Sharp Knives by Kathryn Ramage

The next morning after first breakfast, Frodo returned to Tuckborough and Sam went up the Tookbank high street to find Rudmer's shop. It was only a short walk up the hill from the tavern, and two doors away from what had once been the Clover's butcher shop--and still was a butcher's shop today although under new management. Sam went inside to find that although Rudmer had many samples of his craft on display, he was no maker of furniture. No chairs, tables, or large chests were in view, but shelves were filled with small cabinets with a multitude of tiny drawers, jewelry boxes, lap-top writing desks, carved wooden serving trays, and toys like the ones Frodo had described. Sam was examining these last when the owner of the shop emerged from the curtained-off workroom at the back.

"How can I help you, sir?" Rudmer asked in friendly tones. "I beg your pardon--I don't know your name. You're a stranger to these parts?"

"I'm stopping at the inn for a day or two," Sam answered. This was the truth, but it felt like a lie. He didn't like the taste of it on his tongue. Nevertheless, he plunged on with his task. This was what Frodo had sent him here to do. "I heard tell of the toys you make and thought as I was having a look about, I'd have a look in here too."

Rudmer seemed surprised to hear that his work was well-known. "You have children?"

"Four little uns."

"I've only got one myself--a little girl--but we're expecting another by the autumn. I started carving toys for her when she was a baby and got to carving so many that I thought I'd put 'em out to sell." Rudmer took down a set of tiny, jointed dolls to show them to Sam. "How old're your little uns, sir? Boys or girls?"

Sam was dressed like a gentlehobbit--Frodo made sure that he was a regular customer of Mr. Threadnibble, the Hobbiton tailor--but his accent remained that of a country lad. Rudmer grew chatty and more at ease after hearing him speak. Sam provided information about his children's ages and sexes, and Rudmer made recommendations regarding suitable toys for each. If buying presents was all he had come here for, Sam would've enjoyed himself. But he had other business to attend to, and further duplicity was required.

"I heard you've been having an exciting time hereabouts lately," he said.

"You mean the murders?" asked Rudmer with no sign of self-consciousness. "That's right--two lads was murdered just last week. One o' them was a gent from Tookbank, the Thain's own nephew, and the other was a local lad, the old butcher's son and my wife's brother."

Sam murmured his sympathies. "It's a shocking thing to've happened. Do they know who did it?"

Rudmer shook his head. "There was some that was sure it was the gent's wife. Our Shirriff thought so and would've locked her up if it wasn't for her having such high-n-mighty friends. The Master o' Buckland's her kinsman, and so is that detective, Mr. Baggins. If you're lodged at the inn, you'll see him there. Well, he proved it was wasn't her and Shirriff Thornbreak had to let her go. They oughter find the right ones who did it. It's upsetting to my wife."

"D'you have any ideas who it might be yourself?" asked Sam. "Seeing how the one lad was kin to you?"

"I don't like to guess," said Rudmer. "Tibby--that's my brother-in-law--was away from us for near to three years, and who knows what sort o' hobbits he ran afoul of while he was off to other parts o' the Shire with Mr. Everard? Just the same, it wouldn't surprise me to hear it was some stranger that followed 'em back to the Thain's land. I can't see anybody I know committing these murders."

"Did you tell your shirriff or the detective about it being a stranger?"

"They wouldn't listen to the likes o' me," Rudmer said diffidently as he gathered up the toys Sam had purchased and wrapped them up into a tidy cloth bundle.

"There might be something in it. You didn't see any strangers hereabouts last week around the time these murders happened, did you? They'd've most likely stopped at the inn down the street. You might've seen them there that very night." Sam had a moment of inspiration. He'd been struggling to think of a way to ask Rudmer about his comings and goings at the Bullroarer's Head on the evening of the murders, per Frodo's instructions, but had had no idea how to go about it without rousing Rudmer's suspicions until now. "Did you go to the inn that night?"

"I did," Rudmer confirmed. "I had my supper there, but I didn't see anybody I didn't know." He handed the wrapped parcel to Sam with a small, wry smile. "I'd've noticed anybody coming in with blood all over 'em."

"They might've gone in for a half before the murders, to steady their nerves. If you'd gone in earlier, you might've seen 'em."

"I might've," Rudmer agreed, though he was beginning to look puzzled by his customer's intense interest in the subject. "But as it was, I didn't."

Sam exited the shop. He hadn't gone more than a few steps down the street before a voice called out to him, "Hoy! Is that Shirriff Gamgee?"

Sam glanced back; Rudmer was still at the shop door and had obviously heard Chief Thornbreak hailing him. He turned to greet his fellow High Shirriff.

"I don't need to ask what brings you to Tookbank, Samwise Gamgee. You're here on Mr. Baggins's business," Thornbreak said cheerfully. "I wondered what kept you when he came here the other day, though he's done his work quick enough without anybody's help. He said it wasn't Mrs. Took that did it, and I was sure it was--and he was right in the end. Too clever by half, that gent of yours."

"You don't bear him no grudge?" Sam asked.

"Well, I felt a bit put out at being shown I was wrong," Thornbreak admitted. "Nobody likes that, do they? But wrong I was and we all want to catch the right murderer. I don't want to put a noose 'round a lady's neck when it don't belong there. Though I daresay it'd never come to that, particularly not if the lady's protected by the likes o' his Thainship, the Master, and Mr. Baggins who they're saying wants to marry her now she's a widow. Who'd've guessed that he would be sweet on her? I reckon that's why he came down so quick from Hobbiton to rescue her."

After Chief Thornbreak had invited Sam to join him in a mug of ale that evening so they could talk over the murders and who Frodo suspected, he went on his way. Rudmer remained in the doorway of his shop, looking in turns bewildered, distrustful, then horrified. He looked at Sam as if he wanted to ask him a question, but Sam hastened away before Rudmer could confront him. He felt as if he'd committed a betrayal.
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