Gandalf Visits Bombadil
They spoke little more that night. The frost settled on log and leaf, and when the pale,
wintry sun rose it revealed a world white as if made of sea-spray. The
sun rose as red as a ripe apple or a rosehip, round and bright in the
low Southeast. The sky above shaded from rose at the horizon to gold
and then to a thin, clear blue. There were no clouds. It
would be a fine day.
The two Hobbits woke with the sun and put a blackened pot near the fire
to make porridge. The thickening grain bubbled and hissed as Harry
stirred it, and the good, wholesome smell mingled with the woodsmoke
and the brisk morning air. They had, besides, some strips of dried
meat, savory and well-salted. Tom found yet more waybread in his pack,
and the very last of the dried fruit. They made a good breakfast,
sharing all among all, and drinking yet more of the strong black tea.
Barry grumbled somewhat about having to scour the porridge pot. “You
always make it stick,” he groused at Harry. “I keep telling you, don’t
put it so near the flame!” He knelt by the stream and rubbed a handful
of sand around and around the inside of the pot. “This water is cold!”
But when their gear was packed, the tent rolled and slung over Harry’s
shoulder, Barry’s good humour had returned. He offered to take the
heavier pack, and was as careful as anyone could desire about putting
out the fire.
“Not that there is any danger this time of year,” he explained, as he
pushed earth over the firepit. “But it is ever better to be safe than
sorry. A good master but a bad servant…..or, no!” he laughed. “A good
servant but a bad master is fire.” His cheerful Hobbit face was
rosy-cheeked with the chill morning air, and his breath steamed as he
bustled about the camp.
Then the four of them set out, walking East and somewhat South,
following the stream for a time. About mid-morning they came to a
tumble of great boulders and here the watercourse turned to the North.
There was a ford, evidently not used for some time, as the stepping
stones were greenly cushioned with thick old moss.
Gandalf gestured. “We do not cross here, then?”
“We do not cross at all,” Harry answered. “That way is closed to us.”
He went on, his voice betraying his fear, “No one who has gone that way
has ever returned. We do not know what became of them, and we do not
search any more. It is too dangerous. They say there are Monsters in
the rocks, that lay in wait for any who pass by.”
“What kind of monsters?” Gandalf asked, curious.
“Why, you know, beasts that devour folk,” Barry answered. “Great
slavering beasts with long fangs and sharp talons, that kind of
monster. Do they not have any monsters where you come from?”
Gandalf nodded. “Not so many as before, though,” he said. “We have killed rather a lot of them in late years.”
The two young Hobbits looked doubtful. “But you are old, sir,” Harry
said at last. “Surely an old fellow like you would not be going about
Gandalf laughed. “I am tougher than I look, young Harry.”
“Indeed he is,” Bombadil said. “He is a mighty wizard, do not forget that, either.”
“I am not perfectly sure what a Wizard is,” Harry confessed. “I took it to mean that he was old, with a long beard.”
Now both Bombadil and Gandalf laughed, and Gandalf said, “Well, that is
one meaning, to be sure! No, I am more than that, but how much more?”
He became serious. “When we have reached your home, and when we are
speaking to the Elders, you may learn more of me. But be sure of this,
such powers and talents as I still possess make me only more your
friend, not less. While you are with me, you need fear no Monsters. And
Master Tom here will keep you safe from the Trees.”
Barry shuddered. “The Trees! Then you know about them?” His voice dropped. “Have you ever heard of -- Old Man Willow?”
“Don’t, Barry!” Harry urged. “You know we are never to speak of him!”
Tom Bombadil stopped in his tracks and frowned at the two Hobbits. “Old
Man Willow! Tell me, youngling, what do you know of him?”
Harry shook his head. “Only that he is Bad. They will say no more. They
warn us, they teach everyone, never go to sleep near a Tree. Always
sleep in a clearing. Never sit on the ground under a Willow Tree,
especially near water. But then, they always grow near water, anyway.
What do you know of him, Sir?”
“That he is as you say, Bad. Bad to his black heart,” Tom answered.
“But when you are with me, you are safe! Tom is Master.” He clapped his
hands, and sang, “Willow Man, I hear thy song! I hear thee singing all
day long! Tom is Master, Tom will see
these Hobbits stay safe from the trees!” Then he laughed, and swept his
blue-feathered hat off and bowed. “Bombadil, Bombadillo!”
Harry and Barry stared, then laughed with Tom. The fear left their
eyes. “Who are you?” Harry asked. “Who are you, really?” Then, with
quick understanding, “You are the Spirit of the Wood! You are!”
“Thou mayst say that,” Tom answered. “But not the Spirit, rather the
Guardian. And now, meeting with thee and with thy brother, I see that I
have neglected this part of my Ward for too long! Hobbit folk should
not go forth in fear. There is much I must learn, so let us go quick,
and so come to thy home the sooner.”
Awe, mingled with curiosity, shone on their faces. “This is like a Tale,” Barry said. “It is like being in a Tale!”
