Here's a random bit of cotton candy to give me a break from Our Cartography. I warn you, this has no plot. It might never be updated. There: you've been warned! Now I hope you enjoy the fic.
The descriptions of the glass in road are inspired by the sidewalks in the old business district of Seattle. If you ever go to Seattle, take the "Underground" tour! It's fascinating and hilarious. You wouldn't believe what the people who first built that city were smoking...they must have been smoking something.The title is a temporary one, so I apologize for it being so cliché. But I'm posting this at 3:30 am, so my imagination's shot.
En Vino Veritas (working title)
Walking through the marketplace was no small task for Katara: it seemed as if every seller could smell the coins hidden in her belt purse. Katara was sure that she was behaving no differently than she would any other day, but no matter what she tried the village merchants surrounded her like worms on a carcass.
Buy a pair of daggers! Wouldn't you like a bolt of cotton for a pretty new dress? Cabbages, cabbages! This salt is from the farthest shores of the Fire Nation, and we'll give a special discount to a beauty such as yourself! You'll love our pickled Unagi strips!The money had been a present from the Northern Water Tribe, on account of them being "far too skinny for growing children, especially the older one." Sokka heartily agreed with that summation of his dieting practices, and the trio accepted the parting gift with sincere gratitude.
Pushing her way through the crowds and dodging enthusiastic merchants was tiring business, and Katara was reminded of one of the many things she needed to buy: new sleeping bags. Several of their packages had been destroyed in the last confrontation with Prince Zuko (That Crazy Cheating Jerk, as Katara liked to think of him--because he definitely cheated with the whole rising sun thing), and one night without sleeping bags was enough to drive the point of their necessity home.
She began to wander more purposefully, eye darting around for any kind of booth or display that might have what they needed. As she walked, she noticed something she'd been vaguely aware of all morning: the strange glass imbedded in the paved center road. Huge squares of glass four feet across, each square made up of smaller glass squares, were paced along the road. The effect was lovely, but peculiar. The fact that several of their roads were paved said a great deal about the town's affluence, but glass designs in the road seemed a rather superfluous waste of money.
The things some people do with wealth, she thought with a mental shrug, rapidly losing interest. She had a more important mission: sleeping bags. Why couldn't she find someone selling them? This place was a zoo.
"You look lost, miss. Do you need help?"
A small boy, maybe eight years old, stood to Katara's left. He had the biggest, prettiest green eyes she'd ever seen on and Earth Kingdom child.
"Yes!" she said with relief. "I really need to find sleeping bags. With such a large marketplace, someone must sell something like that, right?"
"Definitely!" the boy chirped, breaking into a smile. "I can take you there right now. My friend's booth is right next to a woman who makes blankets and things."
"Thank you," Katara sighed. That's one problem taken care of...
"There's just one thing..." The waterbender's ears perked with suspicion.
"Can you buy me a loaf of bread as we go? My sister and I don't get to eat very much at the orphanage..."
"Of course," she smiled, heart going out to the child. He reminded her of Sokka, in a way. "I'll buy you two, one for your sister."
They say a sucker's born every minute.
"Oh my head," Katara groaned, lurching upward. She could already feel what would surely be a goose egg by tomorrow morning.
The room she'd awoken in was cool and dark, smelling of wood, wax and must. To her left and right she could see huge shelves, and the corner in front of her was stacked high with barrels. A wine cellar, she realized. Light filtered in through a sunroof overhead, surrounded by a ceiling of rock. The glass of the sunroof was old and yellowing, but occasionally shadows passed over it, there and gone in seconds.
Ah. So that's what those were for. She'd never been underneath a road before. Experimentally, she shouted. The shadows passed overhead without heed.
Traffic. Ten in the morning on the first market day of the month. Katara suddenly wished she'd never suggested they restock at all. Sokka didn't need to eat that badly, she thought with her hands on her hips.
Her hips, which held her belt, which now held only her water flask.
"Our money!" she shrieked, jumping an impressive vertical height for a person her size. Panicking, she felt her coat and pockets in mounting horror. "They took all our money!""They took my money and my favorite knife," a voice grumbled competitively from behind her. "My first teacher gave me that knife."
If teleportation were a bending art, Katara could have mastered it in a single moment. The voice of the room's other inhabitant entered her ears, offended her sense of normality and fairness in the universe, and entered her brain like an unwanted houseguest.
