Too Many Tooks by Kathryn Ramage

As he'd promised Sam, Frodo lay down in his room until dinner-time, but even with Sam beside him, he remained disquieted and unable to rest.

"Can't you sleep?" Sam asked softly against the back of Frodo's neck, after Frodo had squirmed in his arms for the dozenth time.

"I'm afraid not." Frodo sighed. "I've got too much to think about."

Sam didn't ask what Frodo was thinking of; he knew very well.

"It's a terrible part of these investigations, Sam," Frodo went on, "even worse than suspecting my own relatives of murder. Whenever I begin poking into things, I discover these frightening spots of darkness."

"Mr. Archambalt, you mean? And these here Twiggs?"

"Yes, and Lotho... you remember, and the way Berilac couldn't keep his hands off girls. I used to look on the Shire as a green and peaceful place, especially when we were away from it. Has the darkness always been here? Has it always been part of the Shire, and I'm only now able to see it?"

Sam had no better answer for this than Frodo did himself. All he could do, by way of comfort, was hold Frodo more tightly and kiss the nape of his neck. When Frodo turned over to face him, Sam went on with his comforting kisses. It didn't resolve anything, but it helped Frodo not to think about his problems for a little while.

When they met before dinner, Pippin brought it all back by asking one of the questions that was foremost on his cousin's mind: "Are you going to tell Father, Frodo? About the Twiggs, I mean."

Frodo didn't know. The thought of seeing those two horrible hobbits get what was coming to them had its appeal, but there were other factors to consider. He would have to speak with Paladin in any case.

The conversation over dinner that night was not about the murder, nor directly concerned with Melilot's and Everard's situation, but since their wedding had been cancelled, there was no reason for the guests to stay on. Diamanta observed that other members of the Took family who had come to Tuckborough were already leaving, but she intended to stay and assist Eglantine until "that other problem" was settled. The ladies from Brandy Hall also discussed their plans to return to Buckland.

"We'll go home the day after tomorrow," Esmeralda decided. "Melly, dear, will you be coming with us?"

"I can't tell you yet," Melilot answered. "There are some other matters I haven't settled." She glanced in Frodo's direction.

Frodo had not had a chance to speak privately with Melilot since Sam had arrived, but he'd caught her watching him in odd moments. It had come as a surprise when Merry had told him that she was considering his offer.

As they were leaving the dining-room, he had only to say, "Melly?" softly for her to stop and turn. "A word, please?"

Sam looked extremely curious as the two sought a quiet place to talk; he might have followed them, if Esmeralda had not expressed an interest in talking with him. Thus summoned, he joined the lady and Merry in the drawing-room.

"Merry told me what you said to him yesterday," Frodo said once they were alone in a small parlor at the far end of the hall. He lit a candle on the mantelpiece while Melilot sat down on a tuffet by the dark hearth. "Is that what you haven't settled on yet?"

"Yes, in part." She looked up at him. "Perhaps that's presumptuous of me. You didn't actually ask."

"No," said Frodo, "but I was intending to."

"It's very a gallant offer," Melly replied. "There are certainly some good reasons why I ought to accept. I can't stay here, and I can't help thinking of how humiliating it would be to go home again unmarried. It would please Mother and the rest of the family if we married, especially after all this trouble with Evvy. You have your own home, and it's one of the loveliest little houses in the Shire. A lot of girls would be proud to be mistress of Bag End, no matter what the conditions. And you wouldn't expect me to love you--I do care for you dearly, Frodo, but not in that way." She folded her hands in her lap and announced, "I'm still in love with Evvy, you see. If I don't rush to accept you, it's because of that. That, and, well..." Her cheeks turned pink and she averted her eyes delicately from his. "I'd like to have children."

"Of course you would," Frodo murmured. It was, after all, what most hobbits did hope for when they married... and the one thing he doubted could give. "Are you thinking of trying to win Evvy back?" he asked. "Are sure you want to after he's been such a little beast?"

"I see now that Evvy is not what I imagined him to be," the girl admitted. "He's weak, and he needs someone to be firm with him. I'd have to take charge of him to make him into a good husband. It's true, I might feel differently if Toby were still alive. I'd always be afraid that Evvy was sneaking off to see him. I'd never be able to trust him. But Toby's gone, and I have to give Evvy one last try before I give him up. If I thought he still wanted to marry me, in spite of what he said, I'd take him back. Maybe that's foolish. After all that's happened, I should be glad to go away and never see him again. It's not sensible, but it's how I feel."

"No, it's not sensible," Frodo agreed, "but love doesn't usually make sense."

Melilot laughed. "It surely doesn't! Do you mind if I keep you in reserve, so to speak? I may have need of you if it doesn't go well."

"I don't mind," Frodo assured her.

"Thank you, Frodo." She gave him a grateful smile and said almost playfully, "If it weren't for Evvy, there's no one else I'd rather marry."

When Frodo left Melilot, he went to find Paladin in his study. Pippin was already there, speaking quickly and eagerly about Gandalf taking command of the city guards on the battlements; he did not look as uncomfortable as he normally did when facing his father.

