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Chief, Boss, or Mayor  by Larner

For the birthdays of the Master and Lindelea, with respect toward each.

Chief, Boss, or Mayor

          “I don’t see nobody in the Mayor’s Office,” said the lad who emerged from the Council Hole to the lass with him.  “Mebbe him felt as him wasn’t needed after all.”

          The lass shrugged.  “Don’t seem to be nobody here, ’ceptin’ that gardener over there.”  She waved her hand negligently at the Hobbit, trowel in hand, kneeling near a stand of white lilies that grew to one side of the door.  “Wonder if’n the new Mayor hired him to see to it as the Council Hole looks decent.”

          Said gardener straightened, although he didn’t rise from his knees.  “There was no need for anyone to hire no gardener,” he commented, his tone slightly annoyed.  “Or haven’t you thought as there’s them as enjoy gardening for its own sake?”

          The lass flushed.  “But this isn’t a private hole’s garden,” she pointed out.  “It’s the Council Hole.  Nobody’d do the Council Hole’s plants for nothin’.”

          “You think not?” the grown-up asked.  “But it belongs to the whole of the Shire.  Don’t you think as the whole of the Shire shares the duty to keep it up?”

          The two children shared uncertain glances.  The lad suggested, “But our dad sure wouldn’t offer.”

          The gardener turned back to his work, once again applying his trowel to the soil around the plants.  “You’re most like right about that.  Most folk won’t offer less’n they’re shamed into it.”

          The lass looked interested.  “Were you shamed into it, then?”

          The gardener shook his head.  “Only shame as I felt was that the plants haven’t been cared for proper since the Scourin’ of the Shire by the looks of them.  I member seein’ these lilies planted then, and they was a right treat to see comin’ up, so brave and true.  Made it better for the deputy Mayor to see these Elven lilies growin’ in a new place.”

          “Deputy Mayor?  Oh, do you mean Frodo Baggins?  Didn’t know as him liked flowers.”  The lad’s voice was disbelieving as he looked more closely at the plants.

          There was a huff of derision.  “Didn’t know as Mr. Frodo liked flowers, eh?  And what makes you think as him wouldn’t?  It’s the glory of Bag End that it has the most beautiful gardens in the whole of the Shire!  Always has, what with old Holman Greenhand and Gaffer Gamgee carin’ for them for so many years.”

          “But him doesn’t live there no more,” the lad pointed out.

          The gardener was shaking his head.  “The gardens was put in by Master Bungo and Mistress Belladonna Baggins, and both old Mr. Bilbo and Frodo Baggins shared in the keepin’ of them alongside Holman and the Gaffer.  Ever’body as has lived in Bag End has helped care for the gardens and the orchard, alongside them as was hired to keep them up.”

          “And how do you know as Runaway Frodo worked in the gardens?”

          At that the Hobbit rose to his feet, dropping his trowel on the path leading up to the door to the Council Hole.  The two children shrank back a little, realizing he was plainly angry at that accusation.  “And what right has anyone in the Shire to call Mr. Frodo Baggins Runaway Frodo?” he demanded.  “I never saw him run away from nothin’!  Why, even at the Ford of Bruinen him turned to face them Black Riders, challengin’ them to come get him if’n they was intent on taking him back to the Dark Lord!  Raised his sword against them, he did, drawing them into the water where the flood took them and washed them away, back west away from Rivendell.  And him so weak with that Morgul shard in his shoulder!”  He shook his head in disgust.   “But then, what would the likes of you know about that?  What does the average Hobbit of the Shire appreciate of what Frodo Baggins done for them—for the whole of Middle Earth, even?  Mayhaps the two of you should leave now afore I call on your parents and let them know as just how ignorant their children are.  Not,” he added, “as they’re any more knowledgeable about it than the two of you.”  He reached down and scooped up the fallen trowel, turning away from them dismissively.

          The lass lashed out, “And what would you know—” only to be interrupted by her brother.

          “Hush, Daylily,” he hissed in a loud whisper, with a dig at her ribs with his elbow.  “Don’t you see?  Him’s the gardener!”

          Daylily frowned.  “I can see as him’s a gardener, Mato!” she replied.

          Mato leaned in closer.  “Not a gardener, Lil,” he muttered in her ear.  “The gardener!”

          The grown Hobbit turned in time to see her confusion turn to embarrassed understanding.  “Then you—you’re our new Mayor,” she said tentatively.

          He gave a short nod.  “Mebbe the three of us should start again,” he suggested.  “Samwise Gamgee of Hobbiton, the Hill, and Bag End, at your service,” giving a surprisingly courtly bow.  “There.  That would of made Lord Strider’s Minister of Protocol proud, to think as him had taught us Shire Hobbits a proper bow.”

          “What’s a Min’ster o’ Protocol?” asked Mato.  It was Dalylily’s turn to jab him with her elbow.  He glared at her as he rubbed at where she’d hit him before straightening formally and declaring, “Mato Sugarbeets at yours.  And this is my sister, Daylily.”  He gave a stiff bow, and she did a clumsy curtsey. 

          “Then your dad and mum own the beet farm north of the village?”

          Mato looked surprised.  “And how do you know ’bout our family?” he asked.

          “I helped your folks to get the fields back ready for a new crop and get the kitchen garden goin’ again, once the Big Men was drove away by Merry and Pippin.  They’d fired the fields and your dad’s barn, if’n I member right.”

          Mato and Daylily exchanged looks of consideration.  “I didn’t member that,” Mato admitted.

          “You didn’t answer Mato’s question,” Daylily said.  “What’s a Min’ster of Proto-whatsit?  And who’s Lord Strider?”

          Sam sighed.  “Our Lord King, Aragorn Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar, King of Arnor and Gondor.  I call him Lord Strider, and he allows it.  As for his Minister of Protocol, it’s a stuffy Lord of Gondor who cannot understand as how it is a Ranger of the North has become King, much less what to think of rustics such as Hobbits of the Shire should be thought of as his special friends.”

          “And why do you say as you’re Samwise Gamgee of Hobbiton, the Hill, and Bag End?” Mato demanded.  “You never grew up in Bag End, after all.”

          “I was born at Number 3, Bagshot Row, at the foot of the Hill,” Sam assured him.  “My dad was gardener for Bag End for Mister Bilbo after Uncle Holman retired, after servin’ as gardener’s lad for some time afore that.  I went up to the gardens with the Gaffer most of my life, and was ’prenticed to him for years, takin’ over as gardener after Old Mister Bilbo left, workin’ for my Mister Frodo.  I was in and out of Bag End all while I was a lad myself—may as well of grown up there, and in especial after Master Frodo come.”

          “How come you live there now?” asked the lad.

          Sam shrugged.  “My Master and me, we went through so much together once we’d left the Shire.  Neither of us could of gone so far without the other, and we come back thinkin’ of one another as brothers.  So him adopted me as his brother by the law so’s him could leave Bag End to Rosie and me when he left Middle Earth.”

          “And where did he go?”

          “Only two places to go when one leaves Middle Earth,” the gardener answered, “to death or to the Elven lands west of the Sea.  Him went with Lord Elrond and Lady Galadriel and Gandalf, to the Elven Lands.  Was allowed special so’s he could be healed of all that tormented him whilst him was carryin’ that Ring of the Enemy.  At least him didn’t have to die to find peace from Its memory.”

          “But, but there ain’t no Sea.  Or,” Daylily tempered her argument, “I never heard of no Hobbit what ever saw the Sea.”

          “Well, now you’ve met one, ’cause I was there to see Frodo Baggins go aboard the ship as took him west, with old Gandalf’s hand on his shoulder.  And old Mister Bilbo went with him, goin’ aboard that ship with Master Elrond.  Nor was I the only Hobbit as witnessed the sailing of the Grey Ship—Meriadoc Brandybuck and Pippin Took was there, too, all of us watchin’ the ship sailin’ west toward the setting Sun.  And when the Sun was gone we could still see the light of the Star-glass as Frodo held it up for us to see, givin’ us hope as he’ll find that healin’ as he deserves.”

          Mato asked, “Was him ill, then?”

          Sam sighed and looked down at the flowers he’d described as Elven lilies.  “Ill?  Mayhaps he was.  But it was a sickness of the soul mebbe as much as sickness of the body, perhaps more.”  He looked up to catch their eyes.  “You can’t carry what he did for seventeen years, the last one with It awake and tearing at him as It did, without knowin’ terrible hurt in your heart.  Had nightmares much of the time, and he missed It somethin’ awful in spite of the pain as It caused him while he carried It.”

          Daylily’s curiosity was eating her up.  “But why didn’t him want to be proper Mayor?  Was the job too hard?”

          Mato sniffed.  “And what’s hard about bein’ Mayor?  About all you do is sit at feasts and parties and say somethin’ kind about them as is hostin’ ’em.”

          Sam sighed again, and gave a mirthless chuckle.  “It seems that way when you aren’t in the Mayor’s office havin’ to deal with the reports of the Shirriffs and the family heads and all, or havin’ to check out each and every contract or indenture document as comes in t’make certain as nobody’s gettin’ cheated.”

          Mato bridled.  “And what Hobbit would think of cheatin’ another?  It just ain’t done!”

