Monday, April 10, 2017

The Adventures of Elladan's Outriders -- Episode 5

Into the Old Forest

Hevensday, 6th of Afteryule, Year 1418, Shire-reckoning
The House of Tom Bombadil, Somewhere in the Old Forest
The Old Forest
I'm still a bit shaken up after what happened to me this evening. I'll try to describe what occurred once I get to that point in my narrative. For now, I'm content to let my things dry out by the fire of this truly extraordinary house in which I find myself.

Let me begin by harkening back to this morning at the Comb and Wattle Inn. I awoke to the sound of rain pattering on my window. I popped out of bed, dressed, and headed downstairs, hoping against hope that the weather outside really was as bad as it sounded. At the bottom of the stairs, I cast a quick look around the common room and saw none of my companions, so I hauled the heavy oaken door back and stepped outside into the grey morning.

The rain was lashing down upon the village of Combe, driving all of its inhabitants indoors. There wasn't a soul to be seen on the streets from my perch on the front stoop of the inn. The Comb and Wattle, if you've never been there, has a rather quaint overhang above the front door where a good part of its second floor spreads outward to form a sort of roof, which is then supported by heavy beams thrust through the wooden deck and into the ground. This overhang kept me dry while I watched the wetting of the town.

I had brought my lute with me and decided to enjoy myself a bit: I played a few verses of Across the Great Sea, which is an old tune that gets played sometimes in the Shire. It has a lovely, lilting melody which felt very appropriate considering the inclement conditions. I was just finishing the chorus when I heard the door to the inn creak open. I turned and saw Nephyn's head pop out.

"There you are, Master Padryc!" she said, looking considerably better rested than when I had last seen her yesterday afternoon. "The Company awaits you inside. It seems there have been some more developments while you and I were resting, but it's good to see we are still five." She ducked her head back inside, leaving her last remark unexplained.

I followed her indoors. After everything that's happened to our Company over the past few days, I felt nothing would surprise me any longer. Once back in the common room, I saw the Company had gathered, and we were indeed five. There was Gaelira, Nephyn, and Luean at their usual places, but, instead of finding Raviron, who inexplicably reappeared in the middle of Combed yesterday, I saw Drodie the Dwarf.

"Drodie!" I said, sidling up to the full table, "Where have you been? And what has become of Raviron, dare I ask?" I was feeling quite comfortable with heavy skies above me and full rashers of bacon in front of me -- the awful weather would mean we could not be doing anything out-of-doors today.

"As for Raviron, I think he was nothing more than a chance companion upon our road," Gaelira said as she leaned upon her staff. "Our paths may cross again and they may not, but it is clear he has other business to tend to; our purposes are not his own."

"That is unfortunate," said Nephyn. "I was very interested to learn somewhat in the way of archery from him; he had a most remarkable manner of stringing his bow. Still, I would like to hear how it is we find the Dwarf once again in our midst. Some tale of darkness and danger, I hope?" A smile played on the lips of our handsome huntress.

"Oh aye! Darkness, danger!" shouted Drodie as he devoured a kipper. "All of that and more!" He laughed uproariously. Liz the barmaid rolled her eyes and continued cleaning the tankards.

"No, I would not put it so," said Gaelira, clearly not amused. "I will tell that tale, both because I was the one to locate our wayward friend and also because it concerns the Company's next move. Darkness was involved, one could say, but there was no danger."

"As I kept watch during the night I thought about what we found in the Chetwood and considered our missing Dwarf. What we needed, I thought, was news of what was passing in this land and also news of our missing comrade. As the moon climbed toward midnight, I saw rain-clouds gathering from afar. It occurred to me that tidings may often do the same: churn up in far-flung lands but then gather together to unleash their rains. And where tidings gather like clouds, news may also flood forth. Since we are on the very threshold of one of the most ancient meeting-ways in Middle-earth, I decided to see what the gathering clouds might have to tell me."

