Gandalf Visits Bombadil

by Vison

XXIII
. Bombadil and Gandalf meet the Lady Silverfoot

(there is a little verse from FOTR, in italics)

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 seemed!

Then there they were before him, a dozen or so Hobbit men, dressed as were Harry and Barry, with bows strung and drawn.

Barry ran ahead, shouting, “Dad! Dad, it’s us, it’s us. Don’t shoot!”

An exasperated voice answered, “I knows it’s you, you ninnyhammer! Why else do you think we have not shot these strangers in their tracks?”

Harry beckoned to Gandalf and Bombadil. “Come ahead, sirs. Come and meet my father, and the others.”

They set their burden of deermeat carefully down and went to where Harry and Barry stood on either side of their father, a Hobbit with a careworn face, who held up a lantern to see the strange faces.

“Dad,” Harry said, “this is the Wizard Mithrandir, and Master Tom Bombadil.”

The older Hobbit bowed and put out his hand, shaking first Gandalf’s and then Bombadil’s. “Well met, strangers,” he said, “I am Bento, son of Folco.”

“Greetings, son of Folco,” Gandalf replied, bowing in his turn.

“I greet thee,” Bombadil said, and he bowed as well, removing his hat as he did so.

“Bombadil?” Bento said. “Bombadil? That name rings a bell in my mind, sir! Doubtless it will come to me, in time. But for now, let us get out of the weather, and the night. What is this? A deer? You have shot a deer? Well done, my lads, well done! Look, you fellows, look what my boys have brought! Or was it you strangers?”

“No, no, it was thy sons,” Bombadil said, laughing. “And I will be glad to let others carry my load, I tell thee! I think that pole has worn a groove in my shoulder this last hour.”

Two Hobbits stepped forward and picked up the pole and the load.

“Come, come,” Bento said again. “We will introduce the rest of this gang once we are home. Look at that snow coming now! Quick, quick, let us be going!” He set off at a great pace into the snowy darkness, and the rest followed as they might.

It was now snowing very hard and fast, and the wind had picked up in the open. As ever in the winter wind, Gandalf thought he heard faint cries and shrieks from unknown beings, lonesome and weird, alien to him and all creatures of good will.

Very soon they came abruptly into the settlement, and golden light gleamed here and there from low windows. It was too dark to see much, but Gandalf guessed that these Hobbits lived in the familiar burrows of the old Shirefolk, and he hoped the ceilings were not too low.

There was a door opening before them, and they were led into a wide, lamplit room. Gandalf glanced up and was relieved to see a high ceiling; this was evidently some kind of meeting place. There was no furniture to speak of, except a couple of chairs near a blazing fire. It reminded him of the Chamber of Fire in Imladris, but there were no sweet Elven voices raised here in song.

He and Bombadil stood side by side. Hobbits surrounded them, and looking around Gandalf saw that the faces of these villagers wore expressions of suspicion and some fear. Bento coughed, and said, “Friends! Here are two strangers come with my sons. They are Mithrandir Wizard and Tom Bombadil. Shall we let them shelter here from the night and the storm?”

“Do you vouch for them, Bento?” one asked. “They look marvelous like Trolls to me, or some other awful critter!”

Harry stepped forth. “No, no, Master Wilcome! They are not trolls, nor any sort of monster!”

“So you say,” Mr. Wilcome answered, scowling. “And what would a lad like you know of such things? Bringing folk like this upon us! To murder us in our beds, most likely.”

“Aye, aye!” was heard from several others.

“They might have murdered us any number of times,” Barry said truculently. “And they didn’t! Why, we traveled for three days with these fellows, and they shared their food and all with us!”

“And they helped us carry the stag we shot this morning,” Harry added. “A fine, fat stag it was, too! Meat aplenty for a feast, I tell you.”

Murmurs of approval swept the room. Bento spoke again. “We can set a guard about the place, if you like. But surely we are not come to such a pass that we will turn them out on a night like this! Times are hard, that be true enough, but we are Hobbits, after all, and ought to act kindly to strangers.”

“What about this feast?” someone asked. “Are you a-puttin’ on a feast there yourself, Bento? Or are you gonna hog all the meat to your own burrow, since it were yer sons what shot it?”

“It isn’t up to me, as you know very well, Halfred. It’s up to the council. But I don’t mean to keep the meat for myself, and you know that right well, too. Come, now, folks! Do we give these strangers shelter or not?”

Then the room fell silent as the door opened and someone else came in. Leaning on a staff came a very old Hobbit woman, her hair white and soft as dandelion fluff, and her brown face as wrinkled as a dried apple. Yet in that wrinkled face her brown eyes were young and bright and knowing.

Some of the folk present bowed, and all stood in respectful silence as she limped to the fireside. She sighed gustily and sat and beckoned to Gandalf and Bombadil to come forward.

