rosie Cotton's willing to wait that long for you? She might get tired of waiting, and decide to marry someone else."

Sam didn't answer this, but got up. "It's getting light out," he observed. "I ought to be getting back to Mr. Pippin's room--I can't be seen slipping out of your door first thing in the morning!" He pulled on his trousers and shirt, left in a pile on the floor the night before, and returned to the bed. "See you at breakfast?"

"Just as soon as I've washed and dressed." Frodo smiled. "That is, if I can bear to be away from you for so long." He gave Sam a parting kiss, and let out a small squeak of surprise when Sam picked him up off the bed and hugged the breath out of him.

"We'll meet here again afterwards," he said once he had caught his breath, when Sam was at the window. "We'll start our work. I've so much to tell you."
Chapter 19 by Kathryn Ramage
After breakfast, the four hobbits gathered to tell Sam all that they had learned since the beginning of the investigation.

"Seems like you've done all you can with the Tooks," Sam said when they'd finished. "But I couldn't've helped much with them. What about the Clovers? Have you spoken with any o' the dead lad's family, or asked the other folk hereabouts that knew him?"

"Not yet," said Frodo. "Since I was engaged by Uncle Paladin to look into this murder for the sake of the family, we've been concentrating our efforts here and let the sherriffs do their own work in Tookbank."

"Maybe I can do something for you there," Sam offered. "I can get these Clovers to talk to me."

"Do you know the Clovers, Sam?" asked Pippin, surprised. Sam had never been to Tookbank, but he seemed to be acquainted with half the country-folk for fifty miles around Hobbiton.

"Never met 'em," said Sam, "but there must be things them and the folk in Tookbank wouldn't tell the sherriffs nor, you'll pardon me saying, one o' the Tooks now their boy's been killed and Mr. Everard suspected. But I'm nothing to the Tooks, so far as they know."

"You can't just go 'round to the butcher's shop and start asking questions," said Merry.

"I didn't meant to." Sam furrowed his brow as he pondered the problem of how to approach the dead boy's family. "There're pubs in Tookbank, aren't there?" he asked after some thought. "Would this Mr. Clover go to one?"

"Not the father, perhaps, but other son, yes!" Frodo exclaimed, his expression brightening. "Ferdi told me that he and Everard first met Toby and his brother in a pub."

"Which one, d'you know?"

"No, but I can ask Ferdi. He'll remember."

"It's probably Old Bullroarer's Head," said Pippin. "That's the one we always used to go to."

Once Frodo confirmed this with Ferdi, Sam set out by himself in the direction of Tookbank.

Some hours later, a message came back from Tookbank via a small boy, who knocked timidly on the front door of the Thain's Hall and asked to see "Mr. Baggins, who's staying here." When Frodo came to the door, the boy delivered the note he'd been sent with, and scampered off.

"It must be from Sam," Frodo said to Pippin, who had come with him, as he unfolded the small square of paper. He read aloud: "'Come to the B's Head tavern, soon as you can. The Clovers are here.' You know where that is?"

"Of course."

After making a brief search for Merry, they decided not to delay and went to Tookbank without him.

Merry, who had been talking with his mother in her room, didn't know that the other two had gone until he came out and wondered where they were. He went to the group of young hobbits who had gathered in the garden to take down the wilting garlands they'd put up two days earlier. Melilot was the most keen to tear them down.

"Pip and Frodo were looking for you," Peri informed him. "That friend of Frodo's sent a note for him to come to Tookbank, and off they went--to the Bullroarer's pub, they said."

Disappointed as he was that they'd gone off and left him behind, Merry decided not to run after them. They'd be back by dinner-time, and he could learn then what Sam had found. In the meantime, he'd take this opportunity to finish another task Frodo had set him, and perhaps also find out what had upset Pippin so terribly yesterday. "It must be something to do with the investigation."

"For Frodo, perhaps, but Pip?" Ilbie laughed. "If there's a pub involved, you know he only went along for the ale!"

"You can't blame him for missing our local ales," said Ferdi. He had climbed up into one of the trees to pull down a fragment of garland that had been caught in its branches. "It must be hard on the lad, being away so long from his home brews."

"We ought to go out for a sample ourselves, Ilb, one night while we're here," said Dodi. "Ferdi can show us the best spots."

"The Old Bullroarer's Head's the best by far," Ferdi answered as he swung down from the tree, "but I don't suggest we go. Tibby Clover's likely to be there. It can only be awkward if we happen to meet him."

"Is that why Frodo went?" Melly asked Merry. "He wanted to speak to Toby's brother?"

Merry didn't know, but given Sam's errand this morning, he assumed that it was the reason.

"I hope they find out that it's someone else," said Isalda, who was a more thoughtful girl than her elder sisters. "Someone in Tookbank who had a quarrel with Toby, or a stranger, not..." She looked around at the others with solemn dark-brown eyes; the words 'one of us' remained unsaid, but they were understood by all. "It's hateful to have to keep wondering about it."

"Reg is certain he's suspected," said Flora. "We don't know why, but you should hear how he goes on about Frodo's nosing in where he isn't wanted."

"Actually, you might be of help in removing suspicion from some of the Took family," Merry told them. "You can help Reg, by telling us where he was when Toby was killed."

"But we were all here in the garden that afternoon!" cried Ada. "Except for Melly. We didn't see anything."

"Some of you might have," Merry explained. "We lads were working on those garlands, sitting... here." He paced to a spot at the edge of the lawn, stopped, and whirled to face the group; he had everyone's complete attention. "We sat with our backs to the hill, and none of us thought to turn around and look up to see if there was anyone on the hillside behind us."

"Why would we?" asked Dodi. "We had no idea that a murder was about to happen."

"No, we didn't look," Merry continued, "but the girls and Ferdi were up and about all over the place--in the pavilion, up in the trees, running back and forth on the grass. Now, did any of you notice Reg sitting up on the terrace?" He pointed to it.

Several of the girls nodded eagerly. "So did I," said Ferdi.

"And was Pearl with him?"

"She was," Ferdi confirmed, amid some further yips and nods of feminine agreement. "Remember, I made a joke to Evvy about them being old folk? That's just what they looked like--she with the baby, he with his pipe, sitting up there, looking down at us, and never coming to join in the fun."

"This is too thrilling!" cried Pim.

"But does it help Reg?" Isalda asked hopefully.

"It might," Merry answered. "Can anyone tell me when Pearl went in, or if Reg got up before or after Evvy left us?"

There was more uncertainty on these points. It had been growing late and the little group had been busy trying to finish their work before dark; while some of the girls had noticed that Pearl had left from the terrace, they couldn't agree on whether she had gone before sunset or afterwards. But Peri was sure that Reginard had still been sitting when Evvy had gone.

Reassured that they had done something to help their family, the Took girls went away cheerfully, bearing the bundles of wilted flowers to the mulch-heap at the bottom of the garden. Dodi and Ilbie went with them, leaving Melilot, Ferdi, and Merry behind.

Melilot sighed. "It is exciting for them, as long as the Tooks are safe from suspicion. And when it's over and done, they can go on with their lives just as before. I can't. This murder has changed everything I hoped to have, until yesterday." There were a few stray, dead daisies scattered in the grass, and she stooped to pick them up. "Even once this matter is cleared up and Toby's murderer is found, I still won't be married to Evvy."

"Ev does love you, Melly," Ferdi told her. "He said so often enough while I was sitting with him yesterday."

"He may say so to you, but not to me! He won't talk to me. I haven't seen him since..." She looked out at the green patch of lawn where she and Everard had been standing when he'd told her about Toby. "He hasn't set foot out of his house since then."

"He's afraid to," Ferdi explained. "He's so deeply ashamed of what he's done. He can't face people, especially not you. He thinks you must hate him, because of Toby."

"I don't! My goodness, if I hated every boy who played with other boys, I'd never speak to some of my nearest relations!" She gave Merry a sidelong glance and made him laugh. "It's not the boy I mind, Ferdi- Well, yes, it is, but not as Evvy thinks I do. It's not because it was a boy. If he was seeing some other girl before he was betrothed to me and went on seeing her afterwards, even on the night before our wedding, and then told me that he loved her, I would feel just the same about it.

"Oh, maybe I am lucky to have had this escape!" She turned to Merry with an odd look in her eyes. "I almost received an extremely kind and generous proposal from a dear friend last night. I would have said 'no' if he'd asked me then, but I've been thinking it over since."

"Have you?" Merry asked with keen interest. He'd wondered if Frodo had said anything to Melly before Sam's arrival. "What did you decide to do?"

Melilot smiled at him. "I haven't made up my mind yet."

Ferdi's eyes went from one from the other during this cryptic exchange, baffled but intensely curious.
Chapter 20 by Kathryn Ramage
Tuckborough and Tookbank were separated by a steep, sharp-ridged hill. A tunnel had been cut through to allow carts, ponies, and other heavy traffic to pass on the road, but foot-travelers from one village to the other found it quicker and easier to climb over the hill's crest. Taking this short-cut, Frodo and Pippin walked less than two miles, and came down through the smials on the westward slope, down into the heart of Tookbank in the valley below.

Frodo had never visited this particular pub before; it was only when he saw the sign hanging over the door that he realized that the Bullroarer's Head referred to was not the head on the famous Bandobras "Bullroarer" Took's shoulders, but the one he had struck off the goblin king Golfimbul in the Battle of the Green Fields. Bandobras was depicted as proudly holding his grisly prize aloft with one hand, and clasping his sword in the other.

As they passed underneath the sign, Pippin gazed up at it and confessed, "Before we went off on our adventures, I used to see that whenever I came here. I always wondered if I'd ever do anything half as brave as Old Bullroarer."

"Twice as brave, I'd say," Frodo assured him, and they went inside.

Once they were in the tavern, Pippin went to the bar to order two half-pints of ale. He was greeted enthusiastically by some old friends who had not seen him in years. While Pippin was chatting with them, Frodo looked around the common room, over the heads of the lunch-time crowd. He spotted Sam at a double settle at the very back of the room with two people, who were sitting with their backs to him. When Sam saw him, he waved to draw Frodo over. His companions turned to look, and rose to their feet.

The two were a boy and girl. The boy looked familiar; Frodo let out a small gasp of surprise at the sight of that black mop of hair and those same soft brown, angry eyes--but this boy was a little taller than Toby and a year or two younger. The girl was younger still and also had the family eyes.

"This is Tibbard Clover," Sam introduced the boy, "and Miss Tansy Clover." Tansy curtsied, but kept her eyes warily on Frodo. "The dead lad's brother and sister. This is Mr. Frodo Baggins," Sam told them, "who you was asking to see."

"You wanted to see me?" Frodo asked as he sat down beside Sam; the Clovers returned to their seats as well, facing them.

"It wasn't my idea for you to come all this way, Frodo," Sam explained apologetically, "but they already heard about the Thain's special investigator from the shirriffs, and knew what I was after as soon as we started talking."

"I thought it was your friend who was investigating," said Tibbard; there was a slight slur in his voice that suggested he had already had one ale too many. "But when I come to speak to 'm, he tells me he's only helping you. I thought we'd best talk to you direct. Looking into things, are you, Mr. Baggins?" he asked in a challenging tone. "You'll find out who did this to our Toby?"

"I hope to, yes."

"Even if it's one o' them Tooks?"

"Yes," said Frodo. "Even if it's a Took. What makes you think it is?"

"Who else would want rid of Toby?" Tibbard asked back. "He was messing with their precious Mr. Everard, and they didn't like it, so they put a stop to it."

"They did it before," said Tansy. "They'd do it again."

"Before?" Frodo echoed in amazement. "When? I've never heard of another murder near Tuckborough." Was she referring to the missing apprentice? Had he been found?

"'Twasn't a murder. 'Twas sommat that happened long ago," said Tibbard. "Our dad told us about it before we came to live here, to warn us what the Tooks was like. He said they ruled over the land hereabouts like they was kings, and did whatever they liked, and the common folk could do naught about it--so we'd best be careful to keep out o' their way and not to cross 'em." Pippin had come to the back of the room to bring Frodo his ale; when he overheard these words, he realized that a Took would not be welcome at this moment, silently handed Frodo the mug, and went away again.

"What did they do?" Sam asked.

"As our dad tells it, one o' the Clover lads was friends-like with one o' the Tooks."

"Just as our Toby and Everard Took were," Tansy added.

"Yes, and the high-and-mighty Tooks wouldn't stand for it, so they hired somebody to beat 'm bloody and drive 'm off. He was never seen in the Took's land again after that!"

"Surely not!" Frodo exclaimed, horrified and incredulous.

"They did, I tell you!" Tibbard insisted. "That's the story as we heard it. It's just as it happened."

"There's no reason for Dad to lie," his sister agreed. "And what's to keep 'em from doing the same to Toby, only worse?"

"But if they did," said Frodo, "they wouldn't have made it look as if Everard were responsible."

