Gandalf Visits Bombadil

by Vison

XXIV
. Tales in the Hall, then Bombadil Wakes in the Sun


“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.”

Much of that winter night did Gandalf and Bombadil sit in speech with the Lady Silverfoot and her council. The Tale of the Quest of the Ring was told, and moved those listeners to wonder and to tears.

Now and again someone would creep in and refresh the fire, and near midnight some women brought food on trays. Gandalf was grateful for the kind hospitality, but wondered if someone was going hungry that he and Master Tom might eat.

The lady Silverfoot finicked with a bit of meat and bread but ate naught; she held a mug of hot wine in her knotted hands for the warmth and drank little. She looked weary and very careworn, and seemed at times to doze.

Yet she heard all. For when Gandalf was done his tale, ending with his own departure from Bree and his visit to Bombadil and the River Daughter, Trillium Silverfoot set down her mug and said, “Well, a long tale to be sure, and full of interest. This Frodo son of Drogo will doubtless be welcomed as a hero by his folk, and rightly so. And Samwise, too! Maybe I shall meet them one day, which would be a great honour, such valour and stoutheartedness do not come along every day. It does my heart good to hear that they were honoured by the new King, it shows that his heart must be in the right place. King Elessar, eh? I once knew of the names of some Kings, but what with one thing and another over the course of the years, it has all gone out of my head.

But now what of us? We do not wish to visit our kin with our hands held out like beggars. I begin to see that those who spoke against my plan were not only pigheaded and disagreeable!” Here she smiled at Bowman and Drogo. “It is not as simple as I hoped, and I see that now.”

Bowman shook his head. “You were thinking of your folk, lady, as always. And I confess I doubted out of fear, rather than for any other reason. Tell us! What is it you fear now?”

She sighed. “What is it that we want? That is the thing. Here we are, talking of folk who are after all very distant kin to us! Their longfathers and ours might have been brothers, but how many winters part us? They are farm folk, we hear. And we are Forest people, used to living as free as birds. What can they give us, but alms?”

“Do not scorn their generosity, lady, before you have tried it,” Gandalf advised. “Hobbits are ever kind, and would think shame upon themselves if they knew you were in need and they did not come to your aid.”

Trillium Silverfoot rose slowly to her feet. “Well, I am weary to the bone, Mithrandir. And though I am so weary, I doubt that I shall sleep much this night! For my poor old head is spinning, and my thoughts whirl about like leaves before the autumn wind.” She leaned heavily on her walking stick, and stared for a moment or two into the fire. “Much to think of,” she mused, her voice trailing away. She went to the door and then turned again to the room. “I will bid thee goodnight, Mithrandir and Master Bombadil. These fellows here will see that beds are prepared for thee. Sleep well! I will see thee on the morrow.”

Beds were swiftly spread upon the floor and the fire banked. Drogo and Bowman left, and Bento lingered for a space. He sat where he had sat all evening, and his careworn face was not less careworn. Indeed, Gandalf thought him more worried than before.

“Bento son of Folco,” Gandalf said. “Thou art troubled in thy mind. Speak, and maybe the Master or I can ease thy care.”

Bento sighed. “Thank you, Mithrandir Wizard. But what could you know of the care that lies so heavy on my heart? You are kind, but I will not trouble you.”

“I will not press thee,” Gandalf said. “But let me guess. Here we are come, strangers to thy folk. And because of the tale we told, thy world is turned upside down, and it seems to thee that all that was familiar and beloved is in danger. Thy sons are eager for the change, and thy fear is that thy sons will be lost to thee, that they will forsake the old ways and learn to think their father is old-fashioned and behind the times.”

Bento laughed. “Well, those are good guesses and you have hit near enough to the mark. But it is not so much my own troubles that bear heavy upon my shoulders. You saw our lady Silverfoot, that she is weary and fearful. So are all our folk, for times are hard, harder than many know. It seems plain to me that we will no longer be able to live as we have done, that we will have to take to new ways! The young ones will think the new ways better, the ways of our elders will fade and be forgotten. And we have lived here so long, Mithrandir. This forest is part of us, our blood and bone! I do not know if I could live by digging in the dirt, and never again roam the woodlands, following the seasons.”

