Gandalf Visits Bombadil

by Vison

XXV
. In Hightree Wintercamp with the Hobbits

………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.”

That night, after Bento had left Gandalf and Bombadil alone, Gandalf sat by the fire for some time. He repacked and lit his pipe, noticing as he did so that he was nearly out of Pipeweed.

Bombadil lay still with his hands folded on his breast. He was leaving in the morning, likely before sunrise, Gandalf knew. Though they had traveled and lived so close together now for weeks, it struck Gandalf how little he knew of Bombadil after all. Strange he was, apart from all others, kindly and courteous, yet as remote as yesterday and unknowable as tomorrow.

“Shadowfax,” Gandalf said to himself. “I must send word with the Master.”

Bombadil’s blue eyes opened and he turned his head and regarded Gandalf with a smile. “I will take thy greetings to thy Horse, Mithrandir! Hast thou more to send than just ‘Greetings’?”

Gandalf laughed softly. “Just say I have not forgot him, Master Tom. No doubt he is content, eating the best hay with Fatty Lumpkin.”

“No doubt,” Bombadil answered. He closed his eyes and turned his face away, once more lying still and serene.

Gandalf must have dozed, for he awoke to find Bombadil leaning near him. “Farewell, Mithrandir,” Bombadil said. “I will be leagues from here before the Sun rises. Be well, and take care.”

Gandalf took Bombadil’s hand and clasped it briefly between both of his. “And thou, Master. Bear my greetings to thy lady.”

“Be sure I will, Mithrandir,” Bombadil answered. He hoisted his pack, and put on his blue hat. “The weather is changing, Mithrandir, the cold is setting in from the Northeast, and there will be much snow. I hope these folk are well-prepared.”


Then he was gone into the predawn darkness. Gandalf remade the fire, and sat with his feet on a stool, awaiting events.

After some time the door opened and two Hobbits came in, and with them a gust of cold wind and snow. Gandalf recognized Harry and Barry, and he greeted them with a cheerful, “Good morning, lads.”

“Good morning,” they answered in unison. Then Barry added, “Are you hungry, Mithrandir? My mother sends to say, come and breakfast with us.”

Gandalf smiled ruefully. “As Wizards and Men go, I am not over tall, Master Barry. But I fear for my noggin, and your mother’s ceiling, should I enter your smial.”

Barry regarded him doubtfully, and nodded. “You are sure to thump your head, Mithrandir, unless you don’t stand up. And if you stay bent over, would you not get a crick in your back? And then, being so aged, you might not be able to stand up straight again.”

Harry shot his brother a speaking look. “Can you not ever speak without being rude? It is not the part of a polite Hobbit to remind someone of their misfortune!”

Now did Gandalf laugh heartily. “Now, which do you see as my misfortune, Master Harry? My inches, or my age? Be sure I do not regard either as a flaw. I am like most folk, thinking myself quite perfect.”

Harry smiled, which he did not do as often as did his graceless brother. “No doubt you are, sir, for a Wizard. Indeed, how would we know, since you are the only one we have ever met? Now, we will go and fetch your breakfast to you, but I had hoped that you would come and meet our mother.”

“I would be honoured to do so,” Gandalf said, “but I suspect that the last thing your mother really wants this early in the morning is a large, hungry Wizard taking up a great deal of room!”

“You are very likely right, sir,” Harry said, seriously. “She has a great deal to do, first thing, what with our baby sister and all!”

“I will be glad to wait upon your mother later on, my lad, when her morning duties are done and she has leisure to sit for a space.” Just then the outer door opened and another blast of freezing air carried a flurry of snow into the warm room.

Bento and Drogo came in, carrying armloads of wood. “It is fierce out there this morning!” Bento said, dropping the wood into the woodbox. “Have you lads brought Mithrandir his breakfast yet? No? Then make haste! Do you wish our guest to starve?”

Drogo dropped his armload and held his hands out to the blaze on the hearth. “I never saw such a storm so early in the season! Drat the weather! What kind of Yule will we have, if we are snowbound?”

“I warrant we’ll have a merry Yule enough,” Bento said. “But it would be gladsome to have visitors.” Then, with a conscious laugh he added, “Other than yourself, Mithrandir!”

“O, I am not offended, son of Folco,” Gandalf answered. “It is at this season that mirth and merriment are most wanted, and the company of goodhearted guests.” He bethought himself of the last Yule, in Elrond’s house before the Fellowship set out on the Quest.

Drogo looked around. “And where is the other one? Master Bombadil?”

“He has gone to his house under hill,” Gandalf said. “It is the custom of his house that he and his Lady see out the longest night, and sing the Sun awake.”

“Why, that is our custom, too,” Drogo said. “He could have stayed and helped us celebrate the Solstice, but I expect he missed his wife. Still, this is no season to be traveling! You know the old verse, When winter first begins to bite and stones crack in the frosty night, when pools are black and trees are bare, ‘tis evil in the Wild to fare. I hope he is woodsman enough to travel quick and safe.”