“Maybe we should not believe him,” Harry said, ever the careful one.
“Maybe it is all a trick. But I doubt it, too. I think we have come to
strange times, as the Lady Silverfoot says. Strange folk for strange
times. Still,” he added hopefully in his firm young voice, “strange or
not, I know that you are trusty fellows and will bring good fortune to
That day and the next they walked. The two young Hobbits easily kept
pace with the longer legs of Bombadil and Gandalf, and they were
woodcrafty and watchful always. Young they might be, but the woodland
trails were their place, and as they neared their homeland, they knew
every rock and shrub, every trickle of water that became a stream.
They were dressed in rusty brown and green, and could disappear into
the undergrowth in a twinkling. Gandalf recalled that even the
Shirefolk could move with astonishing silence, and were quick of eye
Late in the morning of the third day they were walking down a slope
into a deep dell when suddenly Barry stopped and put up his hand.
“Quiet!” he hissed. He strung his bow and crept forward, and Harry did
likewise, going to Barry’s left. Though the trees were largely
leafless, and so was the underbrush, the two seemed to vanish into the
tangle of green and brown that was the winter forest.
Gandalf and Bombadil stood silent. Then they saw a stag stepping
cautiously along the flat bottom of the dell. He raised his head,
tasting the air, and his large ears flicked forth and back.
But for the stag it was too late to be cautious. He fell, pierced in
his chest by the sharp arrows of the two Hobbit bowmen. They raced
forward, bows slung quickly over their shoulders, their long, keen
knives already drawn.
Now Bombadil and Gandalf followed, coming up to where Harry and Barry knelt by the dead deer.
“This is good fortune, indeed!” Harry said. He touched the animal’s
face with bloody fingers. “Go you now to the Mother of the Deer,” he
said. “Give her our thanks.”
Barry did likewise, his face for once truly serious. “A fine fat stag,”
he said to his brother. “And it was your arrow brought him down,
brother. A good shot.”
The two youths dressed the deer quickly and expertly. Neither Gandalf
nor Bombadil offered to help, but watched with interest. Again these
two young Hobbits surprised them by their competence. Soon the carcass
was quartered and lying on the hide, and the entrails neatly disposed
of in a pit.
“Well,” Bombadil said at last, “we can at least help thee carry this meat to thy folk. It is far too much for you two.”
“We can hang what we can’t carry,” Barry answered. “It is only a half a
day’s march now to our home, and tomorrow morning some of our fellows
can come back for it.”
“Oh, won’t they be pleased!” Harry said, grinning. “This is a windfall,
indeed, and I think we can see already that these strangers have
brought us good fortune!”
“We can have a proper feast for once,” Barry answered. “Plenty for all!”
Gandalf noticed again what he had noticed when he first saw these two,
that they were thin for Hobbits, and he guessed that times were hard in
their home place. “Come, come, you two. Master Tom and I must help you!
This old cloak of mine will do very well as a wrapping, and my ancient
shoulders are not too ancient to bear such a burden! Here, see? We
shall sling it on a pole, and carry it as with a yoke.”
“Why, that is our way, too,” Harry said. “If you are sure you don’t mind?”
“What is there to mind?” Tom asked. He took his axe and neatly trimmed
two strong and not too limber poles from a stand of Hazel. “Bombadillo!
Hazel, not Willow!”
Thus they were soon trudging up the slope on the far side of the dell,
into the afternoon and the coming darkness. But the two Hobbits
scarcely needed light to find their way, for every bush and twig was
familiar to them. They sang as they walked, and the two following,
Gandalf and Bombadil, listened in silence.
Gandalf felt as though he was not only in a strange place, but a
strange time as well. These two sons of Bento, whoever he might be,
were nothing like the farmfolk of the Shire. They moved like Rangers,
and had all the woods-skill that Strider ever had. Their bows and
arrows were nothing like the graceful bows of the Elven archers of
Lorien, but their eyes were as keen and their aim as sure.
The air changed, becoming sharply cold, and a keen wind whistled
through the bare trees. The sky lowered with the coming night, and with
the grey clouds that meant snow. Down another slope, and along the
winding course of a stream. Here and there Willow trees hung over the
black winter water, and where there were Willows the trail skewed away
in a curve.
It was easy for even so poor a woodsman as Gandalf to see that this was
a well-used path. He spoke to Bombadil who walked behind, “We are not
far from their home now, I think. Do you smell smoke?”
“I do,” Bombadil answered. “I wonder what they will make of us, these Elders of theirs?”
Gandalf laughed. “Well, Elders they might be, but in a contest of years, I think we have them beat, between us!”
Snow began to fall, light flakes sweeping softly before the wind that
was gentler down in the bottoms where they walked. Gandalf felt it on
his face and thought of the snow on Caradhras, on the Redhorn Pass. He
heard Hobbit voices now, as he had heard them then. So long ago it
Then there they were before him, a dozen or so Hobbit men, dressed as were Harry and Barry, with bows strung and drawn……………