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Another Moment of your Time  by Larner

For Iorhael, Antane, and Maniac for their birthdays.

The Protest Rebuffed

          The deputy Mayor leaned forward over the will he was examining, his left elbow beside the document and his chin resting on the back of his knuckles.  In his right hand he held a writing stick of graphite with which he would at times underline questionable phrases or make notations on a separate tablet.  His attention was fixed on his work, and the crease between his brows that had not been there before his journey outside the Shire's borders was pronounced in his concentration.

          "Harrumph.  Excuse me, please, Mister Baggins, sir?"

          Frodo looked up to meet the apologetic gaze of one of the Hobbits employed to keep watch on the prisoners held in the new gaol for the Shire.  The crease in his brow deepened, not due to the interruption but to the probable reason why this particular Hobbit was now present in the Council Hole rather than standing watch on his charges.  "Yes, Master Greenhill?  Is Mister Smallburrow grousing again?"  Marco Smallburrow had been one of the Shire lawyers that had actively collaborated with Lotho Sackville-Baggins to help fleece so many citizens of the Shire of their goods and property, and had been the first to take up residence in the new cells created in the middle reaches of the old storage tunnels where Lotho's Big Men had set up their infamous Lockholes. 

          The Shire's new gaoler shook his head.  "No, not the Smallburrow this time, not since you told us he might sit in the hole where them kept old Missus Lobelia.  Gave him pause, it did, realizing him could end up sitting there in the dark and damp like those Lotho had locked away.  No, this time it's that Timono Bracegirdle what's demanding to talk to the deputy Mayor.  Seems convinced as nobody has the right to put Hobbits behind bars, and that he'll be able to 'explain' things so you understand as him didn't do nothing wrong, but that what's happening to him and to Smallburrow is just intolerable.  It's only a misunderstanding, it is.  Just ask him!"

          "He's said this in front of you?"

          "Him and Smallburrow--the two of them discuss things with one another and how neither belongs in gaol, and seem convinced that us gaolers, since we talk plain, we must not be able to understand them.  Tell each other how quaint our language is, they do, and Bracegirdle in especial talks to us like we're particularly stupid children.  If it weren't so funny it would be insulting."

          "Bet as they'd look on me the same way," said a voice from the doorway, and both Frodo and the gaoler turned to face Sam Gamgee, who'd just entered with a large bouquet of early blooms in hand.  "You're looking good, Master.  Slept reasonably well last night, did you?  I brought you some of the first blooms from Bag End's garden to make it feel more homelike.  You should be able to move back home early in April, I'd say.  So, Mr. Smallburrow and that Timono Bracegirdle think those as were raised to work with their hands can't understand proper speech, eh?"

          "Apparently," Frodo responded.  "Anyone who judges intelligence or even basic learning on the basis of language used is downright foolish.  Although such beliefs aren't limited solely to the Shire, of course."  He gave a wry smile.  "Certainly there were a few high lords in Gondor who were surprised to learn that the new Lord Perhael was familiar with the tales of Beleriand, and that he had read them in the original Elvish!"

          Sam laughed.  "I was more surprised to learn that there was them there who'd never read them at all in any tongue.  Who would of thought?"  He indicated the document Frodo was closing around his writing stick.  "That one of the tainted contracts?" he asked.

          Frodo's snort was totally without humor.  "A tainted will, rather.  Mister Bracegirdle's work from the look of it.  I intend to ask him about it since he's insisting on trying to persuade me  no one has the right to lock up other Hobbits."

          Handing off the flowers to one of the nearby Took lawyers who were serving as Frodo’s aides in reviewing the backlog of documents that had built up since Will Whitfoot’s imprisonment, Sam asked, "And then where was he when Lotho and his Big Men locked up the Mayor, or Mister Freddy, or old Missus Lobelia?  Seems he wasn't so certain then that no Hobbits should be locked up.  Do you want your cloak, Master?"


          "So," Marco Smallburrow said to his fellow prisoner, who inhabited the stone-lined cell opposite his own, "you have summoned the deputy Mayor, have you?"

          "Yes," said Timono Bracegirdle, turning his disturbingly intense gaze on Marco.  "And I'm surprised you never did so.  It sounds as if he's become even softer since his return from parts unknown than he was as a mere lad.  It ought to be fairly simple to persuade him that this imprisonment is both cruel and unusual, and thus must needs be lifted.  After all, we are agreed in that understanding of our state, are we not?"

