Lobelia Sackville-Baggins is Dead by Virtuella

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Story Notes:

AU, obviously. Middle-earth belongs to Tolkien. Thanks to Dreamflower and Finlay  for beta reading.


All was well in Lobelia Sackville-Baggins’ world. The rain had ceased, her head had stopped aching and three scones with raspberry jam and clotted cream were settling nicely in her stomach. Her finances were thriving and as of yesterday she owned a full set of silver desert spoons. Life was good. Admittedly, her son was dead, well, that was unfortunate. Still, the whole dreadful affair with the ruffians had brought its benefits. People treated her with more respect since she had attacked the ruffians with her umbrella, a course of action which, while it had brought unexpected repercussions in the form of prolonged imprisonment, had given her immense satisfaction at the time.

 

Bag  End, it was true, had gone back to Frodo Baggins – she couldn’t stand the idea of living in a smial where her dear Lotho had been murdered – and she was loath to see it now in the hands of that upstart of a gardener. However, these circumstances impinged only marginally on her happiness,  in fact, they enhanced it, because the pleasures of Lobelia Sackville-Baggins depended on some kind of grudge to hold on to much in the way other people’s pleasures required sunshine or a good cup of tea. She was well supplied then, and on top of these blessing, she was in the possession of the most important ingredient for contentment: somebody to nag. The parlour maid, a jittery hobbit lass of not quite twenty-five, stood on a stepladder and dusted the ornaments on a high shelf.

 

“Careful with that vase, you clumsy oaf,” hissed Lobelia. “It is an heirloom from my great-grandmother.”

 

The maid, who hadn’t even touched the vase, gave a nervous courtesy which made the stepladder wobble precariously. Lobelia Sackville-Baggins pursed her lips and leaned back into the cushions. She’d shown that reckless lass who was mistress of the house! All was well in Lobelia Sackville-Baggins’ world - but not for very much longer…

 

~oOoOo~

 

In the early afternoon, the news spread through the village like butter on a hot potato.

 

“Lobelia Sackville-Baggins is dead!”

 

“Who killed her?” asked Pippin, who sat in the public room of the Jolly Squirrel Inn in the company of a plate of roast mutton, a pint of beer, and Merry.

 

“What in all the world makes you think she has been killed?” asked Merry.

 

Pippin turned his tankard around in his hand and wiped over the table with his sleeve.

 

“I don’t know,” he said. “Somehow, I have such a feeling.”

 

“That’s a very strange kind of feeling to have, especially given Lobelia’s age.”

 

“I know, Merry. Nevertheless, the feeling is there. I would like to go and check it out.”

 

“But Pippin, we wanted to get back on the road within the next hour. Sam is awaiting us.”

 

“It won’t kill him to wait a bit longer.”

 

“I don’t like the way you suddenly seem so fond of using that word.”

 

“Which word?”

 

“Kill.”

 

Pippin paid the innkeeper and fastened the buttons on his jerkin. He picked up his knapsack and gestured to Merry to shoulder his.

 

“Let’s go,” he said.

 

“Go where, exactly?”

 

“To the scene of the crime, of course. Before all the tracks are cold.”

 

~oOoOo~

 

To say that the village was in uproar would have been an exaggeration. Uproaring, like its brother Panicking and its second cousin Rampaging, is an energetic and disorderly activity that doesn’t come easily to hobbit natures. But there were unquestionably a few concerned looking hobbits walking about the streets, and clusters of hobbits standing by the garden gates engaged in conversations that almost  certainly didn’t deal with the details of the apple harvest.

 

A young shirriff guarded the door to Lobelia Sackville-Baggins’ smial. He looked ill at ease and was only too glad to grant entry to the sons of the Thain and the Master of Buckland respectively. Pippin nodded grimly.

 

“See, Merry? Something’s fishy here.”

 

Merry looked round the entrance hall and sniffed.

 

“Yes,” he said. “At a guess, I would say she had smoked trout for lunch.”

