Too Many Tooks 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."
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