5. To See Justice Done
'See if you can find out what's for tea,' Pippin said. 'I'm ravenous.'
'Want me to get you something now?' Regi asked.
'No, it can wait,' Pippin said. 'Don't want to drop crumbs over the papers on my desk, after all.' Regi nodded and left the study. He returned within a few moments, face sober.
'There's another case to be judged, it seems,' he said.
Looking at the steward's face, Pippin became all business. 'Show them in,' he said.
A number of hobbits were ushered into the study, where Regi and Hilly found seats for those who wished them. The last to enter were a grim-faced Shirriff escorting a young hobbit whose wrists were bound together. The prisoner kept his head down, not looking at anyone.
The Thain swept the room with his gaze, noting shock, sorrow, fear.
'Why is he bound?' he asked quietly.
'He killed his brother,' the Shirriff answered. The hobbit mum gasped and put her handkerchief to her face, and the three hobbit lasses in the group began to sob, while two younger lads stood stiff and solemn beside their father, though their red and swollen eyes betrayed them.
'Let us hear the facts of the case,' Pippin said.
At the prompting of the Shirriff, the father began: the two brothers had argued violently that morning early, nearly coming to blows as a matter of fact. They'd had to be forcibly separated by their father, and he had put them on water rations for the day to help cool their tempers and give them cause for thought. Mid-morning, he'd sent them out to hunt for that evening's meal, figuring that working together would help to restore the bond between them.
The Shirriff took up the tale. He'd been walking the woods when he heard a terrible cry; running to investigate, he'd come upon the accused, sitting, holding his stricken brother in his arms. The protruding shaft matched those in his quiver. Despite all the Shirriff could do, the wounded lad died shortly afterwards. The two carried him home, where the Shirriff began to ask questions. When told of the argument, he'd bound the tween and escorted him and his family to the Thain.
Under the Thain's quiet questioning, the other family members confirmed the account of the argument, and that the accused tween had not spoken a word to anyone since the Shirriff found him.
Finally, the Thain addressed the tween. 'Hilbert,' he said. 'You know what the charges are.'
The lad did not raise his head. 'Look at the Thain when he addresses you!' the Shirriff rapped out, and when there was no response, he put out his hand and raised the youth's chin for him. The tween stared straight ahead, dry-eyed, face bleached white with shock.
The Thain continued. 'You know that by rights, if you willfully did this thing, you shall be bound, blindfolded, and carried over the Bounds of the Shire, outcast, a brand on your cheek to warn hobbits that every hand is to be raised against you.'
The hobbit mum gasped again, dissolving into hopeless sobbing while her daughters surrounded her with helpless hugs. The hobbit dad's hands tightened on the shoulders of his two younger sons.
'What have you to say?' Thain Peregrin asked. 'It is your right, before I pronounce your doom, to speak your piece.'
The tween stared straight ahead and made no answer.
The Thain took a deep breath, but before he could speak, Ferdibrand said, 'Wait.'
'What is it, Ferdibrand?' the Thain asked quietly. The chancellor rose from his chair, walked towards the centre of the room. Knowing his infirmity, the Shirriff quietly said, 'Here,' as he approached.
'Where is the lad?' Ferdi asked, stopping before the Shirriff.
'Right here,' the Shirriff answered, taking the outstretched arm and placing Ferdi's hand on the tween's shoulder.
'Ah,' Ferdi said softly. 'There you are, Bert. Tell us, now, lad, tell us your story. You see, I cannot read it in your face, I have to hear it in your own words.'
The tween blinked, his unfocused stare changed as he looked into the chancellor's face. Ferdi was looking just past him, but when the lad took a shuddering breath, the unseeing eyes turned towards his face.
'That's the lad,' Ferdi said encouragingly. 'Tell me what happened. I'm a hunter myself, you know.'
'You're a hunter?' the tween whispered incredulously.
Ferdi smiled. 'Ah, well, not for some years now, they won't let me near a bow these days, for some reason.'
This made the tween gulp back a sob, though he was obviously not grieving for Ferdibrand's loss.
'Tell me, lad,' Ferdi said again. 'You went out to the woods with your brother, and...'
'He went into cover to try to flush some birds,' Hilbert said slowly. 'Suddenly a great pheasant flew up, and he cried to shoot, and I...' He broke off and lifted his bound hands to his face.
'You shot your brother,' Ferdi said matter-of-factly.
'No! No, I shot the bird, but the shaft wasn't true, it...' The lad could not continue for the sobs that shook him. The dry eyes finally yielded their tears as shock and horror turned to grief.
'Let me see the shaft,' Ferdi said, holding out a hand. From his own quiver, the Shirriff withdrew a cloth-wrapped arrow, the head cut off when he worked to draw it from the wound. He placed it in Ferdi's hand. Releasing his hold on the tween's shoulder, Ferdi unwrapped the deadly shaft, running his fingers carefully along its length.
'It is badly fletched,' he said. 'See here,' and the Shirriff bent to look.
'So it is,' he agreed. 'I didn't notice that when I drew it out, I was thinking more of trying to save the lad, and then when I heard of the argument he'd had with his brother, I didn't think...'
Ferdi nodded. 'Cut him loose,' he said, and turning his head towards the Thain's desk, he added, 'with your permission, of course, Sir.'
'Of course,' Pippin said. The Shirriff hurried to comply.
Ferdi carefully replaced the shaft in its cloth shroud, and walked back towards his desk, one hand outstretched, steps sure, for he knew the study well. When he encountered the desk, he made his way to his chair and sat down again. 'I have no further questions,' he said into the silence that had fallen.
'Very well,' the Thain said. 'Hilbert of Tookbank, it seems you have been punished sufficiently for your temper. I am sure that if it were possible, you'd take back every word you flung at your brother this morning.'
'I would,' sobbed the tween. 'O if only I could.'
'You cannot bring your brother back, but you can seek to live your life in a way that will honour his memory, and ease your parents' loss,' the Thain continued. To the Shirriff, he said, 'I see no further need for your services, Nod. I thank you for bringing this matter to my attention.'
'Aye,' the Shirriff said heavily. 'I was only doing my duty.' Turning to the tween, he said, 'I hope you'll check your arrows before you go out shooting in the future.' Clapping his hat with feather in the band back onto his head, he bowed to the Thain, and left the room.
The hobbit dad bowed as well, stammering his thanks. He'd lost only one son this day, where he'd expected to lose two. Putting his arm about the tween's shoulders, he led his family from the study.
'Thank you, Ferdi,' Pippin said. 'You saved me from a grave error, just now.' He drew a shaky breath and ran his hand over his head. 'Regi, if you would please convey my regrets to Diamond for missing tea...' He rose from his chair and added, 'I think I'll take myself off for a ride.'
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.