Sharp Knives by Kathryn Ramage

Frodo rode swiftly to the Green Hill Inn and found Merry had taken Aderic out for a walk in the Wood. Melly was alone in the sitting room adjoining her bedroom, reading the book she'd brought with her from Tuckborough by the sunlight streaming in through the one, large window. Frodo decided to tell her what had happened immediately, instead of waiting for Merry to return. While Merry would be delighted at the news, this matter concerned Melly in a much more personal way.

He sat down beside her on the settee beneath the window before he announced, "I've found Evvy's murderer."

Melly nearly dropped her book. "Frodo! Who is it? Are you certain? Has he been arrested?"

"I'm quite sure. He hasn't been arrested, and he won't ever be. He's been dead a week himself."

Melly listened to Frodo's account of his conversations with Tadler and Tansy as well as the contents of Everard's letter with eager attention and a few astonished exclamations. It was only after he'd finished his story that she said, "Tibby. That Tibby," and a stronger emotion passed over her face. "That wretched little beast couldn't even let Evvy go home-" then she sobbed--a loud and hard gulp that spasmed through her body. Frodo could see that the force of it took her by surprise. Other wrenching sobs followed, then the tears she hadn't been able to shed for her murdered husband before this moment.

Frodo didn't try to try to stop her, simply put his arms around her and let her cry herself out against his shoulder.

"The thing is," she said in a weak voice after this outburst had passed and she was blotting her face with a clean handkerchief Frodo had pulled from his waistcoat, "I don't believe I would've taken Ev back. We'd grown too far apart to try and pretend we were the same girl and boy we'd once been. I don't love him as I did when I married him. But it isn't fair that that choice was taken from us. Ev should've at least seen Addy. Tibby couldn't stand for Ev to have even that little bit of happiness again. He would rather die than lose. He hated all of us that much."

She was still nestled against Frodo's chest when the sitting-room door opened and Merry returned with Aderic. "I hope we're not late for lunch- Oh." Merry stopped to take in the tableau before him. "What is it? What's happened?"

"Is Mamma all right?" the little boy at his side asked with some concern.

"Perfectly fine, darling," Melly answered as she sat up and gave her eyes one last swab with the damp handkerchief. "I'm all right," she added to Merry. "Frodo's brought us some wonderful news."

Frodo hadn't expected his cousins to accompany him back to Tuckborough for dinner at the Thain's Hall, but in the end they did accept Thain Paladin's invitation. While they appreciated the gesture toward reconciliation, both were still too bruised and resentful over the Tooks' treatment of Melly to return so soon after and pretend that nothing had happened. Merry was at the point of refusing, when Pippin arrived; he'd come riding after Frodo as quickly as he could once he'd heard the news, and he spent a breathless moment laughing and hugging everyone before he repeated his father's invitation.

"He was so overjoyed," Frodo told Sam late that evening after they'd returned to the Bullroarer's Head for one last night. "You would've thought it was Merry who'd been free from the threat of gaol. Of course, Merry couldn't refuse Pip's invitation on top of the Thain's."

"Master Merry was still a bit stiff when you showed up at his Thainship's, though," Sam noted. "Mrs. Took too. She barely said a thing to anybody unless they spoke to her first--except for you and him."

"Everyone was feeling rather awkward," Frodo agreed. "It'll be awhile before they can be comfortable with each other after all that's happened since Evvy was murdered, but it shows the right spirit that they're at least willing to try. Even Aunt Eggie went out of her way to be civil to us."

"That'd be his Thainship's and Pippin's doing."

Frodo agreed to this as well. Although Lady Eglantine had been perfectly composed and coolly gracious throughout the evening, he'd observed how her husband and son kept a close eye on her lest she insult their guests. Paladin and Pippin were as determined to mend the breach between the two families as he was.

"And they're all glad that it's turned out to be that Tibby," Sam went on as he shed the best suit he'd brought with him and carefully hung it in the wardrobe.

"Of course. No one wants a murderer to be someone they know, and since we couldn't find a complete stranger to suspect, they're relieved that it's someone no one liked--except for his poor sister." While he undressed for bed, Frodo considered Tansy. The Tooks and Tookbankers might rejoice at the result of his investigation, but Tansy had done her best to keep the truth from him. She wouldn't be feeling anything like relief tonight.

"Are you betrothed now?" Sam asked him, breaking into his quiet moment of contemplation.

"No, not yet. I expect Melly will give me her answer tomorrow." Frodo climbed into bed and held out a hand. "Come along, my love. We ought to take advantage of what may be my last night as a completely unspoken-for hobbit."

"Oh, you're spoken for," Sam said with definite meaning as he climbed in beside Frodo. "Whether or not Mrs. Took says she'll marry you, you're that already and you'll always be."
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