19. Restoring Justice
The Thain reined in his pony. 'You know what to blow?' he said.
'Yessir,' one of the quickpost riders replied. 'Shiremoot, in Bywater, without delay.'
'Good. Be off with you!' The riders rode off in three directions, lifting their horns to their lips to blow the muster. As curious hobbits came to their doors, the heralds shouted, 'Shiremoot! Bywater! Hurry!'
'We've sent out the invitations,' Pippin said, 'now shall we make our way to the party?'
'Wild ponies could not drag me away,' Ferdi replied, and Mardi laughed.
They proceeded at a decorous pace down the road to Bywater, followed by an ever-growing crowd of hobbits which soon swelled to a murmuring throng. A few rode ponies or drove waggons, but the majority walked, and the Thain maintained a slow pace to accommodate his invited guests.
Looking behind him, he remarked to Regi, 'Ah, I see the good folk of Overhill have got the word.' Regi glanced back to see a steady procession of hobbits descending the Hill to join the parade.
'We should have the majority of Hobbiton and all of Bywater,' he answered.
'Good, good,' Pippin said with a nod. 'The more the merrier, eh, Ferdi?'
'You have the right of it, cousin,' Ferdi replied. He was in a very good humour, remembering back to the lifting of his own undeserved shunning. 'We shall have quite the celebration.'
Pippin reined his pony closer to the waggon and addressed Samwise. 'Look at the crowd,' he said cheerily. 'Would you like us to stop so that you may make a speech? Election's coming up soon.' Sam stared at him in shock, and he chuckled.
'I am glad you did not have the chance to renounce the Mayorship earlier,' Pippin added. 'Mardi had his orders to stifle you and bundle you into bed, claiming delirium, should you try to do so this morning.'
'Did you have in mind that I needed a larger audience?' Sam said.
Pippin chuckled. 'All will be well, Samwise, truly it shall. Not only are we going to overturn the Ban, but we are going to make sure that no idle talk shall hurt your son afterwards.' He nodded to himself, his smile disappearing, and added grimly. 'O aye, we shall make absolutely certain.'
Viola Burrows turned from her kneading as the door crashed open. 'What in the world, Rus?' she asked in astonishment. He was always chiding their young sons for such precipitous behaviour.
'They're blowing the Shire moot,' he gasped. He'd run all the way home from the garden he'd been hoeing.
'Shire moot!' she said, wiping her floury hands on her apron. 'What is it? Fire? Foes?' She doubted it was ruffians, what with the King's guardsmen outside the Bounds and the Mayor's Shirriffs inside the Shire.
'I do not know, but they're calling everyone in the area to Bywater, so we shall be in the thick of it, whatever it is,' he said. 'Gather the children and we'll go together.'
Throwing a dampened tea towel over the dough on the table, she hastened to comply. 'Daisy, run a comb through Tansy's curls, there's a love,' she said, and scolded her youngest daughter for good measure. 'I do not know how you manage to look as if you've been caught in a whirlwind after all the trouble we took with your hair this morn...'
With her husband adding his urging, the whole Burrows family was quickly ready to join the crowd on the way to Bywater's market square, open and empty since it was not a market day, but soon filled with hobbits. Much talk and speculation was going on around them. Rusty scanned the sky once again for smoke; no, it seemed there was no fire on the horizon, and the call for the Hobbitry-in-arms had not been sounded, merely the call to muster.
The Thain came into sight, leading the little group from Bag End, one of the quickpost riders by his side, for he'd galloped to catch them once he'd reached the end of the Overhill road and turned around. Rusty's arm went around his wife as he recognised the figures in the waggon; he heard his oldest daughter's choking cry.
'What is it?' Viola whispered, heard clearly in the silence that fell over the crowd. 'Haven't they done enough? They have to humiliate the family publicly, in addition to ruining the son?'
'Looks as if you were wrong, Bill,' the gaffer said to the proprietor of the Green Dragon, who nodded soberly in return.
'The Thain's out to make an example of him,' Rusty said grimly. 'Been so long since there's been a thief in the Shire, he's going to use this as a lesson for all, especially the young ones, it seems.'
'I expect that part of it's to allow the Mayor to announce his resignation in front of the largest crowd possible,' Ches added as he joined them. The little group of regulars from the Green Dragon stood together now in silence as the Gamgees' waggon pulled into the square.
What little conversation there was quickly died when the quickpost rider blew a final call on his horn. 'Hobbits of Bywater, Hobbiton, and Overhill!' he cried. 'Heed the words of the Thain!'
The market square was silent, save the soft sobs of Viola Burrows and her daughters. The Thain surveyed the crowd for a long moment before speaking. Many of these, he knew, had been busily listening to and then spreading talk about Frodo, painting him blacker than shadow on a moonless night. He intended to flood them with light before the day was out. He spoke, his voice pitched exactly to reach the edge of the crowd.
'I come before you this day to confess a grave error,' he said. 'Injustice done, an innocent hobbit accused and placed under the Ban.'
Daisy gulped, mid-sob, and stood stock-still, while her father's hand tightened on her own.
'The truth has been uncovered this day, and so I come before you to publicly confess my error, and to lift the Ban that I imposed yesterday.' The Thain turned to the Shirriff, who ceremoniously removed the gag from Frodo's mouth.
'Frodo Gamgee Gardner,' Pippin said, emphasis on each word, rolling out the name with great satisfaction, a name that, under the Ban, could not be spoken, not until the Ban was lifted. 'I set you free.' He waited for Nod to cut the bonds tying Frodo's wrists. 'I lift the Ban, I restore your good name, I welcome you back to the community.'
A cheer went up. Sam threw his arms around Frodo, Merry and Pippin rose in the back of the waggon to embrace their brother from behind, Rose hugged Goldi, and the rest of the Gamgees exchanged joyful hugs in the waggon bed. Shirriff Nod held out a hand to the Mayor. 'Congratulations,' he said.
Sam took the hand and gave it a solemn shake. 'You were just doing your job, old friend,' he said.
'I don't seem to be doing a very good job of it,' Nod shook his head. 'Perhaps I ought to turn in my feather.'
'Don't you dare,' Frodo said to him. 'You take more care at your job than most hobbits I know, and I appreciate that you gave me every chance you could. There was no way of knowing Ned was lying... I still don't know how the Thain...' he was swept away, then, pulled down from his seat by his jubilant friends, who lifted him to their shoulders.
'To the Green Dragon,' Ferdi shouted. 'The Thain's buying the first round!' The cheers swelled to a deafening roar, then tapered off as hobbits headed to the inn.
'Ferdi!' Regi rebuked him, but he only shrugged and smiled.
'It seemed like a good idea at the time,' Ferdi said, 'and Pip must pay for his crimes, after all.'
Pippin laughed, and said, 'Well we had better make our way to the Dragon ourselves! If I'm buying the beer, I ought to get one of the first mugs, don't you think?'
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.