The mote had been erring around for a long time without memory and mind. It remembered wrath and pain, confusion and the overwhelming agony as something was ripped from its very being, as if a big dog had closed its teeth around the mote's soul and torn it out. The mote was blinded by lightning and obscured by poisonous fumes as it flew across the barren waste under a red-and-black sky. It climbed ashen mountains and fled from crevice to crack, seeking refuge in the fissures of the world, because the mote was the weakest of them all now, so weak it was unable to take even take the smallest of shapes.
For a long time it dwelt in the dark for it feared the blinding light of the sun. But every time, only moments after it had come to rest in a murky place under the earth and stones, ants and spiders came to chase it away. They scurried and scuttled about with their disgusting multitude of legs, gaping and gawping out of many black eyes. They tried to bite and grab it, clicking their awful jaws. Spiders came and tried to spin their cocoons around it and the mote desperately flew left and right and darted between the legs of its prison-keepers, it squashed under the thick, soft belly of a great spider and fled past the vermin and out into the dreadful light.
It reached a great marsh and it fled to a riverbank although the mote feared water almost as much as it feared sunlight. There it rested between pebbles and the mud, but its reprieve didn't last long, because small lizards thought it prey and hunted and chased it through over the riverbank and into the reeds. Left and right it flickered, because the mote could not even bend a straw and it had to avoid the sharp blades of the water-grass. The little spirit was flickering with exhaustion when night fell at last and the lizards retreated to their holes under the swamp. But as soon as the last ray of sunlight had gone and merciful darkness blanketed the world, strange lights rose from the water of the marshes. The murky water itself was glowing in a sickly, greenish colour. Wisps of mist rose up like fog and in their shifting form the mote could see faces, long dead and forgotten and misshapen with decay, pain and wrath. The mote huddled deeper into the darkness under a rotten leaf of reed where it was hiding, but the faces slowly turned and then they were all looking in its direction. The lights that had risen from the water were swaying in place, then they glided forward, homing in on the mote. The world of the mote had once been greater than life itself, but now it had shrunken to the size of stones and holes-in-the-earth. And this whole small world was now filled with terror as the mote saw vengeance in the faces of the dead who had noticed its presence, and once more it left behind its hiding place and it staggered away, trying to escape the wraiths on its heels. But they were not to be shaken off that easily. They surrounded the mote and pushed it and rotten hands reached out of the water and tried to pull it under the surface. The mote zigged and zagged and with a last burst of strength, it left the marshes behind.
The mote flew ever westward. It did not heed the sun any more, because the night harboured as many enemies as the light of day brought forth. There was no comfort to be found, no resting place where it could stay. It flew over endless grassland until snowy mountains rose up, their white caps twinkling and sparkling in the sunlight. The mote crossed the mountain range and turned north. It held no love for the cold and the snow, but the land there was dead and devoid of any beasts of prey. It spent a long time on the cap of the highest of the white mountains, higher even than the clouds, where it was blinded and burned by the sun. It was lost and exposed under a cruel blue sky and the winds battled around the mountain top, threatening to rip it off the peak like a leaf. The mote huddled down and clung to the sharp ice crystals, while day turned to night and to day again. The lands below were hidden by the clouds and the mote was alone on the mountain top, without a name, without a life. It stayed there for some time until the winds and the cold had worn it down and the mote surrendered to the elements. It waited without doing anything, and perhaps there was something that should have happened now that it had given up, but neither death nor life seemed to want to claim it. Finally, a gust of wind gently picked up the mote and carried it down from the peak and north.
The mote allowed itself to be carried on the little swirls and eddies of wind. It flew over a stretch of forest land, over ruins of long-abandoned cities and along big stone gates hewn into mountain sides. A memory of two ancient cities stirred and submerged again, for the little soul of the mote was not able to support conscious thought. For a while, the mote withdrew from the outer world and curled up into itself and allowed fate to decide where it would be carried. Some days, it didn't touch the ground at all. Other days it spent lying in the soft grass and moss, not caring whether the floor was shaken by a hog digging through the earth right next to it or whether the sniffing nose of a fox nudged it to one side.