"Now who said they meant to?" Tibbard answered. "Everard was only going to meet Toby as he always did, and Everard's not arrested, is he? They've let him go about free. See? That's because they know he didn't kill Toby. They know full well who did. You want to know the truth of it, Mr. Baggins, you go and ask your Thain Paladin or Mr. Adelard Took. You'll see."

Frodo was stunned by the Clovers' story even after he'd left the tavern, and Tansy had taken her brother home. Pippin was just as shocked when he heard of it.

"You've never heard such a tale before?" Frodo asked his cousin as they walked back over the hills. Sam had remained in Tookbank awhile longer to ask a few questions around the village at Frodo's request.

"Never!" Pippin insisted. "It's almost too terrible to believe."

"But you do believe it?"

"It's only... I've had the feeling that there was something between that family and ours. Something wrong, though I couldn't say what." Pippin tried to explain, "I was still at home when Mr. Clover first came and set up shop in Tookbank after the old butcher died. I remember Father and Uncle Addy talking about it. They were worried. They were even more worried when Evvy made friends with Toby--not that Evvy was friends with a butcher's son, I mean, but that Toby was one of the Clovers."

'Ask Thain Paladin or Mr. Adelard Took,' Tibbard Clover had said, and it seemed he was right. "So they do know..." Frodo murmured. He began to wonder: was this the secret Paladin was afraid he'd find out?
Chapter 21 by Kathryn Ramage
Once they returned to the Thain's Hall, Frodo found Paladin in his study, and repeated the story Tibbard and Tansy had told him.

"Is it true, Uncle?" he asked. "Did this horrible thing actually happen between the Clovers and the Tooks years ago?"

"Oh, it's true, to the family's everlasting shame," Paladin did not look at Frodo as he answered. "And it wasn't so long ago."

"Then you do know about it?"

"I know about it. How could I ever forget? It's the reason why neither Adelard nor I wanted to interfere with Evvy's friendship with Toby, as much as it troubled us."

"Uncle Adelard? Evvy's father-?" Frodo began to understand.

Paladin nodded. "And Toby's father, Togold Clover. You've guessed that already, haven't you, Frodo?"

"I wondered. I knew that Mr. Clover left Tookbank when he was young, and was away for many years." But Frodo had asked Sam to make inquiries about any gossip or scandals involving the Clover family, no matter how old the stories might be. "Will you tell me, Uncle, what truly happened? The Clovers know only a part of the story. I'd like to hear it all."

"I was only a young lad myself at the time," Paladin began. "I'd been betrothed to Eglantine Banks, a girl from a highly respectable family, and it was arranged that Adelard should marry her sister, Evaline. But Adelard wouldn't agree to it. He was too attached to Togold to think of giving him up."

"'All the lads play, but some take it more seriously than others,'" Frodo repeated what Ferdi had told him yesterday.

"Yes, exactly," said Paladin. "And so my father and Adelard's father and Uncle Archambalt arranged it. Togold was... driven away. He fled Tookbank and only returned after his father had died. He'd married some Northfarthing girl and had children of his own by then. I know very well how he hates the Tooks. I can't blame him--he has good reason to, after what was done to him. And I can't stop him from talking about us as he does, or poisoning his children's minds to hate us in the same way. To try would only prove that he's absolutely right in what he says. All I can do is prove him wrong by seeing that such things are not permitted to happen while I am Thain. If a Took has committed this crime, he mustn't be allowed to get away with it."

Thain Adalgrim and Adelard's father Flambard had both died years ago. "Is it Great-Uncle Archambalt?" Frodo asked. "Is that what you were afraid of when you asked me to investigate--that he's done the same again... or that someone else in the family has? And this time it's gone too far."

"It went too far the last time, if you ask me. But, yes, I was afraid it was so. If it became widely known, it would be a disaster for the family. The common folk here look up to the Tooks. They give us the authority to be lords over them because they believe we know what's right. Above all, a Thain must be seen to be just to his people. To learn that the Tooks--including the last Thain, my father!--hired a gang of ruffians to beat a Tookbank boy would destroy their trust in us. And if it's happened again, now that I am Thain..." He shook his head in dismay. "I hoped that if you learned the truth of the matter before the sherriffs did, I might be able to tend to it privately. It does look as if my worst fears are true: it's been done again, and I can't think who else could be responsible."

"Adelard?" Frodo guessed.

"No!" Paladin rejected the idea. "Not Adelard. He's been my best friend since we were boys, almost a brother. I can see how this tragedy has brought that other incident back to him afresh. He feels it almost as if Toby were his father all over again. He would never hurt his own son in the same way as he'd been hurt." He paused, then added, "Any more than I would hurt Pip. Do you realize, Frodo, that I haven't seen my son but once in the past two years? And even now that he's home again, he does all he can to avoid me."

It occurred to Frodo that he had spent more time during this visit in Thain Paladin's company than Pippin had. "If he's avoiding you, it's because he's afraid," he told Paladin. "He thinks you must be furious with him, because of... well, Merry."

"I'm not angry with him! Oh, I was, at first," Paladin admitted. "It was a scandal when the boys had themselves talked about, but I see that trying to force them apart before they're ready won't do any good. I remember how it was with Addy, and I won't see that repeated. Pippin's only thirty, so there's still lots of time. This is something most lads go through, and then grow out of when they find the right girl. At least, Pip's had the good sense--though I'd never have expected good sense from him!--to keep it in the family, not like Evvy with the Clover boy."

"I think you'll find that Pippin has more common sense than you give him credit for," Frodo replied. "And he can be responsible, if you give him a chance. He's done some truly remarkable things out in the Big Folk's world. If you knew..." Was it possible that Pippin's father didn't know? Had he heard about their adventures? "You oughtn't have spoken slightingly of his uniform when he first came home. It hurt Pippin terribly. He was so proud of his service to the King, and was so looking forward to showing you."

"His uniform?" Paladin looked surprised. "You mean that black velvet tunic he wore the last time he was here? Is that what that was? He never said."

"It's the uniform worn by the Guard of the Citadel in the King's city of Minas Tirith," Frodo informed him. "Pippin served as page to the old Steward Denethor, and afterwards to King Aragorn. He fought very bravely during the siege upon the city--by himself. Merry and I weren't with him. The young steward owes his life to Pippin."

"I had no idea..." Paladin murmured.

"Ask him to tell you about his adventures. I think he'd want you to know he's done something you'd approve of."

When he left Paladin, Frodo went next door to Adelard's house. The garden door to the study was open and when he ventured in, he found Adelard in his comfortable chair by the hearth, busy whittling a half-finished figure, which appeared to be a leaping deer. Frodo recalled that Everard had said his father carved woodwork when he had something on his mind, and that Adelard had been brooding lately. "Uncle Adelard?"

Adelard looked up and, realizing that he had a visitor, set his work aside. "Ah, Frodo lad! Come to ask questions for yourself this time, instead of sending Pip?" He tried to sound as if he were joking, but he was wary; Frodo could see it.

"Yes, Uncle. I thought I'd better. It's rather personal." He stepped into the room and shut the door. "I've come to ask about your friendship with Togold Clover when you were lads, and how it ended."

Adelard stared at him, then bowed his head. "So that's come out at last." He sounded dismayed, but resigned. "I knew it must, eventually, but I've been dreading this. Did Pippin put you on to it? He told you what I said about Archambalt?"

Was that what Pippin was keeping from them? "No, it wasn't Pippin," Frodo replied. "It was Toby Clover's brother and sister who first told me the story, with no names. When I asked Uncle Paladin, he told me the rest. He's afraid that the same thing has happened again with Toby."

"So am I, Frodo. So am I." Adelard lifted his eyes to the young hobbit. "Have you spoken to anyone else about this? Do my children know?"

"No," Frodo reassured him. "I'm certain they don't."

"I'm glad of that, at least. It'd be too great a shock to them, to realize how their mother and I were married. I wanted to talk to Everard before his wedding, to be certain that he was marrying Melly for the right reasons. Poor Evvy," his father sighed. "The lad's weeping, heartbroken, and I don't know if it's for Melly's sake or Toby's. I didn't want him to feel pushed into this marriage, as I'd been, but I delayed too long. I... procrastinated." Adelard's head dropped again. "I was afraid to say that I was speaking from my own experience. It's a hard thing to tell your child that the marriage that made him was an unhappy one. I never blamed Evaline. It wasn't her fault. She never knew how our marriage had been arranged, and I did my best for her. No one can say I didn't do my proper duty as a husband--not after five children--but I never loved her as I ought to, and I sometimes wonder if she felt that.

"It's a terrible thing, Frodo, to fall in love with the wrong person--the wrong sex, the wrong social position. Everything wrong, and there's nothing you can do. It's the worst thing in the world. You can't possibly know."

He sounded so utterly ashamed that Frodo's heart went out to him. On an impulse, he said, "I do know. Uncle Addy, believe me, please. I am sympathetic."

Adelard lifted his head and met Frodo's eyes. "Are you?"

Frodo nodded. "You probably haven't heard the gossip down here in Tuckborough, but there's been quite a lot of it around Hobbiton--about me and my friend, Sam. He's a gardener's son, and a gardener himself." But Frodo wasn't here to talk about his own situation, similar as it was to his uncle's; Adelard would meet Sam soon enough and understand. "I won't tell anyone," he promised, "except for Pippin and Merry. They're privileged to all my secrets, and I think Pippin would be heartened to know. He's so fond of you."

"And still will be, after this?" Adelard gave him a small, wry smile. "I'm fond of him too. Pip's a good lad--full of mischief, but he's good-hearted. There's no harm in him. We haven't had a Took quite so Tookish in the family in a long time! Things are different these days, for boys who fall in love with each other. At least, they can talk about it. We couldn't even speak of it when I was a lad. Pip and Merry have done that, and I'm proud of them. They have a courage that I never did. If I had, I might've gone after Togold when I learned what had happened to him. I should have, but I was too afraid. I thought that they might do the same to me if I didn't behave myself. I agreed to do whatever my father and Uncle Adalgrim wanted."

"Can I ask?" said Frodo. "Do you know who beat Mr. Clover when he was a boy?"

"We could never find out. Archambalt protected them. He was the one who arranged it all--did Paladin tell you that? But even after my father and Pal's father were gone, he wouldn't tell us who he had hired, not even under the threat of exile. He went. You can be sure if I had known their names or where I could find them, I would have..." Adelard stopped and shook his head. "I like to think I'd have killed them, or served them out in kind for what they did to Togold, but I don't have the nerve for it. At least, I would have told Pal, and he would have seen them punished."
Chapter 22 by Kathryn Ramage
"I should have guessed," Pippin said thoughtfully when Frodo told him and Merry. "I see now why Father hasn't been pushing me as hard as he might. I thought it was because of Pearl's and Reg's baby. They've already given him an heir, so I needn't. That's how our branch of the family got to be Thains in the first place--Father's uncle Fortinbras never married, so the Thainship came to my grandfather. And poor Uncle Addy! He's been so nice since he's heard about Merry and me, and now I understand why."

"But you see what this means, don't you?" asked Frodo. "All this time we've spent trying to find out where everybody was Toby was killed, and it doesn't matter. If the person who actually stabbed Toby was hired to do it, then the one who hired him could have been sitting comfortably at home, or have been out where a dozen people could see."

"So what do we do next?" Merry asked him.

"We need to find out who was hired."

"But how? Who could they possibly have hired to kill a boy? I know that the local folk will do just about anything the Tooks ask, but I can't imagine any of them saying, 'as you wish' if even the Thain himself asked them to commit murder! The most loyal would balk at that."

"Could it be the same ones that were hired the first time?" Pippin wondered.

"That was over forty years ago!" cried Merry.

"They might still be about," Frodo said. "They would commit a crime of violence for a Took--they've already done it once. "Uncles Paladin and Adelard don't know who they are, but there are at least two other people who do. One of them knows for certain."

"Great-Uncle Archambalt?" asked Pippin.

Frodo nodded. "Yes, that's right. We haven't given him much of our attention, but it's about time we did."

"You heard the things he said to me over breakfast the other day, Frodo," Merry said. "He'd 'put a stop' to the likes of me. What if he did 'put a stop' to Toby?"

"By the way, Pip, what did Uncle Adelard say about Archambalt?" Frodo asked him. "That secret's out now--will you tell us?"

The question caught Pippin off guard. His mouth popped open; his face flushed, and he looked embarrassed and very contrite as he answered, "Only that Archambalt must've had a hand in it, but he wouldn't say why he thought so. He took it back later, and said he didn't mean anything. He made me promise not to tell to you about it."

"And you agreed to that?" Merry asked, ruffled at this mild betrayal.

"He's my favorite uncle!" Pippin replied in his own defense. "What else could I do? I said I wouldn't tell if there wasn't anything in it."

"Well, it turns out there is!" Merry retorted.

"I suppose he was afraid that if we looked into it, we'd find out about him and Toby's father," Frodo said.

"He kept it secret for so long." It was obvious that Pippin's sympathies remained firmly with Adelard. "At least, it wasn't me that told."

