Gandalf Visits Bombadil

by Vison

VI

Thus passed the next three days. The weather held wet and very cold; on the evening of the second day there were flakes of snow mixed in with the rain.

Each day brought its round of home duties and pleasures. Gandalf, in his time in Middle Earth, had rarely lived such a plain domestic life, maybe only the days he had been a guest at Bag End. Here were no echoing chambers or dusty archives, no mighty Men or Elves, no need to think of battles or strategies, no fear of the things of the Dark, no agonized worrying over dangerous heirlooms. Here was only the calm, orderly passage of the days in the house of Bombadil. Often Gandalf was content to simply sit by the fire and watch as Tom and the Riverdaughter moved quietly about their chambers. Warm and safe, listening to the wind and rain, drowsing in the firelight, he hoped that he was unwinding the skeins of care that had wound him about for so long.

Now and again he talked of the Quest, some happening or another. He thought of the Fellowship, both the living and the dead, and at times was astonished to think that it had all happened in the space of one year. One mortal year only. Yet were not he and Bombadil both numbered among the Immortals? How had it been that such great events had been compassed in the twelve months of one Sun’s turning?

Some things he was still loathe to speak of. The Balrog, Flame of Udun, for one. The death of the Lord Boromir son of Denethor, for another, though he knew little more than Aragorn had told him of that. And he seldom mentioned Frodo son of Drogo. But there were many other tales to tell.

Speaking of the fall of Saruman led to speech about Orthanc, which naturally enough came to the Ents.

Here did Tom Bombadil’s eyes light up. “The Onodrim! Is this the truth indeed, not some traveler’s tale?”

“Well, it is a traveler’s tale, right enough. But true, for all that. I myself spoke with Fangorn at Midsummer, when I was riding with the King and the other fair folk,” Gandalf said.

Tom shook his head in wonder. “Then these were great days, indeed. That the Onodrim came out of Fangorn Forest! I have not wished to put my feet on far roads, but for this I would have!” He turned to the lady Goldberry, who sat near, as ever. “Ents! There are Ents yet, walking on this earth. Why, they are near as old as I, my darling. Nearly as old as thy Tom.”

Gandalf told what he knew of the March of the Ents. “I will tell thee this, Master Tom. If ever thou hast the fortune of seeing the Red Book, the one that the Halfling Bilbo son of Bungo has passed on to Frodo son of Drogo, why, thou wouldst think indeed that thou wert reading some legend of Elder Days! For two Halflings of the Shire, strange to tell, were witness to the fury of the Ents, when the Ents marched on Isengard, and Saruman’s plots were foiled.”

“That was the work of Peregrin Took and Meriadoc Brandybuck, didst thou not say? Now, their families are well-known to me. Their prowess does not surprise me as it might some others! Our good landlord Butterbur, for one. Farmer Maggot, for another.” Tom nodded. “The Brandybucks maintain the only Gate in the Hedge. I have not had much conversation with the folk of the Buckland lately, to be sure, but the Halfling Meriadoc would be less troubled by the woods of Fangorn than some, I deem.”

The morning of the fourth day dawned fair and cold. There was ice on the water trough in the stableyard, and hoarfrost sparkled in the sunshine. At breakfast Tom said, “Mithrandir, how does the notion strike thee of coming with me into the Forest?”

Gandalf stretched and yawned. “I deem that if I do not begin to move about I may never leave thy fireside! When shall we go, and how far, and for how long?”

Bombadil laughed. “Tomorrow, I do not know, and I do not know! Nay, I do know. We shall go as far as we please and stay as long as we please.”

Now Goldberry spoke up. “I am glad to think the Master will have a companion on his journey, Mithrandir. For I must remain, to tend the beasts and keep the home fire burning.”

“I would be honoured to take on those cares, should thou wish to go with Tom,” Gandalf answered.

“I thank thee, but no, I shall not go. Many times I have in past years, mind thee! For we did not always have a farmyard, but once lived after a very different fashion,” she answered. “I do not know how it is, but somehow we have left our old ways of the Water and the Trees, and now live instead as do most folk of Middle Earth.” Her voice was wistful, and her dark eyes looked far away.

