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Lodo Teasel sat smoking his pipe on a bench outside his family’s hole in Bree Hill, and looked up as a tall Man paused outside the door yard. “Is this the Teasel home?” the Man asked.
Lodo looked up at him suspiciously until he realized this Man was one identified by his father as one of those, Big and Little, who’d defended Bree when the strangers from the south and the likes of Bill Ferny had attacked the village a year past. “Yes,” he admitted, “Yes. And why do you need to know?”
“I have a letter for Lodo Teasel, sent from the deputy Mayor of the Shire. Is that you, small Master?”
“Deputy Mayor? And why is there a deputy Mayor in the Shire?” asked Lodo.
“Mayor Whitfoot was found in the Lockholes, ill and injured, and is in need of recovery before he can take up his full duties again. He appointed Frodo Baggins as his deputy until that time, so it is Master Baggins who has sent this. Are you Lodo Teasel? I believe that you will be glad of what tiding he sends.”
Lodo took the missive and examined the wax used to seal it, into which a star shape had been pressed. “I was that surprised to learn that Frodo Baggins and the others had returned, chasing the Big Men away and freeing us who were imprisoned in Michel Delving,” he said. “So, Baggins is the deputy Mayor, eh? And what has he to do with me?”
“If you are Lodo Teasel,” the Man said, “read the letter and find out.” And with a courteous bow and a broad smile, he turned and strode back the way he’d come as Lodo broke the star seal and shook out the letter from Frodo Baggins.
Buffo Teasel came back from his work in the community garden he shared with his neighbors, ready to lean his hoe and hay fork against his fence before fetching out a well-deserved mug of ale to enjoy as the evening closed in. He’d been busy seeing the plants covered with straw and mulch to protect them from the freezing weather expected in the next week, and he wanted to offer what comfort to his son as Lodo would accept as he faced his first Yule without his children.
But the aspect Lodo presented as Buffo entered the hole was beaming, filled with joy, as the younger Teasel came out of his room with his saddle bags and his pack over his shoulders. “Are you back, Dad? Good then. I have the chance to say goodbye before I head to the Prancing Pony to fetch Pudding.”
“What for you need your pony, lad?”
“Cause I’m headed home, Dad—back to Overhill! Do you understand? The children—they’re alive and well, and they’re awaiting me! I love you so, and thanks for helping me in my bad time. But the children—they need me now, them and Mother Green. Wish me well, Dad!”
As he rode the Road west, back to the Brandywine Bridge into the Shire, Lodo passed a Man riding a small horse who was headed east toward Bree. He paid the Man no more mind than the Man paid him. Baldry was headed for Bree with his pocketknife, one of the horses from the wagon Sharkey’s Men had kept in Hobbiton, a store of food and gear, and a letter of introduction to Barliman Butterburr of the Prancing Pony asking the innkeeper to help the Man find gainful employment somewhere within the Breelands.
And on the Wheaten Farm outside Overhill the nine children of Lodo and Coriander Teasel, aided by their hosts and their grandmother, sought to prepare for a Yule of greater happiness than they’d hoped to see the previous week.
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