Avatar: the Last Airbender is a production of Nickelodeon Studios
Chapter One: The Tale of Kana
Sixty years ago...
"I'm not interested," Kana huffed firmly. She pulled the shirt she was washing out of the river and began to squeeze it dry.
"Be reasonable," he mother chided her. "Most of our girls marry when they turn sixteen. But you'll be eighteen years old in a few months and still without a husband."
"How horrible," Kana smirked to herself. She helped her mother dry out the rest of the clothes before packing them into their wicker baskets. Laundry day usually passed quickly for Kana because her best friend Yagoda would go down to the river with her to catch up on the latest gossip. But this time the work was a dull drudgery that dragged on when her mother insisted upon discussing marriage with Kana.
"Consider the attention that Pakku has shown you. Not many gifted waterbenders like him would take a liking to.."
"To what? An old maid like me?" Kana retorted. "Mother, you make it sound like I'm a bottle of lamb-goat's milk. I'll get 'spoiled' overnight."
"If you reach 20, it will be nearly impossible to have you married off," her mother warned her. "Just spend one evening with him. For my sake, dear Kana."
Kana rolled her eyes in disgust. "Fine. But only one evening, that's all. If I don't like it, I don't want to see him again."
Dressed in her second best tunic, Kana waited impatiently near the outside of the palace fountain. The night air was slightly chilly but not unbearable. Her mother had insisted that she take her white wolf shawl to wrap around her shoulders not just to keep warm, but because it enhanced Kana's delicate features with its exquisite fur.
"Good evening, Kana."
Her azure eyes scanned the courtyard for the owner of the voice. She turned around to see someone stepping out from behind the ice pillars adorning the gates. Pakku was a tall slender young man with jet-black hair that fell gracefully to his shoulders. His eyes were cool and gray like the inner part of the sky on a winter's snowy day.
"You look lovely tonight," he complimented her. Kana bowed politely in return. Pakku extended a hand out and they began to walk down the streets. Only the sound of their boots crunching on fresh snow broke the silence between them.
"Your mother tells me that you are very good with children," he said at last. "That's good. Children are important in a family."
"I'd rather tell you myself than have you rely all your information on my mother," Kana cautioned him. "Next time I'll send her on a date in my place."
A small smile touched the corners of Pakku's mouth. "So you'll consider another date with me?"
"I didn't say that."
"You said 'next time', Kana."
She bit her tongue and vowed not to make another foolish mistake.
"Do you like waterbending?" she asked him. Pakku stopped in his tracks causing Kana to listen closer to him.
"It is my life's work," he said in a cool solemn voice. "When I waterbend I feel the courage of the rivers rushing through my veins. No iceberg will stand in the way of where I seek to fight."
Pakku extended a hand out towards the river rushing past them. In a fluid gesture, he channeled a stream of water up and out before bending it to his will. The water swirled with poise around the two of them in a ribbon-like dance while he talked.
"The spirits of the ocean and the moon are my brother and sister when I waterbend. I do not 'like', so to speak, but I love the gift of waterbending if that is what you want to know."
She held her breath in awe. Pakku noticed the captive sparkle in Kana's eyes. To please her, he concentrated harder on the stream of water, bending it into the shape of a delicate jade blossom. Pakku parted his lips and blew softly, commanding the water to harden into ice under his breath. In a moment, he had created a beautiful ice flower as magnificent as a carved diamond.
Pakku handed the frozen gift to Kana. She accepted it, being careful not to snap the stem off between her fingers.
"You really are a marvel," she admitted at last. When she gazed into his eyes, Kana felt herself begin to smile. Pakku rested a hand on her shoulder gently.
"I think that you would make a good wife to me," he said at last.
The smile faded from Kana's face. Noticing her lack of enthusiasm, Pakku released his grip on her and turned away.
"You despise me," he sighed wearily.
"Oh no, it's not that at all. I do like you, Pakku," she said quickly. "I just don't know if I'm ready to be your wife, that's all. I need more time to think."
He whirled on her, his temper suddenly rising with the tide.
"Time? Who needs time anymore?" Pakku demanded. "The Fire Nation's wrath has been burning for over forty years now. Sozin's army grows stronger each month and all you can think about is time? Our tribes need noble strong warriors to drive those evil firebenders back to where they came from. Time is not needed, Kana. What we need it courage."
The bitter words stung Kana like an icicle driven straight into her stomach. She saw Pakku take a step back to her side.
