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4. In the House of Tom Bombadil
Cold rain. Cold everywhere. Like the fingers of winter touching frail flowers, cold melting into nothingness, and the rain pouring down to wash everything away.
He was being carried. A swaying motion like the calm waves of the sea. They were carrying him into a barrow, he knew. He could have escaped the wight, but the spell was too strong, the dark chanting too hard to resist. Will they make a barrow for Aragorn, the last chieftain of the Dúnedain? He wanted to look, but his eyelids felt too heavy to open. He drifted in and out of reckoning, out of knowledge of the numb shell of his body.
When he came to himself again, the swaying had stopped. He expected to find himself in pure, impenetrable darkness. Instead, a soft warm light filtered through his closed eyelids, and as from a great distance – a song:
…wake and hear… calling…
He tried to focus on the words, but they evaded him each time he thought he grasped them, danced in the corners of his mind…
…warm… heart and limb…
He felt warmth spreading through his numb limbs, drawing the cold out of the marrow of his bones. It was so pleasant to feel warmth again, like lying upon the grass in golden summer and listening to the buzzing of bees. He sighed contentedly. It was now easier to concentrate on the song.
…dark door… dead hand is broken… Night under Night is flown, and the Gate is open!
On the border between sleep and waking, he could hear the song again; clear and merry like the fresh sound of rippling water.
Wake now my merry lad! Wake and hear me calling!
The song bid him to wake, and he did, for there was strength in the tones that was impossible to resist – and he didn't want to. He opened his eyes, and blinked sleepily. The golden glow was coming from a fireplace – it was dark behind the window, but the fire was cracking merrily and bathing the room in a lively light. He was lying on a soft mattress, and in the armchair near the bed sat the most unusual man Aragorn has ever seen. He had a thick brown beard and a blue coat, and his boots were yellow like the curious heads of dandelions in spring. He smiled when he saw Aragorn awake.
"How are you, my merry lad? You had quite a nasty day, I believe…"
"I…" Aragorn wondered what brought the man to the idea to call him, of all people, merry, but he had to smile inadvertently as he watched the sparks in the man's eyes. The merriness was contagious. He smiled. "I feel wonderful, my lord."
"Good, good!" the man clapped his hands. "Goldberry will have the tea ready soon. You would like something warm in your stomach, I imagine. I had to sing the cold out of your bones."
At the mention of cold, Aragorn shivered, remembering the dark words of the chant in the barrow, stealing all warmth from his limbs.
The man noticed it. "Do not fear, Aragorn!" he smiled. "No evil enters the walls of this house. You are safe here from all shadows and spells, from the rain and wailing wind. You can rest peacefully under my roof."
Aragorn relaxed, accepting the reassurance in the words and trusting it fully for some reason. But something made him frown in confusion. "Who are you my lord, and how do you know my name?"
"Ai Tom, Tom, you are forgetting your manners!" the strange man jumped from the chair. He bowed, waving his hand like a juggler after a successful trick. "Tom Bombadil is my name, and I am the Master here. I know your name, for you have been speaking in your sleep, my lad. It seemed you couldn't decide between Estel and Aragorn, but I supposed Aragorn would be the more official one, am I not mistaken?" he asked with a wink, and Aragorn couldn't help himself but smile again.
"You are right, Master Tom. That is indeed my name," he said.
Tom nodded. "I thought you might be from that line. The gold suited you quite nicely, but I though you might not wish to wear it in bed. It's on the shelf if you want it."
"No thank you," Aragorn shook his head resolutely. He noticed that he was wearing a soft nightshirt instead of the thin tunic, and his wounds were neatly bandaged. The deeper meaning behind Tom's word was slow to register in his weary mind, but eventually it did. "You… You know my line?"
Tom laughed. "Tom knows many things, my dear Dúnadan. He knows what the leaves whisper in the wind, what the creek sings to the rocks, he knows where the squirrels sleep, where you can meet a black fox. Tom knows about the men from the West, and the kings buried in the hills."
Aragorn was taken aback, wondering who Tom Bombadil was. Tom didn't give him much time to ponder that, however. "But enough of such things!" he exclaimed suddenly. "The evening is growing old, and you have to rest. Goldberry has the tea ready, and it will grow cold if we speak any longer!"
Indeed, in the moment Tom mentioned her, she entered the room, carrying a tray. Aragorn almost forgot to close his mouth as he watched her walk – no, dance – across the room. Her hair cascaded down her shoulders like a river of gold, and her gown had the colour of fresh leaves in spring, strewn with the silver dew of a fresh morning. Her step was light like water jumping seamlessly from stone to stone, and graceful like the flowing of a river. Like merry rippling of waves was her voice as she laughed. "Tom, you are tiring our guest!" she scolded good-heartedly. "Let him find refreshment before your stories! Here, my dear Dúnadan," she put the tray on his knees. It was more than just the hot, fragrant tea, he saw. There was fresh bread and cheese, honey and yellow cream, and a slice of an apple pie.
"Thank you, my lady," was all Aragorn managed to say. He felt like a beggar being served by an elf queen… a very hungry beggar. At the smell of the food, his stomach rumbled, and he averted his gaze in embarrassment.
But Goldberry only smiled encouragingly. "It is good to have a guest in our house again. Eat, drink and fear nothing. No peril enters these walls," she repeated Tom's earlier words, and Aragorn knew it is the truth. He began eating hungrily, pausing just for a moment to compliment her cooking – which made her cheeks blush with pride like a rose bud. Finally when the tray was empty, he sighed contentedly.
He felt his eyelids grow heavy again, but this time he knew that sleep would be restful, and no evil could harm him while in the house of Tom Bombadil. The barrow was only a bad memory, a nightmare that dissolves with the morning. He could hear the wind in the darkness outside, and the rain falling on the windows, but inside, there was just the warm glow of fire and a soft song coming from the kitchen as Goldberry washed the dishes. He did not resist the calling of sleep, but let himself be carried on its soft waves.
A/N: Tom's song is (also) from The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
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