“So,” she said, her voice surprisingly strong, “you are seeking shelter, are you? Shall we let you stay, I wonder? Come, come closer, if you please. I don’t see as well as I was used to, you know!”

But Gandalf thought she saw as well as she ever had.

“I am Trillium Silverfoot,” she said. “And I welcome thee, strangers.”

He bowed, as did Master Tom, and said, “I am Mithrandir, or, as the Hobbits of the Shire call me, I am Gandalf. Here is my friend, Master Tom Bombadil.”

Gandalf felt himself being measured and considered in her wise gaze, and he in turn studied her.

Whatever she was seeking in Gandalf’s face, she seemed to find it, for she smiled and said, “Welcome, I say again. Sit yourself down, Mithrandir Wizard, and you, too, Master Bombadil. We have much to speak of!” She then turned and beckoned Bento to her side. “Bring us mulled wine, if you please, and fetch Bowman and Drogo to the Hall.”

She then seemed to notice Harry and Barry standing near. “I see you, sons of Bento. Were you not told to seek Hobbits in far-off places? How come you to be home again so soon?”

“This Mithrandir said he knew of Hobbits, Lady,” Harry replied. “Thus we brought him back.”

She frowned. “How do you know you have not brought evil-doers to your home? You know our laws!” But though her words were harsh, her voice was gentle.

Barry put his arm over Harry’s shoulders. “We judged them to be trusty folk, Lady, and indeed, they have already brought us luck, for we killed a great Stag this very morning and brought meat enough for all to feast on! My brother and I did what we thought was best, and after all, you told us that was what we must do, no matter where we went and what sort of folk we found.”

“You did as you thought was best, did you?” She sighed. “Well, well. Maybe you have not done so ill, after all. Now, the rest of you! Have you nothing better to do than stand about gawking? I see Bowman and Drogo here, so now the council is full.”

The Hobbits Bowman, Drogo, and Bento were her council it seemed. They stood rather uneasily by the fire, staring at Gandalf and Mithrandir while the others filed reluctantly out of the Hall.

The wine, mulled though it was with some honey stirred in, was harsh and raw to the palate; but the warmth was welcome and curled through Gandalf’s veins as he sipped. For a few moments the only sound in the room was the snapping and crackling of the fire on the hearth.

Trillium Silverfoot leaned forward, her eyes intent on Gandalf’s face. “So,” she said, “you know of other Hobbits, do you?”

Gandalf saw that her hands trembled. Her eyes held an expression of eagerness mingled with a little fear. “I know of many, Lady,” he said. “To the West of here, as you guessed when you sent Harry and Barry to seek them out. There are many Hobbits in the Shire, and at Bree, beyond the Old Forest.”

“Bree? Then it is not just a name from old days? Many Hobbits! Tell me, are things with them as they are with us? For I do not disguise from you that we are poorly off these days.”

“They are well-off, the folk of the Shire and Bree. Prosperous farmers and villagers they are, with green pastures and full grain bins.” He looked around at the lean faces before him. “You are people of the forest, are you not? And game is become scarce, and your people go hungry?”

“Yes,” she said. “For Times are changed, I deem, though we know not how or why!”

“The King has returned,” Bombadil said, suddenly. “A new age has begun.”

“The King has returned!” She shook her head, and said, “Well, to be blunt, Master Bombadil, I did not know he had gone away.” Then she laughed heartily.

Gandalf had to laugh with her, her face was so merry. “Much has happened since your folk came here,” he said, his voice serious again.

“There is no need for a history lesson,” she said sharply. “I daresay it will all be known in time. What we need now is help! My folk are hungry, as you saw. The game is scarce and our crops grow poorer each harvest. It was never our way to plant much anyway, beyond a bit of grain for porridge and journey cakes.” Then she leaned forward and lowered her voice. “And the last few years, there were fell creatures in the forest. Bad enough that we have ever to fear the Trees outside our domain, but then we had these other things…..horrid they were! The hunters tell me there are none now, but I cannot believe that they have just gone. They killed some of our folk here, and in other settlements. And they say…..they say they did not just kill them, but they ate them. What has the world come to? Have such things happened everywhere?”

Gandalf sighed. “I do not know where to begin, my lady Silverfoot, but the short version is that yes, such things happened everywhere. Still, a great War was fought, and the King has indeed returned, and all the ways are open again. I think it is safe for your folk to journey to the West, and to find your kin.”

She drew a chain from her bosom and held out a jewel for Gandalf and Bombadil to see. “I knew there had been some great happening somewhere, for the Stone is dead now, that lived for so long!”

“May I see it?” Gandalf asked. When it lay in his hand he held it up. It was a fine Green jewel, glittering in the firelight, but it held no great flame, and had no emanation of power even to one as skilled as he to read such things. “This is of Elven make,” he said at last, looking at her. “How came it to you?”

