I was on my way, as instructed, to meet with Tom Bombadil. I had reached Adso’s Camp at late afternoon but I did not want to enter The Barrow Downs or The Old Forest at night so I made camp. This also gave me the chance to read my notes on Tom.
It seems that Tom was an ancient being and, as far as anyone knows, he seems to have been in Middle-earth from the beginning. As he had put it:
“Eldest, that’s what I am… Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn. He made paths before the Big People, and saw the little People arriving. He was here before the Kings and the graves and the Barrow-wights. When the Elves passed westward, Tom was here already, before the seas were bent. He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless – before the Dark Lord came from Outside.”
Tom lived in a house on the side of a hill between the Old Forest and the Barrow-downs. Tom called this area – bordered on the north by the Great East Road – his country, though the land and the living things there belonged to themselves, not to Tom. Tom did not often cross the borders of his country, though he had been to visit Farmer Maggot in the Shire and he was acquainted with Barliman Butterbur at the Prancing Pony in Bree.
Goldberry, the River-woman’s daughter, was Tom’s wife. He had found her one day in a pool far down the River Withywindle. Each year at the end of summer, Tom would go along the river to gather water lilies for Goldberry.
Apparently he called his pony Fatty Lumpkin! There is a story I would like to hear.
The following morning I made my way cautiously into the Barrow Downs. What a bleak place to be sure and with many nasty creatures to avoid. Slowly I made my way to the entrance of Old Forest. Well, luckily, Tom’s house was not in the true forest but on the borders and I eventually found it, drawn by the sound of someone singing. Of course, it was Tom.
In appearance, Tom was like a Man though somewhat shorter. He wore a blue coat and big yellow boots and a battered hat with a blue feather. He had a long brown beard, bright blue eyes, and a red face creased with laughter. He greeted me
“Hoy now! Hey now! What’s all this fussing? We’ve not had so many guests since our wedding! There is time enough for bird-watching, but perhaps first a song or two, my hearty?
Let your heart fly free and put aside your worries. You are at the house of Tom Bombadil!”
Truth to tell, it could be difficult to follow his conversation but I eventually made my purpose known and that Aragorn had sent me.
“Well now” he said, “my Goldberry is away at her spring, and I was going lily-hunting! I’ve no time for chasing birds. But hoy now! Aragorn’s a name I know, and a friend of Old Tom’s! Hear then my offer: While Old Tom Bombadil looks for sour crows, you’ll gather lilies for my lovely. I saw some along the river, just a hop and a jump away. Just follow along until, ring a ding dillo, you find Old Man Willow! You watch that old Grey Willow-man. He’s a mighty singer. He’ll sing you down to sleep and drown you, if you don’t be careful.”
Ah, it seemed as though I had arrived at that time of year when Tom gathered the lilies for Goldberry. Anyway, it was a small task to gather the lilies and Tom was pleased when he returned with news of where the crebain I was searching for could be found. He also told me that a woman was there.
“Black birds flittered and fluttered, skipping among the branches. They came to rest where the restless walk. Beware the old barrows, they stir when they should be a-sleeping! Go north up the path and follow the Old Barrows Road, then south within the barrows wall along the forest eaves. Hey do! Merry do! And there you’ll find them! Watch for the lady dreary. Now hop along, my hearty! Tom’s a-going leaping!”
I made my way north and east along the Old Barrows Road and found the crebain roosting in the trees within the Barrow-downs, on a ridge above the eaves of the forest. As Tom had said, there was a woman there too. As I approached, they all attacked me. The birds were weak and were quickly despatched; the woman was a tougher proposition but eventually I prevailed.
He name was Andraste and she revealed that the Lord of the Nazgûl had gone to someplace called Othrongroth, but I could learn nothing more before her death. Tom, however, did know of the place.
“Othrongroth, you say? That’s a dark place, full of dark wights, and you’ve no need of going. But if you must, you must, and I’ll not be staying you.”
Tom agreed to show me the way to Othrongroth., the Great Barrow. As we approached, we saw two figures talking; they spotted us and disappeared inside the Barrow. Grimly, I gave chase.
Ugh, what a horrid place! I am so glad that I found two friends who agreed to accompany me because I would surely have perished there alone. It was a dank, dark place full of twisty, turny passages with a fell creature behind every turn. We slowly made our way downwards, fighting the whole way and with frequent stops for rest. I think by the time we reached the bottom, we had all taken some wounds – nothing too serious but wearisome all the same.
Finally we reached a large room with a wight seated upon a great throne. It was a Wight Lord called (I found out later) Sambrog. The creature bid us welcome and said that if we sought an audience, we could approach.
Aieee, so naïve. As we approached, we were struck with an awful dread that made us cower.
“Well met! My Master sends thee greetings. I grant thee the boon of an audience before I kill thee. Thou seemed desirous of certain knowledge, so I will give it thee. For the Dead speak not!
My Master seeks a great a power for the Dark Lord, but the Dark Lord has more designs than this. The Pale Dwarf shall go to the north and gather an army in the name of Angmar and the Witch-king! The gaunt one, a great power himself an to whom I owe this form, goes to the east. There, in Agamaur, he shall awaken a Power that lies sleeping in the waters. With her under his command, the skies will turn to blood and all shall despair!
Now thine audience comes to an end. Thy dead await thee”.
Sambrog attacked. What a long, grim fight we had. After what seemed like ages, we were at the limits of our strength and were facing certain doom it seemed. But at our lowest point, there came a loud crack and it seemed that part of the cavern collapsed letting in bright sunlight. And with it came old Tom Bombadil.
“Hey do! Merry do!”
Sambrog cried out, “What? It cannot be!”
Tom said, “What be you a-thinking? Dead men should not be waking! Vanish into sunlight, leave your barrows empty!”
Saved! It seemed that Sambrog had no power over Tom; quite the contrary, Tom banished the creature and led us out of the Barrow.
“Old barrow-wights from Angmar came. They disturb the peace and trouble folk who wander through their mounds. Let the Dead sleep and leave their troubles in the earth. Unless of course you wake them, dancing on their rooftops!
‘Hey, come, my friend. Linger here no longer. To Bree you should be a-going. You’ve a friend there who awaits you!” And so, Tom directed me back to Strider.
And so, I will return to Bree. And I intend to remain there for a week or so as I have some few wounds and need some rest.