Feet That Wander
1. Feet That Wander
There had been much to care for in this land of his since the small ones had come and gone. Evil had been stirring now for some time -- in the Old Forest, and on the Barrow-Downs. The wights were restless, roused by the presence of the Black Captain and the Dark Riders passing up and down the Greenway south of Bree. The Black Captain had spent many days there, at his camp at Andrath, and the evil spirits in the mounds were astir with malice, presenting a great danger to any who might dare to travel the road north or south.
Tom had been aware of the new danger, and he was watching. He tended his land, unafraid; his song was sufficient to lull to sleep the black-hearted Willow-Man or to set to flight the twisted wight. Was he not greater than even these Dark Riders? Had he not been in the world longer than they? Far longer!
He did not fear them. But others there were, who might be wandering, and they would know fear and danger. They would need his aid by day or by night, even as the hobbits had needed him, to escape the stirring of evil in the Old Forest and on the Downs. Off to Bree, and beyond, they now were, with the Servants of the Enemy close at their heels. They were gone beyond his aid -- but others there might be who would come after them.
So he trod the path, and watched his borders, humming as he went -- and where Tom walked, evil crept away.
One traveller there was, in need of Tom's help, though he knew it not -- a man, on foot, weary after a long journey, and in a foul mood because he knew he was lost.
A fog had descended during the morning, and now all was lost in a grey, moist haze that was thick enough to cut with a knife. Was he even on the road any longer? the man wondered. When was the last time he had noticed his boots scuffing the flat paved stones of the ancient way? He had been overjoyed to find the road at last, a few days ago; though it was broken and overgrown, it was still unmistakably a road. It had been long enough that he had travelled in lands where there was no road or path to guide him. Though he had long ago lost his map, he still knew roughly where he wanted to go, and was annoyed that he could not seem to get there.
And now it seemed he had lost even that poor excuse for a road. In the fog, his feet had strayed, and he now walked in grass, the turf springy under his feet. He was astray once more, with no road to guide him, and there was no pretending otherwise.
The man sighed and stopped walking. Wrapping his cloak about him against the chill that came with the fog, he peered through the mist, but could see nothing clearly. He tried to recall what he could of the scene from the road before the fog had come down around him. It was a barren land of ridges, hills and grass, empty of people. The road, such as it was, had cut through a long defile, with Downs on either side; it had been soon after passing through that defile that he had lost his way...
The man shivered as he remembered the walk through that narrow place. He had felt strangely cold, as though some dark creature had been there, waiting, and had but recently moved on. He remembered the old tales he had been told as a child, of the Tyrn Gorthad in the far north, the Barrow-Downs, that had once been the burial place of forgotten kings, but now were haunted by spirits unfriendly to man and beast. Was he near that place now?
He shivered again, then shrugged his shoulders in irritation at his apprehension. The fog was causing him to imagine things! It was broad daylight... or it would be if this cursed mist would lift...
The man turned his head sharply. What was that? A shadow ahead? Something moving in the fog? No, it was only his imagination...
He looked back along his path. His footprints lingered still in the grass, wet with dew from the mist that swirled about him. Perhaps if he followed his tracks through the grass, he would find his way back to the road. It was worth a try, at least; better than sitting and waiting for the sun to return.
As he retraced his steps, the man thought he heard a soft moaning begin, on the very edge of hearing. It was a cold sound, which reminded him of the chill he had felt back on the road, reminded him of things even darker...
A shadow moved beside him. He swung round to meet it, his sword ringing loudly in the silence as he drew it. The shadow loomed up, grew larger, then suddenly dissipated, as a new sound came wafting on the breeze.
"Ho, Tom Bombadil, Tom Bombadillo!"
A deep voice was singing. A strange song, it was, that made little sense; yet the joy in that song dispelled the fear and menace that had been growing in the darkness and in the man's heart. With a sense of relief as if a burden had been lifted, the man slowly sheathed his sword and waited for the singer to come near.
The song lapsed into humming that grew steadily louder and nearer. Suddenly, another shadow loomed up out of the fog, quickly resolving itself into the form of a short man, with a cheerful, red-cheeked face. He was dressed in bright colors and a strange, floppy hat with a long blue feather stuck in the brim. His yellowish boots were large and heavy, as he stamped through the grass to the beat of his humming song.
"Hey dol! Come merry dol!" cried the humming man, with a happy flourish of his hand. "Well met, good traveller! Tom Bombadil is who I am, and I'm glad to meet you. What do you here, out on the Downs in the fog? This is no place for you, today, my friend! Have your feet been wandering?"
"Well met," answered the traveller courteously. "Tom, you say? I am Boromir of Gondor. Though I am loath to admit it, I have indeed been wandering for some time in this fog, and I have not been able to find my way back to the road."
"Good fortune walks with you, then, my wandering friend from the South, for Tom has been watching. He will set your feet straight, for he knows all the paths. Do not fear the shadows in the mist! Tom's song is stronger!"
Boromir smiled at the man's quaint speech, but he felt strangely comforted.
"A straight path for my feet would be welcome," he said with a bow. "It has been many days since I lost my horse, and my feet have had to carry me over many miles. I was glad when I found the road, and I thought that by following it, I would find lodging and perhaps even stables. But I have seen nothing! Is there no inn nearby, where I might find a horse, and a bite to eat, and a drink to wet my throat?"
"An inn there be, and a fine one!" cried Tom. "Or so they say. The Prancing Pony they name it, though Tom does not go there. It lies outside my borders. But I fear you will find no horse there."
Tom nodded wisely and pointed a finger at Boromir.
"News comes to Tom, as he walks his borders. Strange doings of late in Bree, and the horses are gone."
"My feet will have to serve then," he replied after a moment, sighing ruefully.
"Yes," laughed Tom, "Feet must serve. But do not fear! Though your feet have wandered far, once they are set on the right road, they will not lead you astray. Tom will set you on the path out of the mist; after that, your feet must find their own way."
It seemed like no time had passed before Boromir was on the road once more. The day was wearing on, but now the fog was breaking up, as the breeze quickened and the sun shone once more.
"Go you quickly now, my fine friend," said Tom. "With your long legs, you will reach the Prancing Pony before the darkness falls. Only a few more miles, then you may sleep, and forget the shadows that loom in the mist."
"Thank you for your trouble," said Boromir gratefully.
"Trouble?" replied Tom with a shake of his head. "What trouble? Singing and walking and watching is what Tom does in the world. I have my country to mind, and wandering feet to set straight. Good fortune it was that brought me to you, and my good fortune to have had the pleasure of the meeting. Fare you well, Master Boromir! May your feet take you where you wish to go!"
Tom bowed deeply, then leaping lightly around, he danced away, singing. Boromir looked after him until he disappeared over a hill, then he, too, turned and walked away north at a brisk pace.
Tom hummed happily to himself as he trod the invisible path that skirted the borders of his land, his own little country. His duty it was to be aware of what went on within his borders, and beyond. There were many feet that wandered in the world, and Tom must be ready if they wandered his way.
A good day's work, it had been; feet that wandered had been set straight, and evil had been thwarted. Yes, a good day's work!
Tom trod the path, and watched his borders, humming as he went -- and where Tom walked, evil crept away.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.