I'll Walk You Home pt. 62
Liling looked at her face in the mirror and wanted to cry. It was even worse today. The bruises were even darker, the swelling was greater. Her left eye was the worst. It was so swollen she was having a hard time keeping it open. The poor girl was going to bring dishonor onto the whole house.
There were servants from all over the kingdom here, having come with their masters who were guests to the party. And she was going to be seen by all of them. Her disgrace, a servant who had to be beaten. She wished she could just kill herself, but that would be even worse.
"We need to go." Miss Cuifen ordered. "Because of all the extra staff today breakfast is early."
"Yes, Miss Cuifen." Liling answered, and followed the older woman down to the staff dining hall.
The dining hall was very crowded. Butler Hong had had one of the staff earthbenders make a second table and benches to accommodate all the servants that had been hired to help with the party, as well as all the maids and valets that were accompanying the guests who were staying at the estate.
Liling kept her face down and headed for her place at the table but Miss Cuifen was already standing there.
"You sit there now." The older woman said, pointing to the place at Butler Hong's right hand.
Liling was confused. That was Miss Cuifen's place at the table, but she obeyed, and took the seat next to the butler.
Once everyone was settled, Butler Hong tapped the table to call for silence.
"I have an announcement." The butler intoned in a deep loud voice. "As some of you may already know, a member of this house has been honored by his majesty the king, (all the servants bowed at the mention of the king) for her deeds in the late war. Miss Bei Fong has been elevated to a Princess of the Royal Court of Ba Sing Se. If you are to address her, you will use the title princess at all times. Is that understood?"
There were affirmations from all the servants.
With that Hong sat down followed by everyone else and breakfast was served.
There was a comfortable chatter among the servants. Most talked about the carcass of the platypus/bear that had been delivered the day before and how cook had nearly had a fit when she was presented with all this meat the day before the party. She had everything planned out for weeks in advance and had already started cooking some of the dishes. What was she going to do with all this bear meat?
The under cook, a young woman from a rural village had offered to take care of it for her. She remembered an old way of cooking large dishes like that from stories told in her village, and cook had gladly given the task to her.
"I must say, Butler Hong..." Zhu, the valet to the Baron of Shanjia said in a voice that carried across the table. "…That your master has spared no expense for this party. He must be spending thousands on it."
"By master…" Hong asked in a clear voice that filled the room. "…Am I to assume you are referring to his Grace, the Grand Duke?"
"Please forgive me." Zhu said bowing his head. "I meant no disrespect."
"Very well." Hong forgave the younger man. "And as to the expense of this party it is not our place to speculate on such things."
"Of course not, butler Hong." The younger man said with a small bow of his head. "But you have to admit that this is the most exotic celebration I have ever even heard of. Platypus/Bear meat for one. And the Grand Duke has even imported a pair from the watertribe. There haven't been any watertribe in the kingdom for a hundred years or more. Are they entertainers? Will they be doing one of their exotic rituals for the guests?"
The way the valet used the term 'exotic' gave it a definitely lascivious if not obscene meaning.
"I can only speak for Sword Master Sokka." Shen said in a hard tone.
He was only Sokka's valet on a temporary basis, but an insult to his young gentleman was an insult to him and he would not allow it.
"He is a warrior, a hero of the war, who has been honored by the King."
All the servants bowed in their seats at the mention of the monarch.
"And he has swords." Shen went on in a lighter tone. "I unpacked them all today. Swords from all over the world. And spears, and knives, and even a bow and arrows from the steppe people."
That earned the young servant a chorus of appreciative,
From the combined staffs.
"And as for the woman…" Shen went on. "All I know is that she is Lady Katara, sister to Master Sokka and a friend of the Avatar."
This received another admiring response from the servants.
"And as to the bear meat…" Shen continued. "…That was supplied by Master Sokka himself. Who, using only a sword, killed the giant beast just yesterday morning. Now I am only a simple servant to a Grand Duke who spends most of my time here in the country. And I have only heard of such a feat being performed by a hero out of ancient legend. And you Zhu are a much more cosmopolitan man who lives in the city all year round. And I'm sure your master does it every morning just to get his blood pumping."
That earned Shen some quiet laughter from the throng, all of whom knew the reputation of the Baron of Shanjia. It also earned him a smile and a nod of approval from Butler Hong, as well as a dark look from the Baron's valet, which Shen answered with a smile.
"Zhu…" Butler Hong said, cutting the reply the valet may have been working on off. "…I would advise you, that as long as you are in this house you will keep your speculations to yourself. Especially around Master Sokka, or you may find you no longer have a head."
"Yes Butler Hong." Zhu said with a small bow of his head.
The discussion then turned to what bear meat would taste like, and if the servants might get a taste.
Liling was hurrying out of the dining area after breakfast when she nearly ran into Zhu who was standing in the door way.
"Well aren't you a pretty little thing." Zhu said in a low suggestive tone. "Why haven't I seen you before? Are you one of the exotics imported by the Grand Duke? Or has he been hiding you away all to himself like he has with his daughter?"
