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For Shirebound, LamePegasus, and Lady Sherlockian for their birthdays. A sequel to The Protest Rebuffed.
A Matter of Titles
Sam knelt over the remains of the chrysanthemums, which had gone ragged now that October was better than half over. What with Mister Frodo leaving as he'd done, and finding himself and Rosie Master and Mistress of Bag End and the Hill, the garden hadn't received anywhere near enough attention in the last month. Perhaps now they were back from Buckland where all had gathered to comfort one another he'd see to setting the place in proper order. Perhaps Frodo would like some of those white lily-type flowers Strider had sent him word about that had been brought to Gondor by sailors who had sailed east past Hinya and Catya, across a wide ocean to a land where it was said that the Men had skin that was reddish. Yes, those ought to please the Master----
And the realization of what he'd just been thinking hit him, and another wave of grief swept over him.
"Apples and strawberries, so sweet to eat!" Marigold came up the lane from the Row, singing happily. Her grief at the departure of Mister Frodo was already being healed by time and the pleasure of now being Missus Young Tom. He was glad that she, at least, could sing in spite of the rapidly greying sky. She must have been checking on the Gaffer, he realized. He'd go down this evening, then, and see for himself how their father was doing. He heard the front gate swing open and bang closed behind her, and then heard the muffled chime of the bell. He gave a sigh, and focused on the chrysanthemums until Rosie came down the garden path, calling his name as the distant gate again swung closed behind his sister, her song resuming as she headed into the village.
"Goldie brought up the post, all what come while we was in Buckland," Rosie said once she saw him crouched over the mums. "Most of it's but notes of respect, I think. But there's one from Michel Delving as I think is more." She sorted through the envelopes she held until she found one with the arch of the Bridge of the Stone Bow stamped into the red wax sealing it closed.
Sam gave a grimace as he took it from her and slipped a thumbnail under the wax. "Wonder what Mister Whitfoot's got to say as he didn't say afore?" he wondered aloud. He pulled the enclosed missive out, handed the envelope to his wife, and unfolded the single page, frowning slightly as he read the message:
Dearest Mister Gamgee,
I know as you and your honored wife have just returned from Brandy Hall and probably have been looking forward to some time alone to begin to appreciate how much things have changed for you now as our beloved Frodo is gone from Bag End and the Shire. But do you think as you could find it inside of you to come to Michel Delving very soon to talk to Masters Smallburrow and Bracegirdle, here in our gaol? You see, they are demanding to talk to the former deputy Mayor, and refuse to believe he can't come. Seem convinced as he should be here at their beck and call. It's not just as they have too much time with nothing of worth to do, but now as the time nears for their trial they are beginning to feel anxious, I believe. I've tried and tried to get it into their heads as they have no say as to what evidence is presented or who gets to testify against them. They are sure they can somehow convince Frodo they are badly used and he could then talk to his friend the King and get them off with just a talking to.
I think as the only one they'll listen to now is you. Please come!
Yours in desperation,
Will Whitfoot, Mayor of the Shire
Sam read this twice, and found that it said the same thing the second time through. He shook his head. If Will couldn't get anything through the heads of those two, how did he think Sam Gamgee would be able to be able to do any better?
"He wants for me to come talk to them two lawyers as was working with Lotho Pimple. But I won't be goin' there today of all days, not when we just got home from Buckland. I'll go tomorrow, 'cause I intend to spend today and tonight here with my family."
Marco Smallburrow looked across the aisle at his fellow prisoner. "Do you think Baggins will really come? Whitfoot was saying that he can't."
Timono Bracegirdle sniffed. "Just because he doesn't want to stir off the Hill unless he's forced since he refused to run for Mayor doesn't mean he won't come if we insist. He had this atrocity constructed and ordered us put here--he owes us!"
"He owes you? How'd you come to that idea?" asked a voice up-tunnel from the four cells that made up the Shire's gaol.
The two prisoners looked to see who had come down into the old storage tunnels, as the voice certainly wasn't that of Frodo Baggins. Timono rose to his feet and stepped closer to the bars so as to peer more closely at their visitor. "It's that other fellow who followed Frodo in here before," he announced to Marco.
