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“I don’t think they’re home, sir.”  Lieutenant Bellwether said, turning away from the purple door of Bramble’s Edge.

“Blackberry’s cart is here,” Constable Truance pointed out.

“Hmm.” Commander Bilberry offered.

“You don’t really think the dwarf was so dim as to snatch Proudfoot on the first day of his parole, do you?” Bellwether said, joining the pair on the footpath. “He probably done a runner.  Might be in Buckland again.”

“Hmm.”

“Commander!  Lieutenant!” Sergeant Sandheaver waved as he came up the track.

“Sergeant!  What did the Whistlestops have to say?” Bilberry asked.

“Home all night, sir.”

“Any witnesses to that fact?” Bilberry asked with derision.

“Yes, sir.  Goody Whemper the midwife.  Also Snowdrop and Pearl Whistlestop.”

Bilberry made a vague noise of disappointment, but asked no further.

“Who are Snowdrop and Pearl Whistlestop?” Constable Truance asked, not getting the connection.

“The twin girls Mistress Whemper delivered not an hour before I knocked on their door.  Mum’s doing fine.  Ruggo’s so proud I think he’s going to pop his buttons.”

The four lawkeepers fell into step, heading back towards Hobbiton.  Commander Bilberry was quiet, the sergeant and constable trading pleasantries about Peony’s safe journey through birthing.  Lieutenant Bellwether eyed his superior for a few minutes, then muttered under his breath.

“I still think he done a runner.”

The lawkeepers continued their trek back into town, where the yelling and loud cries drew their attention.  They fought their way through the market crowd to stop in front of the forge.

Justilo Proudfoot lay dead before the door.

Aside from the throngs of curious hobbits, Thorin Oakensheild was peering blearily at the corpse while nursing a cup of coffee.  He muttered something in the rough dwarf language and stepped over the late Justilo to open up the door.

“I knew it!” Commander Bilberry cried triumphantly.  “Obviously Proudfoot was murdered by—“

“Not a dwarf,” Bellwether announced.

“What?”

“Master Dwalin was very specific about having to remove his head to defend his family honor and the head is still attached.”

“Thank you!” Thorin called from inside the forge.

The constables started to shoo away the crowd, one of them running to the nearest law post for the dead wagon.  Thorin started the forges, then came out and watched the lawkeepers as he finished his coffee.

“He has an axe wound in his back,” Commander Bilberry announced.

“Delivered after death,” Thorin said.  “If it were delivered while he was alive, he’d be covered in blood.”

Bellwether stared at the body like he’d never seen it before.

“I’ve been in enough battles to know corpses don’t bleed.”

“WHO KILLED MY VICTIM?!”

The departing hobbits hurried back.  Dwalin was glowering down at Proudfoot’s corpse as if it had personally offended him.  Blackberry hung on his arm, an odd expression on her face.

“I was supposed to kill him!”

“You could take his head now!” Someone called from the back of the crowd.  “I don’t think he’d mind!”

“It doesn’t count if he’s already dead!”

“Not so fucking loud,” Thorin pleaded, rubbing his forehead.

Bellwether realized the King Under the Hill was hung over.  Oakensheild only had hangovers when he was celebrating with the other dwarves at the inn.  In fact, that was the direction Dwalin and Blackberry had come from.  Blackberry was still wearing a party dress instead of a morning dress.  She looked a bit green around the gills as well.  Of course, that could have been the fresh corpse at her feet.

“We went to Bramble’s Edge this morning, but you weren’t at home,” the Commander announced coldly.  “Mind telling us where you were all night?”

“We spent the night at the inn,” Blackberry answered, swallowing heavily.  “Someone was the worse for drink.”

“We’ll never celebrate the end of our honeymoon again,” Dwalin said in a gentler tone.

“Half of Hobbiton heard the rest of them staggering back to Bag End,” another hobbit from the crowd offered.  “Singing their bawdy songs; they could barely put one foot in front of the other.  It’s a wonder they didn’t lose one in the snow.”