Liling just stood there not knowing what to say. She wasn't used to talking to people yet, let alone strangers, especially handsome young men.
"I…" Was about all she was able to get out, and just stood there awkwardly with her face down trying to hide her injuries.
"She is the Princess's Lady's Maid." Miss Cuifen said coming up behind the young girl. "And she has work to do, as do you I am sure."
"Oh I have plenty of time." Zhu replied in an ingratiating tone. "My master is not an early riser."
"Well the Princess is, so we must be on our way." Cuifen told him, pushing Liling gently past the young man.
Once in the hall and away from the other servants Cuifen pulled Liling aside and warned her.
"Be careful of servants like Zhu." She warned the young girl. "Your mistress is important now, even more important than she was. Servants like Zhu want only one thing gossip. The worse the better. They use it to gain advantage or to help their masters and some even sell it. You must be on your guard at all times."
"Yes, Miss Cuifen. I will." Liling vowed. "And thank you, for everything."
With this last she gave a heartfelt bow to the older lady's maid.
"You're welcome." Cuifen answered. "But remember what I have told you. Fail and you will bring dishonor on all of us."
"Yes Miss Cuifen."
Liling entered the guest house very cautiously. As a servant she had been taught not to knock on doors before entering a room. But there was no door to the guest house only an entry way. She didn't know what she would find when she entered, which is what made her cautious.
"What if they are licking each other again?" She wondered, and perhaps hoping a little that they were.
As she moved into the main room she looked towards the bed and was frozen by two hard blue eyes in a dark face, staring at her. She only partially took in that the young man's right arm was raised and cocked back. He was holding that strange bent weapon of his and was ready to throw it.
Liling was caught in the spell of those eyes and was frozen. Like the mouseroo by the mongoose/cobra in the story. But then the eyes crinkled with merriment and a grin spread across the dark face.
"Hey Liling." Sokka said returning boomerang to the shelf above his head. "Here for Toph?"
"Yes, master Sokka." Liling replied now that the spell on her was broken.
Free from the magic she could see the four teenagers in the bed. Her mistress was lying half on top of the dark young man, snuggled up into his arm pit with her head pillowed on his shoulder.
The waterbender was lying on his right side, her head resting on his chest.
The Avatar was cuddled up against the back of the waterbender.
She couldn't see the rest of their bodies because of the sheet and quilt but there seemed to be a tangle of legs beneath the dark skinned young man.
"Toph, time to get up." Sokka told the earthbender, emphasizing his words with a nudge of his left arm.
"Why?" She asked sleepily.
"Liling is here to get you ready." He answered.
"Uhhhhh." She responded.
Before going to bed Toph had taken her hair down from the bun she had it in to work on the skin. She must have had a restless night because now it was an explosion of black all over her face and head.
Sokka used his right hand to brush it away from her face and looked at her.
"Tui and La!" He exclaimed in shock.
"Language!" His sister said in her sleep.
The quilt rose and fell over the young man's chest as Katara hit him weakly.
"I can't believe it." Sokka cried out. "This is terrible."
"What's wrong?" Toph asked becoming concerned.
"It's horrible!" Sokka exclaimed. "Look Katara you can see it all over her face."
"What?!" His sister asked coming fully awake now.
"Toph's turned into a teenager over night!" He said in an overly dramatic tone. "Is there anything you can do? Can you heal her Katara?"
"Jerk!" Toph said punching him in the side with a loud thump.
"There's nothing I can do to change that." Katara giggled.
"What's wrong?" Aang asked coming partially awake.
"Toph's turned into a teenager!" Sokka exclaimed. "And worst of all she turned into a teenage girl!"
"Oh…" Aang said dropping his head back down onto his pillow.
Then Aang's head shot back up and the rest of his body followed, along with a strong gust of wind that blew the bed clothes off of all of them.
Liling got a brief glimpse of a terrible burn scar on the Avatar's back and a realization that his blue arrow tattoos went from his head down his back to his hands and feet. Which she found very strange.
"Toph, you're the same age as me!" The Avatar exclaimed excitedly, now kneeling on the bed.
"Great!" Toph exclaimed grumpily. "Does that mean I have to act like an idiot now too?"
"I don't act like an idiot." Aang said defensively. "Well not all the time at least."
"If you think that's bad wait till you have to wear your hair up." Katara told the earthbender.
"Too late." Toph replied. "I already have."
"Oh…" Katara said.
Then she crawled over her brother and kissed Toph on the head.
"May Tui bless your sacrifice." She intoned after the kiss crawling back onto her side of Sokka.
"That bitch!" Toph said in reply.
"Toph! Language!" Katara reprimanded.
"Oh please!" Toph shot back.
"And you!" She said hitting Sokka in the chest again. "You're a real jerk, you know that?"
"Oh I know." He said with a laugh. "But that doesn't change the fact that this is your birthday so happy birthday Toph."
