Death on the Brandywine by Kathryn Ramage

When Frodo woke from his nap, Sam wasn't there. He must still be out asking questions, Frodo concluded, and since his clothes had been set out for him, he had only to wash up and dress before going to attend the funeral ceremony.

He went down to the Hall's back parlor, where Berilac's body had been laid out. The other bier-bearers were waiting outside the parlor door.

"I'm sorry," he said as he joined them. "Am I late?"

"No," Fatty assured him. "We're waiting for Uncle Saradoc to let us into the parlor. The door's locked."

"It's good of you to give a hand, Frodo," said Ilberic. "Even if Merry were here, it'd be impossible for him to do this. Uncle Merimac would throttle him barehanded if he dared to touch Berry's bier."

"And Aunt Esme couldn't ask Pippin to take the duty," added Doderic. "I hope Pip's had the sense not to show up. This funeral's going to be awkward as it is. Imagine if he did come after the row Uncle Saradoc and Merry had over him-!"

They fell quiet as Saradoc arrived. The elder hobbit fished a large ring of keys from his waistcoat pocket and hastily unlocked the parlor door. "Ready, lads? It's time," he said as he pushed the door open. "The door to the garden is open and everyone's waiting outside. You can bring poor Berry out."

With a chorus of "Yes, Uncle," the four young hobbits followed him into the darkened parlor, lit only by the shafts of sunlight that filtered in through the gaps between the closed curtains and the crack of the slightly ajar outer door. Berilac's body lay on its bier on a table at the center of the room; Frodo was surprised to see that it was covered with a sheet of thick black cloth.

They took up the long poles that extended from the ends of the bier--Frodo, in Merry's place, was first, with Doderic directly behind him, and the other two at the other end--and lifted it from the table. Saradoc held the garden door open for them. Once the bier had been brought out, the rest of the family and those friends and neighbors who had come to attend the funeral fell in behind, forming a procession. With slow, measured steps, they walked down the garden path, out through the gate, and across the lawn to the vault.

The Brandybuck burial vault was a low hill on the northern end of the Hall property, not far from the river amid a grove of willow trees. In accordance with custom, the body was first set on a low platform before the entrance to the vault; there, the mourners could bid farewell to the departed before he was taken in to his final resting place.

"They can't show Berry," Doderic explained in a murmur to Frodo as they set the bier down outside the vault. "That's why he's covered. He's not a pretty sight. He was in the water, you know, for two days before they fished him out."

The four bearers stood ranged on one side of the body, heads bowed and hands clasped respectfully while those who wished to said a few words of remembrance for Berilac. The Master of the Hall spoke first, praising his nephew and lamenting the loss of so promising a young hobbit. Merimac spoke next, more in anger than grief, vowing justice for his dead son. Beryl wept openly. Celie's eyes brimmed with tears and she hid her nose in her handkerchief. At the back of the family group, Dinodas looked impatient.

"Have you seen him?" Frodo whispered.

"No," Doderic whispered back. "No one's been allowed to view him since he's been laid out, except the women who prepared him for burial."

"Aunt Beryl wanted to see him," Fatty added under his breath, "but Uncle Saradoc said she'd better not. It's more than Berry's being in the water so long. I heard that his head was awfully bashed in when they found him."

"That's true," said Doderic. "That's how the sherriffs knew it wasn't an accident, although why they lit on Merry-."

"Dodi, Fatty, ssh!" Ilberic hissed. Mentha was approaching. She placed a bundle of flowers on the bier and turned to face the crowd of mourners as if she too meant to speak. But instead of speaking, she burst into tears and quickly moved away.

"Poor Mentha's all torn up about Berry," Ilberic said with sympathy as she sank down on a bench near the entrance to the vault and sobbed into her handkerchief. Melilot went to stand over her sister and offered comforting whispers and pats; their mother Melisaunte joined them. "Except for Uncle Merimac, this must be most distressing for her. There was an understanding between the two of them, you know."

"No, I hadn't heard." But it confirmed his guess after what Sam had told him.

Others went past the bier, leaving more flowers, some standing for a moment to say their farewells. Once the last of the mourners had passed, the four young hobbits resumed their places around the bier, which was now covered by a mound of flowers. In concert, they lifted Berilac's body, taking care not to let the flowers spill off onto the ground.

As they carried the bier toward the entrance to the vault, Mentha lifted her head to look at the covered body and let out a piercing wail, "Berry! My Berry--why?" Then she lapsed into a fit of hysterics and could not be calmed down. Melilot and Melisaunte quickly escorted her away from the funeral and back to the Hall.

The ceremony concluded soon after this outburst. Once Berry was laid in his place in the vault, the heavy doors were pushed shut with a resounding, final clang. Saradoc thanked the guests for attending and invited them to join the family at the Hall for some refreshment.
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