Chapter 45: A Girl's Name
"Katara," started Lin, the young girl's voice full of trepidation.
"We're hungry," finished Min, her twin, her tone just as downtrodden.
Katara, having returned to their temporary camp with firewood, looked down at the two little girls and frowned. She immediately glanced up at Kemko, the Kyoshi Warrior, and the other girl gave a sad smile as she prepared the too-thin broth in the pot. They had lost a lot of their supplies when racing down the mountain and even though they now had two fewer mouths… one of those mouths was their makeshift hunter.
It wasn't that the water tribe boy was the best hunter in the world or anything (it honestly was a surprise he never came back mauled), but he had been helping feed their village ever since the men left. So, he was capable. And though all the Kyoshi Warriors were great fighters, their weapons weren't exactly suited for hunting. In fact, it was a shame they hadn't been able to grab one of those crazy fire-archers' bows. Then, they could have at least used that. Luckily, there was always fishing, which all of the older members were capable of.
Unfortunately, water wasn't always nearby and when it was … other people tended to be around as well. Water is life as the saying goes.
Turning away from the older girl, Katara put her sticks down and ran a hand through both of the twin's hair in a comforting manner. "Don't worry. I'm sure we will happen upon a village or a river tomorrow, and then we'll all have a full meal again. How does that sound? Can you wait until then?"
The two young benders looked at each other with troubled expressions but nodded nonetheless, "Okay Katara. We can wait until then."
The two girls then ran off to help set up the tent that the younger boys were mauling. Even from here, Katara could hear the younger boys saying Sokka always set up the tents better.
Kemko, her voice soft, pulled Katara from any spiraling thoughts as she asked, "Did you see Suki or any of the others? They've been foraging for a few hours."
Pressing away thoughts of her idiot yet loveable brother, Katara tried to concentrate on the here and now. "That's the second night in a row, Kemko. Our rations can't be that short."
The dark-haired girl pursed her lips, her face oddly youthful without her warrior's makeup on. Slowly, Kemko nodded, looking around for any overhearing ears before she added, "We have to cut rations, even for the littlest ones. We lost a lot of supplies escaping the mountain and given the rush to leave the island to begin with … Well, we didn't take as many supplies as generally would have been needed. We had to be quick of foot."
Not for the first time, Katara felt the sting of guilt. If only she could have traveled to the Northern Tribe as she had intended and learned waterbending there. Then the Kyoshi Islanders wouldn't have felt rushed in sending their children off, which, honestly, she felt was wrong to begin with. Who just sent their bending children away to ignore notice?! It wasn't the kids' fault. It was the Fire Nation! Always the Fire Nation.
And yet, a tiny voice inside her head reminded her that if she hadn't been born a bender, Kya would still be alive. The Southern Raiders had come for a bender and her mother had paid the price.
Squeezing her hands into fists, a gaping ache in her chest, the water in the pot started sloshing around. It ... had been her fault.
Kemko, eyes wide, immediately interrupted the other girl's thoughts before the pot tipped over, "Tomorrow will be better Katara. Now please stop, we can't have the soup spilling."
Startled from her rage, Katara stared at the pot. She had almost spilled the kids' only meal for the night.
Placing a hand on her neck, her mother's necklace grounding her, Katara turned in shame and bitterly bit out, "I'm not just going to stand here. I'm going to do something today."
Kemko immediately looked worried, "Like what?"
Throwing her hands up in the air, the soup in the pot rippling, the waterbender confessed, "I don't know. I just have to do something. Maybe I'll find a river or a lake or maybe a village. I'm not just going to stand here and watch anyone go hungry."
As if to interceded, the Kyoshi Warrior stood up quickly, her heavy skirts singing as she took one step forward, hand reaching out, "But Suki said no one was to go off on their own. We are in Fire Nation territory, Katara. We can't just wander around. The conquered town of Giapan is nearby and we have to skirt around without notice."
Grabbing a bag for some foraging, Katara threw it over her shoulder and crossed her arms over her chest before adding almost haughtily, "I'll be fine alone and it's not like I'm going to wander into a Fire Nation camp or something. I'll be back before dark ... I just need some time to myself anyway. I'll be back before dark."