“He is woodsman enough,” Gandalf laughed. “But I am interested to hear you say that old rhyme, master Drogo. For I have heard it before, and from a Hobbit, too. Bilbo son of Bungo, it was, who is mighty learned in old lore.”

“Is he now?” Drogo asked, his brown face alight with interest. “I would not think such folk as the Hobbits you know would care much for such things, being so rich and all! Why, near all our lore is kept in that way, in rhyme and song, so as to be more readily recalled.”

“Aye,” Bento added. “Though we are lettered folk, mind you!” Then, frowning a little, he added, “Some of us are lettered, but it is harder each year to keep the little ones’ interest in learning. They want to be out and doing, you see, and ‘tis true that A’s and B’s never brought down a stag, nor netted a fish.”

“Well, you’ll never get old mother Silverfoot to take that view,” Drogo said. “She’s bounden determined that the bairns must all learn to read. Not that she’s wrong, no, no! But these days, it seems every hand must turn to finding provender, the game has fallen off so.”

“So you said before,” Gandalf said. “Is this shortage of game the case in all your lands, or just hereabouts?”

“In all the lands,” Bento answered. “All our kin say the same. I could see it, if our numbers had increased, or if the seasons had changed, but our numbers dwindle, and the seasons are much as they have ever been. Though, at my time of life, I remember that summers were ever finer in old days, and the winters merrier.”

Barry and Harry scuttled in, slamming the door behind them. “I wonder if any porridge is left in this dish,” Barry laughed, “for the wind kept snatching at it! Here, Mithrandir. And here, Harry has some cheese and jerky for you.”

“Jerky? What is jerky? Oh, I see. Dried meat. Well, well, now that is tasty, to be sure. So well seasoned! Luckily for me, I still have good teeth, though I am so very aged.” He grimaced at Barry, showing all his teeth.

Barry grinned. “Does that rankle, sir? Well, you are mighty spry for one so old, that I will say! Come, Harry. Mother wants us to finish splitting that wood, and then we shall have some bread right out of the oven, she says. With syrup, and all!”

The wind had not taken all the porridge, and Gandalf cleaned the bowl quickly. He cut a piece from the cheese and declined more, but took another piece of the dried meat. He rummaged around in his pack and found, as he had hoped, a packet of Tea leaves. “Pass me that kettle, please,” he said to Drogo. “I will make us some Tea.”

Both Drogo and Bento drank the Tea politely, but it was plain to see they were but being polite. “Very different taste,” Drogo said, consideringly. “Bitter, but bracing.”

Gandalf sighed. “Well, as I said to those boys when I met them, it is perhaps an acquired taste. And it is one that I have acquired, to my regret. For I find that a day without it is not all that a day should be, and so I am making myself a slave to yet another habit! As if this pipe was not enough!”

The two Hobbit men stared in fascination and then looked at each other in wonder, as Gandalf filled and lit his pipe. “Now, that is queer, and that you may tie to,” Bento said. “We have tales of such a thing, but I never would have dreamed that anyone ever really did it!”

“Tales? What sort of tales?” Gandalf asked, curious.

“O, very old tales, among the oldest we have. Trillium Silverfoot would know, although Daddy Sixtoes from the next village knows even more. Should the weather improve, we hope to see some of those folk for Yule. They were our hosts last Yule, and so it is our turn this year.”

“But tales of Smoking?” Gandalf insisted. “This is a matter of great interest to me, and to some Hobbits I know. One, Meriadoc Brandybuck, is becoming quite the Herbmaster, I believe. One day, if you should meet him, tell him thy tales! But tell me, now, if you please?”
Drogo scratched his head. “Well, now, that’s just what I cannot do, Mithrandir. For what little I know is not rightly a tale, if you take my meaning, but just a sort of riddle, and the answer is, a Hobbit with smoke coming from his mouth.” He looked at Bento. “Can you say more, Bento? Being brought up by mother Silverfoot and all, mayhap you heard more of this lore.”

“I know little more than you, friend Drogo,” Bento replied. Then he grinned. “And being brought up by mother Silverfoot and all was not an unmixed blessing! Though, to be sure, I am ever grateful to her.” He turned to Gandalf and explained, “I was an orphan, you see, and Trillium Silverfoot took me in and raised me as her own. But, since she was never wed, and never had a child of her own, my upbringing was not quite like Drogo’s here, or any other Hobbit lad’s.”

Drogo laughed. “To be sure! However, whatever her faults, she has a great heart, and there is no cleverer pate in all our land. Thus is she head of our Council, and much respected in all the other villages.”