"I made my way to the Prancing Pony, the surest place to get any news fit to hear. No sooner had I reached the inn's front door than I heard Drodie's unmistakable voice raised above all others in a song of the Iron Hills. I found him without difficulty and his ebullient mood extinguished the irritation I felt at his delay. Moreover, I was grateful for this turn of events, for I encountered an important Man there as well, one I had long wished to meet."

"His name is Strider, or at least that is the name he goes by in the Bree-land. He is the chieftain of the Dunedain Rangers of the North, and he is very wise and valiant. He knows much of what passes in Eriador and has the heart of both Elrond and Mithrandir. For those of you who are unfamiliar with those names, perhaps I will tell you more of them some other time. In any case, Strider informed me he fears for the safety of the Free Peoples of the North, but he also fears his Rangers are stretched too thin to make any move against the Enemy. He knows of our mission to assist Elladan of Rivendell and begged me that our Company might gather what tidings we can of the threats massing across the land and bring him word so that he might be better able to counter the Enemy's designs. I told him we are only five, but that did not worry him: he said we have many friends, even if we know them not. He said we could do no better than to seek Iarwain Ben-adar, who hears much in many ways, and whose wisdom would almost certainly guide us on our next step. There is little more to tell -- Drodie and I returned here quickly, arriving just as the rain was beginning to fall."

"And so Strider would have us find the Oldest and Fatherless?" asked Luean, his blue eyes dancing with interest. "I will not hide that I have desired this for many, many lives of Men."

"I have never heard of this Iarwain," said Nephyn. "Is he some sort of lore-master or scholar who would help us on our journey?"

"He has many names among many folk," Gaelira said. "Orald... Forn... Among the Men of this region, he is called Tom Bombadil, although I have no idea why. It is a strange name, for an even stranger creature." Nephyn creased her brow. I wasn't certain whether she was familiar with that name or not.

"Half a moment," I said, putting down my mug. "Am I to understand we're going to go hunting for some chap named Tom on the recommendation of some other shady character who sounds like he could have been named after a pack-mule?"

"His true name is Aragorn," Luean said. "I saw him grow up in Rivendell."

"Well, that helps some, I suppose," I said, not liking where this conversation was headed. "But what about this Tom friend of his? Do we even know where to find him?" I took another pull on my ale.

"Sort of," came Gaelira's reply. "Old Bombadil keeps his house in the depths of the Old Forest." I choked and spit my ale across the room.

"But you can't be thinking of going in there!" I cried. "The Old Forest is haunted! Every hobbit from Needlehole to Buckland knows that! No one who goes in there ever comes out!"

"Not true, Master Hobbit," said Nephyn. "I have been under the eaves of the Old Forest more than once, yet here am I. Admittedly, I was only in on the northern and eastern ends -- I have never explored the western and southern reaches, nor have I ever seen any sign of a house beneath those ancient trees."

"Aragorn said he wasn't entirely sure where Bombadil keeps his house either, but he gave me very good directions on roughly where it must lay based on his knowledge of the land. Between Strider's guidance and Nephyn's experience, we should be able to locate the proper spot."

"Well, I don't like this whole idea," I said with some heat. "Running off on a wild goose chase on the word of a stranger to find another stranger which leads right into a haunted forest! My only consolation is this weather -- what with the rain and the wind we... couldn't... possibly..." I trailed off as I saw everyone else's eyes focused on me.

"We couldn't possibly what, friend Padryc?" asked Gaelira, clearly more amused than I cared to see her. "Travel to the Old Forest? But that is exactly what we will do. I suggest you prepare yourself."

"No..." I lied, albeit probably not very convincingly. "No, I was going to say we couldn't possibly... delay our start, since the weather will... serve to deter any pursuers and... wash away our tracks, and... things..."

"Then it's settled," Luean said, standing. "We should start at once!"

Crushed, I hurried upstairs to gather my belongings, which I had stowed under my bed in the expectation I would not need them today. I had been looking forward to spending the day in or about the tavern having my fill of ales and tales, but now it appeared I was in for a perfectly miserable journey into a haunted wood!

