Sharp Knives by Kathryn Ramage

Tansy had only mentioned one person in Tookbank who had quarreled with her brother since his return. That hobbit's name hadn't been spoken--in fact, Tansy had said "they" had refused to serve Tibby at the Bullroarer's Head--but Frodo knew precisely whom she was referring to. Only the proprietor of the tavern, Mr. Brundle, had the authority to send unwanted customers away.

Once he left the Thursk home, Frodo headed down the lanes on the steep hillside toward the Tookbank high street, and entered the Bullroarer's Head. He'd been in the tavern many times during his visits to his Took relations, and Mr. Brundle recognized him the moment he approached the bar to order a half-pint of the house's best ale. Mr. Brundle was typical of inn-, tavern-, and alehouse-keepers throughout the Shire; he wasn't the most quick-witted of hobbits but was always welcoming to strangers, even-tempered, and inclined to gossip. His greeting of Frodo was friendly enough, but his genial expression grew more somber when Frodo broached the subject of the recent murders.

"Ah now, I should've guessed that's what brought you here, Mr. Baggins," he said ruefully as he filled a mug from one of the enormous kegs behind the bar and set it down in front of his customer. "Chief Thornbreak said you was in town when he came by for his bite o' lunch." Thornbreak was in fact seated at a table nearby, finishing up a ham and cheese pie with his own half-pint of ale. "Besides, you never come in alone before, only when Mr. Pippin or one o' the other lads was with you. "

Frodo admitted that it was so. "I hope you'll be able to answer a few questions, Mr. Brundle."

"Happy to, Mr. Baggins, only I don't see how I can. I an't set eyes on poor Mr. Everard since he come home again, nor that wife o' his."

"But you did see Tibby, didn't you?"

Brundle grunted an acknowledgment. "That lad, now, I could've told you ages ago he was headed for a bad end--didn't I always say so, Chief?" He raised his voice as he directed this question toward Thornbreak.

"He was a wrong un!" Chief Shirriff Thornbreak shouted back in agreement. "Naught but trouble."

"That's so. Trouble and trouble, Mr. Baggins, from the first time he come in here. Always took more ale 'n he should, and it only got worse after that other Clover lad, Toby, got killed. Drunk in the streets he was, as often as not, and the shirriffs'd take him in to sleep it off. Chief Thornbreak'll tell you tales. Spoiling for fights too. He hit Mr. Pippin once, who was sitting at that table over there, minding his own business and enjoying a half-pint o' our best with some other Took-lad, a cousin o' his from up north. If it wasn't for the other lad being ready to pull Tibby off, he might've done Mr. Pippin a harm! I had to put 'em all out after that, for the sake o' the peace, but I told Tibby right then that he wasn't welcome back if he couldn't behave himself proper. I'm used to lads getting tipsy, and nobody minds a bit o' rowdiness nor rough-house now and again, but there's a limit."

None of this came as a surprise Frodo; he was already familiar with Tibby's drunken antics of old. "Is that why you refused to serve Tibby when he last came in?" he asked.

"Partly that," Mr. Brundle answered. "The lad was trouble, as I was just telling you, Mr. Baggins. I didn't want no more of it here at my house. But even if Tibby wasn't feeling up to starting a fight this once, he might've been in for one anyway. Feeling's been hard against 'm since he run off with Mr. Everard and brought scandal on the Tooks. There's lots of folk here in Tookbank on the side o' the Tooks, and that's no surprise! Where'd we be without his Thainship? Where'd I be if it wasn't for Mr. Pippin and the other Took-lads coming here regular-like for their drop o' ale instead o' going to the Hillibanks pub or Tunneltop? I don't want no fighting, but it's the Tooks I got to think of too. I couldn't have 'em taking against me over that Clover lad."

Frodo murmured sympathetically to show that he appreciated the tavern-keeper's delicate position. Mr. Brundle seemed like an unlikely suspect, but he might still provide some information. "You said that Tibby was always spoiling for fights," he ventured. "Who else besides Pippin did he fight with?"

Instead of providing a wealth of gossip and tales of outrages committed in his public room, Mr. Brundle suddenly became circumspect. "'Twas a long time ago, Mr. Baggins," he answered. "I don't know as I remember, not the particulars. It didn't take much to start Tibby off. And besides, it can't matter now, can it? It wasn't anybody that Tibby quarreled with here that went over to Mr. Adelard's cottage to kill him and Mr. Everard."
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