Title: Great Souls
Elements: This proverb: A little body doth often harbour a great soul.
Author's Notes: See the end of the story.
Summary: Aragorn learns a bit of wisdom from Gandalf when he first meets him that he often has occasion to remember. Five vignettes.
Word Count: 3,217
I. In the Wilds of Eriador, Midsummer, TA 2956
Dried meat, dried fruit and dry journeybread, and water to wash it down; Aragorn had taken worse meals in his life. He took a swallow, and got ready to take an uneasy rest. He was on his own for once, for Halbarad was recovering from a minor injury, though he was to meet his foster brothers soon.
Just then the tree limb he had tied to a bowstring moved suddenly. Someone had stepped on the cord. He leapt up, knife in hand and concealed himself behind the tree.
But the person who stepped into the clearing was an elderly man, clad only in threadbare grey robes, leaning upon a staff. There was something familiar about him, something he associated with Rivendell. He moved back into the opening. He sensed no threat in this one.
Before he could speak, the old man looked up from under the brim of his tall hat, a smile upon his face and a twinkle in his dark eyes. "Well met at last, Aragorn, son of Arathorn!"
Aragorn felt a jolt at hearing his true name spoken by one he had never met before...or had he? "You have the advantage of me," he said.
The old man chuckled. "Among the Men of the North, I am called Gandalf the Grey, although your adar called me 'Mithrandir'. We have never been introduced properly, but I of course have seen you from afar, and Elrond has often spoken fondly and proudly of you.
Of course! This was the Istari whom his father respected so much for his wisdom. Aragorn blushed at the compliments; for some reason it surprised him that his ada would say this to someone outside the family. It said something of this wizard's discretion that Elrond would entrust his foster son's secret to him. "Then I say to you 'well met' also, Gandalf the Grey! Or should I call you Mithrandir?"
"Gandalf will do. Only the Elves and the Men of Gondor call me Mithrandir. I have other names as well.
"I understand. Already I have three of them," he chuckled. "Will you join me tonight?
"I was of the mind to spend a few days with you, if you have no objection."
"Of course, I would be pleased to have your company! Especially if you have no objection to satisfying the questions I have longed to ask of you since I was ten years old and first spied you from afar, in the company of thirteen Dwarves and a perian."
Gandalf laughed. "Hobbit, young Aragorn! For that is what his people call themselves. Have you not come across them in your time in the Wild?"
Aragorn gestured to the ground, and said, "I have no fire tonight, and only cold fare, but will you be seated with me, ere I ply you with questions?" He suited his own actions to his words, and waited until Gandalf did so as well. Then he said, "I have seen them once briefly, after joining my kinfolk. My grandfather Dirhael and my cousin Halbarad stopped over in Bree one night. The small folk there were shy of us, and avoided speaking to us. They seem a very timid and peaceful folk."
"Yes, they are, for the most part," he pulled out a pipe and gestured for Aragorn to do the same.
The two sat in a brief companionable silence as they lit their pipes. Aragorn watched in admiration as the wizard blew out several perfect smoke rings. "This is an art I learned from the hobbits of the Shire," he said.
"I've often wondered about the hobbit who accompanied the Dwarves. Even as a child, I thought him an unlikely Adventurer. Why did you bring him along?"
"There is a proverb among the wise: A little body doth often harbour a great soul. Mr. Bilbo Baggins is one such. Hobbits are loyal, and have enough sense to avoid trouble when they can, and courage enough to face it when they cannot. In addition, Bilbo comes from a clan of especially clever and lucky hobbits, and possesses a very large and generous heart. Do not ever underestimate the abilities of the small, whether of stature or of station, young Dúnadan."
Aragorn nodded. "I know that adawas impressed by him. But I have never heard the full story of what happened. I do remember that he made a rare journey from Rivendell at the time, and I wondered if his trip had to do with the Dwarves; but it seems none thought the tale fit for a ten year old."