Such was the existence of the smallest of the small, until the wind or a twist of fate carried it over a ridge of hills called Barrow-downs and into the valley on the other side where river was merrily leaping down from the Downs and past a house with friendly windows.
The mote unfurled from looking in onto itself when it took note of a clear, bright sound nearby. The mote thought it the sound of a swiftly burbling river, but then it heard the melody and the words, which interwove to form a song:
“Douse and wring and swiftly spread
the linens under the sun
with frost on tree and riverbed
at last summer's end has come!
Quickly now, wax shoes and floors
For winter's not far gone
Clean the windows, open doors
During fresh and golden dawn.
At mid-day, bring the water in
To polish knob and glass,
Fetch lilies of my river-kin
from meadows of green grass!
When at last blue evening falls,
put logs onto the fire,
come home into our friendly halls,
and sing to your heart's desire!
When almost all our work is done,
and winter snows come hither,
there's yarn and wool that's to be spun,
but our flowers never wither.
Even when ice encrusts the ground,
winter's grip won't hold us faster,
for here there's merriment to be a-found
With Goldberry and the Master!
The clear and bright voice rung like a bell and thrummed through the little mote and it suddenly remembered homely houses with warm, yellow windows and welcoming friends at the doorstep. Tired and battered, but still curious, the mote rose from the ground and glided over the grass until it reached a pond, drawn by the song and the promising words.
The pond was clear and not very deep and in it stood a woman with yellow hair and flowers in her braids. She was clad in green and silver and her skirt floated like the leaf of a water-lily around her knees. She was scrubbing and washing white linens, then shook them out and laid them to dry on the grass next to the pond. The mote watched her work until she suddenly walked over to where it was hovering and almost spread a bed-linen over it. The mote darted aside as quickly as its tired state allowed, but it could not help being caught under the sheet.
“Now, now! What do we have here?” the woman said and lifted a corner of the bedsheet where the mote was caught under it. “A little spirit perhaps? Or a traveller?” She lifted the mote in the cup of her hand and her touch was cool and soothing like water and although the mote did not love rivers or the sea, it could feel her cool touch easing the burning pain that was plaguing it since it lost most of its soul, and maybe even before that.
“Ah! But you look worn and tired! And your light is flickering! But there is something to be done about that, I am sure. No one comes here to Tom Bombadil's house and doesn't leave with more strength or courage of heart.” And with those words she leapt out of the water and her laughter was like the river that came down from the mountains and fed into the pond. “Come now, if you'll allow me to carry you!”
The mote didn't object, and even if it had wanted it would not have been able to. Thus, it let the woman carry it over to the house and settled into her palm. A lot of pain and worry eased out of the little being at her touch. The woman carried it into the house and when they crossed the doorstep, the mote felt a faint prickling which was strange, but not unpleasant. The woman entered a room with a table and rush-seated chairs. On one wall, there was a fireplace and on another a window which was looking out over the gentle slope of the hill where a path was leading eastward and into the mountains.
“Now where to put you, little friend?” the woman asked. “I would seat you in a chair, but you seem a bit small for it and the table or the floor hardly are fitting places to rest. We also have beds, but you would probably bothered by the blanket.”
The mote was unable to talk, therefore it slipped out of the woman's palm and slowly floated over the floor which was made of big flagstones. It flew over to the fireplace where the remains of burned logs and ashes bore witness of a fire long gone out and settled between the dust and cold embers.
“Curiouser and curiouser.” The woman put a finger to her lips. “But then again, you are drained and have come a long way. I smell the air of high mountaintops on you. You must have been cold for a long time and warmth is good for resting and healing. Would you have me light a fire?”
The mote flew out of the chimney once more and wavered off to one side in a wordless attempt to make room for the woman. She smiled and took some kindling in her hands which she lighted carefully and then placed logs onto each other. When she was satisfied and the fire was crackling merrily, she stood aside and made an inviting gesture.
“Here you are, little spirit. Your request is unusual, but if we can fulfil your wishes they shan't go unheeded in Tom's house. Now sleep—or rest, whatever you prefer—and when Tom comes back he may be able to help you in a way that I cannot. He is the Master of this place, you must know. I sense that you have a lot to tell, but no tongue to speak with. Maybe we can remedy that. But rest now and fear no dangers and no cold! You are in a friendly house and neither shadow nor snow nor wind is allowed in here if they do not behave.”