"Forgive me, Kana. I have upset your delicate nature," he apologized. He reached with one hand and gently stroked her cheek.
"I'm not delicate. And I'm not afraid either," she defended herself. Kana thought to push him away but he continued to caress the side of her face. She closed her eyes and savored the soft touch of his hands against her skin that made her shiver with pleasure. His fingers were long and tapering, the perfect features of a waterbender.
"All I want is for you to respect me and my wishes, Pakku," she pleaded softly.
Pakku cupped her cheek and lowered his head towards her. "And what exactly are your wishes, pretty Kana?" he asked. His soft breath caused strands of dark hair to tickle her chin. Kana was finding it harder to resist him with each passing second.
"I don't know," she murmured at last.
"I know what my wish is," Pakku replied. He kissed her gently on the mouth but to Kana, his kiss was cool and emotionless as marble on her lips.
A few strained weeks passed. Kana went through the motions as were accustomed to young ladies that were being courted but she still felt uncertain inside. Pakku was gracious as ever to her, taking her on private trips in his boat all over the city and giving her small carvings made out of ivory and lavender stone. She knew that he was the envious bachelor that many girls had been fawning longingly over.
He was young, handsome, talented, and charismatic. Why couldn't she accept him?
Kana would lie awake in her bed at night and gaze up at the sky that spread a million stars out like a jeweled canopy. She'd try to imagine spending her life beside Pakku and the thought made her shudder. He was a good man but he was not the one she could live with because he just didn't understand: Kana did not love him.
One night she lugging a kettle of lobster stew back home when the front door swung open. "Congratulations!" Yagoda laughed, running down the steps towards her best friend. She wrapped her slender arms around Kana's neck and hugged her. Kana returned the gesture curiously.
"Thank you, but what's to congratulate me?"
Yagoda broke off the embrace and held her friend at arm's length.
"You're engaged!" she exclaimed. "I heard your father accepted Pakku's offer just this afternoon."
A horrible shock came over her. Engaged! And without her consent! Even though arranged marriages were common in their tribe, couldn't she have had the choice to be asked in person? Kana swore she was being pulled under water, suffocating with the chilling realization that her fate was being swept away by her father's command.
"Kana? What is it? You look so pale," Yagoda asked her. Kana cleared her throat and tried to keep a straight face.
"It's nothing, Yagoda. I'm glad you told me."
Yagoda seized Kana's hand eagerly. "You must be thrilled. We spent the whole afternoon just preparing for the party. Pakku is already here and he's got your engagement present!" she gushed ecstatically. She pulled Kana into the small but cozy space of her house.
Local neighbors had come to congratulate her on the special news. Kana found herself swept up in a shuffle of people who continued to shower their blessings upon the lucky girl. She was hugged and kissed by her parents and brother before being led to a chair where the girl was to receive a token of commitment from her betrothed.
Pakku came forward from the throng of people as if he was parting a river. The steady gaze in his eyes and his velvety smile almost calmed her nerves. She watched him walk up to her and spread his fingers apart revealing a slender dark blue ribbon.
Kana had to admit that the engagement necklace was one of the most beautiful things she had ever seen. It was round and smooth as a dove shell and the softest shade of blue like the inner part of the sky on a warm summer's day. The necklace had been carved with simplicity but elegance into the symbol of the water tribe: a swirl of clouds above azure waves.
"As the moon and ocean are bound together in balance, you and I are bound as one," Pakku announced aloud.
He laced the necklace around her slim throat, his fingers brushing against her skin and it made her tingle. She carefully touched the pendant that was held at the center with a gold clasp. Everyone burst into cheers of delight and applauded the couple while Kana became silent, wondering how on earth these sudden changes could be happening to her.
Kana controlled herself throughout the evening. Friends and family passed before her and Pakku to wish them congratulations upon their engagement. Kana forced herself to smile graciously at them until everyone believed that she was the luckiest girl in the North Pole to be marrying such a fine young man.
Inside she was screaming.
Once the party was over and everyone had gone home, Kana threw herself onto her bed and sobbed into her pillow. Thick steaming hot angry tears streaked down her face and stained the fuzzy gray fur of her blanket. She beat her fist down again and again with frustration. It just wasn't fair! She didn't love Pakku, she never would. But by the end of the month she would be forced to become his bride.
Wasn't there anything she could do?
She could throw herself off a cliff. Kana thought about the choice for a moment before discarding it. As miserable as she felt, she did not wish to die. She wanted to live more than anything else in the world. Live somewhere free and safe from the stringent rules of their culture.
