Sharp Knives by Kathryn Ramage

When they returned to Tuckborough the next morning, Frodo went to the front door of the Thain's Hall. Merry, however, refused to set foot in his uncle's house.

"I'll wait for you over at Uncle Addy's," he told Frodo on the doorstep. "I won't be more welcome there than I'd be at Uncle Paladin's, but at least Melly will be glad to see me and I won't have to face Aunt Eglantine. If you see Pip, tell him where I am, won't you?"

"Yes, of course I will." Frodo's chief reason for calling at the Thain's home was to speak to Pippin. He knew that he wasn't entirely welcome here himself, but as a professional investigator he couldn't afford the luxury of being overly sensitive about intruding into places where he wasn't wanted.

He waited until Merry had gone into the house next door before he took up the enormous brass knocker on the Thain's front door and thumped it down. When he was admitted to the Hall, the porter directed him to the breakfast room. Paladin and Pippin were just finishing their first breakfast, but Frodo was relieved to see that Lady Eglantine wasn't there. He was no more eager to face her than Merry was.

"Do you have any news for us?" Thain Paladin asked once the common courtesies had been exchanged and Frodo had been invited to join them.

"That's just what I've come to learn, Uncle. Pippin volunteered to help with my investigation. Did he tell you?" Frodo thought it was best to be perfectly frank and open about Pippin's assistance.

"I told Father all about it when I came home last night," said Pippin.

"And what did you find out?" asked Frodo. "Was there any gossip in the public room?"

"They hardly talked about anything else! I didn't hear as much as I'd've liked to. I had to get home and I was late for dinner anyway. Mr. Brundle's right, Frodo--half of Tookbank thinks Melly did it. But they all agree that Tibby was a bad lot. I asked particularly about people Tibby had fights with and heard some stories about lots of quarrels in the old days, before he and Evvy ran off. I've got some names for you. Do you have your notebook with you?"

Pippin recited the names of several Tookbankers, local farm-lads, and sons of cadet branches of the Took family, some familiar to Frodo and others strangers. Frodo wrote them all down in his memoranda book, though he could see by an excited sparkle in his cousin's eyes that Pippin had something more interesting to tell him and was saving it for last.

"Wasn't there anything more recent?" he prompted. "Did Tibby have any quarrels after he'd returned?"

"He had one." Pippin produced his special news. "Mr. Brundle didn't like the lads at the pub telling me, but I wormed it out of them while he was busy opening a new keg. Frodo, you'll never guess! Tibby was fighting with Rudmer Thursk."

"His sister's husband?" Frodo was surprised. "When did this happen? It must've been the night Tibby first arrived and went to the Bullroarer's. Was that why Mr. Brundle made Tibby leave his inn?"

"They weren't in the inn," Pippin answered. "It was that same night, but it happened out in the high street after Mr. Brundle refused to let Tibby inside. Nobody knows how it started. At least, they didn't tell me, but they said they could hear Tibby and Rudmer shouting at each other outside the open windows."

"Did they tell you what the fight was about?"

Pippin shook his head. "Mr. Brundle was back by then."

"I'll have to call on Mr. Thursk and ask him."

"Indeed you shall," Thain Paladin agreed. He seemed as pleased as Frodo to hear this promising story. "Will you be back with us for the funeral this afternoon? Ada and Filobard arrived late last night, and Adelard expects Flora and Isalda in time for luncheon."

Frodo was grateful; by pointedly extending this invitation, the Thain was trying to heal the breach that had arisen between his family and Frodo and Merry yesterday afternoon. "I certainly plan to attend, Uncle," he answered. He had put on a plain black coat that morning.

"I'm glad you'll be there," Pippin told Frodo. "I'm going to be one of the bier-bearers. Did you know? Uncle Addy's asked Ferdi and me, Elvegar, and Stally--all of Evvy's closest friends. I don't suppose Merry's coming too?"

"I think he intends to stay with Melly. He's next door now, by the way." This was the subtlest way Frodo could convey Merry's message to Pippin. Since Paladin was making an effort to be welcoming, Frodo had no wish to insult him by repeating Merry's refusal to set foot in the Thain's Hall. "Oh and, Pip, about that other matter-" He was reluctant to mention Reg by name in front of the Thain, but Pippin looked at him blankly. "You remember--the other possibility we discussed last night?"

Pippin's expression brightened. "Oh, yes! I know who you mean."

"Have you had a chance to look into that yet?"

"Not yet. I haven't seen them."

Paladin looked curious at who this "other possibility" might be, but before he could ask any questions, Lady Eglantine's voice came from the breakfast-room doorway behind them:

"Frodo Baggins! I must say, I didn't expect that you'd dare to show yourself here again."

Frodo flinched. He'd been dreading this meeting from the moment he'd entered the Thain's Hall. Nevertheless, he turned to her and tried to speak pleasantly, "Good morning, Auntie. Yes, I've come back. I wanted to talk to Uncle Paladin and Pippin-"

"Oh, I know what you've come for," the lady retorted. "You've embroiled my son in another of your investigations. Did you imagine I couldn't guess where you'd gone and what you were up to last night, Peregrin Took? You're spying for Frodo. 'Other possibilities.' 'Other possibilities!' Who might that include, I wonder? Who has he set you upon? Your father? Your sisters? Your uncle? Oh, I remember what happened the last time we were subjected to one of these awful intrusions. No one was beyond Frodo's suspicion, even here in our own home! He's asked you to spy on us, hasn't he? Anything to spare that Brandybuck cousin of his."

"Now Eggie, my dear," the Thain murmured gently to try and quell this outburst, but it was Pippin put a stop to it--to the astonishment of both his parents.

"No, Mother," he said quietly. "I offered, but Frodo said I didn't have to. You can't blame him for me doing what I want to do." He was intimidated by Eglantine, as always, but determined to stand up to her. "Evvy was my friend, and I'm going to help Frodo find out who killed him. I'm sorry if you don't approve." Growing bolder, he went on, "And if you don't mind me saying so, Mother, you're the one who's behaving rather badly. We were all fond of Ev, but that's no reason to go to pieces and start screaming at my friends and making wild accusations. It isn't like you."

Eglantine stared at her son as if he were a stranger who was making unprovoked and incredibly rude personal remarks. "You dare speak to me this way?"

"Somebody has to."

The Lady turned to her husband in appeal, then glared at Frodo as if were responsible for Pippin's rebellion. "You've turned my son against me!" Then she burst into tears and fled from the room.

"Pippin," Paladin said reprovingly.

"I didn't mean to hurt her feelings, Father," Pippin said with a sincere note of apology, "but I couldn't let her go on insulting Frodo like that. He's only doing what he came here to do."

The Thain sighed. "I know. I'll speak to her." He followed his wife out.

Frodo felt acutely embarrassed at his part in this scene. "I'd better go," he said.

Pippin all but leapt from his chair at the breakfast table. "I'll come with you. Still, I suppose it might've been worse. We're lucky she doesn't know about Reg!"
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