11. Bound and Determined
'What in the world does the Shirriff want with our chickens?' she murmured.
'Goldi, stop loitering about, we still have all the rest of the breakfast dishes to wipe and put away,' Rose scolded, adding, 'I'd heard someone was missing some hens, some fox or somewhat was plundering chickens in the area. Perhaps the Shirriff is getting up a hunting party.'
She gasped as Goldi dropped the cups she was holding. 'Goldilocks Gamgee!' she snapped. 'Whatever are you about, smashing good cups like that...'
Goldi's eyes were wide as saucers and she stood stock still. 'Mum,' she breathed, 'Nod's binding Frodo!'
'You be proper and respectful, girl, and call him "Shirriff" as befitting your age,' Rose said, her daughter's words not registering until she reached the doorway. As she bent to start picking up the shattered bits of crockery, her eyes fell on the scene outside and she froze as well.
Sam was arguing with Nod, who'd taken Frodo by the arm and was leading him from the chicken pen. Robin had been snagged by Ted Sandyman; the twain were going over the chickens carefully. Ted picked up first one hen, then another, handing them to his sons. He gave another to Robin, and tackled the rooster himself.
Nod stopped and turned to the miller. 'How many did you find?'
'Three hens are mine for certain,' Ted said, 'and the rooster, of course. But five hens went missing altogether.'
'Have you had a chicken dinner in the last week?' Nod asked Sam soberly.
'Of course,' Sam said, 'we always do, on Rest Day.'
'Were they your chickens?' Nod pressed. 'Who slaughtered 'em?'
Sam's face was turning red; he opened his mouth but no sound emerged.
'I did,' Frodo answered. 'I always kill and pluck the chickens.'
'And were they yours?' the Shirriff persisted, then shook his head. 'I don't even know why I'm asking,' he said. 'If you stole them, you'd hardly tell me you killed and plucked them.'
'I didn't steal them!' Frodo said. 'I...'
'Tell it to the Thain,' Nod said tiredly.
'But...' Sam finally managed.
'Samwise, we've been friends for years. You know you cannot judge this case, it being your own son and all.'
'I wasn't going to say that,' Sam answered, 'it's just...' He looked hard at Frodo. 'I cannot believe that my son had anything to do with it.'
'How'd his knife get there, then?'
'Where?' Frodo asked, mystified.
'You know very well,' the Shirriff said. 'Come along, now. Sam, you may come, you know, and any of your family as might offer evidence.'
Just then Rose stumbled up to them, her face white, tears on her cheeks. 'Why are you doing this, Nod?' she asked. 'Why are you taking our Frodo?'
'He's a thief, to all appearances, Mistress Gamgee,' he said. 'I'm afraid I must bring him before the Thain.'
'No,' Sam protested.
Nod looked at him sadly. 'All the evidence points to him, Sam. I did as thorough an investigation as I know how. After that shooting a fortnight ago, I didn't want to make the same mistake, accusing an innocent hobbit. But his knife was found there, and the missing chickens were in your pen...'
'Sam,' Rose said, grasping her husband's arm. 'Do something!'
Samwise put a comforting arm around her and turned to Merry and Pippin, who'd put down their tools and jogged over as soon as they'd seen Frodo being bound. 'Hitch up the waggon,' he said, and then to the Shirriff, 'If it's all right with you, Nod, we'll go in my waggon.'
'That'll be fine,' Nod agreed as the lads ran towards the stables. 'It's big enough to hold the lot of us.' He took a deep breath. 'Now, Sam, I want you to look at these three hens, this rooster. Do you claim them as yours?'
It was a serious question. Should the Mayor try to protect his son by claiming ownership of the chickens, he'd be in just as much trouble, maybe more if the miller could prove his own claim.
Sam shook his head. 'Of course they are not ours,' he said quietly. 'I cannot explain how they came to be in our pen,' he added, forestalling the next question.
The Shirriff tightened his lips, then nodded. 'Put them down and latch the gate, they'll be safe enough here for the nonce,' he told the Sandymans. 'Won't they?' he asked Sam.
'Hodge here will sit by the pen, make sure they don't walk away somehow,' Ted Sandyman said quietly.
'But, Dad...' Hodge protested.
