Written for the LOTR Community "Waiting" challenge. For all of those whose birthdays I've not written to in the last few months.
Otho would have been Bilbo's heir, but for the adoption of Frodo. He read the will carefully and snorted. It was, unfortunately, very clear and correct (according to the legal customs of hobbits, which demand among other things seven signatures of witnesses in red ink).
'Foiled again!' he said to his wife. 'And after waiting sixty years. Spoons? Fiddlesticks!' He snapped his fingers under Frodo's nose and slumped off.
(FotR, Book 1, Chapter 1, "An Unexpected Party")
Lalia Took had deliberately seated Bilbo Baggins beside Lobelia Sackville-Baggins and across from Otho at the dinner for the heads of the important families of the Shire that the Great Smial was hosting. She, at least, found the situation most entertaining, particularly as throughout the meal Lobelia continuously sniped at Bilbo, spending the first half hour once again treating Bilbo as if he were a complete stranger only pretending to be the Master of Bag End.
Bilbo held his own, but it was plain to Lalia that he was at least sufficiently upset in spite of his apparent self-composure that he failed to eat most of what was served him, while between verbal jabs Lobelia shoveled whatever came before her into her mouth, surprised at one point to find she had a spoonful of rosewater intended for rinsing of hands between courses more than halfway raised to her lips. The young Hobbit who’d held the bowl before her was looking at Lobelia with shock, uncertain whether or not he should hold out the towel he also carried.
Once the meal was finished Bilbo excused himself before anyone else had the chance to even rise from the table, and with a gesture at Beslo Grubb, who served as his personal lawyer, to attend him he left the dining hall, awaiting Beslo in the hallway.
“Sorry to draw you away from filling up the corners,” Bilbo said as Beslo joined him at last. “But what those two, and especially Lobelia, were saying was so offensive I could not bear it one more moment.” He turned and headed down a particular corridor that Beslo recognized led to the offices of Bernigard Took, who had been Master of the Shire’s Guild of Lawyers for some years now, and was generally considered the sharpest mind regarding Shire law in the whole of the Shire and Buckland. Spying young Reginard Took passing by, Bilbo caught the young tween by the shoulder. “The meal is finished in the dining hall. Would you please go in and ask Rory and Sara Brandybuck to join me in Bernigard’s office, Reggie? I take it that as he didn’t attend the meal but I did see him last night that that is where we’ll find him.”
“Oh, yes,” Reggie assured him. “I’ve just come from there. I’m one of Cousin Berni’s apprentices, you know, and he’d just sent me to call for Paladin regarding a contract he’s preparing for the sale of barley from Pal and Lanti’s farm. It wouldn’t cause problems if Paladin comes, too, would it?”
But Bilbo was already shaking his head. “Oh, no,” he assured the younger Hobbit. “At this point, the more the merrier—for me, at least. It will give me a number of witnesses right off for the papers I intend Beslo here to work up with Berni.”
Reggie and Beslo exchanged questioning looks, at which point Reggie ran off about his errand. Beslo turned to follow Bilbo as the older Hobbit continued on his way to Berni’s office. “So, you intend to do something about disinheriting Otho and Lobelia, do you?” Beslo hazarded.
Bilbo paused and half turned toward the lawyer. “Disinherit Otho, my own first cousin, my Uncle Longo’s lad? Do you truly think I would do such a thing?” he asked with exaggerated surprise. “Now why should I think of doing any such thing? Perhaps because he and his detestable wife would deny me my own home and my place as Baggins Family Head, do you think?”
He shook his head and again turned to walk even faster, leaving Beslo scurrying to catch up. “You weren’t close enough to hear her, but she was playing the old game of me being an imposter.” His voice went high as he mimicked her: “‘It’s just not right that you should have been allowed to live in Bag End all these years when you cannot be the real Bilbo Baggins! It should have been ours, Otho’s and mine! And you can just believe that when you are gone we shall make certain only those who are truly respectable will be allowed to visit us there! And it’s a terrible injustice that you, a stranger who appeared out of the Wild, should be allowed to serve as Baggins Family Head when that office should have gone to Otho when Bilbo disappeared so long ago! Well, he’ll be Baggins Family Head himself soon enough, I suppose. I mean, you can’t live all that much longer, after all!’”
