The King of Flames @katie_tran
Chapter 1

Chapter 1

(At a banquet in Imladris in Arda Remade)

"Hic!"

Andreth coughed out her hiccup and threw her head back unleashing an unrestrained guffaw. She took another ravenous drink of the strong wine that was mistakenly offered to her just about fifteen minutes ago.

"How nice it is to be free from social propriety for once and just take a reprieve. I am having a very fine time. Yes, I am," She took another chug of the liquor.

"Anyone – hic – offended by my behavior can – hic – very well sod off!" She crowed and laughed loudly with abandon.

The infamous ringbearer, Frodo Baggins and his uncle, Bilbo Baggins looked at the group of mortal women from across their table with blatant amusement. They each had jugs of ale of their own, but unlike the completely foxed Andreth, the two hobbits were mostly sober.
Bilbo looked a tad bit peeved for having his story of the time he was granted the journey to the West with his nephew interrupted.

"I high doubt anyone would do anything even if they were offended," Haleth, the former chieftain of the Haladin, said dryly.
"They are either too occupied having a party themselves or you are just too much of a frightening drunk."

Indeed, for it was extremely rare to see the cold, self-possessed wisewoman Andreth Saelind be anything other than composed and reserved.

Khánh watched the woman from her seat; her wine left untouched. All of Arda Remade were in celebration right now. Whilst the world ended and recreated, only the elven kind left back in Valinor and Mandos' Halls had to personally rejoin their mortal brothers and sisters (humans, dwarves and hobbits) in the new world.
The Eldar race finally arriving to Arda Remade's shores in their regal ships and beautiful Firstborn glory was what sparked the excitement and celebrations all over the land.

Here in this world's version of Imladris or Rivendell, people were rejoicing over Lord Elrond, his twin sons and his wife, Celebrían's reunion with their beloved daughter, Arwen Undomíel.

Andreth, who was a wisewoman, scholar, philosopher and recorder of history in her past life did pretty much the same thing in this life in her little library in this world's Gondor.

For Haleth, while in a perfect world with no danger or enemies anymore, had no purpose or need to play the role of leader for her people no longer. Still, her family and tribe continued to uphold her as their much beloved chieftain.
She spent most of her time helping the Rohirrim and some of the Telerin warriors make arrows for their group of archers. On other days, she hunted game in the woods.

As for Khánh herself, being of Asiatic descent from the South in this part of the world where no one really looked like her was difficult in the old Middle Earth as well as the new one only to a lesser degree. Racism and discrimination did not just exist between species but between the Secondborn too unfortunately.
Nevertheless, in Khánh's past life, she made it as a moderately respected herbalist in Minas Tirith in the fourth age.
Here in Arda Remade, she was one of the teachers teaching herbal lore and medicine in a school for young girls who wished to become either healers or get into the soap and cosmetology trade.

Her institute called, Woodcreek School, was right next to Andreth's library. When Khánh had free time, she learned a lot from Andreth.
She learned about all of the significant events in Middle Earth's history, the War of the Ring, the distinctive Elven Kings, the marring by Melkor and Sauron, the Númenórean line and their downfall.
She was taught about Eru, the Valar the Ainulindalë. Most of all, she learned about the Fell Princes that drove forward many of the First Age's tragedies and events that led to the present moment. For the first time, mortals were able to witness and experience the unspeakable brilliance of Laurelin and Telperion.
They no longer had the sun like the did back in the old Arda which paled by far in comparison to the light she got to experienced daily here.

The light was too great. The figure who was able to capture the power of the Two Trees to create mere gems out of them that caused so much catastrophe was simply an impossible force to be reckoned with. What she learned about the infamous Noldor High Prince Fëanor was vague, but it told her enough that she was grateful to have never and would never have to encounter him.

Often times, Khánh found herself agreeing with Andreth on many aspects of the Valar, Eldar and Men. The two women had a secret, shared comradery of bitterness towards any race that were deemed superior and immortal over mankind.

