18. Tying Up Loose Ends
Elanor looked down at their sleeping babe, cuddled against her in the pack her mother had worn to carry Tolman home from Gondor. 'No,' she said softly. 'We're in the midst of a nice dream, I think, and besides, Little Mum's getting hungry. If we press on we should arrive in good time for the nooning.'
'We cannot have Little Mum hungry,' Fastred agreed, smiling at his wife. 'Very well, we shall press on.' He leaned forward on his pony, and the beast needed no other encouragement. They were close to the Smials, heading in the proper direction, and the call of the stables grew stronger with every stride.
Coming into the yard before the Great Smials, Elanor stretched in the saddle. It was good to be home! She turned to Fastred and said, 'I can hardly wait to ride to Hobbiton to tell Mum Rosie's news!'
'Another grandchild on the way,' Fastred said with a grin. 'How does it feel to be almost-an-auntie?'
'Nearly as grand as almost-a-mum,' Elanor said, 'and much less work needed on my part.' The babe was stretching and stirring, and soon would be wakening, making demands of his willing slaves.
'And soon Frodo will be marrying, and your mum will be "out of knees".'
'Such a terrible problem!' Elanor laughed. 'She'll have to allow Dad to hold one of the babes whilst she cuddles the other two.'
Fastred didn't answer. It was not likely that Rose Gamgee would have the problem of three babes at one cuddle, with Rosie-lass in Greenholm. He sighed again for the open spaces they were leaving behind, the broad sweep of plain beyond the Far Downs. Elanor was honouring her parents, and who was he to dissuade her from her duty?
Elanor did not notice his change of mood, for the babe's eyes had opened and she was drowning in their depths. 'Who's my little sweetie-pie?' she crooned. 'Who's my little apple tart? Who's my love, then?'
The usual grin was missing from the stable lad's face as he stepped forward to take their ponies.
'What's wrong?' Fastred asked, jumping down, hesitating a moment before going to Elanor's side to help her down.
'Welcome, sir,' was all the lad said. 'You're in good time for the nooning meal, they've not yet sat down to eat in the great room.'
'Can we take our meal in our rooms?' Elanor said. 'I don't wish to face a raft of questions just yet...' She frowned, for the lad would not meet her eyes, simply took her pony's bridle along with Fastred's and stood stroking the beast. She took Fastred's outstretched hand and slid down from her own saddle.
'That sounds like a good idea,' Fastred said with a glance at the stable lad, who met his glance only briefly before dropping his eyes. To the stable lad, he said, 'Give them a good cooling out and rubdown, they've earned it.'
'Very good, sir,' was all the lad said, and led the ponies away as if relieved to be out of their presence.
'We'll get you and the little one settled, and I'll go in search of sustenance,' Fastred said smoothly to Elanor. He could see that she was bothered as well. The usual cheerful talk was going on in the yard, he noted, but as they approached the main entrance to the Smials, the doorward and the two hobbits who were engaging him in talk feel silent. They avoided Elanor's eyes, fixing their gazes on Fastred as they welcomed the twain back to the Smials.
Once inside, Elanor said, 'What was that about? I do not understand.' She was upset, Fastred noted, and rightly so.
'I do not know, but I will get to the bottom of it,' he said grimly. He noted that no one greeted Elanor on their way to their rooms, but it seemed to be more of a sympathetic silence, having no overtones of blame that he could detect.
Once in their rooms, he quickly changed out of his travel-stained clothing, washed his hands and face, and kissed his wife, who'd changed the babe and was now nursing him. 'I'll be back soon with our own food, and news,' he said. She smiled at him and once again absorbed herself in cuddling and chuckling.
In truth, Elanor had nearly forgotten the odd reception when Fastred returned, tray in hands and face expressionless. 'What is it, love?' she asked. Little Elfstan, having finished his own nooning, lay on his blanket smiling up at them, playing with his toes.
'You eat first,' he said, 'then we'll talk.' He wanted to make sure she got food into her, for the babe's sake as well as her own, before upsetting her with the news. His own appetite had deserted him, but he forced himself to eat.
Puzzled, Elanor applied herself to her food. It wasn't death or accident, she mused, for Fastred would have told her at once about such a thing; indeed, he'd have ordered their ponies saddled, and they'd be on their way to Bag End, probably eating as they rode. No, whatever it was, it was not so urgent that they could not take time to eat. Nevertheless, she did not make a leisurely meal, but cleared her plate quickly and efficiently, then turned to her husband.
'Well?' she asked.
Strange, the malady that affected the Tooks must be catching. Fastred seemed reluctant to meet her eyes.
'What is it?' Elanor pressed.
There was no way to soften the blow. 'Frodo's been put under the Ban,' he answered.
A half smile came to Elanor's face, she said, 'Fastred, you should not joke about such a...' Her words trailed off as she took in his expression, and her look changed to shock.
'Shunned?' she whispered. He nodded. 'Whatever for?'
'Thievery,' he said reluctantly.
She stared at him, speechless, for a few breaths. 'Frodo?' she said incredulously.
Fastred nodded. 'Fresh ponies are saddled,' he said. 'How soon can we leave for Hobbiton?'
'We're ready now,' Elanor said. 'Whatever was the Thain thinking?'
'We're going to find out,' Fastred said grimly.
Ted Sandyman had gone back to the mill with his two sons and four chickens. The Thain would deal with Ned later; for the moment he had his hands full undoing the injustice done to Frodo.
'What do we do now?' Sam asked, while Frodo listened intently. It was the question he would have asked, had the Ban not tied his tongue. Even though the culprit had been found, he could not begin talking again until the sentence was formally lifted, so strong was custom in the life of hobbits of the Shire.
'There is precedent,' Reginard said.
Of a wonder, Pippin laughed. 'There was value in poring over and copying out those dusty old records after all,' he said with a wry grin to his Steward. Regi smiled briefly, thinking of how Pippin had chafed at his father's demands. 'Where, do you think?' Pippin asked now. 'It was pronounced at the Smials... reversed in Hobbiton...'
'Your son does much of his business in Bywater, does he not?' Regi asked Samwise, who nodded.
'Bywater, then,' Pippin said. 'All right, Nod, bind the accused.'
'Bind him?' Rose gasped. Sam's arm tightened about her. Pippin knew what he was doing. At least that's what Sam hoped.
'There is precedent, and tradition, for what we are about to do, Rose,' Pippin said kindly. 'Your son shall not be harmed, all appearances to the contrary.' The binding had been accomplished swiftly and efficiently, and the Thain said now, 'Gag him.'
Rose's mouth opened in astonishment as the Shirriff gently carried out this order. She was as silent as Frodo as they walked back to the waiting waggon. 'Bring your family,' Pippin said to Samwise. 'They shall want to see this.'
The entire Gamgee family piled into the waggon, silent with shock at the sight of Frodo sitting between Samwise and Nod on the seat. The four Tooks mounted their ponies, but without a word Reginard kicked his pony to a brisk pace, proceeding down the Hill ahead of the rest.
Mardi took up the guide rein of Ferdi's pony, saying, 'Shall we ride together, cousin?'
Ferdi nodded with a smile. 'Wouldn't want to end up in Buckland,' he answered pleasantly, 'and miss all the fun.'
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.