There was only one other possibility.
But that was just as foolish as committing suicide. She was an innocent simple girl of the Water Tribe girl and there could be no end to the horrors that could lie in store for her. Tales of slavery, torture, rape, and murder had seeped in from the stories of the soldiers who returned home. They cautioned their families never to do anything other than kill the first firebender that crossed their path. The Fire Nation was a race of evil, corrupt, and savage people. They would show no mercy to civilians.
But which was worse: facing the dangers of the world or spending her life in Pakka's icy cage?
Kana rolled off her bed and wiped her eyes dry. There was no more time to weep. She had to take action and move quickly before the last few shards of freedom melted away between her fingers.
She folded up her blanket and stuffed it into a drawstring bag. Then she began packing some of her clothes and belongings. One of the most valuable items was an earthenware jug filled to the brim with her mother's herbal remedies. The humble plants that grew in the tundra possessed amazing nutrients that could cure virtually any disease. Kana took some dried seal jerky, a flask of water, and her brother's dagger. She slipped her feet into her boots and put on her parka. Her fingertips brushed against the base of her neck and the engagement necklace when she adjusted the fur collar. Kana ripped it off as if she was removing a shackle.
She wanted to hurl the necklace out the window with all of her strength but she hesitated, turning the ornament over with her fingers while she thought. It didn't seem right to take his necklace. But if she left it behind then Pakku would assume that she had been kidnapped or killed. No note, no messages could explain her actions. It was better if she kept the necklace with her. Kana replaced it around her throat and left the house.
Using a spare kayak on the bay's edge, Kana began to paddle away into the dark waters of the night. Her breath crystallized into soft puffs of smoke before vanishing into the winter air. She glanced over her shoulder, just to glance back at her home for the very last time. The moon glowed above the towers of the North Pole and cast silvery shadows onto the city like mystic spirits. There were no sounds save that of the rush of the river that flowed through the city in an endless murmuring chant that lulled the children of the Water Tribe to sleep with its mystic lullaby.
A tight throb chocked up Kana's throat but she refused to cry out anymore.
"Goodbye," she whispered softly.
The kayak disappeared into the inky darkness while cool waves lapped softly in the ocean.
"Frozen tears of love
She weeps yet wipes them away
Melting thoughts slide off"
-Haiku of the Waterbender
Five weeks later:
"Get out!!" the farmer roared. He poked Kana with the end of his pitchfork. She quickly scrambled to her feet but almost slipped back onto the haystack that she had been sleeping on.
"I'm sorry, I didn't know this was your barn," she apologized. "I was just tired and.."
"This isn't an inn! Get off my property while you can still walk!" he barked at her.
"Please don't send me away. I'm a hard worker and I'll do chores for food," she pleaded desperately. Kana's stomach was gnawing in pain after almost two days of nothing to eat. She'd willingly take on any task if it meant getting breakfast.
The farmer's dark eyebrows turned down in disapproval. "I don't need refugees on my farm. Now leave before I send the leopard-dogs after you!! OUT!!"
This was enough for Kana. She snatched her bag and ran out of the barn as fast as her legs could carry her. Soon her constant footsteps began to slow down until she was dragging herself by her feet. Kana's breath had become ragged and uneven. A lack of proper food and sleep was making her more exhausted with every passing minute.
Time alone had proven to be difficult for Kana. She had quickly run out of money and was now forced to scrape for anything she could find to get by. She even sold her brother's dagger for some potatoes and secretly hoped that he would forgive her for such a treacherous action. Kana slept in alleyways, under bridges, in the shade of trees, and anywhere that she could find shelter from wild animals or people. It was much harder in the rain too, especially when those seemingly safe caves were really the homes of mole-badgers or vulture-insects.
Kana had been stung, kicked, pinched, and attacked. Her tunic had become worn and threadbare and her formerly smooth braid was now a tangled mess of hair. She was without any friends and hadn't a single guess as to where she was after wandering all over the Earth Kingdom. She would have broken down into tears of defeat and tried to make her way back home but whenever that thought crossed her mind, Kana remembered Pakku. She still wore his necklace and vowed never to take it off lest she forget why she had run away in the first place.
The sound of trickling water beckoned Kana to take a few more steps. She finally collapsed near the creek in an exhausted heap. Too tired to even fill her jug, Kana leaned over and put her mouth directly into the creek to gulp down some cold water. A few mouthfuls quenched her thirst but did little to ease her troubled mind.
