Author Notes: First, a big thank you to all those who took the time to review, you know I love you. Second - God willing - you shouldn't have to wait months between chapters again as I'm officially graduated and past the insanities that go with your senior year of college. This next chapter references several Inuit words/ideas which I've listed below. The meanings of the words are not direct translations but rather translations of the ideas they're meant to convey. The easiest way to think of them would be that each is a part of fate - or destiny - and the action or non-action needed.
*piqujait refers to what has to be done
*maligait refers to what has to be followed
*tirigusuusiit refers to what has to be not done
[ Avatar the Last Airbender © Nickelodeon ]
"A kayak," he repeated dumbly, his eyes still watching the crumbling wall. He sighed, seeming to come to a resolution as he squared his shoulders. He looked older when he turned to face her. "Katara, you betrayed your people. You know what must be done."
"Piqujait," she whispered quietly pain squeezing her heart. She'd wanted to go; to travel to their sister tribe and summon the waterbenders. She just hadn't wanted to go like this. She'd wanted her journey to be her choice, not her banishment.
"Piqujait." She heard Sokka curse quietly and stole a glance at him through her tears. His head was downcast, his foot poking at the snow. She knew he was thinking of their father, of his last words to them and the only explanation he'd offered on the fateful day he'd sailed away with the rest of the men; piqujait - what must be done. For him the choice had been simple. Action was necessary and therefore action was taken. It was part of the ancient laws that had governed their people for as long as their collective memory recalled: piqujait, maligait and tirigusuusiit.
Sokka's head snapped up. "Kat-"
"It must be done. I must follow. Sokka, I have to go. You know I do." Her voice broke as she looked down. "I've betrayed my tribe. My path is set and I must follow it. The tribe looks to you to lead them in father's absence. You must uphold our beliefs - our traditions - if we are to survive, even if it means banishing your own sister."
She looked at him once more. "Our laws apply to all, no one is exempt. Not even us. You know I'm right."
"We won't survive without you Katara. You know that. You give the tribe hope. When the tribe sees you they see the strength of our ancestors, not the broken people we've become."
"Not piqujait. Call it maligait if you must go, but not piqujait. I'm not going to make you leave. Just be certain though, before you go, that it's the right path for you, for all of us. Gran-Gran," he paused drawing a shaky breath, "did what she needed to do, to save you; to save us all. Make sure you don't throw her sacrifice away just because you're feeling guilty."
She nodded, biting her lip to keep from retorting. He knew the importance of their laws and they both knew if it'd been anyone else what needed to be done would've been done; they would've have been banished and declared dead to the tribe. It's what should've been done. She'd placed her own desires above the welfare of the tribe and Gran-Gran had paid the price for her selfishness. She'd cost the tribe their most valuable elder. Still she couldn't contain the overwhelming relief that followed his words. He wouldn't banish her; she was still a daughter of the tribe. The knowledge of that almost made her knees give out beneath her. "I'll make it right. I swear Sokka, I'll make it right again. I'll bring her home."
He studied her, his eyes searching hers for several long minutes. Finally, he turned away, his feet dragging heavily through the snow as if he was too tired to bother lifting them. "Tirigusuusiit. Not maligait or piqujait," he whispered to himself. "You need to not go."
Dinner passed in silence. Even the children seemed to know something was amiss and sat quietly besides their mothers. The remaining elders sat apart from the rest of the tribe; they hadn't looked at her since she'd returned with Sokka earlier. Her very presence was an affront to the values that had held governed their tribe since the beginning; values and traditions that had bleed away with each loss of waterbender or warrior.
Now a boy who had yet to be named a man led them and ignored their most sacred laws. It was almost as painful as the knowledge that they too would ignore their sacred laws for their tribe daughter. She was a waterbender, the last pride of their people and to her they clung.
She looked the very picture of remorse, her face twisted into a deep frown as she poked at her untouched dinner but Sokka knew better. He knew that look and it wasn't remorse; it was concentration. No doubt, she was working on her grand rescue plan. He let his breath out with a frustrated huff and stood. As one, the tribe turned their eyes towards him.
"Today we lost a valued member of our people." He hesitated, unsure what to say next; how to inform them of Katara's plan.
"But we will get her back."
Sokka turned towards his sister.
She stood beside the fire, its light intensifying the determination in her gaze. "I've decided to travel to our sister tribe and ask for assistance. With their help, we will rescue those the Fire Nation has stolen. We will aid our fathers, husbands, brothers and sons in the war. We will fight and reclaim what is ours!" She paused as they absorbed her words, watching as both fear and pride washed over their faces. "My path has been set and I must follow it. Maligait - I must go."
