13. To Tell the Truth
'Us?' she asked with a smile of her own.
'You know, the six of us, you, yourself, me, myself, and I,' he answered.
'Six?' she giggled. 'I counted five.'
'Ah, yes, and "we" as well,' he grinned.
'Seven, if you include "us",' she corrected.
'O aye, we'll have to pack a lot of food, then,' he said. 'Better alert the kitchens.'
'What of the children?' Diamond asked.
'Children?' Pippin said, patting his pockets as if expecting to find them there, oblivious to the giggles that arose. Light broke across his features, and he exclaimed, 'Ah, the children!'
'Yes,' Diamond said. 'The children.'
Pippin looked around the table. 'Children?' he said. 'Did you have plans for tea?'
'As a matter of fact, we do,' Faramir replied. 'Uncle Ferdi and Auntie Nell have invited us to take tea with them.'
'You knew it all the time,' Diamond accused. 'You scoundrel.'
'My dearest,' Pippin said in a confidential tone. 'Not before the children.' He glanced about the table again, then back to Diamond, a wicked gleam in his eye. 'Did you forget they were there, hearing every word?' He affected puzzlement at the outburst of laughter that followed.
'You had better take yourself off to the study, then, if you wish to be finished by teatime,' Diamond said. She wagged her eyebrows at him and cooed, 'I'll make it worth your while...'
'Come on,' Faramir laughed. 'We had better leave the lovebirds to it before they corrupt the lot of us.'
'I'm too young to hear such things,' Jonquil said primly. She was offended when everyone laughed again, but thawed quickly when her Da drew her into his lap and whispered, 'Don't tell anyone, but you're still my best bright-haired lass.' Forget-me-not, sitting nearby, shared a wink with her father. She was his best dark-haired lass, of course.
'I know,' Jonquil whispered back. She gave him a quick kiss on the ear and slid down again.
'Be good for your Auntie Nell,' Diamond said in farewell.
'We will!' they chorused.
She gazed after them with the look that Pippin knew well. 'They're growing up so fast,' he said softly.
'I know,' she sighed.
'You're not quite past it, you know...' he added. 'If you were the wife of a Man, now, your youngest would have been born ten years ago at the least, but a hobbit mum...'
'I heard of one having her last when she was nearly my age,' Diamond said wistfully.
'There, you see!' he said triumphantly. 'We could, you know...'
'And if I am past it?'
'With any luck, there are always grandchildren to come,' he said, 'and you know I will love you even when it's time to turn you out to pasture.'
'That's reassuring, I think,' she said. She rose, and bent to kiss him on the tip of his nose.
'What's that for?' he asked with a smile.
'A promise,' she said, 'of things to come.' She chuckled. 'Don't work past teatime.'
'Wild ponies could not keep me at my desk,' he said.
She frowned and said, 'That doesn't sound right, somehow.'
'Well, they couldn't,' he maintained, rising from his chair and throwing down his serviette. 'You just make sure the picnic is packed and I will be there with bells on.'
'Leave the bells,' Diamond said.
'For you, my love, anything,' Pippin said. He took her hand, kissed her fingertips and left the room, whistling.
They were moving at a good clip through the paperwork for the day. Pippin and Regi did a great deal of the work aloud for Ferdibrand's benefit, and there was much pleasant talk about the promise of this year's harvest, if the progress of the winter barley and winter wheat was any measure to go by.
No appointments were scheduled for this day, and Pippin felt quite confident that he would be free by teatime, even a bit earlier, when a tap came at the door.
'Are we expecting anyone?' Pippin said.
'Quite a few waggons have driven into the yard,' Regi observed, 'but of course it is market day in Bywater, and I do believe the cooks put in a large order.'
'Were you watching out the window instead of attending to business?' Pippin said.
'I do not suffer such distractions,' Ferdibrand said placidly. 'Perhaps, Regi, you ought to sit with your back to the windows to avoid the problem.'
'Then how could I warn the Thain of arriving difficulties?' Regi said.
'Are you going to answer the knock?' Ferdi said.
'I was hoping to avoid interruptions this day,' Pippin sighed, then raised his voice. 'Enter!'
Hilly stuck his head in the door, and at the sight of his face, Regi rose quickly from his desk. 'I'll see if I can put them off,' he said, 'but...'
