The Old Grey Wizard
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A Wind From the West: 1. A Wind From the West
A Wind From the West
"I am turning aside soon. I am going to have a long talk with Bombadil: such a talk as I have not had in all my time. He is a moss-gatherer, and I have been a stone doomed to rolling. But my rolling days are ending, and now we shall have much to say to one another."
Homeward Bound, ROTK
To the dismay of those that stood by, about the body of Saruman a grey mist gathered, and rising slowly to a great height like smoke from a fire, as a pale shrouded figure it loomed over the Hill. For a moment it wavered, looking to the West; but out of the West came a cold wind, and it bent away, and with a sigh dissolved into nothing.
The Scouring of the Shire, ROTK
November 3, III 3019
I stood on the crest of the green ridge that sheltered Bombadil's comfortable house and stared into the afternoon. The light angled below the wide brim of my hat and into my eyes. If anyone had been there to see it, I suppose my face was twisted into a scowl. I watched with a mixture of dread and anticipation for the sign I knew would come today, for the end that my foresight said would happen this afternoon. A good thing I hadn't brought my pipe; I would surely have bitten through the stem.
This was the deeper reason I had tarried near, to wait for this day. I had suspected, of course, where my former colleague would go, and had done nothing to prevent him. No longer my task, I had told myself; they are more than capable now, and they must learn to trust themselves. My heart was confident that Frodo and the others would find their own way to put things right in this corner of Eriador where the last of Mordor's shadow still lingered. But my head wouldn't quit worrying. I could not quite bring myself to be more than a brief stallion's ride away, just in case... If things went badly, if somehow Saruman got the upper hand... How could I live with myself, if something happened now, after everything? And so I had stayed nearby, a visit to Bombadil's house the pretext. Or so I told myself.
A light breeze at my back lifted a few strands of my now completely white hair. For a moment my eyes strayed downward toward the hollow below the hill where Bombadil's neatly thatched, white-washed cottage glowed in the afternoon sun. My host and Goldberry worked in their garden, Tom carrying sheaves of straw and Goldberry packing it carefully over the plants they wished to shelter from the coming winter. Bombadil made a game of it, capering and dancing as he wove between the rows with armloads of yellow straw. He leaped clear over Goldberry's head as she knelt on the loam; I could the echo of her laughter as she reached up and tried to swat him playfully.
Odd, I thought, that something I could feel and know so keenly seemed to be hidden from Iarwain Ben-Adar. Usually Bombadil knew everything. Iarwain could read the thought and memory of anything or anyone who crossed his borders, as clearly as he read the sky or understood the muted utterances of the trees of the Old Forest. It was his compensation, Tom had told me years ago, for gathering moss. His power was concentrated and focused within a barrier that he defined, and inside that circle, he reigned. But the coming event would take place beyond the boundary of the small land he had chosen as his realm. Not far, but far enough so Iarwain's sight was clouded.
My eyes rose as I looked toward the Shire. I knew not how, or precisely why Saruman would leave behind his mortal form this day; I knew only that it would happen, and violently. And Tom, if he felt it, expressed no interest in the event. Curumo had come but once to this little hollow of Middle Earth to visit, according to Iarwain, and had stayed only one day.
"He had more important tasks than to tarry here and listen to nonsense and riddles," Bombadil had laughed when I inquired about it.
The breeze shifted. A hissing wind came through the grass from the Barrow Downs, and with it, high overhead, came a faint shriek, repeated once. I glimpsed the hawk soaring in slow circles. Another day, I would have searched the skies eagerly. But I turned my gaze westward again. Any moment now.
The north wind's fingers sent a chill through me. I found myself shivering—no, I was trembling. I held my breath. There! Something there... Far off, perhaps a dozen leagues... Hobbiton, maybe, or somewhere near Bywater... A shimmer in the sky, then a dim haze rising, yet with the hint of a menacing shape. A cloaked figure of smoke, reaching out, reaching Westward...
I saw the wind coming long before I felt it. The rising smoke swiftly dissipated; a few moments passed. Then the trees began to move. The Forest was tossing, heaving, the crown of every tree swayed and bent before its wrath. The mists of the Withywindle Valley were torn and swirled into white shreds. Then the tempest was upon me. I staggered backward a step and leaned on my staff. My hair and beard flew back. My cloak twisted and flapped as I clamped my eyes shut against the fierce anger in that howling wind.
