The old fisherman was about to nod off to sleep, having sat on the riverbank long without a single nibble, when suddenly two very lovely young ladies appeared not ten feet away...clad in nothing but their long, long hair.
They did not see him until he dropped his fishing-pole into the water with a plop, not even noticing that he had hooked a very nice trout. The sound got the girls' attention so they turned and waved to him with friendly smiles, then saw how he was looking at them.
"Why does he seem so horrified, sister?" asked one. "Are we ugly?"
"You do not look ugly," said the other. "Do I?"
"I think not. But remember what Mother said. Landfolk are shocked at the sight of bare skin. We must appear clothed."
"Ah then, I shall be clad in a gown of gold, all covered with diamonds."
"What are diamonds?" her sister asked, and before the other could reply, she was suddenly wearing just such a garment as she had described.
"Oh," exclaimed the other, running a finger over the shimmering fabric, "it is like a golden leaf covered with dewdrops in the light...save that dewdrops are much prettier. Very well then, I shall have one of purple, covered with pearls."
And immediately she was thus garbed.
"Oh, oh," her sister cried, "how lovely! It is just like a, a purple flower, all covered with...pearls."
"It is nice," the other admitted, holding out her skirt to look at it, "but it needs something more, does it not? Perhaps some stripes of...scarlet. Like yon tree."
It was the autumn of the year, the trees of the countryside in their flaming colors. Stripes of scarlet immediately appeared on the purple gown.
Neither of them noticed the elderly chap rubbing his eyes over and over with his fists.
When the River-woman lost her daughter Goldberry to a land-dweller, she raged a good bit, so that the river flooded its banks, and froze up in winter, and other bad things that rivers are wont to do. Then she had two more daughters, within a year of each other, at that, and so was much comforted, and the river behaved itself. She nearly named them Joy and Comfort, but she was more imaginative than that. And so the elder one was named "Song of the Lark that Rises Each Morn in the Meadow and Twitters With Joy to See Her Young Learn to Fly"--the waterfolk being ever poetic in their speech...and sometimes dreadfully long-winded. She was called Larksong for short. Her younger sister was "Star of the Morning Light That Peers from Clouds of Rose-gold in the Eastern Hills Bringing Sweet Comfort After a Night of Fell Darkness." She soon became better known as Morningstar.
Morningstar had yellow hair like Goldberry's, and her forget-me-not eyes and buttercream skin, along with her native gaiety and whimsy. Larksong's hair was darker, a beautiful golden brown, and so were her eyes. Some folk claimed to have seen her in the brown part of the river, her hair, longer than herself, rippling just below the surface, and when they looked closer, they saw her eyes glinting up at them from below. They glimpsed Morningstar in the sunlit shallower part, for her hair looked silver-clear when below the waters.
Satisfied with their gowns, above which their pretty shoulders gleamed like white shells, the sisters also remembered to make their hair appear shorter lest it drag the ground. Now it came only to their knees. It took some getting used to, having it so short.
"So where does she live?" Morningstar said as they took hands and began walking through the meadow. "I hope you know the way. I cannot wait to see the little one."
"I believe it is yet to be born," Larksong said as they vaulted a high hedge, both giggling with glee at how easy it was. "I see the road over yonder. One stays upon it and it will lead to the structure in which our sister lives with her mate."
"I wish I might have a mate," Morningstar said. "But now that our mother has been given to sitting upon the cliffs like our aunt, I fear it will never happen, and we will ever be maids."
For most unfortunately, the River-woman had fallen into wicked ways like her own sister, who loved nothing better than to perch high on the cliffs beside the river, combing her long golden locks and singing so beautifully that boatmen who heard her song were bewitched, and their boats dashed to bits on the rocks below, and themselves drowned before they knew what they were about. The River-woman had once reproached her for this behavior, whereupon she merely tossed her head saying the men should look where they were going, and they were all wicked anyway, and deserved what they got. But now the River-woman feared that her two younger daughters would take landsman as mates also, being nearly of age now, and so she had taken to singing on the cliffs to make sure this did not come about.
"I shouldn't think that likely to happen," spoke a voice nearby, and the sisters glanced aside to see two males standing in a path that led to the road.
Neither of them were easy on either the eyes or the nose, being very dirty and ragged in appearance, with much-rumpled hair both on their heads and faces, and some showing through the upper garment of the younger-looking one. The other carried an earthen vessel, hooked onto his thumb, which sported a thick-looking and filthy nail. The eyes of both were wide and staring, much like those of the elderly fisherman, even though the sisters were clothed now.