          “It ain’t done?”  Sam’s expression was one of amazement.  “Oh, it’s been done, believe me.  Or how else was it as old Lotho Pimple got control of so much property so’s him could name hisself Chief Shirriff when there ain’t no such thing?  He had plenty of land, plus all the money and Big Men as that Sharkey give him so’s him could lord it over almost the whole of the Shire.  It was Lotho as started the firin’ of fields and barns and houses of them as tried to stand up to him.  Although it didn’t take much more’n a few words for him to go after your dad’s barn and fields or those of some others I could tell of.  Although it’s possible as Sharkey might of ordered some of the fires.  Him didn’t like Hobbits by the time as he got here, what with my Frodo holdin’ onto that Ring, and Merry and Pippin watchin’ his fortress pretty much reduced to rubble.  For one stuck at the time in a tall tower, Saruman was pretty nasty what him called Merry and Pippin when they went up to the steps to see him called out to face Gandalf as the new White Wizard.  Didn’t like the fact as two Hobbits of the Shire saw him humiliated and his staff took from him and broke into shards.  Was goin’ to destroy the Shire, hopefully afore we got home, to punish those three Hobbits.  He crowed about it when we went to Bag End, plannin’ to face down Lotho.

          “Only Lotho was already gone by the time as we got there—killed by that Worm-fellow as come here with him when Sharkey slunk in over the Sarn Ford.”

          “Sharkey was nasty—that’s certain,” Daylily commented.  “But how come you know so much about him?”

          “I told you!  Pippin and Merry went to Isengard and saw the Ents tear much of the place down, and went right up to the steps of the Tower when Gandalf tried to talk Sharkey into cooperatin’ with the Free Peoples to see the Enemy defeated.  Only him wouldn’t help.  Oh, no, not Saruman, the former White!  And we all saw him on our way back, him and that Worm-fellow.  If’n we’d not stopped at Rivendell so’s Frodo and Bilbo could be together on their birthday, we’d most like of gotten here afore them.

          “At least they didn’t have the time to do all as Sharkey’d planned.  Oh, him was goin’ to see to it as the Ringbearer rued the day him didn’t throw the Ring into the Brandywine to be shut of It.”

          He turned around, evaluating the state of the flowers about the door to the Council Hole.  “Well, it ’pears as I’ve done all I can hope to do this, my first week as Mayor of the Shire, here amongst the flowers.  Shall we go in, then?  Missus Philomena had a basket as I didn’t need sent over from the Inn for my luncheon, only my Rosie sent plenty for me to eat without it.  I’ll be that glad to share the excess with the two of you.”

          The two children followed Mayor Sam back into the Mayor’s office.  “What’s excess mean?” Daylily asked.

          “It’s what’s extra, what’s more’n strictly needed,” Sam answered as he shrugged into a very smart-looking waistcoat, rolling down his sleeves and fastening the glass buttons at the cuffs.  He paused and searched the children’s faces.  “Now listen:  I may speak plain, but that don’t mean I’m without learnin’.  It’s ’cause of my dad, you see.  The Gaffer didn’t approve of any of us seemin’ to get above our station.  Him was a gardener, and as far as him was concerned that was that.  We were all goin’ to be workin’ Hobbits, so we oughtn’t to speak better’n other workin’ Hobbits.

          “Old Mister Bilbo understood, and told me, you keep on talking plain, Samwise Gamgee, so you don’t upset your father.  In the end, you’ll probably do yourself a tremendous favor.  Most people hear a Hobbit talking plain and they think he’s most likely foolish.  Only, you aren’t foolish, Sam, and you won’t be fooled by what they try to make you believe.”

          Daylily was looking at him with surprise.  “Why, you sounded like a gentlehobbit when you said that!”

          “I can speak like a gentlehobbit when I choose, Miss Sugarbeets.  It’s mostly habit to speak plain, just as I’ve done throughout my life.  But I was quotin’ Mister Bilbo, and he was a gentlehobbit through and through, as was Frodo Baggins.  If’n my Frodo had ever tried to speak plain nobody would have believed it of him.  He always looked a gentlehobbit, did my Frodo, even when we was goin’ through Mordor and—and he was mostly wearin’ but my Lórien cloak.”  

          “But what was you doin’ goin’ through Mordor?” asked Mato.  “And are you sayin’ as it’s a real place?”

          “And how come him was wearin’ but a cloak?  It ain’t proper to go about not wearin’ proper clothes.”  Daylily sounded offended by the idea.

          “Oh, but we’d both agree with you, my Master and me.  Only his clothes was stolen from him, and what we found for him to wear instead just didn’t work.  They was pretty awful, those clothes, and certainly wasn’t comfortable.  So I gave him my cloak to wear instead, tyin’ it about his waist with a length of rope. When your clothes are stolen from you in Mordor, you just can’t find proper Hobbit garb to fit you.

          “And yes, Master Mato, Mordor is a real place—or at least it was a real place then.  The land’s still there, but it’s changed now, now as the Enemy’s Ring is gone for good.  It’s mostly empty now.  As for why we was there, Frodo and me—well we had a job to do, and we did it, and that required that we go through Mordor.  It almost killed the two of us, and neither of us expected to ever come home again, not at the last.  But we was rescued, so home we came in the end.”  

          Neither of the Sugarbeet children knew what to think about that statement.  Receiving no response, Sam went to a cupboard in the wall and brought out of it a few plates and cups, and gathered up forks and spoons from a basket sitting on a table and set them all on another table that sat near the Mayor’s desk.  He fetched two baskets from behind the desk and set them also on the table, nodding for the children to bring up chairs to sit upon while he withdrew the various dishes on offer from the baskets.  

          “Rosie sent the cold chicken, whilst the tongue is from the Inn,” he noted as he set these items before them.  “And there’s a nice pigeon pasty here, too.  Frodo would of liked that in especial.  Always had a weak spot for squab and mushrooms, he did.  Ah, and there’s bottles of ginger beer as well!  We shall have a feast, shan’t we?” 

          They served themselves generously, finding he’d not exaggerated on the plentitude of provisions.  While she worked on a pasty, Daylily looked around the room.  “It’s awful big here, here in the Mayor’s office.  And what’s all these tables for?”

          “It’s where folks meet for talkin’ the business of the Shire when it’s not too formal.  When Frodo was deputy Mayor, the Took lawyers as helped him sat at the various tables, sortin’ out all the work as had piled up once the Big Men arrested Will Whitfoot and dragged him back here to Michel Delving to the Lockholes.”  When the children looked at one another in question, he explained, “I s’pose as neither of you understands just how much actually the Mayor does.”

          He rose and walked over to a wall that seemed to be all doors, pulling one of them open.  “Every time a farmer arranges to sell his wheat flour to a baker, the sales contract comes here and must be checked over and filed away.  Every time as someone buys a house or hole, the sales contract comes here, and again it’s checked over and filed away.  A lad is 'prenticed to become a smith?  The indentures come here, are checked over, and filed away.  A new will is registered?  Same thing.  A bairn’s born and looks to survive?  The name may be entered into the family book, but it’s also entered into the ledgers here.  Someone’s died?  It’s noted here, and where the poor soul’s buried as well.  Not all Hobbits is from important families so’s there’s a family book to hold their doin’s, so for them this is where the memories and records for them are kept.

          “When the Shirriffs make their reports, this is where they’re made.  I can see how many times old Arlo Oatbarrow has had to be helped home from the Spotted Dog for the last quarter, year, or even the last ten years, if’n I’m willin’ or it’s needful to go through the reports for that.  Now, that’s not actually important.  But—if’n someone’s constantly movin’ marker stones from the edges of their neighbor’s property, that is important to keep a record of so’s we can set things straight and make certain the one as has been movin’ the markers won’t keep on doin’ so in the future.”

          Within the cupboard that the door revealed were shelves of books bound in blue.  “These are the records of sales of houses and holes or farms from the Northfarthing, as well as loans as was backed by the value of one’s property,” Sam explained.  He closed that door and opened the next one.  The books on the upper shelves were bound in red, while those below were mostly green or brown.  “Those in red are from the Southfarthing, while those in green mark sales or loans in the Tooklands.  And those in brown?  Oh, those are all sales or loans with tricky parts to’em.  Most of them was written for Lotho Sackville-Baggins or for those as was in league with him.  He had Timono Bracegirdle as his personal lawyer, and that Hobbit was far too tricksy for words, as old Gollum would put it.  Thought of all sorts of ways to trick folks into signin’ away their rights by includin’ improper clauses.  One of the most common ways was to say as the whole loan was due should Frodo Baggins ever sell Bag End.  Lot of those was written after Mr. Lotho’d bought the hole from Frodo, but before anyone else knew as the deal’d been made.  They’d either lose the property right away, or they’d have to pay a terrible rent to live in their own hole until the loan was repaid, which wouldn’t be allowed sometimes for ten years or more!  

          “Frodo’s kin Ponto and his wife nearly lost their hole thataway.  Frodo had offered Bag End first to Ponto and Iris Baggins, but they didn’t have the money to buy it outright.  So, they went to Pimple for a loan to get what they didn’t have so’s they could pay for the place.  Only Ponto’s sister Peony’d let Lobelia know as Frodo wanted to sell the place and the price asked, so Lotho got there first and bought it for cash, then loaned the money to Ponto anyways, with a tricky clause in the contract so once Frodo left and Lotho and Lobelia moved in, the whole loan to the Bagginses come due.”

          “The books look right pretty,” commented Daylily.

