The Circle Closes
When had the horsemasters become plowmen?
Eyes heavy with memory looked out from the tree line onto fields once known for endless grasslands roamed by herds of noble horses, barely domesticated by the hands of men who loved them as their own children. Now the green sea lay pooled within fences of stone and wood, overlaid with precise lines of grain and regimented orchards, punctuated with barns and stalls and houses. The farmlands pressed upon the line of gnarled trees clinging to the worn foothills, threatening to swallow the remnants of the ancient woodlands in the insatiable hunger for land and timber. The old man pressed his hand against the trunk of the large oak beside him. He felt nothing but spiritless bark.
When had the horsemasters become plowmen?
When Lothlorien had surrendered the last memories of the golden trees to the erosion of vulgar time. When the muted halls of Imladris fell to ruin and became the habitat of beasts. When the iron doors of the dwarven mansions shuttered their peculiar race into dark tunnels and out of discourse with the world of light. When stone and branch and brook lost their voices and bent their necks to the yoke of the ever-spreading contagion of mankind.
When had the horsemasters become plowmen?
When the age-old wanderer had traveled far in search of purer, uncharted lands in which the echo of the fading music still could be heard. He had journeyed where the snows never melted and to the deserts of the scorching southlands. He had walked in unnumbered forests and canyons, crossed nameless rivers and scaled an eternity of hillsides, but he had not found a place that remembered the old ways. So he had returned, and found all of them gone. Perhaps here, though, there might be one other. Perhaps.
He turned his back to the lights of the farmsteads below him and walked through the autumn leaves carpeting the forest floor into the heart of the shrinking woods. With ears attenuated to the whispers of nature, he wound his way to an outcropping of stone near a deep green pool. One slept here, older than most living things, one who long before had been awaked by the Elder Race before the rising of sun or moon.
The old man touched the wizened trunk with the polished staff he carried in his hand and sang quietly in a language not heard in these lands for many long years. He sang of bright skies and clean water and long seasons of root and branch stretching from earth to sky. He sang of many tongues, before the coarse languages of Man had drowned out all the others. He sang of the ways no forgotten even to most legends, and then he sang in a slow mournful dirge of the others from this forest, and the wives long lost to the wider world.
How long he sang he could not have said, but in time the sap stirred and the limbs above his bowed head swayed. A voice, cracked with lack of use, rumbled in the old man's ears. "Hurummph," or so it sounded, but the man responded in the language of the ancient Elven kingdoms.
"Treebeard, Master of Fangorn, awaken to me and forgive the disturbance. You slept soundly, and nearly had given into the neverending slumber. Heed me."
"Now who might you be," the great Ent asked. "You are familiar to me, but as if in a dream."
"I am a wizard," the man responded. "A foolish old wizard."
"Hurrumm," Treebeard responded with what passed for surprise for an Ent. "I've known two wizards, one dead and one gone. I do not know you."
"Long ago we met, Master," the old man replied. "I am Radagast, the Brown Wizard, but I fear that I rarely attended to you or your trees."
"Ahhh," Treebeard said. "Yes, I do remember you from when the ships first came with your Order to these lands. Long has been your road, has it not? Why do you linger?"
"Out of the foolish belief that some things never change, but they do. But now I am alone, and I have sought out you for who else might remember what I remember but you?"
Treebeard swayed his head in the likeness of a nod, and the two talked for long days. Finally, Radagast made ready to leave. "You know that I am the last of my kind," Treebeard said. "No others remain awake and I have long given up all hope for the Entwives to return. My forest will be all be gone before the new acorn can grow to full height."
"We are both the last of our kind, and of our times. Come with me, Treebeard. The journey will be easier if we go with a companion."
In what was a very hasty decision, Treebeard accepted Radagast's offer. The two travelers wound their way through the forest and toward the northwest, traveling at night and under the cover of mountain shadow and forest canopy. They spoke little, but there was great comfort in the presence of the other. They made their way to the confines of the Old Forest, but the haunts of Old Bombadil now were reduced to meadow and tilled earth.
"Where might he have ended?" Radagast asked. "He was older than us all."
"Oh, he remains here," Treebeard answered. "His spirit needs nothing more than a blade of grass to frame for him a kingdom. He will remain here until all things pass."
They turned west and wandered like flickering shades through the old lands of the Shire, but found no hobbit holes. Men inhabited these rich fields now. Once, in a fleeting movement along a hillside, just at dusk, they sensed something small dart furtively into a hole beneath an old oak. Perhaps it was a rabbit. If it was the descendant of the halflings, Radagast mourned for their decline.
In time, they reached their destination and knew once more the dismay of their loss. The havens of the elves were gone, washed under the waves by the movement of the shoreline and the passage of time. Where once the halls of Cirdan rose in splendor now only fishing villages were to be found.
"Well, dear friend," Treebeard said, "it appears the last road is closed. I am sorry."
Despair rose, but found itself overpowered by a grim determination that Radagast had not known for long centuries. "I am not ready to give up," the wizard said. "I am still a wizard, and bear some lasting flicker of the Undying Flame!" He strode off and wandered the coast. Looking, searching, casting spells of finding, until he chanced upon a boat, white once but now mired in mud, jutting out of the bottom of a shallow bay. Mustering his strength and will, Radagast lifted his staff and commanded the ship to rise from the muck and float again. Slowly, the vessel of the elves heard the voice of the wizard and obeyed.
With a joy unknown from his youth in the Uttermost West, Radagast pulled the ship along the shore and back to Treebeard. When he arrived, his heart sank, for in the time he had been gone, the old Ent had sunk his roots into the earth on last time and had given himself up. He had become a tree. Radagast wept at the loss and sang a song of awakening again, but it was of no use. The last of the Tree Shepherds had fallen asleep.
As the old wizard turned his attention to the ship, he realized that the mast was gone, and no sails remained. "Yes," he thought, "yes, it would be most fitting."
A borrowed axe from a local farmstead soon bit into the trunk of the great tree. Cut and stripped, the body of Treebeard soon rose in the ship as a mast. Radagast's own robes, brown and stained, fit awkwardly on the pole for sails. Radagast knelt in the sea as night fell and called upon Ulmo, Lord of Waters, for aid. "Please let me return home," he begged with tears in his eyes. "Please forgive me."
In response the winds rose and the sea surged. Climbing into the boat, Radagast watched in amazement as the ship drifted away from the shore and out to sea. Very soon, the lands of Middle Earth receded and all around him was empty ocean. Yet, one morning just as dawn arose, Radagast spied a veil of sea spray and light before him. There was singing as he passed through it, and the lights of Elvenhome and high mountains of the Valar towered before him. When the boat landed, Radagast was met by his old friend, Gandalf, no longer bowed with the cares of the world, and with him was Yavanna, Radagast's patroness. Through tears of joy, Radagast heard singing, but not of elves. This was a voice of the world beyond. Looking up, he saw on the heights an Entwife, tall and brown, with arms outstretched. She called to her love, and from the ship strode Treebeard, returning her call.
They were home, and all was well.