When Sam returned from Tookbank soon afterwards, Frodo greeted him with an enthusiastic hug and kiss before asking, "What did you find out?"

"I asked around like you said to," Sam began his report as he sat down on the window-seat. "But it's an odd thing--that story Miss Clover and her brother told us isn't known about Tookbank, not even by the old folk. You'd think, horrible as it was, if it'd happened in the last hundred years, somebody might've remembered hearing of it!"

"What do they say about Mr. Clover?" asked Frodo. "Do they remember when he left?"

Sam nodded. "Some folk do. All they have to say about it is that Mr. Togold Clover ran off as a lad without a word. It upset his old father something terrible. No one knew where he'd gone, 'til he came home again years afterwards with his children."

"He's never told anyone why he left? He doesn't tell them that story?"

"Not that I've been able to find out," Sam answered; he was only now connecting the two points for himself. "He's not popular in the village. They say he goes about speaking ill of the Tooks every chance he gets, and it's cost him some business from them as don't like that sort o' talk, but he never says just what the Tooks've done to him to make him so angry."

"So he's kept it secret too," Frodo mused.

"Too?" said Sam. "Now what've I been missing?"

While Merry and Pippin explained to Sam what he'd missed, Frodo went on softly, thinking aloud more than speaking to his friends: "He only told his children, and then not enough to let them guess that he was talking about himself. I honestly don't believe they know. Even after all these years, Mr. Clover must be ashamed to have it known what was once between him and Uncle Adelard." Or could it be possible that, in spite of all his poison against the Tooks, Togold still cared for Adelard?

"You're going out to see this old Mr. Archambalt?" Sam asked Frodo, breaking into his thoughts.

"What? Oh, yes. I'd thought go in search of his cottage tomorrow, to ask him who he hired and if they're still around Tookbank."

"Begging your pardon, but wouldn't Mr. Clover know too? He must've seen who it was that beat him." Sam added, "And it'll be a shorter trip to find out the same thing. I won't have you running all over the Took-lands looking for this old gent's house, when your answer might be just over the hill."

Frodo smiled. He had missed Sam's fussing over him almost as much as he'd missed making love and cuddling close at night. "We'll go to Tookbank first," he agreed, "before we hunt for Archambalt." He meant to speak to Togold Clover in any case; tomorrow morning would be as good a time as any.

"If you don't mind," said Merry. "Pip and I won't come along."

"We know how Mr. Clover feels about Tooks," Pippin added.

"Besides, if you do go to see old Archambalt, you'll have a difficult time getting anything useful out of him if we 'fancy-lads' are about." Merry grinned. "Since he doesn't know that the two of you are just as 'fancy,' he might be more agreeable to talk to you without us."
Chapter 23 by Kathryn Ramage
The next morning, Frodo rode out on the westward road to Tookbank with Sam accompanying him. They met Shirriff Thornbreak in the high street of the village; the shirriff had heard about a mysterious fair-haired stranger going around asking questions yesterday, and he was relieved when Frodo introduced Sam as "my associate, Mr. Gamgee." Frodo also thought that the Shirriff's estimation of him as a professional investigator went up a little when he saw that the Thain's young cousin had associates.

The butcher's shop, also in the high street, had been closed for business the day before, but its door was open today and wares in the form of ropes of linked sausages, skinned rabbits, and plucked fowl had been set out. When they went inside, Tansy, who was at the shop counter, informed them that she could only sell what was at-hand and take larger orders. "Anybody that wants a cut o' beef or chops'll have to wait 'til Dad feels up to his work or I can get Tibby in from the Bullroarer's Head to do it."

"How is your Dad?" Sam inquired respectfully.

Tansy shook her head. "Since the sherriffs brought us news of Toby, he sits in the back-parlor," she indicated a curtained doorway at the back of the shop. "Since we've had to lay Toby out there 'til he's buried, Dad's done naught but weep over him. It's hit him terrible hard." Tears filled her soft brown eyes; she didn't look angry now, only very young and worried for her father. "And it's not only our Toby, but Fenny's being missing too. He keeps asking if they found him yet."

"Is he that fond of the lad?" asked Sam.

"He's looked after Fenny since we first came here," said Tansy. "Fenny was 'prenticed to our grand-dad and when Dad took the shop, he kept him on. He took pity on him. Fenny's a big, thick-headed lad, you see, good at chopping meats and carrying heavy sides about, but he could never run a shop on his own."

"Was he here the night Toby was killed?" Frodo wondered.

The girl nodded. "He shut up shop, same as always--I heard Dad say g'night to him, and that's the last we saw of poor Fenny. He lives with his mum up on the hill, and he never came home that night. He's all she's got in the world." She considered Frodo. "Did you come to talk to Dad, Mr. Baggins? I'll ask if he'll see you, but he mayn't be fit for company."

"I'd be grateful if you would," Frodo replied. "But I'd like to ask you a few questions too, Miss Clover. That tale you told me--did you or your brother tell it to Sherriff Thornbreak as well?"

"Tibby wanted to, only Dad stopped him. He said it wouldn't be believed, and anyway the High Sherriff was in Thain Paladin's pocket."

"But you told me, even though I'm working for the Thain."

"You said you was going to see justice done, even if it was against the Tooks," Tansy explained. "We thought we'd test and see if it was so." Sam looked indignant that she had doubted Frodo's word; Frodo lay a hand on his arm to keep him silent. "Did you repeat it to his Thainship?" the girl asked. "What did he say about it?"

"He told me it was true," Frodo answered, "and he told me more. Tansy, did you know who the boy in your story was when you told it to me? Did you know it was your father?"

Tansy focused her attention on wiping down the butcher's work-block, even though it was perfectly clean. "Dad never said so, but we guessed," she admitted after a minute. "Before we came here from Oatbarton, he told us about the Tooks. We saw how he hated 'em. When Toby began to be friends with Mr. Evvy, Dad had a talk with him. I couldn't hear all they said, but I could see he wasn't pleased about it. He showed Toby a knife he said belonged to the Tooks."

"A knife?" Sam eyed the set of long, sharp blades and shining cleavers behind the butcher's block.

Tansy followed his gaze. "Oh, not such as that! 'Twas just a little thing. Dad said it was a gift, a pledge of a friendship that'd gone wrong."

From the room behind the curtained doorway, a hoarse and thick-sounding voice called out, "Tansy, who's that you're talking to? It's not a customer?"

"No, Dad!" Tansy shouted back. "They've come about Toby."

Mr. Clover came out. Though slumped with grief, he was much a brawnier and thick-set hobbit than his sons. Frodo was surprised to see that Togold Clover did not have what he had come to think of as the 'Clover' eyes; in this respect, all three children must take after their late mother.

Mr. Clover was studying him in return. "Who're you, lad? I don't know you." He looked at Sam. "Are you from the shirriffs?"

"It's Mr. Baggins, Dad," Tansy explained. "You remember, we told you? The Thain's investigator."

"Thain's investigator?" Togold Clover echoed incredulously, and looked Frodo over again. "You're a child! You can't be much older'n than my own boys."

"Not much older," Frodo agreed, "but we have some experience in these matters. I'm very sorry about your son, Mr. Clover. I mean to do all I can for him."

A shudder rippled through the older hobbit and he seemed to crumple up; his daughter rushed to his side to take his arm. To Frodo's astonishment, Togold laughed. "Thank you, lad, but my Toby's beyond all help."

Frodo thought that Mr. Clover would return to the back-parlor, but after a moment, Togold pulled himself together and considered him again. "So, you're working for Paladin Took? I knew him well as a boy, though I haven't seen much of him since. Has he grown into the sort of Thain his father was?"

"No, sir." Frodo had barely known Adalgrim, but he'd formed no good opinion of the last Thain from everything he'd learned about him lately. And, after spending so much time with Paladin, Frodo had also developed a new respect for Pippin's father; Paladin might be concerned with how things looked, but he would also do what was right. "You're mistaken if you imagine he's like the old Thain. He's a fair-minded and honest hobbit." With Mr. Clover, Frodo thought he could be blunt. "He's very much ashamed of the crime that was committed against you by the Tooks."

Togold looked bewildered, and turned to stare at his daughter.

"We told 'm, Dad," Tansy confessed.

"It's why we're here, Mr. Clover," Frodo explained. "I thought you might be able to tell me who it was who beat you."

The older hobbit turned back to him. "Why d'you want to know about that?" he asked. "It was over and done so long ago. What's it got to do with Toby?"

"Thain Paladin thinks it might be the same people as before."

Togold laughed again, with a frightening, wild note. "I don't know! I never did. There was two of 'em, laborers, probably from one o' the Tooks' farms. It was nobody I knew. I didn't recognize their voices. I never saw their faces--it was dark. I was walking home after seeing... my friend. I can't tell you more." And he went back through the curtain into his private room. With a last despairing glance at the two visitors, Tansy went after him.

As they left the shop, Frodo apologized, "I'm sorry, Sam. We'll have to find old Uncle Archambalt after all."
Chapter 24 by Kathryn Ramage
They had to ask twice once they left Tookbank, but eventually Sam and Frodo found Archambalt's cottage off the road to Waymoot on a narrow, winding lane through woods and fields, far from any neighbors.

At the sound of the ponies' hooves, Archambalt came to the cottage door to peer out at his visitors. "Why it's young Frodo Brandybuck- no, it's Baggins, isn't it?" the old hobbit said as Frodo dismounted at the garden gate. He regarded Sam, whom he had never seen before, with curiosity, but Sam remained with the ponies while Frodo entered the garden. "What brings you here?"

"I'd like to talk to you," Frodo requested. "May I come in?"

Archambalt still looked curious, but he nodded.

Sam watched anxiously as Frodo accompanied the elderly hobbit into the cottage, but Frodo himself was unafraid. In spite of all he knew about Archambalt, and all he suspected, he didn't believe he was in any danger.

The small front parlor, where Archambalt brought him, was a mess. Archambalt evidently kept up his pipeweed-spitting habit at home, and rarely had anyone in to clean up after him. The old hobbit's toes and teeth, as well as the front of his shirt and worn velveteen jacket, were likewise stained with pipeweed juice. There were a half-dozen empty and dirty mugs around the room, and the browned peelings and core of an apple sat next to a pocket-knife on a plate.

"I don't have many visitors," Archambalt said as he offered his guest a seat; Frodo took one near the window, far from the hearth.

"You must be lonely, living out here," he began with a tactful conversational overture. "I understand that you quarreled with Uncle Paladin ages ago, and moved away rather than make it up."

"Oh, I made my choice, but I've gotten to like it," Archambalt answered with grim good humor. "I prefer this peace and quiet over the gabbling of so many fools in Tuckborough. It's not the same as it was in Thain Adalgrim's day--Paladin's father, that was. He knew how to keep order in his house, and in his family. Paladin's too lax in that regard. Lets his children run wild. Still, I'm asked in for a visit now and again, to see the young ones wed. I always like to see a wedding, although this last one didn't come off as planned!" He shook his head. "I hear it won't come off at all now."

"Yes, that's so," said Frodo. "Everard's broken off with Melilot."

Archambalt let out a dismissive snort. "Young Everard's a blasted fool! What decent lad wouldn't want to marry a sweet, pretty little miss like that Brandybuck cousin of yours? If his father and Paladin knew what was going on, they should have put the boy to rights before it led to this trouble."

"Actually," Frodo ventured, "that's what I've come to talk to you about. Toby Clover's death. I don't know if you heard: Uncle Paladin's asked me to look into it."

"I don't know what I can tell you," said Archambalt. "I don't know a thing about it. Why come to me?"

"Because," Frodo advanced boldly now, "I've been told that something similar happened once, years ago, to another Clover boy. Toby's father, in fact."

Archambalt drew back as if Frodo had physically flung something at him. "'Been told'!" he hooted. "'Been told'--and I can guess by whom! Paladin, was it, or Adelard, or both of them? They've had it in for me for all these years because of that incident, and now they're trying to lay a murder at my door in revenge!"

"You don't think they have reason to bear you a grudge?" Frodo asked, and tried to keep the acid note from his voice.

"None at all! What I did was for the good of the family. It's a young hobbit's duty to marry as his family thinks best, and Adelard wouldn't. His father and Thain Adalgrim despaired, and asked me to help. I was glad to, and everything came out right in the end. What's Adelard got to complain of? He had a good wife who gave him five children. Togold Clover's had children too that wouldn't have been born if he hadn't gone away. Ask them if they regret their sons and daughters. Ask your cousin Pearl if she'd rather not have that new baby of hers, fathered by Adelard's boy Reginard? How many lives is that, that would never have been if it weren't for me?"

Frodo grew sickened as he listened to this and realized that the old hobbit was not in the least ashamed of the appalling thing he'd done. He sounded pleased with himself. "There's one less now."