"Yes, happy birthday." Katara added her own congratulations.
"Oh yeah, happy birthday." Aang said hopping out of bed.
To the airbender there were only two important birthdays. When you were five and entered the monastery and when you turned sixteen and you could leave the monastery if you chose to.
"Kiss." Sokka warned as he tilted his head down.
Toph leaned up and accepted the kiss.
"Liling's waiting." Sokka told the thirteen year old.
"I wish this stupid party was over with." Toph groused as she rolled off of her boyfriend and to the edge of the mattress. "Where are my clothes?"
Katara rolled off her brother and to the opposite edge of the bed. Sokka pushed himself up so he could lean his back against the wall at the head of the mattress and looked around the room.
"In the corner." He said pointing.
"Let me help you, Miss Toph." Liling said walking to the pile of discarded clothes.
As she helped her mistress dress, Liling kept sneaking looks at the young man sitting up on the bed. The Avatar and Lady Katara were getting dressed themselves but Sokka just sat there, in only his loin cloth. She thought it was arrogant of him to be so nearly naked and not covering himself.
The next time she snuck a look she was caught. Those strange, foreign, and impossibly blue eyes locked with her own, and she was frozen by their magic again.
The look was not hard this time, but of concern. Then with one fluid motion Sokka was off the mattress and moving toward her. Tall, lean, and imposing in his grace. He half squatted, half knelt in front of her and stared into her eyes.
"Liling, are you alright?" He asked her. "Did something happen to your face?"
She tried to look down to hide the bruises but the magic was too strong. She tried to speak but she was held too firmly by those strange eyes.
"Did someone hit you?" Sokka asked.
"What?" Toph asked pulling on her under tunic. "If that bitch Wang hurt you, I'll have her thrown out of this house."
That broke the spell and Liling was finally able to move and speak.
"Please no, Mistress!" The poor girl begged. "She didn't do anything wrong. It was my fault. I deserved it."
"No you didn't!" Sokka told her in a very serious voice. "Katara can you come over and take a look at this?"
The waterbender, still half dressed, and barefoot was already on her way.
"Please!" Liling begged. "It's nothing, please don't bother with me."
"It's no bother, Liling." Sokka told her with a smile. "My sister loves this stuff."
"Oh shut up Sokka!" Katara commanded as she looked at the young servant's face.
"Oh please Lady Katara it's nothing." Liling begged. "I'm fine."
"I'm going to kill that bitch!" Toph exclaimed. "Then I'm going to have my father fire her sorry ass and throw her out of this house!"
"Oh NO! Please Miss Toph don't do that!" Liling frantically pleaded. "It was my fault, and it will never happen again. It's all been taken care of."
"I can't see anything with all the makeup you're wearing." Katara told the girl. "Water!?"
"Wash stand." Sokka said pointing.
"Please! Miss Toph! I'm fine. Really!" Liling begged as Katara dragged her by the hand to the washstand.
"Where are my pants?!" Toph demanded.
"Aang could you warm up some water for me?" Katara asked.
"Please! I'm fine!" Liling cried.
"Sure." Aang said going to the wash stand.
"Toph…" Sokka said quietly as he searched for her pants in the pile of clothes on the floor. "She's starting to freak out. Tell her you won't say anything to your dad."
"But what about that bitch Wang?" The earthbender asked in the same quiet but still fuming voice. "We can't let her get away with this."
"I'll think of something." Sokka reassured her handing over the pants she had been searching for. "Just tell her you won't do anything this time to calm her down."
"It's ok Liling." Toph said in a calm voice loud enough for the girl to hear her. "I won't talk to my father about this. But the next time I see that… woman… If she even touches you ever again I'm going to break her in half."
"It will never happen again." Liling declared in gratitude. "Honestly, it will never happen ever again."
"Here you go." Aang said as he raised his hand out of the steaming basin on the wash stand.
"Thanks sweetie." Katara said wetting a wash cloth and rubbing soap onto it.
"This may hurt a little." The waterbender warned Liling as she began to wash the younger girl's face.
The waterbender's tender touch was too much for the young girl. In her life Poor Girl had been pulled, pushed, and beaten. No one had ever touched her the way Katara was, with tenderness and concern. She held her face as still as she could but the young servant could not stop the tears from spilling from her eyes and running down her cheeks.
"I'm sorry!" Katara exclaimed "I'm trying not to hurt you but I have to see to help you."
"It doesn't hurt." Liling reassured her, even though the tears would not stop.
Katara rinsed out the cloth and wiped away the soap residue and the last of the makeup on the younger girl's face.
"Whoever did this…" She said in a tight voice.
"It's been taken care of." Sokka cut her off, from where he was standing across the room helping Toph dress.
He didn't want to upset Liling again with threats to Madame Wang.
"I hope your right." Katara said to her brother, hanging the wash cloth up on the rack attached to the wash stand.
"It has!" Liling promised.
