Too Many Tooks 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."
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