"And you think I had something to do with that?" To Frodo's further disgust, the old hobbit laughed. "If you've come to accuse me, lad, you've come to the wrong place! I tell you-" He leaned forward and tapped fiercely on Frodo's waistcoat with a forefinger; Frodo flinched at the touch. "I never knew of it until after the boy was dead and even if I did, it wasn't my business to stop it. If it was anyone's place to do the right thing to see Everard properly married, it was that father of his. But of course he wouldn't."

"Wh- What did you do?" Frodo asked, rallying. "That other time, when the old Thain asked for your help?"

"Why do you want to know?"

"I want to know who you hired to beat Togold Clover."

"Why should I tell you?" Archambalt shot back. "I wouldn't tell Paladin, and you'll go straight to him. Do you think I don't know what he'd do to them if he knew where to find them?"

Frodo had been reluctant to use the authority the Thain had given him to force Archambalt to cooperate. Who knew how far the ill-tempered old hobbit could be pushed? What if it he merely laughed and refused to speak? Archambalt had, after all, chosen to leave Tuckborough and live here in virtual exile rather than surrender that information. Perhaps he could use another form of bullying?

"You'll tell me," he said, "because this time it's murder. You put a stop to a friendship between a Took and a Clover once. It's happened again, only now the Clover boy has been stabbed to death, not merely beaten and sent away. What do you think Uncle Paladin will do about that?"

"I didn't have anything to do with it!" Archambalt insisted.

"Didn't you? You did before. Who will believe you now? Even if I take you at your word, you know he won't. You said yourself that Paladin has it in for you. And what if it's the same ones that you hired? That only makes it worse for you." Frodo went on, focusing his disgust and anger at this old hobbit. He wanted Archambalt to be frightened, and he was gratified to see that his words had the intended effect. Archambalt had grown pale. "It's noble of you to want to protect your friends, but will you protect murderers? Will you go to the gallows in their place? Now, will you tell me: Who did you hire?"

"It can't be the same lads, not after so long. I haven't seen them to speak to in over twenty years." The old hobbit made one last effort at defense, then surrendered. "They were a pair of farmhands. Brothers."

"And their names?" Frodo pressed.

"Twigg. Largo and Ludo Twigg."

"Do they still live around Tuckborough?"

"Why shouldn't they? As a matter of fact, they have their own farm not far from here. It was a freehold gift from the last Thain." Archambalt had been intimidated, but he had not lost his malicious spirit. "They were well rewarded for their services to the Took family."

Sam was waiting outside the cottage door. He had drawn closer at the sound of raised voices, ready to be of help if Frodo needed him; as Frodo came out, he looked shocked at what he had overheard.

Frodo was white-faced and trembling as he passed through the garden and out of the gate. "Let's get away from here, quickly," he said, but his hands were shaking so badly that he couldn't untie his pony's reigns from the post. Sam had to undo the knot.

"You're near to a faint," he said anxiously as he helped Frodo into the saddle. "You'll fall off that pony if you aren't careful. You ought to lie down."

"Not here," Frodo insisted. "We passed a well and a green on the Waymoot road. We'll stop there." And he urged his pony into a trot.

"I never saw you in such a state!" Sam said a short while later. They had ridden to the well. Frodo had taken a drink of cool water and was lying on the grass with his head in Sam's lap. He felt calmer now. "I never saw you be deliberately cruel. The last time you were in any kind of temper at all, it was when you fought with that nasty Gollum." Sam paused discreetly; Frodo's memories of those last, nightmarish days of the quest were hazy, and he didn't always remember what he'd done while under the Ring's influence. "But you weren't yourself then."

"I've never felt so angry before," said Frodo. "That infuriating, evil-minded old hobbit has caused so much unhappiness, and he's proud of it! I wanted to frighten him. I wanted to punish him." Even as he reached up to find Sam's hand and take it in his, he was uncomfortably aware that they were barely a mile from Archambalt's cottage--too near. It was almost as if he could feel the shadow of that fierce disapproval cast over him even from this distance. "I try to understand the reasons why people do evil things. I've faced worse, even in myself, but this time it was too personal, Sam. It's people like him that make it so difficult for Merry and Pippin--and you and me--to live our lives in peace. I lost my temper."

"I can't say as I blame you," Sam admitted. "This investigating's always hard on you, 'specially when you have to turn up secrets about your own relations."

"It's worse for Pippin this time than for me. It's his family, the Tooks, after all. This horror was committed by his grandfather and great-uncles, and so far we've suspected his father, his favorite uncle, and his sister's husband. I think Pip's been particularly worried for Uncle Adelard, but I can't believe he had anything to do with it. The way he and Uncle Paladin feel about what happened to Togold Clover, I can't imagine they'd ever let such a horrible thing be repeated while they had it in their power to prevent it."

"What about this Mr. Archambalt? D'you think he did it?"

"No. Oddly enough, I believed he was telling the truth when he said he didn't know about Toby and Evvy until afterwards. He didn't hire any ruffians, this time." Archambalt had done his best to protect the people he had hired all those years ago, but what if someone else had found out who they were? Frodo sat up. "We ought to go and see the Twiggs."

"What, now?" Sam was surprised. "I thought we'd go back to Tuckborough, once you'd rested. You shouldn't push yourself so hard, Frodo. You'll only work yourself into a bad turn."

"If we go back now, we'll only have to ride out this far again tomorrow," Frodo answered. As much as he enjoyed Sam's fussing over him, this was not the time for it. "Old Archambalt said the Twiggs had a farm not far from here, but he didn't tell me exactly where. The neighbors will know." He rose to his feet and went to the ponies. "We'd best get on with it if we want to be back at the Thain's Hall by tea-time. I promise I'll rest before dinner."
Chapter 25 by Kathryn Ramage
The Twigg farm was not difficult to locate. When Sam and Frodo stopped at the village of Tooksend, at the crossroads of the Tuckborough and Waymoot roads, the first cottager they asked directed them to it; the Twiggs kept a large farmstead, even if they kept to themselves. A short ride southward brought them to it.

The farm, when they reached it, appeared to be a prosperous one: the corn in the fields was tall and ripe for harvest; there were a dozen cows in the pasture, hogs in a penned yard, and chickens, geese, and ducks wandering. A rail fence bounded the property beside the road, and a wide wooden gate opened onto a private cart track that led to a barn and other outbuildings.

Sam would have preferred to go in and speak to them in Frodo's place, but Frodo insisted, "No, Sam. I think that in, this case, a relative of the Tooks will be of greater use."

He left Sam in the lane and, as he opened the gate, he was greeted by a barking dog. A moment later, a sturdy young hobbit came out of the barn and, when Frodo explained why he was there, told him that "Dad and Uncle Ludo were up t' house," and held the dog by its collar until Frodo had gone past.

Frodo went up the cart track, past the buildings and around the curve of a hill until he came to the farm-smial. Two elderly hobbits sat on a bench in the front, smoking their pipes and enjoying the sunny afternoon. One was whittling away at a stick of wood. They looked as gnarled and tough as old tree roots, but Frodo could see that they had once been large and strong like the son he had met at the gate--used to long hours of hard work in the barns and fields--but were past their prime. If they had been mature hobbits at the time when Archambalt had hired them, they must be well into their eighties by now, if not older.

The brothers seemed curious, but not wary at the sight of their visitor. The one who was whittling nodded and said, "Aft'n to ye, young sir. We don't see much of quality folk in these parts. Traveling, are ye?"

"As a matter of fact," said Frodo, "I'm staying at the Thain's Hall."

"Ah!" The old hobbit smiled. "Visiting the Tooks? Are ye one o' the family?"

"Yes, sort of." Frodo didn't know if he was addressing Largo or Ludo. "My grandmother was a Took--Mirabella Took. She was one of Old Gerontius's daughters. Frodo Baggins is my name."

The mention of his Tookish grandmother was enough for Frodo to gain the Twiggs' acceptance. Miss Mirabella was before their time, but they agreed that a grandson of a Took was always welcome on their farm.

"Are you Mr. Twigg?" Frodo asked the one who had spoken to him.

"Ludo Twigg, at yer service," the old hobbit replied. "This here is Largo, my brother. What can we do for ye, Mr. Baggins?"

"If you don't mind, I'd like to ask you a few questions... about something that happened a long time ago." He broached the subject carefully, for he thought that the Twiggs would mind very much if he went at this the wrong way. "Do you know a hobbit named Togold Clover?"

"Clover?" The brothers consulted their memories. "There's lots of Clovers in this part o' the Shire."

"He's the Tooksank butcher," Frodo prompted.

"Oh, him! Butcher Clover died awhile ago," said Largo. "We don't have no need of a butcher's services, lad. We kill and dress our own meats."

Frodo began to wonder if the elder brother hadn't grown dotty with his advanced years. "Togold Clover is the present butcher," he explained. "He took over his father's business when the old butcher died. I believe you knew him years ago, when he was a lad." He ventured further, "I've heard a story that the old Thain and some of the other gentlemen at the Hall- ah- paid you to see that he left Tookbank."

Ludo was suddenly on his guard. "Who's been carrying such tales against us?"

"Then you say it's not true?" asked Frodo.

"Not as such. Why d'ye want to go digging up summat from years ago as no one remembers?"

"I remember it. Buggers, they was!" Largo spat so vituperatively that Frodo jumped, startled, and felt the blood rush to his face. "Filthy little buggers. 'Tisn't natural, and we did right to put an end to it."

"Beg yer pardon!" Ludo exclaimed, observing their visitor's shocked expression and trying to make amends for his brother's blunder. "You mustn't mind Largo, Mr. Baggins. He means no harm. And you mind yourself with the young gent, Largo!" He slapped his brother's thigh in admonition. "How would young Thain Paladin feel if he heard such talk? Ye've heard about Mr. Peregrin Took, the Thain's own son, and that cousin o' his'n, haven't ye? Mr. Baggins here is a kin to them--isn't that so?" He turned to Frodo.

"Yes, that's so," said Frodo. "They're my good friends."

"There! Now, I say what young gents get up to amongst themselves is nobody's business but their own," Ludo went on, doing his best to appease.

"What about this business with Togold Clover?" Frodo persisted. "It did happen, didn't it, just as your brother says?"

"Ah," Ludo conceded, "I didn't mean to lie t'ye, young sir. We was told to keep our mouths shut about it, and keep 'em shut we have--'til today." He cast a withering glance at his brother. "You won't go carrying it no further, will ye? Thain Paladin'd take up against us if he heard." He was obviously very afraid that Frodo would tell. "What we did was to help the old Thain. That was one o' the common-folk getting above himself, and wanting to be put back in his proper place. It was for the best. Didn't the troublesome young Took see sense after that, and marry as his family wanted?"

Frodo wanted desperately to get away from them. He was already sick and angry after his conversation with Archambalt; he didn't want to face more of this ugliness in hobbit-kind. The worst of it was that he knew that these two were only echoing, in blunt and vulgar terms, exactly what the late Thain Adalgrim, Adelard's father, and Archambalt had believed. But he had come here for a reason, and couldn't leave until his questions had been answered.

"What I wanted to know, Mr. Twigg, is if anyone else has come to ask you about it lately--you, or any of your family?" Frodo glanced over his shoulder toward the barn, thinking of that strapping young hobbit who'd let him in.

"None," said Ludo.

"No one's asked you if one of your family might do another service for the Tooks?"

"No!" The old hobbit struggled to his feet. Frodo had evidently worn out his welcome. "Grandson of a Took or no, Mr. Baggins, I'm asking you to be off!"

Frodo was glad to leave.
Chapter 26 by Kathryn Ramage
"'Filthy buggers'!" Merry laughed. "Did they really say that?" He sat at the foot of the bed, rocking with laughter at Frodo's report of his conversation with the Twigg brothers. Sam and Pippin had gone very red in the face at Frodo's tale.

"One of them did," said Frodo, "and it wasn't funny, Merry. It was awful." Speaking of Archambalt and the Twiggs had made him feel sick all over again.

"Poor Frodo," Merry said with more sympathy, and reached over to give his cousin a hug. "I know, it sounds funny to me to hear of it, but it must've been horrible for you, having to stand there and listen to them spew that bile, knowing they'd've said just the same about you."

"You have Mr. Ludo Twigg's approval," Sam retorted.

"That's true," replied Merry, "at least by way of fear. I don't think he would've dared to say anything against the Thain's own son and heir, and risk Frodo carrying tales back to Uncle Paladin. I expect he's done all he can to avoid Uncle Paladin's notice."

"I'm tempted to go and tell him. They were as repulsive a pair of hobbits as I've ever met, except for Archambalt... and the others who put them up to it." Frodo added this last part hesitantly, knowing that one of the others was Pippin's and Merry's grandfather. To his relief, they did not take offense.

"I was only eight years old when Grandfather died," said Pippin. "I barely remember him, and I wasn't particularly fond of him. It's not as if it's Father."

"These Twiggs are so old," Merry observed. "They couldn't have done it this time, could they?"