"And where would two such lovely ladies be going dressed so fine?" the younger-looking one asked.
"You like our gowns?" Morningstar said, not noticing her sister's frown.
"That I do," said the younger man with a twitch of one eye, "but I likes e'en better wha's inside of 'em."
The other made a noise with his mouth, similar to a frog's croak, only louder, then looked rather proud of himself. His companion glanced at him with a disapproving look on his bristly red face.
"'Scuse you, Orson," he said gruffly, then turned back to the sisters. "Him ain't got much in the way of manners nor brains, as yer can plainly see. Him's me cousin, but I tries not to advertise the fact, if yer takes me meanin'. Me name's Bob, by the way...and yers is?"
"That is all fine," Larksong said coolly, "but we've no time to stay and make amorosities with you even if we wished it. Our elder sister is with young, and desires our company. So farewell, and I would suggest you clean yourselves at your soonest convenience, if you would go a-wooing with any success."
"Fancy talk!" Bob whistled between crooked teeth, one of which was a most unpleasing brown. "I likes that, I do."
Orson croaked again, his small eyes riveted on Larksong's bosom. Then he made a move in her direction, looking as though he would have her for breakfast. Bob grabbed the back of his upper garment, partially tearing it.
"Not so fast, yer big oaf," he said. "The brown-hair's mine. She'd be a fair handful fer the likes of you, with all that fancy talk. You kin 'ave the yeller 'un."
And he leered rather horribly at Larksong, who did not smile back. Orson lunged at Morningstar, and a moment later lay sprawling on his behind in the ditch beside the road, clutching at his crotch and howling, with Bob right on top of him, the jug spilling strong-smelling amber liquid in the morning sunshine.
And the sisters went on their way.
"Ugh," Larksong shuddered. "Now I see why Mother must protect us from the likes of them! You do not suppose Tom is like that?"
"I should hope not," Morningstar declared. "Goldberry did not choose him for his looks, for Mother says he is not beautiful, and not even very high. Perhaps we too should sit on the cliffs and sing?"
"We must rescue Goldberry from her hideous fate first," Larksong said. "Likely he is holding her prisoner with his evil magic. Mother said he is not as other men, and has special powers. She tried to wreck his boat herself, and he was oblivious to the beauty of her song. She says he likely bewitched our Goldberry with his own sweet singing."
"What if he takes us prisoner also?" Morningstar quavered.
"Surely the three of us can overpower him," Larksong said with her most stoic expression. "Perhaps we can lay low and wait until he goes out, and then go in to save her, and her young also."
"I shall go with you," Morningstar said, "and she will soon see her mistake, if she has not already."
"We must hasten," Larksong said, and with that they hurried along, quick and graceful as water in a swiftly flowing stream, singing of how they would be a family again, and how they were looking forward to watching the child grow in their care....
“So they'll play hard to get, will they?” Bob spat as he picked himself up off his luckless cousin, who still lay groaning.
“I never seen them two 'round these parts,” Orson said as he stiffly got to his feet also. “Where you reckon they from?”
“Must be queens of some sort,” Bob said kicking at the jug. “Did you see them gowns? They was all covered with gemstones from head to foot. Not that I noticed.”
“Well, less go,” Orson said. “I don't want to tangle with the likes of them. Ow....”
“Aw, yer a big baby,” Bob scoffed. “Yer know what? I bet they're headin' to Ol' Yeller-boots. Yer know, that chap what sings all the time. 'Tis said that his woman is expectin' a little un.”
“Bombadil?” Orson looked mournfully at the broken jug, and belched.
“The very one,” Bob said. “I bet you a bucket a' gold that's where they's goin'. Come on, less foller 'em.”
“Aw Bob, I don't wanna,” Orson whined, rubbing at his crotch. “Hit's said they can do magic an' stuff. They might turn us into toady frogs, er somethin'.”
“Fer you that'd be a big improvement,” Bob snorted. “All right, stay 'ere if yer wanna, but I'm goin'. If nuttin' else, I could tear me some a' them gems off'n that gown, and be rich as kings. See yer later then.”
And he sprinted off down the road, whistling, and when he turned to glance back, he saw Orson shuffling after him, making out like he wasn't. Bob laughed to himself, and continued on his way, not even noticing that the ladies had left no footprints.
Goldberry sat on the front stoop, working a butter churn and looking much frustrated. Yet as Larksong and Morningstar came running up the path, her expression turned to one of delight, and she stood with some difficulty and stepped down to meet them.
