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Another Moment of your Time  by Larner

Written in honor of the Master's own birthday.  Posted a day late due to travels and travails.

Self Justification

            Otis Tunnely sat on one side of the table while Frodo Baggins sat on the other, Paladin Took and other officials of the Shire ranged alongside him.  There was something about Baggins’s expression that made Otis most uncomfortable, and in response he felt his hackles rise.  As he read the reports lying before him, Mr. Baggins was different from what Otis remembered, more solemn, somehow; harder, less tolerant.

            At last Baggins raised his eyes to meet those of Otis.  “So,” he said, “your sister’s one milk cow was found in your herd, where she was apparently not treated well.  There were signs she’s been beaten with willow whips or worse, and she had lost considerable weight, indicating she’d been denied food.”

            “You cannot prove as this was my sister’s cow,” Otis growled in return.

            “Except that she responded immediately to the voices of your sister, your brother-in-love Tod Delver, and their children, and they all immediately recognized her; and once she was led onto their farm she immediately went to the byre and to her manger and began calling for her calf.”  Baggins lifted a few pages and set them aside.  “Also found in your hole and about your farm were a large number of items taken by the Gatherers and Sharers from the Delver home—three quilts put together by your sister and your mother; five of the set of six silver spoons your brother-in-love brought to the marriage—we still haven’t found the sixth one; a set of Dwarf-wrought mugs that were a gift from his father; many pieces of your mother’s jewelry that had been left to your sister, all save her rings, which had been taken by Lotho as Sharkey’s share of the loot; six warm blankets; even the cradle in which your niece and nephew slept as bairns; and all of your brother-in-love’s fishing flies, including one that had been put into a frame that was not of a quality to use in catching fish but had been made by your nephew and that had somehow attracted the attention of what must have been the most stupid bass in the pond on their farm.”

            “I inherited the quilts and the jewelry!  After all, I was the elder….”

            But Baggins interrupted him.  “Excuse me?  I will remind you that copies of your parents’ wills were filed in the Mayor’s office, and I have read them.  You are not even living on the farm that you inherited—you convinced your sister to swap with you as you were convinced that the one she’d received was better than yours, and neither she nor her husband wished to have bad feelings between you.  And those quilts and three of the blankets as well as all of your mum’s jewelry were definitely left to your sister, while the other three blankets were sold by my Aunt Eglantine to your sister and her family.  Or are you going to claim that the Thain’s Lady is a liar?  As for the spoons and the mugs, I have read the will of your brother-in-love’s grandmother, who left him the spoons, and have a letter from Gimli Gloin’s son confirming that his kinsman Dorlin from the Blue Mountains crafted those mugs and sold them to Tod Delver’s father at the Free Fair eight summers ago.  I will admit that many of the farm implements that were taken are difficult to distinguish, but the harrow found in your barn has the maker’s mark of the harrow-maker in Gamwidge to whom one of the Cotton lads is apprenticed, and I have the sales agreement that shows this harrow was sold by him to Tod Delver, your sister’s husband, and not to you.

            “As for the fishing flies, and particularly the one made by your nephew—there are many witnesses to the fact that the majority of them were made by your brother-in-love and his father, and your nephew’s name and the legend on the back of the frame in which it was placed make it plain that it was not made for you.  Indeed, it is well known that when you fish you do so with fish eggs or worms, and have never been known to fish the streams your brother-in-love prefers.  So, it would appear that this theft, at least, was not done for profit but primarily out of spite.”

            Having done, the deputy Mayor fixed a stare upon Otis that made it plain he was to at least try to explain his actions.

            Otis was angry.  He had well convinced himself over the years that he was badly done by, and particularly by his parents and his sister’s family.  He was certain that their parents had favored his sister over himself, and that the better production seen on the farm his sister had agreed to accept in exchange for that left to herself was due to her tricking him somehow into taking the less fertile land rather than accepting that he did not have the heart of a true farmer.

            “But I was the elder!  I ought to of had the choice as to which farm I got!”

            “But you were left the farm where she dwells now.  You only have the farm you live upon because you insisted you deserved it more, and your sister and her husband decided it was not worth it to argue with you.  It appears that you only want something if your sister had it first.  But you took things that have absolutely nothing to do with you at all!  You took the Delver spoons and the Dwarvish mugs that belonged to Tod Delver, and you took his fishing flies, which you neither needed nor knew how to use.  And you took that one fishing fly made by your nephew Dodi, one that is most likely useless to anyone else, one that has absolutely no value at all to anyone other than his family, a sign of his love for his dad.”