"Oh no," she moaned.
"That," the voice replied, "is a very rude way to say hello."
Sitting cross-legged on the floor, back against the opposite wall, was the young man Katara had encountered most in her travels with the Avatar, and liked least. Why the negative feelings? It could have been the fact that he was the symbol of everything she'd been raised to despise. It could have been because he'd made her life---their life---hell for the last few months. But mostly he just bothered her. He really really bothered her.
"Waterbending person. Er--girl."
"What are you doing here?" she snarled, striding toward him and glaring downward. From standing height, she noted pleasantly, she could enjoy looking down on him. Tall people didn't know how good they had it.
He looked up at her aggressive expression, and blinked. "Would you believe, I actually that brat and fell into the exact same hole you did?"
"No, I don't believe it."
"Well... I did."
This was, by far, the oddest conversation she'd had with him.
"Let me ask you again. What are you doing down here?"
"I'm trapped, my dear peasant. It's pretty obvious isn't it? You know, it's comforting to know they don't just go after people like me. I mean, I'm rich, and dangerous, and of course I'm a firebender, so it makes sense they'd want to lure me into a trap and mug me. Miscreants. But with you they got a nice, harmless looking water tribe maiden! Gives one a sort of warm, fuzzy feeling inside."
"Hey, they didn't try to violate you did they?" he added a second later, as if suddenly realizing that yes, she was a girl... and she was just attacked... and someone should be asking her if she was okay... and he was the only one in the room to do so. "With brigands you never can tell. Devoid of honor, usually."
"No!" Katara almost wanted to be offended, but..."Oh my god," she realized. "Are you... drunk?""Only a little, Miss Peasant." He then made an odd facial expression, as if puzzled by the oxymoron of his words.
To Katara, it wasn't all that puzzling: this was a wine cellar, that was a bottle in his left hand, and he was drunk. And in being so it appeared that Zuko's malevolent disposition toward herself and her group was warring with his aristocratic upbringing, which no doubt demanded that he address young ladies with their appropriate titles and inquire after their welfare. But wasn't liquor supposed to turn decent men into beasts? If anything, the alcohol seemed on its way to making him downright polite.
Even under the influence of drink, Zuko managed to be the uncomfortable opposite of almost every boy she'd ever liked.
Met. Every boy she'd ever met. Was being drunk contagious?
"Shut up! And give me that!" she snapped, and grabbed the wine bottle from his hands. It was, as she expected, about half empty. "You're stealing someone's wine, I'll have you know. Not very honorable behavior."
"They stole my stuff!" he justified, gaze deep and wounded. Or maybe just deep and inebriated. "I liked that knife... It had a komodo ivory handle..."
"Well you'll just have to get over it," she retorted. Zuko frowned at her, but she ignored him and went to rattle the door. It rattled very nicely, but that's all it did.
"How are we supposed to get out of here?" she wondered aloud. "And what do they need us for when they already have our stuff?"
"They're probably just going to keep us here till nightfall," the prince said. "That way they can let us out at night, with less risk of getting caught, and without having to deal with dead bodies in someone's wine cellar."
It's actually wasn't bad logic, Katara admitted to herself. She tried the door one last time, then came to sit with him against the wall. Not next to the Crazy Cheating Jerk, or anything. Just... a normalish distance away.
"Here, mi'lady, have some wine," the exiled teenager offered in, again, a surprisingly gracious tone. He held out the bottle; she was arm's distance away so it hovered near her shoulder.
"I picked out a good one. Well aged."
"I'm not old enough to drink!" she yelped, leaning backward as if to ward off some imagined evil.
"Sure you are. If you're old enough to get married, you're old enough to drink." He squinted his eyes at her. "How old are you again?"
"I'll be fifteen in three months."
Zuko nodded, and shoved the bottle into her hands. "That's old enough. Drink up, Lady Waterbender. That's what my uncle called you, by the way. Lady I mean. I told him you weren't a lady, and he lectured me on manners. Manners! I was raised in a royal palace, you know. And so was he! I know my manners. He knows I know my manners. I know that he knows that I know my manners."
Katara, who'd been peering curiously into the bottle with one eye, heard the words "Lady Waterbender" coming from Prince Zuko and had to take a drink. It seemed the only appropriate response.