'I just hope it's not as bad as the shooting a fortnight ago,' Pippin said quietly. Regi nodded and went out into the corridor.
'What is it?' Ferdi asked.
'I don't know, but from the look on Hilly's face it isn't good,' the Thain answered.
'A case to be judged?' Pippin said, as Reginard returned to the study. 'Can it be put off?'
Regi shook his head. 'No,' he said. 'You're not going to like this.'
'As bad as the shooting?' Pippin asked. Regi shook his head soberly and opened the door, beckoning.
Pippin sat very still behind the ornate desk as Sam and Rose Gamgee entered, followed by Ted and Ned Sandyman, and last, Shirriff Nod, escorting a bound Frodo Gamgee.
'Frodo?' he gasped. He felt a ridiculous desire to excuse himself from hearing the case, but who, then, could hear it? Certainly not Merry. The King?
Steadying his voice, he asked, 'What are the charges?'
'Thievery,' the Shirriff answered. 'Three hens and a rooster.'
'Five,' Ted Sandyman corrected.
'Three is all we have evidence for,' Nod said.
'Let us hear the evidence, then,' Pippin said. He nodded to Reginard to seat Sam, Rose, Ted, and Ned, while the Shirriff and the prisoner remained standing before him.
Quietly, Nod presented the case. For the first time, Frodo heard where his knife had been found.
'However did it end up there?' he asked aloud. Pippin noticed that Ferdi put down the piece of wood and carving tool he was using, and straightened in his chair to listen more intently.
'Hold your tongue,' Reginard said. 'You'll have your chance to speak your piece.' Frodo subsided, his expression bewildered.
'And so three of the hens, and the prize rooster, were to be found in the Gamgees' pen,' Nod concluded.
'They ate two of the hens,' Ted said, but the Shirriff turned to him and said, 'There's no evidence to that effect.'
'Sam,' Pippin said, sick at heart. 'What do you know of this?'
Sam looked as helpless as Pippin felt. 'The first I heard was when Nod knocked on the door this morning, just as we were finishing breakfast,' he said.
'You'd heard about the missing birds earlier,' Pippin prompted.
Sam's face cleared, 'O yes,' he said, 'Merry and Pippin-lad came back from the Green Dragon with a tale of disappearing chickens. The talk was that a fox had taken them. We checked our fences and our hen-house, just to make sure things were all tight and safe.'
Next the Thain questioned the miller and his son, hearing how after the first two chickens had disappeared, they'd found a small opening in the fence and fixed it, had also nailed down the floorboards in their coop more securely after finding a loose one. Despite their precautions, they'd lost three more hens, and the rooster.
'We know where those are, at least,' Ned Sandyman said, and his father hushed him. Ted the miller knew what Frodo faced; he'd lived it himself. It was not right for his son to take pleasure in another's misfortune. Ted had learned his lesson during his months of enforced silence.
Pippin asked Sam and Rose if they had anything to say. Rose sobbed into her handkerchief, but managed to gasp out that she'd never believe such a thing of Frodo, never in all the world, no matter what anyone said. Pippin nodded sympathetically. Any mother would have said the same.
Samwise just shook his head. There was nothing he could do to help his son, and he could see plainly that Pippin's hands were tied as well.
'Frodo?' Pippin said. 'You know the penalty for thievery: A year under the Ban. If I do not impose this sentence, folk will cry "foul" and "favouritism" and you will be shunned anyhow, and not just you, but your entire family. Unless you can prove your innocence to me, I have no choice.'
'I did not steal those chickens,' Frodo said desperately. 'You must believe me, I did not.'
'A prank, perhaps?' Pippin said, seizing on the only alternative he could think of. 'You took them, put them in your own coop, as some kind of trick?'
'No!' Frodo said. 'You have to believe me! I do not know how my knife came to be where they say they found it, for I was never there!'
Pippin glanced over to Ferdi. The chancellor was nodding slightly.
'How could you have lost your knife?' he asked. 'You told the Shirriff in your own words that you keep it buttoned in a pocket, or on your nightstand.' Frodo shook his head. Pippin said, 'Unless... could one of your brothers...?'
'No,' Sam said. 'My boys know better than to take what doesn't belong to them.' The words hung in the air, heavy with irony considering the present situation.
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.