            Baggins straightened and rubbed absently at his left shoulder as if it pained him somewhat.  “According to your fellows, every time your sister and her family did any harvesting at all, you saw to it that their farm was raided by the Gatherers and Sharers.  You saw to it that their farming implements were taken as well as bushels for carrying and storage, picking bags, even their ladders and their cider press, which was found in one of your storage buildings this morning.”

            “But you can’t go sending folks into private property to search it without permission!” Otis blustered.

            “But is that not what you did, directing your fellows to denude your sister’s home, emptying her larder and taking the vegetables out of her fields and the apples out of the orchard after they went to the work to harvest them?  Is that not what you did, going into her home to take her jewelry and her quilts and her blankets, leaving her family with inadequate food for the winter as well as inadequate warmth against the weather expected?  Was their cow not found in your herd, along with animals from other farms about?  I recognize the Sweetloam’s cuts to their cattle’s ears, at least; and others have identified at least seven more animals taken from the fields of other farms.

            “But, again, you took some things not because they were of any value to anyone other than your sister and her husband Tod.  Why did you take that framed fishing fly?”

            Suddenly the store of resentment Otis Tunnely held broke open.  “What right does that one have to anything as ought to of been mine?” he spat.  “He’s no kin of mine!”

            “But he and your sister between them made the farm on which they dwell something to be proud of, while you allowed your own place to fall into neglect.  Their cow had been a fine milker while none of your cattle produced much to boast about.  Their home, while not as substantial as the one you dwelt in, was yet snug and warm and happy while yours needs substantial repairs because you have done little to see to its upkeep.  And this does not answer the question:  why did you take the fishing fly your nephew Dodi made for his father?”

            “’Cause he don’t deserve it!” shouted Otis.  “He don’t deserve nothin’ as he had.  It ought to of been mine!  All of it!”

            Frodo Baggins was shaking his head.  “No, you have it wrong.  He worked for what he had.  He was a youngest son in a large family, and there was no land to spare from his family for him to work.  He and his wife had land of their own to work in the farm she inherited, and agreed to swap for the other farm solely to keep the peace with you, the brother she loved but who has apparently never loved her.

            “Know this—no one is owed anything for which he has not worked.”

            “What would the likes of you know about workin’—everyone knows as you was given Bag End, what wasn’t yours by rights, in spite of there bein’ a proper heir in Lotho Sackville-Baggins!”

            Baggins’s face had gone stony.  “It was Otho, not Lotho, who was properly Bilbo’s heir before Bilbo adopted me.  But the idea that Otho deserved Bag End more than I did was laid to rest many, many years ago.  Lotho was not left destitute when his father died—far from it.  I’ve been able to read Otho’s will, and both Lotho and Lobelia were left well provided for.  Plus, Lotho has done nothing but add to his holdings since his father’s death, and mostly through cheating or threatening those whose properties he took.  Bag End was probably the only property he acquired that he was forced to actually pay a fair price for, and even then he used trickery involving its purchase to cheat others.

            “And I certainly worked within Bag End while I lived there.  I helped polish every piece of wood or stone within the place, and cleansed the tiles and renewed and resealed every line of grout.  I washed every dish and cared for each piece of silver or pewter.  I dusted every single shelf and book or curio.  I swept the floors and the hearths daily, carried in the wood and carried out the ash.  I helped beat the carpets and washed the linens when that job fell to me.  I helped in the gardens and the orchard, and I learned to keep the books long before Bilbo left the Shire.  I even polished the glass in the windows at least twice each year.  Can you say the same for the home you live in?”

            “But I oughtn’t have to!”

            “Why not?  Do you have the wealth to hire others to do the caring for you?”

            “But I oughtn’t have to!” Otis repeated stubbornly.

            “Then have you the magical skills of a Wizard to have things renew themselves on their own?  I tell you, Mr. Tunnely, that unless things are cared for regularly they will begin to fall apart, and that is obvious by looking at the state of your home and your farm.  Face it—if you love something well enough you will work for it and its welfare, but you have failed to do so.  And there is nothing that has ever given you the right to take that fishing fly within the frame that you took that your nephew made for his dad for his birthday.  You do not have any right to a sign of love given by someone else to another.”

            “But it ought to of been given me instead!”

