The Hobbiton court house was packed. It was only used on rare occasions at any rate and mostly for tedious things about who moved a fence line and how much they were owed. Blackberry Brandywine’s annulment challenge was the court case of the century as far as the Shire was concerned.
Obviously no one expected the Thain to allow the challenge, seeing as how the lady in question was now legally wed to a dwarf warrior. But you heard things about dwarves and maybe there would be a fight or that blaggard Justilo would get what was coming to him . . .
The appearance of Dwalin, son of Fundin, and Blackberry Brandywine caused the hum of conversation to erupt into a dull roar. Not only was Dwalin decked out in warrior’s kit, complete with twin battleaxes strapped across his back, Blackberry was sporting dwarven finery herself. Her hardy wool hobbit coat had been replaced by a fur lined oilskin cloak. Hobbits still used fur muffs, but anything more than that was considered tacky. Blackberry’s braid spilled out of one side of the hood. Instead of the simple, sloppy, three strand braid she usually used, a very complex six strand braid was neatly woven with ribbons and a smaller braid. When she put her hood back, everyone gasped.
Hobbits hardly ever wore earrings; when they did, simple pearl or glass drops were as great as they got. They certainly didn’t wear large shields of silver at the lobe and tip, both connected by delicate silver chains.
“Blackberry, you look so well!” Rosemary called.
Blackberry smiled at her friend. The susurration took up again, agreeing that she did look well, marriage agreed with her, and her brutish dwarf of a husband was treating her right. In fact, hadn’t she gained weight? Yes, definitely plumper, which as always a good thing as far as hobbits were concerned.
Dwalin and Blackberry went into the courtroom. The viewing gallery was standing room only. Balin sat at the defendant’s table with Miri Elderflower, Blackberry’s hobbit counsel. Bilba, Thorin, and the Company sat in the first row of the viewing gallery, right behind the bench. All the dwarves sat with their knees spread as far as possible. Blackberry stepped through the gate into the courtroom proper and Dwalin looked at his compatriots. Without a word, they all scooted over one space, heretofore wide-spread knees slamming together. Dwalin sat in the newly-opened space.
Justilo Proudfoot glared at his ex-wife from the opposite bench. She smiled at him. Everyone had been so concerned with the earrings and cloak no one had bothered to check her for weapons. Seated criss-cross-applesauce in the small of her back were two wickedly sharp daggers; presents from her new husband. Dwalin had also been tutoring her in their use in between bouts of fucking her on every available surface during their honeymoon. Not that she’d get much use out of them; if Justilo so much as sneezed in her direction, Dwalin would likely take his head off. She really couldn’t believe the lawkeepers hadn’t even challenged him about the axes!
Master Hornblower banged his gavel.
“Order! Order, please!”
The crowd quieted, except for one woman in the back.
“-and her father, mayherestinpeace, was a Stoor and they’re half-way to being dwarves anyway, so –“ The gossip cut off sharply when she realized she was the only one still talking.
“We are gathered today to hear the challenge to the annulment of the marriage between Justilo Proudfoot and Blackberry Brandywine. Master Proudfoot, Mistress Brandywine was granted an annulment after you were tried and convicted for adultery, spousal abandonment, and assault.”
Balin frowned. He had discussed the matter with Master Elderflower in detail and that list of charges skipped over the unfortunate Miss Whistlestop’s detainment entirely. That bastard Proudfoot should have lost his head for that reason alone.
Justilo said nothing, merely glowered. No doubt he’d heard about the surprise wedding at the inn.
“Unfortunately for you, having the marriage annulled left Mistress Brandywine free to wed another – which she did. As Blackberry Brandywine is now lawfully wed to Dwalin, son of Fundin, your challenge has no legal standing. Case dismissed!”
“All right, fine!” Justilo barked. “Let’s talk about how her dwarf husband attacked me on the bridge last week! He broke three of my ribs!”
“Oh yes, let’s talk about that, shall we?” The Thain said with an unpleasant smile. “About half of Hobbiton witnessed Master Dwalin coming to the aid of one Master Drogo Baggins and one Mistress Blackberry Brandywine. In fact, he was defending them from you, Master Proudfoot. Now, not everyone is happy about dwarves in the Shire, but they are very good at defending, are they not? You are hereby formally charged with assault of one Drogo Baggins and one Blackberry Brandywine. Mistress Brandywine will be requiring compensation for the injury done to her.”
Justilo was practically frothing, but Balin stood up.
“I beg your pardon, Master Hornblower, but I may be able to save everyone a bit of time. You see, when Blackberry wed my brother, she came under the protection of dwarf law. She is now, legally, a dwarrowdam.” The white haired dwarf paused and looked back at Blackberry. “A hobbitdam, if you will.”