“What time was this?” Bellwether asked.

“Half past two in the morning!!”

“When was the body found?”

“I – I came in to start baking at four,” Autumn Leafwalker said. “He wasn’t there then.  I unlocked the door at six and he was.”

Bellwether fell silent.  The dead wagon arrived and he oversaw loading the body up while every constable they could manage went around taking statements.  The snow under Justilo’s body was devoid of blood, but, Bellwether couldn’t help but notice, it was melted a bit.  Proudfoot had still been warm when he was cast down in front of the forge.  He called Captain Hedgehopper over to witness this.  

“So we’ve got a freshly-dead bastard and a killer who really wants us to think a dwarf did it,” Hedgehopper sighed.

“And every dwarf in the Shire was drunk as a miner last night and surrounded by witnesses right up until the body was found.”

The pair fell silent for a moment as Blackberry begged off from her husband and fled a few steps into fresh snow before becoming sick.  

“And still hung over,” Hedgehopper observed.  He looked back over his shoulder at Bilberry who was bossing around his underlings and glaring at the dwarves.  “He finally got a murder; you’d think he’d be happier.  

Goodwill Bilberry had been one of the hobbits who was certain Blackberry had murdered her husband and Peony and wanted to arrest her for it.

“He was acting queer since the first bell,” Bellwether groused.  “Maybe it’s because this one will be tough to solve.”

“You think?”

“Too many people wanted him dead.”

In front of the forge, Blackberry kissed her husband and started off towards home to get her cart and start her own workday.  The lawkeepers didn’t try to stop her.  It was the Shire.  No one left.


~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



Goody Whemper arrived home just as Blackberry was walking up the drive.

“Good morning, Mistress Whemper!  Oh, you’ve just come back from a call.  I can come back later.”

Goody turned her pony into his stall and peered at Blackberry.  They had met plenty of times before. When Blackberry was just a faunt, Goody taught the mothering class at Hobbiton’s school.  The girl paid intense attention to the intricacies of pregnancy, birth, and parenting.  While courting she had called on Goody to learn if there were any herbs or a special diet to ensure her body was primed for conception.  After the first few years of her marriage – her first marriage – the inquiries changed to medicines to help conceive. And finally inquiries about any foundlings available.

The poor child had hitched her wagon to the wrong star.  While courting, Justilo exuded the air of a young man a little uncertain of children, but guilty of nothing more than inexperience.  After he wed Blackberry, he made no secret of how much he detested children.  Even a mother who couldn’t care for a new babe wasn’t going to let it go to the Proudfoot household.

And now, fresh into a very hasty – even by hobbit standards – marriage, Blackberry was at Goody’s doorstep again.  Normally Mistress Whemper would tell her to come back after she’d had a nap, if it weren’t for the little fact that Blackberry had just married a dwarf.

“I – I have to go get my cart and bring Dwalin his elevenses and lunch – I can stop on the way back if that’s better.”

Goody had been at the wedding.  She’d heard Dwalin declare that there wouldn’t ever be children. Thorin and Bilba’s marriage seemed to confirm this little belief.  But if no unwilling mother would give a babe to Blackberry because of Justilo, surely she realized no one would give her a babe because of her dwarvish husband.

“Why are you here, lass?”  Goody finally asked.

“I need confirmation,” Blackberry sighed.  

Goody’s eyebrows shot up to her hairline.
Me:  All right, I just need to wrap up the loose ends, then I can get on to --

Brain: You know what this story needs?!  A murder!!!

Me:  In the third act?

Brain: .  . .. . yeah!  What a twist!



:iconanimeboyluv:
animeboyluv Featured By Owner Jun 24, 2018
Love it.
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:iconsparklinburgndy:
SparklinBurgndy Featured By Owner Jun 30, 2018  Hobbyist General Artist
Next chapter's up!
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