            Frodo was shaking his head.  “No one who has done nothing to earn love deserves to be given signs of said love intended for others.  You have not shown love to your sister or her children, much less her husband.  Instead, you have acted as if the fruits of their labor was due to yours instead.”

            Frodo Baggins sighed, again rubbing at his shoulder, and then at his temple as if his head ached.  He finally dropped his eyes to the papers before him, his face grim.

            Otis tried to be belligerent as he demanded, “Well, what you gonna do with me?  Stick me down in those new Lockholes you had fixed up?”

            Baggins raised his eyes again to meet Otis’s.  “Alongside Marcos Smallburrow and Timono Bracegirdle?  Do you think you deserve to go there?”

            “Them didn’t do nothing against you,” Otis began.

            “Oh, no, not against me; but there is no question both worked hand-in-glove with Lotho to despoil the Shire while I was gone, and both had a good deal more of other people’s goods in their own hands than you did when they were brought here.  They were both in danger of bringing upon themselves deadly vengeance for the damage they did and the thefts they engineered and even deaths they’d plotted.  What you did was far more petty than anything they did.

            “The question I must deal with is what to do to see you pay for what you did while working with Lotho Sackville-Baggins.  I have read your parents’ wills carefully, and find that there was yet one other property that was theirs that was granted to yourself that you have never done anything with.  It was one your mother inherited from her brother on his death, a smallholding down near Needlehole.  It has languished from lack of care over the past fifteen years since her death.  I believe that it is time you saw to it and its upkeep.  Considering the damage you have wrought upon your sister and her family, you are now to be divested of your claims to the farm that was originally left to her and her husband as well as the one you insisted she should accept so that you could take what you saw as the more profitable property.  When you do so badly by what you have been granted, what you have misused shall be taken from you.  Once the ownership of all of the cattle found on the farm on which you dwelt is officially confirmed, those cattle proved to be yours will be herded to your new home outside Needlehole.  The Village Head for Needlehole will be advised to look for your arrival there within a week’s time, and if you leave your farm there for more than a week the Mayor, the Thain, and the Master will all be advised, at which time you will be taken and transported here to our new gaol.”

            “You mean as I’m to be exiled from my own home?”

            “Did you wish to be taken to the borders and sent Outside with no possibility of ever returning to the Shire?  Yes, you are being exiled from the Westfarthing, and you had best never set foot anywhere inside it or near the properties now to be owned solely by your sister and her family.  You will at least remain a Hobbit of the Shire, unless you continue to neglect your own responsibilities, and ever again work to take what belongs to others.  If that should ever happen, then you can indeed expect to be shown the Borders.  And I promise you—those who work against others are not treated any better Outside than they are here within the Shire and Buckland.”

            “But you don’t have the authority—”

            Thain Paladin, who’d sat quietly beside the deputy Mayor of the Shire, finally spoke.  “Oh, but as he told you when this series of hearings began, he most certainly does bear the authority to do as he says.  This is attested by the letters sent to me as Thain, to the Master, and the office of the Mayor by the King’s own hand and as confirmed by Will Whitfoot’s appointment of him as deputy Mayor while Will recovers from the injuries he suffered while imprisoned by Lotho and Sharkey.  And you are fortunate that it is Frodo who has been granted this authority, as I would have had you and certain others exiled to Outside days ago were it up to me.  Internal exile for what you have done, and particularly to one who loved you such as your sister, is too good for you as far as I am concerned.”

            “But I don’t deserve to be treated this way!” Otis insisted.

            Paladin Took stood and glowered at him.  “You certainly do, and more so because of the manner in which you have treated others.  To those to whom much is given, much is expected.  And when you don’t meet those expectations, then you can expect yourself to be deprived of what you had that you have misused and neglected and abused.  Now—begone, and you are to load up your own goods into the farm wagon you will find upon the farm where you’ve been living under the eyes of three Shiriffs and be on your way to Needlehole within two days.  Or are you going to question my authority as Thain of the Shire to confirm what Frodo has said?”

            So it was that Otis Tunnely found himself headed back to his farm under escort of two Tooks from the Hobbitry-in-Arms from the Green Hills district to remove himself and what possessions he would be able to take with him from the Westfarthing, unwilling to appreciate what he’d done to deserve even internal exile.

            At the same time Frodo was approaching Tod Delver to deliver into his hands that clumsy fly that his son Dodi had made for him, still within the frame that Tod had made to hold it, this sign of the love his son held for him.

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