Gandalf proved to be an excellent storyteller and Aragorn listened to his tales until late in the night. The two of them agreeing to travel together for a while, until Aragorn met up with Elladan and Elrohir.
"But then," he said, "I am expected in the Shire. Yet I will be seeing you again, Aragorn, son of Arathorn."
Aragorn was able to sleep well for once, trusting his new friend to keep watch.
II. Two Rivers, The Angle, Late autumn, TA 2982
Aragorn looked up as his mother placed the plate before him. "It is very good to have your cooking once more, nana.
"It is good to be able to cook for you once more, my son." She smiled and then sat down with her own plate. "I am glad you have returned to the North; it has been wonderful to have you visit once more these last two years."
There was a rap at the door to the Chieftain's house, and Gilraen's maidservant hurried to answer it. Mother and son turned to see who it might be, calling so early in the morning.
When Aragorn saw who it was, he rose quickly to greet his old friend. "Gandalf! It is good to see you. What brings you here to Two Rivers?"*
Aragorn could not fail to notice the pinched look on his mother's face, but she rose nonetheless to put out another plate for his guest. He knew she blamed the wizard for his twenty-three year absence. Still, it was something he had needed to do. He could not one day assume the throne of Gondor and know nothing of its people and its ways.
Gandalf made a courteous nod of his head in her direction. "Lady Gilraen, I thank you for your hospitality."
She managed a smile as she gave him his plate. She was the Chieftain's mother, and not for her to show her feelings about her son's friend. Neither Aragorn nor Gandalf were fooled, but they said nothing.
Once all were seated, Gandalf answered Aragorn's questions. "I have messages for you. Halbarad says that there are increased signs of wolves – ordinary wolves, not wargs—between the Weather Hills and the North Downs. He has also heard of a group of brigands hiding out in the ruins of Fornost. He is leaving his brother in charge of the Northen waystation and heading up to check out the rumours. Also, Elrond says that his foresight has indicated this may be an exceptionally dangerous winter. Not so bad as the Fell Winter, but bad enough. Your foster brothers are on the way to the waystation to help bolster your Rangers there."
Aragorn gave a snort of disgust. "While Halbarad is off wandering around near Fornost alone. Well, I suppose I must be off to see if I can find my wayward cousin before he gets into too much trouble."
"I am on my way to the Shire to visit an old friend. Perhaps you and I can travel together for part of the way."
Gilraen looked at the wizard. "Always it is the Shire with you! What is it you see in those little people?"
Gandalf's eyes twinkled. "A little body doth often harbour a great soul. I find them to be a very admirable race." He turned to Aragorn. "I think that the Shire itself may be in need of some extra protection from the Rangers for a while. I would hate to see its people troubled with more than the weather."
Aragorn nodded. "Rest today, my friend. I have a few matters here that need the Chieftain's attention. We shall head out in the morning."
They finished the meal, and Gandalf told of some inconsequential happenings in Rivendell, giving Gilraen some greetings from her old friends there. Gradually Gilraen thawed beneath the wizard's kindly cheer, and when Aragorn rose to attend to his business the two of them remained to talk.
III. Rivendell, Early winter, TA 3001
In recent years, when all four of Elrond's children were home and hale, the family would gather on their private terrace for breakfast. Today was the first day since Aragorn had returned from his most recent forays into the Wild that all of them were together.
He was surprised to see that Bilbo Baggins had joined the family. It was extremely rare that Elrond ever allowed others to join this special time.
All of them looked up with pleasure at the sight of him, but especially Arwen. For an instant their eyes met, and no one else existed.
"Dúnadan!" Bilbo exclaimed, "how good to see you up and about!" It startled both Aragorn and Arwen out of their reverie.
Aragorn laughed. "It is good to be up and about, Bilbo." The two had met a couple of weeks earlier, when Aragorn had returned out of the wild, injured and exhausted. The old hobbit had soon guessed his true identity, and had called him "Dúnadan" ever since.