With that, she turned around and left the mote. The mote in turn glided between the warm, orange flames which encircled and embraced it like old friends. This was not a consuming, dark fire like the mote remembered, but merely a warm glow to invigorate tired limbs and soothe troubled minds.
The sun wandered past the window and was already low in the western sky when the mote woke again. The shadows in the room had turned to a bluish colour and outside white mists began to rise. The fire had died down to glowing embers, but mote felt stronger than it had in a long time and with newly awakened curiosity set to exploring the house. The door had been left ajar and the mote glided down a short passage to where it could hear sounds of clanging pots and smell the scents of cooking. The mote floated into the kitchen where the woman was standing in front of a stove while on a trestle table behind here, three dishes were being prepared. There was an oven with warm bread baking in it and bowls filled with honeycombs and autumn fruit.
The woman turned around, noticed the mote and her eyes crinkled in a merry smile. “Ah there you are! I looked after you in the afternoon, but you were fast asleep and I did not want to disturb you. I believed you would come on your own as soon as you were awake, and you chose a good time to leave your bed. Supper is almost ready!”
The mote floated up onto the table and watched her work when it heard the front door open and suddenly, someone sang out loud:
Hey dol! Merry dot! Dong-a-long a-dillo!
Who has come back home at last? Tom Bombadillo!
Hop, now, derry doll, while the mists do grow and shiver,
Ho dol, cheery-oh, Tom brings lilies from the river!
He wanders far and fearless, but not beyond his gates,
for when the even-shadows fall his Goldberry awaits!
The woman laughed. “Listen, Tom has come home at last! Now it won't be long before we will solve the puzzle of your coming. Come with me, we will set the table together!”
The mote, which of course could do nothing to help the woman called Goldberry, followed on her heels into the room with the table and the fireplace where it had slept away the day. In this room a man was standing, but he looked quite different from anything the mote had expected. He was shorter than a man, but not as short as a dwarf and his face looked different from both. He had round, red cheeks and twinkling blue eyes. He wore yellow boots and a blue jacket and on his thick brown hair sat a hat with a blue feather. His face bore a thousand crinkles of laughter and he pulled off his hat with a swift gesture when Goldberry entered and bowed to her while he presented her with a big leaf on which water-lilies were assembled as on a tray.
“For you, river-daughter!” he exclaimed merrily and Goldberry took the lilies with a smile on her face.
“Long have you been gone and what marvellous lilies did you find!” Goldberry said. “But look, we have a guest tonight!”
At those words, Tom straightened up and Goldberry stepped aside to reveal the mote. Both mote and Tom Bombadil looked at each other for a few moments. A ripple seemed to go through the air and suddenly, the mote recoiled and flitted toward the door.
“Ho, little fellow! Not so fast!” Tom Bombadil called. “It's impolite to leave when you have not even introduced yourself!”
The door clicked shut with a gust of wind that came out of nowhere. The mote halted and darted into a corner and from there to the window, frantically searching for a way out. But alas, the window was closed and Tom Bombadil stood before the chimney, his hands on his hips and a serious expression on his face. He watched to mote flitting to and fro for a while, looking for a place to hide, but to no avail. Finally, he raised his arms and clapped his hands.
“Halt!” he cried and there was something in his voice that magnified the words so that, albeit not loud, they reverberated through the floor and the walls and the lilies in Goldberry's hands were shivering.
The mote fell to the floor as if it had been struck down. Tom Bombadil walked over to where it trembled and flickered and picked it up in his brown, broad hands.
“Now, now!” he said and wagged a finger in front of the mote. “No more darting around and no more trying to escape! I know that you especially might be afraid to find yourself here, but do not forget that most people are better hosts than you have been, my little friend! I know who you are and what you have done, and I even know what you would have done to this place had you come into power, but Tom's house has no dungeons and dark rooms with spike-wheels and instruments to inflict harm!”
The little mote shivered and tried to escape, but there was power in Tom Bombadil's words and it found itself frozen on the palm of his hand.