"Spirit of the ocean, I beg of you to aid me in my time of need. Please guide me towards a safe place," she prayed silently. Kana rolled over on the grass and fell into a troubled sleep.
An hour passed. The birds chirped in the trees. Wind rustled in branches. Dried leaves blew along the dusty road.
Brum-da-da-dum. Dum. Dum. Da-da-doum.
Something was pounding against the ground.
Dum. Dum. Da-da-brom
Kana's eyes snapped open. What was that noise? It sounded like...like a drum.
She carefully rose to her feet and followed the vibrating sound further into the woods. Kana crept up to the bushes and parted them just enough to see what the drumming sound was coming from. Blue eyes grew wide with shock when she saw the men in red and black uniforms encamped in the forest. Some were laughing among themselves while others were practicing with their swords. Two were pounding on leather skin drums for music, no doubt being the cause of all the noise. The symbol of a black flame against a red background fluttered proudly from the flag on the mast above their tents.
Kana covered her mouth to keep from making a single sound. She lifted a branch back up and cautiously kept her head down low to avoid being seen.
"What have we here?" a malicious voice sniggered from behind her. Kana was grabbed by one wrist and lifted up from her hiding position. A heavyset soldier looked her up and down like a caught squirrel.
He peered closer at Kana and she almost gagged from his foul breath. He must have been drinking recently. "What are you doing here?" he asked her.
"Nothing!" she insisted.
Yellowed teeth parted into a vicious smile. "That's a pity. We're bored marching out in the woods for weeks and my men and I are miss having a woman around," he drawled.
"Let me go!" she shouted, kicking the air as hard as she could with her legs.
"And miss all the fun?" he chuckled. Kana shuddered when he licked his lips together greedily.
"Yazu!" a voice barked. "What are you doing?"
A second soldier had come out of camp and was marching towards them. Kana's wrist was released from the first one's thick grip and she was sent sprawling back to the ground.
"Sir, I found this peasant hiding in the forest. I think she's a spy from Omashu." When Kana didn't move, he lost his cool and kicked her on the back with his boots.
"Bow before Admiral Wuhan, you insolent girl!" he roared.
Kana did as she was told and dropped to both knees. She could feel her heart thundering from inside of her chest and her fists gripped handfuls of cool grass from the ground to contain her fear.
The man standing before her stroked his beard in thought. "A spy? Confound it, Yazu. Can't you see by her clothing? She's a civilian, that's for certain."
His voice was sharp but civil and firm. He folded his arms across his chest and glanced down at Kana with flickering amber eyes.
"What were you doing here?" he demanded.
"I, I was traveling," she stuttered weakly.
"Where are you from?"
"North," she replied.
A strange look crawled through his eyes. "Do you mean to say that you are from the Water Tribe?"
"Y-yes," she stammered. Fear and a lack of sleep were clouding her senses. What did he care about where she was from?
Admiral Wuhan suddenly knelt in front of Kana, his face up against hers with careful scrutiny. "Tell me, young lady—are you one of the great healers from the North Pole that I have heard about?"
She hesitated before speaking again. "I'm not a waterbender. But all of the women in our tribe were taught with herbal remedies and to cure injuries..."
"Stop babbling, woman!" Yazu barked.
Wuhan just grabbed Kana by the shoulders and pulled her to her feet. There was a look of distressed urgency on his face. "One of our best men has Pendipox. Do you know of this disease?"
"Yes. But what do you want with me?"
His face had hardened into a solemn expression.
"I want you to use your abilities to heal this man. You will not be harmed among my soldiers if you obey my orders. But if he dies, so do you."
They'd kill her if she failed! But it was not as if she had much of a choice left. Kana nodded her head woodenly. Suppressing her exhaustion and forcing herself to take courage, Kana was able to follow the admiral back into his camp. The men stopped what they were doing when they saw the small blue-clad woman appear from the woods and walk directly past their tents. Her tanned skin, deep blue eyes, and dark brown hair were such a stark contrast to their pale complexions and features. She could feel their eyes all starring up and down her body but she managed to keep her head up and her knees from trembling. Former fear was now replaced with a new sense of determination to achieve whatever the enemy wanted inside of his territory.
Admiral Wuhan pulled back the flap of a tent and motioned for her to come inside. Her eyes adjusted to the dimmed light of a lamp before falling upon the young man on the cot. He couldn't have been any older than herself, barely twenty or twenty-one at the most, and with black hair all pulled back into a topknot.