          Sam shrugged as he shut that door.  “They keep the contracts in order, at least.  Used to be each contract would be settled on a shelf, and it could be a real chore findin’ a specific one for examination or comparison.  My Frodo figgered as this would make things easier for the most part.  Oh, it can still be a problem findin’ one of those in a specific book, but there’s tabs as was added to mark the beginning of each new document as makes it easier.  He taught my sister Marigold and me how to make the bindings and how to put the books together, so I have had a good idea as to how things are arranged here now.”

          He sighed as he returned to their table, adding another pasty to his plate.  “He was truly a wise one, was our Frodo.  But it was hard work, and made harder ’cause of the pain so many had known from what old Lotho and his bully-boys and Sharkey’d done.  He’d come back to the Cottons’ farm tired from the ride, but still boilin’ mad from what he’d learned that day of how folks had been robbed and threatened or hurt.  He could return promise pins and other jewelry as it was found; but how do you replace the doll taken from your little lass and burned in the garden, the one as her gamma made her for Gamma’s last birthday; or the dog as was struck dead ’cause it dared to bark at the Gatherers and Sharers when them come to rob the place?   Oh, you can get another doll or dog, but it’s just not the same as the one you loved already.”

          Mato looked down at his plate.  “Them took my wooden boat as I sailed on the pond, and stomped it into the gravel of the drive.  My Uncle Toby made it for me.  But him died a year afore the Troubles begun.  I don’t have it to member him by no more.”

          “I know,” Sam replied, his voice gentle.  “But at least your mum got back the agate pendant your dad bought her as a promise gift, and he got back the wrist chain she gave him.”

          “You know about those?” asked Daylily.

          Sam shrugged.  “I was goin’ your way to help with the kitchen garden, so Frodo give them to me to return.  I member as how your mum wept with gladness to have them back.  And I member the two of you, peerin’ past the door from the hallway.”

          “That was you?  I didn’t know.  I member Mum was that happy.”  Mato was looking at Samwise Gamgee with new eyes.

          “That she was,” agreed the Mayor.

          At that moment there was a light tap at the door, and a neatly dressed Hobbit looked in.  “May I enter, Mister Sam, sir?  The wife has sent over some cake, thinking as you’d like it.  And I see you have guests!  Well, there’s enough for several, if you don’t mind sharing with your company.”

          Sam rose to his feet.  “It’s not for the likes of you to have to knock, Mister Gordolac, sir.  Do come in, and be welcome.  And would you, too, wish to share in the cake?”  He paused in the fetching of another plate and fork to explain to the children, “Mister Gordolac is Mayor Will’s nephew, and has helped to keep the Mayor’s office clean and organized for as long as I can member.  Certainly Frodo was glad for all he done to help whilst him was deputy Mayor.”

          In a trice the four of them were sitting at the table happily eating slices of almond cake.  “So, what was it like when Mister Frodo was here?” Mato asked.  “It must of been easy for him, just bein’ the deputy Mayor.”

          Gordolac Whitfoot paused with his fork half lifted to his mouth.  “Easy?  Oh, I’d think not!  My uncle had been imprisoned in the Lockholes for most of the last year, and there was nobody to countersign or file what documents had come in all during that time.  Aunt Mena and I kept the keys to the office and accepted the documents for him, but there was nothing we could do but to bring them in and put them on the tables, and then on the floor when the piles of papers threatened to topple over!  Frodo was quite overwhelmed when he first looked in.  Was quite pale by nature, but on seeing the task awaiting him he went rather grey.  Asked me to fetch in some lawyers from amongst the Tooks, and the one as was at hand at the moment was Mister Isembard Took, the one as had married Miss Pearl, the Thain’s oldest daughter.  Mister Isembard was checking in with one of his clients here in Michel Delving, so when he was free, I asked as he should come over and see what could be done to aid the new deputy Mayor.

          “In the end I think as there were five Took lawyers, all trained by Master Bernigard Took, who was Master of the Shire’s Guild of Lawyers for many years, who assisted the deputy Mayor in his labors to sort through all of the documents as had been gathered within the room.  Master Bernigard quietly advised me as he wished to take Frodo on in his last class of apprentices to become lawyers, but Frodo refused.  Refused, and then left the Shire altogether.”

          They were all silent for a time as they finished their cake.  At last Gordolac set down his fork and pushed his plate away, and leaned forward, hands folded and his elbows on the table.  “Like I said, Uncle Will was that disappointed as Frodo stood down from that election.  Said as he was the best Mayor as we’d ever had, for all he was a deputy Mayor rather than an elected one.  And, he’d realized as we needed to know just how Lotho Sackville-Baggins got control of all that property as well as all the mills and the inns.  Now, perhaps Frodo himself had more than his fair share of farm shares and partnership agreements, what with those as he’d inherited from his mum and dad as well as those old Bilbo left him and those he held in his own right.  He even owned the Old Winyards vineyard and winery as well as a few smallholdings and that hole as his parents were having dug in Buckland, and River Place, too, of course.  But he never abused them.  

          “I wish as we could say the same for Pimple.  If he’d owned River Place, there so close to the Brandywine as it is, he wouldn’t have just left it empty once it flooded the second time.  No, he would have leased it out to a family and forced them to stay there no matter how often the river invited itself in.”

          “Most likely,” agreed Sam.  He rose and began clearing the table, putting the plates from which they’d eaten in one basket, and the remaining food from the Inn in the other, setting aside what Rosie had sent to deal with later.  “Him was always a bully as a lad, was Lotho Sackville-Baggins.  More’n once Frodo was forced to stop him stealin’ from and hurtin’ us younger ones.  When Mister Bilbo brought Frodo back to Hobbiton as his ward, if that didn’t put the fox in amongst the chickens!  Lotho was tall and had muscles, while Ted Sandyman was strong as an ox, and most as stupid, if not stupider.  Frodo was much thinner than either in spite of bein’ rather tall hisself, and had not the physical strength of either Lotho or Ted.  They despised as he was decidedly bookish, and was definitely far smarter than Lotho could ever expect to be.  And it was plain as old Mister Bilbo loved the lad far more than Lotho’s folks ever loved their son.”

          Mato, obviously upset at the idea, asked, “But how could his dad and mum not love him?  He’s their son!”

          Sam was shaking his head.  “I didn’t say as they didn’t love him—only that they didn’t love their lad as well as Mister Bilbo loved his Frodo.  And, well, there’s love, and then there’s love.  For Otho and Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, Lotho was their son and heir, and that was right and proper, as far as them and most others was concerned.  Him was healthy, and he was handsome enough.  But they didn’t find it concernin’ as he skipped his lessons more often than not, nor that him was a bully and a thief.  Seein’ as Missus Lobelia was constantly pickin’ up things as she coveted and sneakin’ them away with her, she didn’t see aught wrong with her son doin’ much the same.  As for Mister Otho, it saved him coin if’n his son obtained his own new cravats and scarves or gloves on his own.  As for him lordin’ it over us smaller ones, well, that was all right and good.  Other children owed it to him to move out of his way and give him tribute, meanin’ as it was all right for him to take their sweets or sticky buns or whatever coin as them had, as since him was more important than us we was somehow obliged to give him what was ours.”

          “Why didn’t his mum and dad stop him from hurtin’ other children?” asked Daylily.

          “Why indeed?” responded their new Mayor.  “As was told, the stealin’ him learned from his mum.  Mister Bilbo insisted as she’d taken a set of silver spoons as he’d had in the dinin’ room dresser whilst him was gone with the Dwarves and Gandalf.  When him left for good, he had others he’d bought since give to her, to add to her collection, or so he put it in his will.  Mister Frodo said as she took the joke bad, but she also took the spoons.  Mostly Otho didn’t seem interested in stoppin’ her bad behavior, nor that of their lout of a son.  Only one as tried to do that was Frodo, who was at least as tall as Lotho, if not taller.”

          “Not so tall as Merry Brandybuck or Pippin Took,” Mato countered.

          “Not so tall as them two is now, mebbe.  But afore we left the Shire neither was anywheres as tall as them is now.  Blame the Ent draughts for that.  Had to have all new clothes made for them afore we left Gondor, as nothin’ they had would fit them no more.  I’m just as glad as I said no when Treebeard offered me some.  I’d not want to be unnatural tall.

          “But Frodo didn’t seem to look his age, not once Mister Bilbo’d gone away.  We know now as it was due to him havin’ the Enemy’s Ring in his pocket.  The Ring had even more powerful magic than Treebeard’s Ent draughts, and stopped the one as had It growin’ older somehow.  Didn’t stop the one as had It from learnin’ more or the body changin’ to meet its circumstances, but his body’d not change as they properly do as we get on in years.  From the day he turned thirty-three and come of age, Frodo Baggins didn’t appear to age at all until we was goin’ into Mordor.  Then I could see how the journey and the burden of carryin’ It back to where It was made hurt him.  He had lines on his face now, and his skin was lookin’ thinner somehow.  But it made him more beautiful to see.  Not even Gollum could stop hisself from lovin’ the Master when him saw him like that, or not easily.  Know this—Frodo’d turned fifty the day as we left Bag End to start our journey, and him was fifty-three when he left the last time to go with Gandalf and the great Elves and old Mister Bilbo to the Undying Lands.  But when him left that last time he did look his proper age at last, or mayhaps even older.  You don’t go through that dread journey carryin’ the likes of the Ring now awake, gettin’ stabbed with a Morgul blade and havin’ to have a powerful Elf like Lord Elrond heal you, bein’ almost drowned by the Watcher in the Water, bein’ prodded by an orc’s spear, bein’ poisoned by the likes of Shelob, nearly dyin’ of not enough food or water, and havin’ your finger bit off by Gollum without it agin’ you a whole lot!