And with that Katara rushed away, leaving the other girl standing there with a worried expression.
It was a terrible idea. Yue knew that. In fact, every ounce of her could feel her father's disappointed stare even though he was nowhere in the vicinity. After all, she was a princess and wasn't supposed to do this sort of thing. But, it was like the tide was pulling her out to sea and all she could do was allow it to take her.
And so, Princess Yue had decided she would help the Avatar. She didn't know when she had come to the decision, but she was rather sure it was after she had dreamed of him. Oh, it was so unladylike to dream of a boy that she wasn't going to be engaged to. Yes, she knew about her father's plans to betroth her to Hahn. She had almost wept in relief when the announcement had been withheld given the Avatar's return. Honestly, she wondered if that was why she was so taken with Avatar Lee. He had unknowingly saved her in some way. But, the more she dwelt on the angry and yet awkwardly-shy boy that was Lee, the more she wondered if it had something to do with her connection to the moon.
After all, they both were bound to the Spirit Realm. In fact, Yue was positive that La wanted Avatar Lee to succeed and heal the realms. At least that was what Yue was able to gather from the strange vision.
In said dream, the Avatar had been made of ice, three large cracks rippling down his frame with three chips missing from his form. She remembered being a water-bender, ice and water streaming after her like a gown as she dragged the moon across the sky by a thin chain. She was trying to hide the moon from someone but she didn't have enough weight to pull it down from and needed Lee's help. But, apparently, she first had to help him. She needed to find the missing pieces that had been chipped away so he could move again without completely breaking.
It had been surreal, the moon slowly turning red regardless of how hard she struggled. There were still so many things she couldn't yet grasp about the vision, but she felt the dream was clear about one thing: she needed to help the Avatar.
Unfortunately, she hadn't acted fast enough. Avatar Lee was gone before she could speak with him. Yes, she knew she could have spoken to one of the Avatar's Masters about the premonition, but it was embarrassing admitting she had dreamed of Lee (regardless if he was ice or not) even though she had been hoping to use it as an excuse to speak with him again.
Their dance together … it still brought a light flush to her cheeks.
So, she did what she had to do. The Avatar had left, disturbed by his destiny, so she would leave as well. Avatar Lee was hardly the first Avatar to flee from his fate. It always caught up to them, as was the nature of rebirth.
Thus, knowing her father would not permit her to go with the Masters freely, Yue formulated a plan quickly and collected some supplies. First, she had gotten a boy's parka, some binding cloth, and a spear and hunting knife she didn't really know how to use. Finally, she got a fuzzy bear-fox hood that hid her hair and the bottom part of her face. Disguised, she snuck on with the rest of the volunteering crew and the Avatar's Masters.
She knew it was a terrible idea, that there was probably an easier way to help the Avatar from afar, but she kind of … wanted this. She always had to be selfless and think of her duty to her people. She never got to wander the barrens outside the city or play in the snow like a child. And she certainly hadn't been able to steal a kiss from a boy that wouldn't be her betrothed. She lived for everyone else, and she never got to live … for herself.
A part of her knew those were things only normal girls got to do, not honor-bound princesses, but still she wanted it. If only for a moment, to be something more than a princess.
And so, she had only stalled at the threshold of the ship for a moment before her seal skin boots touched down on worn wood. The next few days she kept her head down, her usually soft hands being rubbed raw by the cold and the work crewmen gave her. She was sure her fumbling existence was only ignored given how hurriedly the crew was put together. It would be hard to catch up to a sky bison after all.
Struggling to tie a knot like she had seen one of the other boys do, Yue nearly jumped out of her skin when a voice sounded behind her. "What are you doing? Who taught you how to tie knots? A blind elk-goat?"
Pulling her hands close, trying to keep her voice low and masculine only to have it squeak like a dying seagull-rat, Yue admitted, "S-sorry. I thought I was doing it right."
Covering his eyes with one weatherworn hand, Nuobi who was the captain's first mate, groaned, "I knew the crew was a mess of volunteers but really, a greenhorn?"