Marco Smallburrow rose from his own chair, glaring at the newcomer. "You're who? Sam Gamwidge or something of the sort? Baggins's servant?"
"Samwise Gamgee, Esquire." The newcomer came forward, stopping between the opposing cells and examining their occupants, first one and then the other.
Marco's eyes widened. He exchanged a meaningful glance with Timono before he returned his attention to their--guest. "Esquire, is it? I fear we have neither of us heard such a name here in the Shire before,” he said, his tone belittling.
Samwise Gamgee's face flushed, but he stood proudly enough. "It's not a name, rightly speaking. It's one of the titles they give me down there in Gondor, the only one I feel properly fits. Just never you mind about that. Now, like I asked afore, just what gives you to think as my Master owes you anything at all?"
The Bracegirdle glared at him. "Of course he owes us. We neither of us would be here if it hadn't been for Baggins!"
Sam snorted. "Say rather you'd neither be here if'n you'd not done your best to cheat other Hobbits for Mr. Lotho's sake as well as your own. Cheated and stolen."
Timono gave a sigh of dramatic proportions. "But there was no here before Baggins had these cells built!" he said with an exaggerated tone of reason.
Their visitor merely shrugged. "At least he give thought to comfort, dignity, and health for them as might end up here from time to time," he noted. "Not like what those as were held here afore ye knew. Although I'm told as each of you was offered the storage hole as old Missus Lobelia was kept in. You can bet, though, even if you'd chose to stay there as you'd of had a proper chamber pot with a lid, clean water and proper blankets as well as decent food rather than what they'd give her when she was nailed into it like a hen in a crate on the way to market."
Marco Smallburrow shuddered, protesting, "He would never have really done that, Baggins wouldn't!"
Again Sam shrugged. "You think not? There was a time when I'd of thought the same. But I learned when I saw him dealing with that Gollum that his courtesy and soft words for others don't mean he's truly soft hisself. No, when you try to--to use his pity to get your way he sees right through you and lets you know as that's not what's goin' to happen. He won't be manipulated, not Mister Frodo Baggins."
"But this--this prison we're in--it's not natural for Hobbits!" Smallburrow insisted.
Sam gave a faint smile. "Was what you did to help the Pimple and his bully-boys take over the Shire natural for Hobbits?" he countered. "I'll ask this--when those Big Men took Will Whitfoot prisoner and threw him into one of the rooms here and broke his knee bone and locked him up, did either of you speak up against it? How about when they was kicking Mister Ferdibrand Took in the back of the head enough to blind him--did either of you say, 'No! That ain't right!'? Or when they drug an old Hobbitess like Missus Lobelia here, did you try and stop it? No? Didn't think so! Maybe us Hobbits ain't given to using gaols in proper times, but neither are we likely to take what isn't ours to begin with, much less allow others to do what happened when Lotho Sackville-Baggins put hisself in charge." So saying, he stepped to the guards' table, and after a brief but courteous exchange with the gaoler on duty he returned with a stool and sat down firmly on it, ready to swivel either way depending on which prisoner might require a response.
It was Timono Bracegirdle who finally challenged him. "Why are you here rather than Baggins?" he demanded.
"Will insists he tried to explain as Frodo couldn't come."
"He's been saying that for months, but these--" with a gesture to indicate the gaoler, "--told us that Baggins came to Michel Delving on that fine pony they say he rides now some weeks ago. If he made it here then just to meet with the Mayor, why can't he stir himself to talk to us?"
Sam's expression was curiously flat as he searched the former lawyer's face. Finally he answered, his voice carefully modulated, "My Master's not been fully well for quite some time."
Timono interrupted, "I don't understand how he's in such delicate health. I know Aunt Lobelia used to go on and on about how he had a weak heart or some such, but I saw no signs of it when we were young."
Sam shrugged one shoulder. "Other than that first winter as him was at Bag End, Mister Frodo never had much illness. But that first winter was when almost everyone seemed to have colds, catarrh, ague, or the lung fever. He was mighty sick for a time, but he got through it and didn't have no ill effects afterwards. Not like my mum--she never was as well again.