"Maligait," the elders echoed with despair.
"I'll need to stop soon," Katara noted scraping the compact snow from the barrel. She hated the constant stops her journey demanded. So far, she had been able to cling to the familiar coast of the Southern Water Tribe islands, but soon she would have to make the jump across open sea to connect with the southern Earth Kingdom islands. It wouldn't do to run out of drinking water while at sea.
Setting the snow over her kudlik to melt, she resumed her meager meal of dried kelp and zebra-whale. She was running low on food as well and would need to restock before her journey overseas. It was just as well; the sea had become steadily choppier over the past hour. She only had another hour at most before the storm would be upon her. Despite her wishes to make some decent headway, she'd have to put up camp soon or face the dangerous arctic storm. Her umiak was swift and strong but old.
Although a fine vessel, the best of the boats left behind by the warriors, she had reservations about pitting it against the strong winds and savage waters she'd seen the storms create. Still it would be better to test it now, close to land, than to discover her umiak unable to withstand the storms while at sea. Chewing the dry meat, she weighed her options, her hair dancing erratically with the strengthening wind as she studied the shifting sea.
Large ice floes spotted the open water, creating a makeshift wasteland; dangerous to the untrained eye. She knew all too well how swiftly they moved and had seen them crush wayward vessels trapped in their path. She also knew the protection they offered from an unwary enemy; Fire Nation vessels that had underestimated the ferocity of the ice littered the northern coast. She had no desire to add her bones to theirs.
Coupled with the knowledge that stronger storms were known to toss the huge ice floes, much like a wolf-hare playing with its prey, she adjusted the sails, deciding she'd test it in a less explosive storm.
Howling winds nearly drowned the sound of the crashing waves as she shivered in her hastily constructed igloo. The storm had arrived as she had rushed to finish it and she was thankful she'd the foresight to move her supplies earlier. She prayed the ropes tethering her umiak had held; she'd been unable to drag it ashore alone. She snuggled further into the fur blankets Sokka had given her.
She hadn't wanted to take more than she needed and had insisted her blankets would suffice. Sokka had merely handed her the furs, reminding her that Gran-Gran wouldn't miss them, adding, almost as an afterthought, that it was always colder when you traveled alone. Thinking he'd meant physical chill, she'd taken them. It wasn't until she'd crawled into her makeshift bed, pulling the borrowed furs tight against her that she'd understood. She'd cried well into the night, thankful the furs still carried Gran-Gran's scent; a reminder of the home, and people, she dearly missed.
Her stomach growled, loudly reminding her of yet another bodily function she needed to address. Grumpily she shrugged out of her warm bed wishing for the warmth of a fire. After reliving herself she trudged through the shifting snow towards the cove she'd used to shelter her umiak. I suppose it's better just to get it over. Waiting isn't going to change the damage it took. I just hope it doesn't set me back too many days. Rounding the last curve, she stumbled to a halt. Her umiak was gone.
No, it can't…it couldn't have…please spirits… "No." She turned away, burying her face in her hands. No no no no no…it wasn't supposed to go like this. I was supposed to find her. I was going to rescue her; rescue all of them. How can I-?
Laughter ripped her from her thoughts. Her head snapped up as she instinctively pressed her body against the rocks and further from sight. She could hear men talking and by their accent, knew they weren't Water Tribe. She gulped, her fingers reaching into her pocket to finger the sharp edge of her ulu, thankful she'd remembered Sokka's warning to always carry the small knife with her. He'd claimed it could save her life one day and she feverishly prayed he'd been right.
Two large men passed by her, each carrying a bundle of skins. Angrily, she bit her lip; savoring the abrupt taste of blood. Her people knew to kill only what was needed; to take more would be to upset the spirits and invoke their wrath. A greedy hunter could easily loose his soul. Yet these men killed by the hundreds and she saw they had only collected the skins. No doubt she would find the flesh of the animals scattered across the ice. Poachers had no use for the meat of their prey; meat was harder to keep fresh and the rare furs and ivory were worth far more to the other kingdoms.
She glared pulling the knife from her pocket. Filthy thieves! They're the poachers the Fire Nation was looking for! Crouching low, her muscles tense, she prepared to attack.
"Aaachoo!" Sniffling, the larger of the two wiped at his nose. "I hate this place."
"We'll be gone soon. The sooner we finish, the sooner we can set sail for the Earth Kingdom."
