The pale October sun hung low in a watery sky when we parted, and I left them puzzling on the Road. The mist soon covered me and hid them from my sight and, besides, I did not need to look back. South and west Shadowfax flew across the downs, like the breath of the North Wind and as free, and hardly an hour had passed before we reached our destination. The mist was lifting and the dark folds of the forest rose to my right as we made our way down the hill and towards the path. Shadowfax slowed to a walk, ears twitching. A breeze lifted the leaves of the trees on the edge of the forest -
'Hey dol, derry dol! Can you hear me singing?'
- and there he was; first feather and hat, then bright eyes and brown beard, and wrinkles from laughter that creased deeper when he saw me.
'Ho now! There you are! You tarried on your journey! Quick now, hurry now - they will not wait much longer! Leave your handsome friend behind - Lumpkin will find him!'
I jumped down, and Shadowfax dismissed me with a snort and a shake of the head. The blue feather was already disappearing down the hill. 'Hey now, hurry now!' he called back to me. 'They cannot wait much longer!'
I could not stop my laughter bubbling forth as I hurried after him. No, indeed, he wanted no news from the south; would care nothing for the passing of the Shadow and the coming of the King. He had more important things to show me.
We followed the path for a little while between the river and the trees, until it met another stream. This we followed in its turn, striking north into the forest proper. Its dark canopy stretched above and ahead of us and the earth was damp beneath my feet. Then the stream bent suddenly north and westwards and he pointed ahead to the bank that jutted out before us. 'Look there! Quick now! - '
- and there they were, tumbling on the bank, sleek and fast and small and golden, and the vixen curving around and among them, sharp and graceful, dancing and weaving.
I took a step forward and a twig cracked under my foot.
They all looked round at once - ears up and heads high and eyes bright, a mother and her five cubs.
'Ho now, Mother Fox,' he said gently, 'we have come to see you and admire your sons and daughters while they are still beside you.'
She ducked her head as if to grant us permission to stay, and so we stood and watched them play, while their mother watched both them and us with her quick eyes.
In time, he spoke again.
'The year ends and winter comes. Soon they will be leaving to find their path and make their way. Mothers and fathers! Walls rise and walls fall and sink into the grasses; part of the pulse and the pattern of the seasons.'
Then suddenly his bright blue eyes fell upon me, fierce and glittering.
'So the blade went south in hobbit hands and sunk into his sinews! These lands have not forgotten him. They did not mourn his passing.'
On the third day we wandered down the Withywindle, coming to Haysend as the afternoon waned. Looking north and west over the river and across the Shire, I saw it. It rose above us - the pale shrouded figure - before the West Wind came and it passed beyond my knowledge. Behind us, the Forest heaved and creaked, and rested.
We parted late that night on the Road, the air cold and the sky clear and the stars bright.
'Travel home safely. May your ship soon reach the harbour. Find the peace that you have earned. Bombadil is here yet! While grass still grows or flower blooms, Bombadil will guard them.'