Butterflies and Hurricanes
Water. Water everywhere. In my eyes and in my mouth. Help! Father help me! I don't want to die. Bitter water in my mouth, not good, not good! Roaring in my ears and pounding in my head. Which way is up? Have to find the surface, I will not die here!
Utter bliss. No noise, no pounding and no more water. Just darkness and I'm sinking. Slowly sinking into cold arms. No more pain and no more fear. No more…
Blue eyes snapped open. A girl, no older than twelve, lay still, taking in deep, steadying breaths. Her long brown hair was plastered to her forehead. Pushing herself up with unsteady arms she looked around the stuffy room she slept in.
Around fifty other women slept there with her, ranging from five year old children, to old women who spent their days mending clothes.
All of them different to the one person in the room who wasn't sleeping. All of them had lighter skin than she did. It ranged from the pale tone of the Fire Nation, to the tanned tint of the Earth Kingdom. But she was the only person who had the dark skin of the Water Tribes, and she alone had eyes so blue, they rivalled the ocean.
It was no great surprise that she was the only one of her kind in this room. The Water Tribes kept themselves to themselves usually, and they seldom ventured to other nations, unless they were of a high social standing. As such, Water Tribe slaves were hard to come by.
Slave. How she hated that word. One word could belittle you in the eyes of the world and see you committed to a life of servitude.
The girl raked her fingers through her elbow length hair. She wasn't just a slave. She knew that she had value, she was person. She had a birthday (exactly thirty days after the winter solstice), she had an age (twelve years and five months) and she had a name, although nobody cared about that anymore, but it was hers and it made her who she was.
A name given to her by her parents. She closed her eyes and thought back to the dream. The same dream that had been tormenting her for seven years. It was not so much a dream, as a memory. She could remember when it actually happened.
"Katara, come away from the edge."
"But I want to see the fishes!"
"Alright, Sokka watch your sister."
Katara sighed, caught up in memories of voices. She wished that she had faces to go with the voices, but they were blurred in her mind. She had been away from her family for too long.
The dream told her that she had a father and a brother, she had no idea whether she had a mother or not, she only knew what her dreams could tell her.
The violent waves hammered against the side of the ship. I was flung from my bed and onto the rocking floor. I could hear the thunder crashing outside. I looked around the room for my brother. All alone.
Scrambling from the room I made my way to the deck, cold water sloshing around my ankles. Up on deck it was chaos. The rain pelted my head and blinded my vision, and the floor beneath my feet was slippery. Men were running everywhere, trying to control the ship's movement through the tempest tossed waters.
Someone grabbed my arm and spun me around.
She squeezed her eyes closed, trying to picture the face in her mind, but it was no use. Everyone around her remained faceless.
"Katara get back down below deck!"
She knew this was her brother.
I latched onto his arm as the boat heaved to the right. I wanted to see my father, I needed him to tell me it was going to be alright.
A towering figure came up to my brother and I. "Children, get below deck now!"
I heard my brother's affronted voice as my eyes continually searched the deck. "I'm not a child Bato! Katara's a kid, she's only five -"
The rest of my brother's voice was lost to me as the ship was battered by another wave. His lax grip on my arm slipped and I found my small body hurtling towards the railing of the ship. I felt the impact on my back and heard muted shouts of my name.
I pulled myself to my feet using the soaked railing and hung on for dear life. That was my mistake.
Katara sighed and opened her eyes. The next part of the dream was as clear as day; the ship had pitched to the side, throwing her into the water. It was also the only time she could remember anyone's face. When she had begun to sink into the water, she caught a glimpse of many men holding back someone else.
The man who was being restrained from jumping into the water after her was not faceless to her. Katara could vaguely recall terrified blue eyes, black hair and a strong jaw. It wasn't much but Katara knew that that man was her father. Her heart told her so, and the man's eyes were forever in her memory; Katara practically saw his heart break as she was lost over the side of the boat. They were the eyes of a parent who had lost a child.
Katara sighed and stretched her arms above her head, before standing up and making her way over to the door. She carefully toed around the sleeping women and expelled a sigh of relief when she managed to make it to the door without waking anyone.
She knew it was coming close to dawn. She had had the same nightmare for seven years, and she only escaped it when dawn was close. She decided that the mistress would not mind if she used the washroom early, it would help her avoid being crushed by the larger women at any rate.
The hallway she emerged in was plain, smudged white walls accompanied a hard wooden floor. The corridor was long, with the women's quarters on one side and the men's on the other. There was a sliding screen on the opposite wall from the sleeping quarters, exactly half way between the men and women; it led to the rest of the building.
Katara started off towards the washroom at the end of the women's corridor, stopping at a narrow door adjacent to the washroom. She knocked gently and entered.