With a series of gestures Katara drew water from the basin and held it spinning between her palms. Liling had seen earthbending before and this was very similar, but then something happened which she had only seen once before. The water began to glow. She had seen the waterbender do that yesterday when she had healed her brother. This was not bending. Earth did not glow. This was magic. Old and very powerful magic.
The orb began to move towards her. Instinctively she closed her eyes. But she had been taught all her life never to shy away from a blow, so she did not move her head. Through her eyelids she could see the light come closer. Then it touched her face. She could not overcome nature completely and flinched at the contact. Her face grew tight as she asserted control.
"It's warm!" She thought as it moved onto her forehead. "Warm and tingly."
It spread from her forehead down onto the rest of her face. The tingling was all over her skin but it seemed to be stronger on certain parts of her face. Her left eye especially. It felt wonderful. It tickled. She felt her face relax and a small smile spread across her lips. She really wanted to giggle, it felt so good.
Soon it was gone and she opened her eyes to see the waterbender swirling the water in the air. The glow gone from it, she sadly noted. Then with a gesture it flew back into the basin.
"You really have to teach me how to do that." The Avatar said looking over the waterbender's shoulder.
"If I knew what I was doing I would." She answered him with a sad smile.
Liling reached up and touched her face. The pain that had been there was gone. The tightness from the swelling was also gone.
"Tickles, doesn't it?" Sokka remarked walking up to Liling with a fully dressed Toph at his side.
Poor Girl giggled in reply.
"Look in the mirror." Katara suggested.
Liling turned and saw the fine mirror on the washstand. She looked in and saw her face. Flushed red as if she were blushing furiously, which she was to a degree, but the change from when she put her makeup on took her breath away. The dark bruises were all gone. The swelling was down, even over her left eye. She realized that she didn't have to struggle to keep that eye open any more.
She looked on in wonder. She was no longer the wicked servant who had to be beaten, the evidence there for all to see. The flush was even fading leaving her cheeks clear with just a touch of pink to them. It was magic.
"Toph, are you going to need Liling this morning?" Sokka asked.
"My mother has me scheduled for a spa session this morning." Toph explained. "So I won't need her. Why?"
"Well if Liling, sorry Miss Liling…" Sokka amended bowing to the young servant.
She turned at the sound of her name and automatically answered with her own deeper bow.
"If you want to…" He continued speaking directly to the girl. "I might be able to help you with… your problem. But it will take all morning and mean a lot of work for you. Are you interested?"
Liling thought a moment then said.
"If it is alright with Miss Toph and it will help me then yes please."
"It's fine with me." Toph told the two of them. "Meathead what have you got in mind?"
"Food!" He announced with a silly grin. "When's breakfast?"
"After you get dressed!" Katara told him.
"Oh right." He responded looking for the borrowed tunic and the rest of his clothes.
Lao, Poppy, and Rong were waiting for the Gaang when they arrived for breakfast. Liling waited in the hall while her mistress ate.
Miss Cuifen was already there waiting for her own mistress. They gave small bows to each other, and then took there waiting stances. Miss Cuifen snuck a small glance at the younger servant. Then she turned her head, a breach of etiquette, and stared at the girl for a time.
"Your face?" Cuifen asked. "What happened?"
"Oh…" Liling said, smiling as she touched her cheek. "It was lady Katara. She healed my face the same way she healed Master Sokka. The Avatar himself even helped."
"She used her magic on you?" Cuifen asked the shock evident in her voice.
"Yes, Miss Cuifen." Liling answered in a subdued tone.
"You need to be very careful little girl." Cuifen told her in a stern voice, with still a touch of sympathy underneath. "You are a servant. Never forget that. They are not your friends, and they never will be. They are the great ones that you serve. You must be loyal to them, help them, guard their secrets but they will never be loyal to you. You're no more than a comb or a brush that they will throw away when it suits them.
"And be very careful of those two. The dark ones. They have already begun to use their magic on you. They will snare you with it. Especially the boy. He will have you doing and saying things you can't imagine now."
"I will, Miss Cuifen." Liling affirmed.
The older Lady's Maid just sighed to herself. It probably was already too late for the girl.
Breakfast was nearly over. Rong had returned to life thanks to a lot of strong tea. He was listening as Sokka, Lao, and Aang at one end of the table discussing the Air Nomad books that Sokka had brought with him.
"I may be able to read a little of some of them." The Avatar said excitedly. "I learned a little of the old writing from Monk Gyatso when he would explain the paintings and inscriptions on the monastery walls."
At the other end of the table Poppy was telling Toph about what she had planned for her daughter that morning.
"It will be great fun for us." The Grand Duchess excitedly told her. "I've invited your aunt Rose and your cousin Jasmine to join us for our Spa Morning. It will just be us girls."
"Oh joy." Toph responded in the tone of someone, like their friend Mai, who was suffering from terminal apathy.
"Oh come on Toph it will be fun." Katara told her jostling her elbow. "Like that time in Ba Sing Se, we had a lot of fun."