We set out quickly and made our way through Bree-town without incident. By the time we passed out of the West-gate, the rain had gotten even worse; our white cloaks were drenched through and our feet were freezing. Once we had made it beyond the Greenway Crossing, we had to make a decision. Nephyn informed us we could either continue west on the Road and enter the Old Forest from the north, or we could attempt to reach the Old Forest by first entering the Barrow-Downs then heading southwest. I, of course, voted to take the longer way and I was relieved when a slim majority of the Company saw things my way. We continued west along the Road and turned south at Adso's Camp, which lies roughly halfway between Bree and the Buckland Gate.

Although I wasn't at all happy to find myself inside the Old Forest, I was relieved that the wood's thick canopy was absorbing most of the rain. Only the occasional drop was finding its way through the interwoven boughs above us to water the tangled undergrowth where we now walked. I don't have much to report about this stage of our journey. We encountered a couple of rather large wolves along our way, but they proved to be no more of a hindrance to us than the ones in the Chetwood. What I found most disturbing was the silence: that place was uncomfortably quiet and it almost felt as though the trees themselves were bending over us, watching and listening. As we plunged deeper and deeper into the forest, I thought of how long it would be before Nephyn would lose us -- many peculiar tales have been told of that wood, and all of them involve headstrong adventurers getting hopelessly lost in it.

Finally, just as the fearful stillness was really starting to get to me, the trees opened out above us and a clear path, lined with white stones, unraveled before us. The rain had stopped and evening had filled the sky. There, just ahead, was the most curious little cottage I have ever seen, all brightly ablaze from without and within with a wholesome, glowing yellow light.

I can't begin to adequately describe that place to you, dear Reader. I shall have to try some other time
The House of Tom Bombadil
when I'm less rattled, but suffice it to say we had clearly found the House of Tom Bombadil. Our host was pleased to see us and treated us to a wonderful supper that I can't seem to recall in any detail now. Old Tom spent a great deal of time in talk with Gaelira and Luean while Nephyn, Drodie, and I explored the house itself. We also briefly met Tom's wife Goldberry, a most enigmatic lady. Apparently she had some business to accomplish in connexion with the weather, so we were left to entertain ourselves. We traded a series of riddles between us until Gaelira informed us we would be permitted to spend the night there. We thanked our host many times, and began to settle in for the night. I decided to take a bit of air before dropping off.

Once outside, I sniffed the night breeze and was mighty glad we found that house when we did: I do not like to think what it would have been like to have to spend a night under those dark and imposing trees! I was admiring the stars, when suddenly I fancied I heard singing. I know it sounds odd, but I would swear I did. I thought that perhaps Goldberry was calling to me, so I followed the sound down a hill and across a small bridge where I walked alongside a stream. A little further on the singing became stronger, and I raised my eyes. Before me was an enormous old willow tree -- it looked like it might have been there for centuries. It seemed to me as if the sound of singing was coming from it, or perhaps coming from the earth around its gigantic roots. My head swam, and I sank to my knees in the shallow water.

Suddenly, I felt something grab me around the waist and I was tipped into the water face-first! I came back to my senses and managed to wriggle free, but my wits were so muddled I can't be sure of what exactly happened. I would swear that willow had reached out one of its long roots and tried to drown me! Whatever it was, I crawled away from the tree before fainting into the mud just beyond the pool.

I awoke to being slapped across the face multiple times by Nephyn and Luean. They had gone looking for me when I did not come back inside earlier and, fortunately, did not have much trouble finding me since I hadn't had time to get far. I got all sorts of lectures about wandering off on my own, but I had already learnt my lesson.

As I finish writing this, my things are drying on Tom Bombadil's hearth. It sounded to me as though he had spent a great deal of time in talk with the other members of the Company regarding our next move, but I am too tired to care about such things just now. No doubt I'll learn everything I need in the morning.

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