He sat down between Arwen and Bilbo, and did his best not to react when her silken slipper rubbed against his ankle. He glanced at her and she gave him a very demure smile though her eyes were laughing at him. He surveyed the breakfast laid out before them: porridge with honey, dark bread filled with fruit and nuts, soft white cheese, a warm compote of fruit, and a bowl of apples and pears in the middle of the table.
The meal passed pleasantly. Aragorn was surprised at how talkative his foster father and brothers were. Bilbo had recently discovered the journal of another hobbit who had lived for a while in Rivendell: it had turned out to be Bilbo's long-lost uncle, Hildifons Took.**
He managed to get them to tell him stories of his uncle's stay, things not recorded in the journal.
"What an amazing life he had," said Bilbo. "Why his adventures made mine seem quite tame!"
"Your uncle never faced a dragon," said Elrond. "Nor did he try to steal from a troll."
Bilbo blushed; the others had long since ceased to eat, but he reached over and took the last apple from the bowl. "I daresay," he answered, "but it was Bard who slew the dragon, and Gandalf who dealt with the trolls." He took a bite of the apple to avoid saying more.
Aragorn had begun to know Bilbo well enough to realise that the old hobbit did not suffer praise well. He was a very modest creature, considering all he'd done in his long life.
Bilbo slid down from the cushions on the chair and bowed to Elrond. "Thank you for the lovely second breakfast. I'll take my leave now; I have to tidy my rooms before elevenses." He glanced at each of the others, including them in his farewell as well, and walked away with great dignity.
The twins waited until the hobbit was out of earshot before laughing. "Only a hobbit would find the imminence of one meal to be an excuse to leave another," said Elladan.
Elrond had smiled fondly at the retreating hobbit. "Gandalf always says 'A little body doth often harbour a great soul.' when speaking of hobbits."
Aragorn nodded. "He said that to me the first time I met him." He stopped for an instant, a frown furrowing his brow. "The last time I saw him, he asked that the Dúnadain double the watch over the Shire. I hope that was not based on some foresight of danger."
"You would do well to heed his request. He is one of the Wise, after all." Elrond responded.
"Indeed. I shall of course." He frowned in thought, remembering how fondly Bilbo had spoken off his young ward Frodo, and others of his kin and friends. He hoped they were not in peril, but if they were he would do all in his power to protect them.
IV. Bree, Autumn, TA 3018
Aragorn sat by the door, smoking, listening to the hobbits' soft breathing. He knew there would be danger in the night, but believed they would be safe with him. Why did he do it? he wondered. What impulse had moved his heart? He knew he could have aided them without an oath. He knew his destiny-- if he succeeded, he would owe fealty to no one. Yet here in Bree, far from his goal and with peril at every turn, he had offered it to one with no rank, feckless, careless, ignorant of the world. He winced as he recalled that disastrous moment in the common room.
Now he had pledged himself: "If by life or death I can save you, I will." The words had been spoken, and now he was bound to Frodo and his friends by oath. To fail in those words would make him forsworn. Yet he did not regret it. It was meant to be.
A little body doth often harbour a great soul. Those words of Gandalf from so many years ago rang in his mind as clearly as if the wizard was sitting next to him. He recalled how often Bilbo had said of Frodo that he was the best hobbit in the Shire. He realised that in spite of Frodo's ignorance of the world beyond the Shire and the dangers they faced, he saw in him all those qualities of great spirit that he'd seen in Bilbo. Aragorn searched his own heart, and understood his pledge was not born of an impulse to comfort a frightened hobbit, but out of knowing in his heart it was the right thing to do.
The journey to Rivendell was likely to prove perilous and difficult. He hoped he would be able to guide these young innocents there without mishap. And he earnestly wished they would encounter Gandalf along the way.