“It is ever given to the leader of the council,” she answered. “For many generations it has been so, and we held it to be a great thing, protecting us and our land. Only one in each generation might wield it, and it came to me when I was first in council. They say, I learned from the Elders before me, they say that one of the First Born was a guest here long ago, and that it was his gift.”

“One of the First Born?” Gandalf gave her the jewel again. “He must have been one of the mighty of those people, for that was a powerful amulet, a stone of enormous power.”

“It is said he was one of the House of Finrod, whoever Finrod might be,” Bento said. “He was tall and very fair with golden hair. So our tales say, at any rate.” He gestured around the Hall. “That is why this place is made as it is, in case he or one of his kin returned. Is this King one of that kindred?”

“I-I am not sure,” Gandalf answered. “I do not know my geneology as well as I might. But the King that now reigns is of the line of the Half-Elven. And his Queen, yes, well, his Queen is come of the House of Finrod, on her mother’s side. So yes, in one sense it is so.”

“You know these folk?” the Hobbit Drogo asked. “Is it true, that there are Elves? Why, I never believed it, but always thought it a tale for children! Elvish folk! I would give much to see a fair Elf Queen.”

“Maybe you will one day,” Gandalf answered. “For the King will come to all his dominions in time, even to this one.”

Trillium Silverfoot looked puzzled. “But how can he? For the borders still hold—or do they? How did you two cross and we never knew?”

“I think your border has failed as the Stone has failed,” Gandalf answered. “Although I must tell you that maybe neither Tom nor I would have been stopped in any case. For we are not ordinary mortal folk, as I believe you have guessed, lady Silverfoot.”

“I might have been born at night, as they say, but it was not last night,” she said with some asperity. She said, now turning to Bombadil, “Your name is known to me, but until this night I never knew that Bombadil was a real person! You are in tales, old, old tales that are no longer much told.”

Bombadil looked at her with one of his sideways smiles. “Well, the tales are not as old as me, my lady, whether they are told these days or not. Young Harry guessed me to be the Spirit of the Wood, and he was in the right of it if I must be pinned down in some way. Only, the ways of thy folk are new to me, for it seems that thy people live in the forest as do the Deer and other wild creatures.”

She seemed suddenly sad and weary. “And so we have. But the Woods are changed and we dwindle, it seems. We have lost much that we had before and are becoming more like animals and less like Hobbits. Why, most of the children here have not learned their letters! Our lore fades, and our memories, and we grub out our living like savages in the bush! Should this be a hard winter, there will be much suffering. Even last winter we came down to making flour from acorns, and poor bread it made, I can tell you!”

Bombadil stood and leaned on the mantle, staring into the flames. “How this all came to be, I do not understand. Yet it has been many long years of mortals since I came to these parts, and it was in that time, I deem, that thy folk settled here. This Stone here, that the Elf-lord gave, it must have laid a charm over the Forest. Else, the Trees would have gone to war with thee, and the Trees would have conquered.”

“So we have ever been taught,” Trillium Silverfoot answered, and the other Hobbits nodded and murmured their agreement. “And we were told too of Bombadil the Master, who sang away the peril of the Trees. Are you that Bombadil indeed?”

“I am he, lady. Master of earth, water, and stone.” He sang, softly, “Ho, Tom Bombadil, Tom Bombadillo! By water, wood and hill, by the reed and willow, By fire, sun and moon, harken now and hear us! Come, Bombadil, for our need is near us!” He held out his hands. “That is the song that would have brought me to thee, lady!”

Tears glistened in her eyes. “I was never taught that song, Master. And for so long our lives here were good, we lived well in the forest. Venison we had in plenty, and the corn thrived. Our numbers grew, and our settlements spread away from here. The hunters sought the Roe deer and the wild Boar, and in season the Fish came up from the far away Sea. Winters, we were warm with furs and fire. Summers, we gathered and stored the bounty of the land, roaming where we might.” She sighed, and let her hands fall to her lap. “So when the dark times began, we thought they would not last! Our mother the Earth would never betray us, though we were fallen away from much of our lore and laws!”

Here Drogo spoke again. “These strangers speak of a new King. Maybe he has put all the old Powers away.”

Gandalf shifted uneasily in his chair. “It is not the King who has done that. But the world has turned into new times, and even here in the unknown lands, the change has come.”

“Unknown? Unknown to you maybe, but this is our home! It is hard that these events so far away can trouble us here!” Trillium Silverfoot said.

“These were great events, lady, that have shaken the very foundations of Middle Earth! Though you wished for no history lesson, there are things we must tell you, that you might begin to understand.” Gandalf smiled. “And lady, here is news that might warm your heart. One of those whose deeds shook the world was a Hobbit.”

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