"But what we went through out there--it took him quite down. All of us was bad hurt one time or another, and it was all Strider could do to see us healed again. I mean, each of us almost died! But Frodo was worst hurt, and more than once. He was stabbed a week out of Bree, and we almost lost him then. Some foul creature near the Dwarf gate caught him and tried to drown him in a lake, and a troll hit him with a spear and knocked the breath out of him. No doubt as if'n he'd not had that Dwarf mail of Mister Bilbo's on him he'd of been dead, and no mistake! It's a wonder his ribs wasn't broke. Had quite the bruise on that side.
"But that wasn't all, of course. That Shelob bit him in the pass and poisoned him--I thought he was dead! Then the orcs caught him and took him to their tower. They beat him with whips afore I could find where they'd put him. He was tied so tight the ropes cut his wrists and ankles, and he wouldn't tell what all they done to him. He'd have nightmares about it, and I sure don't blame him!
"He was still sick with the poison of the spider bite when we got away from the orcs' tower where they'd held him prisoner. Yes," he added in response to the expression on Timono's face, "Frodo Baggins spent his own time as a prisoner. It wasn't an old storage hole like those as was in here afore the two of you saw, but it certainly wasn't anywheres like this--" he indicated the four cells Frodo had ordered prepared with their narrow but adequate beds, arm chairs, heavy tables, and screened area for necessaries. "It was at the very top of a tall stone tower built high in a mountain pass. Had to climb a ladder to reach the trap door as was its only entrance. They'd took all his clothes, and like I said they'd beat him bloody. Don't know what they'd fed him, but him said as it didn't bear thinkin' about, it was that nasty. They'd took his pack and torn it to pieces, they'd ate his food or trampled on it--or worse. There was no privy nor chamber pot--and the corners and the pile of rags they'd dropped him on was right foul with their filth. His back where they'd beat him and where he was tied was oozing, but there was nothin' to clean it with. He had to wear bits of their uniforms I'd taken off dead orcs lower in the tower. They'd done for his water bottle same as they'd done to his pack, so what little water as I carried or could find from the cisterns along the orc roads was all we had, and it was barely drinkable. Orcs don't leave things clean.
"We had only a bit of food, and it took almost two weeks to get from that tower to the Mountain. We often had only a bite or two each to eat in a day, and we was near dying by the time we got there. Once we was done with what we needed to do we knew we were goin' to die. Only we didn't. We'd fainted away, and the great Eagles saw us and brought us away to Lord Strider, and he managed to call us back. I pretty much recovered, but Frodo didn't, not all the way. Both Lord Strider and Elrond say as it's what happens when there's too much damage that lasts too long.
"It's why he decided not to stand for Mayor at the last minute. Knew as he couldn't count on lasting a full seven years. Only come here 'cause Master Elrond of Rivendell sent some special herbs to help him do what he had to do." He sat up straighter. "He come here to record his will and some other papers as needed filing by old Flour-Dumpling. Wanted to know it was all done right and proper. He was settin' his affairs in order."
"Are you telling us," Timono asked, trembling slightly, “that Frodo Baggins is dead?" It was plain he could not credit such an idea.
Marco Smallburrow was already shaking his head. "No, not dead. Gone, like old Mad Bilbo before him!"
Sam swiveled to give Marco a brief nod before returning his attention to the other prisoner. "No, my Mister Frodo was still living when last I saw him. And what's more, so was old Mister Bilbo as well. But you're right as they're both gone now, and neither is ever goin' to return, not never. We saw them aboard the ship as took them away. I only hope as Frodo lives to get there."
"A ship?" Timono's expression was one of mixed incredulity and revulsion. "What in Middle Earth are Hobbits doing on a ship?"
"But they're not in Middle Earth now, or at least we figger as they aren't," was the reply. "They went with the Elves, to Elvenhome. It's their reward for helpin' to beat the Enemy."
"What??!" responded both of the prisoners more or less at the same time.
Sam sighed, "Didn't you hear? There was a war on out there, and we four as left the Shire all fought in it! Why else did we all come home with armor and swords, do you think?" He shook his head. "And even you two can be glad as we did," he added.
It was the Smallburrow who was able to talk first. "And just how do wars between Men affect those of us as live here in the Shire?"