V. Cormallen, Spring, TA 3019
This was the day he had awaited for two weeks. So often he had second guessed his decision not to follow after Frodo and Sam, leaving them to pursue their impossible quest alone. When he had seen their battered forms borne by the Eagles out of the Black Land, he thought his heart would burst with terror and sorrow. If they had died, victory would have been but ashes, and he did not think he would have had the heart to claim his throne.
But now he sat between the Prince of Dol Amroth and the new King of Rohan, acknowledged a king by this victorious host even though he would not be crowned until they returned to Minas Tirith. He gazed out over the ranks of soldiers who had made between them a path upon which three figures walked amidst the clamor of cheers: one tall and gleaming white, the other two small and clad in scorched rags. His heart twisted at the sight of them, gaunt still, after their long deprivation. Yet Gandalf had insisted they first appear to the host this way rather than the finery Aragorn had arranged for them, a symbol of all they had sacrificed to accomplish their task.
Closer and closer they came, and Aragorn could now distinguish their features. Frodo looked almost frightened, but Sam was gazing about with astonishment writ upon his honest face. Aragorn laid aside the sword, and stared at Gandalf. They locked eyes and Gandalf could hear his voice inside his head: 'A little body doth often harbour a great soul.' They shared a moment together of pride in these two great souls.
He grinned at the instant that recognition dawned upon the two hobbits. Frodo began to run, and so did Sam. They ran right up to him, delight in their eyes.
Frodo just stared, but Sam looked up. “Well, if that isn't the crown of all! Strider, or I'm still asleep!”
He looked down fondly. “Yes, Sam, Strider. It is a
long way, is it not, from Bree, where you did not like the look of
me? A long way for us all but yours has been the darkest road.”
He knelt before them, and drew in a deep breath, and reached out to take their hands gently. He blinked back tears at the sight of Frodo's still bandaged hand, and then led them to the throne of grass upon which he had been seated, and he lifted each one up and placed them upon it. They stared at him, eyes wide as saucers, and he laughed. Then he turned and in a mighty voice proclaimed: “Praise them with great praise!”
*Two Rivers is my own invention: a fortified town located in The Angle between the Bruinen (Loudwater) River and the Mithiethel (Hoarwell) River, southwest of Rivendell.
**In my story "Trotter", posted at this site.
Vignettes based on these entries in the Tale of Years--
The second vignette is an invention.
I.2956: Aragorn meets Gandalf (SR 1356)
III. 3001: The watch is doubled on the Shire (SR 1401)
IV. 3018: Aragorn meets the four hobbits in Bree, and gives Frodo his allegiance. (SR 1401)
V. And on this passage in RotK, Book VI, Chapter IV, “The Field of Cormallen”--
And so the red blood blushing in their faces and their eyes shining with wonder, Frodo and Sam went forward and saw that amidst the clamorous host were set three high-seats built of green turves. Behind the seat upon the right floated, white on green, a great horse running free; upon the left was a banner, silver upon blue, a ship swan-prowed faring on the sea; but behind the highest throne in the midst of all a great standard was spread in the breeze, and there a white tree flowered upon a sable field beneath a shining crown and seven glittering stars. On the throne sat a mail-clad man, a great sword was laid across his knees, but he wore no helm. As they drew near he rose. And then they knew him, changed as he was, so high and glad of face, kingly, lord of Men, dark-haired with eyes of grey.
Frodo ran to meet him, and Sam followed
close behind. 'Well, if that isn't the crown of all!' he said.
'Strider, or I'm still asleep!'
'Yes, Sam, Strider,' said Aragorn. 'It is a
long way, is it not, from Bree, where you did not like the look of
me? A long way for us all but yours has been the darkest road.'
And then to Sam's surprise and utter confusion he bowed his knee before them; and taking them by the hand, Frodo upon his right and Sam upon his left, he led them to the throne, and setting them upon it, he turned to the men and captains who stood by and spoke, so that his voice rang over all the host, crying:
'Praise them with great praise!'