She was greeted by a burst of warm steam. Before she could clear her vision a pair of arms enveloped her and she was pulled close to Senjou, the woman who was in charge of the laundry. Katara giggled at the woman's show of affection and waited patiently for Senjou to release her.
Senjou held Katara out at arm length and eyed her critically. "You are getting more beautiful by the day Katara. Be careful."
Katara nodded, understanding her perfectly, next door to the slave house was a brothel. Katara sometimes saw the painted women when she was beating rugs in the back courtyard. They would walk past the courtyard fence, sometimes accompanied by men, and make their way inside or to town.
Often, the master of the brothel would come to the slave house and buy some women to be employed by him. Whenever this happened Katara would find herself ushered into hiding spots by the other women or Senjou, and sometimes even the mistress herself.
Katara was one of few young girls in the slave house; the others were over twenty or too young to be of any use in a brothel. Also, she was the only girl of Water Tribe descent, and many of the male slaves had approached her, telling her that her looks were attractively 'exotic'.
Whenever this happened, the man (or boy) that had said this would be delivered a quick slap by one of the older women.
Katara understood what they meant perfectly, and it scared her. She knew the mistress could get a good price if she sold a young Water Tribe girl to the brothel, but she never did, and for this Katara was grateful.
The mistress summoned me on my twelfth birthday, not that birthdays were celebrated of course, and had studied me quietly before speaking.
"Katara, the next time the master of the brothel comes to this place, I want you to go and assist Senjou with the washing."
I nodded and waited obediently.
"Katara, you do know what happens next door, do you not?"
"Yes ma'am." I was young but not foolish.
The mistress had settled herself on a cushion across from me. "I do not want that for you Katara."
I merely stared. I knew that the mistress was not a cruel woman, but the reason we were slaves was so we could be sold and make her money.
"Katara, I have watched you grow up. I can remember that little urchin they brought to my doorstep, bedraggled and barely alive. They told me they had found you washed up at this town's port after a storm. It was odd how a little Water Tribe girl had ended up on the western banks of the Earth Kingdom, but I took you in anyway.
"I watched as you were taught to read and write by the older women, although it was obvious that you had already had some schooling. I have watched for seven years and lately I have also watched as you blossomed into a young woman. Your beauty will only increase with age Katara, everyone can see your potential.
"That is why I have protected you from the scoundrel next door. You are far too smart and kind hearted to live your life as a painted woman. Have you not also wondered why you have not been sold into servitude yet?"
I did wonder. I had seen women older than me and girls younger than me leave the slave house, and boys my own age were sold to the wealthy too.
"I can see your potential. You will do something great Katara, you will live a life of adventure, I can tell. I will not let you leave this place until I am sure the right time has come. For now be careful of the people in this place and I will let you know when the time is right.
Katara smiled as she came out of her memories. She longed to have an adventure, to break away from this bustling trade port in the Earth Kingdom. What she wouldn't give to travel to the Water Tribes and find her family. However, it was all a dream. It was hard to break out of your caste and Katara held little hope that she would be anything more than a slave.
Senjou was bustling around the room again and ambled back up to Katara with a bundle of clothes in her arms. The first day of the week always meant they got clean work clothes and an abundant supply of water in the washroom.
"Now go get washed before everyone else gets up, and for the sake of my old heart, get changed before you catch your death in that." Senjou gestured at Katara's long white night dress. "I'll have a fresh one for you this evening , come to me after your work is done."
"Of course Senjou, I will see you later on."
One brief hug later, and Katara was in the washroom. She wasn't quite sure as to why it was called a room when it had no roof. It was more of an enclosed courtyard, with high walls to deter prying eyes.
Katara walked over to the spout that stood across the courtyard and placed her clothes on a flat rock a little way away from the spout itself. A wooden bucket stood beneath the spout and a few pumps later, it was full.
Katara, not removing her night dress lest someone woke early too, braced herself for the inevitable cold. The water was rarely warmed, especially this early in the morning, and a vigorous wash promised to wake you up.
Indeed, when she tipped the water over her head she had to hold back a yelp of surprise. She quickly scrubbed her body down, thinking longingly of the first day of every month, when the mistress allowed the extra furnace to be lit so they could have warm water.
When she was clean, she quickly ridded herself of her wet dress and reached for her clothes. She put on her white under dress, her teeth chattering all the while, before tugging the long brown skirt over her hips and tucking her brown tunic into the waistline of the skirt. The material of both garments was stiff and itchy, but Katara was too used to it to care.
She twisted her hair to rid it of excess water and tucked it behind her ears. She looked down at the rest of the clothes Senjou had given her and smiled. Along with the soft leather and cloth shoes that all servants wore and the white sash, which had an extra front section to act as a sort of apron, Senjou had thoughtfully placed a strip of white cloth for Katara to tie her hair back with.
