Too Many Tooks 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."
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