At midday or thereabouts, Gandalf followed Barry and Harry to their home. He kept his head low and remembered how hard the ceiling beams were at Bag End. Barry set a chair before the fire in the parlour and went to fetch his mother.

Gandalf looked around. The room was comfortable, but shabby. Here were no luxuries such as surrounded wealthy Bilbo and Frodo, but there was a good fire in the hearth and some enticing smells from the kitchen.

He rose from his seat as Barry came in with his mother. Gandalf saw a pretty, anxious face, with large, expressive brown eyes. She held a baby on her hip, but put out her other hand, saying, “I am Violet, daughter of Marroc.”

“I am Mithrandir, daughter of Marroc. And I am very pleased to meet you.” Then he put his hand gently under the baby’s chin. “And this little flower?”

“That’s me sister Aster,” Barry said, proudly. “And she already has two teeth!”

“And she can say, Mama and Papa,” Harry added.

Baby Aster looked up at Mithrandir and began to howl. “Here, you two,” Violet said. “Take baby into the kitchen and give her a cookie. And get the rest of them to lugging in that wood! The woodbox is nearly empty.”

She sat across from Gandalf and regarded him frankly, but still there was that shadow of anxiety in her eyes.

“Thank you for the breakfast,” Gandalf said. “There is naught like porridge to stick to the ribs.”

“I am sure you are very welcome,” she said. “And thank you for taking up my two boys, out there in the woods! I was never easy over them going, and I’m glad they’re back safe and sound.”

“They would have managed very well, I think. They are skilled woodsmen, and hunters, too. It was their arrows that brought down that deer, you know. Still, I know your mother’s heart was uneasy, thinking of them going so far from home,” Gandalf answered.

She sighed. “So you come from the land of our long-lost kin?”

“Not quite, Violet,” Gandalf said. “But I have been there many times, and I know many Hobbits. Once this weather breaks, I will gladly lead some of your folk to Bree, or to the Shire.”

Again she sighed. “Well, I suppose that’s best. That’s what the council decided.” A racket from the kitchen made her frown. “You lot! Pipe down out there!” Turning back to Gandalf she went on, “They’re good children but take a deal of managing. And Bento is that busy, with the council and all. And the hunting….” Her voice faded. “Well, that Stag will be mighty welcome, to be sure. Our Yule will be the merrier for it.”

Another racket from the kitchen drew her to her feet. “You will excuse me, Master Wizard.” She held out her little hand. Then, as if on impulse, she said, “I’m afraid, Mithrandir! If you have……Powers…..such as Barry and Harry say……can you not foretell what this winter season will bring? We are so many, in this house, and I cannot bear to think my bairns might hunger…..”

“I have no such power,” Gandalf said gently. “But be sure I shall do what it lies in me to do.”

Trudging back to the Hall through the wind and snow, Gandalf thought again that he could hear voices in the air, voices inimical to Wizards, and Hobbits. He stopped in his tracks and listened. No, it was just the wind. No Orcs or Trolls threatened this little settlement, and Famine was a silent enemy.

Over the next four or five days, drawing to Yule, Gandalf met and befriended all the inhabitants of Hightree wintercamp, as it was named. He went with the youngsters on their foray to gather Holly and Ivy, he sat and helped wind the garlands that would drape the Hall. He walked beside the sturdy pony that drew a sledge of firewood along the snowy paths, and swung the sharp axe in turn to split the hard Beechwood and Fir. He was fed by this household and that, the villagers taking it in turn to provide for him. He spent his evenings in merry converse with Trillium Silverfoot and the others, and taught them songs that he had learned from Bilbo and Frodo.

But for all their good cheer and Yuletide preparations, the shadow of hunger was ever there. Winter was a long, long season, and though the villagers had worked feverishly all summer and fall, their storehouses were not full enough for comfort.

In the long nights, alone in the Hall, Gandalf sent out in his mind, searching the forest and hills. Yet this long sight found no game. He had not the power to call a Stag or Boar. But what he could do, he did.

One afternoon, when there was a break in the snow and wind, the villagers heard the honking of geese overhead. The flock came low, and flew slower than usual. The men and boys rushed for their bows, and in minutes there were lying dozens of plump Geese attesting to the marksmanship of the folk of Hightree.

Gandalf leaned against the doorpost of the Hall, and watched as the womenfolk made a party of the plucking, gossiping and laughing as the feathers flew. Fine, plump geese to roast for Yule, and to put down in their own tasty fat in the storehouse.

“How it came about that there was such a late flight, I do not know,” Bento said. “Maybe they were lost. But their trouble was our good fortune, and I, for one, am looking forward to roast Goose for my dinner, Mithrandir! Come and join us. Violet has a way with herbs and greens and I warrant you never ate a finer dish even in the King’s house.”

Gandalf nodded his acceptance. He looked skyward. Far off, he saw a hunting Eagle. Then the sky closed in again, and the snow gusted before the wind……………………

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