 

They entered the parlour, where two other shirriffs stood bent over the pitiful thing that was the body of Lobelia Sackville-Baggins. One of them was shown to be a senior by a green rather than a black feather in his cap. They looked up, startled.

 

“Good afternoon, good sirs,” said Merry. “Excuse us barging in like this. My cousin here would like to know what exactly has happened.”

 

“Well, Mister Took,” said the senior shirriff and touched his cap with his right hand. “It seems that she is dead.”

 

“We’ve heard that much,” replied Pippin. “Who killed her?

 

The shirriff scratched his ear.

 

“We’ve found this a bit of a puzzler, Mister Took, but now you mention it, yes, it does look almost as if someone’s killed her. You see, her skull’s cracked, or so Doctor Hornblower said.”

 

He stepped aside to let the two gentlehobbits inspect the corpse. Lobelia lay stretched out halfway between the fireplace and her armchair. Her mauve and grey striped dress looked as neat as ever, but across her temple was a deep, ugly gash. Blood had clotted in her grey hair, had splattered on her white lace collar and run in glistening rivulets down the side of her face.

 

“And where is Doctor Hornblower?” asked Merry.

 

“He’s gone to the privy, Mister Brandybuck. He wasn’t feeling too well after he had examined the poor soul.”

 

The second shirriff, Merry couldn’t help noticing, looked a bit greenish around the nose.

 

“Has anything been taken?” asked Pippin. “And have you found any signs of an intruder?”

 

“It’s hard to say, Mister Took,” replied the senior shirriff. “The window was open, but on such a fine day as this, that’s to be expected. I suppose someone could have come in that way. We can’t say if anything’s been stolen. Only one to know would be the maid, and the poor thing’s taken such a fright that she’s all shaking with sobs and not a word to be got out of her. We sent her home to her mum.”

 

“Hm. I think I shall have a little look around the smial,” said Pippin. “Perhaps I will find some clues.”

 

He plodded off along the corridor. Merry gingerly sat down on the edge of the sofa.

 

“Has her family been told yet?” he asked.

 

“We’ve sent a messenger to Hardbottle to fetch her cousin Bracegirdle.” A new thought, not exactly a happy one, but bordering on happy, seemed to enter the shirriff’s mind. “You wouldn’t mind, Mister Brandybuck...I mean, it might take a while before Mr Bracegirdle gets here, and we’ve got reports to write and all…I mean, if you and Mister Took would be so good as to stay here until Mr Bracegirdle arrives, then young Rudy here and I could get away and see to our other duties.”

 

Merry thought with some longing of the dinner table at Bag End, but he felt the solemn obligation, now they had forced themselves on the scene, to do what he could to help.

 

“That will be quite all right,” he said, and with hastily muttered expressions of thanks, the two shirriffs scurried away. Merry stared out of the window so he wouldn’t have to look at the body of Lobelia.  Absentmindedly, he reached down to pick up a hard object he had set his foot on. It was a broken piece of fine porcelain, about half the size of his palm, of a deep green colour and painted with what looked like part of a butterfly wing. He put it in his pocket. With a sigh, he smoothed down his waistcoat. Could Pippin have been right from the start?  He could imagine any number of hobbits hating Lobelia, but would anyone really kill her? It seemed too unhobbitlike.

 

“There are windows open all over this smial,” said Pippin when he came back. “Anybody could have come in.”

 

“What in all the Shire are you wearing?” said Merry and gaped at the thing that perched on Pippin’s head; a kind of hat, made from sturdy cloth with a small grey and brown check pattern. It had a round brim at the front and another at the back, as well as two ear flaps which were, however, currently tied together on top.

 

“I don’t know,” said Pippin and lit his pipe. “I found it in the mathom room. It just seemed the right thing to wear.”

 

He took a puff and began to wander up and down the room.

 

“Ha!” he said suddenly and picked up something from the floor. “What do we have here?”

 

Merry screwed up his eyes.

 

“Looks like a piece of cake to me,” he said.

 

“Indeed,” said Pippin and inspected the morsel with keen interest. “See, here, it has a bit of raisin clinging to it. What a wonderful clue!”