Kana recognized the symptoms at once. The man's face was flushed an ill shade of crimson. Dark brown spots peppered his forehead and neck. His breathing was low and shallow as if his lungs were clogged up with mud. Kana knelt beside him and put a hand on his forehead. It was scorching hot.
"I need some water heated up," she told the two men standing in the doorway. One of the soldiers nodded and waved a hand at a pile of twigs in the corner of the tent. Flames burst from his palm and started to heat up a pot above the roaring fire. Kana watched with spellbound fascination, having never seen anyone create fire from thin air before. The firebenders may have seemed dreadful but they certainly possessed amazing powers.
Kana rummaged around in her belongings. The dried wintermint leaves had taken a beating from her travels but nevertheless; five long green stalks remained intact. When she crushed them up and dropped them into a cup of water, a cool refreshing scent stole through the tent. Kana was overwhelmed with a longing ache for her home in the North Pole.
She brought the cup to his mouth but he couldn't drink it. Kana picked up a spoon and managed to help the soldier swallow a few drops of the concoction at a time.
"I will be back at dawn to see if he has recovered," Admiral Wuhan informed Kana. Then he left the tent.
The moments crept by tensely. Kana continued to spoon drops into the soldier's mouth, always stopping once in a while to bath his face with a cool rag. The fire in the corner snapped and crackled while it slowly began to die down into a heap of warm coals. Kana's eyelids were feeling heavy. Her arms were numb with fatigue. She desperately wanted to rest but didn't dare leave the patient alone.
A deep moan broke Kana out of her daze. The soldier stirred on his cot and his eyes opened just enough for her to see a flicker of golden light under his eyelids. He turned his head so that his attention was now on her.
"Are you...a moon spirit?" his voice cracked.
"No. My name is Kana. I'm here to help you," she told him.
"Kana," he repeated. A weak smile broke out on his face. "Thank you."
She was startled by the softness of his voice and the gentleness of his words.
"What's your name?" she asked.
"Jeong Jeong," he mumbled hoarsely. His eyes closed and he fell back asleep.
Kana had been watching Jeong Jeong all night but eventually her own strength wore out and she also dozed off. When she woke up, flecks of dust danced in the sunlight that streamed in from the curtains of the tent. Kana rubbed the sleep from her eyes and gazed out at the bright sunshine.
She was surprised at how comfortably warm she was. Kana noticed a bright red cloak had been draped over her body and tucked around her shoulders. Where these men truly capable of performing such an act of kindness?
Jeong Jeong was sitting up on his cot and drinking more of the wintermint medicine. "I thought you might be cold," he said. He put down his cup and carefully rose to his feet.
"You shouldn't be up yet," she protested.
"I'm much better now, thanks to you." Jeong Jeong put a tray in front of her. "Please eat something. You must be hungry." She looked down at the strange foods in red porcelain bowls and then back up at Jeong Jeong skeptically. He raised his hands up in a gesture of surrender.
"I assure you, it hasn't been poisoned," he assured her.
Kana was famished. She picked up the bowl of rice and began shoveling it into her mouth with chopsticks. The other foods were too foreign for her to know what she was eating exactly but she didn't care. She shoveled some brown flakes into her mouth and felt the crisp crunch on the back of her teeth. Suddenly, she cried out and began to fan her tongue madly. A sharp pang of heat had leaped from the back of her mouth to her burning lips.
"Ouch! Hot! Hot!" she yelled.
Jeong Jeong looked on with a slight twinkle in his eye. "I take it you've never tasted fire flakes before," he chuckled.
"No," she mumbled, trying to stop the burning taste.
"You're supposed to put just a little on your tongue at a time. Or eat them with the dumplings," he offered her.
The dumplings were stuffed fat with duck and just enough of the fire flakes brought out the tender taste of robust meat. Kana thought it was much better than living off seal jerky. The tea was absolutely the most delicious beverage that she had ever tasted. Jasmine had a sweet fragrance and smooth taste that was refreshing as it slid down Kana's throat. She drank two cups of it while Jeong Jeong asked her questions.
"Why are you traveling on your own?"
"Because I chose to," Kana answered between gulps of tea.
"Do you have family in the Earth Kingdom?"
"Do you have a job?"
"Do you know where you are going?"
"Did you run away from home?"
Kana felt her face heating up with shame.
"Yes," she finally admitted. "I know it was foolish of me but I didn't have any other choice."
