When the news that Berilac Brandybuck was missing and presumably drowned in the Brandywine River first reached other parts of the Shire, it was called a "sad accident." Residents of Hobbiton shook their heads and spoke, as they often did, of the peculiarities of that family; the way the Brandybucks persisted in engaging in such dangerous activities as swimming and taking boats out onto the river, it was a wonder that accidents like poor Berilac's didn't occur every week!
Then, when Berilac's body was recovered downstream two days later, alarming stories quickly spread about strange bruises on his hands and even more suspicious wounds on his head. Speculation ran wild. Was the young hobbit's death not an accident after all?
"It must've been one of those odd folk that was hanging about our borders," was the common opinion. Buckland was as near the border as anything. Any wandering ruffian might easily cross into the Shire there and, finding Berilac alone, assault and cast him into the water for some nefarious reason.
Then, even more astonishing news reached Hobbiton the following day.
"The shirriffs in Buckland have arrested Mr. Merry," Sam reported when he returned from a mid-morning trip to the Bywater Market. He'd moved into Bag End after they'd come home last fall to look after Frodo, who was still recovering from his quest into Mordor.
Frodo was just finishing the breakfast Sam had set out for him before going on his errands; as Sam came into the kitchen and delivered this news, he lay his knife and fork down on his plate and stared at his friend blankly. "What on earth for?"
"They're saying he murdered his cousin, the one that was drowned."
"What- Berilac?" Frodo sputtered. "But that's nonsense! You must have misunderstood."
"There's no mistake," Sam assured him. "I got it right from Robin-Sherriff Smallburrows, that is. He had the news from Buckland this morning. When I first heard the story going 'round the market, I didn't know what to make of it. You know how folk'll talk. Once they get hold of some gossip, they'll tell it over 'n' over 'til it's all mixed up and twisted around, and if they don't know the facts, they'll make up whatever comes into their heads. So I went to Robin for the truth of it. I wanted to be sure before I told you, seeing as how it's Mr. Merry."
"Yes, of course. Thank you, Sam," Frodo spoke abstractly, stunned by this news. In his agitation, he lifted his empty teacup to his lips, put it back down on the table and reached for the teapot as if he meant to refill the cup, then changed his mind. He rose to his feet and went to the kitchen doorway, then stopped there with one hand on the curved doorpost while he decided what to do. "Sam, will you pack a bag for me? I'm going to ride over to Buckland. If Merry's in trouble, I've got to go to him."
"What can you do?" Sam asked, astonished that Frodo was ready to go tearing halfway across the Shire at a moment's notice because Merry Brandybuck was in trouble.
"I don't know," Frodo admitted, "but I must do something."
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Story notes: Although I've taken a lot of backstory from the book, I've also used two key elements from the film version: the Shire is untouched, and our four main hobbits are all around the same age.
Almost all of the names used in this story are taken from the Brandybuck family tree in Appendix C, but the characterizations are mostly my own (with apologies to any Brandybucks whom I may have unfairly maligned by making them suspects in a murder).
This story takes place in the spring of 1420 (S.R.), about six months after the boys have returned from the quest.
Disclaimer: The characters and overall storyline are certainly not mine. They belong to J.R.R. Tolkien's estate, and I'm just playing with them to entertain myself and anyone else who likes this kind of thing.
June 2004 (revised April 2005)
The Frodo Investigates! series