Gandalf Visits Bombadil
All that night the wind blew, and the rain
sheeted before it. Little streams formed and gathered into bigger
streams until at last they all poured into the Withywindle and her
waters rose and raged along her narrow bed. Dirty foam gathered in
eddies and cutbanks, flotillas of twigs and leaves became temporary
dams. Then would come a burst from upstream and the pent up water would
sweep all away. Old Willow man stood now in a lake, here the river
broadened, flowing over low banks and even onto the path that led to
Bombadil’s house. But Willowman cared not, he never heeded the water,
he stood as he always stood and the currents washed about him, never
disturbing his roots.
It grew daylight, yet there was no sign of
the Sun. Bombadil laid wood on the banked fire and it blazed anew. He
stood, listening. “Our guest still sleeps,” he murmured. He filled the
teakettle and set it on the hob, then pulled on his yellow boots and
his blue hat and opened the door.
“A day for talk,” he said to himself, “not a
day for walking.” He ran to the stable seeming to dodge the raindrops.
He greeted Shadowfax and Lumpkin by name, offering them chunks of
carrot on his leathery palm. His sheep were huddled under the leanto,
not eager to go out to pasture, but he shooed them out. “Wool coats
stay dry,” he urged them.
Stable chores done, he carried several
armloads of firewood into the house. The lady Goldberry was moving
about, laying the breakfast table, making the tea. She sliced bread for
toast and filled a bowl with Brambleberry preserves. She had opened the
curtains, but so dark was the day that candles were needed, and now
they glowed on the mantle and in the centre of the table.
Gandalf sat before the fire, his feet up on
the fender. “How is my friend Shadowfax this morning?” he asked
Bombadil. “You see that I am too lazy to go out and tend to him
Bombadil hung his hat on the hook by the door
and pulled off his yellow boots. Looking sidelong at Gandalf he said,
“The horse Shadowfax said nought to me, yet I think he is content to be
indoors. A fine beast, Mithrandir! How came such a horse to thy hand?”
“It is a long tale, yet only part of a longer tale, Master Tom. Too long for short telling, methinks,” Gandalf answered.
“My lady and I are mighty fond of tales,” Tom
said. “News now comes seldom to us, except by signs that are sometimes
hard to read. Yet in this last twelvemonth, the signs have been plain
enough. The world has shifted once again, beyond my land.” Then he
sighed, sitting in the chair beside Gandalf, and holding his hands out
to the fire. “There has been an end, I fear, that even I the Eldest
will not weather. The tallest mountains are worn to the sea, in time,
and should I stand longer than the Ered Luin, or the Ered Nimrais?”
Gandalf turned to look at Bombadil. “Perhaps
thou art made of harder stuff, Master. But still thou art in the right
of it. Earth, air, fire, and water, all are changed. New elements
arise, new substances are formed. We are Stardust, it is said, but even
Stars go cold in the end.” There was no mistaking the sadness and
resignation in his voice.
“Before the Seas were bent……” Tom began. He
stopped, and leaned forward to put another knotted Apple branch on the
fire. “That which begins will end, and in time we shall all go home.
Signs are that the Straight Road may still be ridden, or walked, as one
“I am not ready,” Gandalf said. “I may never be ready.”
Bombadil looked at the lady Goldberry where
she stood near the table. Their eyes met, and he saw that hers were
shadowed with sadness for the wizard.
“Come,” she said. “Let us break our fast. Though the day be dreary, here are we warm and dry, safe from the weather.”
Gandalf ate perfunctorily, scarcely seeming
to notice the good toast and tea, the golden butter. He stared into
space, and sighed now and again. He stirred his tea until Goldberry
thought the spoon would wear a groove in the bottom of the cup.
At last Bombadil could bear it no longer. “Mithrandir!” he said.
Gandalf turned to him. “There is no need shout,” he said. “I am here before thee.”
“Thou art here before me, but thou art
leagues away! Come, come, my friend. ‘Tis a day for sitting by the
fire, methinks, a day for speech and not for action!” Then his voice
sofened somewhat. “My dear old friend. A burden shared is a burden
lightened, and any one with half an eye can see that thou art heavy
laden.” He winked one of his bright blue eyes.
“Burden? I carry no burden,” Gandalf answered. “I have done with burdens and tasks and deeds.”
Again Goldberry and Tom exchanged glances.
“It is so, indeed,” Tom said. “Yet still are thy shoulders bowed. Wilt
thou not lighten thy heart, and tell us what matter lies so heavy on
Gandalf filled his pipe and tamped down the
pipeweed, then spent a time getting it to draw. At last he set forth
rings of smoke, plain rings only. “Oh, I am half ashamed of myself,” he
said, smiling ruefully. “For I have been in the thick of things, and
now I am in the thin. A mover of great events have I been, a shaker of
mighty trees. And now? What am I now?”
“Thou art what thou hast always been,” Tom answered. “One of the Wise.”
Now Gandalf laughed. “One of the Wise, eh?
Let me see. Elrond Halfelven, he is reckoned as one of the Wise. His
heart is broken. Galadriel? She is reckoned one of the Wise, too. Yet
she must retire from majesty and humble herself before her kin.
Curunir? One of the Wise, but not so wise that he could keep his feet
on the narrow path. And I? I made a King, maybe. I set a friend on the
road to his own destruction. Neither King nor friend needs me now. Here
I am, homeless, a beggar at your table!”
Bombadil laughed heartily. “With such a song
of woe, we ought to have music. The sort of music that tugs at the
heartstrings, and makes the easy tears flow! Mithrandir, Mithrandir,
old friend. Thou hast fallen into error, thou hast allowed pride to
Gandalf bristled. “Pride?” His eyes flashed. “I have not come to thee for correction, Iarwain Ben-adar.”
“Nonetheless,” Tom said mildly, “thou art in need of it.”
The air in between Tom and Gandalf crackled
with power, and almost Goldberry could see it, shimmering like heat
waves. Tom was very still, his weathered face serene, whereas Gandalf
frowned, and fury blazed in his eyes.
The contest, if contest it was, ended when
Gandalf lowered his eyes and put his pipe between his lips again. The
smoke came forth, taking the shape of a mighty Eagle, which drifted
over the dancing flames and was then gone up the chimney. “Shall I say
that Eagle represented my Pride, Master Tom? Now has it taken wing and
left me as I came to this world, not yet one of the Wise, but only a
student wishing to learn.”
“Be sure that thou hast come to the right
place, Olorin. For what is wisdom but the knowledge of what one does