 

“How so?”

 

“Well, don’t you understand, Merry? From this clue we can deduct that the murderer was fond of raisin cakes.”

 

“That would be just about every hobbit in the Shire then. Besides, I think it more likely that you’ve found the last remains of Lobelia’s  afternoon tea.”

 

Pippin dropped the crumb on the sideboard. “Perhaps that wasn’t the clue we need, then,” he said and lifted the curtain. “Ah! Wait till you see this!”

 

Triumphantly, he held up a tiny scrap of fabric.

 

“This was stuck to the window frame. The murderer must have climbed in and torn his breeches on the frame. We can deduct that the murderer wears…” -  he peered at his sensational clue -  “mauve and grey striped muslin breeches.”

 

“Pippin,” said Merry with the tiniest hint of exasperation. “Does that strike you as very likely?”

 

“Not likely, perhaps, but it will make it all the easier to track him down if he wears such conspicuous trousers. I shall tell the shirriffs straight away. Where are they gone anyway?”

 

“They had reports to write. And Pippin, will you stop a minute to consider if your clue would maybe allow a different deduction?”

 

“Like what?” asked Pippin, clutching the fabric.

 

Wordlessly, Merry pointed to the lifeless figure of Lobelia.

 

“Do you see that tear on her sleeve? My deduction is that she stood looking out of the window and ripped her dress on the window frame.”

 

“Oh,” said Pippin, deflated. “But I was not far off, eh? Somebody ripped a garment on the window frame.”

 

At which point they were interrupted, because Doctor Hornblower came in.

 

“Mister Brandybuck! Mister Took!” he exclaimed. “I did not expect to see you here.”

 

“We did not expect to be here, either,” said Merry with a stern glance at Pippin, who ignored both the look and the comment and seized the doctor’s arm.

 

“Well, my dear Doctor Hornblower, what can you tell us about the murder weapon?”

 

“You think it was murder?” asked the doctor, bewildered. “Well, I don’t know about that. All I can tell you is that she was hit on the head with a heavy object, or else she fell and landed on something hard, like the edge of the table. I would have taken it for an accident.”

 

There was an expression almost of disappointment on Pippin’s face. Then he walked over to the table and pulled a magnifying glass out of his pocket.

 

“No,” he said after a couple of minutes’ scrutiny. “There are no traces of blood anywhere on the table edge. I think you must be mistaken, Doctor Hornblower.”

 

“If you say so, Mister Took.” Doctor Hornblower was a respectable hobbit, brought up with the notion of proper deference to his betters. He grabbed his bag, which had been sitting behind the door. “If you will excuse me now. I will go into the village and send a woman to see to the poor soul’s body.”

 

“I should think not!” replied Pippin sharply.

 

“I beg your pardon?”

 

“The body has to remain as it is, until this case has been solved. Or were you trying to destroy the evidence, Doctor Hornblower?”

 

“Of course not, Mister Took,” stuttered the doctor. “Good day to you.” He hurried off.

 

“This is most baffling indeed,” said Pippin. He stomped across the carpet and sank down in Lobelia’s armchair, crushing at least half a dozen invaluable clues in the process. “What shall we do now, Merry?”

 

“I’m amazed you’re asking my opinion all of a sudden,” said Merry in a tone that verged on the sour, if not the outright vinegary. “Our plans are completely overthrown. It’s too late now to travel on to Hobbiton today. We must send a message to Sam. And then, as soon as Mr Bracegirdle arrives, we should think about dinner.”

 

“Yes,” said Pippin. “Good idea. I think we should go back to the inn. I could murder a pot roast.”

 

“Pippin! You’ve done it again. You have nothing but murder on your mind.”

 

“Do I? Must be the circumstances. We shall return here tomorrow morning and clear up this mystery.”

 

“But Pippin…”

 

“We can’t let a murderer run about in the Shire, can we?”

 

“I suppose not.”

 

“There now!” Pippin leaned back, satisfied that he had gained his point.




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