Again Sam Gamgee was shaking his head. "Oh, but if only it had just been fights between Men!" he answered. "But no, it wasn't--not this time! Everybody was fighting--Men, Dwarves, Elves, the Great Eagles, orcs and goblins, trolls, wolves and wargs, and even some as you've not heard of like the Ents! So we four Hobbits each did what we could to bring the Enemy down, each of us as we could fight him."
"And since when have Hobbits fought in wars?" Marco's tone was scathing.
"We've done it afore," Sam shrugged. "Forty Hobbits went out of the Shire to fight for King Arvedui, back afore Bucca of the Marish was made Thain by the last King's son. Only this time only four went out. But we all did as best we could to see Sauron destroyed."
Timono gave a disbelieving laugh. "Frodo Baggins with a sword and shield? I can't imagine him killing anyone!"
"Actually, he didn't," Sam admitted. "The most he done was to stab a troll's foot, hit a giant spider in the eye, and cut the hand off a barrow-wight. But it wasn't for lack of courage or tryin'. No, the great Elves, they think as him wasn't meant to really kill no one, as that could of made it easier for the Ring to take him over long afore we got through Mordor. It was for the rest of us to do what killin' as might need doin'. He had more'n enough to do just dealin' with the Ring."
"What's this about a ring? Or Sauron?" demanded Marco. "Sauron's just in stories!"
Sam gave him a smile of grim amusement. "So it never occurred to you as them stories just might be true at least in part?" he asked. "Well, I'm here to tell you as they were. And Sauron and Mordor was even worse than you can dream." He looked down the passage past the two empty cells beyond those in which Marco and Timono dwelt, clearly seeing distant sere lands rather than the chalk of the tunnel walls. "If'n you've not been there you can't rightly imagine just how terrible it was." There was grief in his voice and in what each could see of his face. "I suffered more'n enough. But what it did to Frodo, carrying that horrible thing on him--just how he recovered enough to come home is the wonder." He turned to meet Marco's eyes. "You could never imagine," he repeated.
There was a thoughtful silence for some minutes. Finally Timono prompted, "And what's this about a ring?"
"Oh, that. It was Sauron's own Ring of Power. The One Ring. Old Mister Bilbo found It long ago on his own adventure, down in that Gollum's cave. Those stories he told what nobody really believed--they was true, all true. Him left the Ring to Frodo after the Party, and Frodo kept It in his pocket all those years after Mister Bilbo left. No one dreamed as what magic ring It really was, though, no one but Gandalf, and he didn't want to believe it."
Sam paused, looking from Timono to Marco and back. "You two can feel privileged. Hardly nobody's been told all this, and those as was told for the most part don't want to believe it. Doesn't really matter if you do or don't, I suppose. Probably easier if'n you don't. But Mister Frodo Baggins did the bravest thing as anyone, Elf, Dwarf, Man, or Hobbit could do--he offered to take It to Mordor, all the way to Mount Doom, the only place It could be destroyed, to get rid of It. And I went with him, every step of the way. We made it, just barely in time, and that Gollum from old Mister Bilbo's stories, he got the Ring from my Master and fell into the river of Fire with It and they was both destroyed. That done for Sauron, and without him to guide things Lord Strider's army could finally defeat Mordor's forces."
Marco Smallburrow looked disbelieving, and it was impossible to describe Timono Bracegirdle's expression. At last the latter said consideringly, "That Sharkey--he only wanted rings. Rings and books."
"And the only things as haven't been found to return to folks is rings," agreed Sam. "From what Lord Strider's kin and we've been able to figger out, Sharkey decided to take over both Rohan and the Shire some time ago, and was sendin' advice to Mister Lotho on what he could do to make hisself the tyrant over the Shire even afore he learned from Gandalf as the Ring was likely here. Once he learned that, he seems to of agreed that Lotho should start the Gathering and Sharing scheme, telling him to look at jewelry and food in especial, and for his share all he wanted was rings. He'd been buying food for his army him was building for several years, but maybe I'm only tellin' you what the two of you already knows. It was just afore we left, apparently, as the family heads begun realizing as suddenly pipeweed was in short supply and that Lotho was stealing wagons full of food they'd bought for their own and sending it off south out of the Shire. Merry and Pippin found barrels of pipeweed with the Hornblower brand on them there in Isengard, and it's likely much of the food as they found was grown right here in the Shire, too.