Gandalf did not speak the thoughts that came into his mind, that the old world was fading, the old ways were falling out of use, and the new world and the new ways now crept everywhere into Middle Earth and much that was odd and lovely and uncanny would be lost forever. The Sun set as ever in the West, but there now had risen a King, and a new age. New light shone out of the West into all the old places, the new light laid bare much that had lived in the kind shade but would wither and fade in the brightness that was come. Master Bombadil was Eldest, he had seen the beginning of all, and sadly to Gandalf it seemed Tom would see the end of much, even come to the end himself.

But those thoughts could be set aside for another day. Even for two who intended to travel light there was much to prepare against the morrow. Gandalf took his pack to the porch and shook it, bits of this and that scattered before the wind. He made sure his pipe and pipeweed were tucked into the pack, and his Elven cloak. As he folded it, he thought of the Elven ladies who had woven the cloth, Galadriel herself maybe had taken a turn at the loom. For this cloak was not one of the ones given to the Fellowship, but had been gifted to him long before, when first he sat at the White Council with Galadriel and Elrond. Light as thistledown, earth coloured, it folded small enough to hold in one hand, yet would keep off the rain and the cold and unfriendly eyes. On top of the cloak went some Waybread of Goldberry’s making, and a handful of dried fruit.

They decided to walk, and to leave their horses behind. “For the trees do not like horses,” Bombadil said, “and even my bold Lumpkin is uneasy on the forest paths. He and Shadowfax can stay here with my lady.”

So on the morning of the fifth day they set out. The sun shone and the sky was high and blue, and on the nearest hills the trees that turned colour with the fall were brilliant in their hues. Stands of Oak and Maple and Birch, gold and scarlet and russet glowing as if alight from inside the tree. At the top of the rise, they two turned and waved farewell to Goldberry who stood in the porch, watching. They could see Shadowfax and Lumpkin and the sheep and cattle in the pasture, could see crows flying southwards out of the forest.

All the morning they walked more or less along the edge of the forest, through a carpet of fallen leaves. Above, the sky continued blue, and the air was crisp and clear. They paused at midday, made a quick fire and ate their waybread with mugs of strong black tea sweetened with honey. Gandalf felt quite as though he was on the road with the Fellowship again, in the merry early days before Moria. The woods here were open and the walking was easy.

Late in the afternoon they turned somewhat to the North and went into deeper woods. It was slower going now, though there was no underbrush the trees grew close together and their roots hindered walking. No longer was the sky plain above. It was not only the fading daylight that hid the sky, but the canopy of the forest. Just when Gandalf began to wonder where Tom was heading they came to a clearing. There was a hut built here, rough and low, but a welcome sight.

“Here and there about the forest I have such shelters,” Bombadil said. “I once was pleased enough to sleep only under the trees, but I have grown soft and require more comfort.” He ducked through the low door and beckoned Gandalf in. “See, here is a bit of a fireplace, and dry tinder hid under this boulder. And with a few fresh boughs, these cots will do for our beds, think thee?”

Gandalf dropped his pack and leaned his staff against the wall. “It will suit me well, Master Tom. And we have not stopped too soon, for I fear I am out of condition, and am wearier than I ought to be. If indeed I ever go to see my brother Radagast at Rhosgobel, I think I shall ride Shadowfax and spare my feet!”

While there was light enough to see they freshened the bedding on the rough cots, Tom clambering lightly up a great Cedar and dropping some fragrant boughs. There was curiously little fuel lying about, few twigs to speak of, maybe the odd larger bit of wood. Tom pointed upwards. “Little falls, you see. All is caught up, and seldom reaches the forest floor.” He went up again and dropped a dead branch and some larger twigs.

Another thing Gandalf noticed was that the Forest was silent. No bird sang. No animal moved, no matter how stealthily. It seemed a watchful silence, too.

“This is the Old Forest,” Tom said. “Only trees live here, and the creatures that live in the mould of the floor.” He scraped his boot along the ground and myriad centipedes and ants and other insects scurried out of sight. “And we are only a little way into the woods, Mithrandir. These trees are younger and smaller than the Old Ones. Tomorrow I shall show thee trees that were already old when there were Kings in Numenor………….” 



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