Gandalf Visits Bombadil

by Vison

IX

In the vessel of deep time...

The climb down was slow, each movement required care, one slip and nothing could stop a deadly fall. Gandalf wondered if he would survive such a fall in his present form, or if this was to be the means by which he left Middle Earth.

Still, they reached the bottom in safety. Bombadil stood quietly until Gandalf’s feet were planted squarely on the ground, then he put out his hand and said, “Well done, Mithrandir! I know that thou art not the aged and feeble Man thou seemeth to be, but it is hard even for me to keep that fact in the forefront of my mind. A mighty Wizard, art thou? Mayhap thou couldst have flown hither like a bird?”

Gandalf shook Tom’s hand. “A fine time to think of that now, Tom! Yet I have my doubts, to be truthful. Such powers as I possess are of another time and place, and I fear to test them. What if here, after all, I am only the aged and feeble man I seem to be? A burden would it be for thee, Master, to carry my lifeless form hence. For, believe me, no power of past or present would let me rest easy here!”

Tom laughed. “No matter what thy seeming form, Mithrandir, thy true nature is evident yet. But there is no doubt that this place is not thy place.”

They stood yet at the base of the cliff. Looking up, Gandalf saw the blue sky above, and the rock wall that they had just climbed down. Turning, he saw before him the Forest.

A wall of trees it was, enormous trees, green, fading off into the blue distance. One had fallen, here at the edge of the woods. The roots fanned up, torn from the earth, and they were twisted and tangled together inextricably, leaving a gaping hole where the tree had stood. The tree lay between the woods and the cliff, and the damage its fall had caused was plain to see in the broken rocks and the newly exposed places where no moss had yet grown. The base of the trunk towered over Tom and Gandalf, at least four fathoms thick, and the trunk stretched sixty or seventy fathoms long.

Gandalf looked about. “How did it come to fall? For surely no wind could have come here, not in such a sheltered place, and so near to the wall!”

Bombadil touched the tree, and held his head somewhat to one side as if listening. “The wind did not blow it over, Mithrandir. I think that it did not fall, exactly.”

This was an unsettling thought. That the trees could push one of their number out and away from the rest, and that it could be even uprooted! Bombadil had spoken of the War of the Trees, but Gandalf had not imagined such a thing as this.

Gandalf walked along the fallen trunk. Many fathoms did he walk before he came to branches. This was not a Pine nor a Fir nor a Cedar. Here were fronds of some kind, nearly like a Fern’s. He touched the greenery and found it to be soft to his hand. The scent was pleasant and sharp, rather like that of Cedar, but not so pungent. Now he looked again at the trunk. The bark was not like any bark he had ever seen, for the tree’s trunk was ringed from root to tip, the rings ever decreasing in size as the trunk narrowed. The edges of each ring were viciously spined with long fierce thorns barbed at the end.

“Do not touch the barbs,” Bombadil warned. “They are poisonous, I fear.”

“I do not doubt it,” Gandalf answered. “What kind of tree is this? I have never seen its like before, even in the depths of Fangorn.”

“Like this valley, it has no name in the tongues of Men or Elves,” he said. “In the speech of the trees it is called Alcadil, as near as I can say it in the ordinary way. For you must know, the Trees do not speak with lips and tongue as do we, but by their own means.”

“In the Elven tongue, ‘il’ signifies ‘star’. But I think it does not, in the language of the trees?”

“It does not. If I was to make it mean anything to thee, I would have to say that ‘Alcadil’ means ‘this kind of green one’. Meaning, that it is not ‘that kind of green one’.” Bombadil smiled. “It might also mean, ‘that which has fallen’.”

“Would it have been named that before it fell, then?” Gandalf asked, puzzled.

Tom shrugged. “Yes and no. For they all fall, in the end.”

“Tell me another name, Master,” Gandalf demanded. “For it is an interest of mine, as thou knowest, this business of how speech varies from land to land.”

Tom turned about and looked at the wall of trees before them. He walked a few steps and laid his hand to the trunk of another one.

Gandalf saw that it did not look like the fallen tree. It looked more like, maybe, the Sumacs that grow on the rocky slopes above the East Emnet of Rohan. Like, but not like, for no Sumac had ever grown so big. This was a massive thing, and like the fallen tree, it was many fathoms from base to the first branches. They sprang from the crown of this tree in an enormous blossom-shape, but even from below Gandalf could see that the branches were saw-edged, and so were the leaves. He walked closer and looked at the trunk. It was covered with long fine hairs. As his hand came near, the hairs rose and bristled. He jerked his hand back.

“But it did not do so to thee!” he protested.

“But it did,” Tom said. “Look.” He held out his hand, and the palm and fingertips were full of slivers, and drops of blood had formed in some places. He wiped his hand on his breeches. “They cannot hurt me, but they would sting thee, and perhaps make thee ill, I do not know.”

“But what do they defend themselves against?” Gandalf asked. “For here are no birds or animals to hurt them! I do not understand it, I confess.”

“It may be that once there were reasons for it,” Tom answered. “Yet I never saw any enemies of these trees except other trees.” He went on, “This tree and its kin are known as Dascacdil. It signifies ‘that kind of green one’.”

Gandalf raised his staff and then banged it on the ground. “Of course it does!”

Tom laughed. “It also means ‘hairy one’, or nearly so. But I tell thee, Mithrandir, that the speech of the Trees has naught to do with language! They do not speak, as Men or Elves or Wizards speak! They tell no tales.”

“Yet they do speak. I have heard them, though I understood nothing.”

“But thou didst understand, Mithrandir. For they spoke to thee of fear, and death, and killing, and that is nearly all they speak of,” Bombadil said.

“Why do they not speak of the Sun, or the Rain? Surely, if they can speak at all, they ought to speak of their Joys, as well.”

“Tell me, Mithrandir, dost thou speak of thy feet, or thy arms? Or thy teeth, for that matter? For so is the Sun and so is the Rain to these trees, only parts of them, not things aside from them.” Bombadil shifted his pack, and gestured to the Forest. “Come. Let us go in, for there are many more to see.”

“Ah, yes, ‘this kind of green one’ and ‘that kind of green one’, to be sure!” Gandalf said, none too happily. “Master Tom, I know a Dwarf who visited Fangorn with an Elf. I thought he made too much of it, at the time. But now I know how he felt.”

“Mithrandir, if it is so that thou art really wishful of leaving, we need go no further. But it would be a sad shame, methinks, for thou wilt see such beauties and such grandeur! For not all the Trees are fierce and poisonous, though none are friendly,” Tom said.

“No, no, I do not wish to turn around, Master Tom. It is unsettling to me, to come to such a pass, that is all! And then, there is another thing. The Trees stand so near to each other. How will I see these beauties and this grandeur? Will I not see only the trunks soaring to darkness?”

“Trust me to manage that, Mithrandir,” Tom answered. “For there is more than one way to skin a cat, as the saying goes……”…………


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