"Certainly as soon as he convinced the Ents to let him go he headed north as fast as his legs could bring him. Looked far better fed when we saw him there at Bag End than he did when we passed him on the road six days after we left Lord Strider at the Gap of Rohan. But I'd surely like to find what him did with all those rings Lotho give him."
Timono gave him a jaded look. "Looking for some treasure for yourself?" he asked, his voice full of sarcasm.
Sam appeared offended. "What for would I want someone else's rings for? No, I'd only want to see them sent home to those as lost them is all."
The Bracegirdle gave Sam's hands meaningful glances. "Doesn't appear you lost any rings."
Sam flushed. "Never had any afore I went to Gondor," he said. "Strider suggested I have this made as a signet so as to use it with the bankers there." He displayed the heavy ring he wore on his right hand with its red stone into which was cut an intaglio of a budding rose. "And this is my marriage token," he said, looking at the ring he wore on his left hand. "It come from Gondor, too, same as the one my Rosie wears." He gave Timono a wry smile. "Lotho's folk couldn't take what wasn't even in the Shire at the time. But it seems the deserving poor somehow needed almost all the dresses my sister Marigold owned, as well as my mum's linens and my Gaffer's shirts and flower pots. They had hardly nothin' when we got back. Same was true of the fabrics from the tailor shop my sister Daisy and her husband run, or almost all of Mister Frodo's kin. Seems it was all about gatherin', with only those as cooperated with Lotho getting to share."
Now it was Timono's turn to flush, although in his case the reddening was due to anger. Marco turned from his fellow to Sam once more. "What about Baggins's things?" he asked.
"What about them? My Master had but two rings, the one as was his dad's what he never wore--too big for his hand I member him saying, and the one he got from Mr. Bilbo, and that's gone now like I said, and good riddance. What else he had from his dad and mum Lotho never touched, for no one got that far into Buckland. He has cousins as is seeing to those things. His rightful heir would of been his Cousin Daisy as married Mister Griffo Boffin, I suppose, but those two agreed to his own choice of heir. Now they've got their own back, they say they don't need nor want Bag End or what else was Frodo's. They even signed the articles of adoption, so nobody can say he was overlooking them."
“Adoption? So he did the same as Bilbo did, then, to choose his own heir?"
"Does it really matter? Neither of you is any sort of Baggins, after all. If the Bagginses have agreed, what's it to you?"
Timono's mouth worked as he stared intently at Sam Gamgee. "Then who is the Baggins now, then? His cousin Ponto? Or Ponto's daughter Angelica, who married Rico Clayhanger?"
Sam shook his head. "No, not neither. Nor Missus Geli nor her sister as married your cousin Bartolo. I'm told it's one as was born a proper Baggins, a younger lad as Mister Frodo didn't tell no one about, someone as has lived elsewhere than Hobbiton. There are a few Bagginses as live elsewhere, you know. According to what he wrote in his will he didn't want this lad to grow up the target of Missus Lobelia's gossip such as him did. No, there's to be no more hyphenated Bagginses lookin' to be Baggins family head. He'll have to do family business under watch by Missus Daisy and Mister Griffo and the Mayor until him comes of age, but Frodo said he's a steady and sensible lad so he has no worries for the family's future."
"So a mere lad is now Master of Bag End and the Hill?" pursued Marco.
"No!" Timono's voice was dripping with a mixture of disgust and amazement, his eyes fixed on Sam. "It is you, isn't it? He left Bag End to you!"
Marco objected, "But he has a family of his own! How could Frodo Baggins adopt him?"
Sam gave a deep sigh. "Yes, I have a dad still, and brothers and sisters, and now a wife and child as well. But Frodo had none of those. Nor would he think to marry with him not feelin' whole after what carrying the Enemy's Ring done to him. So he--" He stopped and swallowed, then continued, "He adopted me as his brother, and left Rosie and me everything as he was leaving behind. Couldn't make me family head for the Bagginses, not as I'd want that anyways. Bad enough as my family all decided I should take over as family head for the Gamgees and the Ropers and the Gamwidges. But the Baggins lad don't know nothing about Hobbiton nor the Hill, and we're told him has property of his own as was his parents'. Has no need for a smial here in Hobbiton, too."