          “Not,” Sam sighed, “that losin’ the Ring that way didn’t hurt, too.  It had been a-workin’ at him for seventeen and a half years, after all.

          “No, Frodo had the Ring, so him didn’t change all that much.  That allowed Merry Brandybuck and me to catch up with him, if you will, and now we was all friends, almost like we’d grown up at the same time.  And while Lotho Sackville-Baggins grew older and more hungry for power over other folks, Frodo still looked to be a young Hobbit.”

          He took out a mug and poured into it from a water bottle that hung from one side of the Mayor’s chair, and took a deep swallow of the contents.  For a time, all were silent as Sam gazed into some landscape from within his memories, his face solemn, the expression not one the children had thought to see in a mere gardener, but that they expected the King himself must often wear.  Responsibility and grief of that intensity weren’t commonly seen in the faces of mere working Hobbits.

          But when at last he spoke again, his tone was filled with a level of irony.  “However so, it wasn’t Frodo Baggins I was thinkin’ to talk on.  No, not Frodo, but rather Lotho Sackville-Baggins.

          “To understand what made Lotho the lout as he was, I suppose as we ought to begin with his grandsire.  Longo Baggins was third child and second son to old Mungo Baggins, as was family head to the Bagginses at the time.  Longo ’pears to of been perhaps too proud of his own intelligence, to the point he thought hisself his older brother Bungo’s better.  Certainly, he felt as their old dad ought to have set aside Bungo as heir to the headship in preference to hisself.

          “Only Mungo wouldn’t do it.  Said as that’s not the way things is done here in the Shire.  But, tryin’ to soothe the young Hobbit, he suggested as Longo ought mebbe to think of diggin’ hisself a new smial higher up on the Hill.  So, Mister Longo went all contrary and refused the idea.  Instead, he took his share of his inheritance from his Grandma Berylla and bought hisself a smial in the ridge on the far northeast of Hobbiton, and moved in there.  It was a fine place in the old style, with a privy out the back and a huge kitchen with plenty of room for the copper bath to sit afore the kitchen hearth.  

          “Soon he began courtin’ Miss Camellia Sackville, whose dad was the Sackville Family head.  As Miss Camellia was an only child, it ’peared as one of her cousins might be appointed Family head after him until it was obvious as Mister Longo wanted to marry her.  Well, if’n Mister Longo was willin’ to take on her family name, then him and his bride atween them would head the Sackvilles once her father was gone.

          “Now, that suited Mister Longo just fine!  So the two of them were married and became Mister and Missus Sackville-Baggins, and moved into Longo’s fine hole.  Only, it wasn’t quite fine enough for Missus Camellia Sackville-Baggins, who wanted more windows and one of the new-fangled indoor privies, and possibly even a bathin’ room.  But holes such as the Sackville-Bagginses now lived in couldn’t have windows for the bedrooms, what with there bein’ other smials on each side through the ridge, and with the parlors at the front and the kitchen at the back as was common, the bedrooms lyin’ betwixt the two.  Nor was there room for bathin’ rooms nor indoor privies.  They’d been married for some time afore Longo thought on his dad’s suggestion that he do a new hole up higher on the Hill, so he went to his dad to tell him as he’d changed his mind.  But it was too late.  Mister Bungo was plannin’ to marry Miss Belladonna Took, and he was havin’ his own smial dug up there instead.  Gammer Sweetbriar, who was but a slip of a lass at the time, membered the row as was started full well, and told us, Frodo and me, all about it whilst we was a-workin’ on rebuilding her garden wall.

          “Mister Longo approached his brother, and explained that their dad had offered the place where Bungo was digging his new smial to him years agone, and now he wanted to do his own there after all.  But Mister Bungo was havin’ none of it.  Said as Longo had refused the offer when it was made so as to buy the smial in the ridge across the village, so there’d been nothin’ to stop Bungo from approaching their dad and offerin’ to buy the space at the top of the Hill for a new hole for hisself and Belladonna and to be the new Baggins family hole once Mungo was gone.  When Longo asked as why the old hole at the north end of the Hill wasn’t good enough, Bungo explained as both him and Belladonna wanted lots of windows from which to watch the sunsets, and both wanted an indoor privy and a dedicated bathin’ room, her bein’ used to such things havin’ grown up in the Great Smial; and both wanted to plant gardens all the way around the smial on the three sides not taken up by the orchard. 

          “Now, the desire for gardens and lots of flowers and growin’ things was the big difference atween the two brothers.  Bungo had always loved such things, but Longo felt as flowers was nice enough when you found them, but weren’t exactly needful, if’n you take my meanin’.  It was part of the reason as Longo thought hisself a better one to be family head for the Bagginses than his older brother Bungo, that he believed hisself to be the more practical one.  For all as there was more’n ten years atween the two of them, Longo kept imaginin’ as him was the wiser and smarter and more worldly.  As for the third brother, Bingo Baggins, him just kept out of it.  But when the time come, him married the only daughter of the Chubbs family head and became Bingo Chubbs-Baggins, so you can’t say as all three weren’t important within the Shire in the end.

          “Anyways, Longo and Camellia had Otho as their only child, and Otho carried on with his dad’s grudges against both old Mister Mungo for not allowin’ his mum and dad to dig the new hole in the Hill, and against Bungo both for diggin’ that hole for hisself as well as for gettin’ to be Baggins family head when Longo had wanted the job.  Although just why either Longo or Otho wanted to be family head of two families at the same time nobody else could imagine.  It’s unnatural greedy, you ask me.”

          Daylily said thoughtfully, “I don’t know anyone as is a family head.”

          Mato punched her shoulder.  “Do, too.  Uncle Lodo Sugarbeets is our family head.”

          “And now you know me, and I’m family head to the Gamgees, the Ropers, and the Greenhands.  It’s all but one family, but each has taken a different name dependin’ on what they do, or, in our case, ’cause the family comes from Gamwidge-way.   My Uncle Andy Roper was the proper family head, but him doesn’t read nor write too well, so the whole lot of them saddled me with it, seein’ as I can read and write both the Common Tongue and Elvish as well.”  Sam’s smile was rather lopsided.

          “Not to mention,” added Gordolac, “that he’s a friend to the King and is thought out there to be someone important.”

          Sam’s expression had soured somewhat as he glanced at Will Whitfoot’s nephew.  “But, Outside isn’t the same as here, here at home in the Shire.”  He sighed and rolled his shoulders before he continued his tale.

          “Lobelia Bracegirdle was a rather dreamy sort in spite of her crusty Bracegirdle disposition, apparently, though she was never shy, from what is told of her, from takin’ whatever she wanted as other folks had.  Same is told of Timono Bracegirdle, as wasn’t born yet and child to a cousin of hers.  Now, Lobelia wanted recognition as her was an important Hobbitess of substance.  But her dad had about the worst judgment in the whole of the Shire, and kept buyin’ farms as failed ’cause they wasn’t suitable for what he’d want to plant.  He’d started off well enough, but kept spendin’ what money him had for land as was wrong for growin’ the barley as him was certain would make the best ale possible, and ended up with barely enough money to support hisself and his wife and daughter, and most of that he spent on drink.  Lobelia couldn’t wait to marry and get out from under her parents.  What the Gaffer told me, she realized as the Bagginses had both the respect and money as her wanted for herself, so she set her cap for marryin’ one of them, startin’ with Bungo and Belladonna Took Baggins’s son, Bilbo.  But Bilbo would have nothin’ t’do with her scheme, and made a point of avoidin’ her anytime as he saw her a’comin’ his way.  Bilbo was close to his cousin Drogo Baggins, so the next one as she tried to snag was him.  Only Drogo hared off to Buckland to visit with the Master, and him and Primula Brandybuck, the Master’s youngest sister, fell in love and got married.  So, Lobelia settled for Otho Sackville-Baggins instead, and they was married afore her was even of age.  Mister Frodo learned as her had fixed it so as Mister Otho had no choice but to marry her.”

          Mato appeared shocked.  “You mean, them two put the dessert afore the meal?”  Then he gave his younger sister an abashed glance, as she most likely had little understanding of what that meant.

          Sam and Gordolac shared a questioning look before the latter responded, “Apparently, yes, they did.  There was a child born already dead not that long after they married.  They tried to claim as it was too early born for it to survive, but the midwife had another story.  Bilbo had it buried properly, but neither Lobelia nor Otho ever visited the grave.”

          Sam continued, “It was years afore them had the second child, Lotho.  If’n there was any other atween the two births we don’t know.  Might of been, seein’ as both Missus Belladonna and Frodo’s mum Primula lost other bairns as was definitely born too early, as did Merry Brandybuck’s mum and even Mistress Eglantine, the Thain’s Lady, who at least lost one child betimes.

          “Now, Lotho Sackville-Baggins thought of hisself as havin’ been born to privilege, as Mister Bilbo put it.  After all, his folks had lots of property and lots of money.  Unlike Lobelia’s dad, Otho’d been proper trained by Longo in how to look at farms and see as what each one was best suited for.  So, he had each of those as Missus Lobelia’d gotten from her dad properly planted and leased out, and now they was all doin’ well and bringin’ in the coin.  And then, they were family heads to the Sackvilles; and his dad, as Mister Bilbo’s first cousin, was set to be Bilbo’s heir and to inherit both Bag End and bein’ family head to the Bagginses, if’n, of course, Bilbo didn’t marry and have proper heirs thataway.  

