When Frodo went down for second breakfast, he found the aunties gathered in the breakfast nook, chattering excitedly. Saradoc and Merimac were there as well, the latter obviously in a state of shock.
"Frodo!" Aunt Esme went to him as he entered the room, smiling and looking more like her usual girlish self than Frodo had seen during this visit. "How good to see you up! Are you feeling better, dear? You gave us all a very bad fright last night." She gave him a hug, and kept her arm around him as they went toward the others seated at the breakfast table. "Have you heard the news? Merry's to be released!"
"No, I hadn't heard. That's wonderful!" Frodo was surprised. It looked as if his plans for the day were nullified--but he didn't mind it a bit. "What happened?" he asked Saradoc. "Did Melly talk to you?"
"Melilot came to me early this morning," his uncle confirmed. "You know about that, Frodo? The incident... between her and Berilac?"
"She told me about it yesterday. I hoped she would come forward and tell you the truth."
"It can't be true," Merimac murmured, stunned. "Not my Berry."
"I find it hard to believe of Berry myself," said Saradoc. "He always seemed like such a well-behaved lad--but I don't doubt Melilot's word," he added quickly, for Melisaunte was scowling at him. "The girl has no reason to lie. Indeed, her reluctance to speak of it 'til now proclaims the delicacy of her position."
"I wish she had come forward sooner for Merry's sake," Esmeralda said, "but I understand why Melilot wouldn't like to say anything so awful about a cousin."
"And Berry courting her sister!" cried Celie. "Poor Berry. He never knew when to keep his hands to himself."
"Since it looks as if the whole thing was an accident," Saradoc concluded, "I've sent word to the guardshouse that Merry's to be freed as soon as possible. Justice has been done." He looked at his brother as if he expected Merimac to dispute this, but Merimac had no argument to make.
Frodo looked around the room. None of the young people except Celie, Estella, and Merimas were present. "Where's Melly now?"
"She and Mentha left immediately after first breakfast," said Melisaunte. "They both were very anxious to get away to the cottage."
"None of the boys were here for breakfast," Hilda added. "We've no idea where they've gone."
"Will you have some breakfast yourself, Frodo?" Esmeralda offered.
"If you don't mind, Auntie, I'd like to go to Newbury right away," Frodo told her. "If I can't give Merry the good news personally, I'd like to be there when he comes out."
After hastily collecting Sam from the servants' dining hall, Frodo went to the stable and they were soon riding on the road to Newbury.
"So that's it then," Sam said as he urged his pony to keep up with Frodo's. "This business is finished?"
"As far as we are concerned, yes."
"And whether or not there was murder done-?"
Frodo shook his head. "I don't suppose we'll ever find out what truly happened that day beside the river. Everyone seems happy to call Berry's death an accident and since there is nothing to indicate otherwise, we must be satisfied with that. If the sherriffs want to go on hunting for a murderer, let them have their fun as long as Merry is safe and no other Brandybucks are arrested."
When they arrived at the guardshouse, Fatty, Ilberic, and Doderic were standing outside, wearing or carrying the weapons and armor that Merry and Pippin had worn in battle and brought home with them. But there was no fight, nor sign that there had been one; the trio stood on the green in front before the guardshouse talking quietly, and two sherriffs--Hob, who was just going off duty, and his replacement who was just coming in--sat on the bench by the front door, smoking.
"What's happened?" Frodo asked as he and Sam rode up.
"We came to break Merry out of gaol," Doderic explained sheepishly. "From what you said yesterday, it seemed hopeless that Uncle Saradoc would ever change his mind, so we went to see Pippin last night for an emergency meeting. We've been up all night, working out the final details of our plan, and we decided the best time to attack was when one sherriff was handing the keys over to the other. We were going to lock them up in the store-room, and be off before anyone could raise the alarm."
"But when we got here, they said they'd let Merry out an hour ago." Ilberic waved in the direction of the sherriffs.
Hob removed the pipe from his mouth to add, "I had special orders from the Master of the Hall: new facts in the case of Mr. Berilac's death had come to light, and Mr. Merry was to be released. What else could I do but let 'im go? I couldn't go against the Master's wishes, even to oblige you young gentlemen in your game of letting Mr. Merry out yourselves." His companion nodded in agreement.
"And where's Pippin?" asked Frodo. "Wasn't he part of this?"
"Pippin led us," said Fatty. "He's the only one who has any experience in battle. But when he heard the news about Merry, he went off after him. I expect they're back at Crickhollow by now."
"We were thinking of going by the Newbury inn for some breakfast before we go home," said Ilberic. "Want to join us?"
But Frodo had already turned his pony and was headed off in the direction of the road to Crickhollow. With a bemused shrug, Sam followed.
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