Gandalf Visits Bombadil

by Vison

III

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 myself.”

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 might choose.”

“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 thee?”

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 rule thee.”

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 not know?”


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