"Good, if I have to sit through one more of those arctic storms…"
The Earth Kingdom! She slipped from her attack stance already considering her options. The destruction of her umiak left her too few. If I can get passage...no I'd only be taken captive and sold. I'll have to sneak aboard. With a frown she crept after the bulky figures. Once I find their camp I'll come back for my supplies.
Following the poachers was easy, the men made no effort to hide their passage. Large footprints and blood trails lead straight to the heart of their camp. As she'd imagined it was littered with furs, tusks and anything else of value the southern lands had to offer. Fury tightened her grip on the ulu, her knuckles turning white with the force.
These brutes rape our lands and allow the innocent to die for their thievery! "No more," she growled muscles tensing. The laws that governed the Water Tribe had been passed down for generations. It was said the laws were given to the elders from the spirits, to allow their people to live in harmony with the land and the dangerous spirits that lingered there. To break those laws was to turn from the land, from the spirits, and from life. Death was the only resolution.
"Piqujait - it must be done." Slipping from the snowdrift she crept towards the camp intent on her purpose, yet fearing it the same. Ancient law said it must be done and as she was the only one here, she would have to be the executioner. Still, she had never taken a human life before. Part of her wondered if she even could. Calm yourself. Remember what Sokka taught you. Be silent. Be swift. Be steady.
Crouching behind a drying mound of arctic wolf-hare furs she recalled the only time she'd ever seen the execution carried out. A greedy man had turned against the tribe and the angakok had been unable to drive the evil spirits from him. His execution had been ordered and she'd watched wide eyed as her father had slit the man's throat. She winced recalling the way the snow had turned crimson beneath her father's boots; how the man had twitched and shuttered as his life blood drained the evil with it. She'd been four. The moon had circled twice before she could look at her father without trembling. Now the spirits called upon her to do the same.
Her ulu slipped into the snow, nausea replacing fury as she sank to her knees. I can't, I just can't. Spirits forgive me! I can't-"
Her stomach dropped at the familiar voice of the lieutenant. Whipping around she expected to come face to face with the soldiers once more, instead finding only drying furs. Letting out a choked breath she cautiously peaked over the mound. Several of the poachers were already in custody. Two others took refuge behind a similar mound of furs while the majority defended against a group of firebenders, without much success. She slipped back into the snow as a stray fireball blasted overhead.
I need to get to the ship. Once I secure it, I can sail south to pick up my supplies. Then it's just a few days sailing to Whale-tale Island. I can restock there and continue to the Northern Water tribe. She spared a quick glance to the fighters as she darted from her hiding spot, intent on reaching the ship.
The ground exploded behind her. Scrambling to her feet, she dove behind an adjacent stack of furs as several fireballs swept overhead. Two startled men stared at her. No, not men. They're just boys. The smaller of the two stared wide eyed at nothing, his back pressed into the mound of furs. A deep gash split his forehead spilling blood into his eyes. The other seemed slightly older, though he appeared no less frightened. White knuckled he clung to his shoulder, fingers digging into a bloody tangle of flesh and cloth. She could smell burnt flesh.
A scream pierced the air. The boys whipped around, the older holding the other to the ground as he franticly tried to escape.
"Dad! Dad! Let me go! We have to help him! DAD!!"
Katara looked away, eyes stinging, as she unwillingly recalled another Fire Nation raid; one that had taken her mother and driven her father to war. Now two more children had lost a parent at the hands of the Fire Nation. "No more," she whispered, anger drowning her sorrow. She placed her hand on the sobbing child's back. "We need to leave, before they find us."
"But…but my dad-"
"Would want you to live," she urged. The older boy nodded his eyes downcast. The younger sniffled dragging his sleeve across his nose, trying to copy his brother's composure. He too nodded at Katara, green eyes pooled with tears and blood; she thought of Sokka, no older than this boy, when their father had left. He too had stood proudly, his boomerang clenched in his tiny mitted hands, as he'd assumed the heavy burden of chief in his father's absence. "We need to get to the ship."
"No good. It takes three grown men to move it. We're short by two."
"Hey! I can help," the younger boy hissed.
Katara frowned at the barb but said nothing more. Like Sokka, this boy dismissed her as being useless simply because she was a girl. She supposed she should've grown accustomed to it by now. It simply was the way things were. Men hunted, built things, and talked politics – manly things, as Sokka called them. Women cooked, cleaned and raised children – womanly things. There were several elders who bemoaned, not-so-quietly, of the degradation of values when a woman was seen bringing in a fresh kill or making repairs to an ailing hut. Such work was reserved for men.