Feeling two feet tall, Yue tried not to pout behind the fabric mouth covering that was helping hide most of her face. Again, she stammered. "I-I'm sorry."
Groaning again, Nuobi took in a deep breath. "Please boy, stop stammering. It's unbecoming of a northern warrior. Now, watch carefully, I will only show you once. I have better things to do today."
And though the first mate had threatened to only show the greenhorn once, it was more like half a dozen times. He groused and grumped but surprisingly waited patiently for Yue to get it right. Somehow, tying that knot correctly and receiving a pat on the back that nearly knocked her over … it had been more fulfilling than receiving praise from her etiquette tutors. In fact, the rest of the day dragged on much like that as the ship raced across the sea, Yue learning things she only knew in theory. She stumbled most of the time, hands gaining blisters while her feet ached, but she had always been a determined sort.
She'd help Lee, one way or the other.
"You sure this is a good idea, Captain? The crew doesn't have their usual pep back. Not one bloodthirsty comment amongst the lot of them," said Yu as he watched Peri sliding into another kata on the ship's deck. She was moving rather well for being stabbed in the leg recently.
As usual, Cooky had no comment as to where the blade had come from.
Looking at his motley crew, all of them still a little scraggly after the last conflict they had, his gaze settled on the center mast. It was barely holding together with spare wood and rope, and the rest of the ship was in disrepair as well … huge gorging claw marks all over the hull.
The bone dragon had nearly dragged their ship into the pearly depths but it was ultimately trapped with the island, allowing for them to escape.
Turning his hard gaze back to the water tribe ship before him, the Captain rolled his shoulder, "That mast won't hold together much longer. One good storm will drag her under, and it has been a while since I've seen such a fine Northern Water Tribe ship. Aren't you curious about the curios they might be carrying?"
Humming, Yu smiled, "Aye Captain. We are high-risk traders. It's all about the curios and I don't mind the color blue one bit."
Belly laughing, the pirate captain nodded, "Well, get the crew ready. We are about to see how rusty the Northern Water Tribe has gotten, hiding from the world as they have been. For all we know, the lot of them have all forgotten how to swim."
"You should get colds more often, Yugato. It will help fill our sails," jested Pakku, only to sneeze a second later.
Jayendra merely snickered at this before directing the Masters all to a map in the captain's cabin, "Colds aside, we are still blind in the water. All we have to go off of is the painfully vague life of Avatar Lee."
"The slippery water-snake did like make things mysterious," groused Pakku, his brow wrinkling. "But even I could tell his great attachment to his uncle. He is going to go back to the boat we took him from. We have to intercept him."
Yugato, frowning at this as the two Water Masters and the ship's captain bickered about direction, straightened his spine. "And what will you do once you intercept him? Chain him again? Greet him kindly like an old friend?"
Immediately, the men stopped bickering, everyone in the cabin turning to look at him.
Yugato kept his spine straight and continued, his voice refusing to waver, "Keeping the Avatar prisoner obviously isn't going to work this time, Pakku. Something else must be done. The Avatar needs to trust us, not be forced to bend. He does not yet understand the fluidity of water nor the freedom of air and certainly not the stability of earth. I need to know what you plan to do with him when you find him."
The two Water Masters grimaced, the giant pool where homes and courtyards had once been making for a grim reminder. The Avatar was still a powerful being that could not be chained easily, even if he was in the body of a teenager.
Jayendra, seeing Pakku's pained face, spoke in place of his old friend when he felt the silence had dragged on for too long, "Yes, it is obvious that the Avatar cannot return to the Northern Water Tribe, but how can you gain his trust? How can you make him stay to even learn? Master Yugato … the boy has fire in his blood. We've all seen it. I don't know if he will ever trust anyone belonging to the other elements."
The scarred Water Master then threw a glance at the ever-calm Kun Tein as the man calmly sipped at the tea he had dragged from the upper deck. He sighed deeply out of his nose before adding, "And I know you don't like it Master Yugato, but Master Kun Tein's first suggestion is sound. It won't hurt the boy. He would then want to trust us, to learn. He will be the bridge he was meant to be."