          Marco asked, "Baggins, softer than when he was a lad?  How did you come to that conclusion?"

          Timono shrugged.  "When the word came that Baggins, Merry Brandybuck, and Pippin Took were back they were saying that Baggins wouldn't allow any Hobbits to kill the Men unless it was to keep them from killing another Hobbit.  He didn't want them even to hurt Sharkey or Sharkey's Worm creature, they say."

          Smallburrow's brows rose with his surprise.  "But I heard that both Sharkey and the Worm were dead!"

          "Not due to anything Baggins did or said.  He wouldn't allow them to do anything to Sharkey even after the Man tried to kill him."

          "Then how did they both end up dead?"

          "They say that the Worm killed Sharkey, and the Took archers were so shocked by that that they shot the Worm."

          Marco thought this over.  "It is hard to imagine that Worm creature having the courage to strike out at anyone."

          "He was provoked."

          The two prisoners turned in surprise at the unexpected voice from up the tunnel.  Frodo Baggins stood there, draped in a grey-green cloak that fell nearly to his feet, a water bottle slung from his shoulder.  Beyond him stood a far more substantial Hobbit with a similar cloak flung back from his sturdy shoulders, his eyes shrewd as he examined the opposing cells and their occupants.

          "So, here you are, Mister deputy Mayor, sir," Timono said, his voice unctuous.  "It appears that you did not eat well during your time outside."

          Frodo's jaw clenched briefly, but his voice was steady enough when he answered, "I will admit that Sam and I went through a time when we simply did not have nearly enough to eat.  But while he recovered well enough, I did not.  Why did you summon me from my work, Mister Bracegirdle?"

          "Work?  And what work is it that you have done?  What work does a mere Mayor do?"  Timono's attitude was most dismissive.

          Frodo's expression became merely more formal as he came to stand between the two cells.  "It is the Mayor's duty to review all documents brought to his office, to see to it that they are properly written and witnessed, and that they are not so devised as to cheat any party for whom they were prepared.  Your client Lotho Sackville-Baggins, in allowing the unlawful imprisonment of our elected Mayor, thus withheld Mister Whitfoot's services in this manner from the people of the Shire, allowing an overwhelming number of our citizens to be robbed of both their rights and their property.  The two of you were most active in preparing the majority of such questionable documents forwarded to the Mayor's Office in the Council Hole both prior to and since Will's arrest and imprisonment.  As Will Whitfoot will be continuing to recover from his ordeal for some months yet, he insisted that I, as the representative and confidant of our new King, should serve as his deputy, examine the situation that led to the Time of Troubles in his place, and make such reports and recommendations as I should find necessary or advisable to the Thain, the Master, the Council of family and village heads, himself, and the King and his representatives.  That, then, is my current work."

          "King?  What King?  There has never been a King," Timono said coldly.

          Frodo shook his head decisively.  "There has never been a King, you say?  Then who gave Marcho and Blanco the Charter granting the Shire to us Hobbits as our own land?  Why did Bucca march forth with forty archers to the aid of the King if no such person existed?  It appears you failed to study the history of the Shire if you believe there has never been a King, Timono Bracegirdle.  It is true that the heirs to Arvedui Last-king did not claim his office for a thousand years, but I assure you that at last his current heir has done just that, and that he is now King of both Arnor here in the North and of Gondor in the South.  Sam here, Meriadoc Brandybuck, Peregrin Took, and I all accompanied him southward and saw him invested with the Winged Crown of Gondor on the first of May and the Rod of Annúminas on First Lithe.  The Lord Aragorn Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar is now our King, now that Mordor is fallen at last."

          Timono's lip curled with incredulity.  "And just how would you four have met with the one meant to be King?" he demanded.

          "We met in Bree.  Does it surprise you that the heirs to Isildur have always traveled widely through all of the lands their ancestors once ruled, even the Shire?  Yes, our King Elessar has ridden through the Shire, back when he was the Chieftain of the northern Dúnedain.  He wore no royal robes, and he did not carry the Star of Elendil with him at the time, for he must ride swiftly to come to the Sarn Ford in order to deter raiders from the south who had attacked villages along the Greenway and who intended to hide from retribution here in our land, and who most likely would have killed whatever Hobbits they encountered as well.  We met mostly because he had been charged by Gandalf to watch for me and to aid me in my journey."

