Gandalf Visits Bombadil

by Vison

VIII

Gandalf lay quiet, watching the play of firelight on the ceiling above him. Now and again came the sound of the Trees. In some fashion it seemed to travel through the earth rather than through the air, and it was as much felt as heard. Gandalf was sure he would not sleep again, yet he did.

When he woke again it was to dim daylight coming in the narrow door of the hut, and the smell of woodsmoke. He turned his head and there was Bombadil sitting on his haunches by the fire, holding a fork over the flames, toasting a chunk of waybread.

The uncanny Master he had seen the night before was gone, and there was ordinary Tom in his place, his brown face intent on his homely task, his eyes their usual sky-blue. Gandalf did not ask Tom where he had gone or what he had done in the night, not yet. But he was curious, Gandalf was ever curious in such matters.

After they had eaten and made sure the small fire was safely dead, they set out to the North again, deeper into the forest. Somewhere above the canopy the sun was shining, for here and there shafts of light stabbed down through the green dimness. Gandalf looked up and up the towering trunks and saw that there were sometimes clumps of fern growing on a tree, or some kind of moss that hung in dismal looking blankets. Beneath his feet the ground was covered with fallen needles. The ground was soft and would have made easy walking, but enormous tree roots twisted everywhere, at times they had to be climbed over rather than stepped over.

Twice they crossed a stream, black clear water flowing silent. Gandalf did not want to put his feet into this water, but there was no other way to cross it. His boots were watertight enough that when he stepped quickly his feet stayed dry, but he knew the water was cold and dangerous in some way. He knew, too, that no fish lived in that water, no waterbug skated across its gelid surface, no cresses swayed in its current. He supposed it was not two streams, but the same stream twice, curling its sinister way through the woods.

Never was there sound of a bird or beast. Not a crow nor a squirrel. No spider spun her webs across their way, no woodpeckers hammered at the trunks. Other than the trees the only living things they saw were the creatures that lived in the decaying mould beneath the trees. The heel of Gandalf’s staff disturbed this material now and again, and he would see scurrying things and creeping things, always pale, always making his flesh crawl. He thought that his brother Radagast might feel differently, Radagast might crouch down and peer at these things with the same loving interest he showed for soaring eagles or bright leaping salmon.

“Has Radagast come here with thee?” he asked Bombadil.

“Yes,” Tom answered. “Long ago he and I journeyed through the Forest, more than once.”

“I daresay he exclaimed in delight at every turn,” Gandalf muttered crossly into his beard. “I daresay he did not feel the weight of all these trees.”


Bombadil led, and Gandalf followed. Now and again Tom turned, as if to see that Gandalf was near, but he did not speak.

Gandalf noticed for the first time that Tom was not wearing his yellow boots or his bright shirt and hat. No, he was clad in some stuff that shifted colour, one moment it was green then it was brown, and on his feet he wore, not boots, but soft leather shoes that wrapped his lower legs like gaiters. It was about then that he noticed, too, that they were walking somewhat downhill, and the air had become heavier.

Almost he longed to strike some brighter light with his staff, or to break the brooding silence with a word of command. The trees were quiet now, no creaking or rustling, no far off thin wailings disturbed the air. Yet the sense of menace grew, the air had grown thick, and Gandalf knew without doubt that they were being watched.

Bombadil stopped and beckoned Gandalf forward. “Mind thy steps, Mithrandir,” he said softly.

Gandalf stood beside Tom and felt his toes inside his boots cling to the earth, and he gripped his staff lightly. For before them was a broad cleft in the earth, many, many fathoms deep. Above was the clear sky and the sunlight fell on the tops of the trees below.

It was like looking down onto some kind of lake of greeness, for there was no break in the solid canopy that could be seen, just the various shades of green with little hillocks here and there where some forest giant thrust its head above the others.

Tom and Gandalf stood on a rocky outcrop, and to one side the rocks rose somewhat, undercut by a small cave. Tom slung his pack into the opening and sat down, turning his face to the sun. Gandalf did likewise, enjoying the warmth.

“What is this place?” Gandalf asked. “I never knew that such a cleft in the earth existed in these parts.”

“It has always been here,” Tom replied, “but it has no name in the tongues of Elves or Men.” He gestured to the other side. “It takes me nearly two days to walk from here to there, for there is no easy way down to the floor. It is in the shape of a mighty bowl, you see, it is not a canyon carved by water, nor split by some cataclysm of the earth itself. I do not know how it was formed, there is no clue that I can read in the rocks. See how steep the walls are, Mithrandir!”

Gandalf lay on his stomach and peered down the rock wall. Here and there were clumps of fern, and the rocks were moss-covered. He saw that there was a kind of path or trail winding down, snaking back and forth. He was not, thankfully, troubled by a fear of heights, but he could see that fear or no fear, extreme care would be needed by anyone using that route.

The little cave undercutting the rock was another of Tom’s shelters. Inside were bits of tinder and a small pile of dry wood, so they made a little fire and had hot tea and some dried fruit with their waybread. Tom had filled his water bottle in the stream, and the water made fine tea, though Gandalf might have doubted it, had he stopped to consider the matter.

As they sat in the sunshine Gandalf looked up and saw two Eagles soaring overhead. The sight of these birds cheered him, they belonged to the Middle Earth he knew, and were as welcome to his sight as a friend’s face might have been. He wondered how the four Hobbits were doing, wondered what troubles or pleasures might have been waiting for them in the Shire. Frodo, especially, was in his thoughts. Gandalf had purposely put his Halfling friends out of his life, or rather had taken himself out of theirs, knowing that in the new Age they ought no longer lean on someone such as himself, someone belonging to the old times. He knew, too, that it lay in him, that the power still lay in him, to learn what was going forth in the Shire, but he set that aside, that part of his life was past and over. He had never failed in his duty, never given into temptation, and would not do so now.

No positive law forbade him, he knew that, too. Tom was Master here, in the Old Forest, but was not Gandalf master, as well? Was he not one of the mighty? Tom’s duty, whatever that duty might be, was plain and open, at least to Tom. But ever had Gandalf had to search and study and ponder to find his path. Do much, but not too much. Say much, but know when to be silent. A guide, he was. But often had he struggled to see a path for himself, never mind for those others.

In part, here was Curunir’s failure: he never doubted until it was too late. Pride and ambition and lust had brought him down, for Saruman had thought he saw a plain and easy path before him. He had been blinded by certainty………..

“Mithrandir! Mithrandir!” Tom urged.

Gandalf woke. He had fallen asleep in the sunshine, his cup of tea still held in his hand. He laughed. “Most humbly do I apologize to thee, Master Tom! Here I am like an old dog, made sleepy by the warm sun.”

Tom smiled. “Thy rest was disturbed last night, I know. Come, my friend, it is time for us to move, if we are to go down there while it is bright.”

“So we are to climb down there?” He stood and pulled on his pack, and slipped his hand through the thong of his staff. “And once we are down there?”

“Well, we shall see what we shall see, Mithrandir. I have not myself been down there for some time. But know this! Thou shalt see such trees as can be seen nowhere else in Middle Earth. Except for thy brother Radagast, I do not know for certain that any other than I has ever seen them.”

“Not even the Elves?” Gandalf asked. “For the Elves are mighty fond of trees.”

“I do not know, Mithrandir. There are signs………..” His voice faded, and he looked away. “Even in the bright sunshine there are things it is best not to speak of, here. Some tales are best told by the hearthside, under a roof, inside stout walls. Come! I shall go first, and thou shalt follow me……….”





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