Katara could never remember ever having her hair cut properly. The older women would take the ends off every now and again, they told Katara that her hair would be in a better state if she did; but she had never allowed anyone to make it drastically shorter.
One of the Earth Nation women told her that the Water Tribe women she had met kept their hair long until they were married, and even then some refused to cut it. This only strengthened Katara's resolve to keep her hair uncut. She may not have been with her people for seven years but she still held her heritage dear.
After securing her hair and slipping her shoes on, Katara made her way back to the sleeping quarters, tying the sash around her waist as she went.
When she was halfway down the corridor the first gong of the day rang out. Katara winced slightly at the sudden noise and stepped into the room. The sleeping women were rousing, well used to the daily routine. Some of them eyed Katara in wonder when they saw that she was already dressed but said nothing. Everyone in the room was well aware that Katara rarely slept until the first gong, and they followed her lead by not asking her if something was wrong.
As Katara made her way to her sleeping mat she noticed one person who was stubbornly clinging to their dreams. Amai was a seven year old girl who looked to be of Fire Nation heritage. She had been in the slave house for little less than two weeks and she was still unused to the early waking times.
Katara smiled fondly and knelt next to the child. Amai awoke after a few seconds of Katara shaking her shoulder. Her walnut eyes stared blearily at Katara for a moment before she realised who it was and she grinned.
Katara helped the child sit up and allowed the girl's small arms to wrap around her waist. Katara sent Amai off to get her clothes and wash, and moved straighten up Amai's mat and her own.
When Amai returned she sat herself in Katara's lap and waited for the older girl to tie her hair back. Katara obliged and secured the girl's raven hair with a strip of cloth that the small girl handed her.
"Katara? Will you tell me a story?"
Katara smiled and allowed the girl to remain in her lap. "Sure. What would you like to hear about?"
"Again?" Katara sighed. "I must have told you that story dozens of times already!"
"I know but you tell it really good."
Katara smiled. She had hear the story of the Avatar from one of the older women when she was ten years old and had told Amai when the girl had arrived alone and scared almost two weeks ago. Amai insisted that Katara told the best stories, and Katara found herself telling stories to Amai and the other younger girls on a regular basis.
"Fine. Long ago there was a person who was called the Avatar. The Avatar was the only person who could control all four of the elements through bending. Each time the Avatar died they were born again into another Nation. The Avatar Cycle was Air, Water, Earth and Fire. Just over one hundred years ago the last Avatar of Fire, Avatar Roku, died.
"The Avatar was reborn into the Air Nomads. But when Avatar Roku died, trouble was brewing between the Fire Nation and the other nations. There was a war going on, and while the next Avatar was growing up, the war got worse."
Katara paused and smiled as Amai gasped, as if this was her first time hearing the story.
"Twelve years after Roku died, the Avatar was identified as a boy named Aang. The Avatar should have had years to learn how to bend all of the elements but something… bad happened."
Katara paused . How do you tell a seven year old that one hundred years ago, the ruler of the Fire Nation, her country, ordered the genocide of the Airbenders?
"Well anyway, Aang went to the Fire Nation, but he hadn't mastered Earth, Water or Firebending. He faced the Fire Lord to try and stop the war. He did very well, he managed to use the power of something called the Avatar State. It allowed him to use the skills and knowledge of all his past lives, but there was a problem.
"While Aang was in the Avatar State, he was… killed. There was never an Avatar after Aang. He was the last Avatar and the last Airbender. The sages tell us that the cycle was broken when Aang was killed, because he was in the Avatar state.
"Aang didn't manage to finish the war, but he did help a lot. The Fire Lord and his army was weakened and it gave the Water Tribes and Earth Kingdom the chance to drive Fire Nation back. After any more years of fighting the leaders of every nation decided enough was enough. No one was winning, but there were losses on every side. Since then the world has been quite peaceful. There still is some fighting between rebels, but Fire Lord Ozai has not waged war again. People are happy with the peace we have and a good ruler knows how to keep his people happy."
Katara conveniently left out the things she heard from gossip when she went into town. Everyone agreed that Ozai was by far the cruellest Fire Lord since Sozen himself, and there would be little surprise if he tried to stir trouble between the nations again. Apparently this was working to the Fire Lord's advantage; because people were so eager to avoid conflict they were much more willing to give into Ozai's requests.
People wished that Iroh, the famous Dragon of the West, had taken his rightful place as heir to the throne. Iroh and his son, Lu Ten, had been in the Earth Kingdom at the Capital of Ba Sing Se to meet with the King in order to discuss the problem of warmongering rebels.
In a cruel twist of irony Lu Ten had been shot dead by the arrow of a rebel, on the way back to the Fire Nation. It had almost sparked another war, but the late Fire Lord Azulon had calmed things. Iroh returned home, broken hearted and without an heir, and had stepped aside for his younger brother to take crown.