The more Khánh learned about the Valar, elves and men, she saw the apparent favoritism bestowed on the fairer race and the injustice with anyone else; Not just with men but also with dwarves.
The Firstborn had it all – skills, immortality, strength, years to hone their intellect and beauty. To add insult to injury, they had the opportunities to learn and train with the Valar to become legends in texts, lore and songs.

What did men have? Well for the most part, Khánh learned that they had doom, mediocrity with few exceptions and the curse of a mortal fate.

Andreth was often chilly and distant. Khánh eventually knew why. It was a protective mechanism similar to how Khánh herself closed herself off from the outside world for ostracizing her heritage.

The two found friendship in each other. It was not long until Andreth confided to Khánh about her star-crossed romance with King Finarfin's son and older brother of the Lady Galadriel, Aegnor – her flame.

With all the successful marriages between elven women and human men, Khánh wondered how Andreth was not more indignant about her own demise.

When it was announced that Eru Ilúvatar would finally allow all the elven kind to settle in Arda Remade from the West, all rejoiced. Lúthien and Arwen would finally be reunited with their families. Arda would become what it was originally meant to be. It also meant Prince Aegnor and his family were present in their world at this very moment.

One would think Andreth jumped for joy and one of the first ones to race to the shore to be reconciled with her former lover, but she did not. Instead, she froze at the announcement and with a stone face, turned her heels, returned to her library and uttered not a word.
She never attempted to seek Aegnor out or any elf for that matter.
It was not until this celebrational feast at Lord Elrond's home that contained other invited members – all of the Fellowship, Elrond's biological side of the family, Lady Galadriel, Lord Celeborn, Éomer and his family and Haleth did Andreth deign to attend the banquet.

Here, the three mortal women were rather wallflowers. Haleth was abrasive and intimidated men. She remained unmarried. Andreth while possessing a dark kind of beauty comparable to that of an Elvish maid, was icy, unapproachable and very much still attached to her Noldorin Prince. No Edain men attempted to woo her.

And Khánh, well… She was just too plain, small, exotic and reserved for men's tastes. It was not that she was a hideous orc so much as her being unimpressive. She does not draw people's eyes other than for her coloring. She dressed in muted browns and greys. Her brown eyes did not inspire people to write songs about. Her dark hair was shorn short enough to be unattractive and unconventional. In regions where pale skin was considered ideal, her own swarthy complexion left much to be desired.
Come to think of it, were the orcs not of mostly dusky complexions and were considered to be repulsive by elves and men alike?
Hm…Her heart grew cold at the realization.

In fact, her own step aunt and cousins made it very clear that little and plain Khánh was unwanted in the family from the mere age of ten.
Soon, they sent her to Woodcreek School where the higher ups treated their students terribly, but it was key to Khánh escaping her atrocious family in the end.

Even in the new world, Khánh led a quiet if not boring, solitary life as a spinster and teacher of herbs.

Khánh took a bite of the fruit and nut mix placed in front of her and glanced at Andreth. She was weeping now as Haleth rolled her eyes.

"Who gives a damn if the time of elves has come again?" She muttered and chugged down her wine.
"They can stay in their own territories and never bother us poor mortals ever again."

"Hear, hear. I am going to have to agree with that sentiment," Haleth nodded, remembering her unpleasant encounters with one of the princes of the Noldor, Caranthir, as well as King Thingol years ago. She looked strangely wistful.

The sudden commotion from the table next to them drew their attentions. It was Gimli and Éomer bickering again.

"Like I said, Lord Éomer," The dwarf grunted slamming down his jug of ale on the table with a clang.
"The magnificent Queen Galadriel of the Golden Woods is the fairest lady I have been fortunate enough to se

t my eyes upon. And no one can dispute the dwarven sense of beauty."

Éomer let out an amused snort.

