Gandalf Visits Bombadil

by Vison

IV

Bombadil’s house:

“Be sure that thou hast come to the right place, Olorin. For what is wisdom but the knowledge of what one does not know?” Tom said.

“Then I must be one of the Wise, indeed,” Gandalf answered. “For there is much I do not know.” He knocked the ashes from his pipe and sat turning it idly about in his hands. “Thou hast asked for news, Master Tom. Yet thou knowest the chief news, that Sauron has fallen, and the King is returned.”

“I have seen so many kings,” Tom said. “What in especial should I know of this one? Nay, nay, I do know, of course. He is Isuldur’s Heir the Ranger Strider, Aragorn son of Arathorn, foster-son of Elrond Halfelven. His father I knew somewhat of, and his father before him. Indeed, I knew of them all, one way or the other, back even to Isuldur himself. Yet it has not happened before that the rising of a king in the West had aught to do with me.”

“Maybe this one does not, either,” Gandalf replied. “Yet his rise heralds the change in this Middle Earth, the end of the Third Age and the beginning of the Fourth.”

“But I knew this world before there was even the First Age,” Tom reminded Gandalf. “For I was here when the Elf sires awoke, before fear entered into the darkness.”

“It is not often that I am younger than my companions,” Gandalf said. “Yet next to thee it seems that I am young. Age alone, however, means nothing. It is experience that counts, does it not?”

“I am rebuked,” Tom said, smiling, “for thy ‘experience’ may indeed be greater than mine! It has not fallen to me to save the world.”

Gandalf laughed heartily. “I see that thine axe is not used only to fell trees, but to cut down any vanity that might raise itself.” But then his demeanor changed. “It was why we were sent here, we Istari. Five we were. Alatar and Pallando are long vanished from our ken. Saruman has fallen into Evil, and wishes no redemption. Radagast? I have had no news of my brother Radagast for months.”

“Nor I, “ Tom said. “I last heard of him at his dwelling in Rhosgobel. What say you, Mithandir? Shall we set out one day soon and see what has become of him? You say you have no task left to complete? Well, here is one that might suit us both. I would stretch my legs somewhat, and here is a journey that is easily within our compass.”

“Ever hast thou been a home-stayer, Master Tom. Yet here art thou proposing a journey! Is this only for my benefit, that I might walk off my ill-mood? Surely, the same might be accomplished with another mug or two of thy lady’s Mead-brew?” Here he bowed his head to that lady, who sat near the window with some needlework in her hands.

She did not hear. But she was not intent on her stitchery, for she seemed to be day-dreaming, watching the water drops race down the glass of her window. Her lovely face was still, no smile curved her lips. Her deep dark eyes were wells of thought, but what those thoughts might be could not be guessed at. The cool light of the rainy day fell on her pale face, and erased any sunlight that might have been caught in the tresses of her golden hair.

Gandalf had a sudden vision of her in the water, her mother’s realm. The lady drifted, white hands folded on her bosom, silver gown, girdle of gilt flowers, and all. Her eyes were open and unseeing, her lips closed, and her long hair flowed with the water. He shivered, and saw that Bombadil was watching him.

“Yes,” Bombadil said, softly. “My lady Goldberry is bound to this place, to the waters of her making, far down Withywindle. Tom shall not go from here, from the River-daughter. Evening will follow day, and night will follow evening. Will the morning come again? Who can say? It is enough for me, that spring has ever followed winter, and summer has ever followed spring. So the seasons of the year turn. I cannot answer for the turn of the ages.”

Goldberry, hearing Tom’s voice, turned to them. She smiled, and resumed her sewing.

“No one can,” Gandalf murmured. “The wheel turns, the low is now high, the light becomes dark. Will the light come again? There are those who say it has come.” Then his voice changed, and he said, “But it is all dark for me, now. And there is another, too, who cannot see by this new light! I have sent him beyond my aid, now, poor Frodo.”

“The Halfling,” Tom said. “Here he sat, at my fireside. And in the barrow…..did he ever tell thee of the barrow?”

“He did,” Gandalf answered shortly. “Ever did the quest hang on the edge of a knife! Even the wise cannot know all ends, they say. Truer words were never spoken. I do not know if I could have seen him go forth, had I known to what end he would come.”

“A fool’s errand, Mithrandir. And wert thou not the wise fool that sent him?”