          “Well, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins would see to that!  She could be right spiteful, and she’d never forgot as how Mister Bilbo had refused to consider her for a bride.  Now, as one as had gone Outside, few decent Hobbits of the Shire would of given Bilbo Baggins the time of day, ’ceptin’ him was now very rich, and bein’ rich seems to overcome problems due to bein’—odd.  A few Hobbitesses thought as they might do well marryin’ him for his money, and one or two as knew him right well might of married him just ’cause they liked him well enough to marry him any old way.  But Missus Lobelia Sackville-Baggins found ways to make any Hobbitess as give him two looks shy off right quick.  The poison tongue of Lobelia Bracegirdle Sackville-Baggins was somethin’ as most any Hobbit, husband or goodwife, wanted to avoid.

          “Her and Otho’d almost had Bag End already.  Mister Bilbo’d been gone for a year and a day afore him got back from the Lonely Mountain with chests of silver and gold, and a certain gold Ring stuck in his pocket as him had picked up in the goblin tunnels under the Misty Mountains.  While him was gone, Otho and Lobelia had been married, rather hastily, as Treebeard would say, and was livin’ in Longo Baggins’s fine hole in the ridge to the northeast of the village.  Neither Longo nor Missus Camellia was happy with the situation, for Lobelia was not exactly a model daughter-in-love, bein’ far too particular for her own comforts and not seein’ as others, too, had their own wants to be comfortable.  So, what to do?  Well, Bilbo was gone, no one knew where nor how long as it might be for him to come back—if’n, of course, he ever come back at all.  So, why not put Otho and his detestable bride into Bag End?  It was empty, after all, what with its Master bein’ lost somewhere in the wilderness, out there!

          “So, Longo, as heir-apparent to bein’ family head to the Bagginses, got the papers writ up to have his cousin declared legally dead, and Otho and Lobelia got ready to move into Mister Bilbo’s hole.  But him returned the day as the auction started to sell off his goods so’s they’d have room to put in their own furniture, and he chased off the buyers and the auctioneers and all, and got his own personal lawyers to quash the order as Mister Longo’d had writ up, and he had to go about in many cases to buy back his own things as had been sold off.

          “Now, one of Camellia Sackville’s aunts was ill and dyin’, and she was mad as anything at her son.  Her husband had almost ruined the family bettin’ on the pony races, so she’d declared that should her son ever got involved with racin’ or gamblin’ he’d be writ out of her will.  She had a right pretty hole not particular far from the Hill with nice gardens about it; and since she’d not get to live in Bag End, Lobelia decided this would be a good place to have instead.  So, she convinced the old Hobbitess as her son had played false to his sweetheart, puttin’ the dessert afore the meal with a different lass but refusin’ to marry her.  Lobelia knew as the old biddy’d think the worst of her son and would leave the hole to Otho instead, and that if’n it ever come out what he’d really been doin’—racin’ ponies beyond Bywater—it would come to the same thing anyways.  

          “And, it worked just as she’d planned.  Nor would Longo nor anyone else do aught against it, not when her son had been doin’ just what his old mum had hated worst in the world.  No mind as the real dad to the lass’s child finished diggin’ his own hole and married her afore the child was born.

          “So, years later Lotho was born in a fine smial in Hobbiton to parents as were rich and important within the Shire, and had plenty of property as well as farm shares and partnership agreements bringin’ in lots of coin so’s young Lotho didn’t have to look at ever havin’ to do anything in the ways of honest work to live comfortable.

          “You see, Lotho Sackville-Baggins, him learned next to nothin’.  Apparently didn’t find readin’ nowhere as easy as most folks do, so him wouldn’t practice the art of it.  And his parents had made the worst error anyone can—when him was young and eager, them wouldn’t allow him to help.  Mister Otho didn’t want a bairn lookin’ over his shoulder as him did his accounts.  His mother wanted each and every cloak peg dusted and shined up just so, and didn’t want to have to teach him and mebbe have some not up to her high standards.   As a faunt, his folks thought him was too small to dust shelves and too slight to help carry in wood.  ’Twasn’t long afore him lost the desire to help at all, and to begin usin’ his lack of experience as an excuse to do nothin’ to help around the hole.”

          Sam had moved around the Mayor’s desk and was now sitting in the Mayor’s big chair, the mug before him on the desktop, his hands folded together behind it.  Daylily thought that he looked almost sad, as solemn as his features had become.  “So, how come him become a bully?” she asked.

          He gave her a jaded glance.  “What else would you expect him to become?” he asked.  “Seldom required to help around the hole; bored ’cause he had no idea what to do with his time; feelin’ as him ought to be respected ’cause him was wealthy and the son of an important family head; and resentin’ the fact as others tended to ignore him.  Like most folks, Lotho couldn’t abide bein’ ignored, so he started bullyin’ solely so as to force the other children to pay attention to him.  Of course, him mostly bullied those as were smaller’n him and his toady, that Ted Sandyman.  Or the two of them would go after those as didn’t have family ties as give them status within the Shire—those whose parents had to work for others to put food on the table and to clothe their children, or whose families were sufferin’ from bouts of bad luck.” 

          “So,” asked Mato, “when Frodo Baggins came to Hobbiton, did Lotho steal from him like he did from the other little ones?”

          “As I said, Frodo wasn’t a little one once him was brought back to Hobbiton,” Sam answered.  “Him was ’most twenty-two.  Frodo was a tween not that much younger than Lotho—about four years, as I recall.  Not that Lotho didn’t try to lord it over him, too.  Him and Ted Sandyman would lie in wait for Frodo and do their best to beat him up.  ’Bout pulled his arm out of its socket once, and if that didn’t rile up old Mister Bilbo!  For once Otho and Lobelia were forced to actually face up to their son and warn him to not try to hurt Frodo again.  Didn’t stop him from stealin’ from Frodo’s clothes when him was swimmin’ in the Water, however.  And once Frodo learned how to throw a good punch, him was standin’ up for us little ones about every time as Lotho tried to terrorize us.  Frodo would make certain as there was witnesses to what Lotho or Ted had done, and would step in and give a single blow, and that would be that.”

          Mato said thoughtfully, “Then, Frodo Baggins was different from Lotho Sackville-Baggins.”

          Sam nodded.  “That him was—far different.  But then, his folks were of a far different stamp than Otho or Lobelia.  Whenever he read, Drogo Baggins would hold his son on his lap and read aloud, followin’ on with his finger.  So, Frodo learned to read without havin’ to be taught.  From the time he found that charred wood could make marks on walls and the like, Frodo begun scribblin’, and soon him was makin’ drawings as were wonderful to see, particularly when you knew as the artist was but a bairn.  Bilbo ordered in lots of paper for the faunt to use, and drawing sticks of various kinds.  Once little Frodo realized he must use paper rather than the walls, him was busy.  Then he watched his dad and mum writing, and realized that this was somethin’ else as him could do with his paper and so on, and with some help from his folks him learned to write as well as to read.  And there was no nonsense from Drogo and Primula about not allowin’ the lad to help as he could.  If’n little Frodo wanted to help, then of course he’d be allowed! 

          “It tore him in two when his parents died, but him got on well enough, livin’ in Brandy Hall with Saradoc and Esmeralda Brandybuck to foster him.  But the Mistress of the Hall at the time had become convinced as Frodo was frail, so she wouldn’t allow him to do anythin’ as she felt was too strenuous.  He was frustrated, and over time he grew more sad and withdrawn.  At last Bilbo exercised his duty as Frodo’s family head of name to take him as his own ward, and with Frodo’s agreement him adopted Frodo as his legal heir, which of course put paid to Otho and Lobelia’s plans to head two families at the same time and to live in Bag End once Bilbo was gone.  When Mister Longo died, of course Otho had become Bilbo’s proper heir—until Frodo’s adoption.  Everyone knew about the adoption—everyone except for the S-Bs, that is, not until the reading of Bilbo’s will.  Bilbo’d had the adoption and the will carefully writ, and Otho was that angry when him realized that there was nothin’ as he could do to change things in his favor.  As for Lotho—him was so angry he’d of spit, if’n it hadn’t been seen as beneath him, that is.

          “The Sackville family had been declinin’ for the past twenty years or so.  So had the Bagginses, of course, but Frodo Baggins was such a gentlehobbit as everyone respected, and few folks realized as there was only a handful of the family left in the Hobbiton area—Ponto and Iris Baggins, Lotho and his folks, and Frodo.  Oh, him had other Baggins cousins, but them was mostly lasses as had married and didn’t carry the Baggins name no more, ’ceptin’ a few as lived elsewhere in the Shire; while Bingo’s children had dropped the Baggins part of their name and considered themselves simply Chubbses.  Seems as old Mister Bilbo’s adventures made most of the family draw off, away from the region of the Hill and away from any taint of oddness as him might of passed on to them.

          “The odd thing was that although almost everyone blamed Bilbo for taintin’ the name of Baggins, still him was considered a canny soul with unlimited wealth and the ability to make more; while Frodo was respected by most everybody as a decent soul with an instinct for doin’ right by everybody.  Then, we got the Sackville-Bagginses who live what appears to be the proper life for gentlehobbits of the Shire, and hardly nobody wanted to have nothin’ to do with them.  That got Lotho Sackville-Baggins’s goat big time, how in spite of havin’ gone Outside and startin’ to work as a copyist and bookbinder, still Bilbo got custom even from Lalia, the old Thain’s mum, and especial when Frodo begun workin’ alongside the old fellow.”

