Sharp Knives by Kathryn Ramage

When Frodo returned to the Bullroarer's Head, Mr. Brundle directed him to the private dining parlor beyond the public room, "where Master Merry's a-sitting to his supper."

Frodo went in to find his cousin presiding over a table at which three places had been set: one had been used and abandoned, the plate at another was still clean, and the remains of Merry's own supper sat before him. He was picking over a chicken leg. At the middle of the table sat the rest of a partially carved roast chicken on a platter, half a loaf of bread on a wooden cutting board, and bowls that had once contained boiled vegetables and now only held a few straggling peas in some watery butter sauce.

"I see that Pippin dined with you," observed Frodo. "Is he still here?"

"No, and he only had some bread and soup and the other drumstick before he left," answered Merry. "He didn't want to spoil his dinner."

"Did he spend any time in the common room?"

Merry nodded. "He stopped for a half-pint on his way out. I didn't join him--I thought he'd do better on his own. If he learned anything interesting, he'll tell you about it tomorrow." Frodo took a seat before the clean place and helped himself to bread and butter. He hadn't eaten at all since he'd arrived in Tuckborough that morning and only now realized how hungry he was. Merry rose to carve some meat from the chicken for him. "I'm ready to investigate too, just like in the old days, though I don't know how much I can do with all these Tooks and their people set against us. Nobody'd tell me anything. They shut their mouths tight when they see me."

Frodo nodded, understanding. He'd seen some wary and even hostile looks cast his way from the regular patrons in the public room when he'd come in. It would be useless for either he or Merry to try and question them directly; that task was better left to Pippin.

"If there's anything I can do that doesn't mean asking questions, I'm only too happy to help." While Frodo started on the chicken, Merry stuck his head out the door to order another bowl of soup and more vegetables. "How was Melly when you saw her?" he asked Frodo after he'd spoken to the inn's servant and was returning to his chair. "Did you tell her what Brundle said?"

"I did, and it made her cry. Merry, it was awful! I couldn't bear to see her feeling even worse about this situation than she already was. You saw how oppressed she was this afternoon."

"I saw," Merry agreed grimly as he helped himself to more chicken. "That's just why I want to take her home. She'd still be under a shadow of suspicion, but at least she'd be among her own family--and be safe no matter what happens!"

Frodo regarded his cousin silently while the maidservant brought in his soup and more peas and parsnips. "It wouldn't matter to you if she did do it," he said once they were alone again. "You'd do just the same if you knew she had murdered Ev and Tibby."

"You tell me she didn't, and that's good enough for me," Merry responded. "You'll find out the truth sooner or later, so why let poor Melly be kept prisoner here until then if she'd be better off in Buckland?"

"What if the truth turns out to be that I'm wrong?"

"You aren't." Merry shook his head. "Even if you are... well, you're right, Frodo. It doesn't matter to me if she's guilty or not. Everard behaved like a swine to her from first to last--marrying poor Melly to begin with after all that trouble with Toby Clover, then abandoning her and Addy for Tibby. She would've been much better off if she'd accepted your proposal instead. If you ask me, Melly thinks so too."

Frodo blushed. "What sort of husband would I be?" he responded diffidently. "And be fair, Merry. Melly left Ev first."

"That's different. She saw she'd made a mistake and came home to think things over. It's not as if she ran off with a lover." Merry let out a puff of breath. "I don't say I'd approve if she did kill him, but I'd understand why she'd want to be free of him. Only, she didn't do it! You said so yourself." He turned Frodo's question back on him. "Would it matter to you if you found some proof that she did kill them? Would you stand by and see Melly hanged?"

"No!" Frodo had witnessed the hangings of two unrepentant and thoroughly despicable murderers who had struck at people he knew and cared for; even then, it had been a horrible sight. The thought of seeing someone he loved at the end of a hangman's noose sent a sickened shudder through him. "If she were guilty, I'd do everything I could to see that it didn't come to that. I don't like hanging as a punishment, even when it's fully deserved. I think it should be avoided whenever possible, if there's any chance for the murderer to make amends or be redeemed. But I won't suppress or ignore the facts for anyone--not even for you or for Melly."
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