by Victoria P.

Aragorn accumulates heirlooms the way he accumulates names.

He hasn't much he thinks of as his own, though the others would laugh if he said that.

Among his possessions are his boots, well-made black leather fitted by the hand of a master cobbler and worn from walking the Wilderness lo these many years.

He is reminded of their comfort as he cleans Boromir's boots, their fine leather caked with mud and leaves.

His bow, small and ungainly compared with the bows of the Galadhrim, carved by his own hand and as useful as it is unprepossessing. He is a passable archer, though none would ever mistake him for a bowman of the Elves. Elladan taught him to shoot in his youth in Rivendell, and his time in Mirkwood under Legolas' tutelage made him confident in his ability to both bring down enemies and hunt for food.

He lays Boromir's short bow in the boat; he will not need it in the Halls of Mandos.

He carries a pipe, also hand-carved over lonely nights in the wild, the sole pleasure he allows himself while on the road.

He remembers sharing it with Boromir one night, late, as they sat beside a dying fire. Boromir spoke of his brother and summers spent by the sea in Dol Amroth, a moment of easy companionship on a hard journey, made more poignant now that Boromir will never see his brother again.

He prepares Boromir for his final journey now, washing face and hands clean of black orc blood; his own hands were so recently encrusted in the same gore, dimming even the glitter of the ring of Isildur.

He wears it on his forefinger, a tangible remembrance of his mother. It was his father's, and his father's father's before him, all the way back to Beren Erchamion. But he remembers it hanging on a delicate silver chain around his mother's neck, and the way the emerald eyes of the twined serpents caught the light, bringing them alive momentarily, or so it appeared to a small boy. She used to let him play with it, much to Elrond's consternation. When he turned twenty, Elrond presented it to him, along with his true name and the shards of Narsil. But he still thinks of it as his mother's. It is all he has of her now, and more precious to him for that association than because of its high and ancient origin.

And of course, the clothes on his back are his, though he has occasionally had to borrow or work for them when need arose, for there are many in these troubled times who look askance at the strange, grim Men who walk the wild, and not all people are willing to help a stranger in need.

At any other time, he would have distributed Boromir's extra clothes among his men, but neither Gimli nor Legolas would take them. They must travel light anyway, so he folds the garments carefully; they will be laid in the boat when Boromir is ready.

>From clothes to arms, then, and he wipes down the keen blade of Boromir's sword; it served him well, protecting Merry and Pippin as best he could, but in the end, it is only a sword, and cannot work magic beyond the strength and skill of the arm that wields it.

Aragorn's sword is the same, plain but well made, wrought by the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain. He commissioned it several years ago, when the sword he'd been given during his service to Echthelion had been broken. This sword has no storied past, no name sung in ancient tales of Elves and Men and evil overthrown. Any fame accrued to it belongs to him, as a Ranger of the North, and nothing more.

He is becoming reconciled to the hunting knife Celeborn presented him; it is a thing of lethal beauty, and useful besides. He tries not to think of the long years of warfare it has seen in the hands of Elf-lords of legend. He tells himself it has naught to do with his past, but it comes out of fallen Doriath, realm of Thingol, father of Luthien. Regardless of where he goes or what he does, Aragorn is surrounded by his past, his family. His heritage.

And around his neck he wears the Evenstar, tangible proof of Arwen's love, though he needs it not. He knows she would give up the grace of her people for him and it tears at his heart. If he could, he would shield her from the grief and pain that so often round out mortal life. He wonders how he came to be so blessed as to call her his love.

These are all his worldly goods, as far as he's concerned, and they sit lightly on his shoulders.

But there are many other items -- heirlooms -- that he might claim. That have a claim on him.

His is the sword of Elendil, the winged crown of Gondor, the sceptre of Arnor; from the Argonath, over Rauros, as far as the eye can see, even the land is his.

He does not want these things, has never wanted them, nor the power they represent.

But he seeks them anyway. For only when he is king of Gondor and Arnor both will he have the one thing -- person -- he does want.