Then it was gone, and the gentle breeze returned, tickling at my back. The sun shone brightly, and the hawk called cree, cree again.
My shoulders sagged as I stared into the bright middle distance. How had it come to this? Curumo had been named first by the Council of Valinor, over two millennia ago. He had offered his service, with dignified courage, in the struggle against Sauron. No one, least of all I—Olorin—had been surprised when Curumo stood tall at the front of the crowded gathering place. His power was great, his knowledge inexhaustible, and he seemed to possess an implacable will. And Curumo and Sauron came from Aüle's people; they were of the same house. He was an excellent choice for the task.
And I had come only after hearing my name called, not once, but thrice; I had not asked for this. I had not stood proudly before the others, certain of the rightness of it. I had been hesitant and troubled; yes, afraid. Where had all of Curumo's certainty gone?
And what might I have done, once we arrived on these shores, to stop the destruction that had occurred on the very threshold of my small friend Frodo Baggins' house this afternoon? What if I had given Curumo the respect deserving to the one who had stepped forward in leadership for the dreadful task laid before us by the Council? How might he have behaved if I had supported him fully, given him my loyalty? What if I had sought him out in all things, confided in him when clues useful to the success of our once-common goal came to me, and not to him?
Nay, we were both too proud for that. From the first, he treated me with barely veiled contempt, for I had not volunteered, but had been called out of my dark corner by the Head of the Council of the Ainur, and only agreed to join the Five with reluctance. The thought was never far from his mind, and he found such cunning ways to remind me of it, again and again. The accusation stung in its truth, and wounded my fool's pride. Yet what did I do? In my turn I used clever words and subtle jabs to mock him, and watched with wry amusement as he seethed and tried to conceal his rage. I did not trust him, and whatever trust he had in me eroded away. He was right; I conspired behind his back with others who I found more suitable. Might things have come out differently, had I been more open with him? If I had quelled my own pride, my own anger, might we have come together and worked side by side, instead of always at odds, circling around one another with guard up and weapons at the ready?
I looked again to the West, where now the sun was sinking in flames. The Old Forest and the fields of Buckland beyond it lay at my feet, drenched in autumn gold; and I released my regret, and the last of my pride. No, it was not to be, and I was arrogant to think my actions might have swayed him. I could not have stopped Curumo's desire for power. When it woke in him, I did not know, but his hunger thrived in this far land, where those of us who are only travelers here can feel our power, if we grasp hold of it and use it too often and too eagerly. Such a hunger can consume, as well as clamor to be filled.
And some hearts cannot be warmed, not even by the wielder of the secret flame. Even I cannot walk in every dream. He chose his own path. All come to such crossroads, seen or unseen, acknowledged or not. He made his choice, long ago, perhaps even before he crossed the Sea. I could only give my thanks that I was not so tempted, or if I was, that my desires were of a different sort, and less perilous to fulfill.
"You could not have saved him. He would not have allowed it."
Iarwain Ben-Adar had come up the slope so quietly that I had not heard him approach. I looked into his sun-browned face and studied his startlingly blue eyes. He had known after all.
"Yes," I sighed. "I know you are right."
Bombadil's face creased into a broad smile. He tossed his own hat into the air, and suddenly reached up, grabbed mine and flung it sailing away down the hill.
"What in Arda was that for?" I snapped, though I was grinning at the same time.
He did not answer, but began to dance around me. He clasped my arms and before I knew it I was twirling around Bombadil as we raced and tumbled down the slope of the hill in what must have appeared to be the Dance of the Ancient Madmen. When we reached the back fence of his garden, Bombadil let go of me and leaped over it, running to Goldberry. I came through the gate and entered their garden in what I hoped was a more dignified fashion, although I could hardly catch my breath for laughing. He drew her to her feet and soon they were both capering around me and singing.
Sing, derry, merry dol! Tom's had an awful fright!
The Wand'ring Wizard's just admitted that someone else is right!
That night I sat by Bombadil's fire and listened while he told Goldberry stories of Curumo, the Maia of the House of Aüle, whom the Firstborn had named Man of Skill for his many marvelous inventions. And though I cannot with honesty say that I grieved for him, I released what had been clinging to my heart, and I forgave him...and myself.
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