A titter swept through the crowd at the odd word.
“At any rate, to us this particular hobbit attacked and caused injury to a dam. Her closest male relative – in this case, her husband – is honor-bound to take the head of her assailant.”
A roar shook the courtroom. The mood of the crowd had turned. They were all looking forward to Justilo getting a good thrashing, but decapitation? That was a step too far.
Master Hornblower had to bang his gavel repeatedly to regain order. Once he had done, he gave Balin a wild-eyed look.
“That a bit extreme for a sprained wrist, don’t you think, Master Balin?!”
Balin gave the Thain a look so old-fashioned it had been around for Galadriel’s doll phase.
“Well, let me see if I have things straight,” The white haired dwarf said, his tone suddenly changing to ice. “Justilo Proudfoot was convicted of adultery, spousal abandonment and assault. You seem to have skipped a few charges. Rape, for one. Enslavement of a sentient being, and kidnapping. And a few weeks out of his sentence, he attacks another woman and the young gentleman coming to her aid. Are you planning to wait until he murders a lass before you take action?”
Balin could play the paternal, affable gentleman so well people generally forgot he had a mind as sharp as an executioner’s axe.
The Thain stared at the dwarrow in shock. This part had been well-rehearsed. Thorin’s Company did not actually expect the hobbits to condone killing Justilo, but this was just to let Hobbiton know exactly how dwarrow expected their dams to be treated. Dwalin stood slowly, unfolding to his full five feet.
“The only reason you still draw breath is because Thorin and the lads live here. Otherwise I’d already have wrung your scrawny neck and chucked you into the river!” Dwalin informed Justilo, his voice starting out a dangerous growl before amplifying into a roar. “But now sweet Berry is my wife and it’s my duty to end you!”
The big dwarf drew his axe, prompting gasps and a few cries of shock from the assembled hobbits.
“Dwalin, no!” Blackberry yelled, leaping to her feet.
Justilo gave his former wife a look of hope and relief.
“These are parquet floors!” she continued, gesturing to the intricately laid pattern of light and dark wood. “The stain will never come out! Take him outside for that.”
Justilo leapt from his seat and tried to run, only to be grabbed by lawkeepers. Two of them advanced towards Dwalin, hands held up in supplication.
“Easy, easy, Master Dwarf! We don’t want to – well – think of the floors!”
Damnit, Dwalin nearly burst out laughing at that. The lawkeepers were smart enough to realize that they couldn’t actually stop him if he was really bent on killing Justilo.
“Let him kill that bastard!”
That was not in the script. Every being in the courtroom turned to look at the hobbit farmer, absolutely nondescript in every way, except for practically vibrating with rage and cheering for murder. Beside him, a dark haired hobbit woman – unusually small, like Blackberry – covered her face and wept.
“Who is that?” Balin asked.
“That’s – that’s Ruggo Whistlestop,” Blackberry answered in a near whisper. “And his wife, Peony.”
“The dwarves are right!” Ruggo continued. “That worm paid for the injustice he gave to his own wife, but he never had to pay for hurting mine! You grunting pigs sat on your fat asses and said it was her own fault for getting seduced! He practically destroyed my Peony! She still bears scars! Brandywine’s got a baker’s dozen dwarves looking after her, but what about my lass?! What about the rest of your lasses?! Even if Blackberry’s safe, even if Peony never walks alone again, what’s to prevent him from finding another target? He likes wee women; they’re easy to overpower! What if he starts on underage girls?! So let the dwarf take his head! Carry on, Master Dwalin! I’ll buy you a pint at the Green Dragon afterwards!”
By the time Ruggo finished, tears of rage were pouring down his cheeks. There was a moment of utter, shocked silence. One could have heard a pin drop.
“I agree with Master Whistlestop.”
There was a quiet rustling as the crowd turned to look at the new speaker.
“Who is that?” Balin asked, gesturing to the lawkeeper who had spoken.
“That’s Goodwill Bilberry,” Blackberry whispered. “He’s the Commander of the Lawkeepers.”
Commander Bilberry was fitter than most hobbits and a little harder around the eyes. The Shire made a great show of being a jolly place full of food and good cheer, but like most places, there was a dark undercurrent. Cmdr. Bilberry had to witness what most of his countrymen got to ignore.
“Justilo Proudfoot never paid the price for the harm he brought to Mistress Whistlestop,” he announced. “I had the unfortunate task of escorting this prisoner to and from the work farm. He’s a charmer,” Bilberry spat the word. “Very friendly and integrating and worms his way into hobbits’ good graces whether they trust him or not. Very manipulative. And he has a hunger for women that is not seemly. He was banned from the brothel in Bree for abusing the girls there. Even while we held him for attacking Master Baggins and Mistress Brandywine on the bridge last week, he watched Captain Hedgehopper’s wee lass bring her dad his elevenses and luncheons like a hawk watching a hen. She’s only twenty-two.”