          Timono examined him.  "Lotho always swore you would leave the Shire one day.  It would seem he was right."

          Frodo gave a slight shrug.  "Considering how you helped him write a number of loan contracts that gave him the deeds to other people's property should I do so, it would appear that you were also convinced that I would do this one day, or at least you were impressed by Lotho's surety."

          "And this King of yours will do as he's told by the likes of that old wandering conjuror, will he?"

          "Those who are wise and are people of honor would always do well to listen to Gandalf and to heed his advice and his requests."

          Something in Frodo's tone made Timono shiver visibly.  It appeared the Baggins had learned the art of near immobility during his time outside the Shire, for he made no unnecessary movements now.  Yet there was an air of authority to him that both prisoners found somehow daunting.  The lawyer eyed the deputy Mayor warily.

          At last Frodo prompted, "I ask again, Mister Bracegirdle, why did you think to summon me from my work?"

          "We would protest our imprisonment."

          "It is certainly your right to do so."

          Timono gave him an expectant look, but it appeared Frodo had nothing further to say on the matter.  At last the Bracegirdle prompted, "Well?"

          "Well what?"

          "When are you going to order our release?"

          "And why should I do such a thing?"

          "You just agreed that we were being unjustly imprisoned."

          "I do not remember doing any such thing."

          "But you just said I was right in protesting our imprisonment!"

          "I remember saying only that you have a right to so protest.  I did not say that you were right in so protesting."

          "Then you believe we belong in this gaol?"

          Frodo sighed.  "Did you do rightly when you wrote loan papers in which you insisted that a widow must see to it that there be a viable well dug on the east side of her smial when there was already a good well producing sweet water on the north side of her home, and that if it were not done by a certain date far too soon for such a project to be completed she would be in default and her property would revert to Lotho's possession?  Did you not do so when in fact she was a smallholder leasing her farm and garden from another, and as the landlord had no part in the loan, which she had thought originally to secure with her flock of sheep, Lotho's agreement written by you was already both illegal and invalid?  So you and he thought to deprive her of her home, her landlord of his legal property, and Lotho went on also to seize her sheep as well after you and he had convinced her that she should not risk her livelihood for such a small amount of capital.  Did not Marco here write a loan agreement for one of the Brandybucks again secured by his home and property specifying that he must have new shutters made by a carpenter in Greenholm you knew to be ailing, of wood purchased from a sawyer in the North-farthing and painted in an unlikely pink paint to be purchased from a supplier in another remote village in the far West-farthing whom you knew to be dead, again giving him scant time to get the work done--when in reality his smial had already sound shutters of far better quality in an honored shade of green?  The Master and his people just managed to get the job done by the deadline set, although they tell me it was worth it to see the impotent fury on Marco's face when he found he'd not be taking possession of the smial and farm in Lotho's name after all.  And then there were all of the items stolen from others found in the immediate possession of each of you and certain relatives when you were found and arrested, items taken by the 'Gatherers and Sharers' and then appropriated by yourselves.  What would be the standard treatment should a Hobbit be suspected of thievery?"

          Timono and Marco exchanged wary glances before the former responded, "Well, there certainly would be no imprisonment within a gaol.  There has never been such a thing here within the Shire before."

          "You have failed to answer my question."

          "You have failed to justify the presence of this prison!"

          Frodo gave a slight smile.  "But my answer must follow from yours."  The smile faded and his voice grew stern.  "What is the regular procedure for dealing with thieves?"

          Again Timono glanced at his fellow prisoner before answering, "The accused would be put on house arrest under the authority of his family head until the  investigation was complete.  But this is not house arrest, and you are not the family head for either of us."

          "Nor would I wish to be, considering the degree of your crimes.  The problem is that the family heads for neither of you will agree to have anything to do with you.  Marco here accompanied the Gatherers and Sharers to the homes of the three in whose Books his name appears and supervised the looting of all their valuables, as well as the homes of Will and Mina Whitfoot, the family heads for the Bolgers, Boffins, Proudfoots, Maggots, Smallfoots, Brownloams, and more, and substantial numbers of valuable items taken in these raids were found in his home, his mother's home, and in storage holes on his properties.  After his sister spoke out against his actions her home and farm were fired, as was true of others who protested his treatment of them.  You were caught after you were turned back from the Sarn Ford, and the amount of valuable jewelry in your possession was staggering, and a good deal of it was taken from the Bracegirdles, Sackvilles, Whitfoots, Goolds, Hornblowers, Boffins, Bagginses, Chubbs, Grubbs, and Oldbucks from the East-farthing and the Marish.  You even had several items taken from Lotho and Lobelia, which indicates you had access to Sackville Place and Bag End possibly after Lotho's murder.