Beslo noted that Bilbo’s face was rigid with the outrage he felt. At last he asked, “But why is she doing this now? She knows that Ferumbras, the Mayor, and Master Rory all recognize you as yourself and have done so since you returned from Outside, as did Longo. All that show about you being an imposter and poser was given up by them years ago, or so I’d thought!”
Bilbo gave a sigh and a brief shake of his head. “I suppose it’s due to what Peony told them about me planning to bring young Frodo to Bag End in May.”
“My cousin Peony, who’s married to Milo Burrows. You know—Ponto and Porto’s sister? She’s terrified of Lobelia, and does her utter best to keep on the good side of her by pretending to be her friend and confidant every time they come back to Hobbiton from Brandy Hall. As Rory’s great nephew, Milo is well aware that Frodo will be returning to Bag End with me in May, and what he knows he readily shares with Peony. They arrived in Hobbiton six days ago, and she’s already let Lobelia know all about Frodo’s impending arrival. And, as a result, Otho and Lobelia are already foreseeing that this could mean that I’ll make Frodo my primary heir rather than Otho, which will deprive the two of them of ever inheriting Bag End and the office of Family Head to the Bagginses as the two of them so heartily desire. I cannot fathom why Otho is so obsessed with becoming family head to two families at once, but there it is.”
“I’d think that being the Sackville would be enough for Otho without taking on being the Baggins as well,” Beslo commented.
“So would I. But Otho’s dad always believed he was cleverer than my dad and that he ought to have received the title rather than his older brother. Longo was so angry when Grandfather refused to pass over my dad in his favor he moved out and bought that place in the Ridge the other side of Hobbiton. After all, Grandfather Mungo had suggested that Longo dig a new hole for himself higher on the Hill, but Longo would have nothing to do with the scheme. If he couldn’t be the Family Head he wanted nothing further to do with the Hill. So, when Dad was courting Mum and the two of them decided to dig a new, more elegant hole where Longo had refused to do so, Longo was angry, somehow figuring that the site was his since their father had offered it to him first, in spite of him refusing it.”
Beslo asked, “Is that why Otho and Lobelia want Bag End so—they think that it’s owed to them?”
“Perhaps,” Bilbo agreed as they came to a place where they must change direction. “Although from the first time I met Lobelia Bracegirdle she wanted to become the Mistress of Bag End and the Hill. She would even have taken me as part of the bargain if it would have given her her desire. Not that I could have borne such a marriage!”
“I was told she was sweet on you when the two of you were younger,” the lawyer said, his gaze shrewd.
Bilbo shuddered. “I’ll have you know she was far, far too young for me, Beslo! She was nowhere near being old enough to marry when she began making it plain she’d accept my suit. Finally she got it through her head I was not in the least interested in marrying her, so she began to pursue poor Drogo. He finally fled to Buckland to avoid her, and I will have you know that this was a sign of his desperation to avoid an entanglement with her, he was so frightened of crossing the Brandywine! So she finally settled for Otho. After all, he was a Baggins, too, and would most likely become my heir one day.”
“So why are they so keen to take possession of Bag End? Sackville Place is a very nice hole.”
“It was nicer before they moved into it and renamed it from Warm Smial,” Bilbo noted wryly. “As I said, Lobelia has wanted to live in Bag End since she was a mere slip of a lass, and she and Otho thought they’d achieved her ambition when Longo agreed to have me declared assumed dead after I left with Thorin and the other Dwarves. He didn’t even wait the full year and a day to start the process, either. I must suppose he was anxious to get Lobelia out of his own smial by that point, and having her and Otho move into Bag End would have served his purposes nicely. Only I arrived home in time to interrupt the auction of my goods, and they had to continue on there in the Ridge. They’ve been waiting for me to conveniently die so they can move in and serve as the Baggins Family Heads for an additional forty-nine years now, and they don’t want to find out their wait has been in vain.”
He paused with his hand on the knob to Bernigard’s office door. “I’d almost decided that as long as I can enjoy Frodo’s delightful company I’d allow Otho to remain the one to become the Baggins after me, but their treatment of me today has convinced me that they are totally unsuitable for the position. So, if Frodo will agree, I will officially adopt him in a year’s time, and he will get both Bag End and the job when I finally leave the Shire. And as for Otho and Lobelia, not to mention that brat of a son of theirs, they can just continue to wait—vainly!”
And with that he turned to knock, barely waiting for Bernigard Took to call out “Enter!” before he opened the door and ushered Beslo inside.