“The world outside has changed, has it not?” Tom asked the mote. “I am here in my realm and I do not leave it, but it did not escape Old Tom that something has been going on on the outside. You have risen high and you have fallen even deeper, I can see that. There is little left of you now. Where did the rest of you go?” Tom's blue eyes regarded the mote with frightening insight. “Tinkering with the fabric of Creation is dangerous business, little spirit,” he murmured, so only the two of them could hear.
Then he turned around to Goldberry and raised his voice. “It is rare that the great wide world comes knocking on my door, but Tom doesn't turn it aside! I am sure our guest has a lot to tell and many questions to answer, and I think he would be more comfortable doing it in his own body.”
Goldberry smiled and set the leaf with the water-lilies aside. “So there is more to you than meets the eye. See, Tom will help you!”
Tom looked at the mote when it shrank back in fear. “I will do you no harm, little spirit. Tom harms nobody and nobody harms Tom. So keep still and let me see what we can do for you.” And with those words, Tom turned around and ran outside, skipping from one foot to the other. It wasn't long before he returned with a handful of earth, a few twigs and a jug of water in his hand.
“Jolly-oh, little fellow!” he exclaimed. “We will do some old magic now!”
The mote recoiled in distrust, but Goldberry knelt down and smiled at it. “Courage, little one. Tom has never hurt anyone and he knows what he is doing. What you have done is now behind you and we shall save judging you for another day.”
“First of all, we need a focus,” Tom said. “All magic needs boundaries. We can't have old spells skipping about like deer in spring!” He looked around, his brow creased as if he was looking for something. When he saw the water-lilies, his face lit up. “Ho dol, merry dot! The lilies, of course! Goldberry will make a circle of them to keep the magic inside and close to you.”
Goldberry took the water-lilies and fetched some yarn, then sat down on one of the chairs and with swift and deft movements, strung the lilies together until she had a loop of flowers which she placed on the floor between Tom and her.
Tom clapped his hands and then knelt down next to the loop. He put the jug of water, the handful of earth and then took ahold of the twigs.
“First,” he said, “come the bones.” And he put them together to form a spine and two arms and legs. “Now, blood and flesh.” And with that he merged earth and water until it was a malleable mass and he started to form a small body with a round head and four limbs. “And at last—the soul.”
And with that, he gestured for the little mote to enter the circle of flowers where the small mud-man was standing. The mote, however, hesitated. It remembered something about this man in his blue jacket and with his feather-hat, but the knowledge was alarming and for reasons it did not remember it knew that it should fear him.
“Ho, little fellow! We can't wait forever!” Tom made a shooing gesture with his hand, pushing the mote into the circle. Then he stood and spread his arms.
“Out of water, out of soil,
rise from this immortal coil,
twigs to bones and soil to flesh,
blood bubbling from water fresh,
soul to mind and mind to matter,
focus to thoughts so wont to scatter,
head to neck and hand to arm,
from death to life, from cold to warm,
rise now fast and ever faster,
heed the call of Tom the Master!
Goldberry watched calmly while Tom sung, but even her eyes widened in wonder when the mote started to grow with a bright light that grew until it filled the entire circle, swallowing the little man-likeness of mud and twigs and the water-lilies. It grew and grew until it was a round pillar of light standing in the room. Then, slowly, the pillar started to take form. It shrunk until it revealed a white-glowing body and arms and legs and finally a head. A strange music filled the room, echoing long after Tom's words had faded, but it seemed like the song was repeated again and again by disembodied voices all around them. Finally, the melody died down and with it the blinding light.
The figure of a man was left standing in the middle of the room. He was tall, much taller than Tom and even Goldberry. His limbs were long and slender and his hair was golden and fell down his back in wild curls. Around his neck rested the loop of lilies Goldberry had made and they were glowing with the ancient magic of Tom's incantation. He was unclothed safe for the necklace, but he held his head high without shame or fear and there was a fire in his amber eyes, like embers that were just waiting to be stoked into flame once more.
Tom regarded the man thoughtfully, his blue eyes twinkling. “Now, wouldn't you agree this is better?”
Slowly, the man turned his gaze to Tom and looked at him for a long time, His face was unmoving and at last, the Lord of the Rings nodded.