But there were no men.
All the strong and young men of their village had left to fight the Fire Nation. Now only young boys and aging grandfathers sat around the fires; both unable to perform the manly things needed to maintain the village. There was, of course, Sokka but he was only one and couldn't provide everything for an entire village. Naturally those who were able helped; that they were women always seemed inconsequential to her. Then again she wasn't an elder who had the luxury to worry over politics and failing social values. Since girlhood she'd had no time to worry about anything but survival; hers, Sokka's, Gran-gran's and the rest of the tribe. Who'd caught that night's dinner seemed unimportant when the bottom of the cooking pot was worn with grooves; the result of too many nights of scraping the bottom in hopes of finding enough left to feed just one more person.
"I CAN help," the younger boy insisted. "And so can she!"
"Fine, but I still don't see how that helps us," the older pointed out, slumping into the furs. "Even if we all pushed, we're not going to be able to budge it. It's beached! We'd have to wait for the tide-"
"I can take care of that." At the older boy's dubious look she continued. "Old Water Tribe trick." He didn't look convinced. She cut off his retort. "My people have lived her for generations upon generations. We know things outsiders don't. I CAN move that ship."
He snorted flopping back into the furs. "There's no way! I told you it's beached. My dad helped the others beach it yesterday because of the storm. It took three men to move it. Only a waterbender-" He stilled, looking at her carefully.
"I said I'd move the ship," she gritted, careful not to answer his unspoken question. Gran-gran's warning played through her mind louder than ever. Her carelessness had nearly cost her life; had cost Gran-gran's freedom. She would protect her gift more carefully. They were children but they were also outsiders and sons of the men who'd raped the land.
The boys stared at her. Slowly the younger smiled as the older nodded slowly. "If you can move it, we can sail it. That just leaves one problem. How are we going to get there? There're soldiers everywhere!" She blinked as the older boy suddenly smiled mischievously at his brother. "Think you're up to some earthbending?"
The boy frowned. "But there's nothing but ice here!"
"The earth is under the ice. It's frozen, but it's still earth. Think you can move it?"
"I'll try. What do you want me to do?"
"Create a fissure. If we can keep them separated from us-"
"What about Dad and everyone else? Won't they be trapped too?"
His innocent question broke her heart. His brother looked away quickly. Several seconds passed before he spoke again, quietly. "We keep to the code." The younger boy nodded and turned away, his shoulders sagging.
Taking a deep breath he moved into the beginning stance, grunting as he moved through the motions. His tongue slipped through his lips, sweat beading on his forehead as he focused his energy into the rock face and pushed. A deep rumbling answered as the rocks began to shift, a large crevice snaking towards the frightened soldiers. As the lieutenant shouted orders, Katara moved. Sweeping her fingers through the chilly air she spun a thick fog to cover the camp.
"Now," she ordered sprinting from their shelter. Silently they ran for the ship, weaving through half skinned animals and fallen poachers, knowing they had to be out of sight before the fog dispersed and the soldiers were no longer blinded.
A blast of red burst through the gray mist, exploding just behind them. Katara lunged, knocking the boys into the snow as another fireball swept overhead. Soldiers crept through fog, shadows disappearing into mist, reminding her of the evil spirits Gran-gran had often warned her of. Her heart pounded in her ears as the lieutenant stopped just inches from her, searching. The fog ebbed, casting him into morphing shadows. His gold eyes seemed to glow in the gray mists. She tightened her hold as the young boy trembled, his brother keeping his hand clasped tightly over the boy's mouth. Two more soldiers appeared to their right.
"Lieutenant, we've secured the perimeter. All prisoners are within custody."
"Are they? We've been in this icy hell for nearly three years Commander, and I can't recall a single instance when I've seen a fog spring up like this. For that matter, I can't recall a single earthquake in all that time either," he mused, gold eyes sweeping the horizon.
"Begin a record of the stolen items; when finished, move the items to the base. I'm sure the Fire Lord will be pleased to hear of the recovery of his property."
"What should we do with the bodies sir?"
The lieutenant delivered a hard kick to her side. She bit her lip to keep from crying out. "Leave them for the wolves. Dead don't make good slaves. And Commander, keep your eyes open. Someone is out there; a waterbender and an earthbender."
"Sir, there are no waterbenders left. We arrested the old woman; we saw her use waterbending to heal the girl. She was the last one. And the pirates have no benders among them."
"No benders, hmmm?"
