And She Slept
“River-woman, awaken and give me your answer!” He stood on the side of the river, clad in blue boots and a style of hat that would not be seen on another for several ages, and flicked a rock through the ice.
A face appeared in the cracked ice, reflecting on shards until it filled the entire river. “You must ask a question first to be given an answer, Eldest.”
He laughed. “May I share your lands, River-woman, or shall you send me on my way to seek other lands?”
“These lands are filled with ice and darkness. Why do you not venture forth with the others to their green lands?” She blinked slowly, cracks appearing further in the ice as she spoke.
“These lands will be green again, when you are awake and new beings have come to take their places in time,” he said. “They seek to make a land that is evergreen and free of darkness.”
“And why do you not seek such a land?” As she spoke, a fox crept out of the darkness and sat at the water’s edge, carefully lapping away at the water. She curled in the water so the ice swept further away from the fox.
“I was in these lands before the light of the stars ever touched them, and I will remain if they disappear and plunge these lands back into darkness and all becomes lifeless,” he answered, as the fox scurried back into the trees and the deathless were all that remained. “Darkness will not be my end.”
“And yet you say these lands will become green again, so you must not expect to remain in darkness forever, Eldest.” The river edges began to ice back over, and she stared at him from one set of eyes.
“All those that will be shall pass through these lands,” he said, staring into the trees as images appeared in the River-woman’s mind of Elves passing through on journeys West and journeys East, armies of Men facing armies of Orcs, the lives of those living as ice and flame destroyed lands, and the lives of those living as green fields grew. “And the works of those that dwell in distant islands will be important, but so will the works of those that stay behind.”
“And you will stay to guide them?” she asked, lifting her face from the water to meet his eyes.
“I will stay to help those who dwell in these lands,” he answered.
She smiled and relaxed backwards into the water. “You may stay in these lands, as long as you let me resume my sleep.”
He laughed, and the bats of Melkor flew away. “Sleep, River-woman, until the cold retreats and your river thaws. Then awaken to meet our new visitors.”
And she slept.
The lack of names throughout this piece is very much deliberate, and based entirely on the River-woman being known as that. It is, in my mind, less a reduction of her to where she lives, and more a reflection of what she is – and Tom Bombadil, living before elves, men, or even the Valar enter Arda, would identify as what he is, until he is given a name by those same beings.
Also, it lets me skirt around exactly what he is, because it wouldn’t be as fun if I had decided that for this story.