          “I heard tell as her didn’t like Frodo, and as him once glued her to her chair,” Mato confided with the air of one delighted to share gossip.

          “Is that tale still makin’ the rounds?” Sam asked.

          Gordolac was shaking his head.  “Oh, but t’wasn’t Frodo as did that.  Reginald Took insists he was the one as did that, for Lalia’s mistreatment of his cousin Linden.”

          “Old Mistress Lalia may not of liked Frodo in particular, but she knew as him had the best hand in the Shire for makin’ out lovely invitations, so she’d still have him write out hers for her banquets and parties,” Sam noted.  “And his Aunty Dora had him copy out her book of manners for her so’s her could gift them to friends and family.  In fact, anyone as wanted books or documents copied out proper would come to him.

          “In spite of his disgrace, Bilbo was still highly respected within the Shire, and mostly ’cause him would help most anyone as needed aid anywhere, and in particular in the region of the Hill.  As for Frodo Baggins, that part of Bilbo’s reputation stayed with him.  But who would even think of goin’ to the S-Bs for anythin’?  And Lotho Sackville-Baggins still seethed over that knowledge.

          “Mayor Whitfoot tried several times to get Frodo to run for Mayor so’s him could retire, but Frodo kept sayin’ no.  So, Lotho decided as him would run, but not even his old dad would support that, knowin’ as how unpopular as Lotho was with those Hobbits his age.  Nor would the Bracegirdle family head support him, much less the Tooks or Brandybucks, the Bolgers or Chubbses or Grubbs.  Seemed as no-one of any substance could abide the thought of Lotho Sackville-Baggins as Mayor.”

          Gordolac interjected, “And before that Lotho had tried to become a Shirriff.  Uncle Will shuddered at the thought of Lotho as a Shirriff any time as the subject came up.  Lotho seemed to think as being a Shirriff would give him the right to order other Hobbits around, when in reality it’s the Shirriff’s ability to talk sense into someone who’s angry or drunk that’s what’s needed to be good at the job.”

          Sam was nodding his agreement.  “Like I said, Lotho didn’t know the difference atween respect and fear, and would bully solely so’s him got any attention at all.  And him carried on the S-B grudge against Bilbo and Frodo for not lettin’ his folks—and him!—be family heads to two families at the same time.”

          “Lotho didn’t know the difference between respect and power,” Gordolac agreed.

          There was a pause as all present considered this.

          “So, how did him become Head Shirriff?” asked Daylily.

          Sam shook his head.  “Just named hisself that, from what we could tell when we got back,” he said.  “Him had the Big Men lent him by Saruman, or Sharkey as him was known here, and not many was willin’ to challenge them when them backed him up.

          “Lotho wanted to be seen as powerful, but that’s not usually what folks in the Shire do.  Him’s been tryin’ to get power over others for years, but has always been put back in his place by the family heads, the Mayor, and the Thain or Master, sometimes by one or another and sometimes with them workin’ together.  Him was in the family books of the Sackvilles, the Bagginses, and the Bracegirdles, and while his dad was the Sackville at least Otho did keep some control over Lotho’s worst impulses.  But Frodo as the Baggins and Benlo Bracegirdle and his dad as the Bracegirdles would also come down on him when him got too bad.  Oh, how him hated havin’ Frodo comin’ down on him!

          “But him had two thoughts as give him hope as him could become Lord of the Shire in time.  One was true, and the other wasn’t.  First, him was certain as one day Frodo would leave the Shire, supposedly to have his own adventure, but for sure to go find out as where Bilbo had ended up so as to be with him again.  The second thought was as him was Frodo’s proper heir, which wasn’t true at all.  

          “Frodo had three first cousins, one Lotho knew of, and two of which him doesn’t seem to have give any thought to.  Frodo’s dad had both an older sister and a younger brother.  Aunty Dora never married, and had no children.  But Dudo did marry, twice.  His first wife give him their daughter Daisy, but Missus Camilla died whilst the lass was still young.  After him left Hobbiton for Westholm, Dudo ended up marryin’ one of the Old Took’s other granddaughters, Miss Emerald Bolger, and she give him two more children, twins, a lad and a lass.  Hardly nobody knew about them, them growin’ up so far from Hobbiton.  ’Bout the only ones as knew about them in the region of the Hill was Bilbo and Frodo, seein’ as them was family heads to the Bagginses.  Mister Dudo’d made it clear as him didn’t want any interference from Bilbo, so Bilbo left him and the two children alone.  When Dudo died, Emerald arranged as, should aught happen to her, their friends the Gravellies would care for the twins.  That was fine until Frodo become the Baggins.  But even him left the twins as they was until the Gravellies went a bit too far, and then one of Lotho’s even worse Bracegirdle cousins started tryin’ to force the lass to marry him.  Mayhaps him thought as he’d get to be the Baggins should Frodo again leave for good.  We don’t really know as what was goin’ on in his head, but him was caught and him was shown the Bounds and told not to come back—not ever!

          “Anyways, Daisy Baggins married Griffo Boffin, as is local family head for the Boffins as live in the region of the Hill.  Nobody even thought of her and Griffo wantin’ to take on the Bagginses should aught happen to Frodo.  Certainly Lotho never considered her as one likely to put paid to his intentions to become the Baggins as well as the Sackville.  That Frodo had named his cousins Fosco and Forsythia as his proper heirs never crossed his mind, if’n him even knew of their existence!

          “When him and Missus Lobelia learned as Frodo’d offered to sell Bag End to Ponto and Iris Baggins, Lotho stole a march on Ponto, headin’ Frodo’s way with coin in hand to pay Frodo in cash the amount him’d said him wanted for the hole.  How could Frodo say no to cash without it comin’ out as him wasn’t really plannin’ to settle in Buckland after all?  But Frodo did take the precaution to have his Brandybuck lawyer write up the papers.  No one as had any authority in the Shire realized as yet as how crooked the documents Lotho’s cousin Timono Bracegirdle prepared could be.  Those as had been cheated by such contracts so far was too ashamed to admit they’d been had.  Such crookedness was only comin’ out when we left the Shire, and it was Frodo’s Uncle Saradoc as was now Master of Buckland and Brandy Hall as become aware of it first.

          “Lotho figgered as Frodo was really leavin’ on his adventure when him sold Bag End to him and his awful mum, and him was certain as once Frodo left the Shire he, Lotho Sackville-Baggins, would be the first Hobbit in the Shire to be family head to two families at the same time.  But when him tried summoning Frodo’s Goodbody bankers of discretion to demand them surrender the Baggins wealth to him, he finally learned as him wasn’t family head to the Bagginses after all.  That seems to be what sparked him to name hisself Chief Shirriff and to take control of the Shirriffs.”

          At this, Gordolac Whitfoot gave a grim nod.  “Oh, but that was a shock to Uncle Will, and that’s a fact.  Lotho sent his bully boys about the Shire with directions to bring all the Shirriffs to Bag End at the same time.  Once he had all twelve of them together, he told them that he was now Chief Shirriff, and they were all to report to him from now on, and they were to follow his orders.  Robin Smallburrow was the one as scribbled a quick note and slipped it to Sancho Proudfoot’s lad Pando, saying as it was to be brought to the Mayor as quickly as possible.  Several lawyers, including a couple from Buckland and two more from the Great Smial, were here, here in this room, discussing the first reports of Lotho and Timono’s crooked contracts when Sancho Proudfoot came in with Smallburrow’s note.  When Uncle Will read it, he turned stark white and told us what was happening to the Shirriffs, and that he had to put a stop to it immediately.  He got a cart from Pease and set off for Hobbiton and the Hill, but was waylaid two miles from the village by the Big Men, who dragged him back here and into the old storage tunnels, which they turned into the Lockholes.  They raided the storage tunnels completely, and made rooms where they nailed Hobbits as had disagreed with them.  That’s how they became the Lockholes.”  He was shaking slightly as he described the manner in which the infamous prison had come to be.

          “Dad says that they took all of the root vegetables as we had stored there,” Mato said.

          “Yes, and all of the apples as the Oatbarrows had stored there, waiting to take them to the cider press,” Gordolac added.  “That was the area where they held poor Fatty Bolger.  How that must have tortured him, smelling the apples but not being able to have any to eat!  And they took all the furniture and things people had stored there as weren’t needed at the time.  They also took everything that was displayed in the Mathom House.”  He paused, looking rather sideways at Sam.  “I wonder if they took that silver shirt as old Bilbo had there?”

          Sam was already shaking his head.  “No—he came and took that hisself afore the Party, and wore it under his clothes when he left the Shire.  He gave it and Sting, his sword, to Frodo while we was in Rivendell.  Saved Frodo’s life, there in Moria.”  He gave a huff.  “It would of been quite the treasure for old Sharkey, gettin’ that mithril shirt!  I’m that glad as it wasn’t there for the Big Men to take!  It’s in Bag End now, in the study, in the Bilbo box as Drogo Baggins carved years agone, there with the circlets of honor they made for Frodo and—and me.”

          “What’s that, a circlet of honor?” asked Daylily, fascinated by the unexpected coloring of the gardener’s face.