Frodo shook his head. "I can't see it. Largo seems quite senile, and Ludo's too afraid of being found out by Uncle Paladin. Even if he was willing to repeat his service to the Tooks, he'd never dare risk it now. And neither of them would be a match for a fit young hobbit like Toby Clover."

"One of 'em had that son who let you in," said Sam. "What about him?"

"It's possible. There might be any number of other young lads around the farm I didn't see. Someone might have approached and hired one of them." But Frodo realized even as he spoke that this was a faint prospect. They had followed their clues to a blind end; the investigation could go no further along these lines. Where could they go next? Was there anywhere left to go?
Chapter 27 by Kathryn Ramage
As he'd promised Sam, Frodo lay down in his room until dinner-time, but even with Sam beside him, he remained disquieted and unable to rest.

"Can't you sleep?" Sam asked softly against the back of Frodo's neck, after Frodo had squirmed in his arms for the dozenth time.

"I'm afraid not." Frodo sighed. "I've got too much to think about."

Sam didn't ask what Frodo was thinking of; he knew very well.

"It's a terrible part of these investigations, Sam," Frodo went on, "even worse than suspecting my own relatives of murder. Whenever I begin poking into things, I discover these frightening spots of darkness."

"Mr. Archambalt, you mean? And these here Twiggs?"

"Yes, and Lotho... you remember, and the way Berilac couldn't keep his hands off girls. I used to look on the Shire as a green and peaceful place, especially when we were away from it. Has the darkness always been here? Has it always been part of the Shire, and I'm only now able to see it?"

Sam had no better answer for this than Frodo did himself. All he could do, by way of comfort, was hold Frodo more tightly and kiss the nape of his neck. When Frodo turned over to face him, Sam went on with his comforting kisses. It didn't resolve anything, but it helped Frodo not to think about his problems for a little while.

When they met before dinner, Pippin brought it all back by asking one of the questions that was foremost on his cousin's mind: "Are you going to tell Father, Frodo? About the Twiggs, I mean."

Frodo didn't know. The thought of seeing those two horrible hobbits get what was coming to them had its appeal, but there were other factors to consider. He would have to speak with Paladin in any case.

The conversation over dinner that night was not about the murder, nor directly concerned with Melilot's and Everard's situation, but since their wedding had been cancelled, there was no reason for the guests to stay on. Diamanta observed that other members of the Took family who had come to Tuckborough were already leaving, but she intended to stay and assist Eglantine until "that other problem" was settled. The ladies from Brandy Hall also discussed their plans to return to Buckland.

"We'll go home the day after tomorrow," Esmeralda decided. "Melly, dear, will you be coming with us?"

"I can't tell you yet," Melilot answered. "There are some other matters I haven't settled." She glanced in Frodo's direction.

Frodo had not had a chance to speak privately with Melilot since Sam had arrived, but he'd caught her watching him in odd moments. It had come as a surprise when Merry had told him that she was considering his offer.

As they were leaving the dining-room, he had only to say, "Melly?" softly for her to stop and turn. "A word, please?"

Sam looked extremely curious as the two sought a quiet place to talk; he might have followed them, if Esmeralda had not expressed an interest in talking with him. Thus summoned, he joined the lady and Merry in the drawing-room.

"Merry told me what you said to him yesterday," Frodo said once they were alone in a small parlor at the far end of the hall. He lit a candle on the mantelpiece while Melilot sat down on a tuffet by the dark hearth. "Is that what you haven't settled on yet?"

"Yes, in part." She looked up at him. "Perhaps that's presumptuous of me. You didn't actually ask."

"No," said Frodo, "but I was intending to."

"It's very a gallant offer," Melly replied. "There are certainly some good reasons why I ought to accept. I can't stay here, and I can't help thinking of how humiliating it would be to go home again unmarried. It would please Mother and the rest of the family if we married, especially after all this trouble with Evvy. You have your own home, and it's one of the loveliest little houses in the Shire. A lot of girls would be proud to be mistress of Bag End, no matter what the conditions. And you wouldn't expect me to love you--I do care for you dearly, Frodo, but not in that way." She folded her hands in her lap and announced, "I'm still in love with Evvy, you see. If I don't rush to accept you, it's because of that. That, and, well..." Her cheeks turned pink and she averted her eyes delicately from his. "I'd like to have children."

"Of course you would," Frodo murmured. It was, after all, what most hobbits did hope for when they married... and the one thing he doubted could give. "Are you thinking of trying to win Evvy back?" he asked. "Are sure you want to after he's been such a little beast?"

"I see now that Evvy is not what I imagined him to be," the girl admitted. "He's weak, and he needs someone to be firm with him. I'd have to take charge of him to make him into a good husband. It's true, I might feel differently if Toby were still alive. I'd always be afraid that Evvy was sneaking off to see him. I'd never be able to trust him. But Toby's gone, and I have to give Evvy one last try before I give him up. If I thought he still wanted to marry me, in spite of what he said, I'd take him back. Maybe that's foolish. After all that's happened, I should be glad to go away and never see him again. It's not sensible, but it's how I feel."

"No, it's not sensible," Frodo agreed, "but love doesn't usually make sense."

Melilot laughed. "It surely doesn't! Do you mind if I keep you in reserve, so to speak? I may have need of you if it doesn't go well."

"I don't mind," Frodo assured her.

"Thank you, Frodo." She gave him a grateful smile and said almost playfully, "If it weren't for Evvy, there's no one else I'd rather marry."

When Frodo left Melilot, he went to find Paladin in his study. Pippin was already there, speaking quickly and eagerly about Gandalf taking command of the city guards on the battlements; he did not look as uncomfortable as he normally did when facing his father.

"I hope I'm not interrupting," Frodo said sincerely.

"No, it's quite all right," said Paladin. "You have something to tell me?"

"If Pip hasn't already."

"I didn't say anything!" Pippin insisted.

We weren't talking about the investigation," Paladin added. "Pip was just telling me about the siege at the city of..." he glanced at his son.

"Minas Tirith," Pippin supplied helpfully. "But it's a long story. I can finish it tomorrow."

"I'll look forward to it," his father replied. Once Pippin had gone out, Paladin turned to his attention to Frodo and asked, "What is it, lad?"

"I only wanted to tell you that it's not as you feared," Frodo informed him. "It can't be the same people who took part in that other crime, years ago. I'm convinced they aren't involved in Toby's death."

Paladin looked surprised, and impressed. "Is that where you were today? You've seen them?"

"I spoke to Great-Uncle Archambalt, and..." Frodo paused before he went on, "two old farmers."

"So, you've found out who they are, but you don't want to tell me?"

"I will if you like, and you may deal with them as you see fit," Frodo said. "Only, I think it might do more harm than good to see them receive their just deserts."

The Twiggs deserved everything that Paladin could to do to punish them, including losing the farm they'd received for their brutal service, but in the long years since they had grown into a state where they could scarcely be expected fend for themselves if they were cast from their home. And what of the younger Twiggs, who'd had no part in their elders' crime? They might not even be aware of it. Was it fair that they should suffer?

Paladin was even more surprised. "You're asking for mercy, for them?"

"Not so much for their sakes, Uncle. There are other people to consider, yourself included. As you say, I've seen them. I've spoken with them. They're quite old now and enfeebled. One is in his dotage. They aren't repentant, but they are very much afraid of what will happen to them if you should ever find them out. At least, the one who's still in his right senses is. I'm sure that whatever you'd do with them would only be justice, but in this case, justice would look more like cruelty."

"I see." Just as Frodo had anticipated, Paladin appreciated how very bad it would appear if the Thain were to punish two elderly hobbits for a decades-old crime. And to explain his reasons would expose his father, and his family, to greater shame. "Perhaps it's best if I don't know their names," the older hobbit agreed. "As much as I'd like to put the fear into them, I don't believe I could rely on my restraint."

"Do you want me to go on looking into this?" Frodo asked him. "I haven't found Toby's murderer."

Paladin gave the question some thought. "No," he decided at last. "You've done as I asked, for the sake of the family, and it doesn't appear we are responsible for that boy's death. We can leave the rest of the investigation to the shirriffs. Chief Thornbreak will find the murderer. I'll speak to him tomorrow." He considered further. "You might speak to Adelard, Frodo. He'll be relieved to know that history hasn't repeated itself."

"What's all this whispering 'tween you and Miss Melilot?" Sam asked as they undressed for bed. He and Merry had switched rooms every night since his arrival, and Frodo welcomed his entrance through the window each time, although with a little more restraint than he had shown that first night. "I've noticed the two of you going off together. What's it about?"

Frodo could hear the underlying note of jealousy in Sam's voice, and it made him reluctant to answer with complete honesty. He must tread carefully. Why disturb Sam with the prospect of his marrying Melly if it never came to be? "This business with Everard has been awfully distressing for her," he said, broaching the subject gently. "Since he threw her off and her wedding's been cancelled, I thought she might need my help. I've- ah- invited her to come and stay at Bag End."

"Have you?" Sam seemed nonplussed at this news. "Is she coming?"

"She wants to try and settle things with Everard first. You don't mind if she decides to join us, do you, Sam? She'd be welcome in our house?"

"Yes, of course!" Sam answered, surprised that Frodo should ask. "She's your cousin and she'd be your guest, same as Misters Merry and Pippin. You've a right to have whoever you like in your own home."

"Thank you, Sam." Frodo gave him a hug and quick kiss. He could bring the subject further along if necessary, but that was enough for now. "I knew you wouldn't let me down. No wonder I adore you." He stood close against Sam for a minute, enjoying the feeling of that comfortable, warm and sturdy body pressed to his. Whatever happened, they would have this. Then he extricated himself from the embrace--Sam had clasped him rather tightly--and climbed into bed.

Sam blew out the candle and got into bed beside him. "What about this investigation?" he asked as he gathered Frodo back into his arms. "Is there more to do, or are we done?"

"I suppose we're done." While Frodo didn't like the idea of leaving Toby's murder unsolved, he had to admit that it was no longer his concern. He had done all he'd been asked to do: Everard was under no suspicion, and Paladin's worries had been traced to their source and determined to be unfounded. What reason did he have to stay? "Unless the Chief Sherriff wants me to go on--which I rather doubt--our part in this is finished. I think we'll do the same as the Brandybucks and stay on here another day or two. Then we can go home."

Frodo snuggled closer. After the long day, he was very tired and most of the problems that had weighed on his mind had been addressed, if not settled satisfactorily. Nestled in Sam's arms, he shut his eyes and was soon asleep.
Chapter 28 by Kathryn Ramage
The next morning after breakfast, Frodo went next door to Adelard's house. As he walked through the edges of the garden near the slope of the hill, he met Ferdi and Adelard's three daughters gathered in a little group, and stopped to ask the girls how Everard was.

"He's still shut up in his room," Ada reported. "Reg has been trying to convince him to come out for days now, but he won't hear of it."

"He can't hide away forever," said Ferdi. "I must say I'm disappointed in him. I know he's had a terrible shock, finding his friend Toby dead-" the girls gave horrified little squeaks, "and then having their whole secret out in the open for everyone to talk about, but I don't think it's as bad for him as he fears. If he'd only be brave and face up to things, he'd be all right."

"I think he's waiting for the Brandybucks to go, and Melly too." Isalda glanced toward the green at the center of the garden, where Melilot and Merry were talking together. "They've all made it clear what they think of his treatment of her. Dodi told me what her mother said about it."

"Well, we can't blame them, can we?" said Flora. "Even if he is our brother."

"I'm sorry for Ev," said Ferdi, "but he's brought much of it on himself. Perhaps it's best that Melly goes back to Buckland with the rest of her family. Once she's gone, and he gets over poor Toby's death, Evvy might become more like his old self again."

"Are you going to see Evvy, Frodo?" asked Isalda.

"I might, if Reg will let me. But it was your father I wanted to speak to. Is he in?"

"Father's always in," Ada said with her customary laugh, and gestured toward the ajar study door.

When Frodo went to the door, he found Adelard was not at his usual seat by the fire, but was sitting at his desk, staring at a dyed and embossed leather packet; this packet would normally be rolled into a neat little cylinder and tied with thongs, but it was now opened and spread flat on the slanted desktop. Frodo could see that there were five narrow pockets sewn into the inner lining, and in each but one was a small bone-handled knife. Adelard held the fifth knife, which he had been using to carve his latest piece, in his hands. The finished carving stood on the work-table.

Frodo tapped gently on the open door; at the sound, Adelard turned quickly, startled. "Oh, Frodo, it's you. What is it?" He slipped the knife into the empty pocket with some difficulty, for his hand shook.

"I came to tell you," he said as he entered the room, "I've found out who beat Togold Clover all those years ago. I've seen them, and I don't believe they were involved in Toby's death. Uncle Paladin wanted you to know that the two are apparently not connected."

Adelard let out a sharp, hysterical bark of a laugh, and sounded so like Everard had when Frodo had last seen him that the young hobbit grew alarmed.

"Uncle Addy, what's wrong?" He shut the door and came forward anxiously. "Please, tell me what's happened?"