“I can take neither the credit nor the blame. Things fell out as they fell out, and luckily for me, and maybe for you, the fool succeeded.” He leaned forward and stared into the fire. “But while I am whole and hale, he is broken and lost. It was too heavy for him.”

“And what does Frodo son of Drogo say of these matters?” Tom asked.

“He says little. He keeps himself to himself, as they would say in the Shire.”

“I said before that pride has overtaken thee, Mithrandir, and I see that it is true. For dost thou not imagine that this is all thy doing? The halfling Frodo was not at thy command, Olorin the Wise, neither his comings nor his goings. That thing, the Ring, it was not in thy gift. Had it been, where wouldst thou have bestowed it?”

Gandalf shot Bombadil an angry look. “Not in my own pocket!” he barked. But then he shook his head, “Forgive me, Master Tom, I should not have spoken so. It is true, I did not choose Frodo, nor did I give him the ring. Those matters were never in my hands. But from the start I understood it would overtax him, that it would destroy his peace, make him unfit for everyday life. I had intended to walk with him, to be his guide and comforter, to be his counsellor. Yet it was not to be, and he went with only his servant Samwise, all that long and lonely path!”

“Without thee, without any of the Wise. Who would have thought it could be so? Such lowly folk, to undertake such an important task,” Tom said.

“Dost thou think it is that? That I sneer at their breeding, or that I am envious of their valour? They are now counted as among the most noble of this world, companions of kings!”

“Rightly so, I deem. Yet, I deem, too, Mithrandir, that this is this thy prideful fault, that thou thinkest that only thy hands could do the work in the right way, that only thy wisom was sufficient? Almost, one might ask, what purpose did Gandalf the Grey serve after all? These Men and Hobbits, they might have managed very well without thee.” Tom put out one brown hand, to forestall Gandalf from replying. “It is not I that say these things, mind thee, but maybe in thy heart, thou art asking these questions?”

“Yes,” Gandalf replied, almost in a whisper. “Not that only. For whether I was needed or not, before, be sure I am not needed now. Now, I am only to pack up my staff and go to the Havens, and go away!”

“And thou art not ready,” Tom said.

“This Middle Earth is a beautiful place,” Gandalf said. “I have come to love every stick and stone of it, every root and branch. Friends have I made, dear friends. One is now on the throne of Gondor and wedded to the highest and loveliest lady that now walks this earth. To be sure I might have stayed to counsel him, to see that he set his feet straight on the path of kingship, but truth to tell, he did not need me. He is a man both noble and humble, a king come to power by the consent of those he would rule. A new kind of king for a new age, it would seem.” He sighed, and wrung his hands together. “So I said farewell to Elessar Telcontar, and to Arwen Undomiel. It was a bitter parting, and not only for me. Elrond Halfelven no doubt would think my pain is as nothing, so hard was that leavetaking for him. The old Hobbit, Bilbo, in Rivendell, he would end his book with “they all lived happily ever after”. But here am I at the end of my book, and there is no happiness in sight!”

“Ah, well,” Tom said, nodding. “There will be many a merry day yet for thee, Mithrandir! At this moment art thou woeful, and wondering. But surely, the Sun will shine on thy face again, and thy heart will lift at the sight of the Stars? Come, come, my friend. Thou art falling into despair, and surely that is to spurn the gifts of fortune or whatever thou wouldst call thy fate? Thy labour is over, and now comes cold over thee the fears that were pushed aside, and the weariness that could not be admitted in the midst of thy toil. It is oft seen, I think. The heart must be stout and bold in the midst of the fray, but after all is safe and secure, in the watches of the night, terror creeps in, and doubt. Is it not so?”

“It is so. But I wonder, Master Tom, whence this wisdom has come to thee?” Gandalf peered under his brows at Bombadil.

“Mithrandir, that would indeed be a long tale, too long for short telling. Look thee! The rain has stopped, and if there is no sunshine, at least it is dry enough for us to go out and take some air. Thy horse Shadowfax would be pleased to see thee, I think, and to shake the fidgets out of his legs in the pasture.” Bombadil rose briskly, but before leaving the hearthside he said, “I do not make light of thy troubles, Mithrandir. Too well can I see that thou art out of frame, and wanting cheer. Well, my lady and I will do what we can to ease thy heart. Often, it is enough to speak thy mind.”

“My friend, you are in the right of it. Indeed, I am somewhat merrier than I was. Maybe that happy ending will be around the next turning?” He rose to his feet and followed Bombadil outdoors……………

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