"I hope I'm not interrupting," Frodo said sincerely.

"No, it's quite all right," said Paladin. "You have something to tell me?"

"If Pip hasn't already."

"I didn't say anything!" Pippin insisted.

We weren't talking about the investigation," Paladin added. "Pip was just telling me about the siege at the city of..." he glanced at his son.

"Minas Tirith," Pippin supplied helpfully. "But it's a long story. I can finish it tomorrow."

"I'll look forward to it," his father replied. Once Pippin had gone out, Paladin turned to his attention to Frodo and asked, "What is it, lad?"

"I only wanted to tell you that it's not as you feared," Frodo informed him. "It can't be the same people who took part in that other crime, years ago. I'm convinced they aren't involved in Toby's death."

Paladin looked surprised, and impressed. "Is that where you were today? You've seen them?"

"I spoke to Great-Uncle Archambalt, and..." Frodo paused before he went on, "two old farmers."

"So, you've found out who they are, but you don't want to tell me?"

"I will if you like, and you may deal with them as you see fit," Frodo said. "Only, I think it might do more harm than good to see them receive their just deserts."

The Twiggs deserved everything that Paladin could to do to punish them, including losing the farm they'd received for their brutal service, but in the long years since they had grown into a state where they could scarcely be expected fend for themselves if they were cast from their home. And what of the younger Twiggs, who'd had no part in their elders' crime? They might not even be aware of it. Was it fair that they should suffer?

Paladin was even more surprised. "You're asking for mercy, for them?"

"Not so much for their sakes, Uncle. There are other people to consider, yourself included. As you say, I've seen them. I've spoken with them. They're quite old now and enfeebled. One is in his dotage. They aren't repentant, but they are very much afraid of what will happen to them if you should ever find them out. At least, the one who's still in his right senses is. I'm sure that whatever you'd do with them would only be justice, but in this case, justice would look more like cruelty."

"I see." Just as Frodo had anticipated, Paladin appreciated how very bad it would appear if the Thain were to punish two elderly hobbits for a decades-old crime. And to explain his reasons would expose his father, and his family, to greater shame. "Perhaps it's best if I don't know their names," the older hobbit agreed. "As much as I'd like to put the fear into them, I don't believe I could rely on my restraint."

"Do you want me to go on looking into this?" Frodo asked him. "I haven't found Toby's murderer."

Paladin gave the question some thought. "No," he decided at last. "You've done as I asked, for the sake of the family, and it doesn't appear we are responsible for that boy's death. We can leave the rest of the investigation to the shirriffs. Chief Thornbreak will find the murderer. I'll speak to him tomorrow." He considered further. "You might speak to Adelard, Frodo. He'll be relieved to know that history hasn't repeated itself."

"What's all this whispering 'tween you and Miss Melilot?" Sam asked as they undressed for bed. He and Merry had switched rooms every night since his arrival, and Frodo welcomed his entrance through the window each time, although with a little more restraint than he had shown that first night. "I've noticed the two of you going off together. What's it about?"

Frodo could hear the underlying note of jealousy in Sam's voice, and it made him reluctant to answer with complete honesty. He must tread carefully. Why disturb Sam with the prospect of his marrying Melly if it never came to be? "This business with Everard has been awfully distressing for her," he said, broaching the subject gently. "Since he threw her off and her wedding's been cancelled, I thought she might need my help. I've- ah- invited her to come and stay at Bag End."

"Have you?" Sam seemed nonplussed at this news. "Is she coming?"

"She wants to try and settle things with Everard first. You don't mind if she decides to join us, do you, Sam? She'd be welcome in our house?"

"Yes, of course!" Sam answered, surprised that Frodo should ask. "She's your cousin and she'd be your guest, same as Misters Merry and Pippin. You've a right to have whoever you like in your own home."

"Thank you, Sam." Frodo gave him a hug and quick kiss. He could bring the subject further along if necessary, but that was enough for now. "I knew you wouldn't let me down. No wonder I adore you." He stood close against Sam for a minute, enjoying the feeling of that comfortable, warm and sturdy body pressed to his. Whatever happened, they would have this. Then he extricated himself from the embrace--Sam had clasped him rather tightly--and climbed into bed.

Sam blew out the candle and got into bed beside him. "What about this investigation?" he asked as he gathered Frodo back into his arms. "Is there more to do, or are we done?"

"I suppose we're done." While Frodo didn't like the idea of leaving Toby's murder unsolved, he had to admit that it was no longer his concern. He had done all he'd been asked to do: Everard was under no suspicion, and Paladin's worries had been traced to their source and determined to be unfounded. What reason did he have to stay? "Unless the Chief Sherriff wants me to go on--which I rather doubt--our part in this is finished. I think we'll do the same as the Brandybucks and stay on here another day or two. Then we can go home."

Frodo snuggled closer. After the long day, he was very tired and most of the problems that had weighed on his mind had been addressed, if not settled satisfactorily. Nestled in Sam's arms, he shut his eyes and was soon asleep.
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