"You're a very bright lad, Frodo. You seem to know so much. Do you know about this too?" Adelard waved his hand over the packet of knives spread open before him.

"Know about what?" It took Frodo a moment to understand. "Has one of your knives been taken?" But the set was obviously complete. "Oh, I see--one was gone, and now it's been put back." He felt a small chill creep up his spine as the implications of this were borne upon him. Who could have taken it? And why? Was it the one that they had been searching the field for the day after Toby's murder?

Adelard laughed again. "I was surprised to see it returned to its proper old place. Very much surprised!" Observing the older hobbit's agitation, Frodo thought that 'shocked' or 'stunned' would be more appropriate descriptions. "I'm pleased to have it back at last, but I can't help wondering... Who do you suppose could have put it here?"

"I don't know," Frodo answered, "but I can guess." He had been considering the possibilities--who would have the opportunity?--and an idea was already beginning to form.

"Can you?" Adelard looked up at him in amazement.

"Yes, and I think I can find out if I'm right almost immediately... if you will excuse me, Uncle?"

If he was right, and the knife that had been returned to Adelard was the one that had killed Toby, only one of two people could have taken it away from the grove and put it back in the packet. Only two people would have a reason to. Whether one or both of them were involved in Toby's murder remained to be seen.

When he left Adelard's study, Frodo went straight to Everard's room. The two were there together, Everard and Reginard, the younger sitting on the bed and the elder in a chair set beside it. They were in the midst of a heated discussion-

"But I can't face her, Reg! She must hate me."

"Nonsense! You know Ferdi told you she doesn't. At least have the decency to say goodbye to the girl before she goes-"

They stopped when Frodo came into the room. He addressed Everard first, "All right, Ev, no more lies. Did you take the knife?"

Both brothers stared at him, blankly astonished.

"The knife?" squeaked Everard. "I didn't do anything with it. Frodo, I swear to you, I never saw it! There was only Toby, lying there, and all that blood..."

"Frodo Baggins!" Reginard roared, leaping to his feet to seize Frodo by the arm. "I told you to leave my brother alone! Uncle Paladin says he's innocent, and you aren't to badger him."

Even though Reg was larger and stronger than he was, Frodo held his ground and refused to be budged. "I have to do it, Reg," he said, resisting the efforts to shove him out. "I must have the truth. If it wasn't Everard who took the knife, then it must be you."

Reginard released his arm. "How- How do you know that?"

"No one else could have," Frodo replied, and tried to force Reginard to talk. "You found it in the grove, didn't you? You took it. What did you do with it?"

"I didn't kill him!"

"Then why did you take it?" Frodo persisted. "The truth, Reg! If you aren't responsible for Toby's death, then the truth can only help you, and help your brother. Now, tell me."

"You seem to know it all already," Reginard said grudgingly. "It's just as you say: When I reached Evvy, I saw the knife lying on the grass, near the- ah-body. I picked it up and put it in my jacket pocket before anyone else came. I don't think Evvy even noticed it. Did you, Ev?"

Everard shook his head and stared at his brother, bewildered. "No. But, Reg, why-?"

"It was one of Father's," Reginard told him, then explained to Frodo, "I recognized it instantly. It's an old one, with a bone handle, part of the set Father uses for his wood-carvings. They have his initials carved into the hilts."

"You don't think Father..?" Everard asked, horrified.

"Oh, no!" cried Reg, with a wary glance at Frodo. "Certainly not! Father's not stupid enough to leave something that so obviously points to him. I thought that someone else left it there, to implicate him, and so I thwarted them."

"What did you do with the knife?" Frodo asked again.

"I put it back with the others. Father keeps them in the desk in his study when he isn't using them. He came out to meet us when I brought Evvy back to the house that night. While he was taking Evvy to his room, I washed the blood off the knife and put it back in its place before I joined them."

"Neither of you took it from the study in the first place?"

"No!" both brothers cried at once, Reg indignantly, Everard with the same horrified tone. "Now, does that satisfy you?" Reginard demanded. "Have you got what you were after, Frodo?"

"Yes, I have. Thank you."

"And you won't accuse Father?" asked Everard. "He's been terribly upset by all of this, and he didn't even know Toby."

"No," said Frodo. "Your father is quite safe." But he wasn't looking forward to telling Adelard where his knife had been.

He went back to Adelard's study, where the older hobbit had put away the packet of knives and was pacing the rug nervously. "Ah, Frodo," he said with an anxious little smile. "You weren't gone very long. You didn't even leave this house."

"No, Uncle. I didn't need to." Frodo decided to come out with it. "It was as I guessed: Reg told me he was the one who brought your knife back to this room."

"Reg..?" Adelard looked completely baffled. "But how- ah- Where on earth did he find it?"

"In that grove in the meadow," Frodo said as gently as he could. "It was lying in the grass near Toby's body."

Adelard's face went white and his eyes widened in shock. His legs seemed to give beneath him, and he sank down quickly into the chair by the hearth.

"He says he didn't take it from here," Frodo hastened to add. "He told me that he saw it when he found Everard, knew it was yours, and hid it to protect you. There's no proof that he's guilty of Toby's murder, Uncle Addy. We don't know that it's so."

But Adelard did not find comfort in this reassurance. He let out a low, agonized moan and, with his head in his hands, began to weep.
Chapter 29 by Kathryn Ramage
Frodo could do nothing to console Adelard and so, at the older hobbit's insistence, he left him alone and went back outside.

As he stood blinking in the bright sunlight, he looked around at the other hobbits in the garden: Ferdi and the three girls in a laughing little group, Merry by himself near the pavilion, Melilot wandering through the shrubbery, Sam sitting shyly on a bench by himself and gazing with wonder at the flowers and trees all around him. Everyone seemed so normal, even happy. They thought that the worst had passed... but Frodo knew now that it hadn't begun yet.

The problem of the knife puzzled him. Questions filled his head: If Reginard was telling the truth, who could have taken it from the Adelard's study? One of the household? Could it be one of the girls? A servant? What about Ferdi? He seemed to spend more time here than at his own home. Frodo had seen that the garden door to the study was usually left open; anybody from the neighboring smials could slip in and out in less than a minute. If Adelard was not in, it would be easy enough to find the packet in his desk and take a knife from it. Days might pass before he noticed that one of the set was missing. Then, had the thief given it to someone else? Who had carried the knife to the grove? Had this same person killed Toby with it? It was entirely possible that two or three people might be involved. How could he trace its path through so many hands?

Merry was heading toward him with a frown of concern. "What is it, Frodo?" he asked. "You look as if you've been struck by lightning."

"I feel as if I have." Frodo waved to summon Sam over as well, and the trio walked to a little knoll on the hillside where they could talk without being overheard. "It looks like our investigation isn't over after all."

"Something's happened, said Sam, and Merry asked, "What have you found out?" at the same time.

"It's the knife that killed Toby. It's one of Uncle Adelard's." Frodo told them all he had just discovered.

"Do you think Reg is telling the truth?" Merry asked once Frodo had finished.

"I don't know. I'd like to believe him, but it looks bad. Uncle Adelard seems to believe Reg is responsible. I left him weeping over it."

"How d'you know Mr. Adelard doesn't know more about this knife than he's telling?" Sam wondered. "Maybe he's the one who gave it out? It sounds more like he's shocked at seeing it come back to him than at it being missing."

"He was shocked at finding it returned," Frodo agreed, "but I'm convinced that he was genuinely confused and grieved to learn that Reg was the person who returned it. I'm sure he didn't give it to his son." He looked around quickly. "Where's Pippin?"

"He went off after breakfast for a talk with his father," said Merry. "They've made up."

"I don't think we should tell him about this 'til we learn more," Frodo decided. "You know how upset he was the last time we talked about suspecting his Uncle Adelard."

Merry nodded in agreement. He didn't want Pippin upset.

There was a stir of excitement in the garden below as Everard came out. He looked around tentatively, past the smiles and encouraging remarks of his sisters and Ferdi. "Where's Melly?" he asked them. "I saw her from my window. Is she still here?"

"Right here, Ev." Melilot emerged from a path between the rows of tall rose-bushes. "Did you wish to speak to me?"

Faced with the girl he had wronged so publicly, Everard became shy and skittish. "I heard that you're leaving tomorrow."

"My family is going," Melilot confirmed coolly. "They've asked me to return to Buckland with them. Do you think I should?"

"I-" he hesitated. "It's for the best."

"Is it what you want, Evvy? Or don't you care if I stay or go?"

"Melly, I-" Everard took a step backwards, towards the door he had just emerged from. "I'm so sorry, Melly. I never meant to hurt you. You're much better off..."

He turned to retreat, when Melilot ordered, "Stop there, Everard Took!" Everard stopped. When he looked back, Melilot stood with her hands on her hips, fixing him with a firm glare. "We'll have this out before I leave Tuckborough. When you brought me here, did you mean to marry me?"

"Melly, yes! Of course!"

"Then why are you being such a fool about it now?"

"How can you possibly forgive me? You can't want to marry me, after-" The young hobbit ducked his head in shame. "After all I've done?" he finished weakly.

"It should be enough for you that I can," Melly answered. "If it isn't, then you're right: it's better I go. But I won't sit forever at Brandy Hall and spend my life sighing after you, Everard. I'll marry someone else..." She looked up and located Frodo returning down the slope of the hill with Merry and Sam to join the group. "Frodo?"

Sam's mouth dropped open when Frodo nodded.

"Frodo?" Everard echoed in an amazed squeak, then whirled to Ferdi. "You told me it was Merry she was considering!"

"I thought it was!" Ferdi protested.

"What does it matter to you, Evvy?" Melilot demanded. "Frodo's been wonderfully sweet to me all during this horrible time. He's looked after me when you wouldn't even see me. He'd marry me if I asked him to. Why shouldn't I? You don't want me."

"But I do!" Everard answered.

"So you love me, do you?" Melilot asked with a note of skepticism.

"I- Yes, I do. You know I do."

"I did think so, before all this trouble began. You certainly haven't behaved like it since!"

"I've been so ashamed of myself," the boy admitted. "I've been horrid to you, not just since Toby was killed, but all these weeks since you came to Tuckborough. I lied to you about him. I went on seeing him. I wanted to end it--please, believe me, I did--but I couldn't stop myself..."

"Never mind that, Evvy," Melilot said in a more gentle tone. "It's all in the past. I will forgive and forget it, if you will. Only, answer one question for me: Do you want to marry me--Yes or no?"

"Oh, Melly-" Everard's voice trembled and his eyes filled with tears.

"Do you?" she asked again.

Unable to speak, he could only nod in reply. Melly smiled and went to throw her arms around him. Everard did not draw away this time, nor resist the kiss the followed.

As the young couple walked away hand in hand for a more private conversation, there were exclamations of astonishment and delight from Everard's sisters before they flew off in different directions to spread the news.

Merry was grinning. "Aunt Eggie wouldn't have approved of that! I hope Melly's made the right choice in staying with Evvy."

"I think they'll be all right," said Frodo. "Melly knows how to manage him now."

"Evvy won't dare put a foot wrong for the rest of his life!" Ferdi agreed with a laugh.

Frodo turned to find Sam standing behind him, regarding him with folded arms and a quizzical scowl on his flushed face. "Would you, Frodo?" he asked. "Would you really marry Miss Melilot if she asked you to?"

"I did consider it," Frodo admitted; it was safe now to tell Sam the whole truth. "As a matter of fact, I almost asked her just before you arrived."

"Did you?" Sam sputtered. "Why?"

"Well, she's a very dear friend, and she was in trouble. I wanted to help her," said Frodo. "It seemed like the gentlemanly thing to do."
Chapter 30 by Kathryn Ramage
Pippin came out into the garden and approached his friends; Sam looked sullen, but Merry and Ferdi were laughing. "What did I miss?"

"Only Melly putting the fear into Evvy!" Ferdi exclaimed. "She's told him what's what, and the wedding's on again." He went off to spread the news to anyone the girls hadn't already told.

"And the investigation's begun again," Frodo said, and tried to think of the best way to tell Pippin why without worrying him on his uncle's behalf. If they carried on without him, Pippin would notice and want an explanation. "I've found something new that looks as if a Took is involved in this after all..."

Pippin asked anxiously, "It's Uncle Addy's knives, isn't it?"

"How do you know about it?" Merry wondered in amazement.

"I knew Frodo was going to talk to Uncle Addy this morning, and he'd see the knives," Pippin explained. "I saw one in Uncle Addy's study when I was there talking with him the other day. He'd been carving with it. Is that what you found?" he asked Frodo.

Since Pippin knew this much, he might as well know all. "One of them was used to kill Toby," Frodo told him. "It was left beside his body that night."

"Is that what you were afraid to tell us?" asked Merry.

Pippin nodded; he looked more anxious than before. "I've been worried it might be him since you two started talking about why he'd want to be rid of Toby, and who might have a pocket-knife like the one that killed him. Uncle Addy's had that set of four sharp, little knives he keeps for woodwork for as long as I can remember."