Hands no longer folded in his sleeves, Yugato looked like he had just been slapped. His voice, generally calm, raised in a show of anger, "You actually plan to go through with that? He might be a scarred and scared child, but he also is the Avatar. Do you think his past lives would stand for that?"
At this, Pakku's head snapped sharply, his own anger palatable.
"Then they should save the world. Not some corrupted Fire Nation child, but they won't act. They've let their reincarnations fail over and over again these last hundred years. They obviously won't or can't help the current Avatar. So, instead, we have to make do with what we have. And I don't know about you, but I will not watch the Northern Water Tribe crumble and be forgotten. If his past lives disagree, then they will rise and stop us, but if they believe the boy won't listen on his own, they will let the mind-bending happen," finished the aging Master, his tone biting and yet strangely sad as he added, "Certainly an Air Nomad can value the thoughts of an old Master trying to keep his people's culture alive."
Then, as if to stab the point home, Pakku placed his hand on the map rolled out onto the table, his aged fingers following trading routes nearly forgotten by time … broken trading routes with their sister tribe.
Yugato couldn't help but feel a sting at the other Master's words, his eyes roving over the abandoned Nomad Temples on the same map.
Letting out a deep breath, the air shifting in the cabin, the Air Master shook his head calmly, "The past lives can only interfere so much, but we must also trust in them. They whisper to Lee even now telling him he must find a teacher. Please, when we find him, let me try to connect to the boy first. I can reach him. In fact, I am certain I was reaching him before he went into the Avatar state."
Pakku raised a brow in disbelief as if he pitied Yugato's naivety and the tense discussion might have continued if the ship didn't suddenly jerk as if a rough wave had just slammed against the hull. All the Masters, except Kun Tien with his glass of tea, stumbled into the wooden walls or table in the cabin, their guard suddenly up. The sky had been calm earlier, what could possibly interrupt their clear waters?
It was almost of little surprise when one of the crewmen slammed the wooden door open, his eyes wide and his hand on his bone club, "There is a ship on the horizon and they are incoming."
"Is it the Fire Nation?" asked the crew's captain, the weather-worn man standing up tall even though he had almost lost his footing moments ago.
Shaking his head, the bone beads in the crewman's hair tinkling lightly, he horsely added, "… It looks like pirates."
All the Masters stalled in surprise and looked at each other. Yugato immediately frowned deeply as if upset with the interruption, placing his hands back into his sleeves; Kun Tien merely finished his tea and pulled his hat fully back onto his head as if accepting the situation as it was; Pakku, in turn, tiredly rubbed his neck like he was getting himself ready for a chore; and Jayendra looked far too excited for a distraction. He was a man of action and almost joyously headed for the door, shouldering past the grim-faced crewman
Jayendra smiled almost wickedly as he headed up the wooden stairs, his voice carrying down into the cabin, "Well, you know what they say … conflicted can be a good thing if it gets you through an impasse."
Watching the waterbender's form disappear onto the deck, Yugato sighed, "I don't think this is quite the situation they had in mind when they made that saying, Master Jayendra."
Nonetheless, all the Masters followed promptly after.
Yeah, the greenhorn was an idiot. That was what Nuobi had decided. Nonetheless, that didn't stop the squeaking of his sealskin boots as he rushed forward, quickly grabbing the back of the teenager's parka before he fell overboard. The kid was leaning too far over the railing and he probably didn't even know how to swim, knowing Nuobi's luck.
Tripping back onto the deck, blue eyes wide, the youth floundered, "Oh, Nuobi. Ugh, sorry. Is there something you need? I was just emptying … the waste bucket."
"You were leaning too far over the railing," grumbled Nuobi as he crossed his hands over his chest. "Do you even know how to swim?"
Yue considered lying but just couldn't bring herself to lie to Nuobi. He was decent to her and she was lying to everyone on the ship already just by being here. She couldn't lie to him as well. So, she grumbled, "No … I never got to learn."
Nuobi closed his eyes and took a deep breath as if he was gathering his patience or maybe even his sanity. He released it in an awkward long exhale before he opened his eyes and waved his hand at the disguised Yue. Truthfully, the man had been calling the young tribesman boy because he didn't want to get a leach-on, but it seemed some things could not be avoided, "What's your name, boy?"