“Sisters!” she cried. “I am too swollen to embrace you, as you may see. But I do embrace you with my eyes and heart. What a merry meet!”
And she took each maiden by their hands and kissed their cheeks. She wore a simple gown herself, of light green with a waistline high enough to accommodate the great mound of her belly, a bit of white embroidery at the yoke.
“I think I have twins, and they are dancing with each other,” she said gaily as she noticed her sisters staring at the hump below her bosom. “I am trying to make butter, but it is being stubborn today, and will not turn. I can only hope the babe will prove otherwise.”
“I should like to see your dwelling on the inside,” Larksong said.
“Sisters, your gowns!” Goldberry exclaimed with a little laugh as she noticed them.
“Are they horrid?” Morningstar said in dismay, glancing down at her skirt as though she had spilled something on it, and Larksong did likewise.
“They are...rather fine for our home, think you?” Goldberry said glancing at her own with merry eyes. “Simpler gowns would do far more to enhance your beauty, my dears. Those do only detract from it.”
“Then I will have one like yours,” Larksong said, and suddenly she wore one identical to Goldberry's save without the bulge.
“And I,” Morningstar said. And all three sisters were clad alike. And they burst into peals of laughter, not because it was so funny, but just because they were all together and the air smelled of sweet cider and the sun was shining through the trees making a glory of their gem-like colors.
And they went indoors, leaving the door standing open.
“I am sorry it is so untidy,” Goldberry said, “but being so swollen, I am slow to get things done.”
“Where is Tom?” Larksong asked. She had intimated to Morningstar that they had best not speak of their plan to Goldberry...at least not right away.
“He is out to market,” Goldberry said, and the light came back into her face. “He is stocking up for the cold months. Would you care for something to eat? There is little here at the moment, for I get such greedy spells betimes, and gobble everything in sight. I suppose this one is making me do it.”
She laughed softly and patted her belly. “It is kicking me to death. I am sure it is a lad. If not two of them.”
“I can scarcely wait to see him!” Morningstar said, as Goldberry took her hand and pressed it to her belly. “Larksong, come and feel this!”
Larksong's face was something to see as she felt the movements in her sister's womb.
“If Mother could only be here!” she exclaimed, then put a hand to her mouth. She had not meant to speak of her mother so soon.
Goldberry's face clouded. “Is she still singing on the cliffs?”
Her sisters looked at each other in dismay.
“She is,” Larksong said, “and I expect we shall soon be doing so, after...” She looked meaningly at Morningstar.
“After what?” Goldberry said. “Come, let us sit down and have a bit of refreshment. And you can tell me.”
The younger sisters found some bread and honey and jam in the cupboard that Goldberry indicated, and followed her instructions as to how to prepare it. They also put a kettle on the fire to boil for tea. And as they sat down to enjoy their mid-morning repast, they told of the incident on the road.
“And so 'tis true what Mother says,” Larksong said just before popping a blackberry tart into her mouth. “Males are ugly, smelly, wicked creatures who are not fit to touch the hems of our garments—supposing that we wear any, which we do now.”
Morningstar nodded. “We must make the river a safe and decent place once more. And as for you...” She looked questioningly at Larksong.
“As for me?” Goldberry raised her eyebrows. “Sisters, you are not serious? All males are not like those.”
“They're not?” Larksong and Morningstar chorused.
“Of course not!” Goldberry laughed. “Those two are villagers, and are but common thieves and troublemakers avoided by most. There are always such, but they are on the fringe, and cannot be said to represent the entirety of males. You surely do not wish to lure all to their deaths?”
“Well,” Morningstar hedged, fingering a fold of her gown, “I did not really think...that is...”
“I would not lure them to their deaths,” Larksong amended. “I would merely...teach them a lesson. Make them break their boats, then haul them out of the water to the shore, and tell them, 'This is what happens to ugly men who make trouble for innocent maids on the road! Consider yourselves lucky that I was about!' Or something of that sort. Then perhaps they will turn from their wicked ways.”
“You have met many males?” Morningstar inquired of Goldberry.
“Indeed I have,” Goldberry said with a sip of her tea. “There are Men, and there are those Little Folk, who stayed with us some years ago. You've not heard of Hobbits, I suppose?”
The sisters said they had not.
“What are they like?” Morningstar asked.
“Like Big Folk, only much smaller, with hair on their feet, and valor in their hearts,” Goldberry said. “Some of them fought with the Enemy and threw down his tower, and now he is no more. And many of the Men fought also, and helped to save the world as we know it from his tyranny.”