'You'll do as you're told,' Ted said sternly.
'Yes, Dad,' Hodge said. Robin and the Sandymans put the chickens and rooster down, walked out of the chicken yard, and tied up the gate again, then Hodge found a handy bench to sit on.
'Sam,' Rose choked. Her husband patted her helplessly on the arm. 'Frodo didn't...'
'Of course he didn't,' Sam said with an assurance he didn't feel. He knew that Frodo was not a thief, but the evidence against him was as black as ink on the page. He hoped desperately that Pippin would be able to sort the whole mess out, but he had a sinking feeling, as if he were being carried in a small boat down the Anduin River, without paddles, while the sound of the falls of Rauros grew ever louder in his ears.
'Dad, I don't know what this is all about,' Frodo said, his face stricken. 'I wouldn't steal, you know that.'
'I know that, Frodo,' Sam said. 'We'll get this all sorted out, you'll see.' Frodo nodded, but didn't smile in return, and Sam's own smile faded. It was too much like lying, to try to keep a smile on his face.
Goldi came up to them then, twisting her hands in her apron. 'I picked up all the shards, Mum, and swept the floor,' she said.
Rose nodded absently, her gaze locked on the Shirriff's face. 'You cannot believe...' she said.
Nod looked pityingly at her. 'No mum ever wants to believe the worst of her son,' he said. 'I'm sorry, Rose. You may come along with us, if you like.'
'Sam?' she said, looking up at her husband. He nodded, and the little group began to move towards the lane, to wait for the ponies and waggon. She turned to Goldi, who was following. 'You stay here,' she said. 'Merry'll be in charge... be sure you make a good dinner and supper and get the younger ones to bed on time.'
'Yes'm,' Goldi said, trying not to cry. She wanted to hug Frodo, but the Shirriff still held him by the arm as he led him away, so she had to content herself with a long look.
He answered with a nod, as if to say, Everything will be all right. They both knew very well, of course, that it most likely wouldn't be.
The young Gamgees watched their father help their mother into the waggon, then Sam and Nod helped Frodo up, for his bound wrists made it too awkward for him to climb up by himself. The Shirriff climbed in and sat down next to his prisoner. Next came Ted and Ned Sandyman. Finally, the Mayor took his place in the driver's seat and chirruped to the ponies.
No one raised a hand in farewell, there were no shouts, no songs, no encouragement to "Hurry back!" or "Be good!" The young Gamgees stood huddled together, eyes locked on their older brother as he was driven slowly away.
When the waggon was well down the Hill, Goldi turned away and buried her face in her apron. Merry put an awkward arm about her shoulders as she sobbed. 'Easy there, Sis,' he said quietly, and to Pippin, 'Go make some tea, will you?' Pippin nodded and turned to the kitchen.
Primrose, Daisy and Ruby came up from the washroom, where they'd been sorting clothes for washing. 'What is it?' Primrose said. 'Where are the folks going, and who's that with them?'
'O!' sobbed Goldi, and her mystified sisters turned to her with coos and comfort.
'The Shirriff took Frodo,' Tolman piped up. He clutched his wooden ox to his chest.
'Did he want him as a witness?' Daisy asked.
'He bound him,' Hamfast said soberly. 'Bound him and took him away.'
Tears sprang to the other sisters' eyes. 'Bound him?' Ruby gasped. 'Our Frodo?'
'Whatever for?' demanded Bilbo indignantly. He'd been washing floors and hadn't seen the excitement until he'd emerged from the front door to see the waggon drive away.
'The Shirriff called him a thief,' Robin said.
'Thief!' Bilbo and the three youngest girls exclaimed.
'I don't believe it,' Bilbo added.
'He said he had proof,' Robin maintained, looking sick.
'What proof?' Merry demanded. 'Come now, Goldi,' he said more gently. 'You'll make yourself ill, crying like this.' He began to lead her to the kitchen door.
'Robin, you were on the spot,' Hamfast said. 'What proof?' he added, echoing his older brother.
'I don't know,' Robin answered. 'They found something at the Sandymans'. I don't know what it was.'
He stared after the waggon until Merry, rallying the remaining Gamgees, said, 'We could all do with a cup of tea, I think. Come along, everyone.'
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.