          "When your own family heads insist on washing their hands of you and are considering striking you from your family Books, and when hatred for you is such that neither of you would be particularly safe outside of these walls, then what is to be done with the two of you?  I will tell you this--Bree does not want you, either, so simply banishing you beyond the Bounds is not an option.  Considering the number of ruffians we've expelled, had you encountered any of them with the looted jewelry you were found with, you would most likely have been murdered and the jewelry in their hands before you'd traveled twenty leagues along the Greenway.  Nor would the King's people have treated you any better than we have--they would have housed you in the gaol in Bree, most likely, which is nowhere as comfortable as this, I'm told by some who have spent time within it."

          "But we've had no trial, and have not been found guilty of any crime!"

          "Do you deny your involvement in presenting tainted contracts and even wills?  Do you deny being found in possession of stolen goods?"

          "What tainted wills?"

          Frodo brought out the document he'd been holding against his breast under his cloak.  "There is this," he said. Suddenly he began to waver on his feet.

          The sturdy Hobbit who'd been standing behind him turned to the nearby gaoler.  "Please, a seat for my Master," he said, and the guard hurried to bring one of the stools from the gaoler's own table. 

          In moments Frodo was seated, his face pale but composed.  Courteously he thanked the gaoler before he opened the document he held.

          "Are you well, Frodo Baggins?" asked Timono.

          "As I indicated, I have not recovered as fully from our  experiences as did Sam here, but that has no bearing on your claim that you should not be locked up.  You are correct that there is no history of prisons here within the Shire, not until Lotho's Big Men began using the storage holes in this complex to imprison those who questioned their actions or Lotho's authority.  Did either of you protest this decision?"

          "Why should we?" asked Timono impatiently.  "It was no affair of ours, after all.  It is not as if we ourselves were involved in the situation."

          "Yet Fredegar Bolger names you as the one who searched him for valuables before he was consigned to the Lockholes, and his grandfather's pocket watch and the ivory pipe banded with silver that I gave him for my birthday before I left Bag End, which you took from him at that time, were both found amongst the jewelry seized with you when you were arrested on the second Hornblower pipeweed plantation.  Perhaps you were not as distant from the decision to set up and utilize the Lockholes as you would prefer people to believe.

          "Now, as for this will, prepared for Mistress Gloxinia Goold----"

          Timono interrupted him abruptly.  "I did not file that will.  I have never filed a will for any of the Goolds."

          "Did I say that you filed this will?  I do not remember making any such statement.  No, the records indicate it was filed by Dido Marchbanks of Pincup.  However, the handwriting indicates that it was written by you, not Mister Marchbanks, who is decidedly left-handed and whose writing is quite distinctive."

          The Bracegirdle was becoming visibly angry.  "And how would you come to recognize Marchbank's hand?"

          Frodo smiled.  "Haven't I served as a copyist for the Shire for more than a quarter of a century?  Dido Marchbanks has been one of my regular customers for at least fifteen years, Mister Bracegirdle.  I recognize his hand easily.  As I do yours as well now, having reviewed since I was appointed deputy Mayor so many documents that you have prepared.  And there are certain mannerisms in what you write and how you phrase it that are even more distinctive.

          "Mister Marchbanks has been questioned regarding this will and certain contracts and other documents that we have had reason to believe were originally fabricated by persons other than himself, and he has admitted in each case who it was that--persuaded him to present them as his own work.  He says he purposely filed your original of this will with his signature because he wished it to be easily recognized as being contrary to the best interests of his client and her family.  If you had not threatened to make the imprisonment of his son, who was arrested when he objected to the stealing of his grandmother's silver, untenable, he would have never agreed to presenting any document originating from you or Mister Smallburrow here as his own.  Now that his son is free and recovering from his own ordeal in safety, he has proved willing to confess to what he did at your bidding, and has described the threats you made against his son and family.

