One day came to pass when these two were strolling side by side in the forest near where Tom lived. And as they commenced to stride up a hill, and as the ground began to gradually grow stonier, Tom grew uneasy. When finally they had come to an almost completely stone ground, Tom bid him turn back.
“These lands were not sung for the likes of us,” he said. “They are a mysterious place, and too many memories are held here amidst the barrow wights.”
“Then turn back we will,” replied Milrog. “For rather would I walk the highest path in the mountains with you as my guide, though it be a long and steep road, rather than tread the lowest, even, and easy path without such a companion.” At this Tom showed him a weak smile and then stared at the earth. They turned their backs to the land formerly known as the Barrow-Downs, and continued heading south into the woods. But before they had been gone for long, Tom began muttering something. Milrog soon was able to distinguish the words, and was amazed at them.
“Ho, Tom Bombadil, Tom Bombadillo,
By water, wood, and hill, by the reed and willow,
By fire sun and moon, hearken now and hear us
Come Tom Bombadil, for our need is near us.”
“Yes,” said Tom after a pause. “Yes, that brings back quite the memories. The golden years,” he said, “The Golden Years!” he yelled at the top of his lungs and birds and squirrels and creatures of the like all scattered from the booming voice.
“When water flowed freely over land! When roses and Burberrys grew in harmony together, and the sun beat hot upon the surface of the earth giving strength to the freshly plump pumpkins and corn! When land was free of economy and the leaders of all the great nations were bound together in love and fellowship! When dear Goldberry and I danced free on the greenest grass! Now, there was a sight! To see the fairest River-Daughter pick up her feet from the ground and lightly run along the meadows and pastures picking water lilies as she went! To see my oldest friends, the elves, vanish in the west! To see old Olorin, whom they then called Greyhame, finish his task with the dark lord and set fiery ring on his finger again! And then the most humble of all beings, my dearest hobbits, triumph over the evil at the scouring of the Shire!
“Those were the times when every limb of me flowed with wisdom, but when evil was evil and good was good. These days, there is too much evil in good and too much good in evil for either of them to truly be anything anymore, and I will not try to distinguish the two again.”
Here Tom stopped to rest on an old hollow log and pulled Milrog down beside him. And he wept bitterly, arousing such compassion in Milrog that all his own miseries soon faded away, and were no more. For this was a fate which he beheld, far greater than his own. And he put an arm around his companion’s shoulders until the tears were run dry.
A long, long time ago, when four hobbits were befriended by this man, they never imagined he could cry. That old Tom’s joy was the most complete among any whom they had ever met. Back when he saved their lives twice from certain destruction. First from a mean willow-tree, and then from a nasty old Barrow Wight. But those were the days, the days when Tom’s woods ran green all year ’round. Back when the elves constantly gave him visits, or even Olorin was at his doorstep to trade information. But since then, everything had hopelessly withered, Goldberry had died, and the roots of every living thing were cut from beneath it.
And of course by now, Milrog knew of all these happenings, but still there was one thing, which he much desired to know.
“My old friend,” said he, “how did she die? How did the beautiful River-Daughter pass into Valinor?”
“It was in the trees,” Tom replied, “that her doom was met.” And he looked about himself in wonder at the trees, still not fearing them in the least. “There was a time when these trees would talk to one another, when anger festered in their hearts against all who inhabited their lands. They were awoken by dark magic in the woods, spreading from the eaves of Mirkwood. The power of the necromancer spread, and here never completely died out when he was overthrown in his tower at Barad-Dur. These trees greedily sucked up all the water from every other living plant. The streams ran dry from over-population of these vile things, and poor old Goldberry herself, like a tree, withered and was no more.”
“How can this be?” asked Milrog. “How is it that no sword or spear never touched her, and yet she died.”
Now that Tom was perfectly sober again, he could speak clearly. “The River-Daughter was born of the water, her life was in these green woods even when her streams were sucked to the nutrients of these wonderful vegetables. But to be consumed completely by something so unholy, she could not bear. And that was what happened, the trees ate her soul.”
“Of this we will speak no more,” comforted Milrog. “But instead we must go back, and I must pack, because I foresee a great adventure in front of myself, and the time for lamenting Bree is over. I must continue.”
“Aih,” sighed Tom, “and ye will not be going alone. Too long have I sat idle and watched the world pass into ruin. Too long have I given up hope for the redemption of man. Too long have I wandered in miserable memories of the Golden Days.”
Milrog was in no position to deny his company. So he thanked Tom for the generous offer and said that they would be off the next morning.
And they were.
The next morning, Milrog pulled the heavy pack over his shoulder and Tom packed up a baggage pony for the trip. Tom took a large breath, exhaled quite smoothly, and pulled up his bright yellow boots. He fetched his most unused walking stick and rubbed off the dust from its handle.
They had not left the comfort of the house of Tom Bombadil for one hundred yards before Tom longingly looked back at the place that had for many centuries been his home. But Milrog lay a heavy hand on his shoulder and together they continued on, away from the woods, into a land long known as The Shire.
And though the humble mapmaker knew it not, this was the beginning of an adventure to reset the course of the future.