Too Many Tooks 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?
You must login (register) to review.