"While I cannot argue your preferences, master dwarf for the lady Galadriel is indeed fair – I must insist that her majesty, Queen Arwen surpasses her grandmother by far."

The King of Rohan and dwarf continued their ridiculous debate as the two ladies in question did not look pleased. King Aragorn and Lord Celeborn only looked dismayed.
The other males of the party were otherwise too busy admiring any Elven lady that passed their vicinity, servants or royal.

Yes, we are certainly wallflowers, Khánh thought.

oOo

"It's so boring," Haleth complained, picking her teeth with a wheat grass. The chieftain had just completed her duties for the day and decided to pay Khánh a visit at the school.

The very school she lived her life in as a poor student to eventual teacher growing up. After years of students being starved, poorly dressed and abused, everyone was relieved when the old supervisor of the school with his poor management and atrocious behavior had been replaced with a more competent and compassionate school board running reasonable authority. With the decree of King Elessar, the students were fed healthily, clothed and were given adequate education.
Their rusty school walls improved and outside lessons under the sun and around nature were the norm.

"I imagine it must be boring stitching leather quivers for your patrons day in and day out," Khánh replied lightly.
"Regardless, you had the adventures and meetings of all things dangerous and fascinating in your past life in Middle Earth. Imagine me. The dreamy and passionate creature stuck in a coward's body never venturing out of the educator's shelf life and traumatic childhood."

As Khánh expected for they both knew each other too well ever since she, Haleth and Andreth forged their bond in Arda Remade, Haleth offered her no pity or honeyed words.
But that was exactly why she was a comforting figure in Khánh's life.

"You only have yourself to blame for the latter half of your life," Haleth said bluntly. She perked her head up from her resting spot beneath the willow tree.

"Yes. Yes, I know," Was the crisp response.

Haleth continued on.

"I am not saying you need to go out, put charcoal on your eyes and dress like a harlot. And while I empathize with you having to live with insane step-relatives who treated you badly, after you graduated from that horrid school, you should have left the place and attempted to live your life independently the way you wanted."

"That was not realistic at the time and you know it," Khánh shook her head. "I was not like you; Still am not. I was not born in a line of family like the Haladin where females could become leaders and have that sort of privilege. Other than getting married and eventually being fully dependent on a husband, if not a teacher, I would not have survived on my own in that world as a woman. I was neither noble nor royal, but a simple commoner."

She looked at herself critically in the nearby pond; her lightly-lidded black eyes and a low nose that was rather flat.
"I am not blind. I have a different heritage and features than everyone else. Not even a beauty either before you suggest I do become a harlot as a means to earn a living. I have zero prospects."

The wheat-haired Haladin woman was quiet for a moment before she casually spoke.

"Well Khánh – You are in Arda Remade now for Eru's sake. You have all the opportunities in your favor. Why are you still teaching if you find yourself stifled by it? What does beauty got to do with anything? Damn anyone's standards and expectations. Besides, you're not as bad looking as you think you are."

Khánh snorted.

"I am serious," Haleth said earnestly, going over to use her large, callused hands to shake the Southeastern woman's smaller shoulders.
"Look at me. I am too tall, broad and masculine for men's delicate sensibilities. Do you think I give a fig? I am in the same boat you are. And if I let any of that put me down from striving to go after what I wanted to achieve; I would have been utterly helpless."

She looked pensive.

"I'll say. Advertise yourself. Send letters of your availability for work. You have experiences, credits and references. Years and years of them. Khánh, advertise yourself."

Khánh stared at Haleth agape and was about to tell her she was insane, but she didn't because Haleth's words rung true.
There was nothing holding her back now in this world. Societal rules were not as limiting, and she was supposedly free from all those who held her back.

Should she advertise herself? Something like a governess perhaps? Or even a healer?

For the first time, she was starting to feel something akin to hope.

oOo

Author's notes: Thank you to *Dream Plane* for taking the time to leave me a review. You have no idea how encouraging it is.

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