"Five," Frodo corrected him.

"No," said Pippin, "there's only four."

"There are five knives. I saw them myself not an hour ago."

"Come on, Pip," Merry said. "You can count that high!

"Yes, I can, and there are only four," Pippin insisted. "I've seen them too, hundreds of times. I used to go hide in Uncle Addy's study whenever Father was angry with me--and that was a lot of the time! I'd watch him work. Uncle Addy taught me to whittle with those knives." Then he conceded, "The set's meant to have five, but one's been missing for ages."

Frodo stared at him. Things began to fall into place.

"You all right, Frodo?" Sam asked, concern for Frodo's well-being driving him out of his sulkiness.

"He has that 'lightning-struck' look again," Merry murmured. "It's important, isn't it, Frodo?"

"Yes... Very important," Frodo said slowly, and stepped away from them. "I have to talk to Uncle Adelard."

"It's not Uncle Addy, is it?" Pippin pleaded.

"No!" Frodo called back to him, and went into Adelard's house.

Informed by one of the housemaids that the master of the house had been taken ill and was lying down in his room, Frodo decided not to disturb Adelard again right away. He went to find Reginard instead.

Reginard was in the nursery with his wife and child; he looked angry and frightened at the sight of Frodo returned so soon after their last scene, but Pearl smiled.

"Flora's told us that Melly and Ev have sorted things out between them," she informed him. "I'm so glad! I knew it would turn out right in the end if only Evvy could be made to behave reasonably."

"I was the one who made him go and speak to her," said Reginard.

"Yes, dear, and a good thing you did! But I'm sure Melly's taking a firm hand with him--and threatening to marry another boy--must've done the trick." She patted Frodo's cheek. "You mustn't fret over it, poor Frodo. We'll find another girl for you."

As Pearl turned to the baby's cradle to put Peveril down for his nap, Frodo placed a hand on Reg's arm and whispered, "I'd like a word with you, please."

"Oh, for mercy's sake-!" Reg huffed in exasperation, but left the nursery with Frodo. "Aren't you done with us yet?" he hissed once they were alone.

"I'm nearly done," Frodo assured him. "I have only one last question, about that knife you found in the grove."

"I told you, I didn't take it from Father's study. I don't know how it got there!"

"No, it isn't that. When you put it back in your father's study, you took the packet out of his desk."

"Yes, that's right," Reg said impatiently. "That where he always keeps it, in the top drawer."

"Did you happen to notice if your father had one knife out for his work?"

"No, I didn't. The study was dark, and I didn't want to light a candle to draw attention to myself. I went straight to the desk--it's under the window, and there was enough light for me to see what I was doing. And, anyway, I soon saw Father had already put the one he was using back into its place."

Frodo knew Adelard hadn't done so, not until this morning. He tried to keep the rising excitement from his voice as he asked, "Then you did see how many of the pockets were empty?"

"Yes, I noticed that," Reginard answered. "There were two empty. But that's perfectly right. One's missing."

"Pippin's told me the same. It's been gone from the set for as long as he can remember. How long ago was it lost, do you know?"

"As a matter of fact, I don't," Reg snapped. "It's always been gone. Father's had that set of knives since he was a lad. For all I know, he lost it long before I was even born. What's all this about, Frodo?"

"I'll explain it later," said Frodo, "when I understand it. Thank you, Reg. I'm sorry I've put you to so much trouble."

Reginard was confused and somewhat distrustful at this apology. "So you don't suspect any of us any longer?"

"No," said Frodo. "You needn't worry." He left Adelard's house, his head whirling. The clues seemed to point toward one person, one who made the least sense. It was impossible to believe. And yet...

He went up the hillside and sat down on the slope outside his bedroom window. He wasn't ready to discuss the matter with Paladin or Esmeralda, or even Sam, Pippin, or Merry; he had to think the problem over thoroughly before he spoke to anyone.

After awhile, Sam stuck his head out the window to ask, "Aren't you coming in, Frodo? It's almost time for lunch."

"I'm not very hungry, Sam," Frodo replied. "I want to think. Can you hand me my pipe, please? I left it on the mantelpiece."

Sam, who knew better than to bother Frodo when he was in one of his 'thinking' moods, got the pipe for him, handed it out the window, and left Frodo alone.

Nearly an hour later, Frodo came inside the Hall and sought out Paladin. He caught the Thain just as the party was leaving the dining-hall. Everyone was talking about Melilot's and Everard's reconciliation; not all were as pleased about the marriage as they'd been a few days earlier, but they hoped that that Melly would be happy.

Paladin smiled when he saw Frodo. "There you are, lad! We missed you at luncheon. Your friend Sam said that you had something to think about." As they walked away from the rest of the lunch party, Paladin lowered his voice and added, "I gather that your investigation is continuing after all?"

"Yes, Uncle. Have you seen the Chief Sherriff yet?"

"Not yet. I sent a message to Tookbank this morning, and received one in reply. They had some trouble with Tibbard Clover last night--the boy was found wandering drunk in the small hours, shouting in the streets at the top of his voice. Chief Thornbreak had to take him in. I thought I'd ride over to Tookbank this afternoon to speak with him."

"May I go with you?" Frodo requested. "Uncle Paladin, I want to call a few people together. We may as well meet at the Shirriff's office as anywhere else. Can you arrange it? Togold Clover should be there. And we must tell Uncle Adelard. He mayn't be up to coming with us, but he has some information that will help to clear things up."

"I don't know if we can manage Mr. Clover, but otherwise, yes, I'll see to it." Paladin looked extremely interested. "So, it seems that Toby's murder is connected with what happened to his father after all,"

"Yes, I'm afraid it is," Frodo answered.

"And do you know who killed the boy?"

Frodo nodded. "Yes, I do."
Chapter 31 by Kathryn Ramage
They separated, and met again half an hour later in front of the Thain's Hall. Frodo found his friends and quickly explained where he was going, and why. Paladin went into Adelard's house and returned with Adelard, who looked very pale, but determined.

"I'm going with you to Tookbank," he announced as he and Paladin joined Frodo on the lawn. "I want to. Pal's told me that you know who the murderer is, Frodo."

"I believe so," Frodo answered. "You knew it too, this morning, didn't you?"

Adelard nodded solemnly. "Yes, but I don't understand why. Do you?"

"I have an idea, but I'd rather wait 'til we are in the company of the Chief Shirriff to discuss it."

Paladin looked from one to the other. "I don't have any idea what you're talking about. I don't know who it is, and I wish you'd tell me."

Frodo spoke a name.

"Oh, no." Paladin made a small sound of surprise and disbelief, and lay a hand on Adelard's arm. "It's got to come out, Addy. There's no help for it. Once an arrest is made, this can't be handled privately."

"Yes, I know," his cousin acknowledged. "It'll be hard on all of us. I'll have to tell Evvy and the others, but they'll hear about it one way or another and have questions. It's better if they hear the truth from me."

They went to the stable and rode silently along the road to Tookbank and the High Shirriff's home. The Shirriff's office was the front parlor of his smial, converted to more business-like uses against his wife's protests when he'd been appointed to his position. When the three arrived, they could hear that Togold Clover was already in the office with his daughter; they had come to plead for Tibbard's release.

"Now, the lad's come to no harm," Shirriff Thornbreak was trying to reassure them. "He was raising riot last night, making wrongful accusations against-" he stopped when his more prestigious visitors were shown into the room, and amended what he'd been about to say, "against people he shouldn't. We can't allow that. And since the lad was fightsome when the shirriff on duty tried to quiet 'm, we had no choice but to bring him in for his own good. A lad in the condition your Tibby was in is like to get himself in all sorts of trouble if left on his own."

"But where is he?" asked Tansy. "What've you done with him?"

"Don't you worry, Miss Clover. He's in the guest bedroom, with the door locked to see he keeps in. The last I looked in on him, he was sleeping it off, as we say. You can take him home when he wakes, and mind you tell him to behave himself. I know he's lost his brother, but that's no excuse for going around making such a rumpus about the streets as he was last night."

"It'd help if we saw some justice for my brother Toby," said Tansy. "Have you found who's killed him yet, Sherriff?" She glared at Frodo accusingly. "Have you, Mr. Baggins?"

"As a matter of fact, that's just what we've come for," said Paladin. "To see justice done for your brother."

Adelard was watching Togold Clover. "Hello, Togs," he said quietly. "It's been a very long time. I'm sorry we couldn't meet again under happier circumstances."

It occurred to Frodo that this might be the first time Mr. Clover and Adelard had seen each other in more than forty years. He tried to imagine them as they were the last time they'd met, as young boys like Everard and Toby; they must have been very like their sons before Adelard had had the spirit crushed out of him and turned within himself, and before Togold Clover had nursed his hatred of the Took family past all reason. Had any of that old emotion survived, or had too many years passed and too much come between them? But it was useless to think of that now.

Tansy, although somewhat intimidated by the Thain's presence, still looked resentful. Mr. Clover, however, only seemed abashed and wouldn't meet Adelard's eyes. "We ought to be leaving," he said, and tried to skirt the Tooks to reach the doorway. "Tansy, come along. These gentlemen have business with the shirriff. They'll want to speak to Mr. Thornbreak without us here. We'll come back for Tibby later."

"No, please, don't go," Paladin insisted. "We were planning to ask you to join us. It will save us the trouble of a journey to the butcher's shop and an argument if you remain."

But Togold was anxious to leave, until Frodo said, "Stay, Mr. Clover. You'll want to hear what I have to say. I was going to tell Sherriff Thornbreak who's responsible for Toby's death."

At these words, Mr. Clover crumpled as if he'd been struck. His daughter caught him by the arm, and he sank into a chair that Sherriff Thornbreak hastily provided for him. He regarded Frodo with wide, almost blank eyes. "You... know?"

"I know it all," Frodo told him.

Mr. Clover turned to his daughter. "Tansy," he said, "I must stay, but I want you to go. You mustn't be here for this."

"No, Dad, I want to stay. If Mr. Baggins knows who killed Toby, then I want to know too!" She whirled to Frodo. "Tell us who it is!"

"It's rather a long and complicated story," Frodo said. He too was somewhat reluctant to speak of these matters in front of a girl who wasn't yet thirty, but if she refused to go at her father's command, she surely wouldn't leave at his. She would hear the truth very soon in any case.

"Well, I'd be interested to hear it all," said Sherriff Thornbreak, with the air of a hobbit looking forward to a good tale. He showed his other guests to seats and took a chair for himself. Frodo remained standing, and Tansy, who stood beside her father; Togold held the girl by wrapping one arm around her waist, and she had placed her own arm protectively around his shoulders.

"Some pieces of this story are best kept confidential," Frodo began, "but they are known to everyone here, except yourself." He primarily addressed the Sherriff, since everyone else in the room was familiar with some part of what he'd discovered, and Thornbreak knew the least. "I will therefore speak frankly. The trouble that led to Toby Clover's murder can be traced to another incident, nearly as ugly, that happened many years ago. The last Thain and some other members of the Took family hired a pair of farm-laborers to beat a young boy." Togold flinched at this, and his daughter bent her head over his to murmur something comforting. "They thought he'd gotten above himself by becoming friends with one of the Tooks' son, and they wanted to put a stop to it."

"For being friends?" Sherriff Thornbreak said incredulously, and then understanding dawned. "Or, d'you mean, they was friends like Mr. Everard and young Toby?"

"Yes, just like Evvy and Toby," Frodo answered. "You see, Sherriff, these two boys happened to be Everard's and Toby's fathers."

Tansy cast a glance at Adelard; she hadn't known that he was the other boy.

"Ah, now, I always wondered what sent you away so sudden as a lad," the Sherriff said to Togold, "and why you took on so against the Tooks once you came back. If what the lad here says is true, I can't say as I blame you for it." He turned to Frodo. "But what's this got to do with Toby's murder? D'you mean to tell me that the same thing's happened again? That's the sort o' tale young Tibbard was telling last night! I can't believe your Thainship and Mr. Adelard would be here if it was so, 'less you mean to give yourselves up." He tugged his red-feathered cap of office respectfully, to let Paladin know that this was only a joke.

"No," Paladin answered with gracious equanimity, "but it is what I feared when I hired Frodo to look into this."

"I found that it wasn't so," Frodo added. "I thought that my work had ended there, until I came upon another important part of this tale. It has to do with a certain knife."

"You mean the one that killed Toby?" asked the Sherriff. "We never did find it. I don't suppose if we found it now, if it's been washed up, we'd know it from any other pocket-knife. There's too many of them about."

Frodo gave a small smile. "That's just what my friend Merry Brandybuck said when we began this investigation: there are so many little knives about. Anybody might have one, and it wouldn't draw attention. But that's not so. The knife that killed Toby was quite distinctive."

The Sherriff sat forward eagerly. "You've seen it then?"