          "So much for your earlier claims to have had no interests in the existence of the Lockholes, Mister Bracegirdle.  You and Mister Smallburrow both indicated to numerous citizens of the Shire that you could influence the treatment of those imprisoned herein.  I do not know how much true authority you held over the bully-boys who ran the place, but we have been able to prove some prisoners were given better--or worse--treatment than others and apparently on the directions of Lotho or other individuals who did not work directly within the Lockholes."  He paused to drink from his water bottle.

          "And why would I wish to devise a revision of the will of  Gloxinia Goold?" asked Timono.

          "Why indeed?" returned Frodo, corking the bottle and allowing it to swing free upon its strap.  He again lifted the will from where it had rested on his knees and opened it at the place marked by his writing stick.  "Within it are numerous examples of a particular form of clause that the Took lawyers who work with me have taken to calling the false jest.  I am not certain if I should be flattered or insulted to be so positively compared to Bilbo's father and grandfather, but clearly I have been viewed by most of the Shire as being far more eminently predictable, and thus more respectable, than Bilbo.  Therefore when conditions have been written into your documents based on the possibility of me leaving the Shire most Hobbits have perceived such statements to be bitter commentary exhibiting the frustration Lotho has felt toward me ever since it became apparent Bilbo had chosen me as his ward and likely heir.  Indeed, it appears that the idea of me leaving the Shire has been equated in the minds of most Hobbits to the likelihood of the Return of the King.  Therefore few if any have thought better of signing an agreement in which a condition should be based on a contingency believed to be so unlikely.

          "Lotho, however, had reason to believe I would leave the Shire one day.  After all, I once told him I intended to go out and learn for myself where Bilbo had gone once I was convinced the time had come to do so.  And by that time Lotho had learned well that I do not make such statements idly.  It was on the basis of how honest he knew me to be that he suggested such conditions be written into whatever documents you prepared for him to present when he made legal agreements.  It proved a successful strategy, won't you agree?"

          Timono Bracegirdle could not hide a smirk of triumph even as he protested, "But who would expect such doings from the oh, so respectable Frodo Baggins?"

          "Who indeed?" Frodo muttered.  "We have become accustomed to seeing such jest clauses in sales and loan agreements, but to find them in wills proved unexpected.  And who shall inherit now that I met the first condition by leaving the Shire, Lotho was killed betimes on Sharkey's orders and so cannot inherit, and you have inadvertently met the third condition by finding yourself imprisoned, and perhaps for life?  It would appear that stating that you yourself would be discredited as an heir should you find yourself imprisoned does not seem anywhere as funny now that it has come to be, I would think."

          Timono snarled, "You can't keep us locked up forever!"

          Again the deputy Mayor shrugged.  "You will not be released any time soon, not until the investigation is complete.  And now that we know that you have corrupted wills as well as contracts the time it will take to complete the investigation has become even longer."

          "You mean to survey every single contract or will I have ever written?"  He sounded disbelieving.

          Frodo had again set the will upon his knee and was removing the stopper from his water bottle.  "You will find that the Tooks and I are all disposed to be most thorough, Mister Bracegirdle," he said.  He took another drink and again stoppered the bottle, eyeing the lawyer with a weary expression.  "And if you are trying to convince yourself that I delight in counting all of your questionable clauses and use of tricky wording, you are much mistaken.  I find the necessity for reviewing each and every word that you have written or dictated to be tedious, distressing, and, after all this time spent in keeping the scores of your perfidy and attempted perfidy, mind-numbing.  However, I have been instructed to see to it that each and every questionable clause and condition is recorded not only by Will Whitfoot but also by the Thain and the King and both his Stewards, not to mention by Master Peringard Took as the Master of the Shire's Guild of Lawyers, and by the Council of family and village heads as well.  Yes, the King himself has taken an interest in the cases against you and Mister Smallburrow and the others who chose to assist Lotho in taking over the Shire and its wealth and who profited by the troubles visited upon our people.  But then Aragorn is a most compassionate individual who cares for the needs of the least of his subjects.  He has little tolerance for those who willingly twist the law to the benefit of themselves and those who are already possessed of more wealth and power than they deserve, much less need."