"The only fun I had was dumping those snotty girls in the canal." Toph told her friend.
"They did deserve it." Katara agreed with a laugh. "But getting all girly was fun too."
"Then why don't you do the girly thing and I'll play with Twinkle Toes." Toph suggested.
"What?" Aang asked from the other end of the table.
"I'm going to kick your butt!" Toph declared. "You still need work on your earthbending."
"Oh, well actually I was gonna go to the library and look at these books Sokka found for me." Aang told her. "Maybe we can work this afternoon."
"Princess, please." Her mother said to her. "This morning was set aside for the two of us. It really would not be… appropriate for someone like … your friend to take your place."
"What do you mean by 'not appropriate'?!" Toph demanded.
"I think what your mother meant…" Lao jumped in, worried that he knew exactly what his wife meant, and wanting to protect his daughter and her friends. "…Was that she saw this as a family morning. A chance for you to get to know your Aunt and cousin."
"I've had plenty of chances to get to know my relatives." Toph declared. "But I was kept in my room with that bitch Wang every time they came to visit. Which reminds me I want to talk to you about that woman."
This last was said to her father.
"Why don't you and Katara practice your bending this morning, and the Grand Duchess and the Baroness can have their spa thing." Sokka offered as a compromise.
"But the day is all planned out." Poppy objected.
"Well sometimes you just have to improvise, your Grace." Sokka offered. "It is Toph's, sorry the princess's birthday after all. She should get to have some fun."
"That sounds good to me, is it good for you?" Toph asked the waterbender.
Katara wasn't sure what was really going on here. Sokka had signed "Caution." When he had offered his suggestion.
"Yeah that'll be fun. I haven't fought you in forever. You look like you could use a bath." The waterbender said with a laugh.
"And I'll give you a mud bath Sugar Queen." Toph replied with her own laugh.
"But I had planned this whole day out." Poppy cried in frustration.
"Don't worry mother I'll take a bath before your party." Toph said bitterly.
"It is the Princess's birthday after all." Lao said trying to placate his wife. "She should have some fun."
"You're always taking her side!" Poppy declared, near tears. "I've worked very hard on all of this. And now you just throw it away, as if it means nothing."
The Grand Duchess stood, throwing her napkin onto the table, trying desperately to hold back her tears, and left the room at such speed that Hong barely had time to open the door for her.
"Toph, please forgive your mother…" Lao said. "… and everyone forgive this display of family business. The Grand Duchess has been under a lot of strain trying to get everything together for this party."
This was met with a chorus of understanding from the guests. Toph was meaningfully silent.
Liling was waiting in the guest house. She was very good at waiting. She heard someone rushing in through the front opening and glanced up to see Sokka come running in.
"Sorry, sorry." The tribesman said screeching to a halt in front of her. "I got tied up with Aang and Lao in the library. I didn't mean to keep you waiting."
Liling didn't know what to say. No one had ever apologized to her before. Especially someone as important as the Sword Master of the Earthkingdom. She fell back on the traditional servant's response and bowed low to the young warrior.
"Please, it is my pleasure to serve you, Master Sokka."
"Just call me Sokka." He replied. "Shen's been here." He added looking around the room.
The bed had been made, towels replaced, water both for washing and drinking had been replaced.
"Yes master." Liling affirmed.
She had offered to help the valet but he had said he would rather do it himself.
"Wow, he even fixed my top." Sokka said as he wandered around the room and found his torn robe now repaired lying on the bed. "He really did a nice job!"
Liling didn't say anything. But just waited patiently where she was.
"Sorry…" Sokka said again, dropping the robe on the bed and walking back over to her.
"Yes Master." She replied bowing to him.
Sokka shook his head but sighed in resignation.
"The reason I asked you to come here is to offer you a choice." He told her. "I can teach you how to defend yourself and how to fight back. It won't be easy and you'll have to work really hard every day and it will hurt, a lot. And even after all that there is no guarantee that it will protect you. It's your choice."
Liling thought about it for a moment.
"But I'm not an earthbender." She told him.
"Liling, three of the best fighters I know are girls and not one of them is a bender." He answered her in a serious tone. "And one of them, the best, doesn't even use any weapons. She just uses her fists."
The young servant thought again. This was going against all she had been taught. But her life had changed so much in the last few days, all because he had brought her mistress back.
"Yes." She said finally. "Please teach me, Master Sokka."
The young man gave her a big smile, and bowed to her.
"It will be my privilege to help you onto the road you have chosen to travel." He told her.
"Thank you master." She said bowing to the tribesman.
"Foot work is the foundation of all that you will build on your way." He told her. "And the first step is learning how to stand."
He laughed at that as if he had just told her a joke.
She didn't understand, so she just bowed.
"Ok, so the first position is your rest position." He told her. "So just stand the way you normally stand."
She bowed and just stood the way she always did when she was waiting.
Sokka walked around her looking up and down her body.