"I can describe it for you: it is a fine craftsman's knife, to be used for delicate woodwork, bone-handled, with the letters 'AT' carved into the hilt. There are only a few others like it, for it was one of a set, given as a gift to Adelard Took as a boy. All the Took family knows them well."

"And does Mr. Adelard have it now?" The Sherriff looked expectantly at Adelard, and when Adelard did not produce the knife, he asked, "Or is it gone? Who took it away from the grove?"

"Reginard Took did," said Frodo, "Everard's elder brother. He told me so himself."

Tansy's eyes flashed. "Did he kill Toby?"

"No," Frodo answered her. "He only found the knife beside Toby's body that night. He knew at once that it belonged to his father, and so he carried it away with him when he escorted Everard out of the meadow. He put it back with the others in his father's desk, where he thought it had come from. But he was mistaken. This particular knife hadn't been with the others in a long time." He turned to Adelard. "Uncle Addy, when you showed me that set of knives this morning, you said you were glad to have the missing one back 'at last'? How long had it been gone?"

"One of the set's been gone for years."

"And that was the one Reg returned to you?"

Adelard nodded. "They aren't identical. There are slight differences between one blade and the next. I'm familiar with all of them."

"But the missing one, it wasn't lost, was it? You gave it away, years ago, as a present, a pledge... to a dear friend."

Adelard nodded again.

"Is that why you were weeping when I told you where Reg had found it?" Frodo asked. "I thought then that you believed Reg was guilty of the murder, but that wasn't it at all. You realized what had happened. I didn't understand, not 'til I learned from Pippin and Reg that that knife had been missing for longer than either of them can remember. Then I recalled that Miss Clover told us her father had a knife that belonged to one of the Tooks. You gave it to Mr. Clover when you were boys together. And he kept it all those years." Frodo turned to Togold Clover, who sat very still and silent, as if he were made of stone. "Who did you give it to, Mr. Clover? To Fenny before you sent him off to the grove?"

"No," Mr. Clover answered after a long silence. "I gave it to my Toby, weeks ago, when young Everard announced he was going to marry. I wanted to remind Toby what a pledge of friendship meant to a Took."

"You didn't mean for him to die," said Frodo. "Was it Evvy you were after? You encouraged your son to meet him one last time before he married."

"No!" Mr. Clover protested. "I didn't mean for anybody to die! It was only to be a warning. Toby came home the night before. He'd just talked with Everard Took and he was angry and looking for revenge. He said he was going to spoil the wedding, but I told him he could do something better to teach Mr. Everard Took a lesson. I had him write to young Everard, asking him to come to their meeting spot once more before he married. But Fenny would be waiting there instead of Toby and give the boy a good thumping, rough 'm up a bit, to pay back all the Tooks for what they did to us. Fenny would do whatever I said--he was that grateful to me for keeping him on."

Adelard had been regarding Togold with great sympathy and pity, but as he heard this plan, he began to be angry. "Everard doesn't know a thing about that! He doesn't deserve a beating any more than you did! How could you think of punishing my boy for it?"

Togold looked up at last to meet Adelard's eyes. "My boy's paid for it worse!" he wailed in an agony of grief, not only that his son was dead, but that he had brought it about. He had let go of Tansy, who drew away from him, whispering, "No... oh, no," in disbelief.

"How did Toby come to be there?" Frodo asked. "Was he meant to help Fenny?"

"Toby wasn't meant to be there at all," Togold answered; tears were flowing unchecked down his face; he didn't bother to wipe them away. "After he wrote his note, I told him to stay away from the place. I've done nothing but turn it over in my mind since we had the news. I've sat beside him, laid out in the parlor, night and day, and thought how it might've happened. Poor Toby must've changed his mind and gone to warn Everard. He still had some feeling for him, in spite of it all. Maybe he tried to drive Fenny off, and Fenny wouldn't go. Or maybe it was dark in among the trees, and Fenny mistook the one lad for the other." He shook his head. "They must've fought. Toby had the knife, not Fenny. I don't know if Fenny took it from him, or if Toby caught himself on it, accidental-like. I only know that my son is dead, same as if I'd stabbed him myself."

When Sherriff Thornbreak lay a hand on his shoulder, he looked up and said, "You must do as you will, Sherriff. I don't care now, except for..."

He twisted in his seat to find his stunned daughter, who had shrunk back against the wall behind him and was moaning, "No, Dad. No, it can't be true. Say it isn't."

"I'm sorry, lass, but it is. You see why I didn't want you to hear. I'll have to stay here with the Sherriff now. Will you do one last thing for me? When your brother wakes, you must be the one to tell 'm what's happened. He won't believe the truth of it if the Sherriff or one of the Tooks tells him."
Chapter 32 by Kathryn Ramage
The wedding ceremony of Melilot Brandybuck and Everard Took was a more quiet affair than originally planned, since the flowers had wilted, the foods for the feast had already been eaten, and some of the guests had gone home. There was also a measure of sadness in the celebration, for Toby Clover's funeral was to be held in Tookbank that same day, and news of Mr. Clover's arrest was spreading rapidly throughout the neighborhood. But Melilot wore her beribboned dress and looked very pretty in it, and the bride's and groom's immediate families were there to see the two wed at last and then to see them off to their secluded honeymoon cottage on the far southern border of the Took lands. Since there was no day-long party to follow the morning ceremony, the newlyweds were ready to leave by midday.

After she'd made her farewells to her mother, aunts, and cousins, Melilot took Frodo's hand. "I'm sorry, Frodo, if I disappointed you."

"You haven't been a disappointment, Melly," Frodo replied. "Quite the contrary. I hope you'll have everything you wished for in your marriage."

Melly smiled. "I wouldn't have it at all if it weren't for you." She gave him a kiss on the cheek before climbing into the carriage beside her new husband, who looked a little jealous at this parting.

Once the young couple had gone, the wedding party began to break up. The last of the Tooks' guests also prepared to be on their way. There were a few matters Frodo had to see to before he and his friends could go.

He had to talk to Esmeralda. She since had been the first to ask him to look into this murder, he thought she ought to hear how his investigation had ended. Aside from Merry, Pippin, and Sam, she was the only one Frodo told the full story behind Toby's death.

"How very sad," the lady said when she learned the history of Adelard and Togold Clover. "No. It's more than sad--it's quite tragic. I remember them as boys, before I went away to Buckland to be married. I never knew 'til now how their friendship was broken up. And to think there's been so much unhappiness because of it, even to today! That poor boy dead." A flash of angry determination shone in Esmeralda's eyes. "Such things must never be allowed to happen again in our Shire."

Then she went to say goodbye to her son before the ladies from Brandy Hall departed.

Paladin had gone into Tookbank that afternoon; when he returned, Frodo met with the Thain in his study one last time while Sam was packing their bags to return to Bag End. Paladin was at his desk, studying the faded writing in a large, old, dusty-looking book, but he set it aside when Frodo came in.

"What will happen to Mr. Clover, Uncle?" Frodo asked.

"Chief Thornbreak has him in custody, as much to see that he doesn't do a harm to himself as anything else. He won't be hanged, Frodo. You may be assured of that. It's never happened in the Shire before, and I will not be the first to call for it. I'll have to pronounce some judgment on him, in the interests of justice, but I don't see how I can be as harsh as that. The whole business was his doing--it's only Toby's intervention that spared Everard from a bad beating--but Mr. Clover didn't intend for his own son to be killed. If he hadn't sought revenge against a boy who had nothing to do with it, I could feel sorry for him. I can't forget that it all began with our family." Paladin shook his head. "Toby's death seems to be more than punishment enough for what he tried to do."

"What about Fenny?"

"It's my guess he fled in fear after Toby was stabbed. Messengers have been sent out to the Chiefs in other parts of the Shire to search for him," said Paladin. "If he's found anywhere, they'll hold him and notify us. I want to hear his side of the story, and learn if he deliberately stabbed Toby or if it was entirely an accident. That will clear matters up considerably."

"And what will happen to Tansy and Tibbard? Will they be all right?" Frodo asked. "This has been an incredible shock to them. They're both underage, too young to be left by themselves at such a time."

"They won't be," Paladin promised him. "They have Clover relatives in Tookbank who've taken them in for the present, until they know how things are settled with their father. No matter how it turns out, I will look after them. They won't like it, but I rather feel that they are our family's responsibility.

"There's one last thing I think you'd be interested in, Frodo. I've heard a curious story from Sherriff Thornbreak: an aged local farmer named Ludo Twigg has left his home." Paladin watched Frodo as he spoke the name.

"Left?" Frodo echoed, surprised. "For where?"

"His family doesn't know where he's gone and they want him found, but there's every sign that he left of his own accord. He packed his bags and left the night before last." The elder hobbit was still watching Frodo. "The story caught my attention because the name of Twigg sounded familiar. I've looked it up in my father's old estate journal-" Paladin nodded to indicate the large book that lay open on his desk. "It seems that my father granted this Ludo Twigg and his brother a farm to the south of Tookbank, as a freehold, about forty years ago. He didn't note why he chose to make them such a generous gift, but I can guess. I expect Mr. Twigg's gone out of this part of the Shire for good. Perhaps that's best."

"Perhaps it is," Frodo agreed quietly. He could imagine the fear that had prompted the old hobbit's flight.

"So that's that. It's been an honor to work with you, Frodo." Paladin went with Frodo to the study door and put an arm around his back. "You've grown up to be an exceptional hobbit. This has been an ugly business from beginning to end, and you got to the heart of it. Esme didn't exaggerate in her estimation of your abilities. Pip's told me what you've done out in the Big Folk's world," he added. "I don't understand all of it about old Bilbo's ring--and I daresay Pip doesn't either--but it sounds most brave and remarkable. My boy hasn't gone wrong by being a friend of yours."

"Thank you," Frodo answered modestly, but he was very touched and gratified by this praise.

After he bade farewell to Eglantine and thanked her for making him welcome as a guest, he found Merry and Sam waiting in the front hall with the baggage. "Pippin's not ready yet," Merry reported.

Pippin joined them a few minutes later, with no luggage.

"Haven't you got your bag packed?" Merry asked him. "We'll be leaving soon."

"I won't be," Pippin said. He looked around at the others before announcing, "I've decided to stay on here. I have to settle some things with my parents. Father and I- we have so much to talk about. And Mother and Auntie Di mean to settle 'the problem' of my betrothal. So do I--in my own way, of course."

Merry grinned. "Do you want me to stay with you?" he offered.

"If you don't mind, I'd rather you didn't," Pippin answered shyly, almost apologetically. "I think I'd better do this by myself. I'm at my best, you know, when I have to stand on my own."

"Well, if you're sure you want it that way..." Merry conceded, "but I'll miss you."

"It won't be for long," Pippin promised. "I wouldn't want to miss Frodo's birthday. I'll come up and join you at Bag End in a day or two for it, but I think that, after that, I'll come back here for awhile."

There were hugs all around. Merry stayed behind a little longer, saying goodbye, then headed out after Sam and Frodo, who were already halfway to the stable.

"You aren't still upset about Melly, are you?" Frodo asked, teasing, as he and Sam went out the gate and crossed the road. Sam had been rather cool since he'd learned of Frodo's plan to propose to Melilot, and had only began to relax once the young lady had gone away. Frodo meant to bring him around. "There's no reason to worry now. She's safely married elsewhere."

"And if she wasn't, she'd be going on to Bag End with us, wouldn't she?" Sam asked back, gruffly; this point was obviously still on his mind. "She'd be staying with us, you said--but what you meant was you'd be marrying her."

"Only to keep the gossip down," Frodo explained. "There's been enough of it as it is." He took Sam's arm. "If it comforts you, I didn't intend to be a husband to her in the true sense. Melly understood that. She knew all about us."

Sam went pink. "You told her?"

"Yes, of course. It's the only decent thing to do when you propose to a girl. Look at all the trouble Everard got himself into when he didn't!" Frodo smiled. "I must say, I don't behave this way about your marrying Rose."

"No, you don't," Sam agreed reluctantly.

"There you are then! I'll always be yours, no matter who else comes into it. So stop fretting." Tall myrtle bushes flanked either side of the path to the stable; under this concealment, Frodo turned suddenly and, taking Sam by the shoulders, pressed him back against the nearest green wall of leaves for a kiss. "Besides, I promise I'll make it up to you once we're home." He planned to overcome any lingering remnants of Sam's jealousy by letting Sam feel as if he'd regained full possession of him at the earliest convenient moment. The thought was an exciting one, and it made Frodo all the more eager to be home. Sam seemed to like the idea of it too.

They were still kissing when Merry, who'd been walking quickly to catch up, nearly ran into them. Sam let go of Frodo, blushed, and mumbled something about getting the ponies.

"I'm sorry I interrupted," Merry apologized to Frodo once Sam had gone into the stable. "Are you sure I won't be in the way at Bag End?"

"Of course not!" Frodo insisted. Sam would be entirely his tonight, but come tomorrow, he would have to share again. "As a matter of fact, if Sam's going to be spending more time with Rosie Cotton, I'll be grateful for your company."
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