Too Many Tooks by Kathryn Ramage

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
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.
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