This produced a scalded gasp. Twenty-two?! That was barely even a tween! Even the separate whispers of: “There’s a brothel in Bree?!” didn’t lighten the mood.
“To be so obvious while jailed isn’t just stupidity,” Cmdr. Bilberry continued. “It’s sickness. Master Balin and Master Whistlestop are right; Justilo Proudfoot served his sentence and learned absolutely nothing. He won’t stop. He can’t stop. He should be put down like a foaming dog.”
The lawkeeper turned to the Thain, who was still staring in slack-jawed horror.
“Master Hornblower, you won’t get a better opportunity than this. It’s not your decision, it isn’t your judgement, none of your hobbits have to get blood on their hands. This dwarf is acting according to his own laws and ridding us of a pestilence at the same time.”
This was definitely not in the script. The Company had planned Dwalin’s ‘outburst’ to frighten the hobbits. They never expected any to agree with them. The big dwarf cast a look at his king and then his brother and gave a minute shrug.
“Right then so . . . I’ll take him outside first,” he said evenly. “I’ll even mind the floors.”
If anyone thought it strange that the warrior went from raging to calm so quickly, no one said so.
“No one is getting their head chopped off!” The Thain cried, surging to his feet. “We are hobbits and that is not the way we do things! Bilberry! Take Proudfoot back to the lockup! He’ll remain jailed until Brandywine’s doctor’s bill is paid! The rest of you, clear the courtroom! Anyone still in it in five minutes will be arrested for contempt!”
Master Hornblower slammed his gavel down again and stormed out. The assembled crowd began to pour out into the street, most of them heading for the Green Dragon. Justilo Proudfoot was put into shackles. Cmdr. Bilberry exchanged a long look with Dwalin, then led the prisoner away. Dwalin got the distinct impression that if Justilo just happened to disappear after his release, the lawkeeper wouldn’t look for him too hard.
“I thought that went well!” Bofur announced, prompting a round of laughter.
“Not at all what I expected,” Balin admitted. “But I’m not sure what I expected from a leader who allows such gross injustices towards dams.”
“Hobbit law is certainly lacking in such areas,” Thorin said coldly.
Bilba pursed her lips but couldn’t really disagree. The Company, along with Bilba and Blackberry, headed back towards Bag End. The Green Dragon would be packed with drunk hobbits who had just seen some fine entertainment and that really wasn’t they wished to deal with right now. The group was just entering Bagshot Row when someone cleared their throat behind them. Dwalin and Blackberry, trailing the rest, turned to see Ruggo and Peony Whistlestop standing at the crossroads. Peony had managed to stop crying, but still sniffled periodically. Dwalin couldn’t help noticing she was heavy with child.
“Might I have a moment of your time, Master Dwalin?” Ruggo asked, his voice rough.
Blackberry reached out to Peony, patting her hand and speaking softly to her. The two males moved a few steps away.
“Thank you for remembering my Peony,” Ruggo said. “Everyone wants to sweep it under the rug. I don’t blame her, you know,” he said quickly, before Dwalin could respond. “We were going through a rough patch. I wasn’t paying her attention, looking after her like she needed. Proudfoot saw that and swept her up. She had a black eye when I found her in Bree. She threw herself at my feet and begged for forgiveness right in the middle of the marketplace.”
Dwalin really didn’t know what to say to that, so he said nothing.
“I – I haven’t much,” Ruggo admitted, twisting his hat in his hands. “The frost came early this year. But – whatever it takes . . . everything I have if you could –“
The big dwarf silenced Whistlestop with a heavy hand on his shoulder.
“One night, you can buy me that pint,” Dwalin said simply.
He turned back towards the rest of the Company. Bilba and Thorin had made their way back to Blackberry and Peony.
“Ruggo, they’ve invited us to stay for supper,” Peony said with a wan smile.
“That sounds lovely,” Ruggo said, nodding.
“Room for two more?!” Drogo was fighting his way through the snow, making way for Primula, who clung to his arm and beamed.
“Always!” Bilba laughed, leading the way back to her home.
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I wasn't too sure about how to rate this one, because while there's nothing too graphic and only a few swear words, there is law not giving a flying fuck about violence against women.
I was going to have this be the epilogue, but there's probably going to be one more and then a sequel.
I was going to have this be the epilogue, but there's probably going to be one more and then a sequel.
excellent work. I love the imagery of wee little hobbits baying for blood, so to speak
They aren't all sweetness and light.
Excellent as always, I really loved the other hobbits just ready to tear his head off when the opportunity adobe and disrupting the dwarves plan. Just the absolute best.