"But you're a gardener--a servant!"
Sam was quiet for a minute, staring down at the stony floor under his feet. Finally he raised his head and gave the two prisoners each a considering look. "I told you as they give me the title 'Esquire' down there in Gondor. Either of you know what the word means?"
It was Timono who responded, "I've only heard the word in stories Baggins told us that summer we spent on the second Hornblower plantation. Something to do with those who are servants to knights or lords as I remember it."
Sam gave him a nod of approval. "You have that right. But mostly those as become esquires is sons of lords and knights themselves. When they're old enough not to spill they start out as pages, lads what carry messages and run errands mostly. Then when they're older they advance to esquires. Now they work mostly for one person, a knight or a lord or even a king, maybe. They work as body servants, take care of their lord's weapons and armor and horses, wait on them at formal dinners, and still run errands and carry messages and all. But their lord is trainin' them up in return, teaching them everything as him knows about taking care of property and tenants, keepin' records, how to speak proper to other people, and everything about guarding those as is under the knight or lord's protection. Then, when they show as they can handle the responsibility, the esquires become knights themselves, and may go on to become lords or even kings in their own right. And sometimes when the one who's been training them up dies or decides as it's time to retire, they take their master's place.
"But not all of those as become pages or esquires is wellborn. Sometimes a specially likely lad who was the son of a tenant or servant will be chosen to become a page or an esquire. It's considered an honor, you see, and some rise high over what was their station. Since I went all the way with my Master and served him as I could, those as live in Gondor decided I must have been his esquire, not just a servant. Then I realized as Frodo had always thought of me that way, too."
He set his hands on his thighs and straightened to his feet. "So there you have it. And I suppose as Pippin Took and Merry Brandybuck can use the same title, too. Lord Denethor, as was Steward of Gondor, accepted Pippin as his personal esquire, and King Théoden of Rohan done the same with Merry. Pippin's more than an esquire now, though. He's a Captain of the Guard of the Citadel and serves as Lord Strider's own bodyguard now. I'll warn you of this—don’t think as either of you take on Peregrin Took. Pippin is really good with that sword of his, or King or no King old Strider would never of let him have that job.
"You two are still here when the other two as was with you are out mostly ’cause others have said as they’ll keep an eye on them but nobody wants to take charge of neither of you. What they did was mostly petty, aimed at a few as they felt particularly jealous of or they was sure they could force to do what they wanted to, while the two of you was out to cheat everyone in the Shire if’n you could, right there along with Mister Lotho hisself. You found the ways to take everything away from anyone as you or the Pimple chose, and helped yourselves to the spoils, even goin’ into Bag End and stealin’ from him and Missus Lobelia once you knew as they was out of the way. Now you’re payin’ the price, and I doubt as anyone is too worried about whether or not you think it’s fair or not.
“Now, if'n you'll excuse me, I want to go back home to Bag End. I've spent far too long away from it, and I have to prune the rose bushes afore the frost comes."
So saying, he picked up the stool to return it to the guards' table. Marco Smallburrow, however, stayed him with one last question. "Wait a moment, Gamgee--wasn't Frodo made an esquire, too?" Somehow, however, the query did not come out as sarcastically as he'd intended.
Sam turned and gave him a look that was decidedly cool. Then a smile quirked at the corner of his mouth. "My Mister Frodo, an esquire? The folk there in Gondor was certain as if'n him was ever that it was afore Mister Bilbo left him as Master of Bag End. No, to them he's Lord Frodo Baggins, a Prince of the West."
With that he set down the stool and left, his head held up proudly.
The gaoler on duty sniggered. Marco glared at him. "What's so funny, Longsmial?" he demanded.
The guard didn't appear the least abashed. "Him didn't tell you as him, too, is considered a Prince of the West. Mister Pippin told me that when him was here in Michel Delving last, and old Flour-Dumpling admitted as that was in the letters our new King sent to him, the Master, and the Thain. Both Mister Frodo and Mister Sam is Princes together. So there!"
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