"That's really good." He told her, admiration in his voice. "Back straight, stomach in, hips tucked, feet flat, knees relaxed, knees and toes pointed in the same direction, shoulders down, head tilted slightly down. That's perfect."
She smiled and tried to hide it. She was not used to compliments.
"Good, now you need a ready position." He said standing in front of her and demonstrating. "It's almost the same as your rest position but with your feet shoulder width apart, and your head up, and your hands to your front resting just on your legs."
And so the morning began. Sokka taught her how to stand, then he taught her how to walk. Advancing one sliding step at a time. She followed him across the floor. Then he taught her how to retreat, and for more than an hour they moved back and forth across the room.
She was a very good student.
Then he taught her how to make a fist.
"You role your fingers up and your thumb goes on the outside and holds the first two fingers in tight. Those first two knuckles are what you will strike with."
When he was satisfied he taught her how to block with her forearm. Swinging it up and out, while pulling her other arm in and rotating it until her fist was resting on her hip.
Then he added the advance and retreat to the blocking movement.
"Blocking is not passive." He explained. "You want to strike the attacker's arm with your own, not just waiting for them to hit your arm. Everything is an active move."
"You can block while advancing or while retreating. You can block while holding your position. But always remember don't be passive. Attack the attacker."
Once he was satisfied he taught her how to punch. Striking from her hip, rotating her fist until it was extended in front of her. Then she had to add advancing and retreating, then blocking, alternating punching and blocking while advancing or retreating.
There was so much for Liling to remember. But Sokka was patient with her, correcting her when she did it wrong, which was not often, and drilling each new technique with her until she learned it.
"Remember tight fists. You should practice making fists all day long, every chance you get."
"You want your feet solid on the ground. Why punch with just your hand when you can strike your opponent with the entire earth."
"The most important thing is focus. Everything comes together, from the ground to the top of your head at the moment you strike."
"Don't aim for my sleeve, or even my arm. When you block you want to strike the inside of my arm. The bone in the arm is your target."
"When you punch, don't aim for what you see. What you see is my tunic."
He pulled his tunic off and stood before her.
"Don't aim for my skin." He said slapping himself just below his rib cage.
"You have to aim for the diaphragm, inside my body."
The last phase of the lesson was Sokka swinging his arm in a simulated blow, slowly at first but then getting faster.
"Most people are right handed, just like you. They will swing at you with their right hand. Remember your focus. You want to strike their arm."
He illustrated this swinging up his left arm in a block.
"And the same thing when you punch. Bam!" He illustrated.
He began to swing hard at her, forcing her to really block his attacks, all this while advancing or retreating.
"Good!" He told her. "Relax, shake out your arms."
"It hurts." She told him rubbing her left forearm.
"Fighting hurts." He agreed. "That's the choice you make."
"Alright." He said after a moment. "Now add the punch while you're advancing. And really punch me. Remember not my skin but my diaphragm inside me. Wham – Bam!"
"Wham – Bam!" She agreed.
They began again. Sokka attacking, Liling defending. She would start from her ready position, advancing into the block.
Then a second advance while punching.
Over and over again. All the way across the room and back again.
"Rest!" Sokka finally called.
Gratefully Liling shook out her hands and rubbed her arm. Sokka did the same except he was rubbing his abdomen.
"Good!" He told her. "Very good! You've learned a lot very quickly."
"But my punches aren't doing anything except hurting my hand." She complained.
"I wouldn't say that." He assured her rubbing the bruise that was starting on his belly. "Though you're still punching the surface. You have to aim for the inside."
She nodded in understanding.
"Bam!" She said.
"Right!" He smiled. "And remember I knew what was coming so I could tighten my muscles to protect myself."
"Remember." He told her in a serious tone. "Practice, practice, practice, that's the most important thing. Any chance you get during the day even just for a few minutes, practice the form. This is an earthbending form and is very straight forward, and powerful, but that doesn't mean it is easy. Doing it right takes practice and focus."
She nodded in understanding.
"Doing it ten times a day is better than doing it twenty times once a week." He explained.
She nodded again in understanding. Then she realized how rude she was being. She was a servant and he was a noble guest of the house. She bowed low to him.
"Forgive me for my rudeness Master."
"Nothing to forgive." He told her answering her bow with his own. "Thank you for your hard work and dedication."
"Don't those soldiers have something to do, besides watching us?" Katara asked Toph as they walked into the guest house.
Sokka and Liling looked up as the two teens came in.
"Come on Sugar Queen…" Toph said with a laugh. "You loved it when we challenged them and kicked their butts."
"Sokka where's your top?" Katara asked seeing the two of them.
"Top?" Toph asked stomping the ground to get a better feeling for the room and those in it.
"Punching technique." He explained.
"So how was the lesson?" Toph asked.
Sokka turned to the young servant and nodded. Liling moved into her ready position.
"You have to remember that she has only had this one lesson." Sokka told the two young women. "So you can't-"
Before he finished he swung a hard right hook at Liling.