Jeong Jeong didn't laugh at her. He held his chin with his thumb and index finger while he studied Kana's face. "If your reasons to run away were important to you then they could hardly be foolish. Why did you leave?"
Something about his honest words made her feel better. Kana felt that she could trust this soldier for the time being. "I was engaged to someone I didn't love. I didn't want to marry him so I left."
Jeong Jeong raised an eyebrow in suspicion. "Has anybody else ever protested about arranged marriages before in the Water Tribe?"
Kana shrugged. "Not really. I guess I'm the first pioneer," she smiled dryly.
"All pioneers are brave people," Jeong Jeong informed her. "They do new things, things that seem strange and frightening to others. But courage comes from taking risks that one would hardly ever do just like warriors in battle."
"But I'm not a warrior," Kana protested.
"You're still brave, Kana of the Water Tribe." Jeong Jeong sighed wearily. "I wish I had your courage."
Kana was shocked. "Me? Courageous? No, I just couldn't stand wanting to live the way of my people any longer. I wanted a life of my own."
Jeong Jeong averted his stare away from her. His voice had become much lower as if he didn't want to be overheard. "Some days I also wonder about a life of my own as well, one away from the other Fire Nation soldiers. I question my own power and authority. Admiral Wuhan believes I have the makings of a great teacher within me, but I don't see things the way he does."
"You're doing your duty. That takes courage too," Kana dared to admit.
She noticed the glint of amber in his eyes that sparked with wisdom from a man with so many more years of experience than he seemed. She edged closer so she could hear him speak in a hushed whisper.
"I don't see firebending as a gift. To me, it is a forced obligation to those that have its power. I wish I could be set free of such responsibilities."
"If you don't want to be here, then you should just leave," she insisted.
Jeong Jeong shook his head. "It's not as easy as that, Kana. Abandonment in the Fire Nation army is a disgrace of the highest order and punishable by death."
Her fingers trembled as they held the teacup. "Do you mean if you ran away, they'd kill you?" she said softly.
He nodded. "That is why I admire you, Kana. Perhaps your family would be angry or hurt from your actions but you managed to flee and survive. If only I had strength like yours to endure the world..."
Kana got up quickly when she saw Admiral Wuhan march into the tent. She and Jeong Jeong bowed in respect to him. The admiral scrutinized his soldier carefully.
"You look much healthier than yesterday, Jeong Jeong. It's fortunate that you are one of our best fighters."
"It was fortunate that our leading officer found Kana yesterday. She saved my life," Jeong Jeong replied modestly.
"If you say so," Wuhan retorted. "By the end of the week I want you in top shape to train the new recruits. We'll be marching into Geng-Tsu by the end of the month."
"Take no prisoners this time, Jeong Jeong. The townspeople can't be left alive to give Ba Sing Se any of our battle strategies."
A strained look crossed Jeong Jeong's face. "With all due respect Admiral, won't you at least consider sparing the civilians for the mines?"
"Don't start that up again, Jeong Jeong," Wuhan cautioned heatedly. "You know we have no need for such sympathetic gestures when we are this close to victory. I don't want to hear another word in protest from you. Is that clear?"
Kana watched Jeong Jeong clench his fists but he nodded his head obediently. "As for Kana?"
Admiral Wuhan waved a hand carelessly. "The girl is no concern of ours anymore. She has served her purpose and is free to go at dawn." He stalked out of the tent leaving Kana alone Jeong Jeong. She noticed the soldier's face was darkened with silent wrath and something dangerous smoldered in his golden eyes.
Later that night:
A cupped hand came over Kana's mouth, waking her up from sleep. Her head was turned towards Jeong Jeong who put a finger to his lips. He let go of Kana and motioned for her to follow him to a corner of the tent.
"I heard some of the soldiers talking," he whispered. "General Wuhan wants to send you on your way tomorrow but Yazu and his men intend to follow you."
"Follow me for what?"
"What do you think, Kana? For whatever purpose they see fit."
Now she knew what their intentions were. Kana continued to fumble in the dark for her boots but Jeong Jeong thrust a bundle of clothes into her hands.
"Put these on. I'll get you out of the camp."
Kana squinted to see Jeong Jeong's outline in front of her. "Can't you light a fire?" she asked.
"Shhh!" he hushed her. "We shouldn't be seen or heard. It's too risky."
Kana understood his order. She quickly changed into the dark red uniform that hung loose on her slim frame but managed to tighten it with a sash. She struggled a little with the armor, not be accustomed to such heavy metal plates, but Jeong Jeong helped her to adjust the shoulder protectors and shin guards until they fit much better.