          “Just never you mind,” Sam said.  “As my Frodo used to say, it’s somethin’ as Lord Strider had made to embarrass the two of us.”

          Gordolac continued, “Now the Big Men seemed to be everywhere, and we realized as, somehow, Lotho Pimple was now in charge of the mills and the inns—most of them at least.  He was making rules right and left, and most of them seemed to give him and his folks the right to go anywhere and take anything they pleased.  More Hobbits were being taken to the Lockholes, some because they’d sassed one of the Big Men or the Gatherers and Sharers, and some just because.”

          Sam added, “Frodo said as many was taken there apparently to force others to toe the line and not make trouble.  Eustus Grubb, whose dad was Bilbo’s personal lawyer, was warned as him must present some of Pimple’s crooked contracts as his own, or they’d take his cousin Tom there, warnin’ as Tom wasn’t likely to ever come out again.”

          Mato asked, “Is it true as old Missus Lobelia herself was dragged there?”  At the nods of the two grownups, he continued, “But why?  Why’d Mister Lotho let them take his own mother there?”

          Sam shared a quick glance with Gordolac before answering, “We don’t think as it was Lotho as did that.  We think it was Sharkey as ordered her arrested.  He’d just come to Bag End, and him was not goin’ to let her talk any sense to her lad.”  He grimaced.  “We also figger as it was about then as him decided it was time to get rid of the Chief, and just leave him as the Boss.”

          It was an uncomfortable subject, and none of them wished to consider it further at the moment.  At last Daylily asked, “Why did Mister Lotho start the Gatherers and Sharers?  Nobody went wantin’ afore that, did they?”

          Gordolac answered her, “Well, we Hobbits don’t tend to let our own go wanting.  It’s why we have family heads and village heads, after all—to see to it as nobody goes without when times get bad.  But Lotho made it sound reasonable—at first, at least.  The idea that someone would see to it as everyone in the Shire could be taken care of, all supposedly the same, sounds as if it would be fair, and a lot of folks would agree.  Only it didn’t work that way.  Instead, Gathering and Sharing turned out to be flat robbing most people, with only those appointed by Lotho and his toadies to do the Gathering receiving any of the Sharing.  I don’t know as what we would have had to celebrate Yule with if Frodo hadn’t seen to it as what was found hidden in the Brockenbores and on Lotho’s farms was sent out throughout the Shire, and if he hadn’t immediately begun identifying who various stolen items belonged to so as to see them returned.”

          Sam said thoughtfully, “I think as it was Lotho and Lobelia’s idea that the Gathering and Sharing would get them more attention from those as live in the Shire.  If’n some family needed flour, say, then they’d have to go to Hobbiton to Bag End and beg for it from one of them, and probably to pay a higher price than usual for it.  Lotho’d be the most important Hobbit, bein’ the one as could decide who got food or cloth or even pots and pans and such.  Nobody could ignore him then!  And it would of suited Missus Lobelia just fine to have Hobbits flatter her and beg from her in such a manner.  Although she changed once she realized as just what it meant to be in the Lockholes herself.”

          “She just wanted to get attention, I think,” Gordolac agreed.  “But Lotho wanted to be the Chief for everyone, the one as had the final say as to who prospered and who suffered.  And some of the ideas as he put forward didn’t even profit himself, much less anyone else.  Like that plan he had to increase crop yields as would have killed the soil within three to five years.  It took one of the farmers who leased a tobacco plantation in the Southfarthing from him going to Lobelia to explain things to get him to stop before he did permanent damage.”

          “I’ll wager as it was Sharkey as put that idea in his head,” Sam said, shaking his own in disgust.  “Sharkey and Pimple appear to have gone way back together.  Sharkey learned of the Shire from Gandalf, and by that time anythin’ as Gandalf favored Sharkey hated on principle.  But him already was workin’ to become a power in Middle Earth, and was startin’ to build armies of Men and orcs—the great Uruk Hai as was bred to fight for him.  Him needed food—lots of food—to feed them all, and Gandalf had bragged as what good farmers we are, here in the Shire.  It seems as his agents met Lotho Pimple in Bree, and begun buyin’ crops for Sharkey’s use some years ago, with Pimple stealin’ other folks’ crops from the warehouses in the Southfarthing and sendin’ them off south to Isengard when they was intended to go to Long Cleeve or Westholm or Needlehole or the like.  That’s what Frodo learned whilst him was deputy Mayor.  And certainly Pippin and Merry found food and pipeweed from the Shire in the storerooms of Isengard when them was there with Treebeard.  But even though Sharkey was buyin’ food from the Shire, him would of thought it quite the nasty joke to poison our fields, if’n it would work.”


          All looked up to see a farmer standing in the open doorway, his hat in his hands.

          The two children looked embarrassed.  “Dad?” questioned Mato.  “You lookin’ for us?”

          Farmer Sugarbeets focused his attention on his son and daughter.  “We was a-wonderin’ as to where the two of you had got to, when you didn’t come home for luncheon.  We thought as you was only goin’ into the village to see the new Mayor, and as you’d come back directly.”

          “If’n you’ll forgive me,” Sam said, “but I asked them to dine with me. Atween what my Rosie sent and what Missus Philomena had sent over from the inn, there was too much for me to eat all by myself.  And then Mister Gordolac arrived with some almond cake as his wife had baked, and we’ve been talkin’.”

          “Talkin’ about what?” the farmer asked.

          Mato answered, “’Bout how Lotho Pimple made hisself Chief, and how that Sharkey saw him dead to make hisself the Boss.”

          Their father’s expression was grim as he entered the room to stand before the Mayor’s desk.  “Not particularly proper things to talk over with bairns, I’d say.  And it’s all the fault of that Frodo Baggins for lettin’ Pimple’s ideas get so high and mighty.”

          The children, who already knew Sam’s reaction to criticism of his former Master, weren’t surprised to see the gardener’s face grow dark at their father’s words.  “If’n anyone was to blame for Lotho Pimple seein’ hisself as the one to rule the Shire with an iron fist, it certainly wasn’t the fault of Frodo Baggins,” Sam announced.  “You’d best think on the role of his mum and dad in him wantin’ to be the boss of all.”

          “If you didn’t visit Hobbiton or Hardbottle often, then you have no idea just how much of a bully as Lotho Sackville-Baggins was throughout his life, much less how often he found himself being stopped in his bullying by his cousin Frodo,” Gordolac Whitfoot confirmed.  “Throughout his time as Mayor of the Shire, Uncle Will constantly was handing complaints about Lotho beating up on the children of the region of the Hill or Hardbottle, or other villages where the S-Bs had property, stealing from children and families, and generally being a lout and a menace.  Then, after Bilbo brought Frodo back to Bag End as his ward, there began to be complaints by Otho and Lobelia that Frodo Baggins was ‘interfering with the freedom of their son, Lotho, to interact freely with other young people.’  Meaning as Frodo, once again, caught Lotho threatening or hurting a smaller child or openly stealing, and had given him one single punch as had laid the lout out upon the ground.  I believe as we have one thick volume in the records solely filled with complaints about young Lotho Sackville-Baggins, or filed by Otho and Lobelia as to how he’d once more been stopped in his bullying by Frodo.  If anything, Frodo attempted repeatedly during his time in Hobbiton to cause Lotho to change his behavior, not that Lotho ever took the lesson.”

          “My cousin Pasco lost his inn outside Long Cleeve when it come out as Frodo’d sold Bag End in Hobbiton to Lotho Pimple.  Who’d of ever thought as such a thing could happen?” Farmer Sugarbeets demanded.

          “Who would have thought as Magda Sandybanks would have lost her smial because she hadn’t ‘properly thatched’ the top of her hill?  Or that the Ticklers of Westholm would have forfeited their farm because they didn’t drill another unnecessary well on the south side of their barn when there was a good one on the northeast side of the house?  One family complained to Master Saradoc they were likely to lose their hole if they didn’t have new shutters made by a family in the far Northfarthing, painted pink by a family in Greenholm as didn’t even make the paint anymore, and have them replace the better made green shutters they already had before five days were over.  The Brandybucks saw it done, but it was by the closest of margins, believe me.  Oh, Lotho and his cousin Timono Bracegirdle between them had all sorts of ways of cheating other people out of their property with various tricky clauses added to loan documents.”

          Mato remembered earlier comments about Timono Bracegirdle’s cleverness at cheating others, and added this as extra evidence that the Hobbit had happily defrauded all he could.

          “And it’s not like your cousin’s inn was the only one as was closed by Pimple,” Sam noted.

          “Most of the inns in the Shire were closed,” Gordolac agreed.  “Only a few, now named Private Clubs for those as worked alongside Lotho, remained open.  The Green Dragon in Bywater was partly burned down, and the Ivy Leaf in Hobbiton had all its windows broken and the bar gutted.  And the Inn here in Michel Delving was boarded up straight away, although the brewery was kept open to supply the Gatherers and Sharers as well as the Big Men.  Those as owned most of the inns had been forced to sell them to Pimple, or had been tricked into allowing him to make an offer on them as would become mandatory if Frodo Baggins should ever sell Bag End to Lotho.  Same thing happened with most of the mills as well.  Never got the mill or inn there in Greenholm or far up in the Northfarthing, nor those in the centers of Buckland or the Tooklands.  But those others as he didn’t buy he still took control of anyway.  Don’t know as where he got the money for some of them whose sales agreements I’ve read, though.”

