Title: The Weight Of The Crown
Author: Laurelin
Rating: NC-17
Characters: Thranduil, OFC
Notes: This occurs several years after Oropher's death as described in Long Live The King (also posted on this site). Both stories are part of a series that is not posted here.
Warnings: contains one or two vague references to slash. Also: m/f erotica and a tattoo scene.
Summary: After years of hardship and battle on the plains of Mordor, Thranduil returns home to the woman he left behind.

The elven realm of Greenwood the Great was in uproar, and for good reason. After long years of uncertainty and fear, a messenger from the South had brought long-awaited tidings, tidings both of joy and of woe: the foe in Mordor was defeated, the war over at last, but it was a dramatically decimated army that made its way back to Greenwood, and it was not the King who led the warriors home.

Oropher, the Iron King, would not be returning from the battlefield. It was his son who had commanded the troops in the final years of battle, his son who would now soon be crowned and sit upon the throne that had been empty for so many years.

A crowd had gathered at the entrance to the palace to welcome the sons of Greenwood home: the Queen at the front, grave and pale in a black mourning dress, flanked by several ladies of the court, the King's steward and all members of the Council, ready to swear fealty to the new King and kiss his ring.

Arasien stood, by her own choice, at the back. She probably had a right to a more prominent spot, as she was as good as betrothed to the Prince – no, King – but she would not be so bold as to presume that she was worthy to stand beside the Queen, who must feel so very conflicted today. Yet Oropher's widow looked outwardly calm, unmoved even by the sight of the approaching army, as though her son returning from war were an everyday occurrence. Arasien wished she could be that poised herself; her own emotional struggle was the main reason why she preferred to remain invisible for now.

Years had gone by since she last saw Thranduil, years since they last embraced and made each other tearful promises. The day he rode to war with his father she knew she would never smile again. Her life had been on hold since then, the idle pursuits that filled her days providing poor distraction from her heartache and fear. She had prepared herself for the likelihood of never seeing him again, but today he returned a victor, with years of battle, violence and despair under his belt. Had he changed? Did he love her, still? Did he even remember those promises he had made her?

As Oropher's only son, Thranduil was the sole heir to the throne, a fate he had accepted very reluctantly. While Oropher had been a stern but just leader, respected by the people, Thranduil had the reputation of being a rebel, unfit for kingship. There were many who doubted him even now- she had heard the whispers in the halls. He was headstrong, did not appreciate being told what to do, and had spent many years challenging his father's will in every way he knew how. Their relationship had always been strained because of it, and Oropher had regularly chastised his son for his wrongdoings, both in private and in public. Many of these quarrels revolved around Thranduil's promiscuity, for he bedded ellyn frequently and openly despite Oropher's disapproval.

While Arasien was no stranger to feelings of jealousy, she had never forbidden these couplings or spoken even a single word of blame. When he was with her, he was the most gentle and considerate of lovers, and he could be intensely romantic when the mood struck him- but he was also young, passionate, red-blooded and, yes, quite self-centred and greedy in his pursuit of pleasure. He was by no means perfect, but he was the only one she could ever love, of that she was sure. She was prepared to stand back and wait for him to grow tired of that unruly life he was leading, even if it took an age.

His heart was already hers, she knew that much; at least it had been before that cursed war called him away. Now she was not so sure anymore, but she would soon find out if they still had a future, and that thought filled her with fearful anxiety. What if the war had changed him beyond recognition? What if the man she loved existed now only in her memory?

His eyes, she thought, his eyes will tell me everything I need to know.

At last the host of Greenwood – what was left of it, at least – came pouring through the gate, but Thranduil's face was the only one she saw, and her heart leapt into her throat. There he was, at the very front, with the King's loyal general, Heledir, beside him. He was clad in light marching armour and a dusty emerald-green cloak, bow and quiver on his back, sword glinting at his side. Many of the men were smiling, laughing even, glad to be home at last, but Thranduil's face was as grave as she had ever seen it. He had lost too much to come home rejoicing: his father, many friends, and, so it seemed, his youth as well. Arasien's heart ached to see it.

The Queen was the first to descend the flight of steps, and she spread her arms as Thranduil came at her. Mother and son embraced fiercely, sharing a long moment of great emotive power even though neither shed a single tear. Oropher had never shown emotion in public, and he had expected the same of his wife and son, who now honoured that wish in this hardest of moments.

Finally the Queen drew back, taking her son's hand and kissing the ring that had graced her husband's hand before. "Welcome home, my King," she said in a remarkably steady voice. "Come, the Council awaits your command."

Arasien, who had not moved from her spot, swallowed painfully when she saw the resigned nod Thranduil gave in response. Leave him be! He will be King for the rest of his days; must he feel the weight of the crown today?

As Thranduil came up the flight of steps, however, he had no eyes for Steward or Council. Instead he was looking around, scanning the crowd, and her breath caught in her throat when she realized that he was looking for her face among the many. She told herself to move, to make her presence known in some way, but found that her body did not obey her. When his gaze finally found hers, all her fear and doubt melted away in an instant- but at the same time, she could have wept at the raw emotional force she saw in his eyes.

"Arasien, why are you standing at the back?" he called softly. Then, without taking his eyes off her, he addressed the Queen. "Why is she not allowed to greet me before the Council, Mother?"

The Queen seemed taken aback by his firm tone. "My son, I… I wasn't sure if it would be proper."

"Proper!" He all but spat it out. Ignoring everyone else, he briskly made his way towards Arasien, the crowd parting before him like a field of corn before the plough. For a moment she thought he would take her in his arms, but he hesitated and halted one step in front of her. He appeared to be drinking in the sight of her with great greedy gulps, and she trembled like a leaf, waiting, longing to embrace him with all she had. He was beautiful, beautiful! And she loved him so very much.

"Rasi," he said softly, and the moment that old pet name left his lips, she realized how much she had missed that, too. "It's been many years since we last saw one another, and if you have given your heart to another since then, I won't hold it against you. But if this be the case, by Elbereth, I pray you tell me right now."

"Another?" She shook her head slowly and told him the simple truth. "No, Thranduil. My heart has been yours for many years, and so it always will be. I love you more today than I ever have, if that is possible."

He grasped her hand and bowed his head to kiss it. As he did so, she thought she saw a wetness in his eyes, but when he stood up, it was gone.

"Of course it is proper, Mother." He spoke loudly and clearly, but more calmly than before. He took Arasien's hand in his, twining their fingers together, and smiled that smile she had so hoped to see. "She is my chosen Queen, and if she'll have me, I will wed her before the new Moon."