Down in the Dingle, before the seas were bent upon the circles of the World, before the first acorn opened in the valley of the Withywindle, dwelt a strange creature of ancient Middle-earth. Old Tom Bombadil made his paths along the winding willow-strewn river when there were no other folk to follow them. Elves came; then other peoples of Middle-earth.
Long ages passed. And in his house upon a grassy hillside Tom sang his songs above the river. From his words came a weird tolling of nonsense and forgotten meanings, a rhythmic poetry that rang out across that ancient land.
He often sat beside the water, his long beard tickling the passing reflections. There he one day glimpsed Goldberry. He saw her in the river under water-lilies, below shady willow roots. The way Tom told the tale, young Goldberry tried to capture his heart. But he refused to follow her into the depths, to her home beneath the water.
Iarwain Ben-adar they called him long ago, the Elves who came to Lindon and who built Mithlond. He became known to the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains as Forn. And among the humans who settled in that region he was called Orald – these folk made barrows for their dead, not far from the Withywindle. Eldest, he was.
A century or so before the end of the Second Age of the World, Elendil established his realm in Arnor. Númenórean refugees occupied the lands surrounding the Withywindle. They found Orald a curious creature. His songs were full of enigmatic mastery, and he could have helped them with his power, but he was forgetful of their worries, and their many wars had no hold on him. Instead, he sang his songs to the animals and trees.
Over eight hundred years into the Third Age, Arnor splintered into three realms. Now the kings of Cardolan ruled over the region. The refugees from Númenor learned that Orald’s land had its own dangers, but it was a refuge from the cares of their politics. They whispered spells over the forging of swords to settle matters among themselves, but they set aside their weapons in the House of Orald.
About 1150 of the Third Age, Hobbits first appeared west of the Misty Mountains. Orald took notice as they migrated into Eriador among the splintered kingdoms descended from Arnor. By 1300 they begin to settle around Bree, an old town in that part of the world. In 1601 the Hobbits were granted leave to live beyond the Baranduin by King Argeleb II of Arthedain.
Orald knew the kings of Cardolan. He knew them for hundreds of years as they buried their dead in the ancient barrows of Tyrn Gorthad. At the end of that time, not long after the Hobbits settled nearby, one day he noticed a woman among them. “Fair she was,” he said of her over 1300 years later. And she wore a pretty blue brooch on her shoulder.
Whatever Orald said to her in those days, and whatever she said to him, one day she died – and with her death came the end of Cardolan. A plague in 1636 destroyed the kingdom and ravaged the Hobbits. The last prince of Cardolan died in battle with the men of Carn Dûm, and he was buried in an ancient barrow near the realm of Orald.
In the years that followed the end of Cardolan, evil creatures crept into the cold barrows. Wights from Angmar. Some say the sorcerers of Rhudaur had a hand in this, enemies of Cardolan.
By then Orald had become known among the Hobbits as Tom Bombadil. This name came to him from Buckland. And under this name the resonation of his singing entered their legends. They told of his dealings with mischievous animals and hard-hearted Old Man Willow, and they spoke of the power that his songs had over the evil of the Barrow-wights.
And in their tales they also passed down the memory of the marriage of Tom Bombadil and Goldberry. They recalled how Badger-folk danced and Willow-man tapped upon the windows of the house. In their traditions pretty Goldberry wore upon her golden tresses a garland of forget-me-nots and flag-lilies and her dress was silver-green.
Tom often told the Hobbits of how Goldberry had tried to capture his heart. He liked to say that he one day stole her away from her home in a deep pool of the Withywindle. At their wedding the Hobbits remembered how he sang like a starling.
And the Elves slowly forgot about Iarwain Ben-adar. Círdan and the Elven mariners at Mithlond ceased to wonder about the old strange creature in the Dingle of the Withywindle. Elrond and the Elves of Rivendell didn’t come to visit. None of them attended the wedding.
But down in the Dingle that day came Hobbits from Buckland. And there were Badgers. And Old Man Willow. And a Barrow-wight with bright eyes sat up and wept in his barrow.
This all happened when Tom Bombadil wedded pretty Goldberry, the River-daughter. She wore shoes that flashed like fishes’ mail. And she sang of the seasons, of still waters like skies full of jewels. And among lamps that gleamed in the House of Bombadil, everyone heard how old Tom hummed that day like a honeybee.