He now rose and drew his hooded cloak around him. “I too will bid thee good even, honoured guests. There is firewood aplenty to keep you warm, and there is wine yet in the pitcher. Sleep safely in our Hall, and we shall hope that the morning brings counsel and wisdom.”

The door closed behind him. Gandalf stretched and yawned and pulled off his boots. Bombadil seemed restless, striding across the room and back.

“Come, come, Master Tom,” Gandalf said at last. “What is it that sets thy feet to moving? It is time to seek our rest, not wear out thy shoeleather.”

“Oh, I shall sleep this night, fear not,” Bombadil answered. “But if thou should not dislike it too much, I will leave thee on the morrow. It nears the Solstice, and I would be with my lady.”

Gandalf shot him a look from under his bristling eyebrows. “Yes, the Solstice. I understand, Master. It is time for thee to leave me, and I will not hinder thy going.”

Bombadil smiled. “I have never left my lady for so long before. She is ever in my mind, seest thou?”

“I see, I see. And the days draw in to the shortest day, the Sun shrinking away from us here……” Gandalf knocked the ashes from his pipe and stuck it in his pack. “No, I will not come with thee, of course, for I am needed here, that is plain. I do not yet see my way clearly, however. These are ticklish matters, and I must not interfere where I am not wanted, nor must I give advice unasked.”

Now did Bombadil laugh. “Ticklish matters indeed! And thou art not as closemouthed as once thou wast, Mithrandir. Still, doubtless thou wilt find the right words at the right time. But these days and places are not for me. Tom has his Trees to mind, and Goldberry is waiting.”

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Thus it was the next morning, before the winter sun had yet awakened, that Master Bombadil shrugged into his pack and set out for home. He passed like a shadow through the sleeping village and over the hill into the coming dawn.

Some time passed, the time that was needed for him to make his way to his own House, tucked under the hill. The winter sun had risen and set some number or other of times, he did not count the days or nights. He was Master Bombadil, his time and his road were of his own making. He spoke to his Trees as he passed, and heard their songs as always. The earth rolled beneath his feet, rolling to the West, and stars wheeled overhead in the nights. The pale sun lit foggy vales and windy tors, and he sped ever homeward.

The stars lit his path as he climbed from Withywindle to the stone walkway before his own door. Lamplight spilled from the low windows. He paused for a moment and looked skyward, and then out into the deepening night. Ancient words came to his lips, and he remembered the darkness of beginning days when he was still alone. He said something, maybe the passing clouds heard it as the nightwind carried them aloft, or maybe the Pine tree beyond the stable. A shadow passed, and the earth seemed to throb like a mighty heart.

He opened his own door and went in. The lady Goldberry sat by the fire. She rose to greet him, her white hands held out in welcome.

Never had she been lovelier! Her hair was caught up from her slender neck, bound about with a crown of Holly and a garland of Ivy. Red berries and white gleamed like jewels. Her gown was woven with Gold and Silver leaves and caught the firelight glittering, her narrow waist was encircled by ribbon woven with Mithril and Jet.

Her fair face was alight with happiness, her cheeks softly flushed, her lips parted. “My love,” she said, coming into his arms. “I knew that this night would bring thee to me!”

His heart leaped with joy and he caught her close. “We must bring the Sun back,” he said, “we must see the night out as we have ever done.” As always, he felt that holding her was like holding water, only his power as Master drew her into stillness.

Yet no power but Love kept her with him. Her eyes were dark, looking into them he saw deep running water under the stars, her voice was the night wind sighing through the forest. He kissed her, and kissed her again, as her slender arms wound about his neck.

He wrapped her great fur-lined cloak about her, and took the prepared torches down from the chimney. Lighting them at the fireplace, he kept one and handed the other to her. They went out into the night.

Any watcher would have seen them, moving from hilltop to hilltop, down into vale and dale. The torches flared in the darkness, and their mingled voices kept the stars awake. At about the time the Sun stirred in his bed, woken by their singing, they returned to their House under hill. The torches were cold now, and the night was at its blackest. The stars flickered and faded.

“He has heard,” Bombadil murmured. “He has heard our song, he has seen our lights…..now the wheel turns to the new year.” He opened the door and they entered in.

The fire had died on their hearth, but sprang to new life under Bombadil’s hands. Still, there was no need of fire, for Goldberry was there…………..

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