Her right foot swung back, and her left arm shot up striking Sokka's attack away.
"WHAM!" She cried.
She advanced and delivered a hard punch to his midriff.
"BAM!" She cried.
The two young women stood for a moment just staring.
"That was very good Liling." Katara finally said.
"YEAH!" Toph shouted jumping up and down swinging her arms. "Me next, me next!"
Sokka stepped away and motioned Toph to come over in front of Liling.
"Ready?" Toph asked.
Liling took her ready position.
Toph swung, Liling's foot went back and her left arm shot up.
"WHAM!" She cried.
She advanced punching.
"BAM!" She cried.
Toph jumped back at the last instant, being blocked had hurt enough, and she did not want to take a punch.
"Wham and Bam?" Katara asked.
"It works." Sokka defended.
"That's great, Liling!" Toph cried. "You really learned a lot fast. You'd make a great earthbender."
"Thank you Miss Toph." Liling said with a bow taking up her rest position. "He is the one who should be praised though." She said bowing to Sokka.
"She's the one that did all the work." He replied returning the bow.
A sound of a gong was heard coming from the main house.
"Oh!" Liling said looking up. "That's the gong for lunch. I didn't realize the entire morning was gone. I need to get you ready, Miss Princess."
"Lunch!" Sokka said happily.
"We should probably get cleaned up too." Katara said. "And you should put some clothes on." She told her brother.
"Oh right." Sokka agreed.
"Thank you again for the lesson My Lord." Liling said bowing to Sokka.
"You should call him Sifu Sokka." Katara corrected her, with a smile.
"Sifu Sokka." The servant corrected herself with a bow.
Liling bowed to Katara as she followed her mistress out of the guest house. Her arm hurt. Her hand hurt. Her thighs hurt. But she found that she could not stop the smile that kept coming to her lips.
Poppy sent word through Miss Cuifen that the Grand Duchess would be eating with her sister and niece that day. Therefore it was just the Gaang, Rong and the Grand Duke having lunch together. Everyone had a good time.
Rong kept asking the Gaang about their adventures during the war. Lao wanted details about the his majesty's return to Ba Sing Se. The four young people talked over each other. Katara constantly correcting everyone in their recollections. All in all they all had a good time.
The afternoon was spent with the final fittings of all the clothes for the party. Poppy was there for that.
After that Toph went back to her rooms and Liling got her ready. Bathing her and then working on her hair.
"Liling…" Toph said while the servant did her hair. "… Do you know the footman that is acting as Sokka's valet?"
"Yes Miss Bei Fong." Liling answered as she piled the earthbenders hair on top of her head. "His name is Shen."
"I need you to ask him to help us during the party tonight." Toph told her.
"I'll let him know, your highness." She answered.
The door opened and Liling looked up to see Miss Cuifen standing in the door way.
"The Grand Duchess has brought someone from the city to do her makeup and hair." The Lady's Maid explained, the irritation well hidden in her tone but it was still there. "So I'm free to help you with the Princess, if I won't be intruding."
"I would be happy for any and all help you would be willing to offer." Liling said bowing to the older servant.
Miss Cuifen returned the bow.
"Princess would that be all right?"
"Fine." Toph told her sick of all this already.
"That's a good start." Miss Cuifen said appraisingly walking up behind Toph. "Now let's see what else we can do."
The two servants spent a little over an hour on Toph's hair. The more experienced servant instructing the younger as she worked. The blind earthbender just sat in her dressing gown and let them pull and brush and comb her long black hair making her plans for the party.
"Where are the hair pins the Grand Duke gave the Princess for her last birthday?" Miss Cuifen asked as they were finishing.
Liling had to think about that for a moment. Now that the older Lady's Maid mentioned them she did remember seeing them, but that had been a year ago when she had helped Madame Wang get Toph ready for a formal dinner with her parents.
The young servant looked in the drawers of the dressing table and found the black lacquered box with the mother of pearl inlay. She handed it to the other servant. Inside were the two hair ornaments.
They were two long silver pins with a series of square silver plaques hanging from fine chains on one end. The plaques were set with diamonds on the border and emeralds in the center and swung on the fine chains.
"You have to be careful with these." Miss Cuifen explained as she used the pins to hold Toph's hair in place. "You don't want to poke any holes in your mistress."
"Oh no, Miss Cuifen." Liling agreed watching carefully.
"And now for the tiara." The older servant said.
Liling soon found that box which matched the one that had held the hair pins. The tiara was also made of silver and set with emeralds in the high center with diamonds around them and off to the sides.
"Now for the makeup." Miss Cuifen said with a small note of triumph.
"What fun!" Toph said with a complete lack of enthusiasm.
"The Avatar and Lady Katara!" Butler Hong announced as Aang and Katara entered the great earthbent hall that had been created for the party. All the assembled guests stopped speaking and looked to see the two teenagers walk down the steps onto the main floor.