These heirlooms weigh him down, fetter him to duty, to the past, to expectations long unfulfilled. He fears the past, and rightly so. If any man could claim the One Ring, it would be he. This quest is his by right; it is his responsibility, as Isildur's Heir, to redeem Isildur's folly.

He wishes it were otherwise. He wishes for nothing more than a quiet life with Arwen by his side, but he knows there will be no quiet life for anyone unless Frodo succeeds.

Until now, he has always believed that he carried his life on his back. But now even that life, long years suddenly seeming too short to accomplish all he must get done, is being claimed, overtaken, by the past. The past must be laid to rest in order to forge the future.

And he fears he will never be worthy, never wear the crown and hold the sceptre. A chance to make Arwen his wife -- that is all these kingly trappings mean to him.

Meant to him.

Generations of Men, a thousand years of expectations, weigh on him, and he would shrug them off if he could, if he didn't know that this quest is what his mother and father lived and died for -- his mother giving in to despair after years of weeping, his father dead before he ever knew him -- and their mothers and fathers before them.

He has often wondered why something so meaningless as blood and birth will elevate him over men who have spent their whole lives in the service of his kingdom.

But now he knows. This blood of his, it links him to the bones of the earth, the skin of the grass, the breath of the rivers, Elvish blood bred so far back into the line of Men that it is forever bound to this land. He is forever bound to this land, and he is no Elf.

And all of this has just been brought home to him in stark clarity, such as he has only known once or twice before in his life.

He can summon those memories easily enough -- Elrond, revealing to him his true name, his status as Isildur's Heir, and presenting him with the shards of Narsil. Commanding him to take up his burden, become what the previous generations of his family could not.

And Arwen, on the hill at Cerin Amroth. Her beauty took his breath away then, as it does now, and her wisdom and kindness stole his heart. He has ever been her faithful lover, though he sometimes despairs of their ever being wed.

To these memories he now adds Boromir, valiant in his defense of the Hobbits, giving his life to protect them. Boromir, who so loved his people he was willing to trade his soul to save them; it was this love that doomed him, that let the Ring exert its power over him.

He brushes Boromir's hair off his face, peaceful in death, blessed by his sacrifice. He recalls Boromir's words under the leaves of Lorien, of Minas Tirith's white towers and banners snapping in the crisp breeze.

Aragorn remembers his service in the White City, so many years ago. He can no longer recollect the names of the streets, the taverns he frequented, nor many of his companions of those days, but he carries in his mind's eye a picture of the Tower of Echthelion, its spire rising luminous in the dawn.

He stares down at the broken, lifeless body of Boromir, whom he is preparing for the last journey home, and he understands.

This is what he fights for -- gallant men who have also given their lives, protecting what is rightfully his, what in any other land would have been theirs within a generation. Men, women and children, not stone towers and ancient thrones.

He has been reminded forcefully of his responsibilities, and that they do not always fall on willing shoulders, but on shoulders built to bear them, nonetheless.

Frodo has shouldered the heaviest burden, and he would have followed the Halfling to the very fires of Mordor, but that is not his path. His destiny leads him south; he will eventually come to Minas Tirith, to claim the throne of Gondor.

He leans over Boromir and silently repeats his promise. He will not let the White City fall, nor her people fail.

He lays Boromir in the boat wrought by the Galadhrim and, with a final kiss to his pale, cool forehead, sends him south to the city that he loved so much. Far more than Aragorn had in his time there. Boromir goes first, but Aragorn will follow, soon enough.

He feels Legolas behind him, impatient to be gone, to chase after the hobbits, or, more likely though never-to-be-admitted, uncomfortable with the finality of the Doom of Men and wishing to be away from it.

Gimli bows his head, mourning a brave warrior and fallen comrade.

Aragorn has one more talisman now, one more heirloom to add to his growing collection, and this is the first he's taken of his own volition.

He straps Boromir's well-oiled leather vambraces onto his wrists and stares at the White Tree embroidered on them, reminding him of his promise, his birthright.

His people.


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