“I never knew of this!” Larksong said. “Why did Mother never tell us?”
“You will hear stranger tales, if you stay above the water long enough,” Goldberry said softly, but with twinkling eyes. “And you have yet to meet my Tom. He it is that preserves the land all about us, and makes it a lovely place for us. He coaxes the trees to grow high, and the flowers to bloom, and the crops to flourish in the field, and the fruit to blossom and grow sweet and ready for the harvest. But for him, Arda would be a poor place in which to live. He may not have a mannish height, nor Elvish looks, but I would trade him for neither, for he treats me as his queen.”
“I don't suppose he has a brother?” Morningstar asked timidly, and her sisters laughed.
“I've an idea,” Goldberry said. “Instead of perching on the cliffs, why not rescue the men who dash their boats from drowning? Many of those men have families, just as I shall have. Some have sweethearts who would be extremely sorrowful if something bad were to happen to their lovers. Some have mothers and fathers whose hearts would be broken if their sons were to drown. Why not rescue them from their fates instead, then perhaps Mother will be shamed from the error of her ways?”
“I suppose it could be a good plan,” Larksong said dubiously. “But I've another idea for the nonce. Let us put this house to rights so our sister might rest for a while?”
“Yes, let's!” cried Morningstar, springing up, then she stood still. “But...I do not know how.”
“'Tis simple enough. Goldberry will tell us what to do. Won't you, sister?”
And so they flew about, sweeping the floor as instructed, dusting the furniture, washing the breakfast dishes, and other chores. Goldberry had to smile at the delight they took in these mundane activities, which had once enchanted her with their novelty also. And it was wonderful just to sit and let someone else do all the work for a change...
Until suddenly some of the contents of her womb gave way and landed on the floor beneath her in a puddle.
Tom Bombadil drove along the road, singing, his wagon loaded up with bushels of apples and pears and vegetables and onions and turnips, baskets of chives and mushrooms and truffles and eggs and bundles of herbs and spices, bags of flour and cane sugar and potatoes, and other goods. And he had not forgotten to pick a bunch of water-lilies as usual to make the place pretty for his lady.
Home from the market-place old Tom's a coming through!
For now he is a bringing goods for three instead of two!
Ho! Tom Bombadil, Tom Bombadillo!
Soon to have a family, he's the happiest fellow!
Gold and rubies in the trees, diamonds in the water
But the fairest jewel of all is a little son or daughter!
As the wagon pulled up into the stable, he noted the quietness of the cottage, which had nevertheless a sense of joy and gladness, although he could not hear the voice of his Goldberry answering back. His heart picked up tempo as he stood wondering if all was aright. Then suddenly he pelted into the door as quick as he could go, not even noticing it stood open....
And found his lady in her bed with two other fair smiling maidens by either side of her....
...one of whom was holding a tiny soft white-wrapped bundle in her arms...
And for once in his existence, Tom Bombadil was completely silenced, standing in the doorway with his mouth wide open....
“I shall call him Lotus,” Goldberry said as Larksong handed the baby back to her. “For he is rocked gently in my arms just as a water-lily in the swaying waves...and because he was once attached to my womb by a long stem...and because his bottom is apt to be wet.”
The humor of this last was lost on the sisters, yet they beamed and giggled over their tiny nephew and spoke silly words to him, as his father carried all the goods he had brought down to the cool cellar below, and put the lilies in a tub near the bed, and fixed a hasty yet generous dinner for the new mother and aunts. They had decided he WAS beautiful after all, and just the mate for their sister, and his singing voice was lovely indeed.
“Well, I have thought of it,” Morningstar said much later, “and I shall do it. Rescue those boatmen, I mean. And if one of them should happen to be brave and handsome, or have a fine singing voice, perhaps I shall wed him, and live in his house. What think you of that, sister?”
“I will have to give it some thought,” Larksong said. “Aye, very well then. I will do it also.”
“That was quick thinking,” Goldberry smiled, and so did all in the room.
And the sisters stayed for many days, helping to care for little Lotus and cooking and cleaning. Morningstar said she could get used to living “in the air” very quickly, particularly when a neighbor of Tom's and his wife and son came over to see the new addition. The son was but twenty years old, and even Larksong had to agree that he was a most definite improvement over the two they had met on the road....
...who, by the way, had taken the wrong path, being somewhat the worse for the contents of the earthen jug, the path leading out to the mist of the Barrow-downs....
But what their fate was there, this author will mercifully leave to the reader's imagination.