17. To Catch a Thief
He pronounced his patient sound. 'I could have told you that,' Sam said.
'Fine, fine,' Mardibold said, not really listening. He was thinking over his instructions from the Thain, and hoping he would get things right. 'Well, then, let us join the others. I do believe they are waiting for us by the chicken yard.'
Samwise buttoned his shirt and pulled up his braces, and Mardi helped him into his coat. 'You're still a bit unsteady,' he said in an undertone as they left the bedroom. 'If you feel at all odd, you be sure to let me know.' Sam nodded, then took a deep breath as Rose stepped forward to take his arm. Together, they walked out to the garden.
Frodo was there, standing a little apart, and the Shirriff, as well as Ted Sandyman and his two older sons, Hodge and Ned. The Thain was sitting on the bench with Ferdi, describing their surroundings for the counsellor's benefit, while Reginard stood behind them. The rest of the Gamgee children huddled together in an uncertain group, watching and waiting, hoping for some sort of miracle.
'Well, now,' Pippin said, rising and rubbing his hands together. 'We're all here, it seems.' He nodded to the miller and his sons. 'Hodge, is it?' he asked, and the miller's eldest son nodded. 'Go and fetch the rooster, will you, lad?'
'Yes, Sir,' Hodge said. The Shirriff took his makeshift lock from the door, and Hodge quickly caught the rooster and brought it to the Thain.
'Just hold him there a moment,' Pippin said, digging in his pocket. He brought out a handkerchief, and when he unwrapped it, most of the assembled hobbits gasped. The Sun smiled upon the elven jewel in its delicately wrought setting, causing it to sparkle and shine with otherworldly fire.
' 'Tis a magical thing,' Pippin said, 'Wrought by the greatest of elven smiths before he left Middle-earth, you know.' He held it up to dazzle the eyes of the observers, well pleased as he noted their reactions. 'Quite magical,' he repeated. Even the cock seemed mesmerised by the bright thing, sitting calm and quiet in Hodge's grasp.
The Thain doubled the chain and slipped it over the rooster's head. 'This is a Jewel of Truth,' he announced to everyone and nobody in particular. He bent to address the rooster. 'I want you to show me the thief,' he said, and the rooster made a noise low in its throat.
'Take him to the accused,' Pippin said. Under the Ban, he could not speak Frodo's name, but he hoped soon to remedy that.
Hodge walked over to Frodo, then turned to the Thain for further instruction. 'Hand him over,' Pippin said, ignoring Frodo and speaking directly to Hodge. The miller's son nodded, extending the cock to Frodo, who took it in his arms, holding it expertly. He had, after all, had his turn at taking care of the chickens. He knew how to handle a bird, keep it calm.
'Hmmm,' the Thain said, obviously puzzled. 'This is very strange.'
'What is?' the Shirriff asked.
'Well,' Pippin said, 'If... the accused... were the thief, the cock should have spoken clearly. It's elf magic, you know. With the power of the necklace, the cock will cry out "Thief!" clear as anything when the thief touches him.'
'Really!' the Shirriff said in awe and astonishment. Elves were certainly a wondrous folk.
'Aye,' the Thain said, scratching his head. 'I do not understand it.' He thought a moment. 'Perhaps it takes some time to take effect,' he said. 'Let us try again. Shirriff, if you wouldn't mind, take the cock and bring him here, to Mr Sandyman.'
The Shirriff obeyed, managing not to meet Frodo's eyes as he took the bird away and brought it to its master. Ted took the rooster, crooning deep in his throat, and the cock answered with a croon of his own. 'All right, now, Ted, you take the bird to the accused,' Pippin said. 'The spell ought to have had enough time to work by now.'
The miller nodded, brought the cock to Frodo, transferred it to his arms and stepped away. Still no magical pronouncement was forthcoming.
'Did you give the cock to the thief yet?' Ferdi asked. 'I didn't hear him speak.'
'Well, yes, twice,' Pippin said. 'I do not understand this at all. I know I have seen it work before. You do not think the necklace could have lost its power, do you?'
'I find that hardly likely,' Ferdi said. 'It is a very powerful spell. My wife cannot tell a lie, you know, very handy bauble it is, indeed.'
Pippin suppressed a smile, affecting to be instead puzzled and disturbed. 'Well,' he said finally. 'I think we must needs take another tack. Ned, would you bring the bird back to me?'
Ned Sandyman started. 'Me, Sir?' he asked.
'Yes, of course,' Pippin answered. 'You're closest.' He had carefully placed everyone before the start of the hearing, without seeming to do so, simply by drawing each one into conversation and moving to the spot where he wanted each to stand.
'I...' Ned gulped, then squared his shoulders and walked over to Frodo. He extended his hands to the rooster, but pulled back before touching it.
'Is there a problem?' the Thain asked, his tone not so light and pleasant as previously.
'No, not at all,' Ned said, putting out his hand again. The rooster fixed him with a bright eye, and he could not bring himself to touch the bird.
Ted Sandyman's heart sank. 'Ned?' he said quietly.
'I didn't do it!' Ned said, desperately.
'Didn't do what?' his father asked.
'Take the bird,' the Thain snapped.
Ned started to reach out a third time, then snatched his hand back. 'No!' he shouted. 'No, he'll call me a thief, and it's a lie, it's not true, it's devilry, not magic!'
'Why would he call you a thief?' Pippin asked softly.
Ted was shaking his head sadly, and Hodge's face was a mixture of horror and despair. 'O Ned,' the miller breathed. 'Why?'
'I did it for you!' Ned shouted suddenly, turning to his older brother, whose every word he hung on, who was always right, always there when Ned needed him. 'Those Gamgees, thinking they were so high and mighty; that Frodo, leaving you in the mud. So you weren't good enough for his sister, were you? Not good enough...' he broke down into sobs. 'Not good enough...'
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.