          He was now riffling the edges of the pages of the will with his fingertip.  "You should have restricted yourself to false jests involving situations such as me leaving the Shire that most Hobbits would dismiss but that you knew to be likely rather than inserting what you believed to be a true jest.  I am aware that at the time you crafted this you had no means of realizing that you would indeed lose your liberty in this manner.  An ironic happenstance, surely, that you should state here that your claims on Mistress Goold's estate should become null and void should you end up a prisoner, and that this circumstance should become true before this will came under our scrutiny.  This will was questioned last week by Cousin Gloxinia's son, who was asked to do so by his mother a few days earlier.  He was surprised, having been assured by Mister Marchbanks before I left Bag End that there was no need to do a revision of her will in spite of the death of his sister as that eventuality had already been addressed in her then-current will.  Cousin Gloxinia was unsure as to why Dido had changed his mind about rewriting her will, but assumed that perhaps it was required by some new change in the law. 

          "That this will was written before it became known in Pincup that Lotho had named himself Chief Shirriff and had directed his ruffians to seize Mayor Whitfoot ere he could reach Hobbiton to berate my foolish kinsman for his effrontery is obvious, considering it was this possible event that was presented as the false jest that would give her estate to Lotho.  Had you already considered murdering Lotho at this point, or were you planning to encourage one of the Big Men to do so?  Certainly by this point you must have begun entertaining greater ambitions yourself than merely to remain the primary schemer to rob the wealthier Hobbits of the Shire of their homes and livelihoods, all for the primary benefit of Lotho Sackville-Baggins."

          Timono's face had gone white with dismay, and his pale eyes were wide and even frightened.  Marco Smallburrow looked across the aisle at his fellow prisoner.   "I say, Bracegirdle, did you truly wish to do away with Pimple?  Not, of course, that the idea is all that bad, I suppose.  He was becoming quite out of touch with reality there at the end, I must say."

          Frodo looked from one to the other, shaking his head.  "You two do make quite the pair.  Poor Lotho, thinking himself so clever, surrounding himself with others as empty as himself.  And all three of you trying to fill yourselves from the substance of others."

          Both the prisoners looked at him with surprise, for he spoke with compassion so clear in his voice, and great sadness in his eyes.  Smallburrow said, "What are you on about, Baggins?  What's this talk about us being empty?"

          "Who truly loves you, Marco Smallburrow?  Who has looked at you and seen how fine a person you could be rather than how you might excite envy in others?  Who has looked at Timono and seen how much he might give to others rather than how he might take advantage of them?  Who ever looked at Lotho and imagined how he might strengthen the entire Shire as the family head for the Sackvilles rather than thinking on how important he was to be a family head at all, as if the Sackvilles were the equal to the Tooks or the Brandybucks rather than a family with but a few members left, just as is true of the Bagginses.  Instead, three generations of that family have convinced themselves that they have lost all by being denied the headship of two families at the same time, and believed that somehow that robbed them of power they believed to be their due.  At least I have known how dearly I have been cherished, as unworthy as I may have proved in the end."

          There was a period of quiet as the two prisoners tried to understand what Frodo Baggins meant.  Frodo had another drink from his water bottle, handed the will he carried to his companion, and drew himself to his feet.  "While we were in Gondor I found myself discussing the nature and need for prisons of one sort or another with our new King, Prince Faramir and his uncle, Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth, with King Éomer of Rohan, with Legolas, whose father is the King of the Elven realm of Eryn Lasgalen east of the great river, with Gimli and his father Glóin from the Lonely Mountain, with Lord Halladan, Aragorn's kinsman and Steward here in the north,  and with the sons of Elrond Half-elven of Rivendell.  I learned that even the Elves have needed secure quarters for those accused of great wrongdoing, particularly those caught up in great passions of wrath or grief, both to restrain them until tempers cool that judgments might be just and to protect them from possible unjust attacks from others.

          "I was certain at the time that we had no need for such things here in the Shire--and then we returned and found what Lotho and you had made of the Shire while we were gone.  True, many of the most evil changes were due to the influence of Saruman, or Sharkey as you knew him, his influence or that of his creatures he sent here to assist Lotho in subduing our folk.  But I found that we also cannot allow all wrongdoers to remain unrestrained, for not only do they run the risk of continuing to victimize others, but they also pose great temptation for others to seek vengeance for what they have suffered.  No one can force Lotho to face the enormity of his crimes now that he is dead on Sharkey's orders, but many know that you two were among his closest accomplices and would love to see the two of you pay in pain and grief for what Lotho did to them.  So, no, I will neither order nor recommend your release while the investigation continues.  And you will soon have companions in the two remaining cells.  One is another cousin of yours, Timono, for Bigelow's son Bedro will be sent here from his current imprisonment in Buckland.  And one of the local Gatherers and Sharers is in danger of being soundly drubbed if he is not swiftly remitted to the safety of custody here."