"I'm afraid I might clunk around in this," she whispered frantically.
"Don't worry. Just take long even steps and keep your head up. You're a solider now, not a peasant. Don't be afraid to look people in the eye."
Kana wound her braid into a tight bun before Jeong Jeong put a metal helmet over her head. He gave her long boots with steel tips for her feet and a spear to hold. Then he ushered Kana to follow him out of the tent and towards the end of the camp.
Most of the other soldiers had retired for the night or were talking leisurely around campfires. Kana pulled down on the visor of her helmet and turned her head the other way in case they might catch a glimpse of the blue-eyed youth wearing one of their uniforms.
The two of them had come up to the entrance of the camp where a single guard was leaning against his staff, snoring softly. He jerked awake with a snort when he heard the sound of boots against the ground.
"Captain Jeong Jeong! The guard stiffened up. "Shouldn't you be resting?"
"I'm feeling much better now, thanks friend."
"Where on earth are you going this late at night?"
Jeong Jeong put both of his hands on Kana's shoulders. "This young man is Lieutenant Zuko. He's been given information about our defenses near Geng-Tsu that must arrive at the village as soon as possible."
"He has? In that case, I'll escort the lad myself," the guard offered.
"No. I've been given personal orders to make sure that Zuko gets to his destination safely," Jeong Jeong insisted firmly. "Don't bother waking the admiral up for this. We'll both be back in the morning."
The guard bowed to Jeong Jeong and allowed the two of them to pass by. Once they had left the blazing lights of the Fire Nation camp, Jeong Jeong broke out into a steady run. Kana followed behind but her boots were so big that she had to stop and pull them off. The spear was also quickly discarded into a bush. Barefoot and unarmed now, she scampered quickly through the trees and jumped over dead logs in her path.
Jeong Jeong finally came to a halt near a rushing river.
"There," he declared, pointing to the other side of the bank. "Once you follow this river, it should take you safely away from here. I may have seen a few Water Tribe boats going down it before."
"What about the uniform?"
"It'll slow you down. Throw it into the river," he ordered her. "If you don't find any of your people than head west towards Omashu. They'll be good enough to give you a restful night should you need it."
"What about you? Aren't you coming?"
Jeong Jeong shook his head. "I must get back to my camp."
Kana felt a prick of tension when she realized that Jeong Jeong had risked himself that night. He'd have to explain himself in the morning and continue with the merciless slaughter that he was hesitant to carry out. When he turned to go, she reached out and grabbed his arm.
"You don't have to take orders from other people, Jeong Jeong. You said you wanted to be free of your responsibilities," Kana reminded him. "Now's your change to run away too!"
Jeong Jeong shrugged off her grasp. He remained aloof as a pillar of ice.
"I can't," he said at last.
"I want to more than anything else in the world, but I won't do it."
Kana's fingers curled around the center of her necklace, her thumb brushing over the carving of the ocean. She could feel tears of pity starting to brim up in her eyes. "That's not being fair to yourself, Jeong Jeong," she protested.
"Even if I abandoned my regiment, where would I go? The rest of the world has little sympathy for firebenders. Now is not the time for me to desert my people."
Jeong Jeong clasped his hands together and bowed in respect to Kana. "You saved my life, noble woman of the Water Tribe. Let me know that the favor has been returned by living your own life as you see fit."
Kana took a deep breath to calm herself down. "All right. But you have to promise me that someday you'll do the same for yourself."
Another kind smile graced his features.
"I'll do my best," the Fire Nation soldier promised her.
That was the last Kana ever saw of Jeong Jeong. Once she came to a bend in the river, she took his advice and shed the metal armor. She managed to trade the crimson cloth for a simple green dress that was the typical garb of Earth Kingdom girls.
Kana's next stop was Omashu where she got work in a pottery shop for a few weeks. When Kana had enough of sticking her hands into squishy hot mud, she took her savings and went further west. There she bought a ferry ticket until she came to a market brimming with buyers from all corners of the world.
There she met Shula.
"Kana, I'm just a boat craftsman from the South. It's not a grand place at all—no palaces, no big rivers, and no solace festivals," he insisted. Kana leaned over the edge of the smooth sleek sailing ship they were traveling on and felt the gentle bobbing of the water rocking the boat.
"Are you saying you don't want me to go with you?" she teased lightly.
Shula's eyes widened with awe. "I'd be honored if you came back to my home, Kana. But I don't want to make you do something that you will regret."