With Ozai on the throne of the Fire Nation, it was an extremely lucky thing that the nations were not at war once again.
"Katara, why was Aang the last Airbender?"
Katara looked at the child in her lap, she had almost forgot she was there. "I'll tell you another time."
Amai sighed frustration, having received the same answer every time she asked. Katara was saved any other questions by the second gong of the day; it was time for breakfast.
Amai hopped off Katara's lap and rushed out of the room; Katara was a little more relaxed in making her way to the smell of breakfast. She passed through the sliding screen and joined the mass of people making their way through the corridors towards the rectory.
Katara had barely stepped foot in the room, when the mistress was at her side.
"Come along Katara. It is time."
Katara knew what she meant straight away. She was being sold.
Katara followed the mistress from the refectory and into a more appealing part of the house. Katara had been here before on her twelfth birthday, and she knew they were heading to the mistress' tearoom.
The mistress opened up an intricately painted paper screen door and ushered Katara inside. It was the same as Katara remembered it. The candles provided a warm glow and the thick cushions on the floor looked inviting.
However, Katara did not remember seeing a Fire Nation man sat at the small table. The man looked to be around forty, he had deep creases in his forehead but his brown hair was still present and he had a beard to match. He was dressed in the red robes of Fire Nation nobility and had the formal top knot of the Fire Nation too.
Katara remained standing next to the mistress and the man at the table stood as well.
"Sir, this is Katara. She is a diligent worker and completely literate and I am actually wary to let her go.
"Katara, this is Governor Ontai. He is a valued member of Fire Lord Ozai's court and lives in the Fire Palace with his wife and thirteen year old daughter."
Ontai nodded "Yes, in fact it was my daughter's thirteenth birthday two days ago, and I missed it because I was visiting Omashu."
The mistress spoke again. "Governor Ontai is the ambassador to Omashu, and is on his way back to the Fire Nation. He decided that a servant for his daughter would be a nice way to make it up to her."
Katara nodded mutely. She understood that this man wanted a present for his, no doubt, spoiled daughter and Katara just happened to be it. She also knew why she was the one who was being sent to the Fire Palace. The fact that she was Water Tribe made her elite in the world of servitude. She had not seen another Water Tribe member in all her time in the slave house, and no doubt there were none whatsoever in the Fire Palace, if indeed the Fire Nation.
Ontai cleared his throat. "Well we must be getting along, can't keep the ship waiting forever you know."
"Yes of course. Please if I cold have a quick word with Katara?"
Ontai left and Katara listened to his footsteps echoing down the hallway.
"Katara, this is the best time for you to go, I feel it in my heart. I always wanted something better for you than merely becoming a slave or working in a brothel."
Katara couldn't help it, she scoffed. "You mean you felt it in your pocket more like," she pointed at he mound of gold on the table. "You didn't want something better for me, you wanted a better price for the only Water Tribe girl outside of the poles -"
Katara was cut off by a sharp slap to the face. Clutching her right cheek, she stared wide eyed at the mistress.
"Do not ever say that! Yes you are a rarity, the only people who generally travel from the Water Tribes are the leaders, the nobility and the soldiers. Have you not realised that you could be someone very important to your Nation? I had always hoped someone would come to town looking for a Water Tribe girl, and take you home!"
Katara lowered her hand slowly. "Why give me away now? Water and Fire are complete opposites, I'll be lucky if I survive out there."
"No Katara, that is why I have sold you to a member of the Fire Court. You will not be mere slave in the Palace, you will be the personal servant to Governor Ontai's daughter. It will be a better life than you would ever get here. I will miss you but I can feel it in my bones; something great is going to happen to you when you get to the Fire Nation. Things will work out in the end."
Katara said nothing and allowed the mistress to lead her from the tearoom and out of the slave house.
"Everything you need will be provided. I remember telling you this before but you are going to be a beauty when you grow up, so be careful; you may find yourself capturing hearts that you are forbidden to keep."
The early morning sun dazzled me slightly as I was led into the carriage that waited, Governor Ontai already inside. I watched with a terrible sadness as the only home I could remember disappeared from view, along with the woman who seemed to know so much about my future.
And so began the greatest adventure of my life.
Welcome to my new story. I have high hopes for this one and I hope you will all enjoy it as well.
From reading the first chapter I think you can gather a few things:
- Aang died one hundred years ago.
- There is no Avatar.
- There is no war, although peace is fragile with Ozai on the throne.
- Katara has not seen her family since she was five years old.
- Currently everyone is two years younger than in the show.
- Water Tribe citizens are hard to come by outside of the poles.
I think that is everything of importance right now. Any other differences between this story and the show will be explained later, and are all intentional!
Oh, and this is a Zutara.