"Unless…you don't think it's Him?"
"The Avatar?" The lieutenant chuckled. "I didn't realize you believed in fairytales Commander. The Avatar is dead and has been for over a hundred years. Still," he mused scratching at his beard, "it would be wise to err on the side of caution. Have the troops scan the area. Likely the benders were hiding among the pirates to escape detection. You can never trust a pirate Commander. However, should your fairy be real, have him captured alive. Imagine the glory if we were to deliver the Avatar into the Fire Lord's hands."
Avatar? Pirates?! Katara glanced at the boys. Not just poachers - pirates! She recalled the stories her father had told her, of legendary pirates who'd sailed the seas preying on the unlucky. Rouge gypsies, Gran-gran called them; adventurers, her brother called them. Rouge, adventurer or pirate – the name didn't lessen the danger they presented. Children yes, but children of pirates! Suddenly she felt trapped, like she was surrounded, with saber-tooth-bears on one side and wolf-hares on the other; both waiting to pounce for the kill. The soldiers would arrest and imprison her, if they didn't kill her first; the pirates would sell her to the highest bidder.
She knew she should run, abandon them to their fate, but she needed them. Her umiak was gone and she couldn't sail the pirate's ship without the boys. Without their ship she'd never make it off the southern island, let alone to the opposite pole where the northern waterbenders resided. Without the benders she'd never be able to free Gran-gran.
Giving the youngest boy a push forward she began to inch her way across the slick snow. Belly down they wormed their way through the maze of bodies and patrols. The fog ebbed and grew around them - fed by her energy, sapped by the soldier's fire – concealing their slow trek.
Cold and cramped from nearly an hour in the snow, she almost cried when the ship's hull appeared through the waning fog. Her arms shook as she pushed herself into a crouch, her eyes scanning the horizon for soldiers. The boys remained flat, waiting for her command. She jerked her fingers, thickening their cover. Nodding at the boys, she crept across the tundra carefully picking her way through the loose rocks. Soft grunts and slipping rocks followed behind her.
She stopped at the edge of the shore, her hand resting on the smooth wood. Silent, she pointed up, holding out the rope ladder. The younger boy scrambled up obediently. The older paused, his hand gripping the rope as he stared at her. One eyebrow rose questioningly.
"Old Water Tribe trick, remember?"
He snorted and began climbing, looking when he felt a tug on his clothing.
"You need to hide, both of you. No matter what happens, don't come out. When we're far enough out I'll come get you."
He nodded and continued climbing. She watched as he swung onto the deck, listening as two sets of footsteps grew distant. She waited, listening to the crash of waves against the rocks, feeling the cold wind pulling at her hair. Sure that she was alone she took a deep breath and focused her energy.
Sweeping her arms before her, she pulled. The water rose. She twisted, sweeping her arms in the opposite direction and pushed. The water receded. Again she twisted and pulled; then twisted and pushed. Slowly the water began to creep up the beach. Pull. Push. Pull. Push. With each twist the building momentum caused the water to reach further. Icy ocean splashed over her boots, soaking into the leather and chilling her toes. She hissed, curling her toes against the cold. Water lapped at the bough.
She jumped, her foot scraping against the side of the boat, as she grabbed the rope ladder. The wood creaked as the weight of the ship shifted and began to float into the cove. Collapsing onto the deck she immediately bent the water from her boots knowing it would only take a few minutes for frostbite to set in.
"I knew it! You are a waterbender!"
The water splashed to the deck as her attention snapped to the young boy kneeling before her. Knowing it would be pointless to deny it, she nodded. He grinned and she considered washing him overboard.
"I've never met another bender before. There used to be lots before the soldiers came but my dad said-" Leaning away, his eyes focused on his folded hands. "Do you think he's alive?"
He nodded. She looked out to the sea, searching for the correct answer. Past experiences with the soldiers had taught her they had little mercy, especially for thieves, yet she couldn't bring herself to destroy the child's hope. Not when she knew how precious that hope was.
"Yes, I'm sure of it. You'll find each other someday."
"Someday," he nodded to himself. He smiled, springing to his feet. "You look tired. The beds are below deck, you can use any of them. Oh!" He knelt in front of her, his face suddenly serious. "I won't tell if you won't."
He glanced pointedly to the water on the deck.
"My lips are sealed." She smiled despite the chill gripping her spine. He seemed to consider her for a moment before returning the smile. Springing to his feet once more he disappeared into the fog.
Grimly she stared into the shifting mists wondering if it was the child or the pirate she'd bargained with.