"I won't regret this," she promised him.
Two months later, they were married in the South Pole. The wedding was a small and simple one but Kana was more than happy. They didn't even know that such a custom of engagement necklaces existed so Shula didn't have to fret about carving one at all.
Her life, be as quiet as it was in the South Pole, was a peaceful one with the person she respected, admired, and loved. It was all that Kana had been looking for. After her wedding, Kana took off the necklace and put it into a wooden chest that Shula had made for her.
She had no need to wear it any longer.
Fourteen years ago:
"Agh! Ah!" the woman shrieked. She lay on the animal skins and continued to do as Kana instructed her. Deep heavy gasps emulated from her lips as she continued to push. Her head was reeling but she could hear her mother's voice guiding her along.
There was a shuffling sound from the center of the igloo followed by the healthy cry of a baby.
Kana gripped the hands of her daughter firmly. "You did very well, my child."
"It's a girl!" the midwife called out. She helped Kana clean off the newborn before she was swathed in a snowy white blanket and handed to her mother. Kana's daughter cradled the baby lovingly in her arms.
Kana stepped outside of the igloo just in time to see her son-in-law Hakoda pacing tensely while her tiny grandson jumped from one foot to another in delight.
"Is it here? Is it here?" he asked excitedly.
She laughed aloud. "Yes, Sokka. Your mother has just given birth to a beautiful little girl."
"A girl! Yes! Yes! I'm a big brother now!" he cheered. Sokka punched the air with a fist of triumph. "Dad, isn't it great?"
"It's the most wonderful news in the world," he declared. Kana smiled and ushered them into the igloo. Hakoda leaned over the bed and tenderly kissed his wife on the forehead.
"How are you feeling?"
"I'm all right."
"How's the baby?"
"Lemme see! Lemme see!" their son begged them.
"Sokka, my little warrior," his mother laughed softly. Hakoda picked up his son so that Sokka could get a better look at the bundle his mother was holding.
"Is this my sister? She looks kind of...squishy."
It was Hakoda's turn to laugh. "That's what all babies look like when they are born. So did you."
Sokka gently fingered the baby's tiny hands. She had wisps of dark hair that swept across the top of her head and long black eyelashes that left half-moon shadows on her cheeks. "She's wonderful," he whispered.
Kana bent over her granddaughter's sleeping form and studied her face with careful scrutiny. Her grace and beauty may have diminished over the years but not her eyesight.
"This girl has been encompassed with the spirit of the moon," she said aloud. "I can feel it flowing around her like a steady river."
"What do you mean, Gran Gran?"
Kana stood up before the two of them. "This girl is a waterbender."
Hakoda's mouth fell open. "Are you sure?"
"I am positive."
"Then we have been doubly blessed by the moon," he wife declared.
"What's a waterbender?" Sokka asked. While his mother and father tried to explain the gift that graced fellow members of the Water Tribe, Kana looked back down upon her granddaughter and she could already feel the tender bond linking her life with the baby's own. A swirl of emotions rose up inside Kana's heart. Perhaps the girl would one day come to be like her grandmother.
"What should we call her?" the mother asked.
"I like 'Mina'," Sokka suggested.
"That's a pretty name," Hakoda said. "But in honor of my mother-in-law and her wisdom, I must ask you to give the baby a name you see fit."
Kana knew she was fortunate enough to have such a selfless son-in-law. He had certainly proved himself to be a good husband and father as well. The four members of her family waited for Kana's approval while she thought of an appropriate name.
The baby opened her eyes revealing the finest clearest shade of sky blue that Kana had ever seen. The child looked up at the people around her with loving-kindness shining from their eyes. She gurgled for a moment and then the tiniest sweetest laugh coming from her throat.
"Katara," she declared.
"Katara," her daughter repeated. "It's the perfect name for her."
Sokka bent over and kissed the baby's soft cheek. "Hello, Katara. I'm your big brother Sokka. I'm gonna take good care of you from now on."
The family, along with Kana, drew themselves into a complete circle of hugs that was full and safe as the silvery moon that glowed in the sky peacefully above their village.
So ends the Tale of Kana of the North Pole and the birth of her granddaughter. Katara of the Southern Water Tribe grew up to become a master waterbender who taught Avatar Aang, the last air nomad who saved the North Pole from Fire Lord Ozai's army.
This ends the Scroll of Southern Stories as was recorded down by Bi Tong, the scribe of Ba Sing Se, and archived in the library of Guhan.