          "You would bring the likes of Beasty Bracegirdle here?" protested Timono.

          Frodo shrugged once more.  "His nickname does appear to be well chosen, considering the viciousness he displayed in Kingsbridge, Stock, and the Marish toward anyone who failed to jump at his word once he was accepted as a Shirriff and assigned to the Shirriff House hard by the old Bridge Inn.  Saradoc has had him locked up in a storage hole for some weeks, but again neither your family head nor Gander Proudfoot as his village head will accept further responsibility for him.  After all, he and his father were already in internal banishment due to gambling with weighted dice, dosing ponies slated to race, and threats toward Hobbits who'd caught them cheating and had threatened to expose them.  Bedro already had a nasty reputation even before he went for a Shirriff of Lotho's recruitment."

          He started away, then turned back to add, "Now that I think of it, I suppose we Hobbits have always practiced a level of imprisonment when it's needed.  This is not the first time that particular storage hole in Buckland has held someone who had proved violent.  I can remember it being used at least twice when I was growing up.  And Fortumbald set up an isolation suite in the Great Smial that Ferumbras threatened to consign me to the time someone managed to glue his mother to her chair.  And, I regret to say, it was not I who did that.  Paladin and Peringard talked Ferumbras out of it as I recall."

          Timono said, "Well, I for one don't wish to be locked up beside Beasty!"

          Frodo's smile was apologetic.  "We do have one other cell that has remained empty for some months.  Mister Smallburrow can describe it to you, as he was offered the chance to change to it when he complained before regarding the unsatisfactory nature of his accommodations.  Just tell Mister Greenhill that you would like the move and he will see to it as soon as he finds sufficient timber to close the opening.  I wish you gentlehobbits a good day."  So saying, he left, followed by the sturdy Hobbit.

          Marco Smallburrow fell back in his armchair, laughing out loud.  "That sly soul!  Oh, he'd delight to see you in that one, wouldn't he?"

          Timono glared suspiciously at his fellow.  "You didn't tell me there were more cells, or that you had complained to him."

          Marco gave a decided smirk.  "You just decided for yourself that I'd not complained.  He came then and compared this to where he said he'd been imprisoned.  Indicated this was a palace by comparison.  Offered me this other cell, too, and even had the warders haul me down to it when I kept complaining.  I'm told it was probably the best cell in here before these four were set up.  There's even a family connection for you, my friend--it's where your Aunt Lobelia was kept after Sharkey's people dragged her here from the Hill.  Just down there and around the bend...."

          Timono felt a chill go through him.  One of the Big Men had laughed to him about Lobelia's accommodations in the Lockholes after he'd let Timono into Bag End to rifle the rooms Lotho and his mother had dwelt in, having admitted to the lawyer that Sharkey had ordered the Chief killed.  Oh, no doubt that Frodo Baggins would have enjoyed the thought of Timono in Lobelia's old cell!

          The second gaoler, whose name Timono had never bothered to learn, came forth to fetch the stool on which Frodo had sat back to the table at which the two guards ate while on duty, asking, “What did that mean, when he said as he was the King’s con-fi-daunt?”

          Greenhill shrugged.  “Not sure, but I suppose as it means the King has confidence in him.”

          His fellow smiled with satisfaction.  “Of course!” he said.  “Anyone with a lick of sense knows that Frodo Baggins is most likely the most responsible Hobbit in all the Shire.”

          Greenhill cocked a brow in response, then commented, “What surprised me was what he said about him once bein’ in prison hisself.”

          The other one set the stool he’d brought back on the floor and sat on it, crossing his forearms on the table top.  “What he said back when it was Mr. Smallburrow there as demanded to see him was that he’d been kept in a tall stone tower, and that it was cold, and they’d took his clothes or something like.”

          Greenhill shuddered.  “Must of been bad’uns who’d of done such a thing,” he said, “even worse than Lotho Pimple’s Big Men!”

          Timono wanted to ignore the conversation, remembering that he and Smallburrow pretended not to be able to understand the speech of the two guards.  Deep down, however, a part of his mind was worrying over the realization that the deputy Mayor had admitted that he had once been imprisoned.  That night he dreamed of cold stone floors and the bite of a whip, and a distant mix of howls and clanking metal.

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