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Written for the LOTR Community "Wisdom" challenge. For Nilmandra for her birthday, with love!
To Take what You Like
“You struck him from the Book of Bracegirdle, didn’t you?”
Benlo Bracegirdle, Family Head for those of the name, looked to squarely meet the eyes of Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, she having been born a Bracegirdle, after all. “Yes,” he admitted. “We struck him and Timono both from the Book that first Yule. And Delo Sackville, who’s followed him as the Sackville, has struck him from the Book of Sackville as well.”
“You did not so advise me.”
Benlo shrugged. “Considering as Lotho had disbanded the Quick Post for anyone but him and his fellow conspirators, how could I let you know? He knew it would happen, and so did Timono. Once I knew as the two of them was passing bad contracts I warned them—warned them both. But they kept on doin’ it, again and again. What was I to do, Cousin Lobelia—let’em both off ’cause them was both Bracegirdles? They was both bringing shame on the name, and I couldn’t let that stand, and you know it! Enough of the elders agreed with me as it ought t’be done, and so that first Yule as him was claiming t’be the Chief Shirriff I struck him from the Book, and I don’t grieve havin’ done it.”
She leaned her head against the back of the wing chair in which she sat, closing her eyes. “I’d no idea he was passing bad contracts. Oh, I’m not surprised to learn Timono was doing so—I never liked Timono as a lad, much less as a Hobbit grown. The few times he was allowed into the hole I’d have to search him before he left again—had sticky fingers, Timono did.”
Benlo eyed his elderly cousin rather sideways. There was no question that Lobelia Bracegirdle and her son Lotho also had reputations as petty pilferers, although few citizens of the Shire had ever had the effrontery to search their persons—not since Bilbo Baggins left for good, at least. For her to complain about anyone doing to her what she’d done time and again displayed a decided double standard, he thought. He was rather surprised at her next words.
“Not, of course, that we were any better than Timono, I suppose.”
His jaw dropped. Never had Lobelia Bracegirdle Sackville-Baggins admitted she regularly took things that were not hers.
She continued, “Not that we thought anything wrong in it. You know the old saying—if you see something you like, take it. So, we’d take it.”
“There’s more to the old sayin’ than merely that, Cousin Lobelia, more that not you, Lotho, nor Timono ever cottoned to—the full of it is, If you see somethin’ as you like, take it—and make it better.”
She gave a brief bark of a laugh with no humor to it. “At least Frodo Baggins appears to have heard the whole aphorism and to have taken it to heart. Lotho made himself the Chief of the Shire, the Boss of all, and see where it got him! Dead, murdered in his own hole, the one hole he didn’t cheat anyone to get! And now Frodo is deputy Mayor, and he’s actually making everything better for everyone, perhaps everyone but himself.” She sat up, plucking at the blanket her niece Hyacinth had tucked around her earlier, staring earnestly at Benlo. “Well, I’ve a good many sins to make amends for myself. Lotho realized before the end that he’d got caught in a cleft stick of his own making, or at least I’d hope he did so, once he realized that that horrid Sharkey was taking over as Boss of all and that he wasn’t needed any more. And it’s up to me to make things right. Finding myself in those Lockholes of theirs made me realize just how little power either of us had any more, how Sharkey intended to get us both out of the way. And I saw the others, both as they took me in and as Frodo Baggins led me out and we sat together in the banquet hall in the Council Hole, all the others who’d been prisoners there, all of us ragged and dirty and thin and sickly. And I realized I wasn’t one whit better than any of them, that we’d all been prisoners together, and not one of us deserved it.”
She sighed and leaned back more comfortably. “The healers tell me I don’t have that much longer. My heart isn’t strong any more, Cousin Benlo. I hope to live to see Spring return, but wouldn’t be surprised to find myself going sooner. I’m giving Bag End back to Frodo. I never belonged there. I couldn’t keep the gardens green and lovely. No one wanted to visit us there. No one was happy for us to be in possession of the place. I wasn’t as happy as I’d thought to be with Bag End at last my home. No, it’s Frodo’s home, not mine, and I’ll see it back into his hands. He and that Sam Gamgee will see it restored as I couldn’t and can’t. Nobody can give me the chance to change the past, or give me back my son. I can’t see him change as I’ve changed since I was locked up in Michel Delving. I’ll never see anyone cheer him as they cheered me when Frodo brought me out.” Her mouth was working, and her eyes were moist. “I have to make amends for both of us,” she whispered. “I can’t do it all myself, but at least, since Frodo’s deputy Mayor now he can see things made better again for me, help make reparations.”
She closed her eyes and waved vaguely in Benlo’s direction. “Bartolo’s my personal lawyer, and he, at least, wasn’t party to what Lotho and Timono and—and that Smallburrow lawyer were all doing. Please have him call on me as soon as possible. He can help me put the deed to Bag End back into Frodo’s hands, and can help rewrite my will, now Lotho is gone and it’s up to me to set things up to make them better. Lotho and me, we took too much. Now it’s time to give back again, I suppose—make things better for all we wronged. Some people need their homes returned, and others had everything taken from them by those Gatherers and Sharers. Time to give back. Give back….”
Benlo realized that Lobelia had slipped into a doze. He sighed, and looked to catch the eyes of Hyacinth, who sat quietly across the room with her embroidery. She shrugged and gave him a sad, slightly twisted smile. He straightened, gave her a slight bow, and took his leave. He’d go immediately to summon Bartolo to Lobelia’s side. Best not give her time to change her mind back and slip back into the old ways again, he thought.
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