          Sam was shaking his head.  “Accordin’ to what Frodo was told as deputy Mayor, Pimple reneged on several of them contracts; but with him as Chief, who was they to complain to?”

          “Well,” the farmer said, regrouping his thoughts, “still Baggins ought not to of gone off on a hare-brained adventure and left us to Pimple’s plans.”

          Sam was now standing with his hand on his hip.  “And just how was Frodo to know as just what his cousin had planned—tell me that?  Lotho knew Frodo well enough to realize as one day Frodo would leave the Shire to seek out word of Bilbo, much as Isengar Took left the Great Smial in hopes of learnin’ where his brother Hildifons might of ended up.  Him and that Timono Bracegirdle just banked on Lotho’s hunch turnin’ out true, is all.  Worked out for them, didn’t it?”  He reached down and took another sip from his mug.  “Not as Sharkey left Pimple with much time to enjoy the spoils of bein’ Chief.  By the time as him and that Worm-fellow got here to the Shire, Sharkey was boilin’ to spoil everything as Frodo and Gandalf might ever of loved.  Him had been thrown out of the order of Wizards, and wasn’t the White no more.  His staff was took away and blasted to shivers, and he’d been kept in his own tower as a prisoner by the Ents, and then turned out to the wilderness as a beggar.  And all that had been seen by Hobbits, and him hated Hobbits like poison!  It was a Hobbit as found the Enemy’s Ring in Gollum’s cave and took It away with him in his pocket.  It was a Hobbit as offered to take It to Mordor to see It unmade by dropping It into the Fire of Mount Doom.  It was Hobbits as took It there and saw It fall, in Gollum’s hands.  It was Hobbits as watched his magnificent army of Uruk Hai march out to destroy Rohan, but not come back.  It was Hobbits in the end as ate the food from the Shire as he’d bought from Lotho Sackville-Baggins to feed that army of his, and not him and his orcs and his slaves.  And it was a Hobbit as passed him on the road home, as looked at him with pity rather than hate or fear.  Oh, him loved to be looked at with hate and fear; but pity?  Oh, no, not for him—not for Saruman of the Many Colors as had dreams of cheatin’ Sauron hisself, makin’ him, Saruman, Sharkey, the new Dark Lord of Middle Earth.

          “So, him hurried to get here first, to see the beauty of the Shire marred, to see the Ringbearer’s face fill with grief and horror as him saw our land of peace and plenty destroyed, with no time in a Hobbit’s life to see any of it come back to what it had been afore.  That was his plan, at least.  And no pitiful Hobbit like Lotho Sackville-Baggins was goin’ to stop him from seein’ all the trees brought down and the Water poisoned and the earth no longer able to bear!”

          “So, the Worm really did kill Lotho?” Mato asked.

          “They never found the body,” Gordolac said.

          “Oh, but us did, about a year or so back.  Your uncle was told, as was the Thain, and the Sackville and the Bracegirdle family heads.  We took him back to Hardbottle to see him buried proper.”

          Gordolac was surprised.  “Uncle Will didn’t tell me!”

          “It was thought best not to make it more of a scandal than it already was,” Sam explained.  “One of the trees in the orchard the east side of the Hill was not doin’ well, and at last it died.  We was diggin’ it out when we found somethin’ had been buried neath it.  It was a packing case, and in it was what was left of Lotho’s body.  Iris Baggins identified the dressing gown as it was wearin’.  It was a patchwork affair as Missus Belladonna pieced together not long after Mister Bungo died for Bilbo to wear.  She give it to him for Yule.  Missus Iris said him wore it often, particularly of an evenin’, until him got back from his adventure.  After that him tended to wear an old rose-colored dressing gown as he’d had from his mum.  We suspect as it went the same way as the silver spoons as went missin’ from the dining room dresser.”

          “Another of Lobelia’s thefts, then?” suggested the Whitfoot.

          Sam nodded.  “And now as him was Master of Bag End, him chose to wear the Master of Bag End’s long-missin’ dressing gown—and died in it.”

          Gordolac shuddered, as did the children’s father.  Farmer Sugarbeet finally said, “And that Sharkey ordered the Worm to kill Lotho?”

          Sam nodded solemnly.  “Bragged about it, even.”

          Slowly, the farmer said, “And, even after that, Frodo ordered those with you not to hurt him—Sharkey, I mean.  He meant to let the villain go?”

          There was a mixture of pain and pride in Sam’s face as he answered, his own response as slow and measured as had been the farmer’s question.  “Yes.  Him would of let Sharkey leave.  I don’t know whether him learned of the nature of Wizards from asking Gandalf, or from what him read whilst we was in Rivendell or Minas Tirith, or from the Lady in Lórien, or something him gleaned along the way home.  Or mayhaps it was the Ring Itself as told him the true nature of Gandalf and Saruman.  We know as the Wizards come to Middle Earth not two thousand years ago, and they’re not Elves, nor Men, and definitely not Dwarves nor Hobbits.  They look like Men, but have been around for far too long for Men to stay alive.  They’re more than Men.  Frodo said that Saruman was one as was from far above us, and needed the chance to mayhaps recover—return to his beginnings.  So, Sharkey called him cruel, and goaded the Worm until the fellow killed him.”

          He was quiet for the moment.  At last he continued.  “Strider told us of what happened when the Ring went into the fire.  We didn’t see—I was carryin’ Frodo out of there and coaxing him to what little safety as there was.  There was a terrible shaking of the ground, and the Tower of Barad-dûr fell to pieces.  A great black shape rose up from the ruins, a shape crowned with lightnin’, and it shook it’s hand at the West.  Only the West wouldn’t have it back.  Instead the west wind rose and blew the shape to nothin’.

          “Somethin’ similar happened, there at Bag End, when Sharkey was killed by the Worm-fellow.  Again a shape arose, only it was not great—not this time.  It was like grey smoke.  It turned to the west, and again the west wind blew it apart.  No lightnin’ this time.  Pathetic, really.  Sharkey’d used up what power and Light as him had ever had, and there was hardly nothin’ to turn to the West.  And the West wouldn’t have him back no more’n Sauron.

          “But the Elves of Lórien told us whilst we was on our way back that after Gandalf fell in Moria, they saw a battle of lightning, fire, and smoke atop the mountains, and in the end a white shinin’ such as them’d not seen ever in their lives.  They think as it was Gandalf’s spirit leavin’ its Man’s body—and then just after we left, headin’ south on the Great River, there was another shinin’ as him was sent back to see the battle finished.  No such grace was give to either the Dark Enemy or to Sharkey, I fear.”

          At last the children’s dad asked, “Why didn’t Frodo stay and be our rightful Mayor, elected by us?  Mayor Whitfoot wanted it, I think.”

          Sam shrugged.  “That him did.  But it was more’n Frodo could handle.  Him was so bad hurt by all as had happened—by carryin’ the Ring Itself; by the wounds he got, and especially the Morgul wound; by the evil we saw; by the spider’s poison; by the battle for the Ring at the end when It took him and Gollum bit off his finger to take It for hisself….  There wasn’t a lot of Frodo Baggins left by the time as we got home again.  And then there was the fear as the Shire might not recover, not until I membered the box of soil as the Lady give me.  That blessing helped the trees to grow and the flowers to come back again, and put life back into soil poisoned by salt and hatred and fire.  But that wasn’t enough—not for Frodo to return to what he’d been—before.  Him was offered the chance to leave with the Great Elves and Gandalf—and Bilbo, and at last him chose.  There the wound from the Morgul knife could be healed, truly healed.  There him could be filled again, the scoured places in his soul refilled with joy.  They think him a wonder, the Elves do, for not one of them could of carried the Ring without It takin’ them long afore they made it to the mountain.  They all said it.  So now Frodo is healin’ and able to be happy once more.  And maybe, afore my time comes….”  

          But he didn’t finish.


          Mato thought about what Sam had said of Lotho and Sharkey for some time that evening.  Lotho had been self-absorbed, a bully, a thief, and a sneak.  Sharkey’d wanted food for this army that had marched out to war but hadn’t come back again, and had found a willing stooge in Lotho Sackville-Baggins.  Lotho had wanted to be the boss of all the Shire, and had used the Men Sharkey’d sent into the Shire to make himself Chief Shirriff, and he’d had Mayor Whitfoot arrested and imprisoned in the Lockholes.  But when Sharkey’d arrived, the Big Men had gone back to their real Master, and no one had lifted a finger to save Lotho from being killed on Sharkey’s orders.

          No longer would he think of Frodo Baggins as Runaway Frodo as he’d heard his father and other Hobbits in the region refer to him.  No, Frodo had done his best to put things right again, there during his time as deputy Mayor.  And in the end he’d gone away to be healed.

          Well, Frodo had helped the Shire heal as much as he could, and since then Samwise Gamgee, Meriadoc Brandybuck, and Peregrin Took had seen to it that homes, fields, gardens, and woodlots were again whole and fruitful, and that no further evil Men were able to come in and hurt the Hobbits of the Shire nor the Shire itself.  

          But he didn’t think he’d ever understand how any single Hobbit could ever want to be the boss of all to the point he’d listen to someone like Sharkey or believe such a person would help him to such power.  No, for Mato Sugarbeets, it was enough to know one day he’d take over the running of the farm and know the pleasure of being his own boss.

          It was sweet to be a Hobbit of the Shire, he decided.


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