Aang was wearing his formal monk's robes with the large wooden air nation medallion. Katara was in her long high collared robe in pale green with light yellow trim. She had her hair in the water tribe style, with the hair loops, the small bun at the base of her neck, and the long braid. She had thought of wearing her hair in a more flamboyant style but decided that this was Toph's party and simple would be better.
As they moved across the floor Aang was immediately surrounded by the guests, both young and old. Mostly women old enough to be his mother. Katara smiled at first until she found herself in the middle of ring of overdressed older men. The bowing wasn't too bad, but they all kept touching her, usually on her arm, but sometimes her back and sides as well as they talked to her. She was glad she had worn the long formal robe, since it offered her some protection.
"So you're the watertribe heroine that defeated Princess Azula?"
"So exotic, are you really watertribe?"
"No wonder Fire Lord Zuko ended the war. Seeing you, it all becomes clear what his true motives were."
"You must visit us in our summer home next year."
That was followed by a hand moving across her hip, which earned the arm attached to the hand a sharp strike from her elbow.
"Feisty!" Someone declared.
"Nice!" A second, even older voice commented.
She and Aang were rescued by Grand Duke Lao.
"Please!" The Grand Duke admonished his guests. "Give them some air. The night is still young, the party has not even started yet."
The mob reluctantly broke up and moved out to fill the floor again.
"Thank you." Katara said with a bow to Lao.
"You are suffering the price of fame and beauty." The Grand Duke said returning the bow.
He led the two over to the far end of the hall where there weren't as many people, and excused himself to attend to all his other guests.
People continued to point and stare at them as a servant brought them cups of punch.
"Sokka?!" Aang asked looking as someone approached them.
Katara looked and saw a very strangely dressed man (She assumed he was male). He must have been wearing at least ten layers of clothes. The sleeves were so long and so full that they dragged on the ground. The robe was huge and the wearer had to kick it out of his way with every step he took. The overall color was various shades of blue, dark blue at the floor fading to pale blue as it moved towards the wearers chest and head. On the head was a sort of pointed hood/hat of white fur. The only part of the wearer that was visible was his dark face, which was growing darker as he tried to move across the floor.
"Not a word!" Sokka declared trying to point to his sister, but the effect was completely lost since his hand was covered by the long fur trimmed sleeve.
Katara just had to laugh, which started Aang laughing as well, which caused Sokka's dark face to become even darker.
"Sokka you're wearing enough clothes to keep the whole village warm." His sister finally was able to get out. "You must be cooking under all that."
"Yeah! It's hot under all this." He said flapping his arms. "They told me it's supposed to represent the ocean. And the sleeves are supposed to be the waves." With this last he flapped his arms again. "If you think this is bad you should see the next outfit they've got for the dancing part of the party."
"Can't wait." She told him.
"Dancing?!" Aang asked, a smile suddenly growing on his face.
There were three bongs from a large gong at the head of the hall as Butler Hong stood forth and proclaimed,
"Your Grace, your excellences, ladies and gentlemen, may I present her Grace, Grand Duchess Poppy Bei Fong, and Princess of the Royal Court of Ba Sing Se Toph Bei Fong."
The orchestra struck up a fanfare and earthenders lowered stone shades over the glow crystals lighting the hall, leaving only the front platform illuminated.
To be continued:
Disclaimer: "Avatar the Last Airbender" the characters and the world were created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko and owned by Nickelodeon and Viacom or Paramount or some huge corporation. This is purely a work of fan fiction because I wanted to play in their world and I love the characters that they created.
I apologize most sincerely and hope you will find it in your hearts to forgive me for my long absence.
I hope you enjoyed this chapter, though it is not very long and full of rather mundane information.
The next chapter will be the party itself and will be out faster hopefully.
Thanks so much for reading.
I am so honored by all the fanart done for this story.
New Fanart: There is a wonderful piece by 16th-of-a-twig over on tumbler and another great piece by Fuufuucuddlypoops over on DeviantArt. Please check them out.
There is wonderful work done by ASKNEKOLE on Tumblr, she also has a DeviantArt account as "mLegend24" Please check out her wonderful work.
I am so honored by all the fanart done for this story.
Sicksketch has done some wonderful sketches over on Tumblr. Please take a look, just search under the tag "ill walk you home" and you will find them.
Fanart on Deviant Art; There is fanart for the story on DeviantArt;
Totalfanboy21 has a great picture of an older Toph and Sokka inspired by the story and Abi-chan14 and Cutubulla as well as Fuufuucuddlypoops have created Fanart for the story. I am really honored that talented artists have liked the story so much that they have actually made art based on it. Please check them out.
Thank you all so much for sticking with my story.
Once again thank you to all those who have added this story to their alerts and especially their favorites, and a very special thank you to all who have added me to your author alerts and favorites. That is a real honor for me. I hope I have not disappointed you with this chapter.
Thank you to all for reading
All comments and/or criticisms are more than welcome.