The princess had thought long and hard about this, secretly thankful that no one had exactly ask yet … and she was sure it was a terrible boy's name. Nonetheless, she also wanted it as close to her name as possible so she wouldn't slip up. So, "Yukko," it was.
"That sounds like a girl's name," was the first thing out of Nuobi's mouth.
Yue almost threw herself over the railing in shame but somehow resisted.
"No matter, it's fine," added Nuobi as he shook his head. He doubted that was the kid's real name, but at the same time he didn't want to publicly humiliate him. Yukko was obviously one of the sheltered sons of a noble clan head. The kid probably just wanted to get out and see the world and be his own man. Nuobi couldn't fault that though he didn't like the boy's disregard for his family's approval either. If this wasn't such a time-sensitive journey, he'd whoop the boy's backside and turn this ship around.
The Masters needed to find the Avatar before the Fire Nation did though. They couldn't let Avatar Lee be corrupted any more than he already was nor killed. Neither option was acceptable this far into the war.
"How about you take your turn helping the cook tonight, especially with tea duty again. Apparently you poor properly like a fine lady or something," laughed Nuobi, slabbing Yukko on the back as he seemed to choke in embarrassment. "Don't worry, it's a good skill to have apparently. Nobels and Masters just love it. Personally, I don't get it. It just tastes like grass water to me."
At this, Yue actually tried to hold back a chuckle … and failed.
Nuobi merely chortled in return.
"Anyway, before I send you off to be a tea slave, let me teach you how properly strap that to your thigh before you end up impaling someone," continued Nuobi as he waved at the whale blade Yue had strapped to her leg. "And how to hold it."
Yue felt like dying on the spot once more. How was she a princess when she barely knew how her people lived? She loved her father, but he really did shelter her too much. Nonetheless, despite her initial embarrassment, she accepted the lesson with gusto. She even felt like she actually knew how to hold her weapon properly when Nuobi was done. He was a natural teacher and promised to show her how to use her spear later as well.
"So, practicing in the evening is a must, especially if you want to learn how to fight with a spear properly. Some might call the spear a woman's tool when it's used in battle, given it was the preferred tool for women in our sister tribe, but it's a nice long-reaching weapon," continued Nuobi, seemingly happy with how quickly Yukko was catching on for being a sheltered tribal head's son.
If only he knew.
Strapping her knife back to her leg, Yue thanked him for the lesson and started heading down to help the cook. She barely got halfway across the deck when she suddenly felt the world tilt like something large had just hit the boat. She barely caught herself and, blinking up at the sky, she noted that there wasn't a single storm cloud overhead. In fact, the sky was a magnificent blue, barely even a blemish of white on the horizon.
Frowning behind her half-mask, Yue then threw her gaze to the ship's wooden railing. She had heard tale of the beasts of the deep. They couldn't be that unlucky, could they?
The answer came in one of the crew sliding across the deck and down into the captain's cabin, his cry echoing over the entire ship, "Captain, there is a ship on the horizon and they are incoming … it looks like pirates."
Head snapping to the waters, Yue finally saw the red sails in the distance. The ocean was glittering all around the ship as it headed for them, the glare causing it to seemly disappear at moments. But then, like a rising nightmare, the ocean started to bulge and rise, another one of the crewmen crying out, "Another wave incoming! Hold on!"
It was coming in too fast, the wave already looming over the ship before Yue could even find a rope to tie herself to the deck. She hadn't even fully exhaled and already her brain knew that wave was going to crash down on her and sweep her out to sea. She released the last of the air in her lungs, wondering if it would be her last before she was pulled down into the ocean's unfathomable depths.
I haven't lived long enough … there are so many things I wanted to do. That I haven't gotten to do.
And with that … the wave crashed on to the deck, the chilling ocean waters greeting her.
Paw07: Hello everyone. I hope you are all doing okay during this pandemic. I decided to do a quick update to help cheer everyone up and our water ladies got the limelight. I'll see you during the next update. :D